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2019 Foodie Gift Guide Perfection

2019 Foodie Gift Guide Perfection

Holiday decor with macarons

In case you are worried that someone left their shoes on the table, rest assured this is an in-store display at Bergdorf’s. They always have the most colorful holiday displays, and its part of my holiday ritual to “window shop” inside the store. On Fifth Avenue, more is more and bigger is better. Not likely what you had in mind when shopping for your favorite gift, certainly not for the food lover, cook, chef wannabe, or hungry person in your life. Voilà! Foodie Gift Guide to the rescue!

Not actual sizeLast year, I started this guide on the perfect gifts for cooks, and included tips on how to buy them and what you should consider as you look for a special gift for the food lover in your life (or your own self). Be sure to check back to that post for more ideas. (Scroll to the bottom of this post for more information on my shop and affiliate relationship with vendors represented in the shop.)

Without further ado, let’s get shopping! Time now for the Foodie Gift Guide of 2019!

Gifts for Entertaining with a Sense of Whimsy

Children's Gingerbread Man ApronMy Aunt Kay made the most fantastic gingerbread men for us every Christmas. Perfectly thin and crisp with snip-of-raisin eyes and red hot buttons. And, I have made many a gingerbread house with nieces and nephews and neighborhood kids. Pro tip: lick the roof if you don’t want anyone trying to get a piece of yours.  Any child would treasure this little Gman apron for rolling up his sleeves and getting busy in the kitchen. It’s just one of many darling designs for cooks of all ages by Jesse Steele. Remember the Eiffel Tower print last year?

Kitchen-Towels-with-'tude: foodie gift guide

Don’t go bacon my heart? These towels just make me giggle. Way too funny. They are exclusively (not really) only for cooks with attitude. What about a combo of a Bacon-My-Heart Towel with last year’s Bacon for the Takin’ Tongs. I have a few peeps that would be happy with that! Probably won’t find two of these under the tree.


Love all things Mud Pie, and there are many from that gift line in my shop from which to choose. They add such whimsy to the table. This 80-ounce (2 1/2 quarts) Pineapple Pitcher is great for entertaining. Ceramic, with rind detail and a pineapple crown.

Gluttony-Peppermint-Bark CandleChef Bryce Murphree and his wife Maggie met in Aspen at the famed Little Nell hotel. After years in hospitality, they started tinkering in candles to improve the quality – better scents, cleaner burns, more eco friendly. And after learning to make their own essential oils, they found they were firmly rooted in culinary scents. All fragrances were food-based. Go figure! Gluttony Candles was born. I first visited them when this was just a home kitchen and spare room operation. (I bought six immediately!) The candles are packaged in 14-ounce food cans topped with colorful theme-related melted “crayon”. Not only are they adorable, but they smell amazing. So many flavors, many for the holidays. You will have to check them out for yourself. I also love “camp fire”. Note: Gluttony Candles are only available directly from their site or in local Dallas boutiques.

Mud Pie Kitchen Canisters

Finally, how about these clever canisters – 1, 2, 3 – with glass door knob handles? Footed Ceramic Canisters range in height from 7 1/2″ to 10″. Mud Pie, of course.

Gifts to Stuff a Stocking

OXO Ice ScoopThis may seem like the least sexy present ever, but I kid you not, NOBODY has an ice scoop in their ice maker, and EVERYBODY needs one. Why do we think it’s okay to run our dirty little hands through someone else’s ice bin. Even the folks with ice dispensers on their fridge doors, need to pull the whole bin out to fill a ice bucket or wine chiller from time to time, and hands are not the perfect helper. Got this idea from my sister and still love it!! OXO for the win.

Microplane Peeler

Back by popular demand! This was the 2018 stocking stuffer best hit. I got lots of rave reviews and dozens were stuffed in stockings. This peeler (by Microplane) changed my life. It’s just as sharp and wonderful as the Microplane grater is for zesting, but this time for peeling, with hands safely out of the way. Everyone needs one. Now.

2019 goes down in the record book as the year I discovered Earlywood. This collection of heirloom-quality kitchen and serving utensils is both highly Earlywood Spreader Setfunctional and elegant. Created using jatoba, hard maple, Mexican ebony, and bloodwood, the pieces are not only beautiful, strong and long-lasting, but also renewable. On the right is a three piece set with a spreader, a pan scraper and a spatula, as well as a four piece spreader set, shown to the left.

And while we are talking about spreaders, which can only bring to mind cheese!!!, I also discovered The Cheese Grotto this year. Jessica Sennett has all you need to care for, preserve and serve your cheeses perfectly. Here’s another set of spreaders that I love for their unique shape.

Essential Tools of the Trade

Souper Cubes Freezing TrayHere are just a few items that every good cook needs on hand. These Souper Cubes Freezing Trays are a wonderful way to manage stocks, bone broth, and soup freezer storage. The trays come in several sizes, holding up to 2 cups per well, with each well having four fill lines for portion control. They have tight fitting lids that maintain freshness and make them stackable. Made from food-grade silicone, the trays are BPA free and dishwasher safe. Classic Wooden Ladle

This handsome ladle could appear in almost every section of the foodie gift guide. I put it here because its essential. Another beautiful piece from Earlywood Designs, this is the sturdiest, most functional and design-winning ladle. It will last a lifetime. The Classic Ladle holds 3/4 cup level-fill, but nearly double if scooping up a heapin’ helpin’. Made in the USA (by the cutest woodworker ever) from sustainable hardwoods.

