Top Five Last-Minute Christmas Gifts for Your Cooking Life

I often receive kitchen and cooking-related gifts at Christmas and I love to give them, too. Recently I have found some great gifts for cooks covering a broad price range so I thought I’d share them with you here.  (I know I said there were five but I ended up naming seven because there was a lot of good stuff to choose from. We’ll call the last two a bonus!)

1.  My favorite dishwashing tool is this little Scotch-Brite ™ “dishwand.” It’s a scrubber that holds the soap in the handle and has a nice scrubby sponge head that can be replaced. I heard some of you groan and chuckle! Commonplace and mundane as it is, I think everyone should have one of these.  Under $5. Buy it in any grocery store.

Dishwand

2. A vital necessity for keeping wooden cutting boards from drying and splitting especially in dry climates is Boos(R) Block Board Cream. Amazing stuff to use in between mineral oil treatments.  Really works.  Buy it in stores catering to cooks and cookware or online. Under $15.00.

Boos Block Cream

3.  Lovely New Mexican linen hand-printed dishtowels made by Kei & Molly Textiles, LLC.  Beautiful for drying glassware and they make great props for food photography.  Only $10.  The website is http://www.keiandmolly.com

RASTA PASTA 2

4.  Cooking for only one or two made simple with the Ohsawa (R) Pot.  You place this earthenware pot inside of your pressure cooker and you can cook small amounts of rice, beans and other things instead of a big potful.  And it comes out great! Starting at about $60.  Order from Gold Mine Natural Foods www.goldminenaturalfoods.com.

Ohsawa Pot

5.  Chocolate.  Gimme  Give someone chocolate from Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Great “forgive me for being late” gift in case you didn’t shop in time for Christmas Day.  And remember, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner!  Prices vary. Quality is consistently excellent.  Go to their website:  www.kakawachocolates.com or better yet, just come to visit in Santa Fe and get free samples.

6.  Amazing and versatile condiments from Olaecea olive oil and balsamic vinegar company.  Try expresso dark balsamic, roasted pumpkin seed oil to die for or lemongrass mint white balsamic and dozens of others.  Each bottle is under $20.00  You can visit them in Santa Fe too and get samples or visit their website at http://www.oleaceaeoliveoil.com.

7.  An excellent cook’s reference book that I keep nearby and use is the New Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst published by Barron’s. Answers all kinds of questions about ingredients, cooking methods, converting measurements etc. with over 6,700 entries.  Great for food/cooking bloggers, too, by the way!  Under $20 at any bookstore, Amazon, etc.

Cover of "The New Food Lover's Companion&...

Cover of The New Food Lover’s Companion

Happy last-minute shopping!

Advertisements

It All Started When the Pot Called the Kettle Black

Let’s talk dishes, shall we?  By that I mean dirty dishes.  As much as I love to cook, I have an equal and opposite dislike for washing dishes.  I don’t think my husband likes washing dishes either, but since his cooking repretoir seems to be limited to making mac and cheese from a box and putting together a liverwurst sandwich, he valiantly concedes to washing and/or drying the dishes in exchange for one of my good meals.  Fair enough!

Yes, we do have a dishwasher but we rarely remember to use it because when it’s just the two of us it takes days to fill the thing and by that time the bits of food and food juices are totally “set” and the dishes don’t get completely clean.  Unless they are pre-washed in which case—what’s the point?

However when it comes to the pots and pans, that is another story altogether.  

I love my pots and pans.  It’s true!  I have some of the most well-seasoned cast iron frying pans you can imagine.  Had them for thirty-five years.  My pressure cooker that I use to make brown rice has been with me for about that long too and it is fantastic!  And I’ve got some of the best stainless steel, copper-core pots and pans made.  In fact, one of my pots is an All-Clad Copper Core 1 1/2 quart pot that I got for Christmas a few years ago (Thank you Danny!) and I use it sometimes more than once a day.  It is a perfect cooking pot and I don’t ever put it away.  I keep it out on the stove ready to go.

And my knives!  I have some of the best!  I gained an appreciation of good food-preparation knives early on when I studied macrobiotic cooking with an accent on Japanese style.  My teachers had excellent knives that I was impressed with.  I’d never used such big and extremely sharp knives before.  I not only learned how to use them to cut the finest, most aesthetic matchstick, sliced or flower-like veggies, I learned how to sharpen them and keep them in shape.  In fact, I don’t let other people sharpen my good knives—I do it myself so I can ensure they are not weakened or chipped by another person’s pressure or angles.  Or, I sometimes send them to the manufacturer to sharpen.

I take pride in the care of my cookware and actually don’t mind washing these so much .  I wash my knives and immediately dry them and store them most of the time.  I am willing to tackle stuck or burned food (yes, it happens sometimes) on the bottom of a pan. Just last night I started popping some popcorn and turned away from it just long enough for about half of it to burn and stick to the pot.  It was a stinky and ugly sight!  But this morning it is all back to beautiful.  There is something very satisfying in restoring a well-loved item back to its clean and proper condition—at least in my experience.

I have come to believe that the quality of your cookware is fairly important just like the quality of your food is important.  For someone who dislikes washing dishes, you’re probably wondering why I don’t just get some good non-stick coating cookware and be done with it.  Nope.  Don’t really like that stuff.  I know the technology of non-stick has changed over the last couple of decades, but I personally don’t like the idea of a chemical coating on the inside of my cookware. That is because non-stick coatings contain highly poisonous chemical substances and can release very harmful gases and particles when heated during cooking.

Today in a typical store, you will see many, many non-stick brands of cookware and the marketing and advertising of these will have you think that you are living in the Dark Ages if you don’t use them.  While I’m sure they are convenient in the short run, I am absolutely positive that in the long run they are detrimental to the health of you and your family.  And honestly, if you’ve got good-quality cookware and the right tools to clean them, you will not have any trouble at all caring for your pots and pans.

I also don’t use aluminum pots and pans.  Aluminum is not something that should go in your body and you have the same problem with aluminum in that it can leech into your food.  Aluminum is a soft metal that can scratch and dent easily.  Annodized aluminum is harder, darker and less porous but can still scratch and dent if you’re not careful.  Many brands of cookware use aluminum as an inner layer to take advantage of its light weight and ability to heat up fast.  I would say this is fine as long as the aluminum is on the inside, and not on the cooking surface.

Even stainless steel—depending on the quality—will have a mix of metals in it so you should be aware of the composition of any cookware you’re buying.  Scratched and dented  stainless steel pots can also leech unwanted metals into your food.  Many people feel enamel-coated cookware is a good and healthy choice and I can agree with that.  But you still have to care for it so it is not scratched.

So no matter what you are using, it all comes down to how you care for it.  I say, get the best quality you can, avoid chemical non-stick coatings, and avoid aluminum.  Get yourself some excellent Japanese-style cooking knives—they will make your food sing!  Give your knives and cookware some love and TLC.  And if the pot starts calling the kettle “black,” send them both to the sink to be washed clean!

What type of cookware do you like best?