Gift Guide, Day 5

December 5, 2012

This is, I think, the year of the spoon.  

For years I’ve proudly used my Gray Kunz spoon for tasting, basting and the like. Chef Kunz designed his clever little spoon years ago, and when he was at the helm of Lespinasse in the nineties every cook who worked there was issued three upon arrival.  Chefs tucked them into their pockets, wearing them proudly like a badge of honor and before long they had spread through the city of New York. Now anyone can buy the Gray Kunz spoon; at about ten dollars, it makes a great stocking stuffer.


But the truth is, I don’t use my Kunz spoon much anymore.  It’s been supplanted by Michael Ruhlman’s terrific offset spoons.  They come in three sizes, they’re perfectly balanced, and they’re great for everything you do in the kitchen – basting, saucing, tasting, removing the fat from stock. (Don't miss his homespun  how-to video.) On top of that, they’re beautiful, and I find myself passing up my sterling silver and putting these on the table as serving spoons instead.


Ruhlman’s also designed a wonderful perforated spoon, which turns the difficult job of  poaching eggs into child’s play.  I’m hoping that, for his next act, Michael will turn his attention to a skimming spoon. I could certainly use a new and improved one.






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Gift Guide, Day 4

December 4, 2012

A Truly American Taste

It’s becoming harder and harder to find unusual gifts for serious cooks. But here’s one you can be pretty sure even that irritating person who possesses every possible ingredient will not have stashed in the larder: Sorghum Syrup.

I had my first taste of this American classic last winter in Kentucky, and found myself so fascinated I came home laden with jars of the stuff. At first I was just looking for an organic ingredient to replace the nasty corn syrup that goes into recipes like hot fudge and pecan pie, but once I began tasting the syrups made by different producers, I was hooked. True sorghum is an artisanal product with a distinct taste of terroir and it changes enormously from one producer to the next.

Since then I’ve experimented with recipes: it did wonders for the pecan pie at Thanksgiving. Mixed with butter (1/4 cup sorghum syrup blended into a stick of unsalted butter), it makes a spectacular spread for a warm biscuit. Sorghum’s great on pancakes, it makes very fine caramels, and it lends a whole new flavor to coffee or tea.  (If you want to read more, Rona Robert’s book Sweet, Sweet Sorghum is a good source of both information and recipes.)

I'm a fan of the sorghum made by the Holbrook Brothers in West Liberty Kentucky (they make an intriquing orange variation), but you'll have to give them a call as they don’t have a website. Two others I’d recommend are the Townsend Sorghum Mill’s clean, straightforward product, and the exotic vanilla and bourbon laced sorghum from Bourbon Barrel Foods (and while you’re on that website, check out the terrific Bluegrass Soy Sauce).

Americans now make excellent prosciutto, mozzarella and kim chi, and that makes me very proud. But isn’t it time we rediscovered our own native products? This one's  been made in this country since Colonial times.





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Gift Guide, Day 3

December 3, 2012


I didn’t mean to mention this so early in the season, but my favorite jam maker is selling out fast.  Pim’s Moorpark Apricot is no more, and it’s too late to get the fascinating Saffron Peach. Pim Techamuanvivit makes her spectacular jams in very small batches, and I’m afraid that if I wait any longer they’ll all be gone. 


If you have a jam-lover on your list (and who doesn’t), they will be extremely grateful to you for introducing them to the Jam Goddess of Los Gatos.  Better still, buy them a subscription to her jam lovers club and they’ll thank you all year long. 



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Gift Guide, Day 2

December 2, 2012

Vintage Menus

Why didn’t anyone think of this before?  Cool
Culinaria has gathered an enormous collection of vintage menus from all over the world and reprinted them on 130 pound paper.  The collection comprises hundreds of menus dating back to the late nineteenth century.

This is from their website:

“Our favorite period is from the years 1930–1960 and  the venues are mostly located in the Americas. This was a boom time when independent restaurateurs were positively buccaneering in the way they marketed their restaurants and themselves. It was a time when fish smoked pipes and cigars. Prawns and cockroaches wore top hats and spats. Voluptuous brunettes sat astride lobsters and devil like women drained their cocktail glasses in New York bars.  Proprietors hired celebrated artists and highly talented illustrators to create stunning imagery that expressed both the personality of the owner as well as the character of the establishment.”

The menus (and diner signs) are listed by city and category, so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for.  Fair warning: these people are passionate about menus, and they’ve collected so much information that I find myself spending hours on the site, just clicking on these great old menus and reading about long-gone restaurants. 

The menu covers are reprinted in various sizes, starting at 13”x19” ($28) to 20”x24” ($52).  The prints come with an 11"x17" copy of the interior menu.  All I can say is that if you can’t find an appropriate present here, the person you’re trying to please has zero interest in restaurants. 

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Gift Guide 2012, Day One

December 1, 2012

The first time I tasted the French trout roe
at Russ and Daughters, I could hardly believe it; it has the gorgeous color of salmon roe combined with the rich fruitness of gray oscetra.  And at  about a hundred dollars a pound, it's the best alternative caviar I've found to date.  You can eat it with wild abandon! Anyone who showed up with this would be very welcome at my house.


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