City Cook Holiday Gifts
Ingredients, Cookbooks and Special Gifts for the Home Cook
If you're trying to buy a holiday gift for a city cook, there are many choices. It doesn't matter if it's for someone still uncertain in the kitchen, or a confident serious amateur, there are many ways to give cooking as a gift.
To help, we've put a few ideas together. There are new and noteworthy cookbooks, plus special kitchen tools any cook would covet and that are worth giving up precious kitchen space, the treat of a cooking class, thematic gifts, and even things to eat. You can spend a little or a lot. And in the spirit of a gift that keeps on giving, you might want to ask for something in return: an invitation to dinner.
1. Buy a Precious Ingredient
There are ingredients that home cooks often wish to buy but often just can't justify the extra cost. In a store like Blue Apron Foods in Park Slope, you can find something extraordinary that a knowing home cook will receive with glee. Blue Apron's Alan Palmer talked with us about giving a special olive oil, some imported salt, a rare cheese partnered with an onion confit, or if you're splurging, a hamper basket filled with foods all made in New York City.
He has many other ideas for food-related gifts for any budget. See our link to our podcast with Alan.
2. The Perfect Cookbook for the New or Experienced Cook
Cooking by James Peterson (Ten Speed Press, $40.00, hardcover) could very well become a new American classic. With 600 recipes and 1500 mostly color photographs -- a rarity in these cost-cutting days in the book business -- this cookbook manages to combine the diversity and selection of a Bittman tome with the pedagogy of a Culinary Institute of America textbook and the candor that always distinguished Julia Child. It's full of technique, tips for working with fresh ingredients, basic methods, instructions for tying and trimming, and more than a few wonderful recipes that cover world cuisine. Give it to a new cook who wants to learn. Give it to a practiced cook who wants to get better. It won't entirely take the place of culinary school but damn close. Give it wrapped in a pretty dish towel with a new wooden spoon.
3. The Big Splurge: Le Creuset French Oven
I have a friend who recently was given an orange Le Creuset French Oven as a thank you gift from a houseguest and ever since, it's rare that it (the pot, not the houseguest) hasn't come up in routine conversations. Suddenly my friend is researching recipes for lamb tagine and coq au vin for 12. Yes, there are other brands, but no other pot has the heft, balance, performance and beauty of an enameled cast iron Le Creuset. Choose either oval or round but make it big enough to make a full recipe of boeuf bourguignon or lamb stew -- 6 to 8 quarts. Shop around for prices because they can vary significantly, especially if you buy at a Le Creuset outlet store (there's one in the Woodbury Commons mall in Central Valley, New York). Unlike with some other pieces of cookware, we only need one French oven. Lucky the city cook who receives this as a gift.
4. A Gift of Cooking Lessons
New York's Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan gives more than 1,500 courses each year for the amateur cook. Many are single sessions, as in how to cook with Japanese noodles or make paella, but others are more substantial, including their five-hour "Fine Cooking" series. Prices vary; single classes start at about $100 with costs rising depending on the number of sessions and the cost of materials (for example, a typical series of three five-hour technique classes is about $325). You can buy a gift certificate (there's a $75 minimum), it's good for two years, and the recipient can choose their own class. Gift certificates are sold either by visiting the school or calling them at 888-958-CHEF (sorry, they don't sell gift certificates on-line).
5. For the Principled Cook: The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
I don't know a serious home cook who doesn't admire Alice Waters and her "delicious revolution" (her words). Despite having written at least a half dozen various Chez Panisse cookbooks, her newest volume, The Art of Simple Food (Clarkson Potter, $35.00, hardcover) is declared her first for the home cook and it contains 200 recipes plus lots of attention paid to technique and buying ingredients. With a section on cooking from a pantry, a purposeful equipment list, menu planning tips, lists of everyday meals (noted by season), ideas for planning picnics and packing weekday work lunches, the book is both practical and wise. Part I includes lessons and foundation recipes and Part II is "At the Table," where most of the recipes are noted. Know this: being that it's by Alice Waters, this book has a strong point-of-view. But boy, what she can see.
6. Brooklyn Pride
What is it about Brooklyn that fosters such fierce pride? Even in kitchenware and cooking-related materials, Brooklyn's name prominently appears. The borough has its own food magazine (Edible Brooklyn; free at Brooklyn food merchants or $24.00 for a one-year, four-issue subscription), its own Bourbon (Red Hook Rye sold at LeNell's), its own beer (Brooklyn Lager), and now its own dish towels and glassware. Made by Cat Studio and sold at A Cook's Companion in Brooklyn Heights, the sweet 100% cotton towels are trimmed with ric-rac and illustrated with old and new iconic images including both Ebbets Field and Spike Lee. $20 each. There's also a New York version but it just doesn't have the same magic. It's a Brooklyn thing.
7. Reduce the Carbon Footprint: Give a Shopping Bag
It's only a matter of time before we'll catch up to Europe and San Francisco in discouraging the use of plastic shopping bags. Many city cooks are already reducing their carbon footprint by buying locally grown ingredients whenever possible and giving up plastic for reusable shopping bags. London designer Anya Hindmarch managed to link fashion with groceries with her canvas "I'm Not a Plastic Bag" blazoned tote but its moment has passed, leaving us wanting a simple string or canvas tote. Most kitchenware and hardware stores sell them for a few dollars. The best folds up to a size that can fit into a jacket pocket, easily whipped out to handle any market spree. Ecobags.com sells a variety of sizes and colors, all in cotton and starting at about $7.00 each. Buy one for yourself, too, while you're at it.
8. The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2008
City cooks who are always looking for new recipes to become part of a regular repertoire can consistently count on America's Test Kitchen. Every year they publish a compilation of recipes gathered from the past twelve months of Cook's Illustrated magazine, Cook's Country magazine, and any recent cookbooks. The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2008 (America's Test Kitchen, $35.00, hardcover) is outstanding and would be a welcomed addition to the cookbook collection of city cooks who try to cook nearly all their meals at home. I recently made its "Chinese Barbequed Pork" and it was so superb that after dinner I could have asked my husband for anything and he would have said yes. The volume is generous with photographs, full of advice and wisdom, and has more than 150 splendid, assuredly successful recipes. Give this volume along with a new apron to give a city cook a happy start of a new year of cooking.
9. A Wine Story and a Bottle of Beaujolais
Georges Duboeuf is the French wine dealer who combined marketing, moxie and good timing to turn Beaujolais from a disregarded cheap wine into the most popular in France. How Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive! became both a slogan and a market force is told in I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made it the World's Most Popular Wine by Rudolph Chelminski (Gotham Books, $27.50, hardcover). The book would be entertaining for any wine lover, especially someone who would enjoy some armchair travel to France's Beaujolais region. The book, along with a bottle of favorite wine, Beaujolais or not, would delight a wine and book lover.
10. Feed a Neighbor and Honor a Friend: Donate to City Harvest
Most New Yorkers see City Harvest's green and white trucks as they make their way through our streets, picking up leftover food from restaurants, grocery stores and farms to help feed our city's nearly 1 million poor. With 20,000 restaurants and the hundreds of food merchants we tell you about here at The City Cook, it can be hard to fathom how many of our neighbors routinely go hungry. But they do, including nearly 350,000 children and 140,000 elderly. Honor a friend with a donation in their name by visiting CityHarvest.org.
Happy gift shopping!