Eaters invited to someone else's house for Thanksgiving dinner don't have to worry about resizing heirloom recipes for 20 or waste time wondering whether brining the turkey is a good idea. But the cost of convenience is having to come up with the perfect host gift.
"I have a philosophy about host gifts," says Melissa Clark, New York Times columnist and author of the newly released Cook This Now. "You bring something handmade for your host for breakfast the next morning."
Clark's book includes recipes for whole-wheat biscuits with cardamon butter and polenta upside-down cake, both of which she says would make ideal morning-after breakfasts for exhausted entertainers--especially when accompanied by a pretty crock filled with good butter.
But guests who've outsourced their Thanksgivings because they're clumsy in the kitchen aren't fated to give lousy gifts. Clark, who's celebrating her book's publication with a free potluck supper tonight at Book Larder, this morning prowled Sur La Table's aisles to find a few more host gift suggestions for Voracious readers.
"I love dishtowels and aprons," says Clark, who finds her towels "get really gross." Potholders also have an annoying tendency to deteriorate: The proof's on the macaroni-and-cheese page of her cookbook. Eagle-eyed readers have noticed she's holding the mac-and-cheese pot with a torn and singed potholder. "You think cooks already have potholders, but these things are great," she says.
Fluted biscuit cutters
Serious cooks may have biscuit cutters in their cupboards, but Clark is confident they wouldn't mind adding to their collections. "I think a really serious cook is always happy to have another serious piece of equipment," she says. "The turkey salt shaker is more insulting."
Quality olive oil is a great choice for culinary hobbyists, but an infrequent cook is unlikely to use the stuff before it goes bad. That's why Clark suggests good sea salt--she likes Maldon for its texture--and a salt cellar. "Don't buy something they have to cook with to use," Clark says. "They can put salt on their Costco turkey." But Clark warns against cutesy choices: "Don't ever get people flavored mustard. It sits in the fridge and then you throw it out, or your husband throws it out."
Clark isn't a fan of gadgets, but makes an exception for "any kitchen gadget you really love." She's lately been besotted by a microplane that can handle chocolate and cheese. "Most people have the fluffy one for lemon, but I like the big one," she says. "And you can get it in red!"
Cook This Now
The Sur La Table at Pike Place doesn't have an extensive cookbook section, but Clark says a book is also an appropriate host gift. She calls her latest book "a good book for Seattle."
"It's really about helping people cooking seasonally, but in a really approachable way," she says. "I tried to take these ingredients and twist it. I just try to push people, because I do think we get fatigued."
And what not to give...
Mixes. "People who love to cook don't want mixes," she says, disdainfully handling a box of salted-caramel ice cream mix. "What's in this anyway?" Whatever it is, she recommends that guests intent on scoring a repeat invitation avoid it.