So what do you give and what do you ask for?
Last year we received two christmas gifts that we use regularly. The first one is the Vidalia Chop Wizard. I highly recommend it for the amatuer foodie in your life - most people are dubious of As Seen on TV products, so they probably don't own one. There is a William Sonoma version, but its much more expensive, so they probably haven't bought one.
The second is a Calphalon Crepe Pan. It's great for crepes and pancakes, plus non breakfast tasks such as sauteing chopped peppers and onions and making grilled cheese sandwiches, because it has a wider and non-curved surface, unlike most fry pans, but it is usable for more stuff than a griddle because it has higher sides. The Calphalon Crepe Pan with a container of crepe mix is the perfect gift for somebody you know likes food, and you think can handle a mix.
Other favorite gifts include my food scale and Kapoosh Knife Block. Food scales should only be given to hardcore/European cooks who you know want to weigh things as they cook, otherwise it sends the wrong message. (Food scales are used most frequently in the US by people on diets.)
- Stocking stuffers/Hannukah Nights 2-7 gifts - measuring tools (pyrex liquid measuring cups in a 1 cup or 2 cup size; OXO measuring cups and spoons for drystuffs), silicon spatulas (again, I recommend OXO), the palm peeler and brush , pretty much any OXO Good Grips products (I plan to buy the 20-piece variety pack at Costco and parcel it out among family member's stockings. The Ice Cream scoop is particularly well designed.) A cookie scoop is great too.
- Electronics: blender (Black & Decker makes a nice $25 to $30 model - don't spend less than $20, I can guarantee you it will suck), food scale, immersion blender (we don't actually use ours, but if you have somebody who likes to make soup), mini-chopper (look for one with a both chop and grind feature), electric kettle (for the tea lover or Alton Brown enthusiast in your life), hand mixer (the Hamilton Beach one that comes with its own case is quite nice, if you've got money to spare go with the Kitchenaid 6-speed), a crockpot (of any size - the mini-dipper is great for the noncook who entertains. if they are single, get them a 1.5 quart, 4-quart if they entertain or eat dinner with others frequently; 6qt is for a family.)
- Other items: bamboo/wood cutting boards, a kapoosh knife block, a really nice knife (I recommend a Santoku knife), potholders, pyrex portables or baked dish/cupcake caddies (for the baker/entertainer in your life), the new line of lightweight Corningware, plus cookbooks that are specific to the chef. Also, don't overlook really nice tupperware, for the right person. (Probably somebody you are close to - somebody you can't legally marry. Which in Maryland is NOT your first cousin.)
- Consider requesting a really nice set of pots instead of that new ipod - you'll probably use the pots more! (The set I linked to is the Costco equivalent of Calphalon. Look for infused anodized aluminum - Calphalon, anolon, and a few other brands make it - but not the teflon coated ones.) You'll use them every day, and they are easy to clean. (I use my ipod every day too - so if yours broke, get the iPod. But if you're just upgrading, think about the pots...) If you don't want to request a full set, go for a 5.5 quart saute pan and a 3 quart saucepan - in our house we call them the "always pan" and the "always pot".
- If you've always wanted some of that shiny Le Crueset bakeware that looks so nice on the table, go ahead and ask for it! I've never tried it but I did put a mini-casserole on my list so that I can tell whether I like it more than my pyrex.
- Electronics - if you bake a lot, ask for a stand mixer. If you live a hectic and busy life, or hate your stove, think about putting a crock-pot on your list. See above list of electronics. I'm really hoping this year my sister re-gifts her old blender to us.
- Cookbooks - Santa is a great person to ask for cookbooks - because you can be specific or general. You can say, I really need a new cookie book. Or you can say, "I need a cookbook that isn't psycho about using the right kind of butter."
- If your Santa isn't very culinarily-inclined, and you don't trust them, either take your Santa with you shopping (my mom and I always hit BB&B the day after Thanksgiving and she lets me pick my gifts) or ask for gift cards to Bed Bath & Beyond (don't forget that 20% off coupon!) or Cooking.com or anywhere else.
- My sister doesn't cook. She makes fun of me for buying her kitchen supplies. So I don't. Some people are a lost cause and you should just get them iTunes gift cards.
- My father melts everything in his kitchen. Every year, I inventory what he has melted or broken, and go on a hunt for replacements he can't melt or break. Silicone coated spatulas and spoons are the best thing that has ever happened to him. Last year we bought him 10 and he only managed to destroy 1.
- Take age into account. My grandmother has some arthritis and while she is extremely strong for 86, I don't like to get her anything heavy. I also like to get her the OXO good grips items whenever possible, because they are designed for people with arthritis - the handles are bigger and easier to grasp.
- Mr. Barefoot learned from his mother that nothing is broken until it actually comes to pieces in your hand and you can't use the pieces in a remotely functional way. (Last year our ice cream scoop broke - the little sweeper thing that actually scoops the ice cream out, which it is useless without because those are so deep - and he wouldn't get rid of it. I bought him a new one for Christmas and he was like, "why did you get me this? we have an ice cream scoop."Also, his old measuring cup actively leaked, but when I got him a new one he was like, "I guess I needed one.") Some people can't understand why you would get them something nicer than what they have, even if what they have barely functions. Upgrade them slowly over time, one or two new things per year, or replace something that they have commented, in your presence, "I need to get a new one of these."
Also, consider clearing out your kitchen of things you don't use or want and regifting them via Goodwill or the Salvation Army - there will be a lot of needy families this year, and that electric griddle you never use might just make someone's Christmas morning or Hanukkah night. Or if you know you're getting a new set of pots or a nicer roasting dish, give yours up a few days early and let somebody else make dinner in that.
Happy letter-writing to Santa!