Food Buzz


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tortellini + pesto + white beans and veggies = delicioso Italian dinner!!

Recently I was asked to come up with a unique recipe that highlights Barilla Tortellini and I was happy to take on that challenge!  I mean who doesn't love pasta and three cheeses rolled up into cute little bundles? To top it off, Barilla makes their pasta using traditional Italian ingredients!  I couldn't wait to get started.

I had just made fresh pesto the night before so I knew I wanted to incorporate it into the dish, but didn't just want to toss the tortellini with the pesto and call it a day.  As it turned out, the weather was a little gloomy on the day I decided to create this dish and when it's cool and cloudy outside, I automatically think of soup!

Some of my favorite soups (to eat and to make) are Italian: Pasta e Fagiole (an Italian bean and pasta soup), Minestrone (an Italian vegetable based soup).  I have my own recipes for both of those soups, so I thought about combining elements of both and making my very own Tortellini e fagioli with basil pesto.  I am so proud of this soup and I am definitely adding it to my "cold weather" dish repertoire.

Tortellini e Fagioli with Basil Pesto

2 T olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 can small white beans or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes (with juice)
1 qt low sodium chicken broth (plus additional if soup is too thick)
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 pkg Barilla three cheese tortellini
Basil pesto (recipe below)
Italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped to taste
Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated, to taste

Heat oil over medium – low heat, add shallots and garlic and saute for 4 minutes, do not brown.

Add carrots and zucchini and saute for 3 minutes.  Add beans, tomatoes, broth and spices.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer over low heat partially covered for 25 minutes. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if necessary.
Add tortellini to the pot and simmer as directed on package (approximately 10 minutes).

Serve into warm bowls and add 1 T of pesto (see recipe below), 1 tsp Parmigiano and pinch of parsley.

For the pesto:

2 cups fresh basil leaves
2-3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional if needed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Combine the basil, garlic, and walnuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Slowly add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Taste, then add additional oil, if needed and pulse in the food processor until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a mixing bowl and stir in the cheese.

This soup is easy to make, has lots of vegetables and fresh herbs and tastes great.  Barilla products rock - and don't take my word for it.  Try this recipe on the next rainy day - you won't be sorry!

Chow for now! :)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Baking and motivation

I have had a hard time getting motivated to write this blog the last few weeks.  I have had finding work on my mind, as well as oh just a few current world events...  I've also been kind of frustrated with my photo taking ability.  I've been submitting some of my "good" photos to such sites as and but nothing is getting published because of "composition" issues (way to be vague!). Compared to some of the better food blogs, my pictures are fine but not exceptional and this is because they are not taken by a SLR camera so... I get it.  But I am allowed to stew and bake goodies to cheer myself up, right?

So, I have been baking a lot and wanted to share some of my favorites.  Baking has gotten me motivated to eat really well, go running and hiking and to give away most of my baked goods to friends, family and even prospective employers. So, I am feeling great.

Here are some of the delicious treats I've come up with in the last couple of weeks:

William Sonoma overnight cinnamon rolls

Made these when I stayed over at my sister's place - we finished 6 of them between three of us.  They were darn good!
before icing....

...after icing.
Blueberry muffins

And finally, I will share a recipe I adapted from The Naptime Chef for Oatmeal chocolate chip coconut cookies.  I have made two versions of these in the last week - one to share with some friends who needed a "pick me up" (made with cranberries instead of chocolate chips) and one to wow a prospective employer (chocolate worked here)!  They are really good, on the healthy side (I played around with adding applesauce instead of LOADS of butter and limiting granulated sugar...also substituting some whole wheat flour for the all purpose.)  They are still really good and virtually guilt free.  So enjoy!

Oatmeal chocolate chip coconut cookies:
1 c all purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking soda
½ c room temperature unsalted butter
½ c unsweetened apple sauce
1 c light brown sugar, packed
¼ c granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 c mini chocolate chips (or dried cranberries or raisins or nuts)
1 c sweetened shredded coconut
1 c oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets w/parchment paper or a silpat.

Blend flours and baking soda in a small bowl, then set aside.

In a mixer, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add salt.  With mixer on low, add eggs one at a time until each is blended.  Add vanilla.

Add flour in thirds until incorporated (scrape bowl as needed). Using a spatula, fold in chocolate chips, coconut and oats (separately).

Place rounded tablespoons full of batter 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.  Bake for 16-18 minutes until edges are golden brown (don’t overcook – they will firm up after cooking).

