I’ve always been a little wary of commercialism here*; I don’t want to be yet another person telling you how to spend your hard-earned money or indicating in any way that there’s a correlation between buying fancy things and being a great cook. Nope, nope, nope. Because of this, we’ve only had one “gift” guide to date, a very basic one, a budget-minded kitchen starter kit populated with the stuff I find it hard to cook without; that was six years ago.
But, as you can imagine, I make a few kitchen- and cooking-related purchases a year. (Cough cough SPUTTER, don’t mind my husband over there; must be this dry air!) It goes with the territory; some of them consume me with regret and I want to shout from the rooftops my contempt for the baked good-ruining parchment paper, the mixers I’ve hated or the stupid pots and pans that never mentioned they weren’t dishwasher-safe (but I’ll behave). Others I want to write love letters across the sky to because either because they were such great investments from the kind of hard-won knowledge one picks up when they spend too much time in the kitchen, or made me exceptionally happy in an absurd way, and thus might make someone you know’s holiday. For something different, let’s dish about these today:
1. A perfect white casserole dish for every occasion:
I actually bought an extra one this year, which brought me to two of these. Two! In a tiny kitchen! This should tell you how perfect I find them. They’re the ideal balance of lightweight but sturdy; the sides are deep enough for your most ambitious lasagna and years in, mine look like the day I bought them. They’re total minimalists, so your cooking can shine like the star that it is. Plus, it’s so rare that the best in category stuff is also the best priced: let’s delight in it.
/ Amazon /
2. A not-quite-budget but endlessly adored cutting board:
I looked for years for the perfect cutting board, one that I hoped to keep forever or at least the next decade. When I saw this, I knew it was the one. Dead flat in a gorgeous black walnut, I love the rounded edges and that it’s sturdy but not so big and heavy that I can’t move it around (because in a small kitchen, the cutting board can’t take up permanent residence on the single counter). If you’ve been following the site, you probably see it in at least one photo a week.
Buying notes: I bought it from Heidi Swanson’s San Francisco-based Quitokeeto shop, but she’s longer stocking it. On a hunt to track them down for you, I realized that they’re a) actually made in New York less than 10 blocks from my apartment, b) at a store owned by Magnus Lundstrom, the craftsman’s, wife. Fortunately for everyone outside my below-14th Street bubble,
they also sell them at their online shop, and at least one other place online Lundstrom has since opened his own online store, updated link below. I have the large size in black walnut.
/ Magnus Lundstrom /
3. Dirt cheap, insanely sharp paring knives:
Yes, I realize I’m the last person on earth to buy these, but I finally did and whoa, why don’t I listen to people sooner? They’re insanely sharp, light and cheap. The blade takes forever to dull, something I can’t say for any other knives in my kitchen, and I ran mine all of three times over a knife sharpener and it was as sharp as new. It’s so nice not to dirty my big chef’s knives over tiny tasks.
Buying notes: These are available almost everywhere that kitchen stuff is sold, but to get you started:
4. An Oreo-maker:
Please don’t run away, but I never understood the appeal of Oreos because the chocolate tasted so artificial to me. Who was fooled by this?! (My husband, my son, I know…) Then one day I bought a jar of black cocoa powder and it turns out it smells so intensely of Oreos that I doubt you’d know that it wasn’t the cookie if you inhaled with your eyes closed. Black cocoa powder is a super-dark Dutch-process cocoa (European-style neutral acidity, nuttier flavor cocoa) that’s extremely intense; a little goes a long way. But here’s the real black (heh) magic: in any recipe that calls for Dutched cocoa powder, you can swap all or part of it for black cocoa powder and it becomes infinitely Oreo-ish. It can get dangerous.
5. Minimalist water carafes:
Evidence that I’m a terrible host: I inwardly groan when water glasses need to be refilled. A giant pitcher of water seems like the obvious answer, but can be unpleasantly heavy to pass down the table. I found my solution when I wasn’t even looking, on the table of Russ and Daughters Cafe a few weeks ago: slim, minimalist carafes, and hunted until I tracked them down. It turns out they’re made by a company named Libbey, which also makes my spice jars — no wonder I liked the look so much!
/ Amazon /
6. Simple glasses that I hope to be able to replace forever:
Over the years, we’ve bought a lot of glasses and, because we are human, broken most of them. Replacing them is never fun because few brands make the same glass patterns for years and years. One day I was at a coffee shop with a friend and by the water jug, they had these small pretty glasses and she exclaimed “just like we had at school growing up!” Setting aside the fact that French schoolchildren drink from actual glasses at lunch (sob), I had my “a-ha!” moment: if they’d been around for 30+ years, they’d hopefully be around for another 30. We bought several sets and replaced all of our glasses. Bonus: they are really hard to break! I mean, sure, we succeed, usually on the tiled kitchen floor, but I’m surprise how rarely they break when dropped on hardwood. Obviously, we must try harder!
Buying notes: Duralex Picardie glasses are sold almost everywhere kitchenware is. But, we found it helpful to get two 18-piece “starter” sets with 6 each of the 8 3/4-ounce 12-ounce and 16 7/8-ounce tumblers. Several years ago, we also bought 6 5 3/4-ounce and 6 7 3/4-ounce Gigone tumblers; the small ones were perfect for little toddler hands, the large became our favorite pudding and small dessert dishes.
