Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Holiday Spirit

The 'holiday spirit' is something we gently refer to in our house as that irresistible feeling that occurs early winter season that pushes one to be overly perky. The year the term was given this meaning, my husband had a particularly bad case of it. This consisted of entering Neiman Marcus and purchasing an exorbitant (and very chic) Gucci purse along with a variety of other 'smaller' gifts. We don't roll like that. It was the 'holiday spirit.' Shopping, however, is not the only manifestation of this impulse. It is the gift wrapping job gone Martha Stewart - handmade papers, thoughtfully paired dual ribbons and that extra little butterfly to tie it all together. It is the over-decorating of the house, where no inch remains untouched by the magic of ornaments, santa hats, pine cones, glitter, and reindeers. It is going carefully orchestrated holiday cards, christmas carols, sweater parties, and the like.

But back to gift-giving. The 'holiday spirit' did not send me to the mall. It pushed me to buy a ridiculous quantity of garlic to make confit for Christmas gifts. Garlic confit in a 4 ounce Ball jar like this one is a perfect treat and a secret weapon in any kitchen. The garlic confit is amazing spread on a baguette, part of garlic mashed potatoes, as a garnish on a dish main course, and in a dressing where both the garlic and the oil work well. Make a label for the jar, and perhaps include the recipe and suggested uses as a holiday card.

Garlic Confit

Ingredients: 1 cup peeled garlic cloves and 2 cups canola oil.

Cut off the root ends of the garlic cloves and discard. Place the cloves small pan and add enough oil to cover them by about one inch. The garlic should all be submerged in oil. Place the saucepan over low-medium heat (use a diffuser if you have gas stove and some extra attention if you have an electric stove).

The garlic should cook gently- small bubbles that do not break at the surface. Adjust the heat if needed and stir about every 5 minutes for a total of 40 minutes or until the garlic is completely tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Allow to cool in the oil and store in an airtight container.

Place in your preferred jars, label, and gift away. Let the 'spirit' take over!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Shop Local: Holiday Food Guide

A year ago I posted a local holiday food gift list here which I still love and encourage you to consult. I am back with more - 10 more - because Colorado local food can be amazing. In the last year, our food scene has gotten more vibrant- we are supporting food artisans, encouraging farmers, celebrating passionate cooks.

So this Black Friday, stay local in Colorado and keep it in (or around) the kitchen.

1. The Sweet Tooth: Hellimae's Salt Caramels

Why: Taste one and you won't have to ask why. They are outstanding, an addictive handcrafted combination of sugar and butter often infused with bold flavors like aromatic cardamom and deep coffee and a hint of sea salt that brings perfect balance to your bite. Ellen Daehnick works her magic in the kitchen and creates caramels that melt in your mouth in a chewy velvet form that always leaves you wanting more. Get the variety pack for a full experience.

2. The Gift that Keeps On Giving: Farm Share at Cure Organic Farm

Why: Because whoever gets this will not only get to eat amazing food but they will get to do so for weeks on end next summer. Cure Organic Farm is the quintessential back-to-basics farm. Family-owned and operated, friendly, pure, natural, charming, this farm will win over even the biggest skeptics. The produce and meat coming out of Cure Farm is fabulous and their commitment to doing the right thing makes their food taste even better.

Where: Start on their website here. It may be that shares are not yet on sale. But you can always try to work with the owners to get a share secured or you can promise to try really hard to get on the coveted shares. It is worth the effort.

3. The Experience: Any Cooking Class with Mark DeNittis

Why: Because no object can replace this experience. Mark is a pro in butchering and meat processing and his personality and teaching style are both entertaining and approachable. You can learn to break down a whole hog, butcher a lamb, or make sausage, and no matter which one you choose, this adventure will be great. Extra bonus: you may actually leave the class with some meaty goodies.

Where: Try Cook's Street Cooking School - they have some good classes coming up with him. But don't limit yourself- Mark teaches other places too from time to time. Keep your eyes and ears open and book what works best for you or your special gift-worthy person.

4. The Book: Denver County Fair Cookbook
Why: Because it is a fun and useful cooking tool with recipes from some of the winners of the fair's competitions and because it is the first one of what will be an annual Denver tradition. Some day it might be worth a fortune! Also, you can find four of my recipes in it.

Where: On the fair's website - or with a fast click here.

5. The Kid Treat: the Wacky Apple
Why: Because it is fun to find a new product that is a total hit with the younger crew and that makes you feel good about what goes into the precious child. Wacky apple is organic and local, made with integrity from the highest quality . ingredients, the Wacky Apple is not only healthy but truly delicious. Certainly get the apple sauce, but don't miss the flat fruit (code for fruit leather) and the actual 'wacky' apple, a kid-size, cutie-like version of an apple that a little one can actually hold and finish.

Where: At your local King Soopers in the organic section, and select products in select Whole Foods stores. A full list of retailers is available here.

6. The Gift Certificate: Bayleaf
Why: Because this store is like a really fancy candy store for the food lover. It is stunning, filled with the latest and most desirable food books, carefully curated glassware and plate ware, and specialty food products that you may not be able to find anywhere else. Even the card selection is beautiful and the table cloth section brings the French Martha Steward out of anyone. Go now, and get a gift card for someone who will appreciate it.

Where: Boulder, on Pearl Street at 13th. (1222 Pearl Street, Boulder).

