Food Gifts

I really didn’t want to write any more about my birthday–two posts were enough, don’t you think?–but then there was this quasi-surprise party (I knew there was going to be a party (it was at our apartment, so we had to clean) but I didn’t know who was coming) and Craig told everyone to bring an interesting food gift. So how could I not blog about that? Especially when my friend Josh made the cake you see above: that’s the Sweet & Salty Cake from the “Baked” book (which I bought Josh for HIS birthday). It’s a crazy cake: it’s chocolaty and salty and at first the salt hits you and you’re like “wha?!” but then you’re like “ooooh” and, finally, “ahhh.”

[Photo of the cake, I should point out, is by my friend James Felder of Snapshot Artifact.]

So there was the Sweet & Salty cake but there were also cupcakes which Diana brought from one of my favorite cupcake joints in the city: Sugar Sweet Sunshine on the Lower East Side.


It’s not a great picture (that picture’s by me, not James, as if you couldn’t tell) but we used a magic marker to inform cupcake consumers what, exactly, they were eating: lemon & pumpkin, chocolate & red velvet, and–finally–vanilla/vanilla & chocolate/vanilla. I had half a lemon and a half of a vanilla/vanilla and enjoyed them thoroughly.

Our friend Kim–who cooked us a Vietnamese meal once before (see here)–brought a Vietnamese tapioca pudding with bananas which was refreshing and light and very welcome next to all that buttery buttery cakey stuff:


The party went on into the wee hours and the next day, after some intensive cleaning, I put all the other gifts on the table and took this picture:


That’s a crazy bunch of stuff, isn’t it? How much can you identify from far away? I’m pretty sure you can identify the booze.

Lauren, my old friend who shares not just my birth date but birth year and birth location (born 2 hours apart in the same hospital, didn’t know each other ’til college) brought SEVEN bottles of wine AND a bottle of Bourbon. I definitely suggest you invite her to any and every party you may throw:


Yes, Lauren brought most of that wine, but the Pimm’s was brought by Ricky who, like me, spent a summer abroad at Oxford University in England and had his first Pimm’s there. He brought it with a jug of lemonade and made Pimm’s cocktails all night. There’s also a dessert wine in that picture–it’s front and center, right next to the Bourbon–that someone else brought, I think it was my friend Raife. So yes, there was lots and lots of booze (and clearly lots of booze leftover, so party at my place RIGHT NOW!)

My friend Matthew, who directed me on The FN Dish, was born and raised in the West Village and a big fan of McNulty’s tea so he and his wife Kelly brought me a whole assortment which you can see here:


I thought it was funny, actually, because Matthew also turned me on to “The Wire,” he loaned me every season on DVD, and the lead character on “The Wire” is McNulty. Is that a coincidence? McNulty’s Tea, McNulty on “The Wire”?? I think not!

The red boxes in the foreground of that picture were not gifted by Matthew but, instead, the editor of Craig’s movie: Jenny Lee & her boyfriend Cliff.

What are they?


According to Jenny, “It’s Ginseng tea but it’s like the Crystal Meth of Ginseng.” Apparently, if you need to pull an all-nighter or really wake yourself up, this is the tea to drink. Again: party at my place!

Now on to some weirder stuff. With this stuff, I could use your help:


I’m never going to remember who brought me all this, so if you brought this for me and you read my blog, can you remind me?

I know Jimmy brought me the Porcini and Truffle Oil: I can’t wait to use that, though I’m not sure how.

Someone brought Mango in a jar, our friend Rob brought Marmite, I think Lisa brought Raw Curry Sauerkraut, and I forget who brought me the Chilean Carica.

Now, question: what do I do with all this stuff? You Marmite-eaters, how do you eat Marmite? You Carica-eaters, what’s Carica? And what’s that Mango in a jar? What do I do with it?


I’m pretty sure Jenny brought me those lychees (and I love lychees) and our friend Sasie brought the chayote and coconut. I polled my Twitter followers about how to use the chayote, but none of the recipes really called out to me, so there it festers in my kitchen. The coconut I tried to cut open and grate into some banana bread, but nearly hacked my thumb off, so I quickly threw it out. Birthday fruit is dangerous.

Finally, there’s this stuff:


The Blue Fin box is from my friends’ Dara & Kieran’s dinner at a place called Blue Fin–that’s the chocolate they got on their way out and they re-gifted it at my party. I cry foul!

