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Chef Recommended: 10 Gifts for the Cook

Typically (for the last 10 years) I have been writing the blog posts - but this late autumn & early winter Jason has jumped onboard adding more than just his two cents. Here are Jason's (the Chef/Farmer/Cooking Instructor) recommendations for Christmas Gifts for the Cook in your life! Guests of our cooking school will find many of these items familiar...

Gifts for the Cook:
by Jason Bartner

What can you get for someone who loves to cook but seemingly has everything? How about something they will actually use! I'm not a kitchen gadget guy, so this list will be very practical. I know many people have closets and drawers filled will devices, gizmos, and machines designed to make life easier and seldom get used. Not conveniently stored, difficult to clean, and mostly preforming one function kitchen gadgets all meet their fate, years down the line, at the garage sale or Ebay. Not anymore! Regardless if that person loves Italian food or cooking in general, I've listed some daily use items that will never see a box in the garage:

1) Bench Knife, Dough Scraper
We'll start small and cheap with something I use every day and goes by many names. The Bench Knife, Dough Scraper, etc. is essential a dull blade of stainless steel with a handle in either wood with rivets (fancy) or plastic. Traditionally, it's used for literally scraping up balls of dough to move them around the board, but I use it for a different motive. To keep my knives sharp. By drawing the knife blade against the board to bring together those onions you just chopped dulls the blade. Also, it's not a great idea to clean off the onion that stuck to the blade with your finger. (Everyone Does It!) Instead, keep the board tidy with the dough scraper! Transfer the veggies from the board to the pan with this great tool instead of the blade of the knife and a cupped hand. It's part of my primary set up for every cooking class.

2) Bialetti Moka and Milk Frothier
I'll put these two up against up against fancy home machine any day. Patented for the first time in Italy by the inventor Luigi De Ponti for Alfonso Bialetti in 1933, this iconic design found in most households throughout Europe and Latin America has not changed. Paired with a simple Stainless Steel milk frothier it is the essential beginning to the day. Comes in several sizes and spare parts are wildly available. Granted, the Moka does not produce la crema on the top of the coffee like the machine does, but the cheap espresso machines are garbage and who spends thousands on the real deal?

3) Cutting Board with Lip
I told you this list was practical. Yea, a cutting board. For the bakers and anyone who hates when that board slips out from under while working. Load up wet towels underneath, it will not stop that board from sliding forward as you roll out your pastry or pasta dough. 'But I thought marble was the best for pastry?' Yeah, marble weighs a ton. How do you get that thing to the sink? All my boards have lips, it's so simple. Ikea make a great one; I have at least 15. They're cheap so when they warp or get beat up, I retire them to some other part of the house.

4) Lettuce Spinner
If you are the unfortunate soul who is fed wet salads, or still worse, have witnessed lettuce being dried with paper towels by a loved one? Please gift that person a salad spinner. I am amazed how many people comment as I spin lettuce at the sink. Does everyone buy lettuce in a bag? This forgotten tool cleans and dries all types of greens. Herbs, salad, chard/kale- Just today I used mine to clean muddy radicchio from the garden.  Through the magic of centrifugal force, water is whisked away leaving perfectly dry, clean greens for your enjoyment! 
5) Water Stone 
This is a knife care gift. Regardless of quality, knives work a whole lot better when they are sharp. Check yours, I bet they are not. Like any tool, blades need to be maintained. That plastic gizmo you run the knife through after you squash the tomato you tried to cut is not working. Knife care is a 'thing' that some get really into especially hunters. For the kitchen, I don't require a knife sharp enough to shave my arm, but they must be able to slice a ripe tomato with ease. There are countless sizes any types of water stones ranging from economical to very expensive, I am not an expert- Google will be your friend on this. A book or some other guide on knife care is a useful addition to this gift.

6) Pasta/Stock Pot
When cooking pasta for more than 2-3 people, the standard large household pot does not hold enough water to dilute the starch being released by the pasta. The result is predictable. A larger pot also prevents boil-overs, can be used as a basin to wash muddy veggies, and does not need to be expensive. It's primary function is to boil water so it need to be neither thick nor stainless steel. Light stock pots are also easier to store on tall shelves. Know a cook who makes gummy pasta? Perhaps they need a bigger pot- be a sport and get a lid as well!

7) Earthenware Casserole
A must for the Italian kitchen, every Nonna has her favorite casseruola. A casserole is a earthenware vessel that is used in many Italian dishes. From the stove top into the oven and onto the table, the cassurolo is a one pot staple of the countryside. Some are simple, others very ornate so prices vary. The casserole is to Italy what the cast iron skillet is to America; one pot that can do a little of everything. 

8) Chinois or Fine Mesh Strainer
Is a concave sieve with a wire mesh. It is used to strain custards, purees, soups, and sauces, producing a very smooth texture. Good examples are made out of stainless steel and can be expensive. Mesh ranges in size from super fine (barley passes water) to large (for pasta). No more floaters in the stock! This is something I have several of and use all the time especially now in Autum. I pass puree soups through a fine chinois to give a great silky mouth feel. 

9) Atlas Pasta Machine
Ok ya got me- one gadget. This one really works. The Atlas pasta machine. I've used them hard in my classes for 10 years now and they hold up. They can be used to roll out pastry,marzipan, any dough really. Much better than the pasta attachment for the kitchen machine that has a constant speed motor (too fast). The Atlas has a hand crank making it much easier to go slowly as you work through the learning curve. 

10) Le Creuset Extra-Large Double Burner Griddle
This last one is what I would like for Christmas. This formidable chunk of iron fits over two burners and turns the stove top into a small flat-top. Steaks, fish, quesadillas, pancakes everything!! It's heft makes it great for getting really hot for searing, finishing in the oven and then making the sauce back on the stove top in the pan. It has low sides and large surface area making getting in there with a spatula simple. Since it's Le Creuset it costs too much money in my opinion, but I'm not buying it!

       If you ask me, that looks like a really nice list for anyone serious about cooking with tools they will actually use. Let me know if I left a good one off the list or you had gift success with one of my recommendations. These are tried and true tools of our kitchen & cooking school!


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