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

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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?

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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

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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

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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’sĀ 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.

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

Pea Soup with Fried Ramps and Pumpkin Seed Oil

I hated peas when I was a kid. Though, come to think of it, is there any kid that doesn’t hate peas? In my case, I remember them as these mushy, green orbs that were always a part of a traditional Greek tomato-based sauce we callĀ yahni.Ā They tasted grassy (which to a kid, is pretty much like eating dirt) and were wrinkly looking, like old skin.

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As an adult, I changed my mind about peas when I tasted fresh ones, just shelled from their snuggly pods, lightly steamed, and tossed with some melted butter and sea salt. Their flavor was nutty and their texture was soft but with a bite. Alas, fresh peas are only around in late fall. But thanks to my friend JC, I realized that there was another way I could love peas: in a soup. The first time I had a version of this pea soup that he made, I asked him for the recipe. When he told it was basically just peas, I was amazed. And the best part is that since the peas get blended to a smooth liquid, frozen ones work just fine.

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This pea soup is a dinner party staple in our household. It’s super simple to prepare and it makes for an elegant and delicious appetizer. It’s also amenable to improvising. Here, I’ve served it with a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil, which has a deep toasted nut flavor that compliments the creaminess of the peas beautifully. And since it’s the season for ramps right now, I fried a few in some hot oil until crispy, and added them on top of the soup.IMG_2393

Pea Soup with Fried Ramps and Pumpkin Seed Oil

Note: This soup can be made vegetarian by using 1 cup of vegetable stock instead of chicken stock and adding no milk. Instead of the ramps and pumpkin seed oil, you can top it with anything you like. Some suggestions are: a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche, fried shallots, chopped nuts, walnut oil or almond oil.

10oz of frozen peas, thawed in theĀ refrigerator*
3/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup milk
salt and pepper

* My favorite brand is Cascadian Farm, Premium Organic Sweet Peas, but any good brand will do.

In a blender, add thawed peas, chicken stock, and milk. Blend until the soup is completely smooth. If your blender doesn’t completely blend the peas and you want a perfectly smooth soup, you can strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer.

Pour blended soup in a small pot and add salt and pepper to taste. Heat over medium heat, stirring often.

Serve with a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil and a few chopped ramps that you have fried in hot vegetable oil until crispy (optional).

Yield: 2 servings