Culinary Gift Guide: Gadgets & Stocking Stuffers

by Elizabeth Karmel

Associated Press

Friday November 24, 2017

More holiday gift suggestions from Southern foods expert Elizabeth Karmel include handy tools and affordable stocking stuffers.

FOR COOKS WHO LIKE HANDY TOOLS

Loftin Oyster Shells
I like to grill oysters on the half shell which makes for both a pretty presentation and failsafe grilling. The tough shell protects the delicate oysters from the hot fire, tampering the heat and transferring it through the shell. But, if you are not very comfortable with shucking oysters, or can't find whole oysters in the shell, then I have a gift for you!

Loftin Oyster Shells are made from ceramic stoneware. The life-like oyster shells are handmade from high-fire ceramic in Louisiana where oysters reign. Best is that they are uniform with flat bottoms which stop the shells from rocking on the grill. The beautiful re-useable shells will hold one large or two smaller oysters. So, all you have to do is buy the shucked oysters and get grilling! I like their motto which is 'all shell, no shuck.' You can buy the oyster shells by the dozen on their website and start making all your favorite restaurant oyster recipes at home. Their oyster grilling tong is especially helpful for taking the oysters off the grill. Suggested retail is $69 for a set of 12 shells and $18.49 for the tong/lifter at www.loftinoysters.com.

Ninja Intelli-Sense Kitchen System
This machine surprised me and made me a new fan of Ninja products. As anyone who knows me knows, I love a good gadget! And, when a friend told me about the Ninja Intelli-Sense Kitchen System, I knew that I had to try it. And, now I can't stop talking about it. It is so smart. There is one base (think brain) and four attachments that will blend, chop, make individual smoothies and spiralize. In effect, this one appliance replaces my food processor, my smoothie machine, my blender - and my hand-cranked spiralizer - that didn't work well anyway.

But that's not all, the Intelli-Sense base recognizes which of the four vessels you attach to it, and automatically displays the corresponding settings specifically designed for that vessel. For example, when you attach the processor, the touch screen on the base gives you options for four different functions (puree, dough, chop, dips). When you make your selection, the base adjusts the speed and torque of the motor to suit what you are making. It's genius, or at the very least, very intelligent!

But that is not all, the design feature that makes this appliance heads and tails above the rest is that the blender and the processor have four blades stacked at varying levels to process everything at once. It does all the hard work for you. No more pushing the food from the top to the bottom or manually turning the machine on and off while you distribute the un-processed food. It goes for $199.75 at www.ninjakitchen.com.


Sous Vide Joule
I just decided to sous vide my steak for dinner tonight. It may sound like a big project but it's not. I have started to think of my Joule sous vide circulator by Chef Steps, as a fancy slow-cooker that makes cooking dinner and entertaining easier. Add warm water to a Dutch oven, insert the Joule, turn on the Joule with the phone app, add your food and cook. It's that simple.

The Joule is shorter than other circulators which makes storing it a breeze. And, the bottom is magnetic so you can put it in a pot and it stands upright - and stays upright - without needing to clamp it on the side. You put your food in a heavy-duty re-closeable plastic bag - vacuum sealing is no longer a must - and attach it to the side of your pot with a chip clip. The Joule runs with an app that is so intuitive that you don't need to be tech savvy to use it. You search for the food that you want to cook, choose a degree of doneness and the size of the food, i.e., a 2-inch thick steak, and turn it on by phone.

One added bonus is that with sous-vide cooking, it is next to impossible to overcook your food. I use my Joule mostly for cooking meat that I will char on the grill just before serving and poached eggs. Yes, if you only bought it for poached eggs, that would be enough! I first became enamored with sous vide when I discovered that you can place a raw egg (in the shell) in the water and 45 minutes later, you crack the shell and out comes a perfect poached egg. I make eggs like these at least once a week for topping avocado toast or eating for breakfast. Once you do it, you will be hooked! The Joule comes in two finishes, stainless for $199 and white for $179 at www.chefsteps.com/joule.

