L/rain
49°
L/rain
Hi 53° | Lo 36°
Home Plate

Home Plate: Gifts for foodies

  • Gifts for cooks: Produce Stand ChicoBags <br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Gifts for cooks: Produce Stand ChicoBags

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Gifts for cooks:Flour Sack Towels, aluminum baking trays and George Saunderson's French-style rolling pin.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Gifts for cooks:Flour Sack Towels, aluminum baking trays and George Saunderson's French-style rolling pin.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Gifts for cooks: black granite mortar.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Gifts for cooks: black granite mortar.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Gifts for cooks: flat-bottomed wok and cast-iron skillet.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Gifts for cooks: flat-bottomed wok and cast-iron skillet.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Gifts for cooks: Kiwi brand knife<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Gifts for cooks: Kiwi brand knife

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Gifts for cooks: microwaveable pitcher and whisks.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Gifts for cooks: microwaveable pitcher and whisks.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Gifts for cooks: cookbooks including "My Pizza" by Jim Lahey, "The Science of Good Cooking" by Guy Crosby, "Gran Cocin Latina" byMaricel Presilla and "The Cook's Companion" by Stephanie Alexander.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Gifts for cooks: cookbooks including "My Pizza" by Jim Lahey, "The Science of Good Cooking" by Guy Crosby, "Gran Cocin Latina" byMaricel Presilla and "The Cook's Companion" by Stephanie Alexander.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Gifts for cooks: Produce Stand ChicoBags <br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Gifts for cooks:Flour Sack Towels, aluminum baking trays and George Saunderson's French-style rolling pin.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Gifts for cooks: black granite mortar.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Gifts for cooks: flat-bottomed wok and cast-iron skillet.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Gifts for cooks: Kiwi brand knife<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Gifts for cooks: microwaveable pitcher and whisks.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Gifts for cooks: cookbooks including "My Pizza" by Jim Lahey, "The Science of Good Cooking" by Guy Crosby, "Gran Cocin Latina" byMaricel Presilla and "The Cook's Companion" by Stephanie Alexander.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

Hanukkah is halfway over and Christmas Eve is only 12 days away, but if you are like most of us, you haven’t checked all the names off your gift list yet. Let me make things easier: for the cooks on that list, here’s a selection of presents (priced from downright inexpensive to won’t break the bank) that will not be re-gifted.

The best books

My cookbook collection is too big already, which means a new book has to be awfully good to be added to it. Here are four that made the cut:

My Pizza by Jim Lahey ($27.50). Lahey is the founder of Sullivan Street Bakery; his first book, My Bread, popularized the no-knead method that has revolutionized home bread baking. His new book, subtitled “the easy no-knead way to make spectacular pizza at home,” lives up to its promise. I can honestly say (and my family agrees) that these recipes produce some of the best pizza you will ever eat, and the recipes are easy. For best results, give My Pizza along with a ceramic pizza stone (available for around $30) and a pizza peel, the paddle for placing the pies in a hot oven (available for around $20). You’ll have no problem finding both the stone and the peel in local kitchen supply stores or online.

The Science of Good Cooking ($40) is a book that will be appreciated by both the novice and experienced cook. Written by Guy Crosby, the science editor of Cook’s Illustrated (along with the magazine’s staff), The Science of Good Cooking features 50 scientific concepts that every chef should understand, along with 400 recipes that put those concepts to delicious use.

I was thrilled by the results when I made Slow-Roasted Beef, a recipe that transforms a cheap boneless eye-round into a meltingly delectable roast. Note: A good instant read thermometer is essential for this recipe. I recommend the CDN ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer, which can be calibrated in ice water for accuracy. It costs about $20, and is available online or at Things Are Cooking, 74 N. Main St., Concord.

Gran Cocina Latina by Maricel E. Presilla ($45) is a 900 page tour through the cuisines of Latin America. In addition to being a chef, Presilla happens to hold a Ph.D. in medieval history from New York University, which may explain why she writes so lucidly about the history of Latin America as well as its regional food traditions. Her recipes are clear and concise with many tips built-in, and include the kind of kitchen staples that make cooking delicious food easy, like homemade vanilla extract, spice mixes and seasoning pastes.

Stephanie Alexander is Australia’s answer to Alice Waters, a woman who has been a chef, restaurant owner and food writer for more than 40 years.

Her masterwork, The Cook’s Companion, is – at more than 1,100 pages –
perhaps the best everything-in-one cookbook I own. And though I don’t imagine I will be needing recipes for kangaroo anytime soon, it’s reassuring to know I’ve got them. The downside of this tome is its price – the revised 2007 version tops $150 if purchased new. The trick is to buy it used – it’s not hard to find the slimmer, but still terrific 1996 version online in good condition for as little as $10, including shipping.

