Foodie Blogroll

‘Tis the Season: Gifts for the Cook

Stuck for the perfect gift for the cook in your life? Here are a few suggestions.

A Good Chef’s Knife

You don’t have to break the bank to provide your favorite cook with some serious hardware. While Wusthof, Henckels and Shun get all the shelf space down at the Towels-’n'-Such, there are are better bargains to be had, knives that are fully equal to or better than the big names but with more reasonable price tags. If you like the heavier German style of knife, the Messermeister Meridian Elité series has very comfortable handles and comes with one of the best factory edges I’ve seen. If you like the thinner, lighter western-style Japanese knives, the Mac Professional series is always my first recommendation for people getting into high performance knives. They feel great and can take industrial levels of abuse before losing their edges. Global knives have a “love ‘em or hate ‘em” handle style, but these are the knives that started the Japanese knife revolution, convincing professional chefs to abandon their heavy German knives in droves. These three knives redefine the modern chef’s knife.

Modern-Chefs-Knives-WEB

One of my favorite online vendors is ChefKnivesToGo.com. They are running specials on all three of these knives, including some good deals on starter sets that include an 8″ chef’s knife and a high-quality paring knife, all with free shipping.

Mac Professional 2 Piece Starter Kit

Messermeister Meridian Elité Starter Kit

Global 2 Piece Starter Kit

Instant Read Thermometer

Yes, these things are expensive, but once you use a ThermoPen instant read thermometer you’ll be spoiled for life. I have two, an older version and the new splash-proof model. I use them every time I cook. I know my chicken is juicy and perfectly roasted when I pull it from the oven at 165° and that my bread is going to come out exactly as I expect it to because it has hit the target 200° threshold. No guessing. No confusion. No archaic subjective tests for doneness. I know with absolute confidence that whatever I’m cooking is right where it should be, and I know it immediately. No interminable waiting with the oven door open for a dial thermometer to register.

Digital Scale

My favorite Soehlne Futura digital scale has been discontinued, so I couldn’t replace it when it took  dive off the kitchen counter. The Soehlne would weigh up to 11 pounds or 5 kilos with fraction of an ounce accuracy. If you bake, using a digital scale rather than measuring in cups and teaspoons is the difference between using your new high-tech laptop and writing in the mud with a stick. Luckily my wife gave me the MyWeigh KD-8000 for my birthday. This scale is amazing. It even allows you to measure using baker’s percentages, the method bakers use to weigh ingredients in proportion to the flour weight. That’s just freaking cool. This scale can handle up to 8 kilos or 17.5 pounds of ingredients with 0.1oz accuracy. It’s reasonably priced, too.

A World Class Cutting Board

You may not be able to get one in time for Christmas, but David Smith at The BoardSmith is making some of the finest cutting boards available today. When I was writing “An Edge in the Kitchen” I got to test drive just about every type and manufacturer of cutting board available. These are the cutting boards that I use, recommend, and give to friends and family.

Give David a call or drop him an email to see what he has in stock.

In the interest of full disclosure, my main cutting board, an 18″ x 24″ maple beauty, was provided by The BoardSmith as a demo unit for my classes and videos. I have purchased all the others. My board can be seen in my YouTube videos, most notably Dicing Onions: Classic & Cheat Techniques

Knife Sharpening

A subject near and dear to my heart. While I believe that everyone can learn to sharpen his or her own knives, I recognize that most cooks just aren’t going to. That’s fine. Be that way. See if I care. However, a sharp knife is a cook’s best friend, and too many of us suffer in silence, continuing to use a dull knife even as it gets harder and harder to cut cleanly and safely. Give the cook in your life the gift of a revitalized knife. Many places offer knife sharpening services, but I will say that if your cook has decent knives, give Dave Martell a try. Dave’s service, JapaneseKnifeSharpening.Com, is an offshoot of his brick and mortar business, D&R Sharpening Solutions, outside of Philadelphia. His mail order sharpening — for both Japanese and standard European style knives — is the secret weapon of an embarrassing number of high end chefs. He offers gift certificates, so you’ll have something to put in the stocking.