7. A pancake lens (sadly, not an actual pancake):
Many of us have invested in DSLR cameras over the last 10 years, but not a lot of us enjoy actually schlepping them everywhere, and end up defaulting to the cameras on our phones instead. Sure, cameraphones have come a very long way but they’re not DSLRs. I spied the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 on Sprouted Kitchen’s gift guide last year, nudged the appropriate parties, received one from my husband last Hanukah and have used it most weekends since. Slim and lightweight, it’s called a pancake because it’s shorter than it is wide, barely protruding from your camera body, and it makes my camera so much more portable than the heavy glass 50mm f/1.2 I use for all the other photos on this site. If you know someone who dabbles in photography, this gift is a shoo-in for their new favorite thing. I have the 40mm, but just discovered the existence of the newer 24mm… shaking out the sofa cushions as we speak. ;)
8. Some cookbooks that inspire me:
I go through phases when all I want from a cookbook is practicality, i.e. tell me how to make dinner, tonight, basically about 20 minutes right now. And then I go through other phases when all I want is to live out my wanderlust, i.e. I have zero vacations on the horizon, let me daydream. Very rarely do they intersect — that is, inspire me to dream of farflung places in very practical ways. 2015 was a magical year in which five different books did this. I’m just beginning to cook out of them (2015 also being the year we added a new human to our family) but they’re making it very hard to wait much longer.
9. Mild Sauce for Hot People:
Let your friends brag about how many chile peppers they can eat at once without bursting into flames. Does their hot sauce tell them what a babe they are? I didn’t think so. More seriously (because this is very serious stuff, of course), this hot sauce is rather mild, which is great for people like me who like a kick of heat on their eggs and tacos but in a moderate — some might argue, wimpy, to which I say, pbbbbblt — way.
10. A waffle maker that respects your time:
I mentioned this earlier this year but it bears revisiting: I have lamented for years why I didn’t understand why waffle makers didn’t just come with removable plates. “Just wipe it out with a sponge!” you’ll say, but my last waffle maker had 360 channels and 240 keyboard-like bumps (you’d better believe I counted) and after last December’s sticky gingerbread waffles, I swore off waffles until I either stopped caring about whether I was cooking on truly clean appliances or found a model that valued time not spent cleaning as much as I do. I ultimately found two: the first is Cuisinart’s Griddler, for which you can buy additional waffle plates. Everyone seems quite happy with the product, and the system would have been perfect… had I desire or need for a Griddler. I bought the second one instead, a simple model from Hamilton Beach that has proven so easy to use and clean, our waffle intake has increased tenfold since. So, consider this a recommendation and a warning.
/ Amazon / (let me know if you see it somewhere else) /
* This is why I avoid sponsored posts and, as always, bought everything you see here.
One year ago: Jelly Doughnuts
Two years ago: Sugared Pretzel Cookies
Three years ago: Cashew Butter Balls
Four years ago: Caesar Salad Deviled Eggs
Five years ago: Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms
Six years ago: Vanilla Roasted Pears and the 2009 Gift Guide, Build Your Own Smitten Kitchen
Seven years ago: Veselka’s Cabbage Soup, Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shorties and Spelt Everything Crackers
Eight years ago: Pear Crisps with Vanilla Brown Butter and Chicken and Dumplings
Nine years ago: Fettucine with Porcini and Potato Salad with Sherry Mustard Vinaigrette
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Saltine Crack Ice Cream Sandwiches and Strawberry Cornmeal Griddle Cakes
1.5 Years Ago: Pasta and Fried Zucchini Salad
2.5 Years Ago: Bowties with Sugar Snaps, Lemon and Ricotta
3.5 Years Ago: Broccoli Parmesan Fritters
4.5 Years Ago: Roasted Red Peppers with Capers and Mozzarella
Adapted from A Kitchen in France
Let’s talk about these waffles. As someone who has found my waffle nirvana twice now — first, in Marion Cunningham’s Essential Overnight Waffles and a second time when I finally got Liège Waffles right at home — you might wonder why am I still making new waffle recipes. The problem with the other two is that they expect you to be a person who plans ahead. I am not. Like a lot of people in 2014, I was charmed by Mimi Thorrisson’s first cookbook, but it was her waffle recipe — yeasted, but with only a 30-minute rising time — that I was the most curious to try. I knew it wouldn’t be enough time for a full rise, but wondered how a half-risen waffle would taste; certainly not bad, right? While the results are never going to knock my favorite two out of their position, we enjoyed them for exactly what they were, a barely sweet lightweight waffle with a bit more nuance than the pancake batter-type.
As for the eggnog, well, I saw the yolks and the whipped whites and the suggested rum and my brain went straight to eggnog, as it will in December, and so I added nutmeg, cloves and vanilla too. The flavor here is eggnog-kissed; a gentle hint of eggnog. To amp up the holiday vibe, you might warm your syrup of choice with some mulling spices for a spiced syrup.
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons (10 grams) crumbled fresh yeast or 1 teaspoon active or instant dry yeast
2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 large eggs, separated
7 tablespoons (100 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from half a vanilla bean
2 tablespoons dark rum, brandy or bourbon (optional)
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Combine milk and granulated sugar and heat until lukewarm, no more than 116 degrees F. Stir in yeast and set aside for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk flour, nutmeg, cloves and salt together in a large bowl. Create a well in the center and pour in the milk-yeast mixture, the 3 yolks, butter, vanilla and rum. Mix until you have a smooth batter.
Place egg whites in a clean bowl and beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites batter.
Let batter stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, then cook according to your waffle-maker’s instructions.
You can keep waffles warm in 225 degrees F oven until needed. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.