Sunday, December 30, 2007

Best of 2007 and A Year-End Reflection

2007 has indeed been a tremendously important year for me, both on personal and professional fronts. Personally, my parents and my in-laws were with us for almost half of the year, and there were a lot of fun-filled times, family trips, a time for bonding as well as nurturing relationships. Professionally, besides getting a promotion and accolades for my hard work, I also discovered an outlet for my love of food and cooking by means of this blog. Fun and Food started as a single page filled with a few of my favourite recipes, a page that was created solely due to my husband's encouragement, and the thought that this way I could document some of my culinary experiments. Slowly, the nice people in the blogosphere trickled over and left me some comments, some even emailed me saying I have a nice space here, and maybe I should expand it as they'd love to read more of my posts! Then there were my friends and family who left me some pointers about how I could make this blog look more professional; that was all that I needed to ignite the fire within me, and I set forward to make this blog a resource that readers would look up to, visit regularly, and feel happy and somewhat thankful about what they found here!

I took the initiative to enhance my coding and HTML knowledge, and set forth into converting this blog into a more professional, interesting and easy-to-navigate site. And as I was posting my recipes, I felt there's more to Food than plain cooking; there are so many things I wanted to know besides preparing my meals, like what goes into it? Is it nutritious or not? Can I make a healthier version of this meal? How do I bundle it so my guests would be tempted to eat it? Are there any gadgets that can make my work easier? What flavors go well with one another? And it clicked me that others would probably be wondering about similar things just like me, so why not share my findings with everyone. That led to the idea behind combining "Fun" and "Food", and gave rise to sections on Health, Gadgets, Entertaining and Chef-Talk. We also love trying new restaurants and cuisines, and it kind of made sense to share our experiences and opinions through Restaurant Reviews.

Soon blogging became a passion rather than a hobby, and I saw myself trying to scoure markets for new ingredients, pouring over cookbooks and Food Network shows for delicious ideas, baking and cooking new meals almost every other day and forcing my friends and family to be the scapegoats of my experiments (not that they are complaining, because I do cook well!:)) All in all, it's been a wonderful year. Its been only 6 months since I started this site, yet it seems like a long time. I have surely achieved some milestones, but there are many more to conquer! The path is long, and the opportunity to learn and improvise is immense. Yet my readers have been my constant support and encouragement, showing their loyalty by visiting me often, subscribing to this site, leaving fabulous comments and feedback, and also emailing me suggestions about how I could make this a better experience for them. I thank all of you with a sincere heart, and promise to try my level best to live up to your expectations! And I look forward to even more suggestions and enhancement ideas in the coming years so that I can take this blog to another level.

This has to be my longest post by far!! So if you got bored reading this long and un-ending post, it is Nupur to blame, who urged us to participate in her Best of 2007 Event; but if you did enjoy reading this one, then I'll gladly share some cedit with her:) And now, putting an end to my ramblings, here are some of my favorite posts for the year gone by:

Savoury and Spicy Recipes:
Veg Manchurian Dry
Stuffed Ravioli in Saffron and Cream Sauce
Achari Paneer Tikka Wraps
Vegetarian Lasagna
Malai Kofta Curry

Delicious Dessert Recipes:
Chocolate-dipped Orange Madeleines
Semolina and Rose Syrup Cake(Basbousa)
Pecan Pie with Bourbon Whip Cream
Healthy Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti
Kesar Rasmalai

Favourite Healthy Recipes:
Vegan Rice Paper Rolls
Low-fat Blueberry Muffins

Favourite Drink Recipes:
Beet-Cucumber and GInger Juice
The Blue Hawaiin
Hot and Spiced Vanilla Run Drink

That's all for some of my best recipes from last year. Once again, a HUGE THANK YOU to each of you:

- My regular blogging community friends who are always there to leave their precious comments and words of encouragement

- My readers and subscribers, without which my blog would have no meaning. And please keep doing that, because seeing my traffic and page views go up is like a tonic to my system:)

- The people coming here from searches or recommendations, who sometimes do take time to comment or email me, and I urge you to keep giving me your support through regular visits!

- The various blogging communities like Food Blog Desam, and other web directories, which helped me gain my initial audience.

- And last, but not the least, my family, especially my husband, and friends who have given their best in helping me realize this dream called Fun and Food.

"Ring out the old, Ring in the new; Ring out the false and Ring in the true"

Here's wishing all of you a Joyous, Prosperous and Fulfilling 2008!!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Almond and Pistachio Ice Cream Pie

I've had enough of my holiday baking, and these simple almond & pistachio ice-cream pies are perfect for a stress-free dessert craving! I came across these mini-pie-crusts in Safeway, and they were so cute, I simply had to pick them up. And though I initially intended to make fruit tarts, once I got home and saw a bag of pistachios gawking out of my kitchen cabinets, my plans had changed. I craved for some nuts and ice cream, so naturally, I decided to go for these no-maintenance, extremely simple yet delicious Ice Cream Pie topped with almonds, pistachios and chocolate sauce.

The best thing about these pies is that they can be made a few hours before serving time, and there are a hundred ways to improvise them to suit your tastebuds. Just follow my recipe or substitute it with flavors you like.

Mini pie-shells
A can of almond and coffee ice cream (pistachio or vanilla would be great too)
whole and sliced almonds - for garnish
chopped fresh pistachios - unsalted, for garnish
Hersheys chocolate sauce

Take 6 scoops of ice cream and microwave it for 5-7 seconds. Take the mini pie-shells and fill them almost upto the brim with the semi-solid ice cream mixture. Line the edge of the pie shells with chocolate sauce, then put the shells in the freezer for at least 3-4 hours.

When you are ready to serve these, garnish with almonds and chopped pistachios. You can get as artistic as you want. I think some fresh red raspberries would also add a lovely color to the pie. Do not forget to remove the shell covers/wraps before serving!

These mini ice cream pies are perfect for small-scale entertaining! They look cute, are ready in no time, and are scrumptious to eat!

