Any Good Thing to Make Us All Merry

It's here! My annual gift guide for the foodies in your life, because it's finally time to eat all the turkey and gravy, then put on your stretchy pants and get out your credit cards. Rejoice! The holidays are upon us!

My first two suggestions, I received for my birthday this year: two cookbooks from Staten Island, where we go annually for the Miss New York Pageant. First up, Nonna's House, a cookbook straight out of Enoteca Maria, my favorite Italian restaurant anywhere. The book is filled with authentic, regional cuisine straight from the nonnas who rule the kitchen at Enoteca Maria. You won't find traditional Italian-American red sauce and meatballs here, but you will find lots of good eats. I personally can't wait to make Neapolitan potato pie, which is mashed potatoes mixed up with eggs, cheeses and cured meats and then baked with a breadcrumb topping. Yum.

The second, Staten Italy, is a cookbook put out by the two guys who are the Pizza Cousins on Cooking Channel. It has every old school, red sauce, comfort food Italian dish you could possibly want. I recently churned out the Sunday sauce and stuffed shells from this book, and they were absolutely fabulous. 

You can find both of these at Amazon or in your local bookstore. 

Next up, two new favorite ingredients of mine, discovered in 2015. The first, retrieved on my recent trip to Portland, is Jacobsen Salt Co's sea salt. Inside this pouch, your loved one will find sizable flakes of oceanic, briny salt. Less sharp than table salt, but more robust than kosher, this tastes like the air near the sea tastes. It's wonderful as a finisher for roasted meats and seafood and really gorgeous on roasted veggies. The company is a small purveyor near Portland, so this is hipster artisanal product at its finest.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns is purportedly one of the most incredible dining experiences in all of Upstate New York. I haven't succeeded in making it there yet for one of its famous three hour, multi-course dinners, but I did avail myself of the farm's internet shop earlier this year. This tomato salt has grains a bit coarser than Jacobsen's flakes, but a more refined flavor, with less salinity. The tomato lends sweetness and the savory depth of tomato paste. I love this used in white rice, to give it personality, and also with avocado. It might seem odd to buy someone salt as a holiday gift, but I love to receive fun spices and ingredients as stocking stuffers, and I'm willing to bet your favorite foodie does, too.

I have a wee obsession with Kate Middleton/Duchess Catherine of Wales. Part of that obsession includes stalking her appearances though various fashion blogs, and Kensignton Palace's Instagram account, which revealed to me last year that Kate had done a special pottery pattern with British company Emma Bridgewater. Whilst perusing that brand's website, I discovered its Black Toast line, which combines British cheek with fun and functional serving pieces. I haven't bought any yet, but I want to. I'm willing to bet you can find a piece in this line to make anybody on your gift list smile. Check out the entire line at emmabridgewater.co.uk

Keeping right on the housewares track, my handbag and jewelry fave, Kate Spade, has been making chic tableware for a while, but it's always been kind of higher priced. This year, the line has debuted some more affordable items, like melamine travel coffee mugs and feminine, fun coasters, plus kitschy kitchen towels, glam notecards and an adorable recipe book. Pick something like this up for the fancy ladies in your life, and don't worry about breaking the bank. You can get them on Katespade.com and Macy's.

In August, I reviewed The Kitchen in Alexandria Bay for my Watertown Daily Times column, and rediscovered French press coffee. The richness and consistency of French press coffee is far superior to any K-cup, but I realized that part of the problem with most press coffee pots is that the glass exterior lets the coffee get cold so quickly. Enter the Espro French Press, available at Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table, which has insulated side walls and stainless steel construction to retain heat. It also has a finer strainer than those cheapie versions, so you'll end up with less sediment in your cup. 

If you have a coffee aficionado on your list, this isn't the most economical option - it runs nearly $100 - but it may be just the ticket. This one's on my wish list this year! 

I've read this online magazine called Good. Food. Stories. for years. When its editor, Casey Barber, started mentioning that she was writing a whole cookbook solely on pierogies, I knew I had to have it. The master dough recipes are the keys to the whole book, and are super easy to create at home. The next ones I'm making are the French onion soup pierogies, topped with crispy Parmesan frico. God, just writing about that makes me drool, you guys. I actually won this book from my friends at Go Fug Yourself, but you can grab a copy on Amazon. It's only $20!

I don't go in for a ton of gadgets in my kitchen. A single set of tongs and a really good knife get me through most meal prep, you know? But Shawn and I do love pasta, and since I'm usually only cooking it for two, I hate to haul out a huge strainer every time. Plus, dumping all that starchy cooking water out before the dish is finished limits your ability to adjust your sauce with that salty liquid's magical thickening qualities. So I love my Joseph Joseph strainer scoop.

This hand-held colander scoops out sizeable portions of short cut pasta and lets you strain out the water without dumping it all before you're ready. I use this thing probably once a week, and it's $9. Coming to a stocking near you! 

I don't mean to be corny, but my final suggestion is to grab the foodie on your list and take him or her out for a meal before 2015 is over. When you do, hit up a locally owned restaurant, obviously. There is something primal and undeniably intimate about sharing a meal with someone, which is why generations of moms have insisted that you be home before dinner - it brings people closer. Moreover, the foodies in your life almost always get stuck with kitchen duty (we're good cooks!) so treating them to dinner out with you will likely mean some relaxation mixed in with the fellowship. More so than fancy salt or witty crockery, a meal out at a restaurant that will really turn your loved one on is probably the best gift you could possibly give.

I wish that love and joy will come to you this holiday season, Hungries. In this, my fifth year as Big Hungry Shelby, I know that really good food plays one of the biggest roles in how people come together. May the magic of the season show up under your tree and on your plate! My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!


  1. Awesome list. I love the salts! The sea salt does not seem to blow me up like a balloon. Oh, the magic of the sea! And I love the hand held colander! Happy holidays to you! Love. Steph's. Momma

  2. Very helpful suggestions that help in the optimizing topic,Thanks for your sharing.