Geeks love cooking and there's no mystery why: it's science you can eat! We spent a week salivating over food gadgets, gathering tips and wisdom along the way. From that experience comes our list of best (and worst) gift ideas:
Portable Induction Cooktop: I always assumed getting into induction cooking meant gutting your kitchen and calling in some expensive Euro gear. But the truth is, getting a plug-in induction burner is an easy, affordable way to get into a cooking science that's already taken off in other parts of the world. Wired's Mark McClusky told us that Max Burton was a good 'un, and you know, I'm actually pretty tempted to buy one for myself. Just make sure your gift recipient has steel pots and pans, 'cause aluminium doesn't do the magical magnetic thing. $US75 [Athena Brands]
All-Edge Brownie Pan: For anyone who loves the crunchy-chewy edge of the brownies that touch the pan's outer wall, this is absolutely the gift. However, as we learned, there are legions who feel the exact opposite, that edges should be soft and knife-cut only. For them, this gift would be a hand-holdable version of hell itself. $US35 [ThinkGeek]
Stick Blender: Good lord what would I do without my stick blender? Soups sure wouldn't be the same, nor jams, nor sauces. It saves you from having to transfer hot ingredients to and from your blender, where you risk 12 different kinds of third-degree burn. Of course, it takes a steady hand, and someone smart enough to not stick their finger where the spinning blade is, so choose your gift recipient wisely. I found out while researching this that my own 400W Braun may well be discontinued, and if it's not, it costs an arm and a leg. (I think it was a wedding present.) In lieu of that, go with the Cuisinart CSB-76 Smart Stick. It's cheap and a much better gift. $30 [Cuisinart]
A Window Fan, Air Filters and Bungie Cords: What better experience to offer your favourite food nerd than a DIY home dehydrator, the most foolproof Alton Brown hack we know of? Throw some meat in between the filters, run the fan overnight, and in the morning you got jerky. And we know for certain it's foolproof because our own Macgyver Chef tried it out and didn't die! Our only recommendation is to find out what your recipient already has — if they have it all, just buy the meat and point them to the guide. $US30 to $US40 [Alton Brown's Recipe; Our MacGyver Chef Experience]
My Weigh KD-7000 Digital Scale: Don't let the corny Frank Sinatra reference fool you, this scale is what pros favour (at least for their home cooking). The My Weigh line is a tad confusing, but our friend Michael Ruhlman says the KD-7000 is the one with "percentage" weighing, so you can bake in precise weight ratios rather than imprecise volume measurements. Best of all, for what it does, it's really not expensive. $US38 [My Weigh]
Good Eats: The Early Years by Alton Brown: The commander-in-chief of food nerds just published a cookbook that mirrors his show, so you can skim to find the tips and recipes in episodes like "Squid Pro Quo" and "American Pickle". It's way better than trying to recreate things by looking at the Brown's barebones Food Network recipe listings. The book covers the first 80 shows, so it's got a crazy variety of themes to get the apprentice kitchen whiz on your list started. $US22 [Book Review; Amazon]
PolyScience Immersion Circulator plus a Vacuum Sealer for Sous Vide Cooking When I asked Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas what a great long-shot fantasy kitchen gift would be, he said, without hesitating, a sous vide set up. This style of "cooking in a vacuum" relies on a precision water bath to get your meat or other ingredients to exactly the right temperature, with zero risk of overcooking. The setup is insanely expensive, and if you don't know what you're doing, you could risk sharing some food-borne illnesses. But what does all that amount to against the spirit of Christmas gift giving? From $US1000 [ Circulator Kit with Thomas Keller's Guide]
DON'T BUY a Knife Sharpener: Confession: Two years ago for Christmas I gave my in-laws a knife sharpener, and that same year I got one from my wife. We thought we were the coolest. But now we know the truth, in the form of dull knives. When I interviewed Alton Brown this summer and asked him if he'd ever use one, he replied, "If I had any knives I hated that bad, sure." This year, I have asked my wife for professional knife sharpening. I'll let you know how that turns out. [Good and Bad Kitchen Gadgets]
This list is by no means comprehensive, so go ahead and comment on any potential kitchen-oriented gift that strikes you as a good idea.
All Giz Wants is our annual round-up of favourite gift ideas, including amazing attainable objects and a few far-out fantasies. We'll be popping guides catered to different interests several times per day for the next week, so keep checking back.