A Few Of My Favorite Things

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Borrowing a phrase from “The Sound of Music,” this week, I’d like to share a few of my favorite things. These kitchen tools are great gifts for cooks!

One of my favorite things is a stainless steel harp-shaped vegetable peeler that is so sharp it peels the vegetables with very little pressure from your hand. It is good for both southpaws and right-handed cooks. The Crosswise Peeler retails for approximately $26.

Another favorite thing is a tiny stainless-steel whisk that’s perfect for a slurry of cornstarch, whisking a dressing or sauce, and it fits into narrow tall jars or glasses. It typically retails for under $5.

Small rubber scrapers are definitely among my favorite things. For getting the last bit of mustard or jam out of a narrow-mouth jar or scraping out the last bit of a delicious sauce from a pan, they are very handy indeed. Prices range from approximately $2 to $4 each.

Lastly, another favorite kitchen tool is a metal spatula that measures 2½-inches-wide-by-3-inches-long on the spatula head, with a wooden handle. It’s the perfect size for lifting out a serving-sized portion of a brownie, cake or fruit dessert.

This implement can be difficult to find but it’s well worth the sleuthing effort. I always buy more than one when I find them; that way I can keep a spare or give one as a gift. They cost approximately $8 or so each.

Here are two gifts straight from your kitchen: Holiday cookies made with a pinch of turmeric and saffron flavor to flavor these decorative bright shortbread stars with a unique taste that’s discovered after the second swallow.

For those who like to make their holiday treats, here are two recipes that are perfect for gifting. Bon appétit!

Saffron Shortbread Stars(Makes 4 dozen 2½-inch cookies)2 sticks unsalted butter

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed or minced (if using powder, use only a pinch)

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

2 cups all purpose flour

For the icing:

1 cup powdered sugar

Pinch of salt

1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 to 2 teaspoons heavy cream, or more if necessary

1/2 cup white sparkling sugar or gold sugarTo prepare:Working in the food processor bowl fitted with the stainless steel blade, add butter, powdered and granulated sugars and salt.

Process until smooth.

Add the vanilla, saffron and turmeric and mix well.

Add flour and process until blended.

Transfer the dough to a gallon sized sealable plastic bag.

Roll the dough until flat and even, seal and refrigerate until firm; at least an hour or up to a week.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Roll out the dough and cut star-shaped cookies out, placing them on an ungreased cookie sheet,

Prick each cookie once or twice with a table fork.

Place the tray in the refrigerator and chill dough for 10 minutes.

Take out and bake on center rack until cookies are set and light brown on the edges, about 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, cool on the cookie sheet, and transfer to a rack when cookies are firm.

For the icing, whisk powdered sugar, heavy cream, vanilla and salt together until it becomes a frosting consistency.

Transfer the icing into a pastry bag, and pipe an outline on the edges of the stars once cookies are completely cooled.

Dip or sprinkle sparkling sugar on the icing and set cookies on a rack until the icing is dry before packing the cookies into boxes.Morning Glory Muffins(Makes 1 dozen regular muffins or 2 dozen mini muffins)1 large egg

2 egg whites

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup almond (or canola) oil

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 teaspoons pure almond extract

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1½ cups flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour, sifted

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups grated carrots

1 apple peeled, cored and finely chopped

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup natural shredded coconut

For the topping:

1/4 cup chopped, roasted walnuts

2 tablespoons toasted wheat germTo prepare:Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Generously grease 12 regular-size or 24 mini-muffin pans with butter, or spray muffin tins with non-stick spray, or line with seasonal paper liners.

In an electric mixer bowl, beat egg and egg whites until frothy.

Add sugar and beat until thick and creamy.

Beat in oil, vanilla and almond extracts, and applesauce.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, sift all the dry ingredients together and make a well in the center.

Pour the egg and oil mixture into the well and stir until well mixed.

Add carrots, apple, raisins and coconut to the batter and stir to blend. It will be thick.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each cup about 3/4 full.

Combine walnuts and wheat germ and sprinkle the mixture on top of the batter.

Bake until the tops are golden and spring back when lightly pressed and a toothpick comes out clean, about 10 minutes for the minis and 20 for the regular-sized muffins.

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