Gift Guide, Day 4

December 1, 2010

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve

I had the terrible misfortune of discovering the world’s best Bourbon 22 years ago, right before I became pregnant. I bought myself a few bottles, which sat there, mocking me, for the entire 9 months.

The Van Winkles age their Bourbons longer than other people. Some people swear by the 23 year old, but to me it seems more like Cognac than a great American liquor. The 20 year old, on the other hand, is the sexiest, smoothest, most delicious drink there is. It can stand up to full-flavored foods (it has the ability to make even mediocre barbecue taste great), while being subtle enough to enhance delicate dishes. And a single splash will improve any stew.

Pappy’s not easy to find, but the website offers some help. If you really love someone, you’ll seek it out. They will be yours forever.

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Gift Guide, Day 3

November 30, 2010


They open a window into long-gone worlds, offering an unselfconscious portrait of another time. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than spend a long morning browsing through a great old bookshop. And if there’s a better way to honor friendship than by offering a specially chosen old cookbook, I’ve never found it.

My most recent find was a seed catalog from World War II, filled with great drawings of long-gone vegetables (and including an exhortation to grow the magic vegetable, kudzu). The seed company has the same name as one of my closest friends, and it will make a fine Christmas treat.

You never know what you will find, but there is always something for everyone. In the past I’ve found first editions of MFK Fisher books, a whole trove of volumes from Alan Davidson’s library, a book written in the fifties for supermarket executives on the future of the grocery store – even copies of my own first cookbook, MMMMM: A Feastiary – which I ran out of years ago.

My favorite old cookbook stores? Bonnie Slotnick in New York, and Omnivore Books in San Francisco.

Happy browsing!

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Gift Guide, Day 2

November 29, 2010

Artisanal Soy Sauce

Nobody goes out and spends twenty bucks on a bottle of soy sauce. At least too few people do. Which makes this a perfect gift opportunity.

Artisanal soy sauce is one of those magic elixirs that makes everything taste better. If you’ve never had it, you won’t believe how different it can be from the commercial kind. (And if all you’ve ever tasted is the really cheap supermarket soy sauce that is basically caramelized water, you have a real revelation ahead of you. Just the jump from that to, say, Kikkoman, is huge. The leap into one of the hand-made brands is another enormous step forward.)

You can buy a few different brands of fine soy sauce from Corti Brothers in Sacramento. You can buy it other places as well, but when you go to the Corti Brothers website you can also download the most opinionated, illuminating and interesting newsletter in the business. I learn something every time I read one of Darrell Corti’s entries. That’s another great gift – and it’s free.

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The Gift Guide

November 28, 2010

Starting today I’m going to post a new gift suggestion every day until Christmas. These are all products I’ve tried and loved, all gifts that I’d like to receive myself. (And although I shouldn’t have to say this, I should add that nobody’s paying for product placement.)

There’s a certain irony in this, because when I was at Gourmet I did a terrible job of showcasing stuff to buy. This was partly because there was always so much pressure from the publishers to showcase the advertisers’ products. If you’re wondering why there are always watches on the cooks, there’s your answer. But it was also because I could never figure out a really interesting way to offer shopping suggestions. But now that I’m no longer at the magazine, when people ask me for gift suggestions, it all seems very straightforward. So here it is, a list of gifts that I think your friends will appreciate.

I’m starting with Mangalitsa pork, because I cooked some the other day, and I was truly startled by the sheer deliciousness of these beautiful wooly pigs.


I love baking with Mangalitsa lard, which is pure white, soft and has a fine sweet flavor that is not quite like anything I’ve tasted before. When you’re making pie dough it rolls out like a dream, and bakes up into a wonderfully flaky crust that lacks the mean piggy flavor of so much lard.

But the last time I ordered the lard from De Bragga and Spitler (, I decided to order some meat as well. Let me just say that it is, hands down, the most delicious pork I have ever tasted. It is so sweet, succulent and seductively flavorful that the only seasoning it needs is some salt and pepper (and maybe a few cloves of garlic). Trust me: if you send this to a friend, he will love you forever.

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The World’s Best Waffles

November 21, 2010

Fannie Farmer’s Yeast-Raised Waffles

Sprinkle 1 package of dry yeast over a half cup of warm water in a large bowl and wait for it to dissolve.

Meanwhile melt a stick of butter, add 2 cups of milk and allow it to just gently warm up. Add it to the yeast mixture.

Mix a teaspoon each of salt and sugar into 2 cups of flour. Add this to the liquid and beat until smooth.

Cover the bowl and let it stand overnight at room temperature.
In the morning beat in 2 eggs and a quarter teaspoon of baking soda, stirring well. Cook on a very hot waffle iron until crisp on each side.

This makes about 8 waffles, and will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

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