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The 4 Kitchen Gadgets That Should Be On Every Chef's Holiday Wish List

Grace Young’s farmer’s market vegetable stir-fry in her favorite wok. (Courtesy Grace Young)
Grace Young’s farmer’s market vegetable stir-fry in her favorite wok. (Courtesy Grace Young)
This article is more than 6 years old.

Looking for a gift for the would-be chef this holiday season? Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst asked a few of her food friends what kitchen gadget they can't live without, and added one of her own.

She brings Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson and Robin Young their suggestions, and recipes that use them.

Where You Can Find Each Item
Kathy's immersion blender, used to make her escarole and white bean soup. (Kathy Gunst for Here & Now)
Kathy's immersion blender, used to make her escarole and white bean soup. (Kathy Gunst for Here & Now)

Escarole And White Bean Soup With Parmesan Cheese

After spending a year cooking soup and developing soup recipes for my new book “Soup Swap” (Chronicle Books), I have become very attached to my immersion blender. I use it to whirl up pureed soups, sauces, vegetables and more. I love that I can make a dish in one pot, puree it directly in that pot and never have to clean out (or use) a blender or food processor.

An immersion blender is like a blender on a long stick. You place the blender end directly into a pot of food and whirl it. Immersion blenders are relatively inexpensive and a great tool for pureeing soups or any other dishes.

Escarole, a slightly bitter variety of endive, looks like a big head of lettuce with broad leaves and a wonderful crunch. High in folic acid and fiber, it’s loaded with vitamins and makes an excellent soup.

This is a thick, warming soup with white cannellini beans, lots of garlic, and chicken stock (you can easily substitute vegetable stock). If you have a Parmesan cheese rind in your freezer add it to the soup; before serving, be sure to remove it with a slotted spoon.

The soup has a surprisingly complex flavor but takes well under an hour to make. You could also top the soup with some cooked, crumbled pancetta or bacon. Makes 8 full servings.


  • 2 medium-large heads escarole
  • 2 medium leeks or 2 medium sweet onions
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups cooked white cannellini beans or canned white (drained, rinsed, and re-drained)
  • 7 cups chicken stock, or vegetable stock
  • Parmesan cheese rind (optional)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Core both heads of escarole. Rinse them under cold water and thoroughly dry them. Finely chop one head and coarsely chop the other head; set aside. Trim off the dark green section of the leeks and reserve for making stock. Halve the pale green and white sections lengthwise, rinse under cold running water, and pat dry. Cut crosswise into thin pieces. (If using onions, cut them into thin slices.)
  2. In a large stockpot over low heat, warm 1 Tbsp of the olive oil. Add the leeks and garlic and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add 1 1/4 tsp of the thyme and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Using an immersion blender or food processor, place 1 cup of the beans, the remaining 1 1/4 tsp thyme, and 1 cup of the chicken stock in a large bowl and puree. Add the bean purée and remaining 1 cup beans to the pot. Turn the heat to medium, add all the escarole, and cook, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the leaves are just wilted. Turn the heat to high, add the remaining 6 cups chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Add the Parmesan rind (if using), turn the heat to low, and cook, partially covered, for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Remove the rind from the soup.
  4. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve hot, sprinkled with grated cheese.

Recipe from the book SOUP SWAP by Kathy Gunst. Copyright © 2016 by Kathy Gunst. Republished with permission of Chronicle Books.

Kathy's breakfast sausage and buttermilk-chive skillet corn bread casserole. (Kathy Gunst for Here & Now)
Kathy's breakfast sausage and buttermilk-chive skillet corn bread casserole. (Kathy Gunst for Here & Now)

Breakfast Sausage And Buttermilk-Chive Skillet Corn Bread Casserole

Evan Mallett is chef at the Black Trumpet restaurant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and author of “Black Trumpet: A Chef’s Journey Through Eight New England Seasons.” He says he can’t live without his "ancient Lodge square 10- or 12-inch cast iron pan.”

“They are the original non-stick pan, and they last a lifetime. We also use small Lodge cast iron pans to weigh down pates, to make 'panini'-style grilled croques, and to press skin-on fish fillets so their skin becomes extra crispy.”

This is a twist on an old favorite. Instead of a breakfast strata or hash, this is a quick hearty breakfast or brunch dish perfect for the holidays that can be made ahead of time — or even frozen and covered up to a month before serving.

I use my favorite buttermilk-chive-scallion corn bread, made directly in a 10-inch square cast-iron or heavy ovenproof skillet, poured on top of spicy sausage sautéed until golden brown. The corn bread can be served warm, topped or accompanied by a fried or poached egg for a simple holiday breakfast. Serves 8.

Evan’s Shopping Tip: "Lodge cast iron skillets are made in the U.S, reasonably priced and last a lifetime."


