Got a gift card burning a hole in your pocket?

Chances are, that even if you come from a family of local-business supporters, opening carefully-wrapped gifts of books, handmade crafts, and local artisanal edibles, you still managed to receive a gift card or two. And if you’re like me, you’ll be spending the next few days pondering your choices — splurge or practical, wanted or needed? I thought I’d share a few items from my own lists — of course kitchen-related — either things I continue to wish for, or items I own, love, and wouldn’t do without in my kitchen.


Richie Rich level ($250 and up — I mean, who gets these?)

Cuisinart Stand Mixer ($270)
This is perpetually on my wish list. My Kitchenaid Classic has worked for the past decade, but not without packing tape holding it together. The Cuisinart won the Cook’s Illustrated equipment review, and seems to be an all-around better mixer. I’d go for the 7-quart, to mix a double-batch of whole wheat bread dough.

Vitamix Blender ($380)
The Mercedes of blenders. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Or, maybe just do everything from grinding wheat into flour to making smoothies from whole pieces of fruit, skin and all. I don’t have one, but continue to wish.


Benefactor Level ($100 – $200)

Kitchenaid Blender ($100)
Well, Kitchenaid still does some things right. If you’re not ready to shell out $400 for a blender, this one costs significantly less and won the Cook’s Illustrated review for blenders. I doubt it will mill wheat berries into flour, but will likely make a good smoothie.

Cuisinart Food Processor ($100)
I recently read a post from a blogger who was swearing off her food processor. I couldn’t live without mine, and only sometimes wish it had a larger liquid capacity. From making nut butter to pesto to my favorite almond-tomato spread — I use mine every week, sometimes 3-4 times in one day.


Familial level ($30 – $100)

<a href="High-quality Chef’s Knife ($100)
This is the exact knife I’ve used for a decade, the one I returned wedding gifts to acquire. It works as well today as it did in 2001 (I sharpen it somewhat regularly). I’m not loyal to the brand, but believe Henckels and Wusthoff are likely the best choices.

Stainless Steel French Press Coffee Pot ($70)
Love, love our Bodum French Press, for brewing my husband’s home-roasted coffee. It holds four (American-sized) cups, and keeps it warm (though it tastes freshest right after it’s brewed). My favorite part is that I no longer have a big coffee maker taking up valuable space on my counter top.


Realistic Level ($30 and under)

Victorinox Chef’s Knife ($25)
I don’t own this knife, but after reading great reviews from America’s Test Kitchen, I’ve long considered buying one to have an extra chef’s knife in the kitchen. This is an economical way to have a high-quality chef’s knife in your collection — it will totally change your food-prep life.

Lodge Cast Iron 12-inch Skillet ($25)
I’m an admitted toxi-phobe, and several years ago attempted to rid my kitchen of non-stick cookware. I bought a pre-seasoned Lodge skillet, and with careful care (no soap! no hard scrubbing! oil it every now and again!) it has become as non-stick as my old Teflon-coated pan.

Conical Fine-Mesh Strainer ($15)
I received one of these this year, to replace the one my kids destroyed by using it as a hat. This is perfect for straining sauces, sorbets, anything that has bits and pieces you don’t want in your final product. I like the conical shape because it fits into my wide-mouth funnel and the liquid goes straight into the jar or bowl.

Stainless Steel Wide-Mouth Funnel ($8)
I bought this for canning — see the previous post about toxi-phobia, but I don’t think boiling items should come in contact with plastic. To my surprise, I use it ALL. THE. TIME. For everything from ladling homemade yogurt neatly into jars to filling up my canisters with granola. It gives just enough extra width to keep mess to a minimum.


What’s your gift-card plan? What can you not live without, always buy as a wedding gift? What’s your ultimate splurge? Please add to my list!





Holiday Brunch: Cranberry-Grapefruit Salad


One of my favorite winter treats is grapefruit. I like it for an afternoon snack — there’s something about having to slow down long enough to cut its equator (this is a skill to master in itself — cutting two equal halves), section the bites and scoop them out. I prefer a grapefruit spoon to a knife, and always start with the second of two large sections, working my way counter-clockwise around — this way I start and end with a big, juicy bite.

