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The Spaghetti Betty Gift Guide

If you’re like me, you have a ton of food lover friends and family to buy holiday gifts for. And I always think it’s a nice touch to give a little of your personality when choosing the right gift for someone. I’ve read a few holiday gift guides put out by some of my favorite publications, but personally many missed the mark. So I was inspired to create a gift guide of my own! Here is part one of the guide. And I’ll be sure to sneak in any additions I see in the next few weeks.

For the Entertainer
For me, entertaining was practically etched into my DNA at birth. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s one thing to serve great food, but it’s another to have great food served on cool things!

I saw a lot of really fun holiday dishes and platters this year!
For the second year CB2 is carrying these fun little stick figure guys on mini dishes. Great for little party apps!

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Another really fun dish was this string of lights from West Elm

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Many of you are probably familiar with Brooklyn Slate. I just got myself a cheese platter recently and it is really so beautiful. And their Cheese Survival Kit is also another great idea! (And the tote is really cute.) For all the cheese lovers these are some great gift from a local small business.

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Anthropologie is never one of those places that immediately comes to mind when thinking about house ware gifts. But they have a really extensive luxury/chic collection. These wine decanters would make a great gift for the wine lover or hostess.

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For the Mixologist
Cocktail mixing is an essential skill that any great entertainer should have under their belt. Here are some gifts for their arsenal.

Any good bartender knows how important ice is to the components of the drink.

The iceorb is a double duty for making ice and keeping a bottle cold. A good gadget and perfect for the person who has everything! You can buy it from a few retailers on Amazon.

I can barely contain myself on this site with all these off the wall ice molds! Frozen Smiles, Gin & Titonic or Legos! The silicone trays can probably also double duty for chocolate molds!

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For those in need of some solid recipes check out Jim Meehan’s The PDT Cocktail Book. The illustrations are really stunning, very Marvel-comic-book, and Jim has been consulting on the Food&Wine Cocktail Book for years, a definite trusted source!

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For those bartenders seeking a little more depth and maybe something a little more unique try Brad Thomas Parsons’ Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas.

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That concludes part 1, in the next few days I’ll be adding gifts for the cook and my personal favorite category: fun for the foodies!

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Theme Park Food – Trending Up

While traveling to Universal Studios, and Universal Island of Adventure it dawned on me that theme park food is due for the next public foodie invasion.  Food trucks, stadium food, casinos even Madison Square Garden have all been touched by the golden knives of some big name chefs and chef personalities.  For years Disney has  offered some decent fine dining, the upscale Grand Floridian immediately comes to mind.  And Epcot has blurred the lines of fast food park eats and international culinary explorations.  Some brilliant PR company even created the Epcot Food Festival going on this month.

But what I think needs a major make-over is your  basic run of the mill concession stands.  Popcorn, candy, ice cream and turkey legs have left me bored and uninspired to spend my money.  Not to mention they pop up every 100 feet and the ratio highly outnumbers the park attractions.    Give me some Big Gay Ice Cream trucks, pomme frites, gourmet grilled cheese, or play off your themes.  Why can’t I get Green Eggs and Ham in ‘Seuss Landing’?!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was a great example of how parks should be using food to their advantage.  Maybe Harry Potter is an easy example because food was such a big part of beloved books and films.  But I can tell a lot went into the branding, test kitchens and menu planning to hold true the authenticity.  The recreation of Honeydukes Candy Shop, transports you right into the imagination of J.K Rowling.  The shelves lined with chocolate frogs takes you to the scene on the Hogwarts Express when the frog flies out the window.  The Pumpkin Juice has terrific packaging and a sweet seasonal flavor to match.  Looking at the wall of Bertie Botts Jelly Beans echos the famous line from Dumbledor:

I was unfortunate enough in my youth to come across a vomit-flavored one, and since then I have rather lost my liking for them. But, I think I could be safe with a nice toffee …Hmm, alas, earwax.

