Tasty gifts for the cooks on your list

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Get the chef in your life something special for the holidays. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Get the chef in your life something special for the holidays. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
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Surely you know one of these people: They’re not intimidated by a complicated recipe, and they can turn a handful of random ingredients into something delectable.

They stare dreamily at the windows when they walk by Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma, and they’d rather whip up a meal on their own than go out for a dinner and drinks.

They’re serious about food and drink, and they’re not afraid to try new things. Well, serious cooks need serious tools. If you’ve got one of these masters of the culinary arts on your list, these gifts will tickle their tastebuds.

For the food geek: Sansaire sous-vide cooker

Use the Sansair to  sous-vide your next steak. Boiled beef never tasted so good. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Use the Sansair to sous-vide your next steak. Boiled beef never tasted so good. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Once the province of chefs and fanatical food geeks, sous-vide cooking — in which food is submerged in a hot bath of water kept at a carefully controlled temperature — is now affordable and easy enough for the rest of us.

The Sansaire sous-vide cooker is simple to use: Just submerge the business end of the 15-inch plastic unit into a suitably sized pot, fill with hot water and dial in your target temp. Once the water’s hot enough, you simply drop in your seasoned food (in an airtight bag like a Ziploc or a vacuum-sealed pouch) and wait.

The results are impressive: Sous-vide eggs are to die for, and perfectly cooked seafood and steak is now as simple as setting a timer. (You can sear your rare filet mignon or silky-smooth scallops quickly in a hot pan just before serving, or blast them with a culinary torch, to give it them a satisfying char if you like.)

If the adventurous food geeks on your list have never tried sous-vide, the Sansaire or the similarly priced Anova Immersion Circulator (which Cult of Mac did not test) will expose them to a whole new foodie frontier.

Sansaire — $199
Anova — $199

For the ecologically conscious: Charles Viancin lids

Charles Viancin Lily Pad lids will make cooks go "squee!" Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Charles Viancin Lilypad lids will make cooks go “squee!” Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

If the kitchen whiz on your list dies a little every time they waste a sheet of plastic wrap, make their day with one or more reusable silicon lids from Charles Viancin.

Whimsically shaped to look like lilypads, banana leaves, cherry blossoms and other natural wonders, they instantly form an airtight and water-tight seal when placed on a bowl or casserole dish. They attach so well you can even pick up most bowls by holding the lid, although you really shouldn’t.

I’ve witnessed these lids’ legit “wow” factor when showing them to my cooking pals, who marvel at the products’ unusual design, but the silicone covers are also super-functional. They are oven-proof up to 450 degrees, so they can be used in a wide variety of cooking situations (including splatter-control), and they’re also dishwasher-safe (although they’re so easy to clean it’s almost unnecessary).

They’re a slam-dunk gift — the only hard part is picking the type of cover(s) to bestow upon your ecologically conscious kitchen creator.

Charles Viancin Lilypad or Banana Leaf lids — prices vary

For the fried food fanatic: Philips Airfryer

The Philips Airfryer delivers a satisfying crispness without a vat of boiling oil. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
The Philips Airfryer delivers a satisfying crispness without a vat of boiling oil. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Fried food is delicious, but heating up a vat of oil to make some fries or chicken wings can be a kitchen-splattering drag. With the droidlike Philips Airfryer, the fried food fan on your list will be whipping up small batches of deliciously fried food without the giant mess.

Bonus: Since the food is cooked with hot air rather than a quart of bubbling hot oil, it’s far healthier than traditionally fried food as well. The fact that the fry pan is dishwasher safe makes this a no-brainer.

Philips Airfryer — $198 from Amazon (or get a 30-day trial for $49.99 from Philips)

For the quantified cook: Prep Pad

The folks at The Orange Chef prepare lunch in their San Francisco offices with smart scale PrepPad.Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
The Orange Chef’s Prep Pad is hungry for your food data. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Perhaps the smartest of the “smart” kitchen scales, the Prep Pad doesn’t just tell you how much food is in your bowl — it tells you how much food should be in your bowl. Dubbed “your kitchen nutritionist” by its makers at The Orange Chef, the Prep Pad works with the free Countertop iOS app to help calorie-counting cooks set and attain healthy goals.

It connects to a database of more than 300,000 foods to give accurate data on calories, carbs, proteins and such, and also syncs with Jawbone UP fitness bands, which is handy for anybody tracking their physical activity that way.

