HO HO HO… just 5 days to go! Okay, that rhymes, but it was totally unintentional! With less than a week before Christmas, my baking panic has set in! I really haven’t done much this year – too busy playing with cookies! Thank you Marian – for birthing a new obsession!
This year, my cooking list includes (I hope you are sitting down….) dinner with friends on Saturday night. Menu in progress. Christmas Eve (menu in progress). Christmas Day – at first I thought there would be 3 of us so I wasn’t going to cook, turns out my daughter and her hubby will be here so now there are 5 of us… yep, menu in progress. Boxing Day – my side of the family is coming (approx 17-20 people), menu in progress. December 27 – I AM NOT COOKING. We have tickets to The Nutcracker so that means Scott will take me out for dinner… (if you’re reading this Scott… that’s the plan!) December 28 – recovery day. December 29 Scott’s side of the family is here (menu in progress). December 31 we will have a quiet night at home… I need it! January 1 – Brunch with friends (menu in progress.) So, with all that cooking to plan for (and really, what was I thinking????) I haven’t had much time for making my ‘list’. I’m feeling the pressure now. REALLY feeling the pressure. Juggling a few too many menus – hope I keep them all straight! Wonder if I could make the same thing for each meal? Who would know? I’m looking forward to January 2! ha ha.
On another note:
My daughter-in-law sent me a cartoon last night. It made me smile…. for anyone who is busy baking and cooking away for Christmas, I’m sure you can relate. (Not sure who owns the copyright on this, but I beg your forgiveness for no mention!)
Today, I’m working at home, but taking a few minutes here and there to get a few ‘stirring’ essentials done! Last night I threw together another batch of sugar cookie dough and got it rolled out, and back in the fridge. Yes… ALL THOSE COOKIES I made are pretty much gone! Okay, we did give some away to friends, but seriously, the rest…. my jeans are getting tight!
With five days to go before Christmas, I thought I’d just blog about a few of my favourite sites and products out there and let you check it out yourself! I have a few bloggers that I follow faithfully and I have a few brands that i can’t live without. So the five day countdown to Christmas – here we go… These are a few of my favourite things:
- For decorating cookies – most talented decorator Marian Poirier of Sweetopia has to be my number one pick! Not only is this sweet lady (see what I did there… sweet… sweetopia.. get it?.. ok, lame!) anyway, this sweet lady is not only talented but so down to earth and approachable. If you have questions, she’s right there to answer for you. Simply send her a question through her blog and she’ll respond. She’s a big advocate for teaching you how to do the job right – she doesn’t sell her cookies so don’t even try to ask her about ordering, but she does walk you through the steps to awesome cookie decorating with ease. Her site has many tutorials so you can actually watch step by step!
- For eating clean – hands down Tosca Reno of The Eat Clean Diet wins my vote. This 50+ year old woman inspires beyond belief. Overweight at 40 Tosca turned her life around and became a New York Times best selling author of The Eat Clean Diet series, a fitness model, and most importantly an advocate for eating clean – eating for health but with a delicious twist! The recipes are fabulous and you have to admit – she looks amazing at 50+ years old!
- Paula from Bell’alimento. Her food looks so yummy, and her directions are clear and concise. I stumbled upon this blog about a year ago – and it’s probably where I first read about “Mixed” but I’m not sure now. Regardless, I love reading Paula’s blog – If you love Italian food – this is your blog!
- Chez Us. Love this couple! I met them at Mixed and was inspired to create ‘outside the box’. Denise is the cook, Lenny is the devourer! Together they make up “Chez Us”. Of course, now I have a wish list for other equipment including lighting! Oh Lenny, what have you started???
Now I’ll get into the top things that would be on my ‘list’ had I actually made a list and told anyone about the list. Hmmm, I should have listened to Santa – made a list, checked it twice… and then passed it along to my hubs! Oh well. Next year! Here we go, my favourite things:
KitchenAid Stand Mixer. Yes, I have one. I got it just over a year ago now (November 2011) and it has been THE most used appliance in my kitchen! Definitely the most loved. I have the 6 QT Pro Model and it gets quite a workout in my kitchen! The motor on this model is powerful and can handle up to 13 cups of flour without getting sluggish. You know what that means? TONS of cookies at one time! Baking in bulk! Lots of Bread!!!
