Gifts for the Cook – Novice or Not

You've probably noticed that there is an unbelievable array of new gadgets and types of cookware for sale and an equally large array of "experts" with opinions on all that stuff.  This list is not about which gadget or equipment is the best.  Nor am I paid to recommend any brand.  I'm just a an expert shopper who has logged more hours buying gifts (including presents for myself) than many experienced pilots have logged flying planes.

buying gifts at holiday time

I developed these gift ideas during an afternoon spent at Hill’s Kitchen, a locally-owned store in Washington DC.  I must have found fifty items that I wanted to include in this post.  In order to winnow down my choices, I used an unscientific technique that has served me well in many decades of gift giving.  Which item(s) would I most want to receive if I was the recipient?

For any cook, especially a novice or one who doesn't have every gadget, consider

Immersion blender

immersion blender, great gift idea

Greg wielding an immersion blender like the pro he is. He may need an outlet, the plastic cup to hold food, and something to blend - but those are small matters.

I love my immersion blender.  My husband got it for me after we watched our cousin Nathaniel use one to make pesto in about 2 minutes one summer evening.  I use it mostly to make pesto, soups (such as my curried spinach soup) and smoothies.  Although I still have glass blender with a heavy base, I can't remember the last time I used it.  The simple blender is $39.95 at Hill's.  With 2 attachments (one to whip and the other to chop), it is $59.95.  I don't have the attachments and don't know how well they work, but they might be nice for a cook if space is at a premium and they don't have a mixer and food processor.

Instant read thermometer

instant read thermometer, holiday gift for cook

Instant read thermometers are useful for baking, candy making and figuring out when roasted poultry, pork or red meat is done.  They're more accurate an easier to use than traditional thermometers. I use mine all the time.   The 3 pictured above are all good choices: the $19.95 CDN on the left is a Cook's Illustrated favorite (#2 in its tests of inexpensive instant read thermometers); the $12.95 Polder in the middle is the least expensive sold at Hill's; and the $26.95 Polder "In-Oven" version on the right is amazing because it has a 4 foot cord with a probe that can stay in meat while in the oven.  That last one allows you to cook a big turkey or a roast as if you had a fancy oven equipped with a temperature probe even if your oven is actually an old junker.  Greg says his family has been using this thermometer to cook their Thanksgiving turkeys for years, with great results.

Cast iron pans

Hill's has a nice selection of Lodge cast iron pots and pans, ranging in size from $22 for a 10 1/4 inch skillet to $89 for a large covered casserole.  I've used cast iron for years and love them. Although they take a while to heat up, they hold heat and brown foods wonderfully.  They go from stove to oven, so they're great for recipes, like this egg dish, that can be finished by putting it under a direct broiler heat for a few minutes.   Somehow I neglected to get a picture, but just imagine the old fashioned heavy, black pans that last forever.   If you season it properly, you can clean cast iron simply by rinsing it out without soap.   (I've always done seasoned cast iron on the stove-top, by slowly heating a small amount of oil in the pan, then wiping it out. But Lodge recommends doing it in the oven - here is the company's method.)   In any event, a cast iron pan would be a fine gift, especially for someone who is still equipping a kitchen for the first time.

For the cook who has everything or always wants to the latest thing and if you want to impress him/her, consider -

A Swiss Diamond pan

Swiss Diamond pans, Christmas gifts

If you have $75 or more to spend, consider a Swiss Diamond pan.  Though I don't have one yet, after hearing raves from store owner Leah and salesperson Greg, I'm eager to try this brand.  The pans have a non-stick surface that includes diamond crystals and allows food to brown, which most non-stick surfaces do not. I'm not easily impressed by expensive pans (having found that less expensive often work just as well) and the whole diamond-encrusted thing sounded far fetched to me, but Greg Leah assured me that it's not hype.  When Greg showed me the covered Swiss Diamond covered pan his family uses, I felt a tinge of jealousy.  With that, the pans passed my test - I wanted one, so I include them here for your consideration.

Ceramic knife

ceramic knives, holiday gift ideas

I don't own a ceramic knife, but lust after them after examining several during my shopping trip.  They are incredibly light and sharp.   I've been dreaming about how easy it would be to cut vegetables and fruits with them, or to cube beef for stew.   The smallest ceramic knife, 3 inches, is only $29.99 and the 4 1/2 inche one is $39.95.  They do have to be treated with care; ceramic knives can break if dropped on a hard surface and they are incredibly sharp.   For an experienced cook who is careful with his/her equipment, a ceramic knife could be an unusual and useful gift.

Mitzvah (good deed) gifts

These 3 are among the many worthy organizations to which you could donate money in honor of a friend or relative:

For cool gift ideas under $10 – see Wednesday’s post, and stay tuned for the next post in this series on gift ideas:

Monday – Cool gifts under $50

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