Friday, December 7, 2012

Gift giving for your favorite cook!

It's that gift giving time of year - for me, it's all year long. I'm not sure when or how I started doing this, but I find things throughout the year for Christmas and place them in a big tub in the attic. At the beginning of December I pull it out and survey it with Larry. It makes the whole buying situation so much easier!

People always ask me what they should get for the home cook. First let's talk about where to go. There are many places to find the perfect kitchen tool (in no specific order!): Chef CentralBed Bath and BeyondWilliams SonomaSur la TableBroadway Panhandler, and those just a few with retail stores. Google the name of anything and you can find loads of links to on-line warehouses, Ebay and Amazon. Seeing and touching things are key though, so hitting a store at the mall is your first line of attack. Then you can shop for the best price.

Small items are relatively the same, but when you start looking at food processors, stand mixers or Vita Preps, like the one I got last Christmas, shopping around is important. This was my "big" present last year. I pick one thing that is in the "over $200" category and Larry finds it for me. I love this blender. It's got various degrees of  power and creates one mighty smooth blend for soups and drinks. I think this one was actually found at Costco.

On the other send of spectrum I have three different food processors, the typical 11 cup Cuisinart, the Mini Chop, and a Kitchen Aid immersion blender. My little mini chop has to be at least 20 years old, maybe more. I think this might have been one of the first things I got a few years out of college. The bowl and blade were replaced through Amazon a few times over the years, but the actual machine still runs like dream.

My immersion blender base above is at least 10 years old and this past year I replaced the metal (stick) part, also through Amazon. Of all my kitchen electrics I would say the immersion blender is used at least once a week. I've given it as gifts and suggest it as a "must have" for every kitchen. The basic blender is under $50 and if you decide to get all the fancy stuff with it (which is really not necessary) it's in the $80 range.

Williams-Sonoma just came out with a super cool gadget that I picked up over the weekend. In fact it's so new that I wasn't able to get the entire set. Pictured here is the speaker. I was watching one of my  eHow cooking videos and the sound quality is amazing! The docking station is set to arrive in stores in a few days. Here is the link to see the whole set-up which retails for $199.


In the realm of small, but necessary, items there are so many to choose from: microplane graters of all sizes, juicers, meat thermometers, egg cooker, peelers and tongs. A few words on those: The ones I am showing are used pretty frequently when I am cooking at home. The small microplane and the "Y" peeler, constantly. Of all of these I would say the egg timer is the most clever. You place it in the pot of water with your eggs and it turns color to tell you when they are cooked to your liking.

Next up are stainless things. All-Clad is my favorite choice. Twice a year there is a factory sale just outside of Pittsburgh, in Cannonsburg, PA. I send my Dad down with a list and he picks things up for me. Pots and pans are a big investment. You want to get something that is excellent quality and going to last. Everyone has their favorite and All-Clad is mine. My pieces are all the basic stainless steel. I do have one fancy copper pot, but for the volume of cooking I do I want clean-up to be fast and easy. Copper is beautiful, but a lot of care and attention is needed to keep them looking lovely.

The 4-Quart pot I have above is my most used, aside from perhaps the frying pan. This one is taken off the pot rack at least three times a week, maybe more. It's the perfect size for soups, potatoes, rice .. you name it. I have lots of metal tools that are used frequently, but the ones on the right a little more than the others. Last year Larry's sister-in-law Lisa got me the stainless tool holder with my company name on it. Very cool!


On to wood. Yep, got a lot of those too. I use them all, rotating around to show the love. A few thoughts on these: I picked up the Epicurian model at the Wusthof Outlet Store (more on them later) in July and really like them. They are made from a nonporous wood based material and can withstand heat to 350 degrees and dishwasher safe.

I do like my regular wood too, but a little care in cleaning is necessary. They never go in the dishwasher. Some are kept just for light sauces and some for dark. The paddle was a gift from another of Larry's other sister-in-law Cynthia a few years ago and I love it! My holder for these tools is a beautiful ceramic jar from Edgecomb Potters in Maine. A favorite store of mine.