There are smaller models on the market, and of course the larger 7 QT model (sigh) so know what you want, why you want it, what you will use it for. Check out the specs. Talk to people who own them. Be informed before you purchase. For me, the 6 QT is awesome. For a newbie baker maybe the smaller 4 QT would suffice. Then there is the space issue – where will you put it? Mine sits proudly on my kitchen counter and because it is out all the time, it gets used all the time! A Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer ( or any other stand mixer) is an investment, be sure it’s in a place that makes it easy for you, so that you will use it all the time. I guarantee, once you start using one, you will not know how you ever managed without it! My number 1 overall pick of “must haves.”
Anna Olson’s “Back to Baking” is a wonderful cookbook for any level of baker. It’s on my wish list for 2012. Not sure if “Santa” will see this before Christmas or not, but I remain hopeful.
Anna Olson has a fantastic story. She has a degree in Political Science from Queen’s University (my alma mater) and worked in the banking world for a time. However, her passion for cooking was strong and so she left banking to pursue a culinary career enrolling in Johnson & Wales University in Vail Colorado. Seriously, I guess if you are going to go back to school you should do it in a place with a beautiful view! Anna lives in Ontario and has a show on the Food Network called “Bake with Anna Olson” I have one of her earlier cookbooks “Fresh” and have made several yummy creations out of this… it’s also personally autographed by Anna… ’nuff said!
What I love about “Bake” is that Anna starts with a basic recipe and then takes it up a notch into something more elaborate, then does that again. By the end of the show you have learned how to take a simple recipe and tweak it to get something else, related but more extravagant. Love it! I have looked through “Back to Baking” and can really appreciate the “before you bake” section for each recipe. This walks you through what you need, the tools, the measurements, etc. and why it’s important to have these ready before you start. Anna inspires me – I think because she had another career and then decided to follow her real passion! For these reasons, Back To Baking get my ‘nod’ as a must have!
If you haven’t learned by now, I’m a HUGE Chef Michael Smith fan! Chef Michael is a resident of PEI (for you non-Canadians… that’s Prince Edward Island) Canada. This small island is packed with such rich produce, fish and seafood. My husband and I had the pleasure of visiting the island for 10 days this past summer. I was hooked! I’ve been there before, but only in and around the Cavendish area. I had no idea how truly beautiful the entire island is!
When we hit the eastern side of the island, Souris and surrounding areas, I knew we were in Chef Michael territory. I set out to find him. I did… but he wasn’t home! I digress… the cookbook!
I purchased my first Chef Michael cookbook “Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen” while on PEI and couldn’t wait to get cooking. Anything else I had tried before had been from watching his show on the Food Network! Now I was armed with the secret! Cooking without a recipe! That’s sort of the way I cook anyway! I have a vague idea of how I want something to taste, and then go ahead and make it work!
In his newest cookbook, Fast Flavours, Chef Michael takes you through 110 recipes that are easy, very quick, and taste A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!! I think I got this book within a week or two of returning to Ontario. Nobody needs to know how quick these were – just whip them up and tell your friends and family you were slaving away in the kitchen all day! Definitely part of my “must have” list – he’s pretty cute (at 6′ 7″) and VERY talented!
LeCruset has been on my wish list for some time now. I am still without a single piece! Known for their cast iron enameled cookware, LeCruset is “the” standard by which all other cast iron cookware is measured. If you saw the movie “Julie & Julia” both J’s use it to make Julia’s iconic Boeuf Bourgonnoin. While I had dreamed of one day owning a piece… it became an obsession after the movie! Seriously! I’ve entered contest after contest, and still not a single piece of LeCruset! What am I supposed to do without it? I did buy another brand of cast iron cookware, and to be honest it’s just fine! No issues. But… it’s THE NAME that I want so that I can say I have a piece! sigh… Ok, so the pros to enameled cast iron cookware – you can cook on your stove top and then transfer directly to your oven, and back to your stove top. Julia’s Boeuf Bourgonnoin is made in this. You start the recipe on the stove, and transfer to the oven. When I made this the first time, I didn’t own any cast iron cookware and so I started on the stove top, transferred the stew to an oven proof baking dish, then transferred back to another dish afterwards… ugh. I seriously needed to get me some! I did. But not a LeCruset. ONE DAY! Oh, yes, I dare to dream!
Also on my list for this year (or soon I hope) is the KitchenAid 5-speed immersion blender – or any immersion blender with power!
