Friday, December 11
Today I cut open my very first vanilla beans! (Sidenote: I’m almost ashamed to admit this. Seems like something I should have done before, right? Sometimes this blog feels more like confession than a food blog!)
I can’t tell you exactly what I am using this vanilla for (you’ll find out next week!), but I can share the vanilla itself with you today.
The point of this post is that using vanilla beans is EASY. I don’t know what I was expecting. I guess I thought the beans would be harder to cut through, and that the seeds might be tricky to get out. I was happy to discover that using fresh vanilla beans is a simple and painless process – just slice down one side (it cuts easily) and scrape out the seeds. And it sure smells good while you’re doing it! So, if you are scared like I was…don’t be!
I know I said I’d stop sharing holiday gift ideas…but I just can’t keep these two items to myself!
#1: The Wheely Bug. Rumor has it that Santa is getting our little Anna a Prince Lionheart Wheely Bug for Christmas this year. This is the BEST little scootter-type toy. Our friends from the UK have the bumble bee, which is where Anna first tried it out. The wheels spin in every direction so it turns on a dime, and it literally glides over the floor. SOOO much better than those clunky ride-on toys that you usually see. I think Anna might be getting the ladybug…but Santa wouldn’t give up all his secrets.
#2: Kodak Zi6 Video Camera. Kodak was the platinum sponsor for SocialLuxe Lounge this summer (which I co-hosted). As part of the swag bags they gave away 200 of their Zi6 cameras to our party goers (including me!). I’ve tweeted about how much I love the camera but have never done a post. So here it is: I love this camera…way more than the Flip cameras I have had in the past. It fits in my purse nicely, is easy to use, the battery lasts a long time between charges, and it takes great video…and it’s only $100! The Zi8 has come out since I received my Zi6, so if you like being cutting edge, go for that one, I’m sure it’s great!
Okay, I think I’m done with the gift ideas. But I’m not making any promises.
Thursday, December 10
When Nate went on his super cool trip to the Ferry Building in San Francisco, he bought this olive oil at one of the shops they visited. McEvoy Ranch is located in Petaluma, up near Sonoma in wine country. Nate said they had an olive oil tasting when they visited the store…just like a wine tasting. I was sort of rolling my eyes when he was telling me about it…but mid-eyeroll, he forced me to do a tasting of my own and I have to admit this is good stuff.
The flavor is so fresh. I don’t quite know how else to describe it. The oil almost tastes like grass to me. Apparently olive oils can be a lot like wine, where you can taste different flavors depending on where the olives are grown, etc. Interesting, right?
I’m not saying you have to specifically buy McEvoy olive oil…I’m just saying that you really should try a high quality olive oil sometime if you haven’t before. I have to admit, I always just grab the giant bottle at Trader Joe’s, which is fine. But this local, fresh olive oil really is special.
My favorite uses for our new olive oil? I made a pizza the other night with this olive oil, some crushed fresh garlic and mozzarella cheese. Simple and divine. We also love combining with garlic, salt and pepper for dipping baguette. In fact, I had that for lunch…inspiring this post!
Wednesday, December 9
This giveaway is now closed. Thank you!
‘Tis the season for giveaways! Today’s giveaway is a $100 gift certificate to RedEnvelope! This giveaway is perfectly timed since RedEnvelope is all about gifts. Although, if you do win, I won’t tell if you spend the $100 on yourself.
In conjunction with the giveaway, RedEnvelope sent me this Mini Wish Ornament set. I love it. And I’ve decided we’re starting a new family tradition. Every year in December each family member will put their most precious Christmas wish inside one of the ornaments and hang them on the tree, ready for Santa on Christmas Eve!
Back to the giveaway! Same old story…leave a comment on this post by Midnight PT on Monday, December 14. One random winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 15.
I really do love RedEnvelope. I’ve purchased several items from them and have always been happy: the cutest baby quilts for shower gifts, a red lacquer jewelry box (for myself!), a jewelry roll for my sister, a bamboo hooded towel for Anna…the list goes on! Red Envelope is also where I first discovered Envirosax, my favorite reusable grocery bags. (Okay, I’m looking a little like a shopoholic…these purchases did not happen all at once, I promise!)
If you’re ready to do some shopping NOW…click on any of the RedEnvelope links in this post and you will automatically receive a 15% discount on your order!
Good luck with the giveaway! And Happy Shopping!
