Last year, Kate (my colleague and daughter, for those of you who are new) convinced me to do a gift guide. As she said then, I'm more of an anytime, "just because" kind of gifter; I know in theory that holiday season is coming, but that fact doesn't have tremendous bearing on my gift-giving life. That said, I'm glad we did because a) people seemed to enjoy it and b) it was kind of fun to stand around my kitchen and decide which things I actually like (and would be happy to get/give as a gift).
So, we're doing it again. Same deal as last year: everyone in our little crew (Kate, Daniel, Kerri, Melissa and I) picked a few of our favorite food-related things, all of which would make for good gifts (either for others or for yourself). I think it turned out to be a pretty fun and varied list; it's also a long list, so if it happens to get cut off in your inbox you can just click on the link to view the whole thing in your browser. Anyway, I hope you find it useful.
Also, I won't see you again until after Thanksgiving. Have a wonderful holiday.
You may not think that storage bags are an exciting holiday gift, but when it comes to Stasher bags, I’m afraid I have to disagree. Look at how pretty they are! Think about how constantly tossing soggy plastic bags in the trash makes you feel (for me: the worst)! I have a bunch of these bags, and while they may seem pricey, they last and last and last (mine still look perfect), despite being dishwasher and microwave-safe—plus, I think you can sous vide with them?! Tons of sizes (the teeny ones are great for packing chargers, etc.) and colors. Consider me formally inducted into the cult.
Our morning coffee was really tasting crappy. I figured maybe it was because I was using a cheap grinder that was, oh, 20 years old? A couple people (one of MB’s newsletter readers—thank you!—and my dear friend Lynn) recommended the Baratza Encore to me, and I’m never not going to use it. I can’t tell you the difference it made; friends who come over are actually complimenting our coffee, which is unheard of in this apartment. Again, it’s not cheap, but it’s really worth it. This would be an awesome gift for a coffee snob or a novice like me, because it absolutely ups your game, regardless of your skill.
I know we talk about the Thermapen a lot, but there’s a reason for it: It’s awesome. I swear this thermometer has a brain. Take it out of the chicken, which it’s just registered at 170 degrees, and it immediately goes to room temp (I check the thermostat, and it always matches). I think about the thermometers I used to use and I laugh. Also, they’ve got a lot of cool colors, if you care about that sort of thing (points to self).
I just think this mug is really beautiful, and it seems like a good thing to get for, like, a mom, or a mother-in-law, or me.
I went to Reverence in Harlem a couple months back (a wonderful experience) and when dessert came out, it was accompanied by skull spoons. I am obsessed. I think these are them. Good for dessert and coffee; for soup, not so much.
I’m toying with the idea of getting a cookbook/tablet stand, since I’ve come really close to wetting the crap out of my computer one too many times during cooking, and this one is really nice.
Our gift guide would not be complete without something from our dear friends at Burkelman (if you live in the New York vicinity and haven’t been to their Manhattan or Cold Spring stores, pay them a visit!) like this corkscrew (whoever thought you could get complimented on a corkscrew?! Now you know) or this serving tray that I’ve had my eye on forever.
Outdoor Propane Burner
Warning: If you own one of these things, you’re officially committing to being the kind of person who throws annual parties. It’s a big decision; don’t take it lightly. This high-powered outdoor burner is the gateway to crawfish and crab boils, tailgate chili, deep-fried Thanksgiving turkeys, a year’s supply of stock for you and your friends, etc. For maximum potential, you’ll probably want some kind of giant pot and steamer basket to go with it. Last summer, I used it to cook a large amount of fried chicken. This year, if I can get my act together (I can't), it will be the centerpiece of the first ever Winter Classic, a yet-unrealized and fully impractical party fantasy of mine where we all hang out outside in a blizzard with a giant cauldron of ramen. I’ll report back.
Cast Iron Tortilla Press
Making tortillas is a very satisfying home cooking project. Sure, you can roll them out by hand, but it’s enough of a pain in the ass (especially for corn tortillas) to deter you from doing it regularly. A tortilla press makes things really easy. I’ve become quite attached to this cast iron version (when it was away in storage for more than a year I legitimately missed it). Plus, if you decide to wrap it up and give it to someone as a gift (which I have), they will be genuinely confused and delighted that their present is so heavy.
Big Boos Block Cutting Board
In my 17th century farmhouse in Provence I have this gorgeous butcher block countertop made with wood reclaimed from a Trappist monastery. Just kidding. I don’t have any of that. What I do have in my apartment is a cheap stainless steel kitchen island with inexplicably sharp raised corners that rip all of my shirts when I walk by. On top of that island is a large Boos Block cutting board that’s easily one of my favorite things in the kitchen. Solid, good-looking, luxuriously roomy; until that house in France materializes, I can’t think of a scenario where I won’t have one of these in my life.