Related Recipes:
Bourbon Pecan Pie
Fig (Anjeer) Ice Cream
Apple & Pecan Cobbler

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mixed Berry and White Chocolate Bread Pudding

Hope everyone had a great Christmas, and enjoyed it with their friends and family. But the holidays are still on in full swing, and so is the cooking and baking spree. After taking a 3-day well-deserved skiing break, I got back to my oven to make this Mixed Berry and White Chocolate Bread pudding. Lots of desserts and delicacies fall under the "Pudding" umbrella, like gellos, panna cotta, mousse, gooey cakes and more. But the most widely-known form of pudding is the bread pudding. As the name suggests, you make layers of milk or cream-soaked bread and top it with fruits, nuts, chocolate or anything that your heart desires:) freeze it for some hours, then toss it in the oven to make it warm and gooey, and relish it with your favorite toppings. An exquisite dessert that can range from simple to elaborate and classic. There are tonnes of ways to experiment with this, but here's my version full of berries, raisins, chocolate and bread!

I'm not a huge fan of white chocolate, and don't generally use it in my cooking, with white chocolate mocha and white chocolate-macadamia nut cookies being exceptions. Somehow, it feels just right in this pudding recipe. It does help bring out the color and flavor of the mixed berries. But if you want, you can use regular chocolate too.

1 cup mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup sugar (or less, if using sweet condensed milk)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup shredded white chocolate (or semi-sweet chocolate chips)
8-9 large slices of thick white bread (not too soft, toast for 1 minute if too soft)
1 cup condensed milk

Spray an 8-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray. Line the sprayed pan with plastic wrap, pressing it against the edges and allow some of the wrap to overhang on all sides.

In a heavy saucepan, combine the mixed berries, sugar, lemon juice, and salt over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, The salt and lemon will urge them to give up some of their juice, and that's when you know the berries are cooked, about 10 minutes. Add the raisins and continue cooking until all the berries are soft and have well-cooked, forming a sauce. Remove from the heat and let it cool.

Remove the edges of the bread slices. Cut each slice into 4 pieces. Arrange one layer of bread slices, pour 1/2 of the berry sauce over them; add the white chocolate, then repeat with another layer of same ingredients.

Gently pour the milk evenly over the layers so it trickles down. Cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6-8 hours.

Remove the pudding and carefully peel off the plastic. Now preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and bake the pudding for about 15-20 mins, just until the pudding is warm in the center and a bit of golden on the top. Remove and cut into huge chunks and serve the Bread Pudding immediately!

Tip: The pudding may be made 2 days in advance and kept refrigerated. This can be served with chocolate sauce, or ice cream or even whipped cream. Just remember that the pudding tastes best when it's warm and gooey.

Similar Recipes:
Banana Bread and Cream Cheese Pudding
Baked Strawberry Dessert Pudding
Vanilla Panna-Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Old-fashioned Cuban Mojito with Lime and Mint

A mojito (pronounced mo-hee-to), is the same drink that we saw James Bond (i.e. the handsome Pierce Brosnan) sipping in Cuba, for the movie Die Another Day. This is one of Cuba’s oldest cocktails, and comes from the African word mojo, which means "to place a little spell".

Legend traces its roots to 1586, when Francis Drake and his pirates tried to sack Havana for its gold. While the invasion was unsuccessful, Drake’s associate, Richard Drake, was said to have invented a mojito-like cocktail known as El Draque made with aguardiente (similar to rum), sugar, lime and mint. Early on, it was consumed for medicinal purposes. But somewhere around the mid-1800s, the recipe was altered and gained in popularity as the original Bacardi Company was established. The new version became famous as the Mojito we all know. So here's the traditional cocktail recipe. This is a very sparkling and refreshing drink, perfect for cocktail parties or dinner events. In fact, due to the presence of lime and mint, this is one cocktail that has a lot of cleansing ability!

8-10 fresh mint sprigs
1 tbsp sugar dissolved in 1 tbsp water
3-4 tbsp fresh lime juice (use lime, not lemon)
1 oz light rum
club soda
mint sprigs and lime wedges - for garnish

In a tall glass, crush part of the mint with a fork. Add the sugar syrup and lime juice and stir thoroughly. Fill with 3-4 ice cubes. Add rum and shake a bit. Top off with chilled club soda. Garnish with a lime slice and some mint leaves, and serve immediately.

Similar Recipes:
The Blue Hawaiin
Lychee Martini

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Bombay Chinese Restaurant - Dallas, TX

Fusion between authentic cuisines has been experimented successfully since quite some time now, and has led to discovery of many retro cuisines, one such being "Indian-Chinese", chinese food prepared with Indian spices. It's a trend that began in the Western part of India and is said to be most popular with younger Indian folk. This type of food caters to a large variety of people, and ranges from mild to hot and spicy. I've always been a fan of a restaurant in Dallas which was my first exposure to this type of food in USA, and I think I can definitely say that Bombay Chinese is the only restaurant in Dallas to serve the best indian-chinese food! If you are in or around the area, be sure to try it.

Located in Richardson Heights, a small food-mall area with a range of eating places, Bombay Chinese is holding its ground since a long long time. The decor of the place is simple, with standard wooden chairs and tables adorned with red tablecloths and placemats. The walls show photographs of tourist attractions in Mumbai(India), as that is where the owner as well as the chef hail from, and the soft lighting serves its purpose. The decor can feel homely for people from Bombay, but on the whole, I think the ambience needs to be more pleasant and soothing, and can benefit from a major makeover. But I think the food is what clicks with the people more, and hence this place is mostly crowded.

The menu consists mainly of chinese-style rice, noodles, meat or seafood, and vegetable stir- fry, ranging from mild and sweet flavors to garlicky, gingery, medium-spicy and hot!! If you don't have a knack for spice, be careful and clarify your inclnations to the staff beforehand, because almost everything is dark brown and bright red, and it tastes as fiery as it looks. The Chilli Paneer and the Chicken Manchurian Dry are by far the spiciest, yet truly appealing dishes. The recommended picks off the menu would be Garlic or Ginger Manchurian Dry, Schwezwan Fried rice, Chicken Manchurian gravy, and Singapori or Hongkong Noodles. The Chinese Bhel could serve to be a good appetizer. In soups, the Hot and Sour and the Monchow Soup are by far the favorites. They also have Sizzlers on their menu, and a wide range of Seafood entrees and platters. Everything is as good as it looks, and the choices for vegetarians or meat and fish lovers are immense! And the entrees are attractively priced so that most of it ranges from $7.99 to $15.00. The servings are large, and most of them can be shared by at least 2 people.

The staff is friendly and courteous, and mostly young. They try to guide you through the extensive menu to help you choose the best dish for you, and most of the times the owner himself would take extra care to make your dining experience a memorable one. The choices for beverages and alcohol are same as those served in other Indian restaurants, and ditto for the desserts, with an exception of Banana Pancake Ice Cream, which was something different.

