Congratulations to Bakelab Holiday Cupcake Kit Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered my Bakelab Winter Wonderland Cupcake Decorating Kit contest! From Buckeyes to snowflake sugar cookies to shortbread to chocolate mint cookies, your list of favorite holiday treats sound amazing! It was so hard to choose but after all was said and done, I have to say congratulations to Cristina and Michelle who love their homemade pizelles and truffles filled with funfetti cake! Both treats are are so close to my heart; I've been eating pizelles with my family since I was a kid, and Bryan's and my Candy Land-themed wedding cake had a custom layer of funfetti cake in it.

Thanks again to everyone who entered and keep reading for the next giveaway!

I hope you have as much fun playing with your Bakelab kit as I did!


Gifts For The Beginner Cook: Because You Gotta Start Somewhere

All great chefs had to start somewhere, and like In Garten says, sometimes it's best to go "back to basics." It doesn't matter how much cooking I do, how much I practice new techniques, or whether I'm actually able to get recipes finished and on a plate; I still use five basic kitchen tools almost every single day. I've listed them below and while a few of them aren't cheap, they've lasted me for years and I wouldn't trade them for anything. So if you know anyone who's just starting out in the kitchen, consider getting them one of these basic kitchen tools. Not only will they thank you for it, but you'll be one of the first one invited to their dinner parties. It's a win-win.

The "workhorse" of all cookware shapes, All-Clad fry pans' versatile shape and size make them a frequent choice for scrambling eggs and bacon on Sunday morning, or preparing a quick chicken sauté dinner on a weeknight. Nonstick fry pans are safe in the oven to 500F degrees but should not be placed under a broiler. Come as small as 8" and as large as 14".

Whisk scrambled eggs, soups, sauce, cake batters, sauces, salad dressings, and more. Basically, if it starts out as a liquid, it will inevitably meet a whisk. The long, supple wires of these whisks provide good action to your whisking, allowing air to incorporate into sauces and creams, giving them a thicker consistency. The handles have watertight seals and handy hanging loops. Made from 18/10 stainless steel and designed in Germany.

These bowls are incredible for a few reasons: they come in three sizes (1/2-quart, 3-quarts, and 5-quarts), the rubber base prevents them from sliding around your countertop, even when it's wet; they're great for cooking, baking and even food storage; and they quickly adapt on both heat and cold temperatures. If you need to make whipped cream, just throw a bowl in the freezer until it's very cold, then add the cream and whip away. Same goes for storing ice cream.

Every cook needs an amazing knife, and in the case of a knife, you get what you pay for. Shun is my favorite knife brand, because the labor-intensive manufacturing process results in one of the most amazing, razor-sharp knives I've ever held. Shun knives are created in Seki City, Japan's 700-year-old center for samurai swords. The "ripple" Damascus rust-free finish is achieved by forging 16 layers of steel. Flexible, stick-resistant blade is stamped, hand-ground to an exceptional 16-degree angle, then hand-polished. If you can only get one knife, this should be it.

These are already on my gift list for bakers, but I've got to share them again. Bryan got these for me last year, branded with Pardon My Crumbs on each handle. While you certainly don't need to have personalized spatulas, they do add an element of fun to the kitchen. If you're brand new to cooking, you could brand them with, "Beginner's Luck" or something fun like that. I use these pretty much every day, whether it's to make scrambled eggs, pancakes, chili, pastas, cupcakes batter, etc. They are indispensable for mixing, stirring, scraping and folding ingredients. Made in the USA from flexible silicone, their wide heads withstand heat up to 800°F and they won't chip or crack.


