If you're following my advice to buy your Mom some julep cups, you might as well go all the way and grab a canvas Lewis bag as well: It's used to smash ice into a fine powder with a mallet. Unless, of course, she already owns an ice crusher.
A good digital scale is an essential tool for bakers or home charcuterie makers. The OXO Food Scale comes with an easy-to-clean, removable stainless steel weighing surface; great accuracy and precision; and a backlit pull-out display to make measuring easy, even for large or unwieldy items.
Salad servers should be functional, but it doesn't hurt to have a set that actually looks good on your table. This olivewood duo is sturdy and durable, with a warm, lustrous finish and natural wood-grain pattern that's complemented by smooth, polka-dotted bone handles.
Any mom who loves soft-boiled eggs deserves the perfect cup to eat them from. These sturdy stoneware Le Creuset cups come in a range of beautiful colors. They're totally classic, which is a good thing because they'll also last for generations to come.
In the inexpensive-thermometer department, the ThermoPop comes in an impressive package. An easy-to-read display rotates at the touch of a button, so you don't have to twist your head to read it. It takes a few seconds longer to read temperatures than its big brother, the Thermapen, but it's every bit as accurate.
They may not come in the most festive or glamorous packaging, but you can't go wrong with Effie's Oatcakes. Buttery, crumbly, nutty, and salty-sweet, they're insanely addictive. Case in point: I've eaten three in the last 10 minutes. My advice? Purchase them in bulk so you can gift a few backages and hoard the rest for yourself.
If her first two books are any indication, Nancy Singleton Hachisu is poised to become the Julia Child of traditional Japanese home cooking. In this, her second book, she tackles the deeply fascinating—and even more delicious—world of Japanese preserving. From easy pickles made by packing foods in miso (kabocha squash! eggs! apple pears!) to homemade miso, salt-rubbed vegetables, and air-dried fish, this should be the next frontier in all your home preservation undertakings. I'm getting excited just thinking about it.
Old cast iron has a perfectly smooth nonstick surface that's surprisingly easy to maintain. You can sear, bake, roast, braise, stew, and deep-fry in it, and there's nothing more thoughtful than a gift that you have to expend a bit of effort to find (check out eBay, yard sales, and flea markets). Of course, these modern Lodge pans will do in a pinch if vintage isn't in the cards.
I have a problem with wooden spoons. I collect them like nobody's business. But there are a few I always turn back to, and this one, from Le Creuset, is one of them. It's gorgeous to look at; it has a flat front, which makes it great for scraping up fond or stirring vegetables; and it's got a smooth, ergonomic grip that makes using it a joy.
Calling all lovers of bittersweet drinks! In flavor, Barolo Chinato is somewhere between vermouth and amaro, but the best chinati are more delicious than either of those. Even the fanciest vermouths are usually made with a basic, cheap white wine, but the base for Barolo Chinato is certified DOCG Barolo wine—that is, 100% Nebbiolo from the Barolo region in Piedmont, which is then mixed with an infusion of herbs, spices, and bittering agents. We love this one from Cappellano.
Homemade ice cream tastes better than almost anything you can buy in a store, and it's a snap to make. This ice cream maker, from Cuisinart, is all the gear you need: an easy-to-use workhorse that makes delicious ice cream every time. The simple construction means that there are few moving parts to break, and the wide mouth at the top makes it easy to add mix-ins and scoop out your ice cream when it's at its fresh, creamy best.
Your mom might already be the ultimate entertainer, but this gift will make her parties even more fun. Sure, you can serve crushed-ice cocktails in a regular old glass, but these shiny pineapple-shaped tumblers really up the ante and make a tiki-themed evening feel special.
I've never been to Zahav, the Philadelphia restaurant where Michael Solomonov serves his Israeli cuisine, but its namesake book has nevertheless changed the way I cook. His recipe for tahini sauce, which includes a novel technique for incorporating garlic and lemon, is alone worth the price of admission. I've loved the Yemenite beef soup (and the accompanying hot sauce), his wide focus on vegetarian-friendly dishes, and a host of homemade condiments that will elevate almost any meal, even if you don't follow full recipes from the book.
Does your mom love to make fancy salads, crowned with delicate ribbons of carrots? Is she obsessed with serving the perfect potato gratin at holidays meals? There are some kitchen tools that make the difference between amateur-looking food and pro-level stuff. A small mandoline is one of them. This one, from Oxo, is compact, easy to use, and very sharp. It only has three thickness settings, but in my experience, that more than covers most home slicing needs.
