San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa Tequila Cocktail

For the most part, when it comes to imbibing, we are beer and wine people, with exceptions of course.  For one thing, I like a marg on the rocks with my Mexican food, and  the “Froggystyle” Salut Bar Americain’s gin cocktail with cucumber, mint and lime juice mostly, because it reminds me of the dozen or so dinners that I had with Bjorn on the Salut patio while planning our wedding.  Every now and then, especially on a summer day, a refreshing and spunky cocktail can really hit the spot.  This Aranciata Rossa Tequila cocktail that I mixed up recently was a good one.  It will make more appearances on our patio this summer.

San Pellegrino Aranciata and Tequila Cocktail on www.ourwaytoeat.com

As evinced by this Instagram photo I snapped a few months ago, I am a little obsessed with San Pellegrino Aranciata soda, and anything else colored a deeply saturated rose hue, apparently.

Slightly Obsessed with high-saturation Rose

I brought home 6 Aranciata sodas from Cossetta Italian Market which inspired a Google search for cocktail recipes.  Most recipes I found included rum, except the “Mama Beth’s Poptail” recipe containing Aranciata soda and tequila posted on Mama Knows Her Cocktails.  I was pleased to find a recipe uses reposado tequila since we brought home bottle from Mexico this winter.  Mama Beth gets all the credit for the recipe, but I take credit for giving the cocktail a descriptive name and the addition of a cocktail umbrella and lime wedge to the presentation.

  • Fill a glass with ice
  • Add 2 ounces reposado tequila
  • A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • A squeeze of fresh lime juice
  • Top with 4 ounces San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa (blood orange soda)
  • Swirl it with a straw and decorate the glass with a lime wedge and a cocktail umbrella (optional)– Enjoy!

Mixing Station

This can easily be made into a non-alcoholic “mocktail” for the children and tea-totalers in your crowd by omitting the tequila, so that everyone can get in on the fun — na zdraví!

Prosciutto, Asparagus and Swiss on Toast -An Easy Easter Appetizer

I’ve been missing my blog!  We’ve been busy visiting Mexico, hosting visitors, working and waiting for the snow to melt.  Here’s a tasty and easy appetizer I made this morning that was inspired by Elsa’s Ham and Asparagus Toasts by Rachael Ray with a few tweaks– I used deli slices of prosciutto and Swiss cheese instead of ground ham and fontina, less butter and smaller slices of bread.  These tweaks made the assembly easier, less expensive and more appealing, I think.  It is easy to leave the prosciutto off of as many slices as desired to make this appetizer friendly to vegetarians.

Asparagus Procuitto and Swiss Toasts on ourwaytoeat.comIngredients:

  • 1/2 pound thin asparagus spears
  • 1 baguette, cut into 3/4-inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons of butter, melted
  • 2.5 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
  • 12 slices of Swiss cheese from the deli, halved
  • 1/4-1/2 pound of thinly sliced prosciutto from the deli

Method:

1.  Snap the woody ends off of skinny spring asparagus and steam for 2.5 minutes in salted, boiling water, then run the asparagus under cold water to stop the cooking.

2.  Slice a baguette into 3/4 inch slices.  Arrange the slices on a sheet pan, and toast the slices 6 inches below the broiler in the oven a minute or two.

3.  Mix 2 tablespoons melted butter with 2.5 tablespoons of grainy Dijon mustard and brush over the toasted bread.

4.  Top each slice with a pile of prosciutto, a halved sprig of asparagus and a half slice of Swiss cheese.

5.  Return the sheet pan to the broiler and watch carefully.  Remove when cheese is melted.  Season with ground black pepper and serve on a platter.

I brought the platter to my family’s weekly Saturday morning coffee gathering, and came home with an empty platter.  Success!

