Gift Guide 2019: Hold the Soy Sauce

December 12, 2019

The first time I tasted Bonji – at Majordomo in L.A. – I was tempted to pick the bottle up and drink it.

It’s like soy sauce, but subtler. Fermented and cold-pressed, it’s made the same way traditional soy sauce is – only not with soy beans. The Momofuku Culinary Lab is reimagining Asian basics – they also make a miso subsitute called Hozon- for an American audience. Bonji is made from rye, and it’s lighter and less salty than most soy sauces, with a sweet, almost fruity backtaste.

I’ve got a whole range of soy sauces in my pantry, from very expensive aged Japanese brands to a smoked version, one aged in cherry wood, another from Korea that’s absolutely funky. But these days I find myself reaching for the Bonji: I just love the way it tastes.

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Gift Guide 2019: We All Need Another Cookbook.

December 11, 2019

Sea Urchin Lumpias. Takoyaki Hush Puppies. Coffee-Braised Brisket. Shrimp and Okra Pancakes. Cilantro Rice Chicken Congee.

What do these recipe have in common? They’re all featured in a wonderful new cookbook put out by the Vilcek Foundation, A Place at the Table.

If you don’t know about the Vilcek Foundation, you should. Their mission is to honor the contributions made by immigrants in all fields. In 2010 they gave their first culinary award to Jose Andres. (Full disclosure: I was on the jury.) Jose wrote the foreword to this book; Padma Lakshmi wrote the introduction.

“The forty immigrant chefs profiled in this cookbook,” writes Jose, “and the hundreds of thousand of immigrants who work in the restaurant industry around the country are key to making America – and American food – great.”

The chefs hail from everywhere; you’ll meet Corey Lee, Alon Shaya, Pichet Ong, Daniela Soto-Innes, Dominque Crenn and Emma Bengtsson. And many others. As for the recipes- they all sound really wonderful.

And did I mention that the book is beautiful?

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Gift Guide 2019: Open Up

December 10, 2019

This is my favorite wine opener.

I bought it for $2 at a thrift shop in Berkeley in 1974, and I’ve used it almost every day since.

It has no bells and no whistles: it just works.  And it wasn’t even designed to open wine.  It’s an antique beer opener. 

If you’re looking for a really thoughtful gift for someone who likes wine (or artisanal beer brews with corks instead of caps), you could not do better than a vintage beer corkscrew.  You can find them in many antique stores, rummage shops and the like.  And there are dozens of online sources at wildly varying prices.  Try this one – or this one

And while you’re at, you might consider getting one for yourself. 

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Gift Guide 2019: Mr. Robinson was Right

December 9, 2019

Have you ever walked into a store, liked everything so much you couldn’t decide what you wanted and ended up buying nothing? That was my experience at a store in Florence, Mario Lucca Giusti that sells “crystal” made of plastic: glasses, vases and pitchers that look exactly like elegant glass.

They also have a line of the most beautiful plastic plates and platters I’ve ever seen. You’d never know they’re not ceramic.

I loved it all.

Turns out you can find many of their products – at slightly higher prices – in the United States. Two good sources are here, and here.

If you know someone clumsy (me, for instance), who’s constantly breaking things, just about everything Giusti makes would be a wonderful gift.

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Gift Guide 2019: A Truly Great Pestle

December 8, 2019

Nigel Slater has one. Nigella Lawson has one too. And they both swear by their flat mortar and pestles. Now I want one too.

Think about it: doesn’t it make sense to work on a flat surface when you’re making pesto or guacamole? And doesn’t it make sense to have a pestle that nestles into your hand?

They’re beautiful. They’re expensive. And as far as I can tell, the only way to get the gorgeous one they have is to order it from English ceramicist John Julian, who makes them by hand. (Here’s an American source.….)

And while we’re on the subject of pestles – if you’ve never seen this hilarious clip from The Court Jester, you have a real treat in store. The vessel with the pestle….

Okay, can’t help myself. Speaking of Danny Kaye (the great actor was one of the best cooks I’ve ever met), here he is with Louis Armstrong: When the Saints...

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