2018 Gift Guide

About this guide

  1. I use (or have used) and vouch for everything on this list. Yes, there are a lot of Amazon affiliate links here so I can get some kickbacks, but this guide isn’t a “let’s make money” play. First and foremost, I only recommend good stuff I’ve actually used that I think will make good gifts. I’m gifting some things on this list this year, too. The added benefit of most things being on Amazon is that you’ll get it before Christmas. Some things aren’t on Amazon if I couldn’t find them there.
  2. Everything is under $40. You can pick up multiple items from this list for under $50 in total.
  3. Want more ideas? Check out my 2016 guide. My friends Marieke and Brent wrote one, too. There isn’t much overlap.
  4. Yeah, I did take the photo of the sheep. It lives at Thunderhill Farm in Stanfordville, NY.

 

Salt container

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Salt containers are essential in the kitchen. You use salt on almost everything, so you need to keep a lot of it close at hand and access it quickly. This one allows you to keep three different kinds of salt. I keep mine stocked with kosher salt on the bottom, Himalayan in the middle, and smoked on the top. $22 at time of writing.

 

Salt

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If you are getting someone a salt container, get them some salt to fill it with. Here is a nice set of four salts from around the world, $14. Here is my everyday use Kosher flake salt, $3.

 

Microplane

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Microplanes are one of those things that you didn’t know you needed until you start using it. We use ours for zesting citrus, grating hard cheeses, and grating nutmeg over our holiday eggnog. Get one without a handle so it is easier to clean. $8 at time of writing. Pick up a pack of whole nutmeg to go with it, $6.

 

Pizza peel

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A pizza peel is not 100% necessary for making pizza at home, but it sure does make the process easier. Great for making bread, too. If your gift receiver doesn’t have a lot of space, no worries. I hang this on a small wall in my kitchen next to the fridge. Stays out of the way and doubles as art. $17 at time of writing. Toss in a bag of semolina to make the oven transfer easier and a stick of good pepperoni for a topping.

 

Good olive oil

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For pan frying, sauteing, and roasting, the olive oil you use doesn’t make a huge difference. The big tin you keep under the sink works. When you get it hot enough to smoke, you lose most of the nuance anyway. But for applications where you’ll taste the oil like dipping, topping, salad dressings, etc, you want something that tastes great on its own. This Frankies 457 is one of my go-tos. $36 for 33oz, $20 for 17oz. The This Marcella Hazan cookbook makes a good companion gift.

 

Mortar and pestle

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I use my mortar and pestle every time I make pesto, guacamole, and grind spices. It has a large capacity and is easy to clean. Make sure to tell them to season it first. $37 at time of writing.

 

One Bottle Cocktail

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One Bottle Cocktail is my favorite cocktail book released this year. I’ve already gifted it to three people. Each recipe only takes one spirit and gets most of the flavor from fresh fruit and herbs. Everything we’ve drank from it has been delicious. $17 at time of writing. Pick up a decent bottle of whisky, gin, or vodka to go along with it (aim for the $25 range or ask for help if you don’t know much about liquor.)

 

Travel Mug

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Now that the weather is cold, a travel mug is a must. Our favorite in the Grimmett House is this S’well mug. It keeps our coffee hot for a long time, doesn’t drip in our bags, and is easy to clean. Amanda has the white one, I have the grey one. Skip the cutsy illustrations unless you KNOW the person you are buying for will like it. Simple is better. $25 at time of writing.

 

Good balsamic vinegar

Balsamic vinegar is another one of those things that doesn’t matter that much when you are cooking with it. But when you are tasting it in a salad dressing, drizzled over a dessert, or drizzled on a caprese salad, you want something that stands on its own. This Vecchia Dispensa 8 year is a great vinegar for that purpose. $25 from Zingerman’s.

