Still Searching for the Perfect Gift for the Cook or Gourmand in Your Life? These Experts are Here to Help!
This time of year I customarily offer up my own gift ideas for the food lovers on your holiday list, based on what I would relish finding in my Christmas stocking or under my tree. This year I decided to change things up a bit. I solicited 6 other freelance food writers, all based in the Princeton area, for the culinary visions that are dancing in their heads right now. Their amazingly helpful and varied suggestions appear in the December 11 issue of US 1 newspaper but I’ve reproduced the story in its entirety below, in part because it includes links to the writers and to many of the gifts. (Cookbook collectors alert! Be sure to check out Faith Bahadurian’s terrific find, Eat Your Books!)
Pam Parseghian is a veteran food writer, editor, and cooking instructor. Her latest story, on fish, will appear in the February issue of Prevention magazine. “As far as stuff goes, I’m in love with Staub’s Pumpkin Cocotte, the 3-1/2 quart pot. It’s too cute for words. And my other new crush is with Scanpans because the nonstick surface doesn’t come off even when you use metal utensils. So I’d specifically enjoy an IQ Nonstick Grill Pan. For stocking stuffers, I would be very happy with a bag of Arborio rice, jar of truffle salt, and a tiny silicone spatula. The rice makes lovely risotto. You get a super truffle flavor with truffle salt, and the spatulas that are teaspoon size are great for getting every last drop out of a jar of mustard.”
But Parseghian also dreams big, including with a splurge on restaurant meals near and far. “Experiences are always great! A trip to eat my way around cities I’ve never been in Spain, Denmark, or Brazil would be a dream come true. Closer to home I would be very excited to go on a one-day eating spree in New York City. I’d start with lunch at Krescendo in Brooklyn, which was opened by chef Elizabeth Falkner. She’s a serious talent who was based in San Francisco until this year. Then I’d go into Manhattan and have dinner at The NoMad Hotel where I hear chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara are creating exciting experiences. I love going to new places!”
Parseghian allows that she doesn’t have to travel even that far for her wishes to come true. “I’d be thrilled to get a gift certificate to any of the exciting new places in Princeton that I haven’t eaten at yet – Mistral, Despaña, and Agricola. And I’m always happy to visit any of my old favorites – elements, the Peacock Inn, and Rhong Tiam in Plainsboro and Nomad in Hopewell.”
Sue Gordon, who reports online as Princeton Food Examiner and blogs at Food Network Musings says she “may have gone little crazy” with her list. Although her suggestions are many, they are modest. “My first idea is an Aerolatte Milk Frother (under $20). Maybe it’s because I can’t live without mine that I think anyone who enjoys homemade cappuccino and latte HAS to have one. In the same vein, a K-Cup Replacement Coffee Filter (anywhere from $6 up to $20) is good news for people who love their Keurigs but want to use their own coffee. You can finally go through all the coffee that’s stashed in your freezer that’s been unused since you discovered the convenience of the Keurig. It’s also good when you’re buying just a small amount of flavored coffee for the holidays or decaf for Aunt Sally and you don’t want to invest in an entire box of K-cups.
“I love the little Herb Stripper ($7.95) from Sur La Table. It makes quick work of getting thyme leaves (and other herbs) off their stems in a hurry. This is the season of pumpkin breads and I really want (to give OR keep) this gorgeous Pumpkin Loaf Pan ($30), also from Sur La Table. I love The Sugar Diva for pretty Paper Loaf Pans ($8.50 – $10). They have big and mini ones and I always include the recipe of whatever I’ve baked with some extra loaf pans, that way your friends or family can pass on the good cheer with their own baking. The Sugar Diva also has a huge selection of Paper Straws (from $4.50 up), which are kind of fun. A set of Milkshake Glasses with those straws makes a great gift.
