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Holiday Gift Ideas, and a Giveaway

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UPDATE 11/29/11: I’ve teamed up with the folks at Camp Chef to give away an Everest 2-burner camp stove for the holidays; this is what I use on the road and in the field, and I love the thing: Portable, plenty of space to cook and the burners get real hot, real fast. To win the stove, you need to go to my Facebook page AND to the Camp Chef site, “like” them, THEN leave a comment on my site telling me what you would most like to cook on your new stove. I will determine the winner (picked at random) in a week. Good luck!

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Looking for gift ideas for the hunter, angler, forager or cook in your life? Here are my recommendations, updated for the 2011 Holiday Season! ~Hank

I get asked a lot about which this or that I use for whatever bizarre activity I happen to be doing at the time — sausage making, duck hunting, grating cheese, gathering mushrooms, etc. This being the holiday season, I figured I’d offer you a few recommendations of stuff I use on a daily basis. I own everything here, and in the case of books, I’ve read it or in the case of other things, I use them constantly. Some of the items are expensive, some cheap. Some are for hunters, some for cooks, some for everyone. Enjoy!

Wusthof 8-Inch Chef’s Knife

Every cook needs a good chef’s knife. Period. Which brand and country of origin is up to you, but for everyday use I like the German knives better than Japanese knives. German knives are easier to sharpen, have more heft and tend to have handles that are more comfortable to use over long periods. I use my knives a lot, and have worked with them for eight hours’ straight on occasion. The handle of the Wusthof Ikon series is the best I’ve yet held. I also prefer an 8″ knife because it is long enough to handle serious slicing but is still maneuverable; six-inch knives are too short, 10-inch too unwieldy.

Finally, the hollow ground blade (those are the dimples) decreases friction on the food and allows it to fall off the knife easily — ever cut an onion and have the slices stick to the other side of the knife? They then fall off into the path of where you are slicing, making you need to move them. It slows you down and it’s a pain. This happens a lot less with a hollow ground blade.

Truly Awesome Duck Feather Art

OK, maybe I am a little biased because the photographer is my girlfriend Holly, but if you peruse her photos of wild duck feathers you will see this is not the typical “hunter art.” But then, I would not expect “typical” anything from Holly. See these feathers to the right, the ones with the smiley faces? They’re real, untouched. They come from the breast of a drake gadwall duck. Trippy, eh? There are all sorts of cool images from the ducks we hunt. Funny how changing your focus can give you a new insight on a bird we think we know. If you are interested in a photo as a gift, Holly is running a special, too — 40 percent off the first $100 worth of photos you buy, good through this Thursday.

All Clad Stainless Steel 12-Inch Fry Pan

My workhorse.  I use this frying pan on an almost daily basis. It heats up fast, has a heavy bottom that will not warp even under immense heat, cleans like a dream and makes it easy to flip things without a spatula. If you only have two pans in your house, have this one and its smaller cousin, the All Clad Stainless Steel 8-Inch Fry Pan.

Mushroom Hunting Books

I get asked about mushroom hunting more than any other topic. And the most asked question I get is, “what’s your favorite guidebook?” Well, that’s an easy one. No serious mushroomer should be without David Arora’s two books. First is the field guide to have in your backpack when you are out there looking: All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms. Once you have your mushrooms at home, you will want Arora’s masterpiece, Mushrooms Demystified. This tome is the end-all, be-all of mushroom identification, especially if you are on the West Coast.

Other mushrooms books I like are: Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada by David Spahr, and 100 Edible Mushrooms by Michael Kuo.

SousVide Supreme

God bless the SousVide Supreme. I never really thought I’d use this thing, which is essentially a precision water oven, quite as much as I actually do. But it’s earned a permanent place in our kitchen. Why? Because I can cook tough meats tender while keeping them pretty and pink (like my venison sauerbraten) or poach delicate meats like a pheasant breast perfectly. Vegetables stay vibrant and you can even compress fruits while poaching to get a firmer, more interesting texture. Every serious cook, and especially a wild game cook, should get one of these. I am not kidding when I say it will change your cooking forever.

FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer

You’ll need this if you get the Sous Vide Supreme, but even if you think that cooking food sous vide is too fancy for you, a vacuum sealer is an absolute must for any hunter, angler, gardener or forager. When you get a lot of something, you cannot eat it all before it goes bad. So you freeze it, whether it’s meat, fish or mushrooms or blanched greens. Yeah, you can use freezer bags, butcher paper, etc. — I’ve done it all — but nothing holds food like a vacuum sealer. It’s insane how long you can keep food fresh with this thing.

I once found a vacuum-sealed hunk of antelope that had been sitting at the bottom of my box freezer for 18 months, thawed it out and cooked it. No damage. It tasted, more or less, like it was fresh. You totally need one of these. Seriously.

