What NOT to Give the Cook on Your List (2015 edition)

posted in: Ruminations | 11

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It’s been a while since we’ve played Scrooge. In 2011, I compiled 10 things not to give the home cook for the holiday season. Last year, I offered 5 “alternative” gifts for them instead. But we’ll take it back to that curmudgeonly place where it all began, since there are always newfangled food toys coming from the North Pole (or Mount Sinai for Hanukkah Harry land). Ho, ho, Who got me this crap?!

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1. Lemon Reamer

I get the appeal of these things — it looks like some crafty wise man made it in his shed. But if you’re holding a lemon half with one hand and this thing in the other, stabbing and turning it, you’re exerting an awful lot of effort when you can get the same result from squeezing the half in one hand. On the other hand, I like the word “ream.” We should use it more often.

What to get instead:
A good, solid wooden spoon.

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2. Garlic Press

Truth: garlic does not press cleanly from one of these devices. If you’re wondering what to do with the whole squashed half of the clove left inside this thing, you could toss it into a pot of stock or scraps to make stock with, but I’m guessing you’d be compelled to toss it out instead. This “tool” was deemed so useless to me and Brokeass Gourmet that we both called it out in an article.

What to get instead:
A nice cutting board. If your cook really cooks a lot, he or she will appreciate it.

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3. Accessories That Say “Kale”

Hoodies, tote bags, t-shirts and coffee mugs evidently have a new marketing angle in kale’s booming popularity. I’m not sure if the people buying these items actually like kale a lot, or think it’s ridiculous how much the leafy green is liked by others. I like kale and all, but buying more random things you don’t really need for the sake of a slogan? Oh, kale no.

What to get instead:
An ugly Christmas sweater.

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4. Toque

Unless you’re planning to dress up as the Swedish Chef next Halloween, you don’t need a toque. You will look silly in a toque. A toque will not do a better job of keeping hair out of your food than a baseball cap. And this toque will burn a hole in your closet for all of eternity.

What to get instead:
Bar mops. What the pros really have a lot of use for.

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5. Waffle Iron

Hey, hey, it’s waffle Monday! Said no one ever. I notice that people have been using waffle irons for many creative purposes lately, which I commend, because they were probably so frustrated by having a waffle iron burn a hole in their closet for all of eternity that they were determined to use it in some way other than making waffles. But you don’t have to put a person in that conundrum in the first place.

What to get instead:
A nice cast-iron pan.

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6. Obnoxiously Shaped Wine Decanter

Wine decanters are already an obnoxious object: they imply that wine bottles are not good enough for keeping wine in before you drink it, and that if you don’t have one, you’re just a sorry, sloppy drunk with no finesse. But these kinds of decanters really take it to the next level of obnoxious-ness, in hand-blown glass and preposterously fragile shapes. (Yes, I had an ex-boyfriend who was all about these things. And yes, the preposterously fragile hand-blown glass decanter broke, spraying the whole floor with the tiniest shards, like dust from hell.)

What to get instead:
A great bottle of wine, of course.

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7. Scraper

Most superfluous kitchen tools are designed to look way more complicated than they should for the task they serve. This one actually looks just like what it is: a waste of space.

What to get instead:
A cleaver. It’s the same thing, but with many more uses.

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8. “Multi-Purpose” Silicone Pads

These are not effective — they slip and slide from the handles of hot cookware (regardless of any textured “grips”) and they’re too stiff to really flex enough to get a good grip on it with your hand. Hence, you will easily burn yourself taking something out of the oven with these (imagine trying to grasp the thin rims of a scorching pie pan with them). And they don’t make an attractive or very effective trivet, either. Fail.

What to get instead:
A high-heat silicone spatula.

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9. Holiday-Themed Serveware

No, just because eating in-season ingredients does not mean that your platters and bowls, glasses and napkins need to be “seasonal” as well. Okay, maybe your disposable napkins can be. I’m guilty party of that one. See? I’m not a totally anti-fun, inhuman being.

What to get instead:
A proper cheese knife or two.

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10. Really Girly, Frilly, 1950s-Esque Apron, Oven Mitt, or Other Kitchen Apparel

Okay, maybe I am the Grinch Who Stole Christmas Fun. But this one takes the cake for so many reasons — even though I had already ranted about them last time around. They do not go away! It’s as if Bettie Page were reincarnated as Nigella Lawson and had a birthday lawn party where mimosas and brunch waffles (in the proper waffle iron) were served with garden fruit-adorned summer serveware (and napkins!) thanks to the help of lemon reamers and hand-blown glass decanters at the bar. Oh, and kale was served at this party! And you know who else was there? Yours truly, in a big, black trenchcoat totally out of place like a cloud of doom having the most unpleasant, unholiday-esque, un-fun time of all my life. I love this party, actually. Please invite me to it.

What to get instead:
A tough and ready-for-action apron with the curmudgeonly cook in question’s own name embroidered on it. Thank you.

11 Responses

  1. Roberta

    I want add “wee cheese boards that only hold a single round of goat cheese.” The best present is always a good cutting board because you can’t have too many of them. On the other hand, I really like and use my waffle iron. Waffles freeze well and are so much easier than pancakes.

  2. Aaron

    Overall a good list, but I agree with Roberta on the waffle iron. It is a multi-functional tool that you can get really creative with. Also, I love my ream! You get soooo much more juice out with that thing…especially from difficult limes that don’t seem to have a ton of juice, but actually have much more than you think.

  3. Jennifer Good

    I agree with both Aaron and Roberta. And must add I think bench knives (“scrapers”) are very useful to me. I could always use some Holiday themed pieces here and there as well. But I guess I’m young enough that I haven’t accumulated enough of that stuff yet.

  4. Cassie

    Agree with most of these unitasking frippery but I gotta say: love my bench scraper. Can’t imagine doing any sort of bread baking or pastry without it! Also it’s a great tool for cooking with little kids: they can use it like a knife with a little less danger!

  5. Jane Ward

    I love my bench knife, AKA scraper, and would suggest it’s a great gift for bread bakers. I own a few. Essential for my kitchen. Love my lemon reamer too.

  6. Kate

    I can’t imagine making margaritas without a reamer. Love that thing.

  7. Tricia

    Yes! I asked my husband for a super-tough apron with my name embroidered on it for Christmas this year. I love my girly aprons but really most of the time I just want to get to work in the kitchen

  8. Cathy Erway

    Thanks, all! And yikes, I didn’t realize how many people find the scraper indispensable to baking projects at home — and congrats to all for taking on cool baking projects at home! You live, you learn…

  9. Francesco Basenghi

    Scrapers arre essentials for bakers.
    Bread, pizza, piadina you name it.
    When you regularly bake your own bread, the way to go is a marble clearing, and a couple of good bench knives.


    i think .. these things help me while cooking.

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