Makes 40-45 cookies.

What are some of your favorite sweet treats?  What gets YOU motivated - I'd love to hear your thoughts so feel free to share.

Chow for now!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What?! You've never had a Meyer lemon?

I saw gorgeous Meyer lemons at the farmers market this past week and knew I had to use them to make something amazing in honor of my mom's visit all the way from freezing cold NY -- I wanted to give her a little bit of LA sunshine.  Little did I know just how much sunshine she would need while she was here.  Between the snowflakes falling in Studio City and the nasty cold bug going around, I realized it would take a very special dessert (made with mom's favorite ingredient) to bring her some warmth.  Stuck on what delicious Meyer lemon-y dessert to make, I of course asked the "twitterverse" and my favorite bloggers for help.

Luckily @squirellbread came through - Heather provided me with the first recipe idea and I loved it because I would be going outside my usual comfort zone of plain old cookies or cakes.  This recipe would require I make lemon curd...from scratch.  Never did it before and will definitely do it again!

Meyer Lemon Kisses
makes 14-16 kisses

For the kisses:
2 eggs
1/4 c superfine sugar
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1/4 c AP flour
1/2 t baking powder
additional sugar, to sprinkle*

7 fl oz heavy whipping cream

Meyer Lemon Curd (recipe below)
For the Meyer lemon curd:
3/4 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 T cornstarch
1/2 c water
1/2 c freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
2 egg yolks, room temperature
zest of 2 Meyer lemons
1 1/2 oz butter, cubed

For the Kisses:

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric hand or stand mixer on high until the mixture resembles a thick stable foam and a mark from a spoon dragged through the middle doesn’t disappear [mine took fifteen minutes]. Add the lemon zest and continue beating until well combined. Sift in the flour and baking powder and very gently fold the flour in with a large spoon.

Gently drop tablespoonfuls of mixture onto the lined baking sheets to form approximately 28-32 even sized rounds, leaving some room for spreading. Sprinkle the tops with a little sugar (*I used sparkling sugar for a little crunch, but you can use what you have on hand).

Bake for 6-8 minutes or until light golden and spring back with a light touch. Remove to a rack covered with clean dry paper towels and allow to cool.

Whip the cream and combine with a couple tablespoons of lemon curd to taste.

A few minutes before serving place two of the halves together with a spoonful of the lemon curd-flavored cream and a little extra lemon curd.

For the Meyer lemon curd:

Add enough water to a medium saucepan to come about 1 up the side. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine sugar, cornstarch, water, juice and yolks in a medium size metal bowl and whisk until smooth, about 1 minute. Once water reaches a simmer, reduce heat to low and place bowl on top of saucepan. [Bowl should be large enough to fit on top of and slightly in the saucepan without touching the water.] Stir mixture until all the sugar has dissolved. Continue to heat gently until the mixture has thickened somewhat. (this step took me a while because my bowl was resting just on top of the pot... it's important to get your curd to reach 160 degrees in order to cook the eggs safely, so do check the temperature occasionally.)

Remove from the heat and immediately pour through a fine strainer to remove any lumps. Whisk in the lemon zest and butter cubes, and continue to cook in the bowl until a fairly thick consistency has been reached.

Pour into a plastic container and use as required above. Extra lemon curd keeps well in a tightly sealed container up to two weeks in the refrigerator. It will keep even longer in the freezer, and bonus: it doesn’t freeze solid, so you can scoop out what you want, when you want!

They came out really good - however, I realized that the cookies should be eaten soon after making them, as I transported mine in layers of parchment in a plastic container and they got too soft.  I would prefer my cookies to be a little more stiff to hold up to the whipped cream and curd filling.  Next time I will cook them a minute or two longer for more crunch and if I must, eat them immediately. :)

My curd did not get as thick as I wanted. It was less the consistency of lemon pudding and more like a lemon sauce.  But since it wasn't going into a lemon meringue pie, I didn't care. AND it tasted really delicious.  Meyer lemons have the flavor of a regular lemon mixed with an orange - a little sweeter flavor, a softer skin and very juicy.  Using a Meyer lemon instead of a conventional lemon meant tangy lemon goodness with a sweet edge. The curd that I have left will taste great over pound cake, ice cream or just by itself!  The Meyer lemont just screams summer, which is a lovely thing to "hear" in the winter, even in LA.  I think mom can attest to this.