The restaurant is mostly packed on weekends, so this is not a place for a romantic evening or a conversation over food. The lunch buffets are a good option for people working around the area, as well as party caterer Dallas. Overall, Bombay Chinese Restaurant is a place that will be favored by those who crave for ginger, garlic, chilli and spice! The taste will linger with you even after you've left the place, and most of the times you'll be tempted to come back.

Bombay Chinese in Richardson

100 S Central Expy
Richardson, TX 75080

Monday, December 24, 2007

Cucumber and Cilantro Dip

Chips and Dip are a favorite finger food for most of us, and with a wide variety of dips available in the markets, there's no end to the choices we have. But there's nothing that comes close to a fresh dip made at home! Plus, these are the best ways to make use of veggies and ingredients we have in our pantry. The possibilities are numerous, and you can actually enjoy dips with a lot of food like your raw veggies, as a salad topping, or with your tortilla chips! Here's a simple yet tasty and nutritious recipe for a Cilantro and Cucumber dip made with light sour cream. I add some mint and green chillies for the fresh taste and a spice kick, and the resultant dip is sure to make a lovely addition to your dinner table.

1 cup of low-fat (light) sour cream
1 fresh cucumber
a fistful of cilantro - finely chopped
6-7 mint leaves
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
salt - to taste
3 green chillies (choose the spicy ones)

Mince the green chillies, cilantro, mint leaves and cucumber in a blender with one spoon of sour cream. Puree to make a smooth paste. Add this to the remaining sour cream. Add lemon juice and salt and mix well. Transfer to a serving cup and garnish with some mint leaves or cilantro and lemon rind. Enjoy this cool and refreshing dip with your chips, veggies or just as a side dish!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hau'oli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year in Hawaiian)

I'm heading off for a brief trip to Oahu and will be back on January 2nd, 2008.

I may or may not be posting about my trip here, but probably will be posting about it for Epicurious. You can always check out my daily posts by clicking on the Epicurious button on your left.

If you have any hot tips or favorite restaurants on Oahu, please feel free to post them in the comments section.

Aloha! (and Mele Kalikimaka to my readers celebrating Christmas)


Persimmon and Chocolate Spiced Walnut Cake

Can you imagine how divine this Chocolate & Persimmon Spiced Cake smells?I'm not a huge fan of spiced cakes, but when my sister-in-law gave me a bag full of persimmons, I knew there had to be a better way to put them to good use rather than just eating them raw. So I decided to throw in the fruit with all of my favorite ingredients into a cake batter to make this luscious and aromatic Persimmon and Chocolate Spiced Walnut cake. Yeah, I'm a huge fan of walnuts and chocolate, and since I craved for a lovely dark brown color, I opted for adding some cocoa powder to my recipe. Walnuts were the obvious and easy choice to add the crunch in every bite. As for the spices, we add them everyday to our morning tea, so I was sure about the flavor they would add to my cake! Overall, it was a successful experiment, and here are the results, for you and me to enjoy!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup butter
1 and 1/2 cup persimmon puree (use 3-4 mid-sized persimmons)
1/2 to 1 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon powder (or use 3 tsp all-spice instead of separate powders)
1 tsp clove powder
2 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp nutmeg powder
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 tsp baking bowder
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Greae a 9" baking dish with non-stick cooking spray or oil and flour. Peel the persimmons and remove the pulp from inside. Puree it to a smooth liquid blend,without adding any water to it. Pass this through a sieve to remove the fibrous residue.

Beat the butter with the sugar to form a fluffy white mixture. In a large bowl combine the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating continuously. Slowly add the persimmon puree, the butter-sugar mixture and the milk. Finally add the cinnamon, cardamom powder, clove powder, nutmeg and the chopped walnuts and whisk well to evenly mix in the spices. Whisk with hand or mixer on medium till it becomes airy like a cake mixture.

Transfer into the prepared baking dish. Bake at 375 deg F for 35-40 minutes. Insert toothpick in the center to check if the cake is done. Let it cool completely before citting into slices. The persimmon and the spice flavor will enhance over time, so this pudding cake is best baked at least 3-4 hours before you intend to serve it. You can store the reamining cake in the refrigerator for at least a fortnight!

While serving, garnish with more chopped walnuts, a sprig of mint, and whipped cream if you wish. But this Persimmon & Chocolate Spice Cake is perfect when enjoyed with some tea or coffee!

Related Recipes:
Chocolate-Banana Bread
Spiced Vanilla Tea CupcakesApricot Ginger and Cranberry Muffins

Friday, December 21, 2007

Gingerbread Latte - A Christmas Tradition

People say that there's always a first time to everything, and though you pretty much govern whether you want to do something or not, there are times when you just get carried away by the flow and end up trying something you might have had some reservations about. One such thing that happened to me after coming to US was tasting different coffee flavors, and I must say, it was the best thing ever! I love flavored lattes, hazelnut and tiramisu being my all-time favorites. But this holiday season, my friend at work made me taste the traditional gingerbread latte. She took me to Starbucks and paid for my coffee just so I would get to know and taste the wild and spicy flavor that is zipped up in this one amazing drink! This seasonal favorite will surely make you feel warm and cozy, and ignite fond memories of the gingerbread man and the spirit of christmas!

Gingerbread has its roots in Europe, mainly Germany. In Medieval England gingerbread simply meant "preserved ginger", and was traditionally used as a soft, delicately spiced cake, a crisp, flat cookie, or as warm, thick and dark squares of "bread"; but it was almost always cut into shapes such as men, women, stars or animals, and colorfully decorated or dusted with white sugar. During the 19th century, gingerbread was modernized. The German fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, two children who, abandoned in the woods by penniless parents, discovered a house made of bread, cake and candies - gave a whole new and fancy look to an age-old tradition and lead to the birth of beautiful Gingerbread Houses, which are now baked in almost every North American household.

Whether you believe in traditions or just want to indulge in a sweet and spicy flavor, gingerbread latte is one thing that you should definitely try. Here's an easy way to make one, and this is one drink that shouts "Merry Christmas!!"

2 ounces espresso coffee powder
2 tbsp gingerbread flavored syrup (available in all coffee stores or supermarkets)(recipe to make syrup yourself is given below)
1/2 cup milk - boiled or steamed
some whipped cream - for the topping
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn vanilla powder
1/2 tsp chocolate/cocoa powder

In a coffee mug, combine espresso coffee with flavored syrup. Pour in steamed milk. Microwave again for 2-3 mins, stirring well in between. Top this with whipped cream. Sprinkle with nutmeg, cinnamon, cocoa and vanilla powder and serve hot!! This is a nice drink to enjoy on cool winter evenings or simply with friends while exchanging christmas stories!

