2016 Holiday Gift Guide

If you are like me, you start stressing about holiday gifts about a week before Thanksgiving. I frantically google “holiday gift guides” only to find a million variations of hand-made necklaces and  pendants and novelty USB memory sticks. So, I appreciate a good, hand-picked gift guide. This is mine. It’s, of course, focused on food. But everything here is pre-tested and loved by me and Steve. I hope it helps you with your holiday shopping. Enjoy!

Chinese Black Vinegar – Gold Plum Chinkiang Vinegar (Amazon $8.24)


This isn’t just any old vinegar. It’s made out of black rice and malt and it has a unique malted and slightly smoky taste. It’s like no other vinegar you’ve ever tasted. I love using it for marinades or to make a quick salad dressing. You can also use it to make this recipe for crispy broccoli with black vinegar. It’s sold in most grocery stores but you can also get it from Amazon.

Li Hing Mango (Amazon $24.32 for 40oz bucket)


We discovered this while we were in Hawaii. It’s dried mango slices that are covered in something called li hing, which is a sweet and sour powder made up of ground plum skin that has been pickled in licorice, aspartame, food coloring, salt, and sugar. I know it sounds disgustingly artificial, but it’s incredibly addictive. We couldn’t stop eating it. The link at Amazon is for a giant bucket of 40oz that lasted us a good 8 months. They also sell it in smaller packages. Make sure you buy the brand “enjoy”. We’ve tried other brands and we weren’t crazy about them.

“My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life” by Ruth Reichl (Amazon $22.75 for hardcover version)


Like many others, I was so disappointed by Ruth Reichl’s first foray into fiction with “Delicious!: A Novel.” That exclamation point alone made me cringe every time I picked it up to try and read a few more pages. In the end, I gave up on it after about a third of the way into the book. This wasn’t the Ruth I knew, the one that dazzled me with “Tender at the Bone” and “Comfort me with Apples.” But fortunately, she came back with this cookbook that details how she survived the shuttering of Gourmet…moment of silence…by cooking and eating good food. The recipes are written in conversational style and the stories are short and powerful. You’ll get to experience the grief of losing Gourmet all over again but you’ll relish the chance to cook along with Ruth and share in the joy that she brings to the kitchen.

Cuisinart 7193-20P Chef’s Classic Stainless 3-Quart Cook and Pour Saucepan with Cover (Amazon $35.28)


I have never understood why almost all saucepans are created with a perfectly circular top lip. Every time I’ve had to pour something out of my saucepans, whether it was soup or a sauce or a custard, I’d always end up with some of it running down the side and onto my countertop. I had to search pretty hard to find a good saucepan with a pour spout. This Cuisinart one is great. It also comes in a smaller size. I love being able to pour everything out of it without losing a drop. My only quibble is that the spout is on the left side which means that I can’t pour out using my left hand and scrape with a spatula with my right. But otherwise this is fantastic

Aroma Housewares ARC-914SBD 8-Cup Rice Cooker and Food Steamer (Amazon $31.47) and Thai Sticky Rice (Amazon $14.16)


I used to not understand why anyone would need a dedicated machine for making rice. I mean, how hard could it be? You put rice and water in a pot, cover, and cook. Done, right? Wrong! We finally gave in and bought this rice cooker and it has changed our lives. I never realized that rice could be cooked so perfectly, every time, without fail. It has a timer so I can just put the rice and water in there in the morning and have amazing rice done just as we are ready to eat in the evening. If you are getting this for someone as a gift, consider getting them a bag of Thai sticky rice along with it. Tell them that they don’t need to presoak the sticky rice, as it’s generally recommended. Just put the rice and water in the rice cooker and let it do its magic. They’ll be rewarded with that chewy, sweet delight of sticky rice that is sometimes the best thing I eat at some Thai restaurants in New York.

SodaStream Fountain Jet Sparkling Water Maker (Amazon $66.04)


I know. You, your mother, your dog walker, your tax accountant, his dog walker, your car wash guy, they all have one. But maybe there’s someone in your life who doesn’t. It does one thing and it does it simply and well: it makes fizzy water. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that quenches my thirst on a hot summer day better than a glass of ice cold sparkling water with a slice of lemon. And it’s great not to have to waste a can or a plastic bottle every time you want to add a splash of fizz to your cocktails.

Maussane Olive Oil (Zingerman’s $40)


This might be the best olive oil I’ve ever tasted. There’s a whole explanation of how it’s different over at Zingerman’s, how they pick the olives late, when they’re ripe and they are left to ferment a bit, but really, all you need to know is that this olive oil tastes and smells like an all-expenses paid vacation in an old manor in the French countryside, surrounded by olive groves and sunshine. It’s smooth, herbal, not at all bitter, and makes everything you cook taste heavenly. This isn’t olive oil for cooking. It’s for drizzling over cooked food or making dressings, mayo, aioli and the like.

Sugarfina Candy Gift Boxes (Sugarfina – Prices vary)

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-5-19-49-pmOur friends Brad and Denny are amazing in so many ways, but there’s one particular way in which they shine: they give the best-ever host gifts. Every time we invite them over for dinner or a party they bring us something unique and interesting and usually mind blowingly delicious. One of those gifts was a box of candy from Sugarfina, a company that sources candy and chocolates from all over the world and packages it like jewels in a jewel box. There are champagne gummy bears from Germany, dark chocolate sea salt caramels from the US, choco crisps from Greece, and many many more. Whoever you give these to, they will praise you till the day they die.

