Holiday gift shopping…2016

That time of year again! I’ve sworn off malls, and almost any shopping until after the holidays. I find I have zero tolerance for the chaos of parking lots and stores. Somehow those places really dampen any holiday excitement that I do manage to have: folks that can’t manage to allow two-lane traffic in a wide lane, bumps in the butt with shopping carts, and the like. Not to mention the choice of music in so many stores. But if you still need to do some holiday shopping….

  • For the cookbook lover who has an incredible library but is constantly cursing about not being able to find a recipe, a membership to Eat Your Books will let them search those books, as well as magazines, and blogs for recipes. (Membership information here.) It is definitely worth the bit of effort it takes to get you books on you searchable bookshelf.
  • Bull City Olive Oil specializes in fine olive oils, vinegars, and other provisions (shipping is available). If you are local (Durham NC) you can taste before buying. I’d not been a particular fan of infused oils until I tasted some there. The combination of herbes de Provence infused oil and lavender infused balsamic vinegar makes an awesome vinaigrette!
  • Cooks always love herbs and spices–if you don’t want to make the decision on what to give Penzeys will provide a great selection from which to choose. Personally  I love the small jars, especially for things you want to try, but may not use in huge quantities. Although I don’t keep many mixes on hand I wouldn’t  want to be without the herbes de Provence–it’s the jar that I reach for when I am rushed or just can’t decide what to use.
  • Spirits are always welcome gifts. My latest “booze” discovery is from The Brothers Vilgalys Spirits. They produce Krupnikas, Jabberwock, Zapod, Beatnik, and Beebop. I know I’ve mentioned these before, but I think they still make an excellent gift.
  • For someone who wants to learn more about cooking, The Science of Good Cooking presents techniques used in the kitchen with some good recipes; eat well while you learn to understand what goes on in the kitchen. In the same understand-what-you’re-doing vein there’s  Cook’s Science Cook’s Illustrated .com, Cook’s Country.com or a subscription to  America’s Test Kitchen membership that can give access to these last three sites.
  • For someone who wants to butter their toast without using cold, hard to spread butter, the Butter Bell crock, or the Emile Henry butter pot, or a plethora of others which work on the principle of using a water seal to keep the butter from air exposure. Caveat: you do have to remember to change the water every couple of days, but it’s a pretty small effort for soft butter. (Unfortunately, I’ll have to mention a solution that doesn’t work although it seems like a nice idea: the Cook’s Innovations Butter Mill. According to reviews some do work–mine didn’t–the fine threads just didn’t catch so the butter moved down to the “grating” surface.)
  • Your toast eater might also appreciate some topping for that buttered toast: varietal honeys from Old Blue Raw Honey–an impressive selection–including poison ivy honey.
  • For the cook who wants to explore using fresh herbs there are seed collections of basic culinary herbs: seed disc collections (complete with pots) from Johnny’s Select Seeds,  or just collections of herb seeds.
  • The potato of the month club from Wood Prairie Family Farm might suit for a “meat and potatoes” person. The variety of potatoes is absolutely amazing–and yes, they do taste different from what we’re used to in the supermarket.
  • For excellent citrus fruits Mixon Fruit Farms can provide luscious fruit shipped right to the door–grapefruit, oranges, lemons, or other. Even the white grapefruit will surprise you.
  • There is always a gift certificate for Kindle books  (or other e-readers) and a Lékué popcorn popper to provide a cozy, relaxing evening. Of all the microwave popcorn poppers I’ve tried this is a hands-down winner.
  • For some exotics like truffle butter, game, kits for making cassoulet, or charcuterie (which you might be invited to share) D’Artagnan can likely provide what you want.
  • Finally, another option for relaxation to go with the book or the Kindle gift certificate, a good cup of tea would add a final touch. Check out what’s available from Harney & Sons provides an incredible variety. One of the things I like so much about getting my tea from them is that for a small charge you can get samples of the teas–enough to brew a pot to really taste the tea. Frankly, I love trying different ones, so I’d be happy with a selection of samples as a gift!

