From Paper Pastries comes a neat little pencil set. This set of six pencils define basic cooking concepts: saute, al dente, whip, knead, zest, and mince. At a certain age kids like to use pencils (you can erase mistakes with them), so why not get them learning about cooking concepts early on. Kids can literally have something in hand to help learn and prompt their cooking curiosity. Maybe this can be a special pencil set to write down recipes and shopping lists.
I first saw the Chef’s Pencil Set in Rachael Ray’s magazine, Every Day, and even though they aren’t that expensive at $10, they are rather expensive for six pencils — especially if you are giving them to kids. A dozen plain (boring) pencils at an office supply store will cost about $3, but for the right kid, these instructional writing utensils would be perfect. I know that my daughter would love them. Also, the pencils are colorful and come in a muslin bag stamped with ‘Chef’s Pencil Set’ so there is just enough flair to make it a nice gift.
I hope they do another version in the future or increase the number of pencils to a dozen. If I were to add cooking terms I would possibly include: blanche, render, sear, brine, proof, puree, and maybe reduce. Just some ideas.
I love the clean styling of Beth Mueller’s ceramics. Each item is hand painted, glazed in white, and usually adorned with some sort of short message or word. If you visit her website, you will see a large selection of items she has to offer, to include vases, dishes, and vessels of all shape and size. She also makes paper and cloth products too.
Beth studied art in college, but also studied print making in Italy and apprenticed to a potter in Detroit. Wherever her training comes from though, the combination is brilliant; she produces strikingly simple yet elegant pieces.
Her pieces would make great gifts for almost any occasion and can be found at several sites online. Some places to check out are Uncommon Goods, Zanisa, and Artful Home, and you can even purchase her milk bottle vases through Amazon.
These propeller trivets designed by Jakob Wagner for Menu are colorful and unique and would make a great gift. They are constructed out of silicone and fold up so that they don’t take up much drawer or counter space. You can also get a magnetic version that will stick to the bottom of your pan as you transfer it around the table. So if you want to replace your heavy metal ones for something lighter and more colorful, this item is a good choice.
Recently I wrote about Italian food resources on the web and mentioned Salumeria Biellese’s cured meats. After reading about the meat maker in Saveur magazine and browsing its site, I ordered the double variety pack, and I must say the meats are excellent. They have two variety packs on offer for a limited time from their website, so order now before supplies run out. I am sure the recent coverage will increase demand.
Out of the five meat varieties, the two I liked the most were the hot napolitana pork and the wild boar cacciatorini. The napoitana has a very good spice, and it took only about two days to finish a whole log of it. All of the meats were good, but I probably liked sampler A a bit better. These would be great additions to an upcoming holiday meal or a nice gift for a meat lover.
The shipping was quick, and though the site isn’t that high-tech it gets the job done. I also tried to order some rabbit and veal sausage, but they didn’t send that. I guess it is easier to ship dry-cured meats than fresh sausage.
You can see the variety packs on their website, here.
I found this set of knives on the internet today, which are made by a French company, Fontenille Pataud. They look absolutely beautiful, and I love the packaging that shows from what area of France the knives originate along with a sketch of each knife. Yes, the set is rather expensive at about $370, but I am sure it would last a lifetime.
The handles also come in acrylic ‘ivory’, ebony and olive wood. The same company also produces fine Laguiole knives that are unbelievably beautiful but shockingly expensive. You can browse the knives here.
For a cheaper option, I have seen referenced a few times in the cooking forums this peasant chef’s knife from Lee Valley Tools. The manufacturer replicated a versatile knife that would have been in many French homes 100 years ago. The result is a beautiful, utilitarian piece of cutlery and it only costs $27.50. The blade is carbon steel, which will allow it to have a finer edge, but the metal will tarnish over time so care instructions are provided.
In the July issue of Bon Appetit, they featured a portable espresso maker made by Handpresso out of France. The video below shows you how it works, but basically you pump the unit about 40 times, put in hot water, insert one of those little espresso packets, turn over and dispense. It seems pretty nifty, and if you are one of those that needs a shot of espresso in the morning and is also outdoors or on the move a lot, this is probably a great product for you.
With that said, there is definitely a yuppie feel to this product. Even the name “Handpresso Wild” is a bit silly in that oxymoronic sort of way. And that couple in the video looks rather ridiculous sipping espresso on a rock in the woods. In the end, you might get made fun of more than you get compliments, but then again those same people poking fun at you will probably want you to make them a cup of coffee, so who cares.