I opted for the easy way, and just got store-bought gingerbread syrup. But for all those truly enthusiastic folks out there, here's a recipe for the syrup if you want to make this yourself at home. You can actually store it refrigerated for quite a few days too. The syrup recipe has been taken from here

Gingerbread Syrup Recipe

1 cup spring water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp Clover or other mild honey
Sliced gingerroot piece
1 cinnamon stick, broken into large pieces
8 whole cloves
1/2 tspn whole allspice berries
1/2 tspn whole black or pink peppercorns
1/2 tspn ground nutmeg

Combine water, sugar and honey in a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Stir in the ginger and cinnamon pieces plus the cloves, allspice, peppercorns, and nutmeg. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. The liquid will thicken into a syrupy consistency. Allow to cool, at least a half hour, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Pour into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and set aside for your gingerbread latte craving! You can also use this syrup to drizzle over a gingerbread cake!!

Here's wishing you and all your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Hannukah!!

Similar Recipes:
Butterd Rum and Vanilla Spiced Drink
Chocolate and Coffee Martini

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Upping the Ante--It's the bomb!

Menu for Hope

Only 6 tickets have been purchased for the "Cozy Comforts" prize (code UW30), so I'm upping the ante. I'm adding several more must-have items for your Winter getaway--a mini Tiger Balm sports rub for sore muscles, a Natural Ice SPF 15 lip balm, and three snack packages of delicious and healthy Sensible Foods crunch dried snacks in Cherry Berry, Organic Sweet Corn and Orchard Blend. I should also add that the "handful of chocolates" in the prize package is over a half pound! The contest ends tomorrow, so please, won't you buy a ticket today?

+ The Ski House Cookbook: Warm Winter Dishes for Cold Weather Fun
+ Fondue for the most classic Alpine indulgence
+ Hot Drinks: Cider, Coffee, Tea Hot Chocolate, Spiced Punch, and Spirits
+ A tin of Chocolate flavored tea from Lupicia
+ A handful of mini chocolate squares and bars from Scharffen Berger, Charles Chocolates and Vosges to sneak into your parka pocket (over 1/2 pound!)
+ A snuggly eco-friendly Nature Co. grey fleece scarf-it's unisex and just the thing for chilly days and nights
Just added
+ Three snack packages of delicious and healthy Sensible Foods crunch dried snacks in Cherry Berry, Organic Sweet Corn and Orchard Blend
+ mini Tiger Balm sports rub for sore muscles
+ Natural Ice SPF 15 lip balm

The funds raised by Menu for Hope 4 will be earmarked for the school lunch program in Lesotho, Africa. Providing food for the children helps keeps them in school so that they learn the skills to feed themselves and their families in the future. The program in Lesotho is a model program in local procurement - buying food locally to support local farmers and the local economy. Instead of shipping surplus corn across the ocean, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is buying directly from local subsistent farmers who practice conservation farming methods in Lesotho to feed the children there.


1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at Chez Pim or on the West Coast page, at Rasa Malaysia.

2. Go to the donation site at First Giving Menu for Hope and make a donation.

3. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. The Cozy Comforts prize is UW30. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code. Example:
Basic Order

Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02. Example:

Advanced Order

4. If your company has a matching gift program, be sure to enter the name so your contribution will be increased.

5. Please check the box to allow us to see your email address that's the only way we can contact you should you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Check back on Chez Pim on Wednesday, January 9 for the results of the raffle.

Thanks for your participation, and good luck!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday Gift Guide--Deals and Splurges

Last year I posted a holiday gift guide with many of my favorite products. I am still enjoying those goodies and continue to give them as gifts to friends and family. But this guide is all-new. No matter what your price range, there should be something here to satisfy. Don't forget! Today is, generally speaking, the last day to order online for Christmas delivery...

Al Dente
Sometimes you need a gift in a hurry. Not only does it cook up in 3 minutes, Al Dente pasta is something you may even be able to find in your local grocery store, and it is really delicious. It's the closest thing to freshly made pasta and it would fit wonderfully well in a gift basket. Most packages are only $3!

You can't find a much better bargain than a one year subscription to Saveur magazine (9 issues) for less than $5! Be sure to use the code DCMPS15D to get the discounted price.

Wine Passport
If you are looking for a bargain, look for wines from Portugal. They are often fairly inexpensive, food friendly and feature unique varietals. If you love Portuguese wines or barely know them at all, the WinePassport: Portugal I wrote for SmartsCo is a great little gift at a great little price, only $8.50 Use the code HOLIDAY to get an additional 25% off your purchase.

Olive oil is a staple item, but it can also be a luxury product. I'd like to recommend three brands of olive oil I like very much. Each is a little more expensive than your typical store brand, but use them sparingly as a finishing to dishes where the flavor will really make the dish. From Stonehouse I like the olio nuovo because it reminds me of the unfiltered olive oil I enjoyed when I lived in Tuscany. I also particularly like their blood orange olive oil. It's really great on salads and with seafood. Prices are reasonable for these oils.

Next up is Yellingbo extra virgin olive oils. The mild, buttery/creamy and fruity flavor of these Australian olive oils really appeal to me. I use them almost everyday. Find them at Whole Foods Markets or online.

A bit more expensive but really lovely for gifts are both the O olive oils and vinegars. Available in skinny bottles, having a stash of these on hand makes experimenting in the kitchen a breeze. Particular favorites of mine include the Champagne vinegar, the pomegranate vinegar, the Meyer lemon olive oil, and the Ruby grapefruit olive oil. The O olive oil site has lots of great suggestions for how to use them check out the recipes link.

Rancho Gordo
I don't know whether they are a splurge or a deal. It's true, Rancho Gordo heirloom beans are sometimes up to 5 times more expensive than regular beans you buy at the supermarket, but the truth is, they are at least 5 times tastier and beans aren't all that expensive begin with. If you are making something special, treat yourself to these beans, they will make your dish something very special indeed. Though I haven't tried them all, my favorites are the Anasazi, Good Mother and the Flageolet.

CMB Swets
CMB Sweets jam is freshly made and tastes homemade and bright. My favorite is the tangy Apricot Aficionado, but I also like the Strawberry a lot. The jars are also a hoot with little smiling fruits on them. Sweet!

