A few months back, I wrote about some kitchen items you may not already have that you might want to pick up. Read about those here. This time around I have some of my all-time favorite items I use in the kitchen and bar. If you’re looking to expand your kitchen supplies or have a chef in training on your gift list, here are some of my favorites:
Favorite Kitchen Cookbook - One of my favorite cookbooks I have had a lot of fun with this year is Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller. As the acclaimed chef of California wine country’s The French Laundry, Keller has the utmost respect for quality ingredients and careful preparation. His simple equation in the kitchen is “great product + great execution = great cooking.” Ad Hoc at Home is his exploration into cooking at home, family-style recipes. The thing I have learned from this cookbook is to slow down. Simple things like using a large spoon to gently turn foods rather than tongs, encourages this. Also, his garlic confit makes one of the best additions to your kitchen. We’ve made his million stepped brined, fried chicken and it was exceptional. Keller’s view on how to become a better cook and how to organize a kitchen is enlightening. I’m using it to teach my sons their way around the kitchen. It’s a huge book, but it’s worth it’s weight.
Favorite Cocktail Recipes Book – I’ve said it before here on Tastearama, I love Dale DeGroff’s cocktail tome “The Craft of the Cocktail”. It’s an inclusive and vast collection of cocktail recipes full of fun historical snippets. It also has a great overview of how to stock a bar. Cocktail experts and novices alike all can learn something from one of America’s favorite bartenders.
Immersion Blender - Mr. Big’s favorite soup is Tortilla soup. He doesn’t believe that soup is really a food, so when I find one he likes, we run with it. I, on the other hand, could have soup and salad for lunch every day and be the happiest girl. The first time we made tortilla soup we used the blender to puree some of the soup. That’s just a hot exploding accident waiting to happen. The lid flew off from the pressure inside the blender and searing spiced tomato puree went everywhere. Shortly thereafter, we discovered the immersion blender. It’s a little blender on a stick that you put directly in the pot. It won’t scratch your pans because it has a nice little rim that extends past the spinning blades. It’s also great for frothing and whipping up small things in a glass. And there’s no exploding. They run about $40 and I love mine from Cuisinart.
Garlic Grinder – My mom picked up this little stoneware plate covered in spiky nubs. You hold the garlic clove and just press it gently while swirling on the plate. It purees the garlic perfectly. I’ve seen the plates at arts festivals and craft shows. Do yourself a favor and pick one up next time you see one.
Sipping Spoon for the bar - This neat bar tool is my new favorite. I picked it up this fall at Crate & Barrel and use it regularly. It’s a long handled stainless spoon, like an iced tea spoon. The cool thing is that the handle is a straw so you can test out the cocktail you’re stirring. Ingenious idea.
Itty Bitty Rubber Scrapers – I have two adorable rubber scrapers I received in my stocking a few years ago. They are perfect for scraping out a jar or cleaning out a sticky bowl of ingredients. Sur la Table has them as well as Williams-Sonoma. Great stocking stuffer.
Small appliances that make life easier
Kitchenaid Stand Mixer – My beloved Kitchenaid Stand Mixer died the day before Thanksgiving. RIP Mixer. It served me well for over ten years. We could not figure out why it had no power, so we donated it to the folks at Waste Management. I’ve asked Santa for a new one. I’ll still stick with the one that lifts up instead of the one that has the arms that hold on to the bowl. The armed ones are so tall they don’t fit underneath my kitchen cabinets. The selection of colors available these days make it fun to choose. Last time I played it safe with a white one, this time I’m hoping for a spicy cinnamon colored version. I use the mixer a few times a week. The power behind it is so nice when you are baking a stiff dough like my chocolate chip cookies. This year’s holiday baking will be very dainty cookies since I’ll have to use my hand mixer.
Cuisinart Food Processor - I adore my 11 cup Cuisinart food processor. I definitely use it every few days. When I’m prepping for a party, it’s a real time saver. My father-in-law bought it for me almost ten years ago and it’s still going strong. The new version has a blade that locks in so when you pour out your ingredients the blade doesn’t splash down into your bowl. Somebody’s thinking over there at Cuisinart. I use it for pizza dough weekly and love the dough feature.
Panasonic Infrared Toaster Oven - Mr. Big loves electronics and technology. He will obsess over the details of new whizbang items. He read about the Panasonic infrared toaster oven a few months ago. We ordered it and it was continually on backorder for some reason. Restaurants use this model. One great thing about it is the small footprint and cool stainless design. The infrared makes it a fabulous crisper/toaster/reheater. Goodbye rubbery reheated microwave foods. So long big old single task toaster. Life is good.
Favorite Food Gifts
Penzey’s Spices – If you’re lucky enough to live close to a Penzey’s Spices store like I am, this is a great place to find hostess gifts and stocking stuffers for foodies. Their products also are available online or through their well written catalog. Some of our favorites are the Florida Pepper, Chipotle Pepper, Italian Dressing Seasoning Mix and Hot Chocolate Mix. Spice up your holidays.
Preserved Lemons – Thanks to Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, we made preserved lemons as food gifts this year. My parents brought home a treasure trove of Meyer lemons from their home in Florida. I had always heard of Moroccan preserved lemons and seen them at gourmet food stores. I tried them for the first time this summer and I’m in love. They add such depth and flavor to so many dishes. Plus they are pretty little sunshines in your refrigerator. They take about a month to preserve, but keep for a year in the fridge.
Gourmet Jellies – There was a lovely, elegant older woman who worked for my dad when I was growing up. She was the ballet instructor and was so exquisite. I remember her always stopping by the house with a Christmas gift from Harry & David – jellies of all flavors. These days, Braswells are my favorite. They are English and come in reusable glassware. Think those cool Flintstone glasses Welch’s used to do in the 70’s that you drank juice from. These are lovely glasses that I use in my guest bathrooms. And the jellies are fabulous. I just picked up Raspberry Peach Champagne Preserves. I’ve picked up the Braswell’s at TJ Maxx and Marshalls. The other jellies I love are from Bonne Maman – the French ones in the red checked jar available at your local grocery. They make great stocking stuffers or bundle up a few and give them as a hostess gift.