Give Great Gifts Series
Our guides to help you out with. . .
Cooking is a passion for us as The Modern Father. While that does include the grill when the weather is right, we don’t limit ourselves to it. We have a number of items that will make the cook in your life smile.
If you’re anything like us, gift giving is stressful. Whether it’s for a birthday, the holidays, or a special occasion, finding the right gift is hard. That’s why we’ve put together guides to help out based on the type of person you have in mind. These gifts can be used for your partner, parents, friends, kids, or anyone who you want to thank.
To come up with this list, we first talked to the people who fit the mold. In some cases, these are personal recommendations, since the area is one we are interested in. In other cases, we started with a broad list of items, then used numerous online and in-person reviews to zero in on the product being recommended. All of the items can be found on Amazon, and links to their product page will be included.
In order to cook, you need to have a place to start. To get things going, we have a few cookbook recommendations that are more than just a collection of recipes. They provide techniques and a foundation for anyone to build on.
It all started with eggs (as best we can tell). J. Kenji López-Alt started The Food Lab at Serious Eats as a way to use the scientific method to determine the ideal way to accomplish a goal. Whether it was the perfect hard boiled egg, vegan ramen, or challenging common kitchen wisdom, The Food Lab wasn’t shy in taking them on. One product of this was his book, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking THrough Science.
We’ve read the book numerous times, as Kenji writes in an engaging manner, even about dry (to some) topics like enzymatic action or the Maillard reaction. The key to this book and many of the others on this list is the use of a recipe to illustrate a broader technique. You might get a recipe to make a great creamy carrot soup, but it’s just a vehicle to describe a process and a formula to recreate using different vegetables and flavors.
As a gift, it will provide someone with broad base on which to expand their kitchen explorations. Even a cook who’s been in the kitchen for years has many things to learn, so this is not just a beginner’s book. We highly recommend The Food Lab book.
Whether or not you’ve heard of Good Eats, it was the show that launched Alton Brown’s career as a TV cook and host. From his platform on Food Network, he’s moved into other shows and roles, such as the MC on Iron Chef America, or the evilicous host on Cutthroat Kitchen. Regardless of his life after Good Eats (returning in early 2018), Alton made cooking accessible by using ingredients and themes to demonstrate techniques, equipment selection, and creativity. This is a man who used an avocado to make ice cream (we’ve never tried it). EveryDayCook is his most recent book, and one he considers personal. Alton describes it as, “[T]he food I cook and eat on a day-to-day basis, from morning to late at night and everywhere in-between.” A oft-cited recipe is the Breakfast Carbonara. While not nearly as heavy on technique as his previous works, the book is very accessible.
This is a great gift for people who are comfortable in the kitchen, or those who want to adventure a bit.
Michael Ruhlman is a writer who attended culinary school as an act of journalism. The Ruhlman’s Twenty is a technique-driven book. He highlights 20 concepts in cooking that he feels are fundamental to making great meals. Whether it’s a concept like Salt, Acid, Heat, or something else, each one is broken down to its basic level. There are only a handful of recipes in the book, and each one is used to highlight the concept being discussed.
For cooks who like to really drill down to the foundation of what they are doing, this is a great gift. Those who like to extrapolate and experiment will be well served by this book. Those who prefer a more recipes than technique might find the book difficult at first, but we believe that to cook well, it’s necessary.
Full disclaimer: This is the one book we don’t have. Our recommendation is based purely on Stella Park’s work at Serious Eats. The book looks at the history behind some of our classic desserts and provides recipes for creating them at home. So if you want homemade Oreos, Fig Newtons, or a number of other favorites, this is the book to get. In addition to the copycat recipes, there are a number of fresh takes on classics. She also provides an equipment list to help a budding baker build out their supplies.
Her writing is engaging and funny, so like many of the other books on here, it’s more like non-fiction that happens to provide recipes. We find the combination to be irresistible, as if someone just wants a copycat recipe, there are thousands of them available online. But with BraveTart, you read why certain choices were made in the recipe. This can help down the road when a different copycat recipe is desired, but no online resource can be found.
This is a great gift for people who enjoy baking, or anyone who wants to become better at it. Knowing fresh cookies is the reward of a job well done only makes it better.
Our last book on the list comes from an icon of the bread baking world, Peter Reinhart. Unlike the other folks, he has not cultivate a huge online presence and is more of a traditional educator. His books are often considered canonical for bakers, and an earlier work, , is often considered a cornerstone of truly learning how to bake. We have found Artisan Breads Everyday to be much more accessible to a beginning baker. Either book would make a great gift, however.
