Kitchen Gifts that Really Please

teamakerLet's face it, gift-giving can be a chore.  Even now, when online buying lets you avoid store lines, it's often difficult to decide what to give.  It's not always easy to think of items that the folks on your gift list will want and/or need.  And, admit it, you also want your gifts to show what a clever and imaginative gift-giver you are.  Shelf Life Advice is here to help. 


Since everyone eats, let's think food and cooking utensils--items that help a chef handle foods more safely, easily, or successfully.  Here are our 2013 gift suggestions, gleaned from our Advisory Board scientists, various publications, online sites, and our own huge collection of gadgets. In this list, you may find appropriate gifts for winter holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, house-warming, even grab bags. 


Time-saver tip:  If you have a long list of holiday gifts to purchase, you may want to print this long article out, read it with your gift recipient list beside it, and mark various items that seem to fit each relative or friend.  Most items can be purchased online, which is easy on your feet and your time budget.


Money-saver tips: You probably know that online prices can change daily, and a product's home page may not have the same price as some other website.  Check around, and don't be surprised if the prices listed in this article are more or less than what you find online. If you send a lot of gifts from Amazon, it may save you money to get their "prime" shipping deal, which, for $75 annually, gives you free shipping on most items.


If you Google "cheapest days to shop online," you'll reach a number of links to articles that tell which products are cheaper on which days.  On some of these sites, you'll also find tips on how to get coupons and free shipping. 


Note: Shelf Life Advice was NOT paid to recommend any of the items listed below.


Some items are starred to indicate that they cost less than $20.


Two inexpensive novelties:


Toastabag ★: For the office grab bag or a friend who lunches in an office that has a toaster or toaster oven, this item provides a swift, easy, cheap way to have a hot office lunch.  Put 2 slices of bread and a filling of your choice) in the bag, put the bag in the toaster, and, 3 minutes later, a toasted warm or hot sandwich is ready.  The patented bag (made of a shiny material that looks and feels somewhat like silk) can be washed and reused many times. I put a Toastabag in my toaster to make a toasted cheese sandwich and a warm peanut-butter and jelly sandwich; it worked fine Toastabags are also useful for heating pastries, pizza slices, chicken nuggets, etc. To read a review, go here. To learn more about other innovative items made by the British company Planit Products Ltd., go to the company website.  There are good photos of a filled Toastabag on Amazon; the Amazon price for 2 bags is about $11.  


Omelet Maker ★: The Chicago Tribune recommends this item. It's made by Lekue (in Spain). It opens like a book; Throw in the veggies, then snap it closed and microwave quickly.  Then open, add eggs, microwave 2 minutes, and your omelet is ready.  The reviewer says it's easy to use and easy to wash. At this writing, it's listed on Amazon for $15.18.


Equipment for making coffee, tea, and soda:


Magic tea maker ★:  My husband's favorite gadget convinces our guests that he's a magician.  He just puts the water and loose tea into the container (see photo) and lets it brew for whatever time period the particular tea requires.  When it's ready (here comes the magical part), he puts the container on top of an empty cup and--without any abracadabras--the brewed tea quickly drops into the cup. Guests are awed and delighted. How does it taste?  Like tea.  Amazon carries the item, called a Teaze Tea Infuser, for $19.99. Other models are also available.


Pod coffee maker: I've been told that 1) no home should be without one; 2) prices for this item range from $70 - $700; and 3) one big advantage (and big disadvantage) is that most models brew only 1 cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa at a time.  4) it's great if one guest wants regular coffee, one wants decaf, and one wants cocoa.  5) Except for occasional cleaning of the pod maker, there's nothing to wash except your coffee cup.


 Pods (small disposable cups) contain the ingredients for making various beverages. I have a pod collection to be proud of: several types of regular coffee including my favorite (French vanilla), 3 types of Decaf coffee, regular and herbal tea, and cocoa (both milk chocolate and dark chocolate). 


Pod coffee makers are available from many manufacturers. According to ShopSmart, some (for example, Starbucks' and DeLonghi's coffeemakers) lock you into one coffee brand; others can take Keurig's K-Cup or Senseo pods.  Our daughter bought a reusable K-cup filter for our machine; that also allows us to also use our own coffee (not in a premade pod) in it.


For more information on selecting a pod coffee maker, click here. Different models of the Mr. Coffee Single Serve Brewer are available in the $70-$100 price range ($71.99 on Amazon).


Soda maker:  No one enjoys lugging heavy bottles or cans of soda (pop) home from the store. This gift enables consumers to make their own carbonated water or flavored carbonated water.  In our house, we have a Sodastream carbonator.  My husband likes plain carbonated water, but for the more adventurous, the company has many different Sodamix flavors including diet ones and all-natural.  Making your own soda is a money-saver as well as a muscle-saver.  But, from time to time, a new carbonator must be purchased. For more information about this product, click here.  Price range for this gadget: $80-$130. 


