Cooking Up Christmas 

There are plenty of tools, toys, foods, books and more for your favorite foodie

If you cook or are close to someone who does, you probably know that the quest for the perfect collection of kitchen tools is unending. And that actually makes shopping for their holiday gifts fairly easy. Ditto for foodies in general. Just head over to Spoons 'N Spice, Tony Caputo's Market & Deli, Pirate O's or Liberty Heights Fresh and you can accomplish your gift-buying without breaking a sweat.

However, for some really unique and out-of-the-box items, you might need to search a little harder, or at least sit down at the computer and navigate the Internet. Here are some groovy goods any foodie would love to find under the tree on Christmas morning.

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Let's begin with some cooking and food preparation tools. Bob Kramer is a Seattle-based master bladesmith who has devoted his life "to the single-minded pursuit of crafting the perfect kitchen knife." His knives, being the one-of-a-kind works of art they are, don't come cheap. Some are ready-made, but most are sold at auction with minimum bids of $100, and usually sell for much, much more at KramerKnives.com. Sur La Table (Salt Lake City, 801-456-0280, SurLaTable.com) sells Kramer's 10-inch Carbon Steel Chef's Knife for $349, and his limited-edition Damascus Chef's Knife for $1,899. On the other hand, I recently picked up a very versatile, well-balanced Chinese steel chef's knife from the Oriental Food Market (667 S. 700 East, 801-363-2122) for a mere $7.99.

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At Williams-Sonoma (Salt Lake City, 801-359-0459, Williams-Sonoma.com) you can purchase a cool personal Zoku Ice Cream Maker ($25.95) that allows you to create a customized bowl of homemade ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet, sorbet or gelato in just 10 minutes.

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If you cook, you have eggs. So why not turn them into kitchen art? The MannaPro.com Egg Skelter ($24.95) is a nifty way to display up to two dozen eggs on your countertop, saving room in the fridge. Cyclists and pizza lovers will enjoy the whimsical but practical bicycle-shaped Fixie Pizza Cutter ($23) from UncommonGoods.com.

Speaking of pizza, my favorite pizza-making implement is the Camp Chef Italia Artisan Pizza Oven ($400), made right here in Utah (CampChef.com). Although portable, its high temps allow you to produce beautifully charred wood-oven-style pizzas on your patio in mere minutes, and it's fueled by a single 1-pound propane canister. For less dough (pun intended), the NewWave Stone Bake Pizza Oven ($79.99) cooks single 12-inch pizzas on your kitchen counter and reaches 700 degrees in a matter of minutes.

One of the best cookbooks to come across my desk in a long time is Cook's Illustrated Meat Book ($40). It's the culmination of more than 20 years of experimenting with recipes and techniques for cooking beef, pork, lamb, veal, chicken and turkey in the Cook's Illustrated test kitchens. Some of the recipes are counter-intuitive. For example, the easy skillet-roasted whole chicken recipe requires cooking the bird at a high temperature initially, then turning the oven completely off to finish the chicken. The perfect steak isn't seared to start, as you would expect, but is cooked in a 275-degree oven and then seared just before serving. It's thinking-out-of-the-box meat preparation.

There isn't a cook or food enthusiast alive who wouldn't love the gift of The Way We Ate: 100 Chefs Celebrate a Century at the American Table ($35) by Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz. The authors invited modern-day chefs and food experts to analyze or ponder a historical food event, particular dish, cocktail, etc. for every year from 1901 to 2000, and often include recipes for dishes that might have gone out of style. The participating chefs and foodies are an all-star cast including Jacques Pépin, Ruth Reichl, Jeremiah Tower, Daniel Boulud, Marcus Samuelsson, Marc Forgione and dozens of others.

Of course, what we really want for the holidays is food, right? Well, when it comes to sweets, you'd be hard-pressed to find better quality or more beautiful chocolates than those from Chocolatier Blue, available at Tony Caputo's Market & Deli (CaputosDeli.com). Two bucks per piece might seem extravagant, but once you taste Chris Blue's craft chocolates, you too will be a convert. Unusual flavor combinations like sage & honey, peanut butter & strawberry, grapefruit & rosemary and sweet-potato casserole will blow your sweet little mind.

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For something spicy, here's a hot stocking stuffer: Sriracha Candy Canes ($8/dozen at Urban Outfitters (Salt Lake City, 801-456-2455, UrbanOutfitters.com). Can't decide what kind of pie to serve for the holidays? Momofuku Milk Bar (ShopMilkBar.com) has the answer: The Franken Pie has two slices each of candy-bar pie and caramel apple pie, plus four slices of crack pie, for $44.

Or, serve up the ultimate charcuterie platter this holiday season with an acorn-fed, free-range, bone-in Reserva Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Ham leg ($999) from La Tienda (Tienda.com). Or you can treat yourself to the best ham I've ever tasted for a lot less coin: Salt Laker Cristiano Creminelli's Prosciutto Cotto ($130). Creminelli also sells salami-tasting gift sets ranging from $45 to $100 at Creminelli.com.

Seeing a package under the tree on Christmas from Russ & Daughters would bring tears to the eyes of ex-New Yorkers like me. You don't have to book a flight to New York City to enjoy Russ & Daughters' celebrated cured and smoked fish, herring, cream cheeses, caviar, bialys, bagels and more. You could, for example, enjoy a package of schmaltz herring fillets ($10.50) during the holidays from RussAndDaughters.com. Likewise, Zabar's delivers. And, you need only visit Zabars.com to begin your journey into the delectable world that is New York City's iconic 80-year-old delicatessen. While you're at it, please order a loaf of Zabar's classic dark Russian pumpernickel ($4.98) for me.

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Finally, have a little food fun during the holiday season with Foodie Fight: A Trivia Game for Serious Food Lovers ($22.95). As Mario Batali suggests, "Play this fun game after your next dinner party. The losers have to wash the dishes!"

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