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December 14, 2009

Not-too-expensive gifts for cooks



I just got an early Christmas present: A potential Top 10 from frequent commenter Mary Roby.

"I was looking at cooking websites for gifts for people who like to cook," she said, "and came up with the following list of things I have that work well or are things I'd like to have."  

Unfortunately, I'm already putting together tomorrow's Top 10 (the gourmet food Web sites), and next Tuesday would be too late for her idea. The solution is to give you a bonus Top 10 now, her list of not-too-expensive gifts for cooks.

Here's Mary's list for Santa: ...

* Progressive Grate-and-Store (assorted cheese grater discs and storage bowl with cover) $15

* Instant Read Thermometer $10

* Cuisinart SmartStick Immersion Blender $29.95

* Wüsthof Classic Chef’s Knife, 6" (on sale for $49.96 at Sur la Table, usually $90)

* Microplane Zester Grater, $12.95 (These are great; you won't dread making dishes that call for lemon zest.)

* Whisks (metal, not silicone, which doesn't work for a gumbo roux) $10-$15

* Hot Chocolate Pot $29.95 (This comes with its own frother -- sounded like fun.)

* Message-in-a-Cookie cookie cutters $19.95

* Green Herb Snips $12

* Kuhn Rikon Serrated Paring Knife (comes in cool colors) $12 (These are great for keeping in the car since they have their own cover -- perfect when you come across an apple stand.)

(Photo courtesy of Williams-Sonoma Web site)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 11:13 AM | | Comments (29)


I have an instant-read thermometer, but what I really want is a remote thermometer with dual probes.

As someone who cooks for 1 most of the time, I adore those little silicon pans of various sizes. I can make apple crisp for one in the toaster over and stuff like that in them.

I'm also forever killing my timers.

I have a bunch of bamboo chopsticks that I use for all kinds of things, including fashioning cooling racks (being as I don't actually own cooling racks). You can usually find 10 pair packs in Asian grocery stores for a few bucks. I even keep a pair at work, so I don't have to use ecologically unsound disposable chopsticks.

Silicon scrapers are much better than plastic and rubber scrappers, but I can't bear to buy the silicon until I manage to kill the old ones.

I also like getting weird foreign ingredients from friends. A can of random Thai fruit can lead to hours of fun research. I even manage to eat these things sometimes.

At the company Christmas party last week, I got a box of condiments from the "Dirty Santa" game.
It contained several different kinds of hot sauce, Ingelhoffer deli mustard, Texas Pete pepper sauce, sriracha sauce, and to my surprise, a jar of Baconnaise. I finally get to try this stuff.

an appropriate captcha:
obesity Avo

me too, Bob! Everytime I see Alton Brown use one, I want it!

I also want silpats. Lots of 'em.

LOL, Joyce...that's when I think about it--when I'm watching Good Eats.

Lissa, you don't have to kill the plastic and rubber ones first. Save them for scraping bowls, etc., and use the silicon ones for cooking.

havre Uncollected

Check out Jonathan's Spoons ( Beautiful wooden cooking implements that come in left- and right-handed versions.

Also, the Wusthof chef's knife is on sale for the same $49.95 price at Williams-Sonoma.

I've been using them for stiring paint, Hal. I've considered letting the cats play with the rubber and plastic scrapers, though. I'd never find them again.

Joyce, I have a bunch of silpats, due to a great sale a few years back at I use them all the time. Let bread dough rise on them, use a silicon scraper to help pour the dough into the pot...that's cooking with gas!

I now have about 50 100% cotton dish towels with hooks, due to a Swedish Army surplus store. I use those all the time, too, and the more I wash them, they better they get. Not terry cloth, just good, thick woven cotton.

Friends also tend to give me sarcastic refrigerator magnets. I'm fond of those.

I tend to give people aloe plants, too. My one aloe plant has had millions and millions of babies. In fact, I need to pot out a few more, if anyone needs instant burn gel.

A great gift for cooks is the "A Taste Of Fell's Point" cookbook available at One Eyed Mikes' and the Preservation Society, with proceeds benefiting the latter organization. The recipes are from local people and restaurants, the cover is a beatiful painting by local artist Robert McClintock, inside illustrations by artists like John Ritter and Crystal Whitman.
Full disclosure: my wife has a recipe in this book (the best one!)

Lissa, A Swedish Army surplus store? Where did you find one of those(if you say Sweden I'll slap myself!!!)

I have those little green handled herb snips. They are great! The little slots on the blades are for stripping the leaves off the stems. Works well on things like thyme and rosemary.

Another thing I just discovered last year... a serrated peeler. Really makes fast work of potatoes, even though it's for "soft fruits".

BillZappa, the Internet, of course. Can't remember the url now, though. This was 8-10 years ago.

