Cooking is often considered a household chore. Elevate it beyond the hum-drum with a low-cost kitchen refresh that makes getting meals on the table (and eating them) a lot more fun.
And if you’re the chef in the house, there’s no harm putting together a Christmas wish list. After all, the holidays center on peace and harmony: What promotes that better than satisfied stomachs?
STEEL IN YOUR STOCKING: For a budget-level gift that sparkles and lasts almost as long as diamonds, stainless steel utensils are a great choice. The steel is coated with 10 percent chromium, a chemical element that prevents rust. Chromium doesn’t tarnish and is also recyclable, making it environmentally friendly.
There are innumerable products made from stainless steel. Don’t overlook a China cap cone strainer for straining puréed soups and sauces. The other must-have is a fish turner, a flexible spatula with beveled edges for reaching into cookware corners and curves and long slots for draining.
DOWNTON ABBEY DREAMING: The right tools can transport cooks into a fantasy world—like Mrs. Patmore’s basement kitchen at Downton Abbey. The Abbey’s most recognizable culinary workhorse is the Mason Cash mixing bowl—a prop used so frequently in the British TV series it almost had its own dressing room.
The iconic bowls have been produced in South Derbyshire since 1901; other potteries in the area include T.G.Green & Co Ltd in Church Gresley. The classic color—medium caramel (called “cane”) with a white interior—and raised designs around the rim and bell of the bowl are clues for which company made the pottery. New bowls cost between $10 to $40 at The Cupboard in Fort Collins and come in a range of colors in addition to the original, but if you’re game for hunting, you might score a vintage one in an antique shop or on eBay.
If you’ve got the bowl, you might as well bake. Make it pretty with a NORPRO Springerle/Shortbread rolling pin ($24 at Miss Mary’s Kitchen/Lincoln Park Emporium in Greeley). An Emile Henry 9-inch ruffle-edged pie dish ($45, Miss Mary’s Kitchen) is perfection. Made in France, the ceramic dish insulates and evenly distributes heat throughout the bakeware. Pair with a set of R&M pie birds ($12, Miss Mary’s Kitchen) to vent steam and prevent soggy crusts.
ASIAN ADVENTURE: Delicate bowls and porcelain soup spoons make dining in feel like you’re going out. Pair with a gift certificate for a take-out meal, your favorite bowl of pho or a package of frozen dumplings and Tom Kha soup from a Thai restaurant. Or explore beautiful produce and plan your next Asian culinary adventure in your own kitchen.
A few favorite spots for perusing:
• Asian Market 3000 23rd Ave., Greeley
• Golden Star Asian Grocery 2393 W. 29th St., Greeley
• H Mart 5036 W. 92nd Ave., Westminster
If you’re up for slicing and dicing, functional tools like a Santoku knife get the task done with precision. The knife’s flat blade is more specialized than a chef knife. Basic lines at The Cupboard can run $15; Japanese, German and other Western style knives go up to $200. Keep knives sharp with easy-to-use Wicked Edge sharpening equipment (wickededgeusa.com). Gift a knife with a penny for the recipient to return to you—according to folk legend, the gift might sever the friendship but the penny solves the problem!
MEASURE IT UP: Cooking is part creativity, but measuring implements transform you into a kitchen scientist. That’s because mixing, heating and freezing—the activities that convert raw food stuffs into edible meals—is chemistry in action. Baking particularly relies on accuracy, and while taste is relative, a good recipe apportions ingredients to achieve the best balance of flavors.
Scientists wear goggles in the laboratory to protect from splashes and fumes. Onions will meet their match with onion goggles ($30 at surlatable.com), ideal for preventing tearing up when chopping the pungent alliums. The goggles will either make you look cool as a cucumber or nerdy—but you’re not crying into the onions if you wear them.
Many recipes measure in pounds or ounces for better accuracy. Go analogue with a retro-style, stainless steel kitchen scale with a large capacity bowl to weigh potatoes, tomatoes, dry beans and more. If you prefer a sleek look, a flat digital scale dials down the accuracy, and weighs mail too—no more over-guessing on postage stamps. A wide range of brands are available. Find one that calls to you.
Gauge liquids without mess with Anchor Hocking’s petite 5-ounce measuring glass ($3.50 at Safeway). There’s even one for the bar with a pouring lid ($9, Safeway).
PLAN TO PREP: Meal prepping is hotter than ever. To start, you need equipment to pack it in. Snapware Total Solution glass containers at King Soopers have easy-open four-latch lids and are made with Pyrex oven-safe, tempered, BPA-free glass. For small spaces, get Stasher storage bags at The Cupboard. The reusable silicone bags are plastic-free, seal to lock in freshness and are freezer, microwave and dishwasher safe.
Part of prepping is about saving money. Bulk spices are less expensive than smaller jars. A low-cost coffee grinder (Cuisinart Electric Coffee grinder, Target, $120) makes spice grinding a whiz, and VOPTON stainless steel mini funnels with different diameters ($6, amazon.com) direct ground spices into storage jars without a mess. For these prices you can afford one grinder for coffee beans and another for spices.
EXPLORE PLANT-BASED EATING: Cooking vegan or plant-based supports Northern Colorado’s local growers who grow beautiful fruits and vegetables. Get inspired to eat less things with legs and fins with certified vegan chef Lisa Boesen’s award-winning cookbook, “Food Elevated,” available on Amazon and local book stores. The Fort Collins chef also took continental cuisine and veganized it in “Veg Around the World,” with recipes and nearly 100 cooking tips.
LET’S LIGHT THIS PARTY: Whether you’re entertaining a crowd or having tea for two, setting the table sets the scene. Start with the Pina Pro lamp to cast a mellow on/off touch dimmable LED glow to the table; its minimalistic design blends into any decor. At $149 each, they’re pricey, but the lamp is rechargeable and long-lasting. For a budget option, there’s a two-pack mini version from YIBEN in brown, gray, silver or pink for $70. Both available at amazon.com.
CAST A GLOW: Jax Outdoor Gear has everything for exploring nature but also brings you back inside with flower-strewn Polish Pottery stoneware, classic Fiesta dishware and Zwilling JA Henckels wine glasses for all occasions. A JAX imprinted Lodge cast iron skillet ($30), and a chainmail scrubbing pad ($20) to keep it spiffy, is a necessity for cooking in the kitchen or in the great outdoors. And for cooks on-the-go, a Stanley Classic Stay Hot French Press holds 48-oz of coffee and says, “I get your java habit,” for only $70.
Emily Kemme is a Colorado writer and cooking store fanatic. Her husband of 39 years has to threaten divorce to get her out of a cooking store.