Lately I can’t check my email or login to Facebook without being bombarded with titles like “Gifts That Make Ladies Go Gaga” or “Give Like Santa, Save Like Scrooge” (two actual emails now in my trash folder). So when I had the idea of writing about my favorite kitchen tools, I nearly vetoed it, figuring that I didn’t want to contribute to the mind-clutter that’s already out there. But just to check, I asked my Facebook followers what they thought, and the response was overwhelmingly positive: out of about 80 responses, there was only one “not interested at all.” So with apologies to that one reader, here are a few of the appliances, gadgets, and kitchen paraphernalia that I wouldn’t want to do without.
First let me say that this is not a “sexy” list. There’s nothing frou-frou here, nothing that screams “Luxury Christmas Gift,” so if you’re buying a gift for someone who would be offended by being given a vacuum cleaner, you might want to consult that “Gaga” list I mentioned above. These are items I have owned for a while and use regularly, some of them every day, so I know they’re dependable and sturdy. Also, you’ll notice that for almost all of them I refer you to Amazon because that’s where I do most of my shopping. (I know, I’m evil for not buying local!) But just to be completely up-front, I have an affiliate relationship with Amazon, so if you buy one of these items through my Amazon link, I get a commission; if you have a problem with that, please feel free to skip the link, go to Amazon on your own, and do a search for the product. That way, no one gets a commission and Amazon gets to keep all of your money. I don’t have any affiliation with the manufactures themselves or with the non-Amazon sites mentioned below.
Stocking Stuffers (Gifts Under $20)
What it is: Microplane Fine Grater
How I use it: There are several different sizes and styles of these graters, from fine to coarse, but I find that this one does everything I need it to from zesting lemons to grating nutmeg, which is what I use it for most, as seen here. Ground nutmeg is a pale comparison to freshly ground, and you will be amazed at the difference it makes in your baked goods.
What it costs: Currently $13.95 at Amazon.
What it is: Oxo Stainless Steel Strainer, Double Rod
How I use it: Often people ask me what I use to wash quinoa. This is it. The tight mesh keeps all of the tiny quinoa seeds inside while the water drains away. I like and use quinoa so often that this strainer is worth its cost just for that, but I also use it when making Greek-style soy cheese or draining pureed pumpkin.
What it costs: $19.34 from Amazon, but other brands are available for less.
What it is: Large Plato Platter, 16.25″ W x 11.75″ D
How I use it: Martha Stewart taught me (in one of her books) that everyone needs a white platter. She was thinking of people who give parties, but I was interested mostly from a photography perspective. Either way, it’s all about presentation, and this perfectly flat, slightly elevated platter shows off everything from appetizers to cupcakes in great style (see it used to hold these peach muffins). And did you see the price? This won’t fit into a stocking, but it’s definitely a stocking stuffer price.
What it costs: $9.95 from CB2. Seriously, it’s a bargain (and I don’t get any payment for telling you that!)
Gifts Between $20 and $50
What it is: Escali Primo Digital Multifunctional Scale
How I use it: If you’re a dieter, a baker, or a recipe writer, you need a good kitchen scale. Since I am often all three, I make good use of this scale, especially for the recipe-writing. Cooking by weight is so much more accurate that using volume measurements (like cups) or subjective measurements like “2 small apples.” My idea of small may not be yours, so I like to measure those apples so that I can tell you exactly how much to use. Baked goods in particular require precise measurements, so if you’re following many recipes, you need a good kitchen scale. This one changes from grams to ounces in the push of a button and allows me to place a dish on top of it and have it reset to zero (“tare”) so that I am weighing just the ingredient, not the dish. There are a lot of brands out there, but I have chosen this one twice: I rebought it after I melted the first one by accidentally turning on a stove burner under it. I liked it so much that I didn’t want to take a chance on another brand.
What it costs: starts at $24.65 for stainless steel and available in different colors for slightly more.