Lehua honey
I wrote about my weakness for honey earlier this year and then I got an email from the folks at Tropical Traders. They sent me samples of their organic Christmas Berry and Lehua honey. The delicate butterscotch flavor of the Lehua really won me over. If you are fond of honey you'll enjoy it on buttered toast or vanilla ice cream.

Freed, Teller & Freed
When it comes to tea, I have been buying it from Freed, Teller and Freed forever. Sadly they no longer have a retail shop, but their knowledgeable staff can tell you about current crops and make recommendations. I love many of their blends and regularly order my own blend from them. Their prices are good, even with shipping, especially for the quality they offer. They will even send you little samples with your order if you'd like to try something new or make up your own blend. Some of my favorites are the Blood Orange black, Bourbon Vanilla tea, Teaberry with little blue cornflowers and the herbal tea from Africa, Honeybush.

Another tea company I only learned about recently that has a huge selection of "fresh teas" is Lupicia. In fact they carry over 400 varieties of tea. Their teas are high quality and are sold in bulk or in tins that are particularly well-suited for gift giving. The Christmas collection is very "sweet" with fruity flavored teas with the essence of apricot, white chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and more. Lee is crazy about their second flush darjeeling. Many of their teas are shipped at no additional charge.

The last tea company is one that used to be in New Orleans but relocated after Katrina. Like Freed, Teller and Freed they are building a non-retail, internet business. Indonique makes a variety of different chai products and the one I tried was really good. I've made my own chai from scratch, and it's a bit of a bother so I really love the convenience of their product. It's got tea and the spices in it and you brew it up with water and milk then strain out the bits and sweeten to taste. It tastes much more like the chai I love in Indian restaurants than anything available in a tea bag or a powdered mix. Also their packaging is lovely.

When it comes to online shopping I have two in my luxury category and two in the bargain category. Even when I don't have the money to spend, I still love perusing the goods at Zingermans and Le Sanctuaire. Zingermans is all about old world flavors and Le Sanctuaire is about the cutting edge ingredients chefs are using today. I could spend hours just checking out what they have online! They are great places to find really unusual, special ingredients and treats.

If you are looking for a nice selection of less "chefy" stuff I liked all the gourmet goodies I got a chance to try from Armsteads Porch, a homey online store for gourmet products that often has good sales. Also in the less chefy category is Penzeys, the spice purveyor. When buying in bulk their prices are reasonable.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Marbled Cream Cheese Brownie - Sheer Chocolate Indulgence

The holiday season is in its full swing, and believe it or not, as soon as I step out of my house, I am filled with the aroma of baking emanating from houses all around me!! All homes are adorned with twinkling christmas lights, and fabulous decorations in the front yards, with Santa, and his sledge of reindeers, giant snowman, lighted christmas trees, and sometimes even tiny replicas of Bethlehem, and as if that is not enough to remind me of the festival, my nose keeps tingling at the smells of spices, cookies, savoury treats and other holiday baking that is intoxicating, and in my case, highly addictive, as I'm tempted to turn on my oven!! Here are some semi-homemade brownies, with all the goodness of chocolate combined with creamcheese for that marbled effect. All that fudgy chocolate is so inviting, there's no way you can resist eating it!! And as this brownie recipe uses some ready-made items, it doesn't even take much time to dish out these lovely beauties! Enjoy these delicious marbled creamcheese brownies with family and friends, and spread the holiday cheer!

1 packet of ready-made chocolate brownie mix
1/4 cup skimmed milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 packet Philadelphia cream cheese - softened
sugar - only if required (your brownie mix will have it already)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom of 9-inch pan with non-stick spray (or dust with oil and flour).

In a medium bowl, stir brownie mix, water, oil and 2 eggs until well blended. Spread onto the greased pan. In another bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on low speed until creamy; beat in sugar, and 1 egg until well blended. Drop some spoonfulls of this mixture over the layered brownie batter. Now is thr fun part:) Take a knife and cut through the batter several times for creating a random marbled design. Ask your kids to do this; they'll love it!! but give them a blunt spatula instead of a knife.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until cream cheese mixture is light brown. The toothpick trick should work, but the cream cheese should not be overcooked. Remember, these brownies will have a fudge-like texture, so they are more sticky and elastic, unlike cake, which is soft and moist. Remove from oven and let it cool completely before cutting into slices or chunks. You can store them covered in the refrigerator.

I took a batch of my cream-cheese brownies to my office and they all just loved it!! You can treat a lot of people on a very tight budget of less than 10 bucks!! Now that's something!!

Tip: You can add nuts or chocolate chips to these brownies too. But to add a glamorous touch, take some raspberry or mix-fruit jam and spread it on top of the cooked brownie as soon as you remove it from the oven. Then allow to cool before cutting. It looks and tastes just awesome!

Similar Recipes:
Sour Cream Raspberry Brownies

Friday, December 14, 2007

Spinach Onion and Cheese Souffle

Cooking is all about flavors, aroma, tastes, and a whole lot of imagination! It's great to experiment with different ingredients and imagine how they would pair with each other, whether they compliment one another, or result in a stark contrasting taste. Sometimes these culinary concoctions can go awry, but most of the times it's fun, and results into something that leaves a tasty impression. Luckily for us, there are some things that just "click together", like chocolate and cookies, pasta and bread, my husband and me:), or in this case, spinach and cheese!! You can hardly go wrong with Spinach and Cheese, so for my first souffle recipe, I decided to go for a safer bet. I added two of my favorite ingredients, garlic and onions, threw in a pinch of nutmeg, and we had a luscious, good-looking and healthy Spinach Onion and Cheese Souffle for our dinner. People do get intimidated sometimes at the thought of making a souffle or casserole recipe, including me, but it's not that tough, and actually tastes great!

1 bag (16 oz) frozen chopped spinach
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
4 cloves of garlic - minced
4 tbsp onion - finely chopped
salt and black pepper - to taste
1/4 tspn ground nutmeg (optional)
3 eggs - white and yolk separated
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Thaw and cook spinach in boiling water for at least 8-10 mins. Remove from water and let it drip off the water spinach in a colander; squeeze well to remove water content. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a casserole dish (or individual ramekins)with cooking spray and keep ready. Also separate the egg whites and egg yolks.

Heat butter and garlic in a saucepan over medium low heat. When butter has melted, add flour and stir until smooth and bubbling, and it turns just a little brown. Add salt and black pepper according to your taste. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. When the mixture is thick and boiling, remove from heat.

