The Mark Bittman Guide to Holiday Materialism (AKA Our Gift Picks)
As many of you might imagine, it took a little prodding from me to convince one Mark Bittman to run a gift guide. (He’s more of a “just because” kind of gifter, refusing to pay attention to any specific time of year, which I totally respect.) But since I love a good gift guide, I managed to wrestle his and Daniel’s favorite kitchen-related items out of them (and our colleague Kerri's too, for good measure). I was not surprised to see that my picks were more of the, ahem, aesthetic variety, and the boys chose more utilitarian items. But it’s a good list, and we hope you find it useful.
Burkelman Opalescent Champagne Coupes
It’s not possible for a picture to show how pretty these coupes are in person; I fell in love with them upon first viewing (my sister got them as a wedding gift). You can get them for a gift, but a gentle warning: you’ll likely end up buying yourself a set, too (although, as of this writing, I have yet to treat myself. Talk about restraint!). They’re that special.
Dinner: Changing the Game
I use this indispensable Melissa Clark cookbook almost as much as I use How to Cook Everything, and that’s saying a lot. MClark is that rare breed of cook who can create recipes that are as easy as they are impressive-feeling.
Shibori Cocktail Napkins
You know what’s underrated? Cocktail napkins. Every time my husband and I have people over, I find myself wishing I had those dainty little napkins popular among all our friends who really have their shit together (and I think these ones are just so pretty). Great for any host—seasoned or aspiring.
I do not discriminate when it comes to chocolate. I eat a lot of garbage chocolate (Twix, Baby Ruth, etc.), some middle-of-the-road chocolate (Justin’s peanut butter cups), and a good amount of fancy-ass chocolate. My favorite in the latter category is small-batch, bean-to-bar Dandelion Chocolate (their Wampu, Honduras bar is my favorite). It’s rich and just-sweet-enough and equally fantastic for snacking and for baking things (you might try their chocolate chip cookies). The packaging is beautiful and (full disclosure, I worked with them a while back) the Dandelion team is the best. Gift the three-bar set or their hot chocolate mix, which is the ground chocolate base—made from their 70% Camino Verde, Ecuador single-origin chocolate—the team uses for all of their hot chocolate drinks.
La Maison Inondée Bowl
I don’t know how I’m going to resist not buying myself this bowl, or a few of them. (And if you have a Lichtenstein fan in your life, this is a no-brainer.)
Every time I go to the grocery store and buy a gigantic box of kosher salt I think to myself, “Holy shit: how could something so necessary and life-affirming be so cheap?” I almost feel the same way about this gnocchi board. Yes, it’s sort of a glorified fork when it comes to rolling pasta (I mostly use it for cavatelli-like shapes), but it’s a lot of entertainment for a $6 piece of ridge-y wood. (As you can see here, and here, and here, I’ve yet to get tired of this.)
Digital Kitchen Scale
I used to think that weighing out ingredients in grams (or whatever) was pretentious, and unnecessary, and a total pain in the ass. That’s because I didn’t have a digital kitchen scale (I had an analog one, which was folksy but not terribly useful). This thing is precise, durable (I do not treat it with the respect it deserves), and opens up a whole new world of non-volumetric recipes.
LEM 5 lb Sausage Stuffer
Who wants a holiday stocking stuffer when you could have a holiday sausage stuffer? I actually got this one for my birthday (from my wife, who hates ground meat…it must be love), and it has made all of my DIY charcuterie dreams come true.
Breville Immersion Blender
I have a love-hate relationship with immersion blenders. They’re SO convenient (I even make mayonnaise with mine), but when I want a soup or something to be 100% silky smooth, I do that super arduous thing where I transfer it from the pot, in batches, to an actual blender, then sometimes through a mesh strainer, then back to the pot. I’m exhausted just writing about it. That said, this one comes with what’s basically a mini food processor that’s powered by the stick blender itself. I use this all the time to buzz up small batches of stuff (and as someone with an irrational and deep-seated psychological aversion to cleaning a regular food processor, this is a game changer).
Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry-Curing
I read this book, and three months later this appeared. Enough said.
Kerri's Pick (AKA Grabbing the Reigns from Old Saint Amazon)
Adam takes precious fresh porcini like this…and turns them into the perfect holiday gift. He’s also got dried morels, black trumpets, and chanterelles.
