There is a major cold snap happening in Northern California right now and we are all bundled up trying to keep warm. Imagine pudgy Frosty the Snowmen wandering around with tons of layers on. That is what most of us look like because we don’t have the right clothing for this weather, LOL.
I am having trouble believing that Christmas is only three weeks away! Where did this year go? Watching the leaves fall from the trees and the cold weather makes shopping from home even more attractive and I hope you enjoy what I have in store for you today.
Do you have food lovers in your life? Are you trying to figure out what to get them for holiday gifts? Do you know someone who has everything and you need more ideas? Today I am going to share some of my favorite cookbooks, kitchen equipment, and ingredients. I use all of these regularly, have purchased most of them over the years, and they help me create memorable meals for my family and friends.
Let’s start with my favorite cookbooks. Some of these were sent to me for review, others I purchased, and most were published in 2013. I have been fortunate to meet a few of the authors and call some of them friends, but I wouldn’t have included their books if I didn’t think they weren’t outstanding. I think they are all destined to be classics that everyone should have in their library.
Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller – This is like taking a master course in baking. You can become a better cook by learning from one of this country’s finest chefs in the comfort of your home!
Bountiful: Recipes Inspired by Our Garden by the couple behind White on Rice, Diane Cu and Todd Porter, two of the most talented food photographers in the country. You can imagine how gorgeous the images are, but the recipes are just as beautiful. I find myself drawn to the combination of flavors and ingredients, and there are tons of little pieces of paper marking all the recipes I want to make! As you can imagine, there are lots of vegetarian recipes in this book, but there are also some that include different proteins. And if you are not a vegetarian but are looking for healthier options for your family, this is the book for you!
Caramels by Carole Bloom – If you are like me and love anything with caramel in it, this book will have you drooling over every page. Carole takes us through the world of cakes, brownies, tarts, pies, cookies, custards, and more. She teaches us techniques and gives us all the support we need to consistently make her recipes successfully. Mine may never be as beautiful as hers, but I’ll bet they are just as delicious!
Duck, Duck, Goose by Hank Shaw – The Artist and I had the privilege of sharing a meal earlier this week with Hank and the talented team at Gather in Berkeley. We had four courses of the most unusual and incredible duck dishes that incorporated all parts of the duck with unique ingredients that had us ooh’ing the whole evening. And the best part was that most of the recipes were adapted from those in the book so I can recreate them in my own home! If you love duck and goose, this book is the perfect gift!
Gluten-Free for the Holidays by Jeanne Sauvage – This book came out last year, but if you are gluten-free or if you are baking for someone with gluten allergies, this book is a must for the holidays. Gluten-free baking can be intimidating, but Jeanne takes us by the hand and walks us through the process and ingredients, making it less scary and virtually painless. You will love the selection of recipes, everything from traditional classics to European favorites and includes breads, biscuits, pies, cakes, and of course cookies. If you are gluten-free this book should definitely be in your library.
I Scream Sandwiches by Jennie Schacht – This is the second book Jennie has written since I had the pleasure of meeting her and I can tell you from personal experience that every single recipe in this book is a winner. Jennie is a very talented baker and gifted writer. I am always surprised by the creative way she puts ingredients together, inspiring all of us to look beyond the norm and find a new path in the kitchen. As the title implies, this is a book all about ice cream sandwiches, many that you could never knew you always wanted to try!
Latin American Street Food by Sandra Guttierrez – If you love Mexican and Latin American foods, you are going to be fascinated by this cookbook. Sandra has put together a collection of 150 recipes from Mexico, Cuba, Peru and Brazil. Personally I cannot wait to dive into this book and discover even more foods made with the ingredients that I love so much and read her stories and tips to make my efforts even better. I have a feeling there is going to be a lot of Latin food in our house next year!
Melt: The Art of Macaroni & Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord – If you think you like macaroni and cheese and that the casserole your mother made is the only option, just wait until you see this book. Stephanie and Garrett have transformed the traditional family standard into a gourmet’s delight. Featuring some of their favorite cheeses and the people who make them, these recipes will completely reinvent your concept of macaroni and cheese. You will find recipes for the classics, but expect to be amazed and delighted with the unique flavor combinations. If you know someone who loves anything with cheese, this is the book for them!