Pizza Stone

A heavy pizza stone in your oven can make a world of difference. I keep mine in at all times. The temperature in an average residential oven can swing as much as a hundred degrees as the elements cycle off and on. The thermal mass of the pizza stone helps keep the oven temperature much more stable, and it helps hearth breads and pizza crusts crisp up just like you want them to. I realize that a big hunk of tile is not the most glamorous gift you can give but the baker in your life will appreciate it.

The World’s Best Peppermill

Not like I’m biased or anything, but the Magnum peppermill is truly badass. This is the six inch model. For the truly pepper obsessed there is even a Magnum Plus nine-inch model. The Magnum holds a cubic boatload of peppercorns, has an infinitely variable grind screw on the bottom and delivers astonishing amounts of pepper with a single turn of the top. I’ve used mine for years and wouldn’t trade it for anything. Tom David, the creator, must be some sort of peppermill savant. His Unicorn brand peppermills, including the Magnum, have one of the best grind mechanisms I’ve ever seen. And check out the travel size MiniMill. I keep one in my knife kit. I’m one of those obnoxious people who, if you invite me to dinner, brings my knife roll just in case you need help in the kitchen. And I’m certainly not going to put up with the dessicated powdery substance that used to be pepper tucked away in your spice rack.

Heavy Duty Blender

If you want to spend some serious money, you can’t go wrong with a super powered blender. There are really only two worth mentioning, the BlendTec and the Vita-Mix. These things run between $400 and $500 dollars, so you’d best be sure your relationship is strong before whipping out your credit card, both to ensure that your sweetie is worth it and to make sure he or she won’t blow a gasket when the bill comes. There’s a great comparison between the major high-powered blenders in the article Big Time Blending from the Washington Post that covers their relative strengths and weaknesses. I ended up with the BlendTec for the very simple reason that it will fit under my overhead cabinets. The Vita-Mix is almost 21 inches tall and won’t fit under standard overhead kitchen cabinets, which are usually 18 inches from the countertop. That limits where you can put the blender when it’s not in use. The BlendTec is just under 16 inches tall and fits just fine next to the stove. Both the BlendTec and the Vita-Mix blenders have loyal followings, and both are excellent machines. I use my BlendTec not only for the usual smoothies, soups and sauces, but also to make peanut butter (where it’s a little less capable than the Vita-Mix), prepare foods for canning, purée root vegetables, and grate hard cheeses for pizza toppings. You could just about chip your Christmas tree in one of these things.

and finally . . .

A Good Book

Obviously, those of you who don’t already own An Edge in the Kitchen should purchase a copy immediately. In fact, buy several and give them to all your friends. Give them to strangers. I don’t care. Just buy them. Please? I’ve got a kid in college. While you are ordering, though, also pick up a copy of Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. It’s a best seller for very good reason.

Ward_edge-WEB

Ratio isn’t a cookbook or recipe book, it’s a thoughtful breakdown of how ingredients relate to one another to create foundation recipes. A basic shorbread cookie is 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat or butter and 1 part sugar. Remember 3:2:1 and you’ve got not one cookie recipe but hundreds of cookie recipes. You can add just about anything you want, but if you stick to that ratio your cookies will come out great. Same thing with mayonnaise and other sauces, sausages, doughs and batters, and even desserts. If you’ve ever wondered how to get away from cooking with recipes and learn to improvise in the kitchen, this is the gateway. Now Michael even has a Ratio iPhone app. I don’t have an app. I’m not that cool.

If you’ve been floundering, looking for that perfect gift for the cook in your life, any one of these will deliver the holiday magic — guaranteed.

NOTE: Except where specifically mentioned, every piece of gear in this review has been extensively tested, used and abused in my kitchen. All of the vendors linked are reputable, reliable dealers from whom I’ve purchased kitchen gear and can personally recommend. I have no business relationship with any of them except as a satisfied customer.

