For some, pushing a microwave button counts as cooking and then there are those who enjoy spending a Saturday afternoon leafing through cookbooks and trying new recipes or rolling out dough for an after dinner sweet. Here’s some cooking gear that impressed the testers at Consumer Reports and that your favorite cook will appreciate.
The sharpest knives in the drawer. Zwilling J.A. Henckels is a premium name in kitchen knives and its $315 Twin Professional “S” 7-piece set was the best in our kitchen knives tests. The forged knives are sturdy and sharp and the handles are very well balanced, which should keep your hands from getting tired. Always wash your knives by hand and keep them sharp with regular honing.
Cookware that sizzles. The 10-piece nonstick Swiss Diamond Reinforced cookware set is made of aluminum and comes with a lifetime warranty. It was the best set in our cookware tests and at $575, the most expensive. The Swiss Diamond pots and pans were very good at evenly heating food and superb at releasing food when new, and the sturdy handles stay cool to the touch. Our nonstick durability tests are tough—steel wool is rubbed over a pan for up to 2,000 strokes—and the Swiss Diamond nonstick surface held up very well. The $200 Calphalon Simply Nonstick 10-piece set was nearly as good overall but its handles aren’t as sturdy or comfortable.
A toaster oven tell-all. Consumer Reports just tested several large toaster ovens that may be worth considering for cooks who have the counter space. Although it didn’t unseat the Breville Smart Oven BOV800XL, $250, the Cuisinart TOB-260, $260, came close. Unlike many toaster ovens in our tests, it actually makes good toast and can do it nine slices at a time. The manufacturer claims it can fit a 9-pound chicken and in our tests it was very capable at both baking and broiling so it would come in handy as a second oven
A stand mixer for the baker. In our stand mixer tests, the Breville BEM800XL, $300, was excellent at whipping cream, mixing large batches of cookie dough, and kneading bread dough. It beat out such favorites as the KitchenAid Classic and the KitchenAid Artisan, which we also recommend, as well as other brands thanks to a bevy of convenience features, including a leaf beater with a flexible edge that scrapes the bowl as it turns and a timer that lets you set your desired mixing time.
A blender that makes and heats soup. Blenders have gone upscale and have the price tags to prove it. But for cooks who often puree soup or sauces or who like to crush ice for drinks, a top-performing blender can be a welcome gift. The 8-cup Vitamix Professional Series 750, $650, may give you sticker shock but it earned an excellent overall score in our blender tests, making a very good smoothie and ice drink and doing a superb job at pureeing. Vitamix also says it will make hot soups, a claim we tested in the Vitamix 5200 model. Another bonus is this blender is shorter than the original Vitamix, so it will fit under the upper cabinets in most kitchens.
"Around My French Table"
Smart meat thermometers. Meat thermometers have come a long way from the analog one your grandmother used. Some even talk to your smart phone reminding the cook when the meat is ready. In our meat thermometer tests we liked the Williams-Sonoma Smart Themometer 87072, $200, which has a probe you leave in the meat while the digital readout sits on the counter so there’s no opening and closing the oven multiple times as your roast cooks.
Giving a cookbook together with cooking gear may get you invited back for dinner. Some of our favorites include “Gourmet Today,” “Around My French Table,” and Cook’s Illustrated's “The New Best Recipe,” which all feature recipes that are easy to follow with impressive results. Or you can check out cooking classes offered by top restaurants and bakeries in food-crazy ZIP codes or by culinary schools such as the boot camps and artisan bread baking classes at the Culinary Institute of America.
Holiday Planning & Shopping Guide
For more gift ideas, check out our Holiday Planning & Shopping Guide, which features gift lists in all price ranges for people of all ages. We also have tips and tricks for enjoying the holidays without getting stressed out.
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