 

 

 

 

Chicken Noodle Soup – A Cure for Cold Season

When the long Minnesota winter is starting to wear on us, there are certain classic recipes that we revisit every year.  A bowl of homemade soup provides a fortifying boost of energy and straightforward, clean flavors that help a body endure the waning months of cold and darkness.Chicken-less Chicken Noodle Soup on ourwaytoeat.com

A steaming bowl of chicken or chicken-less noodle soup is a warming cure for winter blahs if I know one.  It is so comforting if you have a cold.  I don’t follow an exact recipe to make Chicken and Chicken-less Noodle soup.  I chop a few peeled carrots, a few ribs of celery and onion, and saute them in a little oil until fragrant, but still crisp.  Then, I add about 5 cups of broth, (homemade when I have it).  I bring the soup to a point beyond a simmer and add two handfuls of frozen peas.  When the soup returns to almost-boiling I add a few handfuls of egg noodles, and about a quarter cup of chopped fresh parsley.  I like to use ample, wavy, dumpling egg noodles.  They need 6-10 minutes of cooking time to cook to tender, but not soggy.  Bowl of Chicken-less Noodle SoupIn order to make chicken-less soup for myself, and classic chicken noodle soup for Bjorn, I saute chicken breasts or thighs separately.  When the chicken is cooked through, I chop it and add a hearty serving of chopped chicken to his bowl.  You can make a whole pot of chicken-less soup if everyone prefers, or you can saute the chicken along with the veggies if everyone at your house eats chicken.  Before serving, I adjust the flavour with salt and pepper.  If you are a stickler for following a recipe, Martha Stewart’s Chicken Noodle Soup is similar to my general guidelines, except that she doesn’t add peas; she opts for dill instead of parsley and she uses quick-cooking vermicelli noodles instead of wide egg noodles.  This soup is flexible.  You could add other veggies.  For me, I like to stick to the classic Chicken Noodle soup ingredients, except that I leave out the meat.

Chicken Noodle Soup Heating Instructions

A little while ago, Bjorn’s brother was under the weather, so we decided to bring him a serving of our soup. I removed a portion of the soup and put it in a disposable container before the noodles were fully cooked so that he could bring the soup up to temp without the noodles getting soggy.Cold Season Care Package

To round out our care package, we added a bottle of fizzy mineral water for some electrolytes and a quarter-sleeve of saltines to go along with the soup.

Get Well Soon Care Package

I taped my handwritten instructions to a small bag with washi tape and we dropped the package off at Brett’s house, hoping to bring a little warmth and cheer to a dreary sick day.  Homemade soup tastes wonderful and fills the house with a comforting aroma.  This soup is made entirely of staples that are usually on hand in the pantry and freezer.  Chicken Noodle soup cooks quickly and provides comfort, flavor and textures you just can’t get from a can.  When you’ve had it with winter, remember to make this soup!

Chicken Noodle Soup

A Winnipeg Weekend

photo (6)

