I wasn’t going to write a gift guide this year because it’s a little late, and also because everyone else is publishing their own clever gift guides, all of which have helped me tremendously this year. I didn’t want to add to the noise.
Then, this morning while I was using my new panini press for the thousandth time since I got it last month, I realized there are certain things in my kitchen that I love, that have changed the way I cook, and that I can’t do without. Is there room on the Internet for a gift guide like that? A tried-and-true, I’m only telling you to get these because I own them, have tested them, and heartily recommend them, one-stop-shop gift guide for anyone who loves to cook?
Well, let’s hope so, because here it is. I’ve compiled a list of products, appliances, and ideas that I love and own in the hopes of making your gift-giving season a little less stressful and a little more joyful–that’s what it’s all about, right?
1. French Rolling Pin. I think the tapered edges make rolling pie crusts and cookies so much easier, plus it’s perfect for pounding chicken cutlets.
2. Gilded Tray and Gold Cocktail Shaker. I’ve had so much fun accessorizing our bar, and a gold tray with a fun shaker, pretty glasses, and a pretty decanter have made me incredibly happy this season.
3. Panini Press. K got this for me for my birthday and I love it. I’ve used it to host a panini-party, I’ve made breakfast sandwiches (this morning), and Thanksgiving leftovers sandwiches, to name a few. It’s compact enough to use daily and gets super hot so your bread is crusty and your cheese is melty in almost no time at all. I highly recommend.
4. Crock Pot. This is the model I have and I love it. It cooks evenly and has four settings which provide flexibility and control. I think a slow cooker in the kitchen is a must, and I love this one. Set it and forget it!
5. A salt well/box. This may sound like a strange one to you, but listen. You’ve seen cooking shows, right? How often do they reach for a salt shaker? Never. They have salt wells where they either grab a pinch, or if you’re Ina, a perfectly measured 3/4 teaspoon. She’s so exact, that Ina. The one above is actually a magnetic spice holder from Ikea, but I think this bamboo container with sliding lid is gorgeous. When I was talking about changing the way I cook? Believe it or not, this has done it.
6. A great Chef’s knife. I read somewhere that a cook really only needs 3 knives: a Chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife. While I have the latter two, I pretty much use my Wustof Grand Prix II 8-inch Chef’s knife for everything. Chopping onions, mincing herbs, trimming meat–it does it all. Because it’s such a work horse, you’ll want to invest in a good one and take care of it. Which brand you buy, what size, and what shape is seriously personal, but this is the one I have and adore.
7. Booze! Building a bar is expensive! For me, pretty bottles are a must and pretty bottles ain’t cheap. Booze is always a great gift (but only if it is the right gift. Know your audience). I don’t drink 80% of what’s in there, but I still wanted a pretty, stocked bar. I love the look of Bulleit Bourbon or Rye, Bombay Sapphire Gin or Hendrick’s Gin, and Tito’s Vodka (from Texas!) If your gift-ee has a favorite and isn’t as interested in the way the label looks (weird), then that’s a good place to start, too.
8. Slate cheese board. I got this one on sale at Target and it’s no longer in stock, but this gorgeous one from West Elm comes with a glass dome and probably holds more cheese anyway. Best part about it–you can label your cheese with chalk. Hello, Pinterest.
9. Loaf Pans. If the chef in your life is a long-time cook, then they probably already have loaf pans. But if the chef in your life is new to the game, or, like me, will justify 18 patterned dish towels but not an $8 loaf pan, this is a great gift. You really can’t make a loaf of quick bread or cake without a loaf pan. Also, get two. Simple as that.
10. Le Crueset Dutch Oven. Oh man, this pot. This pot is by far my favorite thing in my kitchen. This pot is worth every dang penny spent. I praise this pot every time I bring it out, which is at least 3 times a week. I have the 7 qt. round dutch oven and it’s the perfect starter piece if you’re new to Le Creuset. I’ve got my eye on the braiser, next, but that’s for another list at another time. They’re pricy, but they will last a lifetime. (Keep that in mind when choosing a color!)
11. A Bar Tool Set. So they have the booze, they have the shaker, they even have a beautiful crystal decanter. What’s left? A silver bar tool set! This one is narrow enough to join the rest of my accessories and not make the bar look over-crowded. While I have no idea what that thing with the coil does, I think it’s fun to look at. Notice a pattern, here? Also, if you and K are of the same mind that one shouldn’t mix metallics, you may want to find a shaker that matches better. Personally, I am not of that mind. The shinier the better.
12. Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. I know, I know. Obviously this is a big one, and obviously not everyone will splurge on it. For some reason this seems to be saved for wedding registries. I love mine –may have even cried a little when I got it–and absolutely believe that it changed my cookie game. Plus, bread has never been simpler. If you want to make a big splash this holiday season, this would do it I’m sure.
13. Good Olive Oil. I found this little shop when was in Napa and fell in love. Their house olive oil is delicious and very reasonably priced. Bonus, their label is cute enough to be kept out on the counter!
14. Keurig K-Cup Home Brewer. This one was actually on K’s wish list for a really long time, and I was the naysayer. It felt superfluous and bulky and anyway, I drink tea. Man, was I wrong. I love this thing and use it probably more than he does. So easy, so convenient.
15. Unicorn Magnum 8″ Pepper Grinder. All pepper grinders are not alike. This is important to keep in mind as I gush over this seemingly simple kitchen gadget. There is none better. AJ turned my whole family on to this brand and I got mine for my birthday. It’s another thing that has completely changed the way I cook. Trust this!
16. Fancy Finishing salts. Truffle salt, a nice sea salt, or flaky Maldon sea salt are a fun way to fanci-fy one’s meal. The Maldon salt is ideal for salted caramel cake balls. Just saying.
17. Mason Jars. Again, this may seem odd, but I use them all the time. They’re great for storing things like popcorn, sending baked goods or granola, mixing up a salad dressing, or serving a cocktail–they’re as versatile as they are trendy.
18. White Kernel Popcorn. I can be kind of picky about brands I buy–Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Cento canned tomatoes, White Lily flour–but what I am possibly most adamant about is popcorn. In my world there is white kernel or no kernel. White kernel pops smaller and more tender and more delicious. Now, depending on your grocery store, you may be able to find this easily. I cannot, and therefore I order it in bulk.
19. Immersion Blender. This is another thing I use on a weekly basis. I can’t get enough soup in any season, especially fall and winter, and this has made making creamy soups both healthier and easier. This model comes with a food processor attachment that is great for chopping small things like nuts, and a whisk attachment which I have never used. I’ve also heard tell of a homemade mayonnaise using an immersion blender, but I can’t vouch for that personally, and also, Hellmanns.
20. Dipping Bowls. There might be a better name for these small bowls, but we use them mainly for dip so that’s what I’m calling them. These white ones are from Target, and I have two of them, but I also have a couple others that I’ve collected along the way. They’re great for photography, but assuming you don’t obsessively worry about linens, light, and composition, they’re also great for holding soy sauce on sushi night.
These are a few of my favorite things. I can vouch that I use every one of them often, I love them, and I support you buying them for any budding or established cook.
Happy Holidays, friends!