A Dozen Gifts for Cooks

Having the right tool in the kitchen can make the difference between joy and frustration. We have been in many home kitchens, and have used many tools, over many years. Some quality tools are inexpensive, some are investments.

Do you need some recommendations? Here are some that add pleasure to my day.

Some are available locally, some are harder to find. Buy local when you can. I have included links to our Kitchen Hardware Store if you can’t.

For the cook

Microplane zester for fine citrus zest, zingy fresh ginger root, fragrant nutmeg, airy mounds of parmesan… I am found of saying “add zest to your life”.

Silicone spatulas so your scraper will not melt into your sauce. You will only need to purchase these once. One piece models are the best, so the scraper doesn’t separate from the handle. And get several sizes, for big bowls and skinny jars.

Scoops in many sizes, makes portioning muffins, cookies, and meatballs easy. And less messy.

Citrus reamer for fresh juice, to enliven dull dishes. Wood is the best. I have owned fancy schamcy ones, but none better.

A good, sturdy peeler. Get it in red so you find it in the jumble of the tool drawer.

Pretty ramekins for individual servings. These make you feel special.

Custard cups for super quick gluten free Wonder Buns.

Pressure cookers for slow cooked tenderness, fast.

For the cook and the gardener

Excalibur food dehydrator for dried tomatoes and cinnamon apple slices. Next year we will also dry sage and blackberry leaves for herbal teas.

Water bath canning set for pickles (beet, beans, cauliflower, cucumber, peppers) and jams (plum, ground cherry, raspberry, tomato, tomatillo).

The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich. This is an updated version of the book we used repeatedly this summer to “put food by”. Vincent made eight different kinds of pickles that are going to be holiday gifts this winter.

For the cook and the reader

Hungry Planet What the World Eats by Peter Menzel. For those who want some anthropology with their food. IMHO, everyone should read this book. It includes beautiful pictures of families in 24 countries, and what they eat in a week. And notes the average health care cost per person for each country.

What do you want for Christmas?

Make Friends with a Pressure Cooker


four of my pressure cookers and a steamer basket photo by vsimon

I know you want to. But it is scary. What if it does not like me back? What if it blows a gasket? Not to worry, modern pressure cookers have many safety features. You will not decorate your ceiling with the contents. And this will be the start of a satisfying, long lasting relationship.

Start with a first date.

Set a date, set aside some time. A half an hour of undivided attention is a great start. First, touch, feel and inspect your cooker. Remove the gasket, put it in again. Fiddle with the pressure gauge. Lock the lid, and feel the secure closure. 

Take that first step. Cook water, just water. You cannot ruin water.

Get to know how your cooker handles pressure. Does a skinny column on the top pop up? Does a purple or yellow button raise? The directions will tell you, and you will know it when you see it.

Find out how little heat is needed to maintain pressure. Try different settings on your burner and see.  Once it is at pressure, you may be surprised how little energy is required to keep it going.

Try several ways to relieve pressure. Turn off the burner, and let it go slowly. Or run cold water over the cooker to drop the pressure quickly. Is there a quick release button? (This is pretty drastic, I avoid these.)

Think about all the things you can create with your pressure cooker. Look below to see a partial list of what I make.

Is there potential here? Was it a great first date?

What are you looking for in a pressure cooker?

Assess your situation and desires. Are you a family of 1 or 10? Do you want to cook beans? Do you want the option of a quick release of pressure?


Based on 10 years of pressure cooking, hundreds of recipes, with 6 different pressure cookers, I have some favorites. A 6 quart, stovetop, thick bottomed, stainless steel cooker is the place to start.

For most, a 6 quart cooker is the best size. I have one 8 quart size, that I use when making a big batch of bean soup. But the 6 quart size works just fine with 1 pound of dry beans or spilt peas. Or up to 4 pounds of meat. A 4 quart cooker is too limiting as the only cooker in a household.

I prefer stove top cookers because they can go to the sink and get a bath of cold water. Pressure drops in just a few seconds.

Electric cookers have their place, and I use one. They can be programmed to cook for a certain time. You load, lock the top, and set the timer. On their own, they come to pressure, cook for the allotted time, then stop cooking. Admittedly, that is easy.

But they cannot take a bath, a serious draw back for me.  That means I cannot cook things that take just a few minutes, then need to cool down quickly. Like potato salad. The potatoes would get way overdone, way too mushy. 

