Fun with cookbooks and other merry ideas

by Evs

Warning: the following is a Christmas Gift themed blog entry! Prepare yourself for some subtle Martha Stewart-ing. 

As a general rule, I only buy what I need, and then only things that will last. Needless to say, I don’t buy much. But at christmas, I must forgo my normal frugality, give in a little to the glitter of storefront displays and actually go (gasp) shopping! Let the gift buying begin!

In my opinion, the trick to a good gift is to find something useful but unique. As I currently have a soft spot for all things kitchen related, I thought I would share a couple of my food related gift ideas with you, the friendly readers.

Convenient Kitchenware

Kitchenware can make useful gifts, but you must be careful with what you choose here since no one needs strange obscure gadgets that only get used once (Cherry pitter anyone?) or multiple sets of anything. But I do think there are a few gifts that seems to be unique but useful enough not to end up lost in drawer.

Utensils or cutting board made out of beautiful oiled wood: I would recommend a solid cherry wood serving spoon. Or one of these mixed wood boards. These are totally useful and easy for people to incorporate into their kitchen but still special because of the vibrant color, and textures. For those people that already have a cutting board they are happy with, but these special wooden boards are pretty enough to double as serving boards for cheese or desserts. Plus you can find nice quality pieces almost anywhere and really, who doesn’t like wood? As Mr. Jerry Seinfeld once said “Wood Is Good“!

Good quality Pasta Tongs: Truly one of the most useful things anyone can own. It makes serving pasta easier, you can use it to flip meat, or anything else on a grill. Even the student who lives on spaghetti will appreciate this! And yet it is surprisingly rare in most kitchens. Here is the brand I use. You can get cheaper versions, but try and stick to the stainless steel, as they last longer and look better!

A Blender! This may be a bit big for the casual gifter, but if you notice someone close to you is without one, and that person has the space, I recommend you pick up a good looking blender! They are so handy, and if they look antique and are in good condition, they can double as a sculpture in the middle of your countertop!

Creative Cookbooks

I have a growing obsession with cookbooks in general, and christmas is a good time to indulge and pick up those books that aren’t 100% accessible, but that are beautiful and inspiring all the same.

NOMA is one of these books. It was one of the top cookbooks in 2010 according to almost every cookbook list out there and has received amazing reviews. Noma is the name of a famous 2-michelin-star restaurant in Copenhagen which features an interpretation of the new wave of Nordic cooking. The recipes look at times eccentric, and I am sure they are crazy difficult to cook. But the thing that stands out about this book is the nordic take on classic food combos and the phenomenal food photography. Even if it ends up as a coffee table book, it is truly beautiful.

Das Kochgesetzbuch (the cook law book), by a german star chef, Christian Rach. This is definitely flirting with Molecular cooking and the recommended portion sizes are hilariously tiny. But there are some great tips and clarifications in here. Also the recipes all looked very appetizing, and so even if you don’t follow it to a tee, you could easily take some inspiration from the food combinations. Only available in German for now.

Plenty from Isreali-born british chef, Yotam Ottenlenghi. I have only recently discovered him, but he is apparently very well known in England. The book looks beautiful and the food combinations are novel and inspiring. While I have not cooked from it yet, the reviews I have read suggest that the recipes are balanced just right, making this a solid addition to a cookbook collection.

Lastly, I have The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century. An avid reader of the New York Times would likely appreciate it. It has an element of history and food trends. And as it is coming from the New York Times, its recipes are of the highest caliber.

Fantastic Foodstuff + Spirits

Now it is common to give wine to a friend or colleague around the holidays, but you can also mix it up and give people special cooking oils, vinegars, or unusual spirits. In the case of all of these, you need to be sure that the person receiving them has an idea of what exactly to do with them. Otherwise these gifts will end up at the back of the pantry with the canned apricots and the expired water chestnuts.

The trick to making oil and vinegars useful, is to actually provide a recipe. Example, a bottle of good quality olive oil and raspberry vinaigrette, along with a hand-written copy of an easy recipe or two you found online. I realize I am heading into real Martha Stewart territory with the hand-written note suggestion, but it actually makes a really simple gift that much more accessible.

For a friend with a taste for drink, I recommend the gift of Angostura Bitters. We received this recently as a gift and were pleasantly surprised! Although it can be found in every commercial bar on the planet, it is unusual for home bars. It is easy to find in spirit stores and makes your drinks go pop. But here too you may need to offer some guidance as how to use it.  I recommend you couple this with a cocktail book, like this reprint of the 1908 “Angostura Bitters Drink Guide

If you think a friend might already have Angostura, you can also get them a different Bitter like Peychaud’s Bitters or Fee Brothers Orange Bitters. For a complete list see the wikipedia page.

Another spirited idea would be Bulliet Bourbon. It is delicious Kentucky Bourbon. I recently discovered this on a trip to New York. Its hard to find in Europe, but if you do, grab it. It is good value and would make a sweet gift!

I am a big fan of giving food as gifts. Its not totally original, but a good jar of honey, some quality biscotti or an organic chutney can make a decent last minute gift as well.

This concludes my list. Hope you find yourself some useful and inspiring gifts this holiday season!