Cheers! Gifts For The Wineaux

Great wine is near and dear to Bryan and my hearts; trips to wineries, tours of wine caves and spending hours sipping, swirling and learning pretty much describe our favorite weekends. Considering those weekends happen, eh, maybe once a year, instead we do our best to recreate those joyful, boozy times in our own place. We have a fantastic wine fridge (thank you Costco), received a solid decanter gift, found a reliable wine opener and even belong to a consistently great winery club. We're happy wineauxs, but if we had free reign on wine gifts, here's what we'd recommend:

The monthly club offers two different wine clubs, one for wines selected for everyday drinking and one for special occasions wines. Get hand-selected wines form boutique wineries around the world, expert wine tasting notes with recipe pairings from NYT; shipments sent to your home or office; free shipping on wine cases, and a full satisfaction and replacement guarantee. Best of all, there's no commitment; you can cancel anytime.

Photo courtesy of AAAWashington

The simple, one-touch operation easily removes wine corks. It's rechargeable—you can open 30 bottles on a single charge. And it works with natural or synthetic cork. Also includes foil cutter, recharging base and AC adapter. From Brookstone.

Vinturi wine aerators instantly aerate your glass of wine for better bouquet, enhanced flavors and a smoother finish. No more waiting for your red wine to breathe in a decanter! Simply pour wine through the aerator into a glass. The patent-pending design accelerates wine aeration, allowing wine to breathe properly in no more time than it takes to pour a glass. Elegant stand allows for hands-free use of the aerator. Simply place the aerator in the stand, position your glass underneath, and pour red wine through the Vinturi aerator into your glass. Enjoy immediately!

A perfect way to preserve your keepsake wine corks and protect your tabletops! Home accents that are as sentimental as they are useful, you can fully customize these drink coasters with your used wine corks—small, special mementos of celebrations spent with family and friends. Set of four beverage coasters, each measures 4¼” x 4¼”. Coaster made from eco-friendly mahogany sourced from sustainable tree plantations.

Need to chill your wine, and fast? Forget the freezer. Simply put your bottle into this electric wine chiller, which has precise, preprogrammed temperatures for 33 varieties of wine; an LCD backlit screen; and is suitable for wine bottles with a diameter up to 3-1/2 inches.

This Whynter Dual Temperature Zone wine cooler -- available at Costco -- offers premium quality and sophisticated design. It allows for 32 bottles of wine storage capacity; 16 bottles in the right zone and 16 bottles in the left zone with vibration-free thermoelectric cooling. Many wine coolers use a compressor to provide the cooling function which generates vibrations that can easily disrupt the delicate sediments in fine wine. With the thermoelectric system, your wine is kept at the appropriate temperature and humidity levels without damaging vibrations. This cooling system has no moving parts and is CFC-free, which means that you get silent, long-lasting, and environmentally safe refrigeration for your collection. fridge has a sleek stainless steel door trim with an ergonomic towel bar handle glass door. The removable luxurious stainless steel racks in the unit allow you to display and store your wine collection as desired.

Didn't finish a bottle of wine? Forget freezing it in ice cubes to use in your next stock. Use the Vacu-Vin wine saver, which extracts air from opened bottles to slow down the oxidation process and keep wine fresh for 7 to 10 days. Ingenius "click" sounds tells you when optimum vacuum level is reached. Comes to stainless steel vacuum pump, 2 reuseable rubber stoppers and 2 crystal-like pourers.


Gifts For The Eco-Friendly Cook

From recycling food packaging to reusable grocery totes, the kitchen is a place where we can make a big difference in saving our planet. Or if that's too big a prospect, we can at least try to use less energy, buy recycled materials, and turn our food waste into compost. Or, if you've got a bigger holiday budget, why not consider a new dining room table made from reclaimed barn wood?

This generously sized recycled cotton grocery tote from ECOBAGS® can hold more than a regular sized brown paper grocery bag and easily fits over the shoulder. The front of this tote features our own hand drawn and hand screenprinted illustration.

Now you can enjoy sips of even non-alcoholic beverages from recycled tumblers made from your favorite beer bottles. Well, as long as your favorite beer is Rolling Rock. Comes in set of four.

