Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Holiday Gift Ideas: Some of My Favorite Kitchen Essentials

Affordable and Useful Gifts that Will Last for Years

Freshly Baked Oatmeal Toasting Bread (recipe here, though I used milk in this batch)

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and the right equipment makes all the difference. When a friend came to visit a while back, she took one look around and said, "You could outfit a restaurant with all this stuff!" Actually, a lot of it did.

I spent many years in the restaurant business when I lived in northern California, including running my own little bakery cafe, and I quickly came to realize that heavy duty, well made items may cost a little more at first, but in the long run they're the best deals around.

These are some of the kitchen things that I use all the time and highly recommend. Whether you're buying for yourself or someone else this holiday season, they're sure to be greatly appreciated for many years to come. The loaf pans, baking sheets, and cast iron skillet are currently eligible for's 4-for-3 promotion—buy any 4 eligible items and you get the lowest-priced item free. More details on the product links below.

If you shop at by starting at any Amazon link on this site (no matter what you end up buying) we receive a small referral fee, which goes toward our treat bill at the feed store. Thank you!

Chicago Metallic Commercial Bread Pans, $11.99 & $15.50
I love Chicago Metallic's commercial bakeware, and their heavy duty loaf pans (pictured above) are awesome. I've been using mine for years for both quick breads and sandwich loaves and refuse to bake with anything else. They're available in two sizes, 1-pound (approximately 8"x4") and 1½-pound (approximately 9"x5"—they call it 10") and come with a 25-year warranty. Fill the 1-pound with up to 26 ounces of bread dough (such as my popular Farmhouse White) for big beautiful loaves.

Chicago Metallic Commercial Baking Sheets (2 for $24.99)
Never burn a tray of cookies again! Once you use heavy duty, rimmed baking sheets, you'll suddenly realize that everything else is vastly inferior. They're great for everything from baking rolls to roasting Brussels sprouts and are one of the best kitchen deals around. Treat them well (I usually line them with sheets of unbleached parchment paper—wonderful stuff!), and they'll last for ages. I've been using the heck out of some of mine for over 18 years.

KitchenAid Immersion Hand Blender, $37.95
This is quite possibly the best $50 I've ever spent in the kitchen—and right now the red and black versions are on sale at Amazon for $42.95, plus there's a $5.00 rebate available. Purées big pots of soup in seconds (no more scalding hot liquid flying out from the top of the blender!) and is a breeze to clean. It also works great for blending up large batches of homemade pet food. You can do all kinds of other stuff with it, too—I seriously underutilize mine, but my best friend Beth often uses hers several times a day. Comes with KitchenAid's 1-year, hassle-free replacement warranty.

Oxo Good Grips Digital Kitchen Scale, $48.45
I'm so glad I upgraded to this scale last year, which I use nearly every day. I love the fact that it weighs up to 11 pounds. The zero-out function makes it easy to just keep adding ingredients to your bowl, and the pull-out display is fabulous. Measures in 1/8-ounce and 1-gram increments. Voted #1 by America's Test Kitchen.

Pyrex Storage 14-Piece Round Set, $22.97
I finally found something even better than my 1940s vintage Pyrex covered dishes—new Pyrex of course! I bought this set a few years ago and used it so much I ordered a second one. I'm always storing dibs and dabs and leftovers in the fridge, and these save on plastic wrap and foil. And like the propoganda on the box says, you're much more likely to use something if you can see it. I can't tell you how many times I've opened the lid of a repurposed cottage cheese container to find a glob of moldy who-knows-what staring up at me. Glass is definitely the way to go. They make 10-piece and 6-piece sets, too, but the round sizes in this 14-piece set work best for me. Oven, microwave, refrigerator, freezer, and dishwasher safe.

Lodge 10-Inch Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet, $14.53
If you only own one frying pan, make it cast iron. Cast iron skillets are one of the best buys on the planet. For fifteen bucks you get a pan that will beautifully cook everything from bacon and eggs to steaks and cornbread, last for decades, and if treated well (no soap!) will only improve with age. This one is pre-seasoned for immediate use and comes with a lifetime warranty.