FOR THE COOK WHO HAS EVERYTHING

Gift certificate for Institute of Culinary Education
The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) is the heart of New York City's academic culinary world. It is unique in that it has both a robust and award-winning professional program, and recreational program. It is the school where so many well-known chefs and food writers and editors attended, and or taught. I taught recreational classes at ICE for many years and most of the photographs in my column are now prepared and shot at ICE. When I taught, many of my students came to my classes with gift certificates that friends and family gave them. I always thought that it was the best gift of all, an experience that they could enjoy with or without the gift giver, and take home new recipes and new skills that they will have for a lifetime.

ICE has been in business since 1975 and houses the largest program of hands-on recreational cooking, baking and wine education classes in the world. More than 26,000 people visit ICE each year to learn and experience everything from wine tasting and mixology to hands-on cooking and eating. With 12 state-of-the-art kitchens in lower Manhattan, ICE is able to provide classes both day and night, 355 days a year. For a list of classes and to register, visit www.recreational.ice.edu. The minimum amount for gift certificates is $100.

Town Cutler knife sets
Galen Garretson wants this to be the last knife you ever buy. The former chef always loved knives, even as a kid. After tiring of the restaurant kitchen life, he worked as a butcher and became an expert knife sharpener. In 2011 he opened up Town Cutler, a shop selling and sharpening knives in San Francisco. Two years later, he sold his first handmade Town Cutler knife and says that there was a lot of trial and error to making that knife. Those trials paid off. Today, his collection of handmade knives are functional art pieces. I fell in love with the heavy feel and sleek look of the knives. These knives are a cut above.

To understand the quality of the steel and the quality of the wood handle, you just need to hold the knife. It is the difference between the feel of a custom-tailored piece of clothing and off-the-rack clothing. Equally beautiful are the soft leather knife rolls and scabbards (blade covers). This fall, he opened his second location in Chicago and sells his beautiful knives, scabbards and knife rolls through his website.

For the holiday, Town Cutler is putting together two kits, one For the Chef with an 8.5-inch chef knife, scabbard, palette knife for plate decoration and leather knife roll ($450). And one For the Butcher which includes a 6-inch Hankotsu knife (favored by butchers), scabbard, palette knife and leather knife roll for $450. Go to www.towncutler.com.

STOCKING STUFFERS

Cast Iron care kit by Lodge
I love all things Lodge cast iron, but they can be a little tricky to clean. Now that all of their cast-iron pans come pre-seasoned, it makes cast-iron accessible to every cook, beginner to master chef. The properties of cast-iron make it a cinch for searing, crisping and baking. A good friend has a pan that is so well seasoned that he even cooks eggs in his cast-iron pan. But after every use, you have to wash your pots and pans, and that is when it becomes tricky with cast iron. You are not supposed to use harsh soap, metal scouring pads or the dishwasher because that will destroy the layer of seasoning that makes cast-iron cookware "non-stick."

So, Lodge has packaged a Seasoned Cast Iron CARE KIT for cast-iron cookware ($26). Inside the kit are use and care tips, a pan scraper, scrub brush, seasoning spray, and a silicone hot handle holder as a bonus. You can give this to your favorite cook as a stocking stuffer or add it to a Lodge cast-iron pan for an extra-special gift. I am partial to the 10-inch cast-iron chef skillet for $25.50 and the 10.5-inch square cast-iron skillet for $32. Go to www.shop.oldgemfg.com.

Meat thermometers by ThermoWorks
ThermoWorks has been in business for more than 20 years and is serious about its thermometers. They make a variety and my favorite is the Thermopen. It's the barbecue and chef community's choice of instant-read thermometer because it is fast, accurate and the foldable probe makes it easy to carry. All it takes to be a believer is opening the box and seeing the individual "Certificate of Calibration." Every Thermopen comes with their own individual certificate that is filled out by hand, an extensive instruction booklet with real-time tips and a serial number to track your Thermopen. These added value features underscore that you've purchased a professional instrument, not just a gadget.

The foldaway thermocouple probe is strong but thin and goes into meat quickly and efficiently without leaving large holes for juices to escape through. I love that it folds into the plastic body, and is thin, and I would buy it for those two features alone. But the fact that it is fast and accurate seals the deal. It can read the internal temperature in 2-3 seconds. Thermopen ($99) is handmade in England and comes in your choice of 10 colors at www.Thermapen-Mk4.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pit master at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including "Taming the Flame."

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