My good friend and former Food & Wine coworker, Kristin Donnelly, runs this awesome lip balm company called Stewart & Claire with her husband, Phil. Every lip balm she makes uses great ingredients that you wouldn't hesitate to smear all over your mouth, but even cooler are the scents she comes up with, many of them inspired by foods and cocktails. Recently she teamed up with the talented folks at Death & Co, a great NYC cocktail bar, to develop three limited-edition scents. I've been walking around with "Smoky" in my back pocket for the past couple of months: It's inspired by the smoky scent of Scotch and mezcal cocktails, using smoked olive oil, along with citrus and spice notes, to achieve that effect. It's like a mezcal Negroni or Rob Roy for your lips, but subtle enough to sit under your nose all day.
A bean is a bean is a bean. Or is it? Once you go down the rabbit hole of eating quality dried beans (after they're cooked, of course—raw dried beans aren't so great), you'll fall in love with their variety of flavors, textures, and colors. Some are starchy, some are nutty, some are earthy, and some are slightly sweet. Rancho Gordo is one company that sells some really cool ones to try. You won't look at dried beans the same way again.
My good friend Jordana Rothman cowrote this thoughtful ode to tacos with Chef Alex Stupak, and it's a must-have for anyone ready to take a deep dive into corn, masa, tortillas, and everything—modern and traditional—you can stuff into them.
Thanks to a few simple innovations in the filter and beaker design, this French press fixes some of the brewing device's biggest drawbacks. The result is a cleaner batch of coffee that won't accidentally over-steep.
I don't often recommend single-function items, but for the cocktail enthusiast, a couple of julep cups really are fun to have. There's nothing like holding that metal cup frosted with ice on a blisteringly hot summer day—glass just doesn't pull the effect off in the same way. If the recipient doesn't have an ice crusher, check out my Lewis bag suggestion as well.
It may sound nuts to mail-order cornmeal and grits, given that they're found on any supermarket shelf. But I'd argue that you haven't experienced the best cornbread, grits, or other classic Southern dishes until you've had them made with the kind of high-quality stuff Anson Mills is selling. It'll change how you understand those foods and what they can be.
If her first two books are any indication, Nancy Singleton Hachisu is poised to become the Julia Child of traditional Japanese home cooking. In this, her second book, she tackles the deeply fascinating—and even more delicious—world of Japanese preserving. From easy pickles made by packing foods in miso (kabocha squash! eggs! apple pears!) to homemade miso, salt-rubbed vegetables, and air-dried fish, this should be the next frontier in all your home preservation undertakings. I'm getting excited just thinking about it.
If you're following my advice to buy someone julep cups, you might as well go all the way and grab a canvas Lewis bag as well: It's used to smash ice into a fine powder with a mallet. Unless, of course, the person you're buying for already has an ice crusher.
There's form, and then there's function. The aprons from Tilit are great on both fronts. Made from waxed cotton, they offer breathability along with water resistance, but they're also damned handsome. Several NYC restaurants have commissioned custom apron designs from the company for their chefs and cooks, and I'm pretty psyched to wear one of these bad boys at home, too.
If you do get a towel bar for your kitchen, it helps to have some S-hooks to hang from it. From them, you can suspend bottle openers, scissors, and any utensil or tool that has a hanging loop on it.
When I tested bread knives earlier this year, I was absolutely blown away by the cutting quality of Tojiro's bread knife. It surpassed every other serrated knife I tested, cutting beautifully clean slices of even the most tender bread, and making quick, neat work of ripe tomatoes. It's a must-have as far as I'm concerned.
I got one of these traditional Japanese clay pots for my birthday this year, and it's quickly become an obsession. Not only can you cook perfect plain rice in it every time, it doubles as a vessel for flavorful one-pot stews and hot pots, and an infinite variety of noodle and rice dishes. Anyone interested in Japanese home cooking should have one.
This cookbook has been my guide to learning how to use my donabe cooker, and thus far it hasn't let me down. It offers a wide range of recipes to help give you an idea of just how many one-pot dishes can be made using a donabe, plus background on the history and variety of donabe cookers.
