Sunday, December 6, 2009

Holiday Finds for the Foodie

When it comes to my kitchen, there aren't many tools I'm lacking.  Okay, sure, I'd love a meat slicer or an immersion circulator or maybe even a blast chiller ... but I'd also need a good chunk of change and a WAY bigger kitchen than the one I have.  And so, I find myself satisfied by new gadets that make life in the kitchen easier, or cooler, or that allow me to perform some technique I was otherwise unable.  If you've got a foodie in on your holiday shopping list, here are a few ideas:

Epicurean brand cutting boards are my new faves (next to a tried and true, seasoned butcher block).  They're eco-friendly, can go in the dishwasher, are non-porous, and won't ruin your knives.  There are a variety of options to choose from, whether big or small, with grooves (to catch the juices) or not, and even ones that are modular or specific for pizzas.  I bought mine at The Inspired Cook, but you can buy online at Lee Valley Tools, or just check out the Epicurean website here.  The cutting boards range in price from about $18 - $100, depending on the size.  Rest assured, they're worth the investment.

Another foodie-approved gift is always a cookbook.  I've got plenty, so I'm rather choosy on the new acquisitions.  My latest find is The Flavor Bible, which is less of a cookbook and more of a guide to great food pairings.  There are, however, a few books I think are worth checking out.  One is called Ad Hoc at Home, and is written by Thomas Keller (of the famed French Laundry restaurant).  Though his other cookbooks had been criticized for being too complicated for the home cook, this one is full of simple yet impressive dishes that lack nothing but tireless hours trying to interpret the instructions.  You can buy it online from Chapters for just $40.

A great place to visit and become inspired is the MoMa store in NYC.  True it's more than just a quick jaunt from your house, but thankfully there's an online store with oodles of exciting finds, for the foodie and beyond.  Though I'm personally not much of a baker, this tool struck me as pretty neat.  I mean, even the non-bakers will need to roll out pizza dough or quiche crust!  It comes with three sets of removable disks that raise the rolling pin to 1/16", 1/4", 3/8", or 1/8" ensuring a uniform measurement.  At just $20 (US), it's a great find.

Every cook has to have a few great knives.  And, most adventurous cooks want to have a variety of knives for different tasks.  When I came across this sushi knife set, I thought how fun it'd be to have a sushi party!  The small knife (5" blade, 9-1/2" overall) is used to cut vegetables and fruits in one long, unbroken peel. The medium knife (6-1/2" blade, 11-1/2" overall) is used to make a series of incisions in fish, and its rocker curvature is just right for mincing vegetables or herbs. The slicing knife (8" blade, 12-3/4" overall) is for slicing fish, but can also take wafer-thin slices from a roast.  At just $39.50, it's an affordable way to provide inspiration to the foodie in your life.  Buy online at Lee Valley Tools.

In the same vein as the last idea, the storing of knives can be the challenge for cooks.  I have both a traditional knife block and a magnetic knife strip, but this knife block is infinitely useful given there are no set holes, and so your knives can just fit in wherever there's room!  It's a tightly packed set of polypropylene rods, which not only make finding space easy, but your knives won't be dulled by scraping against the traditional wooden block (hint: if you have one of the old-school blocks, put your knives in upside down, with the sharp side facing up).  Also available at Lee Valley Tools for just $37.50.

If you're a foodie, chances are you also like wine.  Winery-to-Home has a good variety of Ontario wines, shipped to your door from just $39/month.  You can choose just one month, or several (your "QTY" is the number of months you order).  The part I like best?  They also have wine & cheese pairings!!  It's always fun to get a new selection each month, accompanied by tasting notes from wine experts like Tony Aspler or cheese expert Kathy Guidi.

One of my favourite new toys is my Cuisinart citrus juicer.  It's not one of those gargantuan ones that takes up far too much space on your counter and can coax the juice out of a rock, but rather one small, sleek appliance whose only role is to make me fresh squeezed orange juice, or, when summer returns (will it ever?), some lemon juice for lemonade or fresh lime juice for margaritas.  The best part?  It was cheap!  At less than $40, it was one of my favourite finds.  I bought mine at The Inspired Cook, but you mind find other retailers on Cuisinart's site.

When in NYC earlier this year, I was fortunate to have dinner at Mario Batali's Babbo restaurant.  It was an interesting experience ... Mario's own personal iPod playlist playing artists like Guns 'n Roses, mixed with a somewhat opulent decor and a fine food menu.  The meal was an utter delight, and I'd happily make any of Mario's dishes.  The cookbook is full of 150 contemporary Italian recipes, and includes suggestions for unique touches you'd get at Babbo, like "predesserts".  Available at Chapters/Indigo for just $31.

For anyone who's breaded anything, you know it can be a messy task.  In comes Williams-Sonoma's stainless steel breading pans.  They have a lip on one side that allows them to interlock nicely, so you can set up an effiicient (and easy to clean) breading station.  And, they stack for easy storage.  My only complaint is the tins aren't very big, so you can really only fit food the size of one breast of chicken at a time.  It's certainly not a reason not to get them ... I love how it makes the breading task mess-free, and that it's dishwasher-safe!  I can't recall the exact price I paid (only US site has prices), but it was about $45 for the set (US site says $35).

The last thing I'll put on the list is one my brother introduced me to.  I have two knife sharpeners, one that broke too easily, and one that seems to do a half-assed job.  Short of buying a very expensive electric one, I figured I'd just persevere for now.  But not any more!  Enter the Lansky Knife Sharpening System.  It comes with 4 sharpening hones, guide rods, honing oil, and a clamp.  I have to say, after Chris went at my knives, they've never been sharper.  You can buy the set at Canadian Tire (unfortunately they don't show it online) for under $50, or search around online via Amazon or other retailers.

Hopefully that gives you a good selection of ideas for that foodie in your home!  If you're still not sure, BlogTO has a list of Toronto's 10 best kitchen supply stores.  Happy shopping!