A Tallgrass Kitchen Gift Guide 2011

The holidays are coming, the goose is getting fat, chestnuts are roasting and all that. Although I prefer to keep gift giving low-key, finding the perfect gift for your loved ones can be a fun and fulfilling part of the season.

Here are a few delicious little items (many kitchen-related, some plain fun) that may be just right for someone nice on your list (although don’t exclude the naughties, as they make some of the most interesting friends and deserve a gift too.) Some of these I own and adore, others I’m coveting.

These are all divine gifts, however, remember that something homemade is often cherished the most. A batch of cookies, a knitted scarf, or a few jars of preserves would be welcomed by anyone. And if not homemade, shopping local businesses and farmer’s markets can yield unique offerings and support your local economy.

For the novice (but eager) cook:

Victorinox Fibrox knives: These are good, inexpensive knives that will give your cub chef a nice sharp edge without the hefty pricetag. America’s Test Kitchen consistently gives these knives a top rating, and uses the 8 inch chef’s knife in their test kitchens.
Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys, by David Tanis: the former chef of Chez Panisse created a cookbook that inspires anyone to relax and relish their time in the kitchen. Simple and more challenging recipes and menus, striking photography, and engaging writing.

A microplane and bench scraper: two tools that will make anyone feel like a pro. You can use the microplane to zest citrus, shave chocolate, nutmeg — whatever you need grated into tiny bits, this is the tool. And a bench scraper is a cook’s utility player: it can cut biscuits, scrape up dough, transfer chopped items into your pot, or neatly cut brownies.
Icemilk Aprons: swoon and yearn — I’m adding the ‘rollings of cinnamon’ style to my wishlist. These are as pretty as an evening gown. Every gal should feel this lovely when they’re picking a chicken.

For the natural cook:

I love these ‘unpaper towels‘ from Athenacreates.
Super Natural Every Day is a beautiful cookbook by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. It is filled with nourishing stews and stirfries, gorgeous salads, and wholesome snacks and desserts.
For those cooks who also garden, these gloves are amazing. I typically hate wearing gloves, but these feel very natural, are inexpensive, and come in a panapoly of fun colors.
Seed Saver’s Exchange is an organization committed to preserving heirloom seeds. It has an exciting array of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and has lots of interesting information on their blog and in their publications. Buy your favorite gardener a membership, which gets them the quarterly magazine, 10% off products, and lets them support an organization that works hard to keep a genetically diverse food supply intact.

For the true foodie:

A Le Creuset dutch oven (the largest you can afford to give) is a spendy, but heirloom-quality gift. These pots are enameled cast iron, distribute heat beautifully, and come in a parade of sublime colors. I use my 9 1/2 quart oval dutch oven to roast chickens, make jam, and cook hearty stews.
June Taylor fruit conserves, butters, and syrups are a gourmet’s delight. Innovative fruit combinations, no pectin, and low sugar, these are the real deal. I’d love some in my stocking.
High-quality, freshly ground spices can make a delicious difference in the outcome of a dish. While it’s hard to go back to grocery store spices after trying some of these, your curries will thank you. Try the Spice House, Penzey’s, or Juliet Mae.


Some of my favorite cookbooks of late 2010/2011:

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, by Jeni Britton Bauer

The New York Times Essential Cookbook, by Amanda Hesser

Homemade Soda, by Andrew Schoss (pair this with a soda siphon)

Some tasty treats:

Gail Ambrosius is a local Madison chocolatier who knows her stuff. These chocolates truly are ambrosial. I especially love the fruit puree filled chocolates and her caramels.

Fermented pickled products are delicious, and good for you–supplying your body with beneficial bacteria. If you’re in New England, try Real Pickles. If you’re local to Madison or anywhere else, try Power Kraut.

Create your own custom vanilla extract and vanilla sugar using different types of vanilla beans.

Beans, beans beans! I would absolutely LOVE this! A year of beans from the esteemed Rancho Gordo, purveyor of heirloom beans. (if you can’t afford a whole year, a few pounds will do.)

Cuteness (not culinary, but still lovely):

Nothing says cozy like a hot water bottle, especially with a soft cashmere cover.
If you’re crafty, you might still have time to pull off these cheerful coasters.
I can totally see sipping an ice cold shandy out of these next summer.
This little guy makes me smile.
Any mamas or little ones in your life would appreciate a gift from Lusa Organics. We use the calendula soap, booty balm, and wipe juice for our babies. There are also lots of great oils and sugar scrubs for  stockings.

Wishing you a magical holiday season and a beautiful new year!