Gift Guide: A Last Minute Supermarket Suggestion

December 24, 2016

fn_baking-ingredient-guide-flours-01-stock_s4x3-jpg-rend-sni18col-landscapeThe gluten-free craze drives some people mad, but it has had one enormous benefit.  A stroll through any supermarket is proof that alternative flours now abound.  Buckwheat, rice, oat and teff are only the beginning.

Stuck for a gift for a passionate baker? Consider an alternative baking book along with a few nicely wrapped bags of alternative flour.

Suggestions?  The latest book from San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery: Tartine No. 3: Modern, Ancient, Classic, Whole. 

The wonderful Better Baking Book by Genevive Ko. 

Or should you want a virtual bible, a hefty, authoritative guide to the properties of little-known flours, there’s no better book than Alice Medrich’s Flavor Flours. Throw in a few different varieties from the supermarket – or a place like Anson Mills – and you’ve got a very fine gift. 

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Gift Guide: A Cake for Christmas

December 23, 2016


Part sticky toffee pudding, part upside down cake, this glorious English confection comes together easily, requires no exotic ingredients- and is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Best of all, it fills your house with the warm mingled aroma of ginger, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon.

If you’re looking for the perfect dessert to take to a Christmas feast, look no farther.  This is easy to transport, and it keeps very well.

Should you want to make this a really impressive present, throw in a 10 inch pre-seasoned cast iron skillet.l8sk3_nYou can find them at most stores – or go right to the source, the Lodge Company.  I consider this particular skillet an essential kitchen tool; you can never have too many.

And now… The Perfect Christmas Cake

Sticky Upside Down Pear and Gingerbread Cake

Preheat the oven to 350.

Butter a 9 1/2 or 10 inch cake tin, then line the bottom with parchment paper.  (Alternatively, use a 10 inch cast iron skillet; if it’s well-seasoned you won’t need the parchment paper.)

Melt 2/3 of a stick of butter with 3/4 cup of brown sugar in a small pot until it turns into a creamy, caramel-colored glop.  Pour it into the cake tin and tip the pan to make the syrup evenly cover the bottom of the pan.

Peel 4 fat Bosc pears and cut off the tip and bottom end. (Do not core them; they’ll look so much better left to their own devices). Cut each pear in half and lay it in the pan, cut side down, with its tip pointing into the center of the pan. Set aside while you mix the gingerbread.

Put 1 and a half cups of all purpose flour into a small bowl.  Whisk in 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and a teaspoon of ground ginger. Grate in a bit of nutmeg. Add a pinch of ground clove.

In another bowl beat 2 eggs.  Stir in a cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup molasses or sorghum, 2/3 cups milk and a stick of melted butter. Grate in a small knob of fresh ginger.

Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix until comes together into a smooth batter.  Pour over the pears, smooth the top and bake for about an hour, until a toothpick comes out fairly clean.  (Timing will depend on the size of your pan.)

Set on a wire rack to cool for a few minutes, then run a knife around the edge.

Find a large plate or cake platter. Place a sturdy oven mitt on each hand. Set the plate on top of the cake, then turn the whole thing upside down as quickly as possible.  The cake should slide easily out of the pan, leaving the pears smiling up at you. 

Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.



Gift Guide: For Your Sugar

December 22, 2016


I’ve written about this fantastic apple cider syrup before; it’s among my most useful pantry ingredients.  A splash added to a pan of sauteed vegetables (shredded brussels sprouts, for instance), along with a little bit of soy or fish sauce, imparts instant character.

At Thanksgiving I used cider syrup in place of  2/3 of the corn syrup in my pecan pie.  The result was spectacular; instead of cloying sweetness the syrup added a touch of acidity and a hint of apple.  It was, hands down, the best pecan pie I’ve ever made.

That gave me an idea; why not play around with alternate sugar sources?  I’ve always kept a variety of vinegars on hand; now my cupboard contains an equally large wardrobe of sugar syrups. If you’re stumped about what to give a curious cook, a quick trip to the supermarket – or even better a specialty food shop – should give you a wide range to choose from. A syrup collection would make a thoughtful and unusual present.

Herewith, a few suggestions beyond the obvious honey, maple and agave syrups.


date syrup


cane syrup




golden syrup


Gift Guide: For Fermentation Freaks

December 21, 2016

fermented-foodsFor most of human history, pickling and preservation skills were essential. Thanks to commercially available shelf goods, those days ended in the modern era and pickling became a lost art.

But it’s coming back. Big time. Pickling is easy, it’s economical, and it doesn’t take much time. Pickling is now so cool that a beautifully produced new magazine called Cured just made its debut with articles by the best in the business (Darra Goldstein, Jane Lear, Fuchsia Dunlop, Jessica Harris, Betty Fussel, William Woys Weaver and Charles Perry, to name just a few); it would make a great gift for a passionate pickler.

For those who want to take it farther, consider a pickling class. Fermentation specialists are a famously elusive bunch, so many cool classes are one-offs; google fermentation classes in your friend’s home city and you’re sure to come up with a handful.  And if you happen to know a budding fermenter who lives in the Bay Area, Happy Girl Kitchen offers regular classes, as does the Institute for Urban Homesteading.

making_kraut_elizabethkochFor the truly obsessed, there’s the legendary Sandor Katz – this country’s fermentation guru – and the classes he offers on his Tennessee compound. (Though they’re almost always sold out.)  Next best thing? Katz’s manifesto, The Art of Fermentation, which features one of the loveliest – and most permissive – recipe-writing styles you’re likely to encounter. It’s on the bookshelf of every chef I know. 


Gift Guide: Look Like a Chef

December 20, 2016


The tattoo is the hallmark of the modern young chef: most sport at least one, and many have entire sections of their bodies covered in colorful ink.

If you have a friend who wants to walk through the world like a chef for a day, consider these temporary tattos. They’re light, they’re cheap (2 for $5), and they come in animal, vegetable and mineral form.

I’m crazy about this pig:

tattly_julia_rothman_pig_web_design_01_grandepartial to this kitchen set:

tattly_julia_rothman_kitchen_utensils_web_design_01_grandelove this lemon


enjoy the elegant simplicity of these beans


and can hardly wait to wear this burger.


Check out the Tattly website for the entire range of tattoos. But if you’re worried about your gift getting there in time for Christmas, the tattoos are widely available at an astonishing range of clothing emporiums, book stores and museum shops. Here are just a few:

• Urban Outfitters• J.Crew’s crewcuts• Forever 21• Nordstrom• Colette• Museum of Modern Art• Deutsche Guggenheim• Rare Device• Whitney Museum• Paper Source• The Echo Park Time Travel Mart• National Gallery of Art• Ricky’s NYC• Strand Bookstore• The Standard on The High Line• Land of Nod• Powell’s City of Books• Conran Shop• Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store


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