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State Dinner’s Foodie Gift Guide for the Holidays

The holiday season has approached once again and if you are looking for that perfect gift to give to your favorite foodie you’ve come to the right place. My shelves are covered in cookbooks. I have well over 50 of them. I think cookbooks are the perfect gift for the food lover. They last a long time and provide learning and adventure in the kitchen.

I have put together a list of cookbooks for every type of chef. So head out to your local independent bookstore and pick up a gift for your favorite chef (and just maybe they will thank you with a delicious meal).

For the First Time Cook: The Joy of Cooking– My Mom has a tradition (passed down from her Mom) of giving me a cookbook every Valentine’s Day. The very first cookbook she gave me was The Joy of Cooking. This is the bible of all cookbooks. Whenever I am in doubt about something simple or basic I turn to TJOC. For new cooks it is perfect: it’s divided up in to clear cut sections, allows the cook to build on what they learn from previous recipes, and if you follow all the steps you are bound to have an end result that is delicious.

For the Food Politician: Food Matters by Mark Bittman– The food politics movement has taken off in recent years, starting with The Omnivores Dilemma. Mark Bittman’s book is perfect for those who care about how their food habits affect the world around them because not only does the book include Bittman’s argument on how to lead a more balanced, healthy life through food while helping the environment and economy, but it also includes great recipes.

For Someone Living Alone: The Pleasure of Cooking for One by Judith Jones. Judith Jones is a legend in cookbook publishing because she is the woman who discovered Julia Child. I discovered this cookbook while on a trip to New York and immediately read it cover-to-cover. Jones wrote the book after her husband passed away. Her philosophy behind cooking for one is very inspiring. She doesn’t believe that you should skimp on delicious meals, just because you are the only one dining at the table. As someone who lives alone but still likes to cook every night I have found this to be the perfect cookbook. You don’t have to worry about having tons of leftovers and cutting the recipes in half….every recipe already is adapted to feed one person.

For the Home Cook With Limited Time: Every Day Food: Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart. This is probably the one cookbook I use the most in my house. I have cooked almost every single recipe and they have all turned out delicious. Some of my favorites include the cashew chicken, butternut squash soup, and skirt steak with spicy green salsa. Most of the recipes can be prepared in under an hour and use easy to find ingredients. The book is broken down in to seasons, which I really appreciate since I like to shop at my farmers market and eat what is fresh and local. And every recipe has a beautiful picture to accompany it. Trust me….Martha will never steer you wrong.

This photo courtesy of ThisIsNaive

For People Who Love Brunch: Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook by Dede Lahman and Neil Kleinberg. The Clinton St. Baking Company is one of the hottest spots in New York City to find comfort food. Over and over again they are named the restaurant with the best biscuits, pancakes, brunch, and breakfast. Lines stretch around the corner just to get a taste of their blueberry pancakes. The place also just happens to be owned by a longtime friend Dede Lahman and her chef-husband Neil. All the hype about the restaurant is justified and now you can sample a little taste of their magic in your own home. I first learned about this cookbook over a year ago when Dede asked my Mom and I to test out some of the recipes (I tested out the scone recipe…yum!). It was very exciting to get my hands on the finished product. These recipes are delicious and run the gambit from Huevos Racheros to vanilla buttermilk waffles to red flannel hash. And yes Neil’s recipes for biscuits and pancakes are included.

For Those Mourning the Lose of Gourmet Magazine: The Gourmet Cookbook and Gourmet Today both by Ruth Reichl. Foodies worldwide took a major hit in the past few years when Gourmet Magazine suddenly shut down and stopped publishing. If you are anything like me, you grew up looking at the delicious pictures in your Mom’s monthly copy of Gourmet and then tried to spend your adulthood recreating these masterpieces. Lucky for us Ruth Reichl and her friends at Gourmet have put together two spectacular encyclopedic cookbooks to tide us over until the publishing world comes to their senses and brings us back our beloved magazine. These cookbooks are made up of years worth of Gourmet recipes and are a treasure trove for pretty much any situation you can find yourself in.

