Big Ticket Gift Ideas for 2012

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Problem: You need to impress that special someone in your life with a jaw-droppingly amazing holiday present. Or perhaps you need the perfect apology gift to get yourself out of the doghouse. (Why do you think my kitchen’s outfitted with so many gadgets?)

Solution: Go big or go home! Last week, I told you about my favorite wallet-friendly stocking stuffers, but today’s list is all about taking off the budgetary shackles. I’ve compiled a list of tried and true big ticket gifts for the 2012 holiday season, so grab your credit cards and meet me after the jump!

1. Fancy Digital Cameras:

Over the years, I’ve fielded a ton of questions from readers, but the one of most common queries has nothing to do with my cooking: "What camera equipment do you use to take the photos on your site?"

The answer? Henry and I use two DSLRs. We primarily use a Nikon D7000 (which also does double-duty as our go-to camera for our videos), but we also have an older Nikon D80 that we occasionally whip out as a back-up. For our food pics, we pretty much stick with a 50mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor macro lens, but for all-purpose shots, we go with a more versatile 18-200mm VR lens.

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When I’m on the go, I take with me a smaller camera: a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1. I pair it with a Lumix G 20mm/F1.7 ASPH lens, which I’ve found perfect for food shots. This little guy is super portable and produces fantastic images.

(And my dirty little secret: In a pinch, we also use our iPhones to snap some of our photos.)

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I love these cameras and lenses — they’ve made a huge difference in my photography. Still, a fancy camera won’t guarantee you pretty shots. You need a Fitbomb behind the scenes to edit, crop, and doctor your heinous shots, or just take the photos for you. (But I’m not sharing him with you.)

2. Pressure Cookers:

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Pressure cookers are specially-designed pots with locking, airtight lids and a valve system that regulates the internal pressure. By raising the temperature of boiling water under pressure, they’re able to cook food faster — and they concentrate and intensify flavors, too.

But beware: Although modern pressure cookers are engineered to be much safer than in the past, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully, or risk a kitchen explosion caused by over-pressurization. Don’t leave the house when you’ve got something pressure-cooking on the stove!
Currently, I use two pressure cookers: A basic 6-quart pressure cooker by Fagor and an 8-quart pressure cooker by Kuhn Rikon (a.k.a. “Bubba”).  Both pots are getting more mileage than any other cookware in my arsenal. They’re perfect for making kale, crispy potatoes, lamb shanks, beef back ribs, bone broth, and much, much more.
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(Want to learn more about pressure cooking? Check out HipPressureCooking.com — Laura’s the Yoda of pressure cookers!)
 
3. Le Creuset Dutch Oven:

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A Dutch oven is a heavy, enamel-coated, high-sided pot made of cast iron. With excellent heat retention and tight-fitting lids, these pots help ensure even cooking and are perfect for soups, braises, and stews. You can sear meat in them on the stove and then pop them into the oven to finish cooking.
A high-quality Dutch oven can be pricey, though. Years ago, my sister gave me an oval-shaped enamelized Le Creuset Dutch oven and I love it, but if you’re still saving up your pennies, substitute a heavy-gauge pot with a lid for now. Lodge, for example, makes cast iron Dutch ovens in various sizes (available on Amazon here), and they’re relatively inexpensive.
 
4. Food Processor:

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Do you absolutely need a food processor? Nope. But it does make your meal prep a whole lot easier and faster.

Yes, food processors can be expensive, but focus on value rather than cost. Think about it this way: How much is your time worth to you? And would you rather be hanging out with your family and friends, or weeping over a cutting board full of raw onions and wishing you’d bought a food processor? If tedious prep work is the only thing keeping you from cooking your own meals, by all means invest in a food processor.
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We have a Cuisinart Elite Collection food processor with a 14-cup work bowl, but Cuisinart also sells a significantly cheaper version that works just fine, too.
 
