Holiday gift shopping…2016

That time of year again! I’ve sworn off malls, and almost any shopping until after the holidays. I find I have zero tolerance for the chaos of parking lots and stores. Somehow those places really dampen any holiday excitement that I do manage to have: folks that can’t manage to allow two-lane traffic in a wide lane, bumps in the butt with shopping carts, and the like. Not to mention the choice of music in so many stores. But if you still need to do some holiday shopping….

  • For the cookbook lover who has an incredible library but is constantly cursing about not being able to find a recipe, a membership to Eat Your Books will let them search those books, as well as magazines, and blogs for recipes. (Membership information here.) It is definitely worth the bit of effort it takes to get you books on you searchable bookshelf.
  • Bull City Olive Oil specializes in fine olive oils, vinegars, and other provisions (shipping is available). If you are local (Durham NC) you can taste before buying. I’d not been a particular fan of infused oils until I tasted some there. The combination of herbes de Provence infused oil and lavender infused balsamic vinegar makes an awesome vinaigrette!
  • Cooks always love herbs and spices–if you don’t want to make the decision on what to give Penzeys will provide a great selection from which to choose. Personally  I love the small jars, especially for things you want to try, but may not use in huge quantities. Although I don’t keep many mixes on hand I wouldn’t  want to be without the herbes de Provence–it’s the jar that I reach for when I am rushed or just can’t decide what to use.
  • Spirits are always welcome gifts. My latest “booze” discovery is from The Brothers Vilgalys Spirits. They produce Krupnikas, Jabberwock, Zapod, Beatnik, and Beebop. I know I’ve mentioned these before, but I think they still make an excellent gift.
  • For someone who wants to learn more about cooking, The Science of Good Cooking presents techniques used in the kitchen with some good recipes; eat well while you learn to understand what goes on in the kitchen. In the same understand-what-you’re-doing vein there’s  Cook’s Science Cook’s Illustrated .com, Cook’s Country.com or a subscription to  America’s Test Kitchen membership that can give access to these last three sites.
  • For someone who wants to butter their toast without using cold, hard to spread butter, the Butter Bell crock, or the Emile Henry butter pot, or a plethora of others which work on the principle of using a water seal to keep the butter from air exposure. Caveat: you do have to remember to change the water every couple of days, but it’s a pretty small effort for soft butter. (Unfortunately, I’ll have to mention a solution that doesn’t work although it seems like a nice idea: the Cook’s Innovations Butter Mill. According to reviews some do work–mine didn’t–the fine threads just didn’t catch so the butter moved down to the “grating” surface.)
  • Your toast eater might also appreciate some topping for that buttered toast: varietal honeys from Old Blue Raw Honey–an impressive selection–including poison ivy honey.
  • For the cook who wants to explore using fresh herbs there are seed collections of basic culinary herbs: seed disc collections (complete with pots) from Johnny’s Select Seeds,  or just collections of herb seeds.
  • The potato of the month club from Wood Prairie Family Farm might suit for a “meat and potatoes” person. The variety of potatoes is absolutely amazing–and yes, they do taste different from what we’re used to in the supermarket.
  • For excellent citrus fruits Mixon Fruit Farms can provide luscious fruit shipped right to the door–grapefruit, oranges, lemons, or other. Even the white grapefruit will surprise you.
  • There is always a gift certificate for Kindle books  (or other e-readers) and a Lékué popcorn popper to provide a cozy, relaxing evening. Of all the microwave popcorn poppers I’ve tried this is a hands-down winner.
  • For some exotics like truffle butter, game, kits for making cassoulet, or charcuterie (which you might be invited to share) D’Artagnan can likely provide what you want.
  • Finally, another option for relaxation to go with the book or the Kindle gift certificate, a good cup of tea would add a final touch. Check out what’s available from Harney & Sons provides an incredible variety. One of the things I like so much about getting my tea from them is that for a small charge you can get samples of the teas–enough to brew a pot to really taste the tea. Frankly, I love trying different ones, so I’d be happy with a selection of samples as a gift!

Some other gift suggestions here, here, and here–there may be some redundancy, but some thing appreciated by cooks never change. My redundancy will probably give you an idea of what I’ve had to replace during the year–e.g. Krupnikas!

Disclaimer:  I have neither affiliate connection nor do I receive any consideration from any of the sources suggested above–they’re simply my personal preferences, so you decide. I’m sure that some of the things are available from other sources as well, perhaps less expensively.

Potato and cabbage soup

I like soup for a meal–if it’s a good hearty soup with lots of veggies and maybe some meat in it. All it takes is cold weather and I’m especially interested in soup. Well, we’ve got the cold weather right now and it’s apparently going to last a while, too. I’ve a small “dinner” ham–I’ve sliced part of it to use for sandwiches, and cubed part–some will go in mac ‘n’ cheese (in the rice cooker), and it seemed that part of it would be good for soup–some to eat now and some to freeze for later meals.

Looking in the fridge, I discovered a head of cabbage and some red potatoes, and, of course, ham.

  • a medium yellow onion, chopped and lightly browned in a scant tablespoon of bacon fat (or oil).
  • Two good serving of ham, in 1/2-inch cubes, browned.
  • Garlic, about 6 good-size cloves, coarsely chopped, and cooked with the ham and onion until it starts to smell fragrant.
  • several healthy shakes of hot red pepper flakes added and “toasted” with the ham an onions.
  • about 1/2 teaspoon of kala jeera (black cumin) added to toast just a bit with the contents of the pan.
  • Two bay leaves added to the pan.
  • Three cups water to degaze the good brown fond from the bottom of the pan (add more later if needed when all the ingredients are in the pot). Bring to a simmer.
  • Three medium red potatoes cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes and added to the pot.
  • Cabbage, 1/2 small head cut into 3/4-inch pieces, or shredded if you prefer, added to the simmering pot. Add more water if needed to just barely cover.
  • Put the pot into a 250°F oven, and ignore for about 2 hours (I was working on an index and didn’t want to have to mind the pot on the stovetop).
cabbage, potato, and ham soup

meal in a bowl

Since cabbage keeps so well, I almost always have it in the crisper, and potatoes, too. I’ve done similar soups  (starting with the onions, potatoes, and cabbage–varying the seasoning, of course) with various sausages–kielbasa being a particular favorite. I’ve used leftover roast, steak, chicken, or chops in similar soups as well. If the meat is already cooked, I’ll use broth (vegetable, chicken, or beef) instead of water.

The kala jeera has a rather flowery flavor (and you want to use it in small amounts as it could be a bit overwhelming, but the hint of the floweriness was a nice contrast to the smokiness of the ham and the earthiness of the cabbage.