These lacquered bamboo bowls are hand coiled, shaped and finished with food-safe natural lacquer creating a beautiful, durable waterproof finish accented in modern colors. They're good for both hot and cold foods and clean easily with warm soapy water or damp cloth.

Beautiful Compost Collectors bring both form and function to your kitchen. One-gallon stain-free interior holds a full family's scraps while the six-month, odor-absorbing activated-carbon filter lid locks smells inside.

Stock your kitchen with all-purpose towels, now in organic cotton, that work better and last longer than almost any other. Just like those your grandmother used in the days before paper towels, oversized Flour Sack Towels are made without dyes or chlorine bleach from a hardy, lint-free, 100% organic cotton material that’s ideal for washing, streak-free dish drying and many other kitchen tasks. 36"L x 30"W.

Espresso machines waste a lot of energy — even when they’re turned off. Human-Powered Espresso Maker provides a sustainable supply of black gold for straight shots, cappuccinos and lattes. Just add boiling water and press its arms gently down for an easy, quick hit of fresh-brewed coffee anytime, anywhere. 11¾"H x 8"W x 5”D.

From Antique Wood Works, which specializes in creating dining room tables made from reclaimed wood. Below is is a traditional trestle table with a twist - an authentic, 150 year old hand hewn surface. They planed it down enough to be functional, but yet not so deep that it lost the hand-hewn marks. To make the table, they cut the outside faces off hand hewn log cabin logs. With white oak, we got a great look where you can see the original ax marks as well as great patina variations where the wood was exposed to the elements and where it was not.


Bakelab Giveaway + Gift Ideas For Home Bakers!

From Christmas cookies to chocolate bark to spiced breads to peppermint-crusted cupcakes... there's no better time of year for baking than the holidays! If you know someone whose kitchen isn't equipped to take on the brunt of holiday baking -- even if it's just a batch or two of snowball cookies -- here are some great ideas to get you (errr... them) started. Better yet, leave a comment with your email address telling me about your favorite holiday baked good and you'll be entered to win one of two of Bakelab's holiday cupcake decorating kits (#1 on our list), which was also featured as part of Martha Stewart's 2010 Holiday Gift Guide! Comments must be entered before noon on Monday, December 20. Good luck and happy baking!

Decorate your sweet little holiday cupcakes just like pastry chef Kristin Feuer does at her L.A Bakelab. The Winter Wonderland Cupcake Decorating Kit features a well-curated mix of 24 cupcake liners, sparkling sugar and white snowflakes, old-school plastic reindeer, and Bakelab's handmade tiny ribbon flags and stamped sugar buttons. The sugar buttons are completely edible, and after they're roll and cut by hand at the Lab, they're stamped with food coloring with a variety of classic holiday images. Contains 24 cupcake liners (12 green + white carnival stripe and 12 silver foil), 1 oz. aqua blue sanding sugar, 1/2 oz. white snowflake sprinkles, 6 old-school plastic reindeer, 6 hand-tied ribbon flags in a variety of blues, greens, silvers, and whites, 6 hand-stamped sugar buttons (green mitten, purple ice skates, blue snowflake).

Check out my winter wonderland cupcake creations!

2. Silpat Non-Stick Baking Sheets: $14.95
I bought my first Silpat baking sheet during a grad school trip to Paris in 2002. It's nearly nine years later and while I've collected a few imitations over the years, the original Silpat is still my go-to baking sheet liner. Nothing, and I mean nothing, sticks to it. Cookies, muffins, chocolate bark, pizza dough. Everything slides off perfectly browned on the bottom. If you don't have one, get one now.

3. Stainless Steel Portion-Sized Cookie Scoop: $14.99
You may already have one of these scoops but think it's only for ice cream. Think again, as the spring-release stainless steel scoops are also great for measuring out perfectly portioned scoops of cookie dough and neatly filling cupcake and muffin tins. Simply scoop up the dough, squeeze and release. Hint: I'd recommend getting one with a soft grip, otherwise the repetitive motion on the steel can make your hand sore.

