Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts for the Serious Cook
Whether you are giving to a serious cook - or you are a serious cook - here are some of our staff's favorite items.
This week in our Holiday Guide, The Cook’s Cook shares not only some of our favorite items, but also two special recipes.
Alexander Cakes, pictured above, are a Latvian pastry first created over 100 years ago. It is a richly flavored cake, deserving to be savored slowly, perhaps with a cup of fine coffee. Our gratitude to contributing editor Eva Baughman for sharing her family recipe with us.
The second recipe is for bulgogi, a Korean dish using thin pieces of sirloin and a delightful combination of Korean spices. Preparing the meat for this dish is an excellent use of the electric food slicer we’ve included in this week’s Guide.
Breville|PolyScience The Smoking Gun Pro
The Smoking Gun Pro (an upgrade from an older model we wrote about previously) easily falls into the “prestige” category of kitchen appliances – things you don’t really need to own but are so cool you can easily find a reason to make the purchase. Just pack the small chamber at the top of the device with the aromatic of your choice (an action which, depending on your life experiences, may be very reminiscent of high school or college), and the handheld, pistol-esque device pumps cold smoke through a small flexible hose, allowing you to infuse both food and beverages with deep, smoky flavor. Sure to raise the eyebrows of anyone you use it around The Smoking Gun Pro is a fun, unique appliance which infuses a little bit of science into your food and drinks.
Misen (named for the French cooking expression “mise en place” which refers to prepping ingredients for service) has done something wholly remarkable by creating well-made, chef-quality knives for a fraction of the typical cost. Just $165 will get you their full set, a chef’s knife, bread knife, and paring knife, and boy oh boy are they worth it. The knives are well-balanced, sit comfortably in the hand using a chef-style pinch grip, and provide a level of dexterity that’s missing from many of their competitor’s products. Buying knives is often a frustrating experience as price points and quality seem to be either rock bottom or sky high, but Misen has seemingly done the impossible by making a line of products where quality outstrips price point.
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science
by J. Kenji López-Alt
If I had to pick one source of information that has informed my cooking beyond all others, it would be Kenji Lopez-Alt of the website Serious Eats. Kenji’s blog-within-a-website, The Food Lab, combines technique, food science, and basic cooking know-how in a way which is simultaneously masterful and home-cook friendly. While Serious Eats is studded with his work, his James Beard Award-winning book The Food Lab is a beautifully written and shot compendium of some of his finest work. He dives deep into not just how to make some of the greatest recipes available, but why they work so well. This is a modern day classic and is an absolute must-have for both professional chefs and avid home cooks looking to deepen their understanding of how science and technique influence and inform cooking. With Volume II coming out next year, this holiday season is the perfect opportunity to pick up the first book to prepare yourself for life-changing improvements to your cooking.
Sous vide, a cooking method which involves gently poaching vacuum sealed meats and vegetables in a temperature controlled water bath, used to belong exclusively in the realm of high end kitchens due to both exorbitant costs and bulky equipment. Thanks to miniaturization and improvements in technology, it’s now easy to sous vide food at home, and ChefSteps makes one of the best products for the task. Small, effective, and incredibly easy to operate, the Joule is beautifully designed and pairs effortlessly with the ChefSteps app, allowing you to easily control both timing and temperature. It’s a wonderful device showing up increasingly in both restaurants and home kitchens and makes sous vide easier for both professionals and enthusiasts alike.
Fly or otherwise travel with up to twelve 750 ml safely-protected bottles of wine in Vin Garde’s hard-sided polycarbonate-shell travel suitcase with four spinner wheels and retractable handle. If you travel with fewer than 12 bottles you can use the freed space for clothing or other items. Weighs under 50 pounds fully loaded with wine. Conforms to FAA and airline luggage standards.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking
by Samin Nosrat
Every now and then a cookbook is published that seems to land with almost meteoric impact, and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is one of those books. Written by Samin Nosrat of Chez Panisse fame and gorgeously illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton, this iconic book highlights how good cooking really boils down to controlling a few key elements (the names of which make up the title of the volume). Much like Nosrat herself the book is a fun, deeply knowledgeable, and inviting teacher which seeks to break down much of the fuss surrounding cooking. While books like The Food Lab (which we also full throatedly recommend) seek to introduce technique through science, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat introduces technique through concept, flavor, and experimentation. If you’ve ever cooked a meal that just seemed to be missing a little oomph, or where things were too flat, sharp, or otherwise just slightly off, this book will help to guide you to the promised land of full, sensual, off-the-charts deliciousness.
