Holiday 2010 Gift Guide: My Top Ten ‘Big Ticket’ Kitchen Items

My younger sister is an animal expert, my elder sister a sommelier; when I need advice on my cat’s diet or a particularly tricky wine pairing, I call one of them and get the straight scoop (or pour) before I make a purchase. Adding their input and expertise to my decision has saved me a considerable amount of money and has helped me avoid headaches (and I mean that quite literally.)

The questions that come my way are all kitchen related. Don’t ask me for fashion advice, home decorating direction or – oh. my. NEVER! – computer counsel, but DO bring me your queries on kitchen tools.

I’ve rummaged through the tool kit of many a professional chef. I’ve taken detailed inventory of a restaurant kitchen’s supplies. I’d rather shop for spatulas than shoes and I’ve probably cooked every day for the last twenty years. I’ve seen what lasts (my mother’s Le Creuset she received as a wedding present 35 years ago), I’ve seen what breaks (cheap blenders, espresso makers) and I’m ready to share my recommendations.

Whether you are writing your own holiday wish list, or are looking for the perfect gift for the cook in the family, let this list of items inspired from my personal kitchen be your guide.

My Top Ten ‘Big Ticket’ Items

1. Knives

I can’t stress enough the importance of having a good quality knife. A sharp knife will save you time, simplify a job, and is the best investment you can make in your kitchen.

I recommend starting with a 8″ chef’s knife and a small paring knife, as about 90% of all knife work can be completed with this pair.

I keep my knives sharp with this diamond edge electric sharpener from Smiths and maintain the edge daily with a Henckels steel. Head here to read instructions on how to choose the right knife for the job.

2. Cast Iron Pot

Besides being the perfect vessel for our much-loved one-pot meals, this versatile, durable pot also acts as my slow-cooker, pasta boiler and much more. Tomato sauces, bold curries, and delicate custards – you name it, all are birthed in this cherry red Le Creuset 5 1/2 Quart Round French Oven and the pot is never empty in my kitchen.

3. Stove-top-to-oven Pots & Pans

One should always buy the best pots and pans one can afford, even if it means you just buy one or two, which we made do with for many years. I’ve since been blessed with more tools, and I’m fortunate to have an 10″ fry pan, a 8″ fry pan, a 12″ non-stick pan and a 3-quart sauce pan with a lid.

Most of my pots and pans are either All-Clad or Scanpan (the latest technology in non-stick), and I’ll never have to replace them. Cast iron is “old technology”, but works well and lasts a lifetime – or two; I use a pan that was passed down from my husband’s grandmother.

To me it is important that my pans can go in the oven. This allows me to sear a piece of beef or crisp the skin of a chicken on the stove-top and then finish it in the oven. I can toast nuts or spices in my pan in the oven, bake a fritatta or an tarte tatin.

4. Wooden Cutting Board

Essential for any kitchen, an all-purpose wooden cutting board can never be too big. It has many different uses, ranging from basic everyday food prep to cheese board at a party. Choose a large end-grain cutting board, it will keep your knife sharper for longer and make cutting easier, plus provide enough surface area to prep a whole meal.

5. Immersion Blender

There is no question that this tool simplifies my life in the kitchen. Where would I be without this hand blender to purée soups, whip up batches of creamy salad dressing, emulsify sauces, blend smoothies, and purée baby food?

After a knife, this just may be a kitchen’s second-most versatile tool. Best feature? The removable head allows for a quick clean-up. Mine came with mini food processor and whisk, too. Bonus.

6. Stand Mixer

If tongs are my third hand, this beauty is my third arm. My KitchenAid stand mixer, a cherished wedding present, does it all for me — from the softest pizza dough to the fluffiest buttercream, with countless batches of cookies in between.

7. Pepper Grinder & Spice Grinder

I reach for a pepper mill many times during the day as fresh ground pepper is an essential ingredient! Since I also grind almost all of my spices myself, I also couldn’t do without an electric spice grinder. It’s an affordable investment that will simplify your cooking by quickly pulverizing large amounts of spices, such as blends, or bark spices, like cinnamon, which tend to just shred under the pestle. I also use mine for grinding nuts and seeds.

Head here for more information on grinding spices and how to easily clean a spice grinder.

8. Baking Sheet

My baking sheets get much more action then just gingersnaps and shortbread; they are just as essential for kitchen prep as they are cookie baking. On any given day they could be busy drying breadcrumbs or herbs, catching vegetable peelings, or holding a mountain of kebabs headed for the BBQ.

