Put a smile on their face and a spring in their cooking step with these 9 fun and very helpful kitchen workhorses.

By Stacey Ballis
December 04, 2020
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Holiday time is the time I turn my thoughts to decorating festively, celebration cooking, goodwill towards all… and small appliances and kitchen gadgets. Is there a small, not-very-expensive item that can make my cooking faster, easier, better? And can I pick up an extra (or two) to give to fellow cooks in my life? Make any cook’s holiday brighter (including your own) with these 9 great kitchen gadget and appliance gifts.

Panini Press

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

There is something about working from home that makes a decent lunch much more essential than before the pandemic. And nothing is more the opposite of a sad desk lunch than a freshly griddled sandwich. Whether a classic and simple grilled cheese or something fancier, toasty bread encasing warm fillings is just what the doctor ordered, especially this time of year. I love the Breville Duo, which has a floating hinge so that your sandwiches are pressed but not squooshed, a nonstick finish for easy cleanup, and a small footprint for storage.

Buy it: Breville Duo Panini Press ($79.94), amazon.com

Small Smoothie Blender

Credit: Courtesy Blendjet

I do not drink smoothies. Not ever. So, it might surprise you to find me recommending that you acquire one of these even if you too are not a smoothie person. Why? Because it is my new favorite small helper for cooking. Need to emulsify a fast vinaigrette? Whizz it up in the smoothie maker. A little homemade aioli? Smoothie maker to the rescue. Make a ginger garlic paste for a stir fry? You betcha. These little powerhouses are essentially a miniature blender at your service, handheld, easy to clean, small to store. I like the BlendJet 2, which comes in 16 colors, and has a rechargeable battery so it is fully portable. And if your gift recipient is a smoothie person, you are beyond heroic.

Buy it: BlendJet 2 ($49.95), blendjet.com

Portable Slow Cooker

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

I am always preaching the love of everything a slow cooker can do, but even this one was a fabulous new one for me. Presto makes an 8-quart slow cooker that is designed to take on the go! It looks like a cooler, has a locking spill-proof lid, and a flip-up handle making carrying a breeze. It’s perfect for bringing to a potluck or outdoor gathering, and it has a handy mini white board on the front so you can label with the contents on a buffet or your name (so it doesn’t wander off).

Buy it: Presto Nomad 8-quart Traveling Slow Cooker ($73.62), amazon.com

Electric Spice Grinder

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

Freshly ground spices will always pack a bigger punch than pre-ground, and whole spices last longer in storage. For years I relied on a small electric coffee grinder to grind my spices, which works well, but is hard to clean, and therefore can no longer be used for coffee. So, I am loving this FinaMill spice grinder. It has easy-to load pods with several levels of grinding options from fine to coarse, which click in and out of the grinding unit with one-handed ease. It comes with a base that holds three pods and the rechargeable unit, so I can keep my top three spices near the stovetop (black pepper, white pepper and coriander) and pop them in and out one-handed or add to the pot with a press of the button and never have to stop stirring. You can buy extra pods for about $12 a pair.

Buy it: FinaMill Battery Operated Spice Grinder ($47.91), amazon.com

Deep Fryer

Credit: Courtesy Cuisinart

If the idea of deep-frying scares you, and frankly, some healthy fear is good when it comes to giant pots of screaming hot oil in your home, then what you need is a deep fryer. These lidded units take the guesswork out of deep frying, which helps settle the nerves, from keeping a steady and pre-set temp to having covers to prevent spattering. If you know someone who would love to do some frying but might be hesitant, this is the small appliance to gift them. I’m always a fan of Cuisinart for quality, so while it isn’t the least expensive option out there, I think the durability and functionality make it worth the slight upcharge.

Buy it: Cuisinart 3.4 Quart Deep Fryer ($79.99), zola.com

Proofing Box

Credit: Courtesy William Sonoma

If you have a bread baker in your life that you want to feel special this season, an electric proofing box is the best possible gift. Being able to control the temperature at which your breads proof can completely change the way you bake, and if you are not blessed with a built-in proofing or warming drawer in your home, or a proof setting on your oven, proofing is often a juggling act reliant on everything from pilot light heat to your kid’s turtle cage heater. This gold standard proofing box goes from 85-195 degrees, which means in addition to proofing your breads, it can double as a slow cooker. It also folds flat with the accessories inside for easy storage.

Buy it: Brod and Taylor Folding Proofer ($169.95), Williams-sonoma.com

Electric Carving Knife

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

No, it is not 1964, but the electric carving knife is a gift that any cook would love to get, especially if they either have none or are still rocking the sticky encrusted avocado-colored one they inherited from Mom. Electric carving knives are a fantastically useful tool—for holidays, obviously, making quick work of turkey, ham and prime rib alike—but also for general cooking and entertaining. Any fan of crusty artisanal loaves of sourdough or dense seed-filled Scandinavian style ryes will tell you that an electric knife is the easiest way to get even slices of bread without also getting even slices of fingers. I use mine when making large batches of stock to quickly dispatch large onions and whole heads of celery. And they are a total whiz with hard-shelled squashes like kabocha, Hubbard, or pumpkin. This NutriChef version has two sets of blades: one specifically for bread and the other for general carving.

Buy it: NutriChef Portable Electric Food Cutter Knife Set ($34.99), amazon.com

Slow Juicer

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

If you have someone on your list who is really special as well as really into juicing or making their own nut milks, then a slow juicer just might be the year’s most worthwhile indulgence. These machines distinguish themselves by extracting the juice from fruits and vegetables with much slower technology that results in more juice, dry pulp, and no heat from fast grinding “cooking” the juice. The result? Nutrients and healthful properties are retained. It can handle stringy plants like celery or wheatgrass, hardy ones like beets and other root vegetables, and turns soaked nuts into rich nut milk. I like this Hurom version, which doesn’t just juice, but also can mince garlic, shallots, and herbs, and, strangely enough, serves as a better than average pasta extruder! Easy to set up and use, and much quieter than a lot of its counterparts, it is costly, but a good value.

Buy it: Hurom Celery and Greens Slow Juicer ($499.00), amazon.com

UV Sanitizer

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

Let’s just put it out there: These are not normal times, and while not the sexiest present possible, there is nothing like a UV sanitizing box to say, “I love you, please survive the pandemic.” I’ve been loving this version from Coral which is both a UV sanitizer and dryer. It is generously sized, so I can load in my phone, iPad, keys, mask, whatever needs zapping. It has a range of times for sanitizing, from a 10-minute quick version to much longer if you feel you need it. And your choice of sanitize only or sanitize and dry, which is perfect for baby bottles or kids toys that you might want to rinse off before sanitizing. Super quiet and small enough to keep wherever you would use it most, but large enough inside to do a pair of shoes if needed.

Buy it: Coral 3 in 1 Sterilizer and Dryer ($129.99), amazon.com