Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gift Guide 2010

Cheap Eat Challenge Count Down: 21 Days

Does this gingerbread man pepper shaker look a little too happy? I think it's because he just got a new instant read thermometer.

Weirdly, it feels a little pompous to make a gift guide. After all, different people need/want different gadgets in their cheapskate kitchens. However, there are a few things I feel strongly about (shocker). Turn your nose up at them if you will, but they've been really great for me in the kitchen.


1. Instant Read Thermometer. I've said it before. I'll say it again. It opens the door for the perfect (or nearly) turkey, cheesecake, and candies. These are foods we often overcook for fear of poisoning ourselves or because it's difficult to know when exactly the soft ball stage is until we've passed it. The instant read thermometer allows us to test foods with meat or eggs so they don't have to cook eternally "just to be safe" and it allows you to get a quick reading on candies, syrups, and that sort of thing.

2. Food Scale. My dad got me this last year for Christmas and I'm surprised how much I've used it. Probably usually once a week. I wanted it because I was tired of guessing how much a pound of [insert vegetable name here] was and it's come in super handy in that realm. It also makes for more accuracy in measuring chocolate and cheese. If you have weights for all your ingredients in a recipe you can use it to just throw stuff into a bowl and mix. It's also served me in seeing how much a homemade food has come out weighing versus a store bought counterpart, which helps the anal among us with price comparison. It helps with food sharing--you and your friend want to go in on an order of fancy cheese so you weigh it out to keep it honest. I imagine it'd come in extremely handy if you were dieting or just trying to get a sense of what a "portion" was supposed to look like.

3. Wooden spoons. I love mixing by hand. I love the connection with my food--watching it come together, change texture, change color. I love how it feels for my body to be part of my cooking. Also, it's a lot easier to keep from overmixing (and thereby making them tough) many baked goods (like muffins or biscuits or breakfast cookies). Also, I hate getting out a big device and then having to clean it and put it away, so if I can get away with a spoon, I do. Now--why I prefer a wooden spoon over a firm plastic one, I cannot say. They're more rustic, inexpensive to replace and if you wash them well and hot, I see no reason to be concerned about bacteria. I guess I like how they feel in my hand and look in my bowl. But whichever you use, wooden or plastic, give hand-mixing a try. You might find it a little addicting. And the kitchen fairies who clean your kitchen after you're done cooking will thank you to. (What? You don't have kitchen fairies. Unfortunately, neither does Amazon.)

4. Cast Iron Skillet. I recommend a 12-inch to begin with. Cast iron gives a certain color and flavor to food. And that color and flavor is almost always better (perfectly browned hashbrowns, tender ribeye steak). You can heat it crazy hot and like a Dutch oven, it can be used on the stove and in the oven. A well-seasoned pan is not difficult to clean. And if a robber ever comes to your home, you won't need a baseball bat.

5.Whisk. I use it all the time to mix my dry ingredients up, for eggs, for lots and lots of stuff. The ones made with silicone seem nifty-o to me. But maybe I'll die someday of cancer.

6. Flat whisk. So you most likely have a whisk, but do you have a flat whisk. I would never have known how useful these could be if I didn't have a great college friend give me one for my bridal shower. I use mine several times a week. It's great for mixing puddings, hot chocolate, anything in a mug or cup, white sauces, and non-chunky soups. It incorporates everything quickly and gets stuff from the edges of a pot. (By the way, mine is from Pampered Chef, so my recommendation from Amazon is on the picture only--but that's just how it should look.)

7. Blender. The best are a BlendTec or Vitamix. And, frankly, they should be because they cost as much or more than a new appliance. However, if you don't get one of those, I recommend you go for something lower end and basic. The expensive-ish ones in the middle don't do the job or have the guarantee the BlendTec or Vitamix do, but they'll still cost you a pretty penny. Mine is lower end and getting old and it does just fine for my needs, which include lots of smoothies, lots of creamy soups, lots of baby purees. and the occasional bread crumb or ground oats.

8. A little blender. My in-laws passed one down to me just one month ago and I have used it almost daily. They are the smoothie-lovers best friend. And they're great when you need to puree or blend just a little bit (the big ones won't be able to do a little job. I've heard Magic Bullets are awesome, but have a very humble Hamilton Beach and it does the job for me.

8. Food Processor. Again, I didn't realize how much I'd use mine. They can save you money because you can use them for pureeing, for grating cheeses (which cost more pre-grated) and for making things like pie crust that will cost more pre-made and that are sometimes intimidating or time consuning to make by hand. Some people use them for smoothies or to make cookies and the like, but I haven't gotten to that point yet. (Mine is a very humble Black and Decker food processor that I couldn't find on Amazon, but that was cheap and does the job I need just fine.)

9. Timer. It'll save some grief. 'nough said.

10. Cake holder. You know I love my cakes. It can be pretty or practical as long as it seals the air out and keeps your cake fresh. I got mine at a yard sale, so I'm linking to ones that look good, but I can't personally vouch for.

11. Ramekins. You might find yourself addicted. Especially if you like to enjoy a little treat here or there or if you, like me, like to experiement with different flavorings in things by putting them in six different cups. For the non-anal, they're perfect as serving dishes, or for puddings, creme brulee, mini cakes, mini crisps, mini pies, mini everythings. I like mini treats. Or make a big cookie in them and serve with a plop of ice cream. I love these things.

