Editor’s Picks: The Top 10 Gifts for People Who Absolutely Love to Cook
Forget personalized cutting boards: home cooks really want items that make cooking easier, more delicious, and more fun. I’m Jess Novak, Head of Content here at Clean Plates, and all my beloved friends and family know that I’m an extremely dedicated home cook — which means I’ve received more than my fair share of well-intentioned, semi-useless kitchen gifts over the years. To save other culinarily-inclined folks from the same fate, I put together this holiday shopping guide, including a few favorite items from my own kitchen, and my favorite cooking gifts to both give and receive.
1. An Excessively High-End Fish Sauce
A beautiful bottle of fish sauce might seem like a weird gift, but hear me out: one bottle lasts for ages, it elevates your dishes by a mile, and it’s the kind of thing that’s hard to justify buying for yourself. If you’re unfamiliar with the stuff, you might be wondering what you even use fish sauce for, and I’ll tell you: use it in everything. Fish sauce is the cocktail bitters of the food world. It’s a critical component in many Thai and Vietnamese dishes, but it plays well globally. A couple of drops add unimaginable depth and umami richness to everything from tomato sauce to meat marinades and stews.
Haku Iwashi Whiskey Barrel Aged Fish Sauce ($32, Amazon)
For someone who spends an inordinate percentage of her life standing in the same place chopping and stirring, the idea of making that time easier on my body had never occurred to me until I received one of these anti-fatigue mats as a gift. It honestly makes the cooking process so much easier on my feet, back, and knees, and is a great gift for someone who loves to cook but has some issues with those areas (or is just getting older). And yes, it’s made of a material that can be easily wiped down, for when sauce inevitably drips onto it.
ComfiLife Anti-Fatigue Mat ($40, Amazon)
A little sprinkle of flakey sea salt elevates all kinds of dishes, from roasted asparagus to baked salmon to chocolate bark. I’m especially partial to the Maldon brand, which makes these crackling, excessively large salt flakes that provide an incredibly satisfying crunch. Pair it with a handcrafted salt cellar (I like this simple, olive wood version) for a beautiful, thoughtful gift that clocks in under twenty dollars.
4. A Bay Tree
Dried spices are a wonderful gift, but a live bay tree is basically a home cook’s dream. Bay leaves lose their flavor pretty quickly, so if adding this leaf to your dishes has been doing nothing for you, that’s why. Fresh bay leaves are so much more potent than old, dried ones, and they impart a delicate, slightly floral flavor that adds nuance to soups, risottos, chilis… you name it.
Bay Laurel Tree ($90, Etsy)
5. High-Quality Spices
The one thing that all home cooks always want: more spices. I’ve been ordering from Penzeys for years, and I love that their spices are always phenomenally fresh, the quality is top-notch, and the spice blends are, depressingly, so much better than what I typically put together myself. (The Sunny Paris seasoning is my fave.) I also appreciate that you can sort by sugar-free and salt-free blend options, which is great when considering folks with different dietary needs. Select from individual spices or blends as stocking stuffers, or opt for the well-curated Gift Box options.
Penzeys Spices (Gift boxes starting at $16, Penzeys)
6. A Blender That Makes Their Old Blender Look Like Garbage
I’m not going to tell you what brand my last blender was because I’m not petty like that, but I can tell you that my new Vitamix is a bajillion times better. I have a Vitamix One, which makes a great present and is definitely not cheap, but also does not cost the earth, unlike some of their other (exceptionally high-quality!) blenders. I’ve used this compact device for everything from making morning breakfast smoothies to pumpkin purée, and it’s handled everything I’ve thrown at it with aplomb.
Vitamix One ($200, Amazon)
Assuming your recipient is a meat-eater, this is the kind of gift that will just make them so incredibly happy. They don’t have to pretend to like it (it’s steak, after all), figure out where to put it (the freezer), or consider if it can be politely regifted (it’ll get eaten). Everyone’s body is different — some folks do great on a vegan diet, while others thrive on one that incorporates healthy meats — and the team at Clean Plates has written before about the various benefits of organic, grass-fed steak. Personally, I’m a fan of incorporating a little healthy meat into my diet, and Greensbury Market offers some of the highest-quality around. All of their beef is certified organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed, and hormone-free.
Two organic, grass-fed New York Strip steaks (from $32, Greensbury Market)
8. A Mandoline with Cut-Resistant Gloves
If your recipient loves to cook and doesn’t yet own a mandoline, trust me — they want one. They’re phenomenal tools and a great way to add more fruits and vegetables to anyone’s diet. (They make sweet potato fries a breeze, for instance.) But if you give the gift of a mandoline, you also have to include a glove. This should be made federal law. Mandolines are fantastic tools that make pristine slices, but they are also incredibly dangerous to work with if you don’t use gloves with them, seriously. Every single time.
9. These Magnetic Spice Tins
Ever since I popped these onto my fridge a few years ago, I’ve been grateful for them. Rather than digging around in my spice cabinet, I have a bunch of my most-used spices ready-to-go and in easy grasp: oregano, cumin, smoked paprika… it’s all there just ready for a little shake. These are an ideal gift for anyone with a smaller kitchen, or for folks who just cook so much that having spices at the ready is a solid idea. These spice tins are aesthetically pleasing, too: When someone new comes over, I inevitably receive a compliment on how cool they look.
Magnetic Spice Tins ($23, Amazon)
10. A Chef’s Knife That Makes Life Easier
A top-quality chef’s knife is a serious joy for cooks to use. I came up using heavy, German knives — which are great, and I still own several — but I’ve recently been tempted over to the side of lighter, more agile Japanese knives. I picked up one of these Mac Mighty knives last year and haven’t looked back. It’s lighter weight, which concerned me at first, but here’s the thing: it has a seriously sharp edge, and it’s made of an especially hard steel, which dulls much less quickly than many competitors.
Mac Mighty Chef’s Knife ($145, Amazon)
Jess Novak is the Head of Content and Audience Development for Clean Plates. She’s obsessed with making meals that taste like they’re not healthy but secretly really are. You can follow her on Instagram @jtothenovak.