Chef Sandy Dowling knows all too well that "there's some gadgets that you never, ever touch."
"Why in the world would you buy an avocado masher?" asks Dowling, adding that a fork does the job without contributing to kitchen clutter.
Regifting — or decorating a cooking-themed Christmas tree — is the only use Dowling can suggest for such a redundant tool. But other suggestions she offered aplenty at a November class designed to demonstrate and differentiate gadgets of all kinds at all price points for holiday gift-giving.
"It really ran the gamut," she says. "Everything from dollar items up to a Cuisinart — a KitchenAid."
Dowling says her guide to gourmet gadgets appealed to participants considering the purchase of an expensive piece of kitchen equipment but unsure of how to use it. Inexpensive items — ideal for stocking-stuffers — received equal billing at The Willows Cooking in Central Point.
"There's so many great kitchen gadgets out there that are not expensive!" exclaimed Dowling.
Among them is the Microplane, which comes in all sizes and colors of the rainbow and. For $10 to $15, this tool is a workhorse in the world of shredding, grating and zesting. Also budget-friendly at about $10 apiece are silicone bowl covers and egg poachers.
Silicone jar openers are a new favorite of The Local Dish blog owner Barb Magee. The flexible, heat-resistant material describes the year's hottest cooking gadgets in a single word, says Dowling.
"Silicone, period," she says. "Silicone was a huge question."
Dowling's answer: "They're not great for baking; they're great for molds," she says, explaining that she likes nonstick, silicone baking mats, but not silicone muffin tins or loaf pans.
Longer discussions followed questions about knives and cutting boards. Dowling prefers dishwasher-safe cutting boards — even hard, plastic ones that become scored with heavy use — because they last the longest. Natural-fiber, composite boards mimic wood but hold up in the dishwasher and double as trivets.
The dishwasher, however, never sees Dowling's good knives. The best blades, she says, are German- or Japanese-made steel, not American, "sorry to say." High-quality steel knives stand up to sharpening, "will last a lifetime" and even erase the smell of garlic from a cook's fingers, she says.
Local sources for cooks' gifts include Paddington Station's "unique selection" on the second floor of its Ashland store, says Dowling. It's where Magee comes to "cruise and see what's new." She favors Chef'n brand, which has "just turned into an amazing force in the world of new gadgets."
Pot Rack in Jacksonville and The Kitchen Company in Grants Pass also go beyond the basics stocked at Macy's Home Store and Bed, Bath & Beyond in the Rogue Valley Mall, says Dowling.
"We're very luck to have The Kitchen Company," she says, calling its array one of the widest in the Pacific Northwest.
Yet the simplest gifts sometimes are the most prized. A kitchen thermometer or labels for canning jars can inspire cooks to make candy or preserve pickles. A bottle of white vinegar, says Dowling, is a true multitasker that cleans copper pots, corrals egg whites for poaching and converts fresh cream to creme fraiche.
The bottom line for kitchen gifts, says Dowling: If you like it, so will the cooks on your list.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.