Last week, I was supposed to write a list of food books by local authors to give for Christmas. I usually try to buy local books, whenever I can, to support the industry as well as the people who wrote them. But it was a long list.
In the last few weeks, a number of interesting ones had come out, which I wanted to evaluate against the ones published earlier this year, which I already had in my library, or the bookcase in our apartment where I put my culinary books.
When I went to National Book Store and Fully Booked for Filipino cookbooks and books about food, there was… nothing. There was not even a copy of my own book, which is a problem because, in the spirit of self-promotion, I had planned to give them out to those who I felt I had not sufficiently inflicted myself upon, in person, throughout the year.
Perhaps the nonavailability of the food books is a good thing. It might mean that there’s such high demand that they’re all sold out.
But this sort of good problem becomes just a problem if the demand remains unfulfilled. I’d like to remind the bookstores to try and stock up on Filipino food books—and more Filipiniana, in general.
In lieu of a food book list, I’m recommending interesting gifts for foodies. Not all of these are available here, but there’s enough time to get them via LBC or Johnny Air or a balikbayan mule.
Amazon now has a service that posts things directly to you via UPS, but you’ll pay dearly for it.
Carbon steel knife
No chef has ever complained of having too many kitchen knives. I have long sworn by Sabatier knives, until I tried the Japanese ones—which trump the French brand by a long shot.
The commercial names to look for are Global and Shun Damascus, but what you really want is to stop by one of the knife stores at Tsukiji market and buy a carbon steel knife with a stainless steel outer cladding.
Carbon steel knives are easier to sharpen to the point where, when pressed against your arm hair, the hair goes flying without any pressure at all.
But carbon steel discolors easily, hence the outer cladding of stainless steel.
Most knives from Japan are “handed” and have one straight edge and a bevel. A few knivesmiths make Western-style V-shaped edges and forge blades using a more familiar geometry.
Sous vide machine
The price for immersion circulators has gone down to the point that some steaks are more expensive than this machine. The Anova sous vide machine is Bluetooth-controllable and sells for $149. There’s a more expensive one that connects to WiFi, which I don’t really trust in case AI goes rogue and it tries to kill me by scalding.
I don’t know if anyone can have too many immersion circulators—you can have steaks going in one and onsen eggs in another.
There’s a mysterious device that I have yet to try—marketed under the name of Instant Pot, which has become something of an internet sensation, especially after it retailed for $80 on Black Friday. Apparently it can do everything, from pressure-cook to slow-cook, but will probably send your personal data to China.
I haven’t seen it locally, but Panasonic has a reliable-looking version for about P8,000. I still think pressure cooking is one of the great misunderstood inventions of the food world, and one of the least utilized—the result of too many bad gaskets going boom in the 1970s.
Contemporary pressure cookers are highly civilized and, as long as treated with respect, are a home cook’s best friend.
People tend to bring home very strange things from Japan, but one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received was a bag of the highest grade sushi rice. This doesn’t come cheap, but it’s something you will treasure and enjoy—a musical toilet seat, less so.
What’s wrong with our local rice, you ask? Nothing at all. Friends from the highlands sometimes give me a kilo of organic red rice from far-flung villages, harvested in the traditional fashion. You can now find highland rice at Department of Agriculture bazaars or specialty stores, and they make a beautiful, meaningful present. Artisanal vinegars, patis and jams are likewise appreciated.
The food cookbook of the year, literally, because it won that award, is J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s “The Food Lab,” which I’ve raved about.
I’ve justified my incurable habit of acquiring new cookbooks by telling myself that if I learned one or two recipes from it, I’ve recouped the price of purchase. “The Food Lab” will pay for itself several times over.
Did you know that you don’t have to cook the lasagna sheets that you’re going to bake anyway? That a little gelatin in meatloaf will make it seem like you used the most unctuous classic stock to make it? This is a book that has sent me back to the kitchen in the way that the gorgeous photographs of the Eleven Madison Park or Noma cookbooks, for instance, won’t—though they make for great reading material.
The Financial Times Weekend is full of things I’ll never buy, but that doesn’t stop me from reading it. Just because I’ll never make a recipe with a hundred ingredients, including hay, doesn’t mean I can’t indulge myself in a bit of fantasy. —CONTRIBUTED