Cash: the register is ringing
Time to buy a bunch of stuff.
“Plastic taken,” stores are singing
Now the season’s getting rough.
~ to the tune of Hark the Herald Angels
During my 20s I managed a pair of Pier 1 Imports stores and a Kirkland’s Gifts and I loved the Christmas season. By the time the day after Thanksgiving rolled around, the hard part was done and you were committed to your choice of merchandise and quantities — for better or worse. The only thing to do by then was settle into your shoes and have fun helping people with their Christmas shopping while racking up obscene daily sales totals.
That was a less cut-throat era and we really did try to help people. For years afterwards I would dream about working in a store at Christmas and although some of the dreams weren’t pleasant, many were.
Harkening back to those days, I thought I would offer some shopping suggestions for the foodie in your life or for you to put on your list. And given that you’re reading this online and today is the peak online selling day, I thought this would be the perfect time to help “stress” the online retailers’ systems. A saint, I’m not.
Need a stocking stuffer? The Messermeister serrated peeler is the coolest cheap kitchen gadget I’ve bought in years. Although you can use it to peel anything you’d use an ordinary peeler for, its claim to fame is peeling thin-skinned produce like tomatoes and peaches. It does an absolutely amazing job and saves you the trouble and time of blanching these delicate items in order to peel them.
Not quite as cheap, but still stocking-sized is a Chefsline gift certificate. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m one of the 20-odd chefs available live on this call-in/online advice service for home cooks so this may seem self-serving, but having just spent this past Thanksgiving helping people with their turkey (and side dish) questions I can know from the responses I got how worthwhile the service is. By my count I saved (or seriously improved) over 30 dinners on Thursday. Best of all Chefsline is offering a 15% discount for gift subscriptions.
At the opposite end of the price scale is a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I’ve had mine for eight years and can’t imagine how I got along without it. I use it for making cakes and cookies, stuffing sausage, grinding beef, shredding cheese, whipping eggs and cream, and, best of all, mixing and kneading bread. I love this thing!
Back when I started baking bread regularly I got fed up with the cheap, poorly-shaped, loaf pans I had, so I bought a pair of pro-quality loaf pans. They were amazing. I was surprised at how they affected not only the actual quality of my loaf bread, but my confidence in baking it. So I bought a pair of commercial grade baking sheets. Again, I was amazed. Instead of having one of those cheap, thin, Walmart sheets buckling under the weight of a pair of roasted butternut squash, or cookies burning on the bottom while remaining raw on top, they handled both chores with ease and aplomb — again my confidence went up. Never underestimate the value of confidence in the kitchen as a contribution to success. And while you’re at it, consider these heavy-duty cake pans.
High-quality bakeware isn’t glamorous and it’s unlikely you would think to buy it as a gift or ask for it, but it will change the serious cook’s life for the better. What’s more likely to be asked for or plan to ask for is new cookware. I’m generally in favor of cookware collections — and an assortment of other pots and pans for specific tasks. And the cookware set I chose when I got fed up with my first set was this one from Cuisinart. I’ve been extremely happy with it. It’s reliable, durable, and handsome. Recommended.
Books are a perennial gift and I have two suggestions. First is Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking.This 800+ page tome was published three years ago, but is an essential reference in any serious cook’s library because it covers everything from boiling eggs to the dangers of using lead-glass decanters. The other is a new book by Michael Rhulman, The Elements of Cooking. Rhulman’s inspiration and template for this book was Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. I’ll be reviewing the book next week, but from this recommendation you can assume I was impressed.
As Woody Allen noted, “Man cannot live by bread alone, frequently there must be beverage,” and so I suggest these glasses. My father, a wine enthusiast and physicist specializing in the physics of glass has a set and is pleased as punch. Made of magnesium silicate, they’re elegantly shaped with no lip, dishwasher safe, and durable. I can agree they’re a pleasure to drink from.
I thought immersion blenders were silly, until I bought one. Specifically this Kitchen Aid blender. This thing does indeed replace a standing blender ot food processor for pureeing, thus reducing the number of dirty dishes. But the whisk attachment on this little gadget is better at whipping cream than anything I’ve ever used. The mini-food processor isn’t great, but if you don’t already have one, it’s good enough.
And last, despite my initial doubts, I’ve become quite fond of my Cameron stovetop smoker. I smoked duck breasts in it for this past Thanksgiving dinner and the flavor was perfect. It’s a great way of getting a good smoky/grilled flavor when there’s 12 inches of snow on the ground.