With the holidays upon us (how is it December already?), we decided to jump on the bandwagon started by many other bloggers and put together a gift guide. This being a food blog, all of the items have something to do with food and cooking. Most are things that we own, love and use often. We’ve included links where possible, but this is by no means a sponsored post. Just our thoughts on kitchen stuff that makes us happy and might also make someone on your gift list (or your own self!) happy too.
We’ll start with the low(er)-end items:
The microplane zester/grater is very handy and we use ours at least a couple times per month. There is no better tool for zesting lemons and limes. It also works great for mincing fresh ginger and grating Parmesan for garnish. We don’t bake much, but we imagine it could also be useful for finely shaving chocolate perhaps?
A rice cooker might seem like an unnecessary luxury item, but as with most kitchen appliances, they come in all different price ranges, and we’ve been surprised by how often we use ours. Most rice cookers also function as a steamer (for veggies, etc.), but we’ve never used ours that way. We mostly use it for dishes that call for pre-cooked rice (like fried rice) or serving the main course over rice (like chicken tikka masala.) Our rice cooker also came with a booklet of rice dish recipes.
Nesting bowls likewise come in a variety of price ranges, not to mention varied styles and materials. We have a set that we purchased with a Williams Sonoma gift card (also an excellent gift idea for the foodies in your life!) that are made from some type of durable plastic (melamine possibly) in bright and happy colors. We like how each bowl has a little spout-shaped end for pouring liquid ingredients. And we really like how sturdy they are — one of us (not naming names, but rhymes with “pan”) dropped one of the bowls and caused a small crack in the side, but we’re still able to use the bowl without any leaks.
Our darling niece gifted us with this hand-painted (by her) ceramic spoon rest a couple of years ago, and ever since then it has been sitting beside the stove holding our spoons while we cook. We think of her every time we use it. Other hand-made spoon rests don’t cost much and can be a fun way to accessorize the kitchen in a personal, but still functional, way. Having the kids paint coffee mugs (with mugs and paint designed for that purpose) is another great gift idea. And, as we can personally attest, Aunts and Uncles love them!
We use this pot strainer pretty much any time we boil potatoes or cook large-shaped pasta. It is curved to fit the side of the pot, keeps the food in while allowing all the liquid to drain out, and is smaller (and more dishwasher friendly) than a colander. For a somewhat-related (ok, not really at all related, I just don’t have a picture of it) gift, the silicone splatter guard is also dishwasher friendly and way easier to clean than the older, wire-mesh version.
The griller on your gift list will appreciate the nonstick grill “skillet” for cooking smaller items (like shrimp, home-fry-style potatoes or sliced zucchini) on the grill without any pieces falling through the grill grates.
Anyone who grills even occasionally ought to have a copy of our favorite grilling cookbook, “Weber’s Big Book of Grilling.” (We also like Weber’s “Real Grilling” and “Time to Grill,” but the Big Book is our go-to. If you grill and have ever been on our gift list, we’ve probably already given you a copy.)
For all-around cookbooks, we highly recommend pretty much any books from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, but especially their books “The New Best Recipe,” “The Best Light Recipe,” and “The Best 30-Minute Recipe.” And if you often experiment with new recipes like we do, a subscription to their website is inexpensive and gives you access to tons of great recipes and information. The Cook’s Illustrated folks are “America’s Test Kitchen” after all, so they do all the recipe-testing (and failing) for you!
The other most-used cookbooks in our library are those authored by Ina Garten. We especially like her books “Back to Basics,” “How Easy is That?” (she makes it pretty darn easy) and her latest, “Foolproof.”
In addition to cookbooks and useful kitchen gadgets, don’t underestimate the value of a gift involving actual food. Dan gets a Greenberg smoked turkey every year from some friends/colleagues in East Texas, and we always look forward to enjoying it fresh, then freezing some for later use. Dear friends of ours have gifted us with these ribs for several Christmases, and we usually enjoy them on a football Sunday during the final weeks of the season. Continuing with the meat theme, Omaha steaks also make a wonderful gift and they offer lots of different packages at a variety of price points.
“Of-the-month” club gifts are also fun, especially if someone on your list has a particular favorite food or beverage. For example, we’ve received wine-of-the-month (loved it!) and have given cheese-of-the-month. Apparently you can even give someone the gift of monthly bacon.
Good quality olive oil is a must-have in every kitchen and also makes a great gift. Use it in salad dressings, for dipping and/or drizzled over finished pasta. Laudemio is one of our favorites, and we’ve previously raved about the adopt-a-tree olive oil we received as a gift and have been enjoying over the past year.
Now for the more high-end, splurge-worthy gift ideas:
Our Le Creuset Dutch oven is one of our most used pots. In fact, we use it so often that we don’t even bother putting it away — its pretty red self lives on our stove year-round. Because the pot is cast-iron with a heavy bottom, it can be used both on the stove and in the oven at high temperatures. We use it for everything from soups and stews, to chili, to one-pot dishes like chicken cacciatore.
The other cookware that lives on our stove all the time is our copper “sauciére” pan. It’s the only piece of copper cookware that we own, and it’s versatile enough that it is the only one we need. The benefit of a copper core in cookware is that it conducts heat more evenly and efficiently than other metals, making it ideal for sauteing, frying and cooking things that require even heat (like risotto, a roux or certain sauces.) The size and shape of the sauciére make it extremely versatile, and we use it almost every time we cook something on the stove.
We have fruit smoothies (with spinach and chia seeds) for breakfast at least twice a week. This year, we cashed in some AmEx points and upgraded to the Blendtec blender for our smoothies. When researching which blender to buy, we discovered a lot of discussions debating the Blendtec versus the Vitamix, with staunch proponents extolling the virtues of each brand. For us, the decision came down to the fact that the Blendtec fits under most standard kitchen cabinets, but the Vitamix does not. Since we knew we would be using the blender often enough that it should sit out on the kitchen counter (rather than tucked away in the pantry), the Blendtec was our winner. Aesthetics sometimes prevail over technological details (or always prevail, if you are like me.)
Every home chef should have at least one really good knife. There are tons of different styles, brands and price points out there, but here are a few that we think would make good gifts: the ever-so-versatile chef’s knife; the elegantly-patterned Shun Bob Kramer knives; or the Asian-inspired Santoku-style knife. Another knife-related gift idea is the electric knife sharpener (just be careful with any specialty knives — they may need to be sharpened by a professional instead.)
And finally, a splurge gift for the grill-master on your list: the bullet smoker. (Or, if you’re feeling especially generous, the Big Green Egg smoker. Just don’t tell Dan if you’re getting one — he’ll be soooo jealous.) We’ve had our smoker for about a year and have used it to successfully make pulled pork, ribs, and smoked turkey, among other smoked delicacies. We also use the bottom portion as a charcoal grill when we want that old-school charcoal flavor. If you love to grill and experiment with different grilled foods and techniques, the smoker is an investment worth every dollar (says Dan, as he begins the lobbying process for why we *need* the Big Green Egg.)
All commercialism aside, we hope you and yours have a wonderful gift-giving season (whether you exchange gifts or not.) More important than our endorsement of any of these products, however, is our recommendation that you give (and get) the gift of sharing a nice meal with the ones you love. Happy Holidays Everyone!