What it is: Unicorn Brand Keytop Peppermill – 6-Inch
How I use it: I’ve gone through a lot of peppermills. I’ve bought wooden ones, steel ones, plexiglass and plastic ones, and no matter how sturdy they appear, they’ve disappointed me every time. Either they’re hard to turn or the coarseness of the grind is hard (or impossible) to adjust, or they just plain fall apart. Then I saw a comparison of peppermills on the Cooks Illustrated website and started coveting a Unicorn peppermill. The mill CI reviewed was the Magnum, a larger sized peppermill than this, but I liked the keytop design, so following some Amazon reviews, I bought this one instead and haven’t regretted it at all. My family and I use it every day, and it cranks out ground pepper quickly and easily. Update: Amazon is currently sold out. If you need a peppermill, check out this similar Unicorn Magnum.
What it costs: $35.95 currently at Amazon
What it is: Spices from The Spice House
How I use it: I’ve come to rely on The Spice House to provide me with lots of the spices that I love that aren’t available locally: herbs like Mexican oregano, spices like smoked paprika, and blends like Maharajah curry. Even when I know I can find a spice locally, I’m more likely to buy it from The Spice House because I know it will be fresher. Make yourself out a list of the spices you covet most, and ask Santa to have The Spice House make you a custom gift box.
What it costs: It depends upon the spices, but most pre-packaged boxes cost around $24 for 4 spices.
Higher-Priced Gifts ( $50-$200)
How I use it: My family and I use this electric kettle several times a day. It’s perfect for the tea lover on your holiday list, but beyond that, it makes heating water for anything quicker. I use it to start a pot of boiling water for pasta because it heats much more quickly than my stove does. It shuts off automatically when the water boils, so there’s no danger of boiling dry. The kettle lifts off the base (which plugs into the wall), meaning there are no cords to worry about as you pour.
What it costs: currently $68.85 at Amazon
What it is: Berndes SignoCast Classic 13-Inch Skillet
How I use it: I recommend the entire line of Berndes SignoCast non-stick cookware. I’ve been slowly replacing my warped and scratched Calphlon with Berndes ever since I used it at the McDougall Celebrity Chef weekend. I currently have this skillet, a 8-inch skillet, and a 13-Inch, 6-Quart Saute Pan, which is the pot I use most often. It’s completely non-stick, guaranteed not to warp (which was the biggest problem I had with my other cookware), and doesn’t scratch or chip off. They’re heavy pans, so if you’re buying for an older person, I recommend sticking to the smaller ones. My one problem with the 6-quart saute pan is that it has a second handle which is not insulated and gets very hot. I learned to keep a potholder nearby after being burned a couple of times.
What it costs: The 13-inch skillet is currently $99.99 and the saute pan is $169.99, but prices seem to change often.
How I use it: I never thought anything would replace my Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker, but this is my new favorite pressure cooker and appliance. It’s billed as a 3-in-1 pressure cooker, slow cooker, and rice cooker, but I use it strictly for its pressure cooker function. (I never think ahead far enough to use the slow cooker, and it doesn’t have a pre-set setting for cooking brown rice.) Unlike a regular pressure cooker, this electric Fagor is completely silent; you won’t even know it’s turned on. More importantly, you don’t have to watch over it and worry because its thermostat keeps it at pressure and an automatic shut-off turns it off at the time you specify. So that means you can leave the kitchen while your meal is cooking without worry. I use it for beans, soups, and stews–anywhere I once used my regular pressure cooker.
What it costs: Buy it fast and it’s $99.95 at Amazon. (I paid $20 more.)
Very Expensive Gifts (Over $200)
How I use it: I hesitated to include this toaster oven because of its price, but the truth is that it’s my most-used small appliance. I live in a kitchen that’s in dire need of updating. The double ovens were installed in the mid-70′s, and neither one works right; one is missing its top element, the other is missing its bottom element, and neither keeps the correct temperature. So I bought this large toaster oven to do all my baking in. It will hold a 9×13-inch pan (if you use one like this without handles) and comes with a 13-inch pizza pan. I do almost all my baking in this oven, everything from the recent Apple-Cranberry Strudel Pie to Celebration Pot Pie with Pumpkin Biscuit Crust. It controls temperature accurately and even has a convection fan for even browning. I love it.
What it costs: currently $240.00 at Amazon. I haven’t found it for any lower than that from a dealer I trust.
So there you have my list of most-used items. I hope it’ll help you find a gift for the cook in your life–or, better yet, for yourself.