4. Wilton Dessert Decorator Pro: $31.49
This kit gives you everything you need to add beautiful decorations to desserts or appetizers in minutes. Designed for comfortable one-hand decorating and effortless tip positioning, this is the most convenient dessert tool you’ll ever use. Create beautiful decorations—shells, stars, rosettes, leaves with the included six piping tips. The recipe book included is filled with fabulous ideas to tempt your family and friends.

5. Set of 3 Personalized Silicone Spatulas: $27.59
Bryan got these for me last year, branded with Pardon My Crumbs on each handle. I've used them pretty much every day every since, whether it's to make scrambled eggs, pancakes, chili, pastas, cupcakes batter, etc. They are indispensable for mixing, stirring, scraping and folding ingredients. Made in the USA from flexible silicone, their wide heads withstand heat up to 800°F and they won't chip or crack.


Gifts For The Hi-Tech Cook

Bryan and I are big Brookstone fans. Bryan more than me, actually, but that's to be expected from a guy. He even wanted to register there for our wedding a few years ago, but I had to put my foot down because we simply didn't need a parrot drone, a double automatic watch winder, or -- as wonderful as it might sound -- a specialty towel warmer. However, when it comes to hi-tech kitchen gadgets, I truly believe Brookstone has the market cornered; I mean, who else sells talking meat thermometers, coffee mug warmers, recipe scanners, and hands-free soap dispensers (which we own, and LOVE)? Exactly. So if you're looking for gifts to make your hi-tech cook a happy techie, look no further than my ideas below.

Step away from the grill! Now you can have the freedom to mingle with a remote meat thermometer (clipped onto your belt, no less) for your BBQ. Just insert the stainless steel probes in the center of the meat, select the type of meat and how you would like it done (Rare, Medium Rare, Medium or Well Done), and that's all! A voice prompt will alert you when your entree is "Almost Ready" and "Ready." The Grill Alert even has a display backlight for nighttime grilling.

Photo courtesy of Brookstone

About a year ago, a friend recommended that Bryan and I get the Keurig single cup coffee brewer. We had an old school coffee maker that made one whole pot of coffee, but the problem was that Bryan preferred his coffee bold while I liked a little less... intense. We found the Keurig machine at Costco, and I'm not exaggerating when I say it's actually made us look forward to making our coffee each morning. The individual "K cups" -- which come in a variety of caffeinated and decaf coffees, hot cocoas, hot teas, and iced teas -- pop into the machine and brews an 8oz. or larger 10oz. cup, depending on your choice. It takes about two minutes to make, with no clean-up or coffee pot to wash.

Photo courtesy of Keurig

So you've just brewed your morning cup of fresh coffee (or tea) and suddenly you get absorbed into a meeting, or in my case, in writing an article. Your poor cup of coffee or tea sits there, waiting and waiting, getting colder by the moment. Well, if you get this mug warmer, you can avoid those sad moments and keep your drink sip-ready no matter where you go. You can use your own standard mug size or cup and because the temperature is adjustable, you can choose to enjoy your beverages piping hot or just comfortably warm.

Photo courtesy of Brookstone

There’s a new way to help you clean that doesn’t involve exposing yourself or your family to harsh chemicals and dangerous fumes. This cordless UV-C Wand uses laboratory-proven ultraviolet light technology to eliminate up to 99.9% of allergens, bacteria and viruses on surfaces in your home, at work or in hotel rooms when traveling. The UV-C Sanitizing Wand can disinfect a computer keyboard in as little as 8 seconds... an armchair in as little as 2 minutes… or a standard mattress in as little as 6 minutes—with just UV light. Rechargeable sanitizer comes with AC adapter, wrist strap, and a nylon storage pouch for taking the clean wherever you go. 20½" long.

