Kate reviews her favorite kitchen gear in time for holiday gift giving, including an induction burner, tasty peanut brittle, a tea kettle, a cake decorating set and a knife sharpener, plus best recipes to stuff your bird for the holidays.
Holiday Gifts 2009, Part I
by Kate Heyhoe
Get excited: our two-part gift guide features cook's tools, tasty bites, and a special look at the future of cooking, including Fissler's portable induction burner and induction-ready pans to last a lifetime. Browse through November's picks and come back in December for more gift reviews. (As always, we independently test every item and are never paid for our reviews.)
For more ideas: The Foodwine.com store and the New Green Shopper are filled with tasty treats, great tools and green gifts. Cookbook Profiles and I Love Desserts feature sample recipes from the year's best books. Plus, our past holiday picks include products that are just as perfect today, but may have been overlooked by Santa last time.
Happy Holidays (part 1)!
Fissler's Cookstar Induction Pro
Every cook should have a portable induction burner, especially this one. As I explain in my book Cooking Green, induction burners cook foods more quickly, save fuel, keep kitchens cooler, and their near-instant responsiveness produces outstanding results. (Water, for example, boils in half the time.) Plus, you can use them anywhere, like on the patio, a buffet table, or within easy reach of diners, like under a fondue pot. (Read how they work at Portable Induction Burners: Energy-Efficiency in a Box.) They generate harmless magnetic waves to create heat within the cookware; since the burner itself isn't heated, there's little chance of burning your hands, or heating up the room). You don't need to be a scientist to cook on them, and the end-results are the same as on any stovetop (i.e., not like microwave cooking), but you do need pans that contain ferrous, or iron-based metal in the pan bottom (such as most clad cookware, cast-iron, or Fissler's own CookStar pans.) Tip: If a magnet sticks to the pan, the pan will work on an induction burner.
Fissler's Cookstar Induction Pro has lots to love, with thoughtful details that set it apart from other brands. It features:
- Booster Button and Keep Warm Button: The first ramps up to warp speed for 20 seconds, the latter powers down to a constant 140 degrees F.
- 1500 Watts: Powerful enough to be fast and responsive, but not an energy hog. In our country home, some higher wattage induction burners can trip the kitchen's electrical circuits (our wiring load-capacity is typical of older homes, and even new ones). But I found that less powerful induction burners lack oomph. The Fissler unit seems to be the perfect marriage of wattage and responsiveness. No blown circuits, and perfect performance.
- 9 Power Levels, with Actual True Temperatures: Adjust the setting from low to high (1 to 9) similar to a traditional burner, or get more exact with actual temperature settings. Press the Menu button and the nine levels switch to degree intervals of 155, 180, 210, 250, 290, 320, 360, 390, 430 degrees F. Nifty, and great for precise heating of frying oil, long-simmering stews, and pressure cooking. (Pressure cooker fans will love cooking on induction burners, since they can tweak the heat instantly and precisely, to maintain exact pressure temperature.)
- Integrated Timer and Smart Pan Shut Off: The timer can be set for up to 2 hours; it beeps before switching to standby mode. Plus, the unit automatically detects whether a pan is induction compatible, and will switch off if a wrong pan is used.
- Full 3-year warranty: Not many products these days come with a three-year warranty (even most refrigerators have only a one year warranty!). Given Fissler's German precision, I expect this unit to hold up far beyond the warranty period, but a guaranteed three years reassures me the quality is built-in. It may be a gift that truly keeps on giving.
- Other details: This handsome unit is lightweight and easy to lift, but sturdy. It can be stored on its side, and the smooth glass enamel top makes cleaning a snap. Comparatively, it's in the mid-range price for portable induction burners, which range from $150 to over $500.
This year, the Fissler Cookstar Induction Pro is my pick as the ultimate gift for green cooks, traditional cooks, kitchen newbies, and professional cooks alike. Previously, I picked the Fissler Pressure Cookers and Cookstar Pans as holiday gifts, and I recommend them again this year. In fact, they're even more ideal with the Fissler Cookstar Induction Pro, since they're induction compatible.
For more info or to buy one, visit Fissler Cookstar Induction Pro.
Sir Francis Bacon Peanut Brittle
If you're like me and consider a sea salt caramel to be the ultimate indulgence, Sir Francis Bacon Peanut Brittle will capture your heart with a new kind of wonderful. This crunchy, sweet, salty and slightly smoky confection is not your grandma's peanut brittle—it's touched with nibbles of artisanal Tennessee bacon and cuts no corners. As the company spokesperson explains, "We use Allen Benton's bacon. He is arguably the preeminent U.S. bacon artisan, cited by chefs and gourmands all over as having a one-of-a-kind product. His bacon, for example, is aged a minimum of one year, vs. most other manufacturers who age theirs between 30 and 60 days. There are far cheaper bacon sources, but we've found none better... We also use Spanish type peanuts from New Mexico, chosen for their natural sweetness. Other specialty ingredients like Madagascar vanilla round out the flavor profile and add to the complexity and sophistication of the product." And, they cook small batches in copper kettles, for the very best consistency.