(I type that description realizing that with every such confession, I’m one step closer to an intervention from the blogosphere at large.)

I was introduced to this salad the first year I spent Christmas with Tim’s family in southern Pennsylvania. It donned the holiday breakfast table, and was utterly refreshing amidst a spread of stollen, quickbreads, and heavier morning fare. I remember eating two bowls full and, craving it again the next morning, came home with the recipe.

I’ve made this just a few times over the years, decreasing the amount of sugar along the way. This time around, I took the sugar out completely (replacing with honey), and adapted the original to use orange zest and juice rather that orange marmalade. The result is equally, if not more refreshing — with no refined sweeteners. If you’re accustomed to eating your grapefruit with a heavy dose of sugar on top, this might be too tart for you — if so, add sugar to your taste (best to add it in the second step).


Assuming I get to the store for more grapefruit, this salad will be gracing our brunch table on Christmas Eve, when we’ll be hosting a group of local friends. The kind of friends who know that I am loco particular about how I eat my grapefruit, and tolerate me anyway. I hope the next few days find you in the comfort of that kind of friend (or family) as well.


Recipe: Cranberry-Grapefruit Winter Salad

serves 8-12


  • 4 grapefruit
  • zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries, picked over and rinsed
  • 3 bananas


  1. Peel grapefruit. Cut into sections, and then bite-sized pieces, reserving juice.
  2. Pour grapefruit juice into a 1-cup glass measure (it might only be a Tbsp or two). Add the orange zest and juice, and honey. If necessary, add water so the liquid measures 1 cup.
  3. Pour the liquid into a small saucepan, and heat to simmering. Add the cranberries, and simmer until most of them pop (1-2 minutes). Set aside to cool completely.
  4. Add cranberries (with their cooking liquid) to the grapefruit, and gently stir. Refrigerate until time to serve. (Can be made 1 day ahead.)
  5. Just before serving, slice bananas into the salad, and gently stir to distribute.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.


Cranberry-Orange Quickbread (grain-free, dairy-free)


My new modus operandi: to pretend I live in a foreign country.

You know, like, somewhere third-world, rural. A place that would positively limit my eating choices — no matter how much I might crave peanut butter, there would be nary a single jar to be found. And I would just have to deal, because it would be a third-world country. With problems a wee bigger than my not having peanut butter.

Honestly, the temptations of the holidays haven’t been that bad — I’ve only been to a couple of parties, and was able to eat beforehand so as not to starve. But Sunday morning, after spending the night holding the hair of my puking 8-year old, I wasn’t feeling so hot myself. I downed a glass of my favorite apple cider vinegar cocktail, and went back to bed. At lunchtime I woke, and was thankfully no longer feeling like I might hug the toilet myself — but was in that tricky place of being hungry, but not really sure what for.

And then it hit me — what I wanted more than anything, what I thought I might be willing to sell a small useless portion of my soul for — was a saltine. An all-white-flour, Nabisco saltine. Or a whole sleeve of them.

I apparently said this out loud. Because all of a sudden Tim was responding to me, “What? And we don’t have any?”

And I gave him my best eye roll, and went all “hello!!! gluten???!!!” as if he’d suggested that a portion of my soul was in fact useless.

So I pouted a bit, and then rolled up my sleeves for a few google searches. I ended up with a loaf of almond bread that, toasted, was but a shadow of my original gloriously processed craving. But the energy spent did something to curb it, and in the end I went to bed and woke this morning thankful that I didn’t cave.

One way I haven’t had to deny myself is in the category of holiday bread. Having grown weary of making loaves of pumpkin bread that I couldn’t enjoy, I finally experimented and settled on a grain-free cranberry-orange loaf. This is a bread that my kids wouldn’t eat anyway — the fresh cranberries give a burst of tart that’s a bit too much for their palates — so I don’t have to explain to them that this is “Mommy’s bread,” not to be touched by their cute, greedy little hands.

