Friday, November 23, 2012

Holiday Gift Ideas for Bakers and Cooks: 15 Favorite Kitchen Essentials, Most Under $25

Affordable, Useful Gifts that Will Last for Years

Oatmeal Toasting Bread in loaf pans
These heavy commercial loaf pans are awesome (Oatmeal Bread Recipe here).

Updated 2012: It's a new holiday season, but I'm still loving, using, and recommending all the same great stuff! I also love my awesome Oxo Good Grips food mill, and these handy dandy Fiskars take apart garden/kitchen shears make a perfect stocking stuffer for under $10. I have two pair and use them every day.

When you start a shopping trip at Amazon.com from any Amazon link (or bookmarked link) on Farmgirl Fare, including the little black amazon logo that's always over in the right sidebar, we receive a small commission (no matter what you end up buying), which goes toward blog operating costs and our treat bill at the feed store. I can't tell you how much we appreciate your kind support over the years. Thank you!

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

I spent several years in the food service industry 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 sometimes cost a little more at first, but in the long run they're the best deals around.

These are the kitchen tools that I love and use all the time. Whether you're buying for yourself or someone else this holiday season, they're sure to be appreciated for many years to come. Free super saver shipping is available from Amazon on everything here. (We have Amazon Prime and love it.)

More below. . .
Farmhouse White ready for the oven
Farmhouse White bread dough ready for the oven after rising nicely (recipe here)

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 (like Lemon Coconut and Orange Yogurt) and sandwich loaves and refuse to bake with anything else.

These pans are available in two sizes,
1-pound (approximately 8½"x4½"x2¾") and 1½-pound (approximately 10"x5"x3") and come with a lifetime warranty. I fill the 1-pound size with up to 35 ounces of white or white/whole wheat bread dough to make my signature big loaves. Looking for a loaf pan that is exactly 9"x5"? A few months ago I ordered this heavy gauge USA Pan, and it's really nice.

For a fun and tasty gift, consider a Beer Bread Kit. Nestle a bag of beyond easy homemade beer bread mix, a bottle of nice beer, and the baking instructions in a loaf pan, and tie everything up with a cheerful bow. All the recipient has to do is stir the beer into the mix, spread it in the greased pan, and pop it in the oven. Voila! A warm crusty loaf of homemade bread in under an hour.

Rolls and Burger Buns on Commercial Baking Sheet

Never burn a tray of cookies again! Once you use heavy duty commercial baking sheets, you'll suddenly realize that everything else is vastly inferior. They're great for baking everything from chocolate chip cookies and lemon scones 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, which is wonderful stuff), and they'll last for ages. I've been using the heck out of some of mine for 20 years. Lifetime warranty.

USA Pans also makes nice commercial grade baking sheets, but they can't be heated over 400 degrees.

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
Old-Fashioned Pumpkin Spice Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe here)

I've been slowly upgrading all my bakeware to Chicago Metallic. The 9-inch cake pan ($14.99)  bakes beautifully, and I love the  9 x 13 inch bake/roast pan ($14.24) and 12-cup muffin pan ($14.34) Santa brought me two years ago so much that I bought a second one of each. No more paper liners needed for my super popular 100% Whole Grain Bran Muffins—I just use natural spray oil and the pan cleans right up! Lifetime warranty.

Peanut Butter Babies on Stackable Cooling Racks

Who couldn't use more kitchen counter space? I bought these stackable racks one year during a crazed Christmas cookie baking spree, and they probably saved my sanity. If I ever bake that many cookies again, I'll invest in a second set. Well worth having, even if you only use them for the holidays.

It's always nice to be obsessed with something so practical. I must have at least 15 different stainless steel mixing bowls, from itty bitty all the way up to ginormous. Not a day goes by when I don't use at least two or three. Lightweight, easy to clean, and practically indestructible, there's simply nothing like them. I've had some of mine for over over 20 years. I reach for these 3-quart ($6.38) and 5-quart ($7.28) sizes all the time.

Making Graham Crackers
Making the graham crackers in Gifts Cooks Love: Recipes for Giving (a great book!)

I have a small collection of vintage rolling pins because I love their charm, but this one is my real workhorse. The handleless shape is great. Crafted in Maine and with a lifetime guarantee, it's a family heirloom in the making. Pass it down to the next generation, along with your favorite pie recipes.

