As summer is just around the corner, plenty of us are celebrating the graduations of people we love. One way to support your favorite graduate as he or she moves up in the world and into a new place is to offer both your words of congratulations and a little something extra. Gifts of apartment furnishings, whether new or gently used, are sure to be appreciated when every penny counts. Seeing as the job market has been dishing out a whole lot of rejection for recent graduates, your shining star might not land the plum job with that high starting salary that he or she was expecting after spending four years to obtain that Bachelor’s degree. One way to show your support and encourage healthy eating habits is to make sure your grad has a kitchen well-stocked with the essentials. A bonus: they’ll think of you when they cook! Here are the Humble Foodie’s top 10 picks for kitchen gifts that will save time, energy, and money for a new graduate in the kitchen.
1. Slow Cooker, aka Crock-Pot - $30-50
A slow cooker is the ultimate boon for new grads who spend more time in a cubicle than in the kitchen. The gift of a slow cooker will allow the owner to buy cheap cuts of meat, put very little effort into preparation, and still dazzle friends and roommates with tender, delicious meals. The easy-to-clean enamel crock and self-timing features on nicer models allow cooks to set a timer and pretty much forget about their meal until it is finished. Exhibit A: 6 Quart Manual Crock-Pot for $31.49 from Amazon.com
2. One serious chef’s knife – $25-60+
Coarsely chopped, finely diced, thinly sliced…all of these recipe instructions call for the use of just one kitchen tool: a well-sharpened, good quality knife. With good care, this knife will last from your graduate’s very first studio kitchenette to his or her first house. While a whole set of knives would be ideal, a chef’s knife would be the most sorely missed item in an otherwise well-stocked kitchen.
3. Pepper grinder – $3.99+
I promise I didn’t throw this one on the list just to provide a cheap option. Really and truly, every dish that calls for pepper tastes FAR better when freshly cracked peppercorns are used in place of the pre-ground dirt sold as a spice. Whether it’s a plain plastic version you pick up at the grocery store or a refillable, hard-carved wooden piece of art, this tool will improve every dish made in your grad’s kitchen.
4. Pyrex Glass Storage Containers – $20 for a 10-Piece Pyrex Storage Set
Advice to those trying to get their financial bearings often consists of two simple tips: stop buying coffee every day, and start brown bagging it (actually, reusable bags are best for both the environment and your wallet.) Pyrex provides containers that are microwave and dishwasher safe, BPA-free, and available in many shapes and sizes for a variety of tasty lunches.
5. Ice cube trays - $2.49 for one at Target.com
While not the most thrilling gift, ice cube trays will prove incredibly useful for a few different purposes. First, I bet your new graduate is excited to move into his/her first place! Well, all the excitement can lead to clumsiness in moving and a few bumps- easily soothed by a nice baggie of ice. Second, making homemade broth is a cheap way to enliven any dish with extra flavor and nutrients- a large batch of broth can easily be frozen into cubes and stored in a large Ziploc bag to be used as needed. Last, any party becomes a soiree when it involves fruit suspended in ice cubes. Freeze berries, melon, or sprigs of mint into ice cubes for a refreshing twist on plain soda water or cocktails.
6. Serious cast-iron skillet – $20-155
This is an item to splurge on if you want quality. Cast iron is sturdy, retains heat well and distributes it evenly, and can be used for stove-top frying or oven baking. Enameled cast iron is easy to clean and attractive enough to bring to the table to serve. A serious cast-iron skillet should last a lifetime, and if you go with my pick of the Le Creuset 11 3/4″ enameled cast iron skillet in cherry (or another lovely color), your gift will come with a lifetime warranty.
7. Instant-read thermometer – $5-25
An instant-read thermometer is a necessary tool for any serious cook- or for any new college grad who is trying out their new Crock-pot and wants to check the temperature of a the slowly braised chuck roast they snagged for $1.00/lb. You can go digital with a thermometer like this one from Amazon.com
8. Wooden spoon - $4-15
The image of a wooden spoon is, in our minds, a symbol of hearty cuisine that delights the tastebuds. Wooden utensils won’t scratch the finish on your pans (like your serious cast iron skillet), is light and easy to clean, and just looks cute. Look to Target.com for a basic utensil or Sur La Table for a functional yet decorative spoon.
9. 8+ Quart Stockpot - $20-70
Stew, pasta, chili, and more- so many classics can be made in the simple stockpot. Make sure to buy one big enough to use for classy post-graduate dinner parties. We like this KitchenAid stockpot from Target.
10. Corkscrew/Bottle Opener – $2-25
Whether it’s opening a bottle to celebrate a special occasion or opening a bottle to celebrate a long day at work being over, every graduate needs a waiter’s best friend to wrench open those bottles of $2 chuck from Trader Joe’s. Besides, if you’re angling for a housewarming party invitation, bringing over a bottle of wine and a durable kitchen gift that will last them through many bottles is a great way to ingratiate yourself to a host.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it is a starting point for some lovely gifts to equip an otherwise empty kitchen. No one at The Humble Foodie received compensation in any form for the recommendations in this post (but if you’d like to send free kitchen gadgets our way, we certainly won’t say no!) On a final note,
CONGRATULATIONS, CLASS OF 2012!