Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wanting it all

Oh, sweet holidays.

Hair-pulling, anxiety-inducing, sleep-stealing holidays.

What's the worst gift you've ever been given? You know what, nevermind. Let's not focus on the worst of the gentle white season. Let's focus on the best parts.

Namely, the food.

Food gifts are a great idea for the foodie friends and family in your life. They can be creative and heartwarming. And really who doesn't love a sweet or savory treat they didn't have to make? Mark and I like to throw together baskets of goodies for family and friends ... primarily because baking a few loaves of bread and adding some glitz is an easy way to not spend a ton of money on hostess gifts this time of year. Here are some ways you can throw some deliciousness together:

Herbal Olive Oils- Choose herbs of your choice and allow them to marinate in a lighter extra virgin olive oil for at least a week. You can buy this stuff in large tin cans for under $15 at the right stores. Makes enough to drown an army. Strain oil and put into decorative bottles with a new, clean sprig of the herbs used.

Flavored Vinegars- From herbs and spices, to fruits and citrus, vinegar is a fantastic canvas for your culinary creativity. Sage and citrus vinegar? No problem. Cranberry and warm spices? Nailed it. You can find tons of recipes for flavored vinegar online, so do some exploring or just follow your instincts. Be sure to strain the vinegar after a few weeks, pour into decorative bottles, and garnish with fresh ingredients.

Bread- We like throwing together a few loaves of sourdough, but whole wheat or traditional white are always awesome. If you can bake, give some bread a whirl. Those holiday party hosts don't want to worry about making breakfast the following morning. Give them something tasty to toast when pancakes are too ambitious. Quick breads are a great option if allowing dough to rise just taxes your imagination. Banana, pumpkin, cranberry, the options are vast this time of year and most you can buy by the box. I won't tell anyone you took a short cut. I promise.

Shmears- Jams, jellies, spreads .. most of these keep in the fridge for a while, so they pack longevity. Berry jams and jellies have enough pectin in them to make preserving as easy as a pot of boiling water. Apple sauces and butters can be processed easily, too. Cranberry relish and sauces are acidic enough to last for a week or two without processing at all, though that always helps.

Delightful extras- Cheeses, honeys, cured meats, local delights ... find your local fine food provider and find a few affordable add-ons. Have a lot of herbs from your garden? Bundle them with twine for an added flavor boost to future meals. For all you local readers, we suggest hitting up Butter's Fine Food and Wine for fancy extras to gifts like this.

We like to hit up a local craft store for clearance deals on baskets and pretty fabric- one year we lined the baskets with flour-sack towels. Those always come in handy. You can find affordable glass bottles and jars at just about any kitchen store or department stores that have home-goods sections (like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, or Home Goods). If you're looking for the super different, try a thrift store like Salvation Army or Goodwill. They have a bit of glass available, just run it through the hottest cycle your dishwasher has. After you have the containers and your idea of things, get to cooking!

If all of this just sounds like a lot of work to you, or if you're worried your efforts won't match your ultimate goals, there is an answer.

This is the man behind the movement.

Food forward friends, rejoice! This incredible gifting service takes all the stress out of gifting and puts fun back in it's place. The process is incredibly simple, too. You can even sign in through Facebook to make shopping for your friends even easier!

So, you pick your gift recipient and how much you would like to spend on their gift. You then answer a series of interesting questions based around the recipient's personality. After calculating all the information, you're given an incredible list of unique and interesting items to create a custom catalog out of. You pick the items your friend gets to choose from. You also choose the cover to their custom catalog and can personalize it with a message on the inside cover.

It doesn't end there, either. Catalogs are shipped to you, or directly to the giftee, wrapped in Japanese rice paper and sealed in handsome and sturdy envelope. The whole presentation is really impressive and the end result is something that really warms a person's heart.

But don't take my word for it, try it for yourself.  How does this apply to food? That's part of the information process and the food gifts through this site will blow your mind.

Airmailed truffles? Yeah, they have that.
Incredible knife sets? Of course.
Collapsing, portable grills. Hand made rare wood cutting boards and serving dishes. Fine china. Exotic teas. Beautiful wines. Imported olive oils.

Need I go on? No, you should just check it out for yourself. It's so worth it and you'll be hooked from the start. I promise. There is so much more than just food related gifts, too. Fine art, artisan jewelry and

This just in, Wantful now allows users to buy their products directly from them. Why not spoil yourself while you're shopping for that in-law that always seems to have everything they need?

In the end, the holidays always remind us of how good we can have it. Surrounded by family and friends, and most of the time a bountiful table, it is easy to be reminded of how beautiful our world is.

May your table and the love in your life always be full and delicious. xo

Friday, November 16, 2012

Plenty of fish- not all worth eating.

So ... I'm in love with Sander's Fish Market. They have a "fish truck" that travels around the state, making frequent stops in the Concord area, including the Summer and Winter Farmers' Markets in town.

Every Friday they hang out in the parking lot of the Everette Arena, from 10am to 4pm. Talk about having a direct line to the freshest catch in the area! I placed an order for a party of 10 coming up this weekend and there it was waiting for me, tucked nicely in a fish-tub and looking stunningly fresh and friendly.

Photo taken from Wikipedia "Cod" page.

I have a lot of clients that struggle with fish. Some hate eating it- many won't venture to try it at all- while still others love it but struggle with new ways to keep fish interesting. I hear ya'. I love fish. Huge fan. Wish we ate more of it. What I tend to struggle with is knowing which fish available to me is the one worth eating.