Behind it, though, is the coolest thing ever. My friend Shirin is Pakistani and her mother and aunt are amazing cooks. I recently went to their house in Georgia for research on a top secret project I’m doing and ate some of the best food of my life. So in that little baggie, behind the Blue Fin, is her mother’s and aunt’s prized spice mixture: a kind of masala (not Garam masala, something with a “P”) and Shirin says it makes everything taste better, especially chickpeas. I can’t wait to use it.

In this cluster you’ll see Granola from my friend Lisa, Almond Paste from my friend Alex (which I thought was cute because I love making this amond cake), Murray’s Cheese malt balls from James Felder which are some of the best malt balls you’ll ever have, and–finally!—salami, also from James, that he says is “really awesome salami, even better than Katz’s.”

And those are the food gifts I got for my birthday. You can see why I needed to blog about this right? I mean if you had a food blog and you received all these food gifts you’d blog about it too, wouldn’t you?

Now please help: which should I eat first? How should I eat it? Marmite & salami on toast? Almond paste and Carica sandwiches? Your advice is much appreciated.

54 thoughts on “Food Gifts”

  1. Ooh, Marmite! It makes the best cheese sandwich lightly spread (at first, not everyone likes the taste) with a strong cheddar or gruyere. Also good for adding umami to beef-based sauces or soups, lots of Brits add a bit to their spagetti bolognaise.

  2. That cake looks so delicious!

    Sometimes, I sautee the chayote with garlic and onions and eat them like that. Nothing fancy, but it’s tasty.

  3. I am a Marmite EXPERT. American girl married to a Brit who loves his Marmite as much as he loves his milky tea (which is to say A LOT). Marmite is best on toast. Just a bit – it goes a long way. Butter your toast, spread a small bit of Marmite and enjoy. Then, evolve into using it in sandwiches – cheese is best, as someone above said. The husband also likes it with honey.

    We do use it frequently when stocks/gravies/sauces need a bit of oomph. I can’t explain when I would use it, but every once in a while, I am making something and realise Marmite would make it better.

    Warning – lots of people don’t like Marmite. I happen to really like it. If you like it, it is awesome. If you don’t, give it someone who will appreciate it.

  4. marmite on toast is rockin, but you HAVE to go easy, failing that it is a great addition to a gravy for roast beef, provided the fond is not too salty already, check as you go, otherwise, its just a damn pretty jar!

    nice blog by the way, long time reader first time poster.

  5. those i know who eat marmite, usually eat it pure on toast, or just a little bit spread on a slice of bread with butter and cheese.

    i have only had the pure taste of it on toast and it is one of the few things i really can not eat. :)

  6. Hey, I have that bourbon bottle, and I liked it so much (the bottle, and the bourbon) I now use it as a mouthwash bottle in my bathroom.

    Glad you had a good party.

  7. Marmite’s largely a childhood-acquired taste; if you grew up on it you’ll love it, else…

    But yes, on buttered toast, and yes, just a little bit. Not kidding. Butter the toast first, then spread on just enough Marmite to cover the tip of your knife, no more. On white toast you’re aiming for streaks of light brown, no darker.

    And yes, a jar of Marmite lasts a very long time.

  8. In southern Louisiana, we call chayote by another name: mirliton. If you do a search for mirliton recipes, you’ll find lots of things to do with them.

  9. What an awesome party. I would love to try the salty cake, that is intriguing indeed.

    I love that you got comments on Marmite already. It’s definitely a love or hate thing, and I haven’t met a single American so far who likes it! It does look like tar and taste of salt and the description yeast extract really doesn’t sell it! We Brits are raised on it though, and it’s a staple for many of us. I personally love it on toast with a slice of cheese, especially late at night after a few drinks!

  10. I recommend spreading marmite on toast and then throwing the toast and the jar in the garbage. Marmite is best served NEVER. That stuff tastes like pureed barf.

  11. I’ve heard some less than flattering reviews of Sugar Sweet Sunshine — too sweet frosting, too much frosting, etc., etc. Am I totally off and it’s really worth buying — three dozen? =)

    As far as Marmite .. maybe I better not say anything, since apparently I am in a smalllll minority here. But I did try some when I was visiting family outside London (actually my aunt tried to foist it on my, hah) and I hate to say that I hated it. It has a very strong, very distinct flavor, so try a tiny bit before you dive right in.

