Eat Well: WWW's Ultimate Gift Guide

The following post was written by my mom, WWW. Thanks, mom!
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chocolate banana bread + cutting board, recipe here

I'm not much of a mall shopper. I am not much of a shopper at all, actually. But in early December, I enjoy going once to the mall just to see what’s out there and to buy any gift(s) I can’t find locally or online. For instance, I wanted to buy Archer a nice coat and I found an amazing one at Nordstrom that wasn’t too expensive. (When did their prices get more reasonable? I guess I should get out more often!) On that same trip, I stopped into Williams-Sonoma—a foodie’s candy store. I drooled over their dishes and tablecloths, tools and gadgets. But in the end, I left the store realizing, in my spirit of simplifying, that a good cook doesn’t really need too much stuff. And although the new Zoku Quick Pop Maker looks like LOADS of fun, it probably would end up in the garage after using it a few times. That’s where my fondue maker, electric skillet, deep fat fryer, yogurt maker, bread maker, popcorn popper, and ice cream maker ended up years ago, all gadgets I bought thinking I HAD to have them. This got me thinking about what tools I have that I can’t live without, the tools that I use daily or at least weekly.

So… here is my list of 17 cooking “must-haves” that WON’T EVER end up in the garage:

1. Cuisinart Food processor:

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Larry bought me my first Cuisinart as a present on our first Christmas. We had no money but he splurged on me and I was THRILLED beyond belief. I used it so much I actually wore the thing out. A couple of years ago I bought another one. I still use it all the time, although I no longer use it to puree my soups. Now I use an…

2. Immersion Blender:

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About ten years ago, my niece, Yvette, told me that I MUST get an immersion blender. It took me several years before I finally got one and now I can’t imagine living without it since I cook so many soups. Mine was made by Cuisinart and it works great. Immersion blenders vary in price and can be just as costly as a food processor, but mine cost around $30.

3. KitchenAid Mixmaster

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For years I balked at spending the money for a KitchenAid Mixmaster . I was given a Sunbeam mixer for a wedding present and used that until it died. After that, I tried to make due with a handheld mixer, but a hand mixer doesn’t work well for stiff batter such as cookie dough and so I finally broke down and bought what I had always secretly wanted…a KitchenAid. If you don’t have one, put it on your wish list. It’s quick, thorough, heavy duty and you don’t have to turn the bowl while you mix which means you can be doing other things while it is working away. They last forever and are worth the price. Their one flaw is their weight, but I keep mine on the counter so I don’t have to lift it.

4. Microplane Graters:

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There are no other graters that match the sharpness and ease of these. They come in many sizes and shapes. I love the zester/grater and use it for grating Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, and for zesting lemons. I also have a larger grater for soft cheeses.

5. A fine mesh strainer such as this one:
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I use mine almost every day to wash beans and grains and strain vegetables or soups.
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I used to buy just any old cookie sheets until my friend, Mary, gave me one of her restaurant quality sheets used in her catering business. What a difference! They cook evenly and most importantly don’t warp with the heat like many inferior brands. There are many companies that make these including Bakers and Chefs, Chicago Metallic, and Eagleware.
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I like the large ones better than the small ones as you can cool an entire batch of cookies on one. They’re also great for cooling large slabs of gingerbread for a gingerbread house. I like having two of them since the first batch of cookies isn’t usually completely cool by the time the second batch comes out of the oven.

8. A set of sharp, good quality knives:
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But you don’t need 10. Every kitchen needs a chopping knife, a paring knife, a slicing/carving knife, and a serrated knife. Any more than that isn’t necessary. Probably the best knives made right now are the Japanese Shun knives, which I don’t have, but they are probably worth the investment if you cook a lot. I have an eclectic variety of knives that I have accumulated over the years, but my favorite knife that I own is a J.A. Henckel.
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I LOVE these and use them all the time, even for cutting pizza. You can take them apart to clean which is a must when you are cutting food with them.

10. A Dutch oven:
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I have said before that I love my Le Creuset, but any heavy bottomed stainless steel or cast iron pot would be fine, too. Don’t get aluminum as the aluminum reacts with acidic food and leaches into your food. Unlike iron, aluminum isn’t good for you.

11. Stainless steel pots:
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(including one large soup pot and two smaller ones.)

12. Cast iron frying pan and at least one other frying pan
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(cast iron or stainless steel).

Refrain from buying “non stick” pans as they have a plastic coating that eventually will end up in your food. When seasoned properly, cast iron will not stick. Neither will stainless steel if they are heated to temperature with butter or oil before adding food.

13. Good quality cutting board:
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There is a lot of controversy regarding which type of cutting board is best, but I really like bamboo. Bamboo is harder than wood so it lasts longer and is more eco-friendly than wood or plastic. Make sure you don’t get a cheap one as it will splinter.

