‘Tis the season! For love, laughter, family, friends, and of course the gifts. Here is my list of the best kitchen related gifts for the beginner chef. These are my personal favorites, the staples in my kitchen that I won’t cook without. Once you try them, I’m sure they will become yours as well.
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Everyone knows a beginner chef. Someone who knows the basics and wants to expand their culinary expertise but hasn’t had the guidance or tools to actually do it. Perhaps they are just starting out – they have that boiling water thing down, but want to know how to make mac n’ cheese from scratch instead of a box. Perhaps they are on their own for the first time in a long while – they remember the basics but now are responsible for getting dinner on the table, and take-out will no longer cut it. Perhaps they have been putting it off but have made it their New Year’s resolution to learn to cook at home from scratch. If you know, or are, one of these people, the gifts in this guide are for you. No, it doesn’t cover everything and it won’t fully stock your kitchen, but combine it with the items found in my Thanksgiving Cookware post and you will be pretty much set!
The gifts you find on this list will provide you with the right tools to get the job done in a timely manner. Nothing super fancy, and no gadgets that serve a single purpose but spend most of their time in the drawer or cabinet – like bread machines or ice cream makers. These are the gifts that make cooking fun and cleaning up fast, the gifts that can make anyone fall in love with their kitchen for the first time or for the hundredth time.
1. A good quality chef’s knife. Always start with a good quality chef’s knife. My favorite is Cutco’s 7 5/8″ petite chef. This knife is ergonomically designed to fit comfortably in your hand, with the right amount of weight to make repeated use easier. You can see their entire line here, but starting out you really only need one versatile knife. I have 6 of their knives and this is the one I will constantly use and wash during the preparation of a meal. Make sure you get it professionally sharpened once a year and pick up a sharpening steel to hone the edge as needed and this will become a gift that can last a very long time.
2. Bamboo cutting boards. I have 4 of these in various sizes including 2 extra large ones, a medium one with the state of California etched into it, and a small one. I use the largest ones for everything. There is plenty of room to chop multiple ingredients and move things around the kitchen easily. They also look beautiful for presentation of everything from cheese boards to breads. The bamboo is easier on your knife blades than plastic or traditional hardwood and safer than using glass cutting boards.
3. An extra-large mixing bowl. The only thing little bowls are good for is making a big mess. Prep work is much quicker if you don’t spend half of your time trying to keep the food in the bowl where it belongs. When I received my first extra large mixing bowl, my initial thought was: “when am I ever going to need this?” I quickly learned that the answer is: “all the time.” My extra large bowl is my go to for whipping up all kinds of batters, doughs, marinades, salads, and saucing pastas. It’s worth it, even if it takes a bit of effort to find a place to store it. (I’d recommend the top of the fridge, covered with a tea towel.)
4. A cast iron skillet. If I could only have one skillet, it would be a 10″ cast iron skillet. They go from stove top to oven in the blink of an eye and can even handle the high heat of the grill. Yes, they take specialized care (minimal soap, don’t scrub, make sure to occasionally season) but if treated correctly they can function as a non-stick skillet. Use them for cornbread, steak, pork chops, pizza, the list goes on and on. Best part: this gift can become an heirloom to pass on to your children’s children if properly care is taken.
5. Kuhn Rikon Y-Peeler. These are the absolute best peelers I have ever experienced. The first time I touched one was at the Culinary Institute of America during a cooking class. I was so impressed that I bought one before leaving the building. At less than $8 for a pack of three, they are cheap to replace when they dull. A word of warning, the blade is made of carbon steel, so you must hand wash it and dry it immediately to prevent rusting.
6. An immersion/hand blender. When it comes to pureeing soups, sauces, and such, using a hand blender makes a world of difference. You don’t have to cool the food before processing and you can do it in one large batch saving you the work of cleaning the blender and additional bowls. The one I have includes a chopper attachment that makes quick work of hummus, salad dressings, and all kinds of dips. This blender makes creating from scratch easy enough for a weeknight. In addition to the one I own, I have experience with this one and this one as well.