Malted Milk Powder and Double Dutch Dark Cocoa from King Arthur Flour ($21)


If you’ve been reading this blog, you know how much I love malted milk powder. It’s in many of the recipes listed in this blog, like the Banana Peanut Butter Malt Shake or the Ultimate Chocolate Ice Cream. Combining it with the phenomenal cocoa sold by King Arthur Flour would make a great gift for anyone. Before you wrap those two together, print out and add the recipe for Malted Hot Chocolate Mix to the gift. It will make them happy many times during the winter months.

Amarena Toschi Black Cherries (Amazon $17.70)

71l9zszffbl-_sx522_When you ask most people about maraschino cherries, they’ll mention Luxardo. They are the standard. However, if you want amazing cherries that don’t crystalize into sugar in the refrigerator, the Amarena Toschi cherries can’t be beat. They are fantastic over chocolate ice cream (or chopped up and added to it at the last few seconds of churning) and of course they make a great little sweet ending to a fine The Sommer cocktail.

The Better With Lemon 2013 Holiday Gift Guide

Are you suffering from gift anxiety? Is the holiday season especially hard on you? Do you wish you could just give everyone a gift card to Amazon.com and be done with it all?

Now there’s hope. For all the people on your list (except those who eat hot pockets for dinner and those who are too young to know how to hold a fork), we present the first annual Better With Lemon Holiday Gift Guide. All of the suggestions listed here have been thoroughly tested by our team of experts (ok, it’s just Steve and I) and they are guaranteed to spread joy to all (at the very least, to you, if you decide to buy all of these gifts for yourself).

So, in no particular order, we present twelve gift suggestions for the 2013 holiday season (click on the title or photo for a link where you can buy them):

1. Hell’s Kitchen Peanut Butter


This is no ordinary peanut butter. It’s sweet and nutty, definitely crunchy, and absolutely irresistible. Spread it on bread and top with some honey and you have breakfast and dessert all rolled into one. Or roll one tablespoon of it at a time into a ball and the dip them in melted chocolate to create the easiest chocolate-peanut butter truffles you’ve ever made. Whoever you give this to will thank you and hate you, because no other peanut butter will ever measure up for them.

2. OXO Good Grips Grill Pan Brush

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This is for those on your list whose chores include washing the dishes. Perfect for scrubbing persistent stuck-on food from pots and pans. I use it on my cast iron skillet all the time.

3. OXO Good Grips Solid Stainless Steel Ice Cream Scoop

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As you probably guessed by now from reading this blog, Steve and I eat a lot of ice cream. We’ve gone through several ice cream scoops until we discovered this one. It cuts through ice cream better than any other one we’ve ever used. And the stainless steel scoop doesn’t chip or discolor, even after multiple washes in the dishwasher.

4. Absolute Beginner’s Cookbook, Revised 3rd Edition: Or How Long Do I Cook a 3 Minute Egg?

absolute beginners

More than two decades ago, when I was a freshman in college, I cooked my first dish: instant ramen noodles. That was enough to get me interested in cooking. But I needed some help. So, off I went to the bookstore (we still had those back then) and this cookbook caught my eye. I used it non-stop and made some of the recipes in it for years to come. So, for those on your list who need an introduction to cooking, this is the perfect gateway drug.

5. The Breakfast Book

breakfast book

Steve and I have given this book as a gift to so many of our friends, that we should really start getting paid as its official marketing team. It is so worth it. Recipe after recipe, we have marveled at the simplicity and brilliance of what Marion Cunningham has put together in this book. It’s worth it just for the raised waffles recipe alone.

6. Slow Cooker Revolution

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Do you have someone on your list who has in the past remarked that they have a slow cooker that they never use? Give them this book and be prepared to be served slow cooker meals by them every time they invite you to dinner for the next two years. Not that you will be complaining.

7. Trudeau Aroma Aerating Pourer with Stand

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Yeah, sure, the best way to aerate wine is to decant it and let it breathe for a while. But who has time for that on a Wednesday night, when you Must. Have. Wine. Now. This aerator does the job in seconds. And as an added benefit, it serves as a perfect pourer, guaranteeing that you will not end up with drops of red wine on your table or your lap.

8. Jerusalem: A Cookbook


What can I tell you? Just buy the damn thing for yourself and try to not eat a double portion of the stuffed eggplant the minute it comes out of the oven. Then, buy it as a gift for everyone you know.

9. La Tourangelle Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil, 8.45-Ounce Tins (Pack of 2)

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The word “nutty” was invented for this oil. It is the king of seasoning oils (yeah, I went there, olive oil).

10. Minus 8 Vinegar

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So, here’s what you do. You buy a bottle of this vinegar for someone who is very special to you. You give it to them and make sure that you are there when they open it. When they look at you with a puzzled look (“are you really giving me vinegar for the holidays?”) tell them to open it and get a spoon. Watch their eyes light up when they taste a spoonful. Then you taste a spoonful. Then they taste a spoonful. Then you taste a spoonful. Then they taste a spoonful.

Yeah, it’s that good.

11. Kyocera Revolution Series 5-1/2-Inch Santoku Knife, Red Handle

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Perfectly sharp. Forever. No acid can corrode it. And things don’t stick to it when you slice them. It feels like a toy knife in your hand, but it can slice like crazy. Give it only to those who are careful with knives.

12. Craft Coffee Subscription

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Once a month you get three packets of carefully selected coffee. Each coffee is blind taste-tested by the people of Craft Coffee and each one is distinctly different. This one’s for the coffee lovers on your list.


There you have it. Twelve gift suggestions to ease your holiday buying a little bit. You’re welcome 🙂