For my annual kitchen gift guide, I asked Twitter followers what they wanted to see more of. The answer was cookbooks, gifts for young people building their first kitchen and for home bartenders, and upgrades for young people who have learned to cook dinner and need decent equipment. Here are my recommendations.
What would I put in my kitchen if I had to start all over again? This is tricky, because I got a KitchenAid stand mixer years before I had a kitchen to put it in. But if I wanted to set up a kitchen from scratch for someone who needs everything, but perhaps not everything necessary to whip up an eight-course gourmet meal, this is what I'd buy them. Yes, they could get by with one good chef's knife, Dutch oven and a paring knife. But the chefs who say that kind of stuff cook in kitchens where large staffs do most of the tedious stuff.
So I laid out the basic kit for doing everything from making pasta to roasting a chicken and tried to do it in as few pieces as possible, so they could be stored in a tiny kitchen. Everything in this section is of decent quality; nothing is fancy. Give your starter chef some time to learn what they like to cook when they have to do it every night, and also how to treat their equipment. I've offered suggestions for brands I know and trust, but if you find a substitute on special somewhere, buy it. Costco, for example, generally has splendid, modestly priced, stainless-steel cookware sets.
What you should think hard about is the one thing I have prioritized on this list: Every piece of cookware should be induction-ready. Induction is a miracle: For the first time, people without access to a gas line can have a cooktop that offers power and responsiveness. I suspect induction is the future for every kitchen.
And yet, as I prepare for a major home remodel, I'm not even looking at induction. Why? Because I bought my first pan years ago and many of my favorites cannot be used on an induction cooktop, which works only if the pan has sufficient amounts of cast iron or decently ferromagnetic stainless steel. (Not all stainless is induction-compatible, a lesson many cooks have learned to their chagrin.) Your starter chef probably won't have an induction cooktop in their first apartment, but someday they will probably want one, so make it easy for them to make the transition.
All-Clad induction-ready nonstick pans
Nonstick pans all die eventually, though better-quality pans will wait longer before giving up the ghost. Moreover, nonstick pans can't take high heat, which does literally toxic things to the coating. And high heat - lots of thick metal, durably bolted together so that it won't deform when you blast it with BTUs - is the only reason to pay a lot of money for a pan. So when you're buying a nonstick pan, don't think of it as an investment.
Don't buy the cheapest pans, which are too thin to cook food evenly, but you also should not pay more than $20 or $30 for one. I buy our egg pans at the supermarket and they are just fine for making an omelet or a grilled cheese sandwich.
OXO Good Grips 15-Piece Everyday Kitchen Tool Set
OXO makes great, usable products at terrific price points. Not everything in this set is very useful (meat-tenderizing hammers, for example, are good for only one task: shelling nuts). But this has all the bases covered, ensuring that a young cook will the necessaries on hand.
Cuisinart 77-11G Chef's Classic Stainless 11-Piece Cookware Set
I oppose buying anything in sets as the designer is apt to have very different ideas than I do about what is most useful. But as fledgling homemakers don't know what they will want, a good utilitarian set offers them the basics they'll need to start finding out.
I chose the Cuisinart set because it was the cheapest stainless-steel set on Amazon that was induction-ready and from a manufacturer I trust. But if you find a similar set on sale somewhere else, get that. I would not buy a set with more than a couple of skillets, a couple of saute pans, and a pasta pot.
Enameled Dutch oven
Everyone should have one of these: They're pretty, and terribly useful. The Lodge brand doesn't have the cachet of Le Creuset or Staub, but it also doesn't have the price, and it makes a fine cast-iron product.
Lock & Lock storage containers
The unsightly piles of jumbled containers, the plastic avalanches that result when the door is opened with too much enthusiasm … Tupperware is a constant reminder that we are all mortal, and this world is a vale of tears.
There is no point in trying to find a storage set that will keep the Tupperware cupboard in order, because the only thing that can manage that is an armed guard. What this set does do is seal tightly so food will stay fresh longer, and water can't get in. And it's reasonably priced.
VonShef mixing bowls
There are three schools of thought on mixing bowls: metal, glass or plastic. Plastic will scar in your dishwasher. Glass will break, or be taken to someone's house and forgotten. Metal will make horrible sounds when scraped with a metal utensil.
I have all three but most often reach for metal. They're cheap, come in the best variety of sizes, and are usually the most conveniently shaped. I'm pleased with a set from an Amazon Lightning Deal - the rubber keeps them from skidding on the counter, the lids let me store make-ahead preparations in the fridge, and the grater is a little small but still useful for modest amounts of cheese.
Even a basic cook should have more than one mesh strainer. They drain your pasta, yes, but they're also where you wash little vegetables and fruits, and strain the solids out of your stock. If I had to choose between a colander and a strainer, I'd choose the strainer: It will drain your pasta, while a colander won't do a darn thing to make your vichyssoise smoother.
Echo Dot and wall mount
A first kitchen is apt to be small, but that doesn't mean the chef won't want to listen to music, or ask Alexa who was the czar of Russia in 1804. And there are now a variety of cooking apps for Alexa. If you don't want your new cook calling you every 10 minutes for directions, get a machine that can answer those questions for you.
Pyrex 3-Piece Glass Measuring Cup Set
Buy liquid as well as dry measures. And while there are fancier liquid measures out there that let you accurately fill them from the top as well as the sides, I still like Pyrex for durability.
Dry measures and spoons
There has been little innovation in the standardized dry measure since it was popularized in the early 20th century. That means you need look for only three qualities: 1) cheap, 2) metal cups with the numbers etched in so that you don't have to guess whether this is your third or your half cup after the dishwasher strips the paint off of the plastic and 3) long, narrow bowls on the measuring spoons. Long, narrow bowls are moderately harder to cleanly empty of sticky ingredients like honey or vanilla paste. But they more than make up for this flaw by fitting easily into the mouths of spice jars.
Breville immersion blender
You could just buy a blender, but something weird has happened to blenders. They seem to come in two varieties: obscenely expensive and virtually useless.
So if you're going to get something to puree with for a starter home, I'd go with a stick blender. They will not puree as well as a really good blender, but luckily you also bought mesh strainers to strain out those last stubborn shreds of vegetable matter. These will whip cream, puree soup and even make a serviceable breakfast smoothie.
In my experience, there is not a vast quality range in immersion blenders (though as with all kitchen electrics, it does not pay to buy the very cheapest brands). Breville makes good stuff, as do KitchenAid, Braun and Cuisinart.
These come in two varieties: cloth, which will burn you when hot liquid slops out of your pot, and silicone, which are a little too stiff. For beginning cooks, choose "stiff" over "Alexa, how do you treat second-degree burns?"
iPad wall mount
Tablets are an immense boon to cooking. There's only one problem: Worrying about getting liquid close to your expensive electronics. Enter the wall mount, which lets you not only read the recipe without fear but watch Netflix while standing over the stove.
Victorinox 4-Piece Knife Set with Fibrox Handles
Victorinox is the go-to recommendation for cheap knives. This set has the most necessary sizes: serrated bread knife, 8-inch chef's knife, 6-inch utility knife and a paring knife.
Kuhn Rikon knife holder
Knife holders are not, strictly speaking, necessary, but they're convenient. This is a serviceable, modestly priced start.
Bamboo cutting boards
People are selling glass cutting boards, which are marvelously easy to keep clean and come in pretty patterns. They are also excellent for dulling your knives. If you would like to actually use your knives again, your cutting boards should be wood. (Plastic boards won't dull knives but they will accumulate many little cuts, which make cozy homes for bacteria. Wood cutting boards will also accumulate those cuts but they can be sanded away.)
Bamboo is the go-to for wood cutting boards, not because it's especially awesome, but because it's cheap.
These are useful for keeping the veneer from peeling off of their Ikea table, which they will want to protect after spending 97 hours assembling it.
Measurement equivalent refrigerator magnets
These are almost unnecessary in these days of electronics in the kitchen. But I still find mine handy for quickly figuring out exactly how many tablespoons are in 1/3 cup.
Kuhn Rikon spill stopper
These lids are marvelous when making jellies, custards or anything else likely to boil over. The design breaks the air bubbles so the lids cannot form a matrix that will tower over the top of the pan before crashing to the burner below and leaving a scorched mess on the stovetop. Think of it as a $25 investment in never having to explain how one removes burned scalded milk from a ceramic cooktop.
Jelly roll pan with cooling rack
Everyone needs at least one flat pan for roasting nuts or baking cookies. If you're only going to have one, make it a jelly roll. You can bake cookies in a jelly roll pan; you cannot bake things that are very wet, or take up the whole pan, on a cookie sheet. And this comes with a cooling rack, which is not only useful in and of itself but can go into the oven (letting air circulate under as well as over something like chicken quarters roasted at high heat).
