How Should Kim Spend Her Cookware Gift Card?

A hundred bucks fall from the sky, right into your line of vision. Attached to the bill is a note that says, "I'm your kitchen genie, and I've been watching you hard at work. It's time for a reward. Go buy yourself somethin' nice at your neighborhood cookware store [insert applicable name here]."

Essentially, that's what happened to me recently when two friends out of the blue handed me a $100 gift card to spend at a nearby cookware shop.

What a treat -- and good timing, to boot. In the midst of moving into a new home, I'm weeding through my kitchen inventory and letting go of broken measuring cups, a cracked citrus juicer, chipped glass mixing bowls. I'm pondering the state of the new space, asking myself if I've got more storage and if the space will allow for new tools to play with. It's a jigsaw puzzle that I enjoy solving, and a little extra loot from manna makes the process a lot more exciting.

To whet my shopping whistle, I recently took a stroll through no-name cookware store for ideas on how I could spend my kitchen cash. I've always wanted one of those double-sided grill pans, you know, the one with a flat griddle surface that's perfect for pancakes and multiple grilled cheese sandwiches. And then I spotted a set of mural-colored mixing bowls, made from unbreakable melamine, complete with nonskid surfaces. I liked the idea of a decorative ceramic or glass pitcher for lemonade, a silicone baking pan, a new saucepan, an extra coffee grinder for spices...oh my. I'm awash with the possibilities, I'm feeling flush, and I'm running well over my Monopoly-money budget.

Got any thoughts for this dazed and confused shopper? Should I be practical or whimsical? And what would you do if had a similar encounter with a kitchen genie?

Share your advice and dream purchases in the comments area below.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 22, 2007; 9:32 AM ET Cookware , Food Shopping
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go for the double sided griddle pan-- I've wanted one of those for the longest time, but I can't decide between cast iron or the non stick. i think the cast iron would really last but it would be pretty heavy.

Posted by: washington dc | May 22, 2007 10:12 AM

I got a gift card when I moved to my new house last year, too. The new kitchen had something I'd never had before... counter space! I didn't want to clutter it up, and I already had a microwave and my Kitchen Aid mixer that were taking up some real estate. But I got a set of three, medium sized, clear glass apothecary jars. One for unbleached flour, one sugar, one whole wheat flour. I love to bake, and it's amazing how much more likely I am to whip something together now that those things aren't hiding in a cabinet, languishing in some ancient Tupperware that my mom gave me.

I'm actually using up my baking powder before the expiration date!

Posted by: DC | May 22, 2007 10:15 AM

Definitely go practical. The parti-colored mixing bowls are appealing in the store, but nice sturdy clear glass ones will last longer, are better for cooking, and they won't clash with your kitchen, no matter how you decide to decorate.

When the kitchen genie visits me, I ask for knives. It's the one piece of kitchen equipment where money reliably equals quality.

As for the double-burner griddle? I have one. It's a pain to store and keep clean (cast iron hangs on to dust), it doesn't heat as evenly as I'd like (since all my burners are different sizes and hard to synch up) and the upshot is, I rarely use it, and regret it when I do.

Posted by: WDC | May 22, 2007 10:27 AM

I, too, covet the double-sided griddle pan, but my philosophy on times like this, when some nice someone does something unexpectedly nice for you, is that you should do something unexpectedly nice for yourself. Get that beautiful pitcher or platter or handpainted bowl or something GORGEOUS to celebrate your new space and your new spouse!

Posted by: Alexandria, VA | May 22, 2007 10:29 AM

I'd suggest against the silicone baking pan. I have not found them easy to clean and the way they wiggle ruined a few items when I was trying to remove the baked goods. It wasn't long before they were in the donation bag.

Posted by: MaryB | May 22, 2007 10:57 AM

I second the suggestion to STAY AWAY from the silicone baking pan. When baking very moist cakes, etc I have found it nearly impossible to remove the baked goods from that thing without them breaking apart.

I have a griddle pan, but have yet to use's been sitting around for over a year!

I like the idea of decorative glass pitchers! I found some really great ones about a year ago with a glass to go with and we keep them in the guest bedrooms with lemon or strawberry infused water in case our visitors need a little something to wet their whistle.

Good luck on your shopping adventures!

Posted by: MM | May 22, 2007 11:05 AM

I would definitely *splurge* on something you would not otherwise buy yourself. When I first received a gift card like this, it gave me the freedom to finally get a professional Kitchenaid mixer. Next one: a Christmas red Kitchenaid food processor. Then: a beautiful handpainted vase to use as a utensil holder. Yes, I use these every day, but I considered them as bonus items. Besides, whenever I rev up the mixer for some buttercream frosting, I think of my generous brother (same for the other gifts and their givers) and get a double smile on my face.

For purely psychological reasons, I have invested "my own" money in great knives, utensils, pans--those things I use every day (the first of these purchases was a set of hard anodized pots/pans, just after grad mother kept saying she'd buy me a set when I got married, but who wanted to wait?)


