Holiday Gift Ideas 2009

Some of you, I’m sure, are so together that you get all of your holiday shopping done by the end of July (I have at least one superhuman friend this organized). I suspect that there are a few more of you who, like me, put shopping off until after Thanksgiving. This post is for you, because, well, the got-it-all-done-in-July people don’t really need any ideas at this point, do they? All of the following recommendations I own; they are products that I love, use regularly, and think would make an awesome gift for a fellow cook.

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1. Infrared Thermometer
I’ve never been a big fan of candy thermometers. You usually have to dip the pan sideways to get the sensor in deep enough to get a good reading. The thermometers themselves can be completely inaccurate. And if you are working with hot oil for deep frying? The further away I can be from this dangerously hot liquid the better. The solution? An infrared thermometer. You just aim it at the surface of whatever it is for which you want a temperature reading, pull a trigger and presto, an instant (less than a second) temperature reading. Obviously this is only a tool to measure the surface temp, not the internal temperature of a roast for example. But if you have a loved one who makes candy, jams or jellies, or does deep frying (without a deep fryer), then this may be a perfect gift. (If you are looking for a meat thermometer, I recommend this Instant Read Thermapen.) I’m insanely attached to mine. My father insists on using it, so he’s getting his own for Christmas. I have the Fluke 62 Mini Infrared Thermometer which is a little pricey. Another brand that has received positive reviews at about half the price of the Fluke is the Kintrex.

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2. Digital Scale
Michael Ruhlman wrote a whole book devoted to using a kitchen scale. The benefit of using a digital scale (versus the regular old fashioned type) is, beyond its reassuring accuracy, the feature that allows you to “zero-out” whatever you have on the scale. So, say you need a pound of butter and a pound of sugar in a baking recipe, to be mixed together. You can place a large metal bowl on the scale, zero it out, then add enough butter to get to a pound on the scale. Then if you need to add a pound of sugar, zero out the scale again and just add the sugar to the bowl with the butter in it until you reach a pound. Easy peasy. (See Michael’s post about it.) Several months ago I finally gave in and bought a KD-7000 Digital Stainless-Steel Food Scale and love it.

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3. Soda Maker
See this penguin? You fill one of those pretty glass carafes with water, put it in the penguin’s back, and then pump down on its beak until it squeals, press a release button, and you have perfectly carbonated water.

No kidding.

I’m guessing whoever came up with this concept likely spent way too many hours in the antarctic section of the local aquarium and left a perfectly good job at Hasbro to fulfill a dream of making carbonated water fun. (Seriously, who thought of this?) When my friend Jaden first told me about this I said, “uh huh, uh huh” and changed the subject. And then she showed me hers. I went so nuts about it she gave me one. I have used it every single day for the last month that I’ve had it. I take filtered water, carbonate it with the penguin, and add a touch of fresh lemon juice, mix it with fruit juice, or just drink it straight. Bubbly fizzy sparkly water, any time I want it. Which is pretty much every day.

Where to get it? William Sonoma carries it as well as Amazon. Oddly enough it’s less expensive at William Sonoma. It comes with two carafes and two CO2 cartridges (a four month supply if you use it once a day). The penguin, another model, and refill cartridges are also available at the manufacturer’s website, SodastreamUSA.com.

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4. Truffle Salt

Sprinkle a little truffle salt on potatoes, eggs, pizza, steak, and wow. A flavor explosion. I won a little jar of truffle salt in a raffle a few years ago, and have been slowly making my way through it ever since. Usually I just put a sprinkle on top of a poached egg for breakfast. The product is simply sea salt with ground up dried black truffle. The salt preserves the truffle, so it can last for years (I’m about two thirds through my little jar). If you know someone who likes mushrooms (and isn’t averse to salt) they’ll love this truffle salt. Fungus Amongus makes an excellent product, as does Casina Rossa both of which you can find at Amazon among other truffle salts.

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5. The Flavor Bible

Every cook who is even remotely interested in experimenting with their cooking should have the Flavor Bible. I have bought more copies of this book to give as gifts than any other. Last April I wrote a detailed review here. In a nutshell, the authors list every ingredient they can think of in alphabetical order, and under each ingredient a recommendation of other ingredients that pair well with it. So, if you are making poached pears, you can look up “pear” in the Flavor Bible and find the spices that go with it, like vanilla or cardamom. Improvise with confidence with this book.

