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Gourmet gadgets & goodies :: An EDGE Holiday Gift Guide

by Jason Salzenstein

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday December 23, 2009

Need a gourmet gift or a goodie for a gourmand this holiday season? No problem! EDGE Style Editor Jason Salzenstein has put his team of taste testers and techies to work trying out all sorts of culinary contraptions and treats. The gifts that made their final list are sure to satisfy even the most demanding of gourmands. (And be sure to check out the rest of the EDGE Holiday Gift Guides here (Check back frequently; we'll be adding more every day...)

Home cooks are known for being a bit, well, let's just say "finicky." They know what they like, and oftentimes they don't seem to like much else. Luckily, we've managed to snag a few gourmands, who we've asked to help in our process of searching for the best gifts for those with an affinity for gourmet.

We think we've come up with a pretty good selection of fabulous things for anyone on your list who'd rather be in the kitchen than at the mall. Check it out...

Fabulous cookware :: always in style...

There are a few big names in the cookware industry that seem to get all the play when it comes to publicity and exposure. Smart shoppers, however, know that just because a company’s got a big advertising budget doesn’t mean that it’s the best. Oftentimes the same - or better - quality can be found from smaller, less-known companies. Such is the case with the new cookware collections from BonJour.

Beautifully crafted with a European flair, BonJour cookware is made to satisfy the most discerning chefs, whether they’re industry professionals or simply dedicated home cooks. Quality of workmanship is apparent not only in the fine detail of the products, but also in the beautiful way that they cook, giving excellent results, easily. BonJour’s Stainless Clad Cookware, our favorite all-around line, is the perfect example of this, with products - and results - as good as those from much-more-expensive brands.

Clad cookware has always been a favorite among cooking enthusiasts, and BonJour’s pieces set the bar. Visually they offer a striking silhouette; behind their good looks lies exceptional performance. The pans heat evenly and retain that heat, thanks to a thick aluminum core surrounded by two layers of polished stainless steel. The interior is resistant to utensils of any type, and the surface is non-reactive to acidic ingredients. A magnetized stainless exterior means the pans can be used with all types of ranges, including induction. A laser edged flared rim - unique in the industry - allows drip-free pouring, and ergonomic handles are riveted to ensure long life. Topping it off, dramatic high-domed lids allow for extra capacity, and fit snugly to create a self-basting "oven" that seals-in nutrients and flavor. (For those with a more traditional kitchen - or cooking style - BonJour also offers a Copper Core Cookware collection, made with an extra thick 5-ply construction, surrounded by stainless, for easy, maintenance free cooking.)

The BonJour Stainless Clad and Copper Core Cookware collections are both dishwasher safe for fast cleanup, and come with a lifetime guarantee. Individual pieces and sets are available at gourmet and specialty stores nationwide, as well as online at www.Cooking.com , www.BonJourProducts.com and Amazon.com

Wine :: You CAN take it with you!

If you’re looking to impress a new - or potential - mate, nothing’s more romantic than a scenic drive to the beach, a well-planned picnic, or a simple stroll through a park. Once there though, how do you seal the deal and ensure that the date goes well? Simple: wine! Of course the problem lies in getting a nice bottle of white wine (better yet, Champagne!) to your destination without it warming up and ruining your perfect moment. The solution? The Wine Cool Cover from Skybar.

The simple, elegant design of the Wine Cool Cover keeps a standard size bottle of wine or Champers cool for hours- without the messiness of ice. It’s perfect for picnics, dates, and even those times when you’re forced to join the frightening ritual of ’tailgating.’ The aluminum cover completely encases the bottle, which helps to reduce condensation and keeps it cool without the messiness of ice. Perfection!

The Wine Cool Cover is available for about $50 at www.Skybarhome.com and Amazon.com

Page 2 :: Way more gourmet goodies...

Get rid of that thing on the stove

We all know that tea is good for our health; what it’s not good for, however, is the aesthetics of a contemporary kitchen. Nothing ruins the look of a sleek, clutter-free, modern kitchen like a big, clunky (and normally covered in grease and dirt) teapot. No matter the color, shape, or size, a traditional teapot is always going to look a bit "Little House on the Prairie." The solution: The SmartKettle.