Freshly Picked Basil on the Kitchen Scale

I've raved about this scale before, and I no doubt will again. It weighs up to 11 pounds in both grams and ounces, and the pull-out display is awesome. It's small enough that I just stand it on end and lean it on the back of my big butcher block work table, so it's always within easy reach. I usually use it several times a day to weigh everything from potatoes to postage.

Kitchen Knives on Magnetic Bar

I've stored my knives on a magnetic knife bar for so long I can't remember not having one. It keeps your knives both safe and handy. You can also use them to hold small kitchen tools like peelers, or in the garage or potting shed for metal hand tools, little containers of screws, etc. They come in various sizes.

Ours is
this style, 24 inches long, and full to capacity, so I'm lusting after we also now own two of this stylish stainless steel design, which is available in 15 inch ($20.99) and 20 inch widths ($27.99).

Chef's Choice Professional Knife Sharpener, $61.48
Good knives are a cook's best friend, but even the most expensive knife becomes a dangerous and annoying enemy if it's dull. We bought this professional diamond hone sharpener 9 years ago and love it. Just a couple of minutes per blade keeps your knives as sharp as new. Joe even sharpens his pocket knives with it.

Cornbread in Cast Iron Skillet

If you only own one frying pan, make it cast iron. Cast iron skillets are one of the best buys on the planet. For sixteen bucks you get a heavy duty 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, has two pouring lips and a second 'helper handle' for heavy lifting, and is made at Lodge's 
zero hazardous waste stream foundry in Tennessee. Cooking for a crowd? This hefty 12-inch skillet ($18.97) should do the trick.

Cast iron skillets make the best cornbread. 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 stone ground cornmeal ($10.76 for four 24-ounce packages) and a copy of The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon ($10.84; this is such a fun book) in a cast iron skillet and tie it all up with a big red bow.

Swiss Chard Artichoke Pizza
Swiss Chard Artichoke White Pizza (recipe here)

The secret to making incredible pizzeria style pizza and crusty artisan breads in your regular old home oven is to use a pizza, or baking, stone. There's simply no comparison to what happens to the crust when cooked directly on that very hot surface. There are all kinds of baking/pizza stones available ($12.99 and up). Mine is 14"x16" and similar to this one. I've been using it for 17 years, and I still haven't turned it over and switched to the 'fresh' side yet.

A few years ago I started baking all of my loaf pan breads on the baking stone and love the results. I also now bake pies (in the pan) on it, too. The bottom crust comes out perfect! Always put your stone in the oven before you turn on the heat; putting a cold stone in a hot oven can cause it to crack.

French Baguettes on Wooden Peel

The perfect gift for a pizza or bread baker—and these Kitchen Supply wood and aluminum peels are all made in the USA. I have one wooden peel and two aluminum ones, and can't imagine baking without them. Bread and pizzas slide easily in and out of the oven, without fear of ever burning your hands.

As for size, I think the bigger the better, especially if you only have one. A longer handle can also be handy. The aluminum blade peels are thinner than the wood ones, allowing you to more easily lift baked loaves and pizzas from the oven. I use my 14"x16" aluminum peel ($21.18) all the time. To avoid the dough sticking to the peel, shape your loaves and pizzas on unbleached parchment paper, and then just slide everything right onto your hot baking stone. The parchment will darken but won't burn.

New and Vintage Pyrex Storage Containers

Pyrex 14-Piece Round Storage Set, $18.00
I finally found something even better than my vintage Pyrex covered dishes—new Pyrex! I bought this 14-piece set several 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 lots of plastic wrap and foil. (Usually this shelf is almost bare, but I went on a massive fridge clean out two days before snapping this pic.)

And like it says on the box, you're much more likely to use something in the refrigerator 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 scary glob of mystery mold staring up at me. Glass is definitely the way to go. Pyrex makes 10-piece ($16.59) and 6-piece ($18.57) sets, too, but the round sizes in the round 14-piece set works best for me (and it's also the best deal). Oven, microwave, refrigerator, freezer, and dishwasher safe with nice, tight sealing lids.

Oatmeal Toasting Bread Rolls Cut with Pastry Scraper

Makes a great stocking stuffer! The best way to divide up dough into loaves or rolls—and then clean the counter—is with pastry scraper. These are also called bench scrapers or dough scrapers, because they can help you 'scrape' sticky bread dough as you work with it. I have three, and they're always in constant use. The sharp edge can be used for cutting, and the inch increments on the blade come in handy.

