At Home’s Top 5 Serious Holiday Gifts for Home Entertainers: Redux

If you are planning to entertain for the holidays, I hope you are planning ahead and spreading your tasks over time and resources (ie. other people). A fundamental At Home Principle is to do as many entertaining tasks as far in advance as possible because, as I say: If you leave everything to the last minute, you’ll only have a minute to do everything.

This is a re-post of suggestions from last holiday season. They are classics and worth re-posting. I also plan on re-posting my suggestions for stocking stuffers.  See dates and locations of upcoming book signings below post about holiday gifts.

What to get the home entertainer you love? Or what a much-loved home entertainer might suggest to those who love them. Use this list as a guide to your shopping or pass it along as a not so subtle suggestion to those who love you.

#5. Ice Cream Maker

You can store-buy excellent super-premium ice cream, but nothing in stores compares to what you can proudly make at home with an ice cream maker. Making ice cream is easy. Once you master the basic technique of making a custard base, your only limit is your imagination. My first at-home dinner date with Christina concluded with my homemade lavender ice cream — lavender picked from my garden. I guess it worked. A big batch  of my homemade lavender ice cream was dessert at our wedding last November. Another  favorite is my Thanksgiving-perfect Pumpkin Pecan Praline Ice Cream. And for the Christmas holidays, I love my Peppermint Ice Cream.  See the recipe below. At Home features a Mastering Ice Cream lesson, recipes for the above referenced ice creams plus Bing Cherry Vanilla and Sour Cream ice creams.There are also recipes for Pink Grapefruit, Pomegranate, Pineapple-Coconut and Wine-Poached Peach Sorbet.

I use a large electric Cuisinart ice cream maker that retails for about $250. I see that Cuisinart has since introduced a less expensive version that retails for less than $100 and makes two quarts — as much as my more expensive version. I have also been perfectly successfully making ice cream with the inexpensive variety that does not have an electric compressor, but does have an electric motor to turn the ice cream. You simply pre-chill the ice cream’s freezing container in your freezer and it’s ready to go. It’s limitation is that you can only make one or one and a half quarts — depending on the brand — and you cannot make successive batches.

Peppermint Ice Cream Sundaes
A word of caution: Serve this special ice cream treat one Christmas and folks will want it from you every Christmas. It’s the gift that you’ll have to keep on giving. Crushed candy canes provide a festive look and crunch to the ice cream. Garnish your sundaes with miniature candy canes stuck into the ice cream, hooked ends up. The ice cream is very rich, so keep servings small.

do ahead Ice cream can be made up to two weeks ahead. Sauce can be made up to a week ahead and refrigerated. Microwave briefly to loosen before serving.
11⁄2 cups crushed candy canes (about 15 51⁄2 -inch canes), divided
milk chocolate sauce (see p. 420)
8 egg yolks
11⁄2 cups sugar
pinch of table salt
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 pint heavy cream
1 pint half and half

1 In a mixing bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar and salt. Whisk until pale and creamy, about 1 minute. Stir in peppermint extract.
2 In a small saucepan, combine heavy cream and half and half over moderate heat and simmer until nearly boiling. Remove immediately from heat.
3 Add cream mixture in a slow, steady stream to yolk-sugar mixture, using a whisk to stir continuously. Transfer combined base mixture to a large measuring cup and reserve the bowl for the following step.
4 Slowly pour base mixture back into the pot over low heat. Stir constantly until lightly thickened. Do not boil. If using a thermometer, bring to 170º, about 10-12 minutes. Otherwise, heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. To check, put spoon in mixture, remove and run your finger down the back of spoon. It should leave a distinct, clean line for a moment. Remove from heat at once and pour into the reserved bowl to stop cooking.
5 Chill custard completely, at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
6 Freeze ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once it is ready, turn frozen mixture into a bowl and fold in 1 cup crushed candy canes. Place in freezer for at least 4 hours for final freezing.
7 Top ice cream with chocolate sauce and remaining crushed candy canes.
serves 12

#4. Enamel Over Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Braising is a cook’s great pleasure. And a heavy enamel over cast iron Dutch oven is the perfect pot to braise.

To paraphrase a maxim: Give a man a fish and he has food for a day. Teach a man to fish and he has food for a lifetime. That’s my approach to much of At Home where I aim to teach you how to cook or improve your technique and not simply provide you with recipes — though there are 432 of those. At Home’s Chapter 10: Braises, Casseroles & One-Dish Entrees includes Mastering Braises, an primer that will give you all you need to braise for a lifetime. Braising recipes include Beef Bourguignon, Lamb with Fava Beans, Pearl Onions & Minted Creme Fraiche, Black Beans with Smoked Ham Hocks and Soy & Honey-Braised Pork Belly.

My favorite braising pot is my 9-quart orange Le Creuset enamel over cast iron. I also have one about 2/3rd the size, but braised dishes freeze so well that I never fear making too much. The 9 quart costs close to $300 as a list price. Pricey, but lasts a lifetime.

An At Home margin note than runs alongside Mastering Braises.

Braising Tips From the Babe Ruth of Braising
Here’s a quote from Richard Olney’s Simple French Food that I find helpful: “But the magic word in the magical phrase is mijoter. It describes the condition of near suspension in which there is, nonetheless, a whispering movement, a tiny bubble rising here and there to break the stew’s surface— and it means, at the same time, a slow ripening. The comfortable satisfaction felt upon lifting the lid and glancing at the stew’s surface—a sense that, merely because a liquid’s surface is sustained at precisely the right point of hardly perceptible movement, all is well, the stew’s progress out of one’s hands and its success assured— is familiar to all cooks.”

