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  1. Friday, December 10, 2010

    I finally appreciate my silicone potholders

    Years ago I picked up these silicone potholders at the Crate & Barrel outlet in Carlsbad, CA. I was excited about them until I got home and tried to use them to take things out of the oven. And then I really didn’t like them at all. They were unwieldy and tricky to work with, and they eventually found their way to the bottom of the potholder drawer.

    In our latest move, however, I pulled them out again. And the other day, as I used one of my oh-so-handy silicone potholders to open up a tight lid on a jar, I realized I actually use them all the time now and am kind of in love.

    They’re pretty handy little multi-taskers:

    • As I already mentioned, silicone potholders are GREAT for opening tight lids on jars. When we got married, we got this little blue silicone thing that was made for that express purpose…I loved it, but this has replaced that tool in the kitchen since the potholders can do other things, as well…like…
    • Securing a cutting board so it doesn’t slide around the counter. I’m constantly sticking these things under my wood cutting boards to keep them in place while I knead/roll/cut/whatever! Since they’re nice big squares, they keep the cutting board level as well.
    • They can be used as a trivet.
    • And, of course, you can use them to take things out of the oven. I already mentioned, I actually don’t love them for this purpose, I still prefer my cloth-based potholders. But you can use them for this if you want.

    So, there you have it. I finally appreciate my silicone potholders.

    Crate & Barrel carries different ones now that I don’t like the looks of as much. Mine are made by MIU and you can get them on Amazon in red, green, yellow and blue. And, this is not why I wrote the post, but come to think of it, these would be a great stocking stuffer!

  2. Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    Hot Chocolate Goodness

    I used to be obsessed with the Williams-Sonoma hot chocolate. Not out-of-control obsessed, but I’ve spent a few pennies on the stuff.  It’s basically a tin of chocolate shavings you melt in milk. Whenever I drink it, I think of the description of the thick, creamy hot chocolate served in the book Chocolat.

    Last year a fantastic recipe for homemade Vanilla Hot Chocolate mix came into my life (thanks, Mindy, for introducing us to the recipe!). I made it for all our friends. The jars were adorable and the mix was mighty fine. I like this mix because it has chocolate shavings, which makes the hot chocolate creamy and smooth. But there is some cocoa in there, which I think “darkens” the chocolate flavor. Oh, and vanilla sugar thrown in the mix? Yum.

    This year I’ve made a discovery that I’m surprised I haven’t made before. The other day I was needing delectable hot chocolate. I didn’t have any Williams-Sonoma tins lying around. And I haven’t made the Vanilla Hot Chocolate mix in over a year. That stuff is long gone.

    But I did have a big hunk of high-quality bittersweet chocolate in the cupboard. I put some milk on the stove. I got out my knife. I finely chopped several tablespoons of the chocolate and tossed it in the hot milk, along with a spoon or so of sugar. I whisked. I drank. And I found the delectable hot chocolate I was looking for.

    Really, it’s that easy? And I never thought of doing this before now? Move over Williams-Sonoma, there’s a new sheriff in town.

  3. Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    Today, I love lunch

    Most days, I hate lunch. Maybe because I’ve subjected myself to too many peanut butter sandwiches.

    Today, however, I love lunch. Tuscan Tomato Soup leftover from last night (please tell me you’ve tried that recipe). Baguette topped with honey goat cheese (of pizza fame). Pure heaven.

  4. Monday, December 6, 2010

    ‘Books I’m Reading’ with Martha Stewart: Cold

    This month, Martha Stewart chose the book Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places for her Books I’m Reading book club. The author Bill Streever will be on The Martha Stewart Show today at 10:00 am PT, which I can’t wait to watch! As one of the three bloggers from Martha’s Circle reading along with Martha, today I’m writing a post about the book. Considering it’s been what feels like the coldest winter we’ve had in California since we moved here nearly 10 years ago, this book did not help in making me feel warm and cozy! Of course, it did make me appreciate just how not cold my weather really is!

