Gift Guide for the Cook in Your Life

If you’re still flummoxed over what to get for the cooking enthusiast on your list, I’m coming to your rescue. Please note that this isn’t a post where I tell you the latest cool product that someone has paid me to sell to you. (I’m not even going to name brands or stores.) This is just a list of kitchen and foodie things you might not have considered—broken down by type of person and budget. Hope it helps with the holiday shopping!

Stocking Stuffers

The very nature of the stocking stuffer is that the item is small (and preferably light… don’t want random stockings falling on the dog’s head). If you’re shipping across the country, they’ll also save you on postage. These items should be affordable on any budget:

Red mini spatulasMiniature spatulas and whisks: You can pick these up just about anywhere for a few dollars. Are they really worth it? Yes, when you have a tight space that needs scooping or an egg that needs beating, they’re handy to have around.

Replacement utensils or additional serving ware: Take a look in the silverware drawer. Is your loved one always running out of teaspoons? Did you crunch a fork in the garbage disposal? Do they need an extra serving spoon EVERY time they have you over for dinner? There are many sites online that sell replacement silverware (either new or used) so you can get it to match a pre-existing set.

Gift cards: Some people think that a gift card is a cop-out. “Hey, you didn’t put any thought into this gift. You just ran out and got a gift card!” Slow down. Here’s how you make it a bit more thoughtful: Actually think about it.

  • Write the amount of the gift card on the card or envelope. That way the recipient knows what they’re getting into before they start shopping.
  • For stores, write a note with the card that says something along the lines of “Thought you might enjoy shopping at Wonderful Kitchen Store X.” Or, “Use this for Product You’re Missing or anything else you might need!”
  • If you give the gift of a restaurant experience, make the amount is at least enough to cover a significant portion of the bill. It’s irritating to get a gift card for $10 to a place where the cost of an entree is $45.
  • Think outside the box with gift cards to grocery stores, wine shops, specialty stores, or cooking classes. (Just be careful with the grocery store thing. Some people might take it as a sign of charity rather than a gift.)

New to the Kitchen: Give Them the Basics

This gift recipient is either setting up a kitchen for the first time (think newly moved out and on his/her own) or re-establishing a kitchen (think newly divorced or separated). Whatever the reason, they need the basics.

On a Budget: Cookbooks are always a decent, inexpensive gift. I’ve written about several good starter cookbooks, but there are thousands of cookbooks out there. Imagine an ethnicity and there are cookbooks. Have a dietary restriction? Vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose-free, meat only… the list goes on. You could also focus on a meal. Give the gift of a soup cookbook and a ladle.

Got Some Green: A high-quality knife is a cook’s best friend. Entire sets tend to be a bit expensive, but most manufacturers sell individual knives or two-piece sets. This is what you’re looking for:Chef's Knife

  • Chef’s knife (usually 8 to 10”) or a paring knife (the short wee knife) are first-stop basics and are often sold together. They’re a perfect choice for someone who has no knives.
  • Unless you’re buying a bread or tomato knife, get an edge that is V-shape (rather than serrated). The cook will be able to sharpen a V-shaped edge—not so much with a serrated blade.
  • Full tang: This means that the metal from the knife blade runs the entire length of the handle. Not only will the handle not fall off, but the balance of the knife is better.
  • Forged not stamped: A forged knife is when the metal is beaten into shape and then honed. A stamped knife is when the metal is cut like a cookie cutter out of a larger piece of metal and then honed. Forged knives are typically stronger, but that’s not to say a stamped knife won’t work. They’ll cut, but forged tend to last longer.
  • Test out the knife: You should be able to take it out of the display and actually feel the knife. Now, what feels good to you, might not feel that great to someone else. But, you should at least compare various knives. Once you hold a decent knife and a not so decent knife, you’ll be able to tell the difference.

Break the Bank: If you’ve got a lot of money to spare, and you know they need them, buy your friend or loved one a decent pot or pan (or if you’re overly generous an entire set). The workhorses of my kitchen are the 4 qt sauce pan with lid (boil just about anything in it), the 4 qt sauté pan (sear just about anything in it), and my brasserie (looks like a frying pan, but has two loop handles on each side rather than a long stick handle so it can go from stove to table without looking weird). Here’s what you want from a decent pot or pan:

