If you haven’t seen it already, I have a new post on Tasty Tufts, and this one talks about one of my favorite areas of literature: food memoirs. I’ll take any chance I can get to spend my free time thinking about food, and spending a few hours with a book all about traveling the world in search of culinary nirvana is a great way to pass a lazy afternoon. The post on Tasty Tufts is the short list of my favorite food memoirs and novels, but if you’re looking for more, perhaps less popular titles, check out On the Noodle Road by Jen Lin-Liu, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen, An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler, White Jacket Required by Jenna Weber, Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser, and Talking with My Mouth Full by Gail Collins. I’m also eagerly awaiting the published of Phyllis Grant’s memoir that will hopefully be just as poignant and gutsy as her blog, Dash and Bella.
At a loss for what to give the chef or foodie in your life? Try a few of these books, gadgets, and homemade treats:
Cookbooks and Food Memoirs
The Complete Cook’s Illustrated, by America’s Test Kitchen
This is my go-to book for new recipes or cooking advice. It includes more than a decade of Cook’s Illustrated recipes—making it a great deal compared to paying for ten years of the magazine. The recipes are incredibly precise and thoroughly tested, ensuring that they are always consistent and successful. America’s Test Kitchen develops and tests recipes from a scientific perspective, and the explanations for how the recipes work are incredibly fascinating. Most of the recipes are traditional and made with classic techniques in mind (Potato-Leek Soup, Mushroom Risotto, Chocolate-Chip Cookies), so don’t expect any revolutionary flavor combinations, but do expect great results every time you open this book.
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perlman
This cookbook came out just last year, but I know it will be a staple in my kitchen for a long time. The recipes are written with a sense of humor and an awareness for how the average home cook operates (unlike some cookbooks written by restaurant chefs that have recipes completely unsuited for the home kitchen). Every single recipe I’ve tried has been a complete success, and I just wish I had time to make them all. Give this book to anyone who loves food and good stories; maybe if you’re lucky, they’ll give you some Linguine with Cauliflower Pesto or Black Bean Ragout.
A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg
Although dotted with recipes, this book by Molly Wizenberg is a memoir rather than a cookbook. It’s a fascinating read covering her background with food through her family, friends, and time spent in France. The recipes are fantastic (the chocolate cake in particular), and they align perfectly with the events in her life. A must read for passionate home chefs.
The Sweet Life in Paris, by David Leibovitz
For those of you who have ever wondered what it’s like to be a pastry chef and cookbook author living in Paris, you must read this book. It’s very humorous take on the inefficiency of Parisians, without being complaint-filled. You don’t have to love food or cooking to appreciate this book, it’s good for anyone in the mood for a laugh.
Microplane Zester from Oxo
This small, sharp grater is a culinary workhorse. I use it all the time to grate garlic and ginger, zest citrus, and grate cheese. It’s inexpensive, dish-washer safe, and stays sharp for a long time. Get one for a friend and pick up one for yourself as well—you won’t be disappointed.
Kitchen-Aid Mixer Paddle Attachment “Beater Blade”
As someone who bakes cookies all the time, this mixer attachment make the cookie dough process fast and uncomplicated. It’s like having a spatula in your mixer at all times, eliminating the need to ever scrape down the sides of the bowl. It work on stiff doughs as it decreases the power of the mixer slightly, but it is a game-changer for cookie bakers.
Bench Scraper, From Oxo
What can’t the bench scraper do? I use it almost daily to turn bread, divide doughs, lift pie crusts of the counters, smash garlic cloves, transfer chopped vegetables to hot pans, and clean up sticky work stations. This one by Oxo even have ruler markings on the edge, which is very helpful when rolling out specific sizes of dough.
Ever since I got a kitchen spider (essentially a small colander with a long handle) I rarely use our large pasta colander. It makes it very simple to lift cooked pasta or vegetables out of pots of boiling water, and it’s perfect for more delicate fresh pastas or gnocchis that can’t handle rough treatment. It cuts down on dishes and allows you to blanch mulitiple batches of vegetables or boil many batchs of pasta without pausing.
Pour some homemade Salted Caramel Sauce into a jar, and you have the perfect holiday gift. It’s easy and inexpensive to make, and I don’t know anyone who would not be delighted by it. One batch will yield enough sauce for about 5 half-pint jars, which should last you the holiday party circuit.
I used to give this gift to my mom for Christmas fairly often in elementary school. Simply take a bread or quick-bread recipe and mix together the dry ingredients. Place the mix in a bag, and include the instructions and ingredients to prepare the dough and bake the loaf. This is perfect for anyone who has a bread maker and loves making homemade bread, but doesn’t always have the time to do it.
Quick and easy to put together with pantry ingredients is just what you want for holiday gifts. Make up a big batch of these and hand them out in cellophane gift bags for party favors.
For anyone who’s tired of giving away Christmas cookies, try bags of wholesome granola instead. The combination of dried cherries and almonds makes it a delicious and unique holiday gift.