Must have luxury kitchen item suggestions please.
November 10, 2009 4:07 PM   Subscribe

What is a good/luxury cooking item for around $50?

I'm looking to get something for my brother for Christmas and he loves to cook. He isn't a baker though. I know an obvious answer would be a good knife, and though suggestions in that area are appreciated, I think I want to step out of that box a little bit. I don't do a whole lot of cooking, just basic stuff so I don't really know what's good and useful to have and what's not. Thanks!
posted by MaryDellamorte to Food & Drink (69 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
A nice pair of tongs? A really good garlic press? Obviously it depends on what he has. A really solid set of kitchen shears for cutting poultry apart?
posted by GuyZero at 4:12 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

A nice waffle maker.
posted by torquemaniac at 4:12 PM on November 10, 2009

Does he have a great pepper mill? I offer the Unicorn Magnum.
posted by purpleclover at 4:13 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

My first thought is an immersion blender, a decent one of which will cost about that much. A hardcover copy of the Joy of Cooking retails at about $35. Or maybe a nice mandolin slicer.
posted by General Malaise at 4:13 PM on November 10, 2009

One possibility might be an amazing bottle of balsamic vinegar. Someone got me one of those a few years ago, and I still remember sadly pouring out the last drops a year or so later. It gave everything such a delicious depth.
posted by palliser at 4:14 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

A cast-iron skillet or dutch oven.
posted by nitsuj at 4:15 PM on November 10, 2009

Bread Machine. There aren't many smells in this world greater than that of fresh baking bread. So easy. So yummy.
posted by netbros at 4:19 PM on November 10, 2009

I don't think my brother has any quality items with the exception of some good knives. He doesn't have a lot of money to go out and spend on frivolous things.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:20 PM on November 10, 2009

Some nice live herb plants? Maybe something like a rosemary topiary... or a kit to grow a window box of herbs.
posted by abirae at 4:20 PM on November 10, 2009

Palliser, what constitutes a good balsamic vinegar?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:20 PM on November 10, 2009

A gift box of spices from Penzey's? I've given bulk packages of their peppercorns with a nice pepper mill.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:25 PM on November 10, 2009 [5 favorites]

Great kitchen shears (the kind that come apart so you can really get then clean) have been a great thing for us to have around. A cast iron pan is also awesome and should be well under $50. Don't get a garlic press, they're totally unnecessary and bruise the garlic.

This might be one of those questions that's just better unanswered offline if you can find the time. Wandering around a Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table, or the kitchen section of a decent department store should give you plenty of options.
posted by crabintheocean at 4:28 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Actually, Penzey's stuff is a great idea.
posted by crabintheocean at 4:30 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Never underestimate tongs. Once you cook with them, you'll wonder how you cooked without them. Tongs, a good thermometer, and a good cooking timer, with multiple alarms.
posted by 517 at 4:30 PM on November 10, 2009

Whatever you decide on, take a look at Williams Sonoma. Everything there is top dollar but also top quality. I am crazy about my frying pan, which I use for everything, including wok type items.
posted by bearwife at 4:31 PM on November 10, 2009

If you go a little more than $50, you can get enamelled cast iron. We have the one in the link and it's fantastic.
posted by electroboy at 4:32 PM on November 10, 2009

A nice, heavy, marble or granite mortar & pestle. Try to get one where the inside of the bowl hasn't been buffed down to a shiny smoothness. The little irregularities in the rock will help crush salt and whole spices. If your brother cooks from whole spices a lot, he'll love it.

Otherwise, a nice mandolin slicer is always handy in the kitchen.

Oh, or a set of nice mixing bowls.
posted by LMGM at 4:33 PM on November 10, 2009

I have one of these Ulu Blade/Block sets, and I use it almost daily. It's absolutely amazing for chopping small amounts, particularly herbs and garlic, but also onions and shallots, nuts, olives, boiled egg, etc. Plus it looks cool sitting on the counter.
posted by padraigin at 4:35 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here is my awesome pan. It will last forever with proper care (which is very easy.) Your price range is a little low but a few great kitchen machines not already mentioned include fuzzy rice cooker, food processor, and slow cooker. Finally, one great, great balsamic vinegar is this one.
posted by bearwife at 4:37 PM on November 10, 2009

A Pyrex measuring cup makes a great addition to whatever you get.

