Sunday, 28 October 2012

The 2012 Christmas Gift Guide for the Cook (and Foodie) in Your Life

If you are shopping for a foodie this Christmas (or even if you are not) here is my broad guide to great Christmas gifts for the kitchen.  It’s a series of things that I love that make life in the kitchen better.  If you have any comments on things that I have listed or have things that I have missed, leave them in the comments.

Inexpensive Christmas Gifts & Stocking Stuffers: Under $25

Butter BoatButter boat ($16) This uses evaporative cooling to keep butter at room temperature without spoiling.  There's a well for water, and then a butter dish that rests on top of it, and slowly wicks water through the ceramic.  The upshot is that as long as you change the water every few days, you can keep butter in the dish for weeks which is awesome considering Saskatchewan’s hot summers.

Cookbook stand ($19) | This holds the cookbook up where you can see it and keeps it from having something splashed all over it which if I let Jordon, Mark, or Oliver in the kitchen is very likely to happen.

Ninjabread Cookie CuttersNinjabread Cookie Cutters ($10) | Gingerbread was so last year.  Ninjabread cookie cutters make any cookie a lot more fun (and stealthily dangerous) to make and eat. 

Silicon Pastry Mat ($11) |  Silicone's is both flexible and things won't stick to it.  It's ideal for rolling pastry and cookies.  It not only makes things easier on you but it means you can use less flour, resulting in a more delicate and tender product.

Silicone Oven Mitts ($20) They may not have the character of some oven mitts but they are waterproof which means that if you have to, you can reach into a boiling pot and grab whatever it is that you dropped in there. Heat resistant to 485-Degree F

Thoughtful yet Inexpensive Christmas Presents:  $25 to $50

CucinaPro Pasta Fresh machine

CucinaPro Pasta Fresh machine ($30) | Nothing beats a plate of truly fresh pasta. And now it's easy to roll out your own at home. Whether the craving is for spaghetti or fettuccine, this sturdy machine handles the job with efficiency and style. Made of heavyweight chromed steel, with an attractive wood grip handle, Villaware's pasta maker looks great on the counter and is easy to use--there's nothing to plug in as this is the tried-and-true hand-crank variety. The easy-lock adjustable dough-dialer rolls thick or thin pasta, and it comes with spaghetti and fettuccine cutters. Cutters for tagliatelle and angel hair pasta are available separately

Aeropress Coffee PressAeropress Coffee Press ($25) | It makes one of the best cups of coffee you'll ever taste. This innovative uses the ideal water temperature and gentle air pressure brewing to produce coffee and espresso that has rich flavor with lower acidity and without bitterness. It makes 1 to 4 cups of coffee or espresso (enough for 1 or 2 mugs), features a micro filtered for grit free coffee, and takes just 1 minute to make coffee (actual press time takes only 20 seconds).

Warming Gravy Boat | This will keep your gravy warm up to an hour into your meal. It keeps chocolate sauces and maple syrup warm for pancakes and in the end, it’s just one of those things that works well and will make your life a little easier around the holidays. I can’t recommend it enough.

Belgium Waffle IronBelgium Waffle Iron ($34) |  Enjoy delicious fluffy Belgian waffles with the Hamilton Beach Belgian Style Flip Waffle Maker. Made with easy to clean nonstick grids to bake the perfect waffle with deep pockets to hold butter and syrup. The indicator lights let you know just when to add the batter and the removable tray and grids make for easy cleanup.

Oxo Kitchen Scale ($29) | A scale is really necessary if you're going to do serious cooking because wherever possible, you should measure your ingredients by weight, not by volume.  A given mass of flour can vary a lot in volume, depending on things like humidity, temperature, and how long it's been sitting.  A weight indicator shows the capacity left on the Scale before maximum capacity is reached. Press the zero button to offset the weight of a container or to set the weight back to zero to add additional ingredients. The display features large, easy-to-read numbers which measure in 1/8-ounce and 1-gram increments and the platform can be removed for cleaning. The Scale has a 5-pound capacity and two AAA batteries are included.