Beast Bowl Nutrition

Here are two books that are must-haves. Beast Bowl Nutrition, written by my friend Laura Reigel, lays out all the rules and tools for building unlimited protein-rich bowls. Tips, components, combinations, and dressings are all clearly and colorfully laid out in an easy-to-follow format, making meal assembly a snap.

Abra Berens‘ book Ruffage is a real treasure. With an Ruffage A Practical Guide to Vegetablesalphabetical listing of veggies A to Z, this book, based on her life on a Michigan farm, goes from confit to caramelized and everything in between. Simple techniques, combined with new creative combinations (smoked whitefish dressing!), are represented in the 100 recipes, each with 3 variations. You can’t just drool over the stunning photography, you must get up and get cooking!

Flavors that Pack a Punch

Truffle Hot Sauce

White Truffle Hot Sauce?  This lovely gift appeared this summer and I was skeptical for about 3 seconds, but immediately won over. It’s a good condiment to level up all your dishes. TRUFF is infused with white truffle and white truffle oil, with a pinch of organic coriander. Using the same chilis and agave as the black truffle version of the product, this hot sauce has game. Walla Essential Spice Set

James Beard nominated chef Meherwan Irani created Spicewalla to bring small batch, roasted and ground, then hand-packed, spices to market. Are your spices above the stove getting hot daily? Near a window getting oxidized from the sun? More than a year old? Time for a spice intervention. Spicewalla Kitchen Essential Spices include must-have single varietals and some signature blends. If you haven’t tasted a quality turmeric, prepare to have your world rocked.

DIY Artisan Hot Sauce Kit

For the do-it-yourselfers on your list, what about a DIY Hot Sauce Making Kit? Handcrafted in Portland, this kit has all you need to get started on your own special sauce. 6 glass bottles, 6 recipes and all the chilis, sugars, and vinegars that you will need. What a unique gift for the hot sauce enthusiast.

Classic Keepers – The Last One You will Ever Buy

Well that might be a slight exaggeration because these brands will no doubt introduce a pan, appliance, knife that is unlike others and you HAVE to add that to your collection. But, what I mean is that they will last forever, and you won’t need to replace THAT piece. To the non-cook, they might seem an absurd amount. (I remember when my otherwise generous Dad couldn’t justify Martha Stewart’s $40 Entertaining book, at double the price of other books). But great pieces ARE an investment, and like little else these days, they will last a lifetime if you take care of them. When you look at my preferred brands, you will see the same names over and over again. I have no sponsored relationship with these companies, but I really trust them to be the best. OXO for gadgets and tools; KitchenAid for countertop appliances; Staub, Lodge, Calphalon, Mauviel, and Le Creuset for pots and pans; Emile Henry for ceramics; and Henckels, Sabatier, and Wustof for cutlery. I’m sharing just a select few of my favorites here.

Staub12" Cast Iron Fry PanI STILL love all things Staub. This is a 12-inch fry pan. It comes in a rainbow of luscious colors, but I’m partial to cherry red. This pan has a unique interior matte surface that aids in browning. It has the heft of cast iron, but needs no special seasoning before using. It’s oven safe to 900°F, and its smooth enamel bottom makes it ideal for any cook surface, including induction, glass, and halogen.

Emile Henry TagineEmile Henry is my go-to for all things ceramic. This “flame-ceramic” tagine cooker is made to withstand mechanical shocks, temperature changes (freezer to oven is approved!), and color fading. With no metal, the cooker is non-reactive for all foods, and the high glaze makes it easy to cook with less fats. Tagines derive from the Moroccan dish of the same name, and represent a style of cooking with a conical lid that locks in steam and allows basting in the food’s own juices. I tried to bring a traditional clay Moroccan tagine back from Fez in my youth, and let’s just say it was not resistant to mechanical shocks (read: TWA baggage handlers).

Brick and Mortar Board

I’m probably half in love with this board from Brooklyn Butcher Blocks because the name is Brick and Mortar BoardMortar board? Get it??? But the other half is pure design envy. Gorgeous! This is an iconic collectible, hand-made in Brooklyn. Walnut forms the bricks and reclaimed mahogany the “mortar”, designed to pay homage to the aesthetics of Brooklyn’s plentiful brick buildings. This board measures approximately 12 x 18 x 2, but there are a variety of shapes and designs available on Amazon. And, pieces can be customized.

Gifts for the Lover of Wine and Cheese? Yes, Please!

Cheese Grotto (Fresco): Foodie Gift GuideIs there anyone on this list who doesn’t devour the whole brie in one sitting? Kolby, you can skip to the next section. Ever end up with tidbits of cheese you can’t find till entirely too late at the way-back of the fridge? The Cheese Grotto is for you. It’s the perfect way to store cheeses, letting them breathe while retaining moisture. Jessica Sennett has designed this line with four sizes, varying by available fridge space. This handsome model (Fresco) is for the metropolitan among you, a mid-size version. It holds 3 to 4 pounds of cheese, and features a clay brick for humidity control and a vaulted ceiling for condensation control. The shelves are removable to use as serving pieces. It’s a stunning collection with copper, leather, birch and bamboo. Nothing like it on the market and bonus – Made in the USA!!

