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)
Our 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)
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.