December 16, 2010
Here’s the problem: If you love cheese as much as I do, you always buy too much. Then you watch it wither away in your refrigerator, dying a slow and horrible death. In order to protect it, you need to wrap it away from all the aggressive odors that inhabit your refrigerator, waiting ot pounce. But plastic or foil simply suffocate your cheese. Waxed paper is less lethal – it allows it to breathe – but offers little in the way of protection. If you want to make your cheese happy, cheese papers are the answer.
Somebody actually gave me a package of cheese papers a couple of years ago, and it changed my life; I’ve been grateful ever since. I’m pretty sure your friends will feel the same.
December 15, 2010
A Paella Pan:
Kitchen equipment is a difficult gift, because you have to know someone pretty well before you know what they might need. But a paella pan is a safe bet: Few people have them, and with the new focus on Spanish food, most cooks wish they did. But which pan to buy?
You can buy enormously expensive stainless steel paella pans in most kitchen stores, but I wouldn’t; although the cheaper carbon steel pans require care to keep them from rusting, most people won’t make paella often enough to justify the high cost of stainless. So I’d stick with tradition. You need to give some thought to size as well: it’s tempting to buy one of the giant pans that will feed a crowd, but most home stoves won’t accommodate a pan larger than 20 inches, and if it’s going into a home oven, 18 inches is pretty much the limit.
When I give paella pans, I usually add a bag of Bomba rice (wonderful stuff that absorbs three times its volume in liquid, making it perfect for paella), and as much saffron as I can afford. Nobody ever has too much saffron.
December 14, 2010
I hate skinning nuts. There, I’ve said it. It’s one of the few kitchen tasks I don’t enjoy. But hazelnuts are the worst; they’re just a complete pain. For those of us who consider Linzer Tarts an essential Christmas treat, this can be a problem. I used to spend hours peeling those mean little nuts.
Then I discovered Nuts Online– a fabulous resource for bakers – where you can buy blanched hazelnuts by the pound. A strange present, perhaps, but one any baker will thank you for. (And if blanched hazelnuts aren’t your thing, they’ve got all sorts of unusual products from goji berries to dark chocolate m&ms…)
December 13, 2010
Fauchon Christmas Tea:
I know proper tea drinkers will look down their collective noses at this. It’s not monkey-picked, or large leafed, or any of the other high-fallutin’ terms that connoisseurs use to make you know that their tea is better than yours. But I can’t help myself; I love this stuff.
When you open the tin, the loveliest perfume escapes into the room. It is cherries and caramel, orange peel and vanilla, with perhaps just a tiny tropical touch of pineapple. I can make a tin last all year, so that even in the heat of summer, I can brew a pot and remember how the air smells when it snows. I love the fact that Fauchon only makes Un Soir de Noel at this time of year, and it is my annual Christmas gift to myself. Occasionally I also buy it for a friend – if I think they'll like it as much as I do.
December 12, 2010
Bring Home the Bacon:
The best present I ever gave my former boss, Si Newhouse (the epitome of the man who has everything), was some bacon from Violet Hills Farm. I waited on line at the farmers market for hours to get it. But that was years ago, when the bacon craze was new and there was no such thing as a Bacon of the Month Club.
These days, if you’re looking to surprise a bacon freak, you have to think beyond the edible. And you certainly can. My favorite is the very cool, very strange bacon wallet, but there are all kinds of other appealing bacon products. Bacon soap? Bacon lollipops? Bacon jellybeans? And don’t forget the adorable Bendy Mr. Bacon, who will sit on your friends' desks making them extremely hungry.