Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pumpkin Seed Pesto & Goat Cheese Crostini

A few weeks ago I took a cooking class at Whole Foods in Minneapolis.  It was such a different experience than the class I took at Cooks of Crocus Hill, but the recipes were just as fantastic.  The class had about 6 people and we all sat at a counter while the instructor cooked right in front of our eyes.  Each of us had the opportunity to participate, which really meant adding pre-chopped ingredients to a pan or stirring!  But it was still a lot of fun and I left with some great cooking tips and a packet of six new and dazzling squash recipes.  This week was my first attempt at recreating one of the recipes: pumpkin seed pesto.  The pesto is nutty and flavorful, and it has a deeper flavor than your traditional pesto. 

In class, we used the pesto to complement a butternut squash soup (excellent idea!), but it would pair equally well with some cooked pasta and chopped basil.  Or you could feature this pesto in my eighth appetizer dish of the season!  (I'm giving myself until the New Year.....not sure if I'm going to make it!)  I ate these crostini for dinner the other night and they were soooooo gooooooooooood.  The biting flavor of the goat cheese paired insanely perfectly with the mellow pesto.  A sprinkling of freshly grated pepper and you will wow your friends with this great app!

Pumpkin Seed Pesto & Goat Cheese Crostini

for the pesto:
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (or as much as needed)*

Chop up the pumpkin seeds and walnuts in a food processor.  Add the cheese and pulse until finely chopped.  While the processor is on, drizzle in the olive oil slowly until everything comes together into a loose paste consistency.  Taste and season accordingly.

for crostini:
Pumpkin Seed Pesto
1 large Italian baguette, sliced into 1-inch slices
6 ounces of plain goat cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Toast the baguette slices on one side for about 5-8 minutes, or until the exposed side is just getting crisp.  Remove from oven and let cool so you can handle the bread.

On each slice (the toasted side), spread on a layer of goat cheese, a little less than a tablespoon's worth.  Then top with a dollop of the pesto.  Sprinkle the crostini with freshly cracked pepper. 

Serve and enjoy!

*A quick word on the oil.  The original recipe from my class called for pumpkin seed oil in this recipe.  When I went to buy it at the store, I discovered that it's about $20 for a small bottle.  Sorry, but that is so not going to happen!!  Later, I realized that walnut oil would probably make a great substitute, but by that time I'd left the store and was set on using my standard olive oil.  You lose some of the depth of nutty flavor by substituting olive oil, but I still liked the floral sweetness that the olive oil brought to the pesto. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili

It's been unseasonably warm in Minnesota, so much so that it felt like I was vacationing over the holidays!  Well...that's a bit of a stretch...but I did drive around with the windows down and went on a nice post-Christmas run with my friend Leigh where I was able to break out my spring running jacket again.  But all of this nice weather put a dent in my cooking plans because who wants to make chili when it's really nice out?  I sure didn't.  Today it finally started to cool down and I figured the time was right for me to cook up a big pot of chili and get ready for the inevitable Minnesota chill. 

Inspired by a delicious lunch this summer from one of the food trucks, I thought a lovely sweet potato and black bean chili would be a nice combination.  I also was able to use some of my delicious Red Gold canned tomatoes!  I loved the "chili ready" tomatoes because they were chopped into a larger dice than ordinary diced tomatoes, making them perfect for a hearty chili.  Kudos Red Gold for that inspired version of canned tomatoes!

This recipe requires very little prep work, so it's easy to throw together after work or when you're trapped inside because of a snow storm.  (It's going to happen people....)  But don't be fooled by the simplicity of the recipe.  It's hearty and healthy, plus the canned tomatoes and sweet potatoes add some softness to the relatively spicy chili.  Work with these ingredients and add more or less seasonings to suit your taste.  If you have a favorite chili recipe of your own, consider adding in some sweet potatoes and black beans to change it up a bit! 

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili
serves about 4 portions

2 tbls vegetable or canola oil
1/2  of a yellow onion, finely chopped
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
2 medium sweet potatoes, diced into 1/4-inch cubes
2 tbls chili powder
1 tbls cumin
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat two tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil over medium heat.  Add the chopped onions and saute until translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Then add the garlic and sweet potatoes, and saute for another 5 minutes. 

Add in the chili powder and cumin and stir to coat the vegetables in the spices.  Pour in the vegetable stock and using a spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to get all of the spices off the bottom.  Add the two cans of tomatoes and stir.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer covered for 10 minutes. 