Posted by: RestonVAMom | May 22, 2007 11:07 AM

If it were me I would buy a burr coffee grinder, good heavy roasting pan, new cooling racks, an electric knife sharpener, silicone prep bowls, or new vegetable pealers (one standard and one Y shaped).

Posted by: NAC | May 22, 2007 11:08 AM

Can I throw a new idea into the mix? I love my immersion blender. I have a nice one, from an upscale no-name kitchen store, that has a very strong motor and several attachments. If I'm just making a small amount of whipped cream, I use the wisk attachment instead of digging out my standing mixer. And because the motor is so strong, I prefer to use its food processor attachment instead of my mini food processor, which gets tired quickly. I don't go a week without using it.

Posted by: Kath | May 22, 2007 11:25 AM

I have mixed feelings about the griddle pan. I definitely wouldn't get another two-sided one, as the grill side is a pain to clean, and it's non-stick. I do like to flat side for pancakes and bacon and such. Heating evenly is difficult, and I would keep the heat med-low, to low, as hot spots will burn portions of the food. Of course, quality probably makes a difference, mine is not high end.

Posted by: cd | May 22, 2007 11:39 AM

Although it's not on your list, I recently got a Shun Ken Onion knife that I would marry if it were legal. My other knives are Wusthof and Henckels, but the Shun Ken Onion is the best knife I've ever used. The $100 won't cover the cost, but makes the purchase highly affordable. Good luck!

Posted by: Nina | May 22, 2007 11:40 AM

Heads up - As someone who works in a no-name but high-end cooking equipment store, I have to let you know that melamine bowls can break. They also fade and begin to crack after multiple, frequent runs in the dishwasher. My advice would be to forgo practical items and instead splurge on a lovely serving piece - whether its a beautiful maple bowl, glass pitcher or nice porcelain platter - that will garner compliments and enhance your entertaining each and every time you use it. Note: my advice is predicated on you entertaining enough to warrant such a purchase, whether that be a group of girlfriends, the book club or a 12-person dinner party.

Posted by: vjl | May 22, 2007 11:45 AM

Something small that will leave you with gift cash to spare (and a timely item at this time of year) is an aparagus peeler. It looks like a set of tongs with a peeler attached to one leg and a cutting edge on the other that's handy for slicing off the ends. It makes quick work of peeling aparagus: just squeeze the legs together and it glides down the stalk taking off just the right amount of the tough, stringy outer layer.

When I got mine years ago, I thought it was a frivolous purchase at first. Then I accidently threw it away, not noticing it was burried under a mound of peelings I emptied into the trash. I tried using a regular peeler and was so frustrated with I couldn't wait to buy a new one. No asparagus lover should be without one!

Posted by: Puddin' | May 22, 2007 11:53 AM

If the genie were to show up at my house, I'd buy a spare workbowl for my KitchenAid mixer. There've been times I'd have loved to have one in the dishwasher and one to beat egg whites . . .

Posted by: Mel | May 22, 2007 12:10 PM

I would buy something that is too expensive for me to buy for myself but that $100 supplement would make it an affordable puchase. The last time I had the opportunity I bought a cast iron dutch oven from a high end maker.

Posted by: late to the party | May 22, 2007 12:25 PM

I second the proposal to buy a Shun knife. I absolutely love mine.

Other suggestions if you're not inclined to pony up the extra for the knife

A micrograter
Very small pyrex bowls (for measuring ingredients in advance)
Butane torch (think creme brulee)

Posted by: WorkingMomX | May 22, 2007 12:47 PM

I third the negative review on silicone bakeware. What I do love is my mini-muffin pan. It's perfect for making bite size treats! (Williams-Sonoma gold pans are expensive, about $30, but a nice, high-quality splurge). I think a Le Creuset is always a wonderful splurge, if you don't have one. Those colors are great, too!

Posted by: DC Cook | May 22, 2007 12:48 PM

A really good hand mixer.
A set of good sturdy baking pans (Chicago Metal, I think) like the ones in the King Arthur baker's catalog
A good roasting pan.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | May 22, 2007 1:14 PM

I have a two sided grill/griddle. Love it. Cast Iron. Works wonderfully for grilled cheese! (young at heart, old at body)

Not that you can use the gift card "here"..but I found an Asian market in Bailey's that sells a cleaver for $4. The BEST knife I've EVER used. Has been sharp for years. I've given them out as gifts and everyone loves them.

All one really needs is a good knife. The rest is luxury.

Splurge baby...splurge!

Posted by: part-time cook, full-time eater | May 22, 2007 1:15 PM

If you don't have one--get a LeCrueset--over 5 quarts. With $100 you're half-way there. And they have a brand-new turquoise color at a high-end cookware store nearby.

My two cents :-)

Posted by: Anonymous | May 22, 2007 1:31 PM

Why are so many being shy about naming names? I understand Kim's avoidance, but we commenters can name names to our hearts' content.

Anyway... I recently had a $50 visit from the kitchen genie... I bought a potato ricer and a 2" scoop (I've recently revved up a little side baking gig and the scoop is great for filling cupcake cups!).

I was also tempted by the following:

* Stovetop espresso maker
* Food mill
* Manual pasta maker

If I didn't already have one, I'd have lusted after a Le Creuset.

And for a while I was sorely tempted to trade my card for cash so I could make my $50 go much farther at a non-high-end kitchen store (WS and Sur La Table are so vastly overpriced it almost takes the joy out of shopping there... you can usually get the EXACT same stuff elsewhere for far cheaper).

And of course, less than a week after I spent my windfall, my cutting board decided to crack in half. C'est la vie, eh? So off I go to find an online discount on that Boos block I've been coveting...

Posted by: Divine Ms. K. | May 22, 2007 1:55 PM

Splurge! Get something fun you wouldn't normally buy! Gift cards are awesome!

Posted by: Southern Cooker | May 22, 2007 2:50 PM

FYI, the griddle pan is not good for a glass top stove.

Posted by: SSMD | May 22, 2007 4:13 PM

I've long wanted a set of nice, heavy, ceramic mixing bowls--when I lived in Indiana the local cooking store had some from a nearby pottery and I drooled over them every time I went in.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 22, 2007 5:51 PM

New tablecloth, placemats, and linen napkins.

Posted by: No bowls | May 22, 2007 7:24 PM

How lucky! My thoughts on the griddle pan--I love mine, as I live in a small appartment and can't own a grill :(. Definitely go with cast iron over the aluminum non-stick. Yes, it's heavier and harder to clean, but it cooks much better. Cast iron is MUCH better at holding onto heat and giving food a beautiful sear. Treated pans are virtually non-stick too, without any harmful coatings...

Posted by: Rather be cooking... | May 23, 2007 10:10 AM

Me? I'd go for a rice cooker if you don't already have one. The thing changed my life.

Alternately, if you're considering an enamel pan, you might check out Lodge's new enamelled line -- I have a 10qt and a gratin dish and they work most excellently, as well as my Staub, if not better, but for a fraction of the cost.

Posted by: Rita | May 23, 2007 11:03 AM

Take inventory on the basics, things that you'll use every day and whose quality contribute immeasurably to the joys of cooking--see what you have and what you don't. Add a couple of items you're missing and then splurge on a non-essential "want" such as a lovely serving platter or something for entertaining you will use frequently and remember your benefactor when you use it. Here's my list of basics:

good quality measuring spoons and cups (2 sets each; whisk(s); silicone scrapers-2; thermometers (to match what you cook--instant, candy, roasting stick in meat, cord attaches to timer on counter); baking / cookie sheets; layer cake pans; roasting pan; 9x13 casserole/baking pan (either Pyrex or Le Creuset); spring form pan(s); cutting boards (large and small, bamboo or Oxo); knives--paring, santuko or chef's, bread; salad spinner (Zyliss, not Oxo); peeler (Oxo); pepper grinder (Perfex --it'll last a lifetime, cheaper on web than retail stores); stainless steel pans with aluminum layer bottoms that can go in oven--1 qt, 3 qt, stock pot (10/12 qt) preferably with steamer inserts, and chausseur, Dutch oven 7 -8 qt (Le Creuset).

Posted by: FLT | May 23, 2007 12:44 PM

What is "loot from manna"? Is it anything like "manna from heaven"?
And, is "whet my whistle" anything like "wet my whistle"?

Posted by: maxine | May 23, 2007 3:01 PM

My opinion about peelers and spinners is the opposite of FLT's. I used to like the OXO peeler, but then the handle fell off and I could see all the goop that accumulated there out of view. Yuck! I replaced it with a Zyliss - the holder is solid plastic so no place for gunk to hide. Also, I recommend the Zyliss soft fruit peeler. It's like a regular peeler with serrated edges. Other companies make versions of them. With it, you can easily peel a tomato or peach when you don't want to par-boil them.

On the topic of OXO, avoid their cheese slicer - it almost took off my husband's thumb pad. At the emergency room, there was one other guy also holding a wrapped hand in the air. They looked at each other and laughed - his was a bottle injury.

I like the OXO spinner better than the Zyliss. They both work and they're both like toys, but the OXO is more fun.

Posted by: FBE | May 23, 2007 6:12 PM

cool attachments for mixers and food processors take up much less space than a whole new gadget that needs a whole new mechanism...
my suggestions:

-mixer add-on for making ice cream! (I have a whole separate machine and I LOVE it)
-mixer attachemnt for a foodmill or pasta roller
-blade holder doodad for food processor blades (you can look 'em up online and order it through your gift-card store)
-extra bowls!

Posted by: DeenaJR | May 23, 2007 6:16 PM

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