1. Product rec:
Zojirushi Rice Cooker
When it comes to cooking gadgets, I find many of them to be crazy expensive, confusing, complicated, or just not particularly useful. Rice cookers are the exception. My rice cooker costs $40, is SUPER simple (it only has one button!), and it is incredibly useful. It's a "smart" cooking device from before the era of "smart" devices. Here's how it works:
You measure the correct amount of water and rice, quinoa, or lentils. Then you press the button. Then, the device cooks the grains to perfection – at which point it switches from "cook" mode to "warm" mode. How does it know when to do that? Doesn't matter. (Actually, it's kind of cool: it uses a thermometer. When the grains are floating in water, the temperature will never rise above 212 degrees, but when the rice is finished, it will. So as soon as the temperature rises above 212, the cooker switches to "warm" mode.
How good of a job does it do? Let's just say this: if you have average/decent cooking skills, it's really hard to get rice right – and the rice cooker will make better rice than you can on the stove. If you're the guy from Jiro Dreams of Sushi...you might want to stick with what's working.
So, that's our recommendation for today: a magical device that saves you time, makes you better at cooking, and even has "smart" features, for $42. (I've had mine for five years, with no issues except a $10 replacement of the glass lid when I dropped it last year)
Here a few links:
1) The Zojirushi rice cooker that I own. It's perfect. ($42)
2) The larger/fancier Zojirushi rice cooker (which I've had my eyes on for larger gatherings) ($165)
3) You might know Roger Ebert as a famous film critic. Well, his work actually spanned much wider than just film (and all of it is truly exceptional IMO), including taking the time write a book about rice cookers. If you're giving the rice cooker as a gift, this book is a great add-on. (The Pot and How to Use it, by Roger Ebert; $11)