Add the beans to the pot, and check for seasonings.  Add salt & pepper at the time if you need it.  Cover and let simmer for another 10 minutes.  Recheck for seasonings and serve. 

I topped my chili with about a tablespoon of freshly chopped cilantro for a bit of freshness.  You can also serve with sour cream or slices of avocado.  It's delicious.  DELICIOUS!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friends on Food :: Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  Although this quote doesn't have much to do about food, it's still one of my favorite holiday episodes of Friends.  So happy holidays from me to you.  And the Holiday Armadillo!
Monica: Wow, come in, have a seat. You must be exhausted coming all the way from…Texas.
Ben: Texas?
Ross: That's right, Ben. I'm Santa's representative for all the southern states. And Mexico!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Seventh Day of Appetizers: Endive Ricotta Spoons

Happy Christmas Eve eve everyone!  Keeping in line with my last post, this is another fresh and easy appetizer to serve at any holiday party.  I love using the endive leaves as serving "spoons" for the ricotta cheese and raisin mixture.  It looks impossibly elegant and it saves on some dish washing.  And because I don't have a dishwasher in my kitchen, I'm always looking for ways to cut down on dish washing!  The combination of the creamy ricotta cheese and the salty-sweet raisin topping is quite tasty.  Because the dish is so simple, be sure to use quality ricotta cheese and olive oil.  I served this appetizer years ago at an annual Secret Santa party that I have with my girlfriends from St. Olaf, and it was a hit!  Our party this year is going to be after Christmas to accommodate our busy holiday and travel schedules, but I might just bring this one back into my appetizer rotation and see what kind of twists I can think of now that I'm more comfortable in the kitchen!   

Endive Ricotta Spoons
from Real Simple, Nov. 2007
serves 6-8

1/2 cup, roasted unsalted almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 tbls chives, chopped
3 tbls extra virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
4 endive
- 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese

Combine almonds, raisins, chives, olive oil, salt, & pepper in a small bowl. 

Trim the ends of the endive and separate the leaves.  Arrange the leaves on a plate so that the "scoop" side is facing up.  On the core side of the endive leaf, place a dollop of ricotta cheese.  Then top the ricotta with a spoonful of the almond mixture.  Repeat until out of endive or out of mixture.  Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Gift Jars :: Cookies!

One night last week, I pumped up the holiday music, grabbed myself a beer, and danced around the kitchen while making these completely adorable holiday cookie jars for some friends and family for holiday gifts!  It's really an inspired gift (if I do say so myself), because don't you often find yourself craving a delicious homemade cookie but lacking the energy to pull a recipe together?  And while some of the bags or boxes of cookie mix can be a decent fix, there's really nothing like homemade.  So this is a way to give someone the best of both worlds: a quick cookie fix that offers all of that homemade flavor!  Plus, who wouldn't want to get holiday cookies that they can enjoy in January or February, after the mountains and mountains of cookies have been eaten?! 

I snagged this gem of a recipe from the Bakerella website -- genius!   Here's what you need in order to create these cookie gifts.

1 quart glass jar (I found mine at Target)
1 1/3 cup of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cooking oats
3/4 cup red and green M&Ms
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 – 1/2 cup chopped pecans (*I didn't have room for these in my jars!!!)

Then using a funnel, or a make-shift funnel from parchment paper, put the ingredients into the jar as follows:

Flour/Baking Powder/Baking Soda/Salt
Cooking Oats
Chocolate chips
Brown Sugar
White Sugar
Pecans, if there's room!

Be absolutely sure to pack each layer down as much as possible!  I used a ladle that fit into the jars to jam each layer as much as I could before adding the next layer. 

Now you have to tell the recipient how to bake these cookies!  You can find a handy PDF file with the instructions already printed for you at the Bakerella website.  All you need to do is print, cut, and tape. Done! But if you want to hand write the instructions or make your own handy set of directions, this is what you need to include:

Stir all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Then add:
1 slightly beaten egg
1/2 cup butter (melted slightly in the microwave)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Then roll the cookie dough into 1 1/2 inch balls, place on a parchment covered baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven. You should get about 2 dozen cookies.

