As we have rediscovered our kitchens this year, what started as a necessity has, for many of us, turned into a love affair.
Cooking and baking can be more than a requirement for nourishment. It can be therapeutic.
Few things elicit a sense of accomplishment like turning a pile of disparate ingredients into a delicious meal. Heck, even doing the dishes offers a satisfying moment of gratification.
If you’re shopping for a food fanatic this holiday season, don’t feel guilty if you can’t afford a budget-busting stand mixer or high-end cookware. With a couple of splurge-worthy exceptions, the practical kitchen gadgets listed here are affordable and guaranteed not to end up in the junk drawer.
Most of these are available at department or discount stores and on Amazon, or support local kitchen stores like the Wooden Spoon in West Melbourne, Wassi’s Meat Market in Melbourne and Cindy Lee’s in Cocoa Village.
1. Immersion blender
Paul Brouard, a chef at Amici’s Restaurant in Suntree, said he uses an immersion blender for sauces, dressings soups and purees. “It’s very versatile and great for anything liquid,” he said. Cuisinart and KitchenAid hand blenders are available at most department stores for about $40.
2. Cooling racks
I inherited a set of cooling racks from my mother, who was an avid baker. Cool cookies and cakes, fresh out of the pan, on the racks so they don’t sweat and get soggy. They’re also great for oven-frying bacon. A variety of racks are available at stores including Michael’s, Walmart and Target for $10-$20.
3. Spatulas, whisks and wooden spoons
A cook can’t have too many of these in different shapes and sizes, said Scott Earick of Scott’s on Fifth in Suntree. Look for heat-proof silicone spatulas or square-bottomed wooden spoons that can be used to scrape the bottom of a pot when thickening sauces. Silicone whisks won’t scratch nonstick pans. You can get a single wooden spoon for less than $2. Silicone spatulas are available for $5 to $7 (I prefer the molded ones that are all one piece). Whisks start at about $10.
4. Loaf pan
If you don’t think the country is obsessed with baking right now, try finding flour on the grocery shelf. Nothing beats the aroma of baking bread, and nothing beats a great loaf pan. I love the stoneware pan I got years ago from Pampered Chef ($30). It bakes evenly and cleans up easily. Plus, it’s perfect for making meatloaf. Macy’s has stoneware pans in pretty colors for about $20. Package a loaf pan with a bag of artisanal bread flour (assuming you can find one) and a cherished family recipe for the perfect gift.
5. Silicone pie shield
I love the crispy, flaky edges of a pie crust. I hate when those edges burn while the center of the pie is still soupy. For years, I tented the edges of my pies with aluminum foil, with moderate success. Then I discovered the handy-dandy pie shield. They’re less than $10 at Bed Bath & Beyond and Cindy Lee’s.
6. Kitchen scale
I didn’t think I would use this, but it comes in handy, especially when baking. Baking is a precise science, and sometimes weight is a better measurement than volume. A scale also comes in handy for those who want to work on portion control in 2021. You can find scales ranging from $8 to $50. I found mine at Publix.
7. High-end casserole dish
Someday, we’ll have potluck parties again. When that day comes, what home cook doesn’t want to show off their newly honed skills in a beautiful dish? Rachael Ray dishes are available for about $30 at Kohl’s, or go all out with Le Creuset for $50-$100-plus at Williams Sonoma.
8. Dough scraper
“I just recently bought pastry scrapers, and they are so good to use on so many things,” said my pal Ann Maloney, recipes editor for The Washington Post. Yes, this tool lives up to its name and works great for scraping dough off your working surface. It also can be used to slice dough and smooth cake icing. And it’s great for transferring chopped vegetables from cutting board to pan. They cost anywhere from less than $2 for a bendable rubber one at Walmart to $20 for a rigid metal one with inch marks from Williams Sonoma.
9. Cast iron pan
What does chef Kevin Andersen, owner of Ember & Oak in downtown Melbourne, recommend cooking in cast iron? “Everything! I almost exclusively use cast iron. You cannot match the flavor you get from a well-seasoned cast iron pan, unless you’re cooking directly over fire.” Cast iron pans start at about $20, and can go for more than $100, depending on the size and style.
10. Page markers
Stocking stuffer alert! Chef Earick recommends every home cook keep a packet of those Post-It stickies you use at the office on hand in the kitchen. They cost less than $10, and are perfect for marking favorite recipes in cookbooks.
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