Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pharewell, Philly

I flew back from Philadelphia the other day. I get crazed before I fly; I find it unbelievable that a many-ton metal tube won't fall out of the sky. It's also hard to say good-bye to my family. But amidst my packing chaos, I had the good sense to holler down to my dad and ask him to call Lee's Hoagie House and order an Italian hoagie packed for travel.
This priceless gift (well, $5.95 for a half, which is huge) comes on an Amoroso roll made by Italians in South Philly sometime the night before, then has peppered ham, Genoa salami, Capocollo and another kind of salami, provolone cheese, shredded lettuce and tomato, oregano, and I like it with thinly sliced onion and oil, plus sweet peppers. Simple, right? Kind of in the 'duh' category, yet behold this magnificence:

Why can no one in L.A. come close to this masterpiece?
I ate half on the plane, and then polished off the rest of it last night at a friend's place. The last bit of hoagie or cheesesteak is always bittersweet: I know I'll have to make do with taco stands again, and it means I won't see anyone I'm related to for a while... at this point in my life, that really is a bummer.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What a Cook Wants, 11

A Platter with a Purpose

I like trees. They're strong and steady and their silence leads me to believe they're kind. This square recycled glass serving plate is graced with two trees and is made by hand in western Pennsylvania. The company that makes them donates 10% of their profits to CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Allegheny County, which is a volunteer organization of folks who advocate within the legal system for kids who've been neglected or abused.
A pretty platter that serves more than food sounds perfect for any season.
Trees Platter from Plates With Purpose, a 14-inch frosted recycled glass square, $72.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What a Cook Wants, 10

Delicate, Crunchy Macarons

French macarons have delicate, crisp exteriors that bely their chewy insides; they're essentially a meringue (made with ground almond) cookie sandwich with a lush, naughty filling. The best ones I had were at Boule, which sadly did not survive the recession.
But I hear the macarons at L.A. Burdick are mighty fine, and they're definitely the fabulous, perfect-end-of-the-party cookie right now. They seem almost too debonair to be called cookies, but that's just their French mystique.
Harvest Flavor Macarons in seasonal flavors: pumpkin, cinnamon and chocolate, $22 for a box of 15.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What a Cook Wants, 9

Eco-Chic Grocery Bags

In Los Angeles, anything can be a fashion contest. Your car, your dermatologist, your dog; it's all fair game. Now generally, these are contests I lose. And I'm ok with that, I have other fine qualities.
But in the kitchen I'm fashion-forward every time.
So I love my Envirosax shopping bags. They roll up very small, I fill them with heavy cans and they don't sweat it, and they save the planet from more landfill. Plus, they're the hippest grocery bags in town! It's hard to argue with that.
Envirosax polyester market bags, $35 for set of five.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What a Cook Wants, 8

The Sweetest Snowman in Town

We don't get a lot of snow in L.A., so there aren't many mountains of white stuff... well, unless you have a coke problem. Anyway, we have to get creative when it comes to snowmen: the Life of the Snowman by Maxim Velcovsky solves that problem very sweetly. Pour the sugar into the head and depending on your dulcet desires Frosty will melt slowly or quite fast!
Life of the Snowman by Maxim Velcovsky for Qubus, blown glass, $60.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What a Cook Wants, 7

Expressive Knives

I first saw these in red plastic form at a friend's place. They're called, "The Ex." I thought, well that's a little aggressive.
This year? I get it.
So get your favorite friend whose heart got crushed, ground and blown into the wind this gift that will make them laugh and may even help in the kitchen.
The Ex 5-Piece stainless steel knife set, $100.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What a Cook Wants, 6

A Mug to Drink That Fine Coffee Out Of

Ok, so very few people actually need another mug, I acknowledge that. However, I love these mugs from Pantone, the fascinating color company. They're like a Rorschach test for how you see someone, but with color. Or, if you lean towards the East, you could give them out according to the chakra color that feels right (yes, I've been doing a lot of yoga). These are sold as a set, but a lot of museum and hip home stores are selling them individually.
(In case you're wondering, I'm drawn to the grape, royal blue and red. What do you think it means?)
Set of ten Whitbread Wilkinson mugs under license from Pantone, $128. Give them as a set, or take care of ten gifts at once.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