Food folks like us like to give the gift of chow. That doesn’t mean you have to put up a bushel of gherkins or bake a billion biscotti. But this year I’m reclaiming Santa’s duties from fellow Washingtonian Jeff Bezos by driving the sleigh myself.
Sharing local specialties — like these amazing dried porcini from Adam's Mushrooms near Tacoma — is easy, since a lot of small producers now do their own mail order. And when they don’t, I’ll hand deliver treats to colleagues or family the next time I see them. Or scrawl a note and celebrate the holidays the old-fashioned way, in line at the post office.
Take it from someone who sends a lot of food hither and yon: care packages are not that time consuming, and your peeps will appreciate the personal touch. It’s like cooking for them, without the dishes. So next time you pass a jar of jam or bag of dried herbs at the farmers market or pop in your favorite bakery for a yule bread or box of fudge, get an extra for someone on your list.
Gadgets generally don’t do it for me, though I do wish I had a gnocchi board. (Daniel: hint.) I’ve recommended just about everything I think people should have in the well-equipped kitchen in How to Cook Everything (the red one), but I do have some thoughts.
Breville Food Processor
I feel a little weird recommending this, because the price is kinda steep. Still, I turn to it several times a week, for big slicing jobs, for mayo, for pastry dough, and for pureeing. So, if you can, consider it: it works great, and the recent models have some fixes and improvements. (There are alternatives to Breville, of course, and you’ll find them quickly enough.)
I rely heavily on a mandoline, and I’m not sure you can do better than the old Benriner, which happens to be the cheapest (there’s a new, not-improved, more expensive version), although doubtless there are better-looking ones for gifting. Warn the recipient that almost everyone (I know of no exceptions) injures themselves once when using this, but then becomes more careful (or is it fearful? respectful?) and less blood is involved. Indispensable.
Any products from Gustiamo
There are a thousand worthwhile mail-order places, but I really like Gustiamo, because all the products are actually thrilling. It’s for devoted cooks, and for people who understand that real Italian ingredients are often quite funky (the salted anchovies are over-the-top, and the tomato paste is like no other).
Re: knives, which everyone asks about. If you’re willing to spend $300 or more on a chef’s knife, more power to you; there are some great ones out there. Unless you’re a chef or a fanatic, I can’t see it. (I have, or had, a pretty expensive chef’s knife that I was given as a gift and some houseguest or other managed to literally break it. What should I have done, kept it in a safe?) On the other hand, cheap knives are really not very good.
Anyway, these Misen knives are gorgeous, well-made, and perform really well. I’ve had mine for a year – which is not that long, I recognize – but it holds an edge well, is easy to sharpen, and still looks good. I don’t know what more you could ask for $65. The paring knife is also good; I have not tried the santoku but I’m sure it measures up.
A workhorse (i.e., a 12-inch skillet)
Based on what people ask for advice about most, what I think people need most, and what gets used most, I would say you almost can’t go wrong buying someone a 12-inch skillet. Then the question is, which one? I will confess after all these years that I hate stainless steel, which I think leaves four candidates. One of those is copper, but since I don’t have any, I can’t recommend any. (You might go to my friend Charlie’s house and steal his; he’s had it for over forty years and it’s unbeatable. It’s also unbuyable.) The other three are cast iron, carbon steel, and non-stick. Cast iron and carbon steel are both available from Lodge; these are items that will last the rest of your life, or until you give them away (which seems to be what I end up doing). Between cast iron and carbon steel it’s a matter, almost, of personal preference. (I like carbon steel better, but I can’t say why.) Coasted nonstick is an issue; there are some questions about safety (none proven, but still), some are really crap, and none last as long as cast iron, but I’ve had good luck with this Calphalon set, and it’s not expensive.
Lodge 2 Quart Cast Iron Serving Pot
If you know someone who wants to get into baking bread (we’re going to talk about that in detail sometime soon, but we gotta figure out the best way to do it), they’ll want this Lodge pot; it’s unbeatable. Really. Mine is in use three or four times a week, I never wash it, it barely leaves the oven, and...it gives me a good feeling whenever I’m near it, really.
Talk To Me, Goose!
Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.