Monday, December 19, 2011

Top Burnt Chef's Holiday Gift Guide 2011

The holiday season is upon us! Normally I am working like crazy but this is the first year since graduating culinary school that I will NOT be working in a kitchen.  So I actually have some time to enjoy the holidays!  I actually haven't done any Christmas shopping yet (finals week and all, oh and living in a town where almost everything is branded with the ski area logo) but if you are shopping for a foodie-obsessed individual (or myself) these are the gifts I would give (or hope to receive, HINT HINT).

Gifts to Give

1. Lodge Cast Iron Skillet - from $22-$65
This is the workhorse of my kitchen.  I use this pan more than anything else.  I have fancy All-Clad pans and a Le Creuset but I always return to the cast iron.  It is the best pan to cook grilled cheeses and my favorite pan to cook hamburgers.  I seriously use it for everything, to bake mac and cheese, corn bread, fry chicken. If you are at all serious about cooking, you need to get one of these.  Chances are you grandmother has one that she has been using for twenty years.
                                                                                                     You can purchase it here

2. Cast-Iron Bacon Press - $12.95
My other workhorse. Let this heat up with your cast-iron skillet and you will have perfectly grilled cheeses.  It's also perfect for getting flat bacon.  Who likes curly bacon?  Not me!

You can purchase it here

3. Microplane Box Grater - $34.95
The price is a bit steep for a box grater but Microplane makes the best grater. Every professional chef will have some form of Microplane in his toolkit. Made with surgical grade stainless steel, this box grater has three grating blades, including a fine/zester! It has rubber feet so no slipping when you are grating. And I love how the grating surface is slightly elevated so you can grate the full length of the cheese!  This is the Ferrari of box graters. 

You can purchase it here

4. Fish Spatula - $15
Of all the spatulas, non-stick, rubber, silicone, etc. I like the fish spatula the best.  I use it for more than fish.  It's great for flipping grilled cheeses and burgers.  It's very thin and flexible and I like the wooden handle.  

Buy a fish spatula here

5.  Japanese Mandoline - $21
This is another workhorse in my kitchen.  I absolutely LOVE this tool.  It slices and dices with precision.  It's extremely sharp and people have definitely lost the tips of their fingers but you will not find a better tool that will slice and julienne with precision. For $21, you can't beat the price.  It comes with three different blades (4 if you include the straight blade) and is adjustable so you can make paper thin slices or thicker slices (1/4")

You can purchase it here

My Wish List

1. Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook- $20
I am obsessed with all things David Chang of Momofuku and I am addicted to his style of cooking.  Christina Tosi is his pastry chef and she has come up with simple yet mind-blowing desserts such as Crack Pie and Blueberry and Cream Cookies.  These are a collection of her pastry recipes for the Momofuku concepts in Manhattan.  

Buy this book for me here

2. Subscription to Lucky Peach Magazine- $28
I warned you, I am obsessed with all things David Chang and Lucky Peach is his quarterly magazine that he edits with Momofuku cookbook co-author Peter Meehan. Not your average food magazine, Lucky Peach is "a new journal of food writing. It is a mélange of travelogue, essays, art, photography, rants, and recipes in a full-color, meticulously designed format. (The) aim is to produce a publication that appeals to diehard foodies as well as fans of good writing and art in general." The first issue was solely dedicated to ramen with guest writers like Anthony Bourdain and Wylie DuFrense praising the glorious soup that is ramen.

Order me a subscription here

3. Cheese of the Month Club Subscription
Who wouldn't want this?  Every month Cowgirl Creamery will send you one pound of cheese with an accompaniment. There are three subscriptions to choose from: 3-month, 6-month and 12-month subscriptions. 

Send me some cheese by ordering here

4. Nixon Kensington watch in Gold- $150
Ok this is not a culinary thing but it has been a long time since I have been allowed to wear a nice watch. Since I am no longer working in a kitchen, I am enjoying wearing jewelry again.  I don't wear too much jewelry in the first place but I am obsessed with mens style watches. I need this watch! Does anybody have a Nixon hook up or access to a pro-form?

Buy me this watch here

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Elderberry Jammin'

In September, I went camping at the East Walker River.  We found a neat little camp site right off the road.  I noticed as we were attempting to off-road my Jetta, there were a number of bushes with blue berries.  The first rule of foraging is to POSITIVELY ID YOUR PLANT! Since we had no cell reception, I couldn't use those nifty apps where you take picture of the plants and it IDs it for you. Luckily, a truck pulled up and these people started plucking berries off the tree! Curious, I asked them what they were doing and I found out they were local Native Americans.  They were picking elderberries for their elders to make syrup and preserves.  My eyes lit up as I was extremely excited to go berry picking.  My attempt to go apple picking earlier in the century old orchards of Yosemite was thwarted by my lazy boyfriend (and the unexpected death of a good friend) so I'll be damned if something interferes with my berry picking!

After finding out the berries weren't poisonous, I began spotting the bushes everywhere.  The elderberry bushes were concentrated with in a 100 yards of each other so I didn't have to walk very far.  Elderberries grow in clusters and are ripe when the fruit has turned almost white.  It should look like a dusting of powdered sugar on the blue berries.

Elderberries are found throughout most of the world, in Europe, Asia, the Americas and even Australia. They supposedly have mystic and healing characteristics. In some areas, the elder tree was supposed to ward of evil spirits and give protections from witches.  Some say that witches congregate under their branches, especially when it is full of fruit. According to folklore, you should never cut down or burn an elder tree.  Spirits will haunt you.  And now for my favorite piece of trivia about the elder tree, the wood from an elder tree was used to create the Wand of Destiny, Death Stick, the Elder Wand aka Dumbeldore's wand from Harry Potter.

 Elderberry flowers are used to create elderberry cordials which are so popular right now with mixologists.  You probably have had a drink with St. Germain in it.  Wine, cordials and marmalades can be made from the berries. A popular dish in Europe is to eat pancakes with elderberries. Elderberries have been used medicinally throughout the centuries. You can find elderberries as an ingredient for almost all holistic cold medicines.  Eating elderberries has been shown to reduce congestion and may be an effective treatment for the H1N1 flu otherwise known as the Avian flu.  It is also effective in treating other types of flus and is even being recommended for AIDS and cancer patients for its ability to boost and sustain the immune system.  For more information about the health benefits of the elderberry check out wikipedia's page on Elderberries.

So what did I do with my 10 lbs of elderberries?  I made elderberry preserves, elderberry grape jelly (with organic, local grapes grown by my neighbor), elderberry syrup and elderberry vinegar!  Hopefully I will have a flu-free winter!
Some of the fruits of my labor

Listening to Bob Marley- Jammin
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