The Gorumando Gift Guide, Part II

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Last week we shared a selection of our favorite gifts of cookware and cutlery, but not everyone needs or wants more objects in their kitchen.  Everyone loves to eat and drink, however, so allow us to suggest a few edible ideas you won’t likely find in the average gift basket.

Clockwise spiral from top left:

1.  Hard cider may have become hip lately, but in the Basque Country of Spain it’s been popular for centuries.  Unlike English-style ciders that are often carbonated and sweet, Basque cider is naturally flat and has a crisp, dry finish.  Isastegi and Sarasola are two of our favorites that shouldn’t be hard to find at your local wine store.  {Isastegi Natural Cider, $11}

2.  Founded in Kyoto in 1717, Ippodo produces some of the finest green teas in Japan and now conveniently ships to all parts of the world.  Their array of varieties and quality grades can be dizzying, even for a connoisseur, but we think a great place to start is this premium-quality Hosen sencha.  It’s a perfect companion for the tetsubin we featured last week.  {Ippodo Sencha, $20}

3.  We’ve written before about store-bought shio-koji, rice fermented with the mold Aspergillus oryzae, useful for making overnight pickles or for quickly marinating chicken and fish.  It’s easy, fun, and more economical to make it from scratch, from this little bucket of moldy rice and a few other common ingredients.  {Koji Rice, $7}

4.  Freshly roasted only a few blocks from our apartment in Andersonville, Metropolis was our favorite local coffee when we lived in Chicago.  This variety, Spice Island, hits all of our requirements for the perfect cup: organic, fairly traded, and darkly roasted.  {Metropolis Coffee, $14}

5.  Our favorite sake for entertaining—for its dry, mellow taste, its magnum size, and its great label design featuring the face of the eponymous demon slayer—is Genbei Onikoroshi.  It can be difficult to find, but look for it at Japanese grocery stores or buy it online at the link provided.  {Genbei Onikoroshi Sake, $33}

6.  Rice is essential for any Japanese meal, and a beautiful rice cooker like the donabe we featured last week deserves the highest quality.  This Nozomi short grain rice is one of the best you can get outside of Japan and is easy to find in Asian grocery stores or online.  {Nozomi Short Grain Rice, $28}

7.  For the discerning whiskey drinker, rye is always a special treat, and this one from Chicago craft distiller Koval is one of the best.  Made from organic grains grown in the Midwest and water filtered from Lake Michigan, this rye blends well in classic cocktails like the Manhattan, but is also light and flavorful enough to sip straight.  Search for stores that carry it on their website {Koval Single-Barrel Rye Whiskey, $50}

8.  For the gourmand who has everything, you can’t do much better than a whole leg of Jamón Serrano or Ibérico.  Williamsburg, VA-based store La Tienda imports the top-quality Spanish hams both whole and boneless ranging in weights from 4 to 18 lbs, perfect for any occasion.  {Jamón Serrano or Ibérico, $250 – $1300}

9.  White corn grits are one of our favorite breakfasts, and the best we’ve tried are these, produced at a small family mill on an island outside of Charleston, SC.  Like a risotto, these grits cook up to a consistency that’s creamy yet still retains the integrity of each grain.  {Geechie Boy Grits, $7}

10.  Founded by two French expatriates in Vietnam, Marou is the country’s first artisanal chocolate producer, offering single-origin bars that will redefine how good you thought chocolate could be.  Find it locally through their website, or order it online here{Marou Chocolate, $9}

11.  Slightly sweeter with a smokier, more earthy taste than its better known relative Aleppo pepper, Urfa biber is a dark purple pepper from Turkey that adds mellow heat and depth of flavor to dishes ranging from grilled meats to chocolate desserts.  Buy it online from the Spice House, a Chicagoland treasure that has been importing top-quality spices from around the world for over fifty years.  {Urfa Biber, $8}

The Gorumando Gift Guide, Part I

gift guide

Our philosophy of gift-giving is to give only things we already own and love.  In the kitchen, that means nothing frivolous and nothing ephemeral, but only those things that we know to stand the test of time and wear, which are both aesthetically and functionally well-designed.  Whether seasoned cook or relative novice, your loved ones should find use and beauty in any of these classic pieces.