Cookie Scoops
I stole these from the three bears.

Another fun stocking stuffer. I've been using ice cream scoops to portion out cookie dough since I started baking commercially back in 1985, and have had some of mine for nearly as long. They effortlessly make perfectly shaped cookies, and are a very worthwhile investment. I have five or six different sizes. The one I used to make these 2½-inch honey peanut butter cookies is about 1½ Tablespoons and is similar to this one.

Larger scoops, like this size and this size, are great for muffin batter and giant cookies, such as my Big, Soft, and Chewy Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Raisin Cookies. I use a small scoop to make these Baby Chocolate Chip and Toffee Shortbread Cookies, and an itty bitty scoop makes darling—though slightly time consuming—mini cookies.

Wishing you a joyful & delicious holiday season!

© FarmgirlFare.com, the made from scratch and cooked with love foodie farm blog where everything is so much more enjoyable when you have the right equipment—or a couple of smiling dogs keeping you company while you work.

23 comments:

  1. Great roundup! I'm actually thinking a wood pizza peel for the oven and a metal pizza peel for the grill as gifts for my parents this year. Love gifting!

    Cheers,

    *Heather*

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  2. What amazing equipment and tools you have!

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  3. These are awesome gift ideas. I use my stacking cooling racks constantly - I have that same set. I am totally coveting the Pyrex now!!

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  4. Good ideas. I really like the rolling pin and magnetic knife rack! Kool...

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  5. Man, I love Pyrex. Especially the smaller ones, now that I always have several small containers of baby food in my refrigerator.

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  6. Thanks for the info! I'm new at making bread and actually just wasted $8.00 of wheat flour over the weekend making bricks that tasted like beer... so when I saw your post this morning that lead me to the oatmeal bread recipe I got excited once again about making bread. I'll have to try it out! Have you ever made bread with flour that you've milled? That's what I'm trying now and I haven't had much success. Thanks for the info - I love your blog btw!

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  7. Thanks for the great list. I love the loaf pans that I got based on your recommendation last year.
    Do you have any suggestions for storing flours/grains? I have some big containers that work well for my basic whole wheat and AP. But I am a sucker for trying new flours, so I have tons of little bags of different flours. (Right now I have barley, millet, spelt, teff, rye, oat and rice flours to name a few.) Do you have a storage container that holds maybe 6 to 8 cups that you find works well?

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  8. Hi Everybody,
    Thanks for all the comments. :)


    Hi Danielle,
    Ack - there's nothing worse than bread bricks! ;) I think you'll like the oatmeal toasting bread. I haven't tried making bread with flour that I've milled, but it's something I've been wanting to do. The woman we buy our fresh Jersey milk from each week grinds her own wheat, and I've been meaning to ask her if I could buy a few pounds of her flour and see how it bakes up.

    Do keep in mind that a 100% whole wheat bread dough is going to be much heavier than dough made with all or part white flour. A lot of beginning bread bakers get discouraged because they start by trying to go 100% whole grain and end up with bricks! : )

    Hi Veggie Virginia,
    I'm so glad you're enjoying your loaf pans! As for small flour storage container ideas, I do have a suggestion. I have several of these Lock & Lock food storage containers and LOVE them. They're 100% airtight and are stain and odor resistant.

    They make all sorts of sizes (click that link above to see them). I have this 11-cup size and really like it. They also make a 4.6 cup size that might work for you.

    The best place to keep flours - especially whole grain flours - is in the freezer, and the nice thing about these containers is that you can easily stack them. (If you don't have enough freezer space to store all your flours, put them in the freezer for 24 hours and then store them in a cool dry place. This won't help the oils from going rancid - which isn't a problem if you use them quickly - but it will kill any bug eggs lurking in the flour.) : )

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  9. Here here on the Pyrex! Didn't know about this set business. I have a number of the small round ones, as well as several of the rectangle ones in different sizes. Went to these a couple years ago in an effort to ditch the hard plastic, microwavable containers for my son's school lunches. The little round ones work beautifully. So much nicer (healthier?) to eat from glass!

    Lusting after the other items!