Some other gift suggestions here, here, and here–there may be some redundancy, but some thing appreciated by cooks never change. My redundancy will probably give you an idea of what I’ve had to replace during the year–e.g. Krupnikas!

Disclaimer:  I have neither affiliate connection nor do I receive any consideration from any of the sources suggested above–they’re simply my personal preferences, so you decide. I’m sure that some of the things are available from other sources as well, perhaps less expensively.

Holiday time again….

Like it or not the holiday season approaches. I’ve one Christmas gift to order yet, but then I’m through. I thought I’d pass on a few suggestions for gifts for those of you who still have a cooking person on your list to shop for:

  • Volrath French carbon steel skillet: probably my most-used, it has the advantages of cast iron, without the weight.
  • Romertopf clay cooker: a go-to especially for one-dish meals in cold weather.
  • Home espresso machine: Can’t start the morning without my jolt of caffeine either straight espresso or café latte.
  • Clever Coffee Dripper: If I’m not wanting quite the jolt of espresso this gets something more like French press, with the benefit of a filter to eliminate the sediment.
  • Kunh Rincon garlic press: If garlic is a cooking necessity, a garlic press can be a time-saver, or it can be a total nuisance when you have to clean it, so you don’t use it. This is a good one, recommended by Cook’s Illustrated after testing lots of them.*
  • Max Burton Portable Induction cook unit: Live where it’s hot and humid in the summer? You just hate to turn on the stove? Induction cooking is much cooler–though it does require cookware that is either stainless steel or iron.  If a magnet won’t stick on your cookware, then you need the Hob Heat Diffuser that will allow you to use other cookware with the induction unit.
  • Pressure cooker: The Fissler FSSFIS5859 Vitaquick Pressure Cooker was the winner of the Cook’s Illustrated testing* and is pricey.  The runner-up was the Fagor Duo line, less pricey, highly recommended and noted as “best buy”. (This is the one I’ve used.) This cooker does work with induction cook units–a real plus in hot, humid weather when you still want those dried beans cooked.
  • Fasta Pasta Microwave pasta cooker: This is a real gem to have in the kitchen! So much easier than boiling that big pot of water–again great in hot, humid weather, but once you start using it, you’re hooked. Again this is a kitchen “gadget” that was tested by Cook’s Illustrated.*
  • If the cook you’re shopping for is just getting a kitchen set up, there’s always some of the essentials for good cooking: Penzeys herbs and spices, either basic, for bakers or for the cook starting to branch out, a do-it-yourself box of specialty herbs and spices.  If you have someone on your list who has to watch sodium intake, there are lots of salt-free blends. If you buying for a cook pressed for time, seasoning blends can be real time-savers–in my kitchen I don’t want to be without herbes de Provence for that time when I’m just too rushed to think blending my own.
  • For relaxation and enjoyment,  either alone or with company, a selection off teas to have on a leisurely morning, or relaxing afternoon break.  Harney & Sons Master Tea Blenders have a fantastic selection–black, green, herbal, flavored, and all the accessories necessary to make a special occasion. Teas can be ordered individually, or there are collections ready made.  If you’re unsure what tea would please your “giftee” most, then send a selection of samples–for a modest $2 you can send enough to brew a decent pot of many teas. Some very expensive ones–e.g. Black King which rings up at $240.00/pound–the sample may run $5. What a great way to let someone explore fine teas–treat yourself.
  • Like a liqueur to sip while relaxing? If you’re in North Carolina, there are some lovely liqueurs made in Durham by the Brothers Vilgalys: Krupnikas, a spice honey liqueur would be a real treat, or look at the unusual liqueurs they make: Beatmik, Beebop, Zaphod, and Jabberwok.  All are great in cocktails, for just sipping straight, added to hot chocolate or hot cocoa.  If you’re not in North Carolina you may still be able to get these delightful liqueurs through other distributors.