OXO 13x9 rectangular pan with Norpro silicone roasting rack
This is actually two items: the pan and the insert. The pan is, as we all remember from our childhood, useful for brownies or cakes. But with the addition of a $12 piece of silicone, it can also be used as a roasting pan. I wouldn't try to cook a really huge hunk of prime rib or a turkey on this setup, but for anything short of that, it's a flexible and inexpensive solution that won't take up much storage space.
No kettle is necessary equipment, but an electric kettle is a useful piece of equipment for anyone who likes tea or pour-over coffee. It's especially good for folks who can't use the stove: younger kids, obviously, but we also got one for my grandmother when her eyesight got bad. For a serious tea or coffee drinker, consider getting the KitchenAid version that lets you very precisely control the temperature to get water that is just below boiling.
Capresso burr grinder
If you like coffee as more than simply a caffeine-delivery mechanism, you should not be buying pre-ground coffee; you should be grinding the beans every day. You can use a blade grinder, which is cheap and adequate but which will produce grounds of an inconsistent size and will slightly heat the beans, which true coffee lovers swear changes the flavor. Enter the burr grinder. Ten years ago, these were expensive specialty items; now they've halved in price. I have this model but there are now burr grinders that come from good brands and can be found at prices that are competitive with that of blade grinders.
This is not a cheap coffee machine. It is not a complicated coffee machine. It does not grind the beans nor connect to your wi-fi network. It does not have a timer. It does not do anything except brew coffee at exactly the perfect temperature, then keep it warm in a thermal carafe so that you don't have to deal with cold coffee, or coffee that tastes stewed. Everyone I know who owns this machine swears by it.
Bodum Chambord Copper Classic Teapot, 44 ounce
Reading your future in tea leaves sounds fabulously romantic. Actually looking at a cup filled with little bits of sodden vegetable matter, less so. Enter teapots with built-in strainers. If you really like tea, you should drink loose-leaf, which tends to dry out less than tea bags do. And if you want to drink loose-leaf, you should get a pot that will make it easy. I like this Bodum because it's lovely and because it has a metal strainer that's easy to wash in the dishwasher.
Bodum French press with thermal carafe
For coffee and tea, my go-to French press is Bodum, and I particularly like this model because it's a thermal carafe so you can make multiple cups without having to chug the final third before it gets cold. If you travel a lot, you can also invest in a travel French press.
The Chemex is a manual drip coffeemaker for a giftee who is trying to live a greener lifestyle, doesn't have counter space for a coffeemaker, or just wants to be able to make an occasional cup of coffee without the stronger, rawer flavor of a French press.
Gourmia GMF225 Cordless Electric Milk Frother & Heater
These don't work quite as well as the steam injectors on espresso machines, but you can make a very tasty coffee beverage with one of these and a pot of strong coffee. Unlike the little frothing wands, you don't have to fuss with heating up the milk before you aerate it.
KitchenAid 6-quart stand mixer
Every year I say the KitchenAid is the best mixer to buy. I came close to striking it after its acquisition and somebody decided to switch to plastic gears rather than metal to save money. The plastic gears broke, and breadmakers abandoned the brand.
Fortunately, KitchenAid has returned to its old construction standards. Meanwhile, there are a lot of reasons to recommend its mixers. They are vastly better than the cheaper mixers on the market -- so much so that if you can't afford something in the KitchenAid price range, you'd be better off buying a hand mixer while you save for a decent stand mixer. And in comparison to its competitors, it has one unshakeable advantage: network effects.
The KitchenAid is the iconic mixer for the American kitchen. Because it's so iconic, and so many people buy them, there are loads of attachments available that can expand the machine's uses far beyond baked goods. Grain mills and meat grinders, pasta makers and ice cream bowls - the flexibility of the machine is immense, and immensely valuable. So if you're getting someone a mixer, unless they've specifically asked for something else, buy KitchenAid.
The six-quart model as the most versatile (the five-quart model, which I have had for 25 years, is a little too small for my bigger recipes; the seven-quart is too big unless you've got a huge family). Stick with the bowl-lift models, which will take a little getting used to if you're upgrading from the old Sunbeam but allows for a much more powerful motor.
