Monday, December 9, 2013

Presents of Greatness for the Gourmet

A longtime friend of mine from high school, Candice Corum, routinely tempts me on Facebook with fabulous pictures and descriptions of her home-cooked meals. ‘Home-cooked’ is a weak descriptive when you speak about Candice’s food fare; rather, her cooking skills and presentation style rival that of a fine restaurant, and the repertoire that she creates is equally impressive.

Given Candice’s gift for the gourmet, I asked her to compile a list of exactly that–gifts for the gourmet! This is her ultimate list for the savviest foodie. Thanks, CC! Next up? Dinner at my house!

Candice’s Gift Picks…

sphere-ice-molds.jpg

Sur la Table Sphere Ice Molds, Set of 2, $10.95

Clever ice molds create giant icy orbs that won’t water down your drink. Combining art and science, the balls are ultra slow-melting…Plus, they look hella cool! I love the way you can freeze a bit of mint or a sliver of citrus inside the balls for a true gourmet touch!

Easy-to-use mold and innovative cap effectively shapes your ice into large spheres. Simply fill with water and freeze. Perfect for holiday entertaining, and they make a great gift for the foodie.

ws-monogram-cheese-board-an.jpg

Monogram Cheese Board & Spreader, $25

This maple cutting board and spreader set, exclusive to Williams-Sonoma, is just the right size for serving appetizers and cheese, and for small prep jobs in the kitchen. Makes an ideal personalized gift.

mason-jar-cocktail-shaker.jpg

Mason Jar Cocktail Shaker, $29.95

Mix cocktails with ease in this all-American Mason jar shaker. Created by Virginia boys Josh Williams and Eric Prum, of W+P Design, it’s the perfect gift for showing your down-home Southern hospitality.

artisinal-cocktail-gift-set.jpg

Artisanal Cocktail Gift Set, $119.95

This gift set is filled with artisanal ingredients for preparing the season’s most festive cocktails. It includes ginger syrup made by Brooklyn-based Morris Kitchen, Spanish olives and a bottle of Dillon’s Bitters, a complex flavor enhancer for Manhattans, martinis and Old Fashioneds. The book Winter Cocktails inspires creative drinks from mulled ciders to eggnog to holiday punch. A stainless steel, 23-ounce cocktail shaker means you can raise a toast to gleeful gift-giving!

mezzaluna.jpg

Double Mezzaluna, $39.95

This old-fashioned tool, whose name means “half-moon” in Italian, is still an international favorite for quick chopping. Using an easy, two-handed rocking motion, you can swiftly chop or mince onions, garlic and herbs, reducing prep time. Two curved, hand-sharpened stainless-steel blades glide easily through herbs, vegetables and nuts. Strong beechwood handles are easy to grip and keep your hands and knuckles away from the blades.

Candice Loves…

laguiole.jpg

Dubost Laguiole Olivewood Steak Knives, Set of 4, $179.95

Candice loves anything by Laguiole, but this handsome collection of knives makes a thoughtful gift for steak-lovers. The knives feature stainless-steel blades with riveted olivewood handles and come in an elegant wooden box, perfect for gifting.

oxo-adjustable-measuring-cu.jpg

OXO Adjustable Measuring Beakers, $5.95-$11.95

This handy tool is ideal for measuring and dispensing sticky ingredients such as nut butters, honey and molasses. Features a smooth, rotating body and comfortable turning knob to easily push up and dispense your ingredients. The cup is adjustable for convenient measurement of different volumes.

mandolines.jpg

OXO V-Blade Mandoline, $39.95

No kitchen is complete without a mandoline, and this one, designed for safety, efficiency and ease of use, produces a variety of popular cuts for cooking and garnishing foods. V-shaped stainless-steel blades slice cleanly through soft and hard foods. Makes perfect crinkle and straight cuts in four thicknesses.

tagine.jpg

Tunisian Hand-Painted Fresco Tagine, $59.95

This hand-painted earthenware dish can be used to cook and serve traditional North African tagines, as well as couscous and rice dishes. The cone-shaped cover funnels condensation directly back to the food for moist, tender results.

