When Santa came to my house as a child, my siblings and I would line up, youngest to oldest in the hallway leading to the family room, unable to see the toys until given the official OK from our sleepy parents. I, the youngest, would be in the lead, and would tiptoe forward in anticipation, one little step at a time, stretching out the suspense until I could take it no more and finally would rush around the corner to see the piles of toys. Santa didn’t wrap presents in our house; we would be immediately greeted by the toys of our dreams. I clearly remember the time I found my Little Tikes kitchen set. It was taller than me and didn’t seem like a toy but like my own real little kitchen.
Of course, I now know why the youngest took the lead – my big brother and sister knew there was no Santa. They put on a good show.
Now that I’m pushing 30, I feel like Santa is tiptoeing down the hall, sneaking up on me. How am I supposed to finish December’s work and year-end accounting and decorate the house and bake cookies and buy thoughtful presents for everyone?
Christmas still has its magic, though. Mom and I have our little projects together. We trim a fake tree with the tackiest decorations we can find. It’s ghetto-fab meets Dollar General. Those ornaments are so full of Chinese lead paint that our Tannenbaum is probably (definitely) a health hazard. The lights even blink erratically. I’ve suggested adding some pine tree car air fresheners to push us over the top.
Gift giving, too, has its moments. Christmas is overly commercial and may fuel some of our worst materialistic tendencies, but thinking deeply about what a loved one might want or find useful reminds us of our connections to each other. Sometimes we even learn more about others just by asking about their wish lists– I didn’t know my nephew liked to draw until I heard that he wanted art supplies.
Still, the pressure is on to shop for everyone, do it thoughtfully, and manage to finish in time.
This time of year I always compile a list of great gifts for cooks, to share with my customers who might need some help shopping. I pick these items for their quality and usability. Some might seem boring, like sheet pans and parchment paper, but a serious home baker will appreciate the genuine usefulness of these items far more than the latest gadget.
(FYI: I receive no compensation of any sort to recommend these items. These are tools that I actually use.)
Vollrath baking sheets 13×18.The industry standard.Will not warp (no bending when it gets hot in the oven or cold on a counter.).Will last a lifetime. Will not have hot spots that burn.And, as a bonus, will fit the parchment paper listed below.Even if someone has a baking sheet already, having a number of them is quite useful for making multiple batches of cookies, etc.
Pre-cut parchment paper.To fit the Vollrath pans.Most grocery stores only carry parchment that comes on a roll, which is a pain to cut to size.These are so easy to use since they fit the pans perfectly and lie flat.A home baker will love this.Also available in larger quantities (and lower price per sheet) at local restaurant supply stores.
Granite French-style rolling pin for pastry.Granite can be pre-chilled, which helps keep the butter in the pastry cold. The heavy weight also helps reduce the amount of muscle power needed.
Silicone pastry rolling mat.Great for rolling pastry, kneading bread, etc.Nothing will stick to it.Eliminates the fear of a pie crust being ruined when it sticks to the counter.
Granite mortar and pestle.The granite gives it weight, which is especially good for cracking whole spices.Essential for Asian cooking where aromatic ingredients are often crushed into a paste.Also great for making salad dressings with herbs, garlic, ginger, or spices.
Cherry Pitter.Most gadgets are for tasks better done with a knife, but this is an exception.There is no quicker way to pit fresh cherries. It’s also really fun to use.
8” Mighty Santoku MAC knife. Item # MSK-60 and Rollsharp Sharpener # SR-2. Fantastic quality for the price.If you use the recommended ceramic roller sharpener, this knife will stay razor sharp for years with very little effort.A perfect all-purpose knife.I use this knife for 95% of my work in the kitchen.
Fun Spices, Flavorings, and Foods:
Smoked Paprika. Paprika’s sensual Spanish side.Adds huge flavor; a little goes a long way. Makes a great spice rub for meats and vegetables.
Porcini powder.Can be used as an easy rub for steaks.A great addition to cream sauces or soups.
Smoked Sea Salt. Perfect for people who use any method of indoor grilling. Imparts a natural smoky flavor to meats, vegetables, etc.
Real Vanilla Beans.An expensive item that is prized for making the best custards, puddings, and ice cream. This is the kind of thing that many people won’t splurge on to buy for themselves.Good news:a little goes a long way.
Bacon-Of-The-Month from The Grateful Palate.My husband got me this last year and it’s been fabulous.Good clean, pork flavors with natural smoke from small producers.Varying cuts of pork and different cures.Perfect gift for a BLT lover.
Any cookbook by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.These books are coffee-table gorgeous and really fun to read. My favorite cookbooks of all.Instant inspiration.
The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidell. It’s an encyclopedia of meat that teaches the basics of cuts, grades, and cooking methods.It also includes a good number of recipes but its real value is as a handy reference for novices and pros alike.
The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider. Full of fun ideas that stress flexibility in the kitchen without being intimidating.Good for novices or experienced cooks.