The Best Gifts for a Happy Host
’Tis the season for celebrations, and when you’re an invited guest, it’s always nice to bring a token of appreciation for your host. This week, our editors have selected their favorite ideas—gadgets and foods that are sure to impress. Is your host or hostess a cheese lover? Our winning cheese plane produces even slices for an elegant-looking cheese board, and our favorite fondue pot is a fun way to feast on fromage (or chocolate, of course). If you prefer to go the edible gift route, allow us to recommend a few of our winning spices, high-end olive oil and vinegar, or the hot cocoa mix that wowed our tasters.Books also make great gifts, and when it comes to couples and smaller families, there’s none more useful than The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook. In this beautiful hardcover edition, you’ll find 650 of the test kitchen’s favorite recipes, all reengineered to serve just two—no guesswork, no waste, no surprises.
This opener had a slow but steady corkscrew that drilled straight into the cork and removed it without wobbling the bottle or making us struggle to keep it or the bottle in place.
With four removable freezable ice packs buffered by a 1/2-inch-thick zone of air, this wine cooler did a superb job of keeping wine cold, taking a whopping 7 hours to allow the wine’s temperature to rise 10 degrees. And it maintained the wine’s temperature within a single degree for an average of 5 hours. One minor caveat: The inserts must be completely frozen before they can be used, or the cooler won’t be as effective.
This electric model heated every type of fondue evenly and consistently and its wide crock made simultaneous dipping frustration-free. Its temperature controls were clearly labeled with both degrees and type of fondue, allowing us to set the perfect temperature without looking at the manual. Its electronic parts detached so the crock could be washed in the sink, and fondue wiped easily off its scratch-resistant nonstick surface.
Goldilocks would like this towel: It’s not too thick or too thin, too big or too small. Its fabric tightened, toughened, and grew more absorbent the more we used and washed it. Stripes camouflaged stains until they washed out and kept this sturdy towel looking fresh.
This cheese plane produced perfect, clean-edged, even slices of ideal thickness every time. With a comfortable handle, a relatively long blade, and one of the thinnest and most flexible heads in the testing, it was a pleasure to use.
This model is firm enough for scraping and scooping but also fit neatly into tight corners. Its straight sides and wide, flat blade ensured that no food was left unmixed. The all-silicone design eliminates any crannies that could trap food. It felt exceptionally comfortable. Its smaller blade fell short in our folding test.
Seamless silicone surrounds a sturdy polymer core, making this spatula easy to clean and comfortable in hand. The flexible head handily maneuvers in tight corners and edges but is strong enough to scoop heavy food. It’s also available in a mini version, perfect for petite jars.
This stellar tool felt especially comfortable in hand, thanks to its lightly textured silicone material and gently rounded handle. The spatula head is spacious and sturdy and presses flush to the sides and bottoms of cookware. Since it’s wrapped in one continuous layer of silicone, there are no nooks or crannies to trap food. The vibrant red color hid stains, and it proved quite odor-resistant.
Tasters loved this versatile French dry vermouth. When tasted plain, it was “crisp” and had notes of fresh fruit, citrus, and mint. It contributed a “distinctive” but measured herbal flavor to risotto. If you’d like to cook with dry vermouth and occasionally drink it plain or in cocktails, buy this bottle.
The “deep, rich chocolate flavor” and “nice depth” of this cocoa made it a hit: “I love everything about this one!” Tasters described it as “balanced and complex,” with “intense” flavor and “a nice bitter edge” that made it “actually taste like chocolate.”
Tasters found this supermarket saffron “toasty and sweet” with “strong floral” flavors that made it a winner. Tasters also noticed a pleasantly “nutty aftertaste.” Source: www.worldpantry.com
In the rice pudding tasting, this Indonesian cinnamon struck “the perfect balance of sweet and spicy.” Its flavor dramatically mellowed when baked into cinnamon rolls and on pita chips.
This “smoky, sizzling, full-flavored” chili powder was “much more dimensional than others.” “The flavor I’ve been waiting for!” one taster wrote. The “hot, smoky, herbaceous” powder was “balanced,” “bright,” and “lively,” with “raisiny fruitiness” and a “nice building heat.”
This product was “sweet” and “fragrant,” with “woodsy,” “nutmeg” notes that added “subtle” complexity to rice pudding and cinnamon rolls. Some tasters thought that this “delicate” cinnamon “lacked heat” and was a little too “mild.”
Comments: The maker of our favorite vanilla extract wins again, with a vanilla bean that offers “complex” flavor that suggests caramel with “a hint of butter and lemon.”
Our favorite product in every tasting, this made-in-Spain smoked paprika was redolent with richer, “deeper” smoky flavor than the rest. With “the perfect balance of paprika and smokiness,” it was “bright and warm,” “sweet and rounded,” with smoke that “linger[ed]” “without being overpowering.”
With a “very sweet and fruity” “honey” flavor, this champagne-based vinegar earned top marks. The vinaigrette made with it was “vibrant” but “nicely balanced.” At this price, we might not use it as an everyday vinegar, but it’s worth the expense for a special meal.
All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.