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Comfort Items for Your Kitchen

The impending holiday season cannot be extricated from the endless array of domestic wares necessary to make the party. I was shopping at Costco not too long ago, in search of cheap items for a Halloween shindig, when I was unexpectedly seduced by giant towers of shiny tea kettles, aerodynamic-looking blenders, Belgian waffle makers, boxy bagel toasters, and svelte martini glasses. Sure enough, I walked away with an armload of household appurtenances that I may not have shared with my party guests -- but boy did they make me a happy girl. Luckily, we're at the epicenter of the culinary universe, and whether you cook up cassoulets on the weekends or simply can't resist the latest commodities of cooking technology, there's a bevy of shops that both the seasoned chef and the domestic wannabe will want to explore in the coming months.

Sur La Table has been called the Pottery Barn of culinary crafts. Including an endless range of accoutrements, such as porcelain Buffaloware cook items, Mendocino mustards, and lazy Susan fondue pots, it's the perfect place to go when you're planning a dinner party or gala event. The collection of copperware is extensive and fashionable, including intricate fleur-de-lis molds and rustic sauteuses, braisers, and sauce pans by Mauviel that are beautiful alternatives to stainless steel. Gung-ho foodies will love the cooking community vibe in the San Francisco store, which offers classes and demonstrations featuring culinary luminaries like Jacques Pepin, Rick Bayless, Anne Willan, and Jacques Torres. The San Francisco location also boasts the store's first hands-on team building cooking classes, which were featured in The Wall Street Journal. For those who want to spoil their loved ones with culinary gifts on the cheap, check out the $19.95 tin-lined Cataplana pans, perfect for steaming mussels, ham, or sausage, or the Bodum French Press, which extracts the most flavor from coffee beans and makes an exquisite cup of java, at $19.95.

For upscale offerings, Williams-Sonoma is the place to go. A highly regarded kitchen chain for the most discerning gourmands, it sports a plethora of nifty gadgets, durable cookware, pantry items, specialty foods, and cookbooks. Le Creuset cookware is among the shop's most popular items. Le Creuset items are handcrafted from cast iron and coated with porcelain enamel, absorbing and spreading heat efficiently and cleaning up just as well. The $185 round Dutch oven by Le Creuset is an all-around favorite. Ideal for preparing stews and braising meats and vegetables, the oven sears and simmers foods while allowing them to retain their moisture and emerge silky smooth.

The Wok Shop is a unique specialty store located in San Francisco's Chinatown that deals in Asian cooking tools. A family-owned and operated business that's been around for over three decades, it has the wok, a round-bottom bowl-shaped pan used for centuries in Chinese kitchens, as its centerpiece. The wok permits the rapid tossing of several ingredients with a minimum of oil and maximum heat efficiency. It is perhaps one of the most versatile cooking vessels in the world -- with your wok, you can stir-fry, steam, braise, sauté, simmer, deep-fry, stew, and even smoke. Bargain items include the hand-hammered wok, a traditional Chinese vessel with metal handles, from $9.95 to $19.95. Among the Wok Shop's beautiful rare items is their $24.95 solid granite mortar and pestle set, perfect for grinding spices and herbs for curries. Another unique offering is their bamboo steamer, which allows the chef to prepare multiple dishes by stacking layers of bamboo racks atop each other, requiring only one burner and one pan. One set is made up of two racks and one lid, but individual racks and lids can be purchased separately.

It doesn't take a food snob to appreciate the magnetic draw of cozy kitchen commodities. So whether you're an all-out gourmand or simply a decadent host, check out the wealth of household items that will make your guests ooh and aah. After all, nothing makes the holiday party like a delectable meal prepared with style.