Gift Guide 2018: Contained Burn

November 30, 2018

A couple of years ago Nick gave me a sous-vide circulator for Xmas.  I have to admit I used it a few times and then pretty much put it away; I like the things chefs manage to do with sous vide cooking (sous vide squab is superb), but when I tried it myself it wasn’t much fun.

But along with the circulator Nick gave me this Butane Torch – so I could make the pale sous vide meat pretty with a quick sear.  And while the circulator stays in the drawer, the torch pretty much lives on the counter. It’s a remarkably useful cooking tool.

Chicken not burnished to a beautiful brown? Torch it!  You want a little char on those marshmallows you’re floating on your cocoa?  Bring out the torch.  And if you’re tired of cleaning the mess on the stove each time you peel peppers -the torch is here to help.

Of  course it does all those ordinary tasks, like melting the sugar on your creme brulee and adding color to your meringue with astonishing ease.  And should the spirit move you to make baked Alaska – the torch is far easier than the oven.

This torch is easy to use – you just screw it onto a butane canister – and it costs less than $30.  But if you have the kinds of friends who insist on nothing but the best, you might want to consider this sansaire searing kit. The flame roars up to 2200 degrees – and the torch comes with a rack so you won’t ruin your cutting boards. I haven’t tried it myself, but all the pros I know swear by it, and if you’re willing to spend almost $200, you might want to consider this  for a very special friend.

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Gift Guide 2018: Pick of the Peppers

November 29, 2018

Pepper is too often overlooked.  We spend much more time thinking about how to grind it than we do about the spice itself. Which is strange, given that pepper is one of the world’s most-traded spices.

I used to buy special peppercorns from India, which were hand-picked and dried in the sun; I featured them in a Gift Guide about ten years ago. Sadly, I can’t find that particular pepper anymore. But this year I’ve found another fantastic peppercorn that makes just about everything taste better. 

These Cambodian red peppercorns come from Kampot, which has long been the favored pepper place for cooks. They have a fine fruitiness that reminds me a bit of the flavor notes in Habanero peppers (although they don’t have that heat).  Their floral quality adds an interesting note to all manner of dishes. One of my favorite ways to serve it? Sprinkled over ice cream!

 If you want to read more about Kampot peppers, here’s an article from Serious Eats.  And if you think a seven dollar present requires a bit of embellishing, there are plenty of ways to bulk up this gift: a pepper grinder, more pepper, or perhaps a sack of this fantastic salt

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Gift Guide 2018: Super Umami

November 28, 2018

The ancient Romans called it garum – and used it in all their savory dishes. In Sicily it’s known as colatura. And all across southeast Asia fish sauce is an essential ingredient.

I was thrilled when I first discovered Red Boat, which is made in  Phu Quoc, home of the best Vietnamese fish sauce. But now they’ve gone one better with aged Phamily Reserve Fish Sauce

Is it different?  Yes. Fine fish sauce has a clear sharpness – like a knife blade cutting through layered flavors.  This special sauce, aged in barrels that once held bourbon and maple syrup, has the rounded quality of fine old cheese. The edges have been blunted so it adds an elegant note to everything it touches.  If you love dry-aged beef, this special aged fish sauce will make you very happy.

It’s expensive – $20 for a small bottle.  But it’s like perfume – a little goes a long way -so this gift will last. If you’re in need of a present for the cook who has everything, this is a good bet.  Aged fish sauce?  They probably don’t have it hanging around the larder.

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Gift Guide 2018: The Daily Grind

November 27, 2018

A few years ago I suggested you offer your friends a Cuisinart spice mill as a gift because it was the most-used appliance in my kitchen.  I absolutely loved that little mill.

Sadly, however, the Cuisinart people “upgraded” the old mill, and although it comes with a lot of fancy extras, I pretty much hate the replacement. It’s hard to clean and it doesn’t do a very good job on hard spices, so I’ve been looking for a new spice mill. Meanwhile, I’ve been relying on a Krups coffee grinder to grind my spices: I think this is one of the great bargains in kitchen appliances. It works well, it lasts years, and it costs less than twenty bucks.

But the Microplane people have now come out with this Microplane Spice Mill – and it’s definitely a keeper.  It works best on really hard spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise and annato seeds – but it’s a modest little thing that takes up very little space on your kitchen counter. Offer one to your friends, and they’ll thank you all through the holidays as they make mulled wine, nutmeg-dusted eggnog and cinnamon-topped cocoa.

Incidentally, although you can buy the mill from Amazon, I’m linking to JB Prince. If you don’t know about this fantastic resource for chefs, you’re in for a wonderful time navigating around the website.

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Gift Guide 2018: A Lovely Light

November 26, 2018

Cheating a bit today, because this isn’t a food or cooking item. But I love this little Lumio light so much that I want all my friends to have one.

I fell in love with these little lamps on first sight.  Closed, they look like innocent little wooden books sitting on your table.

Open one up, and it turns into a perfect circle (held open by magnets).

It even comes with a strap so that you can hang it over your table.

The light is lovely, the lamp is completely portable, and it elicits a little sigh of pleasure from your guests when you open it up.  Really.  And today being, you know, that online shopping day, the MOMA store is offering this beautifully designed object at a discount.