Kootek Aluminium Alloy Revolving Cake Stand 12 Inch Cake Turntable with 12.7'' Angled Icing Spatula and Comb Icing Smoother Banking Cake
If you frost a lot of cakes, you probably want a turntable; it is much easier and faster to lay a smooth and even coat of frosting onto the sides if you can continuously spin the cake. You'll need an icing spatula and cake comb if you're interested in turning out professional-looking cakes.
Silpat baking mats
Silicone baking mats let you bake without greasing your pan. They are life-changing if you want to make candy, since melted sugar's stickiness sometimes defies even a thick layer of butter. Or very delicate baked goods that don't like to have fat around them, like meringues.Once a specialty item, they are now ubiquitous and frequently quite cheap.
Silicone pastry mat
This is a different kind of silicone mat, which you should not put in your oven; it's just for rolling out pastry. Because things don't stick to it, you don't have to use so much flour to keep the pastry intact, which means you don't risk ending up with dry, overfloured pastry. These mats also have handy markings for the beginning pastry maker who may wonder just how big they should cut a crust to fit in their 10-inch pan. And like the baking mats, they store anywhere - flat under your pie pans, or rolled up in a drawer somewhere.
POURfect Mixing Bowls 1015
These bowls are not good mixing bowls for, say, a cake, because their shape is not ideal for heavy beating. But they are fantastic prep bowls, because of the pour spout. The spout hooks onto your mixer bowl so that you can get every last drop out - and the bowls have a built-in pour shield so you don't splatter. Its cunning shape will also allow you to crack a mess of eggs and then dispense them one at a time. Or dispense pancakes onto the griddle without mess. And there are measuring lines inside the bowls for your wet ingredients. They're also excellent for sauces and salad dressings.
Sunkuka 6-Piece Stainless Steel Measuring Spoon Set for Dry and Liquid
Throw out your round-bowled spoons and get some measures that fit into your spice jars. They're so cheap they'll pay for themselves, in terms of spices you didn't spill on the counter, within a week or so.
Anova immersion circulator with lid and bin
Periodically I'm asked "What one device, uncommon now, do you think everyone will have in their kitchen in 20 years?" This is always my nominee. Sous-vide, as the technique is called, involves sealing food in a plastic bag and immersing it in a water bath kept to a precise temperature. The result is food that literally cannot be overcooked. And it is the killer app for meat: medium-rare steak, every time, with all the meat exactly the same temperature. Three-day short ribs. Melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork. The fact that the meat never gets above the desired temperature means that you can do long cooks impossible in a conventional oven without turning the meat into a dried husk or inedible goo.
The great news is that sous-vide is getting cheap; immersion circulators are now down to the $100 range.
Umai Dry Aged Steak Starter Kit
If you're going to make beautifully medium-rare steaks, you'll want some nice steaks to start with. That's where home dry-aging comes in. Just seal the meat in the bags, pop in the refrigerator, and wait. Extraordinary results at a modest price.
Lodge 12-inch cast-iron skillet
There's one problem with sous-vide: The meat will come out gray and soft on the outside. Luckily, there's an easy solution: Sear on very high heat before serving.
You can buy a torch that will do this. But I use a large, inexpensive cast-iron skillet, which will hold a lot of heat, meaning you only have to do a minute or so on each side, leaving the insides beautifully rare while the outside develops a nice char.
Cast iron is a little tricky to care for - forget the dishwasher, you can't even use soap to clean it, and it must be painstakingly dried before putting it away. But the results are worth it.
Lavatools PT12 Javelin Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer
Don't be tempted to buy one of those fancy thermometers. They break. Get a digital pen thermometer, which gives accurate readings in seconds, at little loss of convenience or oven heat.
OXO Good Grips 4-cup fat separator
If you're going to be roasting, then at some point, you're probably going to be making gravy. And if you're going to be making gravy, you should get a fat separator, which makes separating the excess fat from your drippings fast and easy. Because fat rises, and the pour spout intake is set at the very bottom, all you have to do is pour the drippings into this cup, wait a few minutes for the fat to float to the top, and then pour into your saucepan, stopping just before you reach the fat layer. It also, of course, doubles as a 4-cup measure.
Wusthof Classic 2-Piece Hollow Ground Carving Set
And once you've pulled your roast from the oven and set the delicious gravy next to it, you're going to need to separate it from the bone. You can do this with a regular fork and any old knife from your kitchen. But a carving set looks nice on special occasions, and the large, two-tined fork really does help, while the knife will work marginally better than the chef's knife that you pulled out of your knife block.
