For the Cook:
Schmidt Brothers – 15 PC. Knife Set with Block $165.32 CAD: This sleek knife set probably won’t cut it in a professional kitchen, but it is a good deal and well above average for the home cook who doesn’t mind putting in the extra care that is needed to preserve the beautiful acacia wood handles and block.
Cuisinart Cast Iron Enamaled Dutch Oven $60-130 US: If you want the best dutch oven that will last a lifetime, get a Le Cruset. You really do get what you pay for. But for those of us who can’t make that investment, a more affordable Cusinart pot is a reasonable alternative. I have two: a 3-quart and a 5-quart that I got on sale at Winners, the Canadian TJ Maxx. I honestly didn’t realize how useful these pots would be until I got them. The smaller of the two quickly became my go-to pot and is used daily, if not multiple times per day. The white enamel interior has suffered some staining from added use as a jam making pot (I hear that Le Cruset pots don’t stain as easily as they have more layers), but other than that it is in really good condition and I expect to get plenty more years out of it.
GreenPan Non-Stick Fry-Pan Set $82.77 CAD We’ve tried a handful of “eco-friendly” ceramic, non-stick pans over the years and like all cookware it comes down to this: you get what you pay for. All of the cheaper pans we tried were crap, losing their coating quickly with careful use, or simply not working at all. We bought a 2-piece set of GreenPans very similar to this about 3 years back and they’ve been great. Although, there is some noticeable wear and tear, it’s in keeping with what you’d expect with daily use. I do agree with some consumers that they can be difficult to clean, but beyond that we’ve been really happy with ours.
For the Home Baker
Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours by Kim Boyce $19.77 US: This is our go-to book when we are baking from a recipe at home. No other baking book has seen nearly as much use as this one. While I have been baking primarily with spelt flour for years now, when I bought it in 2010, this book really pushed me to start experimenting with other overlooked grains such as buckwheat and barley. I also like that many of the recipes aren’t sugar-heavy. P.S. I have tried all of the scone recipes and while I tend to cut back further on the amount of sugar used, they are all really exceptional. This book is worth it for those recipes alone
KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer $349 US I’ve always wanted a stand mixer but worried that it was an unnecessary, expensive gadget that would make beautiful eye candy in my small kitchen while gobbling up the little counter space I have available. Now that I have one, I can say from experience that it is an essential tool for the serious baker and one that should last a lifetime. I bake a lot of scones in small batches, and while it doesn’t cut in butter as effectively as I do by hand, it is an absolute dream when it comes to kneading dough. I love that I can set it to do the hard work kneading while I get the mess I’ve made in the kitchen under control. It also makes easy work when creaming butter and sugar for cookies and I plan to put it through its paces next growing season, making homemade herb butters using fresh ingredients from my garden.
I recently bought the KitchenAid Professional stand mixer in chrome as my early holiday gift, but that was because it was on sale cheaper than the Artisan and I couldn’t pass up the deal. Most home bakers will be more than pleased without the extra heavy duty motor and stronger dough hook. Plus the Artisan comes in all of those delicious colours. Drool.
For the Home Canner/Preserver
The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Ellix Katz $25.37 US: I wrote about this book back in July, but am mentioning it again because this is the perfect gift for the fermenter in your life.
Tattler BPA Free Canning Lids $10.60 US: I bought a few sets of Tattler reusable, BPA free canning lids at a Wegman’s a few months ago on a road trip into the U.S. I’ve since had the chance to test them out. Canning with them is not unlike canning with Weck jars — they’re a little awkward at first, but you gain confidence with them after a few attempts. While, I wouldn’t use them for all of my canning needs, they are fantastic for high acid foods like tomatoes that are likely to sit on your shelves longer, leaching chemicals and compromising your hard work.
Tart and Sweet: 101 Canning and Pickling Recipes for the Modern Kitchen by Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler $16.49 US: Two things that set this home canning book apart from the heap of new canning books on the market is that it offers up tips on adapting recipes for more advanced canners and is light-handed with sugar. As a sugar-conscious canner, it was nice to see a book with recipes that don’t call for enormous quantities of white, granulated sugar and that even offer up alternative sweeteners.
SodaStream Jet Starter Kit $79.99 US: Despite the fact that we are heavy carbonated water drinkers, it took me a year to come around to buying one of these SodaStream home carbonated water machines. I used to have one of those old school soda water makers that holds small cartridges. It was expensive to use because the cartridges were used up quickly, and the water was never as carbonated as we like it, which is practically to the point of burning.
The Sodastream holds a very large CO2 cartridge that claims to make up to 60L of water. I am doubtful that it lasts that long in our home, but while I have never measured how many litres it does make, it seems to be a lot. I bought my machine last winter and we’ve only been through 3 cartridges despite what I would expect is atypical, heavy use. At the risk of continuing to sound like a commercial: We love it! You control how much carbonation is added to the water so it always turns out exactly how we like it. We always have fizzy water when we want it (which is always), and I love the fact that we aren’t tossing a gazillion glass bottles into the recycling every week. P.S. You do not need their proprietary syrups. I’ve included this product in the Preserver section of this list because we use this product in conjunction with out own homemade/preserved syrup and shrub mixes (drinking vinegars). Simply add a tablespoon or two to a glass when you want something sweet. It is also perfect for making homemade cocktails.
Excalibur 2900 Economy Series 9 Tray Food Dehydrator $219.99 US: It’s not cheap, but if I had the cash I would buy this baby in a heartbeat. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative dehydrator, I have this Nesco model ($69.94 US) and it’s not bad for the price tag. However, this summer a friend got the Excalibur model and proved once and for all that it is worth the big price tag. She was able to make bgs and bags of dehydrated peach slices in record time and dang if those peach slices weren’t the best I have ever had. They were crisp, but not burned. My dehydrator would never be able to pull that off. It would take days and days of electricity to dehydrate the peaches and they would never turn out as crunchy and perfect as the Excalibur was able to achieve in hours. It’s pricy up front, but you save over time in energy savings as well as the ability to dehydrate things that a cheaper model can’t. Had I known what I know now, I would have passed on the cheaper model and saved up for the Excalibur.