The traditional Tunisian pattern is painted by hand using food-safe paints and glazes. Hand-thrown clay retains heat well for serving directly at the table.

Candice’s Kitchen Essentials…

boos-block.jpg

Boos Cutting Block, $249.95

Boos butcher blocks are the best, and this 4″ thick beauty is manufactured from the finest northern-white species of hard rock maple. Maple wood is naturally anti-bacterial and won’t harbor any bacteria. On top of that, the Boos cream finish creates a protective layer that prevents food and moisture from damaging the wood.

ws-smart-thermometer.jpg

Williams-Sonoma Meat Thermometer, $20.95

Scientifically calibrated for accuracy, this commercial-quality thermometer ensures a perfect bird every time, and features dual pointers that indicate both the numeric temperature and the degree of doneness for different types of meat.

cuisinart-smart-stick.jpg

Cuisinart Smart Stick Immersion Blender, $59.95

Cuisinart makes it quick, clean, and easy to blend, prep and whip a variety of ingredients. Blends or whips right in the bowl, pitcher or pot, to eliminate extra dishes, and with the chopper attached, it turns into a handy mini food-prep tool. Hand blender and chopper has a powerful 200-watt motor. Blends and chops, with push-button control for continuous or pulse action.

cast-iron-skillet.jpg

Lodge Logic Cast Iron Skillet, $10.95-$59.95

Lodge Logic offers heirloom-quality cast iron skillets with a size for every task. The smaller skillets are ideal when cooking for one or two. Choose a larger skillet for cooking in quantity; they’re great for serving up family-style meals or braising bigger cuts of meat. Whether it’s bacon, grilled sandwiches, fish, cornbread—no matter what you like to grill, sauté or fry, you’ll love these classic American skillets.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Beautiful Yet Functional Art for the Table: Annieglass

cupcake.jpg

Genius in Glass

I will never forget the moment I discovered Annieglass. It was love at first sight when I stumbled across these unique dishes, coveted and collected by too many celebrities to name, and used in some of the finest restaurants in the world.

Designed and created by glass artist Annie Morhauser, they’re utterly breathtaking and very difficult to photograph. Even the pictures in this article do not do justice to their incomparable beauty.

annieglass-in-warehouse.jpg

I was beyond thrilled to tour the Watsonville factory with Annie. It’s positively stacked with her gorgeous tableware, which is painstakingly crafted with exacting standards. Below, an employee assembles a cake plate in Annie’s warehouse.

factory-worker.jpg

I don’t remember where I first found my Annieglass–maybe it was Neiman Marcus, maybe Gump’s San Francisco, or possibly the Annieglass store in downtown Santa Cruz, all vendors of the product–but what I do remember is the sensation. It was utter awe. Magic. I really have never seen or felt anything like Annieglass before or since. Over the years several styles have been imitated, but never duplicated.

bc-dinnerware-1.jpg

The pattern that won my heart was the B.C. Dinnerware, above, with the bubbly warped glass and pebbled texture that is a trademark of many of Annie’s dishes.

B.C. Dinnerware stands for Before Christ Dinnerware–“because it looks like it predates Christ,” Annie tells me. The dinner plates are like relics from another place and time, all with a cunning asymmetry that is distinctly Annie’s own. They’re at once antiqued, yet infinitely modern. Glossy aquamarine wonders of rippling glass that look organically beautiful, they also feel beautiful. The underbelly has the texture of velvet.

annie-with-the-glass.jpg

Above, Annie stands beside the two-ton sheets of durable architectural glass from which her pieces are fashioned. Commonly used in skyscrapers, the glass has the aqua tint from the iron in the glass, and the velvety feel is due to the uncommon process of sandblasting the bottoms of each piece. This contributes to the milky paleness that is undefinable, simultaneously translucent but also opaque.