From our home in Saint Paul, Minnesota there are a number of great cities that make a doable weekend road trip.  While I am huge a fan of Madison and Chicago, my personal favorite weekend road trip is “Minne to Winni”–the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  The miles between these cities are the span between my current and former hometown.  photo (16)When you visit your hometown, you tend to visit your friends more than spend the weekend as a tourist.  Still, we had in mind one place we wanted to check out:  Parlour Coffee.   Our friends, Ben and Jenny are friends with the owner, Nils, and have been talking the place up.  Our friend Ben built these great birch plywood benches that sat outside Parlour in summer months.  Parlour makes great coffee.  It is ground and brewed to order.  If you are going to visit Parlour, don’t plan to hang out and use the free WIFI–they have none.  This is a place to stop for a perfect cup, a quick chat with your neighbour and be on your way.  The decor at Parlour is spare.  The walls are white, and the chandelier hanging over head stands out as a focal point in the sparsely adorned space.  I snapped a picture of the chandelier (the first photo, above) and it happened to look like the cover art on Vampire Weekend’s self-titled album.  The place is hip, and conveys the pared-down Kinfolk-sensibility; they are tuned into the beautiful simplicity of perfecting a craft.  Parlour actually fits the Kinfolk model enough to have been featured on the beautiful Kinfolk blog, for a relatively new kid on the block in the heart of wintry Canada, this is a high compliment and an indication that this is a coffee business that is very much on the right track to succeed among those who appreciate simple, well-made luxuries as a high art.photo (10)At Parlour we enjoyed a Gibraltar–a creamy, rich concoction of espresso and milk served with a flourish in a small glass tumbler.  A Gibraltar isn’t on the menu, and you can’t have it to go.  In the spectrum of espresso drinks, you’d find it somewhere between a cappuccino and a latte.  Parlour has the art of coffee down.  If you have been to Koplins in Saint Paul, it is a similar caliber of artisanal coffee experience.  Upon hearing we were in town from Saint Paul, Parlour’s owner asked if we were familiar with Koplins, acknowledging that their offerings are comparable.  In my opinion, both places serve marvelous coffee, but Parlour is friendlier and less pretentious.  For example, I didn’t get lectured about ordering off-menu and requesting that my Gibraltar be prepared half-caf at Parlour, but I was read a mini-riot act following my typically innocuous request for skim milk in my latte on my first visit to Koplins–oops.  The barista at Koplins informed me that I would probably be satisfied and choose to consume less over all if I drank real whole milk instead of skim in my latte.  While possibly true and totally forgivable, I found the little lecture served on the side of my spendy whole milk treat a teeny bit unnecessary.  You are looking to add a local food-loving yuppie to clientele, aren’t ya Koplins?  If you spend 20 minutes on the premises of Parlour enjoying a sticky bun, you will see that people here know each other, know the baristas, greet each other warmly.  They come to oogle each other’s new babies, but mostly the people come because the coffee is above average.  When compared, Koplins is Minnesota nice, Parlour is Friendly Manitoba.  I know where I feel most at home…photo (24)  Parlour is a wonderful addition to the ever-evolving Exchange district, formerly the heart of Canada’s grain trade, currently the artsy elbow between a gritty section of Winnipeg’s North Main, and the outstretched arm of Portage Avenue, which traverses downtown, and stretches west out of the city and across Canada as the Trans-Canada highway.  One more tip for Parlour:  pick up a pound of coffee and receive a complimentary espresso.  Nice!  In Winnipeg, Parlour is lovely and well worth visiting for a fine cup coffee.  You will find yourself close to several galleries worth visiting:  Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery and Raw Gallery of Architecture & Design, to name two.photo (13)If you have a sweet tooth, Cake-ology is also just around the corner from Parlour, and is a great spot to stop to pick up a treat to go.  We all ordered cupcakes and enjoyed our treat at home later in the evening.  The frosting was luscious and not too sweet, and the cakes that were being decorated behind the counter of Cake-ology were lovely to behold.  photo (4)Winnipeg is a city with innumerable options for experiencing ethnic cuisine.  On this visit we enjoyed the buffet at India Palace at 770 Ellice Avenue, and according to a Winnipeg Free Press article, laminated and posted near the buffet line, so has Richard Gere.  We also enjoyed the mural on the wall outside.  Before hitting the road for home we stopped at Safeway on North Main to pick up a few loaves of City Bread, also known as the bread of my dreams.  City Bread, and a few other local bakeries such as KUB Bakery bake and sell wonderful rye and pumpernickel loaves in grocery stores throughout the city but nowhere else on earth, as far as I can tell.  I have found no similar substitute.  It is simply the best bread.  photo (22)We also brought home a half dozen bottles of Half Pints beer, brewed at Half Pints Brewery Co., one of Winnipeg’s first microbreweries, and certainly its finest.  A few years ago, we toured Half Pints and were treated to fresh pretzels served with spicy mustard from Lange’s Pastry Shop, at 710 Ellice Avenue.  Lange’s has become a regular stop for us while we are in the city.photo (15)Several of Winnipeg’s Safeway grocery stores still boast the iconic 1960’s wave-style architecture.photo (21)We made our way home Sunday afternoon, across the snowy, wind-blown prairie, along the border between Minnesota and North Dakota and back to Saint Paul.  We enjoyed our weekend in Winnipeg; a place where I feel at home, but always find I have much to discover.  We enjoyed our discoveries, but most of all, we enjoyed time with our friends.  To experience these pleasant spots I’ve highlighted, or discover other treasures in this  friendly, vibrant city, I encourage a Minne to Winni roadtrip, bring your passport, and perhaps your parka– and bring home bread.

