29. The 2022 Gift Guide Part 2
What's on my wish list this year
Having run down a list of the things I know for certain work well and could make a cook in your life happy, it’s time to turn to what could make the me in your life happy. As I’ve said before, I have no personal experience with any of these, but they’re all things that have caught my fancy over the past year.
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I don’t have to tell you the kind of year it has been and how the year ahead is looking. If you can afford something from these guides, you can probably spare a few bucks for the organization of your choice that’s doing great work to help those in need. The Toronto Rape Crisis Centre and Interval House are two other great organizations to support.
Earlier this week, I popped down to Kensington Market to pick up some pork chopsfrom Sanagan’s. I don’t get down to the market as much now that I’m working from home, so I took the opportunity to look in at a few different places while I was in the neighbourhood. Tacos 101 for some tamales, which I had been craving ever since watching Priya Krishna’s video for the NY Times about street vendors in New York. Blue Banana for random, surprising gift ideas. And, of course, good egg, the wonderful store for cookbooks and a thoughtful selection of cooking- and non-cooking-related items. If it hadn’t been late November, at least three books would have been coming home with me.
The Flavor Equation by Nik Sharma ($50)
I’m a year late on this, but I hadn’t actually seen the inside of the book until last week. As I said in Part 1 of the gift guide, I love cookbooks that empower you with skills and knowledge you can apply beyond their recipes and that is the whole point of this book. At the start of each recipe, Sharma highlights what can be taken away from the process, whether it’s knowing the temperature of the oil in a pan is correct by the sound ingredients make when they land in it or how and why to use smoked salt in a dish.
Nose Dive by Harold McGee ($28)
I’ve come to realize that, as much as I like food and wine, I don’t have the best sense of smell. That could either be because my nose is less sensitive or because my nose is uneducated. I’m hoping it’s the latter and that this book, subtitled “A field guide to the world’s smells” can help. Harold McGee is, of course, the author of the book that launched a thousand science-based food writers, On Food and Cooking,so I have good faith that he’s done unimpeachable research. And it’s far, far cheaper than L’Ecole du Nez, though that would also make a pretty nifty gift.
An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler ($23)
Throughout the pandemic, as I shifted from going to the grocery store multiple times a week to just once, I’ve become better at planning a week’s meals so ingredients get used multiple ways and I throw out as little as possible.But I'm still not as good as I could (and want to) be. A book about, in Adler's words "eating affordably, responsibly, and well" seems just about right for times like these. It's certainly not a new book, having been first published ten years ago, but it has come full circle.
Square deli containers ($22.50 for 25)
While in Kensington, I wandered the aisles of Tap Phong in search of the next item on my wish list. Like a lot of people who were hooked to the pre-Adam Rapaport fallout Bon Appetit Test Kitchen videos on YouTube, I also became hooked on using plastic deli containers to store food. (They nest! The lids are interchangeable! ) But it has always bothered me that they are so spatially inefficient. I’ve seen rectangular ones in the kitchens at Skippa and Bar Vendetta, but it seemed odd to ask where they got them.There are some on the penis rocket man’s website but they are far too expensive. The ones in the link above are the best I’ve found so far, but I’d really rather have the largest size use the same lid as the others. So the search continues.
Work from Stephanie Shih ($800+)
Stephanie Shih is a ceramicist who makes incredible recreations of consumer products and other edible touchstones of (mostly) Asian-American life. I love seeing so much attention paid to objects we usually give very little to. Her work feels like a spiritual sibling to Ivy Knight’s Jugs and Cans: A Reaping.
Shih and I had a conversation about the possibility of commissioning a re-creation of the Botan Rice Candy my grandparents used to give us when I was a kid, but work hadn’t picked up enough after the freelancing bloodbath that was 2020 and it didn’t seem like a prudent financial move at the time. But maybe some day.
I was a fan of Sohla El-Waylly before I knew I was a fan of hers. It was only after she started appearing in the aforementioned Bon Appetit Test Kitchen videos that I realized she had previously written some of my favourite posts for Serious Eats. It’s because of her that I have as many sheet pans as I do. It’s because of her that I own multiple pairs of cooking tweezers. And it’s because of her that I want a bird’s beak knife, meant for cutting vegetables into very fussy shapes, but also seemingly useful in a variety of more practical ways, like peeling onions.
I have multiple mortars and pestles. I bought a molcajete when I was in Mexico City. But when I moved back to Toronto from Osaka, I left my suribachi behind and I’ve regretted it ever since. There is simply nothing better for grinding sesame seeds into the paste needed to make vegetables in the goma-ae style. It’s such a great way to serve green beans or spinach or Imanishi’s excellent gai lan. I think the reason I don’t make goma-ae more often is because I don’t have one.
I don’t need another Thermoworks thermometer. I’ve already got a Thermapen One. I’ve got a ChefAlarm. But man, do I want a Square Dot. Two probes, one for the internal temperature of what you’re cooking and another for the ambient temperature of your oven/grill/smoker would be great to have. The Square Dot will also give you the average ambient temperature over a 15-minute period, a much more helpful data point than what the temperature is at the moment you happen to be looking at it. Ovens cycle on and off and smokers can waver as well. Knowing the average can tell you how accurately you’re actually cooking.
Extra Large Oven Crisp Baking Tray by Nordic Ware ($26.99)
Just as I was editing this list, a Costco mailer arrived and it had this baking tray. It falls somewhere between part one and part two of this year’s guide. Part two because I think it’s a great idea, very much like the Misen roasting pan that was just in Serious Eats. Part one because I already have a two-thirds sheet pan, the largest that will fit in a standard 30” oven, but I don’t have a grate for it.
What’s on your wish list this year? What from your kitchen would make a great gift? Let me know! Maybe it will make the 2023 Gift Guide.
Cooked using Colu Henry’s recipe for pork chops with honey-vinegar collards and a few smashed potatoes on the side. Very tasty, although I like my collards cooked to near-mush. You can see the results here.
This book was the basis of much of The World of Chemistry, the science course designed for arts majors fulfilling their science prerequisites that is still being taught today. It was definitely one of the first sparks of interest in cooking for me.
In spring of 2020 I was an absolute disaster, buying a cabbage with just one meal in mind.
They also almost certainly buy them in a vastly larger quantity than I would want or could store.
If someone else hasn’t already commissioned it. She usually doesn’t do repeats.
In-store at Costco between December 5th, 2002 and January 1st, 2003. $34.99 after that. Or $44.99 online.