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  10. thanks for the list. now i know what to include on the list my MIL asked me for today.

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  11. That bread looks delicious! The local grocery store had some 5 lb. bags of flour for sale so I have to use them up somehow and this looks like a good place to start. I also bought some camping equipment on amazon the other day and went through your site. Hope you get your share in return for all the sharing you do with your readers! :)

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  12. Wait a minute. Why would there be bugs in my flour? Ack. Even if you have to lie, tell me you were just kidding.

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  13. I just found your site a few months ago and love checking in and seeing how things are going and finding some new recipes! Thanks for such a fun and informative site!

    I just found a set of 2 Chicago Metallic Commercial sheet pans on sale at my local Bi-mart (Local Pacific NW company) for $9.99! I got to take them off my Amazon order!

    I grind my own flour(s) and have found that adding some vital wheat gluten helps. Different wheat varieties (hard red/hard white/soft white...)grown in different areas (mine is mostly from Montana but down there your might not be) will all need different "tweeks" to get a suitable loaf. For me one of the easiest things is to make a blended loaf with part home ground and part AP or bread flour at least until I get the recipe down. I do have a good sandwich loaf recipe that is 100% home ground grain but even it comes out a bit different depending on what non-wheat grains I happen to throw in that batch of flour (barley, rye, oat, spelt...) On the bright side the chickens never turn their beaks up at bread rocks! If it's too hard you can even soak it and use it to supplement your dogs food, our English Shepherd loves it when I've made a mistake!

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  14. I try my best to stay organized by creating Christmas list! But as always it usually never works for me because i always wait until the last minute to do EVERYTHING! Happy New Years to everyone.

    pamelasims@suddenlink.net

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  15. Hi Susan! I am so behind in reading your blog (& you know I LOVE your blog!!) - I think it's this crazy time of year - but I plan to 'catch up' soon.

    I just wanted to wish you & Joe and all the doggies, kitties, donkeys, chickens, sheep and all manner of farm critters a very Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for sharing your wonderful farm life with the rest of us.

    Barb

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  16. those peanut butter babies on the cooling rack look delicious! where can i find your recipe?

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  17. Hi Anon,
    I'm afraid I don't have a recipe posted for those peanut butter babies. They're a mini version of the popular cookies called Peanut Butter Blossoms, made with a Hershey's Kiss popped onto each one.

    For these I just made my favorite peanut butter cookie recipe, used a small scoop to portion out perfectly round cookies (see the scoop section in this post for more info about them), and then when they came out of the oven I pushed an oversized chocolate chip into the top of each one. I think they're called Hershey's big chips or something like that, but I'm not sure if they're still being made - that photo was from a while ago. :)

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  18. FYI- Chicago Metallic has changed some of their products recently. I bought some jelly roll sheets in April and they were fine; I bought another set in August and they were coated with some horribly toxic and nauseous stuff. Because I'm sensitive to chemicals, I had to have a friend bake them off at his place. It took many hours of baking to get them to a point they were tolerable for me to use. The new ones also scratch easily and "stick" on the rack when trying to slide them in and out of the oven. I have *loved* their products which I originally bought from a recommendation you made many years ago, but it seems they are changing them for the worse.

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    1. That's really strange. Did you contact Chicago Metallic and tell them about the new pans? They all have a lifetime warranty. I would definitely tell them exactly what you said here, and request new ones. I ordered some of their baking sheets last December, and they're great.

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    2. No, I didn't think to contact them. Technically there's nothing "wrong" with the pans. They're just not the same as they used to be. I'll have to see if I can find a contact for Chicago Metallic on the web and and see what they have to say.

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    3. Here's their website:

      http://www.chicagometallicbakeware.com/

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  19. I LOVE the looks of your peanut blossom cookies. they are rustic looking yet all uniform and very pretty.. Would you share your recipe?

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    1. Hi Shirley,
      That photo was from a while ago, and I don't remember exactly what peanut butter cookie recipe I used for for these mini peanut butter blossoms. You could probably make them with your favorite peanut butter cookie recipe.

      I used a small scoop to portion out perfectly round cookies (see the scoop section in this post for more info about them), and then when they came out of the oven I pushed an oversized chocolate chip into the top of each one. I think they're called Hershey's big chips or something like that, but I'm not sure if they're still being made. I hope this helps! :)

      Delete

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