Holiday decorations have been up since Halloween in many spots, and Christmas carols can now be heard round the clock on some radio stations.
To all of you who have purchased your presents—perhaps even wrapped them—I am impressed! For the rest of us who still have some work to do, I have one helpful hint. Make a good list.
When I shop aimlessly, I end up wasting time and often money. A little advance thinking, however, keeps me on budget with gifts that are well suited to the recipients and extra time to savor the true spirit of the season.
To get the ball rolling, I’ve created my own holiday gift guide. Fittingly, it has a kitchen theme. Of course, this won’t help everyone, but it may spark an idea or two for those with different interests. And food connects all of us in some way, right?
Some of my most cherished gifts have been the inexpensive, practical items that were given to me with the most thoughtful of intentions, like a pair potholders from my mother-in-law to improve upon the burned, ragged pair that I hadn’t gotten around to replacing. I use them every day and think of how she picked up on a passing comment I had made about trying to find a pair that had a pocket but wasn’t too thick. I’ve hardly burned myself since!
Potholders aren’t on the following list, but there are a variety of ideas, price points, and a few brand suggestions. The list could certainly go on, and I welcome you to share your favorite gift ideas in the comment section below. You might just have the perfect idea to make someone’s holiday a little brighter!
Holiday Gift Guide
Knife sharpener – Sharp knives make the tasks of chopping and slicing far more enjoyable, and a quality sharpener will hone dull blades quickly and effectively. For years, I have relied on an electric model by Chef’s Choice. Manual varieties are available, too, and again, the Chef’s Choice’s version is highly rated. On a similar note, just three quality knives will serve you well in the kitchen. A chef’s knife, paring knife, and serrated (or bread) knife will cover most of your daily needs.
Kitchen scale – Many think of kitchen scales in terms of doling out proper portion sizes, and they do this job very well. However, I use my scale every day for a different reason—measuring. Measuring by weight instead of volume not only provides spot-on accuracy; it’s quicker than using traditional measuring cups and spoons and reduces messy cleanup. (Consider, for example, the ease of spooning sticky peanut butter or honey directly into the mixing bowl with no need to scoop into and out of measuring cups first.) My favorite brand is Escali (I have the Primo Digital model, which currently retails for $24.90 on Amazon). Purchase a model with a “tare” feature, which allows you to zero out the weight of the mixing bowl and recalibrate as additional ingredients are added. Ideally, the scale should weigh ingredients in grams and ounces. The weight of most ingredients can be quickly found on the package label, and before long, you’ll have memorized many of the basic weights.
Microwave popcorn popper –This covered bowl performs its intended duty quite well, and I have not found a better microwave steamer for vegetables! The vented lid is well suited to all kinds of microwave cooking, the bowl size is ample, and it’s cheap. We have a Nordic Ware popper that is currently listed for $8.99 at Target. Of course, it does make delicious popcorn and gives you the ability to control extras like butter and salt. For good measure, include a package of popcorn kernels with your gift.
Cast iron skillet— Once seasoned, a cast iron skillet becomes the ultimate nonstick pan and is quite versatile. It’s ideal for the typical stovetop cooking and can be used for baking in ways far beyond the classic cornbread—think casseroles, baked oatmeal, apple crisp, even brownies. Skillets with a diameter of 10- and 12-inches are quite versatile and roughly correspond in size to a 9×9 and 9×13-inch baking dish, respectively. A pre-seasoned 10-inch skillet made by top-rated Lodge was recently on sale for $15.92 on Amazon with a regular price of $26.68.
Slow cooker—For years, I had a small Crock pot that I seldom used. It was too small for many recipes and, when I filled it too full, it didn’t cook evenly. Then for Christmas one year, I received a shiny, new 6-quart model and was in heaven. There are many worthy brands. Just keep your eye out for a few key features. First, I highly recommend a “warm” option. That way, if you’re at work or doing errands and the chicken or stew is done, the machine prevents overcooking by switching from the high or low setting to a keep-warm function. Some slow cookers offer a removable insert that makes cleaning less cumbersome. An insert can be also be placed in the refrigerator more easily when you’ve prepped a recipe in advance. Some models offer the ability to sauté in the slow cooker or use the insert on the stovetop. This saves an extra pan to wash when a recipe requires browning meat, for example, prior to slow cooking. Finally, a see-through lid is a nice feature–make sure it fits snugly.
Blender, food processor, or mini processor – A variety of kitchen tasks can be completed in either a blender or a food processor, and many of these chores are infinitely easier with their aid. A person who enjoys smoothies, however, will likely be much happier with a blender. Depending on budget and the amount of use these appliances may receive, there is a wealth of good options. A basic, highly rated blender by Oster, for example, retails for $60 while a Professional Series Vitamix with all the bells and whistles carries a list price of $599. A hand-held immersion blender might be the perfect gift for a cook who needs a blender primarily for pureeing soups. A single-serve Ninja blender could be the ideal present for someone who enjoys a morning smoothie on the go.