 

Inspiration for Winter Salad Season

Mixed Greens with Beet, Grapefruit and Avocado with Grapefruit-Thyme DressingYou might think a person’s natural “Salad Season” would occur in the summer.  Since I started photo-documenting the food we eat, I have discovered our true salad season occurs in the deep winter.  We certainly don’t have a dazzling array of garden and local produce available, but even so, we do our best to choose the best produce and canned goods available to get by.  This is probably the season when we need hearty salads the most here in the Midwest.  Our bodies are hiding in bundles of clothing, we spend our time mostly indoors and in natural darkness, and we inevitably encounter a number of virus threats on a weekly basis.  I consider these light, bright, crunchy, energizing, nutrient rich, colorful salads, [along with sleep] to be one of the secrets to a maintaining a pretty reliable immune system.  They are also my January-February hope that when spring arrives, I will feel and look more springy than a person feels in the depths of winter.  Shaved Carrot, Purple Cabbage and Sunflower Seeds on Romaine

Our first salad, shaved carrot, Parmesan,  radish, white bean and raw sunflower seeds on romaine. Cukes, Halved Grape Tomatoes, Celery Chunks and Kidney BeansI start preparing our salads by adding its prominent components to a bowl.  Chop something crunchy (celery), add a protein (kidney beans), add any other vegetables you have on hand and wish to include (here, cukes and halved grape tomatoes) , toss with greens, (here, romaine and spinach).  If you care to, add a flavor/texture  “treat” such as seeds, nuts, avocado, egg or a bit of cheese.   This is the way to make a great winter a great salad.Radish, Celery, Cuke and Kidney Beans with Spinach and RomaineI typically toss greens with either some citrus juice, lime, lemon, orange or grapefruit or a flavored vinegar.  My favorite vinegars are red wine, balsamic or tarragon vinegar.  Then I drizzle just a few drops of olive oil and toss the greens.  It is surprising how little oil you need to bring all of the flavors together.  Sometimes I add a tablespoon or two of Dijon mustard, or a teaspoon of honey or jam to the oil and vinegar/citrus mixture before mixing vigorously to add further flavor and help the dressing to emulsify before tossing the liquids with the greens.   Chopped fresh herbs or dried herbs along with salt and pepper added according to taste complete the dressing.  Beet, Bosc Pear and Cucumber on Mixed GreensThis salad is composed of beets, peeled bosc pear and sliced cucumber on mixed greens dressed with leftover grapefruit juice and fresh thyme dressing and a little pepper and salt.  Don’t hesitate to open a can of beans, beets or citrus canned (hopefully BPA free) in its natural juice.  There are many health benefits and few sacrifices when you add these nutrient-rich ingredients the easy way.  ourwour

The next salad is composed of sliced radish, sliced pear, white beans and a few slices of brie on spinach with citrus-preserve dressing. Black Bean, Corn, Radish, Grape Tomatoes and Pepitas

Another great salad is composed of corn, black beans, peeled and quartered cukes, minced scallion, halved grape tomatoes and pepitas dressed with lime juice, olive oil, honey and chili flakes over romaine.  Beet, Avocado and Grapefruit dressed with Grapefruit Juice and Thyme on Mixed GreensIn my book, this winter salad is special, grapefruit supremes, sliced avocado and red beets on mixed greens with grapefruit juice and olive oil dressing with thyme leaves. Shaved Carrot and Chickpeas on RomaineHere is another hearty and satisfying salad we’ve enjoyed composed of shaved carrot, celery, chickpeas, sliced radish and provolone on romaine-spinach mix.

Salads in winter are limited by the produce in season, but those limitations can open up room for creativity.  Salads like these complete a meal as a healthy side dish or stand as a meal on their own.  Certainly, they brighten your plate and the winter— try ’em.

 

