The cake that wowed readers of the Taste section last year around Valentine's Day impressed those in charge at Williams-Sonoma, too.
Now the cake is available from Williams-Sonoma for those more inclined to buy it ready-made ($99.95), prepared by Platine Bakery of Los Angeles and shipped frozen. The cake also got a shout-out in People magazine (see left).
Want to check out the cake in person? This weekend Ross will be at the Williams-Sonoma stores at the Mall of America (Saturday, 1 to 3 p.m.) and the Galleria (Sunday, 1 to 3 p.m.). No samples, but plenty of visuals.
You've only got hours to shop if you're still hunting for a Christmas gift. (Really, you still have shopping left?)
If you've got a cook with an attitude (think "more naughty than nice") -- or at least one that doesn't mind crude and rude in a sense of humor -- any of three new books may strike a fancy. Two of them are by anonymous writers.
A reprint of Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" -- what's billed as an "Insider's Edition" -- is out with Bourdain's handwritten comments, though the notes are few, far between and generally not very insightful. A press release says that 50 pages are annotated. (That includes many lightweight comments such as the one at left.) The handwritten intro -- three pages of scrawl, would have filled less than a single page of type, so "annotation" is a bit of a misnomer. Still, his story of what he calls the "culinary underbelly" holds up amazingly well after 12 years, though a few historical references may be obscure to up-and-coming cooks who are unfamiliar to such references as Hunt and Liddy or Patty Hearst.
Bourdain's memoir of his time in the restaurant biz is always blunt, often crude and definitely opinionated. He set the tone for many other food memoirists that followed.
Tired of Anthony Bourdain? Then perhaps Ruth Bourdain may be to your liking. The anonymous Twitterer, a parody mashup of Anthony Bourdain and Ruth Reichl, has come out with a book, "Comfort Me with Offal: Ruth Bourdain's Guide to Gastronomy." The title is a takeoff of Reichl's memoir "Comfort Me with Apples." The book is as irreverant and crude in its humor as Ruth Bourdain's 140-character (or less) thoughts found daily on Twitter. Let's just say that there's very little I could quote from the book for a newspaper blog. Who is Ruth Bourdain? Well, New York magazine and I (as reported a year ago) think it's Robert Sietsema, restaurant critic of the Village Voice.
Have a "Fifty Shades of Grey" fan on your list? "Fifty Shades of Chicken: a parody in a cookbook," may be the gift for you to present. This, too, has a pseudonym for an author, FL Fowler (who else?). The book offers vignettes of Miss Hen, a young "unexplored" chicken, at the mercy of Mr. Blades, the cook, who teaches her the pleasures of being whipped up for dinner. It is a one-note joke carried through 50 recipes, which include Mustard-Spanked Chicken, Hot Rubbed Hen, Extra-Virgin Breasts, Spatchcocked Chicken and many more that will make the occasional cook blush, with food porn pictures of the recipes, plus the occasional Chippendale shot of the cook.
Buyer beware: Choose carefully if you're gifting any of these books.
I can't be the only baker in the world -- or the Twin Cities, anyway -- who enjoys giving the gift of colorful tins filled with holiday cookies, particularly when we have so many terrific recipes in our 10th-annual Taste Holiday Cookie Contest.
But I was starting to feel that way when I went out in search of them and came up short. I ran through Target, Tuesday Morning, Crate & Barrel and Macy's -- heck, even the Container Store -- and walked out empty handed.
Then my editor gave me a tip: Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft. True confessions: I've never set foot inside a Jo-Ann store; up until a few days ago I was only vaguely aware of the company's existence. But the chain is now on my radar, thanks to its impressive cookie tin inventory (pictured, above). More than a dozen festive patterns are stocked in several sizes, with prices ranging from $5.99 to $7.99. When it comes to cookie tins, Jo-Ann is the mother lode.
Not being much of a scrapbooker, I'm not terribly familiar with Michaels, either. But the crafters' paradise is another reliable source for cookie tins. I counted nearly 10 different decorative options (pictured, above) in a range of shapes and sizes, sold at $1.99 to $6.49.
Cost Plus World Market has returned to the Twin Cities, and while the selection is slim -- I found just one rectangular container (pictured, above), which was priced at $4.99 -- the store also had a decent array of holiday-themed cardboard cookie boxes (6 or 10 for $4.99). To my eye, they're the cookie equivalent of using a gift bag rather than a gift-wrapped box, but that's just the traditionalist in me. Still, they're better than having to resort to a coffee can. Wait, is coffee still sold in cans?
Strangely, cooking stores, their shelves heaving with bakeware, come up short. Williams-Sonoma, Sur la Table and Cooks of Crocus Hill don't keep them in stock, although I did encounter two at Kitchen Window (pictured, above): a small, candy-appropriate container for $3.99, and a cookie-scaled tin for $4.50. Better than nothing, right?
I would probably brave the big-box gauntlet that is IKEA for a few of the Swedish giant's stackable, white-and-gold "Tripp" containers (pictured, above, in a provided photo). The price is right, too: a set of three is $9.99.
Two other possibilities that I didn't check: I've heard that various dollars stores (Family Dollar, Dollar Tree) occasionally keep cookie tins on hand. For vintage versions, check out a thrift store near you, or click into eBay.
Oh, and because there seems to be a website for everything, there's always cookietins.com.
Where do you find them?
My favorite cranberry relish couldn't be easier: Grind up fresh, uncooked berries in a blender or food processor. Add some sugar and the zest of an orange, lemon or both. Then let it sit for a spell. Fabulous. And beautiful. The berries remind me of jewels. It's a terrific sandwich topper the next day, too. You can find this recipe -- and many others suited for the big day -- in the Taste cookbook, "Come One, Come All/ Easy Entertaining Wtih Seasonal Menus."
EASY CRANBERRY RELISH
Makes about 3 cups.
Note: Every menu needs an easy dish. From "Come One, Come All/ Easy Entertaining With Seasonal Menus," by Lee Svitak Dean.
• 1 (12 oz.) pkg. fresh cranberries
• Zest from 1 orange or 1 lemon (or from both for extra flavor)
In a food processor or blender, coarsely chop the cranberries.
In a large bowl, toss berries and sugar together. Add zest to cranberries; stir. Refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours or overnight to let flavors blend. Stir again before serving.
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