Model Bakery by Karen Mitchell, Sarah Mitchell Hansen, and Rick Rodgers – For those of us who grew up in the Bay Area and visited Napa Valley, visiting Model Bakery is a time-honored tradition. The two ladies behind the wine country bakery are a mother and daughter, passing along the baking traditions they grew up with. As you can imagine, this really resonates with me and reinforces the passion I have for the bakery and its treats. Unfortunately I have to pass on most of them now that I can’t eat gluten, but I am looking forward to making my own GF version of the recipes for all of my favorite treats.
Tartine Book No. 3 by Chad Robertson – This is the third book from the incredibly talented and ground-breaking baker behind Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. Each of his books focuses on a different aspect of the business and this one is shows how Chad has revisited the classics, incorporating whole grains, nuts and sweeteners for a new take on your favorites. I consider this, along with the first two books in the series, a reference that will help me become a better baker, teaching me the science behind the delicious breads and pastries. One look and you will understand why there are lines around the block each day at the bakery.
The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook by Chef Michael Anthony, Dorothy Kalins and Danny Meyer – Last year when I went to New York City for the annual IACP conference, Gramercy Tavern was on my list of restaurants I definitely wanted to visit. My friends and I went to lunch there and I had a simple roast chicken that changed my life. Gramercy has been around since 1994, delighting New Yorkers and tourists alike. It has earned six James Beard awards for its take on American cooking. It is warm and welcoming with a cordiality that can be rare in New York City. It is like walking into an elegant family home and from the moment you enter until you leave, every aspect of your experience is guided with the utmost care. I am thrilled to be able to recreate some of the magic in my own kitchen.
The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook by Kathy Stahs – If you thought a panini press was just for making ham and cheese sandwiches, look out and hold on to your hat. Kathy has created more than 200 recipes that showcase the flexibility of a humble kitchen appliance, elevating it to a gourmet level. There are many examples of traditional panini sandwiches to feed your family on busy weeknights, but Kathy doesn’t stop there. She also shows us how to make main-courses, appetizers, breakfast and brunch items and even desserts! Trust me when I say you will be captivated by the recipes, photographs (which Kathy took herself!) as well as the narratives, tips and hints sprinkled throughout the book. If your panini press is gathering dust in the cupboard, bring it down, dust it off and discover how many things you can make with it!
The next section includes my favorite tools and equipment. I use every single item regularly and they make my life so much easier in the kitchen. Some are expensive investment pieces that will last for many years, some are small and inexpensive things that would be perfect for stocking stuffers, and some are just totally cool things that I love. Anyone who loves food and cooking will be thrilled to get these tools!
Char-Broil Infusion Cooker – This little beauty is one of my favorite tools from Char-Broil. It creates an oven-like atmosphere on your grill allowing you to make the most succulent and delicious poultry and meats you can imagine. It also can be used to amplify the smoking capability of your gas or charcoal grills, turning them into full-blown smokers. At under $30, this is a real winner for anyone who loves to grill and barbecue.
Chef Gray Kunz Sauce Spoons – These spoons are the most versatile utensils I have in my kitchen. Even after a year of cooking, saucing, and dishwasher abuse, they don’t have a nick or mark on them. I use them while I am cooking – they are the perfect size for so many tasks – and then take them to the table for serving. They are beautiful, functional and inexpensive … the perfect combination!
Curved Fine Tip Tweezers – If you are a food photographer or blogger and want your final dishes to be perfectly arranged, these tweezers are the tool for you. The angle at the tip allows you pinpoint accuracy with even the smallest items. And if you are trying to remove items out of a dish for a picky child, these will make that task simple. Plus they fit in anyone’s stocking!
Epicurean Cutting Boards – I love these boards and have four of them now. They are sturdy without adding a lot of height to the counter (important for those of us who are not tall), help protect your knives edges and are dishwasher safe. Environmentally friendly, these workhorses are an integral part of my kitchen and I can’t imagine doing food prep without them.