Also, if you live in an area with a Ross::Dress For Less you can pickup cheap cookware, that's how I ended up with an Emril cast-iron wok and Paula Deen cast-iron chicken frying pan.
posted by wcfields at 4:40 PM on November 10, 2009

The Tramontina and Lodge "cheapie" dutch ovens, rated by America's Test Kitchen and others as the best buy for a(n otherwise $250+) dutch oven, are right around the $45-50 range and available at Target and Wal-mart. Not the most luxe version of this very luxe category of kitchenware, but if he doesn't have one yet he probably wishes he did and just doesn't want to spring for one himself--at least, that's how I feel about it!! A friend of mine just got one, a red Lodge, and it is lovely in person...

Kitchenaid is infamous for its stand mixers, but their gorgeously colorful handhelds are great too and often get overlooked. I hate burning out the motors of cheap "in drugstore" hand mixers. Check out a Williams-Sonoma outlet store for one if you can and decide to go that route...

But my number one pick if he doesn't have one already is a good immersion blender (Braun and Cuisinart also make good ones, but KA's is usually considered the best in review). If you seriously love to cook--long-simmering things like stews, chili, totally-from-scratch soups, from-scratch sauces and creams--an immersion blender can easily cut your time, mess, and hassle by at least half. Just dip it in the pot and go. And spray it and wipe it off, or carefully dip the blade part under a faucet quickly. That's it. No blending in batches, no countertop space needed, no waiting for things to cool enough to handle to blend. Awesome. I use mine every week, and often every day.

Depending on his culinary leanings, a bamboo steamer might be good. It's more like $20, but just a possibility...or a wok (you shouldn't be spending more than $40 on a wok; no need). And I will second the Unicorn Magnum--that thing rules like whoa, on many levels. This fairly new flavor shaker is kind of awesome. A mezzaluna can be nice. If he's a cheesehead, this grater rules. There is a LOT to be said for smartly designed versions of what people use and have every day too--someone above mentioned decent tongs; OXO's version is excellent because most tongs are freaking maddeningly inept with the locking mechanism. Ditto measuring spoons and cups--Cuisipro makes a set of measuring spoons that fit neatly in small spice jars; they've changed my life. Kuhn Rikon makes a garlic press where the pressed, messy part comes right out so you can wash it easily. These little basic things cost more like $10-15 each at most, but a bunch of the basic stuff that's really REALLY smartly thought out, well-designed to make his everyday cutting and chopping and whatnot faster and easier, can be priceless.

In that vein of "so basic like wallpaper you never think of it, but if well-designed it could change your life," Williams-Sonoma's nesting glass bowls are ideal for prepwork as well as storage and presentation, making life that much easier. Crate and Barrel offers a bunch of very affordable but chic (seriously, under $30) casserole dishes that wash super easily and go from oven to table to fridge to dishwasher easily.

I am sorry I sound like a brand shill here (particularly for KA, but I swear I am not affiliated!), but the right tool for the job is huge to me, and brands tend to be a good indicator in the kitchenwares arena.
posted by ifjuly at 4:41 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

In the brilliant vein of people above suggesting Penzey's (highly recommend...yowza), it also just occurred to me a subscription (online or paper, depending on which you think he'd use more) to Cook's Illustrated would be super duper awesome. I love how seasonal and no-nonsense foolproof they are; I get ideas every time I get an issue for dishes to make that season.
posted by ifjuly at 4:46 PM on November 10, 2009 [12 favorites]

If he doesn't already have good kitchen equipment, I'd suggest you opt for a high-quality basic item, e.g., a skillet or dutch oven. I was in this position not too long ago and that is the kind of thing I requested as a gift. The more niche stuff just won't get used as often.
posted by shadow vector at 4:47 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

nthing shears and enameled cast iron (Le Creuset is awesome if you can find it on super sale.) A good pepper mill is great to own, and I love my OXO can opener.
posted by abirae at 4:47 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just saw your follow-up -- I agree with bearwife's recommendation of Acetum's just-below-balsamico-tradizionale as a high-quality balsamic vinegar at the $50 mark; another possibility would be to go to an Italian market and ask for assistance, which is probably what I would do.
posted by palliser at 4:53 PM on November 10, 2009