But first the glass is “slumped” over plaster molds, below, revealing each one’s unique beauty through its imperfections–imperfections that make every piece an original, a treasure.

plaster-molds.jpg

I mix my B.C. Dinnerware with other pieces, especially the Shell Series, below, which has a prehistoric elegance–vessels shaped with the gentle silhouettes of fossilized seashells. They’re where art and artifact collide. Highly respected in the art world, two of the designs from the Shell Series reside in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.

bc-dinnerware.jpg

Tipped with your choice of 24 karat gold or platinum, or simply non-trimmed, every piece bears the studio signature, and Annie herself signs limited editions. Her name is etched on the bottoms of the pieces.

roman-antique.jpg

There are many patterns of Annieglass, such as the classic Roman Antique Gold and Platinum, above and below, which I also collect. This is the first collection that Annie launched, 30 years ago. I love the look of an Annieglass table, where mixing and matching collections is not only common, but de rigeur.

roman-antique-2.jpg

With Thanksgiving just around the corner and Christmas on its heels, I encourage you to discover your own inner awe as you look at these iconic creations, like the elegant Handkerchief Votives below.

handkerchief-votives.jpg

A significant advantage to these ethereal pieces is, oddly, their practicality. For something that looks so delicate and fragile, Annieglass can stand up to the most challenging circumstances; they’re dishwasher safe; and they look equally at home with any mixture of their Annieglass siblings, as well as fine China, limoges, or pottery.

You can add just one stunning piece for a real wow factor, or mix and match til your heart’s content. Either way, no two Annieglass tables will ever look the same. Your choice of linens, placemats, and of course flatware and accessories will define the table’s vignette. I love an Annieglass table set with twigs, bamboo placemats, stones, and other natural elements.

annie-holding-heart.jpg

Annieglass is perfectly appropriate for any circumstance–be it a Thanksgiving feast, a baby shower buffet, a New Year’s dinner, or Valentine’s day. Here, Annie holds a lovely heart-shaped dish that’s ideal for hors d’oeuvres or dessert.

slabs.jpg

The pieces are multifunctional. Use one of Annie’s pedestal Slabs, above, to present fruit…or cheese…or a whole poached salmon.

Annieglass looks equally appropriate in the bathroom, due to its aquatic esthetics, holding decorative soaps or guest towels…cosmetics, sea sponges, and the list goes on and on.

ruffle-cake-stand.jpg

“Every piece of Annieglass can be, and should be, used for a variety of objects,” Annie says. “Ruffle cake stands make just as exquisite a resting place for dark chocolate velvet cakes as they do brie cheeses…and a salad plate makes a charming display for a bottle of wine or a candle,” she adds.

ruffle.jpg

Surprise a coworker with a sectional dish for olives or foil-wrapped chocolates, perhaps, like the one below from the Ruffle Series.

ruffle-sectional-dish.jpg

A fabulous wedding gift is Annie’s stunning deviled egg platter. The perfect housewarming gift, a piece of Annieglass is a gift one would consider a ‘lifetime gift’ because Annieglass pieces are heirloom-quality creations that will stand the test of time via both form and function.

You need not save this art glass for special occasion only; Annieglass elevates even take-out to an art form. As I mentioned, the glass is incredibly strong, chip-resistant and dishwasher-safe. Annie tells me an interesting story. After Hurricane Katrina, she got reports from customers that their Annieglass survived the disaster. More than one person had their china cabinet washed away in the floodwaters and it was found down the street or a block away with all the Annieglass still intact, unbroken. “They just needed to be hosed off,” Annie said.

dewdrops-2.jpg

Pieces from the Dew Drops Collection, above and below, are seductively punctuated with Swarovski crystals. Mere photos can’t even capture the detail…

dewdrops.jpg

…and I love the hand-chipped pedestal on the new cone-shaped Edgey bowl, below, which merges seamlessly with Annieglass classics.

edgey-bowl.jpg

You can see how Annieglass is created and discover the craftsmanship that goes into every piece at their lively and informative walking tours of the Watsonville factory. Call for reservations 831.761.2041 ext. 21.

In addition, wine tastings are Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 12:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., pouring Santa Cruz and Monterey County wines.

annie-in-giftshop.jpg

Above, the sunny Watsonville gift shop that’s adjacent to the warehouse is brimming with countless exquisite creations–the autobiography of a genius in glass, Annie Morhauser.

Click here to find an Annieglass retailer near you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Beautiful Holiday Table Setting On A Budget: Napkins

Setting an elegant table for the holidays need not be expensive or complicated. Even simple white dishes and plain silverware can be embellished easily with a bit of time and creativity.