If you are thinking more along the lines of a cookbook as a gift option, the Flavor Bible has no recipes, only ideas for pairings. For cookbooks I would recommend Jaden Hair’s Steamy Kitchen Cookbook for easy Asian cooking, Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl for down-home American comfort food, David Lebovitz’ Sweet Life in Paris for a hilarious memoir peppered with great recipes, and Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio for understanding how to cook using basic proportions. I would also recommend Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook if you can find it in a local bookstore. Both Amazon and BarnesAndNoble.com are sold out.

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6. KitchenAid Anniversary Mixer

I do believe this is simply the most beautiful standup mixer KitchenAid has ever made. Bright sparkly candy apple metallic red, with a glass mixing bowl with handle, pour spout, and measuring lines, if Catherine Zeta-Jones were a mixer, this would be it. It’s gah-jus. 5-quart, 325 watt, more details at KitchenAid.com. Amazon has it in stock as does Chefs Catalog.

Amazon is offering a sale on other models of 5 quart KitchenAid mixers, with prices as low as $222 (w/rebate), click here for details.

Happy Holidays!

33 Comments

  1. Mary Nagle

    Thanks for these great gift ideas. I own the soda maker and it is a perfect addition to our kitchen. My husband likes soda water with a meal so we use our machine a lot. It also makes delicious chocolate sodas for a treat.

  2. Emily

    Thank you for these ideas! I just put several on a wish list for me and also got a couple of ideas for friends. I appreciate you taking the time to do this. I love books like The Flavor Bible and hadn’t come across that one before!

  3. Alexa

    I’m like you and every year I tell myself that next year I’ll start earlier–so thank you for the great gift ideas. I like to give cooking magazine subscriptions to my friends.
    By the way, I’ve tried several of your recipes recently and have enjoyed every single one of them.:-)

  4. Jennifer

    If you’re into a lot of bread making, I’d recommend Electrolux’s Magic Mill Assistent Mixer. My mother in law has had a few Kitchenaids who have broken with moderate amounts of dough, but this seems to hold up. It’s pricey (and kind of loud), but worth it!

  5. Jen

    We’re almost convinced on that soda maker. I’m curious about refills though – I don’t see them available anywhere but from the manufacturer and you have to send them in to exchange… does it use standard co2 chargers as well? We’re worried that if the company that makes them goes out of business we’d be stuck with something useless. Have you or your friend dealt with getting new c02 chargers yet?

    Thanks!

    Great question. I haven’t had to replace the CO2 cartridges yet, but on the Williams Sonoma website it says, “Depleted cylinders can be refilled or replaced at your nearest Williams-Sonoma store or by visiting http://www.sodastreamusa.com.” So I am planning to go to WS when I need to refill. ~Elise

  6. Gaelle

    Great list! I really like your penguin! Is it possible to use it to make espumas? My mother used to have one of these syphons machines and we would make our own Creme Chantilly (no whipping, just a cartridge to fluff some heavy cream). Nowadays, people in France are into espumas : they make a base of fruit/vegetables with cream, yogurt and then put it in the syphon to make a mousse.

    Hi Gaelle, I’m pretty sure this device is only for carbonating water. ~Elise

  7. Bettie Infante

    WOW! These are the best ideas I’ve seen this season. Instead of gifts, I am going to put some of these on my Christmas wish list. I will definitely pass this on to all my cooking friends. Thanks!

  8. Terry

    I got a Sodastream soda maker in September (the cheap model with the plastic bottles, I can’t afford the luxe glass model) and it is great. I use it every day and would recommend it to anyone who hates dragging seltzer home from the store, and bringing those bottles back, ’cause we are all trying to be green. Really, this is one of the best buys I have made in a long time.

  9. jen

    Ok, I know that this is EXTREMELY immature of me, but the best thing I like about the Penguin is how much it cracks me up whenever I use it. The penguin FARTS into the water!

