All I Want for Christmas Is...Ah, Hell, I Know Nobody's Spending: Top 5 Cheap Kitchen Gadgets

Last week, Lauren Marmaduke threw out a few not so subtle hints for her friends and family, regarding what she'd like to find under her Christmas tree this year. I took one look at her excellent list, and decided right away that nobody in my family likes me enough to lay out that kind of cash. For those of us looking to score some good kitchen swag, while working on a budget more suited to Bed Bath and Beyond than Sur La Table, I offer these humble suggestions for the Christmas season. And hey, if your unemployed, soon to be a Franciscan friar brother can afford to get you a Queez, these might still make good stocking stuffer ideas.

5. Ring cutters $15.95 on Amazon (Individual rings can also be found for a few dollars each) This simple suggestion might seem overly so at first. Who gets excited by a stack of little metal circles? Think about it, though. We're talking versatility, here. First, the actual cutting applications: cookies, bagels, donuts, biscuits, ravioli, etc. Think outside the box (or ring, I suppose), and you get a few more tools out of this. McMuffin-style fried eggs, anyone? My favorite use, for the aspiring home chef whose plating style could use a bit of work, is to employ these little guys as ring molds. Composed salad plates look a lot better with your frisee and pears assembled in a neat little cylinder, rather than mounded on the plate.

4. Offset Spatula $11.99 on Amazon A pretty obvious choice for bakers. It's kind of hard to ice a cake without one of these bad boys, but I'm always amazed at how few people actually have one. Let your friends and family ice with butter knives no more! For the non-bakers among us, these also make excellent turners for pan cooked meats. Their thin profile and flexibility allow them to slip under a beautiful fillet with ease, and this gentle tool won't damage the meat like the spring loaded tongs (an excellent tool in their own right) I so often see adopted for this task.

3. Spring Loaded Tongs $6.92 on Amazon I wasn't just saying that; I love my spring loaded tongs. I use them most often for cooking and serving pasta. They're perfect for stirring spaghetti in the pot, ensuring it doesn't stick together. When it's time to serve, a quick twist will give you elegantly twirled mounds of noodles, instead of sloppy heaps. Want to talk meat? While tongs might not be good for a more delicate cut like a pan-cooked steak, they're the ideal tool for turning larger cuts or stewing meat while browning. Long reach, precision, and grip help grab whole roasts and smaller cubes with ease, to ensure that each side gets a bit of that Maillard magic.

2. Microplane Grater/Zester $12.10 on Amazon An invaluable tool in the kitchen. The microplane is perfect for grating and zesting damn near anything. Want pillow-light tufts of parmesan on top of your minestrone? Microplane. Want to pep up that grilled fish with a little bit of lemon zested on top right before serving? Microplane. Need to mince a clove of garlic? That's right, Microplane again. I use mine nearly every day in the kitchen. As an added bonus, it can even be used for its original purpose, as a wood working rasp. You can go from shaving a few millimeters off a sticky cabinet door to grating nutmeg with just a quick rinse.

1. Benriner Mandoline $22.35 on Amazon Cheap, ugly, utilitarian, and utterly perfect. This tool will quickly become a favorite of any cook so lucky as to possess one. Sure, you could spend more and get one with legs, or one whose gleaming stainless steel is no doubt more impressive than this odd pastel shade. Then, you have to find a place to put the bulky contraption. For my money, I'd rather have a tool that does the job admirably, and slides into a drawer at the end of the day. This is a tool for someone who cooks, not for someone who wants to look like he does. With this bad boy at hand, you'll be making homemade potato chips daily, and julienning everything in sight.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall