Gift Guide: Kitchen Tools and Appliances

Since I’ve been an avid cook for more than a decade my kitchen is pretty well stocked so I thought I’d share the tools and appliances I use – and love – the most! Hopefully the timing of this gift guide will be good for all those holiday shoppers (and list makers) and also for those who are lucky enough to be registering for gifts for an upcoming wedding. If I left any of your favorite kitchen tools off the list please share them in the comments below.

  • Food Processor
    This appliance is at the top of the list for a reason…I use it all of the time! I have the Cuisinart Food Processor, and this is definitely an appliance where “you get what you pay for.” We got ours as a wedding gift over 11 years ago and aside from replacing the bowl twice (one time was user error…apparently you aren’t supposed to grate mozzarella in it!) our machine is still going strong. I use our food processor for all sorts of things like making dough (for pizza, pasta, and tortillas), pesto, powerballs, and for shredding cheeses…other than mozzarella of course.
    Recommended: Cuisinart Food Processor
  • Mini Chopper / Food Processor
    A miniature food processor is a very affordable appliance for shredding small items like fresh ginger, garlic, or a few carrots (to go in your meatballs) and also to make small batches of pesto. The last thing I want to do is clean my big food processor and all its parts if I just need to grind up one quick thing. This certainly won’t replace the need for a big one, but if you are on a budget it would certainly be a good place to start.
    Recommended: Black & Decker Mini Chopper
  • High Quality Pots and Pans
    This is another area where “you get what you pay for” as far as durability goes. If you buy high quality (a.k.a. expensive) pots and pans they will honestly last you a lifetime. We use All Clad pans, although there are several other comparable brands out there that would hold up just as well. The prices can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to get them all at once. Ask for a new one each year for your birthday and for your holiday gift and within a few years you will have a collection!
    Recommended: All Clad Stainless Steel Pots & Pans
  • A Set of High Quality Mixing Bowls
    This is yet another purchase that can last a lifetime if you buy a high quality product. We have a set of both glass and porcelain mixing bowls that we got in 2000 and other than one broken bowl over the last decade they are showing very little wear and tear. And this is one of the few kitchen tools we use almost daily.
    Recommended: Duralex Nested Mixing Bowls
  • Crock Pot / Slow Cooker
    I make everything from refried beans to chicken stock in my crock pot and what you’ve heard about this appliance is true…it is the best way to make inexpensive cuts of meat taste great! My slow cooker is pretty basic, and I use it several times a month so it was definitely worth the small investment.
    Recommended: 6-Quart Rival Crock Pot
  • Hand Immersion Blender
    Now I don’t use this tool quite as much as the others mentioned, but what this appliance does for me is just short of magical. In the old days when I would make big double batches of soup (like butternut squash or split pea) and it came time to puree the soup I would make a HUGE mess transferring it in batches to my countertop blender, pureeing each batch, then trying to figure out where to put the soup that was pureed since more “un-pureed” soup still remained in the original pot. Trust me – it was a big pain. Now for a small investment of $29 when it comes time to puree a soup I simply break out my immersion blender, take the soup pot off the heat, put the blender stick in and voila…my soup is done! I also use our immersion blender to make homemade berry sauce as well.
    Recommended: Cuisinart SmartStick Hand Immersion Blender
  • Countertop Blender
    Just because I have a hand immersion blender doesn’t mean I don’t need a countertop blender as well. I use this one to make smoothies (which we make quite frequently), banana ice cream, and even batter for some recipes like crepes. Now I don’t have one of those fancy “Vitamix” blenders, and sure… I’d love one if it just showed up on my doorstep for free, but it’s hard for me to justify spending $400+ on a Vitamix when my cheap Target blender honestly does the trick.
    Recommended: Countertop Blender
  • Salad Spinner
    We actually didn’t need one of these before our switch to real food because we rarely ate salads or greens (gasp!). Now that we’ve come to our senses, and also started buying organic and local greens, a good bath is actually quite necessary before we take our first bite. And that spinning action really does work when it comes to drying out the lettuce…not to mention how much our girls love to push the button and watch it go!
    Recommended: OXO Salad Spinner

Small, but Necessary Tools

  • Good quality measuring spoons / cups – I have 4 sets of stainless steel measuring spoons (3 sets of cups), and I use all of them frequently! If you plan to make/bake a lot of “real food” recipes from scratch these items are just a necessary evil and once again – if you invest a little money they will last you a lifetime. Tip: The elongated measuring spoons fit in little spice jars more easily.
  • Soup Ladle – For some reason I went through years of soup making before I owned a ladle so I thought I’d throw this on the list just in case anyone else has overlooked the need for this handy little item. I also use my ladle to spoon pancake batter onto the griddle and waffle batter into the waffle iron.
  • Whisk – From making a roux to scrambling eggs and mixing sauces…another necessity.
  • Good quality bread knife (and other knives, too) – I actually got this advice from some blog readers after I got my bread machine…and they were right. A really good bread knife, which doesn’t have to be very expensive, can make or break your loaf of bread after it comes out of the machine/oven.
  • Mesh colander – If you plan to make homemade stock (which is light-years beyond the canned stuff) then a colander is necessary to strain out the bones, herbs, etc.
  • Splatter guard – If you need to pan fry something greasy on a high temperate this tool does exactly what it says…guards the splatter from making a mess of your entire stove.
  • Ice cube trays with lid – I use these to freeze items in small batches for school lunches like applesauce and tomato sauce (for pizza). I also use them to freeze small quantities of chicken stockand homemade pesto.
  • Freezer-safe glass jars – This is the first year I’ve used jars and I am finding that the small jelly size jars are great for freezing individual portions of soup for school and work lunches.
  • Fruit slicers — Apple & Mango –- You don’t have to worry about learning how to properly slice a mango if you have one of these!
  • Olive oil sprayer – Since we’re now more careful about the oils we use I love to have an “approved” unrefined oil in spray form.
  • Good cutting boards – I’ve tried the inexpensive white plastic cutting boards from Target and all they do is warp and stain. It’s worth it to invest in some higher quality boards in the beginning because you’ll end up wanting to replace the cheap ones anyway.
  • Kitchen shears – We use these food-safe scissors for all sorts of things like cutting up raw bacon, slicing spinach/lettuce, shredding cooked meat, and opening packages.

Extras: Some nice to have, but not need to have items…

  • Panini Grill We’ve had our panini grill for almost a decade, and I’ve gone through many different phases of being obsessed with it and forgetting about it. I am currently in a very long obsession phase, therefore I’ve been making paninis almost weekly. If you have one of those “George Foreman” grills I believe they’ll work just the same. There’s nothing like a hot grilled sandwich for lunch and in case you need some ideas of what to make check out the list on this post: Sandwich Inspiration
    Recommended: Krups Panini Grill
  • Ice Cream Maker
    I don’t use this appliance as much as the others, but oh how I love it. And the reasons I love homemade ice cream are plenty…
    – You can control how much sweetener (and what type) you put in, and I usually use less than half as much sweetener than what a traditional ice cream recipe calls for.
    – My machine is very quick and easy
    – no salt or hand churning required!
    – The outcome tastes nothing like an ice cream box.
    – Watching the ice cream come to life is fun for both little and big ones! We’ve made everything from maple pecan vanilla ice cream to fresh strawberry ice cream to peach sorbet. And the first time I offered up strawberry ice cream to my husband he said he didn’t like strawberry ice cream, but come to find out he’d only had the store-bought artificially flavored stuff and absolutely loved the fresh “real” version…yum!
    Recommended: Cuisinart Automatic Ice Cream Maker
  • Tortilla Making Supplies
    – Tortilla Press – A press, in my opinion, is necessary for making homemade whole-grain corn tortillas. And I make these quite frequently because it is a fairly quick process once you get the hang of it.
    – Rolling Pin – I think a rolling pin is the best tool for making whole-wheat tortillas. These are a little more involved than the corn tortillas since the work of thinning out the dough has to be done by hand, which is when that rolling pin comes in handy.
    – Cast Iron Skillet – I make both corn and flour tortillas on fairly high heat in our cast iron skillet.
    – Tortilla Warmer/Holder – Since it takes me a good 20 to 30 minutes to make a batch of a dozen tortillas I need a way to keep them warm, and this little holder works perfectly.
  • Waffle Maker 
    I could probably live without this one, but I can pretty much guarantee that my daughters would not feel the same way. Especially since I started freezing whole-wheat waffles to make their beloved “waffle sandwiches” for lunch this year, they would sorely miss our waffle maker if we didn’t have one!
    Recommended: Cuisinart Round Classic Waffle Maker
  • Blendtec I love how effective my Blendtec is and how easy it is to use (and clean)! It’s definitely my top choice – even over Vitamix.