Wednesday, December 17, 2014

EXPERIENCE IN A BOX

THE BIGGEST WHISK ever just arrived on my doorstep -- along with a massive colander, and tons of other fun tools, all of which will help me to make a batch of pinot noir and some feta cheese to eat with it. The tools and such came courtesy Northern Brewer, a top-notch supplier of all things needed for fermenting.
If you're looking to give an extra-special gift to a fellow foodie -- and just can't decide what, this is it.
It's an adventure -- that produces a present at the finish line. I can't wait to unpack my experience and share pictures!
The Creamery in a Box Starter Kit includes all you need to make your own cheese -- Farmhouse Cheddar, Feta, Cottage Cheese and Queso Fresco. ($129.99)
The wine kit turns you into a winemaker -- providing all you need except bottles and the juice, which you get to pick out separately. The kit is $129.99; juice is about $30. www.northernbrewer.com
What's especially nice about these kits is that once you have the equipment, you can keep making wine and cheese without spending too much cash, as Northern Brewer sells replenish supplies at very reasonable prices.
More details -- and pictures -- of my personal fermenting experience to come...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

LET'S TALK COOKIES

COOKIE SEASON HAS arrived. At my house, that means pounds of butter and nuts and chocolate that are turned into sweet bites. But those who don't enjoy playing in cookie dough will be happy to know that there are more than a few incredible cookies and treats made by professionals -- that you can pick up at the store or order online.
Chateau Bakery: The most awesome sugar cookies made by Burlingame's Esther Buss are not only delicious, but they're packaged in charming paper containers. The cookies are entirely natural, made out of the same ingredient you would use if you made them yourself -- but better. The cookies can be found at Draeger's, Lunardi's Mollie Stone's and other specialty markets. Check this link to find a store near you www.chateau-bakery.com/apps/store-locator. To order online, go to www.chateau-bakery.com Small boxes sell for $4.50-$5; larger  boxes are available.
B&K Brittle Bombs: These fun treats with a funny name are just plain irresistable. They're four layers of good: Peanut butter nougat is wrapped around a chocolate-dipped, crispy chunk of B&K’s signature cashew brittle, then covered in Guittard dark chocolate, and finally rolled in lightly candied and salted, roasted cashews. They're creamy, cruncy, salty, sweet and just a little bit messy to eat. Find these handmade treats at their store in Los Angeles if you happen to live in SoCal, or online: http://bkchocolate.com/collections/chocolates-and-candy 
Sugar Bowl Bakery: If you are looking for an affordable treat to feed to a crowd, consider the Sugar owl Bakery's seasonal brownie bites. They're individually packaged -- yay for portion control -- and are about as good as you can find in a non-artisan treat. The peppermint flavor is perfect for December parties. The Hayward bakery sells its treats at most grocery stores -- including Costco.

Monday, December 8, 2014

PRETTY IN RED

A GLASS OF red is the perfect way to start a party, to serve alongside a great plate of food, to sip after the end of a really long day -- or to give at this time of year. Some are deep red and so packed with juicy fruit flavors that they almost seem sweet. Others are ultra-dry, with lots of wood, spice and herbs. Since it's so difficult to know what's what by looking at a wine label, here's a sneak-taste commentary on a few wines worth checking out:
Avignonessi 2011 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, $19
This ultra-dry red from Southern Tuscany is not for newbies to red. It's an elegant (if slightly young) wine with lots of structure, and layers of spice, musk and tart cherry flavors. The minimal fruit makes it super food-friendly -- it won't turn sweet no matter what you choose to serve with it. Excellent quality corkage means this wine is also likely to age very well.
Modus Luminaria 2011 Ruffino, $89
Those who love giving an extra special bottle -- and don't have a really tight budget -- should check out the gorgeous packaging of this wine. It comes in a heavy wood and etched-metal light box that is a beautiful decor item in and of itself. The wine inside the box, a sangiovese-cabernet-merlot blend, is full without being too sweet; woody but not overly astringent. Take time to let this special wine breathe and you'll discover blackberry and currant flavors. www.reservebar.com/products/ruffinomodus
Sierra de Viento 2010 Old Vine Garnacha, $14
Despite the somewhat cheesy (my opinion) label of a demon-like cloud chilling grapes with his breath, this Spanish wine is super-bold and tannic, with understated fruit. What's especially fun about this wine is that it's made with garnacha grapes -- the very same varietal that's used to make the pink-colored cavas, the signature sparkling wine from Spain.  


Friday, November 28, 2014

A PERFECT FINISH

ADDING A PINCH of nutmeg to eggnog, chocolate shavings or rock salt to cocoa, piloncillo sugar or ginger or citrus or just about anything else that needs to be grated into your hot or cold drink just got a whole lot easier, thanks to Microplane. These simple mug-toppers allow you to place the grater inside the cup, grate and remove. This one grates super-hard items; another similar one grates stuff like chocolate and cheese. The graters are about $10 at cooking stores. (I'm thinking stocking stuffers!) (Shhhhh!). www.microplane.com

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

SNEAK TASTE

 
Zpizza and 2014 Beaujolais Noveau made for
a perfect pairing.
IT DOESN'T HAVE finesse and it's not balanced, but every year, Georges Duboeuf releases a Beaujolais Nouveau -- new wine -- that's basically a sneak preview of what the vintage will become. The un-aged wine is fun, bright and fresh. It's slightly acidic, with touches of strawberry and raspberry. It would go with turkey or ham, but it also works with pizza.  It's $10.99 and in stores for a limited time.

Monday, November 24, 2014

APPLES ON TAP

 
NO, IT'S NOT apple cider, but if you like the idea of a glass of  sparkling cider but don't want all of the calories and sugar, this brand new flavor of Hint sparkling water flavor is really cool. It has a super subtle flavor, but it's bubbly and bright and perfect alongside holiday foods. Find it at fine grocers for about $2 per 28 ounces.