Gift Guide: Aprons for Everyone

December 6, 2016

I don’t wear aprons. Suiting up with a clunky piece of linen feels overly cautious – as if you’re expecting to make a mess.  And I hate the way most of them feel; they are literally a pain in the neck.

Recently, however, I’ve switched camps. The fact is, most cooks do make a mess, and I’ve realized that an apron gives you permission to stop worrying about tomato sauce splotches on your sleeves.

What changed my mind? The Chezpron,  which removes the pressure on your neck and makes cooking pure pleasure.

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But it turns out that buying an apron for someone else requires a bit of humility. Everyone has his own apron requirements.  Here are two more that – although they do tie around the neck – might be just the thing to make your friends happy.

Here from Japan’s Fog Linen: 097-b_0571

and another from Hand-Eye in Portland, Oregon:handeyekitchenstripe

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Gift Guide: Coffee to Go

December 5, 2016

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All my coffee-loving friends pack an AeroPress when they hit the road; it is, they assure me, the only way to be sure of getting a decent cup of coffee.  Most of them love this little gadget so much they also use it to make coffee at home, one cup at a time.

The coffee maker, which combines the technology of a French Press and a pour-over, was invented by Alan Adler, who also invented the Aerobie Pro flyer (a kind of frisbee with a hole in the middle that’s set records for farthest-thrown object). He’s a mechanical engineer who lectures at Stanford and has spoken at universities all over the world.

Apparently, Mr. Adler loves coffee.  Should you have someone with a similar passion on your list, this would be a terrific present.  It costs less than $30 – and even comes with its own little travel bag.

 

 

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Gift Guide: Light, Airy Brazilian Cheese Puffs

December 4, 2016

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We had snow on Thanksgiving, which especially thrilled our Brazilian guests, Fabio and Clarissa (on the extreme left). They went running out to play snow baseball and help build the snow bear family. “We don’t have snow at home,” Clarissa explained.
What they do have, however, is the great Brazilian pao de quejo,wonderful little puffs of cheesy, chewy air. Clarissa arrived bearing a bowl of dough, and we rolled them out and put them into the oven before heading outside. (Don’t you love the dog with the prune eyes?) We came back to a steamy kitchen and piles of warm puffs. (Think of these like crunchy gougeres.)
They were so delicious I asked Clarissa for the recipe.  I’m thinking of whipping up some batter and bringing it along to holiday parties; to me it seemed like an especially thoughtful hostess gift.
Here’s Clarissa’s recipe.
Pao de Quejo

– 1 package of Bob’s Red Mill Tapioca Flour

– 1 cup of milk
– 1/2 cup of canola oil (or any other vegetable oil)
– 1 teaspoon of salt
– Approximately half a pound of ground Monterey Jack cheese
– 3 eggs
INSTRUCTIONS
– Put the tapioca flour in a mixing bowl;
– Heat up the milk with the oil and salt. Once it starts boiling, add it to the tapioca flour;
– Knead the mixture until it resembles crumbs;
– After it has cooled off, add one egg and 1/3 of the cheese and mix it by hand. Once the mix looks homogenous (it will look like sugar icing), repeat with the second and third eggs, and the remaining cheese (one third per egg). The final dough should be sticky.
– If you want to bake them right away, use a spoon to take scoops of the dough and place them straight on a baking sheet. It will be hard to roll them by hand when the dough is fresh, but it shouldn’t be necessary. If you leave the dough in the fridge overnight, you’ll be able to roll them before baking.
– Bake at 350F for about 25-30 minutes, or until the little balls look puffy and lightly golden with a couple dark spots. We like them chewy, not too crunchy.
I found a link to the original cheese.  We normally used either the cured or the half-cured version of this cheese to make them back home.
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Should you want to make this into a serious Christmas present, think of throwing in a pretty platter to put the pao de quejo on. I particularly like this one, from my

neighbor, Mary Anne Davis at Davistudio.

And here’s a rather wonderful rustic Mexican serving plate from National Geographic.
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Getting an Edge

December 3, 2016

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No kitchen tool is as useful as a sharp knife.

But unless you’re adept at sharpening yours – and unless you sharpen them every day – your knives are very likely dull.

Enter the new KNASA knife.  Made by a design company called Habitat, it features a new alloy patented by NASA and Caltech that’s supposedly five times sharper than titanium. The company’s so confident it will keep its edge they promise that, should the knife need sharpening, they’ll do it for free.  (You pay shipping.)

Full disclosure – I joined the Kickstarter months ago, but have yet to receive my knife. So I’m taking Habitat (and the dozens of chefs who have tried the knife out), at their word.  The promise of a permanently sharp knife for $79 is just too good to pass up. 

You can no longer get the KNASA in time for Christmas, but I’m still planning on gifting the knife to a few friends. When the package finally arrives I’m hoping it will feellike Christmas in May. 

A great cook once told me that a knife should be so sharp that if you lightly balance the blade on your thumbnail it will sink slightly in. If you can scoot the blade across the nail’s surface, it’s not sharp enough. Personally, I’ve been keeping my edge with an electric knife sharpener. I’ve had this Chef’sChoice sharpener for years; it’s the lazy person’s way to stay sharp, but it really does the trick.

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Of course in a pinch you can always try this. 

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Nuts to You, and You, and You

December 2, 2016

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For people who bake, hazelnuts are essential.  No nut makes better tortes. And nowhere on earth do you find better hazelnuts than Oregon.

For years I’ve heard Alice Waters and Nancy Silverton talk up the organic hazelnuts from  Trufflebert Farm.  Chez Panisse was Trufflebert’s first account, back in 1992, and since then they’ve invaded every major kitchen on the West Coast. Their legend is large – but not as large as the nuts themselves.  These are HUGE nuts. Think gumballs. Which means a butter-to-bitter ratio smaller nuts can only envy.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-8-10-00-pmTrufflebert’s minimum order is ten pounds, so a lot of people will be getting these from me this year. Order now, divide them up and pack them into pretty boxes: at $13 a pound, they make a great gift any baker would love.

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