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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
(2012 – present) Canon 5D MKIII
(2009-2012) Canon 5D MK II
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!
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Have a great final weekend of holiday shopping!
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