real life test kitchen: chocolate pecan flapjacks


Pancakes these aren’t. I’m talking about British flapjacks : oaty, buttery, sweet bars of delight that are the perfect packable snack or breakfast on the go. Reminiscent of a granola bar, flapjacks are a traditional UK breakfast treat made with butter, oats, sugar and golden syrup, a jar of which I just received as a gift from an English-born co-worker. Making them is terribly simple, but keeping them around is difficult — which is why this is my second batch in less than a week! I have a feeling that jar of syrup will be gone quick… — Megan B.
click for the recipe after the jump!

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consumable host gifts that aren’t wine


I love to have people over for dinner, and I try to make it happen as often as I can. One of my constant dinner party invitees recently asked me for a list of my favorite host gifts I’ve received that aren’t wine, because she wasn’t comfortable picking a wine for someone else’s taste. The following is my list of favorite not-wine gifts that I shared with her. For the most part, they’re something easy and inexpensive to keep on hand for last minute dinner invitations.

- Cheese paper
Proper storage of cheese helps to preserve the purity of its flavor, and helps prevent bad molds from forming.

- Fancy peppercorns
I didn’t really understand peppercorn differences until someone introduced me to green peppercorns, with their clean, mild flavors. Delicious!

- Quality olive oil
I love a delicious olive oil that I can enjoy with crusty bread or drizzled on arugula salad.

- Pink salt block
Amazing to cook on, and at less than $30, a really fun surprise gift!

- Organic Honey
Sweet and earthy, and very versatile!

- Quality Black Tea
I love using black tea in baked goods, to smoke chicken, or in a fruit glaze. The better the tea, the more special the flavor turns out!

- Chocolates
I don’t think i need to explain …

- Local Coffee (like Chicago’s own Intelligentsia)
Even if a host is not a coffee drinker, having coffee on hand for guests is a must.

- A hunk of good Parmesan
Parmesan will add life to any salad, grilled pizza or a simple pasta.

Non-food gifts
These two aren’t edible, and probably appropriate for a more special occasion.

Guest book
During dessert, having guests sign a guest book is a special way to end the night.

- Cook’s Illustrated magazine
One part cooking geek, one part culinary school, this publication helps demystify basic and more complicated cooking techniques.

Enjoy! — Rebecca F.

Photo credit: Intelligentsia Coffee

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real life test kitchen: cider glazed sunchokes & carrots


Ahh, the humble sunchoke. So homely, knobby, and difficult to peel that people often miss out on the delicate beauty lying beneath it’s rough exterior. Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, aren’t really a type of artichoke at all, but the root of a sunflower, called girasole in Italian. Versatility is their game: they are crunchy and sweet in a salad, but when cooked transform into something magical. Silky, creamy, sweet and nutty — throw these tubers in soups, puree them like potatoes, or roast them… you can’t go wrong. I like their gentle flavor best when paired with carrots and simmered until tender in apple cider that reduces to a golden glaze, making a quick and comforting side dish to just about anything! –Megan B.
click for the recipe after the jump!

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in five: gingerbread cake with pumpkin cream cheese frosting

We’re at that point of winter break where I’m starting to feel like a cross between Julie the cruise ship director and a prison warden. Add in figuring out three regular meals a day plus holiday meals, and I’m ready for something quick and easy. This one-bowl treat was just the thing. All you need is one box gingerbread cake mix (I used Trader Joe’s) made to directions, a sprinkle of powdered sugar and a tub of Philadelphia Pumpkin Spice cream cheese. Serve while still warm, then sit back and relax. — Sarah L.

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fun field trip: waialua estate, oahu, part 1


There was only one thing I had my heart set on during our recent trip to Hawaii (other than beach lounging and pineapple inhaling): a trip out to the North Shore of Oahu, to Waialua. You see, in Waialua, they grow something pretty special — TWO somethings special to be exact, coffee and cacao. Today we’ll mostly be talking about the cacao, because there’s just too much deliciousness for just one post!

The Waialua Estate Plantation is 150 acres total, half dedicated to coffee, and half to the production of the cacao bean. The plantation, owned by Dole Hawaii, is a relatively new operation, planted in repurposed sugar cane fields in 1996 as an agricultural diversification project after Hawaii’s sugar industry collapsed. Coffee was a known flourisher in Hawaii’s sub-tropical climate, but the success of cacao was unknown, a risky endeavor. The risk has paid off — and how — producing small batch, single-origin cacao that ranks amongst the world’s finest. And it’s also some of the only chocolate grown on US soil!

photo above: looking out onto the cacao orchard, Waialua, HI
more chocolaty goodness, after the jump!

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