Shun boning knife
Once you've gotten into meat in a serious way, you're apt to come across recipes that call for boning, spatchcocking or otherwise separating bone from raw flesh. That's when you're going to want a boning knife. I like Shun knives, though there are obviously many other fine manufacturers of high-end cutlery; the edge and the balance suit me, and they have proven durable over years of use.
I do not own a cleaver, but I have to admit, if you really want to get through a tough job fast, they are handy. So I include it for completeness.
Do not buy a meat-tenderizing hammer. A large can will work just as well. On the other hand, sometimes you want to cook cheap cuts as if they were expensive cuts. That's where the meat tenderizer comes in; it makes little cuts in long, tough muscle fibers so that they won't be so chewy.
Breville Smoking Gun Food Smoker
Another downside of sous-vide is that you lose that smoky charcoal flavor so many of us love. Enter the smoking gun, which can be used to impart a smoky tang to meat and even to cocktails.
OXO Good Grips Large Silicone Basting Brush
The silicone basting brush is awfully useful - if you get the right one. Many, many silicone basting brushes are not the right one. They are easy to clean, but their nonstick properties mean the basting liquid slides right off. OXO's doesn't.
On Twitter, I was asked for "one nice … [knife/frying pan/blender] for someone who already has the basics, but is looking to upgrade." The categories were somewhat broad, but here's what I came up with as the most obvious upgrade candidates.
Shun DMO706 Classic 8-Inch Chef's knife
I used to recommend the Shun Ken Onion chef's knife, but it seems that Shun and Ken Onion have parted ways, so chose Shun. I have many of these knives, and they've all given me terrific service.
In choosing your chef's knife, you have to decide on length. Six inches is, for me, too short, so it's between 8-inch and 10-inch. A 10-inch will give you more power; an 8-inch, more control.
All-Clad 41117 Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded Dishwasher Safe French Skillet with Domed Lid
My criteria for a good upgrade pan: stainless steel, for searing and easy cleanup. Induction-ready, just in case. Heavy construction. Bigger than 10 inches, because who knows when you'll have eight people coming over for scampi?
Enter the All-Clad 11-inch skillet. I'm sure there's some argument for a domed lid other than "it looks pretty," but frankly: It's a lid. If it is completely covering your pan, it is doing its job. Mostly you should be looking for good construction, with riveted handles and a solid amount of high-quality steel.
Staub 5.75-quart cocotte
Once you have that first entry-level enameled Dutch oven, what's the next obvious step? An oval, for bigger roasts. Staub makes lovely stuff that lasts and lasts, and I have come to prefer it to Le Creuset, not because the cooking is inferior (it isn't) but because I now use my Dutch ovens to bake bread as well as braise meat, and Le Creuset's handles won't take the high temperatures required for bread baking. This is pretty and functional, and if my mother's Staub is any guide, you should be able to pass it on to the grandkids.
Classic 2.5" Bird's Beak Knife
This is a little, curved paring knife that I love because it offers terrific control and makes a lot of kitchen tasks easier.
A better toaster: the Breville Smart Oven Pro or Smart Oven Air
Breville has achieved basically undisputed dominance in the toaster oven category. If you really want to splurge, Breville now offers the Smart Oven Air, which adds functionalities like bread proofing, slow cooking and dehydrating.
Vitamix Pro Series 750 Brushed Stainless Finish with 64oz Container and Cookbook
The Vitamix really is just as good as the ads promise. It will puree practically anything into a smooth liquid, and you really can whip cream, make hot soup (from blade friction) or make nut butter with it. The quality and reliability are both very high.
Tramontina 80120/000DS Tramontina Gourmet Stainless Steel Covered Stock Pot
If you want to make serious stock, it helps to have a really serious stockpot. My mother has a wonderful copper stockpot she bought in the 1960s. The new ones seem to cost about $700. Copper is wonderful, but for most of us, not that wonderful. The most important thing is reasonably good construction that can let simmer the day away with minimal intervention.
Larch Wood cutting boards
This won't make you a better cook. It's just going to make your kitchen prettier. But what's wrong with a beautiful kitchen? They also make cheese boards for serving, which make a lovely, smaller gift.
These are my biggest time-savers, the things that allow me to cook out of my weight class, so to speak - to cram more good dishes into a tight schedule with no hired help.