Gabriel Glas all purpose wine glass

Repeat offender from the 2018 list – the Gabriel-Glas wine glass. This is the only wine glass  you will ever need. This Austrian-made lead-free crystal is both delicate and elegant while also being sturdyhttps://amzn.to/3x5TdOG and dishwasher safe.  It’s a real game-changer! No longer do you need a different shape for different wines. The broader base of the glass’ lower bowl is a “bouquet-driver,” while the slightly conical design concentrates the aromas, making it ideal for both red and white.

Slate Cheese Board and KnifeThis dishwasher safe New York State slate round makes a Stunning Cheese Server. Available with one bamboo spreader, which I have shown as a set of four above. What a lovely hostess gift or wedding present, or dare I say it, a gift for yourself. You were good this year, right? The 11-inch round has been treated with food-safe mineral oil and comes with a piece of soapstone for noting the cheese names. Another wonderful find from The Cheese Grotto.

Foodie Gift Guide to Pay it Forward

And no Foodie Gift Guide would be complete without a nod to being big-hearted! Do you have people on your list that don’t want a thing? Or they’d rather pay it forward and help others. Here are a couple options that fall into two groups: some charitable ideas that have to do with hunger, nutrition, and sustainable solutions, as well as some home-made culinary treats that show you are cooking with love. What about both? A gift to charity, with a little something yummy on the side?

Kicking it off with a few home-made culinary treats. Ingredients and spice jars are both linked within each recipe post.

Zesty spice rub

Here’s a zesty steak rub that happens to be delicious on a ginormous Tomahawk steak. And don’t forget the tasty combo of citrus salt and pepper in da house. Giving something that is home-made is always appreciated, and you will likely get bonus points for giving a gift that doesn’t need to be dusted.

Best Cheese Crisp on a wooden board

These seeded cheese crisps are just as easy as they are delicious. Just mix together two grated cheeses, 5 seeds and some salt and bake for 7 – 8 minutes.

Making a Kahlua and Cream Cocktail

And this is a just published recipe for homemade Kahlúa. Mix four ingredients, store it in a cool dark place, and you are all set. More tips on how to use it and full recipe details are available in the post.

Warm Thai Peanuts

What about taking some spiced nuts to your next party? Here are Warm Thai Peanuts, for which I won an award in a professional chef’s recipe contest. Take them warm to the party or let them cool and box them up in cute holiday tins as a culinary treat!

CWS Best Gift GuideI’m a big fan of giving to charities in lieu of gifts. I’m on the Executive Committee of the Board of Church World Service, a global relief agency with a 73-year track record committed to making sure there is #Enough4All  They are focused on sustainable solutions for hunger, poverty, climate change, and those displaced.

Browse the Best Gift Guide and see how far your dollars go. $15 rehabilitates a malnourished child in Indonesia, and just $22 buys 500 fishlings in Honduras. This year Giving MachineCWS is featured in Giving Machines placed around the world. I’m not Matt Damon and I didn’t buy a zoo, but I did buy a pig near Lincoln Center. Like a vending machine, but doling out so much more than Cheetos, gifts purchased here serve the greater good. See if there is a machine near you. What a great way to show the little people in your life that we think about others and help where we can?

Ration Challenge

This summer I joined 40,000 people worldwide living for one week on the rations of a Syrian refugee displaced to a Jordan camp. It was not easy, and it was definitely humbling, but it was just one week. What about those that spend the average 23 years that refugees spend in camp? While the Ration Challenge fundraising is over, you can learn more, provide food and medical care for refugees by supporting the work of Church World Service.

giving machine trio

Well, that’s a wrap on yet another shopping season. As always, please comment below and let me know as you check the boxes on your shopping list.  And, of course, let me know if you find something in the best gift catalog! May your shopping be stress-free and your holiday joy-filled! Wishing you all the best for this season!!

Penguins on a holiday march
This post contains affiliate links.  I am continuously researching and testing new equipment and plan to relaunch the shop on my website with my newest favorite items (over 150 items on my list to date). The items above are just a few of the many items I recommend. They are all items I own and use regularly and ♥ L.U.V. love. Purchases made with these links earn an-oh-so-small advertising fee, so…thank you in advance! I regularly get questions from readers needing help making a purchase decision. Feel free to leave a question in the comment section, and I will answer and update the shop with the new item, letting other readers benefit from our joint research.
The Amazon links in the shop take you directly to your Amazon account, ready to Prime ship, if that’s how you and your browser do Amazon. Please, note: I try to pick the least expensive offering that is Prime-eligible, but Amazon offerings are ever changing. So, remember that my recommendation is for the product and brand, and shop around as you always do. I always read reviews, but I trust my own expertise over random and possibly having-a-bad-day comments. Who you gonna believe – Foshizzle2817 or me? 

© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2019. All rights reserved.