I do have to disagree, though, with Florence Fabricant's assessment in the New York Times. "You cannot eat just one piece," she wrote in her review." Sure, you could keep eating bite after bite, but for me just one piece packs a wallop of satisfaction, with plenty of punch, mouthfulness, texture, flavor and that luscious lingering smoky bacon taste. (The company is planning a chocolate version; stay tuned!) It comes in an 8-ounce box, and in a group of three 3-ounce boxes (perfect stocking stuffers). Order it at BaconPeanutBrittle.com
KRUPS Professional Die Cast Tea Kettle
Boiling water in most electric kettles is more efficient than on a gas or electric cooktop. Water boils faster, using less fuel, and the closed system reduces heat loss into the room. Plus, it's a handy tool for speeding up recipes that require boiled water. If a large-capacity kettle or high-tech look appeals to you, consider the new KRUPS Professional Die Cast Tea Kettle. It shines with a sleek stainless steel die cast design and a few extra details. It has a removable antiscale filter and a power cable that coils under the base. The pot itself is cordless, pivots 360-degrees on the base, shuts off automatically, and the handle stays cool to the touch (although the pot itself gets too hot to touch). The lid locks to prevent spills and opens automatically with a soft-touch button. The 2-quart capacity means you can boil enough water for lots of cooking tasks, like jumpstarting boiling water for blanched vegetables, hard cooked eggs, potatoes, and pasta (see the tips in my book Cooking Green). Or, for instant soups, cocoa, and yes, even tea.
For more info or to buy one, visit KRUPS Professional Die Cast Tea Kettle.
Wilton 50-Piece Tool
and Caddy Decorating Set
Cake and cookie decorating unleashes a cook's inner artist in the most delicious ways. And the Wilton 50-Piece Tool and Caddy Decorating Set keeps the creativity flowing, the tools organized, and the inspiration easy and endless. It's got metal pastry tips for petals, leaves, borders, and other designs, pastry bags, colorings, and tools, all in a handy case that packs up, travels, and stores easily when the inner artist retreats. It's ideal for beginners, or for seasoned decorators that could use a more organized set-up. (I keep mine on a rolling cart, with bowls, spatulas and sugars, then roll the whole "decorating station" into my kitchen as needed.)
The 50-piece set includes all tools for the Wilton Course 1 decorating class: Standard Round Tips #2, 3, 5, 7, 12; Standard Open Star Tips #16, 18, 21, 32; Standard Basketweave Tip #47; Standard Leaf Tip #67; Standard Petal Tips #101, 103, 104; Drop Flower Tips #133, 225; Multi-Opening Tip #233; Leaf Tip #352; Tip #2004 (2D), No. 7 Flower Nail; 18 Disposable Bags; one 10 in. Soft Touch Bag; Tip Brush; Decorator Brush; two Standard Couplers; 8 in. Angled Comfort Grip Spatula; four .5 oz. Icing Colors: Lemon Yellow, Christmas Red, Royal Blue, Leaf Green; Practice Board; New Cake Decorating Beginner's Guide. For even more fun, the 101-piece set adds different metal tips and tools (like ones for fondant), bags for dishwashing the tips, a cake leveler and more.
Kuhn Rikon Mini Pro Knife Sharpener
In my fast paced world (never enough time!) and compact kitchen (never enough space!), the Kuhn Rikon Mini Pro Knife Sharpener puts a speedy new edge on my lifestyle. The ceramic stone grinder (by Kyocera) revives a dull blade in seconds, with 5-10 swipes through the sharpener. It's a great interim treatment between more serious methods (like professional regrinding, or using a 3-step diamond machine). At around 5 inches long, it's always in reach (or tucked in a drawer). Nonslip feet prevent slipping. Don't use it on ceramic or serrated blades, but for the knives you use most, it's a handy tool and it sharpens nonstick coated blades, too.
For more info or to buy one, visit Kuhn Rikon Mini Pro Knife Sharpener.
Continue on to Part II of Kate's Holiday Gift Reviews.
What to Eat This Month
A key part of every Thanksgiving dinner is the dressing. Here are some of our favorites:
- Aloha Bread and Macademia Stuffing
- with Chinese Sausage and Pineapple
- French Apple-Walnut-Rosemary Stuffing
- with Apple Sausage and Parsnips
- Cornbread-Water Chestnut Dressing
- Italian Sausage, Mushroom and Sage Stuffing
More Thanksgiving Recipes
Turkey of the Month:
Copyright © 2009, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified November 2009