A Few Last Minute Gift Suggestions

December 22, 2017

It’s a little late to mail a gift for Christmas.  But it’s not too late to pick up a gift.

Here are a few things you can find at the supermarket or hardware store that would make really welcome presents.

Pyrex clear custard cups

The workhorse vessels of the kitchen, these might be the bowls I use the most.  Perfect for mise en place, for separating eggs, to hold olives for hors d’oeuvres, for custard, or to serve pate (recipe below).  And, of course, for leftovers. Most supermarkets sell them by the set.

A bouquet of herbs

This time of year I tend to use herbs the way most people use flowers. A bouquet of mint, rosemary and parsley looks very pretty on the table.  Put some herbs in a small vase or jar and take them along to Christmas dinner.

A small paring knife. 

Because you can never have too many.

A bottle of really good vanilla

It’s become as expensive as perfume. And everybody always needs a little more.

A bird feeder and some seed.

Unless you’re in an extremely urban area, every supermarket sells them.  This time of year there is nothing quite as pleasant as watching birds come flocking to a feeder. If you’ve never experienced this particular pleasure, you’re in for a treat.

A chance to help someone help themselves. 

There are hundreds of great charities dealing with hunger.  But one of my favorites is heifer international, which lets you buy an animal for a far away family.  You can buy sheep, ducks, rabbits, pigs, even fish – and change a family’s life.  But I really love the idea of a water buffalo.

Should you be offering those custard cups to a friend, you might want to fill them up.  Here’s my favorite recipe for chicken liver pate.


Gift Guide 2017: Food for Thought

December 20, 2017

Given what’s going on in Washington, I just can’t suggest another thing today.  So how about something even better?

One of the most interesting events I attended this year was a Food Tank summit on waste.  If you have someone on your list who’s interested in the future of food, a membership in the organization would make a very thoughtful gift.

Food Tank, with support from an impressive number of patrons, puts on conferences throughout the year, and throughout the country, on food issues.  They’re always sold out, and there is always an impressive group of speakers. Issues they’ll be tackling next year include how to cultivate the next generation of food activists, hunger and obesity and growing food policy.

Memberships are $99, and include, among other things, a ticket to one of the summits (they normally go for a few hundred dollars) and the tote bag above. This is one gift you can feel really good about.


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Gift Guide 2017: Unusual Books for Cooks

December 19, 2017

Everybody offers book suggestions in their gift guides. I’m generally more inclined to remind you about vintage books, which are a welcome addition to any library. This year however, a few new food books flew mostly under the radar, and every one of them would make a great gift.

There is, for instance, the wonderful Julia Turshen’s Feed the Resistance, which is the perfect present for people who understand that cooking is a political act. The little book is not only inspiring, but also filled with easy and unusual recipes you really want to make. An extra incentive?  The proceeds go to the ACLU.

History?  There’s never been a book quite like Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene. It’s high time African-American cooks began to set the record straight. History belongs to those who choose to write it – and much of our own food history has been written right out of the record. Here Twitty chronicles his own ancestral food journey with remarkable results.

Setting the record straight is also the mission of Unforgettable.  Paula Wolfert is one of America’s most influential cooks, and until now she has never received the attention she deserves.  Her greatest recipes are here, along with a lovely biography of one of our most fearless, adventurous and intrepid cooks.

I’m not generally a fan of chef’s books; I don’t think home cooks should feel they need to cook like professionals. But here are two books written straight from the heart that would make perfect presents for the right people.

Chris Cosentino has always been a fan of the fifth quarter – the unloved, and mostly unused parts of animals.  His Offal Good is a great guide for cooking heart, tripe, oxtails, tongue, kidneys and the like. This would be a great gift for an adventurous cook.

And for people who are sincerely interested in the seasonal, local, nose to tail ethic, Zac Pelacio has written Project 258: Making Dinner at Fish and Game.  Pelacio is not only living the chef’s dream – he’s also putting everything on the line here, living with the land. His allegiance to the notion means that when he uses fish sauce at his restaurant, he’s actually made it himself. This isn’t just recipes: it’s passion on the page.

And finally, a shout out to the farmers.  If you want a beautifully written ode to the hardest way of American life, you can’t do better than Ted Genoway’s This Blessed Earth.  Eye-opening.

Wait – one last thing. I couldn’t resist this. If you’re really stumped, you might consider giving a vintage manual.  Surely you know someone who’s longing to learn to paint dead trout?

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Gift Guide 2017: For the Cook Who Has Everything

December 18, 2017

You’re wracking your brains because they’ve already got every appliance you can think of, and you’re fresh out of ideas.  But have you considered looking backward instead of forward?

The people at ancientcookware.com import cooking vessels from all over the world.  Hard to find items like Thai sticky rice steamers, Indian tandoors and Brazilian soapstone pots.

Two of my favorites are the Indian biryani pot above.  Made of clay, it’s the original slow cooker.

And this large Mexican metate, meant to grind dried corn for tortillas.  Hand carved from lava stone, it is equally good for seeds, nuts, chiles and spices.

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Gift Guide 2017: Fantasyland

December 17, 2017

We’re in dreamland here, but the chefs I know have been singing the praises of the Thermomix for many years. They’re made in Germany, and although professional chefs have been using them for years, only recently have the elite machines been sold for domestic use in the United States.

These superior kitchen robots happily perform all sorts of functions: the machine purportedly grinds, emulsifies, weighs, steams, chops, stirs, blends, kneads, and heats – and that’s just for starters. Chefs are enamored of their ability to make sauces, heating and stirring at the same time while maintaining even temperature. Home cooks like them because they really do make cooking easier.

But there’s a decided downside. A few, actually. They’re noisy. There’s a learning curve.  And sadly, they cost a fortune. But if there’s someone on your list you’re willing to spend $1500 on, this might just be the perfect present.

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