Are you panicking? I am. Sure, the tree is trimmed, decorations out, cards in the mail. BUT. I have barely put a dent in my shopping list!! I do this every single year, even though I swear that this year will be different. Oh well. I get such a kick out of the news reports on TV where they interview people at the mall the weekend before Christmas – those pesky “last minute shoppers.” Are you kidding me? I am lucky if I’ve got anything figured out by the weekend before the big day!
I have enormous holiday shoes to fill. SUE! puts Martha Stewart to shame this time of year. Her tree was up and trimmed BEFORE Thanksgiving. If you want to request a gift, she needs the list by Labor Day because you most certainly will not find her in the mall the weekend before Christmas. She’s off hosting Toys for Tots drives and baking 18 dozen cookies for her annual cookie exchange.
And then, there’s THE VILLAGE. She has a Dickens Village that spans three 6” long tables, and has two different levels. It takes my Dad a week to set the tables up and secure the electric grid in their house to be able to withstand the additional surge. SUE! spends days meticulously setting it up – each little caroler in his place, each animal secured in the barnyard, each ice skater’s laces tied up. It’s a sight, believe me. Perhaps this year when I’m home I’ll snap a few pictures to show you. Don’t worry, SUE! has masking tape “X”s on the floor at the optimal Village viewing spots.
The good news is, this Village obsession makes shopping for SUE! a breeze. Those Department 56 people have it figured out – release new stuff each year and these fanatical collectors (or their last-minute shopper kids) will buy it.
Well just in case you are stumped for what to buy, and a Department 56 Village just won’t do, I offer a few of my favorite kitchen essentials for the foodie on your list (in no particular order). Many of these are tried and true staples of my kitchen. Some are too cute to pass by for the cook who already has everything. And some I’m just lusting over. (Santa, hopefully you’re a Seattle Palate reader!) Enjoy, and happy shopping!
Microplane Classic Series Zester ($12.95): This is a must-have in any kitchen. I use mine literally every day. It’s perfect for zesting citrus fruits, or grating hard cheeses (like parm), spices (like nutmeg and cinnamon), and other small things that need to be cut up into a fine pulp (like garlic and ginger). They’re easy to use, easier to clean, and last forever.
Flavored Sea Salts ($5 – 6 per ounce from Secret Stash Salt): Flavored sea salts can add a really wonderful touch to everyday dishes. Secret Stash Salt is the go-to sea salt source in Seattle. (say that three times fast!) With flavors like truffle, lavender rosemary, soy, and apple 5 spice, it’s easy to infuse exotic flavors into your dishes. Sea salt is less processed that regular table salt, and it adds more texture and flavor than iodized salt. At only $5, these salts are a fun way to try new flavors.
Chop & Chop Flexible Cutting Boards ($7.95): These plastic cutting boards are super functional – you can chop up a bunch of ingredients, roll up the edges and slide everything right into the pan. Plus they hold up well in the dish washer and maintain their flat shape (unlike many of the thinner plastic cutting boards that tend to roll). I never seem to have enough clean cutting boards, and these are space and time savers. And they’re incredibly cheap!
OXO Gravy Separator ($14.99): I’m a devoted disciple to Alton Brown’s rule that there can be no uni-taskers in your kitchen drawers. But I’m willing to fudge just a bit for this gravy separator. It’s great for removing the fat off stocks, sauces, and gravies, and is just too darn convenient to not love. It has a built-in strainer, plus a stopper for the spout so the hot oil doesn’t splash all over you. Plus it doubles as a measuring cup, and who doesn’t need another one of those?
Le Creuset Dutch Cast-Iron Oven ($185): OK, this one is a little spendy, but worth every single penny. A high quality enameled cast-iron dutch oven will become your favorite cooing vessel overnight. It distributes heat slowly and evenly, and is perfect for soups, stews, sauces, braises, to sweet dishes. Le Creuset pieces have a lifetime warranty, so even though it’s a steep price tag, if you do a lot of cooking, you’re going to get your money’s worth.
Cutest Aprons you’ve ever seen ($28 – $35): Anthropology has a line of aprons that even Carrie Bradshaw would love! Perfect for dinner party nights when you can’t possibly cover yourself up with any old apron.
Beater Blade Stand Mixer Paddle Attachment ($25 – $30) I haven’t used one of these, but I’m hoping to find one in my stocking this year. This attachment replaces the paddle for your stand mixer. It has wiper blade-like squeegies on the sides of the paddle that continuously scrape down the contents of your mixing bowl. It also incorporates the dry ingredients at the very, very bottom of your mixer bowl – where they usually clump around the dimple only to surprise you later on. The reviews have been pretty good for the Beater Blade, though it will heat up the motor of your stand mixer faster, so if you need to beat something for an extended period of time, use the regular paddle attachment.
Heritage Bundt Pan ($34): This is a great gift for a cook who has everything – less utilitarian, more pretty. I’ve had this pan for a while, and think it makes the most gorgeous cakes. It’s a thick aluminum coated pan that cooks evenly and leaves every cake with a gorgeous, golden crust. The pan has a great non-stick finish; just a bit of cooking spray and the cake releases with ease.
Subscription to Cooks Illustrated ($24.95/year): This is the best educational cooking magazine out there. I’d go out on a limb here and say that you will learn more about navigating the kitchen by reading this magazine than by watching any TV show or reading any other publication. No fluff, no pretty food-porn pictures; just easy-to-read articles with fool-proof recipes.
Bodum French Coffee Press ($29.95+): I love a cup of french pressed coffee – it’s rich, silky, and creamy. Drip coffee will never get you out of bed after drinking a cup of french pressed java. And a single-cup press can be convenient for those times when you don’t need a whole pot sitting around, getting stale and cold. They come in many sizes, and even built into go-mugs. I have the Chambord and love it every day.
A Good, Scary-Sharp Chef’s Knife ($100+): It is so true – cooking is easier with a good knife. Cutting is easier, neater, and faster. And I actually cut myself less since switching from a cheap chef’s knife to a high quality one. SM bought me a Shun Kaji chef’s knife a while ago and if our house ever catches on fire, this is the first possession I’m taking with me. If you’re going to spend any serious time in the kitchen, consider purchasing a well made, well balanced chef’s knife and getting comfortable with it. When shopping for a knife, you really do need to hold it in your hand to find the right one, so head into Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table – they both have extensive selections.
Rouxbe subscription ($99 a year): Rouxbe.com (pronounced roo-bee) is an online cooking school. They have volumes and volumes of well produced, clear web videos for different cooking skills, as well as accompanying recipes. Each is easy to understand and follow along with. It really is like having a culinary school chef in your kitchen with you! They release one free lesson each day, but for un-restricted access, you can purchase a yearly subscription. Pretty cool!