Element Pizza in Northeast Minneapolis — A Solid Neapolitan Pizza

If I were running for local office, I would promise a chicken in every pot and a wood-fired Neapolitan Pizza shop in every ‘hood.  It would be an easy promise to keep, because we’ve got ’em:  Punch Neapolitan PizzaPizzeria Lola, Pizza Nea, Element, Black Sheep Pizza* all come to mind–all well-known, well-loved and everyone has their favorite.  Also, almost everyone has a Neapolitan pizza shop a stone’s throw from their house, if they happen to live in the metro.Element Pizza on ourwaytoeat.comWe were in Northeast Minne and hungry last Sunday, so we stopped by Element for lunch.  Over time, I’ve managed to make the rounds to many of the establishments in the Twin Cities Neapolitan pizza scene.  Element is a tiny, triangular-shaped space filled with glossy and grainy woodwork, limited seating and sparse decor.  We headed straight to the to counter place our order and spied the wood-fire pizza oven right in the front of the kitchen which is overseen by just a few cheerful employees.  The menu on the wall lists 15 pizzas named for the 5 elements and other local references, a special and a long list of toppings for creating your own combination of toppings.  Each pizza begins as either Napoli, seasoned with oregano; Margarita, seasoned with basil, or Bianco, topped with olive oil, mozzarella and no sauce.  Having fallen for Neapolitan Pizzas at Punch, seeing Napoli and Margarita serve as the base of a thin-crust pizza topped with artisan ingredients, I am in familiar territory and I expect to taste a Neapolitan pizza I have come to know and love.  The Nordeast at Element PizzaWe ordered a small Aegean salad to share, which was a generous portion of lettuce, tomato, pepperoncini, olives with a house made vinaigrette served with several slices of tasty rosemary flatbread.  Bjorn ordered a Nordeast topped with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and oregano.  For a meat-eater, this combination of ingredients would be hard to pass up.  Napoli with Mushroom and Olive at Element PizzaI ordered a Napoli topped my way, with mushrooms and olives.  As much as I know that trusting the Pizzaioli’s carefully curated pie toppings is the hip thing to do, I am a control freak and I like being able to select pizza toppings myself.  I enjoyed the amply topped, chewy and slightly sweet, fire-kissed crust and found it filling enough to allow me to take home a few slices.  The crust was more substantial than the very-thin, Punch crust that almost melts under its sweet, light yet earthy San Marzano sauce.  In all, there were several similarities between Element and Punch’s approach to Neapolitan pizza–the Napoli and Margarita base, similar side offerings, such as the Aegean salad, which is nearly identical to the Greco at Punch, and is also served with Rosemary flatbread.  I haven’t been to Naples, but I expect we’d find their influences there.  Element veered away from the extremely minimalist approach to topping pizzas characteristic of all of the other pizzerias I’ve ranked in their cohort.  While interesting topping combinations were available, Element avoided the extreme in topping one-of-a-kind juxtapositions achieved by Lola and Black Sheep.  This straightforward unfussiness is probably why I liked it.  Element, like Punch is a solid provisor of Neapolitan Pizza standards, with the option of flexible and ample and predictable toppings to satisfy the desires of my thrifty, picky Midwestern heart.

*At Black Sheep, pies are coal-fired which hearkens back to coal-fired pizzas in New York.  In other words, this shop doesn’t qualify as Neapolitan, but their pizzas have a crispy-crust, minimally-topped with an assembly of curated toppings so I’m ranking them among the Neapolitan shops despite their intentional departures.

Soft Eggs and Avocado on Toast with Cauliflower Soup

Like most people, soups are on heavy rotation at our house in the winter.Soft Eggs and Avocado on Toast with Cauliflower Soup ourwaytoeat.com I made this Cauliflower Soup with Toasted Garlic from a recipe in a recent Real Simple Magazine and a loaf of Jim Lahey’s wonderful No Knead Bread last Sunday.  We had a few people over on Sunday night, so most of the bread was eaten up.  I needed some inspiration for a quick side dish to make the leftovers into a square meal for supper on Monday night.  P1070723Fortunately, the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living just arrived.  I paged through it, and landed on a quick, simple and still luscious side dish, that  made our cauliflower soup a satisfying meal–Sesame Toasts with Poached Egg and Avocado.Egg and Avocado on Toast up Close

To the extent possible, I followed Martha Stewart’s recipe for Sesame Toasts with Poached Egg and Avocado, but for the arugula I subbed spinach, very lightly dressed with tarragon vinegar and olive oil and I subbed crunchy, toasted slices of No Knead Bread instead for Sesame Toast.  I was able to duplicate the rest of the preparation using ingredients we had on hand.  Yes, I treat our household to the purchase of fresh avocados almost every week.  Tasty Supper of Cauliflower Soup and Toast with Poached Egg and Spinach SaladThis is more of a reminder than a recipe, really.  I occasionally need a reminder that eggs and avocado in their natural form are only a few minutes preparation away from becoming a sublimely luxurious, simple supper.Cauliflower Soup - Toast with Avocado and Poached EggsThis meal was on the table in minutes, was tasty and brought a little light into a dark winter evening.  It works well with soup,  or on its own, and it would also be wonderful for breakfast or lunch.