  12. Stop stop stop you marmite-on-toast-with-cheese-eaters – too too salty, it’s heart attack territory. Definitely not with salami – salt salt salt. No, my suggestions are:

    a) on toast/bread with peanut butter

    b) on toast/bread with cucumber (fresh not pickled)

    c) OK you can have it with soft white cheese, but not salty yellow cheese

    d) a little bit in soups instead of salt – not bad with chicken or vegetable soup

    e) (this one I admit is weird) on toast/bread with salad cream. Perhaps you don’t have salad cream? I’ll bring it to your next birthday party, if I’m invited.

  13. Last week someone at my office made a soup with a Chayote. I dont know exact measurements but You can make it work, I’m sure.

    1 Chayote

    Poblano pepper (roasted)



    Scallions (light green and white parts)

    Sour Cream

    Half chayote and scoop the seed thing out, boil in chicken stock with cilantro, scallions, celery, roasted chopped poblano until soft.

    Puree and add sour cream.

    (She boiled the whole sprigs of cilantro and pureed them. )

  14. As someone who spent (and continues to spend) many hours licking Marmite straight off of a spoon, I’ll leave the words of caution to others. There are two excellent ways of eating Marmite for those daunted by the unadulterated popsicle:

    1. Spread butter on very hot, well browned, well structured toast. Any toast works here, but it is especially good on an Italian style white or a sturdy seed bread. Spread thinly with Marmite then top with thin shaves of a good white cheddar.

    2. Mix some marmite with softened butter until you get a soft spread that is about the color of a good coffee ice cream. Spread this thickly on soft white sandwich bread with the crusts cut off. TO convince yourself this isn’t the most unhealthy thing in the world you can add some peeled cucumbers sliced very thin. MMMMMMM.

  15. Marmite is delicious on toast and in stocks, and it’s also good just spread thin on saltine crackers and accompanied by some of that milky tea.

  16. In El Salvador, we add chayote to soups (beef or chicken) as well as potatoes, carrots and such.

    My mom used to sautee it with onions and garlice in olive oil (or butter), then finish with heavy cream, salt & pepper and lots of dried oregano. It was delicious. That recipe works well with zucchini also. Don’t over cook the chayote (or zucchini) as it will get really mushy and gross.

  17. Out here in California, we just slice the chayote, sprinkle with oil, salt and pepper and grill. You can even eat the center “pit”.

    It’s a pear/squash taste. Yum.

  18. Kath the cook

    Ditto on the mirliton (chayote) – my parents are from Louisiana. You only have one (I would do this with four or so), but in cajun country you could make an old school dressing (or stuffing) with sausage, onion, green pepper, celery, torn toasted bread, chicken stock….you get the idea, along with the mirliton (diced and par-boiled). Cajuns will also make a little crawfish or shrimp stuffing and top each half and bake. Not exactly haute cuisine…but down home and good. happy experimenting!

  19. d’s got the territory covered on the marmite front. Perfect advice. Oh, and if you just can’t tolerate the marmite (for some, the umami is too over the top), just e me, and I’ll take it!!

    Check some of Justin Wilson’s recipes for mirliton. I think he stuffs it or boils it…. sounds great to me.

  20. If that’s “Mango Pickle…” that I make out and it’s somewhat spicy/hot, then it’s used as a condiment in Indian/SE Asian cooking. I like adding it to a mild lentil dish. A little bit blended in with the serving goes a long way.

    Also, the other week I used it in an impromptu vinaigrette over raw collards to make a recommended “spicy, bitter salad” that some recipe called for as a side.


  21. Looks like you’ve got yourself an episode of Chopped going on AG!

    This is great – just invite some of your more creatively-culinary-minded friends over and host a challenge to see who can make something tasty using marmite, chayote, granola and almond paste…in 30 minutes or less. Ready? GO!

  22. Mango pickle! I like it in soup — a beefy minestrone that you’re getting kind of bored with — a little mango pickle (or lime pickle, my real favorite) — perks everything right up. Hard to describe, fruity, salty, hot, with that undertone of Indian spice — yum.

  23. from my brazilian mom i learnt to love chayote souffle. (called chu-chu – pronounced shoe-shoe, in brazil)

    from my british dad i learnt to love marmite on toast.


  24. It seems everyone’s covered the Marmite bases with toast, crackers and soup suggestions.

    I do echo the sentiment not to have the marmite with a strong cheese though, something mild like an edam is good and mixed up with some cream cheese is also good.

    If you’re having a really hard time eating it, remind yourself it’s basically concentrated soy sauce.