What are some of your favorite uses for lemon?  Please share with me!

Chow for now! :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Choo choo train cake for a very special boy.

As some of you know by now, I am often known as "Aunt Lisa" around these parts.  I have turned into some sort of fertility goddess for many of my friends and family and have therefore become an "aunt" to many children.  One of my favorites (I can't have ONE favorite, right?) is my little buddy Kieran.  Saturday was his second birthday party and I made him a very special cake.

Kieran got a very cool train set for Christmas and is obsessed (like, dvd on repeat obsessed) with Elmo so I had to figure out a way to incorporate the two toys together in one cake.  I decided that instead of taking the easy way out (store bought cake mix or frosting, sheet cake with train/elmo drawn on top) I would do it the hard (but much more fulfilling) way.  Everything from scratch and without any special pans.

Here is a bird's eye view of the cake:

...and here's how I did it...

I made two yellow cake recipes because I've been experimenting with finding the ultimate in fluffy, light cakes (not dense and "pound cake-y" in texture).  I will highly recommend this one from Made in Mel's Kitchen.  You should double the recipe and it will make one 11 x 17 sheet cake, five cupcakes and one loaf cake.  You will have some finished cake left over (scraps to snack on or extra pieces in case you don't measure correctly).

The first car is obviously the hardest because of the detail....  I cut two 6" x 3" pieces from the sheet cake and layered them to create the base of the car.  The bottom of the cake was a little sticky which held the two layers together.  I also cut two 2"x2"x3" triangles for the front of the car and layered them.  The cylindrical shaped piece on top of the engine was actually three cupcakes trimmed with a small biscuit cutter, stuck together with toothpicks and frosted..  The double decker back is two 2x3 pieces of cake cut from the loaf pan.

The three cars behind the engine were 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" blocks cut from the loaf pan.  I trimmed the top so that each was squared off.  I topped each car with something fun: blueberries (coal), animal crackers (real animals) and pretzels (logs).

For frosting I used Pioneer Woman's no fail buttercream: "The best frosting I've ever had" and doubled the recipe. It really is quite good (and was about all I ate during the hours surrounding the creation of this cake) I used gel food coloring to make the four different frosting colors.  I piped white borders along all the cars with a disposable pastry bag.

I broke off the bottom of an ice cream cone and used the top as the smokestack.  I placed mini marshmallows in for the "smoke" and glued some of the top marshmallows in place with frosting.

The Elmo is actually a part of a toddler fork and spoon set (not a bad deal for $4 on Amazon!) and I just stuck him into the cake.

I sprinkled desiccated (unsweetened) coconut as the base on the tray and placed the train over Kit Kats for train tracks. I used Oreo cookies as wheels and a peanut butter m&m as the headlight on the first car.

IT WAS SO MUCH FUN TO MAKE!  And even better was the reaction from Kieran and his family.  Pure joy.  I look forward to making my niece's FIRST birthday cake in May!

Some helpful hints:
** I highly recommend NOT building this cake in a hot kitchen on a warm day.  It was about 80 degrees out and the cake looked fantastic when I put it together in the morning.  By 3 pm when I drove over to the party, the back of the engine car was tipping over and the white piping was falling a bit.  But nothing a few toothpicks couldn't fix. :)

** I had some leftover wooden mini forks that I ordered from Smarty Had a Party back in December and used them to "spackle" and smooth out the frosting.  I brought a little kid to the house which included some of those forks, a sample of each of the different colors of frosting, regular toothpicks which helped.

**Don't get frustrated or wrapped up in the details.  The birthday boy or girl is only going to see the cake (and you), not the little mistakes that you may have made.

What is your favorite theme birthday cake?  Do you have any links or photos to share?  Please share!

Chow for Now! :)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

My favorite cookie. Period.

I have made many different kinds of cookies in my life...chocolate chip, oatmeal, chocolate brownie crackles, lemon sugar cookies, and more.  But typically, when I crave a cookie it's a Black and White.  My mom knows me well -- any time I come home to NY for a visit, a black and white cookie from my favorite bakery is waiting for me.  I usually inhale it within minutes of arriving home whether it's 7 AM or 11 PM.  I have tried many black and white cookies and haven't really found one locally that tastes as good as my NY favorite. I have found one recipe that gets as close as you can to the best.  Martha Stewart's recipe is the one I use and I added my own creative spin this time (I do prefer a higher ratio of vanilla to chocolate on my cookies).  You can find the original recipe on my blog from last summer when I whipped up a batch for a Hollywood Bowl outing.