Stand Mixer Pasta Attachment
Yes, I realize that in order to get someone a stand mixer attachment, they ideally must already be in possession of a stand mixer, which doesn’t come cheap. It’s like gifting a pair of fuzzy dice. That said, the pasta attachment is kind of great. You just turn the stand mixer on and the rollers spin on their own. I have no doubt that the people who roll pasta dough with a pin or a hand crank machine enjoy more street cred. But I don’t want street cred. I want to be able to roll, cook and eat fresh pasta in less than the amount of time it takes for my 7-month-old to decide that sleeping through the night is for chumps.
Heath Ceramic Pasta Bowls
My wife and I took an hour-long pottery class one time. I decided to use my 60 minutes to make a set of four beautiful pasta bowls. Needless to say, I wound up with one deformed ashtray. I’m an idiot. Pottery is hard. So, I’m leaving it to the professionals at Heath, who make these wide, shallow bowls that are not only ideal enablers of my pasta habit (see above), but are generally functional, good-looking dishes for all sorts of things (soups, salads, saucy braises, etc.). Just don’t use them as ashtrays; for those, please visit my Etsy page.
We do a lot of non-dairy milk at home, and we make smoothies for breakfast pretty often (I gotta write a piece about that...) so to us a good blender is important. I have a Vitamix and I like it, but the price tag is insane. I also have a Breville blender, which costs about half as much (still expensive: $200) and works just as well. In fact I like it more: the buttons are easier, the lid is more-secure, and it’s nicer-looking. The receiver will love it.
I have to plug Pleasant Hill Grain and their insane offering of kitchen appliances: There’s nothing like it. I bought myself a Komo Mio grain mill this year—the Pleasant Hill folks were super helpful (try chatting with someone at Amazon for advice!)—and I’m happy with it. I don’t know that it’s the best mill, because I don’t have that much experience, but it’s affordable and it works. And if you want an apple grinder, or a dehydrator, or an electric knife, or you just want to have some fun browsing...what a place. And the web will save you a trip to Nebraska.
Continuing with my coffee obsession: I mentioned Oakland’s Mr Espresso and their wood-roasted coffee not long ago. Their beans make coffee that’s as good as anything I’ve ever tasted, and the fair trade/organic list is overwhelming. I mean, you could just read it and weep, or you could order coffee for yourself or some coffee-addicted loved one. (I should thank my friend Bob Klein for introducing me to the Di Ruocco family, and will take this opportunity to tell you to look at Bob’s groundbreaking company, Community Grains, which is working with farmers to produce the best wheat and other grains—and the best flour—this country has seen in a half-century.)
And: If you want something for someone who makes one or two cups of coffee at a time, this Bonavita kettle—small but extremely precise and not all that expensive ($50)—is brilliant. I’ve had one for three or four years and I like it more and more. Great for tea, too, which should (generally) not be made with boiling water. You set the thing at 200 degrees and never think about it, and it’ll hold that temperature as long as you like.
Finally, coffee-wise, I also mentioned not long ago that if you want to make big pots of coffee, but still want high quality, both the Oxo and Zojirushi automatic machines work really well.
While we’re on beans: Dandelion, which we’ve mentioned before, makes the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted. Period. It is some serious shit, and they take it very seriously. Not cheap, just worth it. You could buy someone a class there, too.
I’m always looking for excuses to plug Bob’s Red Mill, because the product line is pretty much spot on (and it’s employee-owned). If you have a grain-loving (or gluten-free) friend, an assortment of stuff from here could be interesting and thoughtful and unusual. Take a look at this page.
Gardeners like seeds, and although there are like fifty interesting seed companies, my favorite is Hudson Valley Seed, which has a small but growing selection of really fine stuff in such beautiful, art-driven packages that a little assortment would make a gorgeous gift for your gardening friend. I mean, come on:
If you’re really making yogurt and deep frying in your Instant Pot, I’m so impressed. But many of us have gone back to the stovetop pressure cooker, which is simpler, more reliable, and easier to cool down (you can’t run an Instant Pot under cold water). You might know someone who wants to move in that direction, too: For legumes and whole grains (as well as a host of other food), the pressure cooker is the way to go. (In India no one who can afford one would consider not having a pressure cooker.) I have a Fagor that I like a lot, I’ve been using it a few times a week for years and it shows little signs of wear, but I’m not sure that others aren’t just as good: It’s a simple appliance, and not at all scary. Seriously.
One last idea: Buy someone you love a CSA membership. There is nothing better than that, and there’s one near you: The USDA lists 856 CSAs, and you can search by area.
