Along with grilling and roasting, braising is one of my favorite cooking methods, and is one of the most flavorful. It's also usually easy, since most braised foods don't require a lot of fuss or hands-on attention.
If you're not quite sure what braising means, here's a quick breakdown: "Braise" comes from the French word braiser, and it's a method of cooking that combines both dry and moist heat. Foods—often meats—are usually first seared or browned in a braising pan, and then cooked at a lower temperature in the covered pan, usually with a little liquid like broth or wine.
I tend to favor cast-iron pots for braising since they conduct heat well and are perfect for low-temperature cooking. The outcome is almost always tender, moist foods with loads of flavor.
One of my personal favorite kitchen essentials is my Anolon Vesta Cast Iron 5-Quart Covered Braiser ($129.99). Mine is a beautiful color that Anolon calls Paprika Red. Now, I really, really love products made by the French company Le Creuset, and I own a number of them. However, Le Creuset’s 5-quart braiser sells for $295, and my Anolon braiser seems every bit as solid and well-constructed as Le Creuset's, for less than half the price.
The good looks of the Anolon braiser makes it a perfect candidate for stove- or oven-to-table usage. It's got a stain-resistant black matte enamel interior that makes for easy searing and browning. The braiser features a really attractive and sturdy porcelain enamel exterior, and the self-basting lid sports an elegant stainless-steel handle. It's broiler safe, and perfect for everything from a coq au vin and beef daube to Moroccan tagine dishes and even Southern-style date-and-pecan pudding. This braiser also includes a limited lifetime warranty.
So, if you're looking for a high-quality gift that any cook would love to own, I highly recommend the Anolon Vesta Cast Iron 5-Quart Braiser.