From today's New York Times, Mark Bittman writes about cast iron skillets in, Ever So Humble, Cast Iron Outshines the Fancy Pans:
As cookware becomes more expensive and the kinds available become more varied, it's increasingly clear to me that most "new" pots and pans are about marketing. For most tasks, old-style cookware is best. So these days when I'm asked for a recommendation, I reply with an old-fashioned answer: cast iron.
I couldn't agree more: I have an 11 1/2" cast iron skillet I've had since 1993 and I love it. I use it all the time. If you're looking for a good holiday present for a cook, perhaps a skillet would be good? Also, what Mr. Bittman doesn't mention is that you can often find cast iron skillets really cheap at tag sales and country antique shops. They're usually quite seasoned already, and there's something really neat about using a pan that's fried more than its share of eggs before you even got your hands on it.