ARE YOU SOMEONE, or do you know someone, or would you like to get to know someone, who doesn't eat meat? If so, here's your handy 2011 V for Veg Holiday Gift Guide: TofuXpress.
OK, we do have a couple of other suggestions, but first, let's talk tofu. It's an ancient concoction from soybeans that is famously superhigh in protein and superlow . . . all right, supernonexistent in flavor. But it absorbs flavors well - when it's not already full, that is. A block of tofu packed in water needs that liquid squeezed out before it can be permeated with, say, a marinade. So how to drain it?
Generally the answer has been an almost Rube Goldbergian combination of plates, bowls, cans, dish towels, paper towels and/or dictionaries, using the force of gravity to push the water out over time (too much weight too fast leaves you with tofu mush). I gotta admit, I've all too often gone with the slice-the-package-and-give-a-big-hearty-squeeze method and shrugged off the lack of absorbency.
But no longer! The TofuXpress makes draining the water out of tofu a snap - literally. Put the block in the bed of the press, snap the top on and set it aside (unlike the old way, you can keep it fresh in the fridge while it's pressing). A powerful spring in the lid slowly but surely forces a plate down onto the tofu, leaving the water on top for you to easily toss. Then you can use the same container to marinate the tofu.
The unit I tested is sturdy and well-built (and local; the company is Ambler-based), and it's available at Essene Market, 4th Street below Bainbridge, for $42.
If your recipient is soy-averse, or you're looking for something a little cheaper, veg-oriented cookbooks are great, fun gifts that will also help creative vegetarian foodies make a living. We've compiled a list of recently released offerings at philly.com/vegbooks.
Still cheaper, there are still many useful, time-saving veg-centric items at department and kitchen stores, from a vegetable brush (about $5) to a Y-peeler ($10) to a garlic press ($15-$20) to a salad spinner ($20-$25). Yes, I know the last is a popular punchline, but it's extremely useful for drying fresh-washed greens.
Conversely, if you're looking for a once-in-a-lifetime present for someone really, really special, there's always the holy grail of veggie appliances, the Vitamix. This superblender is not cheap, around $500, but its power and versatility blow the Osterizer off the counter. From smoothies to dips to hot soups (yes, it heats the soup) to ice cream(!), it's a culinary game-changer.
Lastly, remember the hungry this season: Give to your local food bank and, if casting your net wider, forget gimmicks like "giving" a far-flung family a cow to feed, water, care for and slaughter. Go with a group directly feeding multitudes, such as the U.N. World Food Programme.
V for Valediction: Lisa Levinson, the dynamo behind "Toad Detour" and Public Eye: Artists for Animals, is leaving Philly for California, but not before a big send-off at the Unitarian Society of Germantown (6511 Lincoln Drive) on Saturday. More info at publiceyephilly.org.