As I've said before, my favorite kitchen gadgets are at the end of each of my arms, but there are some tools that I love, a few gift ideas for the cook in your life (I'll put links to my amazon store for the pix but it's getting late to order by mail so probably best to find these items at a brick and mortar store). All of the following are great for the home cook and the professional cook as well.
I've made my appreciation for the scale more than clear, but just as I never miss an opportunity to add more butter to whatever I'm cooking, a word on behalf of the scale is something I cannot pass up.
One of the very best gifts you can give any cook is a Benriner mandoline, invaluable for uniform slicing and julienning—a value far beyond its $25 price tag. I've had mine for ten years and have asked for a new one—it's time.
Flat edged wood spoons make great stocking stuffers–I can never have too many. Round or oval spoons I find more or less useless.
A good sturdy set of tongs, not those flimsy cheapos.
If you're shopping for someone who prides him or herself on sauces, consider a 16-ounce thermos—which is great for holding sauces and keeping them hot till you need them.
In the higher ticket category, two good knives and a decent cutting board are critical—the work in the kitchen is ten times as difficult if you don't have a good sharp knife and big heavy cutting board.
A while back, a friend asked me what I thought of hand blenders–she
presumed I'd look down my nose at something she regarded as an
infomercial special, like the ridiculous slider hamburger mold that
cooks sliders in TWO MINUTES!!! But hand blenders are truly
invaluable, for pureeing soups and sauces and i use the chopper cup to
make small quantities of vinaigrettes.
My mom used to own women's clothing stores and on December 24th, without fail, hoards of individual guys would come in at 5 oclock, frantic, having delayed in shopping for their mate, and would go on to overspend on clothes they didn't understand. I would urge such folks to spend their money wisely on a big ticket item that's truly useful such as a Kitchen Aid mixer, or one of my new favorites, the VitaMix blender (above).
VitaMix is a very powerful blender with adjustable speeds that you see in almost every professional kitchen (where they're called VitaPreps) because they're so valuable. They're invaluable in the home kitchen as well and their uses go beyond making healthful smoothies the company uses to market their product to the home cook (though they do this as well). The first time I saw one being used, the chef was pureeing shrimp for delicious shrimp pot stickers. On Friday I made a broccoli soup that was exquisitely textured because of this device's power. The soup was nothing more than broccoli that had been blanched and shocked, then pureed with some ice, seasoned with salt; lemon juice at the end and mount with butter—so delicious,nothing but pure broccoli flavor. Vita-Mix is a Cleveland-based company and I love to support the home team.
And of course there's always, The Elements of Cooking, my opinionated lexicon of cook's terms with extraordinarily nuanced, infinitely wise essays on the fundamentals of cooking. (If I did emoticons, I'd put a smiley face here, but I just can't bring myself to do it.) A reader named Jennifer wrote to me to say, "This is the book I have been looking for the last 15 years. A recipe to be a better cook, not just produce different food." That was my hope exactly, thank you Jennifer! And chefs have written me to say they give it to their staff, who are so often immigrants with little or no culinary training.
But if you want to give yourself a gift in this season of giving by giving to others—go to Chez Pim or any of the other bloggers participating in Menu for Hope and donate to this good cause raising money by raffling all kinds of truly wonderful prizes (see the list). It's a fantastic annual program that raises more and more money every year.