    Bill Streever is a biologist who lives in Alaska. His book talks about, well, cold! He touches on scientific history surrounding temperature and discoveries related to cold, cold places, animals that live in cold, and on and on. It’s an interesting read filled with all kinds of fun facts. I think Nate got sick of me interrupting his own reading with “Hey! Listen to this!” followed by yet another random, cold-related fact. I’m pretty sure there was one about squirrels. And I’m pretty sure he was dying to know it.

    When I first started reading the book, Madara (a food blogger in Fairbanks, Alaska, a place Bill visits in the book) emailed me a link to her blog for FoodPress, the food site I edit. She mentioned that food blogging was a necessity to keep her busy, given that it was currently -10 degrees F and she’d only had 4 hours of daylight that day. What the what?!?! I immediately hit Google maps to see where Fairbanks was and then dug around the Internet for information about her town. It was fascinating. I somehow stumbled on a YouTube video from Fairbanks…seriously, go search “Fairbanks Alaska” on YouTube. It’s kind of awesome. Especially videos showing the Northern Lights, the ice fog, and people throwing hot liquids into cold air (no, really, make sure you watch people throwing hot liquids into cold air). Reading Madara’s email was so fun. I was transported to her life for one brief moment, imagining what it must be like to live in such a COLD place. And marveling at how different her world is from mine, simply due to temperature. It really is amazing to me that people live in places like Fairbanks!

    Reading Cold was kind of like reading Madara’s email for two-hundred-some-odd pages. I felt transported to a different world. I finished the book with two main takeaways. First, complete wonder at early explorers of cold, imagining what it must have felt like to experience such life-threatening temperatures in the name of science and discovery. Second, amazement at how animals adapt to cold climates. I loved reading about different ways that animals hibernate and/or live through cold times. Most amazing to me was a caterpillar that freezes for the winter then thaws out in the spring and goes on its merry way. Its heart is literally stopped for the winter. Unreal.

    One of the discussion questions is whether the book has changed my outlook on cold. I don’t know that it’s changed my outlook, but it has increased my understanding and helped me explore a world I don’t think often about. And it solidified the fact that I’m a wimp. At the end of the book there’s a Q&A with Bill Streever. One of the questions alludes to the fact that readers may be inspired to visit a cold place after reading the book, and then Bill lists his 5 favorite cold destinations (2 of which are in Fairbanks, by the way). And, uh, yeah, I’m kind of thinking I might not be one of those readers. Yep, definitely a wimp. And proud of it.

    I stole all of the photos in this post from my mother-in-law Pat. She took them after an ice storm hit their hometown in New Hampshire a few winters ago. I love these shots and I’m so happy to finally have a reason to share them with you. I hope they make you feel all cold and chilly inside.

  5. Sunday, December 5, 2010

    Week 202 Menu

    Okay, after Friday’s post, I’m on a Trader Joe’s holiday treat binge. Trying all kinds of things, including your suggestions. While I’m thoroughly enjoying every completely decadent treat I’m stuffing into my mouth, the Peppermint Pretzel Slims are still my favorite. Just sayin’. Oh, and let me apologize to all of you without a nearby Trader Joe’s…sorry for basically flaunting all this deliciousness in front of you!

    This is my last week before insanity starts. You know, the insanity that is the last minute holiday rush combined with both of my daughters’ birthdays within one day of each other the week before Christmas. I’m just going to try to enjoy the calm before the inevitable storm. Maybe cook some nice dinners.

    Tuscan Tomato Soup
    – Yummy crusty bread

    – Tilapia filets
    – Rice and veggie/salad

    – Taking Cate and her little friend to see Shrek the Musical at the Orpheum theater in San Francisco. Can’t wait! We won’t be home in time to cook up a proper dinner…eating on the fly!

    – Chicken and dumplings (something I’ve never made…venturing into new waters!)
    – Bread

    – Leftovers

    – Eat out

    – Breakfast for dinner

    You know what to do. Time to share your menu for the week!

  6. Friday, December 3, 2010

    Trader Joe’s Peppermint Pretzel Slims

    I haven’t pimped out Trader Joe’s in a while, so figured it was time to give them a little free advertising. Aren’t I nice like that?

