Holigay Gift Guide: For the Reluctant Pandemic Chef

I’m someone who loves to cook. It’s absolutely a top-tier passion of mine. And yet. I still get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of time spent in my own kitchen during this pandemic. I love making dinner but it’s also like damn we really gotta have dinner EVERY NIGHT?????!!!!

Cooking is a lot of work!!!! I’m lucky that I love it, and I get that not everyone does! In fact, some of my friends are really struggling with their new roles as home cooks. So I’ve put together this list of kitchen tools and essentials that will hopefully make the chore of cooking a little bit easier and more enjoyable for people who maybe didn’t cook much at all prior to this pandemic. Shop this guide for the reluctant home cook in your life or for yourself if you’re wanting to shake things up in the kitchen but don’t know where to start! I’ve also included some recipes and guides for some inspiration.

Yes they are heavy and cumbersome to clean, but trust me, Dutch ovens are a versatile and long-lasting kitchen essential. Easily braise meats (here’s a quick guide to braising), make one-pot meals (like this!), and make soups and stews. This particular one is a good size and price for starting out. It basically can be used as a pot/skillet/roasting pan/etc. I use mine every day.

A black air fryer.

Airfryer ($59.99)

When I realize I have a bunch of random veggie scraps in the fridge, my solution is LET’S FRY THESE BAD BOYS UP. I usually pan fry/deep fry in a wok, but that takes practice to get the temperatures and timing right. Using an airfryer is easier and faster. You can use them for so many things!!! I don’t have one but I wish I did!! Check out @jamesyworld’s Will It Airfry highlight on Instagram for inspo.

A collection of spices against warm matching backgrounds.

Nice spices ($47.99)

I recently got this set from Burlap & Barrel from a friend, and I LOVE it. This would make a nice gift for anyone trying to up their seasonings/flavors game. These six are great for all kinds of cuisines. The cinnamon is even good just on coffee.

On the subject of seasonings and flavors, you really can’t go wrong with a good chili crisp. It can be put on ANYTHING. Buy it for your pal who likes it hot.

I’m pretty sure a good 30% of my life is spent chopping vegetables. If you want a shortcut/less strenuous option, immersion blenders that come with the little chopping attachment are a great solution. It’s basically a mini food processor! Perfect for someone with little counter space or someone who is like “I simply do not want to spend 45 minutes mincing garlic by hand” because FAIR. You could also buy this for yourself and then make little jars of pesto as a gift for others.

A multicolored stripped apron in cream and shades of grey.

Apron ($34)

Honestly who cares how the food turns out so long as you look cute???? Can speak from personal experience that a very good kitchen look is an apron and nothing else!!!

The thing about cooking is that you do all that work, get to eat, and then have to do MORE WORK? Just endless dishwashing!!!! These reusable/washable dishcloths make good stocking stuffers and can help you cut down on single-use paper products in your kitchen. And you can find them in all sorts of cute designs!

You’re probably like “hmm Kayla I don’t think you can cook with a wireless speaker” and yes you are correct. But the cheap little speaker my girlfriend impulsively bought for the beach pre-pandemic has actually been such a gamechanger in the kitchen. Listening to music helps pass time and creates ambiance. We like to put on this “Italian cooking music” playlist or a “Parisian cafe” one. Get a waterproof one in case of kitchen spills.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 858 articles for us.


  1. Definitely agree about the wireless speaker! I got one for my birthday a couple years ago (not quite as small and cute as this one, but still v. portable) and I use it in the kitchen more than any other room. This weekend I blasted Christmas carols while making cookies.

  2. I have had that exact immersion blender set for a couple of years and can confirm it’s actually really handy for doing a range of things when you have little space! Also yesterday I made apple rosemary cake that involved whisking sugar and eggs for 15 mins over simmering water and this saved my wrists (not that I need them for much else, bc pandemic, but still). Also because it’s just a few small parts it’s really easy to wash up. The container is really just for chopping small amounts of things, but you can use the blender part in a larger bowl or saucepan too.

  3. As someone who’s been cooking and baking a TON especially since covid hit, I would buy the hell out of an autostraddle (g)a(y)pron!!

  4. All great ideas! I use my Dutch oven soooooo much! I’d recommend spending an extra ~10-20 bucks and get one with a metal handle so the lid can go in the oven (the one linked here has a plastic handle). Very important for bread baking. Mine is lodge and I think it was $65. I use it about three times a week so definitely worth it!

  5. missing is a decent cutting board and a good knife. YOU NEED A SHARP KNIFE. Victorinix has great knives for under $60. get general purpose chef or santoku. get a cutting board an appropriate size for your knife. or a hamilton beach all in one food processor that will dice your stuff for you! proper tools make a big difference.

  6. honestly obsessed with this whole list! this is a question i could probably google but incase anyone randomly has the answer – if i already have an immersion blender, could i buy the attachments to make it a food processor too? or do i need to buy a new immersion blender with these attachments if that’s my dream? (it is my dream.) thank you for these ideas, kayla, you dreamy home chef! <3

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