Finding the perfect gift, for anyone, is difficult. There are so many factors to consider. For me, it’s not so much about how much I spend, but about pinpointing that one gift that I think the recipient can no longer live without. Sometimes, it’s about finding that one item that will change the way they live their everyday lives. Other times, it’s just a plain old shot in the dark. I love it when the people in my life begin to be or become more interested in cooking and baking. These are, after all, my domains. I’m particularly proud of a gift ensemble I put together for my sister (don’t worry…this isn’t a spoiler for her…we already exchanged gifts).
She has really started to explore and enjoy cooking. This tends to happen when you’re a senior in college and have had your fill of dining hall delights. It has been fun to hear her talk about what she’s cooking for herself and her friends. I think I even heard that moment when she realized that cooking good, quality food really does make you feel good. She may or may not have also proclaimed herself to be Emeril, but that’s a delusion we’ll just move beyond in the spirit of sisterhood.
For my sister, I wanted to give her something that would help encourage her to continue getting in the kitchen and cooking those delicious and nourishing meals, so I put together a gift grouping that included: a good knife, a knife sharpener, a cookbook with lots of photos of the finished dishes, and a gift card for the grocery store that is in her college town.
The moral here…the cookbook is a great gift. BUT sometimes cookbooks can be overwhelming because they call for tools and ingredients we don’t always have or know how to use. If you pair the cookbook with something that will help you create one or more of the recipes in the book, it makes the book less overwhelming and it makes the cook that much more excited to crack open that cookbook and make you some food!
In this post, my goal is to give you some ideas that could pair with cookbooks, or could stand alone as great gifts for any cook or baker at any level. Some of these would be splendid wrapped up and placed under the tree, while others would make fantastic stocking stuffers. Most of them are inexpensive, and for the ones that aren’t, I’ll tell you where to find cheaper versions of the ones I show where possible.
Without further adieu…
Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Bean Paste
In previous posts, I’ve stressed the importance of using the “good stuff”. This is one example where the good stuff matters. Anyone who bakes uses vanilla extract, and we often buy whatever our grocery store carries. Imitation vanilla is used as is your run-of-the-mill real vanilla extract, sold by the prominent spice companies. The real extract works in a pinch, but this stuff – the good stuff – is my hands-down choice every time. The vanilla flavor is much more rich and I really do notice a difference in the flavor of my baked goods, especially when the vanilla is intended to be a prominent flavor. I use the vanilla extract for almost everything in my baking world…cookies, cakes, etc. I use the vanilla bean paste, however, when you not only want to taste the vanilla flavor, but you also want to see the flecks of vanilla bean throughout…homemade marshmallows, frostings, etc. I use the Nielsson Massey brand and it’s available through many online retailers, as well as in Williams Sonoma stores, BUT my secret is that I most often find it at a TJ Maxx or Marshalls for a much cheaper price.
Spatulas and Spoonulas
I use these utensils every single day. As you can see, most of mine are a highly recognizable orange color that is associated with a popular daytime television host and woman of Food Network fame. Although I don’t think you have to buy that particular brand, it is the brand I’ve come to like the most. I love that my spatulas are flexible and that the spoonulas have sturdy handles. There are lots of great brands out there. Paired with a utensil crock, a variety of sizes of spatulas and spoonulas would make a great gift for the holidays, a housewarming, or for an engagement or wedding.
I also use these nearly every day, and once you have a good set, you will too. I prefer OXO (available at Bed Bath and Beyond and online at many retailers) because they lock and unlock quickly and easily and the heads are nylon, so your cookware is protected from scratching. I have these in two sizes (9 and 12 inch lengths) and use them for both cooking (turning food, picking up pastas) and for tossing salads.
A Good Knife and a Sharpener
I really believe that you can’t have one without the other here. With knives, it’s not always so much about the brand of knife – mine are OXO and Furi by Rachael Ray – but how it feels in your hand. I have small hands, tiny actually, so I need a knife with a short handle so that I feel like I have control. The handle should rest comfortable in your hand and it should be just big enough so you can control the knife with only one hand. You can buy either a Santoku (my preference) or a traditional chef’s knife (longer blade, harder for my tiny hands to control). I recommend an 8 in. knife.
It is really important to keep your knife blades sharp. I, for one, am scared to death of the sharpening rods that often come with a knife set. Instead, I use a sharpener that sits on the counter and allows me to drag my knife through it. The sharpening rods work well if you have been taught how to use them. If you haven’t, you run the risk of warping your blade and injuring yourself. My sharpener is also a Furi product, but every major knife manufacturer makes a version of this one. Some are even electric, which I think is a bit of an overkill, but that’s just my humble opinion!
Silpat Baking Mat and Sheet Pans
I love Silpat! I’ve written about these mats frequently and will continue to do so. These baking mats take the place of parchment paper and really do make a difference in the way your cookies bake. It’s also reusable and it fits your pan every single time. One of the major downfalls of parchment, for me, is that I never get the sheet to be the right size for the pan I’m using. Silpat mats fit a 12×17 sheet pan, and they solve that very problem. Nothing sticks to these baking mats, and for me, that makes them a winner! I buy my Silpat from Bed Bath & Beyond and my sheet pans are from the Calphalon line sold in Target stores.
For those of you who have loved ones with a KitchenAid stand mixer, this improvement on the original paddle attachment is a must have. The beater blade is fitted with silicone wings that scrape your mixer bowl while it mixes your ingredients. Scraping the bowl may not seem like a big deal, but this blade picks up everything from the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl and incorporates it evenly every single time. I’ve used my mixer without it, but I would be lost and very, very sad without my precious Beater Blade. The Beater Blade can be found online, and if you go to the Beater Blade website, you can search for retail locations near you.
One Last Note…
Recently, I decided to have some business cards printed with my blog name and address on the front, and my contact information on the back. I find myself telling people, more and more often, that I have a blog and getting requests for the web address, so this seemed like an easy way to get my name out there. I was thinking that if any of you out there would like one – or a few to hand out to friends, you could let me know and I can send some to you via snail mail. Just send me a request along with your mailing address via my email…email@example.com.
Here’s a preview of the front of the card…