music in the park san jose

Knowing the perfect gift is easy: It’s the one that sends a
little tickle up your spine, the one you might like to receive
yourself.
Knowing the perfect gift is easy: It’s the one that sends a little tickle up your spine, the one you might like to receive yourself. Finding that perfect gift, on the other hand, can take some time and sleuthing at a time of year when extra minutes are hard to find. To that end, this year’s “Cook’s Gift List” contains only catalog items, though you can find similar items at our excellent local cooking stores.

The year has been filled with “nesting,” people making their house a home. The renovation/fix-what-you-have feeling is everywhere with the blossoming of Home Depots, Lowe’s and Expo Home Centers. And hundreds of publications and TV shows tell us how to get our homes just right.

But there’s something that makes any house into a cozy home, and that’s being in it, with family and friends, and eating there, at whatever table you have. No amount of new wood flooring or high-ticket windows or paint can do what a simple dinner together can.

To promote that feeling, how about some perfect gifts for your favorite home cook? These are not too expensive or glamorous, but can be given with heartfelt thanks for the meals cooked and the family time spent together. I guarantee they’ll be used all year and appreciated by more than just the cook.

• Mixing bowls: Does your favorite cook have a hodge-podge of ceramic bowls in the lower cupboard? Might be time for a matching set. Stonewall Kitchen has sets of three or four for $89-$99. Made by Fioriware, this stoneware comes in light blue, white, pink, yellow, celery green or cornflower blue, all with different patterns. (800) 207-JAMS. A more economical, but still wonderful, set can be had for $25 at williams-sonoma.com. They come in red/white or white. Get a set of matching silicone spatulas for $19.

• Got a tea-lover in the kitchen? How about a glass teapot and some exceptional tea? Glass is known as the ideal medium for herbal teas. Dean & Deluca, purveyors of fine foods and tempting kitchen gadgets, has a “Museum Glass Teapot” with beautiful lines for $35. Throw in some green tea and Egyptian chamomile ($6.50 each) for waking up and calming down, naturally. www.deandeluca.com or (800) 221-7714.

• French bread crumb fixer: If your kitchen-mate loves French or homemade bread, this is the perfect cutting board. The deep ridges in the solid beech wood catch any crumbs while you’re slicing, especially nice if you’re slicing at the table. A bread knife with a beautiful blue marbled handle is included, which is a bargain $18. Both items are made in France. (800) 485-1302.

• Books for cooks: A few of the best this year … “The Minimalist Cooks at Home,” by Mark Bittman; transform a few ingredients into a great family meal in 30 minutes or less. Clear directions, food for company or kids … “Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen,” by Kevin Mills and Nancy Mills; learn how to cook rice or broccoli, and more complicated fare when you’re ready.

Full of good tips for beginners … “On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town” or “Farmhouse Cookbook,” both by Susan Hermann Loomis. She tells great stories about farmers and their crops or her French neighbors, then gives you the recipes. Great reading and fun. Available at amazon.com, of course, or at my favorite book catalog company, www.basbleu.com.

• Care package: Load a basket with these cook-pleasers from Williams-Sonoma … wooden spoons, matching striped dish towels (so he or she can throw out the holey ones), $19 for 4; colorful paring knives that are easy to spot in the knife drawer, $25 for set of 6; glass prep bowls, to hold ingredients before adding to a recipe, 6 for $12; and a box of handmade fudge, such a sweet reward, $19.75. williams-sonoma.com.

• Lemony bread: This bread makes a great gift because it is moist and very sliceable. You can put it in a nice box for a gift or just eat it yourself. The recipe is from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook. For a decadent dessert, top slices with berries and whipped cream.

Lemon Bread

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

8 T. (1 stick) softened unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 T. finely grated lemon zest

1/2 cup chopped pecans

For the lemon syrup:

1/4 cup sugar

3 T. fresh lemon juice

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 1-lb. loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, stir and toss together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. With an electric beater, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until blended, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture along with the milk and lemon zest. Beat until blended and smooth, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the pecans.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the lemon syrup: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and lemon juice. Set aside, stirring occasionally; don’t worry if the sugar does not dissolve completely.

Remove the bread from the oven and transfer the pan to a wire rack. Using a fork, gently poke the top in several places. Stir the syrup, then slowly drizzle it over the hot bread. Cool the bread in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn the loaf out onto the rack to cool completely. Makes 1 large or two mini loaves.

• Comfort food: This recipe was ranked in the top 10 recipes by Cooking Light magazine. I’ve tried a lot of pot roast recipes and this was one of the best.