The pride and joy of experience for me however was eating lunch at The Three Broomsticks Cafe.  In the books Harry, Ron and Hermione spend equal time leisure and scheming at this pub in the village of Hogsmeade.  As a guest, in true theme park style you wait in line as you admire the props along the route, which include a digital menu board followed by samples (behind closed glass) of the  actual dishes.  The system is quite organized as you are directed to a numerical register to take your order and then sent to the corresponding pick-up window.  These casual dining places have real potential for chasos and disaster and angry patrons.  This was quite the opposite.  Not to mention the menu stuck to traditional British fare like fish and chips, Shepherd’s pie, and my meal of choice the Cornish pasties (beef pie) with a Butterbeer!  Okay, I wasn’t expecting a five-star meal but it was pretty tasty!  The Cornish pastries came out in three little flakey pies with a side salad.  The Butterbeer was delicious especially mixing the foam with the fizzy soda part.  Very sweet, but what do you expect?!  On my dining scale I give it 3.5 for ambiance, 4 for crowd control, 3.5 for food and 3.5 for price.  An average of 3.75 stars.

But mark my words world, its only a short time before artisan, gourmet snacks will find their way to theme parks of America.  Just remember you heard it here first!

 

 

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NY Wine and Food Festival 2011

Now that the dust has settled from all of the New York Wine and Food Festival hoop-la I’ve had a chance to reflect and do a blog post.  Each year that I participate I come away from the festival with a unique experience and renewed love for food discovery and elastic waistline pants.

Saturday night was spent celebrating ‘Brooklyn’s Bounty’ with the loveable Adam Richman from ‘Man vs. Food.’  You heard it here ladies and gentleman he is my new celebrity crush.  A good-ole Brooklyn boy who loves to eat, loves to laugh and likes to be challenged by his food.  What more could a girl and ask for.  Not to mention my mother would love shoveling food in his mouth!

The event was sponsored by Edible Brooklyn who I feel is just starting to get their feet wet in the big event planning scene.  Edible magazine has shot through roof with their recent James Beard win for their ‘Publication of the Year’ Award while only a few years ago sat collecting dust in the corner of neighborhood coffee shops.

A rumored 350 people attended this cocktail-party-style jammed into this beautiful historical Green Building with jaw dropping chandeleers in the middle of Carroll Gardens.  The good thing was there were no lines for food and by the end of three hours you were quite satisfied with selections.  The trick is to drink moderately to make more room for the food.  We did do one Jameson pickle back shot which was strategically located next to McClures Pickles.

Nestled in the back corner of the room was  D. Coluccio & Sons,  a fixture in my exsistence as an Italian-American.  The name Coluccio has been thrown around my house for as long as I can remember.  No holiday or family gathering would be complete without an antipasto spread from Coluccio’s.  There were countless Christmas mornings, fresh from opening gifts from Santa that I’d then move on to unwrapping and opening containers of olives, marniated mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and stuffed peppers to arrange on the antipasto platter.  Followed by rolling slices of provolone and cutting up my other love in this life, Parmigano Reggiano cheese.

I have to give credit to vendors who sign up for these banquet style events.  You really have to think about your execution and your audience.  As much as you want to impress your guests and make them remember you, head cheese and sardines aren’t a big seller.  Our biggest dissapointment was Bark Hot Dogs didn’t give us a hot dog!  Some lobster roll thing…c’mon guys.  Some of the best food came from the food trucks that were parked outside.  Food Freaks (only open 3 weeks!) had this insane grilled cheese and tomato soup with some crispy brussel sprouts.  And Papa Perrone’s rice balls were right on point.

An overall great event, but I’d tell Edible to set up more high-top tables – the drink in one hand and food in the other is still a challenge for most humans.

Link to all participants

 

Sunday was Carts in the Parc!  I remembered my camera for this one!  This was a truly great event possibly the best I’ve ever been to in my three year run.  The best of the best NYC food trucks parked along the curb of FoodParc at Eventi Hotel in Chelsea.  FoodParc is a modern-day food court and in the back is a really nice garden area with a huge big screen TV.  This event was hosted by Andrew Zimmern, another cool dude but I was happy stalking Adam Richman who showed up again as well as some other big name foodies like Chef Michael White from Marea, and Angelo Sosa from Top Chef.  I didn’t have one off-putting thing from this food marathon.  Our endurance was definitely up from the night before.  The NY Dosa Cart won my heart.  This is authentic street food and an original to whole food truck craze.  I did a little photo time lapse of the lentil pancake with the spicy potatoes and vegetable chutney.  The Biryani Cart another orignal authentic was also delcious and won fan favorite for the day.  The pictures say it all so enjoy!