Immersion blender ($42)  Don't buy a cheap one--stick with Braun, Cuisinart, or KitchenAid.  They aren’t cutting edge but if you don’t have one, you don’t know what you are missing.  I use mine for my making Caesar Salad Dressing, pureeing soups, and chopped a lot of vegetables.

Black and Decker Thermal Carafe Coffee MakerBlack and Decker Thermal Carafe Coffee Maker ($48) | With a stylish design and durable stainless steel carafe, this 8-cup coffeemaker is perfect for home, office or practically anywhere you want hot, fresh coffee at the touch of a button. All this, plus an easy-clean control panel and dishwasher-safe removable parts for effortless cleanup.  The advantage of the carafe is that you won’t be stuck with hot burnt coffee in case you don’t get it off the maker in time.  The coffee will be as hot and fresh later as it is right now.

Generous gifts:  $50 to $150 

Silicone rolling pin ($57) | Once you try one and realize that you can roll things out without it sticking to your rolling pin, you will never go back to your wooden rolling pin. The handles on this pin are made out of soft grip rubber and contoured to fit your hand, providing comfort and stability. While the stainless steel ball bearings and counter balanced pin ensure consistent, easy rolling. It’s the same premise as the silicon pastry mat, less flour means a more delicate and tender end result (and less mess).

Froth au Lait ($70) While I am not a big coffee or espresso kind of person (and Jordon likes his coffee blac k) this is an ideal accompaniment to a coffeemaker or espresso machine. You can also create topping for desserts, hot chocolate, and more. Once the milk is added, the frother mechanically agitates and aerates it to create rich froth. It works for up to 1-1/2 cups of milk (1-1/2 cups generates about 6 cups of froth), and takes about three minutes to complete the frothing cycle. The sturdy plastic pitcher comes off the base to pour the froth. It's also possible to add syrups to the milk as you're frothing it. A recipe book is included to get you started as it also allows you make a wide variety of sauces.

imageBodum Tea Press ($57) |A lovely way to brew tea to your exact preference, the Bodum Shin Cha tea press combines elegant shaping with crafty functionality. The spherical glass pot features a stainless-steel plunge infuser inside and a stainless-steel lid. Fill the infuser with loose leaf or tea bags, add hot water, wait the desired amount of steeping time, then plunge. The plunger pushes the tea below the infuser holes, so brewing stops on a dime and tea does not over steep to the point of bitterness. To clean up, the unit goes safely in the dishwasher. With its glass spout, body, and handle, the Shin Cha showcases tea colors beautifully but does require somewhat careful handling.

All-Clad One Quart Saucier ($75) | Little pans (especially high quality ones) tend to be overlooked as gifts but I use them a lot around the house in making things like gravy, au juice, or if I need a smaller portion of something.  I never thought it was that important but now that I have one, I love it.

Electric Kettle  ($70) | Jordon has no respect for my electric kettle at the cabin but it stops me from having to turn on the stove while cooking up a cup of noodles, making a cup of tea or even getting hot water for cooking.

Burr Coffee GrinderBurr coffee grinder ($87)  For grinding larger quantities of coffee beans for a coffee-drinking crowd, Capresso's commercial-grade Infinity grinder handles 8-1/2 ounces of beans at a time. Sixteen different settings--four each in the four categories of extra fine, fine, regular, and coarse--let you adjust the grind to the specific blend of coffee and method of brewing. The finest setting is ideal for preparing Turkish coffee, which is a rare feature to find in a grinder. A built-in timer sets the grind for anywhere between 5 and 60 seconds so you can walk away without having to constantly press a button to continue the grinding process. The Infinity has an advanced conical burr design made of steel that is usually only found on commercial grinders. This burr design slows down the gears and reduces the amount of friction and heat to preserve coffee's flavour and aroma. The coffee container holds up to 4 ounces of grounds and remains sealed during grinding. For safety, the bean container also needs to be locked into place for the Infinity to operate. For easy cleaning, the bean container and upper burr lift off so you can clean the grinding chamber with the included brush and wipe down the exterior housing.

