Pecan spice brownies

Christine Cushing's Pecan Spice Olive Oil Brownies. (Supplied)

Christine Cushing's Pecan Spice Olive Oil Brownies. (Supplied)

Jill Ellis-Worthington, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:52 PM ET

Your honey has a hankering to let his inner chef shine, but you can barely tell a spatula from a whisk. Never fear, because three professional foodies have the inside goods on what to get your home-cooking honey this holiday season.

Laura Calder, whose Food Network Show - French Food at Home - was recently given the James Beard Award for best cooking show in a fixed location, says starting with a good knife is essential. “One good chef’s knife, not too big (eight-inch blade) is something I can’t get through life without,” she says.

Kary Osmond agrees. “My first gift that totally got me started was a good eight-inch chef’s knife. It’ll be one they’ll keep forever.” Her show, Best Recipes Ever, appears daily on CBC.

A second item that they both recommend is a microplane grater, also called a rasp. “It’s great for superfine grating, like parmesan or lemon and orange zest. If the kitchen doesn’t have one, I almost can’t cook,” says Calder.

Previously the star of several cooking shows, Christine Cushing is now helping folks who are kitchen-challenged in her show, Fearless In The Kitchen on W and Viva. She notes that a thoughtful foodie gift would be a mortar and pestle. “Crushing whole spices yourself gives more aroma and flavour. I absolutely love my mortar and pestle.”

Osmond agrees. “[Chefs] can make their own meat rubs from whole spices.”

She adds that with today’s multi-tasking lifestyle, a timer is a necessity. “It’s easy to get distracted and overcook things.”

For the busy, new cook, Calder recommends a food processor. “You can make pastry in a flash,” she says, “and pureeing is quick. You can make homemade pesto so easily.”

All three of these experienced chefs put a good fry pan high on their list of must-haves. “A cast-iron pot is beautiful for winter cooking, like braising. The budding chef will really appreciate it and keep it their whole life,” says Cushing.

To properly season all of that fabulous food now coming from the kitchen, Calder says that a good pepper grinder - she loves her Peugeot - is vital. “Very good pepper makes such a difference. You may have to order it, but it’s worth it.”

Cushing adds that starting your kitchen newbie on a salt collection would also be a good idea. “I have nine kinds of salt,” she says with a laugh. “They all have different textures, colours and nuances.”

Every great cook starts with a good cookbook and the experts definitely have their preferences.

“I slept with it under my pillow for years and years,” says Osmond of The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer. “It touches on every ingredient and style of cooking.”

Cushing started her love affair with food through The Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Cookery by Anne Willan. She also thinks a reference book is a very useful gift for someone new to the kitchen and recommends The Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

Laura Calder favours Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course.

These are older books that you might have to special order, so get an early start on tracking them down if you think your personal chef would enjoy one of these.

Calder and Cushing both have written their own cook books. Recently released, Calder’s French Taste: Elegant Everyday Eating won a gold medal at the Canadian Culinary Book Awards.

Christine Cushing has written three cookbooks, the latest released in 2007 called Pure Food. She also has a personal line of olive oils and tomato sauces, with a new release called Vibrant, an extra virgin olive oil. “The floral, peppery flavour echoes spices we use at the holidays,” says Cushing. She’s shared a special recipe for holiday brownies below that uses Vibrant as one of its ingredients.

For more information, check out:

Christinecushing.com

Lauracalder.ca

Pecan Spice Olive Oil Brownies

Recipe Created by: Christine Cushing

Ingredients:

100 gm bitter sweet choc (3 oz. )

1/3 cup Christine Cushing’s Vibrant extra virgin olive oil (75 ml)

1⁄4 tsp.salt ( 1 ml)

1/3 cup all purpose flour (75 ml)

2 eggs

1⁄2 cup unbleached sugar(125 ml)

1 tsp vanilla ( 5ml)

Grated zest of 1 orange

1/4 tsp. ground cloves (1 ml)

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon (1 ml)

1/2 cup pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 D.

Line an 8x8” square baking dish with parchment paper or brush with butter.

Method:

Melt chocolate over a double boiler over barely simmering water. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Whisk in olive oil until smooth.

Meanwhile, toast the pecans on a baking sheet for 7-8 minutes until golden brown. Remove and cool.

In another medium bowl whisk together, eggs, sugar, vanilla, orange zest, cloves, cinnamon and salt until pale and sugar has dissolved. Fold in chocolate mixture. Add flour and stir with wooden spoon or spatula until completely blended. Fold in pecans.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in oven at 350 D. for 20- 25 minutes, until firm but still moist in centre but crackly on top.

Remove and cool to room temperature. Cut into squares and store in sealed container.

Serves 8.

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