There is also a new Handpresso Domepod unit that uses ground espresso instead of the packs, but according to a review at Wired.com, they can be a bit messy. On the Handpresso website you can also see a variety of accessories available such as plastic cups, carrying cases, and other products to make your cup of java even more portable. The price tag is on the high end at $100 for the maker and accessories will cost you too, so this isn’t for everyone, but it would probably make a great gift for the outdoor coffee nut in the family.
A while back I wrote about the Table Topics Gourmet Edition game, which is basically a set of cards that act as conversation starters at parties, for family, or for groups of people. Table Topics offers a wide range of subjects, but the gourmet edition intrigued me enough to buy it, and here are my impressions.
Overall, I think the idea is a good one, and if you regularly have cooking clubs or entertain with a bunch of foodies it is definitely worth considering. There are 125 cards each with one question in a deck enclosed in a see-through plastic cube. The cards are the same size as Monopoly property cards.
As for the questions, there are definitely many interesting ones in the deck, but not all of the cards will be great conversation starters, and it will depend upon you and your audience. For a couple living together for a long time, you may only find that about 50 or so cards really provoke interesting food discussion as many of questions fall flat if you know each other well.
About a quarter of the cards seem a bit contrived or vague, and I doubt that they would really inspire a lot of interesting conversation. For instance one card asks: “Which aspect of cooking do you enjoy the most?” Half of the conversation would probably be spent on trying to define what the question is exactly asking.
Or another example: “How do you choose which wine to buy?” I understand where they are going with such open-ended questions, but one could think of similar ways to broach the same subject that would start conversation a lot better. Instead these vague questions provoke a lot of uninteresting qualified answers. When it is hot out I buy this wine. When I make this meal I buy this wine. When I go to a party I buy this type of wine etc.
And then there are some questions that are rather mundane such as “What online cooking resources do you use?” and “Which food magazines do you read?” Are these topics really that interesting for discussion?
I think the deck will provide almost anyone with at least 50 useful conversation starters, and the groups I think would get the most out of the deck are:
(1) Couples in a new relationship who are also foodies. This group will find another 30-40 cards useful.
(2) Cooking groups or clubs. About a 100 cards would be useful in this setting.
(3) People who are foodies and travel a lot either domestically or internationally. About 20 or so cards will become more interesting if you have traveled.
As for professional cooks, it is hard to say. I think some of the questions would be more fun for them than home cooks, but a lot would be annoyingly basic and vague. I probably wouldn’t get this set for a professional cook unless they are budding young cooks.
Despite some marginal questions, I would recommend the Table Topics Gourmet Edition as it will be useful every now if you are a foodie and entertain. Just try to think of it in terms of any other game; it is not something you would use daily but bring out when the right situation comes along. I am sure it will entertain in the proper setting, and if you run into a bad question, feel free to ‘amend’ it to get the conversation going or just move on to another card.
This Alessi corkscrew designed by Alessandro Mendini is a great way to extract a cork. Forget about those cheap winged corkscrews that you may have bought at the supermarket, using a good sommelier corkscrew is a pleasure and this one has good design to boot.
Admittedly, this parrot corkscrew is more expensive than most wine openers at $57, but it is still less than a Chateau Laguiole corkscrew, which will run you more than $100. There are also different colors if you don’t like blue, and I also think the unique multi-colored pattern is worth a look.
As far as mortar and pestles are concerned, I usually just go for the regular design in just plain white, but after seeing this item produced by Wade Ceramics, I might want to upgrade. These unique mortar and pestles were designed by Chef Suvir Saran along with partner Charlie Burd.
Saran designed the pestle with a wider base to prevent spices coming out during grinding, and the handle pattern represents an Indian quilt. You can get these items in cardamom green and saffron orange and they come in two sizes: 2-cup and 5-cup. It is part of the American Masala series of kitchenware and you can purchase the American Masala 2-c. Mortar and Pestle, Cardamom Green at cooking.com or on this Amazon.com page. This would be a great Christmas gift for a foodie, and the cost if $50-60 depending upon the size.
Suvir Saran is a Chef, cookbook author, and co-owner of Devi restaurant in New York. Chef Saran’s restaurant has received many awards including a Michelin star. You can see a video of him using his mortar and pestle here, and this product was also featured in the May 2008 issue of Food & Wine. It has also appeared in Cooking Light and other publications.