Day 4: Three great stocking stuffers

Every kitchen needs those little things that make life easier, and those are the items that I put in gift baskets or carry along for gifts at dinners or parties. Here are my three favorites. Two are old stand-bys and the third is a new one I was introduced to this year and now use several times a week.

All of these are available at kitchen stores, such as Southern Season in Chapel Hill or Whisk in Cary, and at variety stores.

Long-handled locking tongs: The locking function is key. It allows the handle to fold up tight for storage. I use these sturdy tongs to turn food on the grill, toss greens for salads or stir-frys, lift roasted meats and a number of other things. Mine are about 14-inches long. Oxo/Good Grips makes a good pair.

Mini angled measuring cup: I use this small plastic cup with a spout, which is marked off in tablespoons and ounces, for just about everything. It’s a jigger for cocktails or a scoop for sugar, holds soy sauce or other liquids at the ready to add quickly to a dish (try propping up a regular tablespoon and disaster will ensue). I have to frisk people when they leave my house to be sure they don’t pocket it. Also made by Oxo/Good Grips.

Charles Viancin silicone bowl lid: I received this as a gift earlier this year and it has become a kitchen staple. The surface seals to the lip of most bowls. Environmentally conscious friends will love it because it can replace plastic wrap or foil for storing food in the refrigerator. It’s heat tolerant, so it can go in the oven. It’s great for steaming  foods and is easily washable. And it’s just pretty. You can see what it looks like here.  Although the photos show lifting bowls with the lid, I would not attempt that. Find it at kitchen and specialty stores.

Day one: Last-minute shopping

IMG_3092Don’t worry – I’ll help you get it all under control. For the next few days, I’m going to give you great gift ideas for food fans that you can grab locally.

I’m going to start with a book that’s educational and delicious, and will upend your thoughts about a well-known type of food. If you think you know all about soul food, read “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine” by Adrian Miller (University of North Carolina Press, $30). You’ll realize just how little you knew before reading this well-researched and entertainingly written book.

Miller, a lawyer-turned-food-historian that I met through the Southern Foodways Alliance, deftly digs into the roots of African American food and offers thoughtful commentary on soul food’s place at the table. No stereotyping here. And I had no idea that red Kool-Aid possessed such significance.

Miller also addresses the changing nature and definition of the cuisine, as cooks adapt it to new tastes and nutritional issues, while expressing the hope that “soul food can keep its flavor without losing its soul”

This is not a cookbook, but it does contain 22 tested recipes that bring important parts of the story into the kitchen. Give this book to anyone who wants to know more about the culture and roots of an important cuisine.