19. The 2021 Gift Guide - Part I
Turning my kitchen into a list
Just after the last issue came out, featuring Panhunter, a good friend asked if I had any gift recommendations for her partner. We batted around the idea of doing a gift guide that could help people get ahead of their shopping and the expected supply chain problems. This was in very early November, when it would have been helpful. But as I write this, it’s late November, which means you’re not getting ahead of the supply chain issues. It also means everyone else in the world has already come out with their gift guides.
The thing I struggled with and kept me from sitting down to write was what I should include. Unlike most writers who do a gift guide, I did not start planning mine six months ago. I didn’t seek out new and interesting products and books and then test them to see if they’re worthy of inclusion. And it didn’t feel responsible recommending things I had no first-hand experience with. So what’s a gift guide writer to do?
I decided to do two guides: one guide to the things I do have first-hand experience with and can recommend without reservations and another guide to the things that would be on the 2021 guide to gifts FOR the Plate Cleaner. What am I eyeing hopefully this season. I make no guarantees that these things are actually any good. Just that I want them.
Let’s get into it!
The Guide to Gifts I Can Personally Vouch For
Nothing here is terribly expensive, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Everything is definitely thoughtful and I turn to them regularly.
Chopping or puréeing quickly without having to haul out and then clean a food processor or blender? Yes please. Great for making a few servings of pico de gallo or curry pastes. It’s small but powerful. I wish I’d bought one sooner.
If you’ve spent money for a high-quality leave-in thermometer like the ThermoWorks Chef Alarm (which I got as a gift last year), don’t let the probe cord turn into a gnarled, knotted mess in the drawer. Neatly wrap the cable around one of these disks, which are magnetized so they stick to each other and to your grill or oven, and it will stay straight and undamaged. Five different colours available, so you can colour-code your multiple probes by function.
If you have a mandoline, you’ve definitely cut your finger on it. It’s probably why you don’t use it as much as you would if it weren’t a bloodthirsty hand guillotine. Companies like Microplane will sell you branded ones for $25 or so, but because they have industrial uses, you can find non-branded ones for much less, like the gloves in the link at Canadian Tire.
There are a ton of resources online for learning fermentation. But sometimes it’s nice to have a resource in your hands that you can write notes on. And besides, are you going to wrap up a link to It’s Alive! videos in a box for your special someone? The Shockeys go vegetable-by-vegetable, showing how each of them can be fermented multiple different ways. It’ll have you freestyling new flavours in no time.
Drop lids, or otoshibuta, are used in Japanese cooking to sit directly on food, keeping it fully submerged in liquid while cooking. This ensures even cooking, but it also prevents delicate items like daikon from tumbling in boiling stock and damaging their shape. They’re traditionally made of wood and different sizes of pots require different sized lids. But recently metal ones like these, that cleverly expand in size as you pull on them, have become available.
They’re great for braising and simmering, but they’re also great for fermenting, where you also want to keep your food fully submerged, lest it be exposed to oxygen and spoil. Now whatever size your fermentation crock, you’ve got a lid that fits right to the edge. Pile it with weights and every bit of your ferment is staying where it should.
Speaking of Japanese cooking, there’s no better way to learn about how to use your otoshibuta than in the foundational English text on the subject. The late Tsuji’s name is still on a school in Osaka that is pretty much Le Cordon Bleu of Japan. For more homey and casual cooking, you might want to check out books from Sonoko Sakai or Nancy Singleton Hachisu.
No more excuses for lumpy mashed potatoes. Boil them, load them into the hopper, and crush away. It’s like a giant garlic press and it achieves in one move what a potato masher cannot: smooth, lump-free potatoes that haven’t turned gluey because their starch molecules have been ruptured by repeated pounding. But it’s not one of those dreaded unitaskers that only do one job and otherwise take up space in the cupboard. It’s also great for getting very last little bit of dressing-diluting water out of cooked greens like spinach or swiss chard.
These aren’t new and you’ve probably seen them before. They were on sale a few months ago and I grabbed a bunch of them. It’s so nice to measure small amounts of liquid in something other than a spilly spoon. Having multiples makes prepping easier because every liquid can have its own cup. And with markings to measure tablespoons, millilitres, ounces, and (fractions of) cups, they’re very versatile. Who knew that all those cocktail recipes that call for a half ounce of something could have been calling for a tablespoon instead?
Also not new, but that’s why I know it’s useful! The woman the internet refers to as “The Butter Chicken Lady” on how to make your favourites in your preferred pressure cooker. Lots of great recipes, including some not made under pressure. Her recipe for making your own garam masala is the standard in our kitchen now. All you need is a good spice grinder.
Meet the best box grater ever. It’s that simple. Super-sharp and smartly put together. It includes a bottom cap so you can simply drop your gratings into your container with no scooping. It also makes it easy to grate cheese by weight. Tare your scale with the grater on and then weigh the grater as cheese collects inside.
I’m just about at Substack’s email length limit, so Part 2—what’s on my wish list—will have to follow shortly.
If you’re ok with feeding the Bezos, you can not surprisingly find them even cheaper. The glove in the photo above was part of a four-pack for $17.
Unlike with hot water bath canning. Going off-recipe there can kill people.
One caveat: because they’re oblong, they’re a little tippy. Either keep filled ones out of your action areas or put them on a plate or pan to contain the spills.
Maybe mine will be featured in next year’s guide.