Tuesday, December 8
My mother-in-law recently gave me a garlic grater plate, a nifty little kitchen accessory I had never seen before. She said wherever she bought it (hmmm…a fair, maybe?) there was a loooooong line of people waiting to buy it, which she faithfully waited in just for me. I’m so glad she did, I love this thing! (Luckily for all of you, the plate can also be purchased on Amazon…of course. What can’t be?)
Basically, the garlic grater plate is a little ceramic plate with sharp teeth. You just rub your garlic cloves over the surface and voila! Your garlic is grated to bits!
We like to grate garlic, pour olive oil directly over the garlic on the dish, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Dip pieces of good bread in the oil and you’re immediately transported to heaven. Cate calls it “the spicy oil” and loves it.
(This website over here says that you can grate lots of other ingredients on the plate as well…I’ll have to do some experimenting!)
Bottom line, we are loving this plate. You should get one. You’ll thank me.
It’s time to announce the lucky Cake Wrecks book giveaway winners!
Rhonda who wrote: Sounds like my kind of book!
Aaron who wrote: comment (our first MALE giveaway winner ever, who, by the way, always enters the giveaways with a literal “comment” – and it finally worked, apparently)
Nevadamtnbear who wrote: OOOH, I’ve been faithfully following Jen (and John) since last May. My all time favorite is the “This One Is For The Ladies” wreck. I still giggle like a school girl at that one.
Congratulations, everyone! You’ll all be giggling like school girls very soon (even Aaron, I’m sure of it).
For the rest of you…you know you want still want the book. Just go buy it.
How abouts we end this giveaway with a little holiday cheer…Cake Wrecks style, of course.
Sunday, December 6
Oh my goodness. The site has been down for TWO DAYS. I have gotten a menu up every Sunday since I started the blog, even when I was stuck in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm. I thought this would be my first miss…but with 6 minutes to spare on this Sunday night the site is back. My menu will go up! YIPPEEEE!!!!
The reason it took two days for me to figure out the site was down was because we took a weekend trip to Monterey (that’s right, I didn’t go on the computer for TWO WHOLE DAYS). It was such a fun weekend! Today for lunch we discovered Vivolo’s Chowder House. The clam chowder was SO delicious. Here are the reasons why. 1) It was thick, but not too thick. 2) I didn’t notice potatoes (yes, that’s a good thing). 3) The clams were oh so good, and I only crunched 2 or 3 grains of sand, which is the perfect amount…enough that you know the clams are fresh, but not so much you break a tooth.
On to the menu that almost wasn’t!
- Paninis (no we haven’t eaten paninis for 4 weeks in a row…we just haven’t had them yet!)
- Broccoli Cheese Soup
- Creamy Enchiladas
- Eat out
- Dinner at friends’ house
Please share your lovely menus…now matter how lovely or un-lovely you think they are!
Friday, December 4
The holiday season is certainly upon us! I’ve recently had the chance to try out lots of different companies’ products and thought putting together a big monster post of holiday gift ideas would be the best way to share them with you! So, here goes nothing!
First off, let’s start with some food, this is a food blog after all. Alouette Cheese recently sent me some cheese samples to “taste test,” specifically two spreadable cheeses: Berries & Cream and Pepper Medley. The results of the taste test? I like Berries & Cream better, but more of the Pepper Medley was eaten on Thanksgiving. Alouette also sent TONS of crumbled cheeses to try out…thankfully their expiration dates are a little longer so we have time to use them all! Anyway, Alouette’s Garlic & Herb spreadable cheese will always be my favorite, but it was fun trying out other flavors and they were great to have on hand with crackers when we had guests for the holidays.
Now onto some shopping ideas! The Silicon Valley Moms Group holiday party was a few weeks ago. We were introduced to tons of great companies and I’d like to share my favorites with you (as well as two competitors for similar products!).
Reusable Shopping Bags. Olive Smart was at the party to show off their great reusable shopping bags. A friend of mine first introduced me to Olive Smart about a year ago…she couldn’t say enough about how much she loved their product. I was excited to see them at the event, especially since it’s a business owned by two local Bay Area moms. You can get the bags in sets of 3 or 6, which fit into your car’s cup holder, which is my favorite part of their design! They provided all of the party attendees with a half stack of bags, which I’m so excited to have. On a side note…I also have some reusable bags made by Envirosax, which I love, but for different reasons. They have beautiful patterns to choose from and the bags themselves are a bit larger…although the carry case doesn’t fit into a cup holder like Olive Smart’s do. I think that is enough reusable bag info, don’t you? On to the next item!
