Is there any chance you might post one of those menu posts re: Christmas entertaining in the next few days? I don’t really want to do “Thanksgiving Round Two,” but am clueless what to make and serve, and I can’t be the only one.
Happy to do it. Open thread, people: what are you serving for Christmas dinner? Recipes are welcome.
I, being a good Old Calendar Orthodox Christian, expect to subsist on dry toast and thin gruel that day, or at least beans, pending our January 7 Christmas. So I will not be joining you in this thread. You kids have fun.
By the way, this is the last shopping weekend before the big day. Did you read Megan McArdle’s annual comprehensive Christmas shopping list for the cook in your life? I like this:
Salad spinner, $25 I held out on buying a salad spinner for years — what’s wrong with paper towels? — but I now have to admit I was wrong. It’s great not just for washing and drying your greens, but also for spinning the sand out of bok choy and leeks (fill with water and vegetables, put in the sink, spin), as well as for dressing your salad perfectly evenly. As far as I have been able to ascertain, there is no particularly exciting salad-spinning technology out there that mandates you buy a particular brand; I’ve been quite happy with the one I bought at Costco, whose chief notable special feature was that it was available at Costco. Pick one whose size and style you like.
This is really true. I can’t think of several items in our kitchen that are as useful as our salad spinner, but none more useful. It seems like such a boring gift, but if you know somebody who likes to cook, and especially likes salad, this is a great thing. Make sure they don’t already have one, though. If they don’t, they don’t know what they’re missing.
If you wanted to spend a lot more money on a terrific kitchen present, this is what you want to do, if you ask me:
Enameled cast-iron 6-quart Dutch oven, $80 to $315. But what if you don’t want any of these expensive gadgets? What if you just want to braise and stew the old-fashioned way? Then you’ll probably want to look at an enameled Dutch oven. They come in all sizes, but for general all-around use, I like the 6-quart — big enough for a big party or for leftovers at home. Le Creuset’s are the best known of these, but Staub also makes good ones, and Lodge, a great company that made both my cast-iron skillets, has some lovely-looking lower-priced entries. I advise against buying pans with a celebrity’s name on it; someone has to pay the celebrity, and the easiest way to do so is to take the money out of quality.
Enameled cast iron can’t take high heat the way regular cast iron does, so you can’t use it to sear. But it doesn’t rust and doesn’t require seasoning, and it’s easier to clean. And it still holds heat beautifully, making it a perfect choice for long, slow braises.
Enameled cast iron is terrific. We use our Lodge braiser all the time. It’s a surprising thing, too, because I very nearly ruined it right after we got it as a Christmas gift in 2010 from my sister (the last gift she was able to give us, come to think of it). I washed it after using it the first time, and stupidly put it on a flame on the stove top to dry, like I do with cast iron. I forgot to pay close attention to it, and by the time I remembered what was going on, most of the enamel had cracked. It has held up surprisingly well since then, though it’s not in perfect condition. As much as I like to make stews and braises, I can’t imagine not having this thing, which is much easier to clean than our cast iron Dutch ovens.
A good chef’s knife is a fantastic present, but I’m really particular about mine. A few years ago, my wife literally made me cry on Christmas morning by giving me a three-piece Shun Ken Onion set, which is superb (and costly; she got it at a last-minute Williams-Sonoma sale). Strangely enough, an ordinary 10-inch chef’s knife I bought in 2012 at the famed E. Dehillerin in Paris has become my favorite, despite my mega-love for the Shun Ken Onions. It fits into my hand perfectly, and is the ideal weight. So, I don’t know about buying a knife for someone. If the person doesn’t have a good kitchen knife — and if they’re a young cook just starting out, they probably don’t — be nice and get one for them. Wusthofs and Shuns are both very good; I have both, but have a slight bias toward the Shun, which is a bit lighter and fits better into your hand. Plan to spend between $80 to $100 for a chef’s knife, and buy the 8-inch or the 10-inch. It really is worth it.
UPDATE: Above, look what just came in from friends in Texas! My Dallas-born-and-raised wife shrieked when she opened it. It made her so happy.