Kate reviews more favorite kitchen gear in time for holiday gift giving, including All-Clad induction pots and pans, kid's kitchen tools, ice cream scoops, vinegar, a peppermill, gift books, and more, plus holiday appetizer recipes.
by Kate Heyhoe
Don't delay: this is the final round of our holiday gift guide, 2009, and Santa is packing his sleigh. We've added more goodies, including All-Clad pans that cook on any surface, and are especially great for induction burners, like the Fissler induction burner featured last month. Plus we've got some gift books for noncooks. Browse December's picks and flip back to November's Gift Guide, for more gifts. (As always, we independently test every item and are never paid for our reviews.)
For more ideas: The Global Gourmet Store and the New Green Shopper are filled with tasty treats, great tools and green gifts (including my book Cooking Green). Cookbook Profiles and I Love Desserts feature sample recipes from the year's best books. Plus, our past holiday picks include products that are just as perfect today, but somehow Santa skipped.
Happy Holidays (part 2)!
Green cookware tips: The more efficient the pan, the less fuel you use. The best pans are made of metals that heat up quickly, respond readily to temperature adjustments, and cook evenly across the entire surface. Pans that last a lifetime mean less waste of resources, fewer manufacturing emissions, and smaller cookprints. Plus, pans made in the USA mean fewer transportation emissions. As I explain in my book Cooking Green:
"Cooks need a skillet that distributes heat evenly, because the average burner is anything but evenly heated. Electric stoves have coils, and gas burners have a ring of flame. To make up for the hot and cool gaps in the burner's design, you want a skillet base that absorbs and distributes the heat throughout the metal bottom, not just where the heat source meets the metal. Copper and aluminum are very good heat conductors. But copper is expensive, and aluminum is soft and reacts with food acids. Clad pans make the most of multiple metals. The best ones sandwich one or more layers of copper or aluminum between a tough outer surface, like "18/10" stainless steel (18 percent chromium, 10 percent nickel), or hard anodized aluminum. Cheaper skillets sandwich layers so thin you don't get much benefit. So pick a skillet with a hefty bottom, at least 1/8th of an inch thick. Other good features: handles that can go from cooktop to oven and withstand temperatures of 500 degrees or higher, a clear lid, and a lifetime warranty."
For me, clad pans are the best choices, and the All-Clad brand delivers superior quality in every aspect. Their pans even go beyond the best clad-pan qualities described above, with thick bottoms and riveted handles. Plus, if you already own or intend to buy an induction burner, All-Clad makes pans with copper cores and ones with magnetic-stainless steel, so they're optimized for induction cooking, yet also deliver outstanding performance on conventional or gas burners. (Copper responds to magnetic fields, and so does magnetic-stainless, but not all stainless is magnetic. What is induction cooking and why is it the wave of the future? Find out here.) Another green benefit is that these pans can last a lifetime, and probably beyond, so you're not repeatedly buying pans and throwing them out every few years because of warping or surface deterioration. All-Clad pans are made in the USA, though the lids are made in China.
For my holiday picks, these particular pans make great gifts, as conventional or induction cookware:
Copper-Core Petite Braiser and 4-Quart Braiser—as metals go, copper is the most desirable heat conductor, and aluminum is almost as good but has drawbacks when used as a cooking surface. These All-Clad braisers sandwich a copper core between aluminum, with an outer shell of hard 18/10 stainless steel. The result: efficient, responsive, durable, and nonreactive to acids, yet lightweight, and a beautiful piece of equipment to see and use on gas, electric, or induction. For those short on space, here's an added benefit: the braisers have 2 short grasping handles (loops), rather than a single long handle, so they take up less storage space. These pans can function as a skillet, to sauté and brown foods, or be used as a braiser, covered, for slow simmering on cooktop or in oven. Very versatile! Choose from a petite 2-quart and a larger 4-quart size, both with lids. I use my petite braiser (10-inch diameter at top, 7-inch base) several times a week. For larger quantities, the 4-quart size measures a generous 13-inches at top, yet slopes to a 10-inch base, so the base conducts heat evenly on standard-sized conventional and induction burners. The 4-quart domed lid adds a full 2-inches to the already 2-1/2 inch depth of the pan itself (so a thick roast or halved winter squash will fit), and the petite braiser's lid also allows for extra height.
Stainless Deep Sauté Pots—for those who like a big, roomy pan with long, stay-cool handle, the All-Clad Sauté Pots have flat bottoms and straight sides to provide maximum volume. The Deep 6-Quart Stainless Sauté Pot holds enough to feed a large family or a festive party. I'm a messy cook, and the high sides prevent pasta and sauced-up dishes from splattering everywhere. The flat bottom lets me sauté plenty of chicken pieces in the pan without crowding. It's also great for deep-frying, making soup, and boiling potatoes or lasagna noodles. Plus, while it's definitely a solid, hefty workhorse, the 6-quart pot is still not too big to lift; unlike cast iron pans, it weighs less than 5 pounds (empty, of course) and besides the long handle, has a short grasping handle (loop) to assist lifting. The aluminum core with 18/10 stainless interior and magnetic-stainless exterior make this pot a marvel of ingenuity: lightweight yet highly conductive, non-reactive with food, easy to clean, and suitable for conventional or induction burners. Perfect! The All-Clad Stainless Stockpot in 6-quart size has all the same features as the 6-quart sauté pot, but uses two short loop handles and no long handle. (The sauté pot also comes in 4-, 3-, and 2-quart sizes, which are shallower than the deep pot above).