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Cooks’ Gift Guide: How to Pick a Perfect Present

Cooks’ Gift Guide: How to Pick a Perfect Present

Foodie's Best Gift Guide

I have officially seen one too many cooks’ gift guides where everybody’s an expert on what you simply must buy for your food-loving friend, spouse, sib, kid, in-law, and more. Spoiler alert: they pretend to have your best interests in mind, but more likely they are just pushing product. Enough already, I declare. Let’s talk about how to buy these gifts and what you should consider as you look for a special gift for the food lover in your life (or your own self). I prefer to say these gifts are for anyone who has ever eaten food. You don’t have to be a food LOVER to enjoy some of these items. Being a food EATER is sufficient. My gift to you is help in navigating the purchase decision, important especially on big ticket items, but also on stocking stuffers because nobody wants to give a dud.

You may not know it, but I have a shop of my favorite items on my website. I have linked most items directly to the Amazon item, but there are a few links here to the shop where you can see all the must-have tools of the trade.  And yes, I have an Amazon affiliate relationship, too. It is a good way to help a blogger defray the costs of recipe testing, et al, and to bring quality content at no cost to you. But at least for me, nobody is going to Club Med on the proceeds. I truly am a big fan of all the products that are there and either a lifelong user, a new super fan, or in the rare case (looking at you Vitamix), I have it on my own shopping list. I have nearly 100 items in the shop at this point and am always getting requests from my followers to help make a purchase decision. So if you have something to buy and you are not sure, just ask. It will go into the shop so others can benefit from our joint research. The links from the shop will drop you right into your Amazon account, logged in and ready to Prime ship, if that is the way your browser keeps you logged in. One last note on Amazon: I try to pick the least expensive offering that is Prime-eligible, but these things change rapidly. So do keep in mind that my recommendation is for the product and brand, and shop around as you always do. And be sure to read all Amazon reviews with a grain of salt. Or a shot of tequila. Or both. Who you gonna believe – Bizzle6739 or me?

And don’t miss the last section of this post for home-made gifts and gifts to charity. Give the gift that keeps on giving. Invest in the future of our world. ♥

Whimsical Gifts for Entertaining

Jesse Steele ApronsSo this section does not in fact need a drill-down on purchase decision criteria, but I wanted to kick off this cooks’ gift guide with some fun things. Jesse Steele makes the cutest aprons with all sorts of whimsical prints. How adorbs is this Eiffel Tower print? She sells them with dots, and checks, and cherries. Or how about a candy cane wreath print for this season? Many prints are 50s-reminiscent. And they come in Mommy & Me styles. What a lovely hostess gift.

Bacon Tongs

Now let’s just get busy with Bacon Tongs. I don’t think they really need much more than a loud MUST HAVE. Bacon for the Takin? Bwahahaha!! Yes this is pretty specific, but it’s clever and oh so very unlikely to be a duplicate gift.

Bloody Mary Pitcher

Tomato, Tomahto. I say Bloody Mary. This is another cute item from Mud Pie, one of my favorite gift lines in my shop. Don’t miss the spreader set or salad bowl and tongs.

Nespresso Milk Frother

And one more idea for entertaining – in this case especially for the coffee lover on your list – the Nespresso Milk Frother. This game-changer can turn a basic cup of joe or your special blend pour-over into something sublime. Spoon some high quality froth onto whatever you are drinking. Hot chocolate? Warm winter cocktail? Sounds perfect.

Gifts to Stuff a Stocking

Microplane Peeler

Okay, I need a bunch of you to skip this paragraph or at least act surprised. This is my 2018 stocking stuffer. I have a lot of props and gadgets from years of foodstyling – a storage space-full, to be exact. Many are rarely used so they will stay in pristine condition and look good on television. I have started using them all recently. And this was the peeler (by Microplane) that I grabbed when getting ready for Thanksgiving. Life changed. It’s just as sharp and wonderful as the Microplane grater (also in my shop) is for zesting, but this time for peeling, with hands safely out of the way. Everyone needs one. Now.

OXO Good-Grips Potato Ricer

I have been touting the virtues of a potato ricer for as long as I have been blogging, but it seems that this needs to be used for people to fall in love with it. One follower took one to her Thanksgiving family visit and then went out and got one for everyone on her list. It is really magical because it avoids the need for beaters or masher or whatever you use now. You just boil potato chunks and push through this giant garlic-press-of-a- tool. Then just stir in milk and butter (and for me, goat cheese and thyme) and hit the table. So easy.

OXO Good-Grips Smooth Edge Can Opener

Oh, a can opener would be a wonderful stocking stuffer, said no one ever. Until now. This can opener is by OXO, the Good Grips people, and cuts the lid off while leaving a smooth edge. I feel good about using this because recycling is so much safer. No sharp edges to hurt your own family, and none as this empty (and rinsed) can goes off to meet its (recycling) maker.

Govino Dishwasher Safe Wine Glasses

If you have ever used these Govino roadie wine glasses in the past, be pleasantly surprised that they are now dishwasher safe. And by roadie, I mean glasses you might carry to a picnic, or a concert or boating – someplace where you want something shatterproof. I originally found these at the Museum of Modern Art, and they definitely have a design flair about them. But now they are even more practical and easier to use and much less expensive. When you can’t drink from glass, these are a lovely option.