Pennsylvania Pot Roast

Cooking spray

1 (1-1/2-pound) beef eye of round roast

3/4 cup beef broth

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup canned crushed tomatoes with added puree, undrained

1/4 cup diced carrot

1/4 cup diced celery

1/4 cup diced turnip

2 T. chopped fresh parsley

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

4 black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

Cooked small red potatoes (optional)

Place a large saucepan coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat until hot. Add roast, browning on all sides. Add broth and next 9 ingredients (broth through bay leaf) to pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer about 3 hours.

Slice roast; place on a serving platter. Set aside; keep warm. Increase heat to medium; cook broth mixture, uncovered, 10 minutes or until reduced to 1-2/3 cups. Discard peppercorns and bay leaf. Serve sauce with roast.

Serve with red potatoes.

• Steaks for good wine: Rick Southern asked for a repeat of this recipe. He plans to serve it with a special wine as a Christmas Eve dinner for his future in-laws. I’d recommend side dishes of mashed potatoes and a simple salad, such as sliced tomatoes and red onions.

Grilled Peppery Rib-Eye Steaks with Roquefort Butter

For the Roquefort butter:

2 oz. Roquefort, Gorgonzola or other blue-veined cheese

4 T. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 T. cognac (optional)

1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

For the steaks:

2 tsp. finely minced garlic

1 1/2 tsp. coarsely ground pepper

2 T. olive oil

4 well-marbled rib-eye, porterhouse or New York strip steaks, each 8 to 10 oz. and 1 inch thick

To make the Roquefort butter, in a small food processor, combine the cheese, butter, cognac and ground pepper. Process to combine thoroughly. (You can also do this by hand in a bowl.) Remove the butter mixture from the processor, shape into a log and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to use. Bring to room temperature before serving.

To cook the steaks, in a small bowl, stir together the garlic, coarsely ground pepper and enough olive oil to form a thick paste. Place the steaks in a nonaluminum container and rub the paste evenly into both sides of the steaks. Let stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour or refrigerate for up to 6 hours. If refrigerated, bring steaks to room temperature before grilling.

Preheat your broiler, or prepare a fire in your outdoor grill. Place the steaks on the grill and cook, turning once, 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare, or until done to your liking. Transfer the steaks to plates. Cut the Roquefort butter into 4 equal pieces and place a piece on each steak. Serves 4.

Tip of the Week:

Turn any muffin into a “cinnamon surprise” by mixing together 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans, and 1/2 to 1 tsp. ground cinnamon. Fill muffin cup halfway with batter, put a teaspoon of the sugar-nut mixture in the center, then top with remaining batter. Sprinkle any leftover sugar-nut mixture on top.

Pledge-a-pie thanks to …

Thank you to all of my readers who donated pies to our annual Pledge-a-Pie event. In total, my little helper Mariah and I collected 102 pies. The Salvation Army needed 25 and the rest went to St. Joseph’s Family Center. It was quite a banquet for the less fortunate members of our community.

I have to give special recognition to Mrs. Rengers’ third grade class at Antonio Del Buono School. They baked 11 pies at school and wrote me a lovely note: “… We heard that you have a pumpkin pie drive for Thanksgiving. Our class decided to make some pies to share with others. We hope that they enjoy our pies as much as we had fun making them. We hope you have a great Thanksgiving.” I think they got the spirit of the drive just right.

Thank you to the following readers who brought one or more pies: Joanne Kraemer, Georgia Kirmayer, Tom and Gondie Chavez, Mary Janisch, Lanora Bousfield, Mrs. Sotilo, Kathy Bouchey, Sherri Laveroni, Deanna Hoenck, Jan Paterson, Mary Jane Pattie, Diana Dragt, Debbie Mercado, Terry Graham, Kelly Ramirez, Diane Stuenkel, Joan Hill, Judy Mikrut, Peg Bronvold, the Ransom Family, Cynthia Walker, Mandy Glenn, Leigh Haller, Rebecca Scheel, Connie Doty, Vickie Loporto, Lynette Findley, Norma Heinrichs, Uncle Freedie, Aunt Susie, Julie, Mercedes, Jennifer and Josephine, Rita Saso, Lois Thorne, Julie Gopp, Andrea Castro, Rose Barry, Laura and Jenny Simoneau, and Trish McRae. You all helped make Thanksgiving delicious and warm for many others.

• End notes: “We have two lives; the one we learn with and the life we live after that.” ~ Bernard Malamud

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