Even though I have done very little about my own holiday preparations, I have been fielding questions from people who are actually tending their holiday business. What they want to know from me is what they should get as a useful but satisfying gift for someone who is really getting interested in cooking at home, or maybe even for that person who’s not so interested, but who is really going to be doing some home cooking. I have nieces and nephews who are in that early adult bit of their lives and I often gift them with kitchen bits that I wish I’d had earlier and that will make their lives and caring for themselves (for less money) easier. So with all that said… My favorite recommendations for aspiring home cooks.
#1 Cast Iron Skillet
When I was younger I did not have or use cast iron. I had some inherited teflon nonstick skillets that I used until they were peeling. This, incidentally, did not take very long. While nonstick technology has come a long way since I was in that phase, I can, with years of experience, comfortably suggest that cast iron is both more durable and more healthful. It is also really quite affordable. I have a couple of different sizes of this pre-Seasoned cast-iron skillet from Lodge and have been very happy with them over the years.
#2 Stainless Steel Cooking Utensils
Can I count the number of plastic and/or silicone cooking utensils that have been used/abused and completely demolished through the years? No, and I don’t want to think about it. This is an area where that old sentence “penny wise pound foolish” really holds true. The plastic jobs really are fine for cooking, don’t get me wrong, but you will need to buy another, and another, and another, that is unless you take much better care than I ever have. One set of stainless will go a lot longer and will work great in that cast iron skillet. Why not give a whole set like this one?
#3 Stainless Steel Sauce Pot
We have this stainless steel pot. We got it years ago and we use it for EVERYTHING. It’s a medium size and will handle most jobs that aren’t REALLY big or REALLY small. It’s been in the washer; it’s been dropped. It’s had stuff burned in it. It’s been used for science experiments and I suspect has even had a dog drink from it a time or two. Incredibly useful, incredibly durable. This one is a nice size.
#4 Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls
Having a non-reactive mixing bowl is really critical. Non-reactive just means that the material that the bowl is made of will not react with the food that you put in it, potentially changing the flavor of the food or just leaching stuff into it… yuck. Yeah. yuck. We use both stainless and glass. I prefer the metal ones simply because the glass are SO heavy. This super cool set also comes with lids, so if you need to let something sit, you can slap that lid on it.
#5 Stainless Steel Measuring Cups and Spoons
Again, nice to have non-reactive and these last forever. No more limping along because one part of the set got chewed up in the dishwasher. This set is intriguing because it has a narrower opening, so may be easier to use in containers and such. These spoons have the same advantage.
#6 Nesting Glass Liquid Measures
Yep, those Pyrex babies. We use ours ALL the time. Durable, useful, and if you nest them reasonably easy to store.
#7 Instant Read Thermometer
These are really useful for safe cooking. Temperature is a really great way to tell if things are done. We use ours for bread, baked goods, and when we have big holiday dos. This one seems to fit the bill.
#8 Solid Chef Knife
I absolutely love my Mac santoku chef knife. It’s a little smaller than most, therefore a little lighter, and more manageable. I’ve had it for years and it is absolutely my go to knife for most every knife job.
#9 Durable Paring Knife
We have this Victorinox set. I am shameless and put them in the dishwasher with no apparent ill effects. Takes care of all the little jobs my chef knife won’t handle.
#10 A Great Cookbook
While they include many ingredients I now tend to limit or avoid, I have nothing but great things to say about America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks. I still use mine all the time, making ingredient swaps as I need to in order to suit my own preferences. If you want to help someone learn about ingredients and how to make them work together, The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook is a great place to start.
Well, there it is. some piece of your holiday shopping all sorted out. Hope you are taking it all in stride. Be well, friends.