Now to the thick bottomed part of the recommendations. I started with an inexpensive Presto cooker. And burned lots of stuff in it. You cannot stir things in a locked cooker. And a thick bottom makes all the difference.

And invest in a stainless steel model. It can be used on any cook top, including induction. Aluminum cannot. And cooking in aluminum is no fun, sometimes your food turns out gray. 🙁


I have short handles and long handled cookers (see the picture above). Long handled ones are a lot easier to open.

Presto cookers have a noisy, rattley top. It is annoying to listen to when it is up to pressure.

Some cookers come as a set. Additional non-pressure lids are useful, so you can use the cooker as a traditional pot. Even after all these years, I don’t use the little steamer baskets some sets have. I do like a bigger pasta insert though. Not for pressure cooking, but when using the pot unpressured. And I like having several sizes of cookers. But these are not necessary.

You might be able to find pressure cookers locally. Often you cannot. I have a few listed in our Kitchen Store.

I have been happy with Fagor, T-fal, Cooks Essentials, and Kuhn Rikon brands. I have not reviewed specific models available now because they are different than my older versions.

Kuhn Rikon pressure cookers are pricy. But they have great customer service. They come with a 10 year guarantee. After almost 10 years of nearly daily use in our personal chef business, the bottom of my cooker separated. I was not sure I could produce the receipt, and maybe I registered the cooker when I bought it. Kuhn Rikon replaced the whole pot (not the lid) without any difficulty.

And I have replaced gaskets for numerous cookers over the years. They wear out and the cooker won’t hold pressure as well. I order them over the internet.

What do I make in my pressure cookers?

Here is a just a small listing:

Tortilla Soup

Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

White Chicken Chili

Mexican Beef Stew


Peninsula Cranberry Pot Roast

BBQ Country Ribs

Pork Chops with Herb Gravy

Pork Chops Marsala

Green Bean and Potato Salad

Fruited Wild Rice

Whole Grain Rice, Chicken and Grape Salad

Split Pea Soup

10 Bean Soup with Sausage

Rice Pudding


And many more dishes, you get the idea. I use my pressure cookers nearly every day. You will too when you fall in love with them.

Please tell us what you make, or would like to make in a pressure cooker. See the poll in the right side bar. Or please leave a comment.

Cranberry Potato Kidney Bean Salad

cranberry potato salad(3)

 cranberry potato and kidney bean salad photo by vsimon

In our big backyard garden, we grew cranberry potatoes. They are red skinned with pinkish flesh. I thought, what could we do with potatoes? Potato salad! And since it’s chilly outside, warm potato salad!

I had made Garlicky Green Bean and Potato Salad this summer and liked it so much, I thought what can I do to expand on that recipe? How can I showcase cranberry potatoes?  What could I change in the recipe to make it unique and delicious?

Dried cranberries, red onions, rosemary,  kidney beans!

The potatoes and kidney beans are smooth and creamy. The dried cranberries are chewy and sweet. The red onion is red and crisp. The vinegar is tangy. The rosemary is fragrant and flavorful. It is all good.

The cranberry potatoes we dug for this recipe are only slightly pink. Sometimes the flesh is very pink. Cranberry potatoes taste just like regular red skinned potatoes with white flesh. So buy whatever kind the store has, any red skinned potato will work here.

This recipe is simple, all you need to cook is the potatoes. They are 3 minutes quick in a pressure cooker. Or about 15 minutes on the stovetop.

cranberry potato salad

close up photo by vsimon

Cranberry Potato Kidney Bean Salad

Serves 4-6 metric measures
1 pound red potatoes, diced 480 gm
¼ cup dried cranberries 40 gm
¼ cup diced red onion 30 gm
1-15 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed 450 gm
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 90 ml
2 tablespoons olive oil 30 ml
2 tablespoons potato water 30 ml
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced 5 gm
Salt and pepper to taste  

Dice potatoes and cook until tender. Cook on the stovetop covered with water for about 15 minutes. Or in a pressure cooker with 1/2 cup water for 3 minutes.

Drain potatoes, reserving some of the water. Cool a bit. Put into a large bowl with dried cranberries, onion, and kidney beans.

Whisk together vinegar, oil, potato water, and rosemary. Toss with the other ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This is lovely served warm on a chilly day. Garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary if you have it.


cranberry potato salad(2)

pink cranberry potato and kidney bean salad photo by vsimon

What is your favorite potato salad?