Wishing you and your favorite cook very happy holidays–lots of good food, friends, conversations, as well as wines and spirits!

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*Cook’s Illustrated equipment testing is done without manufacturers knowledge until after publication, and products tested are chosen for consumer benefit. They do not accept requests for testing from manufacturers.

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Gift ideas 2012….

STILL doing holiday shopping?    If you’ve got some last-minute shopping to do for your favorite foodie (that includes yourself, too), here are some of my suggestions based on some of the things that I use a lot.

Let me insert a disclaimer here and now–I do not receive any remuneration, discounts, or any other consideration for any products that I recommend on this website–it’s all based on my satisfaction from my use in my home kitchen! 

1.  Rice cooker, steamer, and slow cooker all in one

Krups rice cooker, steamer and slow cookerSomething that never gets put away is my Krups rice cooker–that is also a steamer (even while cooking rice), and a slow cooker.  It even cooks pasta! I’ve used all it’s features and once you understand that it quits cooking when water evaporates and the temperature begins to go above boiling point, you can get away from recipes and get it to do what you want it to do.

The recipes that came with the instructions will do for a start–but it lends itself to cooking things without much attention.  One of the recipes in the booklet that I do find useful is one for mac ‘n’ cheese (one of my favorite comfort foods).  I was really skeptical the first time that I tried this, but it’s become a go-to for quick comfort foods.   One of the rather neat things about this is that when the water has evaporated and the temperature starts to rise, you do get a brown crust on the bottom (that’s normal in rice cookers) which really makes the mac and cheese (with or without the ham).  I’ve even tried using cheddar to do this (adding some extra) and it doesn’t get stringy.  I think that it must be the starch from the pasta in the water that does that.

From the Krups booklet that came with the rice cooker, here’s mac ‘n’ cheese:

Ingredients

  • 200 gm or 1/2 pound macaroni (small penne or other hollow pasta also works)
  • 30 gm or 1/4 cup butter cut in small pieces (I’ve use less and it works fine)
  • 1 slice ham (or not, or more as you choose)
  • 20 gm or 1/4 cup Gruyère cheese (I like a bit more, or use another cheese that melts well)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (adjust according to the saltiness of the ham)
  • 500 mL or 2-1/4 cups water

Assembly & cooking

  • Cut ham into small pieces (if using)
  • Place the butter, macaroni, ham, Gruyère, water, and salt in the bowl and mix.
  • Close the lid, select the Rice cooking mode and press Start.
  • When the cooker switches to keep warm mode, let stand for 5 or 10 minutes, then dig in.

The rice cooker automatically switches to keep warm after about 20 minutes of cooking. You do need the stand time for the pasta to finish cooking.  But…how much simpler can you get?  I’m still playing with variations on this recipe, but it’ a keeper.  Admittedly, this is not a stocking stuffer, but it’s a useful addition to the kitchen and I don’t say that about many stand-alone appliances.

2.  Home espresso machine for the coffee lover

Krups home espresso machine with carafe

espresso in the making

No, I’m not talking about a huge price tag that you see in the Williams-Sonoma catalog.  I was wandering through Bed, Bath & Beyond one day and I saw this small espresso machine on display–with a very reasonable price tag.  It just had to come home with me (with the rationale that Frankie, the cat, needed to give me a Christmas present).

I’ve used the stove-top espresso pot for a long time, but it wasn’t an every morning thing–a little too demanding for my early morning mental state!  But this is simple, and you can froth milk with it, too!

It’s been used evey day since it arrived in the kitchen, to make plain unadorned espresso, cappuccino, or latte, or just a cup of regular strength flavorful coffee.  Since I’m not wild about very dark roasted coffee, I continue to use the Jamaica Blue Mountain Blend that I buy at Costco, grinding my own.

