Great gifts for the home chef

    It’s the season of gift-giving and I’ve always considered kitchen gifts ideal because the recipient may repay me by making something delicious. I sent out a call to my chef and foodie friends for their thoughts on what tools are indispensable for the home cook.

    I received a lot of suggestions. Many of the suggestions I got were twists on the tried and true kitchen essentials.  Terry Berch, owner of London Grill in Fairmount said, “When I am ‘on the road’ I always grab a cutting board, a good knife, tongs, good oil, salt and pepper (mills) all wrapped in a couple of good bar rags.”

    With the basics in mind, here are my suggestions:

    A good chef’s knife

    Spend the big bucks here for high quality.  Best to give this as a gift certificate so the cook in question can go to the store and give it a test drive to see what weight and balance feels best. Ideally go to a store that is in the business of selling kitchen wares and has a knowledgeable staff to walk you through the advantages and disadvantages of various makes, metals and grips.  At Kitchen Kapers in Chestnut Hill, manager Melissa Fendelman and her staff were able to explain the differences between various kinds of knives and make suggestions to suit different price ranges.

    Once you’ve given a chef’s knife future gifts might include a paring knife and a boning knife. Don’t think they have to come from the same manufacturer and avoid those sets that come with a wooden holder. Different knives do very different tasks so the best paring knife might not be made by the same company that makes the best serrated knife. Tongs

    On her passion for tongs, Terry Berch said, “Tongs are also what I buy everyone whose kitchen I cook in”. These simple stainless pinchers will get you out of many a culinary pinch. You can use them to lift items out of boiling liquid, grab hot pans, easily pile pasta on a plate or turn a piece of meat in a hot saute pan without piercing it and losing good juices.  Tongs are inexpensive so get a pair for yourself, too.Pans

     A good cast iron enamel dutch oven is a must. It’ll do everything from the best roast chicken to slow-cooked beans and tender roasts.

    If you can only have one pan, I say a flat-bottom carbon-steel wok with a lid. It’s good for all manner of things other than stir-frying – from frying bacon to making omelets and even popping popcorn. It’s a great addition for a small starter kitchen.

    Check out the video below for a stir fry recipe and and some tips on how to use a wok from chef Grace Young.

     An assortment of microplanes

    A microplane looks a bit like a woodworking rasp that you may have seen in a hardware store – long and narrow with a handle grip on the top. Box graters can be tricky to hold and grate at the same time. The boxy shape makes it almost inevitable that your knuckles will eventually come into contact with the grater.

    The microplane makes it easier to effectively grate anything from lemon zest to nutmeg, from cabbage to hard cheese.  They are unlikely to skin your knuckles and easy to store in a drawer.  Microplanes are extremely efficient, and once you have used one, you’ll never go back.

    Immersion blender

    While this might not seem essential, once you have one in your kitchen you won’t want to do without it.  You can cream soups without removing the contents from the pan, smooth out gravies or make a quick smoothie.

     A few of my foodie friends  also recommended an iPod to make the work go quickly and a bottle of cooking wine. And let’s be clear, that would be wine for the cook. I would not be unhappy to find either of those under my tree or in my kitchen. 


    Lari Robling is author of several cook books and a producer with WHYY’s FIT series on healthy food.  Click here to listen to her audio stories.

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