Link to all participants

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Brooklyn Local

On September 17th, City Harvest hosted their first annual Brooklyn Local event.  Artisan food vendors from all over Brooklyn came to showcase their delicious and handmade delights.  Local Brooklyn brewery Sixpoint along with several other beer and wine vendors kept us from going thirsty.  What  I found most compelling was the event space.  The Brooklyn Tabacco Warehouse is this charming open air venue reminisant of medieval times.  In the 1870s it was used as a tobacco customs inspection center, and saved from demolition in 1998.

I had the great opportunity to volunteer with City Harvest in the kids area and decorate cookies all morning!  The cookies and decorating supplies were provide by The Good Batch.

Here is a link to all the participating vendors.  And some of my favorites!

My Friend’s Mustard,

Cuzin’s Duzin

Pie Corp

Kings County Jerky Co

Stinky Bklyn

I took some fun pictures of the kiddie creations!  Each cookie was very expressive of each kid, it was like cookie psychology.  And I could pick out a few that would probably resemble the mess that I would have made as a kid!

The end of the gallery has pictures from the actual event.

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The Best of Canning Tomatoes

For the second year in a row my family has honored the new tradition of canning tomatoes.  This year my Uncle swore to a new method of cooking the tomatoes longer so they would puree better.  Here are some of my favorite pictures from the day including my brother stealing figs from the neighbor’s tree.  These are step-by-step directions that my uncle printed out for all of us.

1. Wash Tomatoes

2. Cut off the stem and make one slit 1/3  the way down the top of the tomato

3. Boil until mushy (1-1.5 hours depending on heat and number of tomatoes)

4.  Dry in strainers for about 1 hour (tilt and turn frequently)

5.  Pass through machine, then re-pass a second time

6.  Add 1 basil leaf and a teaspoon of salt to each pre-cleaned and dried jar

7. Fill jar with tomato puree and screw tight

8. Put towels on the bottom of a big pot and fill with bottles, wrapped in paper towels

9.  Fill pot with cold water 2 inches above the jars

10.  Boil for 45 minutes


			

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Daniel Boulud’s New Cocktail Book…sexist?

With my new job working on Food & Wine’s annual Cocktail book my radar has been extra sensitive to any news regarding the beverage category.  Just released on Eater Daniel Boulud has published a cocktail book divided with drinks for her…and drinks for him.  I’m no crazy feminist but something about this seems wrong.  If you are categorizing me with pink, sweet, fruity drinks you are wrong Mr. Boulud.  I think that’s my biggest problem.  I don’t want someone telling me what I should and shouldn’t like especially when it comes to food and drinks.

Funny because just the other night I was out to dinner with my brother and his fiance who made fun of the fact that somehow whenever they order drinks, he always ends up with the tall delicate pink glass and she gets the short-wide double rocks glass with the burly brown tones.  We live in a world of color and non discrimination, every palette for themselves!

I guess it’s an interesting concept, and I’m sure there are tons of couples out there who fit the bill, so enjoy!  Maybe a cute idea for a wedding/engagement gift…that’s what this book says to me.  Cheesy wedding gift idea.

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Shel Silverstein liked Italian Food!

While the beloved childhood poet Shel Silverstein has been gone nearly twelve years now, a series of unpublished poems lives on in a new book called Every Thing On It that has  just been released by Silverstein’s family.

I remember as a child in grammar school the famous duo  A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends, were the only books we’d check out from the school library.  His quirky characters and imaginative artwork translated to smiles and giggles for anyone who read his books.  I also like how many of the poems were short, and there was a sense of accomplishment to an eight-year-old when they could finish a big book like that.

The new book actually contains two new poems about food!  The first a hot dog with everything on it!  And the second entitled Italian Food:

(It’s funnier when you read it out loud)

Italian Food

Oh, how I love Italian food.
I eat it all the time,
Not just ’cause how good it tastes
But ’cause how good it rhymes.
Minestrone, cannelloni,
Macaroni, rigatoni,
Spaghettini, scallopini,
Escarole, braciole,
Insalata, cremolata, manicotti,
Marinara, carbonara,
Shrimp francese, Bolognese,
Ravioli, mostaccioli,
Mozzarella, tagliatelle,
Fried zucchini, rollatini,
Fettuccine, green linguine,
Tortellini, Tetrazzini,
Oops—I think I split my jeani.

Check out the full article at NPR Books

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Semi-Charmed Kinda Life

As a person who has taken an active role in pursuing all things culinary, there comes a time when you have to make certain sacrifices…to your waistline.  One such occasion came up last night on a late night trip to the Strand Book Store.  It started getting late and I realized I was gonna need something to hold me over until I got home.  As I was going through a mental list of my usual suspects down there I spotted a row of Food trucks at the west end of the park.  And BEHOLD – The Frying Dutchman.

