by Mariana Rufin
The holidays are well under way and Christmas is merely days away, but even for those who do not celebrate, it is undeniable that this time of year is best spent in the presence of family and friends. Finding the perfect gift for someone can be a stressful and time consuming process, so here is a comprehensive list of cooking appliances and tools – all under $30 – for you or a foodie friend. While the items on this list are by no means necessary to be a successful home cook, they can help make certain tasks easier and more enjoyable, reduce waste, and promote easy sustainable swaps in the kitchen.
For the future pro chefs:
Ever wished you could control more precisely how much oil, vinegar, sauce, etc. is poured from the bottle? For example, to get the perfect amount of oil on the pan, for a drizzle of dressing that coats all of the components of a salad evenly, or for picture-perfect presentations of homemade condiments and sauces. Whatever the reason, these bottles are an inexpensive, yet thoughtful, treat for someone who spends lots of time in the kitchen.
Microplanes are exactly what the name suggests: tools for grating things into infinitesimally small pieces. More space efficient than a box cutter, microplanes can perform many of the same duties, such as zesting citrus fruits or grating cheese, garlic, nutmeg, chocolate, etc. While a microplane cannot replace all of the functions of a box grater, they are an excellent option for someone with limited kitchen space or for someone who might enjoy having a tiny tool for grating and zesting.
For the person who never forgets to season their food:
One of the most frustrating parts of using whole spices for cooking is that they have a tendency to get lost in whatever they are meant to be flavoring. Whole spices can impart more flavor than ground spices, yet picking bay leaves and whole cloves out of food or drinks is an unappealing concept. Luckily, there’s a solution to this problem, and for less than $10. Reusable cloth satchels can be filled with whatever whole spices are desired, then dropped into the food during the cooking process, and fished out whenever the meal is ready. Beyond soups, stews, and curries, these bags are also excellent for flavoring mulled wine, spiced apple cider, or syrups for desserts.
For the bakers:
As someone who owns a silicone baking mat, they are a must have for any baker. They take up little space, allow for smooth removal of baked goods, and basically get rid of the need to purchase parchment paper. Silpats provide consistent heat distribution and promote even baking and browning, making them more efficient than parchment sheets – not to mention a sustainable swap.
Anyone who has ever tried to make a recipe that originated outside of the United States knows how frustrating it can be to convert grams to cups, teaspoons, tablespoons, etc. and that the conversion is often an unequal one. In fact, measuring ingredients with grams is generally more precise than the American equivalents, and for recipes that require absolute precision in measurements, such as bread baking, kitchen scales can be a lifesaver. As far as appliances go, they are fairly lightweight and can be stashed away without issue, and most kitchen scales can also convert to kilograms, pounds, ounces, and other units.
Bench scrapers provide maximum efficiency and simplicity in design without compromising on value. The curved edge can be used to scrape down mixing bowls and spread sauce, while the flat edge is ideal for scraping down difficult to remove materials from cutting boards or slicing soft dough. They are versatile tools that take care of mess and cut down on waste.
This heat resistant silicone spatula is an essential item for anyone who makes lots of desserts and has yet to purchase a stand mixer (or doesn’t have the room). While normal spatulas will melt or lose their shape when used for stirring melted chocolate, custard, or syrups, this spatula can resist heat up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. That being said, it performs the functions of any regular spatula and can also be used in non-high heat situations. This tool might seem simple, but someone with a love for baking and sweets will be sure to appreciate the gift.
For the environmentalist:
Admittedly, this item is pretty self explanatory, but anyone who’s trying to limit their plastic use will understand how indispensable these are. These reusable silicone bags are leak proof and suitable for storing leftovers, sandwiches, snacks, fruits, and vegetables in the refrigerator or when traveling. Most sustainable items, in addition to being environmentally conscious, are economical as well, and this item is no exception. For people who use ziplock bags regularly, these eliminate the need for any further purchase.
For the casual cook:
Have you ever tried to frost a cake or ice cupcakes before they cooled down, only to be met with a sad, melty mess? Also, did you know that baked goods continue to cook in the pan after they leave the oven? Cooling racks can help prevent the unwanted side effects of not allowing baked goods to cool adequately, such as tough, dry baked goods and runny frosting. A non-baking use for cooling racks is to cook chicken or other fatty meats on top of the cooling rack with a pan set up underneath the rack to catch all of the drippings; you could even place vegetables and cubed bread in the pan underneath.
Mandolines are a handheld appliance that cuts paper thin slices of fruits and vegetables with little effort. Unless your knife skills are truly a force to be reckoned with, this item makes light work of a normally time consuming task. Mandolines can be used to prep salad ingredients, slice potatoes for frying, or cut thin slices of fruit to arrange on a tart. Anyone who spends lots of time cooking, cutting, and sharpening their knives will welcome this gift enthusiastically.