Here is a pic of the ones I made yesterday (which are almost gone by the way).  I made them small - about 2 inches across.

I was having a day yesterday - where all I really wanted to do was cook and eat.  I didn't want to market my business, didn't want to "work," didn't want to do much of anything else.  Luckily I've been running for the last week every day as I train for a race in May.  I am feeling good, eating healthy meals while throwing in a few treats as a pat on the back.  I deserve it and so do you.  So, make these cookies and let me know what you think!

Chow for now!  :)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Referrals, networking and marketing, oh my!

It was so great to meet with Heather Berkowitz, the co-founder of Classic Nannies today.   The timing couldn’t be better, considering my current quest to market my personal chef business, Chow for Now, to families.  Even

better, I love the idea of working with another woman-owned business.
I know how difficult it can be to juggle work, exercise, family and life.  And many times, nutrition is the first thing to be pushed aside.  I understand how much easier it is to go out to eat or to order take out because the idea of grocery shopping and cooking is daunting after a long day.  Plus, there are so many conflicting news items about what foods are “good” for you and which ones are not.  They even just updated the food pyramid!  It can be confusing and exhausting.  I can take away some of the stress by giving you your TIME back. 
Chow for Now personal chef service includes menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and packaging your dinners for a week during one scheduled cook day. I cook in your home, allowing the distinct scents of home-cooked meals to drift through your kitchen (think lemon roasted chicken or butternut squash lasagna) and I leave simple instructions making  it easy for you to heat up your food each night at your leisure.
In addition to weekly personal chef services, I offer daily “eat in” service, small party catering, gift certificates (for new parents, perhaps?), “adults night in” cooking classes, romantic dinners for two (we know it’s hard to get a babysitter sometimes) and cooking for your child’s birthday parties!  Think about how awesome it will be to have one less thing to worry about when your beloved Jack or Jane is turning 5 and you have 25 adults and their kids coming over!
The point of hiring a personal chef is to free up your time to be with your family.  How much is your time worth?  It all starts with a free consultation where we go over your family’s likes, dislikes, allergies, intolerances and general food preferences.  Then we pick a cook date and go from there! 
I am looking forward to working with Heather—and you—in the future!  

Chow for Now! :)

Friday, January 28, 2011

A new twist on gyoza!

I've been very busy networking and marketing my business but I wanted to make sure I told you all about my most recent epiphany!  I am going to try to cook things that are out of my usual comfort zone this year and even if the food isn't perfect, I will write about the mistakes I make.  

So... my first attempt to do this was last week - my Aunt was in town and I wanted to try making Gyoza (aka Japanese potstickers).  I had seen a few recipes online but decided on La Fuijimama's "Super Top Secret recipe."  I met Rachael recently (such a doll!) and have spent some time perusing her other recipes - she spent a great deal of time in Japan so I knew these would be great.

I was going attempt to make the wrappers from scratch but didn't have time to do it so I bought gyoza wrappers in the refrigerated section of the regular grocery store.  You can use wonton wrappers if that's what you find, but you'll have to use a biscuit cutter (or a drinking glass) to make those square wrappers round.  

Since we were eating with my mostly vegetarian sister and brother in law, I decided to make one with meat and one with vegetables.  Both actually tasted delicious!  
turkey gyoza mixture
vegetarian gyoza mixture

I followed Rachael's recipe exactly as noted except instead of using pork, I used lean ground turkey meat.  I thought that the meat would end up taking on the flavors of the filling contents (ginger, green onion, miso) and the turkey at the market looked a lot better than the very fatty looking ground pork.  Do check out her recipe as she has amazing photos and very precise directions showing how to pleat the gyoza.

my gyoza before cooking
For the vegetarian gyoza, I mixed a lot of the same flavors but instead of meat included crimini mushrooms (chopped small) and shredded carrot.  I also added hoisin just for another layer of flavor and to help the hard pieces of mushroom soften up a bit.  These sort of "hard" pieces made a few of the gyoza rip and the mixture didn't hold well together.  I might cook down the mushroom a bit next time (although following Rachael's directions did cook all the veggies through).

I found the pleating of the wrappers to be very intuitive.  Once I got a few of them down, I could have done 100 of them.  I was definitely "in the zone" while making them.

