I’ve assembled a list of must-have cooking gear, kitchen toys, and foodie fetishes for 2011. If you have a food geek in your life and you’re looking for gift inspiration, I’m here to help. They say “‘tis better to give,” but ‘tis best to give to someone who’ll cook you dinner in return!
|Bob Kramer 10" Carbon Steel Chef’s Knife by Zwilling J.A. Henckels®
Say hello to the “it knife” of 2011. Bob Kramer is the only Master Bladesmith in the world who specializes in culinary knifes, and his rare, hand-made blades sell for thousands of dollars. (see my post on touring Bob Kramer’s workshop.) Now, he’s produced a line of exceptional quality carbon steel cutlery that conforms to his exacting standards, but is affordable enough for the home chef.
|Skillet Bacon Jam
Seattle residents are already familiar with the spreadable jar of heaven known as “Bacon Jam”. Produced by the same Skillet group that brought us the Skillet Street Food truck and the Skillet Diner, the jam is a mixture of rendered bacon and spices that adds a succulent kick to sandwiches, burgers, omelets, Ritz crackers, or any other bacon-submissive food. Makes a great stocking stuffer – just hope you can fit into your stockings after you’ve plowed through a jar.
$15.95 – Amazon.com
|Rouxbe Cooking School
In this day and age, anything that’s worth doing is worth doing online – learning to cook is no exception. Rouxbe is the world’s leading online cooking school that teaches people of all levels to become better, more confident cooks. Focused on techniques, not recipes, Rouxbe offers over 1,100 close-up instructional videos that capture the exact same curriculum found in professional cooking schools around the world.
$23.00/month (other packages available) – Rouxbe.com
Any serious food geek cooks sous vide. And those who don’t? Well, they’re waiting for you to buy them a sous vide machine… that is, if you’re not up for building one yourself. By far, the easiest way to get started with sous vide cooking is the SousVide Supreme line of water ovens. Their machines are available in multiple sizes and colors and they’re currently running some fantastic deals for the holidays, including a Modernist Cuisine gift set!
$299 and up – SousVideSupreme.com
|VacMaster Chamber Vacuum Sealer
Whether you’re cooking sous vide or tackling a whole slew of other modernist techniques, a vacuum sealer is an absolute necessity. FoodSaver-style sealers work fine for dry foods, but for wet foods like meat and fish or liquids of any kind, you need a chamber sealer. Unlike an edge sealer, which sucks all of the air out of the bag from one edge, the VacMaster removes the air from the entire chamber, then seals the bag. When the vacuum is released, the pressure of the atmosphere compresses the bag against its contents for a fool-proof, air-free seal with no messy liquid sucked from the edge of the bag.
|Excalibur 3500 Deluxe Series 5 Tray Food Dehydrator
If you thought dehydrators were just for jerky and fruit snacks, you’re missing a whole world of possible applications for dried foods. For example, why not whip up some Shrimp in Cocktail Leather for your next dinner party? The Excalibur dehydrator is the brand trusted by chefs everywhere. The rectangular drying trays provide 8 square feet of drying space, and the 85º – 145ºF thermostat let’s you dehydrate everything from soup to nuts (and yes, jerky too)!
$189.95 – Amazon.com
|Presto 1755 16-Quart Aluminum Pressure Cooker/Canner
For some reason, lots of folks think of pressure cookers as “your grandmother’s kitchen gadget”. And, while it’s true that grannie may have reached for her pressure cooker as a way to save time in the kitchen, their usefulness extends well beyond expediency. Pressure cookers are fantastic for extracting flavors, for example, when making stocks and sauces. When coupled with a little baking soda, they’re also key to making the best vegetable soups I’ve ever tasted. I’d recommend purchasing a pressure canner rather than just a pressure cooker. The difference is the inclusion of a pressure gauge which allows you to can many foods that you couldn’t otherwise safely preserve.
$71.99 – Amazon.com
|Noble Tonics: Handcrafted Matured Maple Syrups & Vinegars
This is my new favorite breakfast condiment: Tahitian Vanilla Bean & Egyptian Chomomile Blossom Matured Maple Syrup. Just speaking its name evokes images of meticulous artisans patiently watching over these syrups as they mature in charred American oak barrels. It is to maple syrup what Château d’Yquem is to wine. The complete line includes two maple syrups, a sherry bourbon oak vinegar, an heirloom lemon matured white wine vinegar, and XO, a viscous, rich “finishing vinegar”.