I got a couple sets of Pyrex mixing bowls and casserole dishes for Christmas a few years ago, and I. love. them. I use those bowls every damn day, and I smile and am happy my mama got them for me.
posted by runningwithscissors at 4:54 PM on November 10, 2009

A Cook's Illustrated subscription is a great idea. One thing I haven't heard mentioned yet: a good spatula. I have the one I just linked to (a gift from Williams Sonoma) and it's my #1 favorite kitchen tool. It's stiff enough that you can let food (e.g. potatoes) get a nice crust on them in the pan, and the spatula will get under the food, and not leave a mess in the pan.
posted by lex mercatoria at 4:59 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lot's of good ideas here. I will not limit mine to cooking tools, but rather kitchen tools. For instance, I would be lost with a classic "waiters corkscrew". I have a 75 dollar Rabbit and it stays on the shelf for the classic waiters. Here is a good one by Le Creuset/Screwpull. I notice a lot of pepper grinders on here, I agree, they are mandatory. I have an electric one by MIU of France that is dynamite. You can get it here at Cutlery and More for 12.98, originally 40 bucks.
posted by tdalton at 5:04 PM on November 10, 2009

Potato ricer from Williams Sonoma. Can be used on mashed cauliflower too, if you're the low-carb type.
posted by variella at 5:05 PM on November 10, 2009

Two places I can vouch for for online shopping: Fante's, based in Philadelphia, has a wide array of stuff at many price points.

Something you might not have considered: the French outlet of Amazon has a ton of kitchen stuff available. Downsides: shipping will drive up the price, and electric items are not appropriate for U.S. It can still be a great source for stuff that isn't usually available over here, like pans for canelés.
posted by gimonca at 5:08 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

One of the things that made the biggest difference for me was a probe thermometer that I could leave in the oven. It made chickens and roasts and whatnot much, much easier and more delicious. Put that together with a scale, and you've got a nice little package that a budding chef (especially a carnivorous one) will use all the time.
posted by Clambone at 5:09 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by electroboy at 5:09 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oooo, Cook's Illustrated is a *great* idea...other cooking magazines to consider might be Saveur (I LOVE IT SO HARD!!) or Fine Cooking. Cooking magazines are the *best*.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:13 PM on November 10, 2009

Pizza stone and peel
Some high dollar olive or walnut oil
Likewise with high dollar vinegars: balsamic, sherry, champagne
Creme brulee torch and ramekins
French press and some good coffee
Cheese board and knives
Cast iron cookware
Pasta roller
posted by kaseijin at 5:16 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

what constitutes a good balsamic vinegar?

Therein lies the rub. It is definitely NOT the stuff you see for a few bucks at Trader Joe's (and I love Trader Joe's). That's regular vinegar with a bunch of caramel thrown in for appearance and viscosity. Frankly, so is a lot of stuff that passes itself off as the real thing.

No, the stuff that makes the angels weep is aged for decades, decades, in wooden caskets and dribbled jealously over strawberries or cheese and costs the goddamn earth and is worth every penny.

I'm too poor to have wide experience and so cannot make recommendations, but you can get an idea from sites like this. Or this. Or this Fifty bucks should get you in the door. Just. If it's a real small bottle.

Read up, it's fascinating stuff, and be warned there's a bunch of chicanery out there.