5. Vitamix Blender:
 
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A super-powerful blender can be a valuable addition to your kitchen arsenal, but it’s not essential unless you plan on making mass quantities of puréed soups, sauces, and marinades — or you’re addicted to smoothies. That being said, there are some amazing things you can do with a Vitamix blender, like blitz a batch of Paleo Sriracha or Watermelon and Tomato Gazpacho. It’ll make a fantastic holiday gift for the person in your life who hates chewing.
And if you have several hundred dollars burning a hole in your wallet, feel free to buy one for yourself! Or just send the money to me.
 
6. Countertop Convection Oven:

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Very few of us have the luxury of having two full-sized ovens in our kitchen, but there are times when we need to simultaneously bake dishes at different temperatures. The solution: Get a countertop toaster oven. It can take care of small- to medium-sized dishes when your big oven is in use (or when it’d be a waste of electricity or gas to fire it up for a small job). 
My current favorite is the Breville Smart Oven, which automatically detects and adjusts the temperature during the cooking process to deliver the best possible results. Our wall oven has been on the fritz for a couple of months, and I’ve relied solely on this li’l oven to get roasted meats and vegetables on the table. Whether it’s puffing up a fritttata, roasting a chicken, or baking up Paleo treats — this compact workhorse has not let me down.
 
7. Sous Vide Water Oven:

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The SousVide Supreme is the ultimate slow cooker. The machine is a temperature-controlled water bath; simply immerse your vacuum-sealed food in the water, and it’ll slowly cook to the precise temperature at which it’s meant to be served. Just dunk in your food and forget about it until it’s time to sear and eat. Meats cooked sous vide come out perfectly cooked; a medium-rare steak’ll be pink from end to end, rather than bloody in the middle and gray near the surface. Plus, the long bath transforms even the toughest (and cheapest) cuts of meat into tender, juicy morsels.
Of course, a SousVide Supreme ain’t exactly cheap. If you’re strapped for cash, consider buying a less-expensive (but only slightly smaller in capacity) SousVide Supreme Demi. Or if you’re into making your own kitchen tools, you can always cobble together a homemade sous vide cooker with a cheap beer cooler and an instant-read thermometer.
I could go on and on about my love for sous vide cooking, but instead, I’ll just point you to my guest blog on the SousVide Supreme site, in which I extol the virtues of sous vide cooking.
Lastly, before you jump down my throat about the use of plastic in sous vide cooking, please read my blog post about food safety issues related to cooking at low temperatures in plastic.
 
8. iPad and iPad Mini:
 
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I truly believe that the iPad and its little sibling, the iPad Mini, are the future of cookbooks. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have invested my own blood, sweat, tears, and hard-earned moolah to develop an iPad cooking app. These days, I find myself using my tablet way more often than my laptop — especially for content consumption.
 
As a recent New York Times article pointed out:
The interface of a tablet offers possibilities to the cook that would be impossible with a laptop, let alone a book. Swiping, tapping and zooming through information presented in multimedia is a good match for the experience of cooking, which involves all the senses and the brain, as well. And when those faculties fail, as often happens in high-stress kitchen scenarios like Thanksgiving, apps can come to the rescue with features like technique videos, embedded glossaries and social media links. 
When we created an app, our goal was to give my readers the experience of cooking with me at home — complete with images of every single step of the cooking process and my own flippant, snarky commentary. I suppose I could’ve tried to cram all of our step-by-step photos and instructions into a cookbook, but a book with over fifteen hundred photos would’ve been a pain in the keister to lug around the kitchen.
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If you’re swiping through recipes in the kitchen, definitely get a Speck Handy Shell for your iPad. It’s got a durable hard shell and a handle that you can hang from a hook or prop up like a picture frame on the counter. 
And if you’ve got kids, an iPad is pretty much the best electronic babysitter ever. Really. (A great case for the munchkins? The iGuy!)
 
So, there’s my list of gifts that are worth the extra cash. For budget-friendly gift ideas, check out My Favorite Stocking Stuffers For Under $20 and Essential Paleo Cooking Tools.
 
Go forth and stimulate the economy!

P.S. If you buy stuff using the links to Amazon above, I’ll get a teeny-tiny commission on the sale (but the price you pay remains the same!). Thank you for supporting Nom Nom Paleo!

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