Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gift Ideas for the Foodie in Your Life

A few people have asked me recently what gift they should get the foodie in their life. I think I have become an expert on this because I cook and bake all the time and, thanks mostly to my roommate, my kitchen is pretty much stocked. Therefore, I know what is fun and practical to have in the kitchen. So here are a few ideas for gifts that will be worth the money (no matter your price point) because they will be appreciated AND USED by any foodie you know.

High Price Point:
Keurig Coffee Maker
(Yes they are expensive, but people buy them for a reason. Fast, no filters, no coffee grounds everywhere, and it's versatile. Coffee, tea, coco all in one machine.)

Shun Knives
(If someone on your list has asked for "chef quality" or just "good knives" this is the way to go. Shun, the Japanese knives endorsed by Alton Brown and Guy Fierri, are what I use and they are the real deal.)

A LeCreuset "French Oven"
(My Dad calls these "the Cadillac of pots" so again if someone wants "chef quality" or "good pots" and you want to REALLY impress them, LeCreuset is where it's at.)

Moderate Price Point:
Calphalon Nonstick Grill Pan
(My fav item in the kitchen year round. Don't forget the tongs!)

Collapsible Colander and Mixing Cups
(For your foodie tight on space. Get the colander here and get the mixing cups here or in the Williams Sonoma Store. When I lived in NYC and had little to no drawer and cabinet space, these things saved my life!)

A Personalized Apron
(A guy on facebook asked if giving a woman an apron is sexist. Well a guy gave me an apron w/ my name on it and he scored extra points with me. So my answer to his question was NOPE! As long as it's special.)

Collection of Exotic Spices
(Go to your fav specialty foods store and buy bottles of good quality: cumin, chili powder, paprika, Herbs de Provence, and saffron. Put them all in a pretty gift bag. FYI I put this in the moderate price point because at approx. $10 each, this can get pricy but a great gift nonetheless)

Low Price Point:
Bottle of Good Quality Extra Virgin or Infused Olive Oil
(A true cook can never have enough. Get it from a specialty foods store and put it in a christmas wine bag)

A Microplane Grater
(A must for any kitchen. Good for new foodies b/c old foodies probably already have one)

Gift Card to Williams Sonoma, Trader Joes or Whole Foods
($10-$25 denominations will be appreciated TRUST ME)

Bottle of Wine
(For Red I recommend: Beaujolais Nouveau, the quintessential Christmas Wine. For White I Recommend: Relax Riesling, the most widely available, best tasting, twist off white wine your $10 can buy)

Dry Ingredients for Cookies
(Stay tuned for my next blog post where I will show you how I layer all the dry ingredients for cookies in jars and give them as gifts. All the receiver has to do is add the wet ingredients in a bowl, mix and bake. It's a cheap gift that everyone loves!)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Do you have to have money to eat healthy?

Several weeks ago, I got into a friendly debate on twitter surrounding this question: Do you have to have money to eat healthy? I say yes and no. Yes, you have to have some money, but do you have to be rich to eat healthy? Absolutely not! Now, I base this response off of my own experience. I am a full time teacher, making a modest salary so I can't afford organic groceries from Whole Foods on a regular basis but I do budget about $200 a month for groceries and have been able to maintain a pretty healthy diet with that. I utilize sales at my local supermarket and I also utilize the everyday affordable prices at Trader Joes, my favorite store ever. Because of my thriftyness when it comes to groceries, most of my meals are homemade (or semi-homemade), never fried, with plenty of vegetables and healthy proteins. So when I saw a discussion about money being linked to healthy eating, I chimed in sharing my view that it is possible to eat healthy on a budget.

However, a good friend of mine disagreed. She told me that she was unemployed and consequently broke, so she had almost no budget for groceries. She confessed that her budget could be as low as $2 a meal so she was reduced to eating things like ramen noodles just to survive. Now, I like ramen noodles just as much as the next person. But to know that ramen noodles is a staple in my friend's diet is just is too much for me to bear. The sodium alone is off the charts, not to mention it has absolutely no nutritional value.

After learning this information, I began to worry about my friend and she has been on my mind ever since. And this question: "Do you have to have money to eat healthy?" was constantly popping up in my mind. Not to mention it's the start of a new year and with all of America trying to eat healthy, loose weight, and "get moving," I wonder is money really the main factor keeping some people from getting on board. Are we too broke and is healthy food too expensive? Or are we lazy and/or lacking the will power to give up our big macs and fried foods? OR do we just not have enough options for dishes that are both healthy and affordable? Well, I think it's the latter and at the end of our debate my friend told me that although she was pretty firm in her belief that you needed money to eat healthy, she would entertain any ideas and/or tips that proved the opposite.

So my resolution for the new year is to give her, and anyone else who is interested, some cheap, healthy dishes that would help maintain a nutritious, balanced diet. I also decided that, besides being cheap and healthy, these dishes should be quick to make and any leftovers should freeze well. These two factors are important because the friend, whose name will be revealed shortly, also has some health issues which is something that we have in common. I have been battling Crohn's Disease for the past 5 years, and she has a similar disorder, so I know first hand that when you are having a flare up, you don't feel like cooking but yet you have to eat. And you want what you do eat to be delicious, comforting, and be full of fiber and nutrients to boost your energy and (lets be honest) move your bowls. Therefore, I think it would be great to have leftover dishes in the freezer so that when we are not feeling well, healthy, comforting food is just a few microwave minutes away as opposed to making ramen or ordering take-out that we can't really afford and shouldn't be eating anyway.

So stay tuned to this blog for a few recipes that I call HFC: Healthy, Fast, and Cheap. Healthy to keep us looking and feeling our best, fast so that we have no excuses, and cheap to help us all through this recession. First up, I've got Avier's (Stop Eating Ramen Noodles) HFC Chicken and Vegetable Soup and my HFC Black Bean Soup.

I also will be posting some tips that will be useful to any cook whose on a budget and/or trying to eat healthy. They're just a few things that I learned while trying to create these Healthy, Fast, and Cheap meals. It definitely wasn't an easy undertaking but perhaps if I teach you what I know now about thrifty grocery shopping, it will be easier for you to be successful.

Lastly, while you all are waiting on my posts, I would love to hear what you think about the subject. Do you think you have to have money to eat healthy? Do you think that healthy is synonomous with wealthy? What are your experiences with grocery shopping on a budget? Your stories and opinions will not only help influence by blog posts, but also the cookbook I am writing. Can't wait to hear from you!