Stories from middle America

Continuing everyone’s favorite holiday reading tradition, gift guides, we’ve picked out some great ideas for your kitchen. It seems like (at least to me) that the kitchen is never complete. There’s always another sauté pan, or knife, or appliance that would make my job easier and more fun. Here are some picks that will hopefully make you get back into your kitchen, or just enjoy it more.

2012 cookbooks

[click twice (yeah, I know) to embiggen]

As always, there are several great cookbooks for chefs at every level, from bakers to molecular gastronomists. The Family Meal from Ferran Adria [Amazon, $19.77] brings the celebrated chef’s insane recipes down to a more normal, home-friendly level. Penguin Classics has put together some of the best food writing with their trademark of beautiful covers to create The Great Food Box Set [Penguin UK, £140], with writing from MFK Fisher, Calvin Trillin and others. Flour Water Salt Yeast, from Ken Forkish [Amazon, $19.98], is obviously for the baking types. Keeping it as simple as the title says, it’s for every level of baker. The amazing photography and delicious recipes of the blog The Smitten Kitchen finally are in print with The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook from Deb Perelman [Amazon, $19.75]. And finally, for more of the the coffee table-type, Edible Selby, by Todd Selby [Amazon, $21.88], collects photography from some of the most famous chefs and restaurants in the world, along with recipes from each.

A lot of us bake more during this time of year, and cookies are a big part of that. Grab this scoop from OXO to speed up your process, and get the same size cookie every time, making all your cookies cook at the same rate. [Amazon, $13.99].

One of the first things I learned about baking tools is the indispensability of the offset spatula. It can lift cookies from a tray, loosen a cake or pie from its dish, and apply icing better than anything else. If you bake at all, you must have one of these. [Wilton 9″ Angled Spatula, Amazon, $5.76]

For those of you keeping a garden (in the warmer months), a kitchen composter is a simple way to boost the quality and output of your plants. This way, you’re creating less waste, and improving your vegetables in the process. [Norpro 1 Gallon Stainless Steel Compost Keeper, Amazon, $26.99] 

artifact bag co. apron

I always just thought aprons were for keeping you clean in the kitchen. While true, a more important function is to keep you safe from spills, be it soup, oil, or anything that could scald those areas of your body that are slightly more sensitive than others. This apron from the Artifact Bag Co. is handcrafted from 12 oz Cone selvage denim right here in Omaha, and would make a great gift for any aspiring chef or baker. [No. 375 Craftsman Apron in Denim & Saddle Leather, Artifact Bag Co., $145]

johnny's seeds gift certificate

Your kitchen wouldn’t be anything without ingredients, and a great way to start with that is a gift certificate from Johnny’s Selected Seeds (or Seed Savers Exchange, just to name a couple). This way your recipient can pick out whatever vegetable and fruit seeds to grow that works for his or her region. It takes a little more work in the long run, but nothing beats fresh ingredients.

La Quercia Prosciutto Americano

For those who love meat, there’s prosciutto, and then there’s La Quercia’s Prosciutto Americano. La Quercia is based in Iowa, and regarded as one of the best, if not the best, cured meat distributors in the country. All of their pigs are humanely raised, antibiotic-free, with all farms located within two hundred miles of La Quercia. Read more about them here. Their products can be found all over the country using their locator.

Templeton Rye

One thing that makes cooking and baking (and a lot of things) more enjoyable is a cocktail; within limits, naturally. Artisan and specialty distilleries are popping up everywhere, and of course plenty have been around forever and are now getting the attention they deserve. Bourbon is a favorite here in our house, and Templeton Rye is quickly emerging as the front-runner. Made in Templeton, Iowa, this favorite of Al Capone was restarted in 2006. It’s taken on a kind of legendary status around this part of the country, as it’s only sold in Iowa and Illinois, with additional locations selling it in San Francisco and New York. If you like bourbon, or rye in the least, all it takes is one taste of this and you’ll be convinced. So if you can get your hands on a bottle, and know someone who loves a quality drink, this is for them.

Over the summer, Jessica and I had the pleasure of dining at Bottega Louie in Los Angeles. While the food, service and atmosphere were all outstanding, what I was really there for was the macarons. With a wide variety of flavors including Earl Grey, espresso, and salted caramel, I’d been dreaming of those beautiful cookies ever since I had heard of the restaurant. Luckily for me, they now take online orders for all their desserts, not just the macarons (and started on my birthday, no less!). I won’t kid you–there is really nothing affordable or practical about a gift like this. But sometimes you just have to go a little crazy, and how else will you find out how to properly make them? If you need my address just let me know.

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