Cooks’ Gift Guide for Classic Keepers

These cooks’ gifts are an investment, but they will last a lifetime if you take care of them. I have a blender, juicer, food processor, standmixer, knives, and more that I have had for 30+ years. Yes, they can be pricey, but buying from a reputable company that stands by its products goes a long way, especially in this disposable age we now occupy. When you look at my shop, you will see the same brands represented across items again and again. I have no sponsored relationship with these companies, but I really believe in their products. OXO for gadgets and tools; KitchenAid for countertop appliances; Staub, Lodge, Calphalon, Mauviel, and Le Creuset for pots and pans; Emile Henry for ceramics; and Henckels, Sabatier, and Wustof for cutlery. I’m sharing a select few of my favorites here, along with details on what makes them so outstanding.

Staub 4-quart CocotteI love all things Staub. This is a 4-quart cocotte, a covered oven-proof casserole. It comes in a rainbow of luscious colors. I’m partial to cherry red. The lid on the cast iron Staub cocotte is designed to retain more liquid, creating a self-basting system, and the knob is ovenproof to nearly 500°F. These pieces will last a lifetime and work on all cook-surfaces including induction.

Emile Henry Large Baking DishEmile Henry is my go-to for all things ceramic. I have them in round, oval, scalloped edge, rectangular and many colors. This is an extra-large lasagna pan, measuring 17 x 11. I first discovered the brand during my time in France – the company was founded there in 1850 – but they have become ever more popular in the US since then. Emile Henry is prized for its high-fired Burgundy clay. As a result, it is well suited for heat retention, is resistant to temperature changes, and is scratch resistant.


This 18/10 stainless steel roasting pan is by Mauviel, a company dating back to 1830s France. I love this pan because it is “stick”. Non-stick roasting pans just don’t develop the fond, the drippings on the bottom, essential to gravy-making. It’s okay to have a non-stick rack in my opinion, but I want my pan to be able to let drippings develop color. This 5-layer construction has a stainless interior, 3 layers of aluminum for heat conductivity and a bottom layer of magnetic stainless for induction use. The heavily riveted handles are sturdy and safe, wide enough to use oven mitts, and best of all, it’s guaranteed for life.


Zwilling J. A. Henckels is one of several cutlery brands I adore, including Sabatier, Wüstof and VictorInox. I find that many people are afraid of their knives and chose lightweight flimsy knives, often dull. There is nothing more dangerous. Dull knives slip. If you want to really up your culinary game, invest in a good knife, keep it sharp, and take a knife skills class. I like this Italian-designed and German-made knife because of its rocking blade. This Pro 7-inch Rocking Santoku knife allows an easier attack for Western “chef-chopping,” keeping the knife tip down and rocking to cut with a forward motion. Chopping and slicing should both be done with a forward motion. Owning a good sharp rocking blade lets the knife do the work and minimizes fatigue. This knife is honed and hand-finished from a single piece of high carbon steel (it’s 57 on the Rockwell scale which means excellent edge retention) and has a special formula no-stain finish, so you get the best of carbon steel without its typical staining.

Gifts for the Wine Lover

Red Wine The Comprehensive Guide by Kevin Zraly, Mike DeSimone, Jeff Jenssen

This comprehensive guide to the fifty red wine essential varieties and styles is written by my friends and neighbors, Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen (The World Wine Guys) and Kevin Zraly (founder of the Windows on the World Wine School). The book (winner of the Gormand International Award for Best Drink Book) is organized by type of grapes, not regions, with recommendations from bargain to special occasion, as well as food pairings, beautiful photography, and engaging stories from the vineyards. You’ll want one for yourself.

Gabriel Glas all purpose wine glass

Also from a friend, Gabriel-Glas is the only wine glass  you will ever need. Who needs a different glass for every wine you pour? The Gabriel-Glas is new to the American market, thanks to my friend Tempe Reichardt. This Austrian-made lead-free crystal is both delicate and elegant while also being sturdy and dishwasher safe.  I didn’t know I needed new glasses until I started using this one. The broader base of the bottom of the glass is a “bouquet-driver,” while the slightly conical design concentrates the aromas.

Gabriel-Glas-Champagne-Flutes-Set-of-6These make a lovely hostess gift or wedding present, but my money is on buying them for yourself. Sommeliers and wine-makers alike say this is the perfect glass to use for all wines. However if you want to use a flute for bubbles, Gabriel-Glas has got you covered.

Gifts for the Big-Hearted

For those that don’t need a thing or would rather help others, what about something home-made or something charitable? Or both? A gift to charity, with a little sumthin’ sumthin’ on the side that shows you have added a little extra love. Here are two home-made culinary gifts I have shared in the past. Ingredients and containers (spice jars and candy tins) are both linked through my shop.

Filling the Spice Jars: rows of flip lid jars being filled with a funnel, tags, twine

This is a tasty combo of citrus salt and zesty pepper. Giving something that is home-made is always appreciated and you will likely get bonus points for something that can be consumed. Win. Win. Win. Jars, salt and all you need are in the shop.

Toffee in a tin with christmas ribbons and evergreen

And this is Grandmother Keck’s recipe. It’s a pretty classic English Toffee but she called it butterscotch. And despite the fact that I first made it when I was 10 and never wrote it down, to this day I remember the proportions. One pound of brown sugar and two sticks of butter (minus one Tablespoon from each stick). The recipe in this post explains it better, but it was something I have remembered for decades. Such a treat!

