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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Pasta from the microwave?

Okay, you know I use my rice cooker to cook some kinds of pasta, but when Cook’s Illustrated  reviewed microwave pasta cookers and gave it a thumbs up, I had to try–I mean that should be even faster and easier than rice cooker, right?

from Amazon.com

I ordered the Fasta Pasta Microwave Cooker.  Delivered quickly, and needless to say, got tried out quickly. I’ve cooked both ravioli and capellini in it successfully.  Cooking times are obviously going to vary with the power of the microwave, but generally the times given on the included card have been very accurate.  It’s easy to move around as there are handles on both side.

The drain slots in the lid did not let the capellini slip through.  I’m really surprised–but I think that will be my method of choice for cooking pasta in the future.

(Image from Amazon.com, and should take you to page–however, I don’t have an affiliate association with them, so I get no remuneration if you order through here.)

A jar opener that actually works

Black & Decker Lids Off jar opener

.It works!

I’m not one for a lot of kitchen gadgets but I have one that I wouldn’t want to be without–a Black & Decker  Lids Off jar opener.  I had tried all sorts in the past and really given up on all of them until a friend brought me one of these that she found on a prowl through a thrift shop–so it was cheap.  From Amazon.com they are NOT cheap–but if mine were to crump on me I’d be trolling through thrift shops or Amazon.com looking for another one.

I’ve only found two jars that it wouldn’t open–one was a Costco-sized jar of roasted red peppers–in other word, huge–so the upper grips wouldn’t spread quite enough to hold the lid.  The other was a jar with very rounded edges to the lid–also a jar of roasted red peppers–though smaller size.

This is not a bottle opener–it’s not designed for beer bottles or lids less than about 1-1/2-inches in diameter–I’ve not had occasion to try smaller than that. I used it on jars about 2-1/2-inches in height. The jar with the lid that was too big was a 4-inch diameter, so it does do a good range of sizes. (Have another gadget from the hardware store to handle these now.)

Even with those two “failures” this is a kitchen must if you have difficulty with opening jars for any reason.  It folds down for storage so it doesn’t have to stay on the counter all the time, but the handle on top lets you move it easily–altogether a worthwhile kitchen gadget!