Turn off heat and stir in egg yolks, onion, spinach, cheese and sprinkle the nutmeg.

Beat only the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks. Stir a couple of spoonfuls into the spinach mixture. This is the crucial part; beat the egg whites more to allow them to fluff up the mixture when it goes into the oven. Very gently,preferably with rubber spatula, fold in remaining whites.

Now pour the batter into prepared dishes. The souffle is going to rise a lot, so make sure you leave enough room for it to expand, especially when you are using ramekins (just fill a little over half) Bake until souffle has risen and is browned on top, about 15 to 20 minutes for individual dishes (longer time for a larger casserole dish). Use a thin skewer or toothpick to check inside for moistness. It should be a little sticky and creamy at the center, but not uncooked.

The Spinach and Cheese Souffle is best enjoyed immediately after removing from the oven. Eat it just like that, or serve with your choice of a side sauce! (pic courtesy of ajc)

Tip: You can add your choice of other veggies like broccoli or potatoes with or instead of spinach. The basic recipe remains the same. This also tastes good with a Feta or Goat cheese variation instead of Parmesan if you have a taste for the formers.

Similar Recipes:
Spinach and Ricotta Cutlets
Vegetable Timbales

Holiday Gift Guide--Books I Love

I've reviewed so many terrific books this year, it's hard to choose just a few for my gift guide. There are plenty of books out there that fall into the "gift" category, they are big, bulky, written by important authors, but I'm only recommending the ones I have used again and again and really love. It's up to you to decide if they are gift-worthy.

Personally I don't need any more coffee table books, no matter how excellent they are. I also don't necessarily need any "how to cook" books, I have plenty already. But if you want recommendations for those, both Cooking by James Peterson and Jamie Oliver's latest book, Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook are excellent for the novice or the expert. Here are my favorite books of the year, and why I chose them:

5 Spices 50 Dishes
5 Spices 50 Dishes: Simple Indian Recipes using Five Common Spices
For reminding me that Indian food can be made quickly and without a ton of ingredients I'm not likely to have on hand.

The Breakaway Cook
The Breakaway Cook
For introducing me to new techniques, like cooking eggs with yogurt, and ingredients I hadn't used before, such as matcha.

Elizabeth Falkner's Demolition Desserts
Elizabeth Falkner's Demolition Desserts
For reminding me that pastry is truly an art form and not just a craft. Unlike the other books, I am more likely to attempt just one element like a cookie or a sauce or a cake, but regardless of how I end up using it, I am tremendously inspired by it.

Fish Forever
Fish Forever: The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood
For being my bible for sustainable seafood, I learn and I cook from this book.

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
For being the one-stop vegetarian and vegetable bible. I can't tell you how many times I have already used this book.

Let's Cook Japanese Food!
Let's Cook Japanese Food!:Everyday Recipes for Home Cooking
For allowing me to recreate some of the delicious food I had in Japan especially a rice filled omelet.

Pure Dessert
Pure Dessert
For reintroducing me to great ingredients and how to highlight them in Alice Medrich recipes that always turn out wonderfully.

Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook
Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook: Seasonal Foods, Simple Recipes and Stories from the Market and Farm
For new and cool combinations for using fresh produce such as Chanterelle and Camembert Sandwiches or Pummelo, Fennel and Radish Salad.

Yummy Potatoes
Yummy Potatoes: 65 Downright Delicious Recipes
For the love of potatoes. Lots of good ideas here you haven't thought of, really. Gingered Tomato-Curry Potatoes, Greek Lemon Garlic Potatoes, Mashed Potatoes Whipped into a Garlic Frenzy with lots of Melty Cheese. See what I mean? It's like a book of potato porn.

Which were your favorite cookbooks and which ones do you plan on giving this year?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Say NO to Sodas, and YES to Fresh Juices - Drink your way to a Slimmer and Healthier Body!!

I know a lot of us rely on sodas to quench our thirst during the day, but the more I look at those soda cans, the more revolted I feel, and wish they would all be replaced by fresh fruit or vegetable juices! The world would be a much more healthier place if only we understood the importance of water and juices. Sodas have incredibly little nutritional value and in addition to that they have huge amounts of sugar, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors that do no good to your body. The sugar will give you a major energy spike, but that will soon wear off, leaving you more tired than you were prior to drinking the soda. This is due to your body burning some of your energy reserves during the spike, without having them properly replenished.

Fresh juice, on the other hand, has large quantity of nutrients, minerals and vitamins, something that your body really needs, and can absorb very easily as they are easy to digest. The water content also helps keep up your metabolism and eliminate waste and toxins.

Citrus fruits have substances that make it easier for your body to remove carcinogens, thus decreasing the chance of contracting cancer. Grapes contain a phytochemical that appears to protect each cells' DNA from damage.

Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabaga, turnip greens, red beets, peppers, garlic, onions, leeks, and chives are but a few of the vegetables that appear to have cancer-preventing phytochemicals.

Enzymes are your body's work force, acting as catalysts in hundreds of thousands of chemical reactions that take place insode the body. Fresh juices are a tremendous source of enzymes, which are lost in cooked food as the latter are destroyed by heat.

In addition, fruit and vegetable juices are good sources of the traditional nutrients. Citrus fruits (grapefruit, oranges, lemons,etc.) provide healthy portions of vitamin C. Carrot juice contains large quantities of vitamin A, in the form of beta carotene. A number of green juices are a good source of vitamin E. And most of them are a good source of essential minerals like iron, copper, potassium, sodium, iodine, and magnesium.

But again, the key point here is that you can avail all these benefits, only when you intake Fresh Juice (consumed immediately), which is best available by using a standard juicer at home or work. Any juice that is taken within 5-6 hours after it is made retains all its essential nutrients and is the most benefecial to the body. Whether you are on a diet, or just need to maintain a healthy and fit body, look to fresh juices as an alternative to coffee and sodas.

Thanks to the spreading awareness, more and more people are seen sipping Jamba Juice and Fresh Fruit Coolers; but just a tiny investment can save you a lot of money and give you a refreshing juice glass at least twice a day. Check out some juicer reviews and buy one that meets your needs. You may need a high-speed juice extractor for some tough veggies, while a regular citrus juicer might suffice for most of your needs.