The only down side is that if you want to grind your own coffee, the whirligig-blade spice/coffee grinder won’t do it–you do need to have a burr grinder–but those are not that expensive.  So, if you’re a coffee fiend, this might be a good gift.

3.  Clever coffee dripper

drip-style individual cup coffee ffunnel

Clever Coffee Dripper

Until the espresso machine arrived, this was my gadget of choice for morning coffee.  It has the advantage of not requiring much effort–but making coffee that is close to that of a French press. (I decided to try this after it was recommended in Cook’s Illustrated–and was very pleased.)

This is in the stocking-stuffer range of gift, but does improve the quality of coffee over the usual drip machine or funnel-and-filter apparatus.  It uses the readily available filters from the supermarket, and it’s not demanding in terms of how the coffee is ground.

4.  The proper-size pan

petit brasier with lid

petit brasier from All Clad

If you, or the cook in your life, often prepare meals for one or two, an appropriately sized pan will make life easier and the food better.  One of my most often used items is the “Petit Brasier” from All Clad.

It’s definitely a useful addition to the kitchen.  It can go from stove top to oven; it can function as a skillet, too.  It has the same shape as what is sometimes called an “everyday” pan, but it’s sized for cooking for one or two.

5.  Cookbooks

cover of The Science of Good cookingFor serious cooks,  good cookbooks are always welcome!  We’re always looking for new ideas–especially those that get us away from feeling that we need a recipe for anything that we cook.

One of the stand-out cookbooks for this is The Science of Good Cooking from Cook’s Illustrated. This one supplies food science in a low-key useful way to go along with some great recipes.

For some great recipes and thought on cooking for one are in order, then here are two books that are likely to titillate that favorite foodie who cooks for one.

Cover of Serve Yourself

 

Serve Yourself is delightful reading with recipes for lots of condiments that make dressing up that second serving (also known as left-over) for a rerun–or just for dressing up any meal.

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Another for the cook who does single-serving cooking is The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones.  It includes not only recipes but JonesFC9780307270726some food philosophy and thoughts on dining alone–from someone who does not view dining alone in a negative way.

…and just in case you’re wondering, giving serious cook a cookbook, no matter whether they are just beginning or are accomplished is not insulting…we LOVE cookbooks.

6.  Other miscellaneous stocking stuffers

Still undecided, or just need something small how about:

  • a gift certificate from Penzeys Spices–a chance to try some wild and wonderful herbs and spices that you won’t find in the grocery store.
  • a subscription to Eat Your Books–a search engine for cookbooks.  Yes–the ones that you or your favorite foodie have on the shelves.  You enter titles, and then you can search those books for recipes.  No more frustrating moments trying to remember just which book that recipe was in.
  • A new knife to complete or add to the set in constant use would always be welcome.
  • If you are still undecided see Kitchen equipment for small-time cooking, e.g. immersion blender, or other cookware alternatives for cooking for one or two.  There are other suggestions in posts from previous year’s gift suggestions.
  • You’ll also find some of my favorite books in the Bibliography.
  • If you love planning meals to showcase a great wine, then there’s a gift possibility–a special bottle of wine to anticipate and plan a great meal around.  Price doesn’t necessarily dictate whether a wine is special–there are lots of great wines just waiting for a meal to happen.  It’s always been my treat for myself on my birthday to go to my favorite wine shop (Wine Authorities) and buy a special (not necessarily expensive wine) and then plan a meal around it.  (If you’re from Durham NC it’s the Wine Authorities–and are awesome in helping coordinate food and wine.  Not local, they do ship.)
  • I’ll leave you with one final suggestion–a gift certificate for Kindle books.  A number of the books mentioned here are available for the Kindle, including The Science of Good Cooking.

I do hope that I’ve helped with any last-minute shopping dilemmas, and wish you and your favorite foodie (and the cat) another year of pleasures from the kitchen–good food, good wine, good friends.

A son goût! 

orange tabby on kitchen counter with mixer and knives

the sous chef