Looking for stocking stuffers for that cooking enthusiast?
We asked Peter McNamara, a Boston-area culinary expert - who has tested the best and the worst of products - to lead a kitchen gadget treasure hunt. After scouring a half dozen stores, we came up with a list of simple, but helpful tools.
Store managers and owners offered some of their bestsellers as well as their personal favorites. While we tried to gravitate toward the less-expensive gadgets, we couldn't resist a few splurges.
Here's a wish-list, in no particular order. Almost all of these items can be found in any good cooking or kitchen-supply store.
ACEA garlic "madeline." $8.95. A must-have: Mince or slice garlic without using knife and fingers. (One customer approached us and said, "it's the best thing I ever bought for my kitchen.")
Stainless tea infuser. $4.95. Crate & Barrel. Grabs loose tea right from the can; it looks like a mini open-fire popcorn popper.
Cedar Fresh Jarpop - "World's easiest jar opener." $2.99. Kitchen Arts. Buy two, one to hold the bottom of the jar on the counter, the other for opening.
Hand-held wooden citrus squeezer. $8.50. Williams-Sonoma. Easy, hassle-free.
Wooden tongs. $5.They're not just for toast, you can use them to turn steak, bacon, and other things. Magnet on back lets you keep them handy.
AMCO measuring spoons. $9. Stainless steel. Is a tablespoon really a tablespoon? Tests indicate that many measuring spoons are not consistent. These are laboratory accurate.
Oxo's "Good Grips" can opener ($10) and vegetable peeler ($6). Not only do their thick rubber handles make for easy gripping, but the products' overall performance is a cut above. Dishwasher safe.
"The Original Pop-Up Sponges." $9.50 for package of 12. Williams-Sonoma. Super absorbent, can withstand bleach, and you can throw them in the washer or dishwasher.
Acu-rite Instant chef's thermometer. $7.95. Crate & Barrel. An absolute must.
Bodum round kitchen timer. $9.95. Crate & Barrel. White, black, bright orange or green. Especially if you need reminding.
lan Garlic peeler. $7.95. Roll off the odious skin in a second. Who knew this cylindrical tube could be that useful?
Fox Run ceramic pie weights. $4.99. Lechters. For conventional use or microwave. They heat evenly, and, they're washable/reusable.
Sieger nutcracker. $19.95. Kitchen Arts. Its conical shape allows for the ultimate control - the shell cracks; leaves nut meats intact.
Rapid Ice. $7. Brookstone and other stores. This space-age-looking sleeve chills bottles and soda cans in five minutes. Comes in small and large sizes.
Bonjour Caf Froth or Bodum Latto. $19.95. Kitchen Arts. Non-electric plunger makes milk frothy in minutes.
Pickle fork or pickle grabber. $1.95. Keep your fingers dry.
"Nonion." $7.25. Metallic alloy "washes" odors from your hands without soap.
Kayser Houseware's Cutaway flexible cutting mat. $3.95. Like a placemat you can cut on. Group the crumbs or scarps, slide them into garbage.
Citrus zester. $5, Crate & Barrel. Makes a tedious job a snap.
Bird-shaped lemon slice squeezer. $6. Williams-Sonoma.
Stainless steel, hand-held scraper-chopper. $6.50. Crate & Barrel. Great for working pastry and cleaning up afterwards.
Splurges that can still fit in a stocking:
Cuisinart Mini-Prep. $32.50. Williams-Sonoma. Perfect processor for parsley, pesto, homemade salad dressings, or homemade mayonnaise.
Wusthoff kitchen scissors. $41.50. Stoddards. Stainless, hot-dropped forged. Super durable, great strength (can cut through chicken bones).
Unicorn Minimill. Pocket pepper mill. $17.50. For when you can't do without your special pepper. Or Unicorn (one-handed) Peppergun. $23.50.
Chef's Choice 110 "diamond hone sharpener" knife sharpener. $86.95. So many chefs wore out the motors on the first model, the company has come out with a stronger version. Top of the line. (P.S. about the worst thing you can do with a valuable knife is run it through a dishwasher.)