Attach the instructions and dress up your holiday jar with ribbons or holiday stickers!  Everyone will love these jars filled with cookie love!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sixth Day of Appetizers: Vegetable Spring Rolls

I know, I's December 21st and I'm only on my sixth appetizer. I blame a wicked bout of food poisoning this weekend that thwarted all of my plans to cook, bake, and be merry. Seriously. Food poisoning is one of the worst ailments I could be afflicted with! FRUSTRATING! I'm trying to get back on my feet so I decided to post an appetizer recipe that my friend and I made at the appetizer "party" we had a few weeks ago.  Spring rolls are really fun to put together -- you can make them with whatever vegetables you prefer and because the skins are quite translucent, you can use the veggies to make pretty patterns on the outside of the spring rolls.  This appetizer could be a great, fresh starter for a heavy holiday meal.  Or you could serve these spring rolls as part of a New Year's party platter.  Either way, yum!

Crisp Vegetable Spring Rolls
makes about 8-10 spring rolls

1 package of spring roll skins
1 package of very thin rice noodles (sometimes called vermicelli noodles or rice sticks)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
2 avocados, cut into thin slices
1 bunch of cilantro, washed and stems removed
1 English cucumber, cut into matchsticks
2-3 limes
1 cup of crushed peanuts

*You could also use red or yellow peppers, Thai basil, a dash of soy sauce, or anything really!

Prepare all of your veggies so the spring roll assembly will be easy and quick!  Cut the limes into quarters so they are ready to squeeze.  Prepare the noodles according to the package directions, then rinse under cold water and set out next to the vegetables. 

Prep the spring roll skins according to the package directions, which usually requires you to soak the skin briefly in warm-to-hot water.  I use a pie pan to soak the skins in; that way you don't have a greater risk of tearing or otherwise messing up the spring roll skins. 

Once the skin has soaked, place it on a flat surface and assemble your vegetables.  Start with some avocado, then noodles, then carrots and cucumbers, and top with cilantro leaves.  Then squeeze a bit of lime juice over the veggies and sprinkle some peanuts on top.  Roll up the spring rolls like an egg roll, but be sure to do it super tightly!  Repeat until done!  You can serve the spring rolls in their entirety, or cut them into smaller pieces. 

We taste-tested the spring rolls with a peanut sauce I found on the blog Two Peas in Their Pod.  I didn't have all of the ingredients, so I changed it around a bit!  All you need for this sauce is:

Freshly grated ginger to taste (about a tablespoon suited my tastes)
2 cloves grated garlic
2/3 cup water
½ cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
1½ tablespoons sugar 

Heat the water over medium heat, then add all of the ingredients and whisk together well.  Bring the sauce to a simmer and let simmer for 5 minutes. If the sauce doesn't thicken, whisk for one minute over medium heat.  Pour into a dish and serve alongside the spring rolls!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cookie Swap Update and Easy Garlic Tomato Pasta

Last week I left for the Key West wedding of one of my best friends, Amie.  It was five amazing days filled with sunshine, the ocean breeze, tropical drinks, flip flops, and wedding bliss.  Amie and her now-husband Joe have the kind of romantic-comedy love that nobody thinks is truly possible in real life.  But it is!  And I was so happy to be a part of this wonderful destination wedding! 

Returning to a Minnesota winter was made a little bit easier by the fact that I had magically gotten a bit of a tan while in Florida (if you know me but at all, you know that I don't tan -- I burn).  And I had my mail on hold while I was gone, so I was also looking forward to the three dozen cookies that awaited me when I got home from work on Monday. 

But before opening up the packages of cookies, I felt compelled to make myself a home cooked dinner after five straight days of eating out.  Plus, being a vegetarian that doesn't eat fish is extraordinarily difficult in an island setting, and I actually didn't eat much on the trip!  So I whipped together a super easy and SUPER delicious garlic tomato pasta using some more of the canned tomatoes that the wonderful people at Red Gold Tomatoes sent to me! 

1 pound of fresh pasta
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (I used Wild Tree's spaghetti sauce seasoning, but any Italian mix of dried herbs would work just as well)
Salt & pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Once boiling, add a handful of salt and drop in the pasta.  Cook according to the package directions. 

While you wait for the water to boil, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the chopped garlic.  Saute for about a minute, then add the tomatoes and seasoning.  Stir occasionally, and let the tomato mixture cook for about 5 minutes or until your pasta is done. 

Using tongs, add the pasta right from the pasta water to the tomato mixture.  Stir everything together, and heat over medium heat for another minute or two.  Taste for seasonings and serve. 