9 comments to ‘Tis the Season: Gifts for the Cook

  • Being a big fan of puzzles, we at cutting board USA came out with a unique cutting board in the shape of a puzzle. This two piece design works well as a cheese board or heat plate. The new design used only two pieces, providing more cutting surface. The two piece design was also ideal for avoiding cross-contamination. Cutting board USA recommends using the left side for meat, and the right side for fresh vegetables.

    This version will also be available in maple and walnut, and like all other products they are made in the USA from FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) certified wood. Visit http://www.cuttingboardusa.com for more information and purchase the product on-line.

  • Robin

    I could not agree with you more on the Unicorn Magnum.
    However, I believe the grind mech is made by Facem / tre spade in Italy.

    http://www.trespade.eu/en/prodotti/macinapepe/magnum.html
    But as you said, it’s as close to the perfect pepper mill as I’ve ever come across.

    And the Boardsmith boards are works of art!

  • Benelli

    Two knife questions:

    1) I am newlywed and my wife and I are about to purchase a chef’s knife. Money is not an issue. I am leaning towards a MAC Pro, but apparently she is buying into the Shun hype. We both cook so preferences are a wash. Which is it: MAC or Shun?

    2) What steel to you recommend and where did you get that huge steel you used in your 2003 eGULLET sharpening article?

  • Congratulations on your marriage (and on having a spouse who is interested in a chef’s knife). I believe the MACs are better values than the Shuns, but I’m biased because I also like the flatter blade profile of the MAC knives. Shun Classics have a curved belly that is more like the Wushthofs, Henckels, et al, that most people are used to, making them something of a hybrid between Japanese and German knives. For many people that is a good thing. Shun has the added advantage of a large retail presence. You can try them out in a store to see how they fit your hands. For something you won’t find in every other kitchen, consider the Misono UX10 (http://www.chefknivestogo.com/mi.html). They are great knives.

    I use and recommend a fine grit ceramic honing rod. My favorite is made by Idahone. It is the one pictured in the eGullet tutorial. You can get them from JapaneseKnifeSharpening.com (http://www.japaneseknifesharpeningstore.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=IDH12), which is also a great place to have your knives sharpened if you are hesitant about doing it yourself.

    Take care,
    Chad

  • Wilma

    I received a set of Calphalon Katana series as a gift a while back. They do seem pretty good for the average soccer mom, I am wanting to step up to a higher quality knife that will last for years to come in a home setting. I like the “look” of the Shun Elites but hear over priced a lot. Do you think the Elites are worth the money or think that something like the Mac pros or Misono UX10 are as good with a lower price tag.

    I am willing to spend about $600-800 on 3 or 4 knives that I use daily. I don’t want a block set.

  • You have a great budget and very good taste. The Shun Elites are fine knives. They do, however, have the sweeping belly curve of a German knife. If you like that style, great. If your tastes run to the more triangular French/Japanese blade shape, it’s very hard to go wrong with the Misono UX10 series knives. The SG2 steel of the Shun Elite line is also a little harder than Misono’s Swedish steel. Normally, harder is better. However, in an average home kitchen where knives might be subjected to a little more abuse than they might in a knife-nut’s kitchen, the Misonos will be more durable and easier to resharpen. Along the same lines, the Suisin Inox knives might suit your tastes as well. Both lines are available from ChefKnivesToGo.com (http://www.chefknivestogo.com/), and another Suisin line, the Special Inox, is available at Korin Japanese Trading (http://korin.com/Shop/Special-Inox). If you are being more budget conscious (or want to buy a greater number of knives) the MAC Professional series is also top notch.

  • Wilma

    The one thing that keeps the shun knives in my mind is that they offer free lifetime sharping, all one has to do is pay for shipping them there. That really will add up if you get your blades sharpened every 12-18 months.

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