I am lucky. I have received a lot of great food and cooking gifts. I'm thankful for every gift I've received. Before culinary school I cooked because it made me happy. I asked for a soufflé dish in high school. I made a cheese soufflé that rose high, had a crusty top, and was light and fluffy. I was disappointed to find out that a soufflé was really just eggs, and I didn't use the dish again for 15 years.
If you're looking for a kitchen-friendly gift I have a few ideas. That said, you know your cook best - and despite what I say, common sense should prevail. Here are my top ten gifts for cooks:
1. A magazine subscription is a great gift - especially for a young cook. I started getting Gourmet Magazine in high school. Until my last move I had every issue but one that spanned few decades. Gourmet is gone, but Bon Appetit is a wonderful way to explore good food. Cook's Illustrated is great for the cook who wants to know how to make recipes and why certain steps are essential.
2. A set of heavy glass or ceramic mixing bowls. When the set nests it only takes up as much space as the largest bowl. If the bowls are heavy they stay in place while you stir. Glass and ceramic are non-reactive - so they won't impart an off taste or color with certain, often acidic, foods.
3. A good chef's knife is to the cook what a rifle is to a private in basic training. It's a best friend, a savior, and becomes more personal than non-cooks understand.
4. Sharp knives are good knives. Treat your cook to a knife-makeover and get their knives sharpened at The Knife House
5. A digital instant read thermometer lets the cook know if all sorts of things are done or raw. You'll know if the meatloaf is a chilly 150 F or a safe 160-165 F. You'll get the chicken to 165 F and not overcooked and dry. I know my cheesecake is done at 150 F even if it's a bit wiggly.
6. A KitchenAid stand mixer is in every serious cook's kitchen, or on the list of things they want. If you're looking for a big ticket item this is it. Because of AndyFood I've got 4.5, 5-, and 6-quart models to use. For normal size recipes I like the 4.5-quart best and that's what I have at home. It's the only one with a top that tilts back, which makes it easiest to scrape down the bowl and add stuff. It also has an optional 3-quart bowl. For some home recipes 4.5 quarts is just too big.
7. Technically a food processer is not required for most recipes. That said, it makes quick work of many tasks that are tedious. Because of my food processor I can make pizza dough in 5 minutes - which means I make it for dinner on a weeknight. Mini food processors are also nice and not too pricey (under $40 last time I looked).
8. A few years ago I'd have dismissed using a rice cooker. Then I got one. If they're good enough for the Chinese and Japanese they're good enough for me. I also use mine for lentils, quinoa, and bulgur wheat.
9. An Alessi peppermill - works and looks great.
10. Recipes - give your child or grandchild your recipes. My grandmother died without me ever getting a number of recipes that I loved. Write them out and your kids can scan them in, or put them on a disc... Pass on a cookbook you've used for years - with your marginal notes... Those cookies you always make - give them with the recipe. Better yet, invite your son/daughter/granddaughter over and make the cookies with them.
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I can say with certainty that spending time in the kitchen teaching what you know to someone else is a gift for both parties.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.