CWS HungerI’m a big fan of giving to charities in lieu of gifts. As I am about to join the Executive Committee of the Board of Church World Service, I can’t think of a more worthy cause. CWS has a 70-year track record committed to making sure there is #Enough4All Their work provides hunger relief, among many other services, and is critically focused on ensuring proper nutrition for the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. This is key to their development and healthy growth and essential in realizing their full potential later in life. CWS works with communities to find ways to feed themselves sustainably and nutritiously. I met – and exceeded – my $2500 goal and am extremely grateful to all of you who have and are considering a donation to this cause.

Myanmar chickensAnd for those that want to buy the best gift ever, CWS offers a best gift catalog. Two hens and a rooster? $18. How about a goat in Haiti for $65? Invest in women; in refugees; in water; in disaster relief. You will be surprised how far a small investment will go. Gifts come with recognition cards, letting your giftee know just how thoughtful you were.


And lastly, this beautiful cookbook The Bread and Salt Between Us was just written as a labor of love by Syrian refugee Mayada Anjari. The good people of Rutgers Presbyterian Church, in partnership with CWS’s refugee resettlement program, brought Mayada and her family to the U.S. two-plus years ago, after they had spent several years as refugees in Jordan. Mrs. Anjari illustrates how that first church-prepared welcome meal, and a reciprocal meal of Syrian food that she later prepared at Rutgers, built a lasting bridge simply through breaking bread.  It’s a wonderful collection of recipes, stories and mouth-watering photos, but most of all fellowship. Proceeds support Mayada and her family, as well as the New Americans Committee at Rutgers to further their work of welcoming and resettling refugees. Food & Wine called this one of the best cookbooks coming out this fall, and the New York Times recently featured Mayada in its feature “The First Thanksgiving”. This is a can’t-miss gift for a truly worthy cause!

Well that’s a wrap for this shopping season. Santa has been very, very busy!! Please comment and let me know how your shopping is going. And of course let me know if you find something in the best gift catalog! I hope your shopping is stress-free and your holiday is joyous! Wishing you all the best for this season!!

Cooks' Gift Guide
This post contains affiliate links. For more of my must-have faves, visit my shop.

© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2018. All rights reserved.

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21 Essential Food Styling Tips for Mouth-Watering Photos

21 Essential Food Styling Tips for Mouth-Watering Photos

Bachelor Recipe, an India-based food and lifestyle website followed globally by food-lovers, home cooks, and travel enthusiasts who seek creative culinary creations, tapped my decades of experience as a prop and food stylist to teach their readers how to create viral food photos. While Bachelor Recipe had no shortage of great ideas coming their way from cooking enthusiasts around the world, they found that often the visual content wasn’t up to the requirements of a professional site. How can they convey essential principles of food styling and photography to improve submissions, get mouth-watering images and increase engagement?


One click – and half a world away – I was ready to share my tricks of the trade. I have styled hundreds – maybe 1000s – of live TV cooking demo segments, as well as culinary products for packaging, feasts for ethereal magazine spreads, and everything in between, editorial to advertising. I know all too well that a mouth-watering photo styled with mood–evoking props can transport the viewer to a distant memory and stir the urge to start cooking. And while you don’t need to be a professional photographer to create an Instagram-worthy image, it really helps to understand some of the basics of photography, especially camera angle and composition, to capture a dish in its best light.

Just add these easy-to-follow tips to your happy-snapping and see how quickly you can improve your social media culinary posts. My food styling clients – many of whom are featured below – have benefited first-hand from my attention to detail, understanding of composition, and culinary knowledge which used in combination transform technique into artistry, showcasing their product at its peak of perfection.

21 Essential Food Styling Tips for Mouth-Watering Photos

Food styling for camera has come a long way since its birth in the 1950s. When 4-color food photos first started to replace culinary illustrations, the emphasis was on perfection. Everything matched, every cherry in the Jell-O mold perfectly placed, and props were quite formal, showcasing the recipe or food product at its “best”. Today we strive for recipes that are approachable, look do-able, and most importantly have that I-want-to-eat-that-NOW appeal. Not only are crumbs left in plain sight, they are often strategically placed.

But while the goal is for a more relaxed portrayal, creating a compelling image is just as hard. The challenge is how to make a recipe tantalizing without the use of all five senses. Photography must rely on only one – VISUAL. Coagulated cheese does not convey the appeal of a fresh-from-the-oven lasagna that is a mess (in the best possible way!!) of gooey cheese.

21 Essential Food Styling Tips for Mouth-Watering Photos

Today anyone can add a bit of style to an image, and must if there is any chance to make that photo go VIRAL! When the stylist is also the photographer, there are no limitations on how to present the food. A professional food stylist can be limited by decisions (camera angle, lighting, central focus, and more) made by the team, including the client, art director, and photographer. A blogger or social media star has carte blanche to make those decisions. Still, it’s important to remember that photography decisions are inextricably linked to food styling needs. So here are 21 tricks of the trade for food styling and photo shoot tips to help you get those mouth-watering photos.

What’s your angle? Build for your camera angle.

The two most common angles for social media food shots are directly overhead or bird’s eye – particularly popular on Instagram – or vertical at eye-level. Overhead shots work well if you have a beautiful, artistically arranged, composed salad or a spread of many colorful food items, and height is not important to tell the story.

