December 21, 2010
Colatura di Alici:
This is the essence of anchovy – and very likely what the Romans thought of as garum. Its closest relative is Asian fish sauce, but Colatura di Alici is richer, more elegant (and more expensive). Still, it’s a powerful elixir, and a single bottle will very likely last a year in most people’s refrigerators.
What do you do with the wonderful stuff? Use it almost anywhere that you’d use anchovies. I add it to Caesar salad dressings, for instance, and I like to sprinkle a few drops into a bowl of sautéed kale. When I'm making a simple dish of spaghetti with garlic, it adds a wonderful depth of flavor.
This is probably the last day you can still mail order a gift in time for Christmas. The truth is that anyone who likes to cook would be very happy to see this show up at their door. It will give them the opportunity to play around with an exotic ingredient all year long. And every time they use it, they'll think of you.
December 20, 2010
A Pizza Stone:
As any of my friends will tell you, I’m not much of an equipment freak; I was probably the last person in America to buy a food processor, and I’m still using some of my mother’s geriatric pots and pans. But every once in a while you come upon something that turns you into a better cook.
I’d put the pizza stone into that category. A good one will make your oven heat more regularly and help the crusts on homemade bread and pizza become seriously crisp. And if you’re looking for a good present for a cook, this is one thing that many people both covet and lack.
I like the 14 by 16 inch rectangular stone from Old Stone Oven. You can buy one just about anywhere, but if you’re in a mail order mood, Amazon will still send it off in time to bake a crisp loaf of bread for Christmas dinner.
December 19, 2010
Gourmet’s last big idea, conceived by Jackie Terrebonne, was a series of pop-up cookie shops at Macy’s. They would have been beautiful, lapidary little shops with cookies displayed like jewels. But the magazine closed and they never happened. The accompanying Gourmet Cookie Book, however, was already finished; Romulo Yanes had shot all the photographs, Richard Ferretti had laid the book out and I had written the copy. And even though I asked the publisher not to put my name on it, every time I see this sweet little book it makes me happy.
This isn’t just another bunch of cookie recipes. We wanted to create a mini-history of cookies in America. We tasted through our archives, selecting the best cookie from each of Gourmet’s 68 years. Then, rather than homogenizing the recipes into current recipe style (as we did with The Gourmet Cookbook), we left the recipes exactly as originally written. If you did nothing but read the instructions you’d learn a great deal about the way we were.
The book offers a tiny taste of American history. As new ingredients came into the culture, they were incorporated into cookies. New equipment became available to home cooks, and that also allowed the recipes to evolve. Time passed, we kept baking cookies, and our tastes kept changing. All of this is reflected in the recipes. The discounted book sells for about $10, not much more than a fancy Christmas card.
Just to be clear: I do not get a penny from the sale of this book.
December 18, 2010
A Very Sharp Knife:
The best present you can give a cook is one great kitchen knife. But choosing a knife is very personal; everyone should really go into the shop himself, play around with the knives, pick the one that feels right.
Knife sharpeners, on the other hand, are a universal gift. Dull knives make cooking a chore instead of a pleasure, and every kitchen needs at least one easy to use sharpener. But here’s the problem: the wrong one can ruin your knives. The Rollsharp won’t do that – on top of being inexpensive and very easy to use. Your friend will thank you every time she slices an onion and discovers that a sharp knife means no tears.
December 17, 2010
Today is National Maple Syrup Day:
And that reminded me that maple syrup is one of my favorite gifts. A few years ago I was packing up bottles of deep, dark grade B maple syrup for all my friends. Then I discovered Blis; What’s different about this syrup is that it’s aged in old bourbon barrels, which takes the edge off the sweetness, imparting a mellower, slightly smokey taste. It’s fabulous stuff.
This year I’m giving it to a friend, packaged with my favorite waffle maker, a cast iron Jotul. I’ve been using mine for 40 years, and it makes perfect waffles (in the shape of hearts) every time. Unfortunately, these wonderful waffle irons are no longer being manufactured. Fortunately, you can find them on ebay all the time.
I’m also including a copy of my favorite waffle recipe.
And I know where I’d like to be eating breakfast on the day after Christmas!