Gift Guide 2015: Open Sesame

December 6, 2015



I am in love with grapeseed oil. Its high smoking point lets me stir fry cleanly, without that awful scorched oil flavor. It has more nutrients than canola oil – and it’s made from the seeds of wine grapes, once destined only for the trash.

But I’ve just discovered a “new” oil that has captured my heart.  Benne oil is expelled from husk-on benne seed (a close relative of sesame, it was brought to North America by African slaves). Until the 1890s it was the primary cooking oil in the south; then scientists discovered an odorless way to extract oil from cotton seed and the less expensive oils took over. (Cotton, incidentally, is not specified as a food product, which makes this an undesirable oil in the kitchen.) Now, thanks to the efforts of Glenn Roberts and others, benne’s back.  

Benne grows voraciously in hot, unforgiving climates;  fertilize it and goes crazy. So it will be a good crop to have around in the future. When cold-expressed, it yields an oil so subtly nutty I’ve been finding all manner of uses for it.

The producer, Oliver Farm, has been farming their  land for more than a century, but they’ve recently switched from subsidized crops to sunflowers and peanuts to create their line of oils. They source their benne from Anson Mills – another Southern seed powerhouse – and never process with chemicals or high temperatures (which can kill nutrients.)

This would be a perfect present for adventurous cooks who like discovering great new products. And of course, for food historians, eager for a taste of the past.


Gift Guide 2015: Consider the Oyster

December 5, 2015


As any reader of my blog (or previous gift guides) knows, I love all things oyster.  And I’ve got oyster knives in all manner of shapes and sizes; I never stop looking for the perfect one.

Now I may have found it. This hand-forged oyster knife from Sea Island Forge in Georgia was obviously designed by someone who’s spent a lot of time opening oysters, and it’s intelligently engineered for maximum torque. It’ s got a lot more heft than your ordinary oyster knife – and I love the way it feels in my hand.  Also nice: it hooks onto your belt when you’re not using it – and the hook doubles as a beer can opener.

This one’s handmade and costs $100.  If you’re looking for something less expensive, I also love this Victorinox oyster knife; the curved tip really makes a difference, and it costs less than a tenth of the price above.


And while we’re on the subject of oysters…. Here are two favorite places to order them on online.

When I want West Coast oysters – at the moment Shigokus and Kumamotos (not to mention geoducks), I order from Taylor Shellfish Farms.  For East Coast oysters, I have a hard time thinking of a more luxurious gift than a bag filled with 100  Island Creek oysters.  Stored in the refrigerator, cup side down and covered with a damp cloth, they’ll keep for at least a week.



Gift Guide: For the Person Who Must Have the Latest Thing

December 4, 2015


I wouldn’t want one of these, but then I’ve always thought people’s obsession with drinking water was slightly insane.  Still, I know LOTS of people who will want a Pryme Vessel the moment they discover it exists. It goes by the name “intelligent cup.”

Here’s what it does: figure out exactly how much water you need to drink – and when you need to drink it – by factoring in a lot of personal data.  So if you know someone who lacks the ability to listen to their body when it tells them they’re thirsty, this would make a great gift. It’s perfect for that person who must have the latest gadget, the hippest watch, the newest Iphone.  And don’t we all know someone like that?

You can buy it, incidentally, at Apple Stores. It costs five cents less than a hundred bucks.



From My Kitchen Year: Big New York Cheesecake

December 4, 2015


Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some recipes from My Kitchen Year in this space. They’ll all be foods I like to cook this time of year, dishes that make this season feel like a holiday to me.  This cake for instance: it’s beautiful, it’s easy, it uses ingredients you can buy in the supermarket – and nobody doesn’t like it.

For more about the recipes that saved my life in a particularly difficult winter – and each of the other three seasons – you can visit this page about my book. You can probably buy it there too.

And just for fun, some shots of me and Mikkel from the Winter shoot for the book:

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Big New York Cheesecake


1 package Famous Chocolate Wafers

1½ pounds cream cheese

1 pint sour cream


1 5/8cups sugar


8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter (melted)

4 eggs

2½ teaspoons vanilla

Serves 8 to 10

Cheesecake is about the easiest thing you can possibly bake, a completely foolproof recipe that relies on supermarket staples. Most people adore it: at Gourmet, cheesecake was our most requested recipe. Show up anywhere with one of these and you’ll be welcome.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the crust, crush chocolate wafers until you have about a cup and a half (that will take about 6 ounces of wafers). Mix in a quarter cup of sugar, a pinch of salt, and the melted butter. Using your fingers, pat this mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan, making it even all around. Put the pan into the freezer for 15 minutes (it will keep here, covered, for a couple of months). Bake for 10 minutes, just to crisp the crust. Remove the pan and turn the oven down to 300 degrees.

Beat the cream cheese with a cup of sugar, the eggs, and 1½ teaspoons of vanilla until you have a completely smooth mixture. Pour it into the crust and bake for about 50 minutes, or until the cheese is set on the edges but still a bit wobbly in the middle. Remove the cake from the oven (leave the oven on) and cool for about 10 minutes on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, mix the sour cream with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Spread this mixture evenly over the cooled cake, then return it to the oven for about 12 minutes until the glaze is glossy and set.

Cool completely, then chill for at least 8 hours.


2015 Gift Guide: The Weight

December 3, 2015


A true terrine should pack so much flavor into a single bite that you second guess your surroundings. Are you in a french farmhouse? A little bistro? Or maybe just leaning against your kitchen counter? Eating a great terrine can really take you places.

A terrine should also be rich, luscious and a little bit sweet. It should feel like a party on a plate.  It should also be extremely dense. Why? Because air pockets interfere with flavor and ruin the whole experience.  A true terrine is weighted.

I’ve spent hours combing through the pantry, looking for something that will fit on top of the terrine. I’ve used old fashioned coffee cans. I’ve resorted to cans of tomatoes and jars of applesauce. 

But that’s all in the past. I’ve recently discovered these attractive terrine molds – with attendant weights to make concentrating flavors easy. It’s a delightfully versatile vessel, and even those uninterested in terrines (but why would you know such a person?) will surely find ways to use it.

If you’re a really good friend, you’ll offer it to your friends already full.  Here are two of my favorite recipes: this one is a French country classic (veal, chicken livers, ham, bacon), and this mushroom pate is a delightful vegetarian option. 

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