The modern version of a teapot, the SmartKettle not only heats water more quickly and with less energy than a traditional teapot (half as much compared to an electric stove), it also looks great doing it. And when it’s not doing the job that G-d intended for it, it can easily be put away in a cupboard or hidden in a corner. (Given the Perfect Kettle’s chic stainless steel lines, we’ll forgive you if you can’t bear to keep it out of sight- at least as long as you’re using it frequently.

And use it you will; not only is the SmartKettle efficient, it’s also incredibly advanced. Unlike an errant stovetop clunker, this baby heats water directly to the desired temperature and then holds it there. Whether you’re making hot cereal, instant soup, coffee or any number of types of tea, the Keep Warm feature automatically maintains perfect water temperature so your second cup will be ready faster than ever. And because it’s cordless, you don’t have to worry about being tethered down!

The Chef’sChoice SmartKettle M688 is available for about $99 at home stores and Amazon.com

Everything’s better in orange

Aside from her talent in the kitchen, we’ve always loved Rachael Ray for her sweet sassiness and down-to-earth attitude; now we also love her for her fabulously bright cookware.

Serious chefs know the value of enamel cast iron cookware, and Rachael’s is top-of-the-line. Crafted in durable cast iron (for heat retention and even distribution) with a porcelain enamel interior (eliminates the need for seasoning) and vibrant orange enamel exterior, Rachael’s new collection of cookware is not only high quality, it’s also high-fashion. And while we’ve yet to discover an item in the collection we don’t like, we’re currently in love with the 1-quart Pouring Saucepan, which we find ourselves using nearly every time we cook.

If there’s a cooking enthusiast on your list, this saucepan will quickly become a favorite item in the kitchen. It’s the perfect size for sauces and side dishes, double pour spouts make for uber-easy pouring, and given its good looks it’s perfect for taking directly from kitchen to table. It can be used both on the stovetop and in the oven, and is one pan that might actually make your kitchen look better if it’s left out!

Rachael Ray’s Cast-Iron Cookware is available at Sears, Kohl’s, QVC.com and Amazon.com The 1-Quart Pouring Saucepan is available in orange and blue and runs about $30.

Power tools for easy prep

Although it definitely has an air of As seen on TV about it, after we tested the Ninja Master Prep, we could see how it would come in handy for people who enjoy making meals. It certainly won’t take the place of a food processor, but for small jobs (making pesto, chopping nuts, dicing onions, and pureeing) it’s much easier and faster to use. (It turns out that it’s also excellent for cocktail parties, as the Ninja makes incredibly fast work of ice, turning it to "snow" in seconds, and blending fruity summer concoctions with ease.)

The Ninja’s 48-oz. pitcher is perfect for making two or three drinks at a time, and because it’s easy to quickly rinse it out and features an easy flip/pour spout, it’s great for big parties with multiple drinks on offer. It also has an interchangeable motor head, allowing you to prep appetizers, then quickly switch to the party pitcher for drinks; your lucky recipient will be the talked-about host or hostess in no time! Cleanup is easy- it’s dishwasher safe.

About $50 at www.SharkVac.com and Amazon.com

For the gourmand with young’uns

Having kids means making sacrifices and giving things up; fortunately, for avid home chefs, it no longer means locking away knives in a drawer, where they’re never within easy reach and if you’re like most people, you forget to lock it back up after using them. The Starfrit Lock Block lets parents own good knives- and use them too! Based on the same principle as safety bottles used for pills (kids can’t perform two movements at once), the Lock Block Safety Knife Block "locks" knives into place, preventing small hands from making contact with sharp objects.

The Lock Block holds tight to knives - even when shaken upside down - until an adult wants to release one, by simply pressing two buttons on the sides of the unit with one hand and removing a knife with the other. It also comes with a 5-piece knife set (Chef, Carving, Bread, Utility, Paring), and like all good blocks, features horizontal slots so that knives remain sharp for years.

The Starfrit Lock Block is available for about $80 at Amazon.com

Still to come :: gadgets, cookbooks and stocking stuffers!

Half-baked?

And now, back to sassy TV chefs!

Paula Deen is known for her hair, her smile, and her southern charm; we also love her clever wit, offbeat personality, and her pans. (And no, that’s not a euphemism...)

Paula believes in making people feel good- and we know that if we got something from her Signature Collection, we’d certainly be happy. Seasoned bakers will appreciate the high quality construction behind the entire line; style and décor aficionados will be thrilled with the good looks. The perfect example? Her Cookie Sheet with Silicone Insert.

