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28. The 2022 Gift Guide - Part 1
Searching the darkest recesses of my cupboards and drawers for ideas
The Plate Cleaner’s second anniversary was on October 28th, which I have missed acknowledging by a month. Happily
, I am not too late for another gift guide. Like last year, I am dividing it into two sections: first, things that I own, use, and love that I know would make great gifts; and second, things that are on my own wish list. The latter, of course, I can’t vouch for wholeheartedly, but I’ve heard enough to believe they’d be great gifts (especially for me). For today’s edition, part one of my 2022 Gift Guide, I bring you only the gifts with the official Plate Cleaner 100% seal-of-approval.
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Grill Grates are kind of like the Chicago Architecture River Cruise: people who have them never shut up about how incredible they are and how you have to get them. People who don’t have them are skeptical about how great they could possibly be. Until they get them. Then they won’t shut up about them.
Grill Grates are ridged sheets of hard anodized aluminum that sit on top of your grill’s existing grate, trapping heat and allowing you to cook at higher temperatures. This is especially great for gas grills, which otherwise can’t reach the temperatures necessary for proper searing. Placed flat side up, you’ve got a flat-top plancha for maximum surface contact. They also vaporize dripping juices, preventing flare-ups and adding even more flavour. There’s simply no other single accessory that can improve the performance of your grill as much as they can.
I got tired of throwing out the plastic wrap I’d used to cover pizza dough during autolyse or proofing, so I found these waterproof covers, hand-sewn in Winnipeg, on Etsy. The largest is big enough to cover a stand mixer bowl. They’re not airtight enough to keep dough from drying out during an overnight proof, but they’re perfect for short stretches. And for keeping cats out of bowls of prepped ingredients.1
Nearly $150 for a digital thermometer seems pretty steep, but when you factor in all the money you’ll save by not ruining food, you’ll probably break even. The Thermapen One gives hyper-accurate2 readings in about a second, has a backlit display that automatically rotates so the reading is the right way up, and a sleep/wake function that senses when it has been put down and when it has been picked up.3 All things you didn’t know you needed until just now. And if $145 is still too steep, Thermoworks also makes the great-but-not-quite-as-excellent Thermopop for $30.
A good friend gave me a box of these Brazilian bonbons last year and they were delightful. (Thanks again, Thomas and Andrea!)
This successfully (and surprisingly) made the leap from my gift-guide wish list last year to my own kitchen gift guide this year! Like the Thermapen One, spending this much on a pepper mills is absolutely ridiculous. But it is the greatest pepper mill I have ever used. It’s built like a tank, incredibly well-thought out, and grinds about ten times as much pepper per crank as any other mill I’ve tried. That’s especially convenient when your preferred gravlax recipe calls for two tablespoons of pepper.
Great for fish, but also great for anything that needs flipping. I use mine while grilling (and wearing a welding glove) to make sure all of the burger I’m about to flip comes off the grill (or Grill Grate) cleanly. The thin edge gets right under for a successful turn.
I know, I know. You can buy a perfectly good canning pot at your local hardware store for under $40. But regular water bath canning, which requires you to fill most of a 10- or 15-litre pot with water and then bring it to a boil, which can take the better part of an hour. If you’re processing multiple batches, reheating the water for each batch adds even more time. A steam canner requires only two or three inches of water to generate enough steam required for processing that is just as effective as a water bath. The pot can get up to temperature in a small fraction of the time a full pot takes. I can process three batches of pickles in the time I could do one in a water bath. So that’s 66% less energy used and, more importantly, 66% less time. The energy savings might not completely make up the $110 difference, but what are hours of your day worth?
For me, the best cooking books are the ones that help you develop skills and instincts you can use outside of their recipes. In Knife Skills Illustrated there are no recipes, just step-by-step illustrations of how to cut almost everything, with separate procedures for both righties and lefties. It’s a great book to have on the shelf if you’re an adventurous shopper and come back with a fruit or vegetable you’ve never used before. Or, if you’re like me, you can never remember the best way to cut a cauliflower into tiny florets.
There are many, many cultures around the world that use Maggi in almost everything.4 Neither of my families come from one of them, so I grew up relying on Worcestershire sauce or shoyu (and later fish sauce) to give underpowered dishes an umami boost. Maggi is now often the first thing I reach for. It's closest in flavour to shoyu, but without the sharp saltiness. I've read the flavour described as "roasty." It's all background flavour. Not the fruity tartness of Worcestershire nor the funk of fish sauce. The monster 800 ml bottle would make an excellent stocking stuffer for someone looking to add new dimension to their cooking.
I’m approaching Substack’s email length limit, so Gift Guide Part 2, featuring my wish list, will follow shortly.
Grated cheese and shredded lettuce are Haggis and The Wee Beastie’s favourite targets.
It comes packaged with a certificate of calibration.
The original Thermapen (the OT) was built to be held in the right hand, but frequently my right hand is using tongs and my left hand is using the Thermapen, so the temperature would be displayed upside-down. The OT would also shut off after a set amount of time. To start it again you had to close the probe and open it again. Now you just have to pick it up and it restarts.
There are at least nine different formulations for different regions around the world, so Maggi in Poland is different from Maggi in the Philippines. In fact, the Filipino grocery store I was in today had at least five different kinds, including Spicy, Calamansi, and Spicy Calamansi.