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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.