Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gentlemen, start your garlic

I am not a great gardener. I don't have the patience. But the one thing I plant every year, without fail, is garlic. Years ago, a friend of a friend encouraged me to grow garlic. He told me all I had to do was remember the garlic-planting mantra: "Plant on Columbus Day and harvest on the Fourth of July."

So that's what I do. This time of year, I go to my local farmer's market and buy a couple of heads of really good garlic. Then on Columbus Day (not the observed day, the real day) I plant them.

Here's how it's done: Separate the head of garlic into individual, unpeeled cloves. Dig a small hole in your garden about 2 inches deep and put in a garlic clove pointy-side up. Cover the hole. Repeat, spacing the holes about 4 inches apart. That's it.

In the meantime, check your local farmstand for garlic. I prefer the so-called hard-neck varieties, like Rocambole. If you don't have a convenient farmstand, then just use supermarket garlic. It works just fine. Or if you want to check out "gourmet" garlic, go to one of these sites:

Fox Hollow Farm

The Garlic Store

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Under the Tuscan Gun

If you've ever seen the HBO show Entourage, then you know who Debi Mazar is. She plays Shauna, the loud-mouthed publicist for the main character, Vince (Adrian Grenier). But in her personal life, she is a wife, mother and avid cook with a website called "Under the Tuscan Gun." The site is basically an internet-based cooking show in which Mazar and her Italian husband Gabriele Corcos cook Italian dishes from Tuscany.

They're in their third season now, and the most recent episode was for Sangria, Polenta and Mushroom Appetizer, Tagliata with Rucola and Grilled Vegetables. There is also an archive of most of their shows. Check out this episode in which they cook Spaghetti all'Amatriciana.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Homemade animal crackers

As a kid, when I got my hands on a box of animal crackers, I would spend time treasuring the beautiful details of the lions and tigers and bears (oh, my). I know I had favorites and would eat all the other shapes first so I could save the best for last.

But it has never occurred to me to make my own animal crackers, I guess because I wouldn't have imagined being able to get that lovely detail into a homemade cookie. Well, enter the Circus Cookie Cutters from Williams-Sonoma. The cutters work by cutting the dough out in the shape of the animal and then stamping the animal detail onto the dough with the spring-loaded stamp. They come in a set of five (tiger, lion, giraffe, seal and elephant) and cost $19.95.

The website also has an animal cracker recipe and a video that shows you how to use the cutters.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Starbucks oatmeal

Starbucks is getting all serious about nutrition. They've hired a nutritionist who has been given free rein to make the company responsible for the nutrition of the food they sell. They have completely eliminated some of the gargantuan calorie monsters they used to sell, and others have been slimmed down. And starting this fall, they will introduce a line of whole-grain baked goods as well as--and this is my favorite--oatmeal.

The oatmeal is served with a choice of toppings, including dried fruits, brown sugar and nuts. But staying true to the good-nutrition mission, the toppings are portioned in sensible amounts: The brown sugar is 50 calories and the fruit and nuts are 100 calories each. The oatmeal will sell for $2.45 with a choice of 2 toppings.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Vertical ice cube tray

I wonder what inspired the person to invent this very clever vertical ice cube tray. It's such an odd (but practical) idea. Here's how it works: You fill the lower container, which has the actual ice cube shapes in it, with some water. Then when you insert the inner container, it forces the water into the cubes. Then you put the whole thing in the freezer.

Here is what the designers of the IceORB say in its favor:

1) There's no way you can spill water when you put this in the freezer.
2) The ice is covered so it doesn't absorb odors in the freezer.
3) Once frozen, you can use the rig as a wine chiller or as a way to keep dips or ice cream cold.
4) Once you've made a batch of cubes (it makes 21), you can put them into the inner container to keep them frozen while you make the next batch of cubes.

Check the fusionsbrands website for a video that shows how it works.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Believe it or not, this shoe is...

...actually a cake.

It's the creation of Redmond, Washington-based pastry chef Mike McCarey, who specializes in incredible custom cakes. If you visit Mike's Amazing Cakes, the first thing you will see on the site is a collection of images. Though each one is a cake, you would not be crazy if you assumed they were statues. Click on the image in the upper lefthand corner to see a gallery of his cakes.

As you might suppose, these cakes are quite costly, so this is really all about window shopping. (What do you suppose the web-based version of window shopping is? Surf-shopping? Shop-browsing?). But if you are a frustrated cake artist, then you might consider getting Mike's DVD ($40), which gives detailed instructions on how to sculpt cake into a 3-D, to-scale car. Click on the lower lefthand image for more information on the DVD.