Last Minute Gift Ideas

>>  Saturday, December 22, 2012

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My husband's really good at giving gifts.

He's thoughtful, does tons of research on products, and always has a running list in his mind (yearlong!) of potential gifts he could give you.

In some ways, it's really, really nice to be married to someone like that. I've gotten some pretty incredible gifts in the past 11 years we've been married.

In other ways, however, it's really stressful! I don't think nearly as methodically as he does, and I'm a huge procrastinator on top of all that. As a result, I can't even come close to giving as good gifts as he does. He's lucky if he even gets a gift by Christmas. Sigh . .  yes, it's true. I'm really THAT bad sometimes . . .

So, I thought I'd share with you some of the gifts I've received over the years, maybe as inspiration for you as you go shopping on this last holiday weekend before Christmas. Some of these are a repeat from last year, but I've updated the list quite a bit. Not all of these gifts were from Bryan, but in many ways, he probably played some role most of these (he likes to buy me random things too, even when there's no special occasion).

Please enjoy the list, and I'm really sorry I didn't post this earlier!

ever the procastinator . . . some things just don't change.
Untitled Fun with The Modernist

For my birthday this past year (just a little over a month ago), Bryan got me the coolest combination of things: Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine at Home and a Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker.

You may have heard of the original Modernist Cuisine, a six volume, 2400 pages ($600!) set of books that explores modern cooking techniques. The book explores all sorts of different techniques, from water baths and homogenizers to centrifuges and liquid nitrogen.
This past year, they came out with a whittled down home version. Instead of requiring esoteric ingredients and strange lab equipment, you can pretty much execute most things in the Modernist Cuisine at Home if you have two major pieces: a sous vide machine and a pressure cooker. Since I already had the sous vide machine, Bryan got me a really nice pressure cooker with the book.

I've only tried the Kuhn Rikon a few times (posts coming soon!), but it works like a dream. I thought I was scared of pressure cookers, but this thing is so incredibly easy to use. I absolutely love this gift, and I can't wait to share with you some of the dishes I've been making from the Modernist Cuisine at Home. It's a great gift for any food enthusiast who loves experimenting.

An Insanely Good Basic Set of Pots & Pans
I've been using the same set of Ameriware pots and pans ever since 2001 when we first got married. Though they aren't bad, I've always been a little wary about heating non-stick cookware to really temperatures. Last Christmas Bryan got me this gorgeous set of All-Clad Copper Core pots & pans. This set is great because it has the durability and ease of cleaning that comes with stainless steel but the more sensitive heat conduction of copper. I've seen a tremendous difference in the quality of my cooking. Finally, I can carefully sear things, evenly heat things, and just have much better control over everything.

I've still kept my old set since it's still nice to have non-stick sometimes. By and large, however, I almost always reach for these first nowadays.

The Inner Kitchen Chemist

I got this present for my birthday last year from some good friends of mine. It's perfect for my inner chemist who likes to play around with powders, liquids, and vials!

This molecular gastronomy kit includes many of the basic ingredients needed to execute all kinds of  molecular gastronomy techniques. They also gave me the Alinea cookbook, written by none other than Grant Achatz, one of the leading masterminds of molecular gastronomy in the U.S.
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As you can see from the picture above, I've had tons of fun this past year having all sorts of fun with this kit. Check out this post, which summarizes the entire crazy project, as well as the individual posts on spherification, use of agar, foam, and sous vide.


Playing with Sous Vide


If you want to experiment with a cooking technique used by many high-end restaurants around the world, try the art of sous vide cooking, which involves cooking foods at very precise temperatures (in a water bath). For the adventurous, try cooking out of Thomas Keller's food dedicated to sous vide cooking, Under Pressure. For a more basic book that's chock full of really useful information, try Douglas Baldwin's Sous Vide for the Home Cook.

If you're going to get a sous vide machine, you really need a vacuum sealer as well. I got this Foodsaver vacuum sealer from friends a couple years ago at it works fine. It doesn't take up too much room on the counter (compared to older, non-standing models) and it functions pretty well. I sort of wish it didn't use up so much plastic in the process (the outer wrapper requires a huge "buffer" on each side of the food in order to seal). Perhaps some of the newer models are able to seal without using so much plastic each time.

Savor Beautiful Food Photography + Recipes


Speaking of books by amazing 3-star Michelin chefs, another great gift idea might be the new, gorgeous book by Daniel Humm about dishes from his newly minted 3-star Michelin restaurant, Eleven Madison Park. I got to try many of these dishes at a special "cookbook tour" dinner cooked by Daniel Humm himself (at Boston at Menton, of all places!). I haven't tried cooking out of the book, but I can attest to the fact that it's gorgeous and the food we had on the cookbook tour tasted incredible.


Jura-Capresso Impressa F9 Fully Automatic Coffee and Espresso Center
We absolutely love our espressos and cappuccinos. We drink them every single day. This trooper of a machine has served us faithfully for the last two years. It is Swiss built and super reliable. We love that it's completely automatic (everything from grinding, tapping, removing the grounds) and you can choose whatever type of beans you want to put inside. No K-cups in landfills! 

This machine is quite expensive, but we've definitely gotten our money's worth and we absolutely love it. The espressos that it makes have excellent crema.  The cappuccinos are solid as well. I would highly recommend it or perhaps one of the newer models since we've had our for so long!