Photo courtesy of Brookstone

Is Grandma's buttermilk pie recipe yellowed, fragile and on the verge of collapse? Are you tired of ripping our recipe after recipe from food magazines? Is you bookshelf bursting with cookbooks? Let the iConvert scanner come to your rescue by simply gliding the scanner over any document or photo to capture it in 600 x 600 dpi resolution. Images can be saved to computer or your microSD card.

Photo courtesy of Brookstone

I have this soap dispenser and it's pretty much changed my life. I'm admittedly a bit of a germ-aphobe in the kitchen, especially when my hands are covered in ground pork and beef from rolling meatballs, or raw chicken from cleaning and marinating chicken breasts. The sensor detects when your hands are near and the spout releases a perfect amount of soap every time. It truly reduces the chance of spreading germs and bacteria in your kitchen (and even bathroom). It looks nice, impresses guests and can be wall-mounted to keep your countertops clutter-free.

Photo courtesy of Brookstone


Gift Ideas For The Gourmet Cook

I'm the first to admit I love enjoying an evening filled with course after course of high-end cuisine, with incredibly thoughtful touches, tweezered herbs and rich, umami-esque ingredients like truffles, boar pate and stinky cheeses. Meals like that, however, are out of my current budget and few and far between, so I live a much more realistically-priced (and equally delicious) life eating taco truck fare, burgers from favorite neighborhood greasy spoons and Vegan frozen meals. But a girl can dream, so I thought it was only fair to create the ultimate wish list of gifts for fancy-pants foodies. Some are perfect tiny stocking stuffers, while others are long-term gifts that keep on giving, month after month. Just like #1...

Murray's Cheese of the Month is a 1½ pound selection of 3 varied and delicious cheeses, sent to your door for 4, 6 or 12 consecutive months. Each selection includes a variety of milk types, textures and flavor profiles, with a special focus on seasonal cheeses. Many of our offerings are exclusively for Cheese of the Month club members. Your cheese arrives on the 2nd Thursday of the month (beginning the month after you place your order). Look for detailed tasting notes and beverage pairings so you get to be the expert!

With their rich color and confetti-like fun, this 2" jar of edible 23K gold flakes from Italy's Giusto Manetti add a little magic to meals, desserts and cocktails. Sprinkle a few into a glass of Champagne to make any occasion more festive. Or gild the outside of a sushi roll for a dramatic presentation. There's nothing they won't make more beautiful.

From the heart of Piedmont, truffle-infused accents to enhance the flavor of pasta, meat, vegetables, salads and more. The 3.5 ounce container of salt is grey salt from the Atlantic Ocean; use in hot and cold dishes.

While in Italy last year, we visited the tiny town of Norcia and tasted it's famed boar salamis and pates. We fell in love with the rich, smooth pate on taste with roasted tomatoes so much that we shipped two tiny jars of the pate back to the U.S. This pate, while missing the Parmesan accent that came in ours, is a similar product and mixed with cognac.

The Italian black summer truffle can be found in relative abundance in Italy during the summer, making it remarkably more affordable than other varieties. Don't mistake low price for low quality; these truffles have the same aroma and flavor that have made truffles world-renowned. This puree version, in a peanut oil base, is excellent to infuse flavor and aroma into your dishes or snacks. Use in sauces, canapés, even sandwiches. Imported from Italy.

Sample the best caviars brought forth from domestic rivers and shores with this fine selection of our most popular American caviars. Includes 1oz American Paddlefish Caviar Malossol, 1oz American Hackleback Caviar Malossol, 1oz American Black Caviar Bowfin Malossol, 36-pack of mini Russian blini, and 8oz Container of crème fraiche.


Gift Ideas For The Home Bartender

Here are some great gifts to make sure your home bartender has everything they need to make perfect cocktails, from shakers to bar tools to recipes to ice molds.