Once I was finished eating my yummy pasta dish, I started eyeing those cookies again!  I lucked out and received a variety of cookies that I loved for very different reasons.  First up: Ginger Spice Cookies from Lisa of Tequila Cupcakes

I love ginger cookies, but I am not a huge fan of ginger snaps.  I love soft, chewy cookies, and these ones from Lisa really hit the spot!  If you are looking for a tasty ginger cookie recipe, check out her blog!  I next opened up an adorable little box of Coconut Macaroons with Bittersweet Chocolate from Sara of The Little Bite

I adore coconut cookies and these tasty morsels were perfection.  The recipe seems foolproof -- you should really check it out!  And my last cookie package was a big bag of Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti from Anita at Confessions of a Foodie

I loved the subtlety of the chocolate flavor and the bright green bits of pistachio dotted along the biscotti cookies.  I so wanted to enjoy these cookies with a cup of tea, but I was too impatient to wait for the water to boil!  Yum yum yum. 

Overall, it was so much fun to send out my bon bon cookies to food lovers around the country, and it was equally as fun to receive people's handmade cookies!  Interested in participating next year?  Check out this link and sign up to receive updates!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fifth Day of Appetizers: Cheese Straws

I don't know about you, but the proximity of Christmas is starting to make me nervous.  Not only am I only on my fourth fifth appetizer of the season, but I add a new gift recipient to my list every day and I still haven't done any shopping.  Talk about holiday stress!  Thankfully my calendar is clear from now until the holidays, so I can get some cooking, baking, shopping, wrapping, and maybe even some ice skating crossed off the list. 

For today, I'll just focus on my next appetizer -- these tasty cheese straws that have a little bit of a kick to them!  I made them one evening with my friend Leigh and she described them perfectly as slightly spicy Cheez-Its.  I couldn't believe how easy it was to make these cheese straws, and they were quite the hit even at work the next morning!  The combination possibilities are endless as well, and I'm thinking an asiago/rosemary cheese straw could be great party snack.  You can make them in advance and set them out in pretty glasses for people to take as they please.  And trust me -- they will take them!

Spicy Cheese Straws
perfectly wonderful as is
from smitten kitchen

1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon half-and-half (we used 2% milk and it worked just fine)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a food processor, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt and red pepper and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the half-and-half and process until the dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.  (We also used the food processor to grate the cheese, using the grater attachment.) 

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into an 8- by 10-inch rectangle that is 1/8-inch thick. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into thin strips at your desired length, each 1/4- to 1/3-inch wide.  Gently transfer the strips to an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/4-inch between them.  (They will puff up!) 

Bake the straws on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.

Arrange in a pretty glass and serve at room temperature.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Exchange!

This year I participated in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!  The premise seemed simple enough -- it was basically an extended, cross-country version of your traditional cookie exchange.  Oh how I loved it when my mom participated in cookie exchanges during the holidays.  We'd come home one day and there would be plates and plates filled with exotic-looking cookies for us to eat.  To this day, every Christmas I tell my mom to make these elusive cookies that I swear we had during a cookie exchange.  There was chocolate, maybe some peanut butter, and chow mein noodles.  I hope to someday find the recipe for this mysterious cookie.

But back to the present-day cookie swap!  Two food bloggers organized an extraordinary cookie exchange between 625 food bloggers in the U.S. and even, I think, in other countries.  We had to commit to making and sending one dozen cookies to three different food bloggers.  Then all of the recipes would be posted simultaneously today!  But choosing the right recipe would be a challenge.  Many of my favorite holiday cookies need to stay chilled and were inappropriate for this cross-country exchange.  So my mom and I went through her traditional holiday cookies and we settled on one of my top 5 cookies for the holidays: the bon bon cookie.  It's an adaptation from an old Betty Crocker recipe, and my 1989 version of that cookbook had already eliminated it from the recipe selection.  I decided to keep the recipe alive, so I baked my cookies and shipped them off to Los Angeles, Colorado, and Florida care of:

Nick @ Macheesmo
Nicole @ Sweet Peony
Leann @ Taste & Travel

I've been out of town for the last five days, so I'm excited to get my three dozen cookies from around the country once I finally get my mail.  Just what I need after a Florida vacay -- cookies :)  So for those of you looking for an easy holiday cookie recipe, or for those of you who received my cookies and want to know the secret behind the magic, here you go!  And I really really hope they turned out well for you!  Check back later for an update on the cookies I received from the swap!

Happy Holidays!