One thing to say about storage...  If you aren't going to cook them right away, do not store these on wax paper in a tupperware container, like I did.  Parchment paper worked much better.  Wax paper made the wrappers a little wet/mushy. These gyoza could also be prepared (but not cooked) days ahead of time (say, before the Super Bowl?) and frozen.

Don't go too crazy with the gyoza sauce, it is not complicated to make.  Definitely don't buy any of the bottled sauces in the "Asian aisle" in the grocery store - all you need is three ingredients: soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil.  I threw some roasted sesame seeds in just for a little somethin' extra.

Unfortunately, my first couple of batches stuck to the pan, but I know that I didn't let them brown enough (too afraid of burning them!) I should have allowed more time for them to steam.

Have you attempted to make gyoza before?  How did you do?  What are some recipes that you've been afraid of trying?  I'd love to see some listed below!

Chow for Now!  :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chocolate brownie crack cookies to die for - and how to ship a food gift.

Ok, I may have edited the name of the cookie but it got you reading this, didn't it?  They are actually called Chocolate brownie crackle cookies due to the lovely little cracks that form when the cookies rise and bake in the oven.

I found the recipe for these by searching for a dessert that can be easily packaged and shipped without spoiling or breaking, because I wanted to send something yummy to my friend, Tina while she studies for the bar exam.  The soft, chewy interior of the cookie makes it a good candidate.  And I found such a genius way to package and ship that I want to share with you!

I took an empty Trader Joe's coffee can and took a sheet of bubble wrap, cut it to the height of the can and wrapped the inside of the can with it.  I cut out a little circle of bubble wrap and placed it in the bottom.

Then, I cut a piece of parchment paper (one my favorite things on earth) and wrapped that layer on top of the bubble wrap.

Finally, I stacked about a dozen or so cookies in the narrow column left in the center of the can.  I placed another round of bubble wrap on top and sealed the can with the plastic top.  I am lucky that the cookies were just the right size for the center column that was formed in the can.

To ship it, I wrapped the outside of the can with more bubble wrap and placed in a box that was padded with scrunched up newspapers.  I should have taken pictures but hopefully you get the idea.  The great thing is that the can is very lightweight and doesn't add a lot more weight to the gift.

I am happy to say that Tina received the cookies and she and her family enjoyed them.  Not one was broken and the flavor was great.  They did very well over a three day journey from LA to Orlando.

Do you have a favorite treat to give and/or send as gifts?  Any other hints for packaging perishable food items?  If so, I'd love to hear about it here!  Feel free to share with my readers.

Chow for now! :)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Green Smoothies

Those of you who know me well, know that I was pushing green smoothies on everyone for a while a couple of years ago.... I was losing unwanted weight, getting endless servings of fruits and vegetables in one drink, my skin was clear and I was feeling good.  Then, why did I stop?  No good reason - some of the same excuses as to why I don't work out as often as I should come to mind "I got too busy."  I couldn't afford to (buy some of the ingredients)." "I didn't have time to shop for and make them."

Well, today I am trying to get back into it again.  I know that I have a hard time eating lots of fruits and veggies each day.  I sometimes forget to drink enough water.  I sometimes breakdown and buy Skittles.  Yes Skittles candies. (Don't judge!)  But when I drink these smoothies, I tend to be less likely to buy and eat junk food and I just eat healthier.

I first learned about green smoothies from Lisa Hubler who taught a one time "Stress less to weigh less" yoga course.  At the time I was stressed and found myself supplementing my diet with lots of junk because it was easy to grab and eat when I was busy a work.  I wanted to figure out a way to stop stress-induced eating and also relax my mind so this seemed like a great class to take.  Although I don't feel like I was hypnotized necessarily, I did feel relaxed during the class and learned a lot about what I could do to stress less.  Lisa introduced the class to the green smoothie concept which I was TOTALLY not interested first.  Who wants to drinks a green smoothie?  It sounded gross to me. I want my smoothies to be pink or orange and creamy (and chock full of sugar and fattening junk).  But I gave it a try and REALLY enjoyed it!  Turns out they are tasty AND good for you!  Over the years I've changed the ingredients up from the original but it's always healthy and never has any added sugar or milk or ice cream. Give it a try - I know it sounds weird, but coming from a sugar addict, you know it has to taste good.

