Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My New Crush

I'm officially crushing on Chef Novelli from Bravo's reality show Chef Academy, which is one of the only food shows that makes me want to cook even more - ok...just as much as - I want to eat what I'm watching. He's a master with food. He makes basic things extraordinary. And he's so French, it kills me. Sweet Jesus. Men can surf porn online - women have this.

It also doesn't hurt that Novelli's students are on a much more relatable level than the technical stars of Top Chef. Their job is to master the essentials he's teaching them, not create on their own.

Case in point on making the simple extraordinary, this cooking demo on Novelli's pea and mint soup:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TA-DAaaa!: Foodie Gift Roundup

Buyin' It

1. Wine Country Gift Baskets: I've been an annual devotee for a few years now. Their baskets are filled with high quality sweets and savories, they ship super-fast, and the wine selection is goes beyond the usual mass-market suspects. Some of their bestsellers even ship for free. I gave my aunt their Classic basket last Christmas. She called me 10 days later to say that it had become the highlight of her kids' and husband's day to decide what to fish out of it for a snack each evening. Perfect for foodies, wine lovers, and snackers.

2. Stonewall Kitchens: My gram sent me a set of amazing jams and infused olive oils from here last week, and the idea is so good, I'm stealing it for my food-centric tribe. They have a huge array of gifts at all price points, including TONS of delish sauces and relishes that your dear ones can pop open and apply to something, or use to zazz up an actual recipe. Great for peeps who love eating, but aren't necessarily trolling the Atlantic Food Channel every day.

3. Whole Foods Baskets: I eyed some really impressive ones at the Lincoln Park store last night. They've got stacks pre-made, but if you have special needs, you can visit the holiday order table up front and they'll assemble one for you. Perfect for food snobs or your vegan friends who wear hemp jumpers.

4. Just Grapes on Washington Ave.: Their wine selection is focused (they're picky about what they stock), special (boutique producers you won't find at Binny's) and moderately-priced. You can order online, and they deliver or ship anywhere. Perfect for wine lovers who know their schtuff.

Makin' It

1. Nigella's Rocky Road Crunch Bars: I'm making these to fill goodie boxes for the neighbors, mostly as an apology for the dog throwing his bouncy toy down our front stairs at 7:00 every Saturday morning. 'Gella's philosophy is to keep it easy, especially for the holidays. Word, girl.

2. Cherries Simmered in Red Wine: These babies are red, festive, sweet, easy, and versatile as all get out. Your recipient can use them on ice cream, pound cake, with creme fraiche, or in a trifle. Or they can just fork them out of the jar like I do. Did I mention they keep forever?

3. Duo of Sugars: If actually cooking or baking makes you want to lie down, how about tossing together some fancy sugar and putting a bow on it? Whole Foods has ideas on their web site, including these. If you can locate dried edible lavender and vanilla bean pods, you too can impress.

Two other morsels of advice: No one beats the Container Store for all manner of festive little receptacles for your food gifts. And avoid Martha's site this season, as it requires a PhD in Crafts...unless it's for decorating your mantel or tablescaping (she completely rocks the casbah at those).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

So... Whad'ya Eat?!

The Obama Foodorama blog posted the White House's Thanksgiving menu below, which is plenty generous on the Southern-style sides - but Holy Pie, Batman! That's six kinds of pie! Imagine all the leftovers THEY'RE having.

Honey Baked Ham

Cornbread Stuffing
Oyster Stuffing

Macaroni and Cheese
Sweet Potatoes
Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole

Pumpkin Pie
Banana Cream Pie
Apple Pie
Sweet Potato Pie
Huckleberry Pie
Cherry Pie

Thanksgiving at our house was traditional this year. My sis and I have done some New Mexican themed holiday dinners in the past, from which I've snuck in a dish or two for Thanksgiving. And I'm famous for conjuring up a risotto for any occasion. But since it was just my husband's family visiting this year, I decided to keep the green chile and pasta products mostly out of it.

Everything with an asterisk came from Cooking Fools, which meant I spent four hours cooking, rather than the typical 8-10.

Gravy with Fresh Herbs*

Mushroom and Parmesan Bread-Pudding Style Stuffing
Mashed Maple Sweet Potatoes with Candied Walnuts* (the breakout hit of the show, I think)
Roasted Root Veggies with Garlic and Thyme *

Crushed Cranberry Sauce
Walnut, Orange and Red Onion Salad
Rosemary Ciabatta Rolls

Martha's Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing

2007 Ehlers Estate Pinot Noir

In preparation, I finally bought all the things from Crate and Barrel and CHEF's that I didn't know to register for when we got married three years ago...Like an army of serving utensils and white ware bowls, a table cloth in a shade of any-season-friendly green, a 12-quart stock pot, and generous latte mugs for guests to endlessly fill with hot tea to warm themselves.

I flaked on the extra candles for the mantel and kept the table almost Quaker in terms of embellishment, but the big fire in the fireplace was all the atmosphere we needed.

All in all, a success. More than anything, I'm learning that successful entertaining means impressing people with as little work as possible so they can enjoy my company as much as the food.