 

A Lesson in Lefse for Bjorn from Grandma Eldrice

Gallery

This gallery contains 20 photos.

My father is Norwegian by birth, and so some Norwegian characteristics have come to me naturally.  Having hearty tolerance of long winters and cold temperatures has been truly helpful throughout my life.  Even so, I have wished on more than … Continue reading

Christmas Decorating Ideas at Arhaus in the Galleria

You would have a hard time convincing me to spend my free time wandering through stores most of the year, but at Christmas time, I find it becomes a little more fun.  I enjoy spending some time in decorated spaces, listening to recordings of Christmas carols, and in the midst of crowds of shoppers out to pick out the perfect presents for everyone on their list.  I do most of my actual Christmas shopping online, because it is just so much easier and more enjoyable to actually –shop- in the calm environment of my home, sitting by our Christmas tree.  Decking the halls is an important part of most people’s Christmas traditions so I wanted to share a peek at a recent excursion I made to Arhaus, a furniture and home design store that is a new arrival to the Galleria in Edina, Minnesota.   Cloche and Finials I recently discovered that Arhaus which has other locations around the country is full of inspiration for home decorating ideas, for the holidays, or any time of year.

Interesting Plate Bust Oval Frame Arrangement

There are vignettes throughout store, such as this interesting juxtaposition– a Greek or Roman bust, an ornate frame, a vase of dried greenery and flower-shaped plates mounted on a faux-painted wall.  Not everyone would want to recreate this display in their home, but it certainly gives ideas that grouping seemingly random items together can be an interesting way to display statement pieces along with items that might be hiding in the cupboard.

Moss, Silver Pinecones and Golden Pear Centerpeice at Arhaus

An ornament-adorned chandelier above the dining table topped with moss-lined bowls filled with silver pinecones and golden pears makes a stunning holiday tablescape and is an accessible idea that anyone could recreate at home.

Rooted Twigs in a Bottle

Employees are quick to explain that Arhaus employs shoppers throughout the world who acquire their one-of-a-kind, reclaimed items that are sold alongside their new, custom furniture and decor.  A piece of time-worn ornate Victorian trim makes an eye-catching shelf below a barnboard-framed mirror.  I love the simple bottle of rooted twigs sitting on the shelf.  I have a bottle just like this, and I have twigs, but encouraging twigs to root in a bottle is a fascinating decorative touch that had not occurred to me.

Seasonal Planters Outside the Galleria in Edina

Speaking of twigs, the planters outside the Galleria were done up with seasonal greenery, dried hydrangea, birch, huge pinecones and red twigs and are surprisingly similar to the planters outside my front door.  The only difference from my display is that my spruce branches, birch logs, dried stonecrop and red twigs were all scavenged from nature and saved when necessary garden and tree-pruning took place earlier in the fall.

Upside down Christmas Tree

The first time I saw a Christmas tree hanging upside-down from the ceiling, it bugged me, because–that is just not how Christmas trees are done–.  This manner of displaying a tree has grown on me.  This upside down ornament-adorned tree was grand and really lit up the room with Christmas splendor.

Watering Can Decor

Another unexpected display were these aluminum watering cans hanging from the ceiling in an irreverent display above a bed.  This isn’t going to work in everyone’s bedroom, but it could perhaps work in a sun porch or a mudroom, or outdoors outside of potting shed?Winter Scene in a Green HurricaneEveryone and their brother are making little winter scenes with tiny trees and animals nestled knee-deep in “snow,” which is sugar or fine sand in the bottom of vases, and in lids of upside down jars this year.  I think it is cute, cozy, homespun, vintage Christmas touch.  I won’t deny that I picked up a few, very reasonably priced little trees at Menards to make a winter display myself.  Aren’t we all trying to channel Christmas at Grandma’s house, into our homes around the holidays?  This tray topped with a green hurricane vase with a winter scene, pinecones, a glass bird and a grouping of other sparkling ornaments is another accessible Christmas design-idea that a trip through Arhaus afforded me.  Arhaus is a fun place to visit for fascinating home-design ideas for decorating at Christmas and throughout the year, and is worth the trip whether you want to shop or just browse.  What are your favorite sources of inspiration for home decor ideas?