One of the best tricks for fancying up any tabletop is a decoratively-folded napkin. Check out my two favorite online tutorials that make the job easy.

The first, below, is created with a paper napkin, which would look fabulous in a bright color or in a decorative print.

Add a few candles and you are good to go.

The clever napkin design above is more complicated and suitable for cloth napkins. On chocolate brown pottery or shiny black dishes? Stunning!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Tabletop Decoration At Its Finest

A Visual Feast, Hosted by DIFFA

Thanksgiving is this Thursday and in perfect timing I was invited to the twelfth annual DIFFA’s Dining By Design Table Hop and Taste Preview Party last Wednesday. The food was fabulous, and I saw so many unique and gorgeous tabletops, I hardly know where to start.

So first, a little about DIFFA. DIFFA stands for Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. As one of the country’s largest supporters of care and education for people living with HIV/AIDS and for those at risk, DIFFA support springs from the fields of fine design and the visual arts, such as architecture, fashion design, interior design, photography and consumer product design.

With Jonathan Adler, Ethan Allen and Living Green as just a few of the stylish contributors for this charitable event, there was a multitude of beautiful creative displays that were breathtaking, clever and inspiring. Check out some of my favorites.

aldea-home-and-lab-exp-1.jpg

Aldea Home and Lab Experiment built a giant mast that was attached to the table, for an oceanic theme.

aldea-home-and-lab-exp-2.jpg

Simple yet elegant clay pottery was embellished with sea-inspired treasures, such as starfish and sterling.

ethan-allen.jpg

Ethan Allen went for whimsy with a tropical theme in hot pink and other juicy brights with flamingoes and flowers.

hartmann-studios.jpg

Hartmann Studios created visual interest with bundles of bright sunflowers and eye-popping black and white linens. I love the glowing orb lights!

John-Kelliher.jpg

A table bathed in ruby red ambience with red lighting, napkins and flowers was the welcome addition by John Kelliher.

living-green-1.jpg

Living Green was seeing orange in this outstanding display of tangerine tones, with Bird of Paradise erupting from a brilliant giant orange bauble and surrounded by citrine geodes and bright crystals.

living-green-2.jpg

Giant philodendron leaves make the perfect placemat for this lush dining experience.

robollo-home-1.jpg

Robollo Home shared a creepy yet playful vision derived from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 movie The Birds, which was, incidentally, filmed in San Francisco. Each plate is adorned with a nest and hatched egg. The grisly centerpiece compounds the drama.

robollo-home-2.jpg

Speaking of drama, a live Tippi Hedren celebrity impersonator at the table added to the fun.

Faiella-Design-and-Andre-Ro.jpg

A red and white Moroccan theme with gold accents by Faiella Design and Andre Rothblatt Architecture is stylish enough for any feast, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.

It was an enchanted evening and for a great cause. That’s something we can all be thankful for.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Lusting Limoges by Suzanne Tucker

royal-limoge.jpg

With Halloween having passed and Thanksgiving on the radar, I simply must share with you my newest tabletop treasure: it’s interior designer Suzanne Tucker’s autumnal San Marco porcelain for Royal Limoges, perfect for any winter feast.

royal-limoges-2.jpg

Shades of saffron and terra cotta are woven together in these smart, timeless dishes that are sure to turn any tabletop into a work of art.

royal-limoges-3.jpg

Simply, beautiful!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Always-Stylish, Often-Imitated, Oh-So-Elegant Carolyne Roehm

passion-for-parties.jpg

The Roehm Empire

I absolutely adore my library of books by Carolyne Roehm. I have every single thing this woman has written, from A Passion for Parties, above, to Presentations, below, and of course each of her essential seasonal notebooks.

presentations.jpg

Carolyne is the definitive authority on entertaining, beautiful living, and all things elegant.

Given my love for beauty in all forms I feel simpatico with her, and I am so excited to have pre-ordered her newest literary offering titled Flowers, which will become available on November 6.

flowers.jpg

With the holidays imminent it makes the ideal gift for a dear family member or friend…but if you are anything like me you will want to keep it for yourself!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Staging A Fab Impromptu Halloween Bash on a Budget

Halloween is almost upon us, and if you’re anything like me, you are hankering for a good excuse to dress up and celebrate the occasion with your friends.

