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Worth the Splurge

Gift ideas for the serious cook

Fine Cooking Issue 48
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Most avid cooks have a wish list of things they would love to add to their kitchen. I’ve been toting my own list around for years now, buying items and crossing them off my list at an almost painfully slow rate. Why does it take such effort to buy something as useful as a kitchen scale or as affordable as a few heat-resistant spatulas? I think it’s just that they feel superfluous. Sure, they’ll help my cooking, but I don’t truly need them. I just want them because they make cooking easier or more precise or maybe just more fun. Well, that’s exactly what makes them wonderful gifts. I know that, to some people, an extra stand mixer bowl isn’t the sexiest present you could give, but for the passionate cook, stainless steel can be as sexy as platinum. A great kitchen tool lets a cook be more creative, and that’s the best gift anyone could give.

Here you’ll find a range of gift ideas that come from the Fine Cooking staff’s own wish lists. Some are tools we already own that we would happily buy again, and some are things we’re still pining for. These products can be purchased online (see “Where to buy” at the end of the article). Retail prices are approximate.

This sleek, lightweight electronic scale made by Salter (at left in the photo) will weigh up to 11 lb. of ingredients in precise 1/8-oz. increments. It converts to metric, and the 7×7-inch glass platform cleans off easily. $40.

The best features of this 5-1/2-quart copper casserole by Bourgeat (center) —besides its warm, inviting luster—are its fast, even heat conductivity and its stainless-steel interior that never needs relining. For stewing or braising, it has no peer. $400.

Having a wooden kneading board on hand (right) means there’s always a perfect surface for making doughs and rolling out pastry crusts. A lip under the front edge hooks on the counter to keep the board from sliding around. $70.

The hollow-ground edge on this 6-1/2-inch Japanese-style santuko knife by Wüsthof prevents vegetables from sticking to the blade by allowing air pockets to form, making it the ideal tool for cutting, dicing, or thinly slicing any vegetable, especially potatoes. $105.

A baker would love an extra stand mixer bowl, whip, and beater: It means she can beat a batter in one bowl and go straight to whipping cream in another. Before buying, find out the make and size of the mixer your friend has. $50 for the bowl; $35 for the beater and whip.

Must you have a gorgeous wooden salad bowl? Of course not, but it sets off salad greens so beautifully, it makes tossing so easy, and it ages so gracefully. This 12-inch cherry bowl would suit a small family. $72 for the bowl, $22 for the serving utensils.

A 9-1/2-quart Le Creuset enameled cast-iron French oven holds a steady heat and distributes heat evenly, so meats sear nicely and stews simmer gently. Plus, the pot, available in many colors, makes a fashion statement on the shelf, on the stove, or at the table. $245.

An extra freezer

Anyone who likes to buy meat in bulk, freeze summer produce, or make quadruple batches of cookies and breads might be delighted with an extra freezer. (Some models are surprisingly affordable—cheaper than the copper casserole!) Before you shop, be sure that the recipient has the space for one. Also consider energy efficiency (uprights are less efficient than chest freezers), defrosting options (automatic is more convenient, but manuals minimize freezer burn), and capacity.

This oversize convection toaster oven by DeLonghi is spacious enough to roast a small chicken or to fit a small gratin dish, and the fan-circulated hot air helps cookies bake more evenly. It also does the basics, like making toast. $190.

This Italian stone mortar with wooden pestle won’t budge when you grind spices, pound herb pastes, and make dressings or sauces. Cut from Carrera marble, it has a generous 2-cup capacity. $60.

Stocking stuffers that feel luxurious

A gift doesn’t have to be expensive to feel like a luxury. These tools are practical and inexpensive, yet they’re also things that many kitchens are without.

An instant-read digital thermometer ($14), for example, lets you check the doneness of meats and poultry in seconds, without cutting into them and losing all the juices.

Other efficient little items are sets of odd-size measuring spoons and cups ($9 for spoons; $20 for cups). The spoons are 2 tsp. and 1-1/2 and 2 Tbs.; the cups are 2/3, 3/4, and 1-1/2 cups.

Polder makes a digital cooking timer ($20) with a few neat features, including a real-time clock and a temperature probe with high and low temperature alerts.

A good-quality set of French pastry brushes ($16) would be a welcome replacement for all those greasy, frayed brushes that have taken a few too many dips in the barbecue sauce.

Or you might give someone a cheery assortment of heat-resistant spatulas ($4 to $10 each). Like pastry brushes, worn-out spatulas have a tendency to overstay their time in the kitchen.

Where to buy

Many of the gift ideas featured can be found in well-stocked kitchen shops, or you can order them from mail-order sources, such as A Cook’s Wares (800-915-9788; www.cookswares.com), SurLa Table (800-243-0852; www.surlatable.com), The Baker’s Catalogue (800-827-6836; www.bakerscatalogue.com), Zabar’s (212-787-2000), or Broadway Panhandler (866-266-5927 or 212-966-3434; www.broadwaypanhandler.com).

The Salter electronic scale is available from Zabar’s.

For the Wusthöf hollowground santuko knife, try A Cook’s Wares or Broadway Panhandler.

The Bourgeat 5-1/2-quart copper pan, called a covered sauteuse or buffet casserole, can be ordered from A Cook’s Wares.

For a Tavolini kneading board, try The Baker’s Catalogue; the 18×24-inch board is $70 and the 24×28-inch board is $80.

The 12-inch cherrywood salad bowl and utensils are available from Williams-Sonoma (877-812-6235; www.williams-sonoma.com).

You can usually buy an extra stand mixer bowl, whisk, and beater directly from the manufacturer. KitchenAid stand mixer parts can be ordered from KitchenAid (800-541-6390; www.kitchenaid.com) or from A Cook’s Wares.

The 9-1/2-quart Le Creuset French oven can be ordered from A Cook’s Wares or Broadway Panhandler.

The Italian stone mortar and wooden pestle can be ordered from Sur La Table.

The DeLonghi convection toaster is available from Zabar’s.

Le Creuset spatulas are available from A Cook’s Wares or Zabar’s.

For the Polder clock/timer/thermometer, try The Baker’s Catalogue or Zabar’s.

A set of 1- and 1-1/2-inch pastry brushes can ordered from The Baker’s Catalogue, and a set of three are available from Zabar’s.

The Taylor digital thermometer is sold in many kitchen stores, or order it from The Baker’s Catalogue or A Cook’s Wares.

A set of three odd-size cup measures (2/3, 3/4, and 1-1/2 cups) is available from Sur La Table for $19 and a set of four (1/8, 2/3, 3/4, and 1-1/2 cups) can be ordered for $21.50 through The Baker’s Catalogue. Oddsize spoons are available from Broadway Panhandler.

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