Well, it’s here. The December retail season is in full swing now that a strange Thanksgiving is in the books. Christmas and the surrounding holidays are the time for shopping and giving: expressing love and appreciation, thanks and your-welcomes, neighborliness and charity.
If your list includes people who like to eat, then the task is easy — hardly stressful at all. No worries about size and fit or color and style only flavor and favorites.
We have a month to figure out how to gather to celebrate, but in the meantime, thoughtful retailers and online sources make shopping almost normal. Three cheers for store sanitizing and packages delivered to the door.
Most of the cooks I know are always delighted with books. This season’s glossy restaurant cookbook is “The French Laundry, Per Se” by Thomas Keller ($75). Keller, chef owner of these two three-star restaurants, has put together a seductive collection of dishes from both. A direct kitchen to kitchen video feed linking New York and Yountville allows for a digital-age collaboration.
The cooking is at the highest level. It’s a pleasure to read the recipes and a rewarding challenge to cook them. Keller’s cream of broccoli soup is laced with white truffles. Poached chicken breast (usually easy) has five sub recipes requiring a long list of ingredients but looks worth the effort in its full page portrait. Victoria sponge, the everyday cake of England, is turned into a spectacular plated dessert. There are hours of culinary fantasy here and some great projects for ambitious cooks. Along the way, there are essays about suppliers, staff, and experiences. The photographs alone justify the price.
For delicious but more everyday fare, you can’t beat the creative yet practical cooking of Diana Henry. “A Bird in the Hand” (30) is devoted to chicken, simple and festive. “From The Oven to the Table” (30) includes our favorite — chicken with prunes and harissa. Baked sausages with apples and hard cider from “Simple” (33) is in regular rotation in our kitchen. Henry’s first book, “How to Eat a Peach”, is an endearing mix of essays and recipes. Her approach will put food on the table any night of the week with originality and flair.
The annual anthology of “The Best American Food Writing” is always on my list. The 2020 edition of essays from magazines, newspapers, blogs, and websites, edited by chef and food writer Kenji Lopea-Alt, includes a range of voices and styles.
Cooks are always on the lookout for practical, helpful tools and maybe a few gadgets too. A walk down the aisles of the Cook’s Nook in Wilton will yield everything from stocking stuffers to serious gear — let your imagination run wild.
I’ve been watching Jacques Pepin cooking videos lately. His kitchen equipment is surprisingly basic with the exception of a Peppermate pepper grinder. Practical, yet elegant, with an easy-to-use side crank, I’m putting one on my list this year.
For a more creative take on cutting boards and wooden kitchenware visit andrewpearcebowls.com. Crafted from local hardwood in Hartland, Vermont, this beautiful, heirloom-quality wooden ware makes a special gift for cooks and hosts.
You can’t go wrong with food experiences. Restaurant gift cards give twice: once to support the restaurant with some cash flow during the cold winter months, and again when the lucky card holder enjoys the meal. Even now, with the restricted rules for restaurant dining, a meal out is still welcome.
Of course there’s more eating at home these days, so some special ingredients are welcomed by cooks.
For the meat-lovers on your list, send some prime, dry-aged steaks: porterhouse, strip, filet, or rib eye from the old-school New York wholesaler, Master Purveyors. These steak-house quality steaks are unlike anything you’ll get in the supermarket. They’re shipped individually vacuum sealed and will keep for a few days or can be frozen in their packaging.
Aditi Goswami wants to share her passion for Indian food with everyone she meets. You may have bumped into her at a local farmers market where she enthusiastically described her authentic simmering sauces and spice blends. At calcuttakitchens.com, the simmer sauces are available in four flavors: Makhani Tikka, Coconut and Fresh Coriander, Bengali Coconut and Cardamom, and Parsi Cashew Ginger. The four-sauce combo pack ($41) will make easy and delicious dinners at home.
All this good cooking and fine food deserves an equally festive drink. There’s no better place than Fountainhead Wines for something special. Go to 12 Knight Street (just off Wall) in Norwalk and tell Mike Pelletier who you’re buying for and what they like. He’ll make recommendations across a range of prices that will all be exciting gifts to get. You should probably get a bottle for yourself too — your reward for being a creative gift giver.
Extend a helping hand to those in need locally through a contribution to Person to Person. Their food banks in Darien and Norwalk are providing much-needed assistance to the growing number of food-insecure families in central Fairfield County. As the pandemic economic crisis continues, your support will also provide clothing, supplies for new mothers, and financial assistance for those less fortunate. It’s giving back to our community in the genuine spirit of Christmas.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.