Gifts for the kitchen are always welcome during the Christmas season. For those who are still working on their last-minute shopping, here are some excellent gift ideas. And for those who will receive any of these items, the accompanying recipes will get them off to a good start.
Truffles can be easily made using the Braun Multipractic Hand Blender (from $29.95), a blending stick that performs most tasks a regular blender can do. The neatest thing about this gadget is that it allows you to take the blender to the food, not the food to the blender. Luscious and creamy, the truffles were created by Laurent Quenioux, executive chef of the Seventh Street Bistro in Los Angeles.
One of my favorite pans is the black Peking Pan from Joyce Chen Products in Waltham, Mass. ($24.99 for the pan alone and $50 for a set with lid, spatula and recipe book), an outstanding rust-free stainless steel wok. It has a copper-clad bottom for fast cooking and a convenient flat bottom design. The Peking Pan is not as large as the standard wok but it has the depth and wide bottom that are ideal for stir-frying, deep-frying or steaming. A high dome cover made of shiny stainless steel enhances the steaming process. During the holiday season, Gelson's Market is selling a Peking Pan Gift Pack with wooden spatula, rice noodles and Joyce Chen sauces ($39.99). The Szechuan Stir-Fry Sauce was used in the chicken and green pepper recipe provided below.
Create a gingerbread house for a hostess gift or present a gift kit for making one for the next season. Mable and Gar Hoffman recently designed for Holiday Concepts, Tucson, Ariz., a new Santa's Workshop Gingerbread House Kit ($4.95) that's easy to do even for the beginner. Actual size color patterns and foolproof step-by-step instructions ensure picture-pretty results. Mable Hoffman, a noted food stylist and cookbook author, suggests four packages of gingerbread mix but includes her own gingerbread dough recipe as well for delicious eating.
Many people are buying small food processors for themselves or for Christmas presents this year. One of the newer models is the Emmie from Hamilton Beach ($69.95). Like other late models, the Emmie has several features that are an improvement of the original Oskar compact machine. Some of these are: it's equipped with a handle for easy pouring, the bowl is larger, it unlocks and locks into place more quickly, and it has a larger steel blade. For Christmas entertaining, Hamilton Beach offered a Holiday Fruit Loaf recipe using the Emmie food processor.
If you like the CushionAire insulated baking sheet, pizza and jellyroll pans from Rema Bakeware in Salina, Kan., check out the new 13x9-inch insulated cake pan ($18.95 with lid, $14.95, pan only). The problem of overbrowning is solved in this bakeware concept: two pans in one with a cushion of air in between. The only adjustment, we discovered, in using these pans is having to slightly increase the baking period. Rema shared an easy-to-make, one-bowl, rich and moist chocolate cake recipe with a cherry pie filling.
Buying a microwave unit? Think combination convection/microwave oven this time. "The combination is the best of both worlds," says Nancy Boyle, Sharp Electronics' manager of product development and training. "The convection feature allows foods to brown and crisp while the microwave feature keeps food more moist while cooking them faster," she explains. She contributed a recipe for Cardamom Pork Roast using Sharp Carousel II Convection Microwave Oven (from $479 to $599) with programmable settings.
To the health- and figure-conscious, a Donvier Shakemaker from Nikkal ($35) may be offered. Diet drinks are made more frothy in the gadget using very cold nonfat milk. The small electrical appliance has an aerating disk that can even produce thick whipped toppings using skim milk. CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES (Braun Hand Blender)
2 cups whipping cream
1 (16-ounce) bar semisweet dark chocolate, cut in small pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
Place whipping cream in saucepan and bring to boil. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and butter. Using hand blender, blend at regular speed until smooth. Chill 24 hours. Shape into balls and coat lightly with cocoa powder. Makes about 62 truffles. SICHUAN CHICKEN WITH GREEN PEPPERS (Joyce Chen Peking Pan)
2 whole chicken breasts, boned and diced into 3/4-inch cubes
3 to 4 tablespoons Joyce Chen's Szechuan Stir-Fry Sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup oil
3 tablespoons water
1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained
2 medium green peppers, diced
Toasted cashews or peanuts, optional