My Favorites

Do you ever watch a really good movie or read a fantastic book and feel like you have no one to tell? Since I do my best to stick to recipes and avoid company-sponsored reviews on Alisa Cooks, I always hesitate to write about something besides a recipe. But … that is all changing now … yes, I know, it isn’t even 2011 yet and I’m already going on the resolutions, I’m crazy like that.

The focus of this blog will stay the say … revolving around food, my kitchen, and recipes, but I will be posting more often on various foodie topics and I have started a Favorites Section on this blog. This is not a links page, but rather my honest to goodness, totally unbiased recommendations of things I love. There are various categories, and I will add to it whenever something new that rocks my world pops onto (or back onto) my radar. The favorites include books/cookbooks, foods, movies, kitchen stuff, fitness stuff, etc.

So go, now, checkout the new Alisa’s Favorites Tab (above), read, and let me know your favorites in the comments too!

My good bloggy friends Katie and Lori have just posted their favorites too! What can I say, we all just love to hear ourselves talk share.

From the party-animal Fleming household … Happy New Year!!!

My Christmas Gift List …

For fun, I thought I would post up some of my favorite “small but insanely thoughtful” gift ideas. Some of these items are things I am gifting to my family this year, and some are simply on my own wish list. Note that this is a completely unbiased list. No disclaimers are required here as no one has sent me any of these products, but I won’t complain if they do!

Please pipe up with comments on some favorite gifts you are giving or hope to receive. I would love to hear your ideas (I’m not done gift-buying yet!) and personal picks too …

Books:

Anything by Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends and Falling Up just might be heading to a special niece.

Food Matters and The Food Matters Cookbook have my interest peaked.

The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters is a classic in my opinion.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is one of those giant tombs – I can’t bring myself to buy it for myself, but inevitably pick it up every time I’m at the book store to glance through.

The Flavor Bible is definitely a top priority on my wish list.

The foodie books above are all on my “wish” list. For some of my current special diet favorites, see my Top 10 Cookbooks list.

Purely Entertainment:

The Blind Side was truly a Sandra Bullock best.

The Bourne Series shows why Matt Damon should always play features in action and drama movies.

Avatar is like Pixar for grown-ups – fun, adventurous, and a little sappy.

Iron Man (1 or 2) makes me grateful for Robert Downey’s comeback!

Harry Potter (and or all), come’ on you know you like them too.

Crowd Pleasers Puzzles are the ultimate in fun for this jigsaw geek.

Pretty but Practical Stuff:

Holly Yashi jewelry is awesome, and so fairly priced for the quality.

Envirosax reusable bags for all that grocery shopping! Seriously, I’m addicted to reusable bags and totes.

Good Morning Mugs are nice and big (I have a jumbo mug addiction), and I love the way it looks like they are shouting at you.

Cosmoda has the most stylish insulated lunch totes I have ever seen (one pictured below)

Pier 1 Porcelain Dishes come in a whole bunch of cute but simple little designs that are perfect for dessert (or food photos).

Kiss My Face Sheer Organic Shine Lip Gloss has been seen in little gift packs in stores and is naturally luscious. I love the simple ingredients (reads like a healthy nutrition label!) and the more grown-up vibe.

Writersblok Bamboo Mini Notebooks or so perfect for making shopping lists, jotting down recipe ideas, and taking notes in the kitchen. Love the eco-friendly edge too.

French Coffee Press – We bought this French Press at Cost Plus for Tony over a year ago and he still uses it daily. Pleasing to look at on the counter and it makes a darn good cup of coffee.

More For Foodies:

Analon Baking Sheets (or other bakeware) are the shiznit.

Kitchen Scales are not only handy, but addicting. I measure everything. I own a Salter (mine is old and the model is discontinued) and this cheapy – both work great! Tony actually prefers the cheapy.

Smiley Face Measuring Spoons would seriously take my baking up another notch in cheerfulness. I couldn’t help but smile when I spotted these.