  • 2 1/2 tablespoon lightly salted butter
  • 2 tablespoon minced fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoon finely chopped scallions
  • 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 hot or sweet Italian sausages, about 3/4 to 1 pound, taken out of the casing


  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  2. In a 10-in skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat, melt the butter. As soon as the butter just begins to brown, remove the skillet from the heat and add the chives and scallions.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking soda until well blended. Add the buttermilk and eggs and whisk to combine. Whisk in only 1 cup of the whole milk. Add the chive-brown butter, and whisk until combined.
  4. Meanwhile, crumble the sausage meat in the skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until well browned. Remove any excess fat from the skillet.
  5. Pour the corn bread batter into the skillet over the cooked sausage and bake for 15 minutes.
  6. Pour the remaining 1 cup milk on top of the bread and bake for another 25 to 35 minutes, or until the corn bread is golden brown and firm. When you gently shake the skillet, the corn bread shouldn’t wobble but it doesn’t need to be bone dry when tested with a toothpick in the center. Remove and let cool slightly. Serve warm, or at room temperature.

Grace Young’s Farmer’s Market Vegetable Stir-Fry

Named the “poet laureate of the wok” by the food historian Betty Fussell, Grace Young has devoted her career to celebrating wok cookery. She is the James Beard Award-winning author of “Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, with Authentic Recipes and Stories.”

"I can’t live without my wok(s) — I’m a wokaholic and confess to having a large collection. The wok is of course, the ultimate stir-fry pan but I also love it for scrambling eggs, steaming fish, boiling dumplings, poaching fish, pan-frying steaks, deep-frying spring rolls, braising a stew, smoking tofu, roasting a chicken and even making popcorn. The beauty of a carbon-steel wok is it acquires a natural nonstick surface the more you cook with it — so very little oil is needed.”

This fall she is featured in the Museum of Chinese in America’s exhibition, “Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy.” Young is also the co-founder of Wok Wednesdays, an online stir-fry and wok cooking group. Below is her recipe for a simple, very fresh tasting vegetable stir fry.

Grace’s Shopping Tip: " sells the all-time best wok for the bargain price of $25. There are several styles, but I recommend the 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok with the long wooden handle and a small wooden spoon handle."


  • 1 tablespoon white wine or dry sherry
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil, grapeseed or canola oil
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 3 small garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup carrots, thinly sliced (1/4-inch thick)
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup yellow summer squash or zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1 cup sugar snaps, strings removed
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro


  1. In a small cup combine wine and soy sauce.
  2. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in oil, add onion, garlic and red pepper flakes, and stir-fry 10 seconds or until fragrant. Add carrots, sprinkle on salt, and pepper and stir-fry 1 minute. Add yellow squash, sugar snaps and tomatoes, swirl wine mixture into wok, and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp. Remove from heat and sprinkle on parsley. Makes 4 servings.
Kathy's butternut squash, red onion and feta crostada. (Kathy Gunst for Here & Now)
Kathy's butternut squash, red onion and feta crostada. (Kathy Gunst for Here & Now)

Butternut Squash, Red Onion And Feta Crostada

Martha Rose Shulman is a James Beard Award-winning author and the author of many cookbooks. She writes the Recipes for Health column for the New York Times. Her favorite kitchen object is an old rolling pin.

"There was a time when my stepmother Mary thought she was going to do some serious baking. That never happened, so she gave me the equipment she’d bought. This heavy dowel rolling pin has become a treasured item in my batterie de cuisine. I use it for pie dough and cookies mainly, but also to crush nuts and spices. I love the feel of it, the evenness of the roll.”

A savoury crostada, made with a simple thyme-flavored pastry, rolled into a large circle and filled with sautéed butternut squash, red onion and feta cheese. The pastry can be made a day ahead. Serve as a main course, first course or with soup and a wintery mixture of bitter salad greens. Serves 4 to 8.

Pastry Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, well chilled and cut into small pieces
  • About 1/3 cup ice cold water

Filling Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled


  1. To make the dough: Using a food processor fitted with the metal blade, mix together the flour, salt, and thyme. Add the butter and pulse about fifteen times, or until the mixture is the consistency of coarse cornmeal. With the motor running, slowly add just enough of the ice water to hold the dough together, stopping when the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
  2. Form the dough into a ball and place in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.
  3. In a large skillet over low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes. Add the squash and the chives, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the squash is just tender when tested with a small, sharp knife. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as needed. Remove from the heat and let cool.
  4. Working on a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to form a 14-inch circle and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the dough with 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, 1/2 cup of the feta, and a generous grinding of pepper. Arrange the squash slices and onions in a circle, leaving a 2-inch border around the circumference of the dough. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup [20 g] Parmesan and 1/2 cup feta on top. Drape the bare edge of the dough up around the filling, creating “pleats” and pressing them into place, leaving about 6 inches of the filling in the center uncovered by the dough. Chill the crostada in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  5. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
  6. Bake the crostada for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the pastry is a rich golden brown and the cheese is bubbling. Remove from the oven and let cool for just a few minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

This segment aired on November 29, 2016.

More From Our Resident Chef:

Kathy Gunst Resident Chef, Here & Now
Kathy Gunst is a James Beard Award-winning journalist and the author of 15 cookbooks.



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