Got a foodie on your list this holiday season, but don’t know what goodies to give? Well, being food-lovers ourselves, we happen to have a few gift ideas hidden in our hot mitts which we’ll happily share. T’is the season to share and share alike, right?! Just as Santa bounds up the chimney, there’s bound to be something on this list that will check off someone on your list.
The Spice House Gift Selections
Seasonings Greetings! Wanna spice up someone’s life? The Spice House in Evanston, IL, established in 1957, has maintained a reputation as one of the country’s most respected purveyors of the highest quality herbs and spices representing cuisines from around the world. Mike and I are so lucky to be able to pop down to The Spice House in no thyme, and frequently we do just that. We’ve been known to take a little “research trip” to The Spice House, even if we don’t necessarily need anything, just to experience the heady aromas that envelop you when you open the front door. And we’ve never left empty-handed.
While you may not be able to savor the experience first-hand, you can still share the wealth by giving one of The Spice House’s many gift boxes this holiday season. The gift of herbs and spices is the perfect present for anyone who likes to cook, and The Spice House offers 28 different hand-selected combinations — including Baker’s Extracts, Butcher’s Rubs, Fisherman’s Seasonings, ‘Some Like It Hot,’ and Mexican, Italian and Middle Eastern Flavors. Or you can create your own personalized collection from their vast inventory. Prices range from $27-$63 and each is beautifully packaged in a gift box with bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and whole nutmegs. The Spice House Gift Boxes
Jamie Oliver Mortar & Pestle
Jamie Oliver knows a thing or two about cooking, and one thing he knows for sure is that sometimes nothing can replace the distinct flavor of freshly ground herbs and spices. Jamie’s 6″ granite mortar is smooth on the outside and rough on the inside to provide ideal friction for crushing and grinding. Mike and I use ours all the time for macerating fennel, cardamom and mustard seeds, as well as a variety of other fresh and dried ingredients. Available for $29.99 at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Jamie Oliver Mortar & Pestle
Baby, it’s cold outside! We’re craving some grilled grub, but who wants to venture out into the winter chill to man the grill? Don’t worry, now no one has to draw the short straw. This handy indoor stove-top grill turns out delicious and healthy grilled foods without ever stepping outside. Simply place it directly on top of your gas burner and you’re halfway there. Its clever 2-piece design — with non-stick vented cooktop and stainless steel drip pan — allows food to cook evenly and unwanted fat to drip into the chamber below. Fill the drip pan with water, wine or your favorite marinade to infuse your food with added flavor. The moist heat emanating from below means that your grilled goodies won’t dry out. We use our stove-top grill almost daily, year round. And since it’s not dry heat, it makes the very best grilled veggies, especially asparagus, and perfectly juicy shrimp. It’s also great for quickly heating up tortillas, pitas and naan. Available for $25 from Amazon. Stove-Top Indoor Grill
Hands-free Soap Dispenser
Sticky, greasy, messy hands are a chef’s occupational hazard. But cooking just isn’t cooking if you aren’t getting your hands a little dirty! Getting them clean again is the tricky part. Enter the superhuman touch-free soap dispenser and…voila! No more picking up the dish soap with slippery mitts…just hold your hand under the touch-free sensor and soap is automatically dispensed right into your palm. Look, Ma, clean hands! From $49.99 at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Touch-free Soap Dispenser
Pampered Chef Mix ‘N Chop
The Pampered Chef site is a veritable treasure trove of invaluable cooking items for home chefs. From mandolines and microplanes to spiralizers and spoonulas, there’s something for everyone. But my very favorite PC item is the handy dandy Mix ‘N Chop utensil which I haven’t seen anywhere else. With its unique five-blade pinwheel, the Mix ‘N Chop is perfect for chopping and separating ground meats, scrambled eggs and tomato sauces, as well as dry goods, such as pie crusts and crumble toppings. And the nylon material is easy to clean and safe to use with nonstick cookware. This $12.00 utensil is priceless! Pampered Chef Mix ‘N Chop
Going back thousands of years, salt is probably the most basic and essential cooking ingredient and inherent to almost every recipe, including many baked goods. So, it goes without saying that it should be close at hand at all times. Most professional chefs will tell you that they only cook with kosher salt, but there are multitudes of different salt choices, from black to pink and a variety of flavor-infused craft salts, including black truffle, pinot noir and even pesto! Regardless of which salt floats your boat, every cook should have a salt cellar within reach. Sur La Table has a nice selection of salt cellars, such as their Bamboo Double Salt Keeper ($24.95) which holds two varieties and their lovely Marble Salt Keeper with Acacia Lid ($30).
And speaking of hands, sometimes cooks don’t have two free hands to manipulate the pepper grinder. In those cases, this compact single-handed pepper mill is a must! With just a few pumps of the thumb, the mini-grinder dispenses freshly ground pepper before you can say, “Bless you.” Fletcher’s Hand-held Pepper Mill $24.95 at Sur La Table.
