Christmas Gifts for Beginning Home Cooks
Gift Ideas for the New Chef-in-Training
Do you know someone who is just becoming interested in seriously learning how to cook? Perhaps a son or daughter, living on their own for the first time at college. Someone who recently got married and wants to learn to cook better for their spouse. Or anyone else who simply reached a point of being tired of living on restaurant food, takeout and frozen dinners.
This gift guide is here to help you out with some terrific gift ideas for that budding home chef. Presented here are numerous cookbooks, kitchen gadgets, small appliances and other items that will help that new cook become inspired, prepare better meals, and learn how wonderful and fun cooking can be. I've selected them from my many years of home cooking experience and they are items I know have helped turn me from someone who could just barely boil water for pasta into someone who now loves to cook and hold elaborate dinner parties. So why not take a look through the products listed below - you'll surely find something that would make a wonderful holiday gift - or any-time-of-the-year present as well!
How Do You Feel About Cooking? - As you a "Master Chef" or a master of the take-out menu? Sound off on how you feel about home cooking!
Do you love to cook?
Best Cookbooks for New Cooks - Great Basic Books on Cooking
Of course, any new chef needs some good cookbooks, and it can be very difficult for that person know where to even begin.
The bookstore shelves are overflowing with new cookbook titles every day - which ones to chose? Some look very pretty and exciting with lots of flashy photography, but are not well-written or easy to follow for a novice chef.
The cookbooks listed below are some that I believe are wonderful - if not absolutely essential - for a beginning home chef. Any of these titles below would make for an excellent gift for a new cook.
Nothing beats "Joy of Cooking" as the ultimate reference book for ANY home chef. All of the basics are covered, from baking to frying to sauteing. Learn about different cuts of meat and how each is best prepared; learn how to prepare every basic dessert from chocolate cake to apple pie; learn all the basic sauces needed for classic cooking such as bechamel, tomato, or wine reduction; learn about basic vegetable preparations and have enough ideas so you'll never make them the same way twice!
Pasta is one of the first things most people learn how to cook for themselves - although some never get past boiling the water and heating a jar of sauce. This book takes a wonderful, in-depth look at preparing pasta in multiple ways, how to pair the right sauces with the right type of noodles, and how to modify basic sauce recipes in numerous different ways. It's easy to read and well-illustrated, making it a perfect choice for a beginning cook.
Pasta Cookery: Easy and Great For New Chefs!
In my opinion, no one does classic Northern Italian home cooking like Marcella Hazan. Her recipes were the ones I learned to cook Italian from and today, despite having hundreds of Italian cookbooks on my shelves, her books such as this one are still the books I reach for first. She will teach a new chef all of the basics of classic Italian cooking, going into detail about cleaning fish and shelfish, how to trim cuts of meat, and how to properly prepare rice, pasta and egg dishes. The instructions are detailed enough that a novice should have no trouble learning to prepare very elegant, impressive meals.
Stir fry techniques are fun and easy to learn. This lovely cookbook shows you how stir frying (in a wok or large sauté pan) can allow you to prepare a multitude of different meals simply and quickly. It's perfect for a home chef who might want to learn to make their favorite Chinese dishes for themselves, such as curry chicken or lo mein noodles. Yet more than Asian recipes are covered here, and the ingredients are generally easy to find in most supermarkets, not specialty shops. A good selection of vegetarian recipes are included as well.
Stir-Fry Cooking: Fast, Fresh and Easy
Alton Brown, star of TV's "Good Eats", has written numerous books on the science of cooking. This title is probably the best one for a new chef to start with, as it really looks at a lot of the basics of cooking and how certain things are done. It's about basic techniques such as searing, baking and braising and how heat affects food during the cooking process. Not so much a cookbook as a reference guide and textbook, Alton still makes learning about the cooking process fun.
Basic Tools and Cookware for the Beginning Chef - Essentials for the Home Kitchen
It's time for that new home chef to get serious about her cookware. Time to throw out cheap, worn out pots and pans from the Goodwill store, or cheap non-stick pans that are actually a hazard to use if their coating is worn and scratched. Help that new chef learn how the right tools make cooking that much more fun and easy at home.