A few years ago we did a hiking vacation in Glacier National Park and came across a quirky little shop called Spiral Spoon, in East Glacier. Outside of the tiny store is a giant spoon which of course called to me! Inside the tiny shop hundreds of handmade spoons that fit the shape of your fingers. Aside from being comfortable to hold, they are really beautiful.

Last week I posted a comment on my Facebook page asking my friends to send me ideas on their favorite kitchen gadgets and I got an overwhelming response. Crock Pots and immersion blenders topped the list. In one of the comments my friend Brona Crehan said she makes a cake in hers. I was intrigued! So I put her to work this past weekend working up her special recipe that she makes for the little men in her life. (The recipe is below). 


She also included a few pictures of her yummy little boys enjoying the Pumpkin Spice creation!

Last, but certainly not least, are knives. I'm asked frequently about them too. Kitchen knives are another tool that elicits an emotional response. People that are longtime cooks have their favorites and won't deviate. Chefs are no different. There are many excellent brands like HenckelsWMF, and Shun, to name just a few; but it comes down to what is comfortable in your hand. Knives are a little like shoes, you need to try them on, work with them and give them a chance to dance.

For the most part I dance with Wusthof. I started using them in cooking school and never looked back. The Classic Series pretty much makes up all the pieces I have - and yes, I have many. The two above are used frequently, and in particular the 6" Chef. The 8" is the most popular, and I do use it, but I mostly reach for the 6" as it fits my had perfectly.

Knives, like pots and pans, are a big investment. The very last thing you need to be doing is replacing these year after year. Care is of the utmost importance. They NEVER go in the dishwasher. Hand washed, dried and back to the block. Sharpening is extremely important too. If you don't do it yourself with a stone then get yourself to a professional. During the summer a lot of Farmer's Markets have that service available. An unsharpened knife is more dangerous than a sharp one!


As luck would have it there is a Wusthof Outlet Store very close by in Norwalk, CT. 355 Wilson Avenue, to be exact. When I'm short on time I take a zip up there and have them sharpen my knives for me. In addition they, just like All-Clad, have  a semi-annual sale. Even luckier for all of us it starts tomorrow December 6 and runs through Sunday the 9th. Shopping times for the sale are December 6 & 7 from 10:00 to 6:00 and December 8 & 9 from 10:00 - 4:00. To top it off they are also having an additional 20% off their already reduced prices, on everything this weekend! If you get a chance to go make sure you tell them "Maria sent you!"


I took a run up earlier this week to scope things out for the sale and conferred a little with Store Manager Andrea and her assistant  Patty on a few ideas for knife gift giving. Both suggested two options: a 3 knife set for $109 and the 7 piece boxed set for $159; but there is just so much more! A trip up will be well worth your time.


I've literally scratched the surface for you, there are some many more gadgets and tools like mixers, pressure cookers, spatulas, measuring cups ... not to mention cookbooks of all kinds! The list is simply endless. Shoot me a note with any questions you might have and I will try to help you see the forest through the trees!

Happy shopping and buon appetito!

Brona's Slow Cooker Pumpkin Spiced Cake
Makes 1 cake

6 apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks (3 Granny Smith & 3 Honey Crisp 
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
3 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup of pumpkin puree
Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter 
Whipped cream, optional

Place the apples and sugar in a heavy bottom pot with ¼ cup of water over medium heat and cook them until they are soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes. Mash with a fork or potato masher and set aside. You should have 3 cups. 

Add the dry ingredients to a small bowl and combine with a whisk. 

Place the eggs in a medium size bowl and beat until foamy. Add the brown sugar, melted butter and pumpkin, mixing well. Add in the dry ingredients and beat on high speed for 2 minutes.

Butter the bottom and sides of your crockpot and place the mashed apples on the bottom. Pour the batter on top and cover. 

Cook on high for 2 hours. Remove lid and cool slightly. Run a knife along the edge and flip over on a platter. Glaze with pumpkin butter and serve with whipped cream.

1 comment:

  1. Love this idea, Maria Reina! (I'm talking about buying gifts throughout the year!) Also am thinking now about gadgets I'd like to add to my collection. much great stuff! THANKS for sharing!