The photo above — admittedly lame as it is — shows the bread in a glass dish, but I don’t recommend using one. My first batch was baked in three metal mini-pans, and the loaves popped right out. This second batch was baked in glass, and the bread clung to the bottom and sides, and had to be dug out, now only photogenic as a culinary train-wreck. So stone or metal (well-greased) seems to be the safer way to go.

Not that it matters to me. When you’re ready to pawn your soul for certain foods, eating the mangled remains of a crumpled loaf of holiday bread with a spoon is a thing done with ease.


Recipe: Cranberry-Orange Bread (grain-free, dairy-free)


  • 1 1/2 cups almond flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • zest and juice of 1 large orange
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup raw (or soaked/dehydrated) walnuts, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries (frozen ok)


  1. Preheat oven to 350º and grease a metal loaf pan with coconut oil or palm shortening.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the first five ingredients (flours through salt).
  3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, orange zest, and orange juice. In a glass measuring cup, warm the honey and coconut oil together (just enough to easily stir — I use the microwave) and stir to combine. Add this to the eggs, and whisk to combine.
  4. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, and stir well. Fold in the walnuts and cranberries.
  5. Spread batter into loaf pan, smoothing the top (grain-free breads do not rise much, the top will not dome).
  6. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then carefully turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.


San Francisco. Go ye, therefore, and eat.


I had this whole post written about my trip last week to San Francisco, about eating in an great food city while on an elimination diet. The post was about as exciting as it sounds, as in, I was more entertained reading Sky magazine for the third time during my second departure out of Phoenix last Thursday (the first departure had us halfway to Indianapolis, only to turn around and go back to Phoenix after a problem was discovered with hydraulics — but on the bright side, we didn’t crash into a ball of flames!)


What can I say. We ate really well — but in San Francisco, it seems that’s a given. It doesn’t take much to find amazing food, and it also doesn’t take begging to find foods that are gluten*- and dairy-free. We had the best vegan meal I’ve eaten — I didn’t know vegan food could be this good — at a place called Gracias Madres, in the Mission. We shared one of the most texturally interesting and uniquely flavorful salads I’ve ever enjoyed — a fermented green tea leaf salad — at Burma Superstar.


These finds were both courtesy of my friend Jen — Tour Guide Extraordinaire — who zipped us through the roller-coaster streets of San Francisco with the expertise and flair of a lifelong local (I would likely never trust myself behind the wheel in that city — cresting the top of one of the more famous descents, I could only grip the door handle and mutter an extemporaneous, protestant version of a hail mary — in addition, last I checked, technology has not yet provided a way to drive with your eyes squeezed tightly shut).


A thing I loved about eating in the city: we ate really well in just about every neighborhood. The Castro, Tenderloin, Mission, and Financial districts all had edibles to offer, and the prices were as varied as the menus. While we ate one overpriced (but delicious) breakfast, we stopped in for tacos and tamales at a food truck that left us full for under $5.


The start-to-finish star of the trip was a place called Frances, in the Castro district. The restaurant was booked for the night, and we had not reserved a table — but the website told me that seats at the bar were offered on a first-come, first-served basis. We jumped on a bus at 5:30 and headed south, searching for the unassuming, subtly-marked storefront on a residential street, nestled between townhouses. We happened upon the door along with another couple, and I stopped short of tackling them in the dark of the sidewalk out of fear they’d get our seats — a good thing, as getting arrested for assault is never a good idea, and it would have been useless, as there were four seats available at the bar. Within minutes of being seated, there were 8 people hovering in the entryway waiting for their turn.


Between the house wine — which is the best of that label I’ve had, custom-mixed at the restaurant, and costing us just $1 an ounce — the simple but charming atmosphere, our able and friendly server, and an exciting menu that was a list of choices for one night only, our evening at Frances was delightful. In retrospect I can hardly believe our luck at getting seated so quickly — and on a future trip I’d likely not risk it, and make reservations.


If you’d like to live vicariously, I kept the menu — splattered with our dinner and folded for the trip home in my purse — but I will highlight my favorite dish of the night, the baby kale & duck confit salad, with crisp shallots, medjool dates, and fennel agrodolce. The dates made the dish, and while it’s hard to go wrong with confit, the combination of textures was in perfect proportion. Tim’s favorite was the applewood smoked bacon beignets, served with maple chive creme fraiche. I couldn’t partake, as the beignets were gluten-laden — but in his opinion the maple creme fraiche was the star of that show.

