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Shameless Commerce

November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving dinner isn’t even fully digested yet, and we’ve already moved onto Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, Festivus, and surely other winter solstice holidays whose names I do not know. But really, regardless of what you celebrate, it’s the Christmas season. It is. And really, I’m okay with that.

Christmas won. Now we have Chanukah bushes, dreidel shaped Christmas lights, and presents (a late 19th century change, which in terms of Jewish history is still quite recent).

I think one year, quite by accident, I found myself in a Walmart during Black Friday. We needed diapers. It sounded like the bulk of the excitement happened in the wee morning hours. All I know is that I love my family, and I see no reason to prove this emotional bond with material objects. The depth of my pockets can’t compare to the depth of my feelings.

Personally, I think presents are best when they are unexpected, but I know I hold the minority opinion on this. For many of you today will start a shopping frenzy that will last for weeks. So, as long as you are considering things to buy for your friends and loved ones, I humbly submit a few ideas. What follows are some Fussy approved gifts for the food and wine lover in your life.

What separates this list from all others is that these items are all low in price but high on utility.

1) Lodge 10.25″ cast-iron skillet – $15
Not only will this piece of cookware last longer than a lifetime (with proper care and maintenance) but it will get better every time it’s used. This smaller size model is heavy, but not prohibitively so. Once it is deeply seasoned, you will not believe how well it cooks eggs. For more, check out this post on cast iron cookware.

2) Chinoise strainer – $20
Mrs. Fussy and I got one of these for a wedding gift. Our friend attached the greatest note ever. It went something like this, “I hope you think of me fondly when straining your delicious dinners.” And more than ten years later, we still do. In all seriousness, I use mine mostly for stock. But a fine mesh strainer is an invaluable tool for the home cook, and this one is a great value.

3) Oven thermometer – $13
If you like to cook and don’t have an oven thermometer, you really aren’t cooking. Ovens vary in temperature. Oven thermostats are notoriously fickle. Getting your oven temperature right will make you a better cook immediately. You can read more about my love of oven thermometers and why they are important here.

4) Digital tip-sensitive thermometer – $17
Some people are concerned with food safety. The only way to tell if meat is cooked all the way through is to take its temperature. Color, time and texture are all poor indicators of doneness. If you care about making sure people don’t get sick from eating your food, you need one of these. Me? I don’t care that much. Eat my food at your own risk. But it’s easy to be cavalier with good medical insurance.

5) Champagne flutes – $18
You know what comes after Christmas, New Year’s Eve. And sure, you could drink Champagne or some other sparkling wine out of any workaday fluted glass. But it’s nicer to have at least a pair of good glasses for special occasions. These are quite lovely, and in a pinch could even serve as white wine glasses.

6) Champagne stopper – $5
The saddest conversation I ever overheard was in line at a wine store, when a couple decided they would skip out on a bottle of Champagne for New Year’s Eve. Their reason was that they would never finish it and have to waste precious wine. Regardless of your personal capacity, sometimes there is sparkling wine left in the bottle. This clever device keeps the bubbles from dissipating, and makes sure the last glass is as vivacious as the first.

7) A real corkscrew – $15
Rabbits are for eating. All those comically large semi-mechanical brilliantly-engineered cork-removal devices are for punks with too much money. Maybe if you have to open a couple cases of wine in short order, I’ll allow you your toy. But a corkscrew is a tool, and everyone who enjoys wine should know how to use one. I fear it’s becoming a lost skill. And really, with a corkscrew like this one it’s not hard. I promise. Then you too can be a cork popping badass.

8) Angostura orange bitters – $12
There is no argument that this is a princely sum to pay for a bottle of Angostura bitters. But the orange version is notoriously hard to find, and likely this one bottle will last you for years. After all, you use it only a drop at a time. These orange bitters really capture the fruits brightness and higher-pitched aromatics making it very well suited for cocktails that involve citrus, gin or both.