Holiday Cards & Stationary. Tiny Prints was also at the event with samples of their products, which are always beautiful. They gave me a cute little set of note cards, which I can’t wait to use. They have lots of great holiday cards to choose from, if you’re still in the market. On another side note…be sure to check out the holiday cards at HauteMammas.com as well. I love Tiny Prints…but I also love Haute Mammas. Plus, I designed all of their holiday cards and holiday gift labels, So of course you should check them out!
Kids Clothes. There were was a group of local Bay Area kids clothing companies at the event. I received an adorable hat from Zooni for Anna, and a GREAT dress from Wati Design for Cate. Cate was so excited about this dress, she chose to wear it for picture day! And how fun is that hat on Anna? Gotta love it. Some cute ideas for unique, high-quality children’s items.
Chevrolet. Okay, I’m thinking not many of us will be buying anyone a car for the holidays, but I need to give Chevy a shout out. I was one of three lucky SV Moms writers who got to drive around a Chevrolet for a week! I had a 2010 Chevy Equinox and it was FUN FUN FUN. Great “Infotainment” system included bluetooth wired through the car speakers, GPS, XM radio and MORE (like a USB port, etc). The passenger side airbag is only on if there is a passenger in the car. Smart, eh? I could start the car from inside my house. Not kidding. Cate absolutely loved “our new car that we don’t get to keep.” It was a fun week. I would not buy this car because it only seats five…I don’t get crossover SUVs. But it was still great and if you’re in the market for a midsize SUV, it is definitely worth checking out! Thanks, Chevy!
Bluetooth thingy that I love…my favorite find of the night! I also received the Jabra Cruiser at the event. The Jabra Cruiser is an in-car bluetooth speakerphone. This really helped wean me off the Chevy Equinox when it was time to go back to my non-fancy Ford Taurus. This speakerphone works GREAT and I like it so much better than my handsfree earpiece thingy. I think this might be my favorite find at the party! (picture from Jabra…although, it looks exactly like my car)
I’d be happy receiving any of these items as a gift (especially a car), so I hope it gave you a few ideas. Happy shopping!
Thursday, December 3
Since I shared my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe with you, I figured I might as well divulge all of my secrets and share my favorite chocolate chips. I discovered Guittard’s Super Cookie Chips recently at Draeger’s (a fancy, dancy grocery store in Menlo Park, CA).
These Super Cookie Chips are great! First, they have the flat, disc shape that the New York Times cookie article talks about…it really is an ingenius idea using a disc shaped “chip” in the cookie. You end up with layers of chocolate throughout the entire cookie. Second, Guittard’s chocolate quality is just so good. I don’t really like eating chocolate chips alone…but I’ll gobble these puppies up no problem.
The New York Times recipe suggests the following chocolates, which I’m sure are equally as delicious. “Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.” Regardless of which brand you use, I am loving the disc shaped chocolate, it’s heaven in a chocolate chip cookie.
Wednesday, December 2
I’m a little obsessed with chocolate chip cookies. Okay, maybe a lot obsessed. Nate can attest to this fact. Which is why I LOVED this article in the New York Times. If you care at all about chocolate chip cookies, read it.
In connection with the article, the New York Times provided a recipe (adapted from Jacques Torres) that is outstanding. These cookies have it all – the crispy outside, the chewy inside, lots of chocolate. Oh la la.
I was really excited when I first read the NYT article because the recipe that I had most recently fallen in love with was a similar recipe by none other than Jacques Torres. Jacques knows what he’s doing, let me tell ya.
Without further ado, the recipe! I thought I would post it here on the site so I can add all my various notes on the recipe. And tomorrow I just might share with you the PERFECT chocolate chips for this recipe. But only if you’re good.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
From the New York Times, adapted from Jacques Torres
- 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour (Jane note: I use pastry flour here…that’s what my OTHER Jacques Torres cookie recipe calls for)
- 1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
- 1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)
- Sea salt (Jane note: I used salted butter and added about 1 tsp of regular salt to the recipe…didn’t have sea salt on hand to sprinkle on top)
1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours. (Jane note: I do think there is something to the dough sitting over night…HOWEVER…I can’t resist and always cook cookies the night I make the dough and they still come out GRRRREAT! Promise. Feel free to bake right away! That said, don’t bake all the dough at once! You know better than that. Oh, and I’ve definitely frozen balls of dough from this recipe to great success as well.)
3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside. (Jane note: I bake my cookies on my handy dandy Silpat.)
4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. (Jane note: I never did the ‘transfer sheet to a wire rack then slip to another’ rack step.) (Another Jane note: one thing I DO do when they come out of the oven is sort of slam the tray straight down to force the cookies to settle…makes for a nice even cookie with a great texture.)
Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.