  1. Be careful to avoid an overhead light source when shooting from above, because you will create your own shadow. Lighting is best diffused and from the side.
Overhead shot of spices on a black slate background: nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon stick, allspice, almonds, toasted coconut chips, star anise and vanilla bean


This overhead shot works because it emphasizes the different shapes of the featured items. It tells a story of the rich array of spices used, much more than showing a bowl of unidentifiable mixed ground spices. While not particularly colourful (almost monochromatic) it makes a bold graphic statement.

A vertical shot at eye-level is great for showcasing layers. Imagine looking straight into a stacked-high Big Mac: two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun. You would miss all that action if you took the bird’s eye view shot, which flattens the food to two dimensions.

  1. Use side or backlighting (ranging from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock, where 12 o’clock is straight behind the food/camera) when shooting vertical at eye-level. Lighting from the front is least flattering and tends to flatten your subject.
Pinch of Yum Orange brunch cake on a pedestal stand. Two layers of cake with whipped topping and filling and blueberries, honey being poured


Photography and Styling:PINCHOFYUM.COM
This vertical shot highlights the many layers of this cake, a detail that would be lost in an overhead shot. The drizzle of agave is a “call to action” that makes the viewer want to pick up a fork and dive right in.

Once you know your camera angle, you know where to look at your food for food styling. Get down to that level and check the view. Are your pancakes listing to one side?

crooked stack of pancakes with raspberries on top and blue berries on the black plate


Do as I say, not as I do! This stack was created in a hurry with no attention to matching sizes or making sure the stack was straight. If this came to you in a restaurant, chances are you could still spin the plate and find a better side. But don’t forget to adjust the garnish so the berries have their best face forward. Choosing a vertical eye-level orientation for a stack of pancakes is perfect, because it shows off all the layers.

  1. Match the pancake size and stack one by one to create a tall straight stack. For extra tall or flimsy food, add thin sheets of cardboard between layers for support.

Whatever angle you chose, make sure the food has its best side forward from the camera’s POV (point of view). Add extra sprinkles and garnish with fruit, vegetables or herbs toward (or just off) the camera’s focus.

  1. Clump “like” ingredients together (as opposed to mixing them) so that each component stands out. Notice how the raspberries on top and blueberries on the bottom pop more than if both places had mixed berries, even when your stack is crooked!

One last note on camera positions. In addition to deciding which plane you are featuring and the angle within that plane, there is a decision on orientation – portrait or landscape. Instagram tends to favor square images which eliminates further thought on orientation. But keep in mind that with social media viewing heavily skewed to mobile access and cell phones’ orientation being vertical, portrait photos display better than landscape or horizontal. Portrait also has the ability to vary the depth of field (more on that below) that can’t be matched with landscape orientation.

How’s Your Composition? Balance, Proportion, and Scale.

Since we have happily survived the matchy-matchy days of symmetry in composition, the meaning of balance has also evolved. Balance no longer means a place setting with a salad fork next to a dinner fork, in perfect alignment. In fact, putting the spoon in the bowl would once be considered rude. Now it’s inviting. “Please join me, won’t you? Pull up a spoon and dive in.”

  1. Make sure that no ingredient is laid out in formation, military style, in perfect alignment. Let a julienne of peppers fall haphazardly.
  2. Use odd numbers in creating visual high points (even numbers hark back to old-school concepts of “balance”).
  3. Rule of thirds: Think of your frame divided into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. Focus on one of the four intersection points of those imaginary lines and place your hero there.
Farm fresh eggs in a variety of colors including blue


These eggs are a bit haphazard in color and arrangement…on purpose. But notice that there is only one blue egg and it is off centre, very close to the intersection of the top third and the right third.

  1. Arrange props or food that break the exterior edges of one to three sides of the frame. This draws the eye around the image, letting the viewer’s brain fill in more than is actually shown, completing an even larger picture. Exciting! Engaging!
Half Baked Harvest image: grilled pineapple margarita with lime and mint


Photography and Styling:HALFBAKEDHARVEST.COM
Objects in this photo break the frame on three sides, and the plate just kisses the edge on the fourth (left side). This creates a much bigger palette than a single cocktail would command on its own.

  1. Add something to your photos that will leave clues as to scale. Absent these clues, a photo runs the risk of raising questions, making the viewer stop and judge. A well-propped photo like the one below creates an intuitive understanding of everything on display.
My Name is Yeh: work in progress - making the pink, coral, green flowers to top the rose rose cake


Photography and Styling:MYNAMEISYEH.COM
The pastry bags drop hints about what size those flowers are. Also, notice the framing on this shot: Items break the edges on the top and right side but leave an almost frame-like border on the bottom and left. That cropping, along with the rustic white table, creates an atmosphere that perfectly translates Molly Yeh’s elegant farm lifestyle.

Who’s the Star? Showcase with Depth of Field.

Figure out the hero, then tell its story! Many newer model cellphones have portrait mode, which is Apple’s way of describing depth of field. The person in the portrait is in focus while the background falls off, is a bit blurry. That’s shallow depth of field and is a great way to showcase your food’s best feature.

