I did one of these Christmas gift lists last year, and I had fun doing it, so why not give it another go. Don’t be surprised if you spot items that seem vaguely similar to things from the 2010 list.
Larousse Gastronomique: I’ve been meaning to get a copy of this for years. Not a cheap book (about $110, last I checked), but it’s a culinary bible for cooks and foodies alike. I leafed through a copy at a Chapters in Edmonton, and I’ve decided to buy myself a copy. Why? Because it’s absolutely exhaustive. Recipes, technique, definitions, context. Amazing.
Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking: This classic two-volume set is still going strong, and I’m sure the whole Julie and Julia thing hasn’t hurt sales. The set retails for around $110 in Canada, but you can get it for much less on the interwebs.
Peter Mayle: If you’re looking for something lighter, sans recipes, one of Peter Mayle’s books might be worth considering. You’d might as well start with A Year in Provence, which tells of Mayle’s time spent moving into a new home in France, eating the food and getting to know the quirky locals. Food and wine are in abundance.
Ricardo cookbook: I had the pleasure of chatting with Canadian celebrity chef Ricardo Larrivee in the fall as part of my job at the Calgary Herald. He was charming, full of energy and brimming with foodie enthusiasm. I picked up a copy of his 2009 cookbook, Meals for Every Occasion, and was impressed by the range of recipes and the beautiful photography. His cookbooks are available in both English and French, so as long as your loved one measures in either teaspoons or cuillères à thé, you’re covered.
Lucky Peach subscription: The literate hipsters at McSweeney’s recently launched a new food magazine with the folks at Momofuku. I tracked down the first issue at a Calgary bookshop, and I was delighted by its obsessive focus mixed with eccentric charm. It’s got a fresh, youthful take on food that makes it unique. The first issue tackles ramen, and the second issue’s theme is “The Sweet Spot.” For the well-educated, well-read food nerd on your list, you couldn’t hope for better.
Le Creuset mug: Kitchen nerds – myself included – swoon over the classic cooking gear made by Le Creuset. Yet, to be frank, how many of us can afford to drop a few hundred dollars on a single pot? Not me, certainly. And so, I present to you the cookware equivalent of the Ferrari key chain: a stoneware Le Creuset mug that looks like it belongs to the line, but will set you back less than $20. Nice.
Kitchen scale: There was a story in the Globe about kitchen scales earlier this week, and for good reason. I have a digital kitchen scale, and it’s one of the most handy gadgets I own. Hardcore bakers weigh ingredients, and coffee nerds (ooo! me!) know that weighing beans can help maintain precise results with every cup brewed. Dividing dough into two loaves? Weigh it. Grating a very specific quantity of cheese? Weigh it. Dividing pepperoni pieces between two pizzas? Weigh it. Also super handy if you’re looking to get into portion control and calorie-counting.
Cooking/recipe software: I’ve been meaning to get myself something like this for years, but I think I’m finally going to take the plunge in the new year. For the Mac, I’m leaning towards MacGourmet Deluxe. (Expect a review sometime later in 2012 once I buy it and give it a try.) Weigh the features for a software package carefully, and consider the difference between the nifty things you’ll use regularly and the flashy, gimmicky things you won’t use more than once or twice. Personally, I care about nutritional calculations, but I don’t have much use for fancy templates for printing recipes; I’m sure other people have the opposite needs.
Imported curiosities: A regular chocolate bar is sort of a no-go at Christmas, as it seems too, you know, run of the mill, like you did your Christmas shopping at the gas station. If you’ve got a friend with a sweet tooth, look for something curious and unique at a specialty import shop — in Calgary, try British Pantry, an amply-stocked shop carrying all tasty things British. On my last visit, a box of violet cream chocolates stood out. The box describes them as dark chocolate with natural violet flavour fondant cream centres. The taste? Sublime, with a sweet, creamy, floral centre and a nice dark chocolate coating. Well worth the $6.99 for a 90 gram box. (Remember: You’re not looking for the cheapest thing on the shelf, but something that your friend will find both curious and delicious.)
Home baked goodies: What better way to say Merry Christmas than with homemade goodies for your friends? I’ve been known to make a traditional Yugoslav walnut bread from a secret family recipe and give pieces of it to my friends. Sometimes, simple is best. Other times – as with my walnut bread – the sheer amount of effort required makes it a labour of love. It takes me eight hours to make two loaves, so it’s sort of like giving the gift of time. Sweet, delicious, lip-smacking time.