Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Gift Guide: Last-minute ideas

I have a few more items you might want to toss in your last-minute or after-Christmas shopping bags.

Lekue microwave popcorn maker

I wrote about this back in April and I have to say that I continue to use this to make popcorn, whenever the popcorn urge hits. It makes good popcorn, I can add oil or not, and if I want butter flavor, I can add butter as well. And salt. And then it goes in the microwave and in about 3 minutes I have popcorn.

I had been fooling around trying to get the perfect stovetop popcorn and it worked well enough - but this is easier and so much more consistent. On the stove, you have to adjust heat, you have to shake the pot, you have to vent the pot, you have to make sure you don't accidentally lift the lid and have popcorn flying all over. And then you add butter and salt last. Kinda troublesome, really, for a snack.

If you like popcorn, this thing works.

Food Charms

This JUST arrived, and I thought I'd grab a photo and link it up if you know someone who would like a little food charm. Or buy two and use them for earrings. Or string it on a chain and use it as a necklace. They're cute and not expensive.

I'll have a giveaway of one of these later, so stay tuned.

Jokari bag holder

I was reaching for this when I needed to fill a plastic bag with cookie dough, and I thought, gee, I should include that in a last-minute roundup. I wrote about it here.

OXO cold brew coffee maker

I freaking love this thing. I wrote about it here.


Here's another item that I use all the time. You need one. Trust me. I wrote about it here.

And that's it for now, folks! Have a great holiday!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Gift Guide: For the Cooks

Do you know someone who likes to cook? Maybe you? Here are a few items that might be interesting!

Raw Spice Bar

There are a bazillion different food subscription things these days, and I've never been super-tempted by any of them. Yeah, there are some interesting things, but then I look at the box and I think, gee, I have that gadget, and I can buy that condiment in the grocery store.

Raw Spice Bar is different. You get spices. And recipes. The monthly deliveries are themed, so one month it might be Jamaican and the next might be Memphis. The packages are large enough so you can make the recipes included, or you have enough to mess around with the spices on your own - but there's not so much that you'll be accumulating spice jars all over the house. And if you don't get around to using a spice or two, the packets are easy to store, too. Lots of fun for adventurous cooks!

Tender Belly Products

Bacon subscription? Ham deliveries? Tender Belly has you covered. Or you can just order a single product as a gift. These folks sell to high-end restaurants, so you know it's good stuff. Mmmm. Bacon.

Master Cook Software

Somewhere in a box I have floppy disks with an early version of MasterCook. Fortunately, I don't have to figure out how to load those on a computer, since MasterCook has been updating and evolving to match the times.

Now you can grab recipes from websites to save to your computer as well as input your own favorite recipes. There are also quite a number of cookbooks included, so you can start using the software right away.

There is a shopping list feature, tips, lots of ways to search, and you can get nutritional information for recipes as well.

I'm planning on inputting all of Cookistry's recipes as an experiment. I'll keep you posted on how I like that, but for now I have to say that it's a pretty useful bit of software.

VonChef Turbo Cooker

If you've been looking at all the different air fryers available, you might want to add this one to your list of things to check out. Of all the air fryers I've tested, this one has the largest capacity, and it also has a few extra features, like the ability to work as a rotisserie. You couldn't put a turkey in it, but I trussed up a chicken and cooked it with no problem.

There's a basket that rotates, so you put your fries (or whatever, but everyone starts with fries) in the basket and it rotates slowly to tumble and mix whatever's cooking. There's also a rack included, so you can cook in the bottom of the unit (and it's pretty big, once the rotisserie/basket thing is removed. I haven't tried that yet, but will be back to report on full results when I've finished all the tests.

Bormioli Rocco Jars

Jars might seem like an odd gift, but Bormioli Rocco has a pretty wide range of bottles, jars, and other glassware that a cook might like for storage or serving.

Or, you know, buy a bunch of jars and fill them with tasty things to give to people who cook. The little jars are nice for home made spice mixes, and the larger jars would be lovely for your home made liqueur or eggnog.