Electric Pepper Mill ($68) | What’s the advantage of an electric pepper mill?  It is quite cool to be able to grind pepper into your sauce one-handed, while stirring with the other hand.  Also, it’s once of those great gifts that is for those who are struggling with arthritis or are finding it harder and harder to do things with their hands.  As Jordon struggles with a torn rotator cuff this fall, it’s amazing how big of a difference things like this make.

Cuisinart Griddler ($84) | Yes you have a George Forman grill but this is so much more than that.  The Cuisinart Griddler is actually five appliances in one. A hinged, floating cover and one set of removable and reversible cooking plates turn the Griddler into a contact grill, panini press, full grill, full griddle, or half grill/half griddle. Dual temperature controls and indicator lights make this product easy to use.

Cuisanart GriddlerCuisanart Griddler

Extravagant Gestures:  $150 and Up

Cusinart Countertop OvenCuisinart Countertop Oven ($180) It’s a great replacement for the stove in the summer and a supplement to the oven when you are making a big meal or for parties.  We have a toaster oven at the cabin as our main oven and while I miss the size of my oven, I am surprised how much cooking and baking I can do with it.

Kitchenaid Commercial Grade Stand MixerKitchenaid Stand Mixer ($404) |  The Professional 600 TM has a powerful motor that is crafted for commercial-style performance, the direct drive, all-steel gear transmission delivers unyielding power for professional results. The mixer can effectively mix up to 14 cups of all-purpose flour per recipe and produce up to 8 pounds of mashed potatoes. The Soft Start mixing feature helps minimize ingredient splatter and flour puff with gentle acceleration to selected speed after start-up. Electronic Speed Sensor monitors operation to maintain precise mixer speed. Commercial-style motor protection automatically shuts off the mixer when overload is sensed to protect the motor. Durable all-steel gears provide reliable service. The mixer includes a 6-quart-capacity stainless-steel mixing bowl with a contoured handle, as well as a professional wire whip, a burnished flat beater, a spiral dough hook, and a one piece pouring shield. Its multipurpose attachment hub with a hinged hub cover flips open to allow for easy installation of attachments. The Professional 600 Series bowl-lift design raises the bowl into the mixing position, and its solid, truly seamless one-piece motor head design is easy to clean and comes in a variety of fashionable colors.

Nespresso Espresso MakerNespresso Espresso Maker  The difference between the Nespresso and it’s competitors is that it is a real espresso maker that just happens to be automated.  The capsules contain nothing more than espresso coffee grounds. The machine is simply an automated and miniaturized "real" espresso rig. And the results speak for themselves:

  • full bodied crema like you get from the best barista
  • speedy and HOT cups of espresso
  • the espresso produced is crisp and clear, full bodied, and smooth
  • all this in under 30 seconds and within a square foot of counter space.

Coffee for this machine is 55 cents per cup, and Nespresso delivers online orders with astonishing speed (which is good, because you can't get the coffee from anyone else!). A bit pricey, but in this case you do get what you pay for... and then some.

Kitchenaid Food Processor ($159)  With its powerful motor, this convenient food processor quickly and easily slices, dices, chops, and purees, helping to reduce prep time in the kitchen. The appliance comes with a large 9-cup work bowl that makes it easy to create an entire meal from scratch. The unit's extra-large one-piece feed tube accommodates whole fruits and vegetables and allows for continuous processing.

Accessories include a stainless-steel medium slicing disc (4 mm), a stainless-steel shredding disc, a chopping/mixing blade, a dough blade, and a detachable disc stem, plus a plastic spatula, a recipe/instruction book, and a how-to DVD. The unit's compact build means it will fit comfortably on any countertop, and its brushed stainless finish adds a touch of elegance to any modern kitchen. All removable parts clean up easily by hand or in the dishwasher. The food processor measures 9-1/2 by 7 by 13 inches and carries a three-year limited warranty with a 10-year limited warranty on the motor.

Christmas Gift Guides and Gift IdeasIf you are looking for more or past Christmas Gift Guides, check out my husbands excellent series of Christmas gift and idea guides that he posts each year on his website.

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