9) Peychauds bitters – $10
Really all you need to know is that you cannot make a Sazerac without it. Bitters are really a pain in the neck to find in upstate New York. These have a shocking red color and a distinctive anise flavor. Ten ounces is a ghastly quantity to have on hand, but at least these are used judiciously in one of the greatest cocktails of all time. Still, a bottle will last anyone a long, long time.

10) Mixing spoon – $4 AND Julep strainer – $4
Everyone wants to get the cocktail enthusiast a shaker. You know, they are shiny ornamental objects that look striking on a shelf. But most of the great cocktails aren’t shaken dammit, they are stirred. Do you hear me? STIRRED! And for that you need a long spoon and a different kind of strainer. Show them that you understand, and never let your friends serve a frothy Manhattan or Martini ever again.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2011 11:49 am

    Nice list, Fussy. The Lodge suggestion reminded me that you can buy a Lodge cast iron dutch oven for a little under $30 or a Lodge combo cooker for a little over $30 both of which are shipped free since they are over $25. These are very useful in general but also a perfect steam cooker for baking bread. Print out and mail them the NY times Jim Leahey bread for no-knead bread (or just email them the link if you are a lazy ass) and you have an easy personalized gift.

  2. November 25, 2011 2:22 pm

    I have a Lodge skillet and a couple Griswolds. I prefer the smooth, machined surface of the Griswold, I don’t know if Lodge has a machined version… I could be wrong. For the novice cast iron user I think the Griswolds are a bit more user friendly. I do see how some people could be a bit squeamish about using a 50 year old skillet though…

    In any event, if you get real lucky you can find a Griswold lying around in a thrift store. If not, they are reasonable on ebay.

    • November 25, 2011 4:08 pm

      I second the Griswold. The pride and joy of my kitchen. The neatest kitchen goodie I got this year ~ wooden toaster tongs. $2.

  3. RealFoodMom permalink
    November 25, 2011 4:45 pm

    In the U.S., people give Chanukah gifts. In other countries, Chanukah remains a lovely festival that does not involve gift giving. In Israel, there are sufganiyot (big jelly donuts) everywhere, Chanukkia lightings (the proper name of what is called here a “menorah” — which simply means “lamp),” parties, family meals, music, performances, dreidls, fun, etc, but gifts are just not a “thing.” It is still considered a minor holiday, and is celebrated by both the religious and secular. Toys R Us arrived in Israel a few years ago, and is trying to change that…..

    By the way, trendy Israeli bakers are getting creative and filling sufganiyot with all kinds of things in place of the tradition red sticky jam, with very successful results. Halvah-filled donuts, anyone? (They are yummy.)

  4. November 26, 2011 4:25 pm

    Wow – It’s like you opened up my head and read all my thoughts. I whole-heartedly agree with your comments on gift giving. I’d much rather receive “just because” presents over “mandatory” ones. This was cemented in my head and heart even more as I had to do a Target run for baby powder yesterday.

    I LOVE my Lodge items, and if I could, I would cook exclusively on cast iron. Also, I suppose I’m one of those punks with too much money, because I have the Houdini wine corker, and I do love it (though I’m still handy with a simple wine key).

  5. Weenie Girl permalink
    November 27, 2011 2:01 am

    My favorite wine tool is a simple corkscrew, not unlike the one you recommend. Hubby and I were having a romantic getaway on the south coast of England. It was evening when we arrived at the hotel and they upgraded us to the waterbed suite at no extra charge. We found ourselves without an opener for our wine so we strolled to the nearest liquor store. The wine didn’t take too long to finish. 15+ years later, the corkscrew is in the drawer.

    Also, I second Deanna’s sentiments on Lodge cast iron and RealFoodMom’s sentiments on Chanukah.

  6. ThinkAndDo permalink
    November 28, 2011 10:36 pm

    May I suggest contacting kegworks.com for all of your bitters needs? Not only do they have Peychauds, they also carry Fee Brothers Orange Bitters (which I personally prefer) and Bittermens’ Xocolatl Mole Bitters.

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