Jan Norris: Food and Florida

Food, Restaurants, Recipes and Pre-Disney Florida

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Top Seven Gifts for Cooks

December 4th, 2008 · No Comments

As holiday gift-giving approaches, I’m constantly asked what I’d give to a cook. Below are seven things I would be pleased to receive; one for each day of the week.

1. Flexible Cutting Mats

Flexible cutting mat

Flexible cutting mat

I don’t know how I chopped without flexible cutting mats — or sifted flour, funneled birdseed into my birdfeeder, or any number of other things I do with these mats. I’ve been through about eight sets of these. The ones I use are $7.50 for a set of six. Believe me — it’s the deal of the century. I stick mine in the dishwasher. This color-coded set means you’ll never run the risk of cross-contamination — use red for meat, yellow for poultry, and so on. But good cooks know never to chop more than one raw food on a mat before washing completely — right? When they get too cut up, I replace them.

Cat lovers' apron

2. A Fun Apron

Most cooks have cats, I’ve determined; my two, Willie and Lucy Norris, are well fed — though not fat, they’re definitely happy. This one says, “I only cook for the Cat.”  I have days like that, and can relate…

Others are available, including designer aprons, and some pretty funny ones. (The black KISS the Cook apron featuring Gene Simmons with his tongue hanging out made me cackle.)

NY Yankees fan apron

The one for a NY Yankees fan comes with fat potholders — equally good for cookouts or catching pop-ups at the stadium. They range from $20 to $35.

3. 5.5 quart Dutch oven by Le Creuset

Le Creuset Dutch OvenI have one — it’s one of the standard wedding gifts I give. My flame-colored big pot has served me in the five kitchens I’ve lived in, and traveled many miles with me — I frequently cook big pots of chili, or soup, or stew, and the cast iron makes it come out perfect every time. (I have a pot full of chicken gumbo on the stove at this very moment, bubbling away in it.) Enameled on the inside, it’s turned color over the years, and though I know I can bleach it with little or no consequence, I choose not to. I’m quite funny that way: I like to see wear and tear on cookbooks, tools, and especially, people. Nothing has character any more. My Le Creuset pot does. It won’t warp, or get dinged — it sits there patiently and can go from the stove to the oven to the table. Mine’s 30 years old and will likely go to my son (giving him two) — definitely worth the $200.

4. Metrokane Rabbit Wine Opener

Rabbit corkscrew

Rabbit Corkscrew

I have problems with hand strength, and opening a wine bottle can be an ordeal with a sommelier’s screwpull — I often can’t get leverage for it, or with older bottles, the cork has deteriorated just enough to break. My Metrokane Rabbit has served me well — and it’s another gift I often give at a wedding. Once you get used to using it, it’s so simple — and it backs the cork off the worm with reverse movement. Yay! There are various sets with this you can buy — I like the one that has the foil cutter, the bottle collar and an extra worm. Warning: I was given a cheaper brand as a gift — it broke by the time I’d opened only 12 bottles. You get a warranty with Metrokane’s. They run from around $20 for just the corkscrew, to $55 for sets with the extras.

Stonewall pancake and waffle mix

Stonewall pancake and waffle mix

5. Something yummy from Stonewall Kitchen

Preferably, their pancake and waffle mix. I think it’s one of the best I’ve tried. I’m not alone — it’s one of their best-selling items. Of course, I can make my own batter, but a lot of cooks can’t —or don’t want to take the time. They have a catalog of flavored ones: toasted coconut, cinnamon-apple, banana, chocolate-chip, eggnog, gingerbread, chocolate, orange zest, strawberry, pumpkin or blueberry. Honestly, I’ve tried dozens of their products and consider them one of the best gourmet food lines out there. Some of the foods are seasonal (you can get great buys on holiday foods after the holiday); try to catch their pumpkin butter — it makes a great pumpkin soup. For a nice gift, order one of their collections — marmalades, tea and jams, their “Top 10” — best sellers — or savory spreads, another of my favorites. I love their mustards! I toured their production facilities in York, Maine — they were pristine. And Jim Stott, one of the two owners (Jonathan King is the other), was more than willing to share all kinds of tidbits about the company’s methods. Alas, their retail stores are centered in New England, but their products are available through their web site and through several general e-stores such as Amazon.com. They offer cookbooks and other cooks’ items.

6. Kuhn Rikon Paring Knife

Kuhn Rikon Paring Knife Nonstick Orange

Those of you who saw me at the Oceanside Farmers’ Market making salsa watched me use this Kuhn Rikon paring knife — and nearly slice my thumb off. It’s my favorite knife, even if it gets me once in a while. It’s non-stick — not sure what it means because I’m rarely cutting stuff like caramels with it, but I like it because of its weight and ever sharp blade. About $9 – and it comes in a bunch  of bright colors.

7. An “Edge” Brownie Pan

Bakers Edge Nonstick Edge Brownie PanIf you’re like me, and a whole bunch of others I know, you like the “edges” of the brownies. A little crispy around the edge, then soft in the center. MMMmmm. Did you know that most professional bakeries cut off those edges and give them to the staff or throw them away, because they don’t produce a perfect square brownie? ARGH!! (We do know of one Texas bakery that sells them as “brownie butts.”)
Some genius cook came up with a pan that has dividers in it to create a pan full of brownies, all with edges! I LOVE it! It’s new, so you’ll pay full price (about $35) — but remember the MMMmmmm.

Tags: Jan's Favorite Things

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