Need some gift-ideas for the cook in your life? Maybe I can help. Here are the culinary workhorses in my own kitchen, all saddled up for you:
Note: Most of these items can be purchased at quality kitchen-supply stores. I’ve included Amazon links for those of you who like to shop from the comfort of home.
Microplane zester. You’ve seen me use this gadget hundreds of times. It grates only the fragrant peel — not the bitter pith — of lemons, limes, and oranges. I also use it to grate ginger. Cost: $14.95 from Amazon.
Serrated Peeler. Use it to peel peaches, tomatoes, and other soft-skinned fruits. No blanching required! Cost: $7.95 from Amazon.
Offset spatula. You can’t frost a cake without this clever device. It’s also terrific for spreading the ricotta cheese on this pizza blanco, and the whipped cream on this elegant Victoria Cake. The 7.5-inch version is what you want. Order from Amazon, and you can have the spatula for just $7.00.
Lemon/Lime Juicer. Another kitchen must-have. I ordered this one for $14.00.
Electric Kettle. A major workhorse. I use mine multiple times each day, because it boils water faster than my stovetop or microwave can. My original kettle, pictured above, was purchased for about $25. I now have a slightly-fancier, programmable model, $34.99 from Amazon.
Digital Scale. I purchased this scale purely for the sake of clear recipe-writing. Now, instead of telling you to use “2 large sweet potatoes,” only to have you scratch your head and wonder if large to me is large to you, I can offer the approximate weight of the potatoes (or coffee, or flour). In any event, I use the Oneida scale regularly. It cost me $38.49 at Amazon. Electric Skillet. Sure, I love my cast-iron skillets. But for browning large quantities of beef for stew, or for frying pancakes or baking English muffins, I rely on a 16-inch non-stick electric skillet. I purchased this workhorse for about $29.99 from Amazon.
Egg Piercer. This might seem like a silly gadget to you, but it’s essential for easy-to-peel hard-boiled eggs. I I use the same piercer for perfectly poached eggs. My piercer came from a kitchen-supply store in Vermont. You can buy the same from Amazon for less than $6.00.
Heating Pad. Since I live in a drafty old house, in winter I use a common heating pad to encourage yeast breads to rise. The pad is also handy for yogurt-making. No link here, because every two-bit drugstore carries heating pads. Just be sure to buy the kind that doesn’t automatically shut itself off after a pre-determined time.
Removable-Bottom Tart Pan. Every serious baker needs this item. The removable base will turn any ordinary tart…
Into a fabulous work of art. My sturdy, French-made, 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan is available from Amazon for about 18 bucks.
French Rolling Pin. Wanna make perfect circles of dough? Then do what I did several years ago, and toss out your huge, unweildy, 2-handled “American” pin. The sleek, tapered French version presses out pastry with the grace of Fred Astaire. Cost: about $10 from Amazon.
Javelin Instant-Read Digital Thermometer. For perfectly cooked turkey, chicken, beef (prime rib, anyone?) and even breads, I rely on this lightning-fast thermometer, $25.99 from Amazon.
Stick Blender. One of the best inventions ever. I use it to puree cooked veggies for elegant first-course soups. The blender is a cinch to clean. Cost: $34.94 at Amazon.
Julienne Peeler. I use this small gadget to make Yoodles and Zoodles — thin, noodle-like strips of zucchini and yellow squash (recipe here). You can find such a peeler at any kitchen supply store for less than $10. (I couldn’t find my trusty model at Amazon, so no link.)
Good Knives! High-quality knives ain’t cheap, but they are essential to almost every kitchen task. My collection includes a paring knife, a 6-inch utility knife, an 8-inch “cook’s” knife, a 10-inch slicing knife, and an 8-inch bread knife, all made in Germany by Wustof. The most versatile knife, if you can have (or give) only one, is the 8-inch cook’s subject, available from kitchen supply shops and Amazon for $149.
Food Processor. Every kitchen needs a good-quality, large-capacity food processor. I have two models made by Cuisinart. The better one is the 12-cup “Elite” model, which currently sells for $164.99 from Amazon.
Heavy Duty (Standing) Mixer. Standing mixers are as essential as food processors. The machine whips cream, beats egg whites, kneads bread dough, and blends batters. I absolutely love my KitchenAid “Artisan” mixer ($259. from Amazon). It’s not only built to last, but it comes in lots of fab colors.
Need more gift-ideas? Consider whisks, mixing bowls, colorful silicone spatulas, wire-mesh strainers, and attractive kitchen towels. And if I’ve left something out, then by all means speak up in the comments section below!