    And if you’re still having bad luck, put a dollop of it in hot water an use in stews, soups, gravies anything that needs a bit more of that meaty umami taste.

  25. as a kiwi i adore vegimite/marmite and can eat it with a spoon but the first time i used marmite and it was loved by people who didn’t grow up on it was in a pizza.

    bake the dough with a thin layer of marmite then add potatoes, tapenade, goat cheese (or fontina) and sun dried tomatoes.

  26. i’m from south africa, loooove marmite. in SA we have this recipe most of our mothers made when we were little – a sweetish, buttery scone-like dough with cheese (cheddar, i think) mixed into it that you bake in a cake tin, then when the “cake” is baked you turn it out while still hot, thin down some marmite with hot water and drizzle it over the “cake”. it’s called marmite cake. maybe it sounds disgusting, but the sweet-salty, buttery-cheesy taste is great.

  27. holy mother of god, man!

    you can’t eat that Marmite.

    EVERYBODY knows that Marmite is to be used to make things watertight, to act as a bug deterrent and for face paint (camouflage stylee).

    nobody eats the dreadful stuff!

    that’s why VEGEMITE was invented.

  28. Grill some day old Italian bread, drizzle with the oil and lightly scatter sea salt over. Serve before dinner with a glass of red wine… which I see you have.

    Use more of it on simply cooked vegetables that come into your mind when you smell the oil.

    Don’t use it to cook with as it will lose its perfume.

  29. Marmite to virgin tastebuds rarely goes well. My dad when he first came to England from Italy -47 years ago- tried it and hated it and it’s only recently that he has started to eat and enjoy it.

    Good job it has a long shelf life.

    Porcini and truffle oil is delicious drizzeled over some top notch, quality tagliatelle for a quick meal or to add depth to a mushroom or artichoke risotto. Truffle oil can be quite potent so a little goes a long way.


  30. The key to Marmite indocrination is plenty of butter! In the UK, a classic kids-party nibble is to mix a small amount of Marmite with plent of butter, then use as a sandwich spread. White bread only! Is coz kids don’t like the intensity of pure Marmite, so I’d reccomend this for someone who hasn’t tried it before.

  31. The “mango in a jar” is actually mango pickle I think – tastes great with Indian curries/ rice etc.

  32. That chocolate cake sounds terrific. I had a recent run in with some salted caramel ice cream, and I’ve been plotting my next encounter with something sweet and salty ever since.

  33. I have used truffle oil and porcini oil but never seen the two together. You can drizzle some over mushroom soup (it works particularly well with mushroom barley; I particularly like the recipe from Staff Meals from Chanterelle with a big slug each of mushroom soy sauce and dry sherry added). Add a little to olive oil that you are using to fry up some grilled cheese sandwiches (this is particularly delicious when using a crusty white bread and gruyere cheese); despite the comment above about not cooking with it, I find the taste is still there in this context. I am on a mushroom mac n’cheese kick (the best recipe I have tried so far is Nigella Lawson’s that I got from Cookstr – scaled down for numbers!). I haven’t tried it but you might be able to drizzle some of the oil over that to enhance it.

    The mango does look like mango pickle. If not and it is in syrup, you could eat it with a plain cake or try making a chutney.

    I am also a bourbon fan. Elmer is good, but try George T. Staggs and Pappy Van Winkle – even better.

  34. Marmite is splendid stuff. Would echo most of the positive comments above, but personally I also like it spread thinly on buttered toast “soldiers” served with a boiled egg.

  35. To add to the previous poster re truffle and porcini oils. Always use in small amounts: scrambled eggs are divine with either. Use the truffle oil in risottos that might have seafood, the porcini in a classic mushroom risotto. A trick I use is to saute the risotto onions or shallots in the flavored oil and then add a tbs stirred in before serving. Same goes for pasta – try some fresh linguini with butter, a little garlic, parmesan, and a dash (or more) of either oil when combined. Anything having to do with cooked mushrooms is amazing with either oil. As you learn the taste of these, your culinary mind will no doubt find many other uses. One interesting thing though, your bottle probably lists ‘truffle essence’ as an ingredient. The “essence” is, believe it or not, an artificial flavor. The most convincing artificial flavor I’ve ever encountered, but artificial nonetheless.

  36. Your chayote looks like the vegetable I call a choko.

    They don’t taste like anything on their own, but they add bulk to and take on the flavour of anything you cook them with — from apples to onions.

