Gift-giving is hard. We all like to think of ourselves as the sort of ultra-compassionate, sensitive friends who know a person’s desires better than they know them themselves, but — judging from the gifts we get — we’re probably just as bad at the whole rigamarole as everyone else. Unless you’re Tom Cruise or Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock‘s “Secret Santa” episode, the chances are that someone will return something you gave them this week.
You’ll do the same and you know it. Swapping the gift you swore you loved for something you actually want.
With the season for giving is winding down, the season for returning upon us, and the season for self-improvement in our sights, let us offer you the only three kitchen-related gifts that really lit our tree in 2020. To be clear, these are big-ticket items; the idea is to return multiple gifts to afford these splurges. But they’re indulgences we stand by — sure to make you more resilient in the kitchen and leave you with a deeper appreciation of what being a good cook is all about.
Also, they’ll help your food taste better. Which is sort of the whole point.
The idea behind the Lettuce Grow Farmstand is easy and straightforward. It’s a vertical hydroponic tower for you to grow herbs, fruit, and vegetables in. There are a few such items on the market — and many of us in the ecology/ culinary space have been on this wave for a while now. But having picked up my Farmstand more than a year ago, and having benefitted from five full crops of food in that time (many of which I was able to harvest multiple times), I can say without fear of being wrong: If you love food, you want this thing.
Seriously. It’s a home cooking game changer.
If you’re spending $600 or so on a giant plastic tower with a tiny motor and some PVC tubing, it’s normal to want to look at the specs, but I’m not listing them here (besides the fact that Lettuce Grow utilizes ocean-bound plastic, which is admirable). What makes the Farmstand so wonderful is the ease of the thing. I spend literally five minutes with mine once per week; I haven’t had to clean it or change parts. It just sits there, looking like it came from The Jetsons and supplying me with food.
Lettuces, herbs, and leafy greens get Jurrasic-sized with the Farmstand. I haven’t tried tomatoes yet, because I grow those fine in my garden, but my first chard seedling kept me in chard for months. And the costs — beyond the stand — are almost negligible. $2 per seedling, $50 for minerals, and $25 for pH supplements (I’ve only had to re-up my minerals once). Over the long term, you’re definitely saving time, energy, and money with this thing versus going to the grocer.
Bottom Line: COVID reminded us how vulnerable our food systems are. This will make your personal food system more resilient.
Buy The Farmstand here.
FN Sharp 3 Knife Set
Having a whole bunch of knives is nice. But it’s not strictly necessary. You only really, truly need a few knives to do what you want to do in the kitchen. What you do need/ deserve is for those knives to be good, hold an edge, and worth you getting professionally sharpened every year for a decade.
This FN Sharp trio can pretty much upend all your other knives (you probably want a serrated bread knife in the house, but that can be a cheaper brand). The 67-layer Japanese / Damascus steel blade is both beautiful looking and superb at holding an edge over time. And while you never want to put fancy knives in the dishwasher, this construction — with a glass-based epoxy grip — can stand up to that sort of wear and tear (I know, because my partner puts mine in the dishwasher no matter how many times I beg).
Though it’s great to have an expensive, durable, eyebrow-raising chef’s knife, my all-arounder in this set is actually the Santoku blade (the mid-size one). It’s a chopper, slicer, and mincer — with those little air divots so that potatoes and similar vegetables don’t stick to the blade. At more than 8oz, it’s also a knife with heft.
Having won cooking competitions with these knives, I can personally report that people notice when you bring them out — which is something you at least kinda want when laying down $360. But the mix of durability and high-level craftsmanship is what you’re really paying for here and it’s worth it. Far more than a similarly priced 10 knife set, if you’re serious about cooking.
Bottom line: These knives practically feel like custom items. If you love making food and take it seriously, this is the sort of indulgence you make once every 15 years or so and never regret.
Buy FN Sharp’s 3 Knife Set here.
CruxGG Air Fryer “The Musa”
There was a Twitter thread recently where someone in media asked the relatively common culinary question: “Is an air fryer worth it or not“?
Typically, I’d say no. Air fryers take up a ton of space and they’re a little noisy. And while air frying is a good healthy frying alternative, it’s not a replacement for actual frying — which still tastes better. 100% of the time.
This appliance — from CRUX and the food collective Ghetto Gastro — is more than a single appliance. It’s like five. A trick which almost never works with food items but does with this one because the heating element is actually replaceable. So you have an air fryer/ dehydrator element and then you have the pressure cooker/ slow cooker/ roast element — which are easily switched in and out.
Since the purpose of this item is air frying, let’s speak to that: With frozen foods, like empanadas, burritos (chimichangas), etc, this thing works wonders. I’ve never liked frozen foods more than when they’re done in the air fryer; it changes the game for someone on the move. The basket is a little small for fries — because you want them all to have exposed surface area to properly crisp — but, honestly, a little oil isn’t going to kill you. Make your fries the way God intended.
As a pressure cooker, the Musa really excels. The menace with pressure cooking is how messy/ potentially deadly it is on a stovetop. This pressure cooker literally idiot-proofs itself — in that it won’t open without the pressure fully released and the heating element has cooled.
Even if you unplug it because you’re in a hurry. Which I 100% tried on Christmas eve.
Finally, and not for nothing: This design, which comes from Ghetto Gastro, and donated its early proceeds to Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp, looks like something you’d find in the Star Wars universe. It’s certainly fly enough for your countertop.
Bottom Line: Don’t get it just because you want an air fryer. But if you’ve been eying a pressure cooker and an air fryer, with an eye towards sleek design, this is the one.
Buy The Musa Air Fryer here.