Failing that, the immersion blender is something I wish I had had years before I actually got it. (Mines a Breville and does not hold the charge well. Next time I would go with the cord.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:23 PM on November 10, 2009

It's all still up in the air, but I have a question about cast iron skillets. What is the difference between an enameled one and a regular one? Does one have an advantage over the other? I'm sorry if this is a dumb question but I really don't know much about cooking instruments.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:23 PM on November 10, 2009

Imperia Pasta Machine

A KitchenAid is way out of the price range, but it's the nicest cooking gift that I've ever been given.
posted by gregr at 5:32 PM on November 10, 2009

Enameled ones are nonreactive, as in, anything acidic etc. can go right in 'em without reacting (leeching, eating away and rusting) with the iron. So tomato sauces, vinegar sauces, wine reductions, etc. aren't a problem. What makes both so great aside from their "last forever" status is they can go straight from stovetop to oven and vice versa.

Enamel, not that it matters necessarily to him, is also more "presentable"--meaning it's easier to go from stovetop to oven straight to table at a party or with dinner guests too.

And it isn't a dumb question! I remember researching all of that when I started cooking 'cause I didn't know either (I'm glad I did, 'cause I almost always cook with tomatoes, vinegar, and/or wine too, so...).

Personally, I think it's worth springing for enameled as a gift; standard cast iron is so basic and cheap it's something I can pick up at any time. Enameled just But anything mentioned in this thread reads as awesome, at least to my very subjective eyeballs...
posted by ifjuly at 5:33 PM on November 10, 2009

Careful about items like breadmakers, wafflemakers, and even things like stand mixers -- they take up lots (relatively) of counter and cabinet space, and they're often specialized enough that they might only be used once or twice before they start collecting dust. And, of course, nothing stands the test of time like a good cast-iron skillet.
posted by SpringAquifer at 5:35 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was gonna come on and recommend a spice box from Penzy's but like minded people beat me to it. Not only do they have great spices but their catalogs have wonderful recipes...
posted by patheral at 5:37 PM on November 10, 2009

Enamelled has a baked on, porcelain-like coating that's fairly non-stick. Standard cast iron acquires a non-stick coating by basically baking a film of oil into the imperfections in the surface of the pan. We tend to use the regular one for steaks and general frying and the enamelled one for things like stews, casseroles and baking bread. We also have this, which is also great.
posted by electroboy at 5:37 PM on November 10, 2009

To clarify, the enamel coating is permanent (unless chipped or broken), but the regular cast iron can become "unseasoned" (seasoning is the baked on oil) if you scrub it with an abrasive or boil water or something.
posted by electroboy at 5:40 PM on November 10, 2009

2 silpats, 2 commercial halfsheet baking sheets.
posted by bzbb at 5:43 PM on November 10, 2009

Not sure if they're still available, or if you have access to a Costco, but last month I bought their enameled cast-iron dutch oven they had store-branded for $50; it's very, very heavy, comparable to Le Creuset, and cooks beautifully.

Looks like it's sold-out online (that $60 price includes shipping), so I'm not sure whether it's still available in stores.
posted by palliser at 6:21 PM on November 10, 2009

This seems like an easy question to answer but in reality it is tough without knowing more about what your brother likes to cook so I will give you some pros and cons of some items that were mentioned. I'd personally avoid buying things like olive and walnut oils because they are so volatile. They can go bad before he has a chance to use it. The spices angle is a good one but again ground spices can go bad quickly so buying a big sampler kit from Penzey's (they make good stuff) might be wasted. In terms of equipment, keep in mind the more specialized the machine or tool the less it is going to be used unless your brother has a niche interest. I'd also personally avoid buying a knife unless you know he has expressed interest in a particular model. I say this because knives are a very personal things and it will be hard to predict if he will like it. In addition to the Cook's Illustrated subscription, you might consider some of their books. As far as small items go, I really like silicone pot holders. They are good multitaskers and they are dead simple to keep clean.
posted by mmascolino at 6:29 PM on November 10, 2009

I recently received a number of kitchen items as wedding gifts. I heartily recommend the America's Test Kitchen website if you're considering specific categories of things because it has great reviews and scientific testing.

Some things I got that I really like and are relatively-cheap 'luxury' standby items - I upgraded several things in my kitchen:

Excellent cooling racks - these are coated so they're non-stick, dishwasher-safe, and won't rust. I love these because they're sturdy and have a tight grid.

An immersion blender, for jobs you don't want to transfer to a blender and back. This Kitchenaid one is routinely rated the best of the breed.