Oregon Truffle Oil

My new favorite ingredient. I’ve tasted truffle oils from all over, both black and white, and nothing beats this one, made by Jack Czarnecki up in Oregon. Oregon? Truffles? You bet. If you’ve not heard that the Pacific Northwest has truffles, you’re missing out. They are not the same as European truffles, but in some ways they are better. Plus, American truffles are more local, and far cheaper.

This oil is an infusion — Oregon white truffles and oil — which is unusual, because most truffle oils you buy are chemically created. Scientists have isolated much of what makes a European truffle smell the way it does and have put that into the oil. Frankly, I think they’ve failed miserably. Czarnecki’s oil, on the other hand, smells and tastes like real truffles, and somehow manages to be both floral and funky at the same time.

Maria Grammatico’s Estratto

I call it ‘strattu, my friend Scott calls it estratto, but whatever you call it, this is the world’s greatest tomato product. Estratto is essentially ultra concentrated tomato paste, more like tomato clay, really. It is the Black Hole of Tomatodom: I once heard it said that a black hole is so dense one teaspoon would weigh billions of tons. Well, estratto is os dense that one teaspoon of ‘strattu can impart a tomato flavor to a giant kettle of soup. It’s remarkable stuff, and I make my own most years. But this year I did not get around to it, so I got some of this from Scott. It’s, um, better than mine.

Fine Mesh Strainer

If you don’t already own one of these, you need one. I can’t tell you how often I use my fine-meshed sieve. Every day, when I am cooking. When I render duck fat I pour the hot fat through a paper towel set over this sieve into a jar. When I make stock I pour the stock through cheesecloth set in this strainer. When I make a sauce I push it through a fine-meshed sieve to remove lumps and smooth out any grittiness. When I make acorn flour I use this sieve to separate the grits from the flour. Suffice to say that if you follow the recipes on this site, you need a fine-meshed sieve.

I use two: A larger, Stainless Steel 8 Inch Mesh Strainer, and a smaller 3-Inch Mini Strainer. The smaller one is really good for straining sauces.

SmartWool Sweater

If you do any hiking, foraging, hunting or fishing in cold weather, you know you need to dress in layers. I’ve always found that the most important layer is the one next to your skin, and I am sold on this SmartWool Sweater. It is light, thin and really, really warm. You can sweat in it and the sweater will not stink afterwards the way a lot of microfiber underlayers will. I’ve been soaked to the skin in cold rain, but this sweater kept me warm — wool is like that. On top of all of this, it looks cool. I have one in a kind of forest green with a zipper closure that goes halfway down the chest. On mild days, I can get away with just this sweater under my waders, or when walking for pheasants.

Deer Hunting Books

If you never grew up deer hunting, but you want to start, the whole process can be daunting, to say the least. I have a whole chapter on how to start deer hunting in my book, but there are several other sources for great information. My top two would be my friend Al Cambronne’s Gut It. Cut It. Cook It.: The Deer Hunter’s Guide to Processing & Preparing Venison. It is the best tutorial on what to do once your deer is on the ground. Al’s instructions on field dressing and processing deer are all you really need on the subject. For actually starting to hunt deer, go to Jackson Landers’ The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Deer for Food. Jackson also has gutting and processing information, but the two books together (plus well, um, maybe mine for recipes, too) are a perfect package for the novice deer hunter.

Fleur de Sel

Finally, no one can live without salt. And life is too short to use crappy salt. I am a recent convert to the Church of Fancy Salt, and I have to say that it really, really does make a difference. The addition of a good Fleur de Sel – a chunky French sea salt — on meat grilled medium-rare is pretty much the perfect food. It adds crunch, a burst of saltiness, and a little something else. Each fleur de sel is different, both in shape and in its idiosyncratic imperfections, so buy small jars until you find the one you love the most. Then buy a big jar and keep it around. After all, it’s salt. It doesn’t go bad.

Hunt, Gather, Cook book coverHunt, Gather, Cook

Finally, I have to put in a plug for my book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. I know many of you have already bought a copy, and for that I am thankful. But if you haven’t, or if you know someone who might light a copy, now would be a great time to buy one. Here’s a bit more on what you will find in the pages, and here is the New York Times review of the book. I obviously am biased, but I think that if you like this website, you will love the book.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

27 responses to “Holiday Gift Ideas, and a Giveaway”

  1. Malik

    Wow! People have started asking me about my Christmas wishlist, maybe I’ll just forward them this post. Very Nice. So anyway, about your Estratto recipe… can we expect a future post?

  2. Joshua

    Interesting post. I’m working on a similar one for the, ahem, budget-minded person… also, I’ve got a list of items I’d love to get (selfish, yes), including a silicone spatula & a whisk.

    On a related note (hunting), I know where we can find wild pheasants & a boatload of snipe. It is time.

  3. IF

    You can collect your own sea salt in California. The cliffs sometimes have small pools that dry out in late summer before the new storms come. If you can ignore small pickled crabs on the bottom you can use the icing that forms on top. (Very slightly dried shrimp flavored. ;-) The best spots I know of are in Garrapata state park. With some searching as well in Salt Point, Big Sur or anywhere else we have big rocks on the coast.

