It’s that time of year again. Yes, that festive, holiday, gift-giving, time of year is fast approaching. With the economy still rebuilding however, we feel more like grinches that givers. We are optimistic about getting out of the financial reversal soon. But, clearly, this is the year to pick sensible and practical gifts for your favorite gourmet. (All prices from Amazon.com available at Epicurus Shoppes. Please note: At Epicurus Shoppes, if you see a “Find Out More Info” button, it will bring you to Amazon for more detail and direct ordering.)

KITCHEN TOYS:
Cuisinart Elite Collection Food Processor:
cuisinartelitefoodprocessorCusinart has a new fleet of shiny new food processors which speak to the needs of cooks everywhere. The first benefit of this new model is that you can easily pour out the contents of the bowl without the blade falling out. There is even a pouring spout in the work bowl to avoid messes on the counter. Another neat upgrade is the seal which allows no leaks at the bottom of the bowl. I prefer the 14 cup-size processor which also includes a 4 ½-cup and 11-cup bowl for every need. Another bonus is a lockable accessory storage case for extra blades for both convenience and safety. The retractable cord device is also very handy. This is a MUST for any cook. It’s the upgrade of the decade! (Also available in 16-cup and 12-cup sizes.)

Mr. Coffee 20-Ounce Frappe Maker
Make your own Frappuccinos with this clever new item. This frappe maker is actually a cross between a coffee machine and blender. With the touch of a button you can say bye bye to Starbucks and Coffee Bean with you very own at-home ice-blendeds!

Sushezi Sushi Made Easy
For would-be sushi chefs this neat device helps you make perfectly round, restaurant-quality sushi at home. You can vary your fillings and toppings and have a party in your kitchen with this new kitchen toy that adults and children will both love.

Microplane Red Serrated Peeler
With its new ergonomic soft touch handle, this nifty tool is the latest entry into the serrated peeler category. It not only peels carrots and zucchini, but it works on soft vegetables and fruits like tomatoes and peaches. And…it is dishwasher safe.

Curious Chef Party Event Kits Holiday Cookie Kit (26 pieces)
This kit for budding chefs contains cookie cutters, utensils, rolling pin, measuring spoon set, measuring cup set, party hats, and even special holiday aprons. Now kids can help in the kitchen with their very own tools and safe plastic knives.

Circulon Cook Great, Look Great Outdoor BBQ Pan
This pan is perfect for outdoor chefs who want to cook fish, shrimp, veggies, and other small items that often have to be painstakingly skewered to cook perfectly. You can also use this pan for stir-frying on the grill. Since it is nonstick, you don’t have to use a lot of oils and therefore have less greasy flare-ups. This is a perfect item for outdoor aficionados.

CorningWare SimplyLite (Prices range according to sizes):
I don’t like to microwave in plastic containers. But I really like this new lightweight version of the old CorningWare pieces that I still use in my microwave. The dishes, with glass and see-through BPA-free plastic storage lids, are designed to nest and stack neatly. There are 2 and 3-quart oblong bakers and 1.5-quart and 2.5-quart casseroles.

iTouchless Automatic Paper Towel Dispenser
Cooks with messy food on their hands often grab at a paper towel dispenser resulting in too many wasted towels and a dispenser covered with marinara sauce! Now, with one motion of your hand towards the automatic towel dispenser, you will have just the right amount of paper towel, no mess, no waste.

Bonjour Magnetic Clip Timer :
This cleverly designed kitchen timer clips right onto your apron or belt so you can check out your latest Tivo show and still remember to pop the brownies out of the oven when they are done! This nifty timer is magnetic and can be stuck onto any metal appliance for convenience. (Available in blue, green, yellow, and red.)

BOOKS:
Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller
Bouchon Interior IIThis is clearly the book of the year. America’s Top Chef shares his family recipes in a beautiful volume that is geared to the home cook! It looks like a coffee table book but once you start reading it, you will find it so user friendly you might be wiping sauce off the pages. Rubbed and glazed spareribs, split pea soup, scallion potato cakes, and banana split are just a few of the wonderful treats you will want to cook from in this winning volume.

But if you still want to sample Thomas Keller’s amazing cuisine, Bouchon has at last opened in Beverly Hills and all of L.A. is banging down the doors to get a reservation. The restaurant is following the same format as Bouchon in Yountville, and will feature such bistro classics as Keller’s roast chicken, leg of lamb, and the signature grand plateau with two tiers of oysters, cold poached Maine lobster, sweet gulf white shrimp, tiny Bouchot mussels, littleneck clams and Dungeness crab. Bouchon 235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills 310-271-9910.

Baking: 350 recipes and techniques, 1500 photographs, one baking education by James Peterson
This primer for all things baking is a great basic for those loving things sweet. Peterson pens some wonderful basic volumes and has finally tackled this complex subject in a serious essential method. This is a volume you will want to have around as a basic whenever you reach for your measuring spoons and cups!

Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo
I have been a fan of Eileen Yin-Fei Lo for many years and have many of her cookbooks. This latest book is a new voluminous work of cooking lessons that guide cooks through the techniques and steps that make this cuisine so special. It’s the new basics of Chinese Cuisine.

Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook by the Creators of Top Chef
OK, I am a Top Chef groupie. I haven’t missed an episode yet and this lovely compilation of fun recipes such as Harold’s pan roasted chicken with potato gnocchi; Stephanie’s bittersweet chocolate cake; or Stefan’s bananas mousse with oatmeal-almond crisp brings back great memories. BTW, if you are in L.A. try Stefan’s new restaurant called Stefan’s LA Farm in Santa Monica. The food is sensational! Stefan’s LA Farm 3000 W. Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica 310-449-4000.

Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta: 100 Quick and Easy Recipes by Giuliano Hazan
Thank goodness carbs are back in favor. I love pasta and I love the Hazan touch, either from Mama Marcella, or son Giuliano. Recipes like egg drop soup with zucchini Amalfi style, penne with radicchio, or my personal favorite, spaghetti al cacao e peppe (cheese and pepper). Recipes are clear and very easy-to follow.

A Tavola!: Recipes and Reflections on Traditional Italian Home Cooking from the Culinary Institute of America Dining by Gianni Scapin and Vincenzo Lauria
This Italian cookbook is a nice compilation of regional recipes for home cooks. There is a lot to read about and lots to learn in this charming volume. Recipes such as spinach and lemon dumplings in broth; corkscrew pasta with arugula and hazelnut pesto; peppery beef stew with butternut squash; and Sicilian cannoli.

Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever with More than 400 Easy-to-Make Recipes by Diane Phillips
Lately, I have renewed my interest in my slow cooker. It is a great device to have in the kitchen and this book has a ton of inspired recipes to prepare especially for wintery nights at home. Pulled pork; chicken Dijonnaise; all-I-want-is-meat-and-potatoes sirloin; and Dubliner stew are just some of the delicious recipes featured in this large paperback volume.

New Classic Family Dinners by Mark Peel with Martha Rose Shulman
This book is a wonderful mixture of home-cooked recipes with a sophistication of style. Mark’s comfort food, as seen in his delightful food at his restaurant Campanile in Los Angeles, comes across beautifully in this home-cook’s style book. I loved the smothered pork chops, swiss chard gratin, illustrated recipe of campfire potatoes, and peach cobbler with buttermilk drop biscuits. And if you are in Los Angeles, check out Campanile Restaurant 624 S. La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles 323-938-1447.

Love Soup: 160 All New Vegetarian Recipes by Anna Thomas
From the author of the most famous vegetarian cookbook called “The Vegetarian Epicure,” comes a new volume of clear, precise, and quite delicious vegetarian recipes for all occasions. Her cold cucumber and mint soup with radishes, spicy black bean soup with sweet peppers, and potage of baby spring greens are all winners in this seasonal volume that is sure to be a staple on your cookbook shelf.

Chocolate Bliss: Sensuous Recipes, Spa Treatments, and Other Divine Indulgences by Susie Norris
Chocolate equals Bliss. That is one of my favorite equations. Susie Norris explores chocolate in this concise book. She starts with the essence of taste, moves on to uses in health and beauty, touches on its healing powers, and finally concentrates on the sharing power of chocolate gifts. For those who need a little extra pampering in their lives Susie crafts gift baskets using her artisan chocolates. For more information on the baskets: go to www.happychocolates.com/.

The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern: Knockout Dishes with Down-Home Flavor
I love Southern cooking. It’s comforting, wholesome, and full of rich flavors. Matt and Ted Lee have come up with another wonderful volume of cherished Southern recipes that can’t be missed. Start with their ginger lemonade, refreshing no matter what the season, check out the creamy oyster stew, sample the shrimp and deviled-egg salad rolls, taste the pork tenderloins with Madeira and fig gravy, and finish with banana pudding parfaits. Delish!

Golden Door Cooks at Home: Favorite Recipes from the Celebrated Spa by Dean Rucker with Marah Stets
This ultimate very, very pricey spa serves up some of the most intriguing yet light cuisine. Now you can have the spa cuisine without the spa price tag! Michel Stroot penned several successful Golden Door cookbooks in the past decades and now Chef Rucker comes up with some really creative ways to enjoy your food while lowering your calorie intake. Turkey burgers with sharp cheddar and caramelized onions, Moroccan spiced lamb, crispy duck breast, and blackberry nectarine crisp are just a few of the mouth-watering recipes in the beautiful volume.

Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home: 52 Quick Meals to Cook for Family and Friends
From the uber-chef/queen-of-all-things-in-the-home, comes a fantastically simple and usable book for cooks of all levels. Organized by seasons, one can start in the spring with baby lamb chops and asparagus with aioli, move to a summer soba noodle salad, proceed to a fall roasted pumpkin soup, and choose from a winter celery root and walnut salad or pear and dried cherry baked custard. The recipes are flawless and so easy to follow.

(Photo of Bouchon courtesy of Alex Berliner.)

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