Dear Milk Streeter,
It’s that time of year, which, all around, is a good thing. It’s time for being grateful, for family, for cooking and also for some fun but practical gifts. Kitchen gadgets and tools are always the most enjoyable gifts because the good ones are both clever and useful. (I also love classic illustrated kid’s books such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales and The Arabian Nights.)
And I need to be up front about this year’s list. Many items are sold through our store. Please feel free to look for them elsewhere, but we chose these items because they were handsome and well made, particularly useful and, well, really cool!
So, let’s start from Number 14 and work our way up to the top.
P.S. There are still 2 days left to receive free shipping on all orders over $75 from the Milk Street Store. Quantities of some items are limited, so order today.
#14. MATSUTAKE SHOYU ($31.95)
Haku Matsutake Shoyu is made from the next generation of shoyu masters from the Kyoto Prefecture. This perfect pairing of shoyu and matsutake (a spicy, aromatic mushroom popular in Japan) delivers complex aromas of earthy must, leather, fermented soy beans and white pepper plus lots of umami. This is a finishing soy sauce—which means the highest quality—and is one of Japan’s great shoyus. Our tasters found this shoyu balanced, lightly woody, with a strong mushroom flavor.
#13. MILK STREET SIGNATURE 5-SPICE COLLECTION ($59.95)
Milk Street is all about new flavors, and we often call for spices that some folks may not have in their pantries. Here are five of the most common spices we call for: sumac, coriander seed, Sichuan peppercorns, cumin seed and smoked paprika. We provide seeds for the cumin and coriander since we often cook with whole seeds, and pre-ground spices tend to lose flavor over time. These are high-quality spices: The sumac is from Turkey and is unadulterated with colorings or salt. The paprika is smoked in the traditional manner in Spain. You will pay a bit more, but good spices make all the difference.
#12. TOVOLO MAGNETIC TRI-PEELER (Set of 3 for $12)
These y-shaped peelers come in a set of three: one straight blade, one serrated blade and a julienne blade for thin strips. What we liked most about these peelers was the magnetic handles, which kept them together in the drawer and made them easy to store and find. They are also dishwasher safe.
#11. CAST IRON MOISTLY GRILLED GRILL HUMIDIFIER (Set of 2 for $29.99)
We got great results when we replaced the disposable tray of water called for in some slow-grilling recipes with these reusable cast-iron humidifiers. Each set comes with two humidifiers; we filled ours with a can of beer each to make moist and flavorful whole chicken. We let the beer completely evaporate to form a burnt, sticky mess and were pleasantly surprised at how easily they cleaned out with a little hot soapy water.
#10. JACOBSEN SALT CO. MINI SEA SALT TINS ($6)
As I’ve said many times, salt is salt. But if you use a lot, why not use the best? I like that this top-notch, hand-harvested sea salt comes from the Oregon coast—and its briny flavor leaves no aftertaste. And I admit, I also like the packaging! A two-pound box is a reasonable $12, and a two-pack of the slide-tins (they are .42 ounces each) is just $6, good for traveling or for a stocking stuffer or small birthday gift.
#9. MYMOUNÉ POMEGRANATE MOLASSES ($15.95)
Twenty years ago when John Willoughby, the former executive editor of Gourmet magazine, sang the praises of pomegranate molasses, I, of course, made fun of him for suggesting yet another hard to find ingredient. As usual, I was wrong and he was right. I now use this simple ingredient every week, adding it to soups, stews, salad dressings—just about anything that could use a hit of sweet and sour. I discovered this brand through a restaurant in Cambridge called Moona. The bottle will last a long time, and it is so much better than the sweeter, less balanced supermarket products.
#8. TOVOLO PRECISION PIE CRUST CUTTER ($10)
We have tested piecrust cutters before and liked one that works like a compass. This brand-new model works the same way with a few improvements. It can cut out rounds from 2 to 14 inches in diameter, and it comes with four different edge cutters: straight, loose wave, tight wave and scalloped. The edge cutters fit inside the knob for easy storage. The cutting edge is held firmly in place with a magnet, so it is also easy to switch out. It comes apart for easy cleaning and is dishwasher safe.
