The Bittman Project Holiday Gift Guide
From our kitchens to yours
Every time we work on our gift guide, we’re reminded of what a picky bunch we are — which is a good thing for you, dear reader, because it means we only put our tried-and-trues in here. You’ll find cookware that deserves staple status, pretty textiles, books, and, of course, gift-worthy food: These are some of our favorites this year. Also! We’d love to hear about what you personally love, too — for us and for your fellow subscribers. Drop suggestions in the comments, if you’re so inclined.
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Made In Cookware is beautiful stuff. I needed nonstick pans for an induction burner, and theirs are perfect. I wanted a flat-bottomed wok (also for induction),: this one is black steel and gorgeous; I’m sure I’ll have it for the rest of my life. The pans aren’t cheap, but they’re well-made, good-looking, work well, and aren’t overpriced. It’s a good place to shop for gifts real cooks will appreciate.
The Finamill spice grinder, sold by our friends at Burlap and Barrel, is a little battery-operated job that looks like a small immersion blender and has detachable and interchangeable pods that snap on the bottom. (It comes with two.) You can easily change what’s in the pods, or you can buy more and keep several different spices ready to grind. It’s not the holy grail (I keep trying to find something that can handle both spice grinding and pureeing of small amounts of liquid ingredients, to no avail), but it’s a good idea and it works.
We have done enough raving about Community Grains, but with good reason: No miller is doing more for farmers; no one produces better flour (combine their Patwin with our recipe, and you will have the best 100 percent whole grain bread you’ve ever made); no one cares more, and no one better explains the reason whole grains are important. Finally: I honestly think theirs is the best whole-grain pasta I’ve ever cooked (real whole grain, mind you, not 50-50 or some other combination).
Speaking of whole grains, if you make your own tortillas, or are considering doing so, you need to know about Masienda. It’s the best mail-order source of dried corn, and their masa harina is a well-made and honorable place for beginners to get going. The videos (and stories) on the site are fantastic.
We recommended the Brod and Taylor knife sharpener last year, and I’m still using mine. I try to use it as a steel every time I pick up one of my knives, and for real sharpening, it’s the next best thing to a stone that I’ve found (better than an electric grinder, and cheaper and easier). Yes, a stone is better, but you need the kind of patience I can only conjure up occasionally. Brod and Taylor now offers some less expensive models, and there are also some knockoffs on Amazon. (I haven’t tried them, so don’t recommend them, but if you do, let us know.)
This recommendation is only good if you (or someone you’re gifting) live near Glynwood – Putnam County, northern Westchester, Dutchess, Ulster, and so on. I would jump on one of the three CSAs (summer, winter, spring), and if there’s a waiting list, get on it. Perhaps more accessible for most people is the online-meat store (pickup only; there is no shipping). The beef is pastured, real grass-fed; the chicken, lamb, and pork are all over-the-top good, all raised outside or, in frigid weather, in the lovely barn. (It can take some care in cooking and some getting used to, especially if all you’ve eaten is corn-fed beef.) Full disclosure: The organization is run by my partner, Kathleen Finlay, but even so if I didn’t think this meat was superior I wouldn’t say so.
The Tovolo Better Batter Tool is the perfect stocking stuffer for your favorite baker. I love any tool that makes the job easier, and this does just that. It’s like a whisk and a spatula had a baby, making it quick to blend up batters and easy to scrape down the sides of the bowl with one tool.
Nothing has piqued my curiosity (curry-osity? I’m sorry) in cooking new dishes at home quite like Diaspora Co.’s spices. Have I ever made biryani at home? No. Did I immediately make it after receiving the Biryani Masala blend? Absolutely. The Chai Masala is another favorite — try it in place of pumpkin pie spice sometime. It's a great gift for someone who wants to expand their spice horizons.
Amazing dried wild and cultivated mushrooms from the Pacific Northwest? Adam's Mushrooms is making yet another appearance on the list. Since I moved to Tacoma five years ago, I've visited with Adam almost every Saturday at the farmers market and watched his mail-order selection grow from gorgeous porcini and mixed mushrooms to lobsters, morels, and chanterelles. Adam also offers culinary and medicinal powders available for shipping. (But you've got to come to Tacoma for fresh!)
For one-stop shopping for everything made in my adopted state, there’s Made in Washington. On the website, scroll and load an eclectic collection of salts and seasonings, nuts, smoked seafood, and sweets. (There are also non-food items if that's your thing.) My favorites: all of the tinned fish and shellfish, rockfish jerky, Mama Lil's peppers, and the Foster's pickles. (Pro-tip: the extra dilly okra are perfect for Bloody Marys.)
For timeless tableware and textiles from Northern California — going on 80 years! — consider something from Heath Ceramics. My mom and dad had a mixed cocoa and ivory set as "everyday" tableware for their wedding registry in 1959, so I literally grew up on them. The Holiday collection is absolutely stunning.
Carnspring Mills Flour is also from the great state of Washington — locally grown, stoneground flour for all kinds of baking. I go up to the mill and pick up 50-pound bags of whole-grain organic Expresso a couple of times a year. For mail orders, you can choose from several wheat varieties and sifts as well as whole wheat and rye.
Researching for our interview with Linda Ronstadt for Food with Mark Bittman reminded me about Native Seeds Search, an incredible Tucson-based organization that Ronstadt mentions in her book. A long time ago I was in the actual shop and the online store is even more amazing — Southwest offerings that range from actual seeds, beans, and other food to jewelry and craftwork. As you might imagine, I usually head straight for the “Sonoran Pantry” tab for hard-to-find tepary beans and dried chiles. But whatever you buy supports the group’s important work: “Our mission is to conserve and promote the arid-adapted crop diversity of the Southwest in support of sustainable farming and food security. Native Seeds/SEARCH seeks to find, protect and preserve the seeds of the people of the Greater Southwest so that these arid-adapted crops may benefit all peoples and nourish a changing world.”