For those who have fruit trees or gardens and wish to preserve the bounty, in a snack-y way, a dehydrator is a marvelous gift. Dehydrating is also a way to turn your harvest into unusual gifts for others. The Excalibur brand has several variations, from color to stainless steel, and capacity size from four trays to 10 trays.
There’s really no debate to be had – Vitamix makes the best blenders available on the market, full stop. They’re also some of the most, if not the most expensive blenders you can purchase. But, if you’re able to swing it, there’s a tremendous amount to be had for the money. The Vitamix 5200 packs an impressive amount of power beneath the hood; its jet engine-like speed and power will seem genuinely alarming the first few dozen or so times you use it. It will blast through sauces, soups, purees, and smoothies, or really just about anything you could possibly want to blend. Combine that with its killer warranty, heat-protected motor, and brilliant capacity to self-clean and you end up with a blender to rule over all other others. If you can splurge, or if you really need a reliable workhorse of an blender, don’t hesitate, because it’s totally amazing.
This delicate cutlery pendent, (available in 14 carat gold or sterling silver) was custom designed by noted Maine coast jewelry maker David Virtue, for the Cook’s Cook Contributing Editor Jean Kerr. Although it’s not a large piece it makes a bold statement. It has started more than one fascinating culinary conversation! To order visit davidvirtue.com and look for item 290 in the Pendent category. And if you’d like something custom for your favorite cook’s cook, be sure to inquire at email@example.com!
I have two parallel, one-foot long magnetic knife bars on my cupboard door. They show off my best knives to advantage and kept them right at hand. The bars save the knives from getting knicks by other utensils in drawers. They also let the knives dry properly out in the open instead of in a narrow slit of wood. Best of all, the bars accessorize the kitchen with a grand display.
The Cooking of Southwest France
by Paula Wolfert
For me, one of the most inspiring and memorable cookbooks is The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert. It is filled with her lively interest in the origin of dishes, ingredients, the different ways and various chefs who make them. It’s a fascinating, profound treatise; a foodie must have.
An electric slicer is the perfect gift for the serious cook who truly has nearly every kitchen appliance there is.
Even with the sharpest knife, it’s difficult to cut by hand the paper-thin slices of raw meats that are called for in many stir-fries and dishes like Korean bulgogi. Uniform, thin, flexible slices allow for super-fast marinating and quick cooking in a wok, skillet, or on a grill.
An electric slicer is, of course, what you’ll want for slicing deli meats, cheeses, and vegetables for elegant presentation on buffets and serving platters. To slice soft meats so thinly they are actually transparent, freeze them partially before slicing. Firm cured meats like prosciutto will slice as beautifully — or more so — than if you’d had them cut professionally.
Indeed, the Chef’s Choice Model 665 is suitable for commercial or home use. Constructed from die-cast aluminum, it is lightweight yet sturdy. Easy and safe to operate and simple to take apart for cleaning, it will bring joy to any enthusiastic cook who is lucky enough to receive one.
Modernist Bread is not for the faint of heart. Authored by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya of the Modernist Cuisine lab located in Washington State, this enormous, pricy set is the work of a full team of chefs, bakers, photographers, and food wonks looking to uncover the secrets of what makes bread so damn good. Saying the five volumes of the Modernist Bread books “dig deep” doesn’t even begin to do the publications justice. Psychologists dig deep; detectives dig deep; the crew behind Modernist Bread is drilling to the center of the earth. Beautifully illustrated and written with an almost hilarious amount of detail, Modernist Bread cartwheels from technique to history to science and to art without even skipping a beat. It’s a beautiful achievement and is the sort of thing you will reference over a lifetime of baking.