This 20-ounce, hammered stainless steel cocktail shaker will up the sophistication ante of any home bar. Part of Crate & Barrel's Savoy suite of hammered stainless cocktail essentials; dishwasher safe, food-safe and imported.

Matching hammered stainless steel 3-Piece Bar Tool Set: 3.5"x8.5" strainer, 3.25"x7" jigger and 2"x6.5" bottle opener. Hammered handles dishwasher and food safe.

Widely considered the bartender's bible, Mr. Boston's annual drink guide share more than 1,500 recipes, tools and techniques to take your cocktailing to another level.

Interwoven discs create an imaginative design and affirm the old adage—small things do add up! Take a small step towards saving the environment and your furniture with these “disc” shaped beverage coasters. Made of bamboo, an all-natural, renewable resource, these artistic drink coasters reinvent what it means to live in a modern, sustainable household. Set of four wooden beverage coasters, each measures 4” x 4”. Comes gift boxed.

This Japanese machine was specifically designed to make perfect ice spheres, snowflakes, molecules and soccer balls. Of course, if you don't want to dish out $200 just to make perfect spheres of ice, here's a DIY trick: fill a water balloon with water until it's the approximate size of the sphere you want. Tie the balloon closed, leaving a little room at the top (the water will expand as it freezes). Place in the freezer until completely frozen, then cut off the water balloon and quickly rinse off the ball of ice. Put into your cocktail glass and you're good to go!

Whether you're making a mojito for one or a pitcher of margaritas for a group, these squeezers are a great way to make quick work of a potentially laborious task: juicing. Best of all, the juicers are color-coded according to size of the fruit: Green is for limes; yellow is for lemons, and orange is for -- you guessed it -- oranges.

Use this special zester to add an orange twist to Cosmos, lime twists to Margaritas and lemon twists to Lemon Drops.


Gift Ideas For The Vintage Kitchen

The saying, "What's old is new again" couldn't ring more true for today's kitchens and cooks. Vintage lines of cast iron and copper cookware, delicate milk glass cake stands, and retro tableware have popped up in even the most contemporary home good and kitchen supply stores. There's no doubt that just one fantastic vintage set of silverware, plates, glasses or even a cookie jar in your kitchen will add personality, inspire conversation and take your presentation to another level. Here are some of my favorite vintage pieces.

1. I Love Lucy Cookie Jar: $72.99
This I Love Lucy Cookie Jar design comes from the Pioneer Women episode where Lucy and gang have a bet that they won't use modern conveniences. Lucy ends up using too much yeast in her wood fired oven, and out comes a huge loaf of bread. Commemorate this hilarious episode with your very own Lucy Oven Cookie Jar.
A set of four 11" vintage plates inspired by neon diner signs of times long past. Made of melamine. Dishwasher safe, but NOT safe in microwave.

Inspired by original vintage menus, this Ice Cream Fountain Service Menu Cover takes your dining experience back to a sweeter time of chocolate malts, strawberry sundaes and overloaded banana splits! A fun and unique addition to ice cream parties, kids birthdays and more! And with the downloadable insert, you can create your very own menu that coordinated with the cover.

Reminisce of summer memories long past with these Woody Salt and Pepper Shakers. These Woody Salt and Pepper Shakers are finely handcrafted from clay and then hand painted. Shakers are crafted to look like a 1940s Woody Wagon, and the top lifts off to become separate shakers.

This cake stand screams of the 1950's, with its delicate milk glass build, ruffled edges and stippling along the stand. A beautiful addition to any kitchen, hutch or serving platter ro appetizers and desserts. Heck, it would look beautiful as a display for perfume bottles.

A stylish way to protect your tables that is great for the environment too. Cut from the center of recycled classic vinyl record labels and then sealed so moisture cannot seep in, these hand made record coasters are sure to be a hit with any music lover! Comes in a set of six assorted labels packed in a clear, round case. Each measures 4" in diameter. Made in Brooklyn.

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