This peeling knife is amazingly sharp and very handy. I don't know what I did before it - it's my go-to quick job knife now.

Accurate measuring cups are a must. Pyrex measuring cups are great too. Stores often sell shot-glass sized measuring cups for up to two tablespoons that are very handy for random jobs.

I also second the suggestions of tongs (if he has non-stick or cast-iron pans, get nylon or silicone instead so it doesn't scratch), spatulas, other cooking implements. I've always been very grateful to get these gifts as they're something where my existing ones are 'good enough'.

Larger items are Kitchenaid mixers (and attachments, like the pasta makers or the new silicone beater/scraper head), rice cookers (I recommend Zojirushi), and slow cookers.

I gave my husband a gift of measuring spoons for 'pinch', 'smidgeon', 'dash', etc. I think they were manufactured as a joke gift, but he's scientific enough that he loves them.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:41 PM on November 10, 2009

Juicy Salif
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:02 PM on November 10, 2009

You really do not need a lot of fancy equipment to prepare fine food. The first thing that I recommend for someone who really likes to cook is a subscription to Art Culinaire, the best serious cooking magazine that I have ever seen. I always shop at J.B. Prince. when I am buying something for a professional chef.
posted by calumet43 at 7:02 PM on November 10, 2009

I bought a 20 gallon pot from Target with an insulated bottom that I love for making soup, and yogurt (using it right now to do that). If he cooks large soups, it's very handy.
posted by sully75 at 7:13 PM on November 10, 2009

Sorry that's 20 quart, not gallon.
posted by sully75 at 7:14 PM on November 10, 2009

MaryDellamorte: Palliser, what constitutes a good balsamic vinegar?

Buying someone kitchen equipment (unless they're getting their first place and have nothing) is a very hit or miss proposition. I've found people remember the gift of exceptional olive oil and vinegar much more intensely than the cast iron pan or mixer that may never see the light of day. The only redeeming part about living in New Jersey is being 20 minutes from this olive oil company/importer called Carter and Cavero. They have the best olive oils and vinegars that I have had the pleasure of using outside of the olive growing regions around the Mediterranean. I do not say this lightly. Their prices are considerably lower than the overpriced, rancid stuff typically sold at Whole Foods and the like, plus they ship anywhere. Brace yourself, because unless you just moved here from Greece, Spain or Italy you'll be mad at what you previously thought of as a quality olive oil or vinegar.
posted by chosemerveilleux at 7:43 PM on November 10, 2009

Nthing Penzey's and a subscription to Cook's Illustrated. If someone got me that for Christmas I would be sooo happy.
posted by Nattie at 8:03 PM on November 10, 2009

Re cast iron and enamel - When my Grandmother passed away I inherited her original Fiestaware dishes and her cast iron pans. These are old school cast iron pans with none of that fancy enamel. The iron pans are absolutely fantastic - better than any other item in my kitchen including the All-Clad pans that cost the moon and the stars. (Not to diss the All-Clad. I love my All-Clad; it is all that.)

Old school cast iron is fantastic for browning things. That browning can't be duplicated in a stainless or (why!) non-stick. That said, cast iron needs to be seasoned with oil and hand washed. Actually, my pans rarely hit the soapy water. Mostly, you can just wipe them with a towel since nothing sticks.

Getting the pans fulled seasoned takes time and your brother probably wouldn't love new cast iron pans right away. Instead cruise Goodwill or SA. Every now and again I see old cast iron cookware there and I scoop it up. After a quick clean up I pass it along to whichever friend has a housewarming or dinner party next. If you get lucky, you might fine some nicely seasoned pans before the holiday.