Instant Pot or Breville Fast Slow Pro
You should get an Instant Pot if you like stew and soup. There are other things you can do with it, like cooking vegetables (they'll come out on the soft side, but not mushy) or making cheesecakes. But mostly, I use it for soup. The Instant Pot (or its pricier cousin, the Breville Fast Slow Pro) delivers a superior broth to ordinary braises, and a much superior product to slow cooking.
I don't use this to make things with canned soup, or those "five-ingredient meals" people rave about in Facebook groups. If you want good food, you're still going to have to take good, fresh ingredients and brown them before you braise, which means that no, you generally cannot have a delicious supper on the table in 20 minutes. A pressure cooker will shave 40 to 60 percent off your braising time; it will allow you to do everything in one pot so that you don't have to scrub multiple pots; it will substitute for a slow cooker in the few applications (some poultry, delicate custards like crème brulee) where a slow cooker is superior. And it will pack a lot of flavor into your food, because subtle flavors often get lost in long cooking times. But it is not going to make it possible to have an excellent meal in minutes.
The Breville has more flexibility and more automated cooking settings, and it's a little nicer-looking. The Instant Pot is cheaper. Either will do what it is supposed to, which is make good food fast(er).
Once you've got a pressure cooker, you're sure to want to steam things. You can buy all sorts of accessories for steaming, but I think a simple, flexible silicone steamer is the most useful. It's cheap, easy to store, and easy to pull out of the pot with the vegetables still intact.
7-inch springform pan
Judging from a Facebook group I belong to, many of you love cheesecake and the first thing you want to do with your new Instant Pot is to make about 18 different varieties. To do that, you're going to need a springform pan that will fit inside your pressure cooker.
Fat Daddio's 4 piece Pressure Cooker Bundle, 6QT models
You may also want to cook other things in your pressure cooker, making it into a sort of oven. To do that, you need pans, and Fat Daddio, which makes very good pans, has put together a set of them, all designed to fit inside an Instant Pot. (Which means it will also fit into a Breville.)
Mandolines speed up the process of producing large amounts of sliced vegetables - zucchini and potatoes especially. And it makes all the slices exactly the same size, which aids in even cooking.
The Griddler is a combination contact grill and electric griddle, which can open flat or be used as a panini press. The contact grill has gone out of style, and frankly, good riddance to half-steamed steaks. But it still has uses for things like grilled cheese sandwiches. And electric griddles, with their precise temperature control, should never go out of style; I won't cook pancakes on anything else.
Best of all, this can be brought to the table. You can get the grill warm, bring the batter to the table, and deliver the pancakes to plates as soon as they're finished.
I got one of these about five years ago, and even I myself was sort of aghast at the price. But I have never regretted it. It's a very good blender … combined with a scale … combined with a heating element. You can measure directly into the bowl, chop your vegetables, then cook it, still all in one bowl. It minimizes mess, it enables precise cooking … but most important, it stirs and cooks at the same time while you do something else.
Because the Thermomix is stirring as things cook, you get perfect custards every single time: Just toss the ingredients in the bowl, walk away, and come back in 10 minutes to flawless lemon curd, excellent hollandaise or creamy béchamel. It's also brilliant for pureed soups, risottos and similar fare. It makes choux pastry a snap, and there's nothing better for making deep-caramelized onions, which will take you about a minute and a half of prep rather than an hour at the stove.
And what about the chef whose kitchen is filled with magnificent equipment and wonderful smells?
Breville Smart Scoop ice cream machine
If you love homemade ice cream, you may want to invest in a good compressor machine. The compression means it is both bulkier and much more expensive than the kind where you freeze the bowl and then stick it in the machine. But it also works better; the freezer-bowl models tend to lose their coldness toward the end of the process.
I have a Lello pasta maker, which is an extruder: The dough is mixed in the machine, then squeezed out through a die. It produces very good results. But it is expensive. And I have to admit, you will get somewhat better texture with somewhat more work if you buy an old-fashioned roller machine with a motor attached. You will have to mix your dough by hand and then repeatedly feed it through the rollers, however.
For those kinds of machines, three models are generally cited as the best: the Atlas, the Imperia (you buy the motor separately) and the KitchenAid attachments, which come either in the deluxe everything-from-capellini-to-ravioli or basic (spaghetti and fettuccine) sets.
