Well ladies and gentlemen, it is that time of year again whether we like it or not. The holidays are just around the corner, and whether you’re shopping for a perfect Christmas gift or just can’t find the right thing for day number eight during the Hanukah celebration, I’m here to help. If there is a home cook, baker, griller, or foodie on your list, I have some ideas that can’t be beat (unless you get them a dandy immersion blender - see below).
For the Home Cook:
Immersion Blender: Ever make a sauce and think ‘this would be so much better if I could make it smooth but I really don’t feel like hauling out my blender or food processor. And I’d rather not do the extra cleaning.’ Well this little guy is your answer. Slip him right in your pot and blend till your heart’s content. (Breville® The Control Grip Immersion Blender, $99 at Bed Bath and Beyond)
Gel Floor Mats: Cooking all day can be really hard on the home cook’s feet, legs, and back. These gel floor mats can help take some of the strain out of your home cook’s passion. (GelPro® Original Gel Filled Anti-Fatigue Trellis Floor Mats, $124.99-$249.99, Bed Bath and Beyond)
Adorable Aprons: Each home cook needs an apron, whether she remembers to put it on or not (I chronically forget, then end up with flour all over my front) isn’t your concern. You can find really cute aprons at Sur la Table, Bed Bath and Beyond, and ModCloth.
Cookbooks: Even if your home cook creates most dishes from the top of her head, she will undoubtedly love getting inspiration from cookbooks from well-respected chefs. Consider these selections from Amazon:
Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 volume set) by Julia Child
Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking by Julia Child The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child (seeing a pattern here?)
If your home cook isn’t a Julia fan (then she shouldn’t be in the kitchen, in my opinion… but to each her own, I suppose) try her French protégé’s work:
Essential Pepin: More than 700 All-Time Favorites From My Life In Food by Jacques Pepin
Fast Food My Way by Jacques Pepin
The Short-Cut Cook: Make Simple Meals with Surprisingly Little Effort by Jacques Pepin.
Any cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen or Cook’s Illustrated will give you delicious, tested, and easy to reproduce recipes with an explanation of why you’re using this technique rather than that. My personal favorites from them include:
Italian Classics from the editors of Cooks Illustrated
Cooking for Two, 2009: The Year’s Best Recipes Cut Down to Size from America’s Test Kitchen
Other titles to give a try come from our favorite celebrity chefs:
Lidia’s Italy in America by Lidia Bastianich
Mario Batali: Simple Family Meals from My Home to Yours by Mario Batali
Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious Recipes by Giada de Laurentiis
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients by Ina Garten
Louisiana Real & Rustic by Emeril Lagasse
Bobby Flay’s Grill It by Bobby Flay
Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible: The New Classic Guide to Delicious Dishes with More than 300 Recipes by Paula Deen
You can often find really great cookbooks from garage or yard sales or the local antique shop. My grandmother uses her 1958 Betty Crocker cookbook on a very regular basis, and descendants already fight over who they will be bequeathed to (I call dibs!!!). Have a look for some unique finds for the hard-to-shop-for home cook.
For the Baker:
Silicone Baking Mats: These are the coolest baking sheets around. Your cookies won’t stick, and they heat evenly. Every baker should have them! (Sur La Table SilPat Baking Mat, $24.95, Sur La Table)
Mixing Bowls: Every baker and home cook starts out with a wide array of mixing bowls. But over the years, something happens to them. A new set would be welcomed by any baker. (Sur La Table Red Prep Bowl Set, $11.95, Sur La Table)
Pastry Decorating Set: To make those pretty cakes! (Ateco Basic Pastry Tip Set $16.95, Williams Sonoma)
For the Griller:
Wireless Remote Grilling Thermometer: Perfect for the entertaining griller! The little device will beep you when your food is done! Set it for food temperature or time limit. The griller’s best friend! (Wireless Remote Grill Thermometer $59.95, Williams Sonoma)
Pit Grilling Mit: Sometimes when you grill there’s no utensil is as good as your hands to flip your bird, steak, ribs, etc. But this is a tricky feat over a hot grill. These mitts keep your griller safe! (Pit Grilling Mit, $19.95, Williams Sonoma)
For the Foodie:
Chocolates: There aren’t many people who don’t like chocolates. If you’re in doubt with what to buy your foodie, and you aren’t sure if she cooks at home, chocolates are a sure way to go. My recommendation is a box of bonbons from South-N-France, a small bonbon shop in Wilmington, NC. The husband/wife team makes these little morsels right in their kitchen! My roommate and I were known to pop by after hours for a last minute chocolate fix. If nothing else, check out their website and watch their adorable video! If you’re in the area, send a Singing BonBon Telegram! Too cute!