Anolon 10-inch covered French Skillet

I've had this skillet for quite a while ... I think we're coming up on its two-year anniversary, and it is the most-used bit of cookware in my kitchen. It lives on the stove because I use it every day. While some folks say that you should have one non-stick pan and use it just for eggs, I've used this for everything from eggs to searing steaks and scallops. Making sauces. Heating tortillas. Just last week I used it in the oven. And while it looks a little more beat up, it's still going strong.

I've had other nonstick pans that have lost their non-stickiness over time, but this one is just as good as when it was new, despite constant use.

If this one seems too large or too small (it's 10 inches) for the cook in your life, there are other pans to choose from in this line. And a few other designs with the same sort of nonstick coating. This one happens to be my personal favorite, though. Juuuuust right.

Eat Your Books

If your favorite cook happens to have a lot of cookbooks, then a subscription to Eat Your Books might be the best thing ever. Once you tell it what books you own (and you can do this by scanning ISBN numbers, which is pretty quick) you have an index of the recipes in those books.

So, if I search for ganache, I see that I have 71 recipes in the cookbooks I've entered so far. I have 234 possible recipes that use tuna, and only 14 that have partridge. Fortunately, I don't have any partridge I need to cook.

Eat Your Books doesn't include full recipes, but it does list ingredients, not including pantry items like salt, pepper, oil, flour, etc. So you can peek at ingredients to see which recipes are viable before going to your cookbook shelf to look at the entire recipe.

This is a great gift for anyone who has more than a few cookbooks.


Cooking on salt blocks is a thing, and if you have an adventurous friend, they might want to have a salt block to cook on. I'd suggest supplementing this gift with one of the cookbooks that explain how to use the block, since it's not quite the same as pulling out a frying pan.

When the salt block is no longer useful for cooking - for example, if it breaks or wears too thin (it's salt, after all) you can break it up and use it as a seasoning.

It also makes a pretty display piece.

Microplane Products

I love pretty much every Microplane item I have, but the ones I use the most are the graters. If you know a cook who doesn't have a set of different Microplane graters, it's a terrific gift. And if they already have the basic graters, you can supplement with a star grater, nutmeg grater, or zester.

For someone who has a separate bar area, there's also a little bar tool that's quite handy. And there's a box grater ... and ... and ... lots of stuff!

Recipe, Chai, and Cocktail Dice

Recipe, chai, and cocktail dice are fun to use, and might help spark a little creativity in the kitchen. They might also be a fun family activity, rolling the dice, shopping for ingredients, and coming up with a creative recipe for dinner.

Drink and chai dice have fewer dice, but are still fun to play with. Recipe dice come with omnivore and vegetarian versions, so there's something for everyone.


A tagine is ... well ... it's basically a stovetop slow cooker that uses very little liquid. Or, you can cook in the oven, as well. Great for stews and for cooking tough meats. The tagines from Style Visa come in a number of different designs, so you can use them as display pieces or serving ware as well as a cooking vessel.

There are a large number of recipes available for tagine cooking, but once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy to adapt slow-cooker or braising recipes for tagine use - just use very low heat, and don't use a lot of extra liquid.

Kyocera Coffee Grinder

People who like food might also be particular about their coffee, yes? This coffee grinder from Kyocera is designed for grinding just enough coffee for one of those single-cup brewers. Or for brewing a single cup any other way you brew that amount.

The grinding mechanism is easy to use, and you can adjust the grind, depending on how you're going to use the coffee, from coarse to fine.

Gourmet Food Products

Yeah, we know that our friends who like to cook might not be thrilled if we gave them boxes of cake mix or generic canned goods. But they'd probably love a gift certificate to a spice shop or some interesting foods that they might not buy for themselves. A gift basket with a variety of small gadgets and food products is fun for sure. And if one item strikes out, there are always more things that they're going to love!

Tonnino Tuna

Sold in jars, this tuna isn't the stuff your grandma used for tuna casserole.

Hibiscus Pyramid Salt Flakes

Cooks love salt. This one is truly different.


Tessamae's makes all sorts of dressings and sauces.

Vega Coffee

Vega coffee cuts out middlemen and ships beans right from growers.

Not Ketchup

It's not ketchup. Really. A whole bunch of fun and fruity sauces.

New York Style snacks

Pita chips, crisps, and similar goods. Crunch! Yum!