Breville PolyScience Control Freak induction burner
This is the best induction burner on the market. It is insanely expensive. But it's also insanely great. It's extremely powerful, and it has a temperature probe that lets you control temperatures exactly. Its best application is deep frying, in my opinion, at which it is superb. But a close second is candy making. And it can also be used for slow-cooking or sous-vide. This is probably out of the reach of most households, but if you have a lot of cash to burn and want to step your cooking up to professional level, this is a terrific machine.
Universal metal lid or silicone lids
I'm not the only cook with a Lid Problem, which is to say, where do you put them after you hang your pots on a rack? I had a lid rack for a while, but the lids didn't always fit right, and eventually I had too many lids and had to get another rack. Then I had an epiphany: I am almost never using a lid on more than one pan. I didn't need a way to store all my lids; I needed one lid that would fit all my pots. On that day, I bought a universal lid, and I had many joyful years of cooking with it.
This year, I discovered something new: silicone suction lids. They take up almost no space, unlike my metal lids, so you can throw them anywhere. They also go into the fridge. Humble they may be, but they stand proud in the annals of kitchen innovations.
Every year I suggest a Microplane zester. I use zest in everything; I have come up with new recipes just to use up lemon juice so that I could zest with a clean conscience. This removes just the tasty zest and leaves the bitter white skin underneath, and once you have one, you will wonder how you lived without it. It also makes chocolate shavings to top mousse, or fluffy clouds of Parmesan for salads. Hands down one of the most useful tools that too few people know about.
Tongs with feet
I was somewhat bemused when my husband bought these to replace a pair of defunct tongs. Then I realized that it was actually kind of handy to have a pair of tongs that could be rested on the counter without smearing cooking goo all over my butcher block.
Kitchen Gizmo Snap 'N Strain Strainer, Clip On Silicone Colander
Excess grease from ground meat … the boiling water for your mashed potatoes … wherever there are solids that need to be separated from the liquids they have been cooking in, this thing comes in handy.
We salt most things we eat. Which means you want an open container of salt right next to the stove. Which means grease gets into the salt … so you get an angled container that somewhat protects the salt, while still giving you easy access.
All-Clad 42025 Stainless Steel 3-Ply Bonded Dishwasher Safe Sauce Pan with Porcelain Double Boiler and Cookware Lid, 2-Quart
The double boiler is rather out of fashion, yet it is still a useful and pretty piece of equipment. You can make divine scrambled eggs cooked slowly over the course of half an hour or so. Or you can melt chocolate or make delicate sauces. Since the heat against the pan with the food in it comes from the boiling water beneath, the pan never gets above the 212 degrees at which water boils, allowing you to ensure that you don't destroy a preparation that can't stand high heat.
There are much less expensive double boilers on the market, but this one has a ceramic insert, so you don't get hot spots around the edges where the double-boiler part comes into contact with the metal pan beneath it.
OXO steel double jigger
A good cocktail is a precisely measured cocktail. OXO's two-sided jigger offers a no-slip grip plus 1- and 1.5-ounce portions, with increments -- including a rare 1/3-ounce measurement -- clearly labeled on the inside. It is as close to a universal jigger as you are likely to find.
Hiware 18- and 28-ounce weighted shaker set
For shaken cocktails -- which, generally speaking, are cocktails involving some sort of juice -- you want a device that will seal easily and keep a drink as cold as possible but not freeze shut after vigorous shaking with ice. A three-piece cobbler shaker looks pretty, provides a good seal and chills well, but it can be difficult to open after a 15- or 20-second shake. A classic Boston shaker with a pint glass is easy to use, but it doesn't always seal perfectly, and it won't keep a drink chilled quite as well as an all-metal shaker. That's why pros tend to use weighted metal shakers with 18- and 28-ounce tins. They seal easily (with a firm pound), chill well, and are easy to separate with a palm tap to the side.
Mixing glass with strainer and bar spoon
"Shaken, not stirred" sounds very sophisticated. But in fact what James Bond is ordering is a weak martini -- or, as a friend once put it, "a glass of cold water with a spritz of spirits." Cocktails that are mostly spirits should generally be stirred, not shaken, to minimize the melting of the ice. So every home bartender needs a good mixing glass and a good bar spoon to use in it.
Tovolo King Cube Ice Tray
Getting drinks cold without diluting them is the bane of the cocktail enthusiast. Larger ice cubes help because they take longer to melt. A single large ice cube is generally preferable to a half-dozen smaller ones.