Gift Guide 2018: A Taste of the Past

December 5, 2018

The most fun I’ve had lately is trolling through Lizz Young’s new website.  Ms. Young has just set up shop in Brooklyn, selling a wide range of cookbooks, manuscripts, menus, advertising cards….. If it has to do with food, she’s interested.

For food historians the most fascinating offering is the MFK Fisher archive.  This amazing trove, which included books, letters, bills, contracts and the like is selling for $225,000, but you can look through the offerings on the site. It gives you an interesting insight into Fisher’s life. 

I spent three days with Mary Frances at the end of her life, going in and out of her bedroom when she grew too tired to talk.  I looked through her books, drawings and cookbooks, but I always wondered what was in those desk drawers and the boxes beneath the bed.  And now, here it all is.

If you’re looking for a thoughtful gift for someone who’s interested in food, Lizz Young is sure to have something. There are great old menus…

Strange cookbooks:

and wonderful ephemera:

There is also this extremely moving reminder of a terrible time. Even after all this time, just looking at the cover made me burst into tears.

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Gift Guide 2018: For Pappy Fanatics

December 4, 2018

There are those of us who love Pappy Van Winkle.  Those of us who save the final drop in our bottle of twenty year old family reserve because we know we’ll never get another.

While you probably can’t gift us a bottle of our favorite booze (last time I looked a bottle of this cost almost three grand)  the company has very cannily come up with other options.  They have an entire website of Pappy-related gifts, and while I’m not about to fall for Pappy slippers, hot sauce, cufflinks or socks (they’ve left no stone unturned), I’m planning on sending this rather lovely bowl, made of the staves of old bourbon barrels, to a Pappy fanatic friend.

Why is there a Pappy cult?  For one thing, they never made much, as this Forbes article explains.  For another, there was a huge Pappy heist a few years ago, further decimating the supply. And for a third – it’s just plain delicious.

One person who reviewed this bowl swears he can still smell the Pappy in the wood.  Which is good enough for me. I should note that this is not exactly a lightweight gift; it costs $160 and weighs in at a cool seven pounds.  But while it won’t give you a buzz, it holds a lot of memories – and it’s certainly more affordable than a bottle of the good stuff.

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Gift Guide 2018: Induction

December 3, 2018

Why don’t I have one of these?  I can’t explain it.  Years ago, when I was at Gourmet, I asked Jeffrey Steingarten to write an article on conduction cooking.  He, of course, did one of his typically obsessive inquiries and wrote a piece so persuasive every single editor at the magazine vowed to buy one.  We all thought that a single portable burner would be perfect: it doesn’t take up much space, it gives you an extra burner – and it heats water with remarkable speed.  Everyone who makes coffee or boils pasta, we reasoned, should have one.

So why don’t I?  I can’t explain it. But if my family is reading this and looking for a present for me, could I please have one?  I think it’s about time. 

I’ve done my research, and this Duxtop 8100 MC-Portable-Induction-Countertop version seems to be the universal choice for both price and efficiency.  It’s apparently small, light, easy to clean. And according to every website I’ve read, it heats water at lightning speed.  It only costs $55.  Please?


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Gift Guide 2018: Smashing!!

December 2, 2018

Have you noticed the number of hip new recipes that call for a simple kitchen appliance almost nobody has anymore?

I’m talking about a potato masher.

In the last week alone I’ve come upon two recipes calling for this antique appliance.  An Alison Roman recipe for lemony  cauliflower with  hazelnuts, an  Ottolenghi recipe for couscous with shrimp and clams.  And I make my favorite tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes and a potato masher.  (The recipe is below.)

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to potatoes I long ago abandoned my mother’s potato masher for the far more efficient ricer.  (If you don’t have one, I recommend this particular one, which is easy to store and easy to clean.)  But I’m willing to bet most of your friends don’t own a simple potato masher, and this excellent Oxo masher is an extremely inexpensive way to remedy that. 

And now, for that tomato sauce recipe.  It’s one I got years ago from an old lady I met while standing in line at Di Palo’s in Little Italy. I abandoned it for the famously easily Marcella Hazan recipe, but lately I’ve gone back to this one which is so much better.

Because the recipe relies on the irresistible taste of really good tomatoes it’s best in late summer, when tomatoes are at their peak. But in a pinch, you can use the rather insipid Roma tomatoes that are always in the market.  If you do, add a couple of canned San Marzano tomatoes; the texture will be wrong, but they’ll add flavor.

Mrs. Bergamini’s Fresh Tomato Sauce

3 pounds fresh tomatoes

Olive oil

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper

1 pound spaghetti

Handful of basil leaves, shredded

Unsalted butter

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan


Boil a pot of water, and when it’s hot, toss in the tomatoes for a minute or so. Drain in a colander and run cold water over them to cool them down.

Peel the tomatoes.  Remove the seeds and liquid, saving them in a bowl.

Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. Add the hot pepper flakes, then squish the tomatoes in with your hands. Add a teaspoon of salt, and a few grindings of pepper, and simmer the tomatoes for about half an hour, smashing them with a potato masher every few minutes.  You want a chunky sauce.

Meanwhile put the seeds and liquid through a sieve, and add the liquid to the pot.

While the sauce cooks, bring water for pasta to a boil.  Throw in the dried spaghetti, and cook about ¾ of the way through; the timing will depend on the type and brand of pasta you use.

When the pasta is almost done, dip a cup into the boiling water and extract some water.

Taste the reduced tomato sauce and add salt and pepper to your liking. When the pasta is close to cooked, use tongs to scoop it into the reduced tomato sauce.  If the sauce has become too thick, add pasta water.  Allow to cook for another couple of minutes, until the pasta is perfectly al dente.  Stir in a couple tablespoons of butter, the basil bits and the grated cheese. Add more salt if needed.

Serve to four ecstatically happy people.

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Gift Guide 2018: Affordable Luxury

December 1, 2018

Sometimes only excess will do.

One of the things I love best about food is that it offers many opportunities to indulge your friends without breaking the bank.  You’re probably not about to buy your friend a Lamborghini, an original Matisse  or a Dior dress.  But a perfect peach (in season) isn’t out of the question.  And while you may not be able to give your favorite people jars of caviar or entire truffles, there are other ways to  make them feel indulged.

Consider, for example, this Truffle Butter.  It’s just a tiny jar, but when you open it up, put a small dollop onto a baked potato or a slice of warm, rare steak, the aroma leaps into the air and fills the room.  It’s really intense.

The first time I tried it I was reminded of an evening I spent in the kitchen with Alain Ducasse.  The great chef took a huge black truffle, sliced it into thick disks, and then slowly spread each one with butter and fed them to me, slice by slice.  I doubt I’ll ever have another experience quite like that, but last night I baked a potato, slathered it with this truffle butter and was transported back to that moment.

The Truffleist’s fine butter is nothing more than excellent butter, truffle and salt. It will keep in the refrigerator for months so that any time your friends feel low they can spoon some onto pasta or spread it onto a slice of toast; at $40 it’s a wonderful reminder to be grateful that there are so many fine flavors in this world.


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