A Kitchen Gift Guide – Part One: Equipment

A handful of people have asked me about what gifts to get for people who love to cook at home, so I thought a shopping guide might be helpful for those wandering the aisles of specialty kitchen stores, sifting through the offering of unitaskers upon unitaskers.

This is part one in a series of posts I’ll be writing in the upcoming week(s) as holiday shopping gets into high gear. Kitchen equipment is first, with Ingredients and Media to follow.

First and foremost, know that this is not an exhaustive list of equipment that someone should have in their home kitchen. You will notice that there are no knives, pots, or baking pans in my list. I’ve not been paid, compensated, or asked to feature any of the following items. I simply love them and, at one point or another (or now), would’ve loved to open a box containing them. I think most other cooking-inclined people would, too.

The prices displayed are from Amazon.com. Prices fluctuate on Amazon a lot, so the prices may have changed since the publishing of this post. This post contains some affiliate links.

High-Temperature Digital Thermometer – $20.17

I am big on enabling people (in positive things, of course). A high-temperature thermometer, a/k/a a candy thermometer, opens up an entirely new realm of cooking. You can make candy, perfect chicken fried steak, fudge, fried chicken, frostings upon FROSTINGS, and many more things that are not very good for you.

The thing about making and eating things that aren’t very good for you is that when you do eat them, they better be the BEST horrible thing for you that you ever ate. A thermometer will help you get your oil hot enough for stupendous fried chicken. Get your sugar to the correct temperature and you’ll have a syrup or candy or caramel. This is the Number One kitchen gift I recommend (that’s why I put it first. ahHA!). With ONE gift you’ve given the lucky thermometer receiver a million new recipes.

Note: Amazon shows some negative reviews for this particular brand but I’ve never had a problem with mine.

Digital Food Scale
– $25.00

Another gift that falls into the Enabler group of presents is a scale. Give someone a candy thermometer and they can try a bunch of new recipes. A scale works the same way: there are lots of recipes that are only given in weights or ratios. Like the thermometer, a scale also brings a higher degree of precision to a kitchen. Measuring cups vary widely across brands, and ingredients can be packed into cups improperly. Using weight as a measurement instead of volume is much more accurate. With a scale there is a lot less playing rodeo with a bunch of different measuring implements: simply add the weight called for of one ingredient, zero out the scale, and pour in the next one. While I use mine most for baking, I also pull it out frequently when I am measuring meat or developing recipes.

Mini Tart Pans
– $15.99

Although I normally refer to tarts and pies as ‘my dearly beloathed,’ mini tart pans make me want to try pie crust ONE more time. I think it is because (most) everything is better in miniature and the idea of giving each person their own teeny tart makes me want to personalize desserts or appetizers for everyone. Of course, that leads to searching out new recipes, trying new flavor combinations, and generally being inspired. It is the gift of inspiration in bakeware. And now you’re the best gift-giver ever.

Bowl Scraper attachment for KitchenAid
– $27.45

I don’t have one of these but I would like one very much. I normally get one or two spatulas dirty when making cakes and have to stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times during mixing. Looking like a squeege that got bent out of shape, this attachment is built to eliminate scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl. Brilliant! You need to know what type of KitchenAid your giftee has, so maybe invite yourself over for dinner sometime and do a cruise by their KitchenAid. By getting rid of the need for spatulas during mixing, the attachment would save dishwasher space and time, essentially bringing about world peace.

Pre-cut Parchment Rounds – $4.02

Unnecessity of unnecessities. That’s why it’s a present. Why are cut flowers so nice when you’re on the receiving end? They don’t multitask, after all. You like them because they’re pretty and they make you smile. Unless you’re allergic to them.

That’s beside the point.

Pre-cut parchment rounds are my cut flowers. With these I don’t have to do the kitchen equivalent of folding a fitted sheet just to make sure my cake sponges don’t stick to the bottom of the pan; I simply slip a round into the pan and save the paper rustling for present opening. They are a definite luxury and not something I have all the time, but I’d love getting them for a gift. Fortunately for you, they are inexpensive and, if the receiver is a baker, quite thoughtful.

Knife Sharpener
– $169.95

This is not the sexiest of gifts. It does not wink at you or slip into something more comfortable. What it does do is make knives screamingly sharp. With a sharp knife you can cut tomato slices paper-thin and you don’t have to resort to cursing silverskin off of meat. Now we’re moving towards something more attractive. Your present-receiver can do justice to the expensive-ass knife set they bought as soon as they graduated college and got their own place (because they haven’t sharpened their knives since!). Knives need sharpening through a machine (or on a whetstone, but I am not recommending that for the average home cook) about once a year and in the long run it is cheaper than taking them somewhere to be sharpened.

