A torch—but not just any torch, a propane high heat Bernzomatic torch. Why? It’s way more powerful than those little dinky butane torches and it is a fun tool. I’ve been experimenting with vegetables, fish, even a crust of sugar on a slice of lemon. It’s just a way cool thing to have. It’s the perfect tool for getting the skin off peppers, cooking the best steak ever or putting the slightest char on raw fish. Maybe this is the year I make Baked Alaska! Under $50 and you can get it online but better to purchase in-store and get the propane at the same time.
The Global Grub tamale kit. I’ve written about this before but I’m telling you again because this is such a quality product. You will quite honestly make the best tameles of your life from this kit and you can fill them with anything you like. This kit is the trifecta— easy, fun and delicious. Available this year from Williams Sonoma.
3. Wannabe cooks:
For beginngers I recommend Scratch—this is a terrifically unintimadating book. It’s encouraging in the best possible way. Recipes range from Guacamole to Crispy Skin Salmon with Herb Dressing and rarely have more than 5-7 ingredients.
The Waste Not Want Not Cookbook - This is also good for those starting out because it includes lots of tips for how to choose, store and use ingredients. It also has some intriguing flavor combinations in recipes like Egg and Avocado Salad, Roasted Carrot Sesame Hummus and Smoked Chicken and Peach Quesadillas.
A Recipe for Cooking. This is a book from Chez Panisse chef Cal Peternell. It’s got the Chez Panisse sensibility but the recipes feel more home cook than restaurant chef. Still, as the author himself says, “This is a cookbook for when you want to cook more than what’s just necessary.” So let’s say this is for advanced beginners or intermediate cooks. Think Asian Pear and Fennel Salad with Frico, Tender Berry Butter Tart, 15 Layer Lasagna.
Taste & Technique—ok this is most decidely not for beginngers. It’s for someone who wants to take on a bit of restaurant chef finesse. In this case, the award-winning chef Naomi Pomeroy. Not every recipe is complicated, but designed to help you “elevate your home cooking.” Recipes include Bread Salad with Asparagus, Pickled Rhubarb and Flat-Leaf Parsley, Cabbage Veloute with Lemon Confit Creme Fraiche and Herb Oil, Buckwheat Crepes with Sauteed Apples and Toffee Sauce,
Anything from Market Hall Foods. Think of this as the West Coast version of Zingerman’s. It’s a fantastically well curated specialty food store where you just can’t go wrong. Some current favorites of mine are the Villa Jerada Ras El Hanout and Harissa. I sprinkle the spice mix on a chicken, roast it and serve it with the harissa. They always have an outstanding selection of olio nuovo. Even for non-cooks you’ll find great crackers, antipasti, mustards and honey. Anything from KL Keller or Manicaretti is sure to be a hit.
Going to a party? Instead of cookies or a bottle of wine, bring cake. Christmas cake, the best kind there is: panettone. I adore this cake because it’s fluffy but not too sweet. It’s like tender brioche rich with eggs, dried fuit and nuts and pure deliciousness. It’s also tremendously versatile. Have it with ice cream or whipped cream for dessert. Toast it and serve with breakfast or use it in French toast or bread pudding. It will not go to waste. Look for one that’s made without preservatives or artificial ingredients. I’m fond of the one from AG Ferrrari made from a starter dough dating back to 1932. It’s plump with raisins, candied fruit and almonds.
Disclaimer: This post includes recommendations for products I tried or received review copies, it also contains affiliate links.