December 21, 2014
Gifts from the Sea
We're getting close to Christmas, and I've been wandering the aisles of local shops, looking for plausible presents. That's when I saw the seaweed.
Kombu comes in dried ribbons that unfurl into long sheets that are at least as tall as I am. It's wonderful stuff.
A small piece steeped in simmering soup for fifteen minutes adds an extra layer of depth that's delicous – very hard to place. Kombu also does wonderful stuff to braises and stews: reconstitute a wide piece, drape it on the surface of a slowly cooking stew and notice how it locks in flavor. It makes wonderful seaweed salad. And there’s nothing better than homemade dashi.
You'll find seaweed in the Asian aisle of your supermarket. If you have access to a Japanese store, I recently discovered that Sunrise Mart, in New York, sells my favorite seaweed, mozuku, already marinated. It makes the seaweed salad now sold in every sushi aisle seem silly.
Want to explore other exotic seaweeds? Rising Tide Sea Vegetables, offers an entire range of seaweeds sustainably harvested on the West Coast.
Think of it as a fashion-forward present; we don't eat a whole lot of seaweed now. But it's definitely in our future.
December 20, 2014
Rolling in Dough
Baking your own bread is the most satisfying thing you can do in the kitchen. For lazy people (count me among them), Jim Leahy’s excellent no-knead recipe produces an astonishingly satisfying loaf.
But bread's my favorite food – the answer I always give when people ask what I'd eat if I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life. Then I think of something wild, crusty, deeply brown, with a moist crumb and formidable elasticity. Spread with cold sweet butter….
Bread like that demands commitment. It took Chad Robertson, co-owner of Tartine Bakery, over ten years to perfect his now legendary loaf (pictured here).
If you've got bread nerds on your list, people you really love, consider giving them a series of classes at the San Francisco Baking Institute. It’s a real commitment on your part ($1000.) And on theirs too; SFBI offers hands-on five-day intensives that make your average cooking class look like a speed-dating exercise. For beginners there's the Systematic Approach to Breads; for those who've mastered the basics there are advanced intensives on everything from German breads to viennoiserie.
If you're not ready to spend a grand on your friend, here's another suggestion for passionate bread bakers: Sam Fromartz's In Search of the Perfect Loaf is a wonderful read that's filled with information that even the most knowledgable baker will find fascinating.
December 19, 2014
Here on the East Coast, January, February, and March are bleak. Snow melts into sludge. Sunlight's in short supply. Night comes too soon. You begin longing for fresh vegetables, waiting for the return of vibrant farmers' markets.
This gift really helps. I love looking at the vertical garden in my window. Tasting it is even better. You harvest your herbs or vegetables, and then replant with the new shipment that arrives each month in the mail.
The nuts and bolts: WindowFarms come in columns of three pots. A small pump automatically waters each plant, delivering nutrients straight to the roots. It's not cheap: in addition to the farm itself, you have to buy a monthly plan. But it's a great gift that will make your friends think of you every time they snip off a fresh herb or vegetable.
December 18, 2014
Speakeasy's are the coolest kids on the block. The bitters shelves in fancy grocery stores keep growing. And cocktail guides have become their own special category in your local bookstore. We're having a cocktail moment—and it's not likely to end very soon.
But if you care about cocktails, attention must be paid to the ice. The best bartenders even engineer their ice so that drinks dilute at the perfect pace. Besides, nice ice is… well beautiful.
There are many tools that would delight an aspiring mixologist, but highest on my list is this Neat Ice Kit. It comes with two molds to make two perfectly clear square cubes. (Impurities are pushed to the bottom, and you just cut off the clouds.) There’s a razor-sharp chisel to break giant cubes into a more standard size, and a canvas bag and muddler-mallet to crush your extremely clear ice.
Should you want the slightly less expensive single ice cube maker, you can get it here.
If you've got a cocktail nerd in your life, you could not do better. Order today, and you can still get it there in time for Christmas.
December 17, 2014
Deep Dark Soft Seductive
You either love it or you don't. Those who hate licorice will tell you about their first communion with the stuff, which invariably includes five gallon glass jars, broken teeth and cobwebs.
But true licorice is something else. It's warm and spicy, with a flavor that fills your mouth and then your mind. Most Americans only know sweet licorice, and if you've never had the salty sort, you're in for a treat.
My favorite salt maker, Jacobsen’s from Tillamook, Oregon has tapped into the potential of American-made salty licorice. Jacobsen's teamed up with Portland-based super candymaker QUIN to make this eccentric little sweet. This is not classic licorice. A bit soft, it's the most macho caramel you've ever encountered. Every true licorice-lover I know becomes instantly addicted. Offer them a bag of this fantastic licorice and they will be eternally grateful.
It’s perfect stashed into a pocket for a late-afternoon treat. And even better in a stocking.