Bon Bon Cookies
adapted from Betty Crocker
makes about 24 cookies

for the cookies:
1/2 cup softened butter
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla (yes, tablespoon!)
1 1/2 cups flour
1/8 tsp salt
1-2 tbls cream

for the glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tbls cream
1 tsp vanilla
colored sprinkles

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer and mix the butter, vanilla, and sugar.  Add the flour and salt and mix again.  At this point, my mother always adds a little dash of cream.  If your dough is dry, you can add even more, up to two tablespoons.

Drop tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto an ungreased baking sheet about 1 inch apart.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges are just turning light brown.  Let the cookies cool on a cooling rack.

In the meantime, mix up the ingredients for the glaze (except the sprinkles).  Once the cookies have cooled, dip the tops of them into the glaze and let them sit on a pan covered in parchment paper.  Sprinkle the cookies with the colored sprinkles.  Refrigerate the cookies for about an hour so the glaze will set.  Eat and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fourth Day of Appetizers: Tomato Ricotta Toasts

A few weeks ago, I received a super exciting email and I've been waiting anxiously to share it on my blog.  Someone from Red Gold tomatoes contacted me about entering a blogger contest of theirs, which in and of itself was exciting and obviously I entered without a moment's hesitation.  But THEN, they asked if I would like a little gift basket of their tomato products to test out in my recipes!  I was beyond thrilled!

I love cooking with canned tomatoes.  In fact, more often than not, I prefer it.  I always have a dozen cans of various tomatoes in my pantry: diced, crushed, whole, tomatoes with basil, pureed, and sauce.  Why?  Well, the tomatoes at your local market that are grown out-of-state are usually grown to withstand transport.  They have thicker skins and sturdier flesh and just don't taste very tomato-y.  They lack the juicy, sweet flavor of a homegrown tomato.  So if I'm not buying my tomatoes at the farmers' market, I'm usually using canned tomatoes because they are picked at their freshest and canned right away to capture the delightful essence of the tomato.  I was eager to try Red Gold's tomatoes in my recipes. 

My first test of the Red Gold tomatoes was with my fourth appetizer recipe of the holiday season: tomato ricotta toasts.  When doing a minimalist recipe that calls for only a few ingredients, make sure those ingredients are quality.  I purchased some homemade ricotta from Whole Foods, a freshly baked baguette, and the sweet-tasting, diced tomatoes provided by Red Gold.  The outcome was an easy but tasty appetizer recipe that I actually quite enjoyed for dinner last night -- warm, toasted bread; creamy ricotta cheese; and the tomatoes were wonderful -- sweet, juicy, and flavorful. 

I also just realized that this is my 100th blog post!  So fitting that it features bread, cheese, and tomatoes, my three favorite things.  I've loved working and eating my way through the last 100 posts -- I can't wait for the next 100!

Tomato Ricotta Toasts
serves about 6-8 as an appetizer

One large baguette or Italian loaf, sliced into one-inch slices
1 15-oz can of diced tomatoes
~ 2 cups of ricotta
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Brush the bread slices lightly with extra virgin olive oil and place on a grill or grill pan for about 5 minutes, or until the one side of bread has nice grill marks.  Don't toast the other side!

Once the bread has toasted, place a thick layer of ricotta cheese on top, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Then place a heaping spoonful of diced tomatoes on top of the cheese.  That's all!  Eat and enjoy this simple but delicious appetizer!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Third Day of Appetizers: Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms

I'll admit, up until about a year ago, I would not eat a mushroom.  My only exposure to mushrooms were the little button mushrooms on salads and, let's be honest, those are not the best advocate for the mushroom community.  After trying a sauteed cremini mushroom, I was hooked, and I've slowly come to appreciate all kinds of other mushrooms.  So when I saw this appetizer on the smitten kitchen website, I knew I had to try it immediately.  I had an appetizer-cooking party with my friend Leigh and sadly the market only had a half of a pound of mushrooms.  We took those down, with the help of her mushroom-loving seven-year old son, in about five minutes.  Delicious.  The mushrooms are earthy, have an amazing texture, and the garlic butter and lemon juice just adds this extra punch of flavor that deepens and brightens these mushrooms.  Just be sure to cook a whole pound.  Maybe two!

Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms
only slightly adapted from smitten kitchen
serves 4-6 as an appetizer, 2-3 as a side dish

1 pound of cremini mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp towel with the ends trimmed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter, chopped into pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
juice from about a half of a lemon
a handful of a chopped green herb of your choice

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a baking dish, toss the mushrooms, garlic, salt & pepper, and oil together.  Top the mushrooms with the butter and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Top with lemon juice and the herbs of your choice, and serve! 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide for Foodies!