If you’re looking for something a little different for your foodie, try Vosages Haut Chocolates. Most Americans aren’t very creative with their candy bars. Chocolate, nougat, caramel, coconut, peanuts, and marshmallow are about the only additions we make on a regular basis. Vosages Haut Chocolate gets creative with the candy bars and candy. My personal favorite from their collection (and my cousin adamantly agrees) is the Mo’s Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar. Milk chocolate is mixed with bacon and smoked salt to make a perfect salty sweet treat. Hey, don’t knock it till you try it!!!
Another good candy bar is the Red Fire Exotic Candy bar which incorporates Mexican ancho & chipotle chillies, Ceylon cinnamon and dark chocolate. The heat of the chillies makes you appreciate the chocolate.
Order your foodie a collection of candy bars, then order one for yourself!!!
Wine Club: Maybe your foodie is more of a wino. If this is the case, sign him or her up for a wine club (check your state laws first, some states won’t allow for the shipping of wine to your doorstep). When I lived in Virginia, I was a Vine Club member of Tarara Winery, in Leesburg, Virginia. The gorgeous winery included a tasting deck overlooking the Potomac and a wine cave. And did I mention that their wine was suspiciously delicious? Because my busy schedule didn’t allow me to drive out to Leesburg whenever I wanted wine, I signed up for their Vine Club. Tarara would ship me 3 bottles of wine quarterly. These were often the higher end, harder to get (or to afford) bottles for a low price of $70.00 per quarter. This was usually a big discount on these bottles, and delivered right to your door! Many wineries offer this kind of club, and American wine has come a long way! Try Tarara or your wino’s favorite winery today!
High End Olive Oil: If your foodie is also a home cook, she might like some high quality olive oil. This is something every foodie home cook covets but doesn’t always have the money to purchase for herself. Sure, some of the grocery store extra-virgin olive oils are surprisingly good (I have a gallon of Bertolli Extra-Virgin Olive Oil in my pantry and I think it’s pretty tasty), but the flavor of some really high quality olive oil can make these grocery store olive oils look like canned tuna. In salads and over raw items, nothing compares to a really good olive oil. Browse through the vast selection of olive oils at Olio2go.com. Or do an olive oil tasting for your holiday party! Choose a collection of olive oils from separate regions of Italy for a unique holiday party experience!
Artisanal Cheese: Please resist the last minute Hickory Farms purchase for your foodie. Don’t get me wrong, I like their sausage and cheese offerings as much as the next girl. And talk about easy to find around the holidays! There is hardly a mall in America that doesn’t have a Hickory Farms kiosk in the months prior to Christmas. In addition, I’m not knocking their quality. For the money, you will be hard pressed to find a better deal for such delicious meats and cheeses. But a foodie values the smaller, family-owned and operated cheese-makers over the mass produced products. Get your favorite foodie some delicious cheese right from the source in Vermont, one of America’s best cheese-making regions! The following farms ship their cheeses right to your door!
Cabot Vermont - https://www.shopcabot.com/products/?by=category&catID=2
Blue Ledge Farm - http://www.blueledgefarm.com/
Grafton Village Cheese- http://sales.graftonvillagecheese.com/gifts/
Crowley Cheese - https://www7004.ssldomain.com/crowleycheese/store/index.php
Shelburne Farms - http://store.shelburnefarms.org/
Vermont Shepherd - http://shop.vermontshepherd.com/
Plymouth Artisan Cheese - http://www.plymouthartisancheese.com/en/shop
Kobe Beef or Dry-Aged Beef: Kobe Beef is delicious and melts in your mouth like butter. From Wagyu cattle in the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan, it must meet strict criteria to be classified as Kobe. Because of its high cost, most Americans are instead exposed to Kobe-Style Beef, or Wagyu cattle raised to Kobe standards in America. The differences are negligible, but the price is much more affordable! Your foodie would love a box of filet mignon from Kobe Beef America! http://store.kobe-beef.com/ProductInfo.aspx?productid=001001 Get a box of four 8oz. Filet mignons for $199.99.
Boys and girls, this is the ultimate in foodie gifts. If you’ve never had dry-aged beef, you haven’t really lived. Because of the cost and space involved with dry-aging (it requires a temperature and humidity controlled cooler), finding dry-aged beef can be difficult. Most steakhouses have abandoned the practice, especially in these tough economic times, and finding a butcher who dry-ages can be next to impossible. Dry-aging beef happens when a side or cut of beef is hung in a cooler near freezing temperatures for several weeks. This process concentrates the flavors while tenderizing the meat, making for the ultimate in good steak. You can order your favorite cut from Allen Brothers http://www.allenbrothers.com/beef/dry-age.html?p=1 for between $139.95-$379.95.