Gadgets galore

I recently discovered Saigon Market, 93 S. Maple St., Manchester, which carries a large variety of Asian and other ethnic foods and spices, as well as fresh meat, whole fish and varieties of produce that don’t often make their way to chain grocery stores. The store is filled with the kind of stocking stuffers any chef would love – packets of chopsticks for just $1, sachets of pho spices for about $2, Manchester-made Angels Fire Organic Jamaican Jerk Spice Sauce for $5.99.

But my favorite gifts in this modest grocery were in the cookware aisle. There you’ll find black granite mortars in two sizes, the smaller for $17.99, the larger (very much like the one pictured above) for $22.99. Bring the mortar to the cash register, and they’ll hand over the matching pestle. I bought my mortar and pestle a year ago, and I’m amazed by the vibrance of herb sauces and spice blends that come out of it compared to those made with a blender or food processor.

My other find at Saigon Market was Kiwi brand knives from Thailand. The store carries three sizes of these stainless steel, wooden-handled knives and they are super sharp and remarkably inexpensive. The one pictured above has a 6½-inch curved blade (which provides a nice rocking action when chopping), and slices vegetables paper thin with ease – for only $3.99.

Speaking of knives, if you are looking for a more standard chef’s knife, check your local kitchenware retailer for my favorite: the 8-inch Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Chef Knife. At about $25, the Fibrox is better than many knives costing 10 times as much.

I have tried every kind of “nonstick” cookware in existence, only to discover that nothing beats a properly seasoned cast iron pan. Yes, cast iron needs to be oiled and warmed before it becomes nonstick. But cook with it a few times, and avoid scrubbing with harsh detergent (instead use a gentle scrubber and rinse while still hot with plain water) and cast iron develops a great nonstick surface.

My 17-inch, flat-bottomed cast iron wok and 12-inch cast iron skillet see more stovetop action than any other pans I own. Another plus – cast iron is inexpensive.

My 12-inch Lodge skillet can be found for around $20 at many area retailers.

My no-name wok was purchased in New York City’s Chinatown for about $25; a similar Mr. Bar-B-Q 17-inch, flat-bottomed wok is available online; the cheapest I found it was $24.99 from BJs.

For the baker in your life, consider one of Loudon craftsman George Saunderson’s French-style rolling pins. Saunderson works with a variety of woods, many of them locally grown. Each pin is unique, with it’s own heft, length and diameter. Mine is made of New Hampshire cherry, and feels like it was made just for my hands. The pins cost $25 and up, and are available directly from Saunderson at 783-4750, at the Canterbury Country Store in Canterbury Center and at The Crust & Crumb Baking Company, 126 N. Main St., Concord.

When it comes to reasonably priced kitchen gear, I’m a fan of the Bakers and Chefs brand. Two of their products I can’t do without: 12 packs of 30-by-38-inch flour Sack Towels ($12.48 at Sam’s Club in Concord) and Half-Sheet Aluminum Baking Trays ($10.78 for two, also at Sam’s Club).

The towels are 100 percent cotton, huge and absorbent – big enough to tie on as aprons for small adults, or to be stitched up into curtains, or, for me, taped over windows as light-filtering backdrops for food photos. The half-sheets are perfect for everything from sheet cakes to roasted vegetables to sliding into the bottom of an oven as drip catchers.

Vegetables and herbs refrigerated in plastic bags rot quickly; besides, all that plastic is bad for the environment.

That’s why this year I added Produce Stand ChicoBags to my collection of reusable shopping bags. Made of recycled materials or a hemp-cotton blend, the bags come in three styles, each meant for the different storage requirements of produce.

The bags are widely available online, or you can pick up a starter set of three bags for $16 at Bona Fide Green Goods, 35 S. Main St., Concord.

While you’re there, take a look at Bona Fide Green Goods’s bamboo cutting boards and utensils, which are made from a renewable material, hold up better than wood in the kitchen and are modestly priced.

Finally, for the cappuccino lover in your life, I recommend a small microwaveable pitcher and a small whisk. (Pictured on the previous page are the Le Creuset .07-liter pitcher and a Kuhn Riko 8-inch Palm Spring whisk, which, I’m sorry to say, don’t seem to be widely available anymore, so you’ll have to substitute.)

Simply fill the pitcher halfway with milk (low fat works best), heat it in the microwave, remove from microwave and submerge the whisk in the milk so an inch or so of the wire tines are above its surface, then roll the whisk briskly between your palms. If all goes well (some kinds of milk don’t work, notably raw, un-homogenized) the pitcher will fill to the top with billows of foam to scoop out into a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

Legacy Comments0
There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.