Green Smoothie

1 small pitted apple (keep skin on), cut into chunks
1/2- 1 small banana, cut into chunks (to make the smoothie creamier, freeze the banana overnight)
1/2 c fresh or frozen frozen fruit (pineapple and mango are my favorites) cut in one inch chunks
1 1/2 c of coconut water* (or filtered water or fresh squeezed orange or grapefruit juice)
2 or more cups of raw spinach or raw kale (hard stems removed), ripped into smaller pieces
1 T flax seeds (freshly ground)**

Put all ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.  You can mix it up with other frozen fruit such as raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc.  The lighter the color of fruit, the greener the smoothie.  If you use a lot of red fruits, the color of the smoothie will turn purple or brown. So keep this in mind if you have a difficult time stomaching certain color foods.

Before you say "KALE or SPINACH: are you out of your mind???"  Both vegetables are virtually tasteless when raw.  So you get the benefit of consuming a nutrient dense food in smoothie form!  And adding naturally sweet fruit makes it taste more like a smoothie shop smoothie without all the added junk.

*Coconut water has lots of amazing stuff in it - a very mild, fresh taste, lots of potassium, natural electrolytes, no fat, no cholesterol and no added sugar!  It is also pricey - so I give other options.

**Flax seeds are also a super food - rich with antioxidant properties, high in fiber, and good fatty acids. It is recommended that if you eat the seeds ground and that you buy them whole and grind as you go.

I am not a nutritionist or a doctor so do talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet.  Your kids will enjoy them too!

These smoothies are super filling, can be eaten any time of the day and have at least five cups of fruits and vegetables!

Money saving tip:  If you notice some of the fruits listed above are on sale when shopping,  buy a bunch of them fresh, cut up into one inch chunks and place in a freezer bag in your freezer.  This works great with bananas, pineapple, and all berries. When adding frozen fruits makes a thicker smoothie.

If you'd like other recipes, check some out here:

Have you tried a green smoothie?  Will you now?  Tell me more!

Chow for now! :)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gadgets galore!

As most of the people closest to me know, I am a kitchen gadget freak.  I have a very big drawer in my kitchen that is stuffed to the gills with spatulas and whisks, garlic peelers, zesters and scoopers.  Note that each of those items is pluralized... That's just how obsessed I am.  But there are about a dozen or so gadgets that I use regularly that are must haves for anyone who cooks often.  I list them here.

Mortar and Pestle:  I got mine around ten years ago from my friend Tina and since I've moved to California (land of the avocado) I make guacamole in it at least once every month or so.  This is the only way to make it.  My culinary professor will not make basil pesto any other way than with a mortar and pestle.  It's nice in this age of technology that such a primitive tool does the best job.  I have found that the volcanic stone m & p work best!
Basting brush: I have a silicone one and a couple of bristle brush style.  I like the ease of cleaning the silicone one, but the bristled brush definitely holds more of whatever you dip it into (egg whites, oil, etc).  I use these to brush the top of fresh bread with beaten egg before baking it, to baste a turkey or chicken before roasting it and to lightly ice sugar cookies.

Heat resistant spatula:  I have a few of these in different materials, but I use the silicone one most often.  You can use it to scrape down the bowl of cookie batter or to fold whipped egg whites into angel food cake batter or to scape the bottom of a pot of potato soup. Most silicone spatulas are heat resistant to 400 degrees F.  It's great for use on non-stick surfaces because it doesn't scratch and they are typically dishwasher safe.

Hand held immersion blender: I have had my immersion blender for at least eight years... and use it every time I make soup from scratch.  I love it because you can actually stick it into a hot pot of soup without having to wait until it's cooled to blend as you would with a regular counter blender. You can also use it to make smoothies, blend salad dressing and make fresh whipped cream. I love it because it doesn't take up as much space as a regular blender and you can get one for around $20.  Mine is a Braun and I love it.

Stand Mixer:  For anyone who bakes, this is a must, many of you saw my past blog entry which showed how I won a KitchenAid mixer from the Bite Me sisters.  I have used it a bunch since I received it and I have to say - it's as good as "they" say it is.  Easy to use, easy to clean, comes with great accessories and you can even do things like make pasta and grind meat if you get the right attachments. 
Grater or microplane:  I use this to grate cheese over pasta, to zest any citrus fruit, to grate whole nutmeg or ginger and to grate chocolate over ice cream. You can buy different sizes (from course to medium) depending on your use.

Pizza slicer:  in addition to it's obvious use, I use this for cutting dough (ie. for breadsticks), for cutting baklava before baking.  It has a very thin, precise blade that can reach spots that a regular knife can't.  

