Gift Guide, Day 14

December 11, 2010

Jack Black Industrial Strength Hand Healer:

With the current craze for cleanliness, it’s hard to overestimate how much time your hands spend in water when you're cooking.  This time of year, between the washing and the cold, a cook’s hands are constantly cracked.  Nothing is more welcome than a really effective handcream.

There are lots of hand creams out there, but a cook’s concerns are different from those of ordinary people.  You don’t want something that is merely rich, soothing and nongreasy; you also want something that won't leave your hands smelling like cheap perfume. Finding a hand cream that is neither greasy nor smelly is not easy, and it seems like every time I find one, they take it off the market.  I’m hoping that my current favorite, Jack Black Industrial Strength Hand Healer, will stay around for a while.  But just in case, I’ve stocked up.

 I got mine at The Gardener in Berkeley, but it’s sold all over; you can buy this superb hand cream at Sephora and Amazon.

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Gift Guide, Day 13

December 10, 2010

Rare and Wonderful Balsamic Vinegar:

One of the first theories of gift-giving is to offer your friends the indulgences you most covet but feel guilty about buying for yourself. Great aged balsamic vinegar definitely falls into that category.  I love it, find it endlessly useful in the kitchen – and am always reluctant to spend the money for the best. 

Buying it for friends is another matter.  It is, I think, a perfect gift. Choosing which one to buy is a constant problem, but here is a suggestion.  Aceto Balsamico of Monticello is a wonderful elixir, with deep, concentrated flavor.  Organic and hand-made, it is aged in Italian casks for thirteen years.  It is rare – only a thousand bottles are sold each year. And – here’s the amazing thing – it is made in New Mexico. Paul Bertolli of Fra' Mani first told me about it, and I am forever in his debt.

This is, obviously, a present for someone you really care about. But if they dole it out the way that I do, a drop here, a drop there, it will last all year. And they’ll think of you each time they taste the mysteriously deep, dense flavor.



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Gift Guide, Day 12

December 9, 2010

Pig Products

It’s already too late to order Allan Benton’s fabulous bacon for your friends, and his hams can’t be guaranteed for Christmas either. Unfortunately Armandino Batali’s mole salami, rich with chocolate and spices, won’t be available by mail again until early next year. But there are still plenty of wonderful pig products to send your pork-loving friends.

To begin, there’s the pig bank from Moss, which I gave to half my friends last year (the other half will get them this year.) Cast from real piglets, they’re endlessly lovable. They come in a number of colors, but I prefer the gold pig. Animal-lovers will want to note that 5% of proceeds go to the Humane Society.

Then there’s MOMA Store’s adorable pig cover, a pig face to put on top of a pot (or in the microwave). Made of silicone, and very silly, it allows steam to pour out of the snout. Who wouldn’t want this?

And finally, there’s the salt pig – a very pink, very cute salt holder in the shape of a very greedy pig.

Want to really pig out? Put all three into a single package for a truly spectacular gift.

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Gift Guide, Day 11

December 8, 2010


The first time someone told me about the existence of clams that grow to 15 pounds I was eighteen years old, and I was convinced that he was putting me on. It was, from my Manhattan perspective, impossible to think of such a giant clam as anything but a joke. The name made it seem even more absurd: Gooeyduck? (That’s how the word is pronounced.)

But geoducks are no joke. Native to the Pacific Northwest, they are among the stranger beasts of the world. And also among the most delicious. If you’ve ever had “giant clam” in a sushi bar, you’ve tasted geoduck. To me this is the essence of clam – briny, mild, crisp, crunchy. Just one taste makes me happy.

For an adventurous cook, nothing would be cooler than to open up a package and find a giant clam. If it were me? I’d slice that long neck into sushi on the spot, and make the fat belly into an awesome chowder. That is, after I’d stopped laughing – and expressing my endless thanks.

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Gift Guide, Day 10

December 7, 2010

Salmon Roe

Okay, I’m obsessed. I admit it. But every time I spread a little bit of sour cream onto a cracker and top it with salmon roe, I experience a tiny frisson of pleasure. Salmon roe is so jewel-like and beautiful, each tiny globe glistening orange. The eggs pop pleasantly in your mouth, delivering a surprising rush of flavor. And if you’re a caviar freak – I admit to that – this is the least expensive way to feed your obsession.

But lately I have found myself thinking that if it were not so inexpensive, it would be more prized. Consider the case of blue fin tuna, which was so despised it served as cat food for many years and then turned into the world’s most expensive fish. Some day epicures will discover the joy of salmon roe – and prices will soar.

Until then it makes a wonderful present, packaged with homemade blini (should I offer a recipe here?), and a carton of sour cream or crème fraiche.

It’s a gift that would certainly make me very happy.

There are many sources. Russ and Daughters and Zabars are two that I like.

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