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I buy a lot of food in bulk so my kitchen scale is a necessary tool for measuring the correct weight of any food needed for a recipe. I have an Eatsmart precision digital scale.

15. Assorted pans for baking and roasting:
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I have one LARGE roasting pan and several ceramic and aluminum pans as well as two pie dishes, cupcake pans and bread pans. (NO PYREX). What you need in this department depends on if and how much you bake.

And...the two specialty gadgets I have that will never end up in the garage:

16. Electric citrus juicer:

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A 10 pound bag of oranges costs $5 at our local farmer’s market, so fresh orange juice is common around these parts. I also make a lot of recipes with lemon juice (especially my hummus) and using a manual squeezer hurts my wrists. I have a cheap one…the Black and Decker Citrus Mate (about $16) and I use it so much that it lives permanently on the counter.
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My mother gave me the Waring Pro waffle maker for Christmas years ago and we love it. It makes the most perfect waffles every time because you flip it over half-way through. And it’s fast so you minimize the waiting time.

What are your favorite kitchen must-haves? What have you bought that you thought you HAD to have but after several uses it ended up in the garage? Any kitchen tools on your holiday wish-list?

Happy shopping!

Love,
WWW

26 comments:

The Curtii | 12:38 PM

the wolfgang puck 1.5 cup versa cooker is pretty awesome! i had to have the kitchenaid ice cream maker attachment and it now lives in our garage except for the few times a year we decide to make maple ice cream. thanks for your list!

Kate | 12:39 PM

I have nearly all of these! And you are right : all of them are necessities in my kitchen. Nothing makes me happier than having the right tool for the right job. I could use some of those beautiful, heavy gauge cookie sheets....maybe it's not too email Santa! Thanks, Wendy!

Bec | 12:50 PM

I love your posts and this list is really, really useful.
Thanks!

Julia | 1:21 PM

My Kitchenaid mixer is my absolute favorite kitchen tool ever!
I'll have to look into the heavy-duty cookie sheets, but my next favorite baking tool is parchment paper. Cookies baked on parchment always turn out better!

Shay | 1:52 PM

I had a new pie plate [Pyrex] explode on me a couple years ago. Since then I have gone back to getting retro pyrex from second hand stores. Never an issue.

I love my stick blender - helpful for soup, gravy, baby food.

I want to get a Kitchen Aid Mixing one day.

megan | 2:11 PM

I have three small children (ages 5,4, and 3). A friend bought me the Zoku Quick Pop Maker and we use it almost daily! It is so easy to make popsicles for the kids with just fruit juice. You can also jazz it up with fresh fruit pieces that you add to the popsicles. So while I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, I would recommend it for people with young children!

Jackie | 2:59 PM

Love these suggestions! I love to cook and I absolutely could not live without my tongs! http://www.amazon.com/OXO-Grips-12-Inch-Locking-Tongs/dp/B0000CCY1L

Such a versatile tool that I use daily. You can also use them for other tasks like juicing a lemon etc...

McConnels | 4:24 PM

LOVE this - thank you so much! Glad I put an immersion blender on my Christmas list this year and glad I have many of these other items!
One item I really love is my flexible nylon spatula from W-S.

Janel | 5:03 PM

Wendy, I love you, but you are sooooooooooooooooo wrong about the Zoku. Two words: yogurt popsicles. Say those two words in my house, and everyone comes running to the kitchen. One minute of prep, and no more than ten minutes later you have a homemade, healthy little treat! Or, if you're going for not-so-healthy, it also makes pretty awesome pudding pops.

Wendy Woolf | 5:13 PM

OK...I take it back about the Zoku Quick Pop maker. I really had it in my hand to buy and almost did so maybe I need to go back and get one. It really DID look fun...I was afraid I would forget to put it back in the freezer so it would be ready for next time! Mea Culpa!!! :)

tiffany | 5:31 PM

I am wondering how you do not have a Vitamix? I got one a couple years ago after my first baby was born and I have yet to quick talking about it. I LOVE IT. I LOVE IT. I LOVE IT.

I use it for our morning green smoothies or oatmeal smoothies, lunch for a quick dip, prep work for dinner and dessert batters for yummy treats or instant ice cream.

It really is a dream for a vegetarian or anyone who likes food and toddlers who don't as much.

We are considering a move to South America and it is the only thing in my kitchen I will be taking.

Wendy Woolf | 5:57 PM

Tiffany...I know i know. I actually am thinking of getting a Vitamix. I have been flirting with them at our San Diego County Fair for years, but never buy one. It is DEFINITELY on my wish list and I am sure I will be addicted once i get one.

Andi | 6:39 PM

Love this post! I am with you on almost all of these! I've got Wustof knives, but I hear they're about the same as your Henckels.