Pepper grinder: I don't care what anyone says - you cannot beat the taste of freshly ground pepper.  When grinding whole mixed peppercorns you are going to get a fresh kick of flavor when you grind into salads, soups and sauces.  Way better than that pre-ground stuff in a can.

Sharp knives and sharpener:  I recently invested in a new Asian style knife and received some German style knives for Christmas.  Using those in place of my older knives was like night and day.  Lucky for me, I also got a great KitchenAid counter-top sharpener for Christmas that allowed me to sharpen all of my older knives, too.  Having a sharp knife is so important because a dull knife can slide off whatever you are cutting, but can still be sharp enough to slice you.

Tongs: I use my tongs ALL. THE. TIME.  I honestly could write a blog entry just on the amount of uses for tongs.  I use them when I barbecue to flip chicken or steak and/or catch anything that falls through the cracks.  I use them when I am cooking bacon or sausage.  I use them when I need to turn a pie pan in the oven.  I use them to pull waffles of the waffle maker.  I use them to pull a hard boiled egg from hot water.  I even use them to reach for items in my cabinet that are too high for me to reach. 

All in one timer/thermometer:  I love this tool.  In addition to being a regular old magnetized timer (sticks on my fridge right next to the stove), it also has a thermometer attachment that you can stick into a roast or turkey, set the thermometer alarm to go off when it hits a certain temperature and you stick the roast in the oven while keeping the thermometer on top of the stove.  When the alarm goes off, your roast is done!  No need to open the oven, lowering the temperature thus lengthening the amount of time the roast needs to cook!  I use this every Thanksgiving and am so thankful I have it!
Wooden juicer:  Ah, another non techie item that really does the job.  Any time I have to squeeze lemons or limes for a marinade or a cocktail, this tool works for me.  So easy to use, you cut the citrus in half, stick the pointed end of the tool into the flesh and the juice pours out into the glass resting below.  Simple as that.

I hope that some of these tools are in your kitchen drawers!  I know that some of you will have other gadgets that you use more often than these - it totally depends on what you cook!  Some people will swear by a garlic press. Personally, I enjoy mincing garlic with a knife.  Some people will say that they couldn't live without their food processor (I don't use mine often enough to make it a "must have" here.)

What are some of your favorite gadgets?  Please feel free to share here.

Chow for Now!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Holidays spent snowbound - cooking, baking, eating and repeating

I just returned from NY, where I visited my mom and family for the holidays... little did I know that I would be stuck inside for three days while the plows took their merry old time getting the streets back to normal.  That gave me lots of quality time with mom to catch up, drink wine and make yummy food.

We started off with her meatballs (which are also "my" meatballs) which I always look forward to tasting.  Secret recipe - can't share, but I can tell you my friends with Italian roots think they are delicious!!
One night we had to cook using whatever ingredients we had in the house (due to 20 inches of snow on the ground), kind of like the show Chopped, but without the really random ingredients.  We had chicken, some vegetables, white beans... I thought a stew or chili might work, then I found this great, easy, comforting recipe for Chicken with White Beans that was fun to make and delicious, too!  Also I roasted one inch cubes of butternut squash with a little brown sugar, olive oil and salt and pepper.  It was so simple and tasty and the house smelled great! 
Chicken with white beans
When we were finally able to head out to the store, we had one thing in mind: BAKING!  Mom has had a bread maker in her house for a while and has never ever used it (I know, right???).  I wanted to show her how easy it was to make dough and form a French bread to bake in the oven.  Although it is time consuming, it was sooooo worth it.  I think she said "this is the BEST bread I've ever eaten." 
We also made coconut macaroons.  Er...they were supposed to be macaroons but were more of a meringue/macaroon hybrid, dubbed so eloquently by my writer of a mom as "meringue-aroons."  I think I may have to go trademark that name so don't steal it. Anyway, they were light, airy and crunchy on the outside and chewy and coconut-y on the inside.  We could have finished off the whole tray of them, but tried to have some constraint.
I am back in LA now and in the 36 hours that I've been home I made my carrot soup, Italian bread and a great pasta salad for my friends who JUST had a baby boy.  I am so glad I do what I love for a living and can't wait to do it more often.  If you know anyone in LA having a small party or who might be interested in a personal chef, please pass my info on! :)Dd you cook anything fun over the holidays?  Feel free to share with us here!
Chow for now!