Don't worry. There are ways to get around this mental block.

Courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium comes to the rescue. I've been preaching this Seafood Watch Guide for years. In fact, I've given a lot of the printed ones away. That was, until they came up with a phone app. The genius lies in having specific guides for different areas of the country. It really is a gem and worth keeping around if you're the food buyer in the family.

So, you have the tools. You found the fish. It's T minus 2 hours until dinner time and you don't feel like just squeezing lemon over the damn thing again.

What to do?

Well, what kind of fish is it? Cod? Hake? Perch? Salmon? Swordfish? Tuna?

Consider the texture of your fish before going further. Steak fish handles grilling and pan searing incredibly well. Their tougher textures lend themselves to a bit more abuse than their weaker counterparts.

Salmon? My favorite way to eat that stuff is straight up raw. It melts like butter in your mouth. When cooking it, I try to cook it just shy of done, to retain that fatty texture as much as possible. Slather it with mustard (dijon or heavy grain). Trust me.

White fish is as blank as an artist's untouched canvas. My personal favorite is to pair any white fish with tomatoes and white wine. Garlic, capers, olives, all of these help, too. Remember, white fish takes all of a few minutes to cook through. I like to check in five minute increments, using a fork at the center of a fillet and gently twisting in either direction. When the flesh budges and starts to flake, you're done. STOP THE COOKING PROCESS RIGHT THERE!

When in doubt, give poaching a shot. Putting a crust on fish is awesome, too. Like, ground almonds, some bread crumbs, garlic, butter, herbs, mixed to a paste. Shmear that on there and bake for a bit, broiling the top if you want it crisper.

All I ask is that you give fish a shot. It's well worth it for supporting our local fishing companies, for encouraging the preservation of native species and protection of their habitats. For the Omega 3s and the delightful variety fish can bring to your diet.

Don't be shy, cast your line and see what you catch.

I think that's a delightful metaphor for more than just eating. xo

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What we've got: Part Deux

And what haven't we got this time of year? We've got storms, cold weather, holidays fast approaching. It's enough to induce vomiting.

Here's hoping these next few tips can help you avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder in the coming months.

Problem #3: Storms. All manner of them.

New Hampshire is a delightful mix of self-reliance and Yankee-ingenuity. We can do it ourselves, thankyouverymuch. Until the power goes out. For two weeks straight. Now, let's just say most everything in your home is run on electricity (including your range and oven). Such is the case where I live. By week two, you've already eaten what you can from the dying refrigerator and are staring down the non-perishables because let's face it, eating at a restaurant isn't an option 14 days in a row. Here is one recipe that our family eats even with the lights on, and all of it is shelf stable.

White Bean Pantry Salad

One 14 oz can Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed
One 8 oz can Tuna or Salmon, drained
1/2 or 1/4 red onion, diced
1 tsp tarragon

1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbs White Wine vinegar -or- Lemon juice
4 Tbs Olive Oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
Pinch of sugar

So, all of the salad components can survive out of a fridge and this requires no heating or other prep outside of dropping stuff in a bowl and mixing it. Combine the first 4 ingredients and stir gently. Then, combine the following ingredients in a separate bowl- this is your dressing. Combine everything and enjoy. I recommend finishing all of this- if your fridge is down, there's no saving the leftovers.

Problem #4: Baby. It's cold outside. Like, wicked cold.

Single digit temperatures are not far away. With this setback we are faced with interesting personal obstacles. We crave fat and carbohydrates- an ancestral drive that hearkens back to our cave-dwelling days when an extra layer of fat made the winter easier to survive. Can we have our comfort food and not gain the Winter 15 at the same time? Maybe. Here are a few tricks for holiday foods that help keep some calories at bay ...

Mashed Potatoes: Use chicken stock instead of milk or cream (butter really is a must, though). Then, add lots of seasoning- garlic, chives, etc.

Cranberry Sauce: I can find no fault with this, assuming the stuff doesn't come from a can and doesn't contain stiffing amounts of sugar. Lots of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin E ... you can learn more here:

Green Bean Casserole: Skip the soup. A basic white sauce with fresh ingredients and low fat milk will get you where you want to go. Add mushrooms, herbs, and love. Crispy onions can be welcomed with open arms, so long as the Campbells company isn't part of your recipe.

The rest is really moderation. has a fantastic crop of comfort foods done right. You don't miss the fattening parts. They have a great test kitchen, if I can say so. I refer to them often when I'm craving a comforting dish, but I want a healthier way of going about it.

As for that Seasonal Affective Disorder- it's a real thing. Us New Englanders are chronic sufferers. Here's what Web MD has to say about it. I like to think that bringing some sunshine into your diet would help to keep a lot of these symptoms at bay. This year, I'm seeking out buying a case of oranges from Florida. The local middle school used to sell them, but they have since ceased. So, I went out into the interwebs and found a few places that might work. Here's hoping they help you, too: - you can get anything here.
Hale Groves - lots of nice gifty things here.
Countryside Citrus - cute site, lots of variety.

I Googled "oranges by the case" and these are the best options I came up with, though many more exist. If you know of any better ones, please let us know in the comments section.

I've gone on long enough for my second installment. Expect more soon.

I hope this cold weather finds you wide-eyed and childlike. May the season give you nothing but love and excitement. xo