I walked up to the window with Third Eye Blind’s Semi Charmed Life blasting in the background.  My host lowered the music and it took little convincing for me to get the fried chicken tenders with the ‘half and half’ fries, which was half sweet potato and half Belgian.  And the dipping sauce I selected was a Sweet N Spicy lychee and sweet chili aioli.

I parked myself on a ledge in the park and began the examination.  First thought was WHOA this is a lot of food for $10.00!  The fries were perfectly potato-ey with just the right amount of crispy edge and still that limp soft interior.  The chicken tenders were a far cry from any diner’s kids menu where there is more of that crunchy batter than chicken.  The seasoning was delicious, the chicken was juicy with little ribbons of meat falling off at every bite.  My sauce was okay.  Not too spicy and a little too much mayo for my liking.  I was thinking I should have went with a BBQ.  In fact this happens to me a lot with chicken tenders.  I always prefer the BBQ over a honey mustard.  I’ll just have to go back again!!!

I got through about half of the meal and took it along with me to the book store.  As I was browsing the food section I heard a women comment how funny that it smelled like french fries in the food section!  By the time we made it back up to 22nd St. the frequent bursts of fried smell had become apparent.  Especially to the man who rode the elevator up with me who just came from the gym.  I apologized and he said I better hurry because he’s about to jump me…jokingly!

I opened the bag to get one last bite in before bed, and as the chicken cooled down I got a real taste of the flavor, still amazing and travels well!  A semi-charmed kinda life indeed!

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Ontop of a Potato…all covered with Cheese (read to the tune of ‘On Top of Spaghetti’)

I’d like to begin this post with a quote from the band Guster, “step on a kid he’ll grow up hating you” from their song Either Way, is a real summarization of how kids are most vulnerable to influencers and role models in the early parts of their lives.  As adults we meet people all the time who influence our life.  But the difference is, as adults we’ve already established a foundation for who we are based on the people from our childhood.  And by human nature we surround ourselves with people who are similar to us.  So the hope is by the time you are an adult you are being influenced by good people.

With that in mind, every year I volunteer as a counselor at Camp Happy Times.  This is a week long camp for kids ages four to eighteen who have survived or are going through cancer treatment.  I’m going to make a very bold statement and say that for some of these kids Cancer saved their lives.  Many come from rough neighborhoods of New Jersey and their ticket to life outside the chain link fence and cracked pavement is behind a hospital wall where they find people who care about them and instill the will to survive not only for the sake of living but for the chance to make something of themselves.  The role models at the hospitals have a different job from us camp counselors.  Our week with the kids is an insight to their social lives.  Each year my range of problem-solving skills expands.  But the real skill comes in how you build trust and negotiate with these kids so they trust you.  Which in turn will make you a role model and influencer.

The skill that was added to problem-solving file cabinet this year was a mix of body image and nutrition.  One of my food fantasies is to have an army of Top Chef constants come into the challenge of making a healthy meal out of camp food.  The food needs to be rich in vitamin c, as many of these kids are still sick,  while also delivering protein, energy and hydration.  Oh yea and it has to taste good and be fed to about 200 people.  For me each meal was a personal Top Chef challenge, to dig out some nutrition from the meals presented and also be subject to the poor eating habits of thirteen-year-old girls.   While camp is a time for these kids to let loose I felt I looming responsibility to influence their eating habits.

By the middle of the week the baked potato bar was really taking its toll on their energy levels, and they were all starting to develop little baked potato beer bellies.  It wasn’t until I explained that their friend Mr. Potato Head while rich in vitamin c and potassium was not giving them any nutrients by day three especially when topped with a man-made river of cheese whiz.  With a cliff notes version of complex carbs and high glycemic
index I explained this is why you feel exhausted by 2:00 everyday.

Other mealtime characters included salt-shaker-Sally and two-bite-Betty.  There were some kids who were trying to eat healthy by going to the salad bar.  But I just cringed at the sound of them chomping down on Iceberg lettuce swimming in Ranch dressing and Bacon-bits.  I was faced with a moral dilemma to hide the salt shaker, shove a chicken finger down a kid’s throat and begin preaching Michael Pollen style about knowing where your food comes from.

