Holiday gifts for people who like to cook should be easy, but to the uninitiated a store stocked floor to ceiling with cookware is an obstacle course. The goal is to buy a gift that brings joy to someone who finds joy in the kitchen. The goal is also to find a gift that gives the recipient an excuse to spend even more time cooking. In order to pick that perfect gift you need to know what not to give. The following are my top ten suggestions on what not to give your kitchen companion this holiday season.
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- A slow cooker ... Like a dog with a bone, I just won't let go of my suggestion from last year that you buy a slow cooker for a busy mom who wants an easy way out -- but you buy a stockpot so the cook on your list can make soup or stew the old-fashioned way.
- Cloth potholders burn and stain. Worse, when cloth potholders are wet or damp the steam (created when they come in contact with a hot pot) travels through the cloth and burns the user. Give silicone potholders, which last forever, can be cleaned under running water or in the dishwasher, and double as hotplates.
- A Scanpan ... Sorry to those of you who love your Scanpans, but I've never liked cooking with them. They're supposedly in between a regular pan and non-stick pan, but I think that stuff always sticks and if you scrub to clean the pan scratches. Then, the food sticks even more to the scratched parts and you're in a vicious cycle. Wiping the pan with a soapy cloth doesn't really clean it, so for me, they're the worst of both worlds.
- Perishable food ... Don't give a gift that obligates the recipient to cook during the busy holiday season. He might have other plans.
- A round griddle or grill pan ... get square or rectangle - you get more cooking surface on a 12-inch square than a circle. You can grill more chicken on a 12-inch square grill pan than on a 12-inch round.
- A Vitamix --- yes they're cool and do a good job - but I can get 10 Ninja blenders (with 3 bowls/pitchers each) for the same price. For the same price you can get one Ninja, and a KitchenAid stand mixer with the incredibly cool new ice cream attachment. If money is no object, get a Vitamix. Otherwise get a Ninja and use all the extra cash for something else - like tickets for two to Vegas...
- Don't buy a cappuccino machine that uses pods unless you know that it's on the recipient's list. Some cooks like to blend different beans (like mocha java with French roast) and you obligate the machine's owner to buy pods and spend a minimum of 50 cents for cup for an at-home cup of coffee. Not everyone wants to be a pod person.
- A stand-alone induction burner ... I have one and can't use any of the pans I really like on it. Since I cook on gas I'm not getting new pots just for the induction burner. The burner only works if a magnet sticks to the pan - and magnets stick to surprisingly few pans. Induction is a great cooking method, but as a practical matter you need to make an all or nothing commitment.
- An old fashioned rolling pin with handles or a sifter - a mesh strainer works as well as a sifter and it can go into the dishwasher. Serious bakers prefer tapered one-piece rolling pins (sometimes called French rolling pins)
- A chocolate fountain... nothing says it's still 1999 like a chocolate fountain... Even a novice cook can make chocolate fondue in a pot (like a Le Creuset, which is a great gift) that's useable for all sorts of things. If you really want to buy a chocolate fountain make time to drop it off at Goodwill on your way home from the store and save the recipient a trip.
Bottom line, it's the wrong gift if your intuition says to include a gift receipt with the card.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.