These wine glasses feel fancy enough for an elegant dinner party—and you can throw them in the dishwasher after, which is a pretty rare attribute. Their sturdy construction means you (or your giftee) can expect to hang on to these for several years.
I can't tell you how many times I burn bread crumbs or forget about the nuts I'm toasting in the oven. At least, I used to. That was all before I got myself a couple of these easy-to-use, loud kitchen timers that I can hang around my neck, so I never forget about something in the kitchen, even if I leave the room.
This hand-blown and -etched mixing glass from Japan looks stunning on a bar cart and even better in action, whether you're stirring a Negroni, a Martini, or a Manhattan. Mixing glasses made from two parts joined together sometimes split at the seam, but this version, made in one piece with a beaker-like spout, can stand up to heavy use.
Lightweight and virtually unbreakable, melamine can be super convenient for outdoor entertaining or big parties. Unfortunately, it's not always super attractive. That's why I'm so in love with these plates, which look like hand-painted ceramic, with the weight and heft of, well, plastic. Plus, I get complimented on them all the time.
High-quality Swedish steel and Japanese design, along with great features like a perfectly balanced handle and blade and an ergonomic bolster, make the Misono UX10 Santoku the most-used knife in my arsenal.
With their smooth surface and cool temperature, marble pastry slabs are a baker's best friend. They're great for rolling out pie crusts, laminating doughs, and tempering chocolate—plus, this one's pretty enough (albeit heavy) to use as a serving platter.
These days, I keep this solid slab of steel permanently atop one of the burners of my stove. One side has a pebbled surface—ideal for getting extra-crisp, better-than-a-baking-stone crust on homemade pizzas. And, unlike a baking stone, this thing is going to last forever. The griddle arrives as shiny steel, but with just a few uses, it seasons up into a dark, slick nonstick surface that can be used for everything from pancakes to eggs to hamburgers to grilled cheese.
The Cadillac of kitchen thermometers is indispensable when you're roasting meat, cooking steaks, making candy, deep-frying, or carrying out any other task where precise temperature control is needed. It's got a big display and a blazing-fast measuring time of under two seconds—you won't find a better, easier-to-use thermometer out there.
How much praise can I throw at a Le Creuset Dutch oven? This is one of those things couples put on their wedding registries and desperately hope someone buys for them. This is a pot you hand down to your kids. This is a piece of cookware that you will use for everything, including serving at the table, and then you won't want to put it away because you just like looking at it. This is a workhorse of the kitchen. Yes, it costs a lot. But things that are built to last a lifetime despite daily use usually do.
We don't know if there's a book about cooking that we've thought about more than this one by Tamar Adler, a former Chez Panisse cook who was once an editor at Harper's Magazine. It's about cooking simply, and enjoying the simple meals that naturally follow from thinking about your ingredients in cycles. We forget, sometimes, that the leftover stems from blanched broccoli are wonderful cooked with olive oil and piled on toast; that their cooking liquid could be the base of a soup; that the stems of greens like Swiss chard and kale make a lovely pesto. She reminds us that stale bread can make something delicious and that yesterday's bean broth could be the start of a pasta dish today. This book sends the valuable message that dinner doesn't always need to be a big deal.
My good friend and former Food & Wine coworker, Kristin Donnelly, runs this awesome lip balm company called Stewart & Claire with her husband, Phil. Every lip balm she makes uses great ingredients that you wouldn't hesitate to smear all over your mouth, but even cooler are the scents she comes up with, many of them inspired by foods and cocktails. Recently she teamed up with the talented folks at Death & Co, a great NYC cocktail bar, to develop three limited-edition scents. I've been walking around with "Smoky" in my back pocket for the past couple of months: It's inspired by the smoky scent of Scotch and mezcal cocktails, using smoked olive oil, along with citrus and spice notes, to achieve that effect. It's like a mezcal Negroni or Rob Roy for your lips, but subtle enough to sit under your nose all day.
Sorghum syrup is made from the pressed juice of sorghum grass, which grows prominently throughout the American South. This amber-colored syrup has a unique, nutty flavor that's both sweet and savory. And since the 1960s, the Guenther family of Muddy Pond, Tennessee, has been making some of the best.
Manhattan chef Jody Williams's Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food is as charming and inviting as the restaurant that inspired it. This is a book to get greasy and damp as you cook through its pages, and it's a nightstand read, dreamy and warm, to flip through as you wind down. Channeling a traditional French bistro, with a bit of Italy and a touch of New York thrown in, the recipes are classics, both inspirational and totally doable. Some are so simple that they hardly count as recipes at all—they're more like suggestions for how to better your day with a plate of food, from breakfast through dessert after a lingering, late-night supper. Perfect for your impossibly, effortlessly stylish friend.
