Friday, December 16, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

This Holiday season, I have been asked several times about gifts for a cook. I always hesitate to make recommendations because it seems that cooking and the accompanying equipment can often be as personal as choosing the right kind of underwear. You want the ones that don't show panty lines, don't ride up, don't shrink or fall apart the first time you wash them, and most of all, are comfortable. Yet, everyone's booty is a little different. What works great for my flat-bottomed friend isn't the best solution for my ample backside. Gifts for the kitchen are kinda the same.

If you bake a lot, you undoubtedly have a different set of kitchen priorities than my (mostly) non-baking kitchen. Some people love non-stick and wouldn't be without it. (I only own one non-stick pan that we use mostly for eggs.) Gadgets are essential to some, but more of a nuisance for others. State-of-the-art versus vintage? Everyone has their own preferences, and honestly the best tip for purchasing an awesome kitchen gift for your loved one is to pay attention. We drop hints on a regular basis, if you listen.

Two of the best Christmas kitchen gifts that I have received were super simple things from my mother and my mother-in-law. One Thanksgiving early in my marriage, I was helping my mother with last minute prep for dinner, and mentioned that I hated my potato masher. I had one of those wire mashers and would really prefer a perforated one. I had looked in area stores, but hadn't found one. That Christmas, I unwrapped the perfect potato masher that I use today. Again on Thanksgiving, during the year that I gave up Oven Bags, I realized that morning -with the turkey already in the oven- that I didn't own a baster. I used a ladle to scoop drippings from the pan and baste the turkey, and my baster-less kitchen became one of the topics of conversation around the dinner table that day. Christmas came, and my mother-in-law wrapped up a baster for me. I now think of her every Thanksgiving.

I have received some awesome gifts of Silpats, and fancy salts that I wouldn't have purchased myself, and a coveted Cuisinart food processor, as well. They are very appreciated and brought squeals of delight, but I really, truly am very happy that potato mashers and basters found their way under my tree. I am grateful that people listen. Those are the best gifts.

But, just in case your cook is the quiet type and doesn't complain about potato mashers and already owns a turkey baster, here are a few of my favorite things... This isn't to say that they will be everyone's. These are just things that *I* use pretty much on a daily basis and wouldn't want to be without.

Note: Many of these links will be for Amazon products. I have no affiliation with Amazon, and if you should chose to purchase any of these items, it is none of my business where you do so. Amazon is just the easiest for this lazy blogger to link because it pops up first in my Google search for the items. 

KitchenAid Mixer.- Mine was a birthday gift, and I agonized over the model and color for months before finally ordering. Because I don't do a ton of baking, the Artisan series is fine for my purposes and has a lot of (yet to be acquired) attachments available.
Le Creuset. - I own 5 pieces, and only one came from (a very good sale) at an actual cooking source (Williams-Sonoma). The rest have been picked up with a very watchful eye at TJ Maxx and at a tremendous discount. They are heavy, and beautiful, and worth every penny (even if I would have paid full price). These have become not only my go-to pots for cooking, but also some essential decorating pieces for my kitchen.
Stainless Baking Sheets. - The baking sheets that I use for everything from roasting veggies to the dreaded baking of cookies came from Sam's Club. They are heavy quality and came in a package of two. Inexpensive and perfect, in my opinion.
Bamboo Spatula. - I prefer wooden utensils for cooking and the shape of a bamboo spatula is perfect for pulling the food from the edges of simmering pots. My first (that mysteriously disappeared) was from Pampered Chef, and I currently am using one from World Market.
Silicone Spatula. - I have several of these in various sizes (and brands) and love that they don't melt in a hot pot and stand up to my abuse.
Batter Bowl. - My original batter bowl was purchased at one of those home decor parties. It crashed into a million pieces on my kitchen floor and was replaced with the Le Creuset version (simply because it is red and adds to the decor of my kitchen...yes, I am that shallow.) I also have a smaller, glass version from Pampered Chef that includes a lid for storage of batters in the fridge. The red one sits on my cookbook shelf and is used daily for everything that I mix, whip, beat, and whisk by hand.
Microplane. - Parmesan, citrus zest, even finely "mincing" garlic or onions for salad dressings, etc. This grater/zester gets more use in my kitchen than I ever imagined.
Cookie Scoop. - As someone who really would rather attempt to give myself a root canal than bake cookies, I have to admit that a cookie scoop is a thing of beauty. While I am not a gadget person, I love the ease that this little spring-loaded utensil brings to cookie baking.
Gladware. - Packaging up leftovers was never easier. The see-through tubs make it a piece of cake (sometimes literally) for even the blindest bat to find something in the fridge. Sharing with friends? No panic or concern to get priceless containers back, as these are relatively inexpensive. (If they do return, it is just a bonus.)
Stackable Cooling Rack. -Nothing makes a non-baker crankier than not having the space to properly cool those cookies that the devil made you bake. These stackable racks are awesome.
Calphalon Non-Stick Pan. - We pretty much only use a non-stick pan for eggs, but after replacing the cheap ones sometimes twice a year because the coating was peeling off, I took the plunge for a good pan. Three years in, and I don't regret it at all.
Spiral Notebooks and Awesome Pens. - If you have come to my house for dinner or a party, chances are I stashed a notebook filled with lists just before you got there. I am a list maker. I make lists of things I want to cook, things I have cooked and enjoyed, groceries I need to buy, menus for dinners and parties, and sometimes even lists to remind myself to clean the toilet and vacuum the dog hair. Technology is great, but so far the organizational, list-making software, online services, and even those apps for my phone don't hold a candle for me when compared to good old pen and paper. Cool notebooks and awesome pens rule.

My kitchen is an evolving beast. As I develop a new cooking skill or learn of a new product, things are added to (and sometimes subtracted from) my Wish List. I have a current list of wants that includes everything from practical items to frivolous holiday dishware. However, the items above are things that I wouldn't want to live without...a few of my favorite things.

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