Cooking Tips

Stocking Stuffers for the Cook

If you like to cook, you probably have friends or family members who also like to cook. Something for the kitchen might make the perfect gift but what do you get them? Or, what would you like others to give you? In this Cooking Tip, I would like to share with you some of my favorite little gadgets – most of them would make great stocking stuffers.

One item I use in my kitchen almost every day is a bench scraper. This is a photo of mine although there are various other designs. Mine used to have a ruler along the bottom – a very useful bonus. I made the mistake of putting mine in the dishwasher and, voilà, no more ruler. I caution you, therefore, to make sure it is dishwasher safe. It is great to pick up items (such as chopped veggies) from your cutting board, to portion bread dough, to slice soft items (such as cookie dough) or to scrape debris off of your counter. The average price is only $5-$10. Every cook needs one!

Along the same lines are bowl scrapers. Rather than being metal and rigid as the bench scraper, bowl scrapers are plastic and flexible. They are most useful for cleanly scraping all the dough and batter out of your mixing bowl. They can also be used as a counter scraper similar to the bench scraper. They can be found for only about $5.

Rasp graters are the tool of choice for zesting your citrus. You are able to get all of the wonderful essential oils without large pieces of citrus rind. There are many brands but Microplane is the gold standard. These graters are also useful for grating ginger, garlic and nutmeg. They do sell ones labeled specifically for these tasks but a general all-purpose one will work. This photo shows one of those along with one made for grating whole spices. Expect to pay about $15.

Many of us cooks try not to have too may “one use” gadgets taking up space in our drawers. However, if you love cherries, one such uni-tasker is a good cherry pitter. They make a tedious job into something quick and efficient. $10-$15 would be a typical price.

Are you a pro at grating? If so, you may want to pass on this next item. If, like me, you have been known to grate your knuckles on a regular basis, I have a great find that my husband bought for me.  It is a glove that you can wear that protects your fingers from the sharp grater. Mine is well used and only costs about $15.

I am a huge believer in the concept of “mise en place”. In other words, taking the time to get out all of your ingredients and having them ready to go before you start cooking. It might be measuring your spices or dry ingredients or even chopping everything before you start your recipe. To do that, though, you need plenty of little bowls in which to place your ingredients. You can’t have too many of these little guys in your kitchen.

Another uni-tasker is for those of you who do not like separating eggs through your hands. Put this little gadget over a bowl, crack your egg into it and, presto, the whites and yolk are separate. It may sound silly but actually works quite well.

How do you defrost your meat for dinner? Do you remember to take it out the night before and let it sit properly in the refrigerator so it is perfect when you need to start cooking? Or, are you needing to defrost something so you can have dinner on the table in an hour? I suspect many of us find ourselves in that latter category. That is where the microwave often comes into play. However, the microwave can result in uneven defrosting and even some unintended cooking of the meat. This next item was a gift to me from my wonderful mother-in-law and I must say it is amazing and I love it. It is called a defrosting tray and, although, not as quick as the microwave, it will defrost that chicken breast or steak in a very short time and the result is a totally defrosted item without any accidental cooking. There are many brands out there with most of them ranging from $10-$30.

My last two suggestions are a little higher on the price range but well worth it. If you are a baker and have not tried baking with weight rather than volume, you really should. An easy-to-use and accurate kitchen scale is a must for serious bakers. I have two – one I use at home and one is portable so I can use it when I am teaching cooking classes at a location that does not have a scale. There are too many different scales out there to mention but one of the most highly rated is Oxo’s Good Grip scale for about $50.

Finally, every serious cook needs an accurate digital food thermometer. It is essential for ensuring your meat is cooked thoroughly but not over-done. It is also great for testing when your homemade bread is ready to come out of the oven. Making caramels, brittle or toffee is very difficult without one. Although on the pricer side ($80-$100), Thermapen is one of the absolute best. It is fast and extremely accurate. The company is a small business located in Utah and they have outstanding customer service.

I have more favorite gadgets such as my potato ricer, my adjustable measuring cups and poultry shears, but these will give you a great start in shopping for someone else or putting on your own list for the Santa in your life. If you have a favorite gadget, let me know and I will share your ideas with others.