Spiralizer –This clever tool is ideal for people who love gadgets and is sure to delight the veggie lovers. While best known for its ability to spin zucchini into noodles (also known as “zoodles”), many other fruits and vegetables are fair game. Potatoes and sweet potatoes (poodles and swoodles?), apples, carrots, and beets all work well. Try roasting the spiralized potatoes or incorporating the latter three into a variety of salads. I’ve had much success with Paderno’s Tri-Blade model for which I recently saw a sale price of $34.95 (regular price $39.95).
Cookbooks – Some people rarely refer to their shelf-full of cookbooks in this electronic age. Others, however, love to read a cookbook from cover to cover, finding inspiration in the recipes and savoring the photos. And keep in mind the budding chefs in your life who may enjoy one of the many cookbooks geared towards children. The options can be overwhelming, so here are a few titles that I’ve enjoyed that target a variety of cooks.
- Raising the Salad Bar by Catherine Walthers goes far beyond the basic green salad, with chapters dedicated to grain, bean, potato, chicken, meat, and seafood salads as well as coleslaws and dressings. This pretty book makes a great hostess gift any time of year.
- I was recently asked to review Natural Pregnancy Cookbook by Sonali Ruder and was impressed by the variety and quality of recipes as well as the informative guide to nutrition and pregnancy. Because the author is a both a physician and culinary school graduate, she brings a uniquely informed perspective to the art of recipe development. Ideal for a friend or relative who may be expecting. Though I’m not pregnant, I dog-eared 18 recipes that looked appealing. Pregnant or not, good food is good food!
- When I was living on my own for the first time, I worked my way through the first three Barefoot Contessa cookbooks by Ina Garten and learned a lot in the process. However, my favorite and most comprehensive resource over the years has been The Joy of Cooking. This thick book provides recipes for all the basics plus a variety of ethnic cuisines and regional favorites. There are also useful charts for substitutions, proper cooking temperatures, as well as helpful information ranging from the best type of apples for baking to how to fillet a whole fish.
Magazine subscription — In an age where everything can be found online, there’s still something very relaxing about sitting down with a magazine and flipping through the pages. A magazine is an affordable gift that keeps on giving throughout the year. I Googled the most popular cooking magazines and, based on U.S. circulation, the current top five are Taste of Home, Cooking Light, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Food Network Magazine, and bon appetit.
Box of Florida oranges — Every year my father gives the gift of Florida oranges. We receive a card just before Christmas, and the fruit arrives just after the New Year. Technically, my dad sends honeybells, which are a sweet, juicy cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit. Grapefruit and fruit samplers are also available, as are a selection of quantities. Hale Groves is a good option if you wish to order online.
Olive oil or balsamic vinegar — A bottle of wine is often a welcome gift, but a bottle of specialty olive oil or vinegar can be equally appreciated for its practicality. A variety of price points make this a welcome option at any budget. For locals, Mandros Imported Foods on West Lemon Street in Lancaster City sells exceptional basics from Italy and Greece (along with a variety of other imported grocery items). Specialty shops like Olio Olive Oil and Seasons Olive Oil & Vinegar Taproom cover all the basics and also offer an extensive selection of infused oils and vinegars, gift boxes, and a variety of other gift-worthy items from artisanal salts to olive oil soap. They’ll even package it in a pretty bag so there’s no need to wrap!
Gift cards – Sometimes a gift card is the quickest, most convenient option— particularly if the gift needs to be mailed–and lots of people truly appreciate the flexibility they provide. If you want to target a gift card to a person who enjoys cooking, consider a gift card to a kitchen or home goods store like Mise en Place Kitchen Store (again for locals–341 N. Queen Street in downtown Lancaster), Crate & Barrel, Williams-Sonoma, or Bed Bath & Beyond. If the recipient doesn’t live near the store, online shopping will bring the store to them. Of course, restaurant gift cards afford a welcome opportunity for the cook to take a night off. With its robust restaurant scene, the biggest challenge in Lancaster may be choosing just one!
The gift of giving — Making a donation to a special cause in someone else’s name is perhaps the ultimate gift. I value practical gifts, and there’s probably nothing more sensible or appreciated than a gift aimed at helping someone in need. Tying a donation to a specific cause that’s near and dear to the recipient’s heart is a good place to start and will create a gift that gives more than once. If you’re not aware of a specific connection, consider the local organizations and services with which you are familiar. Perhaps you’ll open a new door for someone in need.
When time allows, a homemade meal, a lunch date, or a jar of your homemade hot fudge sauce offer a meaningful personal touch. For a selection of homemade food gifts, feel free to scroll through the “Gift of Food” category.