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Last-minute gifts for the cook

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

So you still need to buy something for the cook or newlywed or recent graduate who enjoys time in the kitchen.

The truth is, you don’t have to spend a fortune to come up with a nice gift.

Everyone needs a good, old-fashioned cast iron skillet, pre-seasoned, or with instructions for seasoning. These aren’t that hard to find, and a good skillet is something that they can pass down to children and grandchildren.

Tuck in a recipe for skillet cornbread and that will get them started.

If you are using a cast iron skillet, you will need potholders. Always handy, always appreciated. If you cook a lot, your potholders wear out or get pretty grimy. Be careful with some of the new-fangled silicon ones, they can be stiff and hard to use, and some are too thin. Get good, thick cloth ones.

Kitchen towels, which can double as pot holders, if necessary, are best in cotton. If you can find the old fashioned cotton-crocheted ones, all the better. Kitchen towels, the good ones, can last a long time and are easy to wash. Skip the fabric softener to keep them absorbant.

Flour sack towels are great, too, and in some places, you can find a bagful, 12 or more, for a good price. These never go out of style.

A rasp is ideal for grating citrus peel, garlic, nutmeg, you name it. You can find these at the grocery store. You might want to get a small one just for garlic to keep that flavor away from the citrus. Find them in a variety of sizes.

A handheld grater and/or a box grater has so many uses. I can’t stand the thought of taking out my food processor to grate cheese and then having to clean all the parts, Plus, hand-grated cheese is finer than what the food processor can do and melts better. A little handheld grater is ideal for topping eggs with cheese or showering spaghetti with Parmesan. Have you made a grilled cheese sandwich with shredded cheese? You can mix several flavors at once and it’s delicious.

Wooden spoons are always on my list. I use these in all my non-stick cookware and in glass bowls. Get a variety of sizes and shapes. Don’t spend a lot on them. Just make sure they are sturdy and smooth. When they finally wear out, use them for something other than cooking.

Silicon spatulas are great. Make sure to get the ones that are heatproof so you can use them in hot and cold dishes. Sometimes a spatula is the only thing that will work. Some swear by spoonulas, with a slight curve to the silicon, but a flat spatula can get in so many places. Get a couple of the skinny and short ones, too, for small items.

Good kitchen shears — sharp ones — will become a go-to tool. Get a pair you can cut up a chicken with. You will use a good, sharp pair of kitchen scissors over and over again. It’s the right tool when a knife is not quite enough. Plus, scissors are my method of cutting green onions, parsley, cilantro, any herb, really. They’re great for cutting up dried fruit like apricots, too.

A mini food processor, for the jobs between scissors and the big bowl processor. These are great for quickly chopping nuts for a topping, for combining small amounts of things, like herbs and bread crumbs, for a small serving of salad dressing. I use this more than the big processor, really.

An easy-to-use knife sharpener, because a dull knife is a dangerous knife.

An extra set of measuring spoons and dry measuring cups. Mine seem to disappear, and I bet yours do, too. The simpler the measuring spoons, the better. They have to fit into small jars and boxes. I’m a fan of the old-fashioned metal ones on a ring, but I also like a plastic set.

One of those shotglass-like measuring cups, which is marked for tablespoons and teaspoons. It’s great for measuring something and setting it aside until needed.

We have glass cutting boards, which are easy to clean and sanitize and hard on knives. We have plastic cutting boards. What you need is a good, wooden cutting board or a bamboo. Bamboo lasts forever, and it looks good, too.

Get several sizes of mesh strainers. The large size is ideal for gravies and sauces; while the smaller ones are handy for straining fresh lemon juice, or even tea.

Avoid gadgets that do just one job. You don’t need a corn stripper unless you plan to freeze or can a lot of corn.

An avocado tool is just something else for the miscellaneous drawer when a knife is all you really need, and maybe a spoon.

You don’t need a patented herb keeper if you have water, a cup and paper towels. Heck, you could cut the top of a water bottle or soda bottle and have an herb keeper.

A potato masher, for instance, can mash potatoes, avocados for guacamole, beans to thicken a pot of soup, ripe bananas for banana bread. It can break up ground beef that you’re browning. It’s handy to have around.

An oven thermometer to check you oven’s temperature is a great idea, and something many cooks don’t think of until something doesn’t quite come out.

Also get an instant read thermometer to check the doneness of your chicken or roast.

You can grab most of this on a trip to the grocery store, or the discount store, of you can get handsome, fancy versions at a specialty store.

Wrap it up in a crock or basket, and you’re ready to go.

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