 

Opinel Picnic Knife

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The classic French knife maker Opinel makes this cool knife with a corkscrew in it that is perfect for a picnic kit. The knife cuts cheese, charcuterie and fruit, the corkscrew opens the bottle of wine. The blade locks by twisting the silver neck ring. $29 at time of writing. Add a bottle of wine, some charcuterie, or a picnic blanket to complete the ensemble.

 

Yesplz Coffee

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Yesplz is a new coffee startup from the folks who brought you Tonx back in the day, which eventually sold to Blue Bottle and became the Blue Bottle At Home service. They are back with a mission to make great subscription coffee afforable again and this time they are focusing on blends. I backed it on Kickstarter and I loved the first two batches I received so far. You can get 2 deliveries for $28, which is more than enough for someone to decide whether or not they want to keep it going. Each delivery comes with an awesome magazine, too. Find a cool mug to go with it, or get the travel mug above.

 

Coffee storage

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I store my coffee beans in this Airscape canister. It has two lids: One pushes out all the air and the other covers the top. Gotta keep the coffee as fresh as possible, and putting it in the freezer is a terrible idea. Get your friends this canister instead. $28 at time of writing. You might be able to find it cheaper at your local Container Store, which is where I got mine. Pick up a pound of locally roasted coffee to go with it.

 

Stick Blender

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I literally haven’t taken my big blender out of the cabinet in a year and a half. I use this stick blender at least once a week, though. Perfect for soups, making mayonnaise, salad dressings, bulletproof coffee, eggnog, and sauces of all sorts. Everyone needs one of these. It comes with a measuring cup that I use it with 75% of the time. $29 at time of writing.

 

Chef coat

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No one likes splattering oil or tomato sauce on their shirt. I use this coat from Chef Works when I cook. It is cool and breathable and has a pocket for your thermometer. $32 at tine of writing. Chef Works has a ton of styles for both men and women if you don’t like this one.

Kulhay Christmas Foods

After Christmas dinner at Grandma’s house this year, I had my Grandma and Aunt Margie explain some of the traditional Christmas foods that come from their side of the family, the Kulhays. Like many of the early 20th century immigrants in the Cleveland area, the Kulhays are from Hungary.

I picked four Christmas staples: Székelygulyás, Sauerkraut Balls, Töltöttkáposzta, and Christmas Jello. After the videos, Grandma and Aunt Margie graciously opened their cookbooks and shared their recipes. Grandma’s cookbook is a treasure:

Székelygulyás

A gulyás is a stew. This one contains sauerkraut and pork. Grandma said that this is traditionally a New Year’s dish, but she makes it at Christmas since that is when we are all home. Grandma eats it by itself, but most of us grandkids prefer eating it over dumplings.

 

Here is the recipe:

 

Sauerkraut Balls

Aunt Margie said that this recipe originally came from McGarvey’s restaurant in Vermilion, OH, where one of her aunts worked. The recipe sounds like a clever chef devised it as a way to use up the weekend’s leftovers. It stuck throughout the years because it is delicious. Here is a McGarvey’s logo from the late 60s:

 

Here is the recipe:

 

Töltöttkáposzta

Töltött means stuffed and káposzta means cabbage. My family makes these in batches of 50 or 100 during the holidays and for big parties like graduations. I have lots of early memories of 4 people at a time standing at the counter rolling meat in cabbage leaves. I even rolled a few myself!

Here are the recipes for 100 and 25:

 

Christmas Jello

Every year, the first dessert we eat after dinner is Grandma’s Christmas Jello. It is an 8-layer jello cake that takes Grandma all day to make. The colorful layers are the normal jello flavors and the white layers are made out of scalded milk and sour cream set with gelatin. You have to let each layer set before pouring on the next layer.

Next year we’ll go over the baked goods!

2016 Gift Guide

Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are quickly approaching. Here are some gift ideas for your friends and family who like to spend time in the kitchen.

Note: Many links below are affiliate links. By buying through these links you support this site and my Amazon habit. No one incentived me to post these things here. Every single item is here because I either have it or think it is great. Happy holidays!