    You had to say that, didn’t you Jenny? ;-) ~Elise

  10. Amy

    Nice list! I concur. In fact, I have everything on your list except the thermometer. I’m pretty fond of my remote style thermometer but the infrared looks like a fun toy.

  11. Jennifer

    What great gift ideas! The digital scale has been on my Amazon wish list for a while now, I really want one. And I am embarrassed to say, I have never heard of an infrared thermometer but I do make candy so I think I’m going to have to look into that a bit more.

  12. Anne H.

    I got the Flavor Bible at my local library over the summer and I fell in love. I’m hoping for one for Christmas. It’s fascinating, and it’s inspired unusual but delicious things in my own cooking, like plum compote with cinnamon.

  13. Meand3boyz

    Elise,
    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been eyeballing the KitchenAid Mixer for years. I’m not sure I would use it enough to justify the price tag. I have a digital scale, not the same as yours, but I highly recommend getting one. It’s perfect if you want an exact measurement of pasta.

    I’ve been a lurker on your blog for a few years now and want to tell you how much I enjoy it. I use one of your recipes at least once a week. My finicky kids love the meals I prepare using your recipes. I love that the recipes don’t start with “a can of this and a can of that”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a food snob by any means, but the sodium and sugar in them are usually through the roof!

    Enough of my rambling. Thanks for doing this blog, I get excited when I see a new post on my google reader page in the morning. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

    Thank you for your kind words! I’m so glad you are finding the site useful. Happy holidays! ~Elise

  14. Jill Anderson

    Great list! I would also add a Tortilla Grill as a great gift item. I use mine to warm flour tortillas as well as to roast peppers. It makes the tortillas taste closer to homemade with a slight char on them. Delicious. I got mine at the Santa Fe Cooking School.

    http://santafeschoolofcooking.com/On-line_Market/Cooking_Tools/index.html

    I love that mesh top for stovetop grilling! Just ordered one. I love charring chiles directly on the gas stove, but without a mesh they can easily fall through the grates. Thank you for that suggestion. ~Elise

  15. GoneVeg

    To the person who asked about refilling the carbon cartridges

    a) Yes, they are only available from the company. We had them replaced once already: we left them outside our door and they came, grabbed them and left new ones that day.

    b) However, I just found out that a kitchen store in my neighborhood recharges them. If anyone else is in NY, Brooklyn Kitchen will recharge them for you. http://www.thebrooklynkitchen.com/

  16. Alecia

    I covet a KA mixer… but alas I have no where to put one in my tiny house! Thanks for the great list, Elise. You’ve given me some inspiration for a couple of people I am drawing a blank on for gifts. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas – thanks for your awesome blog. :-)

  17. Andrea

    Great post Elise! I actually bought a Fountain Jet and then noticed the referral program. Not sure if it’s still eligible but I totally bought it based on your post :-)

  18. Honeybeast (Julie)

    I’m glad you mentioned the Flavor Bible, Elise – it’s so good not just as resource but as inspiration.

    And I have the way less cute but cheaper soda maker from Sodastream, and I love it (though I do wish I’d splurged for the cute Penguin model) – fizz whenever I want it and without having to buy new bottles each time.

    Mmmmm, truffle salt.

  19. Connie

    Okay, getting your wife an appliance for Christmas might not be what most men think is acceptable but that’s what I want. With all the talk about the dangers of grocery store cleaning product, I want to dump these deadly products for 2010. I‘ve dropped at least 1000 hints that I want a Ladybug vapor steamer for Christmas. John, are you reading this? Order it today!!! LOL http://www.vapor-systems.com/index.html?source=1800govapor/holiday/

    It’s a lady bug! ~Elise

  20. Andy

    Great post! Thanks for the list. I would love to add “Mantra: The Rules of Indulgence” by Chef Jehangir Mehta to the list. The unique style of presentation in this book has amazed me; in other books we see divisions like cakes, cookies etc., but in this book the chapters are devoted to ingredients and the sections are like “herbs,” “flowers,” and so on. This book has been my inspiration to culinary innovations

I apologize for the inconvenience, but comments are closed. You can share your thoughts on our Facebook page ~ Elise.