What to Get Your Novice Foodie This Holiday Season

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Merry Christmas! (Watch your knuckles.) - USER "WIKIDEMO," WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
What to get the novice foodie(s) in your life this holiday season? Here are some gifts that I heartily recommend. These are invaluable tools, well worth the space they take up in my own kitchen because I use them so frequently. If you're shopping for someone who is looking to spend more time in the kitchen in the new year, they are great places to start.

Books


I finally got a copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking this year, and it's an invaluable resource, not just as a collection of recipes, but as an accessible guide to basic French cooking techniques. This is a great cookbook for someone who already has a little experience in the kitchen but wants to learn more advanced skills. Both volumes are widely available after this summer's release of Julie and Julia.

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman lives up to its name, and it's another example of a cookbook that pairs good recipes with instructional techniques. For the vegetarian foodie on your list, Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is a nod to the meat-free, full of just as much heft as the original. I just gave this as a gift to one of my favorite vegetarians last week, and she loved it.

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If you want something recent, there are several, new drool-worthy cookbooks. Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home, full of family-style recipes for the home cook, has to be at the top of the list. This is easily Keller's most accessible cookbook, and since I've never been fortunate enough to eat at one of his restaurants, I'm really looking forwards to recreating his dishes without spending two days doing so.

Gear


Some indispensable (and cheap!) tools in my kitchen are these Kuhn paring knives. They are affordable, come in bright colors, hold an edge and have almost unlimited function in the kitchen. In fact, you can buy a few to stash around your kitchen; I often find myself digging for mine for various small tasks. And now they have a serrated version, which I'm hoping to find in my stocking this year.

Once you start using a microplane, you'll wonder how you did without it. It's perfect for grating just about anything with little effort. Mine is constantly in use, zesting citrus or sprinkling Parmigiano-Reggiano over pasta, soup or salad. Just, uh, make sure to not use it on your knuckles, which I have done on more than one occasion. Shut up.

My husband's 95-year-old Sicilian grandmother bought me one of these Cuisinart Minipreps for my wedding shower almost five years ago, and it's been a workhorse for me in the kitchen ever since. If you're on a budget and can't afford a full-sized Cuisinart (like me), this will do handily for smaller jobs. I can't tell you how many batches of pesto and salsa I've zipped through mine, and unlike the cheapie full-sized food processor I got on sale at Target, the motor seems to handle anything I throw at it. Which is nice, since the smell of burning machinery usually ruins a dish for me.

Finally, after years of coveting one, I got an enameled cast-iron dutch oven. If I could only have one pot in my kitchen, this would be it, because it's sturdy and versatile, and it conducts heat evenly and consistently. I use it for every soup or stew I make as well as for browning meat, long braises and even baking that no-knead bread. These can be pricey, but they'll last a lifetime if cared for properly.

Food

The holidays are a great time to splurge on high-quality ingredients. Pick up some truffle salt and make what my friend Kelly calls "crack corn," popcorn so damn addictive that you'd swear it was a narcotic. It's an affordable way to get truffle flavor.

I love using vanilla beans, mostly because I (falsely) believe that little specks of bean mean I am getting the Best! Vanilla! Flavor! Ever! This is entirely due to Breyer's ice cream commercials in the 1990s. ANYWAY, whole beans are great because you can use them for things you can't use vanilla extract for, like making your own vanilla vodka or vanilla sugar. Or vanilla vodka. Get 'em in a glass tube at Penzey's.

For the coffee drinkers in your life, swap out their generic chain-roaster beans for an organic, locally-roasted and damn delicious brew from Goshen Coffee in Edwardsville. I'm partial to the Old School Tattoo Blend, but with a plethora of beans of all varieties, you can find what suits you best. While you're in Edwardsville, you might as well stop and get some baked goodness from 222 Artisan Bakery while you're at it.

Readers, what's on you gift list -- or wish list -- for the foodie in your life?

Kelli Best-Oliver is on a quest to become a full-fledged foodie. She chronicles her adventures every Tuesday. She writes about any damn thing she pleases at South City Confidential.

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