For cooks on your list

People with cooks on their gift list are doubly lucky: with so many fun, smart or tasty things on the market, cooks are deliciously easy to buy for. And, odds are, you’ll get something good to eat in return.

Many new products enable cooks to tackle new trends: a beautiful made-in-Canada walnut board makes the most of charcuterie, while a molecular gastronomy kit will have your cook dazzling diners with foods in altered states.

Other products are notable for their innovation: an invented-in-Ottawa silicone ring lets chefs whisk with abandon without the dreaded damp tea towel under their bowl to stabilize it. Another sleek new device does a rocking job of mincing garlic.

Still other gift options stand out for their flavour: a spice mix called “I Smell Winter” from Kingston wunderkid-chef Luke Hayes-Alexander will transport your tastebuds to your most wonderful memories of the season. A bottle of vidal ice syrup is a unique, and uniquely Canadian, elixir.

Here’s a baker’s dozen of the best new gifts for cooks in your life:

Roasting on their laurels

With the advent of the new Roasting Laurel, metal roasting racks suddenly seem so square, so inflexible. Made of colourful silicone, these new poseable garlands hold roasts up out of the fat and can be shaped to fit any pan. Use them to corral tippy foods, such as stuffed squash or peppers, or even as trivets on the table. Made of silicone and safe to 482 F (250 C), you can throw them in the dishwasher for easy cleanup after use.

How much: $29.95

Where: Ma Cuisine, 269 Dalhousie St.

Smokin’ flavour

Ten years ago, Don Henderson of Kanata had a lot of gourmet salt on hand. Ever the adventurous backyard barbecuer, he tried smoking it. He liked the result so much, he packaged it up and gave it as Christmas gifts. His smoky salt was so enthusiastically received, he hasn’t stopped since.

The self-described high-tech refugee now makes about 32 products, from the first, basic, smoked salt to peppers, rubs and risotto mixes. And his products have never been more popular. At a recent weekend at the Carp and Ottawa Christmas markets, he sold more than 400 containers.

Special for Christmas, you can get a pack of his three greatest hits: Tuscan Smoke (a mix of smoked sea salt, smoked pepper, smoked garlic and Italian herbs that makes a mean marinade for salmon or pork tenderloin), Smoked Garlic Pepper (cracked black pepper and dried garlic infused with maple smoke that’s perfect on grilled steak) and Saffron Pepper Rub (a mix of black pepper, dried onion, dried garlic, lemon peel and saffron that makes a great addition to chicken or fish.)

How much: $21 for a three-pack (or $7.50 each for a 4-ounce tin)

Where:

Creekside Gardens in Richmond Friday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Ottawa Farmer’s Christmas Market, Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (its final day) at the Ernst & Young Centre (formerly the CE Centre) near the Ottawa airport.

Grace in the Kitchen (442 Hazeldean Rd., Kanata) and Kitchenalia (274a Richmond Rd., Westboro)

Elevated instruments

It seems like such a simple thing, admits Rob Olafson, co-owner of Grace in the Kitchen, but the clever design of these new spoons and spatulas is making them the hot sellers of the season. From Joseph Joseph, a British kitchenware company owned by twin brothers Richard and Antony Joseph, the spoons are designed with built-in rests that hold the messy ends up off the counter or table. They’re also made of silicone that’s heat resistant up to 650 F (340 C) and flexible enough to let them double as spatulas.

How much: $9.99 for the Elevate Jar Spoon, $11.99 for the Elevate Spoon Spatula

Where: Grace in the Kitchen, 442 Hazeldean Rd., Kanata

Sensational syrup

Canadian ice wine is justifiably famous around the world. Less well known, but arguably even more versatile, is Vidal Ice Syrup, made in Niagara and promoted by star chef Susur Lee. Instead of letting the juice ferment into an alcoholic wine, Ice Syrup is made by slowly evaporating the juice from grapes that have frozen on the vine. The result is a syrup that has the viscosity of maple syrup and the vidal flavours of peach, apricot and honey.