For Those Coming From A Melting Pot Family….Or Just Want to Cook Like One: The New American Table by Marcus Samuelsson. When you looked around your Thanksgiving table this year did it look a little bit like a meeting of the UN? If so than this is the perfect gift for the cook in your family. In celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s new cookbook he draws inspiration from the melting pot that is the United States of America.  He has Fish Goulash that could delight your Hungarian Grandma, miso-rubbed rack of lamb for your Japanese cousin, and yellowtail ceviche for your South American wife. Each recipe includes a description and story behind his culinary and ethnic inspiration.

Photo courtesy of


Mark Bittman’s Food Matters Cookbook

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing Mark Bittman, cookbook author, New York Times contributor and frequent guest on the Today Show, speak at the Sixth and I Synagogue. Bittman was promoting his new cookbook, The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living. The cookbook is based off of the New York Times bestseller, Food Matters.

I really enjoyed Bittman’s presentation. Without coming across as preachy or overly aggressive, Bittman explained how detrimental it is for Americans to continue on the diet we currently maintain. Besides the obvious health problems we have developed as a nation (obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes), Bittman explained that there is an environmental and economic effect on the way we eat. His simple presentation was interesting and different enough that I thought I was learning something new. I also feel that Bittman’s approach to more responsible eating is easier to accept versus others out there that say we must all become strict locavores and vegans. I do the best I can. I try to buy farm-raised eggs, most of my produce from the farmer’s market, and hormone-free, grass-fed, free-range meat. But I’m not perfect—-and I’m not giving up meat 100%. Bittman says that is ok. As he teaches in his new book, perhaps the answer is not giving up meat completely but making our intake less (he calls this lessmeatavore). Perhaps cook a vegetarian dish 2-3 times a week (his veggie dishes are robust and delicious…you’ll be more than full). And most of his recipes significantly reduce the amount of meat on the plate. And guess what? You don’t miss it!

My favorite recipe I’ve found so far is the seasonal Cannellini with Shredded Brussels Sprouts and Sausage. I very rarely cook with sausage because I try not to eat pork and find most of the sausage at grocery stores, quite frankly, creepy. But I was able to find Italian-style chicken sausage from one of the meat purveyors at the Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market…score! This is the perfect dish for Fall. I served it over Israeli couscous but I’m sure whole wheat noodles, quinoa, or even a few slices of toast would be great.

Cannellini with Shredded Brussels Sprouts and Sausage

3 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces Italian sausage (chicken, pork, or turkey), casings removed
3 tablespoons minced garlic
Red chili flakes, to taste
Salt and black pepper
1 pound Brussels sprouts, shredded in a food processor or roughly chopped
½ cup white wine or water
2 cups cooked or canned cannellini beans, drained

1.    Put the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, crumble the sausage into the pas and cook, stirring occasionally to break the meat into relatively small bits, until browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook and stir for another minute or so.
2.    Add the Brussels sprouts and wine to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until the sprouts are tender but still a bit crunchy, 5 to 10 minutes.
3.    Add the beans and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are heated through, just a minute or 2. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve.

Serves 4

Side note: Mark Bittman also has an awesome How to Cook Everything app for iPhones/iTouches. It’s based off of his famous How to Cook Everything cookbook…I highly recommend it.

Zucchini Boats

Zucchinis are one of my very favorite vegetables. I love the taste of a fresh zucchini but I rarely do anything besides sautéed them or roast them. While on the search for what to do with the zucchini bounty I found myself in a few weeks ago, I came across a recipe for zucchini boats on one of my favorite food blogs, Annie’s Eats.

Once you get the basics of this recipe down you can play around with it. Instead of using ground turkey you can use chicken sausage, ground beef, lamb etc. You can also easily make an all-vegetarian version by leaving out the meat or adding in tofu instead. While this version has more Italian tastes you can easily make a Greek version with lamb and feta, instead of turkey and Parmesan. The possibilities are endless.

This recipe makes a healthy, light dinner with a leafy green salad.