  1. Create depth of field by focusing on the “beauty” and let the background focus dissolve, creating more ambiance and atmosphere for the dish.
  2. Style ingredients that are in sharp focus, such as the seeds and avocado in the photo below. Make sure to use colorful items in the background that can be identified even when out of focus, like purple cabbage and carrots.
Shallow Depth of Field


This photo was shot in portrait mode on an iPhone 7+ and you can see the background blurs out a bit. Make sure that the items out of focus have either been established in focus (so it’s a repeat) or are something identifiable even out of focus, like carrots.

Here, the egg strata is the hero. The berries and toast are in the background and slightly out of focus (depth of field is shallow). So, while you want to arrange the berries at different angles and maybe show off the calyx on a strategically placed berry, the styling energy should be placed on the eggs.

  1. Check to make sure there are not random scraggly bits of overcooked egg or rogue crumbs, and pull out a little oozy cheese. Oozy cheese lets the viewer know this dish is fresh from the oven.
pepper and cheddar strata on a blue plate with strawberries and toast


This image is not heavily styled – it was taken as a casual brunch shot – but there is attention to the orientation of the strata. It is angled slightly away from the camera, yet still showcases the layers.

Food Photography Props: Less is More.

When composing your shot, be a bit less precise than you would when setting the table. Angle the spoon to create an upward and to the right angle. Turn a fork over on the plate. Create movement with props, textiles, and textures. When in doubt, use fewer props.

  1. Consider using butcher or parchment paper between the food and plate or sheet pan to add another dimension and create additional lines or movement.
  2. Keep it simple and look for matte finish props which won’t bounce light.
  3. Hands may be all the props you need.

Hand holding a fig marinated chicken fajita with avocado, garnished with lime and cilantro

  1. Place props in an inviting way. In the cake photo below, the fork is clean because we can tell no one has nibbled from the cake. But if bites have been taken, then the utensil should look used, creating continuity.

The photo below brings together many of the tips described above. The hero is the slice, not the cake itself. Notice that the slice has been rotated 180 degrees from its original orientation in the pan, showing off the cake and not just the elaborate icing. By bringing focus forward to the slice, Molly establishes all the beautiful flowers – colors, shapes, and sizes – so that the viewer can subliminally fill in everything on the whole cake behind.

Use the Fork as an Invitation by My Name is Yeh


Photography and Styling:MYNAMEISYEH.COM
Molly Yeh – My Name is Yeh – never disappoints in the photos in her posts. Here she uses negative space (the black in the back) and has divided the shot into thirds, vertically and horizontally. She lets the black background and the table lines literally draw the thirds. Nothing is in the centre. The slice is at the intersection of lower and left thirds and the sheet pan is near the intersection of the upper and right thirds. She lets simplicity and no heavy propping tell the story.

Use spills or a bit of mess as an invitation, but don’t overdo it. Drizzles of blackberry jam on a white cloth just makes me mad. But feel free to twirl the noodles on a fork, splashing the sauce on the plate, or to break a yolk. That creates an immediate need to EAT NOW!

  1. Use a splash or spill as a prop. Natural spills help create a yum factor. Add a few crumbs, show a drip, let an herb sprig fall haphazardly. Be casual, but careful.
Caesar salad of grilled romaine, croutons, poached egg and caesar dressing


Breaking the yolk adds yum factor and signifies this is fresh from the poacher.

Food Styling Tips & Tricks of the trade

Lastly, here are a few guiding rules and finishing touches to round out the list, along with my favorite professional tools that come in handy for social media shoots.

  1. Brush & Spritz – oil & water. Brush any food that is starting to look a little dry with some oil to bring it back to life. Spritz herbs, garnishes, or even glassware to give that just-picked, fresh-poured look. If necessary, take dry-looking food off the plate, place it on a paper towel, and mist it with cooking spray.
  2. Slow down the oxidation of produce that will brown by dipping in water dosed with ascorbic acid or lemon juice.
  3. Add the final garnishes just before shooting to keep them fresh. If you just have one garnish, a careless sprinkle is good, but if there are multiple toppings, place them in clusters.
Pinch of Yum: crockpot lentil soup in a handmade pottery bowl with spoon. Soupd with greens and carrots and topped with parmesan shards. Served with bread


Photography and Styling:PINCHOFYUM.COM
The carrots are lightly brushed with a bit of soup to convey the idea that they are part of the soup, but they are placed strategically to be seen, as are the lentils in the spoonful. Notice that the Parmesan is only in one place, implying it has not yet been stirred in. This makes it easier for the camera to read. Big chunks of bread add context to the smaller seeds scattered on the cloth.

  1. Favorite Tools 
  • Small sharp scissors, like sewing scissors, for trimming scraggly bits
  • Assorted small paint brushes for brushing sauce and oil
  • Long thin surgical tweezers for placing final garnishes
  • Small spritz bottle to mist and refresh produce
  • Small offset spatula for lifting layers onto a built stack of food
  • Eyedropper for adding sauce or soup on pulled out ingredients
  • Arts & Crafts mounting putty to hold things in place
  • Straight or T pins to attach things, like the best strawberry top to the best strawberry

Bon appétit!

Armed with all these rules, tips, tricks and tools, it’s time to pick up a spoon and dive in!Food Styling Prop Tip: Style the food on the Spoon


Featured on Bachelor Recipe

This article first appeared on Bachelor Recipe.
© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2018. All rights reserved.

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