#7. KAKOMI RICE COOKER ($76)
If you’ve never used a clay rice cooker like this one, then you’ve never had fabulous rice. Here’s how it works: Rice and water are placed in the pot and allowed to sit for 20 minutes covered by the cooker’s two lids—an inner lid with two small holes and an outer lid with just one. Turn on the heat and wait about 10 minutes for steam to escape. After two minutes of steaming, turn off the heat and let the pot sit for another 2 to 5 minutes. Yes, it’s a bit fussier than an electric rice cooker, but the results are incredible. I’ve been using mine for more than a year and refuse to make rice any other way. A caveat: This pot only works on a gas stove.
#6. RACHAEL RAY MULTI-GRATER ($24.99)
This sturdy stainless steel grater has a unique curved design with silicone handles that grip onto most bowls, pots or pans. The ribbon blade is perfect for onions, carrots, garlic and ribbons of cheese. The course blade is ideal for nutmeg and citrus. The holes are slightly larger than most zesters, which meant slightly larger zest (not an issue for most recipes) and more zest with each stroke so we were done grating faster. The large grating surface and sharp blades make prepping fast and easy. The grater is also top-rack dishwasher safe for easy cleanup.
#5. WOOD BURNING PIZZA OVEN ($299)
Let’s be honest. The first time I saw this oven at Milk Street and the price, I was, to say the least, skeptical. But when our product tester tried it out at home, she came back with a rave review. (And she wanted to keep it too!) Heated with wood pellets, it reaches over 900 degrees in just 10 minutes and can cook a pizza in just 60 seconds, about as long as it takes at Michael’s in Naples. (I know since I actually timed it during a visit there a few years ago.) Made from stainless steel, it sits on three sturdy legs and is easy to set up and move around. It can take a stone baking board that is roughly 13 inches square, which is plenty for homemade pizza. You can also use it to cook flatbreads, meat, vegetables or anything you want to cook quickly using high heat. This contraption may look crazy, but we loved it!
#4. CHRISTOPHER KIMBALL SIGNATURE TIMER ($39)
This timer is small and lightweight, but not so small that it’s hard to use. A double window allows users to track two separate events simultaneously without having to toggle back and forth. Once a timer sounds, the clock continues counting up so you know how much time has elapsed, and once you stop a timer, hitting the Start/Stop button a second time will bring up the time originally set. Finally, if you zero out a timer and hit Start/Stop, the timer will count up to serve as a stopwatch. The timer includes a lanyard for looping around your neck and a clip on the back for attaching to an apron or shirt.
#3. ZWILLING J.A. HENCKELS & CHRISTOPHER KIMBALL 3-PIECE KNIFE SET ($99.95)
I designed these three knives based on how we all really cook at home, not on how a professional chef uses a knife. The 7-inch kitchen knife is light, has a deep blade which makes it easier and safer to use, and has a scalloped heel which makes it easier to get one’s finger right up on the blade. The 5.5-inch serrated knife is an all-purpose knife, great if you are not a pro at sharpening your regular knives. And the 4-inch paring knife is long enough to do lots of jobs in the kitchen, from slicing to mincing to shaving. This set is available online and in-store at Sur La Table and can also be purchased in-store at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
#2. RUMI SPICE SAFFRON FROM AFGHANISTAN ($34.95)
I recently interviewed Kimberly Jung, who, after completing a tour of duty in Afghanistan, founded Rumi Spice, a company that grows, collects, and exports saffron, giving hundreds of local women good-paying jobs. It turns out that a good deal of saffron sold around the world is either old or made from died corn silk. Rumi Spice sells the real thing. Here at Milk Street, we support Kimberly and the notion of helping the women of Afghanistan earn their own money directly for the first time in their lives. The International Taste & Quality Institute has rated Afghan saffron Number One three years running.
#1. JIA THREE-PIECE STEAMER SET ($139)
Most steamers are either too large, too cheaply made or, in the case of the old-fashioned metal steamer inserts, too awkward to use. I bought this steamer set a year ago and have fallen in love with it. The pot is glazed, fireproof ceramic that can sit directly on a burner. The steamer basket is made from cedar and the sieve base is made from terra cotta to absorb excess moisture. You can use this steamer set in the oven or microwave as well. Both well made and beautiful, it is 9½ inches in diameter and 11½ inches deep. Mine sits on top of my stove 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.