This 13" x 18" half sheet pan is made of heavy gauge aluminized steel, with a wire-reinforced rim to resist warping and provide extra strength. The pan provides even heating (for perfect cookies) and the nonstick surfaces (both interior and exterior) reduce the chance of over-browning and burning, and make it easy to remove things when they come out of the oven- not to mention easy cleanup. The included silicone liner only adds to that ease, making easy food release inevitable.

The topping on this cake? The Paula Deen Signature Cookie Sheet is available for less than $25 wherever fine bakeware is sold, and online at Amazon.com

Fresh, healthy, delicious, and charitable!

When it comes to great gifts, we’ve always been big fans of fabulous fresh fruit; it’s practical, delicious, and bound to be enjoyed by everyone. This year, instead of going to those big name corporate giants, however, go directly to the source- and help someone in need at the same time.

The Naumes family runs a 100-year-old farm that produces fabulous, nutritious and delicious pears, that are now - for the first time - available directly to consumers. What sets these pears - and this family - apart from other gourmet fruit suppliers is their commitment to social change: for every pound of fruit purchased, the company provides another pound of fruit to local food banks that feed hungry families. All pears are handpicked, they arrive fresh and expertly packed, and most importantly, it’s a gift that gives twice!

Pick up a box of fresh, fabulous and delicious Naumes pears at www.NaumesFruitGifts.com (And cross your daily good deed off your list!)

COOKBOOKS

Delicious desserts in half the time

As much as the gays love baking, given the time constraints and hectic schedules we’re all slaves to, sometimes finding ways to cut corners means the difference between making dessert and picking it up at Whole Foods. The Ultimate Shortcut Cookie Book has made baking a reality again and cut-down on our time in the kitchen- not to mention been responsible for some fabulous desserts!

All of the recipes in TUSCB start with refrigerated cookie dough, cake or brownie mix, or boxed cereal- and so far, everything we’ve made has been delish! The book allows you to make treats almost-from-scratch in less time (and often for lesh cash) than typical gourmet goodies. With more than 700 recipes (including 150 no-bake cookie ideas), TUSCB proves that "shortcut baking can be easy and sophisticated."

Great holiday recipes include Eggnog Thumbprints, Cream Cheese Candy Cane Cookies, Chocolate-Freckled Snowball Cookies, Cranberry Cereal Wreaths and many more.

About $25 at bookstores; less at Amazon.com

Pasta :: finally back on the menu!

For years, thanks to the Paris Hilton posse and the insanity behind Dr. (dead-from-heart-disease) Atkins’ crazy diet, pasta became the devil. Luckily people are finally seeing the light again and (re)embracing pasta - one of the healthiest, most well rounded dishes you can eat. Given that everyone threw out their pasta cookbooks in the last decade, you’ve got an easy ’in’ for a great gift this year: The Silver Spoon Pasta cookbook.

A gorgeous compendium to the joy that is pasta, The Silver Spoon Pasta cookbook offers more than 350 authentic Italian pasta recipes- which means it’ll take whomever you give it to a while to make them all, and therefore a chance to think of you over and over again. (Unless he or she is a carb-whore like myself, in which case they’ll run through it this winter.) Recipes run the gamut from simple, unfussy family favorites to much more elaborate, sophisticated and gourmet creations- perfect for impressing Italian guests. (Bonus: most recipes can be made in 30-minutes or less.) From dried to fresh, tubes to shells, long to short, if it’s a pasta recipe, it’s here!

About $40 at bookstores; less at Amazon.com

Last page :: stocking stuffers!

STOCKING STUFFERS

Fun... and flaming!

Not everyone has - or needs - a Professional Culinary Torch; then again, not everyone is a fabulous cook or baker. Dedicated kitchen pros know how handy this tool can be- for preparing sweets like brulées and meringues, melting cheese, skinning tomatoes and peppers, and charring vegetables.

The handheld butane torch from BonJour has a fuel level indicator window, extra-long nozzle with anti-flare flame, adjustable temperature control, safety lock, removable stand, and recipe book- all for less than $40!

Available at www.BonJourProducts.com and Amazon.com

A truly ’grate’ gift

&creativeGood graters are hard to find; professional models are usually huge and expensive, and standard grocery store models are poorly made, uncomfortable, and don’t work well. Thank Buddha for Microplane.

