8 Gift Ideas + Quinoa-Stuffed Delicata Squash

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I’ve never done a gift guide before, mostly because I don’t think I have terrific taste and have never thought of myself as an especially good gift giver. But this year, I’ve introduced some fun new food things into my life. And having spent much of it shilling my Made by Lukas veggie burgers, I’ve also met lots of makers of unique, terrific stuff. It made sense to take a stab at a gift guide, geared to the people in your life who like food. Below are eight of items, some whackier than others.

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(And if you want to skip the gifts and just scroll down to the recipe: Just before Thanksgiving, I shared a vegetarian and gluten-free holiday main dish on Charlotte Today, the morning show down in Charlotte where some of my family lives. It aired the day before Thanksgiving, so I doubt anyone had time to whip it up for their Thanksgiving spreads. I’m including the recipe here in preparation for upcoming holiday feasts [the recipe is at the end of the post]. Here’s the video.)

1. Aeropress

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Despite having consumed gallons and gallons of coffee since I started drinking the stuff at age 13, I’ve never felt confident about my coffee palate. I’ve attended “cupping” workshops, worked beside skilled baristas, and too often, too willingly, opted for the priciest, $20/pound coffee beans when given the choice. And never, when it came down to it, did I feel that I had enough of a discriminating palate to make any of that worth it. The Aeropress, however, has helped me to understand what all the fuss of coffee is about. Its method is similar to an espresso machine, where a small amount of water is pressed (with air!) through ground beans to extract super concentrated coffee/espresso, to which you just add hot water, Americano-style. Since I got mine, I’ve made cup after cup of delicious, aromatic, vibrantly nuanced coffee that lets me finally explore its flavors and properties, and understand what I like and don’t like about all the different types of beans out there. It’s also a much easier to clean than a French press, and is pretty inexpensive as far as craft-style coffee equipment goes. | Aeropress Basic Kit, $29.95

2. Small-batch Vermouth

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Did you know that when vermouth is good, you can just serve it over ice? I didn’t until recently. I’d only ever used it to make the occasional Manhattan or to swirl around a martini glass before filling it with cold vodka. But early this year, my friends Laura and Matthew reported that a restaurant they went to was serving house-made vermouth on its own, over ice, and that it was delicious. This set us off on our own vermouth-making experiments, which unfortunately haven’t been successful enough to share yet. But it did make me realize that a bigger world of vermouth existed. Then my friend Lesley and I tried some small batch, seasonal vermouth when we visited Channing Daughters winery out in the South Fork of Long Island. We loved it on its own, and the gorgeous label depicts all the aromatics and botanicals used to flavor the fortified wine inside. This is a good gift for a mixologist friend—at 61Local in Brooklyn they use it to make their Bloody Mary—or anyone who has an adventurous palate. Here are a few other American-made vermouths worth checking out. | Channing Daughters Vervino Vermouth, $28.00

3. Brooklyn Delhi Achaars

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Chitra Agrawal, of the blog The ABCDS of Cooking, launched her Brooklyn Delhi line of achaars right around the time that I launched my veggie burgers, and it’s one of the most addictive condiments I’ve ever had. Achaar is an “Indian pickle relish,” with sour, spicy, and savory qualities and a wonderful, rich mouthfeel. I’ve added it to bowls of rice, veggie burgers, quesadillas, sandwiches, crackers and toasts, scrambled eggs and fritattas, piles of sauteéd greens—you could scoop it over goat cheese or cream cheese to make an easy appetizer. It’s the kind of thing that has the versatility and appeal of srirracha. I’ve tried all the flavors, and the tomato one is my favorite. Buy a bunch and use them as host/hostess gifts and stocking stuffers! | Brooklyn Delhi, $8.75

4. Mud Australia Cake Stand

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I only make cake a few times a year, but I nonetheless have a thing for cake stands. I bought a marble one as my own birthday present a few years ago and I love using it as the centerpiece of my dining table. It’s also great to dust off and serve cheese or dessert from when guests come over. This cake stand is one I’ve had my eye on for several years and the only reason I’m including it here is because of how beautiful I think it is and how badly I want it (not in white, as shown, but in “milk,” should you need to know). That photo doesn’t do it justice. It’s a porcelain piece, delicate but sturdy, elegant and original, and as much as I like the cheaper one I bought for myself, it doesn’t compare. No surprise, it’s a bit expensive, but if you’re looking for a special gift . . . | Mud Australia Single-Tier Cake Stand, $132.00

5. Mortar & Pestle

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I use my mortar & pestle a lot more than I ever thought I would—for crushing spices and seeds, but also to make certain types of sauces and pastes like pesto, where it’s somehow more satisfying to use than a food processor, even if more work. For someone who’s in the beginning stages of their love affair with cooking, a mortar and pestle is a great gift. There are a lot of different ones to choose from, in a wide price range, but choose one that’s got at least 1-1/2 or 2 cups capacity, which allows for bigger jobs than just a tablespoon or so of spices or seeds. Mine is a cheap one from Bed, Bath, & Beyond many years ago and it does the job, but if I were to upgrade, I’d get a more attractive one like this. I first saw it on Food52’s Provisions store, another good source for gifts and gift ideas, but larger capacity ones of the same design are available directly from the maker. | Magnus Design Mortar & Pestle, $120.00

6. Common Good Bergamot Candle

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Common Good makes green household products. They’re biodegradable, scented with pure essential oils, developed with no animal testing, and are often available at stores in big jugs that allow you to refill your own container, therefore reducing plastic waste. They’re really lovely products that almost look too pretty to use. I might be the only weirdo that’d be excited to get fancy dish soap or cleaning products as a gift, so my suggestion here is one of their terrific soy-based candles. It’s an indulgence, because it’s not super cheap, but I love the clear, unobtrusive scent of the bergamot one. The hand soaps are also fantastic. | Common Good Bergamot Candle, $28.99

