Holiday gift shopping for foodies who have everything can be frustrating enough to induce culinary stupor.
Do you spend the big bucks and get them what they really want (Viking range, anyone?), or do you grab yet another assortment of kitchen baubles (does anyone really use cocktail glass charms?) destined for the junk drawer?
Assuming the professional range isn't in your budget, try the middle ground with this assortment of off-the-beaten-track kitchen goodies that will be a treat for any foodie.
GARLIC CARD (Available for $6 from Amazon.com, information at http://www.garliccard.com)
This stocking stuffer offers a a whole new way to work with garlic. The Garlic Card is the shape and size of a credit card, but covered with 135 tiny ridges and bumps. Rubbing a peeled clove over the bumps quickly reduces it to pulp.
The result is a garlic puree similar to what you get with a garlic press, but the Garlic Card takes up much less drawer space and is easier to clean (just rinse under water). And unlike a metal grater, the card won't cut your fingers.
MORE OF THE SAME ($40 to $100, widely available online)
Sometimes the best gift for foodies who have it all is more of the same. As in, a second bowl for their stand mixer or food processor, or another carafe for their blender.
This may not sound particularly imaginative, but for people who enjoy cooking, having a spare bowl or carafe for a frequently used appliance can be a tremendous help. It means not having to wash between batches or recipes.
The manufacturers of the appliances usually sell these items on their Web sites (including KitchenAid and Cuisinart), but they also are widely available from other online shops, including eBay.
GRANITE OR MARBLE SCRAPS ($10 to $100, depending on size)
Foodies love the look and feel of stone, but granite and marble counters can cost a fortune. So why not get them a stone serving platter or pastry board (perfect for rolling out tricky pastry doughs that need to be kept cool).
This is easier and cheaper than you would imagine. Find a stone shop in your area that crafts countertops. Mistakes happen, and pieces of counter that chip during cutting or have other flaws usually are tossed on a scrap heap.
If you're lucky, the company will give you a piece for free. Others let people pick through their scrap piles and purchase by weight or size. Be sure to bring heavy gloves; you'll encounter sharp edges when picking through the pile.
For a cheese or hors d'oeuvre board, find a chunk about 18 inches around (ask for vanity or sink cutouts). For a pastry board, aim for about twice that size (and bring help, it will be heavy).
SPICE FLIGHTS ($20 to $50)
Restaurants everywhere offer flights of wines, cheeses, even chocolates. These fun tasting experiences let you sample different, but related varieties of food and drink.
Borrow this concept and give your favorite foodie a flight of spices. Here's how it works: purchase three or more varieties of a single herb or spice (paprika, oregano and peppercorns are good choices).
Package the spices in attractive bottles and pair them with recipes (the Internet should provide plenty) that highlight the nuances of each variety.
To get enough variety, buy from a specialty spice shop, of which plenty are available online. Two outstanding sources are Penzeys Spices (http://www.penzeys.com) and Kalustyan's (http://www.kalustyans.com ).
COOKBOOKS ("The Oxford Companion to Italian Food" for $35 and "1080 Recipes" for $39.95)
Give the gift of culinary knowledge by way of two recent books that offer exhaustive treatments of Italian and Spanish cuisines. For anyone who takes these styles of cooking seriously, these books are essential.
First is Gillian Riley's "The Oxford Companion to Italian Food," a fascinating encyclopedia of the Italian food world. Though it includes no recipes, it is a wonderful resource for understanding Italian recipes and how to cook them.
Second is Simone and Ines Ortega's "1080 Recipes," Spain's answer to the "Joy of Cooking." It's been hugely popular in Spain for 30 years, but the book by the mother-daughter team has only just now been published in the U.S.
MICROSOFT'S ONENOTE ($99, though there are plenty of deals online)
Finally, there is a good solution for managing all those recipes torn out of magazines and newspapers or printed out from the Web. That's because without knowing it, Microsoft has created the home cook's dream software.
The software is called OneNote, which is packaged with some versions of Microsoft's Office suite, but also can be purchased on its own. Intended for students, the software allows the user to create countless digital "notebooks."
These notebooks allow users to paste images (from the Web or scanned) and type text anywhere. And the best part is that everything, even scanned text, is searchable.
Why does this matter to home cooks? Because when you tear recipes out of magazines and organize them in file folders or on note cards, the only way to search them is to flip through and read every page.
With OneNote, users can scan those recipes in, organize them as desired, then search them. For example, ask the software to search for "paprika" and it will list every recipe that uses the ingredient.
A scanner is essential for making the most of this software. Many smaller ones can be purchased for under $100.
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