12. A good knife. I use Cutco knives due to a painful six weeks between jobs when I decided to sell them. (They're awesome, but for me, selling things is not.) I can also recommend Henkel. Beyond that, I don't know what's good so you might have to go with another food blogger's recommendation. I'd recommend at least 2--a chopper and a smaller knife you can use for meat or cutting smaller stuff.

13. Cookie cutters. They're hours of fun and they'll be on sale soon.

14. Chocolate molds. These are certainly not essential. But they make for fancy, easy, and cheap gifts. Which I think makes them well worth the purchase. I linked to some Christmas ones, but there are a bajillion kinds to choose from, so go crazy.

Food Stuffs:

I admit I don't have a list of fine chocolates, vanillas, and spices to recommend, although I wish I did because they make great gifts. Anyway, I'll work on that for you. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. For now, here's the smallish list that I've got.

1. Coconut oil. My friend gave some to me recently and it's becoming my new best friend. Some say it's good for you, which is definitely worth believing because it smells like heaven and it has a high smoke point and it lends a creamy sort of sweetness to things. Mine is from Mountain Rose Herbs, which wasn't found on Amazon.

2. Trader Joe's Chocolate Caramels with Sea Salt. We have no Trader Joe's here, but my Californian sister-in-law got me onto them and, frankly, there's no getting off.  It's not on Amazon, but if you've got a friend with a Trader Joe's connection, buy some. It's seasonal, so don't procrastinate.

3. Tone's Vanilla Extract - 16 oz plastic btl. Happy day. This is on Amazon (though it didn't want me to link to it). You can get this at Sam's and it is so so good for inexpensive pure vanilla. But I don't have a Sam's membership and I'm sure my mother or in-laws don't want to take me on a Sam's outing for vanilla every time they see me (though they would if I asked because they're nice like that). For non-exotic, but delicious and reasonably-priced vanilla, this is the best there is.


Yeah, nobody needs another one. But I bet there are plenty of people out there who want another one.

1. The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond. Not to be a groupy or anything, but I really enjoyed this cookbook. I know she's not a gourmet, but neither am I. The recipes are tested and solid and tasty. And there are bits of life story woven in. And pretty pictures. (And she's got 4 kids.)

2. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg. This cookbook also doubles as a memoir and I guess that's kind of my thing. I must be one of those people for whom more words are better (stop snorking out of your nose). However, I wasn't sure Wizenberg and I would see eye to eye on cooking. She was so West coast, so urban, so...childless. I was a mom with a large brood in southern Indiana. I had no candied ginger in my pantry. But. But her recipes sounded tempting enough for me to try many many of them in my time with this cookbook. And each one I tried was slam bang right on--perfect instructions and proportions and tips. So, thank you, Molly Wizenberg.

3. America's Test Kitchen. Want a good basic cookbook? Do yourself (and those you feed) a favor and skip the Betty Crocker or the Better Homes and Gardens with their shortening-filled blandiosity. Christopher Kimball clearly doesn't have a 3-year-old hanging onto his legs, and the recipes might have to be de-fussed for the busy among us, but this book is still worth it because it will turn out recipes that won't have to be re-done or thrown out.

4. Farmer John's CSA Cookbook by John Peterson. If you have a garden or CSA or are just committed to eating seasonally or locally, this is a great guide. Because what do you do with dozens and dozens of turnips?

5.Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. This should actually be on my wish list. I haven't ever actually used it, but I've made cakes inspired by or adapted from it many times. And they were good cakes. Very good. And did you miss the part about 3 layers?

6. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. It's pretty political and only a cookbook in part, but it's the book that finally pushed me over the edge in deciding to try to eat meats raised humanely. Oh sure, I'd been meaning to for years--ever since I read Fast Food Nation and maybe even before that when we lived north of Greeley, CO with its cow population jammed together in stinky nastiness. But this book was sort of that final straw for me and, cheapskate or not, conservative or not, I'm glad it was. Also, it inspired me to plant asparagus. And to try to make cheese. And it contains several seasonal recipes.

Wish List

1.Dutch Oven. Stovetop to oven. Oven to stovetop. If it's sturdy enough to cover with coals and make peach cobbler, even better.

2. Silicone Baking Sheet. For candy and cookies that stick and cake-like concoctions that need to be peeled up and rolled. They had these at Aldi about a month ago for, like, $6, but they were gone before I could get one. (Weeping.)

3. Silicone Cake Pan Sheets. By that I mean a little round that would cover the bottom of a standard cake pan. Apparently, from my Amazon search, it doesn't appear that they exist. But, seriously, someone should invent them because cutting out the wax paper every time I make cake gets old. Maybe I could get 2 silicone sheets and cut one into rounds. Hmmm.

4. Cherry Pitter. Only good for a few weeks out of the year, but then, so good.

5. Potato scrubber. "My life is lean, but I don't need a lot..." Now if you can name that musical, I really will send you a dollar.

6. Metal Spatula. For when my cast iron is good and hot.


  1. Isn't it Oliver? My next guess would be Fiddler on the Roof.

  2. Oooh, nice try, Mom, but that dollar's not yours yet. I'll give you a hint: You've got to think Mormon musicals. (Sorry, non-Mormon friends).



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...