CucinaPro Ravioli Tray, $20
If your cook is a master of fresh pasta and has experienced the frustration of trying to create perfectly filled and sealed ravioli with minimal fuss and mess, they will appreciate this. There are many like this on the market that work similarly, but I can recommend this one for ease of use and easy storage. The cook will need to own a rolling pin and a pasta machine, but once the sheets are rolled out, a dozen delicious hand-crafted ravioli at a time will pop from the mold, ready to go.
Smith’s 3001 Diamond Sharpening Steel, $30
Is your cook obsessive about the sharpness of their knives? (Actually, we should all be, given how dangerous a dull knife can be?) Most steels will straighten your knife’s edge, but won’t actually sharpen it. The diamond coating on this steel will do both. A few swipes on this will give the blade the razor-sharp edge it needs to neatly slice through the skins of the tomatoes at next summer’s garden party.
“Culinary Artistry” by Andrew Dornenberg and Karen Page, $20
Writers get writer’s block, cooks get flavor block. There are some recipes in this book, but it is not a cookbook, rather more a reference guide for flavor matching, recipe creation and menu building. Are you staring at a big head of cauliflower from your CSA and can’t think of a single interesting thing to do with it? Did you know that cauliflower loves both mussels and curry? It is a book designed to get the creative culinary juices flowing. A revised and updated version was published in 2008 under the title “The Flavor Bible,” and either would be a valuable addition to your cook’s library.
Silpat Baking Mat, $16
I can’t live without this. I made fortune cookies for the wedding of some friends a couple of years ago and I can safely say there would have been no success without my Silpat. Made of fiberglass coated in silicone, it can line your baking sheet or sit directly on your oven rack. Nothing will stick to it. Nothing. It replaces parchment or wax paper for any sticky project, evenly distributes heat for even baking, wipes down easily with mild soap and water and rolls up or lays flat for easy storage.
Tomato Powder, $4.50-$14
Of all the items on this list, I have to dub this one the crown jewel. It has been one of my secret ingredients for years since I discovered it at The Spice House in Evanston, Ill. Tomato powder is created through a process of spray-drying the ripest, sweetest tomatoes of the crop. That canned tomato paste comes in that ridiculous little can that you never know what to do with once it’s opened ... Tin foil? Plastic wrap? You’ll never need tomato paste again? Tomato powder re-hydrates magically into paste or sauce and keeps in your fridge, tightly sealed in its jar, indefinitely. Patty Erd of The Spice House says that she heard her husband tell a customer that it was a great way to “summer up a winter tomato,” which I know we are all craving right now. Go for the 2-cup jar for $14. Anything smaller is just a tease.
Andrea O’Keefe is the lunch chef at Garfrerick’s Cafe in Oxford.