$22.95 – $69.95 – MikuniWildHarvest.com
|Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook
Although this cookbook was only released a few weeks ago, it’s already one of the most talked-about cookbooks of the year. And rightfully so – this book is so much more than a cookbook; it is a window into the soul of Eleven Madison Park. Featuring breathtaking photography and over 125 sophisticated recipes, this will be one of the [very few] cookbooks I reference on a regular basis, both for inspiration and for technique.
$31.50 [hardcover] – Amazon.com
|Momofuku Milk Bar
Imagine an incredible collection of desserts that all seem like they were designed by stoners with phenomenal pastry skills. That would, more or less, be Monofuku Milk Bar. Written by pastry chef Christina Tosi, the book includes an entire section on cereal milk ice creams. Other notable dishes include the infamous “crack pie”, “compost cookie”, and “gutter sundae” (directions: Go to the hardware store. Buy a gutter. Invite your friends and family over. Make a gutter sundae to celebrate). Yet, somehow, the whole thing is irresistible!
$20.18 – Amazon.com
This has been a great year for chef David Chang and his ever-expanding influence. Case in point: Lucky Peach. In an era when print publishing is dying a very public death, Chang had the chutzpah to start his own food journal. Issue Two’s theme is "The Sweet Spot," and will feature Rene Redzepi on vintage vegetables, Tajikistani apricots with Adam Gollner, a visit to Callaway Golf and Louisville Slugger, time-sensitive fermentation, banana pie with Momofuku Milk Bar chef Christina Tosi, and much, much more.
$9.50/issue – Amazon.com
|Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts: Secrets and Recipes for the Home Baker
Top Pot Doughnuts are a treasured part of Seattle’s edible landscape. Let it be said that no other doughnut pairs as well with a nonfat, fair trade, soy, double, vanilla cappuccino. Committed bakers, casual home cooks, and sweet-toothed fans will eat up these 50 tried-and-true recipes from classic Old-Fashioneds to the signature Pink Feather Boa and become experts themselves after learning the secrets of doughnut-making tools, terms, and techniques (no, you don t need a deep fryer).
$10.98 – Amazon.com
|Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking
If you’re searching for a food geek gift that will make all others pale in comparison, look no further. For the price of a stand mixer and a handful of tasteful stocking stuffers, you can give the gift that will keep your food geek cooking for a lifetime. I’ve already written quite a bit about Modernist Cuisine, but for the first time ever, you can wrap it in a bow and put it under the tree. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a 40 lb. cookbook!
$450.84 – Amazon.com
|iSi Professional Food & Cream Gourmet Whipper
Thanks to Ferran Adria and others, the term “culinary foam” now means more than whipped cream. If you’re interested in experimenting with foam-at-home, you’ll need to own a whipping siphon. A now-essential part of both sweet and savory preparations, whipping siphons are also great for quick infusions and making carbonated snacks. Unlike cheaper siphons, this model is designed to handle more viscous liquids commonly called for in modernist preparations.
|Krups 203 Electric Coffee and Spice Grinder with Stainless-Steel blades
Textural transformations are a hallmark of modernist cooking, and powders play in important role in achieving the correct mouthfeel and presentation of many dishes. If you’ve ever attempted to turn a solid into a powder using a blender or food processor, you’ll understand why it’s important to have the right tool for the job. This spice grinder is compact, inexpensive and incredibly efficient at making very fine powders in a matter of seconds.
$19.00 – Amazon.com
|Canon EOS 5D Mark II with EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens
Modern food-enthusiasts (see how hard I tried not to use the word “foodie”?) never travel without a camera in-hand. But, approaching your plate of foie gras and truffles with a cell phone camera is as gauche as wearing a sport coat and shorts just to spite the dress code. If you or the food geek in your life are ready to get serious about food photography, there’s currently no better value than the iconic Canon 5D Mark II. It shoots 21MP stills and broadcast-quality video, all for less than a bottle of Chateau Margaux.
$3,019.98 – Amazon.com
|Nikon 1 J1 10.1 MP HD Digital Camera System with 10-30mm VR 1 NIKKOR Lens
So, you’ve realized that you want to improve your food photography, but you don’t want to lug a giant (and conspicuous) DSLR to every restaurant you visit. Nikon’s “1” line is a brand new imaging system that’s designed to be highly portable and highly performant. Featuring interchangeable lenses, a high-speed sensor for great low-light shooting, and the ability to snap stills while you’re shooting 1080p HD video, this is a great camera for the fooderazzi.
$599.00 – Amazon.com