Quoting the KitchenAid.ca site this blender has the industry’s first “Interchangeable Stainless Steel Bell Blade Assemblies and FIRST EVER Removable Pan Guards.” I don’t even know what that means, but it excites me! Basically I think that it means I can change the blades with ease and that it will allow me to blend, puree (my main reason for wanting one – soup!), chop, shred, mince, froth, etc. Imagine making smoothies with this much ease!
A must have on my list of favourite things for every kitchen is Parchment Paper. Pictured here is the Pampered Chef brand but really any good quality brand will do. I have a gigantic roll from Costco! It’s lasted me almost a year now and I use it all the time! I was recently asked if I preferred parchment or a silpat mat. I have to be honest, I haven’t used silpat before but my niece (Modern Day Martha) swears by it. I’ll have to try it. For now, this is my “must have” in my kitchen. It makes clean up a snap! Also, you can reuse it!! Did you know that? If you are baking cookies or biscuits, or scones… just fold it in between uses and store (it needs to be dry first) and you can use it a second time! I love that nothing sticks to it! Right now, I have cookie dough rolled out in between sheets of parchment in my fridge waiting for me to cut it into cute little shapes and bake! Parchment is not very expensive. Pick up a roll and put it in your favourite baker’s stocking!
A good commercial grade cookie sheet is almost a must! Pictured here is the Chicago Metallic Commercial II sheet. I purchased this at the Baking & Sweets show in Toronto, at the Golda’s Kitchen booth. I bought two. Larger than the normal sized cookie sheets that you generally see at department type stores (WalMart, Canadian Tire, etc.) the Chicago Metallic one is sturdy and heavier than the typical baking sheet. However, it is also guaranteed not to warp! Have you ever put something in your oven on a cookie sheet and heard that ‘pop’ – looked through the glass oven door to see your cookie sheet has warped in baking? That is SO annoying and frustrating. I have thrown out so many cookie sheets in my day. I am very happy with this cookie sheet – and plan to get more… hoping my husband is reading this so that he can pick me up a few more!…. it makes baking a breeze – holds more cookies or whatever you want to use it for. On my list – need more! Trust me, once you try a commercial grade cookie sheet, you just can’t go back to the ones you’ve been using now! Put it on your list!
A Chef’s Knife. ABSOLUTELY an essential! I have one. I have a (useless) knife set and block. When I got it I thought it was great. It’s not. The first time I used a real Chef’s knife – I was floored! The weighted blade, the handle grip, the sharpness! I started to LOVE cooking all over again. I always “liked” to cook, but with a good knife it really did making everything so much easier. Can’t stress this enough! Canadian Living magazine recently ran a feature on choosing the right Chef Knife. The opening line in this on-line article states “A good knife can elevate dinner prep from a chore to a pleasure. It’s an investment and treasure that should – with the right care – last a lifetime.” I couldn’t agree more! Pictured here is the Wusthof 8″ Chef’s knife. A dream of a tool!
Again, from Pampered Chef is the scoop. Great for measuring out muffin batter! or Pancakes! Or…. you name it! Use the smaller one for cookies. You will get a consistent size of muffin/cookie each time! Inexpensive and well worth investing in.
It will make your time baking just a little bit shorter! Dishwasher safe.
Finally, (and I say that only because I could go on and on and on…) an iPad would be nice! I often work with my laptop on the kitchen counter - you know what that means! Yep, the potential for a horrific laptop accident! I use it to refer to tutorials, to recipes, to watch movies while I cook (yes I do! It passes the time, don’t judge!)I could use it in my recipe book stand. Watch tutorials from Sweetopia or movies, and bake/cook away! Life would be so sweet! Okay, that’s definitely NOT an essential in my kitchen, but just a nice “if I didn’t need anything else, this is what I would like” type of thing! And I could use it to take much better pictures of my foodie creations! Justified the expense? Oh, I think so! Now the task of convincing you-know-who that this is an absolute kitchen essential for me!
I could go on and on… but I need to get back to work. I have cookies to be cut out! Menus to finish up. Grocery shopping to plan.
And oops – still need to do some Christmas Shopping!
T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house…. everyone was sleeping except for me – I’ll be the one up late wrapping gifts and prepping food!
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, celebrating with the ones you love! May God bless you in 2013!