It was our most expensive meal of the trip. But we walked out just $100 lighter — and for what we got, this seemed a steal (the entrees hover around $25, but in our usual fashion we only ordered one, and opted for two bouchées, two appetizers, and one dessert).


Each time I mentioned to friends or family that we were going to San Francisco, the reaction was something between excitement for us, and burning jealousy. And I get it now. It’s a city that never freezes, offers real-life amusement park thrills in the form of a drive across town, bears the iconic deco majesty of the Golden Gate bridge, offers a thrift-store-obsessed southern-midwesterner plenty to dig through (I squeezed in two trips to Goodwill stores), and offers good eats on every proverbial corner. There’s not much else I could ask of a destination.

Except maybe dairy, and wheat, and the ability to eat them both. I’ve got a date with pastry next time, San Fran.


* In case any of you are sticklers for details: I chose to “cheat” on my grain-free diet last week. I allowed myself grains such as rice and corn, but attempted to strictly avoid gluten, as it has proven to cause more acute symptoms than other grains.


Granola {verging on the ridiculous}


Ridiculous because I’ve already posted three different variations of granola in the past — and really, though I realize granola variations are virtually limitless, how many does one possibly need?

Apparently, I need at least four. Though I think of them more as progressions.

Well, except that this one might be a regression, in the minds of some, because it contains — you guessed it — no grains.

I actually made this for the first time a couple years ago, after a raw foodie friend brought me a jar for a holiday gift. I was hooked on the subtly-sweet nuttiness of the mix, and ended up making a couple batches myself — only stopping after realizing that because you can’t rely on inexpensive grains for bulk, it’s a relatively expensive granola to make (my family can go through a gallon-jar of granola in one week). I had been making it on rare occasions until last month, when of a sudden I was in need for grain-free breakfast options.

The original recipe is from one at Elena’s Pantry — a wonderful baking resource for folks going gluten- or grain-free. I’ve changed her recipe a bit to my liking, and mine is not raw, but the overall method is the same. Like it originally came to me, this would make wonderful gifts at the holidays, especially since so many people are going gluten-free and you just never know who might not be able to eat the oats in traditional granola. Of course, once you make it, there’s no guarantee it will actually end up in the gift jars, and not in your own.


In other news, I’m going to San Francisco, for the first time ever. This Sunday.


Tim has a conference, and I’m tagging along, sans-kids, for our longest child-free trip in over 8 years. I’ll get to meet up with my friend Jen, who moved to the Bay Area from Indianapolis last summer. Our first stop will be lunch at a place called Burma Superstar — and I’m hoping to post along the way.


Recipe: Grain-free Granola

: makes about 2 quarts

Note that this recipe is started the night before, as soaking the nuts and seeds renders them more digestible. If you already have soaked/dehydrated nuts on hand, you can substitute equal amounts, and just soak the dates/raisins for a few hours to hydrate.


  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • 2 cups other raw nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans)
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded cocout
  • 1 cup dates, pitted
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp salt


  1. In a large bowl, combine the nuts and seeds with 8 cups warm water. Let soak overnight.
  2. In a separate, smaller bowl, combine dates and raisins with 1 cup warm water, enough to barely cover. Let soak overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 300º, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  4. Drain nuts/seeds in a colander, and rinse thoroughly.
  5. Place raisins & dates (along with their soaking water), vanilla, cinnamon and salt in a food processor, and puree until smooth.
  6. Add rinsed nuts/seeds to processor, and pulse until coarsely chopped (or to desired consistency). Remove to a bowl and stir to thoroughly combine.
  7. Divide among baking sheets, spreading thinly, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove sheets and flip/stir the granola. Return to oven and bake another 25 minutes. Stir again, and continue to bake another 10-20 minutes, or until granola is golden and dehydrated (it will get crunchier as it cools). If granola is browning too quickly, simply reduce oven temperature to 250º and continue baking.
  8. Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.