Mark and I are big fans of the charity God’s Love We Deliver — Mark is on their Culinary Council — and their holiday catalog is a great place to shop. 100 percent of the net proceeds benefit God’s Love, an organization that, since 1985, has prepared and delivered food to people who are too sick to shop or cook for themselves. I’m a big fan of the Gratitude Candle — the scent isn’t cloying, it’s really a good one, white pepper and palo santo — and “The Christmas Tree Unveiling” Tray, designed by John Derian. You can also sponsor meals: five weeks of soup, ten birthday cakes, and one month of meals for a client and child.
I’m working on a piece about meat (you’ll see, soon) and for it, I talked to Jocelyn Guest, one half — the other is her wife, Erika Nakamura — of The Butcher Girls. They are a “virtual” butcher shop — mail order only, nationwide — and offer some of the best meat I’ve had (including hot dogs that my son will eat). You’ll hear more about this wonderful pair soon, but if you know someone who is trying to be more conscious about what they put in their body, anything from The Butcher Girls — they even offer an omakase box — is a great bet. They’ve got fish, too (and eggs, if you’re in the NYC area).
On the subject of fish: I can’t contribute to a gift guide without adding in my beloved Sitka Salmon Shares. There’s a Mark Bittman Sampler Box available right now — filled with gillnet-caught sockeye salmon from Haines, Alaska, and longline-caught Pacific cod from Juneau — and if you want a super luxe present, go for a monthly subscription. Sitka Salmon’s strict sourcing standards and careful handling practices lead to incredibly high quality, sashimi-grade seafood that I personally have eaten both raw and cooked. It’s wonderful.
ipsa is another thing that I can’t seem to not recommend — it’s truly perfect for nights when you don’t want to cook or get takeout. Their frozen meals heat up beautifully – you could easily trick someone into thinking they’re homemade, if that’s your thing. Get a gift card so your recipient can choose from all the offerings — personal favorites here are the Eggplant Marinara, Lasagna Al Funghi, Green Chicken Enchilada Bake, and any of their pizzas and cookies. Plus, order by midnight on November 30 using the code BITTY20 at checkout and get $20 off a purchase of $95 or more for first-time customers only.
Also worth mentioning is that ipsa’s Holiday Cookie Box will be available starting Nov. 30, and will include six different packs of bake-from-frozen cookies — three in partnership with baker and cookbook author Claire Saffitz, plus ipsa’s three signature cookies. Claire’s cookies will be the Prune + Almond Rugelach, All In Shortbread, and the Chewy Molasses Spice cookies, and ipsa’s are the Chocolate Pepita, Rye Cherry Chocolate Chunk (my favorite), and Chewy Honey cookies. Bake the cookies at home and bring them to a holiday celebration, or gift yourself with a freezer full of frozen cookie dough.
I used to work with artist John Donohue at the New Yorker, and he’s a great human. These days, he travels around to different cities and sketches the façades of restaurants. The drawings are elegant simplicity, and there are many to choose from — including, perhaps, your loved one’s favorite? (UWS staple Café Luxembourg, above, is one of mine.)
Call me crazy, but our spice master friends at Burlap & Barrel have the cutest gift bag for six bucks. I just love it — it’s kinda retro, feels like something I could have had as a pillowcase when I was ten. Get any of their fantastic spices — the Fundamentals Collection is a great pick, and comes in six, nine, and twelve-jar sets — or their new Spice Passport, and then stock up on the gift bags!
We’ve talked about how much we like the cookware from Our Place — the Always Pan and the Perfect Pot are both used and loved by both me and Mark – and I just got the oven pan, which is super sturdy (and good looking, if you care about that sort of thing) and DOUBLES AS A GRIDDLE PAN (you just put it on the stovetop and make pancakes, or whatever, on it; plus, it comes with a silpat-type baking mat). I also love their midi bowls — I’ve been looking for the perfect bowl for pasta or a big salad for a long time, and these are it. They’re the perfect size, and simply but prettily designed (like everything they do there). Also of note: Their Black Friday sale is happening now, and you can get quite the deal — the Always Pan, for example, is $50 off.
The best gifts are fun to play with. A big heavy meat cleaver with the name Dexter engraved on the top edge has immediate primal appeal. In terms of holiday spirit, the recipient may feel more like Sweeney Todd than a reformed Ebeneezer Scrooge as they're chopping through chicken backs and winter squashes, but they'll have a blast with their new toy.
Books We Love
Mamacita: Recipes Celebrating Life as a Mexican Immigrant in America, by Andrea Pons
Feels Like Home: A Song for the Sonoran Borderlands, by Linda Ronstadt and Lawrence Downes
How to Cook Everything Fast Revised Edition, by Mark Bittman (had to)
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking: 30th Anniversary Edition, by Marcella Hazan
The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened, by Bill McKibben
Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes from the Matriarch of Edisto Island, by Emily Meggett and Kayla Stewart
Via Carota: A Celebration of Seasonal Cooking from the Beloved Greenwich Village Restaurant, by Jody Williams, Rita Sodi, and Anna Kovel
Korean American: Food That Tastes Like Home, by Eric Kim
The Vegan Chinese Kitchen: Recipes and Modern Stories from a Thousand-Year-Old Tradition, by Hannah Che
The Best American Food Writing 2022, guest editor Sohla El-Waylly, series editor Silvia Killingsworth