I love my KitchenAid, my nice cookie sheets, my food processor...

But the one thing I am lacking is that nice big dutch oven! I'm hoping Santa will bring it.

(I am with you on the ice pop maker. Saw it, wanted it, decided it would be a "fad" item in my house and put it back!)

Anonymous | 9:51 PM

I have almost all of these too, except wafflemaker & juicer. I never use the wafflemaker I have, just not our thing. Secret I learned on the microplane though? It's a wood rasp an you can buy it cheaper at a hardware store. The same company makes it, they just relabel it and market it to foodies. A teacher at a cooking academy told me about that at a knife skills class.

flyrish | 10:17 PM

Love my KitchenAid mixer, my Microplane grater, and a few of the others you mentioned. I could use a cast iron skillet and a dutch oven. But what I've been digging lately is my slow cooker. Such a godsend with a new baby and toddler to have some one pot meals. Lots of veggie chili over here lately!

alice | 11:29 PM

This is a great mix but you NEED to get a vitamix!!!! Mine has been life changing. They have them at Costco right now for like $375.

connieemeraldeyes | 7:35 AM

I just went to World Market and they have so much neat stuff, I wanted everything. I didn't get everything but they have an oval dutch oven 6 qt. I didn't get it but it is on my wish list.

Ami | 8:13 AM

I am pleasantly surprised to find I have many of these items myself. I would add two indespensible items I have in my kitchen: First, a good peeler (cheap ones/dull ones are horrible and make peeling take twice as long!) I have two -- a palm peeler that I use almost daily and a tupperware swivel head one I use too, super sharp, convenient for odd shaped fruits/veggies; and second, a fancy whisk that has different sized 'tines' or whatever that each have little balls at the end. I love it better than a trad'l whisk; it seems to work better and it gets around the edges of a round pan unlike a trad'l whisk.

Wendy Woolf | 8:25 AM

YES! a good peeler, a good whisk, and WOODEN SPOONS! And I think a Vitamix is in my future....I will let you all know!

Anonymous | 8:51 AM

I got my professional baking sheets at a cooking supply store in Chelsea NY for less than 10 each, best investment ever! I have most of your suggestions and agree with your essential list. My dutch oven is Cuisinart, which I got for $40 or $50 at Marshall store. It has chipped a bit, but is totally functional and I recommend if you don't have the cash to spring for the le crueset, which I didn't at the time. Thanks for the cooking posts!!

Anonymous | 9:33 AM

I USED to love my KitchenAid Pro, until it up and died after somewhere between two and three years! We made dough - for pizza, bread, etc, - frequently, but it's not like we were tossing rocks in there or anything. And I was under the impression that KitchenAids lasted generations! After it died I looked at recent reviews on Amazon and found that it's not uncommon in the newer ones at all. I've been doing without a stand mixer for at least a year while I try to figure out what to do - try to do a DIY fix? Buy a new one? Buy a different brand? - and at this time of year, when I typically make my homemade cinnamon rolls, I sorely miss it! Anyone have any thoughts on a better model/brand/solution? I had the Pro 6 quart, which I thought was pretty top-of-the-line.

I just love your articles, by the way, Wendy. I've been wracking my brain trying to think of something to add to the list. The one "novelty gadget" that I always use until it wears out is a hot cocoa-maker! They haven't yet come up with the perfect design, but I'm relatively happy with my Coca-Latte.

Lisa | 9:38 AM

The list is pretty much spot on to what we use all the time in our kitchen.
I do plan on getting that ice lolly maker though... when we have kids! My mum makes ice lollies with my nephews all the time in the summer but, quite often, they are not frozen by the time they leave so a 90 second or whatever freeze time is great!

Jess G | 9:40 AM

I have every item on that list and use them all the time. The waffle maker only really gets pulled out for ski trips, but so worth it.

An item to add to that list is the nut grinder. I got mine for about $10 and never thought I would use it as much as I do, but somehow it is used weekly!

Anonymous | 7:25 PM

I love and cannot live without my crock pot.

flybigd | 8:16 AM

Did you come to my kitchen? We make waffles every weekend with that very same waffle maker. And I bought my KitchenAid back when it only came in white, and you had to get it at an actual store like Sears or Macy's (no online shopping back then).

Allison the Meep | 10:55 AM

Also supporting the pro-Vitamix crowd. My grandmother gave me one and it's been the best kitchen tool ever.

I really love our Zojirushi rice cooker. We make so much in it: rice, quinoa, oatmeal.

Since most of our food is made from scratch, these tools have been essential.

Really fun to use and can make a lot of great healthy snacks, but not essential: an Excalibur dehydrator. Homemade fruit leathers, apple slices, and kale chips are just a few of the yummy things we make.