Batter up with this 3-Piece Batter Spoon Set. The various sizes are cleverly designed to fill jumbo, standard and mini size baking cups to 2/3 full every time. The flexible edge helps scrape batter from your bowl and the egg-shape design makes pouring easy and mess-free. I use mine for making pancakes, as well. $5.99 at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
A food processor is an invaluable tool, but there are times when a food processor is just too big and too bulky for small jobs, like chopping herbs, making salsas, or dicing just a couple of shallots. Why bring out the big guns when you only need a water pistol? Again and again, I find that the Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus is my go-to kitchen tool. It’s lightweight, easy-to-clean and can manage almost any small job with ease. Available in 3-cup ($29.99) and 4-cup ($39.99) sizes from Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Adjustable Measuring Beaker
How do you get sticky ingredients, like peanut butter, honey, cream cheese and mayo, out of the measuring cup? That’s always a sticky wicket. But Good Grips has a simple solution! This brilliant measuring cup will get you out of any sticky situation. The adjustable 2-cup beaker features a sleek rubber gasket that acts like a squeegee to press out every bit of the ingredient cleanly and precisely. Available for $11.95 at Sur La Table. Adjustable Measuring Beaker
Cooking publications, with their trendy recipes, clever tips, and food porn images, act as inspiration for many home chefs. Searching for recipes online is fun, but there’s nothing quite like flipping through the glossy pages of a colorful magazine! This year, why not surprise your BFF, sister/brother or loved one with an annual subscription to one of the many amazing magazines available for home delivery? It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Here are a few incredible publications that I highly recommend:
Cook’s Illustrated is absolutely one of the very best cooking publications and a must-have for any home chef. In addition to wonderful recipes, it also offers in-depth explanations of cooking methods, products, ingredients and much more. This has been my favorite for years and is not sold on most newsstands.
Si preferisce italiano? The stunningly beautiful La Cucina Italiana will wow any recipient with its gorgeous photography and deliziose ricette (aka delicious recipes). Only one caveat — reading said magazine may result in an overwhelming urge to travel to Italy, so buyer beware!
Saveur is another wonderfully inspiring magazine featuring extensive food, drink, travel, style and home ideas from around the world.
If you’ve ever watched Rachel Ray or any other TV chef prepare a dish, you know that they always have their ingredients pre-measured and separated into mini-prep bowls, ready to grab as needed. Home cooks would be wise to take a page out of their cookbook and learn from the pros. Sur La Table offers a set of 6 tempered glass 1-cup bowls that are dishwasher-, freezer-, microwave- and oven-safe. They’re the perfect containers for melting butter, baking mini-cakes, storing prepared ingredients or leftovers and so much more. I can’t live without my favorite, multi-purpose prep bowls! 1-cup Prep Bowl Set, $22.00 at Sur La Table.
Decorative Ice Cube Trays
Craft cocktails are definitely a thing right now, and decorative ice cubes can make an old-fashioned look new again. On a recent visit to Mexico, we applauded the resort’s ice cube creativity — Diet Coke ice cubes accompanied a can of Diet Coke at lunch; ice cubes peppered with slices of jalapeno gave extra heat to the spicy margaritas on the rocks; and single, oversized cubes added a classy touch to nightcaps. Whether you prefer flavored cubes, odd-shaped cubes or one oversized ice orb, there are loads of fun ice cube trays to play around with. Bed, Bath & Beyond has an extensive selection of interesting and clever ice cube trays, from basic geometric shapes to chill penguins, mustachioed men and cheeky emojis.
Or you can opt for the Quench Ice Box ($19.99) with 6 assorted silicone ice cube trays to create giant cubes, ice balls, small cocktail squares or cracked ice.
Garlic soup, you say? Nope, silly, get your head together, I’m talking garlic soap! The lucky recipient won’t make a stink if they find this bauble in their stocking, as I did last year. I thought Santa had lost his marbles when he gave me a metal bar of soap. But once I used it, I was a believer! Just rub hands with this stainless steel bar to naturally remove unpleasant odors such as fish, onion and garlic. It may seem like magic, but it’s just chemistry—volatile compounds that cause unpleasant odors bond to the stainless steel, leaving your hands smelling clean. It works like a dream!! $10.00 at Sur La Table.
This is a great gift for the home cook who has it all, or so they think. Once they toss a stir-fry together in this electric wok, they’ll wonder how they ever lived without it! It heats up quickly, maintains a constant temperature (up to 425 degrees), and the heat is distributed all the way up the sides so food cooks evenly throughout. The non-stick surface means less oil is necessary, and it’s a cinch to clean. $129.95 at Williams-Sonoma.
Babycakes Cake Pop Maker
I wouldn’t normally promote something as kitschy as this, but I’m making an exception because I think it makes a great gift for a niece or nephew, a grandparent or anyone who just wants an excuse to share an enjoyable experience with a youngster who’s learning to cook. My college-age daughter got this Babycakes Multi-Treat Baker ($48) for her younger sister’s birthday, and we recently spent an afternoon together making 3 dozen cake pops for a cookie exchange. And, let me tell you, it was a lot of fun!! This cleverly designed “easy bake oven” turns out perfect little cake balls in a jiffy. It’s simple to use and a cinch to clean. And if that’s not enough, it also has two additional sets of interchangeable, nonstick baking plates to make mini donuts or mini muffins/cupcakes. Time to get (cake)popping and get creative!
(A cakepop-only version is available for $35 at Amazon.)