Holiday Gift Guide: Essentials for the Home Cook
In this season of giving, The Cook's Cook staff shares gift ideas well-suited for any cook.
The Cook’s Cook is publishing a series of Holiday Gift Guides. Our first edition includes a few essentials for every home cook. Whether you are shopping for a novice or an expert – we’ve got an idea for you!
Good kitchen shears are an essential component of any kitchen and are useful for a multitude of tasks, from trimming fine herbs to helping crack small bones and butcher chickens. This model from OXO is made from stainless steel and has microserrations on the blades to help prevent slippage. Importantly, the blades can also completely separate in order to aid with cleaning, a feature often only found in more expensive models. These shears are a great product for a fantastic price, and the versatility can’t be beat.
Is it a measuring cup or is it a mixing bowl? This item is indispensible for measuring large amounts (like stock, soup, cake batters), and is a perfect substitute for any large bowl to whip egg whites or heavy cream. It measures the yield as a bonus.
A wine funnel with a fine mesh filter is a great product for catching small pieces of a broken cork and all but the finest sediment in older wines. The aeration it provides will also open up younger wines. This product can be used with or without the filter.
I received an Alaskan bowl and ulu set as a gift several years ago. My ulu blade is engraved with the outline of the state of Alaska, and flowers are beautifully woodburned onto the bowl and ulu handle. It has become my favorite for fine chopping, especially herbs. The rolling motion of the ulu keeps the herbs in their pile while mincing them nicely. The design of the ulu allows you to keep fingers clear of the blade – a great choice for children or people like myself who tend to be a bit clumsy with blades.
So much more accurate than the wind-up timers, these are a basic necessity. Look for one with a clip-on feature and a long, loud chime or alert. If you can’t take it with you or hear it, it’s of no use. I like the very simple styling. It times only one thing (less confusing), but also has a time-up feature and a clock. The loud buzzer goes off for a full minute, then continues silently to let the cook know how much actual time has elapsed.
Indian restaurants aren’t particularly hard to find in the United States, but it’s actually quite difficult to find fine dining establishments serving dishes from the subcontinent. Washington D.C.’s Rasika, which is the project of restaurateur Ashok Bajaj and executive chef Vikram Sunderam, is one of those few and serves some of the best Indian food in the country. Their new cookbook is a treasure trove of recipes and stories and provides the secrets behind some of their most famous dishes, including their legendary palak chaat, a combination of crispy fried spinach enlivened with tamarind sauce. The James Beard-recognized restaurant is known for its bold, layered flavors and beautiful presentations, but home cooks can lay their worries to rest as recipes are generally straightforward and easy to prepare, and that is particularly true of the vegetarian and vegan dishes, of which there are many. It’s a must-own for anyone interested in Indian cuisine and is a fine addition to any cookbook shelf.
Baking pans in 8x8x2-, 9x9x2– and 10x10x2-inch are common sizes for many simple and popular cakes. But unlike most pans that are available today, these sturdy Magic Line pans are true squares. Their top edge, a half-inch wide overhang, provides an easy grip for handling hot or full pans. They are made of heavy-gauge aluminum for even heat distribution.
Chef Annie Mahle is the co-captain and culinary tour de force behind the J&E Riggin, a historic schooner running off the coast of Maine. The Riggin offers a variety of multi-day cruises which we highly recommend, and this is in large part due to Chef Annie’s inventive and deeply satisfying cooking, which she makes below deck on a large, antique wood-fired iron stove. Chef Annie has also written three books detailing both her time-tested recipes and aspects of life above and below deck. For those of us not lucky enough to be able to secure a space on the ship itself, this is a glimpse into a life of wind, waves, and incredible cooking. All three books – Sugar & Salt, the Blue Book, Sugar & Salt, the Orange Book and At Home, At Sea are available for purchase online. At Home, At Sea is currently in its second printing and is a perfect place to start.
One of the best things about cast iron pans is that they get better with age, and this Lodge cast iron skillet is no exception. With minor care and regular maintenance this skillet will last literally a lifetime, but the preseasoning it comes with makes it ready to use the moment you get it. Suitable for either on the stovetop or inside the oven (it’s great for roasting a chicken), cast iron’s ability to retain heat also allows it to reach incredibly high temperatures, making it perfect for searing meats like steaks and pork chops. Lodge makes great, reliable cookware and cast iron is something no household should be without.
Let’s be succinct: you need this in your kitchen. Increasingly recipes call for not simply a cup of this and a tablespoon of that, but set, measured amounts. This is particularly true of baking recipes, where measuring ingredients by weight can ensure your food turns out the way you intended. This scale, made by OXO, shines due to a variety of factors. The large, waterproof buttons make it easy to both tare and to switch between US and Metric measurements, and the pull-out screen enables you to see an accurate reading, even when you to use your largest bowls. It’s accurate up to 11 pounds, which should be sufficient for the large majority of home cooks. OXO’s products are consistently well-designed and nicely priced. This must-own scale is no exception.
It’s unfortunate many sets of cookware don’t include a chef’s pan, as it’s one of the most versatile pans a person can own. This version by All-Clad has all their typical bells and whistles (triple-ply construction for even heat distribution and incredible durability, oven safe up to 600° F, and a lifetime warranty) but the design itself also provides significant benefits. High, sloped sides makes it great for both stir-frying ingredients and reducing sauces, and the angle of the pan’s walls also mean you can whisk without worrying about sauce or other food getting caught in tight corners, as can happen with traditional sauce pans. The large, domed lid makes steaming a breeze. Versatile, well-made, and beautifully designed, this pan will last a lifetime and is a great gift for any cook.
Rice cookers are a must-own appliance for countless families across the world and Zojirushi makes some of the best. “Fuzzy logic” processing helps the cooker adjust to temperature fluctuations, ensuring rice comes out perfectly every single time, and the amount of effort required is virtually nonexistent. Simply measure your rice, fill the internal metal bowl with the corresponding amount of water, and wait for the magic to happen. This rice cooker also has the ability to make multiple kinds of rice, as well as other grains such as quinoa. Easy to use and easy to clean, this 3-cup model makes enough rice for individuals, couples, and small families, and ensures you’ll never have to worry about under- or over-cooked grains again.