Cast iron skillets make the best cornbread (my new favorite recipe coming soon). Feed someone homemade cornbread and they'll eat well for a day. Give them a Cornbread Lover's Gift Kit and they'll eat well for life: simply tuck a bag or two of nice stoneground cornmeal and a copy of The Cornbread Gospels (this is such a fun book) in a cast iron skillet and tie it all up with a big red bow.

A Perfect Pan for Pasta (recipe here)

All-Clad LTD 10-Inch Fry Pan, $87.50
If you only own two frying pans, make the first one cast iron and the second one All-Clad. Their professional cookware is amazing. I have a few cherished pieces, but this 10-inch pan is the one I use most. I've used and abused it for nearly 20 years, and it's still as good as new. Even the blackest, scariest, baked on mess (think bacon or burgers—yeah, I know, probably should have used the cast iron) cleans up in a jiffy; just soak in hot soapy water for a few minutes and lightly scrub. If you cook for a crowd, the 14-inch size ($107.95) would be perfect. I'm lusting after one—how great would it be to be able to caramelize that many onions at once?

Taylor Classic Instand-Read Pocket Thermometer, $5.47
Perfect for stuffing stockings, this is a must-have item for any bread baker. With it you can quickly check the temperature of ingredients, rising dough, even the air in your kitchen (just put it in a glass of room-temperature water). The world-famous Poilane bakery in France requires each of its bakers to wear one around their neck. If you know a budding bread baker (or are one yourself), check out my Ten Tips for Better Bread—and come bake with us at A Year in Bread!

Have a delicious holiday season!

© Copyright 2009, the cooking from scratch foodie farm blog where the only downside to serving up so much wonderful homemade food all the time is the continuous supply of dirty dishes—but the dishpan hands are definitely worth it!


  1. I've been reading your blog for some time but this is the first time I've commented. Thank you for this list and the links. I have been seriously contemplating updating my kitchenware.

  2. Everything you make always looks so good. Wish we had you in a cabinet to pull out when I wanted something cooked :)

  3. This is a seriously good list. I have a lot of these exact things but need to bookmark your list to get the remaining items!

  4. I have many of the items you mention in this post because you have mentioned them before. They are wonderful and so are you. I really appreciate your expertise.

  5. Love the LTD AllClad! I think I am most excited about getting married next summer so I can add some more pieces to my registry :-)

  6. oh and don't forget my gift from last year, bread proving baskets, the best gift i got soooooo useful for sourdough

  7. Great list of kitchen essentials. I completely agree with you that it's better to buy high quality from the get-go, even if it costs a little more.

  8. FG, I already [heart] you & your blog for all the sweetness, thoughtfulness, and adorable pictures of your critters...but now I [heart] you even more.

    Because with this post, you have just given me explicit permission to go out and get the bad-@$$ turquoise blue KitchenAid stand mixer that's been haunting my dreams. And the immersion blender, too.

    My friends and family give me grief because I cook so rarely (hey, busy college professor's life, what can I say)...but when I do, I get serious. Everyone laughed when I bought a $400 set of Henckels Five Star chef's knives. But 11 year later, I'm the one laughing: my knives cut through the toughest foods (pineapples, watermelons, pumpkins) as if they're butter, and are indispensable when it's time to cut up a whole chicken. As the old saying goes, "Buy the best, and you cry only once!: :-)

  9. Oooh I want those cookie sheets! Great suggestions. My dad, who really knew his way around the kitchen, gave me a scale a few years ago with the advice to "Stow this someplace handy. You'll never believe how much you use it." As usual, Dad was right! If you don't have a scale in the kitchen -get one. Have started baking with it recently to excellent results.

  10. This is a wonderful list that proves you don't have to have lots of fancy gadgets, just good sturdy stuff. I don't know where I'd be without my immersion blender!

  11. How fun! I love Chicago Metallic bakeware and just received that scale for Christmas (after only two years of asking for it! :)

    Thank you!


    PS - I linked to two of your posts in a recent post on sourdough on my blog. Thanks for being a great resource!


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