Gifts for your favorite cook

Even though this seems to come at Christmas, it’s really useful for other occasions, too; like birthdays, or just to pamper yourself type occasion.

Some of my favorite comestibles here. Most of the websites mentioned have gifts or starters kits available. Add something new to your kitchen–there are so many things we don’t see in the supermarket are worth adding to your pantry.

  • Salt: . Seriously, yes, salt! Kosher salt is fine for the basics; however, salt is not salt is not salt. Salted: A Manifesto is a treatise that will introduce you to the world of salt outside the Diamond Crystal or Morton box (available hardbound or Kindle editions). Finishing salt as a final touch is awesome. It’s like that final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or that treasured balsamic vinegar to put the final touch on a meal. The Meadow is a great website (or store if you’re in the right areas) for salts.
  • Lentils: Lentils go far beyond the plastic bags that you see in the supermarket. If these pulses haven’t found their way into your kitchen, start here for information on different kinds. There are many colors, sizes, textures and flavors. My personal favorite for my kitchen are the French green from Bob’s Red Mill, but you can also get red and brown lentils there too; even has several varieties. For a visual surprise try some black (aka beluga) lentils for salads.
  • Potatoes: A vegetable that we often take for granted, but there are so many other varieties that don’t appear in the supermarket; they do have different flavors. So try some; yes, there is a potato of the month club. Here are so of the varieties of potatoes that you certainly won’t find in the supermarket.
  • Heirloom beans: Just like potatoes, we’re missing some good ones with the typical supermarket supply. Even the garbanzo (chickpea) has some surprises for us. The bean has made it into the gourmet food list. Rancho Gordo, Elegant Beans, and North Bay Trading Company have a variety of beans that many of us had never heard of. There is a bean club with quarterly shipments if you want to keep your kitchen supplied.
  • Extra virgin olive oil: It’s always good to have variety here and a source that is reliable given how much “fake” or adulterated is on the market. Just a drizzle of a great oil can add a lot of a simple dish. My favorite local (does online orders, too) is Bull City Olive Oil–definitely one that keeps appearing here as a source for infused/fused oils, and vinegars (balsamic, sherry for example). Try a vinaigrette with lavender balsamic vinegar and herbs de Provence infused oil. Or go totally decadent with some truffle oil (black or white to drizzle (lightly) on a baked potato–add a glass of champagne, too.

Other suggestions based on the latest additions and most used things in my kitchen:

  • Instant Pot: It took me a while to get on the bandwagon for this kitchen appliance but it now has permanent place on my kitchen counter–especially for cooking beans without all the planning you’re used to if you don’t have an Instant Pot (or other pressure cooker). Though this recipe lists common supermarket varieties, it works just as well with the heirloom varieties. Not to denigrate canned beans since I do keep some on my pantry shelf, with the Instant Pot there are so many more to experience. However, beans are not the only reason to give this appliance kitchen counter space–it performs other functions as well–yogurt, sterilizing, rice cooking and slow cooking to mention just a few. It’s also wonderful to have those steel-cut oats ready for you when breakfast time arrives–no morning fumbles and long cooking time.
  • Instant Pot accessories: Since I do a lot of cooking for one with my Instant Pot I have found the “pot-in-pot” technique (also here and here) wonderful for small or even single servings or for several things at one time. Some of the “accessories” that I’ve found particularly useful for this can be found at ekovana, life without plastic, and of course, I also use Pyrex bowls, but not plastic. For covers when cooking this way (to avoid extra water in the bowl) silicone lids (oven-safe) work well.
  • Sous vide circulator: Another fine way to enhance your cooking is to add sous vide or precision cooking to your methods. It’s my most recent addition but I’ll be quick to point out that it’s not displaced my Instant Pot by any means. I finally decided on Joule from ChefSteps but the Anova was a consideration too. This is really a different way of cooking. The results are fantastic, but it’s not going to replace the slow oven braised stew, baked garbanzos, or lamb stew, made in a cast iron dutch oven or a clay cooker (Romertopf) but it’s a method that’s going to stay in my kitchen. The low temperatures make it possible to use infused oils to flavor proteins–e.g. mushroom and sage to flavor chicken, Chilean sea bass with fennel oil, or salmon with fernleaf dill oil. For review of Joule see here.
  • Sous vide accessories: Even cooking for one sous vide is a great addition to the kitchen. Once you start this precision cooking process you’ll find that a craving for accessories develops. While I’ve used my dutch oven, or the inner container of my Instant Pot for containers for sous vide cooks, I think that I’ll have to make room for a different kind of container dedicated to sous vide for several reasons: for long cook times, it’s unhandy to have your dutch oven occupied that way if you want to do some unplanned braising. For long cook times (e.g. short ribs) the bath needs to be covered to prevent evaporation and plastic wrap is really klutzy. Finally, I want a rack to wrangle multiple bags in the same container that wouldn’t fit in my existing pots and pans. I’ve been using Ziploc freezer bags. I’m considering reusable vacuum bags but more research is needed.
  • Already got the sous vide circulator? Add a cookbook to get started with it.

So add some spice to your life and your kitchen! A son gôut!



Brands mentioned here are my personal preferences. I receive no remuneration or consideration for mentioning them. I’m sure there are other equally good sources or brands but these happen to be the ones I use.


Kitchen pestilence

If you have never had anything with more than four legs in your kitchen, or you’re totally frantic when you encounter something with six legs, you probably should stop reading here, because this kitchen pest has six legs, and is undoubtedly one of the peskiest thing to invade the kitchen or the rest of the house.