Gadgets for wine and champagne:

Wine Saver Set The Epivac wine stopper pumps air out of a wine bottle, acting like a bicycle pump in reverse. The removal of air helps to preserve the wine from oxidation. Its 2-way or double-action push or pull model can also extend the life of champagne by forcing air into the bottle and preventing bubbles from escaping. Different brands and models of wine/champagne savers range from $4-$20.   Find out more at this site:


Corkcicle: This item keeps wines at the proper temperature all through a holiday dinner when you insert a gel-filled tube that had been in the freezer for two hours before mealtime.  To order one, click here:  The regular price was listed at $55, but it was recently on sale on the company website for about $27.


More useful kitchen gadgets:


Electric pressure cooker: Food scientist Dr. Karin Allen recommends this item.  She says it's been called "a crock pot on steroids."  It cooks really fast.  We found two programmable ones on Amazon in the $115-$120 range. 


Food Saver®:  Recommended by food scientist Dr. Joe Regenstein, this is also one of my husband’s favorite and most often-used gadgets. This item isn’t cheap, but sometimes, honestly, sometimes you have to spend money to save money. The Food Saver lets you make a second delicious meal out of leftovers. Its vacuum packaging seals food in an airtight bag so that the quality will hold up better in the fridge or the freezer. Vacuum packaging not only reduces oxidation (which affects taste and nutritional value), but it can also inhibit the growth of microorganisms such as mold and bacteria. The Food Saver system includes bags, canisters, jar sealers, and bottle stoppers (for wine, non-carbonated liquids, and oils). The price on the home page is $199.


Color-coded cutting boards ★: Nearly every member of our Advisory Board has recommended these at one time or another as a safety measure (to avoid cross-contaminating).  The idea is to use a different cutting board for raw meat and poultry, fresh produce, bakery goods, and cooked products. Sets generally have 3-5 different colors and identifying words or pictures to remind users which type of food each board is for. Just Google "cutting boards," and you'll find a wide selection in the $6-$39 price range.   


Insulated dip chiller and serving bowl : If you want to leave your dips out for the whole evening (longer than 2 hours), you need to keep them below 40F°. Dip chillers are recommended by food scientist Dr. Catherine Cutter.  Containers with a hidden plastic liner for ice or gel packs (not included) are widely available.  Amazon sells the Trudeau Rockfeller Dip Chiller for $18.92 and the Prodyne Iced Dip-on-Ice Stainless-Steel Serving Bowl for 19.88.


Programmable crock pots: Food process engineer Dr. Timothy Bowser recommends the Hamilton Beach model with 3 outstanding features that, he says, make it fantastic: 1) the programmable cooking feature with an optional probe and a failsafe keep-warm setting; 2) a sealed lid with clips to keep it in place for safely transporting your hot meal and 3) a clip-on spoon for serving.  Amazon has one for about $50.


Salad and berry spinner: Dr. Cutter recommends this item for those individuals who want to wash minimally processed produce with ease. The price on the Pampered Chef home page is $60.

Food dehydrator:  For drying fruits and vegetables and for making beef jerky, Dr. Cutter recommends the Excalibur dehydrator, which she's used to dry apples bananas, tomatoes, and other produce and to dry meats. The special price I found was $299.95.

More gadgets to use with produce ★: The Chicago Tribune article entitled “One-use wonders,” described the results of testing several gadgets for use with fruits or vegetables. The article gave a thumbs up to the Chef ‘n Bananza Banana Slicer and the Vacu Vin Stainless Pineapple Slicer.  The banana slicer is listed on Amazon for $8.71, the pineapple slicer for $12.74.


Kitchen thermometers :

Here are some gift suggestions for a young adult moving into his/ her own apartment for the first time.  Every kitchen should be equipped with the following:


1) A food thermometer to determine when your roast, turkey, ham, casserole, and so on is sufficiently cooked. I use a simple model--the CDN DTQ450X ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer--which has been working well for me for quite awhile and sells on Amazon for $17.99. Dr. Bowser finds a remote temperature sensor very handy.  “These are great for grilling, smoking, baking, chilling and a variety of kitchen chores. The Taylor Wireless Food Thermometer with Remote (model 14799) is available at my local Wal-Mart for under $30.” 


2) A refrigerator thermometer to be sure the fridge and the freezer are at a safe temperature. For someone whose fridge doesn’t have a built-in thermometer, this is a good gift.  Food scientist Dr. Karin Allen recommends the CDN FG80 Refrigerator/Freezer NSF professional thermometer.  Check it out on Amazon. 


3) An oven thermometer to tell if your oven is cooking food at the temperature you set.  Note: the website Cook’s Illustrated points out that ovens set to the same temperature can vary quite a bit. The site recommends calibrating your oven periodically but also using an oven thermometer, keeping in mind that ovens cycle on and off to maintain a certain temperature.  If you Google, “oven thermometer,” you’ll find links to discussions about which type of oven thermometer is best. Cook’s Illustrated recommends the dial-face type.