Note: While I received some items at no cost to me for prior or future reviews, I am also featuring items that I purchased in this series of gift guides. I was not compensated to include items in the gift guides - these are all my choices.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Gift Guide: The Spendy Gifts

If you're looking for a gift that's a tad more expensive, I've got your list right here. They're not all mortgage-busters, but they're beyond stocking stuffers.

If you're a pizza guru, you know that a home oven isn't the ideal way to cook pizza. So maybe what you need is an outdoor propane-fired pizza oven. Yup, maybe it's exactly what you need! Oh wait. This is a gift guide. So , yeah, ask Santa to bring this.

There are also models that fit on top of certain gas grill models, but the propane one is for sure the most versatile, since you can be making pizza while you're grilling burgers on the grill.

It's not just a blender, it's a BLEEEEENNNNNDERR RRR RRR. I've owned a lot of different blenders over the years, and I've killed quite a few of them. Others, I just stopped using because the blends were so chunky. The Vitamix blends things so much smoother. Waaaaay smooth. It's not as loud as my previous blender. And it's built to last. 

There are a bunch of different models with different features, so shop before you splurge. And there are add-ons, like the dry blender jar that's used for grinding grain into flour or kneading dough.

Oh, and it comes with a rather impressive hardcover cookbook. Let the blending begin!

Ninja Coffee Bar

The Ninja Coffee Bar is simple ... yet it has a whole lot of options. You can brew one cup or a carafe. You can brew different strengths and types of brews. can let it keep the coffee warm or not with the glass carafe - the model with the insulated carafe doesn't need a warming plate. There's a drip catcher. You don't need to use coffee filter, but you can if you want to.

Yet, it's simple enough to operate without needing to study a whole lot before turning it on. And, you can brew your own coffee. No pods or packets or thingies required.

Spiralizing is fun. Hand-cranking a spiralizer is not a whole lot of fun if you have a lot of vegetables to cut. The Kitchenaid attachment puts a motor behind it. The attachment spiralizes, slices and peels, so you can use it for preparing apple pies or peeling a whole box of ... uh, whatever you want to peel.

Even if the trendiness of spiralizing fades, this will still be useful for peeling and slicing.

I've had this for a few years now. It comes out of storage when weather is warm and gets stored when weather gets cool. Yes, it's large, but it's got its own compressor, so I can make several different ice creams in one day. It has settings for different sorts of frozen goodies, and a keep-chilled feature that will keep the ice cream cold after the time is up - just in case you won't be nearby to transfer the ice cream to the freezer.

Repast Supply Ravioli Pin

A work of art as much as a functional tool, this makes ravioli production much easier. You just spread the filling between sheets of pasta, and roll. The pin squishes the filling into place and seals the outsides. Then you just cut them apart. I was skeptical that it would work, but I was quite impressed.

I see that there's also a metal model on the website now, if you're not fond of wood.

Ninja Cooking System

Okay, it's a slow cooker, but it also has a browning setting so I can brown food first, before slow cooking. It has a nonstick interior that's still non-sticking after several years of use, and a bunch of settings for stovetop, keep warm, timing, and other handy things.

There are newer models than the one I have, with features I haven't tried. But I haven't worn mine out yet, so I can't tell ya about those.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Gift Guide: For the Entertainers

When I say these are for entertainers, I'm not referring to people who sing, dance, or act. I mean people who like to have other folks over for drinks or dinner; casual or fancy; a couple or a crowd.

Owl's Brew Tea

Owl's Brew is an artisinal tea that's specially brewed for use in cocktails. I've tried a few of them and they're indeed very tasty. While they're designed for cocktails, they'd also be nice for mocktails. Great for people who like mixing fun cocktails as well as fans or tea.

Viking Steak Knives

If you have friends who like to host dinner parties and meaty barbecues, they'd no doubt love a set of sharp, quality knives, like this boxed set from Viking.

Blue Isle Spreads

Blue Isle makes a variety of yogurt spreads that are quite tasty. I'm smitten with the French Onion, and the Spicy Vegetable is great, too. There are also sweeter varieties that work with fruit or as a spread for English muffins. Add these to a basket with some crackers and you're good to go.