I’m usually a mullet kind of gal—business in the front, party in the back—especially when it comes to getting stuff done in the kitchen. I want my professional necessities to feel like play. So this year my gift recommendations are what I consider tools of the trade for anyone who takes cooking seriously enough to enjoy it.
Sure, wearing a high-powered LED light on your face is handy for glamping and backyard cooking in winter. But where this tool really shines is for food photography. I clip it onto bowls and pots to illuminate dark spots and prop it up on books for professional-look side-skim lighting. And since wearing it on your head will cast shadows, to brighten regular shots all you have to do is set the camera’s timer and hold the light in one hand and the phone in the other. And this one has both spot and broad settings.
Insulated Tote Bag
You’ve got to shop to eat. With padding that keeps things hot, cold, or protected, you’ll use it for everything from lugging groceries to potlucking. This is the one I have now and it’s sturdy, lightweight, and versatile. Plus when the load gets heavy you can sling the straps onto your shoulder, even over a winter coat.
Mini Silicone Spatulas
Because there’s nothing worse than running out of mustard—or other precious condiments—and not being able to scrape the inside of an odd-shaped jar.
The Gift of Gab
Personal notes—whether to thank, invite, or simply greet—are a necessity for both work and social life. This “For the Love of Food” set of papercuts by fellow Pacific Northwesterner Anna Brones is printed locally by a women-owned press. Anna is a recipe developer, writer, AND visual artist. (Hint: You may recognize the artist’s work from the new Joy of Cooking.) Check out her web site for more gift ideas.
Why let Spotify dictate the soundtrack? Playing Changes: Jazz for a New Century overviews the latest, greatest artists—the ones with the power to propel you through prep and prompt guests to ask, “Who’s this?”
Wildcard Wild Mushrooms
I can’t function without dried mushrooms. Can you? That’s why another Pacific Northwesterner, Adam DeLeo of Adam’s Mushrooms, makes my list again this year even though he technically sells food, not tools. You can’t build vegetable soup without them.
Stainless Steel Bialetti
I'm no Luddite but more of a romantic when it comes to coffee, which is why I swear by Bialetti stovetop coffee makers. Yes, you'll find knockoffs of the Moka pot that Alfonso Bialetti invented back in 1933. Bypass the cheaper ones and go for the stainless steel version—it makes a perfect cup of espresso and is less bougie than a turbo, high-end home espresso machine. You'll be making shots with crema and all, as good as any you'd get in a coffee shop.
A couple of years ago, I realized I was a terrible baker, so I have taken it upon myself to work my way through Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible (in addition to Mark's How To Bake Everything, of course). I'm still no pro, but I've since expanded my dessert repertoire. Somewhere in the middle of the process, I was frustrated that my frosted cakes looked like candidates from Nailed It! Once I bought a spatula set, it made a world of difference in that cakes look more like a professional’s and less like a disaster.
Olive Oil Dispenser
I'm an olive oil geek and get really into products sold by Bronx-based Italian importer Gustiamo, like their Sicilian Pianogrillo and other small-batch labels. I like to ensure that good olive oil doesn’t hit the light and I like a dispenser that feels good for pouring. This is the one.
Carbon Steel Wok
I recently went to an H Mart and every pan for sale was nonstick—and I’m not in that camp. I generally look for carbon steel, especially when it comes to woks. I know it's a near-futile endeavor to do wok cooking on a home stove since it doesn't get hot enough, but regardless, it’s a pleasure to cook Chinese food at home with this one.
Gong-Fu Style Travel Tea Set
Enjoy the ritual of Chinese tea on the road. This gong fu-style travel set is so cute and makes airline travel, in particular, feel less soul-sucking. The set contains 1 gaiwan with lid, 1 pourer for holding brewed tea, 5 small cups, and 1 padded carrying case, with flaps for protecting components for travel. Mine has survived multiple cross-continent trips.
Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project beans
Rancho Gordo beans are among the best. And in this case, the company has teamed up to help small farmers grow indigenous beans in Mexico, despite trade policies that seem to discourage genetic diversity and local food traditions. Consider buying the sampler that’s less than $30, that comes with packages of ayocote negro and blanco beans, a pinto-like moro bean, and tiny reboseros. The sampler also comes with an earthy Mexican oregano.
Feast for the Eyes: The Story of Food Photography
Yes, the photos are beautiful. But the details are as compelling as the images in this coffee table book you will inevitably read.
The Food Of Sichuan
When she was in New York for the fall release of the 20th anniversary of The Food of Sichuan, Fuchsia Dunlop said all of the recipes in the book are in danger of disappearing—even with the popularity of Sichuan cuisine around the world. As the case is in the U.S., people don’t cook anymore. And culture is becoming homogenized. The recipes are better than the first round, with the author having tweaked and streamlined, and amended the details. With new photos, it’s also a beautiful book.
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.