Looking for budget-friendly gift ideas for someone who loves to cook? Needing a stocking stuffer? Gifts that will actually be used and appreciated? Here are my recommendations for the 2019 gift-giving season.
Because my restaurant gig gets me home after midnight, my wife tends to watch PBS documentaries during her evenings alone. A documentary that recently aired had her so riled up that she shot me a text message at work telling me that we absolutely have to take single-use plastics out of our lives. At the very moment that her message came in, I was wrapping all of the day's restaurant prep in plastic wrap. While she has always been conscious about the misuse of plastics, this particular episode about the amount of plastic ending up on our ocean's floor really upset her. Her granddaughter, Scarlett, wants to be a marine biologist so this makes Ann's passion more focused. She can't deal with the environment that we will be leaving our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. So now we are using reusable plastic-free storage bags and metal straws. These are all little things we try to do, but there should be more.
Stasher 100% Silicone Reusable Food Bag
This may not sound like an exciting gift idea, but the Stasher is a non-toxic, self-sealing, non-plastic bag. Think about how constantly tossing soggy plastic bags into the trash makes you feel. Unlike traditional plastic bags, Stasher bags contain no BPA, no PVC and no latex. It is dishwasher-safe and microwave-safe and is safe for use in the freezer, microwave, dishwasher, boiling water and oven up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. I use it with my immersion circulator for sous-vide. Available in several sizes, the Stasher is a gift that keeps on giving.
Reusable Stainless Steel Eco-Friendly Straws
It's been reported that Americans use a half a billion straws a day. My wife's cousin, Carolyn, is our eco-role model. We recently traveled with her to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, and she shamed us when we stopped in the cafeteria and brought out her reusable steel straw. Never again will we send another single-use plastic straw into the bottom of the ocean.
Microplane 3-in-1 Ginger Tool
I love cooking Southeast Asian food and most recipes call for grated ginger. Ginger root is very fibrous and clogs the holes of my old microplane grater. The new Microplane 3-in-1 Ginger Tool is specifically designed to turn the fibrous tuber into a nice little pile of gingery snow. Unlike the rectangular teeth of my old Microplane, the ginger tool has triangular teeth that enables it to shave through the fibrous stem of ginger root more cleanly. The non-cutting side is smooth and the grated ginger falls off cleanly. It grates so fast that the first time I used it I grated skin off my finger before I knew it. It also does a great job grating garlic and turmeric.
The 3-in-1 Ginger Tool has two other built-in functions: slicing and peeling. The slicer works like a miniature mandoline – an angled blade on the end shaves the ginger into paper-thin rounds. It can also be used to shave radishes, carrots, shallots, garlic and scallion whites. A peeler on the side of the tool is designed to remove the papery skin from the ginger tuber.
It is compact and takes up minimal space in your kitchen drawer and has a hole so that you can hang it on a hook. It retails for around $15. I love this tool.
Ozeri ZK14-S Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale
Food scales belong in everybody's kitchen. Recipes originating from outside the United States predominately specify measurements by weight rather than by volume. Measuring by weight is so much more accurate than using a measuring cup or tablespoon. I predict that over the next 10 years cooking magazines and online recipes will transition to weight.
I was introduced to the Ozeri scale by folk singer Judy Collins. When I interviewed her about her book, Cravings, which is her story about conquering her eating disorders, she told me that when she is on tour she travels with this scale and weighs out all of her food. The Ozeri scale is lightweight and compact and packs easily.
We have four Ozeri scales in the restaurant where I work, and they are in constant use. This scale fits in a drawer, is easy to use and easy to clean. Unlike other scales that use the more expensive button batteries, the Ozeri scale is powered by inexpensive AAA batteries. At $15 it is a steal.
Thai Tamarind Cutting Board
This is the best cutting board you'll likely find anywhere. It is made from a solid block of end-grain exotic hardwood from the tamarind tree. Tamarind wood is well-known in Thailand as the very best material for cutting boards. This round slice from the center of a tamarind tree is about 10 inches in diameter and about 2 inches thick.
Why is this cutting board so special? Typically, cutting boards use flat planks of cross-cut wood, which makes your knife blade go dull quickly. With end-grain wood from the tamarind tree your knife will stay sharp a lot longer because as it hits the board the grains are straight (like a super-tight brush) rather than sideways. $46 from Importfoods.com.
Most kitchen thermometers are inaccurate – except for the Thermapen. Every day my coworkers ask me if they can borrow my kitchen thermometer, so now I just keep my Thermapen in the drawer of the restaurant's prep table. That's why I didn't have it at home when my wife asked me for it to check the temperature of our Thanksgiving turkey.
I stick it into the chicken I'm roasting. Then I remove it and it immediately returns to room temperature. It is much better than any other kitchen thermometer I've ever used.
Thermapens retail for $99, but look for holiday price reductions. When I saw they were on sale, I messaged my chefs so that they could buy their own.