A home chef needs a good, basic cookware set - and Cuisinart's 12-piece stainless steel set is perfect for meeting those needs. This set contains 1-1/2- and 3-quart saucepans, 8- and 10-inch skillets, a 3-1/2-quart sauté pan, an 8-quart stockpot and a steamer insert, plus of course all the appropriate sized tight-fitting lids. Heavyweight, they distribute heat evenly and are oven and dishwasher safe. My mother bought me a set of these when I was first seriously cooking on my own and I still love and use these pots today.
Wok cooking is fun and easy. While many cheap woks can be found in your local Chinatown or Asian supermarket, I recommend spending a little more - especially for a beginning chef - and investing in a good model like the classic wok from Joyce Chen. It's well-made and a great size for cooking at home. The 4-piece set comes with a 14-inch wok, a dome lid, a 12-inch bamboo spatula and a recipe booklet
Non-stick pans are great - and almost essential - for certain cooking techniques. Yet you want to buy good quality non-stick pans that won't easily get scratched or have the coating chip off. Again, I recommend Cuisinart's line of cookware as durable and sturdy, great for a new chef. This set of matching 9-inch and 11-inch skillets are great for getting started with non-stick cooking.
Any chef needs a good set of knives. Not only is working with poor quality knives difficult, but it can even be dangerous! Wusthof is one of my favorite brands of knives for the quality of their craftmanship and sharpness of blades (without being TOO sharp, which also can be dangerous for a new chef who hasn't developed good knife skills yet.) This 12-piece set contains a 2-1/2-inch parer, a 3-inch parer, a 4-1/2-inch utility, an 8-inch bread knife, an 8-inch cook's knife, four steak knives, a 9-inch honing steel, kitchen shears, and a 13-slot storage block to keep them all organized. It's nearly every basic blade a new chef could need to use on a regular basis, all made from high-carbon German stainless steel.
Crockpot cooking is another easy skill for a new chef to learn. It's also great for someone who might be busy at work or in classes all day - just set up the pot in the morning and dinner will be ready in the evening when you get home! This model from Hamilton Beach has a lot of nice features such as an LED digital control panel, clip-on spoon, and clip-tight gasket lid.
More Basic and Useful Kitchen Tools - Get That Home Chef Started Right
I love, love, love my Emile Henry bakeware and would buy one of these baking dishes for any new chef. It's so versatile, being great for oven baking, microwaving, freezing and more. Distributes heat exceptionally well, is durable and also cleans up in a snap. I use mine a lot for baking fish whole or in filet, making casseroles, or slow-roasting vegetables.
Every chef needs a good roasting pan. This one is great for making roast turkey, chicken or other meats, with a fitted roasting rack to keep the meat over the roasting juices (which then make for great gravy or sauce reductions!) The non-stick coating makes clean-up easy as well. I like Emeril's cookware a lot and find it well-constructed and heavy weight.
Spices, Seasonings and More for a New Chef - Help Them "Kick It Up a Notch"
Learning to season well is an important part of becoming a great chef.
Every chef needs a good collection of basic spices at their fingertips. This space-saving stainless steel rack comes pre-loaded with an assortment of basic seasonings such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, chili powder, garlic powder, basil, rosemary. It's a great way to start a new chef off with all of the basic spices they should regularly need.
Good Eats: The Complete First Season on DVD - A Great TV Series For Home Cooking Enthusiasts!
Alton Brown is a hero of many who have discovered, through his fun and engaging television series, the science behind good cooking. So why not gift a new chef with the first season of his television series, still considered the best by many? These episodes make for fun as well as educational viewing.
Many cooking basics are covered in this first season, including preparing steak, potatoes, eggs, dough, ice cream, turkey, roast chicken, gravy, rice, fish, chocolate mousse and that classic, French Onion Soup. Armed with this information, almost anyone can become a home "Iron Chef"!
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Got any other products or books you recommend for a beginning chef? Feel free to leave them here, and thanks for visiting my gift guide. I hope you got some ideas for good gifts for this Christmas season.