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20 Gifts Ideas for the Home Cook, Chef or Baker

Some of our best loved and most used kitchen tools.

By A Little Birdie | Posted on December 14, 2017 in Gift Ideas


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A few of our most indispensable kitchen tools.

A few of our most indispensable kitchen tools.
© Little Birdie Me

We love eating. We love cooking. And, we especially love baking. In the course of pottering about the kitchen, we find there are tools we return to again and again. If you’re familiar with the BBC Radio 4 program Desert Island Discs, you’ll know the castaways are permitted eight recordings, a book and one luxury item. Today, our version asks: what kitchen utensils would you bring to the desert island? Now, if we were really considering kitchen implements in the context of being a castaway, we’d probably be looking at things like propane stoves, but let’s say we have access to the basic kitchen appliances: a stove, a refrigerator, etc. So, maybe not a desert island exactly, perhaps more like a first apartment. In which case, the following are among the things we would be purchasing to ready our kitchen:

  1. Thermapen – this is an absolutely indispensable implement when trying to cook foods (especially meats) to perfection, while also ensuring food safety. No more dry chicken. No more overdone steak. A Thermoworks Thermapen is a durable, long-lasting, invaluable tool and if your home chef does not yet have one, a perfect gift.

  2. Eight-cup measuring cup – one of the most unexpectedly handy things we have in the kitchen is our Camwear 2-quart polycarbonate measuring cup. Our one and two cup measuring cups are grand too – especially our two-cup Pyrex measuring cup – but this monster measurer is handy for all sorts of things, from straining liquids back and forth between a pitcher, to making mixed drinks and punches, to measuring out all our wet ingredients into one large container (minimizing clean-up), to impromptu plant watering. And, yes, the spout works well! Presentation idea: fill the measuring cup with a selection of kitchen utensils for your recipient.

  3. Wüsthof utility scissors – be it opening food packages, prepping soft shell crabs, or trimming flower stems, these scissors are the real deal. We also love how they split apart for easy cleaning and sharpening – and, to top it all off, they are both righty and lefty friendly. In our kitchen, few things are used more frequently and with greater ease than Wüsthof’s utility scissors. Value alert: at the time of writing, Amazon.com is selling a couple of 2-for-1 sets that include the Wüsthof scissors - one set includes a paring knife and, the other, a spreader.

  4. Wüsthof’s 10-inch (wide blade), sandwich and bread knives – on a desert island, we might consider swapping out the sandwich knife for a paring knife as it is great for preparing fruit (and hopefully our desert island might have a fruit tree or two). The reality of the matter though is that, on a day-to-day basis, these are the three knives we use the most: a chef’s knife, a bread knife and a sandwich knife. Whether or not your bread is gluten-free, a properly serrated bread knife makes slicing it a treat (both literally and figuratively). For smaller tasks, like halving plum tomatoes or prepping smaller quantities of food, the sandwich knife is our go-to grab. And, then there’s the knife to rule them all – our wide blade 10-inch chef’s knife. After we took a knife skills course, we purchased this knife and haven’t looked back. Some might pause at the extra weight of a larger knife, but we find the added weight means that gravity does more of the work for us on the downswing. We prefer the wider face of the knife too as it allows more room for what you are cutting to push up and out of the way. All three of these make excellent gifts solo, or combine them for an indispensable kitchen trio.

  5. OXO spatula – we feel a bit like Goldilocks when it comes to spatulas - some are too soft, some are too hard, some are too thick, and some are too thin. OXO’s silicone spatulas are just right. Whether we are scraping out a pot, a bowl, or mixing chocolate chips into our brownies, their medium spatula has stood us in good stead. Their small spatula too is indispensable – especially great for cleaning out yogurt containers (or the like).

  6. Ateco offset icing spatula – as with rubber spatulas, we’re very particular about our icing spatulas. Some are simply too pliable and offer little resistance when you are trying to ice a cake. Similarly, a spatula that is too stiff can make frosting more difficult than it needs to be. Some folks prefer flat spatulas, but we like ours offset to keep our knuckles up and out of the way. Our icing spatula often does double duty – not just frosting cakes, but also smoothing out batters in pans and the like where a flat spatula would make things trickier. If we had to choose only one icing spatula, we would go with Ateco’s smallest as it’s great for smaller cakes and corners. You can use it to frost larger cakes too but it will just take a little longer. Ideally though, we recommend both the large and small spatulas – or, if you are splashing out, there’s a great three-spatula set.

