THE GOCHISO GOURMET: The Gochiso Gourmet’s reluctant gift guide

Get food trendy with a sous vide contraption from Williams-Sonoma.

I’ve lost some of that feel-good anticipation and Christmas cheer that I used to experience as a child. While I haven’t converted completely to the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge, I’m not exactly the Ghost of Christmas Present come December. Perhaps part of this stems from the commercialization (or over commercialization) of Christmas. Maybe it’s seeing Christmas decorations adorning stores before Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s actually seeing Christmas decorations before Halloween. Maybe it’s the daily to thrice-daily e-mails advertising Christmas specials from every company I’ve purchased anything from, or the hoards of mail-order catalogs that arrive daily from late October. I mean, we’ve totally bypassed poor Thanksgiving for no fault of its own simply because it’s the holiday that gets in the way of Christmas. I’ve joked that if I were Emperor of the Universe any sign of Christmas before the fourth Friday in November, including advertisements or decorations of any kind, would be punishable by immediate imprisonment! Maybe I have fully converted to the Grinch… I just thought that greenish skin tint came from eating too much kale.

In any case, the editors of the Nichi Bei Weekly are using this issue for their holiday gift guide. So while I am going against my own Laws of the Universe, here’s the Gochiso Gourmet’s reluctant gift guide.

Food is good

Food is always good, though we often don’t have the time to prepare it on a daily basis. Therefore the next best thing is food that’s already prepared. Oh sure, you can purchase a case of Weight Watchers, Stouffer’s or Healthy Choice frozen meals, but I don’t think the recipient will exactly be thrilled (especially a female recipient of Weight Watchers meals). Then there’s DineWise, which prepares a wide variety of meals that’s shipped frozen and only needs simple reheating to enjoy. I have ordered the product for sis-n-law to fit into her busy schedule; she makes a great cup of coffee and arranges a mean cheese board, but doesn’t cook very often. However my brother ended up consuming most of the meals, which he said were very good (though he complained that portion sizes were a wee bit lacking for him… I say enforced portion control).

If your recipient frequently dines out, how about restaurant gift certificates? And though it might be tempting to simply purchase these cards at your local supermarket check stand, how about personalizing it with gift cards from smaller neighborhood restaurants? That way you also help to bolster the local economy. You can always add the restaurant menu with the gift card or certificate so that the recipient can even order take-out to fit into their busy schedule. And perchance you decide not to gift a specific recipient; you can always keep the card/certificate for yourself for later use.

From the Microplane line of kitchen graters. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Cooking is also good

Though most of us need another 12 hours added to the 24-hour day, there are some who also love the kitchen arts and specifically fit time into our schedules to create meals from scratch. I personally enjoy tinkering in the kitchen as a means to unwind and as any budding chef knows, you can never have too many kitchen gadgets: from the fanciest Damascus chef’s knives, to a full set of hinged scoops for uniform muffins or cookies, to individual flexible cutting boards for meats, poultry and veggies, all the way up to the latest immersion cooker for perfect sous vide (under vacuum) cooking.

I personally feel that the one kitchen “gadget” that’s a necessity in all kitchens is a good knife, and if I had to choose one brand, it would be Global knives. Created in Japan in 1985 by Komin Yamada, these knives slice through meats, veggies and fruits like a hot blade goes through “buttah.” They aren’t the best looking — no fancy wood handles or Damascus patterned blades — but they make kitchen prep work a breeze. And they are priced below comparable Japanese made blades. www.global-knife.com

And what does a good kitchen knife need? A good cutting board. My favorite cutting surfaces are green to boot. They are made from recycled wood fiber and in some cases even recycled cardboard that has been pressed and sealed with resin. And as an added bonus, they are very knife friendly and can even be washed in the dishwasher. Unlike polypropylene (which is also dishwasher and knife friendly), cleaning oily substances like chicken fat off the surface is simply accomplished with basic dishwashing liquid. All the benefits of a wooden cutting surface with the sanitary benefits of plastic. There are several brands available, though Epicurean produces a wide range of cutting surfaces for home use all the way up to commercial use. www.epicurean.com

For those cooking applications that don’t require a knife but simply require a little grating, might I suggest the Microplane line of kitchen graters. What originally started as carpentry tools has evolved to a whole set of kitchen graters that can finely grate hard cheeses all the way up to julienne vegetables. And unlike an expensive (and bulky) French mandolin, these handheld graters and slicers are easy to wash and some even come with guards to prevent inadvertent shaving of finger nails and finger tips into your culinary creations. One of my favorite Microplane devices uses a turning grating wheel to make simple work of block Parmigiano Reggiano to the grated variety.  866-968-6665 x4999, service@microplanedirect.com or www.microplane.com.

Finally if money is no object for your beloved (or someone you simply happen to be stalking), consider an immersion cooker. For the scientific types, an immersion cooker is nothing more than a kitchen water bath that keeps the water temperature constant down to the tenth of a degree for extended periods. Something like those water baths in chemistry lab but a little more precise. Why would you (or anyone else) need a water bath that could be set to 129.5 degrees? To cook your duck breast to a perfect medium rare from surface to core. Or beef tenderloin. I know everyone has cooked steak to medium rare just in the internal core of the meat while the outside is medium to medium well. But if you vacuum seal a piece of meat in a bag then let it sit quietly at 143.5 degrees for several hours, the whole piece of meat will cook to exact doneness from surface to core. You can then remove said piece of meat to quickly brown with pan searing. But how much does this contraption cost? Williams-Sonoma has said contraption priced at $799.95 until the end of the year, but it also includes a 20-quart stainless-steel stock pot and 32-quart Lexan cooking tub (a $199.95 value according to WS). Of course you will also need a vacuum sealing device ($199.95) and replacement vacuum bags ($19.95 for 50). Why so much fuss over sous vide cooking? No more duck breast that’s tough on the outside and raw in the middle. It also produces tender and moist protein — I had the best fried chicken in Larkspur that was first sous vide cooked then deep fried. Crunchy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. Oh, and if you already purchased this item and your intended recipient doesn’t want it, just e-mail me and I’ll send you my address. It doesn’t even need to be gift wrapped. 877-812-6235 or www.williams-sonoma.com

Global knives “slice through meats, veggies and fruits like a hot blade goes through ‘buttah.’” photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Camaraderie is the best

In this age of hustle and bustle and needing another 6 to 10 hours in our 24-hour days, sometimes the best gift isn’t a physical gift at all. Sometimes just setting aside time to catch up with an acquaintance during the holiday season can be the best gift of all. A drink or two after work or maybe some leisure coffee time during the day may be all that’s needed. If time permits then maybe a simple dinner or any meal for that matter. Reinforcing the bonds that keep us human… and humane. We’re in the process of arranging our own traditional Christmas get-together as this goes to print. So in essence I am breaking my own holiday rules of the universe. But since Thanksgiving is only one week away, I guess I can grant myself probation instead of holiday incarceration. And of course, if you still want to send me that immersion cooker, please feel free to do so.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, Hawaii and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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