Plus, it’s pretty fun. My husband got me this knife sharpener for my birthday one year and I spent the whole day smiling and sharpening knives. Make of that what you will.

Microplane Grater
– $11.19

This is great for a stocking stuffer or for the present-givers who are on a budget (i.e.: everyone). I use this grater more than I use my standard graters. I consider it a kitchen essential, one that many kitchens lack. Perfect for zest without the pith and cheese of all types, it creates soft, fine shavings. Lemon zest makes a regular appearance in recipes I prepare frequently so I use and love my Microplane to death. I recently started using it on soft cheese as well as hard cheese and not much beats little poufy cheese clouds on top of everything.

Coffee Grinder for Spices
– $18.88

Every now and then, when my husband is especially trying, I contemplate using his coffee grinder to make a spice rub. There’s nothing like a bit of cumin coffee to get your morning really going. Revenge aside, a coffee grinder specifically for spices is fantastic to have in the kitchen. I put this in my gift guide because it is an item that most people will not buy because they ‘don’t really NEED it.’ Yes, they could just buy pre-ground spices, however whole spices retain their potency much longer than their ground counterparts. If someone is equipped with a grinder, they can buy spices whole with the ability to grind only as much as they need. The rest stay fresh and can be kept for longer than ground spices with more punch in the end result. Many curry recipes call for pastes made from toasted and freshly ground spices, and who doesn’t want to make a mean curry? This is another Enabler gift. This particular brand of grinder will GRIND THE SHIT out of anything, including star anise, and it has different coarseness settings. Like the knife sharpener, a coffee grinder isn’t especially snazzy, but if you were to include whole, pretty spices in the gift it would be a lovely present.

Cuisineart Ice Cream Maker
– $57.49

If ever my house was on fire and I had to save only one small appliance, it would be my ice cream maker.

These are the things I think of when I can’t sleep.

Ice creams, sorbets and granitas each have all of the spectacular elements of cooking: flavor play, transformation, texture, temperature… And then there are all the toppings that can be made to go along with the ice cream! My heart is all aflutter over frozen desserts. While hand-crank ice cream machines are fine and dandy, I’m willing to bet you a pint of Ben & Jerry’s that the ‘rustic’ fun of churning that ice cream by hand is going to wear off after the first batch. This machine is easy. Make a custard (or not. There are a lot of custardless ice creams. Like polenta ice cream or coconut ice cream with saffron or regular old vanilla), cool it, and then pour it in the machine for half an hour. Boom. Ice cream. As a giver of this gift, I can practically guarantee that the receiver will thank you by making you some ice cream. It’s a win-win situation.

Cast-Iron Pizza Pan
– $34.97

I’ve been through several pizza stones in recent years and am loathe to buy one more crack-prone stone or deal with tiles (the cheap alternative) in my oven. In lieu of a stone, I have been making pizzas in my cast-iron pan. I get the pan very hot, pile the crust and toppings in it, and put everything in the oven. I love these pizzas: the crust is amazing from the combined heat of the oven and pan and the crust even holds when lifting the pie out of the pan. Plus, the pan handle makes for easy in and out of the oven. The only thing I don’t love about the pizzas is the size. My pan is only 9″ and it makes a pizza big enough for two people. Don’t get me started on the logistics of making pizza for more than two people with only one pan. I had resigned myself to small (but delicious) pizzas until I saw this pizza pan. It even has handles! Like the bowl scraper, I don’t own it, but I’ve been dropping thinly-veiled hints (mostly “I would like this for Christmas”) for my husband. Steak is the only thing that he likes more than pizza, so in reality, we would both benefit from a big, cast-iron pizza pan (our waistlines doth protest). Besides pizza, I can only imagine how it would cook a bunch of fennel, endive, or even a bunch of cauliflower slices– think of the mass caramelization (the waistlines doth rejoice!)! If you can think of no one on your shopping list to give this to, I’ll gladly take it.

If none of these recommendations seem to fit any of the people on your list, maybe spices or cookbooks would be more fun to give. A Kitchen Gift Guide – Part Two is full of pantry items (that aren’t flavored olive oil and vinegar) and Part Three has media items stacked up on one another.

If you can’t wait for those posts, you can always opt to give some coal.

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