 The Blendtec 1560 watt blender is one of the newest toys I've gotten this past year (thanks Bryan!). Many people have a hard time deciding between the Vitamix and the Blendtec. Frankly, both are excellent machines and will perform beautifully. From the multiple reviews I've read, the difference comes down to height (Blendtec fits under a kitchen counter whereas Vitamix does not); controls (Vitamix is more manual while Blendtec is more computerized); and noise (Blendtec is louder than Vitamix). There are other differences that people debate about such as power, ease of cleaning, tamper, and how "smooth" the shake is.

We chose the Blendtec mostly for counterspace reasons and the fact that you could turn it on and walk away. So far, I've had tons of fun with it - everything from making my own soy milk at home to whipping up gorgeous, restaurant-quality velvety smooth blended soups. Although it is a loud, the blending is only for a short amount of time, and the results are so worth it!

Zojirushi Fuzzy Rice Cooker
I have an older model of this rice cooker and I love it! It makes perfect rice every time. I also like how it has settings for different kinds rice, and you can set different types of timer options. Seriously, after having tried one of these rice cookers, it's hard to go back to a normal one. :)

Lello 4090 Gelato Pro Quart Ice Cream Maker
Bryan got this for me as a birthday present one year and I absolutely love it. It has its own condenser so you don't have to bother with taking up precious freezer space for a huge dewar. Best yet, you can make ice cream on a whim just by turning it on. It makes luxuriously beautiful ice cream. You can check out some of the more unique ice creams I've made on this blog, such as avocado, olive oil, black sesame, simple lemon, and grape nut.

Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron French Oven
I can't believe it took me this long to appreciate how awesome cast-iron Dutch ovens are! I finally bought my first Le Creuset piece the summer of 2010 at an outlet store. I am still amazed at how evenly it heats everything and how well it retains heat. Seriously, it has made stir frying a breeze. I love the versatility of this pot. Yes, it's heavy and a pain to lift up, but it's totally worth it for the performance. It has become one of my default pots of choice whenever I want to stir-fry! Perhaps I'll look into a cast iron wok next!

Zester
New generation zesters (inspired by the original Microplane zester) are surprisingly useful for so many things! I love the Oxo zester (pictured at left) because it "cuts" in both directions.  Of course I love my original Microplane zester as well, which works like a charm. I use them to zest my lemons,   create gorgeously fluffy Parmesan cheese shavings over pasta, and make chocolate shavings! It's quite sharp, so be careful!

Shun Classic 7-Inch Santoku Hollow Ground Knife
For the longest time, this was my favorite knife. Bryan gave this to me one Christmas.  It far surpassed all the cheaper Tramontina knives I had in my starter set. I still swear by Japanese knives (I think they are among the best in the world), though I recently purchased some Masamoto Tsukiji knives (hard to get outside of Japan, though do check out Korin), which are nothing short of amazing. For a knife that is easily purchasable in the U.S., I still think this is a fantastic option. It's great for someone like me who has slightly smaller hands.

Bryan recently bought himself a pretty snazzy point & shoot camera. I have to say, I'm really, really impressed with this little Sony camera. It's small enough to fit inside his pocket, yet takes quite impressive food photos in pretty dark lighting. This is definitely Bryan's travel camera of choice for his business trips, and he takes it with him everywhere he travels. To see food pics taken by this camera, check out this post.


Panasonic Lumix GF1

A birthday gift from Bryan in 2009 (soon after Tiny Urban Kitchen was christened), this is my carry-with-me-everywhere camera. It is small enough to put inside my purse and it's really light. I love the f/1.7 aperture, which allows me to shoot really nice pictures in extremely low light conditions (typically inside restaurants). It is seriously the ultimate food blogger's camera.  Click here to read more detailed thoughts about it.

Also consider getting the new generation Lumix GX1, either just the body or with a 14-42mm lens.


(2012 - present) Canon 5D MKIII 
When I know I'm going to a special event, or if I know I'll be in a very challenging light situation, I will bring this camera along. I swear, it can almost take pictures in the dark. We bring it along with us on all of our trips, and it's really versatile. It's biggest (and only) drawback is that it's HUGE. It's still worth it, though, This is an amazing camera that really takes seriously good photographs. 

(2009-2012) Canon 5D MK II

The Mark II was the camera I used from 2009-2012. It is still an excellent camera and performs gorgeously in low light situations (as well as many other situations). Click here to read more detailed thoughts about it

24-105 mm f/4 lens
Another present from Bryan, this is my favorite all-time lens as its zoom range is versatile. Although this lens doesn't quite have as low light capabilities, it has a wonderfully versatile zoom range and can still handle reasonably low light due to the fact that it has stability control. It is my favorite travel camera.

Bryan's favorite travel lens is the Canon 24mm f/1.4 wide angle lens. It takes wonderful sweeping shots of landscapes and cityscapes, and performs beautifully in low light conditions.


After raw files leave my camera (yes, I don't advise shooting in jpg! Please shoot in raw if possible!), I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 to catalog and work up my images. I absolutely love Lightroom because it makes photo processing so much easier! There are little sliders on the right side which allow you to fine tune parameters such as exposure, color, and clarity. Finally, there are all these plug-ins you can get that allow you to automatically upload to Flickr or post to your favorite blogging software all in one step. Definitely a time saver!

That's it, for now . . .
I could go on and on and on, but I'll stop here. Hope I gave you some inspiration for possible gifts, either for someone else or even for yourself!

If you'd like to support Tiny Urban Kitchen through your shopping, feel free to search for amazon.com items through the link on the left sidebar of the blog, or click here to get to Amazon.

Have a great final weekend of holiday shopping!

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you can contact me at: jen[at]tinyurbankitchen[dot]com
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