Zucchini Boats

4 6-inch zucchinis
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
½ cup onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup mushroom (I used cremini), chopped
1 lb ground turkey
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2-3 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon, salt
½ teaspoon, fresh ground pepper

1.    Cut zucchinis in half lengthwise. Scoop out insides (I used a grapefruit spoon, which made it easier), leaving a shell about ¼-inch thick. Reserve half of the insides (roughly chop if too large).
2.    In a medium skilled over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté the onion and garlic until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and reserved zucchini insides to the skillet and sauté another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
3.    Heat the remaining tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble in ground turkey and cook until lightly browned on all sides, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cooked onion and mushroom mixture. Add the wine to the pan along with the tomatoes, basil, thyme, and rosemary Cook for 1 more minute. Drain any excess fat, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
4.    Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Once the turkey mixture has cooled a bit, mix in the Parmesan, egg, salt, and pepper. Fill the zucchini shells with the mixture. Fill a baking dish with ¼-inches of water. Place the filled zucchini shells in the pan and bake in the preheated over for 40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove the zucchini from the pan and serve immediately.

Serves 4 (1 zucchini half per person)

The Mexican State Dinner

Photo courtesy of Haraz N. Ghanbari (AP)

Last night President and First Lady Obama welcomed the Mexican President and First Lady Felipe Calderón and Margarita Zavala into their home and hosted their second state dinner, this time filled with pageantry, prestige, and mole! The guest list included Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Gayle King (are they a couple? Please say yes!), Dolores Huerta (co-founder of the United Farm Workers), Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, and fly-ins from Hollywood comedian George Lopez and Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria Parker.

Photo Courtesy of Charles Dharapak (AP)

200 guests were treated to a Rick Bayless cooked dinner in the gorgeous East Room. An additional 100 joined the First Couples in the entertainment tent for dessert, where they enjoyed a performance by Beyoncé and Rodrigo y Gabriela. The tent had cloth butterflies hanging from the ceiling, in honor of President Calderón’z hometown of Michoacan, where Monarch butterflies spend the winter after migrating from Canada.

Photo courtesy of Tim Sloan (Getty Images)

But enough about all the pomp and circumstance…you came here to hear about the food. Rick Bayless, one of the Obamas’ (and my Dad’s) favorite chefs, hails from the great city of Chicago and is chef-owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. He arrived at the White House two days early to begin the process of making his complicated sauces. Unable to bring any ingredients from his restaurants, he started the menu from scratch, making heavy use of the White House garden. The end result of his state dinner menu sounds delicious. I just hope he makes the dessert recipe available on his website…yum!

Jicama with oranges, grapefruit, and pineapple; citrus vinaigrette; Ulieses Valdez Chardonnay 2007 “Russian River”

Herb Green Ceviche of Hawaiian Opah, Sesame-Cilantro Cracker

Oregon Wagyu Beef in Oaxacan Black Mole; Black Bean Tamalon Grilled Green Beans; Herrera Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 “Seleccion Rebecca”

Chocolate-Cajeta Tart, Toasted Homemade Marshmallows, Graham Cracker Crumble & Goat Cheese Ice Cream; Mumm Napa “Carlos Santana Brut” N/V

(Thank you to CNN’s Ed Henry for tweeting the menu last night.)

For more behind the scenes coverage of the state dinner check out this great interview from Esquire with a very tired Chef Bayless.

A Top Chef Master Comes to DC

Marcus Samuelsson is one of my favorite celebrity chefs. Besides being gorgeous he has a memorable story and takes a unique approach to his cuisine. Chef Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, and now resides in New York City.  His unique background is reflected in his cooking both at the Scandinavian -themed Aquavit in New York City and through the Townhouse Restaurant Group of which he is a co-founder. Chef Samuelsson also was the head chef at this past November’s White House State Dinner for the Prime Minister of India. And of course most people now know him as a winning cheftestants on the second season of Top Chef Masters.