Clockwise spiral from top left:

1.  Like a teapot and thermal carafe all-in-one, traditional Japanese cast-iron kettles called tetsubin are great for brewing tea or even a quick dashi for ochazuke{Tetsubin, $42}

2.  Forget the pricey knife sets—this 8-inch chef’s knife from MAC can handle almost all of your cutlery needs and is easy to sharpen at home. It’s our go-to knife for just about everything.  {MAC knife, $90}

3.  Not just for Moscow mules, these pure copper mugs keep any kind of beverage ice cold and drinking out of them regularly can help supply the body with small doses of dietary copper.  Keep them polished or watch as they develop a dark patina over time.  {Copper mugs, $20 each}

4.  For those few times when a chef’s knife won’t do, we turn to this ceramic utility knife and peeler set from Kyocera. Though more fragile than steel, the ceramic blades keep their razor-sharp edges much longer than metal.  {Kyocera knife set, $30}

5.  Produced by one of Japan’s oldest metalware manufacturers, Futagami, this brass crescent moon bottle opener is an inexpensive way to add a touch of Japanese design to the home bar.  {Brass bottle opener, $20}

6.  There’s not much more to say about this donabe rice cooker, handmade from Iga clay and imported by our friend Naoko Moore, featured here earlier this year.  It makes perfect Japanese rice and, with the inner lid removed, can double as a general donabe for a variety of nabemono {Kamado-san, $180}

7.  Beautiful and practical, a quality wooden cutting board is the perfect complement to a fine knife.  If cleaned with care and oiled regularly, an end-grain maple cutting board like this one from venerable butcher block maker John Boos is safe for both meats and vegetables and will last a lifetime or more.  {Maple cutting board, $170}

8.  Like the copper mugs, above, these copper and brass salt and pepper mills from Greece will develop a unique patina with age that, combined with their solid all-metal parts, lend them an heirloom quality to last generations.  {Salt and pepper mills, $50 each}

9.  Carrying a pocket knife is a lost custom these days, but it definitely has its usefulness, whether for hiking and mushroom hunting or just for picnics in the park.  And with this one from Opinel, you’ll also never be without a wine key.  {Folding knife with corkscrew, $26}

10.  Tenugui are usually described as Japanese dish towels, but they’re traditionally used for so much more.  Made of thin cotton and printed in bold patterns, they can be bandanas, trivets, napkins, or decorations.  We like to keep one tied around a magnum of sake on my bar{Tenugui, $13}

11.  A mortar and pestle is useful for so many tasks in the kitchen, from grinding up spices to making sauces like pesto or guacamole.  This one, comprised of a Carrara marble mortar and beechwood pestle, is a classic Italian design—we even spotted it in the window of Volpetti in Rome.  {Mortar and pestle, $100}

Recasting the Kitchen: Care and Maintenance

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Patina, the graceful/gentle dilapidation of objects, is a word that was once celebrated in kitchens but is now so often discarded for the pristine. It is something that is at the heart of my philosophy of cooking and no object better epitomizes that than the deep black of a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, with its layers of polymerized fat like rings on a tree. Achieving this patina is easy, but does take care and use over many years, so you might as well get started as soon as possible.

One of the biggest obstacles in persuading friends to buy a cast-iron skillet is its undeserved reputation for being high-maintenance, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The skillets arrive pre-seasoned, making it a simple matter of not messing it up, and all that that requires is a change in mentality when it comes to cleaning. Soap will strip the pan of its hard-won seasoning, but no matter—the idea of sanitizing is irrelevant to a piece of metal that reaches such searing temperatures. After the pan cools enough to touch, run it under hot water and give it a few scrubs with a stiff brush to loosen any stuck-on particles (I use the kamenoko tawashi, a traditional Japanese cleaning brush). When the pan is clean, dry it well with a towel and then warm it over medium heat for a few minutes with a few drops of oil to seal in the seasoning. Food grade flaxseed oil is what I use, but any cooking oil or lard will work.

Other than soap, the only hazards to cast iron are acidic ingredients, like tomatoes, vinegar, citrus juices, and wine, which can strip the pan of its seasoning. Stews or braises are better done in a ceramic or enamel-coated cast iron vessel like an Emile Henry or Staub cocotte, so save the cast-iron skillet for searing and sautéing in plenty of fat, which will add layer upon layer of seasoning.

Few things in life get better with age—treat your cast-iron skillet well and it will be one of them.