“It’s just fantastic drizzled on brie or blue cheese,” says Marc Miron, the chef-owner of Cuisine & Passion in Orléans. “This syrup will take your balsamic dressing up a notch. It will bring your roast vegetables up a notch. You can make a wonderful glazed ham with a mix of mustard, brown sugar and the ice syrup.”

Uniquely Canadian, it would make a great gift for cooks living abroad or new to the country. You can find recipes, including two from Susur Lee, at icesyrup.com.

How much: $29.95

Where: Cuisine & Passion, 2297 Saint Joseph Blvd., Orléans.

Christmas in a jar

Kingston’s Luke Hayes-Alexander has been executive chef of his own restaurant, Luke’s Gastronomy, since he was 15. In November, at the ripe old age of 21, he launched Luke’s Pantry, a line of 25 products and counting (he adds one or two new ones every week).

His special-for-Christmas Pantry Gift Box of five spice mixes will give your cook a taste of why there’s such a fuss about Hayes-Alexander, and inspiration to make some uncommonly good creations.

“The Taste of Christmas (Sweet)” includes wildflower honey, fresh ginger, cocoa, cloves, cinnamon and peppermint and would transform a glass of eggnog or make an amazing rim around a mug of hot cocoa. “The Taste of Christmas (Savoury)” includes dried onion, dried orange, sage, juniper and brown butter that Luke has transformed into a powder with tapioca maltodextrin.

“Whenever I cook something, my goal is to give it a story, to make the flavours logical and delicious,” says Hayes-Alexander. “I asked myself ‘What does Christmas, or winter, smell like?’ And I thought about all the foods that are typical at this time of year.”

The kit also includes “I Smell Winter,” “Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice” and “The Taste of Space,” which promises “to make the flavours of your meal ‘lift-off!’ ”

How much: $50 for the gift box of five. With a special of 10 per cent off and shipping to Ottawa, it works out to $58.92 (Canada Post Expedited Parcel) or $61.65 (Xpresspost; it should arrive in about one business day.)

Where: lukespantry.com

Rocking garlic crusher

Every year seems to bring a new device for dealing with garlic, but the Rocker Garlic Crusher really works.

“We’ve carried these for just three months and they are just flying off the shelf,” says Kitchenalia manager Robin Coull. “They’re so popular, we’re having trouble keeping them in stock.”

This one-piece stainless steel tool is another sleek idea from the Joseph Joseph twins. You simply push down on a garlic clove and use a rocking motion to force the garlic pieces up through the metal mesh. The minced garlic sits tidily in the shallow bowl, ready to be scraped into bowl or pan. The device is dishwasher safe, but it’s said that if you simply rinse it, you can then use it to rub gently on your hands and fingers to reduce the garlic odour (stainless steel is thought to remove the strong odours left from handling garlic.)

How much: $19.99

Where: Kitchenalia, 274a Richmond R., in Westboro

Better Batter Tool

This clever tool from Tovolo, a Seattle company, is a spoon, beater and scraper in one. Use it to mix your batter, then scrape out the bowl without skipping a beat. And because it’s made of silicone that’s heat-resistant to 600 F (315 C), the cook on your list will end up reaching for it to stir hot sauces, break up hamburger in the skillet or make smooth gravies too.

How much: $16.99

Where: Grace in the Kitchen, 442 Hazeldean Rd., Kanata

Molecular Gastronomy Kit

Adventurous cooks won’t have had this much fun since they got a chemistry kit for Christmas. The Cuisine R-Evolution kit, from a Montreal company, contains all the algae extracts, pipettes, syringes and silicone tubing your cook needs to make creations worthy of Ottawa’s Atelier: caviar beads that burst in the mouth, light or iced airs, spaghetti-shaped foods and creamy filled balls. The kit comes with a DVD of 50 video recipes.

