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Day 23: Five Hot Little Gift Ideas

This post marks Day 23 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Where has the month gone? It's late in the gift-giving game, so if you haven't already gotten your act together, I've got five quick picks (in a wide range of price points) for presents that'll thaw the icebox.

1. We've seen how an increasingly hotter planet has made Earth-friendly choices all the rage in high society this year.

Habana Outpost, New York’s first "eco-eatery," (complete with indoor/outdoor flea market, biodegradable cups, solar power, rainwater-flushing toilets and a bike-powered blender to mix smoothies and margaritas) has been doing the Earth-hugging thing for two years. And though they might not be selling a lot of their signature limed-up cheesy corn during the off season, I bet they're doing a brisk business in this hot little slice of cheesecake... the 2008 Habana Girls Pin-Up Calendar (made with recycled paper with vegetable ink, por supuesto).

All the models are cafe waitstaff who volunteered for the project, and proceeds are donated to Habana Works, Inc., a nonprofit that aims to better the local community through free programs that educate, unite and engage, such as Habana Labs. Generosity is hot.


Cute Apron 2. Etsy has all kinds of zippy little things, and I especially love their Shop by Color function. (I'm not sure how useful it is, but it's all kinds of fun.)

Everything is made by regular people (as opposed to transglobal mega-corps), so there's some schlock, of course, but Etsy also features a lot of gems.

I'm a big fan of the coy Betsy Johnson-inspired apron (at right), EnfinLaVoila's Funky Chicken cards and these Personalized Artichoke cards


FrancisFrancis Espresso Machine3. Strangely, I'm not a huge fan of Italian food (I'm thinking that's because it's often so poorly executed stateside. Those wishing to re-educate me with a trip to Puglia are more than welcome to offer.) but Italian design... mama mia!

J has a big red FrancisFrancis! espresso machine, and while it's clearly excessive, it's just such a wonderful object. Sleek lines, sexy curves, glorious finish, reminiscent of classic sp With one of these, my gorgeous KitchenAid stand mixer, a long silk scarf and a sweet little Vespa, I'm sure I could be living La Dolce Vida.

Penzeys' Spice Box 4. If you've never cooked with fresh spices, you're in for a revelation. The lowly peppercorn, toasted gently, releases high notes that sing in citrus melodies. The cinnamon stick is more nuanced and powerful than you ever knew it could be. It's like seeing strange new passions burning in your oldest friends.

Penzeys Spices are varied, fresh and easily accessible, thanks to stores across the nation and a web presence. They use bay leaves as packing material in some of their gift boxes, and the bay they use for packing was fresher and more delightful than any I'd previously encountered. Their gift boxes make great spice introductions for newbies and seasoned (ha!) chefs alike.

harissa

5. Apparently, Roast Chicken & Other Stories is the hot cookbook of the season, so there's no way you're going to get your hands on it anytime soon. (I guess being dubbed the "Most Useful Cookbook of All Time," really couldn't hurt sales...)

Take a raincheck on the "must-have" gift and give, instead, a gift of Moroccan flavors, including a hot-hot-hot jar of harissa (homemade or store-bought) alongside an ultra-easy recipe for Harissa-Roasted Chicken (below). If you're feeling generous, make it a Moroccan feast and throw in a nice unglazed clay tagine.

Classic Harissa
You can use whatever chilies you like, or use a blend. Ancho chilies make a milder harissa, New Mexico and Guajillo chilies are medium-spicy. Cayenne, Scotch Bonnet and Chipotle make a searing harissa.

10-12 dried red chili peppers
3-4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground fennel (or caraway)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1. Soak the chilies in hot water for 60 minutes or overnight.

2. Remove stems and seeds (you may wish to use latex gloves for this task), reserving about 1 cup of the chili water. Place the chilies in a food processor or blender with the tomatoes, coriander, fennel, cumin, paprika, salt, olive oil and lemon juice.

3. In a blender, purée smooth with 1/2 cup chili water. Add more chili water, as needed, into the mix to make a smooth blend.

4. Season to taste and store in airtight container, drizzled with a small amount of olive oil on top. Should keep for about a month in the refrigerator.

Harissa is divine on grilled meats, roasted vegetables, couscous, chickpea curries, tagines and this tasty (and stunningly simple) chicken dish...

Harissa-Roasted Chicken
1 Roaster chicken (about 3 1/2 to 4 lb)
1/2 cup harissa
1/4 cup Greek-style plain yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Mix harissa, yogurt and lemon juice and massage the mixture all over the chicken. (You may wish to use latex gloves for this task.) Let the chicken marinate, chilled, for 1 hour.

2. Heat oven to 450°F. In a roasting pan placed in the center of the oven, roast the marinated chicken for 20 minutes. Add 1 cup of water to the pan and roast until the juices run clear and the thigh registers 165°F on a meat thermometer, about 30-40 minutes more.

3. Carefully transfer the chicken to a cutting board, and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. Serve with couscous, roasted vegetables or a cucumber-tomato salad.

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12.23.2007

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Previously: There's still time to win! » Previously: Day 22: Hot Artichoke Dip » Previously: Day 21: Ginger Toddy » Previously: Day 20: Have a Holly-Jolly Chutney » Previously: Day 19: Orange you impressed? » Previously: Day 18: Tag! » Previously: Day 17: Seasoned Greetings! » Previously: Day 16: When Cake Imitates Life » Previously: Day 15: To Blog the Nog » Previously: Day 14: Brittle charms »