“My last two ideas: Lemon White Balsamic Vinegar from The Tree And Vine is surprisingly delicious and versatile. It’s perfectly lemony with a bit of sweetness. It’s good in salads, to deglaze a pan, or even to pour in a rich autumn soup. The Tree And Vine is an olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop with an amazing selection of high quality oils and vinegars – everything from Cinnamon Pear, Fig, or Merlot Balsamic Vinegars to an Aged Chocolate one. And if you’re in Asheville, North Carolina or Knoxville, Tennessee, you can taste all of them in one of their two shops! Luckily, they do mail order and every oil and vinegar I’ve tasted has been first-rate. The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg is a famous outpost for nuts of every description. The Handcooked Virginia Peanuts are a classic choice, but you may be tempted by the Praline Glazed Peanuts ($25.99 – $39.98) or Praline Glazed Pecans ($35.99). You can’t go wrong here. Nuts are the perfect hostess or house gift and it’s always good to have a few cans yourself for holiday entertaining.”
Faith Bahadurian is a freelance food writer whose recipe columns, restaurant reviews, and features have long appeared in Packet Publications vehicles, including the Princeton Packet, TimeOFF, and PM Fine Living. She also blogs at www.njspice.net. “Some of these are gifts I’ve given or already received myself. I don’t have room for more gadgets in my kitchen, so am mostly focusing on comestibles. I swear quality fruitcake is poised for a comeback, I see it in gourmet markets all over, like the Bien Fait Tea Cakes at Lucy’s Kitchen and Market. And in Zingerman’s catalog, an aged Vintage Rare Citrus Fruitcake (the $90 version, as opposed to the regular, mere $65 version!). Zingerman’s has a stollen that sounds really good too, and they offer gift baskets and food club memberships for many tastes (bacon, anyone?).
“Speaking of gift baskets, a co-worker put together a fabulous one for me, based on my blog posts and tweets, with much of it from Despaña, the new Spanish market and restaurant uptown. They even have boxed paella kits, or you can put together all the fixings yourself.
Savory Spice Shop put together a custom collection of herbs and spices for my niece, complete with rack, as a housewarming gift for her first home. They put everything in labeled jars, and we did it all by email and a phone call. When it was ready, I just swung by and they brought it out to my car.
“I had so much fun adding various bitters to my gin and tonics this summer, so an assortment of trendy artisanal bitters could make a good gift for adventurous imbiber. (Amazon has a huge selection.) For cold drinks, I like those double-walled insulated glasses, made of borosilicate glass, because it keeps them from sweating and the ice lasts longer, rather than diluting the drink quickly. (Of course, the handled ones are good for hot toddies.)
For a baker, a lovely new book, Wintersweet, by Tammy Donroe Inman (Running Press) came out this fall, with seasonal dessert recipes that sound (and look) delicious. The chocolate-pomegranate Pavlova on the cover might be worth the price alone. These are mostly rustic desserts, and not too difficult. For someone who has too many cookbooks (guilty!), a membership to Eat Your Books is only $25 per year. Thousands of cookbooks, magazines, and blogs have been indexed for their library; you add the ones you own to your virtual bookshelf, and then you can search for recipes by main ingredients (or name, whatever). The recipes themselves are not online, but you’ll know which of your books, etc. have the kind of recipe you’re looking for. Brilliant!” For the cook who loves detailed instructions (the America’s Test Kitchen fan, for instance), a membership to Rouxbe online cooking school might be just the thing, plus they’re about to launch special online wellness programs with a board of medical advisors.
Linda Prospero is creator of the blog Ciao Chow Linda, (ciaochowlinda.blogspot.com). Like Pam Parseghian, she is a fan of the widely available Scanpan line. “It’s time to throw out those old nonstick pans that can be hazardous to your health and replace them with ‘green’ nonstick pans. I would be happy to own some of the good Scanpan CTX ceramic nonstick pans from Williams Sonoma. And while it has sentimental value, I need a replacement for the 40-plus year old pizzelle iron that was my mom’s. Every time I put the dough on the old iron, I have to weigh it down with a brick to keep the pizzelle flat. I like the one from Cuisinart that has different temperature settings. I’ve always used parchment paper for cookies, but it’s time to try a Sil-pat liner. Sur La Table carries several. With the holidays coming up, serving a bit of the bubbly is always festive. I always lean toward prosecco rather than champagne, and would be thrilled if I got a case from Prospero Winery.” (Note: I asked Prospero if is there is a family connection, and she replied that she doesn’t know of any, but perhaps if she dug deeper, she might find one.)