 

My Year in Meals by Rachael Ray and The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman – Split Second Review on a Trip Through Barnes and Noble

It will come as no surprise that I am a sucker for a beautiful, photograph-filled cookbook.  Cookbooks line more that one shelf in the living room as well as bookshelves upstairs.  I have old ones, such as my Grandma’s 1956 edition Betty Crocker Cookbook.  There are a few spiral-bound volumes of recipes assembled by church ladies and sold for a fundraiser and a nice assortment of 1960’s and 1970’s Better Homes and Gardens and Woman’s Day editions Baby Showers, Salads and Dinners for Two collected from garage sales.  I also have three times as many recent volumes written by chefs and culinary notables that I purchased used.  

General reference cookbooks like the Betty Crocker Cookbook provide a wealth of knowledge of the basics and a broad range of skills.  I wouldn’t make our family’s favorite Thanksgiving dressing or bake a blueberry muffin looking at any other cookbook.  I have also learned so much from recent Martha Stewart, Ina Garten and Lidia Bastianich cookbooks.  These three culinary celebrities are well-marketed, but their cookbooks have earned their place on my bookshelf because they produce reliable results and share usable wisdom and expertise.

If you are Christmas shopping for a cook of any kind, I am sure that the beautiful, clearly written, photograph-filled cookbook from the “Big Three”–Martha, Ina and Lidia will not disappoint.   

I am not much of a shopper, but of all places to browse for Christmas present ideas, bookstores are my favorite.  I wandered into Barnes and Noble and took a peek at new cookbooks by Rachael Ray, who is primarily known for cooking on television, and Deb Perelman, who authors the blog Smitten Kitchen, and has just released a cookbook under the same name.  

Above is a peek inside at My Year in Meals by Rachael Ray.  This book is exactly as it sounds–a tour through Rachael Ray’s meals in the last year, recipes and snapshots of meals she prepares at home and eats around the world.  I like the concept.  This is the basis of the majority of my blog posts–what we eat, recipes, a glimpse of our lives, my thoughts and memories.  My observations about this book relate to the way the cookbook is styled.  First, the photos look like instagram snapshots.  The color scheme bears resemblance to my Mom’s 1969 edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook–lots of red, orange and yellow and lots of retro cookware.  When you have your own cookware line, there darn well better be some product placement in your latest cookbook.  Second, there are hand-drawn lines and arrows here and there which give you the feeling that Rachael or her marketing team wanted the book to invoke a blog assembled on an Ipad.  So, with instagrammed pics and Ipad-esque scribbles  Rachael Ray’s My Year in Meals is in essence, a cookbook styled to have the look and feel of a blog.  If you like Rachael Ray’s style and want a voyeuristic tour of the food she eats, you will probably like this cookbook.  

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is the opposite concept–it is a blog turned cookbook.  Above is the Mushroom Bourguignon that I will definitely be cooking out of Deb Perelman’s inaugural printed tome.  Boeuf Bourguignon was so romanticized in the movie Julie and Julia that I’ve made it; and ever since wanted a legit vegetarian version so that I could get in on the fun.  Thank you Deb for delivering the probable answer to my vegetarian-foodie prayers.  

On first glance, I found the double-page spread containing photos and instructions for plump gnocchi with trapped white space right in the middle of the page.  I know she worked obsessively on this book, because I follow her blog.  I don’t blame her–the question I raise is, after working very hard on testing and photographing your recipes and writing sweetly, humorously and wittily about them, while also producing a high-caliber food blog and raising a child, can’t you count on your editor at Knopf to alert you to these minor, fixable glitches?  I guess not?  Perelman’s photos are beautiful, her recipes are adventurous but usable and she conveys her warmth and wit.  Trapped white space aside, this much-anticipated cookbook looked like one I’d want to own.

The bookshelves are bursting, but there seems always to be room for another cookbook on the shelf.

 I paused at the “Wine and Spirits” aisle to notice without surprise that beer brewing has becoming a prominent subject on the bookshelves of Barnes and Noble.  Have I mentioned that as of November 25th, we have a friend’s old fridge, re-engineered into a keg-o-rater in our basement that we just love?  I took some notes and think I will be shopping at the used bookstore in our neighbourhood for books on this subject for my sweetheart this Christmas.

As I exited Barnes and Noble, a nice array of bargain cookbooks bade me farewell.  At $7.98, the price can’t be beat, but I managed not to buy any, since I was there to shop for ideas.