7. A microplane. I resisted getting a microplane for way too long. At less than $13 I have no excuse for waiting, but wow has it made a difference. This tool makes quick work of hard cheeses, citrus zests, nutmeg, ginger, garlic, onion, and more. If you have someone in your family that doesn’t like the texture of onion or garlic, simply grate it before adding. You get all the aromatic benefits without the evidence. When making lemon anything (chicken, muffins, sorbet, salmon, pasta, etc) add a bit of lemon zest to take the flavor to a new level. It’s an easy tool to use, but be careful – I caught my knuckles with it the first couple times and don’t want you or your loved ones to do the same.
8. Digital meat thermometer. The Thermapen by Thermoworks is above and beyond the best digital meat thermometer you will find. It reads faster (3 seconds) and more accurately than anything else on the market. It’s also the reason that so many knock-offs exist. The Thermapen’s younger sister, the Thermopop, reads a bit slower (6 seconds) but with the backlight display that rotates for easy read it’s a great option for the home chef. I wouldn’t mind if someone put a new one of these in my stocking this year.
9. Classic kitchen scale. Most recipes written for the US market are tailored to volume measurements instead of weight measurements, but if you are outside of the US having a scale is as necessary as having measuring cups. Even in the US, many recipes that include meats and vegetables list the weight with a cup estimate. If you chop to a different size than the recipe creator your weight measurement won’t equate, which can really throw off your results. The easiest thing to do is check the weight, especially while you are still learning what is what in the kitchen.
10. KitchenAid Mixer. No kitchen gift list would be complete without a KitchenAid Mixer, especially at the holidays. KitchenAid has set the standard for mixers and to this day I haven’t seen a competitor that has outdone them. It makes quick work of doughs, cakes, cookies, potatoes, and so much more. It comes in nearly 40 different colors, so find one that matches your decor to add art and ease to your kitchen. The price on a KitchenAid cannot be beat during the holidays – if you have been curious now is the time of year to buy one of these – even if it’s a gift for yourself.
Bonus: The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit. This book is a new addition to my kitchen – thank you Liz! It’s by an English author so some of the ingredients are called by different names, like coriander leaves instead of cilantro and aubergine instead of eggplant, but I already see it being an invaluable resource in my recipe development. It is an amazing resource for people that want to learn to cook from scratch instead of learning to just follow a recipe. It allows you to look up a main ingredient and find the best complimentary flavors for your dish. By knowing what flavors work well together, you can take a basic recipe and completely change the flavor profiles for an entire new dish. I can’t believe that I haven’t come across something like this before but in just a couple of days and it’s already earned it’s spot in my kitchen next to the recipe books.
Double Bonus: Bourbon Caramel Sauce. Having the proper tools to cook is a great first step, but all chefs starting out need good recipes to follow. This bourbon caramel sauce is not only an easy recipe for venturing into the world of sweets, it’s also a fun homemade gift to give. You may have seen it featured in either the apple crumble or cinnamon roll recipes we did back in September, but it’s good enough that it needs the recipe spotlight of it’s own. Whip up a batch, pour it into pretty glass jars and tie a ribbon around it for a pretty homemade gift. Don’t forget to attach a copy of the recipe or a link back to the site. This time of year I love to put it in my espresso for a sweet treat.
Do you own any of the gifts in this guide? What is your most loved item in the kitchen? Let me know in the comments below!
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Bourbon Caramel Sauce
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tsp bourbon or vanilla
- 1/2 tsp salt
- In a small sauce pan over medium heat, melt 1/2 cup of butter until foamy.
- Add in 1 cup of brown sugar and continue to cook 3 - 5 minutes or until tiny bubbles form around the edge of the pan.
- Stir in cream, 1/2 tsp salt, and bourbon or vanilla and continue to cook over medium heat.
- Mixture will bubble up and expand. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
- Once the mixture has tripled in size remove from heat and allow to cool slightly in the pan.