Microplane’s Premium Graters are true classics- and now they’re even better, because they’ve added soft touch handles and non-scratch end tabs. With a collection that includes a Premium Zester/Grater (for most fine grating and zesting needs), Premium Medium Ribbon (best for soft cheeses) and the new Premium Extra Coarse (fab for vegetables and coconut), they’ve truly set the bar- and made it easy for you to satisfy even the most dedicated home chef.

All of the graters in Microplane’s Premium Classic Series feature surgical-grade stainless steel blades and soft touch handles, they’re dishwasher safe, and they come with covers, so you can safely store them in a drawer or canister. (They also have a loop on the end of the handle, for hanging.)

Microplane graters are available at Bed Bath & Beyond and Whole Foods Markets nationwide, and online at the Microplane website and Amazon.com Individual graters start at less than $15; the Premium Series 3-Piece Set is $40.

For the wine lover

Since a wine bottle is a bit too big - or at least too heavy - for a stocking, stick a bow on the neck and set that under the tree. When it comes to filling the sock, think accessories- like the Automatic Vacuum Sealer and Electric Corkscrew from Vinotemp.

Designed to fit standard wine bottles, the Automatic Vacuum Sealer removes air from the bottle, extending the life of the wine within. It’s also got a built-in temperature gauge, so you can always be sure you’re serving your wine at the optimal temperature. (Two-in-one, we love it!) To use, you simply insert it into the top and secure; it does the rest for you.

The Electric Corkscrew is just as easy to use- and actually fun. If you know someone who struggles with opening a bottle of wine gracefully - or simply just likes cool gadgets - this is the perfect gift. Simply hit the switch and it pulls the cork from the bottle- it even releases the cork from the corkscrew, so you don’t have to do anything! The sleek modern design means it’ll always be within easy reach, and it comes with a foil cutter and stand. Brilliant!

The Automatic Vacuum Sealer sells for about $40; the Electric Corkscrew $30. Both are available at www.Vinotemp.com

Shake it, shake it, shake it!

In our seemingly endless search for fabulous gifts, the official EDGE foodies discovered a spice company offering exotic and delicious sea salts the likes of which we’d never seen - or tasted - before- and that’s rare.

Beyond the Shaker specializes in unrefined sea salts and handmade salt blends. Made with only the finest premium ingredients from sustainable local suppliers, everything that goes in their salt blends is natural, and each blend was exclusively crafted by a chef from an acclaimed midwestern restaurant; all of their salts are hand blended by a salt chef in small batches to ensure the freshest flavor possible. Topping it off, salts are packaged in distinctive jars from an Italian glass manufacturer- definitely ones your lucky recipient will want to reuse (and so beautiful, wrapping paper is totally unnecessary). These are truly unique luxury gifts- at very attractive prices.

Beyond the Shaker offers eight great gift sets, all priced at $30 or less. Fabulous? Check. Stocking-sized? Yep. Great price? You’re all set!

Available at www.BeyondTheShaker.com

A bit of California... in your stocking

Having moved to the northeast six years ago, one of the things I miss most about Southern California is, well, pretty much everything. Buying vodka in the grocery store (on Sunday no less); fantastic weather almost every day; not having to explain why I didn’t go to an Ivy League college; and the magical goodness called "blended drinks" from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf- not necessarily in that order.

Luckily for my sanity (and that of my boyfriend), I discovered that CB&T sells their magic powders (AKA White Chocolate Dream Powder, French Deluxe Vanilla Powder, Special Dutch Chocolate Powder, Dark Chocolate Powder and Hazelnut Powder) online, and ordered some right away. Since then I’ve managed not to gain any weight while still enjoying the deliciousness that is "blended drinks," hot cocoa, and other creations I’ve made up myself- most involving alcohol. (Don’t judge!)

Now you too can share in the joy- even spreading it, by giving the Holiday Cocoa Trio or Warm Winter Cocoas gift set to someone you love (or even just kind of like) this year. It’s sure to satisfy almost any craving, and if not, maybe it’ll open a door for you to satisfy another...

The Holiday Cocoa Trio and Warm Winter Cocoas (pictured) Gift Sets are available for less than $18 at www.CoffeeBean.com (or at an actual store if you’re fortunate enough to live near one...)

Twitter :: JasonSalz Jason Salzenstein is a writer and editor; design, image, and marketing consultant; and professional shopper. His work has appeared in numerous national and international publications and he has clients around the world. For more information :: www.JasonSalzenstein.com

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