Yup. It’s that time of year. Gift-giving season has arrived. And like a lot of people with cooks in their lives, you may be wondering: “What the heck can I get them for the holidays?”. Well, I’m here to help (or at least try to help). I have a few ideas which you may not have heard about or thought about. But those cooks you know will love them. Here’s a quick run-down for you.
1. Fish Spatula
This is one of my favorites. A fish spatula is an awesome cooking tool. If you’re not familiar with it, a fish spatula is a specially-shaped spatula that is elongated, angled, and sturdy yet flexible. Yes, it’s designed to pick up those delicate fish filets from the pan, but it can do SO much more. And I bet it’s one that the cook in your life doesn’t have yet. Once they do (thanks to you!) they will find tons of uses for it and use it EVERY day. Soon they will wonder how (and why) they lived without one.
There are a number of good ones out there. Some of the top-rated ones are from Wusthof and from OXO.
Look for the right mix of strength and flexibility. Consider the type of cooking they will do with it and the type of cookware they have (nonstick? Cast iron? Stainless?). If you want a few more tips, take a look at my blog post on this: This Just May Become Your Favorite Cooking Tool.
I call tongs the most underrated tool in the kitchen. Yes, I know a pair of tongs seems like a less-than-exciting gift. But this is one of those things like the fish spatula that they will use almost EVERY day. People don’t use them nearly enough. But once they do they find tons and tons of uses for them!
Make sure you get ones that are long enough (I think you need at least 10 inches, preferably 12), feel good in the hand, and close tight enough hold what they are picking up. And like any tool that you might use in pots and pans, consider whether you need/want silicone tips to protect your cookware surfaces. I’d recommend them. You can pick up some great ones for $10-20. One of my all-time favorites (and highly-rated) is a pair from OXO. I have a pair from Sur La Table in my kitchen and I love them!
Want to help the cook in your life amp up their cooking a bit? Try sharing some new spices with them. Think of new spices or spice blends as a way to help them add some interest and creativity into their cooking. Trust me. A good cook will love trying out some new flavors - and seeing what they can do with them. Also consider picking up a spice set. If you don't want to pick just one consider sets of spices. There are sets in all kinds of different categories like popcorn flavors, grill rubs, salts, etc.
One of my favorite places to find spices is Savory Spice Company. They are a small chain of spice shops around the US each carrying over 400 (yes, 400!) different fresh spices and blends. Every time I have gone into one I have come away with refills on my favorite spices, better and fresher versions of old standards, and interesting tastes I’ve never tried before. If you don’t have one near you (which you may not since there are only about 20-25 of them), you can buy online at www.SavorySpiceShop.com.
4. Indoor Growing Kit
I know this sounds “as-seen-on-TV”-ish (like a Chia Pet?), but really it can make a great gift for the home cook (especially one without garden space). Usually all that’s required is a sunny spot like in a window, some water, seeds, and a place to grow them. What cook wouldn’t love a quick snip of sweet basil or oregano as they cook? I guarantee you most would.
If they have room, you might even consider an indoor growing system that includes lights. Then they can grow all year round - even without sun. Very cool - and fun.
Gardening shops and cooking retailers are great places to look for these. Price points for these usually run in the $50-100 range.
5. Cast Iron
Cast iron pans are one of those kitchen items that some (even experienced) cooks might be a little reticent about diving into. They’re too hard to cook with. They’re too hard to take care of. You’ve heard the excuses. The truth is that cooking with cast iron does have some unique characteristics - good characteristics.
I’d suggest looking for one that’s at least 8-10 inches in diameter. Smaller than that and it gets to be too small for some of the great things you can cook in it like steaks or chops.
They are great for searing meat or putting a nice crust on some vegetables. Can handle high heat - and maintain it like crazy. In my experience they get VERY hot, so I turn my stovetop temperature a little bit lower than I would do otherwise.
And, yes, these might qualify as something you hand to the recipient or have shipped directly to your recipient. They are heavy as heck and could cost a lot to ship if you mail it yourself!
Among the brands you will see all over are Lodge (which are more moderately priced) and Finex (which tends to be more premium-priced). One hint...give them info on how to use and care for their new cast iron. They will really appreciate that!
Every cook should have a good, reliable thermometer. It’s really the best and safest way to know when a dish is done - especially meat or poultry. Some of the best ones are made by Thermoworks. They can get expensive (almost $100 for one of their best). But relax. There are plenty of great, more moderately priced options out there. Just don;t go for the super-cheap ones. They tend to be really, really inaccurate and take forever to give you a reading (or maybe it just feels like forever when your hand is in the oven or near the heat of your stovetop!).
The top-rated by almost everyone thermometer is Thermoworks’ Thermapen MK4 which gives you an accurate (easy-to-read) reading in a super-fast 2-3 seconds. It normally runs about 100 bucks - but right now you can get it for just under $80. A great buy! I love my Super-Fast Pocket Thermometer (RT600C). It works great - and is less than $25. Or maybe their fun little $30 Thermopop.
7. Cooking Class
Treat your recipient to a chance to enhance their knowledge. Most cooking schools have classes that range from the basics like knife skills to more advanced or specialized classes (like Italian or vegetarian cuisine). Maybe look for one that pushes your favorite cook a little outside their comfort zone. They will walk away with some new skills to try out and some great, new recipes.
If you have a locally-owned cooking store in your town, I bet they offer cooking classes. If not, the chain stores like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table certainly do. Some higher end grocery stores sometimes do too. Here in Houston (and other Texas cities), Central Market has a really good cooking school.
Another idea? Maybe go together…make it a date night.
8. Cooking Magazine or Website Subscription
I know another welcome gift that can be used all year long is a subscription to a cooking/recipe site or one of the great cooking magazines. This gives your cook friend or family member access to tons of recipes, pictures, equipment reviews, and inspiration. When it comes to websites, the trio of Cook’s Illustrated, America’s Test Kitchen, and Cook's Country will wow just about any cook. A single subscription gives you access to all three of their sites - or you can subscribe to any of them individually. Some great magazines to choose from include Bon Appetit, Saveur, Fine Cooking, and Milk Street (newly-launched by former America’s Test Kitchen host Christopher Kimball).
I hope these ideas help. Now's the time to get your orders placed. Make that cook in your life happy! I bet ANY of these will do the trick!
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