If you live in a sprawling McMansion, the sky is the limit when it comes to holiday gifts for the cook and the kitchen. But if, like me, you live in a house or apartment with limited storage space, kitchen gadgets, tools, appliances and even cookbooks must be carefully considered. There just isn’t room in my kitchen and pantry for anything that isn’t vital or that doesn’t get used regularly.
So, for this 2013 edition of the Gift Guide, I offer up some items that any cook would be happy to find under the tree on Christmas. They are all items that I own—and, most importantly, use.
One of the handier kitchen gadgets I acquired this year is the Microplane Adjustable Slicer With Julienne Blade ($29.95). Before I got the Microplane Slicer, every time I needed to shred carrots, cut shoestring potatoes or finely slice fruits and veggies, I’d have to haul my expensive French mandoline out of the storage closet and hand-clean it when finished. Well, this ergonomic, hand-held baby has a super-sharp blade that cuts thin or thick slices, shreds and juliennes—and it’s small enough to store in my kitchen junk drawer. I use it constantly.
Speaking of slicing, have you ever wished you had an electric food slicer, the type you see behind the counter at delis? Well, it’s a bit of a splurge, but for about $130, you can own the Chef’sChoice Electric Food Slicer Model 615, which custom-slices meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits and such to your specifications: paper-thin, tire-tread-thick or anywhere in between. I love the luxury of having thinly sliced meats and cheeses for sandwiches on demand without trekking to the deli or paying premium deli prices.
One of my favorite culinary treats is the New England-style seafood boil. And, I’d looked high and low for a large-size steamer big enough to steam lobsters, clams, crabs and such for eight to 10 people that didn’t cost hundreds of dollars. Well, here’s the value-priced IMUSA 20-quart Aluminum Steamer. Priced at a mere $44.99 (and you can find it cheaper), this baby is not only big enough to feed a hungry lobster-loving crowd, but it’s also the perfect tool for steaming tamales and for brining items like roasts, chickens and even turkeys. The cool-touch handles and lid knob mean you won’t even need to reach for oven mitts.
Of all the cookbooks that have come my way this year, by far the most attractive and gift-worthy is Kenvin: An Artist’s Kitchen ($50), by the late local bohemian artist and chef Kenvin Lyman. This gorgeous coffee-table book is spiked with Lyman’s art, recipes and accounts of his life in the kitchen, on ranches and farms, and even as the designer of rock-show posters, including some for Led Zeppelin. More than merely a cookbook, it’s a life-affirming manifesto with recipes.
At the other end of the size scale, there’s the cute little Vegan Stoner Cookbook: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes to Munch, by Sarah Conrique and Graham I. Haynes ($16.99). The “vegan stoner” is a cartoon vegetable too lazy to spend more than a few minutes making vegan meals. You might have seen his/her recipes on its eponymous blog. Most of the recipes are easy, requiring six or fewer ingredients, and they all end with the admonition to “munch!”
In sharp contrast, there is also Great Meat: Classic Techniques and Award-Winning Recipes for Selecting, Cutting, and Cooking Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and Game ($24.99) by Dave Kelly, from renowned British butcher shop Ruby & White. Don’t know offal from osso buco? Then give this book a gander. Not only is this a treasure trove of information about selecting and preparing meats, but it also features recipes like those for sweetbread fritters with apple and banana puree, or chili-rubbed pork belly with chipotle sauce. It firmly answers the question “Where’s the meat?”
When you invest in high-quality kitchen knives, it’s crucial to maintain them—dull edges cause accidents. I highly recommend Wüsthof’s new Tri-Stone Sharpener ($49.99), a whetstone knife sharpener that features three different grit surfaces for optimum sharpening and honing: fine, medium and coarse. The Wüsthof sharpener, in combination with water, sharpens and hones both standard double-edge blades and sushi-style single-bevel edges. Best of all, it comes with a wooden base that holds the whetstone in place as you work your knives with the confidence and results of a cutlery professional.
UncommonGoods.com donates a portion of every order to the customer’s choice of the following nonprofit organizations: American Forests, Women for Women International, City Harvest and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. That’s incentive enough for me to shop for dining and kitchen gadgets and accessories there. And, I like their unusual assortment of goods, like the wiener dog oil & vinegar set ($30), the rowboat salad bowl with wood “oar” serving utensils ($65), the Himalayan salt grilling plank ($45) or—my favorite—recycled vinyl record bowls ($25). For those of you intrigued by molecular gastronomy, there’s even a Cuisine R-Evolution Molecular Gastronomy Kit ($58.95) with food additives, instructional DVD, and tools like a food-grade syringe, silicone tubes and pipettes to get your avant-garde culinary experience started.
Finally, here are a few funky stocking stuffers that I like. Amazon offers a Streamline brand Pink Ice Cream Cone Kitchen Timer ($8.28) that’s pretty kitschy. Also, you’ve heard of sporks, right (the combination spoon and fork, not the Bill Frost rock band)? Well, restaurateur Masami Takahashi created a hybrid spoon and fork designed especially for ramen ($15): genius! It’s available at UnicaHome.com.