There are hundreds of kitchen gadgets on the market, but there are a few basic items that would make most cooks happy this season.
Why? Kitchen equipment gets a lot of abuse. What other household items are routinely cut, jammed, dunked and exposed to extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, on a regular basis? At some point, no amount of TLC will revive certain tools. For the most part, they are the necessary utensils that most cooks like to have on hand but don't always purchase for themselves, so they make ideal gifts for the cooking-inclined people in your life.
Cutting boards: The Zen of cooking starts with a simple wooden object. The board serves as an island of calm amid the chaos once several cooking pots are going. Focusing on the flat surface enables the cook to concentrate on the immediate task at hand, instead of distractions looming on the periphery. On a practical note, using cutting boards to slice, dice and chop ingredients, protects kitchen countertops from damage and eases clean-up.
Chef's knife: A sturdy knife that can handle most if not all kitchen tasks from carving a turkey to prepping a salad. Typically chef's knives run 8 inches in length and come in a variety of styles from straight-edged Japanese knives to the curvier European-style knives, originally used for carving cuts of meat. At a base price of $10 and running well into the hundreds of dollars on the price-versus-utility continuum, cutlery costing in excess of $30 is probably more knife than any home cook will ever need.
Grill spatula: With its broad metal base and sturdy handle, a grill spatula is a wonder and a workhorse. Besides flipping hamburgers, among other tasks, the metal edge can chop vegetables simmering inside a cast iron skillet. Ditto goes for lifting unwieldy dishes sticking to a baking sheet. A grill spatula can make your food look good and taste even better, because it won’t mangle the surface of delicate food and can remove the tasty bits sticking to the bottom of saucepans in a jiffy.
Mason jars: Due to recent health scares and the craft movement's fondness for all things canning and fermenting related, plastic containers are out and glass jars are in. Sold in a wide range of sizes from small 4-ounce jelly jars to 1-gallon glass jugs, the homespun aesthetic of Mason jars appeals to both grandmas and to hipsters, alike. Trendiness aside, Masons are an excellent way to store nonperishable food items and to organize the stuff that disappears into kitchen drawers.
For some coffee fanatics, the French press is the only true way to enjoy a morning cup. (Photo: Don LaVange/flickr)
French press: For a subset of coffee nerds the French press, also known as the coffee press, is the only way to get their morning fix. First of all, it's a given that the French know how to make coffee taste good and secondly there's pleasure derived from the ritual of the low and slow brewing method. Coffee grinds steep in hot water for several minutes and then are pressed with a metal plunger. The process is simple and cost effective. And the end result is one soulful cup of coffee packed with flavor.
Silicon spatulas: At first silicone spatulas seem like an unlikely choice for kitchen utensils that is, until you start to use them. The highly flexible material does a remarkable job of extracting ingredients that stick to the bottom of mixing bowls and for removing gooey bits stuck between the blades of blenders and food processors. Thereby, saving time and money, since more ingredients wind up on the baking sheet or saucepan than in the kitchen sink for cleanup.
Ramekins: If you know someone who likes to bake who doesn't own a set of ramekins, then perhaps they should. These versatile single-sized vessels can be used for baking and presenting a multitude of dishes, ranging from crème brulee to mac and cheese. Ideal for portion control, the simple bakeware can withstand high heat and look elegant while doing it.
Potted herb garden: When the weather gets drab and dreary lighten the mood with plants. A living bouquet composed of sage, rosemary and thyme can be a welcome addition to kitchens during the holiday season. Often used in tandem, the herbs are essential ingredients for seasoning poultry meat and flavoring bread stuffing. With a bit of luck potted herbs will thrive through the winter with a modicum of water and sunlight. When spring arrives, a handful of rosemary sprigs can flourish into a rosemary bush, when planted in south-facing yards with arid soil.