I’m not talking about palmetto bugs, nor weevil, or things that get into the dried staples in the pantry!  I can avoid those by using the glass canning jars for storage. Spiders? Nope, those have eight legs, and besides they are good pest control. I’m talking about something that seems to invade my kitchen (and if I’m not prompt to eradicate them, the spread through the house).   If you’ve ever had them you’ve probably already guessed what they are! Those little gnat-like things called fruit flies!

They go by several other names: vinegar flies, bar flies, common fruit fly, and I’ve even heard drain flies (since they breed there)–members of the family Drosophilidae. Wikipedia says that they are “nuisance flies” rather than pests. In a strict horticultural sense that is true, but they certainly are pesky if they invade your home. They are attracted to wine, vinegar, any fermenting fruit or vegetable. In the summer when the kitchen is replete with fruits, and vegetables, like tomatoes (which should not be refrigerated), it’s easy to have a little spot of fermentation sneak up on you–and then, there are the fruit flies or Drosophila.  Just so you know what they look like, here is an image from Wikipedia.

When they appear in your kitchen, it’s usually a sign that there is something “rotten” around–or at least fermenting.  If you’re making vinegar (I do make my own), or have open wine they’ll show up–maybe through poorly screened windows or doors, or they may be carried into your home on fruit or vegetables…and they breed–like, well, like flies!  Some Drosophila species can infest thin-skinned fruit and berries.  There are lots of ways for them to find a way into your kitchen.

fruit fly (Drosophila sp.)
Drosophila sp.

The immediate question is now how to get rid of them.  Obviously the first step is to get rid of whatever attracted them.  Maybe that’s enough, but if they keep appearing around the kitchen or house, more drastic things may be needed.

They can breed in all sorts of places around the kitchen.  In drains, garbage disposals, even where there is un-noticed spilled fruit juice.  They will breed in trash cans, or unwashed recycling.  They lay eggs on the surface of fruit or vegetables if there is an area of fermentation.  Then those eggs hatch into larvae–yes, little white, wiggle, icky things, and you’ll soon have more, and more, and more….

It’s essential to eliminate all the breeding place (e.g. drains)–some which are not obvious.  The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture has a fact sheet, which covers some of the places where they may breed, and methods for getting rid of an infestation.

I don’t want to use even a “kitchen pesticide” around the cat or around the kitchen.  You can go to the hardware store or garden store and spend $7 or $8 for a cute little trap that is shaped like an apple or some other ambiguous fruit, but you can also make you own quite easily: The fact sheet describes how to do this.  My experience has been that cider vinegar, wine, or wine vinegar is much more effective at luring them into the trap–in my case, a bottle with a funnel set on top, instead of a paper cone/funnel.  If the infestation is severe, you might even resort to “fly strips” to help eradicate them.

I’d hope never to need any of this information, but I usually have to deal with at least one infestation in late summer and fall when there’s lots of fruit around–I hope you don’t, but if you do, maybe this will help.

I love wine in a box!

I’m definitely an oenophile. I like wine with my meals, but sometimes I hesitate to open a bottle when I know that I’m going to have leftovers, or if I think that it’s a more expensive bottle than I want to have only for one.  I also like to cook with wine, but hate opening a bottle for just a glass and a splash in the sauce.  I think that wine in a box is one of the greatest that for those of us living alone.  It’s now possible to get good wine, inexpensively in a box.  Tuck a box of white in the fridge, and stash a box of red on the pantry shelf.  I can have the luxury of a glass of wine whenever I want, and a splash of white for cooking even when I’m drinking red.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t have some exquisite bottles in my cellar.  They’re the ones to  have with a special meal, and possibly with friends.  But the “house” wine is now in a box.  It’s not cheap wine–just inexpensive and convenient.

There was one advantage of having “leftovers”–bits and pieces of bottles: those make great wine vinegar.  I have a glass container in the cabinet that get “fed” on those to keep the mother alive, so I have a constant supply of good wine vinegar.  It’s unfiltered, unpasteurized, potent, and much more complex in flavor that the stuff out of a bottle.  I’ve had the red wine going since I was given the mother over 10 years ago.  It’s simple to keep–the occasional splash of wine from the box, or occasionally, but a really inexpensive bottle and dump that in.

I recently decided that I wanted white wine vinegar, too.  So, took some of the mother from my red wine and put it into a bottle of white wine.  Not sure yet what is going to happen–now it’s still a bit pink as the mother was a very deep, dark red.  There will be future reports on the progress.


I think that seasoning is SO important when cooking for one–it can take that serving of veggies from sort of humdrum to great so easily. One of the easiest ways to “dress up” leftovers is to use a sauce with them on the second run.

I think that one of the easiest is a vinaigrette.  It’s so simple, holds well in the fridge. If you know a basic ratio (usually 3 parts oil to 1 part acid or if you prefer a less tart dressing 4 parts oil to 1 part acid) you can vary it easily.

A bit of mustard serves to aid the emulsification of the oil and acid.  The acid can be vinegar, or it can be lemon juice, lime juice, orange or grapefruit juice.  You can easily add different herbs, or garlic, onion, shallot, spices, or chives as an aromatic, depending on what you want:  with fish, lemon might be a good choice.

Stored in a small jar, covered, it will keep for approximately a week in the refrigerator, so it’s always handy.  This same vinaigrette is good to make a non-mayonnaise tuna or chicken salad.  Better and less expensive than store-bought salad dressing, and without additives and preservatives.