For more information about thermometers for the kitchen, click below:—what-you-need-know


Pot holders : This is a useful gift that will remind the recipient of your thoughtfulness every day. Spend a little more and get a towel to match.  If you know the color of the person's kitchen decor, get that color.  If you know the recipient's big love (e.g., cows, flowers, French cuisine), select pot holders or towels that pick up on that theme.


Cookbooks : (Many are less than $20.)


Some tips on selecting a cookbook:

  1. Consider what the recipient likes to cook.  If he goes into the kitchen only to mix cocktails, don’t buy a book on grilling.  If she never bakes pastry, try one on soups.
  2. Consider the recipient’s dietary preferences and requirements, such as gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, organic, halal, or kosher.
  3. Consider the recipient’s special food interests: ethnic, historical, American regional, etc.
  4. Check the publication date, and buy a new cookbook. The recipient is less likely to have it.
  5. Look for cookbooks for particular categories of people--bachelors, kids, someone with very little time to cook, etc. There are many wonderful cookbooks--with helpful illustrations--for children of all ages, even preschoolers.


You might want to buy this cookbook just for its wonderful title--Crazy Sexy Kitchen: 150 Plant-Empowered Recipes to Ignite a Mouthwatering Revolution," which was released on Oct. 30, 2012.  Its author is Kris Carr, who also wrote Crazy Sexy Diet. According to Amazon, this latest book is "filled with inspiration, education, cooking tips, and over 150 nourishing, nosh-worthy recipes." It's also, says Amazon, "infused with the author's signature humor, style and personal stories."  Sounds like a nice gift to me.  Amazon has the hardcover edition for $18.88 and the Kindle edition for $9.88. 


For the cook that seems to have every cookbook the day it comes out, Dr. Allen recommends the following: The New Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst.  Dr. Allen says it's one of her most used resources.  "It's basically a dictionary of every culinary/food-related term you’ve ever heard, plus several thousand more.  There are great appendices showing meat cuts, ingredient substitutions, conversions, high altitude adjustments, etc., without a single recipe."


Food, online or from your neighborhood store:


Of course, you could order something ordinary like candy, cookies, or fruit.  But how much more exciting it would be to send seafood, even live lobsters or freeze-dried edibles. Check out these two sites. DQAodngi69A  


For the hermit, camper, or mountain climber, freeze-dried food also makes the perfect gift. Long-term, shelf-stable foods are also a great gift for friends who want to be prepared for the next weather disaster that cuts off power and/or water supply.  Here are some sites that sell food with a really impressive shelf life:


Freeze-dried cans:  Mountain House Freeze-Dried Foods  (30-year shelf life).


Long term food supply: Long Term Food Supply, Freeze-Dried (25-year shelf life)  


Every kind of jerky you can think of:  Dr. Bowser recommended, which sells jerky made with beef, turkey, venison, kangaroo, elk, ostrich, alligator, pineapple, and other foods.  It also sells beef sticks.  Here's what Dr. Bowser says about this company: "We (the Oklahoma State University Food and Ag Products Center) have worked with (they office in Oklahoma and Texas) and have great confidence in the quality of their products. Also, for those looking to prepare for disasters and emergencies, their products have a long shelf life."


Wine : Wine gift baskets have been called "a sophisticated gift." These can also be costly.  But you can purchase, from your local supermarket wine and spirits store, one bottle of tasty wine for less than $20.  Shopsmart recently recommended these cabernet sauvignons in the $11-$13 price range: Educated Guess 2010 and 14 Hands 2010.  In the $25-$30 range, the magazine ranked these as best in the same category: Louis M. Martini Napa 2010 and Raymond Reserve 2010.


Just about anything edible: Ask google and you'll probably find online anything you think your friends or relatives would like--from honey-baked ham to kosher food baskets.


Homemade specialties:


Perhaps there’s no gift that says love as well as one you’ve made yourself.  Holiday cookies or fruitcake or any other edible you make that’s truly delicious AND something the recipient can and will eat.  (Consider dietary and religious limitations as well as taste.) 


Food you send by mail or UPS:


This government website offers good advice about mailing or shipping foods and handling food delivered to your home:




Karin E. Allen, Ph.D., Utah State University, Dept. of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences


Timothy J. Bowser, Ph.D.  Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering


Catherine N. Cutter, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Dept. of Food Science


Joe Regenstein, Ph.D., Cornell University, Dept. of Food Science


Cook’ “Oven Thermometers”


ShopSmart  "Best coffeemakers," January, 2013. "How to Pick the Right Single-Cup Pod Coffee Maker"


ShopSmart, Great holiday wine buys, Best cabernet sauvignons, December 2013.


Parade, November 6, 20ll.


Chicago Tribune “One-use wonders,” November 16, 2011.



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