I'll also throw a plug in for silicone oven mitts. They are awesome.
posted by 26.2 at 8:03 PM on November 10, 2009

Does he have a food processor? You can get a nice little Cuisinart Mini-Prep for $50 (I have this one, but since your budget allows you could go up a size). It helps with so much! Just this weekend I used to to chop nuts and pulverize pound cake for Bourbon Balls, and I often use it to chop onions and garlic.
posted by radioamy at 8:08 PM on November 10, 2009

Rasps are too cheap, but he doesn't have to know that :)
posted by Chuckles at 8:11 PM on November 10, 2009

If he has good knives, have you considered a really good knife sharpener, rack, or other related accessory?
posted by whatzit at 8:13 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Forgot to add..
Of course you can get the microplane gift set for the right amount of money, but I think I like Lee Valley's rasp better.
posted by Chuckles at 8:13 PM on November 10, 2009

It's a bit above your price range, but a Thermapen instant-read cooking thermometer is extremely useful in the kitchen. Learning to cook by temperature instead of time is one of the most useful culinary skills.

Instead of (or in addition to) a subscription to Cook's Illustrated magazine, what about a subscription to the Cook's Illustrated web site ($34.95/year). Your brother would get access to all their recipes, equipment tests, etc. for a year, including web exclusive content.
posted by Joleta at 8:18 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Le Creuset. I have a 7 qt and it's our most indispensable cooking item. Also Silpats are fun for popping out crispy cookies.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:19 PM on November 10, 2009

Mandoline has been mentioned a few times, but I would say that it definately tops everything else - he can slice pretty much anything SO EASILY. And that's squarely in your price range.

If he does a lot of soups (it does have many uses, but soups tops the list), and immersion blender is indispensable.

Also, be sure to look at Ross or T.J. Maxx (but especially ross) - there's always great kitchen stuff at far less than retail.

Also, maybe a nice spice rack, if that's the sort of thing he might like?
posted by R a c h e l at 10:55 PM on November 10, 2009

As someone who has loves to cook, I strongly suggest not getting anything knife related, though it seems like you're going away from that direction already. A good knife will cost more than $50, and someone who knows how to use them will be very picky. Furthermore, unless you're buying him a set of whetstones, knife sharpeners are utter crap.

Let me repeat that: Knife sharpeners are utter crap.

If your brother is like me, he takes his knives to a professional sharpener that he knows and trusts, and hones them religiously in between.

Do not buy a single-use or niche gadgets like a garlic press. Get something versatile. If you're willing to go up to $80, Joleta's advice for the Thermaworks Instaread thermometer is brilliant. If that's too much, their Low cost pocket thermometers are quite good as well. Do not go with a knockoff brand from Target, these cost extra because they're powerfully accurate and very fast. These thermometers are calibrated to lab standards, the knockoffs aren't.

At $50, Le Cruset will be out of your price range, as well most good pots and pans. A 5 qt. Le Creuset french oven is at least $150 if you're lucky. A really good fry pan is at least $100. And like a good knife, he is probably picky about the weight and the handle.

However, a good cast iron skillet is a good idea, they're not expensive, and really, a 50 year old hand me down that has been taken care of reasonably well will be just as good as a brand new one. The shape (and handle) is basically the same no matter who makes them. Another possibility is a good wok, big, heavy and steel. A good emersion blender is also a good kitchen tool if he doesn't have one already.

Spices from Penzey's is a very good idea, if he hasn't bought spices from Penzey's before, he'll fall in love. I live in range of a few Penzey's shops as well as The Spice House, and the difference in flavor compared to the grocery store stuff is ten-fold.

Other possibilities include a Krupps spice/coffee grinder, at $20 each, you can get him one for spices, and one for coffee (you really don't want to mix the two). If he is a baker, a food scale is a huge lifesaver, since the good baking recipes measure ingredients in grams.

Chuckles's suggestion for a Microoplane grater set is also quite good. I didn't own a Microplane until early this year. I seriously do not know how I lived so long without them, I can't imagine not having them anymore.
posted by thebestsophist at 11:52 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's British, but Lakeland is a veritable cookshop emporium. Even if you don't find something you need, you can always find something you'd want.

