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Archive for Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mix it up with gifts for the kitchen-savvy on your list

November 30, 2005

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The scenes of holiday shopping mayhem on the TV news, which showed frantic consumers trampling and pummeling each other for the privilege of spending money Friday morning, almost persuaded me to tear up my list for Santa. But not quite.

I noted that these greedy and ill-behaved shoppers were not headed for the kitchen department, where civility and decorum reign supreme. You won't see foodies mugging each other for the chance to buy a Cuisinart.

With this reassurance that shopping for the cooks in our lives can still be a safe and tasteful experience, I offer a brief list of gift ideas, most of them reasonably priced. Although shopping in a store has its charms because you can see and touch a wide variety of merchandise, these gifts also can be found on the Internet.

This year's holiday cookbook recommendation is "The Silver Spoon" (Phaidon Press), the classic Italian cookbook that has just been translated into English. Hyped as the Italian version of "The Joy of Cooking," this book has been a standard of Italian cuisine for more than 50 years. It's a substantial volume, containing more than 2,000 recipes and 1,200 pages, but the price of the hardback edition is less than $30 at www.amazon.com.

American cooks will appreciate the comprehensive overview of basic Italian cooking and contributions of noted Italian chefs. Readers also will be intrigued by recipes for more exotic dishes that probably hold more theoretical than practical value. A review in Publisher's Weekly noted, "Almost all of the ingredients can be found in a typical supermarket, though more exotic dishes such as Eel with Savoy Cabbage, Woodcock with Truffle or Calf's Head Salad will require some planning."

In the kitchen utensil and equipment category, the suggestions this year are no-frills and straightforward. If you're looking for a substantial gift of several hundred dollars and your recipient does not yet have a good standing mixer, this may be the year to splurge on a KitchenAid. At some point, all cooks, but particularly those who bake, come to the realization that a good standing mixer is indispensable.

Shop around, because these mixers are frequently on sale in kitchen specialty shops and department stores. Compare those prices with what you see at www.kitchenaid.com, where orders of countertop appliances that cost more than $30 are being shipped for free right now.

During the Thanksgiving holiday, when I was trying to keep track of baking times, I was reminded how much easier my life in the kitchen would be if I had a really good digital timer. I've already dropped this hint in my household. I've pointed out a particularly nice digital timer, one that times three dishes simultaneously, that is available in the Chef's catalog (chefscatalog.com) for $29.95.

A welcome stocking stuffer for any cook might be an assortment of silicone utensils, which are durable and often colorful additions to the kitchen. Nonmetal utensils are a necessity when cooking on nonstick surfaces, but the silicone spatulas and other kitchen tools now on the market are flexible, heat-tolerant and well-suited for use on all pans and skillets.

And finally, a useful but nonessential gift idea: a scone pan. Scones are an easy baked good to prepare, and molded scones require a pan with wedge-shaped slots. One I have eyed for some time is Nordicware's Scottish scones, cornbread and polenta pan. It's made of cast-iron aluminum with a nonstick finish and is available at www.kitchenemporium.com for $24.99.

Best yet, if you give a scone pan, you're likely to get scones in return. The benefit of giving gifts for the kitchen, particularly when the recipient is your favorite cook, is that you inevitably reap the rewards.

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