#3. Cast Iron Grill Pan

About four years ago I moved into Christina’s Center City apartment. Lots of benefits came with the move, but not included was the benefit of a yard and outdoor grill. I was an all-season griller and I still am — thanks to my cast iron grill pan. Let it sit over heat for ten minutes and it gets searingly hot. A grill pan produces grilled foods equal to what you would do over the outdoor grill — minus a little all-weather cooking romance. Like the enamel over cast iron pots above, a grill pan will last a lifetime. Cleaning occasionally requires a screwdriver to scrape between the ridges to remove the garlic bits from the marinade that feel away and became encrusted. A 12-inch square Lodge Cast Iron pan costs only about $40.

At Home has an entire chapter devoted to Easy Entrees: From the Grill. Here’s a favorite:

Thai Thighs
Chicken thighs pack far more flavor than breasts and are much more forgiving of overcooking. They take to the grill particularly well. Given their low price and myriad assets, they’re pitifully underutilized. The sugar in this marinade makes for an extra level of caramelization—and a messy grill. You can also use any of the marinades in this chapter and follow the marinating and grilling procedure below.

do ahead Thighs can be marinated up to three days ahead. It’s best to cook them the day you are serving them.

2 tablespoons chopped ginger
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 bird’s-eye chiles or 1 jalapeño, seeded, ribbed and sliced
1⁄3 cup lime juice
1 stalk lemongrass
1⁄4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
salt and pepper
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
leaves from 5-6 fresh cilantro sprigs (optional)
1 lime, cut into 6 or 8 wedges, for garnish

1 Cut the root tip and dry end of the lemongrass stalk, leaving a length of about 8-10 inches. Peel away the outer leaves, leaving the tender core. Finely chop.
2 Combine lemongrass with ginger, garlic, chiles, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, oil, salt and pepper and mix well. Add chicken. Toss well and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
3 Just before grilling, add oil to marinade. Preheat grill to medium-high. Remove chicken from marinade, and allow marinade to drain off, but don’t wipe it dry. Place chicken on grill, smooth side up, and grill until nicely charred, about 4 minutes. Turn and grill the other side, about 4-5 minutes.
Serve whole or thinly sliced, either hot or at room temperature. Serve with lime wedges. Tear cilantro and sprinkle it over the chicken.
serves 6-8

#2. Large Wooden Cutting Board

I am a lucky guy. My entire kitchen counter is wooden cutting board. Absent having wooden counters, there is nothing like a large, thick, hard maple cutting board. Checking the internet, I found an ample 18-inch by 24-inch by 2 1/4-inch hard maple cutting board from Butcher Block for $138. Look for it locally as shipping is probably pretty steep for this heavy sucker.

#1. Shun Classic Knives

Excellent knives comes right after excellent organization as the key to turning prep work from a chore to a pleasure. My recommendation is to buy the best knives you can afford. I have used many different knives in my forty plus years doing what I do. My all-time favorite are Shun Knives. I much prefer these Japanese knives, that trace their origin to the ancient samurai tradition, to the heavier German premium knives. Razor sharp, Shun knives hold their blade well and a few strokes of a honing steel restores their sharpness. And their sculpted wooden handle fits comfortably in your hand.

Basics are the 10-inch Shun Classic Chef’s Knife and that’s the first knife I would give to a cook you love. This lists for about $169, but is typically on sale. Next, a Shun Classic Paring Knife listed for $75. Any cook will love these for a long, long time.

My favorite knives — the Shun Classic Chef’s Knife and Paring Knife

Give the Gift of At Home

Of course, I would be remiss in not suggesting the gift of At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining. Many blog subscribers already have At Home so already know how good a gift it is. And since it is not generally available in book stores, you can have reasonable confidence that it is a gift that is not already on the shelf. It is also the ideal “guide” to guide you through the holiday entertaining season.

At Home is available on line. Click here.

Upcoming Book Signings
You can also purchase At Home, get it personally inscribed and save shipping by coming to a book signing.

Reading Terminal Market this Saturday, December 11th
I will be at Reading Terminal Market this Saturday from 11 AM to 4 PM signing books in the Center Court. If you have not been to Reading Terminal Market lately your are missing the single best food destination in Philadelphia. I will also be sampling White Bean and Caramelized Fennel Dip from At Home (Page 78). If you bring your copy of The Frog Commissary Cookbook, you can purchase two copies of At Home and get the second copy for half price. That way you can buy one for a gift and keep the second one for yourself or just get a deal on buying two gifts! I am working on a possible additional date at Reading Terminal so check back here.

Ardmore Farmers’ Market on Thursday Thursday, December 16th
I will be at the Ardmore Farmers’ Market on Thursday, December 16th from 11 AM to 4 PM.

Other Places to Purchase At Home
Green Aisle Grocery
The pioneering Green Aisle is located at 1618 E. Passyunk Avenue, between Tasker and Morris. It is also a wonderful place for locally sourced foodstuffs for home and holiday giving.

Coopermarket’s proprietor is Beth Cooper, a long-time friend. In addition to purchasing At Home, it’s a great place to bring home delicious prepared foods for the holidays. Coopermarket is located at 302 Levering Mill Road in Bala Cynwyd.

Joseph Fox Bookshop
For many years while I operated The Commissary on the 1700 block of Sansom Street, the Joseph Fox Bookshop was a neighbor. It is Center City’s great independent bookshop and the only bookshop carrying At Home. A book makes a perfect holiday gift because your selection of a particular book for someone you love is an indication that you know and understand who they are. You can count on the books at Joseph Fox to be lovingly curated by the Fox family. The Joseph Fox Bookshop is located at 1724 Sansom Street in Philadelphia.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach

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