These are our food team’s favorite gifts for the cook, restaurant lover, or Japanese-candy addict on your shopping list.
What I’m giving: BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts is, in a lot of ways, an ideal baking book — especially for someone like an Oreo lover. Stella Parks’s book is involved and rigorously researched without getting too esoteric, and has a pleasantly unpretentious appreciation for junk-food science and what big companies have contributed to the sweet side of American cooking.
What I’m asking for: Ron and Leetal Arazi run New York Shuk, and have made excellent harissa for several years now (it’s used by restaurants like Boulud Sud). There’s every reason to trust them in the spice department, something they’ve expanded into with their Middle Eastern Spice Collection. I like cooking, but I’m not trying to take on some ridiculous and expensive project every night, and the complex flavors of these spice mixes allow me to pretend that I tried a lot harder on my crispy mushrooms.
What I’m giving: Imagine the most difficult person to shop for on your entire roster. Now picture their delight each month as they unwrap a delicious salami as the newest member of the Olympia Provisions Salami of the Month Club. Olympia makes salami of the highest order, everything is assembled by hand from antibiotic-free pork, and it’s butchered very lean, so your salami isn’t overwhelmingly greasy. The best part? Throughout the year, each time your loved one assembles a charcuterie platter, they’ll think of you fondly. I honestly cannot imagine a scenario in which this isn’t the best gift of the season.
What I’m asking for: As far as New Yorkers go, I am fairly blessed kitchen-wise, but that’s not saying much. Even though my heart yearns for an Instant Pot, a stand mixer, and a dozen other giant kitchen machines, for now, they’re a distant part of my five-year plan. What I’m craving this year is a set of nice wine glasses. I love wine, and drinking it out of small glass tumblers just isn’t cutting it anymore. Riedel glasses are the industry standard, and the Vinum series is slightly less expensive than the exclusive “sommelier” series. I vow to polish them semi-regularly, but I’m still not at the point where I can manage owning separate glasses for red and white. With that in mind, I’ll be asking for a set of six Bordeaux glasses, and just giving my whites a little room to stretch out their legs. Please ship to my small, but lovely, Brooklyn apartment.
What I’m giving: What do you give the locavore food snob who thinks she has seen it all? Snails. In their shells. By the dozen for $15, or 48 for $36. According to Peconic Escargot’s website, they’re raised on a diet of wild foraged greens in a hothouse on the North Fork of Long Island by a self-described snail wrangler and former chef named Taylor Knapp. So what do you do with these homegrown gastropods besides cook them in local garlic and DIY butter? A few suggestions from the snail wrangler and some of his chef pals: Wrap them in foil with herbs and smoke them over pine branches on an outdoor grill; make bucatini alla lumache; or fold them with wild shrimp into wonton wrappers and serve with fermented-black-bean vinaigrette.
What I’m asking for: Much to my disbelief, I’ve become addicted to BjornQorn, the goofy-sounding, small-batch, vegan alternative to cheese-flavored popcorn, popped upstate in Rube Goldberg–like solar kettles by a couple of Bard grads and sprinkled with nutritional yeast. Thankfully, the local supply is sparse. Also, the popcorn is packaged in absurdly small one-ounce, airplane-snack-size pouches. I get them when I can at my local Le Pain Quotidien, which sells them for an astronomical sum, but is nevertheless always running out of stock. So imagine my surprise to see on the website that the BjornQorn boys have been struck with the holiday spirit and are currently offering their popcorn in special $40 two-gallon tins, which when placed in front of me on a typical afternoon would last at least until dinner.
What I’m giving: For the Platty holidays, I always like to give (and also to receive) the same sinfully delicious gift, which is the largest box possible of See’s Candies fabled Peanut Brittle. As longtime devotees know, the See’s brittle is more buttery than the usual variety, and a little saltier, and the small kernel peanuts are never ever stale. One large, rattling box of this powerfully addictive crack candy usually lasts for a month or two, and after ten months in cold-turkey peanut-brittle rehab, you should be ready for another fix.
What I’m asking for: If you’re feeling generous, the perfect accompaniment for Platty’s annual dose of See’s peanut brittle would be a bottle or two of brown liquor, to sip by the crackling fire, but since the really good stuff is either too scarce or too expensive these days, I’ll take a copy of my favorite informative, no nonsense, stylistically pleasing boozers’ book of this calendar year, called 3-Ingredient Cocktails: An Opinionated Guide to the Most Enduring Drinks of the Cocktail Canon, by (sometimes Grub contributor) Robert Simonson.
What I’m giving: Why this fantastic oily mush of chopped Calabrian chiles combined with sunflower-seed and extra-virgin-olive oils, salt, and vinegar has remained a bit under the radar is a great mystery. It adds just the right amount of quickly receding heat to just about any dish that requires perking up, but also packs a big, round, pickly, super-complex flavor wallop that doesn’t quit. Mario Carbone, Cesare Casella, Mark Ladner, and Missy Robbins are fans, and anyone whose Christmas stocking you slip a jar into will undoubtedly become one, too. Maybe as a show of gratitude, your giftee will cook up a batch of Carbone’s Spicy Rigatoni Vodka fortified with the stuff and invite you to dinner.
What I’m asking for: I’ve been a fan of Joshua McFadden since he cooked at Momofuku, and then went on to help establish (the now-shuttered) Franny’s as a local institution. The memory of his inspired vegetable cookery isn’t the only reason his Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables is the cookbook I most want to delve into this holiday season. McFadden, who now runs Ava Gene’s and Tusk in Portland, Oregon, had the smart idea to divide the year into six micro-seasons, guided by what you can eat instead of what the calendar says, and to organize his recipes accordingly. If there’s anyone who could get me excited about the untapped potential of storage onions and late-season potatoes in the depths of winter, it’s him.
What I’m giving: It’s a fact that the Japanese are just better at candy than anyone else. The prime example of their candy mastery is the country’s mind-boggling number of Kit Kat flavors, which — thanks to the internet — are easier than ever to find in the U.S. This assortment pack collects more than a dozen different versions, and there’s something so fantastic to me about a gift that is both extremely familiar (it’s Kit Kat, after all) and still feels completely new (good luck even figuring out which flavor you’re eating if you don’t read Japanese).
What I’m asking for: I love to cook, but I hate to cook in silence. So I’d love a new wireless speaker. Since I’m still not a fan of shouting at a speaker, and I’m a sucker for Danish design, I’d like to forgo the Alexas of the world in favor of this M3 speaker, which looks to be extremely versatile and — important since it will spend all of its time in my kitchen and living room — pretty nice-looking in its grayish color scheme. (I know: $300 feels like a lot to spend on a speaker, which is exactly why I’m asking for it.)
What I’m giving: I’m a big fan of my copper Fellow tea kettle. I have a small apartment, with the kitchen in plain sight of, well, everything, so I like to put pretty things on my stove top. (Plus, it works great, and the whistle and built-in thermometer never fail.)
What I’m asking for: It’s rare that I’m haunted by something I did not purchase, but almost every single time I cook, I think of Heath’s deep serving bowl. Most of my winter meals are (1) carb-forward and (2) eaten on my couch under a blanket, and this bowl is the perfect size and shape for shoveling rice or pasta. It’s called a “serving” bowl, but it will only serve me.
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