7. Cherry Bombe

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There are a lot of food publications out there, and they span the spectrum of low and high, useful and decorative, text-heavy and image-heavy, cheap and expensive. I picked up Cherry Bombe because of Ruth Reichl on the cover—who doesn’t love Ruth Reichl? I didn’t expect to be completely absorbed by the magazine, but that’s what happened. This issue—number 3, the “girl crush” issue—has profiles of covergirl Ruth, famed cookbook editor and author Judith Jones, Jeni’s Ice Cream founder Jeni Britton Bauer, expert baker and writer Dorie Greenspan, and many more. They’re all such enlightening, inspiring, and smart pieces, and the design of the magazine is fresh and elegant, and the whole thing is so substantial that its list price seems like a pretty good deal. I didn’t want it to end. Cherry Bombe bills itself as a magazine that “celebrates women and food” and it certainly delivers on that promise, but it’s a standout magazine for anyone interested the trends and tastemakers of the food world. | Cherry Bombe Issue No. 3, $20.00 per issue or $38.00 for 1-year subscription

8. Restaurant-grade plastic wrap

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If you think I’m nuts for suggesting fancy green cleaning products as a gift, this one will probably extinguish the last flickers of my credibility. But hear me out: Restaurant grade plastic wrap is a million times better than anything sold at the grocery store. It’s easy to handle, it sticks where you want it to, and, best of all for the home cook, it’ll last your whole life if you use it responsibly (ie, not too liberally). I bought a big roll when I first started producing my veggie burgers and ended up taking it home when we moved kitchens. I don’t use it all that much, but when I do, I’m really glad to have it. Make a gift bundle out of it with a case of parchment paper sheets. OK, maybe it’s best to frame this as a “you’ll thank me later” gift. | Plastic wrap and 12″ x 16″ parchment paper sheets at Webstaurantstore.com, $12.99 and $4.49, respectively

Lastly, here are a few other online shops for unique food-related gifts . . .

  • TRNK: Gorgeously curated online marketplace by design enthusiasts Tariq and Nick—everything here has a sleek, modern look, a “masculine sensibility.”
  • Quitokeeto: Another online marketplace created by Heidi Swanson of 101Coobooks with limited quantities of really special foodstuffs and one-of-a-kind kitchen items.
  • Food 52’s Provisions: There’s lots of great servingware, glassware, cook’s tools, and more for enthusiastic cooks here, and some great deals scattered throughout.

. . . and a few (mostly NY-based) food-related options for charitable donations:

  • Edible Schoolyard, founded by Alice Waters, this nonprofit works to build “edible education” into school programs—teaching kids about farming, cooking, sustainability, and community.
  • Just Food, a New York-based nonprofit that “connects communities with the resources & support they need to make fresh, locally grown food accessible to all New Yorkers.”
  • City Harvest, another New York-based nonprofit focused on addressing hunger, by collecting food that would otherwise go to waste from restaurants and events, and then redistributing it.
  • Heritage Radio Network, is a terrific Brooklyn-based nonprofit radio network that’s “committed to archiving, protecting, and advancing our country’s rich food culture through programs that give voice to America’s leading food professionals, farmers, policy experts, artists, and tastemakers.” They have so many wonderful programs.

And finally, the recipe I mentioned.

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Quinoa Stuffed Delicata Squash

These delicata squash boats are a perfect vegetarian main dish for vegetarian guests, and they’re also gluten-free. They can be made up to a few days in advance, but bring them to room temperature before baking. One note: On Charlotte Today I used acorn squash, because all the delicata squash in Charlotte had evidently been gobbled up. Both are very good, though I like the shape, flavor, and easy-handling of delicata best. Similarly, in the test batch pictured here, I used hazelnuts instead of pecans. Embrace the versatility of this recipe.

Serves 6 to 8

1/3 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup red or white wine vinegar
3 medium delicata squash (10 to 12 ounces each)
Olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 big clove garlic, minced
2/3 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups roughly chopped baby spinach, or shredded kale or swiss chard
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1/2 cup grated gruyere, plus additional for topping
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Combine the raisins and vinegar in a small saucepan, then place of over high heat. As soon as the vinegar comes to a simmer, cover the pan, remove from the heat, and let stand as you prepare the rest of the dish. They’ll plump up and absorb most of the liquid.

3. Trim the ends off the delicata squashes, then cut them in half lengthwise. With a dessert spoon, scrape out the seeds and any stringy bits. Treating the hollowed squash havles as “boats,” use a vegetable peeler to shave off one long strip of peel from the bottoms of each piece, which stabilizes them in the baking dish.

4. Arrange the squash boats on a baking sheet. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and use your hands to evenly coat them all over. Sprinkle with a few pinches of salt. Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for 25 to 35 minutes, until the flesh is tender and easily pierced with a paring knife.

5. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 or 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and then the rinsed quinoa. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the grains darken a shade and smell nutty. Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Add the salt, cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 18 to 20 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat.

6. Drain the raisins, discarding any leftover vinegar or reserving it for another use.

7. Fold the greens into the hot quinoa, so that they wilt. Add the raisins, pecans, gruyere, parsley, and several grinds of black pepper. Taste, adding a few extra pinches of salt if necessary. Divide this filling into the hollows of the cooked delicata. If you’re not serving immediately, let cool, then refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.

8. To serve, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a vegetable peeler to make many thin slices of the gruyere cheese, then arrange them over the quinoa, covering it completely. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes (or less), until heated through. To create a bubbled and blistered effect on the cheese, place the pan under the broiler for 30 seconds or so. Serve hot.

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