Like Pam Parseghian, Prospero also dreams big. “For my gift-giving friends and family with deep pockets: A five-day cooking vacation with Fabrizia Lanza at her family’s estate in Regaleali, Sicily. The estate produces world-renowned wines and emphasizes traditional cooking using seasonal ingredients grown or raised on the property. For anyone who has seen the movie or read the Italian classic The Leopard, Lanza hails from the author’s (Giuseppe di Lampedusa) aristocratic family. You might be working in the kitchen during the week, but you’d also feel like landed gentry.”
Fran McManus is also a freelance food writer and the creator of UnderstandingFlavor.com. “This Christmas I would love to get Chef’s Essences from Aftelier. Mandy Aftel sources a broad and interesting range of essential oils for cooking and perfume. She has added some new Chef’s Essence Oils to her collection as well as sprays that allow you to add a misting of aromatics such as blood orange, sarsaparilla, and litsea cubeba (lemon) to dishes. Spice blends and biscuits from La Boite. Lior Lev Sercarz creates complex, aromatic spice blends that are gorgeous to smell and fun to explore. I’ve never tasted his biscuits and I am eager to try them. Cookbooks! Three of my culinary heroes have new books out and I want them all: David Kinch (Manresa: An Edible Reflection), Daniel Patterson (Coi: Stories and Recipes) and Edward Behr (50 Foods).”
(On the topic of cookbooks, I’d like to insert a couple that are on gift-giving list this year. Pronto! is the latest in the Canal House Cooking series from Lambertville’s own Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hersheimer. Its “easy and delizioso” put the Canal House spin (i.e., updated but still simple) on classic Italian recipes. The other is Cowgirl Creamery Cooks, a collection of 75 recipes for cooking with cheese from founders Sue Conley and Peggy Smith of that award-winning creamery, as well as their expert accumulated knowledge about tasting, buying, serving, and appreciating all kinds of cheese.)
Leslie Mitchner describes herself as a “food lover and a food writer,” including for Princeton magazine. When she is asked to dream, she dreams big! Her list starts with one fantasy and moves on from there. “A kitchen twice as big as the very nice one I already have, so that I could have an island in the middle for prep and plating. A La Cornue range or an Aga cooker because either would fulfill a lifelong fantasy and look great in my far larger wished-for kitchen. A copper risotto pan to put on the La Cornue. Some truffles to go with the risotto. A bottle of Pouilly Fuisse 1961 because one of my best friend says it was the best vintage ever. Real Toulouse sausages for my first fall cassoulet. Old beautiful Moroccan serving dishes for my North African cooking. Beautiful nineteenth-century art nouveau or aesthetic movement silver serving spoons to use with the Moroccan dishes.”
Wow. While any foodie can get on board with Mitchner’s flights of fancy, everyone can share her concluding wish: “Finally and most importantly, for no one in this country or anywhere else to go to bed hungry.”
Holiday Celebration at the Canal House
For the second year in a row, Melissa Hamilton & Christopher Hersheimer are throwing open the doors to their cooking atelier in Lambertville. Below is their gracious invitation. Be sure to rsvp if you intend to stop by.
Join us for our 2nd annual Open House
Come by for some delicious food and a liquid refreshment.
We’ll have plenty of signed copies of all our books at special holiday prices for your purchasing pleasure.
Pick up our newest book
Canal House Cooking, Pronto!
2013 James Beard Award winning
Canal House Cooks Every Day
Open House at Canal House
Sunday December 15, 2013
11:00 to 3:00 pm
6 Coryell Street, Studio B
You don’t have to buy to come by.
We’d just love to see you.
Peace and Love
Christopher & Melissa
If you think you might be able to make it, rsvp so we have plenty of bubbles on ice.