If, like me, your holiday gift-giving list includes lots of foodie friends and family, never fear. Here is a tried and true guide to culinary-themed gifts. All are favorites of mine that cooks will savor, whether edible or not.
For the foodie who likes to read, my two heartfelt recommendations are “My Life in France” by Julia Child (whom I met and worked with in the late 1970s) and “The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen” by my friend Jacques Pépin.
8-INCH CAKE LIFTER
Though designed as advertised—to move cake layers so they do not break in transport—I use it to transfer large amounts of chopped vegetables from the cutting board to the skillet, without losing bits and pieces along the way. It costs about $6.49 and is available at Wilton.com.
Those who cook know the delight that comes from any gizmo that helps reduce risk in the kitchen. Years ago, the “it” tool was the microplane, known for grating cheese, garlic, and ginger without scraping off a chunk of your hand in the process, like the somewhat lethal four-sided grater. The Better Zester is an updated version, but just for citrus. It removes only the zest and none of the bitter white pith. It costs about $15 and is available online at Amazon.com.
To make this ever-popular Italian aperitif for a friend, peel off just the yellow part of five washed lemons. Combine the lemon rind with one 750ml bottle of vodka in a sterilized jar. Seal and store it in a cool, dark place for six days. On day seven, combine two cups of sugar with one cup of water in a saucepan, and heat until the sugar dissolves to make a syrup. Once cool, transfer the rinds from the vodka to the syrup. Seal both the syrup and the vodka, and let stand for three more days. Strain out and discard the rinds from the syrup, and add it to the vodka to taste, starting with about half a cup. Design a label for the bottle, throw a ribbon around it, and give it to a friend to enjoy.
A GROUP COOKBOOK
Round up your family and/or friends and have each of them contribute a recipe. It does not have to be original and can come from a magazine or friend. Just be sure it means something to the contributor. You can make the book with very little fuss and expense, copying all the recipes and binding them in a simple binder. Alternatively, you can produce something a bit more labor intensive, working with an online book packaging company, like Simplycookbooks.com. Either way, the result is as personal as a group portrait. Twelve books (with up to 60 pages each) cost $16.90.
Many avid home cooks are tempted to dive into new cuisines—Middle Eastern, Thai, or Indian—but then shy away because there are so many new spices involved. A masala dabba, or Indian spice box, is just the gift for one of these would-be explorers. Packaged in a round tin, it holds seven small containers for spices. A great learn-a-new-cuisine gift, it might be nice to pair this with an appropriate cookbook. My favorite source for the spice box and spices is Kalustyan’s; just visit Foodsofnations.com and search for “masala dabba.” It costs $19.99.
I gave one of these to my sous-chef at Gourmet magazine many years ago and she went slightly nuts with it, smoking everything she put her hands on. About the size of a large rectangular skillet, it smokes not only poultry and fish, but mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, and much more. Camerons (Cameronsproducts.com) makes a good version of the smoker that costs $49.99.
ONLINE COOKING CLASS
Do you have friends or loved ones who are budding bakers with an artistic flair? How about buying them an online class in cake decorating? My favorite site for all things creative is MyBluprint.com, which offers classes in cooking, baking, and cake decorating. A monthly membership costs $9.99.
For adventurous cooks open to trying a new technique, I recommend a spaetzle maker. A fresh pasta popular in Germany, spaetzle is delicious and quick to prepare. You mix a few basic ingredients together in a bowl (flour, butter, milk, and eggs) and then pass the thick, pancake-like batter through the spaetzle maker into a pot of boiling water. Just a few minutes later, the pasta is cooked and ready to be tossed with butter or your favorite sauce and devoured. It costs about $6 and is available online at Amazon and other stores.
ZINGERMAN’S FOOD CLUB
For your fellow alumni, consider a monthly Zingerman’s food club subscription (Zingermans.com). It’s the kind of gift that keeps on giving—delivering a new item to the recipient for as many months as you subscribe. Gifts range from bacon and artisanal cheese to coffee cakes and foods specifically from Michigan. A three-month bacon club subscription costs $99.
Cookbook author Sara Moulton (saramoulton.com) is currently the host of the public television show “Sara’s Weeknight Meals.”