Generally speaking, most of us have to cook or bake, whether it is out of necessity or for the sheer enjoyment of it.
The lucky few (myself included) actually get paid to do something we love. As such, we are usually pretty particular about the tools we use. Having the right tool for the job can mean the difference between success and failure or between laboring and enjoying the whole process.
I spend quite a bit of time in professional kitchens and bake shops and a good deal of time in my kitchen at home. I know which tools are essential, which are worth the money and which are, well, just dust collectors.
That said, as has been my tradition these past few years, I stopped in to the local cookware stores (Sur La Table, William Sonoma and Bed, Bath & Beyond) to see what was worth sharing with you this 2015 holiday gift-giving season. Hopefully, there’ll be something here for the chef on your shopping list.
I find, quite often, that people forget how essential presentation is. Sometimes, displaying your delicacies creatively can make them (somehow) taste even better.
In numerous locations, I found that Marble Display Platters are becoming quite popular and are wonderful for displaying cheeses and cold foods, especially if you pre-chill the marble. Most are 1/2” thick or more and have rubber feet, so they stay put on your counter. The two (pictured below) from Sur La Table are $29.99 ea. (paddle) and $39.99 ea. (square).
For those on your gift list that enjoy adult beverages, one of the newest innovative wine gadgets is Coravin. The Coravin™ Model Eight was the first and only tool in the world to let people access, pour, and enjoy wine from a bottle without pulling the cork. Model Eight, at $299.95, uses Coravin’s proprietary technology that protects your wine from oxidation (with argon gas), leaving the cork in place while the wine flows. It’s a pretty amazing piece of technology that even two glasses of wine won’t help you understand.
If your intended recipient is moved by the power of spirits, another very trendy craft cocktail trick is barrel or bottle infusing, and now you can do it at home with The Barrel Aged Spirits Kit. $19.99 will get you a box, two charred oak barrel stave sticks for aging and cheesecloth for straining your chosen liquor afterwards (which could be gin, vodka, rum or even a light whiskey). Admittedly, this one is a bit on the gimmicky side, but it will actually do the job nonetheless.
For salad garnishments, vegetable noodles, curly fries or if it’s just plain culinary novelty you’re looking for, Sur La Table has branded its own Spiral Slicer. These devices used to cost upwards of a hundred bucks (even for the plastic ones). Here, you can buy one for $34.99! It’s not an everyday device but one that’s practical for slicing and shredding vegetables and fruits in a way you just can’t duplicate with any other implement.
I’m big on having a good, small, electronic scale at the ready. It’s absolutely essential for those who love to bake and it’s a great gift for those who make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. You can find numerous scales just like these shown. Bed, Bath and Beyond usually has a good selection, with prices beginning at about $25.
Speaking of baking, once again I HAVE to recommend that you buy Silicone Baking Mats as a gift. They’re the perfect non-stick solution for baking and numerous other cooking projects. I keep a half-dozen of various sizes on hand because I love them. Silpat is the French original, but there are many other brands, starting at about $20.
It’s no secret that I love pizza and if you enjoy making them at home as I do, you might already have a pizza stone in your oven. Mine is a permanent oven resident. However, if you’ve heard about using your outdoor GRILL as a pizza oven and want to try it, I REALLY like the 14 ½” Cordierite Pro Ceramic flame-friendly pizza stone for your grill. Just put it on your pre-heated grill and let it get hot. Add your pizza, close your grill cover and bake. It also makes a great serving platter once your pizza is done!
Always burning your pinkies taking things out of your oven or off the grill? I used to too. But once I ditched those kitchen towels and hot pads for a pair of Kitchen Grips (oven mitts) at $20.00, those days were over. These silicone mitts not only cover your hand to the wrist with heat-proof protection but they’re also extra-grippy and slip resistant. Love ‘em.
Just because the grill has been stored for the winter doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy great grilled steaks or chops made INDOORS! The Lodge Cast Iron Company’s 10 ½” square cast iron grill pan is just what you need to make steaks just like you were outside on the grill. Just pre-heat, spray lightly with a non-stick vegetable spray and get those super-professional grill marks and charred flavor just like you were out on the deck. At $32.95, this is a piece of cookware that will last a lifetime.
Saving the BEST for last, for the true gourmet cook looking for some cutting-edge technology, I have to highly recommend a Sous Vide machine. The Sous Vide technique has been around for a short while in professional kitchens but is now available for use by home cooks. It’s a process of vacuum sealing and then immersion cooking in temperature-controlled water that creates succulently prepared foods. From steaks (yes, I said steaks) to chicken, fish, and vegetables, you name it. I have an Inova brand, but there are others, such as the Sansaire brand (pictured), that are available at many retail cookware shops. You can also find them online.
If you’d like to know more about Sous Vide cooking, check out one of my recent blogs.
Finally, it probably goes without saying that one of THE best gifts you can buy for the chef in your life is a fabulous knife and cookware, and I’ve had plenty to say about my choices there. To get advice on what I think are some of the better brands and choices, check out my recommendations below.