We end with a simple juice recipe - the Beetroot-Cucumber-Ginger Juice that will detoxify your body, keep you full for some time, and keep working throughout the day!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Peppermint and Vanilla Butter Cookies (Inspired by Candy Canes for Christmas

Just as wreaths, stockings and mistletoes signify the spirit of christmas, cookies and cakes do their part in spreading the joy all around. As the festival of christmas is just a few days away, people have started baking goodies and packing them in decorative tin boxes and wrapping papers, shipping them across to their loved ones and friends, wishing them joy and success in the days to come. Some flavors and smells reign the kitchens in these festive days, including, but not limited to chocolate, peppermint, vanilla, and of course, gingerbread! Joining in the fun and having found a reason to bake more often, I decided to go for a batch of these beautiful pink and white Swirl Cookies flavored with peppermint and vanilla. I love the candy canes and the beautiful ribbon patterns that they form, but I can't take too much of peppermint in one go. So here's the perfect solution, these basic sugar cookies, with a hint of peppermint and all the goodness of the lovely colors.

1 cup butter or margarine - softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tspn vanilla essence
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tspn peppermint extract
1/4 tspn red food color

Heat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, beat butter, powdered sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed. Stir in the flour, then divide the dough in half. Stir peppermint extract and food color into one half of dough, while keeping the other part as it is.

Now again divide each color of dough in half (making 2 white and 2 pink parts).

Now take each part of the dough, and roll it on a generously floured surface into a thick cylindrical rope, about 12 inches long. Place 2 ropes, 1 red and 1 white, side by side. Now twist them together with your hands so they get entwined. Repeat with the remaining 2 pieces of dough.

Now make small balls from each double-colored dough, then shape each into a flat cookie shape. You can use a cookie cutter to give them shape, or just grease a steel bowl (katori) with oil and use this to give shape to the cookie. It should be fairly easy to do it with your hands too, just shape them like small cutlets.

Place them about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes or until set. Remove from cookie sheet and allow to cool completely on the wire rack. There, your beautiful pink and white swirled cookies are ready to add a festive decor to your holiday baking!

Let's relive the spirit of Christmas; bake a batch of cookies and donate them to any organisation and then feel happy on seeing the smiles on the faces of little children. This is my contribution to the "Drop In and Decorate" event started by Lydia, and also to Susan's Christmas Cookies Event. There's no better time than Christmas to share the goodness around, and what better way to gift something than food?!!

Tip: You can store these Peppermint and Vanilla Butter cookies in an air-tight container and refrigerate them for longer use. But it's best to refrigerate the dough until you want to make the cookies rather than storing the cookies themselves.

Update: These beautiful cookies were not only selected as one of the top 10 finalists from over 212 entries in Susan's Eat Christmas Cookies event, it actually won the Best Christmas Cookie award!! Yipppeee!!! I am so thrilled!! Thanks so much to all the judges and my readers, friends, and family who picked out these cookies as the Winner! Thanks a lot to Susan, for organizing this fun event, and also for presenting me with a fabulous Sherry Yard's new cookbook Desserts By the Yard. Now you all can look forward to more delicious desserts on this blog!!

More Cookie Recipes:
Chewy Chocolate-Chip Cookies
Marshmallow and Chocolate Mud Cookies
Delicious French Madeleines

Holiday Gift Guide--Chocolate Edition

Returning to college from Christmas break I was always loaded down with broken chocolate Santa's. The benefit of restocking the Christmas candy in a specialty food store was that I could take the damaged goods for myself. Eating all that broken chocolate helped me develop a taste for fine quality. At a certain point, if it wasn't really good, I just skipped eating it entirely. Ruined for life, you might say.

Now I get to try lots of chocolate, most of it very good. But not all the chocolate I tried made the cut this year. All of the chocolate on this list was personally consumed by me, very recently. See you at the gym in January!


Charles Chocolates
Charles Chocolates makes beautiful and delicious confections. For the holidays, the boxed chocolates make very impressive gifts. The brown and turquoise packaging is as modern and gorgeous as can be, and the chocolates in edible chocolate boxes are like nothing I've ever seen before. The chocolate covered caramels were a big hit at my folk's house the other night. Though not as glamorous, my favorite items continue to be his decadent chocolate almonds and pate de fruit, little colorful gems of intense fresh fruit flavor. As a special bonus, Charles Chocolates is offering my readers a 15% discount on online purchases through December 17th Just use the promo code, COOKINGWITHAMY

Richart Chocolate
Richart is one of my favorite chocolate innovators. Yes, innovators. They bring new things to market which are eventually copied by everyone else. Like mad geniuses they have an incredible ability to make anything and everything pair with chocolate. You really do have to taste to believe. This season they introduced a "festive garden" collection with chocolates including black truffle and potato coulis, grilled corn and chestnut, kalamanzi with carrot, and my top pick, tomato with basil. In each you feel as if you are rediscovering the flavors of the garden. The flavors come in waves and the chocolate becomes a backdrop for the experience. It's as if you are tasting the very essence of the flavor and experiencing something you know very well, for the first time. They sound weird, but actually they are divine revelations. And I'm not even religious!

Hotel Chocolate
I discovered the English brand Hotel Chocolat in London last Summer. At first, when I saw one of their shops I thought it was a real hotel, now that I've had some of their particularly wonderful little "canapes" of chocolate tiles topped with fruit, nuts and sometimes a kick of chili, I'm ready to check in. The quality of their products is particulary high and they avoid many ingredients like lecithin that are standard in the industry.


Amano bars
I recently discovered the chocolate of Amano artisan chocolate, a very small boutique producer in Salt Lake City. Amano has one of the best explanations for why their chocolate is not fair trade. Like the label organic, fair trade is complicated and choices are not always black and white. I strongly urge you to read it, and to try Amano's chocolate. In the past year they have won a number of awards for their chocolate bars. I am particularly fond of their Ocumare bar, a 70% bar from Venezuela; it's rich and dark and transports me to a jungle far away....For the bar connoisseur, this is rare chocolate to seek out.

Vosges bars
If you're just warming up to the idea of flavored bars, the mini bar gift set of exotic chocolate bars from Vosges is a fun way to try lots of trendy flavors including smoked almonds, ginger, wasabi, macha green tea, curry, chili, espresso, cacao nibs and more. It doesn't include the bars with really wacky flavors like goji berries, kalamata olives or bacon, which are available separately. This gift is good fun for the chocolate enthusiast, though not necessarily for the chocolate snob. Chocolatier Katrina Markoff says her mission is to bring peace to the world though chocolate. Kinda fits with the holidays, don't you think?