  7. Bench scraper – this one’s for the aspiring bread bakers and gnocchi makers out there. If you’re an experienced baker, chances are you already have one of these – or, three. The “bench” referred to in the name of this utensil is the workbench, or your cooking prep surface – where you would knead your bread or roll out your gnocchi. A quality bench scraper (we like this one by OXO) is a superb tool for scraping off any stray bits of dough, cutting your gnocchi or, at the end of kneading, corralling any stray flour into the waste bin.

  8. Bowl scraper – another great tool for all cooks, but especially for bakers. As long as you don’t mind getting your hands in there, this is the ultimate tool for scraping down a bowl, be it a counter-top or floor mixer. We also use our bowl scraper to push frosting down our piping bag as we work, minimizing waste. We’re in favor of that generally, but especially when it comes to frosting!

Fab kitchen tools? Here are a few.

Fab kitchen tools? Here are a few.
© Little Birdie Me

  1. OXO 12-inch locking tongs – these number among the top 5 handiest, most useful tools in our kitchen. Whether it’s flipping roasted veg, dropping an egg in boiling water, or tossing our almonds mid-roast, these excel at the task to hand. As well, it should be noted that, when the weather is fine and the sun is shining, these OXO tongs extend their versatility and eminent usability into the outdoors where they are ideal grill-side companions. Last but not least, we point out their handy locking functionality which means they store much more compactly in the utensil jar and mind their own business once they’re there. A small thing, but those things add up over time, don’t they?

  2. Garlic skin remover – ok, so this one is a little bit of an indulgence, as any small, flexible piece of silicone can be turned into a garlic peeler (we’ve used a silicone bottle cap grip, for example) – or, really, you could use a kitchen towel when it comes to it. Still, it’s nice to have a dedicated tool that rolls really easily and is perfectly sized for garlic cloves - especially as garlic has a strong smell and it does linger on the rubber. An affordable, little tube of silicone was a revelation to us the first time we used it. Bim. Bam. Boom. Our garlic cloves were naked in a matter of seconds and, what’s more, our fingers were fragrance free. A great little tool – not a necessity by any means but gosh darned handy (rather like our onion goggles – another silly sounding thing but one that saves us from shedding buckets of tears every time we make Bolognese!).

  3. Mini strainer – be it cocktails, mixed drinks, iced tea, or berry purees, we find ourselves plopping this little guy on top of glasses or bottle tops as the final guard against raspberry seeds, pulp or tea leaves. A tool that has earned its modest cost many times over!

  4. Grating cup – this is one of those kinds of kitchen tools where you feel like somebody actually sat down to think about a recurring problem and came up with a solution. The problem in this case: grating something (e.g. cheese) and having it go everywhere. The solution a cup that’s a grater. Ok, a few stray crumbs might still escape, but the bulk of your grated goods will be neatly contained in the cup. If you are gifting to a regular mac and cheese maker, or a griller who grates a lot, this stainless steel grating bucket may well be the gift you’ve been looking for.

  5. Half sheet and quarter sheet pans – we roast almost all our veggies – from greens, to shishito peppers, to cabbage (comes out deliciously sweet and caramelized, like onions!), to cauliflower, to squash, to fennel – and, more! We also toast up nuts with regularity. For all of these things, a sheet pan is extremely handy and, depending on the quantity you are cooking, a half sheet pan or a quarter sheet pan might be most appropriate. Whip out a sheet of parchment to line your pan and boom, you’re ready to go – no muss, no fuss. Aside from roasting, sheet pans are also handy for things like sorting lentils (to make sure there are no pebbles), or pouring out honeycomb candy to cool – both instances that also call for parchment paper. Speaking of which….

  6. Kirkland parchment paper – having experimented with a number of the parchment papers on the market, we come back to Costco’s Kirkland brand parchment paper over and over again. It performs very well strength-wise and is not prone to ripping as some other brands are wont to do. As well, because the Kirkland paper comes in a larger-than-average roll, when you rip off a piece, it does not want to curl up quite as tightly as some of its smaller counterparts. That’s not likely to be a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely an added bonus. More important though, and more likely to be a deal-breaker, the large size of the roll (and Costco’s model) tend to mean considerable savings on a per yard basis when you price out Kirkland’s parchment paper as compared to name brands, even (although not always) when purchased through a reseller. Final note: we don’t recommend giving parchment paper by itself as a gift - but it makes a great companion gift to a baking sheet or two (and perhaps a bag of chocolate chips).

Pyrex's 7-cup glass containers and a Zeroll scoop are go-tos when we're making ice cream.

Pyrex’s 7-cup glass containers and a Zeroll scoop are go-tos when we’re making ice cream.
© Little Birdie Me

  1. Zeroll ice cream scoop – this scoop is magical. Actually it’s not, its genius is quite scientific and creditable to a special liquid in the handle that helps transmit the heat of your hand to the scoop part of the scoop, making for an easier and professional looking job of getting your ice cream into a bowl, assuming you’re not scooping pint-to-mouth as has been known to happen {ahem}. The scoops come in various sizes - we opted for the one with the green dot at the end of the handle (the 2.5-oz size), and it scoops the quantity one might expect at an ice cream parlor.