  4. Janis

    I keep waffling with the idea of buying the sous vide machine for my husband. We cook a ton and I think it would be good. I dunno if I should splurge on it or not.

  5. Jessa

    We’re using an immersion circulator to sous vide our prime rib at work, and it’s been super fun to play with. Too bad we need new pans (and new knives, and new plates, etc) at the house before I’m allowed to buy any new appliance toys.

    If Rick gets more into hunting this year I bet I can talk him into a vacuum sealer, though. Baby steps.

  6. Gina

    What a great list. Thinking of getting the sous vide express for spouse and flavor bible for…myself! Thanks for the ideas.

  7. John Bailey

    May I concur and agree with Hank’s thoughts about the Sous Vide Supreme. In the year since I have owned mine, it has become an essential tool in my kitchen. Whether you are doing a la minute rack of lamb, or glazed carrots, or 48 hour ribs, it can give outstanding and consistent results for both proteins and vegetables. They now offer the original sized unit and recently they have announced a new ‘Demi’ version for kitchens with limited counter space. It has been one of my most used purchases for the kitchen and I have no qualms in recommending other home chefs such as myself buy a Sous Vide Supreme.

  8. Rhonda

    I am forwarding this post to my husband, hello perfect gift list!

  9. Sean

    Not having used one myself, I haven’t gotten the sous vide itch yet. My list is topped by Viking’s countertop single burner induction unit.

  10. Marina

    I love the Food saver, it really is a saver forget about Freezer Bags.

  11. wandering educators

    love this list!

  12. Grithugger

    Bonjour!
    In France we make our own fleur de sel,take a 12 litre stock pot fill it with sea water reduce slowly.Once the water has evaporated you will be left with a small amount of sel,c’est fini,Bon!

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  14. Tanya

    I’m thinking Nettle Soup in the spring!

  15. Celeste Panek

    my family loves to camp ! great ideas ! Thanks

  16. Michelle W.

    I’ve been following your blog for several months now, and I really enjoy reading about your adventures. Thank you for going through all that you do, and still having enough energy and sanity to share it with us here! The camp stove is a great give-away. I wouldn’t mind having one. I’d use it for occasional outdoor summer cooking, I think, and for traveling. My first dish would probably be sausage, bacon, and fried eggs in a cast iron skillet!

  17. Lynn

    Smart Wool products are truly amazing. I have umpteen number of Smart Wool socks which can’t be beat for keeping you warm and not getting smelly, as you say. Great for cycling in colder weather. Perhaps a Smart Wool sweater is in order this year.

    On the camp stove topic, I won’t cook anything myself but give it to a friend who is on a very tight budget, loves to camp and doesn’t have a stove!

  18. Stella

    I love this site. Hanks great cooking. Hollys amazing pics.
    Waste nothing from nature! I have learned so much here… And I thought I knew a lot stuff to begin with. At one time I thought I was on my own feeding my family of 5 on wild game and forage, day after day after repetitious day…..til I found this site and it elevated my enthusiasm in “whats for dinner Mom?”

    And now theres a give away? Free gifts? Woo hoo!
    I only do FB for coupons but wish you all good luck in the lottery! May your prizes elevate your culinary skills.

  19. Adam

    I’d probably like to cook up some wild rice and fresh caught Puget Sound Salmon…. But only if I wasn’t using it to can the salmon, and other wild things….

  20. Kevin

    What would I cook…really, what wouldn’t I cook? I am known to live it up a bit while outdoors. No reason to suffer just because you are in a tent!

    To technically answer the question, I would probably try out one of my favorite campside meals…pan seared steaks with a hunk of boursin cheese and a red wine reduction. I ahve done it several times before and it is a real campside crowd pleaser.

  21. Eric Klumb

    Love Holly’s photos. They are now on my Christmas list.

  22. CarolG.

    Well, I can think of a number of great ideas starting Bison pot roast and then it would just depend on the ingredients I could get!

  23. Lisa Martinez

    I would give the camp stove to my 15 year-old son. He is almost an Eagle scout and he loves to camp and to cook- he made the turkey this Thanksgiving! I would ask him to cook a perfect ribeye as the first meal on the stove- and have him complement it with his campfire Dutch oven cornbread!

  24. Kay Lincoln

    I’d kill for an Oregon Truffle Oil !!
    But seriously, I think the best gift I can buy for my cook lover parents is the Wusthof 8-Inch Chef’s Knife. It would be very useful for them, I’m sure.

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  26. LindaH.

    One of our favorite meals is venison smokies with crispy potatoes –that would be great cooked on the Everest camp stove. Or, I could slice some backstrap steaks, either elk or venison ( we are SO lucky) and saute’ with mushrooms and rosemary–the next day, elkburgers.

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