Penzey’s Spices, so I have heard (yes, these are on my wish list), are amazing and quite attractive for gift-giving to boot!

Chopsticks are a fun gift for fans of sushi and Asian food in general. I’ve always got an eye out for a good dishwasher safe set – yes, dishwashing is my least favorite chore!

Yummies:

Seriously, I could go on all day on food gifts. This is just a short list of some favorites that quickly came to mind. Keep an eye on Go Dairy Free as I review indulgent stuff there all the time. Yes, life is rough.

Premium Chocolatiers makes the best dairy-free chocolate assortments in my opinion (with “milk” and white options too! – gluten-free & nut-free).

Enjoy Life Boom Choco Boom Bars are awesome stocking stuffers. I eat mostly dark, dark chocolate, but their Rice Milk bars are a special treat when I’m craving something sweeter. All made in a gluten-free and allergy-free facility too!

Liz Lovely Cookies are still tops from all that I have reviewed, vegan or not (yes, they offer some tasty gluten-free cookies too!).

Tea is always high on my list, and these Numi Tea Mini Bamboo Boxes and Numi Organic Tea Bamboo Treasure Chests caught my eye as awesome gifts.

Peanut Butter & Co. Flavored Peanut Butters look unreal. Yes, I’m probably the only recipe blogger out there who still hasn’t tried them. They offers some fun gift packs too.

This really is just the tip of the iceberg (I googled that word to double check the spelling – do you ever google when blogging to check these kind of things?). But, I should probably get to some work, so tell me your ideas and wishes …

These Chocolate Chips are not for the Bears

I could use some of your creative brain power. I need to make a few recipes with these …

They are awesome (I will be writing about them soon), but my ideas are running up short. What recipes might you like to see me make with these chocolate chips? Though chocolate chip cookies are my all time favorite dessert, that is probably a bit too ordinary of a concept. I need something somewhat seasonal, something that uses easy to find ingredients. I will be making the recipe dairy-free, so an old idea made new is a possibility too. Any ideas?

Not to steal Katie’s weather thunder, but oh my goodness …

Guess who’s going to be baking cookies (hopefully chocolate chip filled ones!) and drinking hot tea (INDOORS) for the next three days. My eyes went first to the snow (and, um that “white out” picture was a new one for me – looks like excellent driving conditions), but then I spotted the temperatures. A HIGH of 21 degrees in November? Get out the thermals and the warm fuzzy blankets, crank up the oven, and find those slippers, Alisa is officially going into early season hibernation.

Just like I hope this mama and teenage baby are doing right now …

They were in our backyard last week having a snooze pretty well all day.  This photo was taken from the other side of our sliding glass door … we aren’t insane  you know! The little guy was actually snoozing and rolling around back there for several hours without a care in the world. Mama joined him later for some chill time.

Our photos of mama when she was moving didn’t come out so well, but you can see a little more of her cute face here …

She is HUGE! Seriously, the picture doesn’t tell. Her little one was about the size of me (but probably double the weight), but she was gosh, I don’t know, at least 400 to 500 lbs or so. Not as big as the 700 lb bear vandal that likes to break into garages and churches and steal peanut butter (seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up!), but pretty big. Mama was tagged already, so here’s hoping they are back in the mountains now.

Vanilla Tempations

You might not guess it to look at my many chocolate (and usually peanut butter) inspired posts, but I’m a vanilla girl. I didn’t even like chocolate until some strange metamorphosis happened in my late twenties. But, even as much as I have grown to adore (large) squares of dark chocolate, vanilla is still my first love.

And though the temperature may be dipping its toes below freezing, cool-weather desserts (pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie … need I say more?) just aren’t complete without a nice big scoop, or three, or vanilla ice cream (yes, shakes and ice cream – I was a summer dessert crazy lady this past week! I just can’t let go). Perhaps I should be making my own … but, that small and ill-designed freezer I am currently living with has not an inch for our ice cream maker. Not to mention, they keep putting the darn stuff on sale at our local grocer making it impossible for me to not put a pint, or three, in our cart.