Artisan Breads Everyday focuses on what someone at home can do to make sure they always have fresh bread on hand or get some ready for dinner. The slow-rise method is usually employed, which means that some planning is required. However, the rise is done in the fridge, so a home baker can easily mix together the first part just before bed, and then finish up the shaping and baking as part of dinner prep. And because slow-risen doughs actually get better for a few days in the fridge, the baking can be done two or three days later.
This is a great gift for those who want to get into baking and only have a little understanding of what’s going on.
We’ve talked about cast iron skillets before on this site, but it bears repeating: cast iron is something every cook should have in their kitchen. The skillet we’ve chosen is from Lodge in the 10″ range. If the gift is destined to a household with a teen or two in addition to adults, the 12″ isn’t a bad choice, but it is 3.5 lbs heavier. Either way, the skillet comes pre-seasoned and ready to go, so the recipient doesn’t need to do anything to start cooking.
And if they already have a cast iron skillet, you might want to consider a Dutch oven.
Non-stick cookware gets a bad rap, but like many items, it’s usually because people go beyond its intended function. Pans with a non-stick coating should never go into a hot oven, and they never need to be heated beyond medium. Both can damage the coating as well as release fumes that can be toxic. But when kept to its intended purposes, a non-stick skillet is an indispensable tool in the kitchen.
This version from Tamontina is cheap and durable. It’s made from thick aluminum, so it heats up fast and evenly, further reducing the need for high-heat burners. The coating is perfect for cooking eggs in a variety of forms, crepes, and other delicate foods. Just don’t expect this to brown foods like a burger or steak, since that’s not what these are designed for.
If you haven’t heard of sous vide cooking, think of it as modern poaching. Water is brought to a target temperature, the food is placed in a food-safe, waterproof bag, and then it’s placed in the water. It’s held there for a period of time, during which is slowly reaches the same temperature as the water, resulting in gently cooked food of a perfect doneness. Sous vide is frequently done for proteins, especially delicate ones like fish. But combined with a quick sear in a pan, it’s also perfect for steaks.
Anova’s Precision Cooker is easy to use and can be attached to almost any pot or container. It quickly heats up the water to the right temperature and holds it there. The pump built into the cooker circulates water, making sure no hot or cold spots occur. Plus the movement of water cuts down on the cook time (similar in concept to a convection oven). It comes with either a Bluetooth or Bluetooth/Wi-Fi connection to help you monitor the water and time on your phone from a distance. Anova also has an app that includes numerous recipes, including The Food Lab’s sous vide guides.
It’s a great gift for families, as you can take some previously prepared and sealed foods (like chicken breasts) and throw them directly into the water after it comes to the target temperature, even if they are frozen (just add addition time). The more adventurous can use it to prepare things like brisket or pre-cook bacon for another morning.
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While any pot will work with the Anova, having these containers (which are really just food storage containers) on hand can make it easier. They are lighter, see-through, and insulate a little better than a stainless steel pot. Plus, they are a lot cheaper than trying to find a huge stock pot. There isn’t much else to say besides these are great gifts for someone who already has a sous vide cooker but is using pots.
One more disclaimer: We don’t own this product, either. But it’s been on our wishlist for over a year.
Pressure cookers are wonderful tools to have around the kitchen. They make quick work of a number of items, especially tough pieces of meat. They can also be used to make a beef or chicken stock in a short period of time. They do this by creating a sealed container in which pressure can build. This increased pressure also increases the boiling temperature of water, so instead of 212F (at sea level), the water doesn’t boil until 250F. And because water is much better at moving heat into food than air, this means food cooks a lot faster than if in a similar oven.
Traditional pressure cookers rely on a burner to heat up the water, and will begin to vent steam when a certain pressure is reached. From there, a cook needs to monitor the heat, as if it’s too high, it will waste energy and spew steam all over the kitchen. However, if it goes too low, the pressure isn’t maintained, leading to inconsistent cook times. We enjoy our traditional pressure cooker, but we haven’t used it as much lately since we stopped making baby food.
The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker. It has an electric heater and will monitor the pressure on its own to maintain the right heat. This means less tending and more consistent food. The downside is that if you have a recipe that wants you to sear or brown the food before putting it in the pressure cooker, an electric one won’t work as well as the traditional. The heat output just isn’t high enough. With that said, searing in a second pan on the stove, deglaze, then adding it to the Instant Pot is still better than not cooking it at all.
This is a great gift for someone who wants to try out all those pressure cooker recipes, but doesn’t want to invest the time in the traditional type.
That’s all we have for recommendations right now. If there’s anything we missed, please let us know in the comments below.