I both adore and despise holiday shopping.  I want to find everyone on my list the absolute perfect present, but of course nobody will give you a straight answer about what they truly want.  (Unless it's my sister, and no I will NOT buy you those ugly shoes!)  The key to buying a great Christmas gift is really just to know the person well enough to anticipate what they might use.  Is your dad a runner who lives in Minnesota?  Some great winter running gloves could be useful.  Is your friend an obsessive reader?  Try a book embosser (I love mine!).

But shopping for a foodie can be a challenge.  On the one hand, there is no shortage of wonderful cooking shops, neat pantry items, random utensils, or fabulous cookbooks to buy.  And no food lover has everything they could possibly need for their kitchen.  But on the other hand, so much of this stuff can come with a hefty price tag!  Being a foodie can be expensive.  There is no need to break the bank when it comes to holiday shopping for your food-loving friend.  Snoop around their kitchen to see what might be missing and then check out my top five picks for great food-themed gifts available right here in the Cities. 

1.  Minnesota Themed Gift Basket from Golden Fig

I love the Golden Fig store on Grand Avenue in St. Paul.  Over 70% of the items sold in the store are Minnesota made.  Golden Fig sells all kinds of intriguing spices, spice packets for making dips, locally-made snack items, and Minnesota-themed cookbooks.  But my favorite thing about this store is that they will put together a gift basket for you based on any price range and any theme.  Consider getting your favorite foodie friend a Minnesota-themed gift basket.  The photograph above is one such basket, and it has candy, honey, chocolate bars, chips & salsa, and some of the Golden Fig specialty spices.  But there are so many things to choose from that you can custom-make a basket to suit your friend's likes.  Even a non-foodie would appreciate this basket of deliciousness!

2. Fun Aprons

An apron is one of those cooking tools that every kitchen needs but that people are unwilling to buy themselves.  It's almost an afterthought for many people!  I would have never purchased my own apron, but I've received two awesome ones as gifts.  You can go for a plain, colorful apron, or something a little more fancy with ruffles and pretty patterns.  I have both!  You can check out Cooks of Crocus Hill, Williams & Sonoma, or even Anthropologie for cute and sturdy aprons.    

3.  The Great Scandinavian Baking Book (or any cookbook!)

As a Minnesotan and a St. Olaf graduate, I have a soft spot in my heart for traditional Scandinavian cooking.  And I truly can't imagine anything better than warming up my kitchen with the aroma of the sweet and savory breads, rolls, and cakes that you will find in this cookbook.  Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth resident who has penned many other cookbooks, all receiving glowing reviews.  This cookbook is no exception.  It's not a new cookbook, but it might just be one of those cookbooks that your friend didn't know they couldn't live without!  (Did that make sense?)

If your friend isn't a big baker, or if your friend already has this cookbook (lucky!), try any one of the other great cookbooks written by Minnesotans.  "The Minnesota Table" is a great cookbook featuring menus and recipes that follow the Minnesota seasons.  It would be a great option for a foodie interested in the locavore movement.  You can find tons of great Minnesota cookbooks at places like the Golden Fig, Common Good Books, or any other local shop.

4. Cooking Classes


I love taking cooking classes.  It allows me to try out new recipes and feel like a Food Network chef or Top Chef contestant.  I've tried the classes offered at Cooks of Crocus Hill and, more recently, the classes at Whole Foods.  Cooks of Crocus Hill (on Grand and in Edina) offers both passive and participation classes on a wide variety of topics.  The participation classes can run up to $70 or so, but you really do get hands on with the cooking.  At the Whole Foods in Minneapolis, you take classes with a group of about 8 people, and everyone has the opportunity to try their hand at a part of a recipe.  I liked the intimate setting, but you do sacrifice some of the participation.  Those classes are about $30.  Giving a gift certificate for a cooking class is a wonderful holiday gift!  And you know what would make it better?  If you went to the class with your foodie friend!  (You get to eat everything that is cooked, you know!)

5. Foodie Fight

Are you serious?  A trivia game about food?!  Do I really need to go into why this is such a perfect gift for a foodie friend?  I didn't think so.  I saw this game when I was shopping at Bibelot and fell in love.  The only challenge for you in giving this gift will be suffering an epic defeat when your foodie friend wants to play the game!

Do you have any other ideas for holiday gifts for the foodie on your shopping list?  Leave 'em in the comments!  Happy shopping everyone!