I recently confessed our guilty love for a certain cheap brand … yes, for us it’s taste and texture, however processed, still kicked the pants off of store-bought coconut milk ice cream. But fortunately, I think I have found an equally suitable alternative with slightly more virtuous ingredients. And the blessing in disguise part is that it costs more money … so I’m not as likely to buy a pint, or three, of it every week.

Truth be told, I was actually hesitant to buy this brand of vanilla. While we loved the Tempt Chocolate Fudge, as it turned out the Mint Chip just wasn’t quite right. It was a touch icy, very (very) minty, and the overall flavor just did melt nicely onto our taste buds. Since I sensed a vanilla base in the Mint Chip version, I feared that the vanilla would fall to the same fate.

Fortunately, Tempt Vanilla Ice Cream is smooth, creamy, and incredibly rich with vanilla. Even after suffering a drastic melt and refreeze, there were no ice crystals, no chunkies … mind you it was hard-packed, and I nearly needed an ice pick to pry some loose, but it still melted like a creamy dream on my tongue. And it was delicious! At least in my opinion. The flavor, not unlike Tofutti, is certainly different from traditional dairy ice cream, but rich and tasty in its own right.

This entire pint serviced a big batch of chunky apple crisp that I made to use up some nearly expired granny smiths. Sorry, no recipe for this particular crisp, it was a throw together. But, I won’t leave you hanging. Try these …

I also sampled the Coffee Biscotti flavor, but it is strictly for coffee fans. I really do not like the taste of coffee (yep, seriously), but some of those mocha-ish “ice creams” that are labeled as coffee make the grade. This wasn’t a mocha-flavor, it was a true coffee flavor with cookie-like chocolate chunks throughout. Perfect for all of you recovering Starbucks-aholics, but not for these herbal tea taste buds.

The only other current flavor of Tempt is Coconut Lime – but I haven’t been able to bring myself to buy it. I love coconut, but am seriously on burn-out from the very concept of coconut ice cream!

To note, taste-wise, I’m not a fan of agave nectar and neither is my husband, which could be one of the reasons the coconut milk ice cream isn’t our cup of tea (all major brands seem to be sweetened with agave). Tempt is sweetened with organic sugar. This to me, just fits better.

Have you tried any dairy-free ice cream? Any raves or rants?

What Food Deals to Buy? Help!

So this month’s Amazon sales have popped up, and there appears to be some good deals, but honestly, I need a little help in deciding this month. Here are items I am considering:

Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour – It comes out to about $7.30 for 4-24oz packages ($1.22 per lb), much cheaper than I can buy it locally. But, can anyone comment on the quality? Do you like it? I know Authentic Foods is the best, but it is also way out of my budget for such a product, so I’d love to know if Bob’s is next best.

Note: There are loads of Bob’s Red Mill products on sale this month. I can personally recommend the coconut flour, which I bought on Amazon and have been pleased with, but they even have certified gf oats on sale. I would avoid the almond flour, which I have read is way too coarse.

Coombs Organic Maple Syrup – Comes out to $14.85 for a 32oz jug (or $7.43 per lb). This is the maple syrup I usually buy, but I have lost touch with maple syrup prices. Is this still a good value? Is it cheaper at TJ’s or elsewhere online. Love the quality of this maple syrup, but I think it is more expensive now.

Yogi Herbal Tea – I need some new teas, and have always liked this brand. Any recommendations on the herbal/caffeine free versions? Good Earth Tea is also on sale, but I’m a bit burnt out on them. Their Green/White Tea is excellent though if you like that type!

Okay, any thoughts? Any other awesome deals you see here that I shouldn’t live without? I’m amping up for recipe testing and for gift baskets, so your opinions are welcomed! Thank you!