Welcome to the first of our upcoming holiday gift guides! We've checked out hundreds of products in 2012, and our staff has made up dozens of batches of ice cream, cooked up steaks, and emptied countless wine bottles (in the name of journalism). Here are some of the best items we checked out this year, that kept us coming back and have proven useful since we originally wrote.
We'll start with the sleek and relatively inexpensive Wine Breather Carafe from Creative Danes. Running only $50, it looks and feels lovely, and offers something few other carafes do- super-simple pouring back into the original bottle, should you wish.
Next up, the best cutting board we tried this year was the Core Bamboo Pro-Chef. It has some downsides- it can't be hung up, and isn't quite as attractive as some we've seen. But it's proven to be durable, and we quite like the removable bowls. Proof that there is room for innovation in even the most basic of your kitchen gear. $100.
Next, we recently reviewed our favorite home soda maker yet- the Sodastream Source. It's only been a few weeks since the review, but it's continued to be an indispensable part of the kitchen, getting regular use. It's smaller and offers a cleaner design than much of the rest of the family (though it isn't compatible with the glass carafes, sadly). $130.
Of course, if you really love someone, you make them ice cream. Or they make you ice cream. Or something. We made people happy with our gelato flavors, including peanut butter curry and orange-cranberry, thanks to the Nemox Gelato Chef 2200. It's not cheap but is surprisingly easy, and once you get a recipe down, results are consistently good. We liked the just-reviewed Cuisinart ICE-100 as well, which has held up well so far, but hasn't yet had the extended testing. $300.
Finally, if you really want to splurge, and especially if you or a loved one is a coffee connoisseur, we have just the suggestion. The best coffee grinder we've ever tried is the sleek Baratza Vario-W, which handles beans gently but firmly, evenly and without regards for their size, shape, or origin (or roasting). A burr grinder of the highest caliber, we regularly use this one for making espresso. It's fairly slim, and features a precise built-in scale that is great for consistent results. $500 or so, but a great piece of gear that continues to perform admirably.