A kitchen's worth of gift ideas

By Domenica Marchetti
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 10, 2009

As a rule, I am not much of a gadget person. I have had an iPhone for a year, but I'm still not sure what most of the features do. In the kitchen I have my favorite tools and appliances, the ones that I use and abuse regularly, and as long as they are in working order, I don't think twice about them or look for newfangled replacements. But when the holidays come around, my rules go out the window.

Who can resist those molds that make snowflake-shaped pancakes? Or the displays of silicone spatulas, spoons, whisks and pastry brushes set out like colorful bouquets? The gleaming knives, the cookie presses, the beaded cheese spreaders and the zesters.

The best thing about kitchen gadgets is their variety. You can please techies and Luddites alike; you can be extravagant or frugal, practical or whimsical. To help with your shopping, I've compiled the following list, sure to contain something to please the cook (or cooks) in your life.

1. Marcato Atlas hand-crank pasta machine. Decidedly low-tech, but it works as well as any fancy electric version and will last forever. This is great for the weekend cook who likes to play in the kitchen. $70 to $100 at La Cuisine in Alexandria, Target, Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma.

2. Marble mortar and pestle. Simple, functional and beautiful. Another low-tech choice, but what a great way to work off stress while creating something delicious, whether it's pesto for pasta or a blend of pounded whole spices for masala. From $30 at La Cuisine.

3. Stovetop Neapolitan espresso maker. No, it doesn't steam milk, but it takes up a lot less space and is a lot cheaper than a fancy espresso machine. A classic. $22 to $99 at http://www.fantes.com.

4. Immersion blender. For the soup (and sauce) chef in the family. Sleek and practical, some models come with a chopping attachment and/or a blending beaker. $30 to $120 at Hill's Kitchen on Capitol Hill, Sur La Table and Target.

5. Wind-up birdie salt and pepper shakers. Serve up a bit of whimsy with your holiday dinner with these colorful French table toys: Just wind them up and send them rolling on down to the other end. By Crea Crea; $19 at La Cuisine.

6. Portable induction cooktop. For the molecular gastronomist in the family. Slick and energy-efficient, this cooktop relies on electromagnetic energy to heat iron or steel pans without heating the surface around them. No flames, no fumes, and it does everything from sous vide to sear steaks. And it boils water in minutes. From $175 at Amazon.com.

7. Microplane sea salt shaver. For the salt fiend in the family who can somehow tell the difference between Hawaiian and Himalayan, this aqua-blue-handled stainless-steel grater comes with a small rock of pink Himalayan salt. $25 at La Cuisine and elsewhere.

8. Nesting Flex-it silicone measuring cups. These handy beakers are lighter than Pyrex cups, and a textured outer surface makes them easy to grip. $24.95 for a set of three at Williams-Sonoma.

9. Mezzaluna. This gadget's bowed blade is perfect for chopping herbs and other aromatics such as garlic. Single- or double-bladed. Various brands from $7 to $50 at Bed, Bath & Beyond, Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma.

10. Sustainable cutting boards. Architec's Ecosmart 12-by-16-inch board is made from recycled food-grade plastic mixed with flax husk. Made by a "zero-waste" facility, the board even comes with a label so that when it's completely worn it can be sent back to the manufacturer to be recycled. $19.95 at http://www.kitchenkapers.com.

11. Collapsible colander. A space saver and pretty to boot, this plastic-framed colander with a flexible silicone interior comes in a rainbow of colors. $10 to $30 at Bed, Bath & Beyond, Sur La Table and Target.

12. Vegetable choppers. "Stop having a boring tuna, stop having a boring life," exhorts Vince, the New York-accented pitchman for the Slap Chop brand. These self-contained appliances are designed to neatly and quickly chop small amounts of fruit, vegetables and more. From $19.95 at Bed, Bath & Beyond and Williams-Sonoma.

Marchetti is the author of "The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy" and "Big Night In." Her Web site is http://www.domenicacooks.com.

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