Under $30

Spices 

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Help your friends refresh their cabinet of old, stale spices. I get most of my spices from Penzeys. Great quality and fair prices.

The gift boxes are always great. My regular order usually contains:

  • Turkish Bay Leaves – Better than anything you’ll buy in the grocery store and a more complex flavor than the California variety.
  • India Special Extra Bold Peppercorns – The highest grade of peppercorns. If the person you are buying for doesn’t usually grind their own pepper, get them this and a mill and you will change their world.
  • Smoked Paprika – I love the flavor of smoke. This stuff is a regular occurrence in potato dishes, meat rubs, and stews in our house.
  • Mural of Flavor – A dozen different herbs and spices mixed together to roughly mimic Mediterranean flavors. Great with chicken, pork, popcorn, and breakfast sandwiches.
  • Kosher Flake Salt – This is our house salt. Great general-purpose stuff. Get your giftee a salt box, too.
  • Roasted Garlic Powder – I’d rather have roasted garlic powder over regular any day of the week.
  • Cajun – Cajun spices regularly dust the outside of our chicken, pork, and beef before we sear them to add some extra flavor.
  • Whole Vanilla Beans – Make your own vanilla liqueur, flavor some mid-shelf bourbon, or use them to make some awesome homemade ice cream.

 

Cookbooks

  • The Food Lab – J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is my favorite food blogger and one of the main inspirations for this blog. He meticulously tests every dish he makes and posts the results for the benefit of us all. I’ve learned so much from this book.
  • The Art of Simple Food – Alice Waters of Chez Panisse has the best books around for simple, flavorful dishes made with in-season ingredients. Each time I flip through this book I get new ideas. The second edition is great, too!
  • On Food and Cooking – This is the go-to source for the science of food and cooking. If I want to know what is going on when I ferment sauerkraut, which genus currants belong to, or the proportions and qualities of different kinds of cake batter, this is the book I pick up.

 

Other Food-Related Reading

  • A subscription to Lucky Peach magazine, the best food periodical in the game, from Momofuku.
  • The Raw and the Cooked – Jim Harrison is “the Henry Miller of food writing”. Hilarious, a bit raunchy, and a treasure trove of knowledge.
  • An Everlasting Meal – A meditation on cooking and eating.
  • The Belly of Paris – A classic about class struggle and the many tantalizing tastes and smells of 1850s Paris.

 

Utensils

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Very few people have proper soup spoons. If someone you know regularly eats soup but doesn’t have soup spoons, these will give them a huge quality of life increase. Get some soup bowls to go with them.

 

Cocktail Gear

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Under $50

Knives

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I had a whole post on inexpensive knives you’ll actually use a while back. These are great knives that make great gifts.

 

Coffee Gear

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General Kitchen Tools

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  • Mandolin V-Slicer – This makes slicing and shredding veggies into a uniform size very easy. It is a bit dangerous, but worth the risk.
  • Hand Blender – When I got this two years ago, I put my regular blender in the cabinet and havent touched it. This will change how you blend. It makes blending soups very simple and you can make homemade mayo with it in two minutes.
  • Amazon Echo Dot – This may be a tech gift, but its home is in the kitchen. It is a voice-activated assistant. Set timers, ask for measurement conversions, check sports scores while making a gameday snack, or have it order pizza for you when you burn your meatloaf.
  • Lodge Cast Iron Skillet – Perfect for searing meat, frying up potatoes, roasting half a chicken in the oven, or making crispy bar-style pizza. I don’t know where I’d be without my cast iron. I use it more than all my other pans combined. Works on both gas and electric glass-top ranges.
  • Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven – Perfect for braising, my go-to for soups, and even great for baking no-knead bread. Sure, you could get a Le Creuset that is 5x as expensive, but I’ve been getting along just fine for years with a cheaper one.