    Marmite tastes like spreadable aluminium to me, but I was teethed on Vegemite-covered rusks, which might explain a few things.

  37. As everyone has said, spread thinly on buttered toast is very nice, and I’ll also agree with the on soldiers for boiled egg, and adding to stews and sauces. I used to end every drinking session at University with cheese and marmite on toast (toast, butter, marmite, cheddar – under the grill. Don’t pass out in a drunken stupor until it’s cooked.)

    If it turns out you hate it, you’re welcome to send it over to me. Can’t get a sniff of it in Argentina where I’m currently residing, and my last batch ran out months ago. Considering leaving the country unless they start stocking it here…

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  39. I hate to tell you this Adam, but that was a coconut for drinking not eating. The coconuts with the hairy brown exterior can be cracked open and grated. that one you had there is too young to have enough flesh to grate. Next time you get one of those stick it in the fridge to chill then lop off the top and stick a straw in and enjoy.

  40. Hey Adam,

    I just have started reading your blog recently, and cannot believe that I am suggesting something to a foodie:)

    For the chayote, you can simply grill them (salt a little bit) and serve with yoghurt sauce (dash some curry paste and a bit of minced garlic), the chayote is sweet, you would want to serve it mixed with other grilled vegetables: carrots, green bean, and some leeks.

    In Indonesia, we cook it for sayur asem (literally means sour vegetables); mixed with peanuts, long bean, sliced corn on the cob, cooked with tamarind water and ground shallots and candlenut. Taste like vegetarian style tom yam.

    The carica texture and taste is like a papaya, or perhaps melon (on the rather raw side), usually packed in syrup, so you just put them in fridge to cool and serve with ice cubes in a hot summer day. For me, I ate it straight from the jar:) My mom said it is good for your digestive system.

    But that is what I do to Indonesian Carica, but perhaps it’s the same thing…

  41. I first had Marmite on toast, lightly, covered with half a broiled tomato fresh from the oven. It was heaven, and quickly followed by more of the same with a fried egg on the side. Highly recommended!

  42. malaysian reader

    Hey there!

    About the marmite, seriously I’ve never tried it on toast. Sounds like a must try! =)

    Just to share, I grew up having Marmite with porridge (just stir in a small tsp of Marmite into plain porridge and serve). Yum!

  43. Maybe this is a little predictable, but that porcini-truffle oil would be SO good drizzled over a simple risotto! (A few shallots, thyme, wine – maybe saute some wild mushrooms to throw in at the end – easy!!) Or what about just drizzled over some roasted fingerling potatoes? Or over grilled bread? I think I have truffle oil envy now :)

    Looks like it was a great party – such a neat gift idea…

  44. You can stir fry Chayote, but it’s lovely raw as a crudité. Munch on it alongside some carrot and celery, it works wonderfully.

  45. Adam, I almost peed myself (TMI! sorry!) when I saw the jar of carica. PLEASE find out where your friend got it (if you can find out who got it) because I HAVE BEEN DESPERATELY SEARCHING FOR IT SINCE NOVEMBER. Supposedly Whole Foods stocks it but whenever I go, they look at me like I have 3 heads and am crazed. Probably the foaming at the mouth…

    Anyway, it tastes like the best mango I’ve ever eaten but with a firmer texture, like a slightly cooked bell pepper. I could wax poetic on it, but I will not bore you. It is delicious anyway you want to serve it, but to date, the best ever application I’ve had it (OK, I’ve only had it once!) was served alongside ulmo honey panna cotta. (it was dessert, so it’s towards the end) I can give you my recipe for ulmo honey (which IS sold at Whole Foods) panna cotta if you ask nicely. Or just check my blog because I posted it recently for Valentine’s Day. Either way. Can we be friends? Can I come over and eat your carica? (Wow, that does NOT sound like it means what I meant it to mean.) *drool*

  46. Can you send me the emails for all of the friends who came to your party? I’d like them to come to my birthday in June.


    I think food gifts might be just what I request if (by a miracle) my husband were to ever throw me a party. good idea.

  47. Well, I’m allergic to mango… but looking at it makes me really want to puree it and swirl it into ice cream. You’ve got an ice cream maker, right?

  48. You seem to have most bases covered for Marmite but I’d like to add a couple.

    1. On heavily buttered crumpets. It mixes in with the melted butter and seeps into the holes of the crumpet, which seems to dilute the taste…

    2. To give a bit of a kick to sauteed potatoes…

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