News Column

Top Gifts for Cooks

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Dedicated cooks always have a kitchen stuffed with appliances, pans and utensils. But most cooks can always use one more item, especially as manufacturers use new technology and designs to make life in the kitchen a little easier.

I asked Don McMillan, a co-owner of The Stocked Pot, 381 Jonestown Road, and Ann Adams, a co-owner of The Golden Apple, 3458 Robinhood Road, for some of their favorite ideas for gifts. Their ideas are listed in order of price, from $5 to $130.

--Le Creuset Pie Birds, $5 each, The Golden Apple. Le Creuset has come up with a fun, attractive and practical way to vent steam out of pies. Just place a ceramic pie bird inside the pie before putting on the top crust. The dough will rest on the bird's shoulders. The bird's head will poke out of the center of the pie, and a hole in the bird's mouth allows steam to escape. The result is a crust that doesn't sag and that stays crisper. They also can help prevent leaks in the filling. The birds are oven, freezer and dishwasher safe.

--Mastrad Spice Tube, $7, The Golden Apple. This silicone tube with small perforations is designed to hold a bouquet garni of whole spices and sprigs of herbs, replacing kitchen twine or cheesecloth. Just stuff the tube with whole herbs or spices and drop it into a pot of broth or other liquid. A screw-on lid keeps the herbs or spices inside. It can resist heat to 250 degrees and is dishwasher safe.

--Joseph Joseph Rocker Garlic Crusher, $11, The Golden Apple. Some people might find this plastic and metal utensil easier to use than a garlic press -- or at least easier to clean. You may even prefer it to a knife. Just place a peeled clove of garlic on a cutting board, then place the perforated area of the crusher over the clove and rock back and forth. Within seconds, it will produce minced garlic. It's big enough to mince two or three cloves at a time.

--Microplane Grater, $16, The Golden Apple. The Microplane has been around for a few years. When it first came out, it offered a big leap in efficient grating of nutmeg, lemon zest and other items. It's still as great as ever, but now the handles come in a rainbow of colors. They include pink, purple, red, green, blue and yellow. On the practical side, the graters now come with a plastic cover to help keep the edges sharp and to prevent them from snagging on objects.

--Mastrad TopChips Chips Maker and Food Slicer, $20, The Golden Apple. As demonstrated on "The Dr. Oz Show," this product makes fat-free chips in three to five minutes in the microwave. You slice potatoes, apples or whatever you want to turn into chips on the mandoline slicer. Then place the chips on the 11-inch perforated silicone tray and place it in the microwave. After a few minutes, out come crispy chips without any added oil or other fat. The box includes a cooking chart for different foods. The trays are stackable, up to three high, and dishwasher safe.

--Joseph Joseph Nest Utensils, $25, The Golden Apple. This set of five, multicolored utensils features magnets that hold them together. A spatula, pasta spoon, slotted spoon and solid spoon all nestle conveniently in a ladle that performs double duty as a stand. The dishwasher-safe utensils can withstand temperatures up to 464 degrees.

--Fusionbrands Serve It Up Porcelain Base, $30, The Stocked Pot. This white base, 5 inches in diameter and 4.5 inches tall, can turn any bowl or plate into a stand that can display your cakes, pies or other achievements to their best advantage. The key is a strong suction cup at the top. Just affix the plate or other dishware to the suction cup. The plate can be turned on the base. Two bases can be stacked. A convenient tab allows for easy removal.

--Salt Block ($30) and Salt Mortar and Pestle ($40 for both, or $20 for just the pestle), The Stocked Pot. Impress your party guests or just have some fun by cooking right on an edible salt block, or pounding pesto in a mortar and pestle made of pure salt. Place a salt block in a cast-iron skillet, heat it up, then cook your chicken, steak or other meat right on it. The meat will season itself from the salt. The pestle, about 8 inches long, can be bought separately and the salt can be grated straight from it. "It's just something fun and different, but it also gives a nice flavor to food," McMillan said. These potentially can last for years. The trick is to keep them dry. "If you sat this in a bucket of water, it'd be gone by morning," McMillan said.

--Eucalyptus Stoneware Baskets, $40 to $48 each, The Golden Apple. These attractive baskets all feature a woven basket look in various shapes, sizes and colors. This isn't just any basket, though. It can be heated in the oven, then used to keep bread warm at the table. Fifteen to 20 minutes in a 375-degree oven is enough to keep napkin-wrapped bread warm throughout the meal. Of course, you don't have to use it for bread or even heat it. "It also makes a beautiful fruit bowl," Adams said. Colors include blue, red, white, beige, green and yellow.

--GurglePot Pitchers, Small $25, Large $45, The Stocked Pot. These stoneware pitchers add a little fun and whimsy to the table. The fish-shaped pitchers come in fun colors, such as salmon, mustard, aqua, green and oatmeal. The real fun comes when you pour from them; they make a gurgling sound no matter what the liquid, with or without ice. The large is 9.5 inches tall and holds up to 42 ounces. The small is about 6.5 inches tall and holds 12 ounces.

--Epicurean Cutting Boards, small $13 to large $52, The Stocked Pot. Epicurean specializes in cutting boards made with eco-friendly materials. These cutting boards are made from wood composites and are knife-friendly, meaning they won't easily dull knives. They also are heat-resistant to 350 degrees and dishwasher safe. They are certified by the National Sanitary Foundation because they will not harbor bacteria. The small board is 6 by 8 inches. The large, which features a juice groove, is 11.25 by 14.25 inches. McMillan uses them during cooking classes. "I like that you can throw them in the dishwasher and they don't warp like plastic," he said.

--Zwilling Spirit 3-Quart Saute Pan with Glass Lid, $130, The Stocked Pot. Zwilling, owned by famed knife maker Henckels, is a line of eco-friendly, nonstick pans with a ceramic coating that is free of the controversial PTFE and PFOA used in conventional nonstick coatings. Zwilling uses the trademarked Thermolon ceramic coating. The pan is oven safe to 500 degrees and dishwasher safe. It features a stay-cool handle. Its three-ply construction has stainless-steel interior and exterior layers that sandwich an aluminum core for quick and even heating.

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