If you’re anything like me, you leave things until the last minute. And presumably many of you will be doing some last minute holiday shopping this weekend, scrambling through malls, climbing over parked cars, desperate to find gifts for the food lover in your life. Allow me to help! Here are 10 things that I think any food lover would be glad to get under the tree on Tuesday morning.
1. Laguiole Steak Knives. (Pictured above, though the link is to a set with wooden handles.) These are on my personal list because I could use a new set of steak knives and anytime I’m at someone’s house and they break out the Laguiole steak knives, I admire them and say, “Where did you get these?” They’re nifty things, carefully built, incredibly sharp and, if you get a multi-colored set, a festive addition to anyone’s place setting. Plus, it’s fun to say “Laguiole.”
I get excited any time a new issue of Lucky Peach hits the stands. It’s a food magazine that seems to have been beamed in from outer space: quirky art, shocking cover images (feeding a hot dog to a cow? blech!), works of fiction inspired by food. But that’s precisely what I love so much about it; the hodgepodge of talent and ideas and recipes that fill its pages. Where else can you find so many of the world’s best food writers–Fuschia Dunlop, Anthony Bourdain, Jonathan Gold, Peter Meehan, John T. Edge–crowded together under the same roof? A subscription to this would make anyone feel like a lucky peach indeed.
3. A tortilla press.
After living in L.A. for a year, my appreciation for Mexican food has escalated to such a degree that I’m ready to take that next step: I want to make tortillas at home. So I put a tortilla press on the Christmas list I submitted to Craig’s family this year (no pressure, Craig’s family!) because I’m imagining a Sunday morning, crawling out of bed, putting coffee in the coffee maker and then pressing fresh tortillas to serve with scrambled eggs, sour cream and pickled jalapeños. Or dinner parties where I serve Yucatan Slow-Roasted Pork Tacos with tortillas that I made myself. Who wouldn’t want to be invited back after that?
I know I just blogged about it on Wednesday, but I’m still thinking about my trip to The Meadow and the salts that I tasted there. They were unbelievable. And I can’t think of a home cook who wouldn’t benefit from a collection of their salts: whether it’s just a starter kit, a cocktail kit or a set of the smoky salts. My plan is to wait out Christmas morning and if there aren’t any Meadow salts in my stocking (and chances are there won’t be) I’m hitting up The Meadow before flying back to L.A. on January 6th. I’ll be carrying so much salt, I’m likely to be stopped at security. I don’t care.
In a season of wonderful cookbooks (ahem!), this is the book that I wanted to cook from the most. That’s evidenced on my blog: I made the English porridge and that became the way that I make oatmeal every weekend, it’s so creamy and sweet and salty and amazing. I made the curry and called it The Best Curry of Your Life. The Chicken Adobo is sure to be a permanent fixture in my repertoire. It got to the point where I had to stop blogging recipes from this book or April’s team was going to send me a cease-and-desist letter. Luckily, instead, I became friends with her co-author J.J. Goode (we went to Pok Pok together!) and he expressed gratitude that I was so enthusiastic about the book. Well it was entirely sincere: I love, love, love this book. It’s terrific.
6. A bench scraper.
“What’s the one tool I didn’t use before writing my cookbook that’s now an essential part of my kitchen?” That was the question I asked myself just now and after 30 seconds I arrived at the 6th item on my list: a bench scraper. Do you have one? It’s incredibly useful. Sara Moulton uses it to transfer chopped vegetables from the cutting board to the pot or pan of whatever’s cooking; Gary Danko uses it to keep the edges of his crostada dough together as he rolls it out, to prevent cracking. I find myself using it all the time: for lifting, for pressing, for slicing dough in half. Put one in a food lover’s stocking and you’ll be surprised at how often they’ll use it.
This year, two of my friends published books that would make terrific holiday gifts. The first, Skirt Steak by Charlotte Druckman, offers an in-depth look at the lives of women chefs. It’d be an ideal gift for any woman in your life who’s thinking about going to culinary school or opening a restaurant. The book doesn’t necessarily paint a rosy picture–women chefs often describe a sexist restaurant culture–but it’s an honest picture, and one that’s painted with great enthusiasm and flair by Druckman. The other book I’m excited about is Luisa Weiss’s My Berlin Kitchen. Luisa and I are old friends; we’re first generation bloggers, we ate lunches together at The City Bakery before she hopped on a plane and left her job, her fiancé and America behind to go live in Berlin. This book documents that journey in a way that’s incredibly open and thoughtful and moving. Like David Lebovitz’s Sweet Life in Paris, it’s a fantasy about an American abroad…and one with a happy ending.
This one’s a no-brainer. As you can see in the video above, we loved loved loved it when our friends Mark and Diana gifted us with Murray’s Cheese of the Month Club one year. It’s as simple as it sounds: each month you get a box of cheese. The cheese is wonderful. Murray’s knows how to curate the best cheeses available to us here in America and they also know how to package those cheeses so they arrive at your doorstep completely cool, safe and undamaged. I’m thinking Craig’s enthusiasm in the video pretty much says it all.
The meal that I ate at Beast in Portland was one of the best meals I ate writing and researching my book. Naomi Pomeroy was very upfront about her secret weapon: “aged Balsamic vinegar.” (She uses that along with truffle salt and demi-glace to form her recipe-enhancing trifecta.) The only problem with aged Balsamic vinegar is that it’s very expensive; which is why this Zingerman’s Aged Balsamic Sampler, at $30, is a perfect way to get started using the stuff. You don’t have to worry about knocking over a bottle or pouring too much out on chunks of good, authentic Parmesan cheese. Sample until you can sample no more and then decide whether to fork up the big dough for the good stuff. You can put that on your wish list next year.
After three years of working on this, what a relief to finally be able to offer it at the end of my holiday shopping guide. So far, the book has been getting great press all around (it was the #1 cookbook of the year on The Daily Meal and one of Eater’s 21 Essential Cookbooks of 2012). I’m just happy that all of you out there, you loyal readers who’ve been following me all along, can finally experience these stories, these tips and these recipes that have become such an integral part of my life. Start with Gina DePalma’s Lentil Soup or Alice Waters’s olive-oil fried eggs with a crown of herbs and I promise you’ll be hooked. And if you can track me down either here in New York, Seattle (over Christmas) or in L.A. (after January 6th), I’ll be happy to sign it for you.
Happy holidays, everyone!