Now that the holiday season is upon us, it's time to shop for new fun things to give as gifts (or potentially keep for yourself). Just in case anyone is shopping for the foodie in their life this weekend, we have a few recommendations for kitchen and other gadgets that we love to use. Some are expensive, some are cheap. Most are in-between. We wanted to give you a good mix. We'll also provide other "Favorite Things" posts focusing on cookbooks, foodie books, etc., between now and Christmas, so if you don't find anything here that you like, don't despair. Other lists will follow.
Also, most of these things can be found locally at Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, Bed Bath & Beyond, and some even at Target and WalMart. We've also inserted online shopping links in case your appetite for braving crowds of holiday shoppers isn't as strong as it used to be. So, enjoy, and use these things to become a bit more of an adventurous foodie in time for the holidays.
Good shatterproof plastic wine glasses: These are super handy for the pool, the lake, the beach, or for when you're traveling and are not 100% sure you'll have good wine glasses where you end up. They come in stemmed or stemless, and fit great in luggage or a pool bag!
Corkcicle Thermos: So, we found a couple of these while on vacation last year. Sure they work great for coffee or hot cider. Whatever. We use ours for keeping Rose wine cold when at the beach or pool. Works great. Fits exactly 1 750ml bottle of wine. Perfect for those little weekend excursions where you just want nice crisp white or Rose wine.
An immersion circulator: As we've mentioned on these pages, we're huge fans of sous-vide food. It gives you juicy, wonderful food every time. It's the only way we like chicken and pork. And it's perfect for Turducken! To make food sous-vide, you have to have one of these bad boys. Easy to use. Super versatile. And lasts a long time. Precision cooking at its best.
Nonstick Paella pan: If you've ever made paella, you know that after you get to enjoy the delicious crispy rice "crust" that lines the bottom of the pan (technically called socarrat), you get to soak and scrub the pan forever to get rid of the crispy rice remnants. Then you have to season it, lest the pan rust. Frankly, it's a real pain in the butt. Enter the magical non-stick paella pan! It'll change your world! Or, at least your paella.
Porcelain-coated dutch oven: When you're in the mood to roast a whole chicken (see Dorie Greenspan's "Around my French Table" for a great Armagnac Chicken recipe) or make cassoulet, you really need a porcelain-coated dutch oven. They heat evenly, last forever, and are non-stick. And, they just look good. You can opt for a Le Creuset if you want (we have their goose pot, so we're not hating), but with this size, we actually prefer the Lodge. It really offers the same performance, but for a fraction of the price.
Vitamix Blender: We were skeptical of these when they first came out. It just seemed like one of those "Ronco" specials--it slices, it dices, it can even wash your car. Well, we were wrong. A Vitamix is the best blender we've ever owned. Hand's down. We use it to make ice cream when we're in a big hurry, and also use it to make the most delicious, smooth, sweet potato and apple soup you've ever tasted. There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to Vitamix models, and you can find one for as little as $350. We'd encourage you to get one with a dial so you can easily control the blade speed. While they're expensive, in the words of Ferris Bueller "It's so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."
Coravin: Okay, so this one may not be that helpful unless you are into high-end wine (who isn't though, right?). But, if you are, it allows you to try well-aged wines without having to drink the entire bottle. Wonder how that magnum of 1961 Chateau Lafite is faring? Well, now you can know for sure, since the Coravin's surgical-steel needle and argon gas canister will re-seal your bottle and make sure no oxygen gets in to ruin what nature has been working on for decades. Definitely a helpful toy for the wine lover in your family.
VacuVin: Sometimes, you find that you can't quite finish your entire bottle of wine. Or, you're working on bottle number 2 (or 3, or 4) and it isn't "advisable" to finish it. What do you do? Well, if you pop the cork back in, you're just leaving your delicious, expensive wine exposed to oxygen, which will make it fade overnight, and will eventually turn it into vinegar. Who wants that? Not this guy. That's why we use VacuVin. While it isn't a commercial-grade vacuum pump, it does an admirable job of getting most air out of a partially-drunk bottle of wine. It won't keep your wine fresh for a week, but it will help a lot overnight. And it's a pretty small investment for a big increase in next-day quality.
Pizzacraft Outdoor Pizza Oven: When you want a great pizza at home, but don't necessarily want to spend thousands of dollars and weeks of contractor time to install an outdoor pizza oven, what are you supposed to do? Get a Pizzacraft pizza oven, that's what. It has a baking stone installed inside, and thanks to a powerful propane heater, the interior temperature (and therefore the pizza stone) can get to between 700 and 800 degrees. Instant pizza success when that happens. You can pop out a great hand-tossed pizza in as little as 4-5 minutes. It's been a great investment in our house.
Commercial veggie chopper: We picked one of these up from our local restaurant supply store a while back. It's absolutely fantastic. Sure, if you need to chop one onion, do it the old fashioned way. But if you need to chop 15 of them, one of these can come in really handy. It's been a great investment for us.
Ring molds: These make refined plating a snap. And, because they come in multiple sizes, they're handy to keep around the kitchen. Use them for plating tartare, to cut a perfectly-round egg, or to create uniform crostinis.
An "Ah-so" two-pronged wine cork puller: You may not need this wine opener very often, but when you have an older, expensive bottle of wine that you just can't wait to drink, and the cork breaks or gets stuck using a regular wine opener, an "Ah-so" is your best bet. Why is it called an "Ah-so?" Well, evidently, when someone once saw it being used, he exclaimed "Ah . . . so that's what that thing is." And the name stuck. Super handy for older bottles of wine, or for port (where the alcohol weakens the cork over time).
A molecular gastronomy kit: Sure, you may not use this every day. And you may ask "why would I ever use this?" Well, there are some fun things you can do when you utilize ingredients in this kit, and it can help you elevate your food to high-end restaurant quality. You can say hello to foams, spherified balsamic vinegar, and other molecular goodies you wouldn't normally see this side of a Michelin-starred restaurant. And frankly, it's just fun to play with sometimes. It may be one of the ultimate foodie "gadgets."