How much: $59.95

Where: C.A. Paradis, 1314 Bank St.

Chips without the guilt

One of the hottest sellers this season at J.D. Adam Kitchen store in the Glebe is a kit that makes fat-free potato chips in minutes. The kit contains a mandoline to make thin chips from potatoes (or sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, pears or mangoes). You then place the thin slices on the perforated microwave-safe tray and three minutes later, you’ve got crunchy, crispy chips. The shop also sells seasonings, such as sour-cream-and-onion, that you can shake on top of your chips.

How much: $24.95

Where: J.D. Adam, 795 Bank St.

Tiny treasures

It’s hard to pin down why these funky little boxes of 20 illustrated recipe cards from California company Studio Oh! are so appealing: is it the vintage-looking artwork? The clever names and typography? The fun-sounding recipes?

You may never solve that riddle, but you’ll have to choose which set to get for your cook: themes include Small Bites, Mini Cupcakes and Makin’ Bacon.

How much: $11

Where: Kitchenalia, 274a Richmond Rd. in Westboro

The Staybowlizer

This simple silicone ring promises to become one of the most useful tools in your kitchen, say Stefan St. Jacques and Scott LeClair, its Ottawa inventors.

Hobby cooks with an eye for design, they say the impetus for making it was to clean up chefs’ countertops.

“Scott has some restaurant experience,” says St. Jacques. “We were both frustrated by, and didn’t like, the idea of the wet towel to stabilize bowls. You wonder how sanitary that is.”

The Staybowlizer, which Lee Valley began carrying in April, does a great job at securing most sizes of bowls while you whisk, whip or mix. It’s a “third hand,” popular with chefs, home cooks and people with physical challenges, such as arthritis.

But it also has a bunch of other applications: turned upside down, it forms a suction ring, locking onto counters. It can be used as a trivet for hot dishes. It can keep pet dishes from being overturned or pushed around. And, plopped on top of a pot of simmering water, it can hold a heatproof bowl, creating a double boiler.

“We’ve had a phenomenal response from the baking community for its usefulness for melting chocolate,” says LeClair.

The Staybowlizer, with a head office onOttawa’s Parkdale Avenue, is now being distributed in France, Italy, Austria, Hungary and the U.S., as well as across Canada.

How much: $17 to $20

Where: Lee Valley, Domus, Grace in the Kitchen and C.A. Paradis

Beautiful boards

When chef Cindy Lazarenko was opening her restaurant, Highlands Kitchen in Edmonton, her husband, a furniture designer, says he became obsessed with finding the perfect cutting and charcuterie boards.

“I became fascinated by the beautiful simplicity of a solid wood board ­— how they feel, how they are held and how they wear,” says Geoffrey Lilge, whose furniture was carried in Ottawa at Alteriors. “A flip was switched and I started making boards myself.”

Lilge’s sleek walnut boards, from the couple’s new company On Our Table, have been admired by the New York Times and design magazines and now you can get them in Ottawa. Wrapped with some Seed to Sausage salami and local cheeses, they would make an exceptional host gift.

How much: A range of prices, but $150 for the Hole Slab Long, shown here.

Where: Domus, 85 Murray St.

French bistro knives

Ottawa-based company Lee Valley is known for its well-designed and well-made tools. So when it raves about the Le Thiers Bistro Knives, you can bet they’re going to be exceptional.

“These have fast become our favourite table knives,” says a release from the company. They are made of high-grade stainless steel with a high chrome content, making them tough enough to withstand restaurant use and dishwashing. They have micro serrations on the blades, making them masters of cutting even fibrous meats, but blunted tips, so they’re not likely to stab users.

“We’ve been selling them just since October and they’ve been selling extremely well,” says Lee Valley’s Susan Clark.

How much: $36.50 for a set of four; $69 for a set of eight in a cutlery roll

Where: Lee Valley: 1-800-267-8767, leevalley.com or 900 Morrison Dr.

lrobin@ottawacitizen.com

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