When it comes to bars, here are the other brands I love and recommend--El Rey, Michel Cluizel, Chocovic's Ocumare bar, E. Guittard bittersweet and extra dark bars, Valrhona's Araguani and Alpaco bars, and always worth trying are any of the limited edition bars from Scharffen Berger.

My favorite local Bay Area retailers of chocolate are Cocoa Bella for confections and Fog City News for bars.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Did you get it?

Just a quick note to say the monthly email newsletter went out today. If you didn't get it, feel free to sign up for it and I'll send you a copy. It is a double opt-in system, so after you sign up you'll be asked to confirm your subscription. In other words, if you don't confirm, you are not subscribed.

The newsletter provides links to some posts from the prior month, a sneak peek at what's coming up as well as some links to sites I think you'll like. Thanks again for visiting and staying in touch!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Green Pea and Mint Soup - Tastes as Good as it Looks!!

I had loads of mint leaves at home after I used barely some from the large bunch I bought at the Farmer's market, and as they don't stay fresh for a long time, I knew I had to put them to good use. I searched around for some simple soup recipes, and finally decided to try it for a delicious soup, combined with peas, just perfect for detoxifying the system and enjoying the warmth of the soup in this winter chill. I have to admit I was a bit hesitant in trying the soup, but what is a chef who doesn't experiment, so I took the leap of faith and jumped right in! The result, a beautiful green-colored Pea and Mint soup, flavored mildly with onion, garlic, fennel and black pepper, and a little bit of fresh cream adding a bit to the indulgence. It serves to be a very healthy and wholesome entree on cold winter nights, and definitely puts all that extra mint to good use!!

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion - chopped
3 garlic cloves - minced
1 tbsp fennel seeds powder - roasted (optional)
6 cups water
1 lb fresh peas - boiled
1 cup fresh mint - chopped
2 tbsp half and half
2 tbsp fresh cream - for garnish
Salt - to taste
Ground black pepper - to taste

Heat the olive oil over moderate heat in a large saucepan. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring, for 7-10 minutes until they are soft. Then add the fennel powder

Add the water, chopped mint and the peas to the saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add the half and half, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.

Now puree the soup in batches in a blender until smooth. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve hot, garnished with mint and fresh cream or croutons and feel the goodness of the taste. The soup has a lovely color and is soothing both to the eyes and the soul! Do keep in mind though that we are talking more healthy, than tasty!:) This Green Peas and Mint Soup is indeed a nice way to load up yourself with plenty of antioxidants!

Related Recipes:
Veg Hot and Sour Soup
Restaurant-style Tomato Soup

Menu for Hope & Cozy Comforts Prize

Menu for Hope

Once a year more food and wine bloggers than you even knew existed offer up prizes that their readers win through a raffle with the proceeds going to charity. For every $10 donated, you earn one virtual raffle ticket to bid on a prize of your choice. At the end of the two-week campaign, the raffle tickets are drawn and the results announced on Chez Pim. What prize am I offering? And where does the money go? Read on....

My prize package this year is "Cozy Comforts" the prize code is UW30. It consists of various treats perfect for a winter getaway. Three brand new, recently published books are included plus some other goodies--

+ The Ski House Cookbook: Warm Winter Dishes for Cold Weather Fun
+ Fondue for the most classic Alpine indulgence
+ Hot Drinks: Cider, Coffee, Tea Hot Chocolate, Spiced Punch, and Spirits
+ A tin of Chocolate flavored tea from Lupicia
+ A handful of mini chocolate squares and bars from Scharffen Berger, Charles Chocolates and Vosges to sneak into your parka pocket
+ A snuggly eco-friendly Nature Co. grey fleece scarf-it's unisex and just the thing for chilly days and nights

The funds raised by Menu for Hope 4 will be earmarked for the school lunch program in Lesotho, Africa. Providing food for the children helps keeps them in school so that they learn the skills to feed themselves and their families in the future. The program in Lesotho is a model program in local procurement - buying food locally to support local farmers and the local economy. Instead of shipping surplus corn across the ocean, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is buying directly from local subsistent farmers who practice conservation farming methods in Lesotho to feed the children there.


1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at Chez Pim or on the West Coast page, at Rasa Malaysia.

2. Go to the donation site at First Giving Menu for Hope and make a donation.

3. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. The Cozy Comforts prize is UW30. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code. Example:
Basic Order

Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02. Example:

Advanced Order

4. If your company has a matching gift program, be sure to enter the name so your contribution will be increased.

5. Please check the box to allow us to see your email address that's the only way we can contact you should you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Check back on Chez Pim on Wednesday, January 9 for the results of the raffle.

Thanks for your participation, and good luck!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Holiday Gift Guide--Fun Stuff

Last year I posted one all-purpose holiday gift guide. This year I am going to give you several gift guides. One for fun foodie gifts, a chocolate guide, a guide to my picks for classic and luxury gifts and finally a book guide. Today the fun stuff! I've tried to choose some things that are a bit out of the ordinary, I hope you like them.

onion goggles
How could I forget one of my favorite films of the year? Ratatouille on DVD has the added bonus of an interview segment with producer Brad Bird and chef Thomas Keller. Learn about the creative process from two masters.

onion goggles
I've been known to slip on my sunglasses when chopping a lot of onions, but onion goggles are much better.

bacon toothpicksbacon bandage
Bacon, bacon, bacon! I'm still waiting for someone to get me a gift subscription to the famous bacon-of-the-month club but in the meantime I can settle for bacon novelty gifts. Since no actual pigs were harmed, it's possible even vegetarians will like these gifts. Bacon-flavored toothpicks, bacon bandages, bacon mints. Ok, maybe not the mints.

foodie fight
Foodie Fight is a trivia game that I reviewed earlier this year. It's not edible, but it is fun for foodies.

chewy peps
Route 29 Napa makes tasty retro candies that are packaged in tins you'll want to keep. The Chewy Peps are my personal favorite. They are less expensive if you buy them bulk or in a bag.

dessert excuse plates
Dessert excuses, "Oh no, I couldn't" and "OK, just a sliver" or the classic, "Have another, they're small" are now available emblazoned on plates. Dessert excuse plates, of course!

yum yum dish
I discovered Yum Yum dishes in Asheville, North Carolina. They really help you control portions of snacks or dessert in a fun way. Enjoy 4 ounces of a treat at a time. No sneaking back for refills!