But today, today we turn our attention to the Almost Vegetarian host with goodies to ease their overworked hearts.
- Staub mini La Cocotte. Single serving sized, these little French ovens (yes, you can cook in them) are so charming, that you can put an onion soup, a vegetable casserole, even just mac 'n cheese in 'em and your plain, old meal will be instantly elevated to a perfectly divine dining experience fit for the most discriminating of palates.
- Bréadage à Trois. Picture, if you will, a gift box. Inside are not one, not two, but three of the most succulent sweet loaves you have ever enjoyed. Such as Party At My Place Pumpkin Bread, Frankly, My Dear, I Don't Give a Cran Cranberry Orange Bread, or Better Than a Bubble Bath Mocha Chocolate Chip Bread, all from Breadwinner. The breads are gorgeous, the ingredients lists delightfully free of chemicals and preservatives (here's the one for the pumpkin bread: Flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, spices, vegetable oil, water, eggs, pumpkin) and the taste, oh the taste, is incredible.
- Godiva 36pc. Hanukkah Ballotin, Handmade New York Rugelach and Sweet Celebration for the Jewish Holidays. Been invited to a late Chanukah meal? Then here are three yummy treats from 1-800-flowers that will work nicely (of course, if your invitation got lost in the mail, you can always have them delivered; or you can just stay home and eat 'em up which, of course, is the best revenge!). The Godiva chocolates range from creamy caramels to rich pralines, each more wonderful than the last. And the rugelach (hand-rolled pastries stuffed with everything from chocolate to cinnamon raisins), are simply the best I have ever had. Ever. And I've got decades of rugelach eating experience under my belt. And overlapping. Just a little. And the Sweet Celebration includes a gorgeous selection of apples and sweets ranging from more of those incredible rugelach to chocolate-covered almonds. All three are kosher.
- A Perfect Pear Chocolate Lovers Gift Set. Think two jars, one with White Chocolate Pear Chardonnay Sauce and one with Chocolate Pear Cabernet Sauce. Think the richest, most delightfully delicious sauces ever to be poured over a heaping bowl of French vanilla ice cream. Or drizzled over a poached pear. Or (and this is my favorite) married with red rasperries and crème fraîche. Made with Guittard chocolate, organic agave, and chardonnay juice with a hint of pear, these are as wonderful to give as they are to, erm, keep!
- Don't Try This At Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs. For every host who ever bit off more than they could chew, so to speak, here is a collection guaranteed to make them feel just a little bit better about the burned casserole, the fallen soufflé, the sticky pasta. Published by Bloomsbury USA (I mentioned another one of their books yesterday), some stories are better than others, such as the (not surprisingly well-written) piece by Anthony Bourdain.
- Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter. So your host, perhaps after last year's disaster (see burnt casserole, above!) decided to host this year's meal at a restaurant. Then have I got a book for you! Published by William Morrow and written by a former waiter from chef Thomas Keller's New York City restaurant Per Se, the book is a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at what really ... erm ... well, you might want to give it to your host after your meal!
- Mouth Wide Open: A Cook and His Appetite. I haven't read this, yet. When I do, I'll give it a proper review. But if I didn't already have a copy of it sitting on a chair next to my side of the bed, this is the one hostess gift I would love to get. Written by the amazing John Thorne with his too often overshadowed wife, Matt, and published by North Point Press (the same people that brought us the amazing Marion Nestle book What to Eat), I present to your, for your dining enjoyment, an old recipe of his:
In preparing the dish, the single most important thing to remember is that the potatoes have to be mouth-meltingly soft. You'll know they're approaching that stage when neighbors start pounding on the door, drawn by the intoxicating smells that have seeped out of your kitchen. Lock the door, if you haven't already, and stir in the garnish.
1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
1 stubby piece of fresh ginger, about 2 inches long, peeled and finely minced
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne (or other fiery pepper)
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) clarified butter (see note)
6 medium Yukon Gold or Red Bliss potatoes, peeled and parboiled for 15 minutes, then cut into cubes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 scallion, including the green part, trimmed and minced
Several sprigs of fresh cilantro, minced
Heat the Sichuan peppercorns in a small, ungreased skillet over medium heat until they begin to darken and release their aroma. Turn them into a small mortar or onto a chopping board and pulverize to a coarse powder.
Mix the pepper powder, ginger, garlic, turmeric, cayenne and salt together to form a paste. Heat the clarified butter in a large skillet and blend in the paste. Cook, stirring with a spatula or wooden spoon, for a few minutes, to let the butter become fully seasoned. Meanwhile, toss the potato cubes in the soy sauce until it has all been absorbed.
Add the seasoned potatoes to the skillet and turn up the heat to medium high. Cook until the potatoes have a crunchy brown coating on the outside and a meltingly soft interior. Use a spatula to turn them constantly so that they brown on all sides. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes over medium-high heat.
When the potatoes are as described, toss in the minced scallion and cilantro. Continue cooking for one more minute to allow the garnish to wilt and cling to the potatoes. Turn everything into a serving bowl. Then, as the Tibetans say, "Ngotsa manang ni choe" -- "Eat shamelessly."
Cook's note: Clarified butter (ghee) is easily made by putting the half-stick of butter in a heatproof measuring cup and setting this on the rack in a preheated warm oven. When the butter has melted and the solids have separated out, remove the measuring cup from the oven (with a potholder -- it will be hot!) and carefully pour off the clear liquid into the skillet, letting none of the solids escape. (Discard these or, as I do, eat them mopped up with a little piece of bread.) This pure butterfat can then be used for frying, and it will not darken the way whole butter does.