Ah, winter. We had a pretty crazy storm here in Ames last Tuesday & Wednesday that dumped approximately a metric crapton of snow all over town. And then the winds decided to blow 40 mph for another 24 hours. That’s my street at noon on Wednesday, can you believe it?
Since we’re getting weather like this, it’s obviously getting pretty close to Your Favorite Solstice Giving Opportunity, and some friends of mine have been asking for gift suggestions for the food nerds in their lives. Today I’ll focus on stuff you can buy, and I’ll probably have a few posts over the next week or two about food gifts I am making this year (and gifts I have made in the past). Feel free to add your favorites in the comments, I’m always intrigued to find out what people find most useful and awesome in their kitchens!
– The Roasted Vegetable by Andrea Chesman: If you’re on a quest to hit that magical five servings of vegetables on a daily basis, here’s a book for you. Coming from a former hater of cooked veggies, I have discovered that almost any vegetable + olive oil + salt & pep + oven = delicious. There’s lots of great recipes in here for year round vegetable enjoyment, and tips on how to roast just about any vegetable. The friend that recommended this book to me brought the roasted green bean & potato salad to a summer picnic and it was amazing.
– The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Another friend of mine complained about the quality of American bread after returning from her Peace Corps assignment in Eastern Europe, and she decided she wanted to start making her own bread. I decided to start making bread, too, and I picked up this book at the library (and later bought it) because it was laden with detailed bread theory, technique, and beautiful photographs. While the theory about baker’s percentages and flour types in the beginning of the book may be a bit much for your average beginner (I still don’t understand baker’s percentages!), there are so many different types of recipes in this book that it will continue to inspire and challenge you as you become more skilled in bread making. Just don’t heat shock a pyrex pan in your oven in the process. No really, it sucks.
Gadgets and Kitchen Helpers
– Magnetic Measuring Spoons: I had three or four different sets of measuring spoons in my kitchen gadget drawer, none of them complete (garbage disposal!!!), and none of them on their respective rings. I never thought I could fall in love with a set of measuring spoons for crying out loud, but every time I snap them together and drop them into my drawer I am happy, happy, happy. They come in stainless, too, and I see they now make magnetic measuring cups as well.
– Oxo Pop Storage Containers: I’ve been upgrading my green Tupperware flour/sugar containers to these Oxo Pop containers gradually over the last year. They are a little pricey, but they now come BPA free, and I love that they are see-through so I instantly know if I need to replenish an ingredient at the grocery store. They are wide at the top so you never have to worry about fitting your cup or scoop in, they are stackable, and I haven’t gotten a single bug in my flour since I started using them. They come in about a zillion sizes for everything from cereal to rice to flour or whatever random grain is on sale in the bulk bins at the co-op. I have the 4-qt size for flour, bread flour & sugar, and the 2 1/2-qt size for powdered sugar, corn meal, and other weird flours.
– Bench Scraper: Speaking of bread baking, if you’re going to get into it, you’re going to want a bench scraper for scraping sticky dough off the counters, cutting dough for rolls or multiple loaves, and it even has a handy-dandy ruler on the edge for measuring the thickness of rolls, cookies or whatever. (You’re really going to want one if you’re going to get into free-form loaves rather than sandwich loaves)
– Y-Peeler: Have you ever peeled a butternut squash? If you buy The Roasted Vegetable, you’re going to have to learn. And let me tell you, it is not easy. This peeler is mega sharp, grippy, and the Y-shape makes peeling large squashes a snap. Now go make yourself some kale and roasted vegetable soup, yum.
Gifts of Food
– Tillen Farms Pickled Veggies: Although I haven’t yet tried these myself, I have been on the lookout for spicy green beans ever since I lived with a certain Philadelphian who was crushed when her favorite bar stopped adding the beans to their bloody Marys. These seem to be just the thing, and I’m also excited about trying the pickled asparagus and carrots. I’ve been meaning to order some ever since Marisa over at Food In Jars recommended them after trying some at the NYC Fancy Food Show.
– Honey, maple syrup, vanilla beans, chocolate, spices: These kitchen staples come from places far and wide – I’ve got a quart of Iowa’s Spring Valley honey in my pantry and a pint of Vermont maple syrup in my fridge. My friend brought me half a liter (!!!) of vanilla extract back from Mexico, and I don’t think she was expecting my beyond-ecstatic reaction to her gift. These ingredients can be pricey or hard to find locally, but there are many places to find them in bulk for reasonable prices on the internet. Vanilla.com offers fair-trade bulk vanilla beans, and Penzey’s Spices is a reputable mail- and internet-order spice dealer. The Spice House is another reputable spice dealer, and they have the ever-elusive grains of paradise that I’ve always meant to order since Alton Brown praised them on Good Eats! Or perhaps you want to buy your special someone 6.6 lbs of couverture Scharffen Berger chocolate? Obviously there are many different ways to give this gift, but I’m pretty sure that if someone gave me a half pound of vanilla beans I would love them forever. (HINT HINT HINT HINT)
For Someone You Really Like a Whole Lot
– Kitchenaid Stand Mixer: Let’s say you’ve been dating someone for a while and you’re thinking about buying one of those cars that comes with the big red bow, a giant TV, or maybe some sort of sparkly rock. That’s crazy. You’re going to reap way, way more enjoyment from giving your special someone a Kitchenaid stand mixer – these things can do everything. Soon you’ll be treated to your favorite cookies and cakes on a regular basis and have fresh bread with dinner every night. Spend a few more bucks and you can eat pasta like the Italians and have a fresh, homemade gelato for dessert. What’s that, you’re worried about getting fat after eating all of this delicious food? No worries, since you didn’t buy that car or that TV, you’ve got no excuse to sit around the house, and you’re going to have to walk to the store to get more ice cream ingredients. And let me tell you, vanilla bean ice cream is quite possibly the finest way to use that half a pound of vanilla beans you’re going to get in your stocking.
– A Really Sweet Dutch Oven: I have a moderately sweet Dutch oven, and it definitely does the job. However, I’ve only had it for a few years and the enamel is chipping off the bottom a little bit, and the inside is kind of scratched. In reality, most people can only afford moderately sweet Dutch ovens. However, if you’re dreaming big or wanting to impress someone with 10+ lbs of fancy enameled cast iron, Staub or Le Crueset is the name of the game.
Well, those are my suggestions for giving gifts to your favorite foodie. Again, I’d love to hear what you want for Christmas – people keep asking me, and the answer is “no more dish towels!”