Woodchuck Hard Cider

Ready to drink or use in cocktails or recipes, these would be a great bring-along gift for your hosts, or part of a gift basket. They're delicious and different.

Hibiscus in Syrup

Hibiscus flowers look pretty floating in a glass of fizzy wine or champagne. Or mocktail it and float them in sparkling water. If you've got friends who make fancy drinks or host breakfasts and brunches, they'd love these.

Woodwork Wine

Wine is always a welcome hostess gift, or great in a gift basket with crackers, cheese, and other noshes. Some people say that they buy wines based on the label, so this one might be the wine you buy for the crafty person you know.

Kaibae Baobab Fruit Powder

This powder is supposed to be good for you, but the secret is that it tastes good - sort of fruity, tart, sweet, and citrusy. Creative cooks and drink-makers might want to add this to their arsenal of unusul ingredients.

Chill Factor Cocktail Maker

Here's a fun way to make slushy cocktails. The container spends some time in the freezer, then you put the ingredients in the cup and squeeze and squish it until the liquid turns into a slushie-frozen cocktail consistency. There's a juicer and grater that comes with the kit so you can add fresh juice and zest.

Mastrad Muddlers and Cocktail Picks

These muddlers are fun and colorful AND they're not just muddlers - they're straws. The set comes with the different colors, so they also help folks identify which drink belongs to them. There are also cocktail picks that are a similar shape in the same colors. A nice little gift for people who like their cocktails, or an add-on gift along with cocktail ingredients.

Note: While I received some items at no cost to me for prior or future reviews, I am also featuring items that I purchased. I was not compensated to include items in the gift guides - these are all my choices.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gift Guide - Stocking Stuffers

Even if you don't hang stockings or stuff them, small gifts come in handy. You can bring them along as hostess gifts, or have them standing by in case someone gives you a little gift that you don't expect, or attach them to larger gifts, just for the fun of it.

These are useful and silly at the same time since the "speak" when you turn them over to shake on your salt or pepper. The pepper shaker is a little more polite than the salt shaker. You can turn the sound off, if you like.

Sprouts Candy Cane Tea is pretty darned good. I've got other mint teas, but I went out and bought more of this one because I like it that much. I'll probably stock up more before the holidays are over. If you don't have a Sprouts store near you ... sorry! Mug not included. It's just a holiday cup.

Turn mason jars into something that pours from a spout. It's a useful gift that's a little bit quirky, too.

Oh, let's be serious. Chocolate in a stocking or as a little gift is always welcome. There are a whole lot of chocolates to choose from. Pascha chocolates are allergy free, gluten free, and dairy free, so you can give them to pretty much anyone. Well, except that one person who doesn't like chocolate. And since it's not one of the brands everyone knows, it makes the gift a little more special and mysterious. For bakers, there are chocolate chips, and for snackers, there are little mini bars. 

These microwave cookers come in small sizes for cooking a single egg and a larger size for cooking multiple eggs. For a single egg, you can cook to to a soft poached consistency or medium or fully cooked to use in place of hard-boiled eggs. Or make scrambled eggs.

Sweet Drops are flavored drops that you can put into drinks, coffee, or wherever you want to add a bit of flavor. They're made with stevia, so they're good for folks who are counting calories. And they taste good. I've been using them in tea.

Poaching eggs is pretty well known as a difficult task - even professional chefs have troubles making them perfect every time. Poach pods are cheaters that make poaching easier.

Umami is now considered one of the things we can taste - it's the savoriness of foods, and the Umami 5 products include products that are high in the flavor. Some are for cooking while others can be added to the finished products. 

Okay, it's supposed to be one of those can holder insulator things, but you could also set the captain (or Spock) on your kitchen counter and store your small kitchen tools  in it. There's a hole in the bottom, but you could put the lid from a canning jar in the bottom and your spoons and things wouldn't fall through.

Night Food

Formulated for folks who like to snack at night, Night Food is supposed to satisfy night-time hunger and not keep you awake at night.

Note: While I received some items at no cost to me for prior or future reviews, I am also featuring items that I purchased in this series of gift guides. I was not compensated to include items in the gift guides - these are all my choices.