It may be hard to believe, but an electric kettle is my favorite new gadget.
It’s not even new anymore, but I still get a thrill every time the base of the glass vessel lights up blue as the water for my cup of tea starts to heat up. It can boil more than a liter of water in about four minutes, and then it shuts off, keeping the water hot for at least 30 minutes.
All year, I’ve been playing around with different gadgets — some handheld kitchen appliances, some no-tech tools that simply make cooking easier or better. A few weeks ago, I headed out to Faraday’s Kitchen Store in Bee Cave, which has been selling cooking gear for more than 12 years, to ask manager Sharon O’Quinn about her personal favorites and the store’s best-sellers.
I mixed some of her suggestions with some of my own to create a holiday gift guide for gadgets big and small.
Metal measuring spoons ($14). I’ve had wonky measuring spoons for the longest time — thick, bright green plastic scoops that don’t fit into spice jars. I’d always wanted to upgrade to a nicer set of metal spoons, but since Santa didn’t seem to get the memo, I bought them for myself. I almost went with rounded ones until O’Quinn pointed out that the narrow squared ones can squeeze into smaller jars.
Good thermometers ($15 and up). When my trusty digital meat thermometer malfunctioned and only displayed temperatures in Celsius, I had fun using Google Home to help me convert to Fahrenheit. But even after I had baked enough chickens to learn the safe temperature in Celsius — 73 degrees — I knew I needed to replace it. The sexiest option out there is the Thermapen, but thanks to the wise council of the Faraday’s folks, I found a less expensive thermometer that doesn’t read the temperature quite so fast but works well for my purposes. I also picked up a candy thermometer because nobody likes getting caramel splattered on their hand while they try to measure the temperature with the wrong tool.
Meat claws ($19). You can find inexpensive plastic and metal tong meat claws everywhere, but the heavy-duty offset metal ones at Faraday’s are a big seller among barbecue lovers who shop at the store. Use these to make short work of pulled pork and chicken.
Biscuit cutters ($11). After improvising for years, I finally broke down and picked up a set of nesting cutters so I can make biscuits and cookies in different sizes. It’s a low-tech tool that makes a perfect gift for the biscuit-baker in your life.
Garlic twist ($25). This garlic grinder is easily one of the top selling products at Faraday’s, O’Quinn says. I’d seen these before but didn’t realize cooks were making repeat purchases to give these as gifts after finding them indispensable in their own kitchens. O’Quinn says that people will use this tool to break down ginger, herbs or even a small portion of pesto.
Red wine stain remover and the E-cloth ($8 each). Cleaning is an indisputable part of the cooking process, and these products fly off the shelves at Faraday’s. The Chateau Spill red wine stain remover is a patented liquid that, as I saw in a demo, really will take pretty much any stain out of a tablecloth, shirt, pants or napkin. The E-cloth markets itself as a way to clean with only water, a claim I didn’t believe until the Faraday’s staffers went on and on about how these microfiber cloths have revolutionized how they clean their own homes and kitchens.
Measuring cup with a scale ($25). Weighing ingredients can be the most effective way to bake or cook, but going back and forth between tools for weighing ingredients and for measuring by volume adds to the chore. This measuring cup allows you to do both, which is handy if you’ve ever had to stop midrecipe to break out a scale and a bowl.
Instant Pot or other multicooker ($69 and up). Let’s face it: No kitchen gadget list is complete in 2017 without a multicooker. The best known brand is the Instant Pot, but Fagor and Crock-Pot and other manufacturers are selling them, too, and they all fall into this new category of cooking that involves different applications of heat in a single vessel. Their popularity is why you’re also seeing so many Instant Pot cookbooks, which help you figure out how to use all those settings so you don’t just get stuck on the more familiar slow cooker mode.
Crock-Pot WeMo ($149). Speaking of slow cookers, if you use yours a lot and find yourself wishing you could turn it off or on from work or when you’re away from home, put this Wi-Fi-enabled Crock-Pot on your Christmas list. It’s been around for a few years, but reviewers say they love the flexibility they get from knowing they can control the heat remotely.
Farberware Electric Kettle ($30). If you’ve ever, even once, decided to make tea for yourself and then let a pot of water simmer on the stove until it evaporated, you need an electric kettle. I had a whole cabinet of tea that I wasn’t drinking until I bought a kettle on sale late last year. I’ve used it to preheat water for boiling pasta or to have hot water on hand for risotto, but the real win is that I’m now drinking tea every day when the temperatures fall. Not having to drop what I’m doing to turn off a whistling teapot is such a small thing, but that’s what these gadgets are for: making it ever-so-slightly easier to take care of yourself, your meals and your cooking space.
Looking for a food gift that isn’t a gadget? Here are a few ideas from local food businesses.
Springdale Handmade makes some of the best-smelling soaps, salves and bath bombs in Austin, and they often use local ingredients, such as wine from Fall Creek Vineyards. You can find their products at Springdale Farm and several other local retailers. Another local company, Kuhdoo Soap Co.,specializes in making soap from local craft beers. You can often buy the soaps at the breweries themselves, including the ABGB in South Austin.
If you don’t have any kind of floor covering in your kitchen and you cook a lot, a mat from a company like the Austin-based GelPro will vastly improve those hours spent in the kitchen. They feel like you’re standing on air and make doing the dishes bearable.
The local olive oil and vinegar store Con’ Olio has several locations around Austin, including one next to Faraday’s in Bee Cave, and you can’t go wrong with one of their premium olive oil sets. The Con’ Olio location in the Arboretum is near Savory Spice Shop, which is a great place to shop for stocking stuffers and gift certificates.
La Dolda in Westlake sells more than a dozen varieties of handmade pastas that taste better than anything you’ve ever picked up at the grocery store. They also offer other specialty foods from Italy.
It’s hard to go wrong with a gift certificate for dessert. Local ice cream and gelato shops Tasty Spoon, Teo, Dolce Neve, Lick Honest Ice Creams and Amy’s Ice Creams are good options.
The upscale kitchen store Kettle and Brine, 908 W. 12th St., specializes in goods that are as beautiful to look at as they are functional in your home. Anything you buy here would be a treat to unwrap on Christmas morning.
Sips By (sipsby.com) is an Austin-based tea subscription service that will help you make the most of that new electric kettle. They sell an amazing variety of teas that they curate into a monthly box based on your preferences.