Making a healthy version of Sesame Chicken with the girls in the kitchen.

My best advice to these girls was as follows:

At the ripe old-age of thirteen your little bodies have already had some pretty toxic chemicals to deal with.  Between school lunch and mall food courts it’s not easy for you to find healthy choices.  Food will fool you into thinking it’s giving you nutrients when it’s not.  And you might not think eating a cheesy baked potato covered in Bacon-bits and a river of cheese three days in a row will matter much right now, but I promise you it will come back to visit you later.  Your body is precious, it’s already been through a lot, feed it what it deserves.

On a lighter note, here is a link to Sesame Street singing ‘On Top of Spaghetti’

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Some Pretty Fancy Food

A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to attend the NASFT Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C.  A mecca trade-show for all artisan and ‘fancy food’ products.  What it really comes down to is a huge networking event for people in the industry and a bunch of free samples!  On a more serious note, I did have a moment of realization that no matter what is going on in the world, no matter the differences, people come to the NASFT Fancy Food Show on the same platform and with the same spirit and curiosity to learn and support what others are doing in the specialty food industry.  Industries cross as cheese people meet the cookie people, BBQ people meet pasta people.  And international countries who are millions of miles apart from each other share a reserved sense of pride and specialty food items close to their culture.

Every corner showcases originality, creativity and perseverance to educate participants of the show.  There is a divine entrepreneurial spirit behind each booth, a story that led then to where they are today and a common goal to share their labors of love.

Many of the participants are just starting out, some have been around for a very long time and are launching new products.  And it is also fun to spot celebrity chefs promoting their product lines.  Lydia was serving pasta, Duff Goldman was promoting fun decorating supplies like cake tattoos, Richard Bayless  was at his Frontera Mexican food product booth.  And the lovely Cat Cora was promoting a variety of tapenades, olive oils and kitchen utensils.

Cat was also the Keynote speaker at the Sofi awards which stands for specialty outstanding food innovation.  There are more than 2,600 entries which are narrowed down to 125 silver finalists and then 33 gold winners in each category.  Cat’s keynote speech was a rally call for all of us who have made sacrifices and believed in ourselves to do what we love.  Her advice was to push yourself to obtain the best possible education in your field, to give back to your community, to reach and develop your sense of self, and to know at everyday is a series of small steps that will get you to your goal.  “Have fun, and keep cooking!”

The show itself was definitely like the Academy Awards of specialty food.  However in this case the acceptance speeches are much shorter and thanks is given to key family members, employees and even the cows! People were truly gracious, touched and confirmed that their hard work has been recognized by industry leaders.

Here are links to some vendors and winners that caught my attention:

Sir Kensington’s Gourmet Scooping Ketchup – Awesome packaging, and a delicious  product!  They’ve also done a really great job with branding their product.  The website is so well designed and gives Sir Kensington a real personality!

The Brooklyn Salsa Company – Again, great package design, delicious and they’re from Brooklyn!!!  Bonus they use as much direct trade, local, and organic ingredients as possible.

Theo Chocolate – Ghost Chile Caramels was a Gold winner in the Confection category of the Sofi Awards.  They say the Ghost Chile is one of the hottest peppers in the world combined with silky caramel, sounds right up  my alley!

Ajiri Tea – Kenyan Black Tea – The word ajiri means “to employ” in Swahili, and that’s the goal of Ajiri Tea: to create employment for women in western Kenya.  They were also the Sofi Gold winner in the innovation in Packaging Design or Function category.

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company – This family won the Sofi Award and literally thanked the cows.  Gotta try this!

To see all the Sofi Gold Winner Click Here

One of my favorite parts of the show is the is the International ‘pavilions.’  Each country gets several devoted rows of booths to showcase their products.  It is clear that the Italians had the most robust set of showcases and most likely the first pioneers of getting their products to the United States.  I’d walk by and over-hear the Italian business transactions like the melody of an Italian love song.  That and anything to snatch another sample of cured meats and mozzarella cheese.  You know you’re in love with food when you can look at a hunk of cured meat and admire it’s beauty.

I had a really great time, and hopefully next year I will have more time to play around and visit more booths!  I’m sure I’ll be low on my free samples by then!

Isn't she beautiful!

Isn't she beautiful!

This was a great campaign for Principe Prosciutto, and I just love the pig.

Harry Potter made out of Jelly Belly Jelly Beans. Great branding for their Bertie Bott`s Brand.

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