What a Cook Wants. 5

Ridiculously Good Coffee

This coffee is in the category of affordable luxury. The folks at Intelligenstia are the best sort of coffee fiends, they're in it to win it and just as OCD as our good friends at Cook's Illustrated magazine. I like these types: they obsess so I don't have to.
If you have a coffee lover in your life this is an economical way to delight them, plus an easy way to be the belle of the ball at any sort of holiday gift swap you attend. I'd suggest starting with the house blend, it's bright, slightly fruity with notes of chocolate and perfectly balanced. $14 might seem like a lot for a pound of coffee, but it's cheaper than an espresso machine!
Intelligentsia House Blend coffee, $14 per pound. It's worth it to go to the page simply to check out the choice of grinds. There are 14 options. Sweet.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

What a Cook Wants, 4

Some Serious Pot

This year I finally got a Le Crueset pot of my own. Actually, three. Now I'll admit, even I was skeptical about the price tag. Sure, it's French, but $250 for a pot? Seriously?
I'm here to tell you, dear reader, it made a true believer out of me. They're made in France, not an oppressed third world nation, and each mold is destroyed after the pot is cast.
But the proof is in the pot, my friends. I made a beautiful four-hour bolognese sauce on a fateful night this summer, and though ultimately credit must go to the cook(!), I tell you it would not have turned out as perfectly without the awesome pot. Because it's cast iron underneath the enamel it heats perfectly evenly, and the enamel ensures nothing sticks. It's like teflon minus the cancer. And you'll have it until you're dead.
So if you have the coin and you truly love the cook in your life, make his/her year. I've had a horrible year, but these pots have truly been a bright spot. And at least they'll last and provide years of great cooking.
Start with the Le Creuset 5 1/2-quart Dutch Oven, you can find it on sale for about $185 in myriad colors.

Monday, December 07, 2009

What a Cook Wants, 3

More Exquisite Cheese

There is a lady named Sally Jackson who lives on a 140-acre farm in the Okanogan Highlands, which are in the eastern part of Washington state. She and her husband Roger have been making cheese from the sheep, goats and a Brown Swiss and two Guernsey cows they raise. American artisanal cheese making has exploded in the last decade, and these days it's a bit of a foodie race to find the newest, loveliest specimens.
At the end of an astonishing meal at Providence, I had the pleasure of a slice of Sally Jackson's chestnut leaf-wrapped raw cow's milk cheese. It was semi-soft, the color of Irish butter and complex with a mere hint of funk. I wanted to cry, but I was too happy. You could serve this to most folks, it's not too intense and really pleasing, and totally wow your foodie-est friends.
Sally Jackson Chestnut Leaf Aged Cow Cheese. They don't make it until you order it, heaven.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

What a Cook Wants, 2

Plats de Poulet

It's true, chickens are the new black. Restaurants have them as decor/fresh egg providers, urban hipsters keep them as pets and let them freely roam in their backyards, they even make fun party guests.
Not everyone has the space or desire to raise chickens, but we can all enjoy their antics. These ceramic desert plates offer two fowl perspectives, one near, one far. It's just the right touch of silly for your sweets.
Marla Dawn Chicken Desert Plates, set of 4, $42.

Friday, December 04, 2009

What a Cook Wants, 1

Dear readers. I am sorry for the lack of posting; these are dark days. Betty Lou and Tiina Fey are gone and I shall not be married much longer. I've been too sad to write about the joy of eating, but fear not: I am determined to bring glad tidings of great food once again. My heart may be crushed, but my palate still works. Thank God.
If ever there were cause to enjoy a cocktail, this is it. This first gift idea is apropos.

ÍS Vodka

The cook in your life needs to kick back, relax~ heck, just sit down for a minute. This vodka- pronounced "ice"- is made from melted Icelandic glacier water [harvested in an eco-friendly way] and non-GMO English wheat. They distill it seven times. Artisanal water is pretty hot these days, why not make booze with it?
The bottle is tall and dramatic with nearly Ionic columns and a curvy lady on its crest. I found the stopper hard to remove and replace, but that's what we'd call a quality problem.
The spirit itself is incredibly smooth and clean, no jagged edges. There's a brief hit of clove at the very end of the sip and that's it. It's great in a cocktail and perfect for sipping, if that's your thing.
ÍS Vodka, about $40 for a 750mL bottle.

Perhaps if I drink enough of it, I will be spirited away to Iceland for some quiet peace here: