So your buddy or sibling or heretofore derelict life-partner has decided that now is the time to set aside a life of carryout and peanut butter sandwiches and become A Person Capable Of Cooking Meals At Home Like A Grownup. Good! Cooking at home is good.
Stocking a kitchen, on the other hand, is terrifying and expensive. So is Christmas shopping. Let's solve everybody's problems all at once: Here's a list of good kitchen shit to get for that loved one of yours who wishes to have the kitchen of an adult.
Nonstick pans are for Debauched Youth, and that's fine: They're easy to clean and maintain, so long as you don't scrape them with metal kitchen implements. On the other hand, they're unsafe at the kinds of temperatures you need to make food really tasty, and once they get scratched (they will get scratched), they're ruined. A nice, heavy, well-seasoned cast iron skillet, by contrast: is perfect for pretty much any cooking that doesn't involve a shit-ton of acidity; will last basically forever; and, when you inevitably forget and, like, simmer some tomatoes in it and ruin the seasoning, can be re-seasoned as many times as you need. Giving your loved one a big, wide cast iron pan is like giving your loved one a new best friend. And it's only like 35 bucks. Sweet deal.
A flat-bottom wok is great for stir-frying, of course, but it can also do the work of a deep-frying pot, a saucier pan, a saucepot, a steamer pot, and so on—which is great if the person you're shopping for doesn't have a ton of kitchen space. Your friend can pound a nail into an empty spot on the kitchen wall and hang the wok from it; it'll get near-daily use.
Fancy, insanely pricey, million-pound stainless steel woks are showy-looking but a complete ripoff; they take forever to heat up and are too heavy to maneuver. Y ou want relatively cheap carbon steel, hand-hammered or spun so that it has texture on the sides to hold food in place while it cooks; you shouldn't have to pay more than 30 bucks for a decent, serviceable one.
My wooden spoon split down the middle earlier this year, after many, many years of faithful service. I damn near cried. What I am saying here is that a good wooden spoon—long enough that it can be used to stir a full stockpot, if called upon to do that—is like a beloved dog.
Also they're cheap as shit. Here's a set of two for ten bucks.
This is a slim metal spatula, nominally for sliding under and flipping delicate fish fillets, but actually for all of your buddy's non-grill spatuling needs, forever. It's so articulate and precise and graceful! It's like an extension of your fingers! I swear, man, you feel like you've got telekinesis or some shit when you cook with one of these. Your newly cooking-serious loved one's cooking skills will improve 27 percent the instant the wrapping paper comes off this thing.
Dayna nailed this. Tongs are good for everything. Mine get used like six nights a week. The kind with rubbery nylon tips are OK, if you're buying for someone who uses nonstick cookware, but stainless steel tongs feel more precise, and they don't get hot food-magma caked on them as easily.
A weird fact about salad-making is that it's actually a lot of fun, if you've got the right shit and aren't, like, dumping the ingredients in your extra-medium-est tupperware and tossing them with two pairs of scissors. A big, attractive bowl and a pair of matching utensils, beyond their utility for salad production, also just make a nice gift: They're big, and relatively heavy, and nice to look at, and if your buddy doesn't come around to the joy of salad-making, the bowl makes a nice countertop repository for fruit. Here's a nice-looking set.
Tender, by Nigel Slater, is a gorgeous and fascinating guide to growing, cooking, and appreciating pretty much any vegetable you can think of. Of course your pal is not going to grow any damn vegetables, but this book will make him or her hungry to eat some.
I've stumped for this book before, but The Professional Chef, by the Culinary Institute of America, is the best, most informative, and most useful food book I own or will ever own. It focuses on techniques and information rather than recipes (it's not trying to convince you of any chef's individual genius, which is nice), and is as enjoyable to pore through like a coffee-table book as it is to follow like a cookbook. I have the 8th edition, and love it like it's my child; I'm sure the newer 9th edition is wonderful, too.
How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman, is another book that, to its author's immense credit, focuses on teaching you how to cook good food, rather than on teaching you how to cook a particular chef's stylized cuisine. And it has like 2,000 recipes in it, which means your buddy will get a ton of use out of it. Those are the best kinds of gifts.
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