For $50, my suggestions would be:

- A cheapo ice cream maker
- A knife block
- A ceramic knife (apart from being a b*gger to sharpen, they are awesome)
- Silicon tipped tongs
- Flat weighing scales

My all time favourite kitchen product is a beautiful wooden wok spoon made from karri wood (I think), which I bought in Leura, Australia. I've never seen one before or since, but I love it dearly. I wish there was a link I could send through.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:00 AM on November 11, 2009

I would second the tongs, I use my Oxo tongs for everything...get the silicone coated ones if he uses non-stick cookware. Also seconding a cast iron skillet. Lodge sells loads of sizes and they're all pre-seasoned now. An instant read thermometer is also a great idea. I've also been hankering for a mandoline. Oxo makes one in the 20-30 range that might be a good idea.

I think rather than buying one big ticket item that he may or may not like, I would agree with ifjuly that buying really well designed simple items is a huge upgrade. The OXO Veggie Peeler - hell, any of the OXO gadgets at Bed Bath and Beyond - would be awesome.

I would say avoid the immersion blender unless you KNOW he makes a lot of soups. I can't say when I've had an occasion to use one and we cook 5 nights a week.

You might also look for stainless steel measuring spoons with embossed numbers on them. Our snazzy plastic ones with colorful numbers are becoming more useless with every wash as the numbers rub off.

Good luck!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:40 AM on November 11, 2009

Didn't see mention of a pressure cooker. Cook beans in minutes, instead of hours. Mine's been getting a work-out. Not an everyday go-to tool, but I won't make mashed potatoes, or gnocchi without a food mill. Or blow him away with some Black Garlic.
posted by JABof72 at 9:08 AM on November 11, 2009

When cooking one can never have enough small bowls and measuring cups. Ever.
posted by rokusan at 1:18 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Rösle Can Opener

This smooth-gliding tool cuts cans along the outside rim of the lid, rather than the inside. The result: no sharp edges to cut you plus a clean blade that doesn't come in contact with the food. Operating with remarkable ease, the can opener is made in Germany of stainless steel and plastic. 8" long.
posted by k1ng at 6:43 PM on November 12, 2009

You didn't specify a price range but did say "luxury". For $399 (discounted from $449 if you pre-order) you can pick up a Sous Vide Supreme, a home water bath + temperature control + immersion circulator. This is the first home cook-oriented sous-vide device I've seen, previously you'd have to buy the various components (temp. probe, heating element, circulator+pump) from a scientific equipment supply outfit with about a $1000 minimum cost of entry.

Sous-vide (a la fançaise for "under vacuum") is a cooking method that involves sealing food and seasonings in a vacuum-sealed bag and placing it in a temperature controlled water bath that brings the food to a specified temperature and keeps it there. E.g. if you know chicken breast is perfectly cooked at 160ºF, you set your water bath to 160º, seal your chicken in a bag with some tarragon and a bit of butter, and toss it in the water bath. The water brings it to a perfect 160º and keeps it there for as long as you'd like. When you're ready, pull the chicken out of the bag, sear it off in a pan to get some browning on it or crisp up the skin, and viola: perfectly cooked chicken.

Sous-vide is hugely popular in restaurant cooking at the moment (well, fine dining restaurants). In fact, Thomas Keller (of The French Laundry and Per Se) recently put out a cookbook focused entirely on Sous-vide -- Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide.

My only concern is that they may not be shipping the pre-orders before the holidays, I couldn't find an "expected ship date" on their web site anywhere. If you're interested, you may want to contact them for more details.
posted by devnall at 9:25 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Kershaw Taskmaster Shears at $20ish are apparently the same shears as the $40 Shun shears; same factory/assembly line, different brand printed on them.

These are the best thing I've bought in my kitchen in the last two or three years, and that's including a $100+ knife. They are awesome; they work better, clean up better, and (so far) last far better than any other kitchen scissors I've ever used. My plan is to buy a set for my mom and for my brother for Christmas.

Do not buy a knife sharpener that plugs into a wall. Here's a great article on sharpening knives if you're curious.

OXO's Locking Tongs with Nylon Heads are great; my mother saw mine, and bought several for friends of hers last year. Their "smooth edge" can opener is also neat, as it makes a smooth edge and reclosable can.
posted by talldean at 6:46 PM on November 16, 2009

Anything suggested by this guy. Lots of great suggestions here.
posted by xammerboy at 11:04 AM on December 7, 2009

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