    My friend Collette, who’s husband is a manager at Trader Joe’s, posted the following on my Facebook wall a few weeks ago: “Jane. 3 Words: Peppermint Pretzel Thins. You will thank me profusely if you haven’t already discovered them.” Well, with a wall post like that how could I not give these babies a try?

    People. 3 Words: Peppermint Pretzel Thins. You will thank me profusely if you haven’t already discovered them. And yes, I just plagiarized Collette, but I couldn’t have said it better myself. I am officially addicted. So is my little Anna.

  7. Thursday, December 2, 2010

    Talkin’ Turkey – Roasting in Pieces

    I know Thanksgiving is over and whatnot, but I can still talk turkey, right?  Besides, I couldn’t report on how I cooked my turkey until after I did it. So, consider this an investigative reporting piece. 20/20 here I come.

    For years I’ve been wanting to cook a turkey that is cut into pieces. I read about it in Sunset magazine. But, for whatever reason, roasting a butchered bird felt, I don’t know, un-traditional or something. This year since I was cooking a turkey just for us and not on Thanksgiving, the pressure was off and I gave it a go.

    The week before Thanksgiving I saw an episode of America’s Test Kitchen where they cooked a turkey that they slow roasted in pieces. I totally trust them, so I decided to do exactly what they said to do. Please click on this link to read the recipe. (You need to register with the site to view it, but registration is free and TOTALLY worth it – great site and recipes!)

    Instead of rehashing the recipe, I just want to discuss the results. The turkey was good. Honestly, though, it wasn’t great. It was not as tender, juicy and flavorful as I was expecting. (By the way, I’m starting to think the perfect turkey is almost as elusive as the perfect watermelon.) Here are a few of my thoughts:

    • I do like cooking the turkey this way. It’s much more manageable to work with than a giant bird, and you have a lot more control when cooking. If one part of the turkey is cooking faster than another part, you can just take it out of the oven when it’s ready.
    • Next year I think I’m going to cook two turkey breasts and forget the dark meat altogether. And, since I’ll be cooking it in pieces, I’ll have that option.
    • It takes a lot longer roasting at this lower temperature (275 degrees F), so you need to plan accordingly. However, I like the slow roasting method for sure. The meat was definitely more evenly cooked – the temperature of the outer portions of meat wasn’t that much higher than the center temperature of the meat.
    • I think I’ll brine my turkey pieces prior to slow roasting next time. On the America’s Test Kitchen episode, they said you don’t need to brine the turkey when you slow roast. But, I’ve gotta say, I think if the turkey had been brined, then it would have been that much moister and more savory in flavor.
    • At the end of the recipe, they brown the turkey at a high heat for about 10 minutes. My dark meat pieces were already quite brown, so I should have just left them out of this step. And I should have browned the breast a bit longer.

    I’m really glad I did this “experiment.” I will use this technique again for sure, and next time I think I’ll have it figured out!

    P.S. If you DID have a totally delectable, juicy, tender turkey this year, please tell us how you did it! What kind of turkey did you buy and how did you cook it? Spill your secrets!

    P.S. #2: I also tried making gravy the way they described in the episode I linked to above (although, I used white roux to thicken). My gravy is better. Not to brag or anything. 😉 I think next time I roast turkey this way, I’ll do half of the amount of chicken stock that they put in the pan at the start of roasting, and I’m going to buy turkey giblets separately to simmer in water, like I normally do when buying a whole turkey. That all makes for a much more flavorful gravy.

  8. GameStop Giveaway Winner

    First off, I LOVE that you all shared such wonderful comments for the GameStop giveaway! I let you off the hook and said all you had to do was leave a simple comment…but so many of you joined in the fun and shared great memories, stories and more. I like you people. Way to pull out the holiday cheer. Santa’s sleigh will fly for sure this year.

    So, the winner. I wish I could give you ALL a $250 GameStop gift card! But I can’t…so get out your drums and start rolling…

    Amanda, who said, “We always make my grandmother’s doughnuts on Christmas morning! It’s the only time I make them so it’s extra special.”

    Congratulations, Amanda!! And, I think I need a doughnut now. Thanks for that.