Kitchener-Waterloo·FOOD COLUMN

Got a home cook on your holiday shopping list? Andrew Coppolino has gift ideas to mix things up

Whether buying for an amateur baker or a seasoned chef, food columnist Andrew Coppolino has plenty of gift ideas for the holiday season.

Suggestions range from high-tech to old school, simple tools to advanced machines

Vita Saelzer is the chef de cuisine at Miijidaa in Guelph. She says a magnetic knife bar makes a great addition to any kitchen. (Miijidaa)

Editor's note: Andrew Coppolino is a food columnist for CBC Radio in Waterloo region.

Appliances, tools and gadgets can help people who love to cook — and those who don't.

If you have a home cook on your holiday shopping list, here are a few gift suggestions, both high tech and old school.

As for where to find these culinary presents, don't forget about the shops in your neighbourhood — many of which have become more sophisticated in the products they offer and have boosted their lines of home-cooking supplies. That includes hardware stores, specialty food shops as well as bulk food and cooking supply stores. 

At Kitchener's Relish Cooking Studio, there is a wide range of products for the home cook, including knives and cookware. Co-owner Donna-Marie Pye suggests checking out their line of Scanpan Haptiq and Techniq cookware, which retails between $185-$350.

"They've moved from the restaurant industry to serving households and the non-stick cookware is a little more expensive, but has been amazingly popular," Pye says.

Emily Schlieper-Thorpe, right, is pictured here with Aura Hertzog. Schlieper-Thorpe says a sous vide machine is a great gift, but a stand mixer is a necessity for home bakers. Meanwhile Hertzog says a solid spatula makes an excellent gift. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Kitchener-based chef and baker Emily Schlieper-Thorpe is torn between suggesting a classic countertop appliance and a relatively new trend: the sous vide.

"It's a tie between a stand mixer and a sous vide. I started doing sous vide turkey breasts last year and can't go back to a regular oven. But the most used thing in my kitchen is the stand mixer," says Schlieper-Thorpe.

From smart kettles to a 'botanical decarboxylator'

For cooks that love devices, there's plenty of equipment with embedded technology and connectivity. The internet-of-things play a big role in culinary and cooking convenience, but these gadgets come with big pricetags.

The best way to cook a steak to your preferred temperature is with a thermometer; the Meater Smart Thermometer adds further accuracy. Connect it to your phone to get notifications when the food is done; it calculates residual cooking time, so that 54C steak you desire doesn't climb a few degrees higher. 

The tea drinker on your list can activate their Smarter iKettle through Wi-Fi and voice activation, so they don't have to head downstairs to put it on the boil while working in the home office.

Infusing machine sits in the kitchen of Chef Travis Petersen in Coquitlam, B.C. Gadgets like this may just top the wish list of the home cook on your holiday shopping list. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

While it comes with the fancy name, "botanical decarboxylator," this premium Wi-Fi enabled countertop appliance called Levo makes herbal infusions (including cannabis, if you like) to butter, oils, honey, glycerin, and milk with ease and little mess.

Cuzen's Matcha Maker is a pricier gift, which runs about $600, but it makes matcha, the fine powder made from green tea leaves suspended in water or milk.

For those interested in reducing waste, the Lomi kitchen composter takes food scraps and even compostable plastics and grinds and dries them into a small volume of soil that can go into your house plants or garden.

'A really good spatula' is essential

Dropping down several layers of price strata, Ambrosia Corner Bakery owner Aura Hertzog suggests a humble tool but one that is a great multi-tasker: the spatula.

"It's something that people often don't think, but for me, it's essential," she said. "If you don't have a good one to take ingredients out of the vessel they're in, it's a challenge."

Don't go cheap with spatulas: they will wear out with use and washing. Make sure to get one with high heat resistance.

At Relish, Donna-Marie Pye points to several other popular items, including those by Dreamfarm.

"This company has won awards for the design and use of their products. We have loved their spoons, spatulas and pizza scissors for a while but we have brought in a lot of more of this line," she said.

She also recommends Ecologie's Swedish dish cloths, which run between $7 and $22, but can "replace 40 rolls of paper towel."

Pye also suggests a good stocking stuffer from the local Backyard Honey Company: cookware seasoning paste for cast-iron and carbon steel pans. 

Mike Naismith, chef de cuisine at The Rich Uncle Tavern, has a functional and multi-purpose device on his wish list.

"It would definitely be a small immersion blender," Naismith says. "It's perfect for soups, sauces and making vinaigrettes and emulsions."

Michael Naismith, chef at Rich Uncle Tavern in downtown Kitchener, suggests a small immersion blender that can help make soups and sauces. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Weigh it, mix it, bake it, clean it

Next to the thermometer, a kitchen scale helps with successful baking and other recipes. The heat resistant Drop Scale weighs ingredients and sends the results to the phone app. Quite useful is that the device suggests ingredient substitutions and will adjust the amount if you are short on an ingredient.

A simple device that's also a piece of art is the molinillo, basically an intricately carved Mexican "muddler" used to froth up hot chocolate and other beverages. Place the molinillo (it means "mill" in Spanish) into the mug of cocoa and rotate it rapidly between your palms like you're starting a campfire with a hand drill.

Bakers on occasion may have to "blind bake" pastry dough — to do that they add pie weights, ceramic marbles (or beans) called blinds to prevent the base from buckling as it pre-cooks before the filling is added. More convenient and easier to clean up is a pie weight chain.

If you know someone with a curvaceous wine carafe or other bottle that's hard to clean, stainless steel decanter cleaning beads gently swirled in the vessel's nooks and crannies with very hot water will break up and collect residue.

Some like it sharp

Finally, a good set of knives is key to good work in the kitchen. Jim Boone of Jimmy's Feed Co., who prepares and cuts a lot of sandwiches at his take-away restaurant in Waterloo, has a suggestion fo those who are not-so-likely to baby their cutting tools.

Jim Boone of Jimmy’s Feed Co. is dreaming of a self-sharpening knife set this year. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

"I'd like a self-sharpening knife set. Put them in the holder and as you pull it out it sharpens," Boone says.

At Kitchen Help in the St. Jacobs Farmers' Market, store owner Ruth Rieder recommends a popular range of knives from Rada.

"They're U.S.-made and one-piece moulded aluminum," she says. "They are popular sellers, they stay sharp and range in price from about $13 to $60."

To which I will add an offset serrated knife: the handle is higher than the blade, so your knuckles don't hit the cutting board and you can more efficiently cut tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables and fruits that have tough rinds and skins. (Don't forget: superstition dictates that you give a token loonie or toonie to the gift recipient to ward off bad luck.)

A magnetic knife bar makes it easier to find the right knife, is safer than keeping them in a drawer and makes you look chef-like, writes Andrew Coppolino. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

To store the knives, a magnetic knife bar does the trick. They keep your knives safely stored, rather than in a drawer, and they look very chef-like, too. It's the suggestion of Vita Saelzer, chef de cuisine at Guelph's Miijidaa restaurant.

Happy holiday shopping!

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