Jar Pop – This little gem is one of those gadgets that really is worth its weight in gold. I have small hands and trying to get a grip on a jar and wrench it open was very challenging until I found the Jar Pop. Now with one simple action, I can break the seal on any lid and open it with ease. This is one of my favorite gifts for friends, especially newlyweds, because everyone love it. I’ve had mine for many years and it is right in the front of my gadget drawer where I can easily grab it to open any jar or bottle!
KitchenAid 13-Cup Food Processor – If you regularly make large meals for your family, picnics, barbecues, and potluck dinners, you need this appliance. It makes tasks so simple and fast that you will be amazed at the speed you can get meals assembled. And there is nothing better for making pastry doughs! This processor has an adjustable slicing blade, a newer feature that I dream of having. I definitely need to upgrade my processor. Maybe Santa will remember me this year.
KitchenAid Professional 600 6-Qt Stand Mixer – If you or your significant other are using a hand mixer or an old cheap variety, get this one and it will change the way you look at cooking. Suddenly tasks become easy and fast instead of a chore. You can whip the lightest potatoes imaginable, mix and knead bread, whip cream in no time, make pasta and ice cream, and more with the 12 available attachments. I recommend you buy an extra bowl and beater so you don’t have to constantly wash them if you are making more than one thing at a time. You will thank me later, LOL.
Le Creuset 7-1/4 Quart Enameled Dutch Oven – These Dutch ovens are the true workhorse in my kitchen. I can use them to make sauces, soups, cook down a pork roast to make pulled pork, roast a chicken, and so many more tasks. Cast iron is one of the best heat conductors, once you get it to temp, turn down the burner to low and it will hold the heat for hours. And they come in a wide array of colors to fit any décor.
Olive Wood Utensils – There is nothing like wooden spoons for cooking and I grew up using them all the time. But these are absolutely beautiful and something you can proudly display in your kitchen. Don’t stick these in a drawer. Tough and beautiful, my ideal kitchen equipment!
Artisan Server Aprons – These beautiful aprons are truly a treat to wear. Instead of getting those corny aprons with trite sayings on them, get your barbecue master one of these beauties and he/she will love you forever! Classy and tough, they will hold up to years of abuse and still look fantastic. Who knew you could be stylish at the grill! And check out the rest of the items on the website. I’ll bet you don’t stop with one apron.
Wusthof Gourmet Off-Set Utility/Deli knife – I found this knife because of a recommendation from Dorie Greenspan, one of my idols. If Dorie likes something, its got to be good! This has become my go-to knife for nearly any task. It cuts through anything – I can break down a chicken easily with it – and still has a flexible blade that makes quick work of delicate cuts. Extremely sharp, it holds it edge well and is a joy to work with.
Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer - I know that the price tag is steep on this thermometer, but by the time you buy the others and have to replace them several times, you will have spent more money and be less satisfied than if you bought the Thermapen in the first place. I use it to monitor proteins cooking in the oven and on the grill, I can tell at a glance when the boiling sugar syrup has reached exactly the right temperature, and I can even tell when breads are perfectly baked. Once you have one you won’t know how you survived without it!
And finally, here are some of my favorite ingredients that add life and flavor to my meals. Some I have used for a while, but many were new discoveries this year. One of the tricks for creating memorable dishes is using the best ingredients you can afford. Take a look and if you want some fun new items to try, these are great options!
Dukkah spice blend – I found this when we had a San Francisco Professional Food Society event at Spice Ace in San Francisco. It is a fabulous shop with over 300 items to sample, compare and buy. It is the kind of store where I could do major damage to my credit card, LOL. Their version of this Egyptian seasoning blend is the best I’ve found and I am now officially addicted. Don’t stop with just the Dukkah – take a look around and you will find intriguing blends, herbs, spices, peppers, salts, sugars and more to tantalize you!
Gourmet Garden Herbs and Spices – I love using fresh herbs in my cooking, but usually depend on dried for the ease of keeping them in a cupboard. Buying fresh herbs at the grocery store is expensive because you seldom use all that you buy and wind up throwing a lot of it away. But what if you could have the flavor of fresh herbs and the convenience of long storage? That’s what you have with the products from Gourmet Garden. They come in resealable tubes that can be stored in the freezer for months. I love how easy they are to use and the wide variety available.