Prep Pad — $149.99

For the pizza fanatic: Cuisinart Alfrescamore Outdoor Pizza Oven

Pizza Oven. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Pizza Oven. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

If you don’t want to pony up $4,000 for a real wood-fired pizza oven, give the Cuisinart Alfrescamore a twirl. It runs on propane, pumps out deliciously crispy pies and is capable of turning almost any backyard into a pizza party.

It comes as a tabletop unit, with a flip-up lid and a small cup inside that holds wood chips to give the pizzas that wood-fired taste everybody loves. Extras (sold separately) like a stand and an adapter for larger propane tanks turn it into a full-on outdoor pizza factory.

It’s not as fabulous as a built-in Forno Bravo — and it’s never going to get up to a crust-charring 700 degrees — but it’s a fun introduction to pizza alfresco (and you won’t need to justify your outrageous pizza habit).

Cuisinart Alfrescamore Portable Outdoor Pizza Oven — $225

For the tippler: Homemade Gin Kit

The Homemade Gin Kit turns cheap vodka into something much more interesting. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
The Homemade Gin Kit turns cheap vodka into something much more interesting. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Fancy cocktailing is all the rage these days, with numerous small-batch distilleries cooking up distinctive gin, bourbon and other boutique booze for the discerning drinker.

Put the Homemade Gin Kit under the tree and the tippler on your list will get a hands-on lesson in the importance of botanicals: Soon your friend will be turning an ordinary bottle of vodka into their very own fragrant gin.

The infusion takes only 36 hours, and this handy kit comes with everything they’ll need except the vodka: two stylish glass bottles with stoppers, a funnel, a strainer and all the ingredients they’ll need (namely juniper berries and botanicals) to convert that tasteless vodka into something delightful. Soon they’ll be making up their own recipes (or ordering refills if they’re lazy).

Pair the gin kit with a copy of Amy Stewart’s brainy booze bible The Drunken Botanist and a DIY bitters kit, and your happy cocktailer will be set for the alcoholidaze.

Homemade Gin Kit — $50

For the barbecue nut: Camerons Indoor Smoker

Camerons Indoor Smoker Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Camerons Indoor Smoker. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

When it’s too cold outside to fire up the grill, the Camerons Indoor Smoker offers sweet, smoky respite to the barbecue addict on your list. Simple to use and surprisingly effective, it turns a standard kitchen cooktop into a miniature barbecue pit.

The secret’s in the tiny wood chips (available in multiple varieties) and the steel box that holds whatever food is in need of some smoking. Slide the lid shut, and very little of that sweet-smelling smoke will escape into the room. Instead, it will impart that well-known savory flavor to whatever delicious ingredient is cooking inside.

Camerons Stovetop Smoker — $47.95

For the yogurt and/or cheese lover: Dash Greek Yogurt Maker

The Dash Greek Yogurt Maker turns milk into magically creamy yogurt. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
The Dash Greek Yogurt Maker turns milk into magically creamy yogurt. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Making a batch of Greek yogurt is surprisingly simple. The Dash Greek Yogurt Maker will give your dairy-loving friend a crash course in the process and soon they will be tweaking the recipe to their personal preference. The end result is much fresher and more delicious – not to mention cheaper – then store-bought brands. Potential bonus: If your friendly neighborhood yogurt fiend is particularly ambitious, they will soon be making chevre and other exotic cheeses from the whey left over from the yogurt-making process.

Dash Greek Yogurt Maker — $29.30 from Amazon

For the detail-oriented chef: ThermoWorks thermometer

With the ThermoWorks Thermapen, accurate temperature readings are just seconds away. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
With the ThermoWorks Thermapen, accurate temperature readings are just seconds away. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Cooking is all about proper application of heat, and knowing the exact temperature of the ingredients you are working with – whether a mammoth pork shoulder or a tub of whole cow’s milk – can make all the difference when it comes to your final product.

Nobody makes better kitchen thermometers than ThermoWorks. The British company’s flagship folding speed demon, the Thermapen, delivers accurate readings in three seconds and comes in a backlit model that is perfect for backyard barbecuers. The less-expensive ThermoPop takes up to six seconds (and comes in nine cheery colors).

Backlit Thermapen — $112 from ThermoWorks
ThermoPop — $29 from ThermoWorks