Well lucky for us DCers, Chef Samuelsson will be holding a cooking demo and book signing at the Metro Center Macy’s this coming Thursday as part of the Macy’s Culinary Council. Chef Samuelsson’s new cookbook “New American Table” is a beautiful mix of recipes, photographs, and stories about all that is good in American cuisine. You can tell that Chef Samuelsson is deeply influenced by his New York City neighbors because there are recipes from Jewish, Asian, Latin, and Italian cuisine, just to name a few. Some highlights appear to be the Mussel-Artichoke Tart, Blueberry Kasha, Chicken Curry with Vegetable Fritters, and the Bay Scallops with Nori-Spiced Watermelon. Yum!!

Here is more info on the cooking demo. I hope to see you there!:

Macy’s Metro Center
Home Store, Lower Level
1201 G St NW
(between N 12th St & N 13th St)
Washington, DC 20005

Thursday, April 29, 6PM

Because seating is limited, reservations are required.
To RSVP please call 1-888-MACYSNY

Click here for more information about the event and the Culinary Council.

Chocolate Fudge

I love, love, love chocolate fudge! I’ve tried tons of different recipes, many that use corn syrup or marshmallows. I’m not sure what either of those ingredients do but after trying this simple recipe from the new Gourmet Today cookbook I’ll never use fancy fudge recipes again. This recipe takes about 15 minutes of actual cooking and contains only 4 ingredients (most of which you probably already have in your fridge or pantry).

I made this lovely fudge recipe for the Rose Park Bake Sale and it was a big hit—I think part of this had to do with the fact that I packaged the fudge in brightly colored mini-takeout boxes. Note to future bakers: kids are attracted to anything brightly colored with a handle, even if it is a more adult treat. (Perhaps next time I’ll package the boxes with fruit and vegetables!).

¾ pound chocolate (I used a combination of ½ bittersweet and ¼ semisweet), finely chopped
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, softened
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/8 teaspoon salt

1.    Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.
2.    Stir together all ingredients in a metal bowl. Set bowl over a saucepan of barely summering water, and heat until chocolate appears to be melted, 5 to 8 minutes. Gently stir with a rubber spatula occasionally, letting chocolate rest for a few minutes if it appears to stiffen, until smooth. (If you so desire, this is where you can mix in chopped nuts).
3.    Pour mixture into a baking pan and refrigerate, uncovered, until firm, about 4 hours.
4.    Run a knife around the edges of the pan, invert fudge onto a cutting board, peel off paper, and cut fudge into 1-inch squares. Serve cold.

Note: the fudge keeps, refrigerated, layered between sheets of parchment paper, in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Makes about 64 pieces (depending how large you cut them).

Inside-Out Carrot Cake Cookies

For the Rose Park Bake Sale I wanted to try something out that was fun and different. I’m a huge fan of all things carrot cake but I certainly wasn’t going to be able to make multiple cakes, and mini-cakes was out of the question since I only have 2 mini-loaf pans. Then I came across a recipe for inside-out carrot cake cookies in the new Gourmet Today cookbook. Perfect!

These came out well…although I was hoping they would be prettier. But the taste was there, so who really cares right? They were a big hit at the bake sale and were the first item to sell out.


1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely grated carrots (2 medium)
1 cup (about 3 ¼ ounces) walnuts, chopped
½ cup raisins

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
¼ cup honey


Make the cookies:

1.    Put racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat the over to 375˚. Butter two large baking sheets.
2.    Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
3.    Beat together butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Mix in carrots, nuts, and raisins at low speed. Add flour mixture and beat until just combined.
4.    Drop 1 ½ tablespoons of batter 2 inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are lightly browned and springy to the touch, 12 to 16 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets on racks for 1 minute, then transfer to racks to cool completely.

Make the filling and assemble the cookies:
1.    Blend cream cheese and honey in a food processor or with an electric mixer until smooth.
2.    Spread a generous tablespoon of cream cheese filling on flat side of half of the cookies and top with remaining cookies.

Note: You can also use this delicious cream cheese frosting recipe.
The cookies keep, refrigerated in an airtight container, for up to 1 day.

Makes about 1 dozen sandwiched cookies.