Growing up, my favorite part of opening gifts on Christmas was finding out what Santa had tucked into my stocking. My mom was great about filling mine with little treasures: small glass figurines, tiny pots of scented lip gloss, miniature books, beautifully wrapped European chocolates, and many other special treats. You can imagine my surprise the first time we stayed with relatives on Christmas and I watched my cousin pull tubes of toothpaste, pairs of socks, new hairbrushes and other practical stuff out of his stocking. I figured he must have been particularly horrid that year for Santa to punish him so.
Truth is, although my cousins probably were horrid (he was an awful kid), their family tradition favored practical stocking stuffers while our tradition was more extravagant. I combine both traditions when stuffing my kids’ stockings, cramming them with a mixture of special trinkets and things they can use. My husband, who’s primarily in charge of buying stocking stuffers for me every year, does the same thing and now that our daughter’s an adult she’s taken to stuffing stockings with that same practical/pretty mix.
This list reflects some of the great stocking stuffers they’ve given me over the years. Every item has delighted me, and is something I probably would never buy for myself (making them special) but is also something helpful that’s made my life easier (making them practical, too). If you know an avid home cook, I heartily recommend tucking one or two (or ALL!) of these into his or her stocking, then sit back and watch their eyes light up in glee.
Stocking Stuffers For Cooks
1. Silicone Baking Mats
Providing a true non-stick surface for baking or roasting up to 480° F, one or more silicone baking mats can replace entire rolls of parchment paper or foil. They’re great for baking cookies, but work just as well under meatballs, chicken breasts, vegetables, even bread. I received one Silpat years ago and fell in love with it, then went and bought an off-brand hoping to save a dime. Big mistake. The competitors just don’t work as well as the Silpat so now I own a full set.
2. A Cookie Scoop
This gadget stopped my family from fighting over who gets the biggest cookie. It also stopped me from burning the smaller ones on the pan, since every cookie is now the exact same size. It’s not just for cookies, though: I use it to scoop rice, make meatballs, and even to serve diet-friendly scoops of ice cream or sorbet. This model doesn’t hurt my hands, either, which is very important given the hundreds of cookies I make around this time of year.
I had NO idea how useful a mini-whisk could be until I received one. Now it’s the first thing I reach for when whipping up an omelet for one, mixing a late-night cup of cocoa, making a slurry to thicken a sauce or emulsifying the ingredients for a quick homemade salad dressing.
The perfect size for transferring homemade mixes to small bottles or transferring spices from store-bought containers to decorative ones. If you keep and use old jars and bottles like I do, you’ll find these indispensable in the kitchen!
5. The Ove Glove
I know, I know: “You mean that thing on TV?!” Yes, the very one and, yes, I was stunned that it works just as well as those commercials promise! My son gave me one six years ago and I’m still using it! In fact, I love it so much that I bought myself a second so I have one for each hand. They really DO protect your hands and they’re easier to use than potholders. Plus, you can just toss them in the washing machine and food stains come right out.
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6. Stainless Steel “Soap”
If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably read my tip about how rubbing your hands on stainless steel will get rid of cooking odors from garlic, onions and more. I’m lucky enough to have a stainless steel sink, so I just rub my hands all over it, but for cooks with sinks made of porcelain or other materials, this thing works just as well. (Some of the comments about other uses for this gadget are pretty hilarious, too.)
7. Silicone Spatula Set
A busy cook can never, ever have enough spatulas. They’re handy for stirring, and great for scraping those last bits out of bowls. In fact, I’m often surprised at just how much more batter I can get out of a mixing bowl with a spatula than a spoon: sometimes enough to make an entire pancake or muffin! This set has three indispensable sizes, making it a great starter set.
8. Mini-Prep Bowls
Everyone who’s ever watched a cooking show on TV knows the first rule of cooking is mise en place — the idea that you put everything you’ll need in place, in pre-measured amounts, before you start cooking. These prep bowls are the ideal size for getting ingredients ready, which might be why I now own three sets. But they’re not just for cooking: I use them to serve myself sensible-sized snacks (otherwise I’d eat the whole bag of chips!) and to hold toppings when we have a baked potato, taco or make-your-own pizza bar. I’ve even turned them upside down and poured tempered, melted chocolate on them to make chocolate bowls for ice cream. (Once cooled, the chocolate slides right off the silicone!)
9. A Potato (and more) Ricer
My kids used to complain that my mashed potatoes were lumpy, gummy and stiff. Then someone gave me this gadget, and now my kids will tell you I make the BEST mashed potatoes EVER. Now, while it warms my heart to hear them say that, what I really love about this gadget is how much easier it is to make mashed potatoes. Seriously. Just boil the things, skin on even, and put them through this. It peels the skins off and it pushes the potatoes through. When you’re done, stir in some warm cream and butter and, voila, YOU will make the best mashed potatoes, too! (Not a fan of mashed potatoes? You can use it to juice citrus, puree things for baby food, squeeze water out of cooked spinach and more.)
10. Dough Guides (perfect for the OCD cook!)
Anyone who bakes has encountered that persnickety recipe which calls for dough rolled to 1/16″, 1/8″ or 1/4″. At that point you either wing it or, if you’re really OCD, you get out your ruler and start measuring, hoping your dough is the same thickness all over…. OR you can use these. I’m so glad I use these! Unlike the rings you can attach to your rolling pin (which only fit certain-sized rolling pins), these work for everyone. Just lay the appropriate strips to either side of your dough and roll over them to get your dough to the perfect thickness. Works with fondant, too!
So there you have it, 10 Stocking Stuffers for Cooks… or just for yourself. (What, am I the only one who buys myself goodies this time of year?!)
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