All-Clad.com details all the other qualities that make me appreciate their cookware, like easy cleaning, handsome design, riveted handles, and lifetime guarantee, among other features.
Kids may have to wrestle the Kinderkitchen tools out of their parents' hands. These animal-shaped tools are just too hip! In my book Cooking with Kids For Dummies, I devoted a full chapter on how to introduce kids to knives safely, and I wish I'd had the Kinderkitchen Dog Knives when I wrote it. Both versions, serrated and non-serrated, feature a happy canine face on the blade, and a rubber tail at the end of the handle. More importantly, these are real knives that perform well, but are less risky and less heavy than standard knives, and just the right size for young hands. They're also able to cut without slipping (one of the prime causes of injury). The Crocodile Jaws Tongs will send tiny tots racing around the house picking up everything they can, and sometimes they might even make their way into the kitchen. With Duck Snippers in hand, kids can snip fresh herbs or green onion tops, and even help open those so-called "easy-open" food packages. All tools should be used with adult supervision, but the built-in safety features and inviting designs makes these tools ones adults will appreciate as well as kids. Made by Kuhn Rikon.
News Flash: KidsCookingShop.com now open!
Our pal and kids-cooking expert Barbara Beery has opened up a fantastic online shop, in conjunction with her very successful Batter Up Kids series of books and cooking schools. Kids, parents and grandparents will discover everything from kid-size aprons, chef hats and pint-size gadgets, to cooking kits, cookbooks, and more. Visit the store at kidscookingshop.com
For serious bakers and cooks, Kuhn Rikon's stainless steel scoops come in three color-coded sizes: 1, 2, and 3 tablespoons. Squeeze the handle and pop out perfect domes of dough, melon, meatballs, or ice cream. These tools have a solid feel, with a durable stainless steel spring that seems like it will last a very long time (though it may be a challenge for children or arthritic hands to squeeze easily). The silicone exterior extends the full length of the handle, protecting rims when tapping on a bowl or other surface. A color-coded dot on the handle makes identifying the right size scoop easy. Holiday bakers will want these for any assembly-line cookies on their agendas, and ice cream lovers will delight at dishing up flavors in three different sizes, from mini-bites to big scoops.
Kuhn Rikon Euro Baking and Ice Cream Scoops:
This is a shameless plug for my most recent book, but hey, if Scientific American, Martha Stewart's Body + Soul, Amazon reviewers, the Washington Post, and Publisher's Weekly, among other media, say it's a great book, who am I to argue? It's loaded with truly green practices that aren't difficult, but they're not fluffy either. Check our reviews, excerpts and tips from Cooking Green: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen (which also won a Green Book Award), and start shrinking your cookprint now.
Messy hands in the kitchen can leave a peppermill greasy, or make the cook stop to wash up. Now, the William Bounds Sharp Shooter offers a nifty solution. This gravity sensitive mill grinds automatically when you tilt it. One-handed operation is easy: just lift and tilt (I've even mastered grasping it with my wrists and tilting—look ma, no hands!). You will want to use clean fingers and hands to adjust the grinder from fine to course, but once set and loaded with 6 AAA batteries, it's ready to roll. (Use rechargeable batteries to be greener.) Oh, and you can fill it with sea salt, too, as the grinder is non-rusting ceramic. In red or black.
The vibrant red color of this pepper vinegar suggests it may be hot and fiery, but the contents are completely different. It's made from the sweet espelette pepper (found in the Basque Pyrenees), which is robust but not considered hot, and the resulting vinegar is fruity with concentrated jam-like flavors. Just a splash adds depth to a salad and sparkle to roasts or grilled vegetables as a finishing sauce. I find adding just a few drops on the plate or into a dressed salad is sufficient to deliver an umami-like boost. Made from a Paris company founded in 1822.
In Difford's Encyclopedia of Cocktails, London's hip mixologist, Simon Difford, pours 2,600 drinks (each with a photo) into this monster of a book. Every classic, variation, old and newfangled mixed drink seems to be included. And while not every cocktail is a winner, Difford's wry rating system tells you which to avoid: for every drink, his scale slides from Disgusting (lowest grade) up through Pretty Awful, Best Avoided, Disappointing, Acceptable, Good, Recommended, Highly Recommended, and Outstanding. As a collection, it's a professional's bible (yes, even Disgusting drinks do get ordered and must be made), or an amateur's inspiration, and is chock-a-block with essentials on Bartending Basics and items for a Bartender's Kit.
Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cakes offers no recipes, and neither does the Food Network series of the same name. But it does stack up layers of eye-candy. It's the delightful profile of a unique bakery specializing in extreme decoration—fantasy and replica cakes, arty cakes and monumental cakes—and the people who make them. This book is just the right food for feeding the right side of the brain, even if you never cook at all. Duff Goldman, Charm City Cake's inventor (with a background in fine art, graffiti, CIA pastry studies, and four-star restaurants), shares the journey from his first one-man creations to nurturing the family of craftspeople behind today's thriving business. This colorful book is all about fun. Eat it up!
Also, if you missed my earlier reviews, check out the good, green and superb quality of AlterEco and GAEA olive oils. And chocoholics will love you madly if you drop AlterEco Chocolate Bars into their stockings.
Finally, don't forget Part I of Kate's 2009 Gift Guide.
Entertain your guests this month with one or more of these recipes:
More Holiday Recipes
Copyright © 2009, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified November 2009
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