I have a tiny kitchen. Counter space is almost nonexistent, and the cabinets barely hold my cooking staples. Even with an armoire for serving pieces, small appliances and baking tins, storage space is at a premium.
So if I get a kitchen gift, it has to be something I’ll use. There’s simply no room to house a gadget or ingredient destined to collect dust.
With that in mind, here are five gift suggestions that the cook in your life will love and — most important — use.
1. For the beginner: Get an easy-to-read, soup-to-nuts cookbook filled with tutorials, advice and recipes. I’ve been cooking professionally for seven years, and I still consult The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook. This tome was published in May 1999 and boasts detailed chapters on meat, eggs, fish, vegetables, sauces and sweets. You can find new and used copies via Amazon.com.
2. For the savory cook: A cast-iron skillet. This pan is a cook’s ultimate workhorse. It sears beef, cooks eggs and omelets, and even makes a mean caramel-based dessert for the savory cook who wants to dabble in sweets. Best of all, it goes directly from stovetop to oven and back again. Crate and Barrel offers both 10- and 12-inch cast-iron pans.
3. For the baker: Miniature tart pans and/or springform pans. Yes, these take up storage space, but they’re excellent for bakers who want to wow family and friends. A traditional tart can be divided into three or four mini pans; a cheesecake or other springform-based cake can be parsed out to even more. Serve the desserts individually or stack them on a tiered serving dish for extra impact. Sur la Table has 4 1/2-inch nonstick springform pans; Crate and Barrel has a miniature pie-pan set. (Great for storage concerns!)
4. For the appliance-needy: Just as most people overstock their pantries, most have way too many small appliances. But I’ve found two items well-worth the counter space they eat up:
A KitchenAid mixer is an automated sous chef. It makes short work of mixing cookie dough, kneading yeast breads and whipping egg whites. And while it does its thing, your hands are free to tidy messes, prep ingredients or flip through recipes.
A Cuisinart food processor is the other small appliance I can’t live without. It makes short work of pie crust and biscuit doughs; grates bags of carrots and blocks of cheese in minutes; and slices vegetables paper thin for gratins … not to mention the ease with which it whirs up hummus, pestos and other dips.
5. For the condiment lover: Forget those jars of exotic chutneys and curries. My favorite gift is an unusual oil-and-vinegar combination. Columela makes a fantastic sherry wine vinegar that’s aged in oak and is lovely for delicate vinaigrettes. I’ve become a huge fan of walnut oil’s warm, nutty undertones and smooth taste. I mix the two with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard for salad dressings, a finishing sauce for fish, or to drizzle over peeled, sliced oranges.
Any of these gifts would be a welcome addition to a cook’s kitchen, regardless of how much — or little — space that kitchen has. They’ll be used time and again — with no chance for dust to settle!