On more than one occasion, I've been tempted to try out the cool new pepper mill on the block, but none of the ones I've used have held up over time. That's why I've settled on a good old classic, a wooden Peugeot pepper mill. The steel burrs last and deliver whatever grind I want, from fine-as-silt to chunky and coarse.
No pasta machine? No problem. This book is devoted to the art of handcrafted Italian dumplings, from yeasty spindle-shaped cecamariti to classic gnocchi to golden-brown parallelograms of deep-fried crescentine. If the adage "practice makes perfect" fills your mom with excitement rather than dread, this is the kind of book that will make her utterly determined to prevail.
Heavy-duty kitchen towels have a tendency to accrue big, ugly stains. That's why it's nice to keep a separate set of more attractive towels for gentle drying, transporting too-hot-to-handle serving dishes, and lining bread baskets. These colorful, summery tea towels instantly brighten any kitchen or tabletop, while still doing a stand-up job at the tasks they were made for.
When fall and winter roll around, I start thinking about rich, comforting casseroles, which means that these stoneware baking dishes get pulled out, filled, and popped into the oven at least once a week. They're great-looking on the table and provide gentle, even cooking all around for really nice, crisp edges on your lasagna.
This epic set of stainless steel pastry tips is perfect for the home baker with professional-grade aspirations...or the food-enthused, arts-and-craftsy Mom in your life. With this kit in hand, nothing but practice stands between her and gorgeous piped flowers, leaves, stars, and beyond.
This is the electric kettle of my coffee-delayed dreams. It has an elegant gooseneck spout that makes pouring a thin, controlled stream easy (very helpful for Chemex and other pourover coffee methods), and a base with controls that allow you to set a specific temperature and hold it there.
This isn't your standard hot cocoa. It's a rich drinking-chocolate mix, made from organic, 74% cacao single-plantation chocolate from the Dominican Republic and 68% cacao wild-harvested chocolate from Bolivia. Whisk the ground chocolate with warm milk for an intense cocoa experience: It's silky and deep, with hints of orange zest, cinnamon, and juicy berries, tempered by a subtly bitter edge.
Spending $50 on cheese knives feels a little silly, especially when a regular knife does the trick just fine. But that's why they're the perfect gift—arguably unnecessary, but nonetheless useful, they feel like a real luxury. I'm pretty sure they also raise your "real adult" status by at least 10 points. Especially when they're these beautifully crafted Dubost Laguiole knives. I like the simplicity of the olivewood handles, but they do come in other colors and styles, with the same high-quality blades.
These thin chocolate disks have a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture and a complex, pleasantly fruity bitterness. But it's the scattered cacao nibs on top that take them from memorable to exceptional. The crunchy bits of bean are toasty and flavorful in their own right, but Recchiuti goes the extra mile, tossing them in caramel and fleur de sel for a brightly salty-sweet finish that electrifies each bite.
I don't often recommend single-function items, but for the cocktail enthusiast, a couple of julep cups really are fun to have. There's nothing like holding that metal cup frosted with ice on a blisteringly hot summer day—glass just doesn't pull the effect off in the same way. If your Mom doesn't have an ice crusher, check out my Lewis bag suggestion as well.
A good pair of kitchen shears is one of those things that are hard to appreciate until you have them. Sure, there are all the obvious uses, like opening food packages with a snip and cutting up poultry, but that's just the start. Take another look at those things. Yes, that's right, they're also a nutcracker. Aha, yup, and a bottle opener. Did you see the flathead screwdriver built into them? Handy, right? Oh, they can also be used to unscrew stubborn jar tops. They're way more than just a pair of scissors. Plus, the two blades come fully apart, so you can wash them really well—no icky chicken juice hiding in the recesses. Isn't avoiding salmonella poisoning a gift worth giving?
Coffee and tea just feel more luxurious in this pretty handmade mug from Portland, Oregon's Mazama Wares. We love the satiny, soft-colored glazes and find the handle particularly comfortable. These mugs also stack nicely, thanks to an unfinished tapered section at the base of each mug.
A good bench scraper is one of those tools people don't think they need until they start using it. I use it for everything from transferring chopped vegetables or herbs from one place to another, to portioning dough, to giving my cutting board a quick clean. Next to my chef's knife, the bench scraper is the tool you'll see in my hand most often.