My son and his wife are crazy for all that is New Orleans so they are getting gifts of food from BTW Lissa, those towels sound amazing
As does my Captcha
Philadelphia Blintz

pampered chef products are great. Best ice cream scoop ever.

MDtopdad, they are awesome towels. Unfortunately, I gave away all I'm willing to spare already.

Too bad I didn't buy a pallet full of 'em. Still, good quality dish towels are the kind of thing few buy for themselves.

Lissa: So, if we drop you in the middle of the H-Mart, how long until we need to send the search & rescue team?

SYLVIA touchy -- good to know, Miz Plath

EG, one of the great things about taking the bus is that I can only buy as much stuff as I can carry, and anything refrigerated or frozen is not going to make it home.

On the other hand, when I rent a car, it is difficult to get out of there. The last time I was there, the Sandboxes' own Yum Porcetta was kind enough to take me, and I'm surprised we aren't still there. If we'd had access to a stove, we might still be.

I must confit those duck legs...

Budget-minded shoppers should check the housewares aisles at Marshalls and T.J. Maxx for bargains on a surprising number of items. I've gotten good deals there on Henckels and Wusthof knives, Calphalon pans, and silicone spatulas, among other gadgets.

I'm more of a dollar store kind of gal, hmpstd. For one thing, they are easier to get to by bus.

I've never found Wusthof knives there (I got mine on the Internet), that is where I get my little silicon single serving pans, silicon spatulas, my salad spinner and my timers (since I keep dropping them into batter or stepping on them, anyway).

Of course, you never know what you'll find, and 95% of it will be crap. Then again, I'm not sure that 95% of the stuff at Marshalls isn't, too.

Just keep me out of the restaurant supply store in Boston's Chinatown! That place is lethal to my pocketbook!

Oh, and I jsut remembered the most coveted kitchen item (by me) - ceramic covered cast iron cookware! Why? I can only guess cause it always looks so good when Emeril or someone is cooking up a gumbo in them. The fact that I can't even lift them when they're empty doesn't stop the near insane desire to own them!

I agree with you 100% Joyce. I have a 14 inch ceramic over cast iron pan that I roasted cornish hens with veggies in about 2 weeks ago. It was so heavy to start with, then I could barely get it out of the oven once it got hot (it was a lot easier to manuever when there wasn't the threat of third degree burns). I just love that pan though and will make anything in it that I can!


95% of EVERYTHING is crap. (With apologies to Theodore Sturgeon.)

I love Sturgeon. One of my favorite sf writers. :-) EL

In Re: * Kuhn Rikon Serrated Paring Knife (comes in cool colors) $12 (These are great for keeping in the car since they have their own cover -- perfect when you come across an apple stand.)

I can see it now:
Cop: Do you have any weapons in the car?

Me: Nope, just this set of paring knives. So if I come across a road side apple stand, or if someone wants to jack my car.

Joyce, enamel covered cast iron ware is on sale this week at Aldi's. It is insanely heavy. I've succumbed to 75% off sales in past years.

Jim, Sturgeon was right, of course. Between Sturgeon's Law and Clarke's Law, my life is pretty well explained.

For those of you who aren't 1960's science fiction geeks:

Sturgeon's Law:

Clarke's Law:


1. There are various stories in circulation about when and where Sturgeon formulated his law. The attribution I have heard most often (not mentioned in the Wikipedia article) is that Sturgeon was replying to critic Leslie Feidler at a literature conference. Moreover, Sturgeon himself was rather imprecise about the math, sometimes citing it as 90% and sometimes as 99%. In any event, Jim's Corollary is that the key to life is figuring out what to do with the part (however small) that is not crap.

2. Lissa presumably is referring to Clarke's Second Law, but I've always liked his Third Law the best.

Once again proving that this is the only blog you'll ever need.

60's SF? Dang, I didn't realize I was that obsolete. I must go read some Stephanson immediately! On my e-reader!

Thank you for the explanation, Jim. I was very sloppy there with Clarke. It was, however, the Third Law I was referring to.

Although, some days, the Second, particularly as applied to sanity, might work, too.

My wife has placed a one year moratorium on any kitchen equipment purchases not matter how small. I have no one to blame but myself for this action. After all, purchases such as an indoor BBQ pit and the Emeril BAM Machine were bound to result in severe sanctions.

RoCK, you need to stay away from the roaster section of the Sweet Maria's site, then, especially since your wife knows what I look like.

I often find bargain-priced kitchen stuff at Tuesday Morning stores. I have to rooch through some not-so-good-stuff to find them, but they're there. I've found a FoodSaver vacuum sealer for $20, Calphalon serving pieces for $5, among other things. I don't go often, but when I do, I usually find something I can't live without, without having to spend a fortune for it.

I was considering wusthof knives and 6" is a descent size, I think I'd rather go with either the 8" or the 10" chef's knife. The six is great for those with smaller hands, but I find that 10" knives are better for larger onions and other vegetables.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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