9. Nesting Mixing Bowls

Mixing bowls need to vary in size to accommodate a wide range of kitchen projects; the key is to have nesting mixing bowls so they take up less space. I have both melamine and stainless steel, as the mix of the two materials allows the bowls to perform a variety of tasks.

10. Colander & Sieves

Perfect for straining sauces, sifting flours or passing purées or fruit butters, a durable fine-mesh sieve is irreplaceable in my kitchen and always within reach. I also use them for other purposes such as rinsing rice and beans, washing berries, and straining pulp and seeds out of citrus.

It’s also important to have a larger colander for draining pasta, homemade stock or just-washed fruits and vegetables. The bigger the better, as long as you have storage for it. Prettier colanders can also double as a fruit bowl when not in use!

Your Personal List

Of course each household is going to have their own essential ‘top ten’ kitchen items. Depending on your style of cooking, upbringing, or ethnicity there is probably a few items missing from this list that you can’t function without.

I am sharing my list with you because I’ve found these items to work magic for me. However, I wouldn’t want you to come away from this post thinking, “Aimée says I need a cast iron pan”, and then go purchase something that you’ll never use. Instead, let my list free you to embrace the ‘less is more’ motto, and inspire you to stock your kitchen with a few key quality items that will prove themselves to be invaluable for cooking and will last a long, long time.

Next Friday we’ll look at my favorite stocking stuffers for the kitchen. After all, where would we be without a sturdy wooden spoon and a solid whisk?

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way for this post. Preferences stated are purely personal. And yes, you can support Simple Bites by purchasing suggested items through my affiliate links. Thank you!

What is on your holiday wish list this year?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Kelly @ Mom's Kitchen Gadgets says

    That’s an incredible list Aimee – full of definite kitchen necessities. Another great kitchen tool is a silicone baking mat. I love, love, love mine and use it all the time.

    As for my holiday wish list this year, I hope Santa brings me a shiny candy apple red stand mixer! I’ve wanted one for years. *Fingers crossed*

  2. I love my stand mixer – the only thing I’d add to this list is a spare mixing bowl for it 🙂

  3. Great list, Aimee! A good steel is on my list. Mine is so old it’s smooth. I don’t think they’re very effective that way, are they?

  4. Silverware. I have a mismatched collection of forks, spoons, and knives that were accumulated throughout college…and have not moved on in the past year and half. I really want a completely matching set, that’s big enough to serve more than 4 people, and that won’t get rusted or contain awkwardly shaped forks. Sigh.

  5. Great list! The only thing I would add is a baking stone.

  6. Great list! A few of those things were already on my list of things to ask for for Christmas this year 😉

    And I love those pots and pans that last forever – I have a dutch oven from my grandmother that I just love. Although it’s not a pretty Le Creuset one 🙂

  7. Awesome list! This year I am hoping for a big pan with one of those insertable spaghetti inserts and steamers. I’d also love a double boiler!

  8. Great List! I’m thinking about microplanes, as well.

  9. Flour sack towels are another must in our kitchen. I use them to roll out pastry for strudel and other delicate doughs, to cover rising bread dough, general cleaning and so much more. Plus they’re so cheap, it’s easy to stock a ton. Great list!



  10. Nice choices! Classics.

  11. Great list, Aimee!! Oh, how I want a White Le Creuset for Christmas! (hope my husband is reading!)

    I would also add a microplane, though it’s hardly big ticket. We use ours all the time for zesting, cheese grating, or topping desserts with shaved chocolate.

    Oh, one more to add….a mandoline. Love mine!!

  12. I know it’s crazy, but I’ve never had a food processor. I got a stand mixer for my birthday years ago and I remember some of my women friends thought it was offensive for my husband to get me that. But I was thrilled!

    • Angela, I don’t have a food processor either! I wouldn’t say no to one, though, as I can see the benefit of them, especially as my family grows!

      Your husband sounds pretty cool. =)

      • Ladies,
        I’ve had so much fun checking out this particular blog today. May I suggest the “Ninja master prep”. Wait now, not the one on the “new infomercial” but the one you can find at Wally World (Walmart). The reason I suggest this is simply for “space considerations”, a food processor can take up valuable counter or cupboard space. A Ninja master prep takes up less space in either place, as a matter of fact I store my “pod” in the safety of an old metal coffee can with lid. You get a pod, a 48 oz. blender pitcher and 2 cup food processor. I love this gadget. Last year when my mom and Dad were down for a Dr. appt I happened to use it and my mom feel in love with it, my dad called me when they got home to let me know that they stopped into Wally world and got one. Best things are dish washer safe, ease of use and lack of a significant “footprint”.