Guittard White Chocolate Wafers – If you are like The Artist and don’t care for white chocolate, you have to try the white chocolate from Guittard. A local San Francisco company that makes (in my opinion) the best chocolate in the country, this white chocolate is made with pure ingredients and no nasty chemicals. Once you’ve tasted the difference, you won’t want to go back to the cheap stuff!
Lucero Olive Oils, Balsamic & White Balsamic – Did you see my recipe for the Grilled Duck with Cherry Glaze and Arugula Salad with Cherry Vinaigrette? They both were conceived when I bought a bottle of Lucero’s Wild Cherry Balsamic Vinegar. It is the perfect ingredient to add a touch of acid and a burst of cherry flavor to your creations. And there is a whole selection of different flavors to choose from as well as traditional olive oils and vinegars. It is such fun to have something like this in your refrigerator to pull out when you want something special.
Maple Vinegar from Boyajian – I have used Boyajian citrus oils for years in my baking when I wanted to pop the flavors a bit. When I found out that they made more than just the citrus flavors and had branched out into flavored vinegars and infused oils, I couldn’t wait to try them. I used this maple vinegar to make a salad dressing that knocked my socks off. A little sweet, a little sour with just the right balance, I could have eaten a huge bowl of that salad and still wanted more.
Mountain Rose Organic Herbs – If you use a lot of herbs in your cooking and like to buy in bulk, Mountain Rose is a great source for you. All of their products are terrific, but I really love their organic dried herbs. They are packed with flavor and much fresher than most sold on the market. Give them a try and I’ll bet you’ll be hooked just like I am.
PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur - I discovered this liqueur when I was touring Ohio a couple of years ago. One of the places we visited made a delightful cocktail using it. It took me a while to pick up a bottle, but it was always in the back of my mind. I have used it in several recipes and love it. At Thanksgiving we added a splash to our champagne for a fun spin on a Kir Royale.
Schar’s Gluten-Free pastas and breads – As you know The Artist is Italian and, no surprise, is very picky about his pasta. When I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance and had to switch my eating habits, my wonderful husband agreed to eat gluten-free along with me so I wouldn’t have to cook two meals or watch him eat the foods I love and miss so much. That is true love! So we set out to try all the different brands of pasta we could until we found something that he could enjoy. So far Schar is the best we’ve found and the closest to wheat pasta in texture and flavor. If you are Celiac or gluten-intolerant or if you are cooking for someone who is, give these a try and let me know what you think.
SFQ BBQ Sauce – One of the benefits of being in the food business is meeting very talented people. On a trip with a bunch of other bloggers, I met a woman who was just getting ready to bring a product to market. That product was SFQ BBQ Sauce and it is fantastic! With the first taste you can tell that there was a lot of time and effort behind the perfectly balanced flavors. And I love it because there is a touch of chocolate in it!
Stubb’s BBQ Sauces, Marinades, Rubs – Stubb’s BBQ sauces are sold all over the country and if you didn’t already know, the entire line is gluten-free! Prepared sauces is one of the places that companies like to hide gluten, so having a line that is delicious and worry-free is a blessing. Thanks Stubb’s for making a great product that is safe for all of us to eat! And don’t miss their marinades and rubs too!
Tamales from Texas Tamale Company – Real tamales are naturally gluten-free, but many producers add flour (for some reason). The tamales from Texas Tamale Company are completely gluten-free and taste just like homemade! These come a dozen to a package and are frozen. You can pull out just what you want to eat and steam or microwave them. Add a little salsa and you’ve got a meal in just a few minutes, perfect for after school snacks or weeknight meals. I love having these in the freezer for those days when I only have time for a quick lunch.
Vanilla Paste from the Vanilla Queen – Patricia Rain is the Vanilla Queen, a woman who is passionate about vanilla and the people who grow and harvest it. When you buy from Patricia you know you are getting the highest quality products and are supporting the people who need the money the most instead of a large corporation. She also sells in bulk for the professionals in the crowd.
I hope you all have enjoyed this journey through my kitchen and have found a few things that you can’t live without. And if you are buying gifts for friends and family who love food, you can’t go wrong with any of these specialty items.
Have a wonderful weekend!
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Disclaimer: I received some of the products for review purposes but have not received any compensation for including any item in this list. As always, my opinions are my own.
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