  • Think about the recipient and the weight: There are a lot of heavy pans out there and if you’re giving your 90-year-old Granny the gift of a stock pot that weighs 10 pounds WITHOUT anything in it she’s not going to invite you over for dinner.
  • Composition: Cookware needs to be made of a metal that conducts heat well (aluminum or cooper) but doesn’t react with food (stainless steel). Most manufacturers have gotten around this by layering the metals—stainless steel on the inside of the pan with aluminum or cooper on the outside. Some cookware will have a third layer of stainless steel on exterior as well. Make sure that whatever pots you purchase have the heat conducting metal up the sides as well. This will ensure that the entire pot heats evenly rather than just the bottom. Avoid cookware with heavy bottoms and flimsy sides—just a sign of a cheaply made pot or pan.
  • Oven safe materials: The most versatile pans will be made of material that is also oven safe. This includes the handles and the knob on the lid. If the handles are plastic, chances are it’s not going in the oven. Still usable on the stove but not as all-kitchen friendly.
  • Lids: Make sure the larger pots come with lids.
  • Nonstick or not?: The eternal kitchen question. For new-to-cooking, I’d say one nonstick is OK. Anyone who likes to cook will shun the nonstick. Plus, the chemicals and the weirdness in the news… why risk it?

Been Cooking for a Bit

This gift recipient has a ton of the basics and probably a few other exciting things going on in his/her kitchen. These gifts will take a bit of thought and research to make sure it will be useful or wanted.

On a Budget: Magazine subscriptions are pretty cheap now (and you could kill two birds with one stone by giving the subscription through a local charity magazine drive). There are several dozen food and cooking related magazines out there. If you want to be tree-friendly and your recipient has an e-reader, give it to them in digital format.

Got Some Green: “Of the month clubs” are the gift that keeps giving. They don’t necessarily have to break the bank as many of them offer three-, six-, nine-month subscriptions in addition to the yearlong variety. Do an online search and you’ll find just about any item can be delivered to a person’s home on a monthly basis: coffees, teas, wines, beers, fruit, vegetables, nuts, oils, pies, ice creams… hell, I even found a bacon of the month club (sorry Paul, not this year).

Breaking the Bank: Hire a personal chef to come to their home and cook THEM dinner for a change. It can be a nice treat on a cold evening to have dinner cooked in.

Almost a Professional Chef

They pretty much have everything that the good Lord ever made or intended for a kitchen. For this recipient, you’re going to have to think more in the way of ingredients and experience.

On a Budget: Go to your local gourmet food store (or online or even some upscale grocery stores) and buy a few fun ingredients. Go for flavored olive oils (you can also make these at home), sea salts, exotic fruit preserves, or anything imported. Tie a ribbon around it and call it a day.

Got Some Green: A one-day class doesn’t have to be super expensive. And, the best part is that they usually get to eat what they make. But, you live in an area where there are no culinary schools? Many other institutions offer classes, including:

  • Community colleges (I found a one-day Polish food course for my dad at a community college in his area)
  • Grocery stores and gourmet food stores
  • Some smaller restaurants
  • Stores that sell cookware, including department stores and specialty shops
  • Individuals in their homes (Although rare, they are out there. Google is your friend on this one!)

Before buying make sure that the recipient is either available for the class or that they can exchange the class for another date or time.

Breaking the Bank: Buy the gift of local produce with a share in a community supported agriculture co-op (CSA). It’s simple, you pay a fee at the beginning of the growing season (usually in March or so) and then you get vegetables from that farm on a regular basis. The frequency and amount of goods depends on the CSA. Where I live, we have several options, including buying egg and meat shares, all delivered to a close pick-up location in the city.

What Not to Get

When shopping for the cooking enthusiast, there are definitely things to stay away from:

Multi-use small appliances: Unless they have specifically requested a breadmaker that also froths milk for cappuccino while frying bacon, stay away. The more functions something has, the higher the likelihood that it won’t make it past New Year’s.

Upgrades: Again, unless it has been specifically requested, do not randomly upgrade a chef’s kitchen gear. The recipient will make sounds like this: “My blender is pretty fried. I could really use a new one.” NOT “That blender looks nice.” That’s just a comment about a pretty blender, not a request for a new one.

Anything in outrageous colors: They make a lot of stuff in a lot of fun colors. But, unless you are sure that Aunt Bertha would LOVE a bright orange stand mixer for Christmas, avoid it. Which reminds me, include gift receipts just in case it breaks, is ugly, or the recipient just doesn’t have the space.

Re-gifts (unless you tell them it is a re-gift): If you don’t want it, what makes you think someone you like will?

Items that will rot before they can be used: Although many of my suggestions are gifts of edible ingredients, don’t get astronomical sizes. No home chef is going to use 100 gallons of yogurt before it goes bad.

So, I hope that helps with a few holiday gift ideas for the home chef. If you have any other thoughts, please share. I’m more than happy to steal ideas.

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