  13. I’ll echo everyone else in saying this is a great list! As far as knives go, I cannot say enough about ceramic knives — I’ve been lucky enough to receive 2 Kyocera knives as gifts and they are so amazing! Sharp as razors all the time with no steel required and will almost never need sharpening. Love love love!!

  14. great list!
    i’d include two more:
    the pampered chef bar pan. non-stick and non-toxic. i use mine almost every day from baking cookies to bacon, roasting veggies to baking pizza. they cook so well, clean so easy.
    the pampered chef prep bowls – essential for cooking from scratch – measurements on the side of the glass bowl, easy pour spout and a lid!

    looking forward to the stocking stuffer list!

  15. I think I am going to get an immersion blender this Christmas- It seems so useful.

    I really enjoy using my cutting boards and knives from last year.

  16. A lot of those are out of my price range (like pricey knives) but if I ever win the lottery I’ll pick some up. 🙂 I do love my stand mixer (a gift from an eccentric aunt who only buys me pink things!). And I have to admit I lusted after an immersion blender forever, finally got one (with a billion attachments) and I just don’t use it. I either mash things in the pot or use my blender.

    Back when we ate meat, our Foreman style grill was a fabulous kitchen helper. Meat cooked in less time, with less grease and tasted better. And I do like my bread machine!

  17. Love your big ticket, essential items. I am still awaiting for a chance to purchase my own Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Trust me, I don’t have any at the moment 😀

    • Kiran, if you go to you may be able to find one at a greatly reduced cost. I got one from them (cobalt blue) about 6 years ago and it’s still kneading my bread doughs and making cookies.

  18. Great List! I would add a food processor – I don’t think I could live without mine (or my stand mixer!). I’d been wanting a Le Creuset French Oven, but my Dad, who is Brazilian, brought me back a soapstone pot on his last visit back and I love it!

    Next on my list: the immersion blender – it seems to make life so much easier 🙂

  19. I consider at least half those items necessary kitchen tools. I love, LOVE my stand mixer and my All Clad pans. Can’t wait to see your stocking stuffer ideas.

  20. I can’t live without my crockpot especially in the colder months. I love to make stews and soups in it.

    Less is definitely more; I used to buy every kitchen gadget on the market, only to have these “gadgets”lying around taking up space and gathering dust. Most are a pain to clean. Now I only buy the bare essentials; your lists actually sums up most of them.

  21. Immersion blender will be on my list this year!

  22. We were lucky to get many of these things as wedding gifts – having generous in-laws that LOVE to cook helps too! This year I have a quality blender on my list – suggestions? My old one smells like it’s burning. Urgh.

  23. This is a great list…love the recommendation for the knife sharpener. I make a lot of homemade salad dressings and always seem to need citrus zest. I LOVE my microplane grater for this. It’s one tool I use all the time.

  24. I think a food saver is also a good idea,
    Une balance de cuisine est aussi très très utile.
    Thank you for your very interesting blog.

  25. Do you have any of the kitchen aid stand mixer attachments? I’m thinking of putting the slicer/shredder attachment on my list!

  26. Nisha @ Healthy Mom's Kitchen says

    I should really think about getting an immersion blender for my weight loss breakfast recipes. I LOVE smoothies in the morning, but have a crappy blender.

    I need a fine-mesh sieve too for rinsing grains. Thanks for this post! I’m adding those things to my wish list now 😉

  27. The list is pretty solid, I would also have to add in stone baking ware to my kitchen. Le Creuset makes a nice 4 & 1/2 quart baker with a lid that is also enameled for over to table ability. It is very versatile and great for making a large and hearty lasagna or roasting a beef tenderloin.

  28. Luciana Davis says

    Great list!!!! I love it!!!!! Now I know whata want for Christmas!!!

  29. Aimee,
    Thankfully over the years my “gifts” to myself (hinting, tearing pics out, etc.never worked, I may “still” be waiting, LOL) have garnered me most of the items that I’ve wanted/needed. However just FYI here’s another site for quality cast iron enameled pots/pans.
    Like you I have “big Bertha” and others( cast iron skillets, stove top griddles) that belonged to my grammother. I love cast iron, always cooks and releases well. Also your followers, may wanted to swing into Ross department stores, several wonderful items found there at exceptional prices. Happy cooking, great blogging, blessed and safe holiday season.

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