Published Dec 3, 2009

I like to cook. You may have read. Any chef loves their gadgets, and, being a geek, I do so more than most. While I do tend to think that the solution to almost any problem is technology, I don’t like to keep things around that don’t really, really work. Since it’s the holiday season, and that means getting stuff for both of the major world religions of which I am a member, here are a few such gadgets I suggest you put on your wish list this year. For your online shopping convenience, I’ve included links to buy all these goodies at Amazon, which incidentally gives a smidge of the price of your purchase to me, at no cost to you. I’ve also tried to pick reasonably-priced entry-level options, for particular holiday season.

Ice Cream Maker — Everyone loves Ice Cream, but the homemade kind is really exceptional. Not only do you get any flavor you want, but the quality is really outstanding. And, if you make it Philadelphia Style, with no eggs, it’s remarkably easy. I like our little Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker.

Stick Blender — It’s winter, and there’s no better time for soups. Nothing makes a soup great like a creamy texture. Sure, you could puree your soup in batches in a blender, but that takes a long time and makes a big mess (bigger if you don’t hold that top on real tight). We get a ton of use out of our stick blender; at under $30, the entry-level Cuisinart is a great deal.

Digital Thermometer — Making a dramatic, delicious, and healthy roast is easy, if you use a thermometer rather than try to ballpark it by minutes-per-pound. A digital thermometer with a probe that sticks into the oven and a display that sits outside where you can read it easily is what you need. For years I used this one — it even beeps when it’s reached your target temperature.

Digital Scale — It’s not just for the bakers and the drug dealers anymore. If you’re interested in losing weight, then it’s all about portion control. Weighing your ingredients, or dividing up your leftovers, with a scale is the easiest way to manage your portions. I’ve been using this digital scale for years.

8” Chef’s Knife — It’s a little pricey, but a knife is something you hold every time you cook, you owe yourself a good one. And here, bigger is better. The chef’s knife is the most useful shape, with a point small enough to dice garlic with, but a long blade that you can use to chop any onion, potato, or bell pepper. The longer knife will make it easy to attack those big onions without any sacrifices on the garlic end of things. My favorite knife in the kitchen is this one from Wusthof.

Offset Serrated Knife — This is the best thing out there for bread (including sandwiches!) and also for tomatoes; instead of needing to push down to cut, which can crush a delicate thing like a beefsteak or a cheese steak. The trick with the serrated knives in general is to buy them as cheap as possible, so I suggest this nine-inch one.

Lemon Squeezer — While it’s not citrus season, when that time does come around, you’ll get much more juice from your lemons and limes, at much less effort, with one of these handled squeezers. Plus, they look great.

Mandoline — It’s not an instrument at a renaissance faire, it’s a very, very sharp thing, that slices vegetables and fruits nice and thin. If it’s easy to fix your veggies nice, you’ll make ‘em every day! We tried out this perfectly serviceable entry-level mandoline and discovered that we couldn’t live without it.


I have that stick blender. Christa has recently been applying it to pumpkins, for soup-making purposes. Works great.

I got an Escali scale a month or so ago. It came with no indication of how the batteries were supposed to be loaded — no manual, no +/- markings in the battery slot. After trying all configurations, there was only one that allowed it to turn on, but in that mode it claimed the batteries were low. We bought new ones, and it worked for long enough to configure it, and weigh something once. The next time I tried to turn it on, a few days later, it claimed the batteries were low again. I’m waiting to hear back from on whether I can return it. :-P

On knives, I’m a Henckel’s guy. (And at one point I happened to spot the Henckel’s logo on the knives in the original Japanese Kitchen Stadium — apparently the Iron Chefs were using the same knife set I have.)

I really should get a mandoline.

Hmm, my scale does not have either of those problems. You must have a lemon, sorry about that!

I also have some Henckels knives and really love them. It’s kind of like Adidas vs. Puma: Henckels and Wusthof are both in the same town, near each other, recruit from the same skill base, and source the same materials. (They use very similar steel.) Whichever way you go, you’re getting a great knife. Japanese knives tend to be quite different, in contrast.

That mandoline is only $9 and good enough to figure out whether or not you’ll like and use the tool. Give it a try.