It may seem impossible to throw a fab Halloween bash so late in the game, but it’s not. Here are some easy tips, with pointers from style maven and ultimate party hostess, Carolyne Roehm.

Step 1: The Invitation

For a charming last-minute invite, consider the web…Not a spider’s web, but in fact the worldwide web. Nothing beats the immediacy of email….Download this free custom evite with ease and send to friends. Step 1? Done!

evite-1.jpg

Step 2: The Decor

It’s so easy to get festive on a budget with Halloween decor. All you really need is a few bags of cobwebs from your local craft store and a low-lit room. Stretch the cobwebs everywhere. The thinner you stretch them, the cooler it will look. Check out Carolyne in her haunted mansion, below.

carolyne-roehm.jpg

Of course, if you want to get really macabre the sky is the limit. I love full-body skeletons propped around the room or hanging in a doorway. Buy some owls or black ravens and perch them around the party scene. Pick up whatever suits you and go with it.

interior-webs.jpg

Carolyne Roehm painted her jack’o’lanterns with silver spray paint for an eroded sort of desiccated decadence…awesome idea!

silver-pumpkins.jpg

“Instead of making this a black and orange color scheme, I worked with a palette of silver, gray, and black,” she stated. “I wanted my party table to resemble Miss Havisham’s decaying banquet room in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Cobwebs, fog, and a look of disheveled splendor became the theme.”

I’m telling you, this lady is so clever.

For the look of fog, pick up blocks of dry ice from your grocery store. Dry ice, in case you did not know, is simply the solid form of carbon dioxide–which is used to keep food cold in the absence of refrigeration. It is very inexpensive ($1.49 a pound at Safeway) and creates a maximum of moody ambience by producing vapor as it melts.

Place blocks of the ice in buckets hidden around the room. As the ice melts it will create a swirling fog and set the tone for your spooktacular soirée.

Step 3: The Food

Your Halloween buffet should look toxic, but taste tantalizing, and should be easy to prepare ahead of time so that on the day of the party you are not frazzled. Check out the fun fare below that you can make in advance.

black-cat-cheese-ball.jpg

This grinning Black Cat Cheese Ball is sure to put a smile on every guest’s face, and can be made ahead of time and refrigerated up to 24 hours before your event.

shrimp-brain-cocktail.jpg

Another savory make-ahead morsel is this Scary Cerebrum, which elevates ordinary shrimp cocktail into something that is both fancy and frightful.

ricotta-dip.jpg

This Blue Cheese-Ricotta Dip takes 10 minutes to make, looks great stuffed into a hollowed-out squash or mini pumpkin, and tastes delish with Boo chips from Whole Foods.

oozing-brie.jpg

If you have never had Oozing Brie with crackers, you haven’t lived yet! There is almost nothing better than this delicious party treat, trust me!

And now for the sweet…Pick up some candy skulls from your Mexican grocery store, or follow some of these easy recipes that will no doubt delight your friends.

vampire-bat-cupcakes.jpg

You can buy the cupcakes ahead of time and decorate them like these Vampire Bat Cupcakes, or make them from scratch with this easy recipe.

marthas-lady-fingers.jpg

I love these spooky finger cookies, clawing from the grave. Martha Stewart makes them every year for Halloween, using blanched almonds dyed with red food coloring for fingernails! How creative is that? Plus they taste divine and are super easy to make. A must for your buffet.

sweet-bones.jpg

Bones, Sweet Bones. These crisp meringue bones can be made three days ahead and require only two ingredients! But remember that when making meringue, technique is everything, so start early!

Step 4: The Costume

Looking for a last-minute costume? Get yourself to any uniform supply store and pick up a plain white nurse’s uniform. Pair it with white fishnets and glamorous makeup for a Naughty Nurse. Or take a hint from our story on cool costumes here.

Step 5: Rest in Peace

Congratulations, you have thrown an incredible and memorable bash! Don’t even worry about cleanup until the next morning. After all, tomorrow is a new day.