2012 Gift Guide: Well-Designed Gifts

A collection of cooking tools as beautiful as they are useful. See all our perfect present ideas in the 2012 Holiday Gift Guide »

Glass Travel Mug

Travel mugs are useful, but usually clunky plastic affairs--this one is a sight for sore eyes. Simple and elegant, it comes in two varieties--one with a bamboo lid (my preference, purely for looks) and one in black (preferred by a friend of mine, who likes to throw hers in the dishwasher without worrying about warping). Both come with a removable infuser for loose tea, but work just as well with coffee. And the double-walled construction ensures your drink stays hot for a while. Glass Travel Mug with Infuser, $29.50 at David's Tea

Basil Grow Kit

Some of us struggle with keeping even the easiest plants alive, but now we, too, can have fresh-from-the-kitchen herbs: the Click and Grow kit only requires you to fill the reservoir with water, add batteries, and leave it in a sunny spot. The clean, white design looks great on a windowsill, and the Basil starter kit can be refilled with thyme, mini tomatoes, chili peppers, or several other, non-edible, plants. Click and Grow Basil Starter Kit, $59.99 at Amazon.com

Wooden Cooking Utensils

The beauty of these streamlined wooden tools lies in the smart little notch on the back, which allows you to perch them on the side of pots. Muuto Hang Around Cooking Tools, $30 at Connox Design Shop

Stainless Steel Wok

If you have a "less is more" philosophy about buying kitchen tools, this simple wok from Eva Solo is a good find: sturdy and elegant, functional and beautiful. Eva Solo XO Collection Wok, $191 at Amazon.com

Pour-over Coffee Maker

Pour-over coffee makers are enjoying a resurgence--proponents say the slower extraction produces a more delicate, flavorful brew. This small, 3-cup glass model turns a morning cup into an elegant ritual. Chemex Classic Series Glass Coffeemaker, $33.15 at Amazon.com or Chemex

Dahlstrom Casserole

Designed by Swedish designer Bjorn Dahlstrom, this hefty casserole dish not only looks beautiful, but cooks beautifully, too, with even, consistent heat. The interior measuring scales and sturdy handles are a convenient bonus. Iittala Dahlstrom 2-Quart Casserole, $300 at Amazon.com

Glitter Cake Knife and Server

Hopefully you have a pretty impressive cake to cut with these guys, or they just might steal the show with all that bling. The acrylic tools are New-Year's-Eve fancy, but they're not just for looks--the serrated knife does its job well, and the tart server is weighty enough to use with comfort. Extremely practical they may not be, but neither is cake, and we're not about to pass on that, either. Glitter Cake Knife and Glitter Tart Server, $25 and $22 at Leif Shop

Digital Kitchen Scale

Accurate baking pretty much requires a scale to measure ingredients. Few of them are as slick-looking as this one, with its stainless surface and LCD display. Luckily it's as useful as it is attractive--the large flat surface accomodates a variety of containers, and it will remember the weight of the vessel if you remove it. Ozeri Zenith Professional Digital Kitchen Scale, $32.95 at [Amazon.com

Teema Dishes

The trick with dinnerware is that you want something elegant and well-designed, but not designy--the food should be the focus, not the plate. These porcelain dishes from Iittala fit the bill: the lines are elegant, they come in a variety of sizes and colors (or go with classic white), and they have a little weight to them. Iittala Teema Dishes, $13-75 at Amazon.com

Glass Tea Kettle

Designed by Norm Architects, this transparent kettle includes an infuser on a silicone string for brewing right in the pot. The minimalist design is light and delicate-looking but stands up to hot water. Norm Tea Pot, $60.53 at Amazon.com

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