  2. Glass storage containers – when we started making ice cream, we didn’t particularly fancy using plastic containers in the freezer. Similarly, when we began making bulk batches of Bolognese and freezing it up in smaller portions, we wanted to migrate away from reusing plastic containers from store-bought purchases, especially as plastic retains flavors more readily and sometimes stains too. For ice cream, Pyrex’s 7-cup round glass storage dishes were perfect for the 1½ quarts of ice cream our Cuisinart ice cream machine yields, with a bit of room to spare if you want to layer your ice cream with goodies and layer a round of parchment paper (Kirkland paper!) on top to prevent crystallization. For our Bolognese, Snapware’s 1-cup square glass containers is where it’s at. One cup is just about perfect as an individual portion, so you can easily pull the number needed for a given meal. Both sets of containers are easy to clean and have held up well. Moreover, one of our Pyrex containers has done double duty as a small fruit bowl. Side note: for some reason, prices on these containers (especially the Snapware) seem to fluctuate a fair bit so keep an eye out for good deals!

  3. Electronic salt and pepper mills – these are clearly a kitchen luxury, but we’re glad we made the splurge. Our go-to salt and pepper mills, the ones we own and have also gifted to several people, have unfortunately just been discontinued so we can’t link through to them. That said, we found this iBunny mill and it is very similar, to the point where we have given a pair as a gift to a family member. We were a bit surprised that the feature we thought we would use most – the ability to adjust the size of the grind – is the one we use the least. We pretty much always leave our grinders set to the finest setting. Conversely, we were surprised to find that the feature we thought was a bit frivolous – a light at the bottom of the grinder – is actually the one we enjoy the most. It’s not necessary, of course, but it does help us to see more easily how much salt or pepper is actually being dispensed.

  4. Olive oil dispenser and funnel set – we use olive oil a lot and buy in bulk as it’s eminently more cost efficient. That said, we don’t particularly enjoy hefting up a large oil drum every time we need to make dressing or coat our Brussels sprouts for roasting. So, we invested in this olive oil dispenser and it has been a real workhorse. It’s easy to handle and the spout does not leak or drip. All that said, if you don’t use your oil often, it’s best to keep it in a cool, dark place (i.e. not in direct sunlight and not next to the stove) as both will adversely affect the quality of your oil. Final tip: we also splashed out on this pair of funnels and use the smaller one to refill our dispenser. Again, not necessary, but it has saved us the aggravation of accidental oil splashes and spills – and the resulting wastage – as the oil glugs out of the drum.

  5. Timer – we use a timer almost every time we bake or boil. It means we can potter off, glass of wine in hand and totally relax, absorbed in something else, until it’s time to check on our baked goods, our roast, or our spaghetti. If someone you know is prone to get deeply absorbed in whatever they are doing and, for example, always burns the chocolate chip cookies as a result (the horror, the horror!) – or, if that person is a nervous Nellie or anxious Andy by nature, delegating the responsibility of time-tracking to this marvelous little device will allow them to relax. We have tried out several timers and currently have two of these West Bend digital timers which we like for their ease of use and durability (one of them we’ve had for almost 5 years). Side note: a timer is also handy for timing laundry cycles if your gift recipient lives in a building with shared laundry facilities.

  6. Kuhn Rikon peelers – it’s hard for us to imagine a more perfect peeler than our Kuhn Rikon – it’s slightly bendy so it can curve to the shape of the fruit, has a convenient place to alternately rest or apply pressure with our pointer finger, and allows for good hand positioning in relation to the blade, allowing for maximum control. We suspect that more thought and testing went into this little tool than (we hazard to guess) 99.9% of kitchen utensils out there. A big thanks to whoever designed this – she/he/they have made peeling apples, carrots and potatoes eminently more satisfying and blazingly more efficient.

Well, that’s clearly too many things and possibly a tad too impractical to bring to a desert island – where, presumably, timers might actually make you MORE anxious and freezers are non-existent. However, hopefully we’ve managed to convey just how handy we find all of these utensils and instruments. We own an incarnation of all of them and have given just about all of them as gifts ourselves – be it for birthdays, Christmas, or housewarmings. We share them in the hopes that they offer some food (ha!) for thought if you are gifting to a budding chef - and, of course, please don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments section if you have any questions!

Tags: baking, cooking, gifts for her, gifts for him, gifts suitable for anyone, practical gifts, useful gifts


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