Coffee geeks will have a lot of fun with this coffee scale. It pairs with a smartphone through Bluetooth, and an accompanying app helps walk you through the brewing processes, like pourover and French press, calculating bean-to-water ratios and brew times. It can handle customization, so with each successive batch, you can really dial in on the variables to make the cup that tastes best to you. It can also be used as a basic kitchen scale with a maximum weight of two kilograms (about four and a half pounds), so it's versatile beyond its primary purpose.
A good pair of kitchen shears is one of those things that are hard to appreciate until you have them. Sure, there are all the obvious uses, like opening food packages with a snip and cutting up poultry, but that's just the start. Take another look at those things. Yes, that's right, they're also a nutcracker. Aha, yup, and a bottle opener. Did you see the flathead screwdriver built into them? Handy, right? Oh, they can also be used to unscrew stubborn jar tops. They're way more than just a pair of scissors. Plus, the two blades come fully apart, so you can wash them really well—no icky chicken juice hiding in the recesses. Isn't avoiding salmonella poisoning a gift worth giving?
There are some kitchen tools that make the difference between amateur-looking food and pro-level stuff. A small mandoline is one of them. This one, from OXO, is compact, easy to use, and very sharp. It has only three thickness settings, but in my experience, that more than covers most home slicing needs.
What's a quarter sheet pan? Well, it's half the size of a half sheet pan. What's a half sheet? It's the rimmed baking sheet we all use at home for cookies and such. (If you're wondering what a whole sheet pan is, you'll find them in restaurant kitchens.) So why would anyone want a quarter sheet pan? Oh, man, because they're amazing. I love them for all kinds of recipe tasks, like holding small amounts of ingredients I'm prepping or roasting. I reach for them just as often as I do the half-sheet size, because sometimes you need the SUV, and sometimes you need the compact. Simple as that.
I renovated my kitchen at home this year, and of all the features I installed, the towel bar is one of my favorites. Set it on the wall over a stove and you can hang small pots and pans, ladles, and other frequently used tools on it for rapid access; install it elsewhere and you can hang not only kitchen towels from it, but also bottle openers, scissors, honing steels, and anything else you use often and would rather not rummage around in drawers for.
Few things get me as excited as a good raw bar, but most of the time, I eat far less than I want because, after the first couple dozen oysters or so, it just gets to be too expensive. That's even truer when the oysters are top-notch, like the briny little suckers from Island Creek up in Massachusetts. But here's the good news: You can order Island Creek's oysters online by the 50- or 100-count for much less than they cost at most restaurants, and have them in your hands the next day for an at-home shucking extravaganza. (Obviously, it helps to learn how to shuck first.)
How much praise can I throw at a Le Creuset Dutch oven? This is one of those things couples put on their wedding registries and desperately hope someone buys for them. This is a pot you hand down to your kids. This is a piece of cookware that you will use for everything, including serving at the table, and then you won't want to put it away because you just like looking at it. This is a workhorse of the kitchen. Yes, it costs a lot. But things that are built to last a lifetime despite daily use usually do.
This is the electric kettle of my coffee-delayed dreams. It has an elegant gooseneck spout that makes pouring a thin, controlled stream easy (very helpful for Chemex and other pourover coffee methods), and a base with controls that allow you to set a specific temperature and hold it there.
I've used many, many oyster knives in my life, and the R. Murphy Duxbury knife is my hands-down favorite. It has a fat, grippy handle that's easy to wield, and a short blade that tapers to a point and always manages to find the sweet spot on an oyster's hinge. Pop! The slightly sharpened blade edges make slicing through the muscle and removing the top shell as smooth as butter.
On more than one occasion, I've been tempted to try out the cool new pepper mill on the block, but none of the ones I've used have held up over time. That's why I've settled on a good old classic, a wooden Peugeot pepper mill. The steel burrs last and deliver whatever grind I want, from fine-as-silt to chunky and coarse.