7. The Dish: Kazu Oba

Why: Because a beautiful serving dish can change your entire experience of eating a great meal. These Japanese ceramics are unique, handcrafted, artistic in a way that is warm, understated and irresistible. They are simple but deep, basic and functional but extraordinary in ways that make you not want to stop touching it, stunning in the way the look and the experience they provide.

Where: You can try here. Or look for Kazu at local art fairs. Or get a hold of him and ask where you can get this stuff; that's what I would do.

8. The Coffee: Boxcar

Why: Because Vajra Rich is the best coffee roaster in the state. At Boxcar, Vaj and his wife, Cara, take tremendous pride in the process of making coffee from bringing the best but also consciously and ethically sourced beans to roasting them in the highest-quality environment in stunning refurbished old German roasters. The coffee is smooth, deep, full-bodied, sophisticated and versatile- the perfect bag of beans. Start with the House Blend for drip or Stella for espresso.

Where: Get it in the ultra-charming coffee shop on Pearl Street (sharing a space with Cured, a cheese, meat & specialty store I adore!), at Crema in Denver, at the Frasca Caffe in Boulder, or order it online here. Bonus: if you go to the coffee shop you can get a ridiculous latte!

9. The Honey: Grampa's Honey

Why: Because it is the top of the honey in Colorado. This is like candy, like a dessert, a treat, a smooth escape that is actually healthy for you. I won't pitch you on 'eat local honey cause it has the best antibodies' thing because you know that already but this honey's qualities go beyond locality. This stands up to any honey anywhere in its flavor, texture, and versatility. Don't miss the white honey, a creamed variety that is better than any candy out there.

Where: Some specialty stores carry it - Marczyck Fine Foods, St. Killian's Cheese Shop, Cured Cheese Shop, Alfafla's- get it through Fooducopia's Denver Store or Door to Door Organics or order straight from the source here. Tip: you can order in bulk to make mass-gift-buying easier.

10. The Booze: Leopold Brothers

Why: Let me count the ways in which I love Leopold's Brothers: small batch, hand bottled, artisan process, carefully sourced ingredients, rounded flavors, clean taste, full bodied spirits, these men make incredible gin, outstanding whiskey, charming vodkas, seductive absinthe verte, and a variety of liquoers that taste like what God wanted fruit to be, a perfect concentrated flavoring to a great spirit. They have a bottle for everyone but my favorite is still the gin, with the Blackberry liqueur as a close second.
What: At any respectable liquor store. There is a list of places that carry it here or you can order it online from one of these retailers.

Happy local shopping!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sweet Thanksgiving

I remember my first Thanksgiving - ten years ago- like it was yesterday. We spent it in Aspen with Kyle's mother. I barely knew her. Her husband, David was there too and Kyle's sister's boyfriend Neil- never met either before. Neil was memorable for his Brussel sprouts, prepared the good old British way. He is also memorable because, being not-American, he was somewhat of a stranger to the entire tradition too; that gave me comfort.

I wasn't sure what to expect. The food was not exactly the holiday fare back in the motherland. The turkey - I supposed - was like a mammoth chicken chosen likely for its size and the ability to feed a large crowd rather than its taste. The stuffing I did not understand but came to enjoy quickly for its amazing ability to absorb all fat and flavors- and for the mere fact that it is bread, which I love. What else was there? The braised Kale was neither pleasant nor objectionable. The gravy - I tolerated. The pie was fine- the apple I could relate mostly to, the pumpkin seemed odd. I could not stomach two things: cranberry sauce and sweet potato mash. I didn't get it - at all. Cranberry sauce I still don't get. The sweet potatoes had a breakthrough.

I don't give up- on people, goals, or sweet potatoes. I tried again and again. First problem: they are ugly, mutant/tumor-like ugly. Second problem: the sweet potato mash is just not right- mushy not matter what, sticky, unpleasant texturally. The gateway into liking them was sweet potato chips - perfect texture and flawless balance of sweet and salty. It was texture that bothered me the most in the mash and attracted me the most in the chips so I played with the ugly sweet potatoes- perfect cubes, butter, sage, and a hot oven. I found a way to love them.

I am thankful for giving sweet potatoes a second chance- because these ones are amazing. And I am thankful, of course, for more important things: my beautiful daughter Louise and my incredible husband Kyle, my mom with all her flaws, and Beth - the best friend I can ever imagine. I am thankful for dancing, singing, and writing, for challenges and dreams, smiles and sunshine, patience, persistence and forgiveness. I am thankful that I get the chance to cook food others love and that I can still find immense joy in the little things like a clean and organized pantry. I am grateful for good books, nice cheeses, good coffee, and genuine people who follow their passion. I am grateful for love and commitment and for trying harder no matter what. And I am thankful for you- the readers who come back and listen to me over and over again: thank you!

Sweet Potato Remix, my interpretation for Thanksgiving

Ingredients: 3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed perfectly (you will end up with a lot of 'trim' but it is worth it); 6 tablespoons butter; 2 bushy springs of sage, leaves picked and chopped finely; salt and pepper to taste, grated parmesan for serving.

Preheat the oven to 300 and place the sweet potatoes in a roasting pan than can hold them snug but in a single layer. Put the butter in a pan over medium heat. The butter will melt, then bubble, then brown. As soon as it browns, quickly stir the finely chopped sage in and remove from the heat. Pour the melted butter over the sweet potato cubes and stir to coat them well. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and roast for about 40 minutes or until slightly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Serve with grated parmesan, another pinch of salt, and a little fresh ground pepper. Happy Thanksgiving.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.