In this space at this time of year I customarily offer up my gift ideas for the food lovers on your holiday list. These totally subjective lists have been based on the best of what I encountered during the year that I personally would relish finding in my Christmas stocking or under my tree. This year I decided to change things up a bit. I solicited other food writers in the U.S. 1 area (we are blessed with many) for the particular culinary visions that are dancing in their heads right now. The lists that follow are as varied as they are helpful. You and I are sure to find something for every foodie on our list.
Pam Parseghian is the Cranbury-based 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,” she says, “I’m in love with Staub’s Pumpkin Cocotte, the three-and-a-half-quart pot ($224.99). 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 ($149.95). 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.”
Parseghian also dreams of a splurge on restaurant meals near and far. “Experiences are always great! A trip to eat my way around cities I’ve never been to 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.”
But 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, Despana, 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 Pizza in Hopewell.”
Sue Gordon, who reports online as the 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 cappuccinos and lattes 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 (nearby in Quakerbridge Mall). 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 to $10). They have big and mini ones, and I always include the recipe of whatever I’ve baked with some extra loaf pans. 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 (www.thetreeandvine.com) 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.
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 to $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.”
Faith Bahadurian is a freelance food writer whose recipe columns, restaurant reviews, and features have long appeared in the Princeton Packet and related publications. 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 I 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 Despana, the new Spanish market and restaurant. 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 E-mail 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, $21.47) 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 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 the Princeton-based creator of the blog Ciao Chow Linda, (ciaochowlinda.blogspot.com). Like 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 ($119.95 to $299.95).
And while it has sentimental value, I need a replacement for the 40-plus year old pizzelle iron that was my mom’s. 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.)
Like Parseghian, Prospero 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 Princeton-based 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, where 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 19th-century art nouveau or esthetic 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.”
Pat Tanner blogs at www.dinewithpat.com.