I'm a total sucker for kitchen stuff. I love it all. I love pots and pans and baking dishes; I love specialized tools like tortilla presses and lemon zesters; I love general stuff like wooden spoons and dishcloths. There is always something in a kitchenware store that I need RIGHT NOW which is why I limit my trips to kitchenware stores. Kitchen stuff love can be an expensive habit.
I'm unable to completely explain what it is about kitchen tools and gadgets that makes me so crazy for them but I think it's the possibility they offer. Theoretically, with the right tool for the job, anything is possible; a perfect cake or souffle or roast chicken is within your grasp. Of course, the tool doesn't always deliver on the promise but I can't stop believing.
I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite kitchen tool but these are a couple of random favorites:
In our house the most reached for pan is a 12-inch cast iron skillet that I received as a Christmas gift nearly 20 years ago. The surface of this pan is so well seasoned that it is silky to the touch, and is as easy to clean as a non-stick surface. This is the skillet we use for everything -- frying bacon, cooking eggs, searing steaks, sauteing onions, frying dumplings... the list is endless. Over the years thousands of meals have been made in this skillet.
It was given to me along with four other cast iron skillets by a friend for Christmas. The same Christmas I gave this friend a set of black dinnerware that at the time was the height of fashion. I definitely got the better deal -- I can't imagine that the black dinnerware is still in use. The friendship was not as lasting as the cast iron skillets; I've completely lost touch with this friend. The cast iron skillets I expect to use as long as I cook.
My potato masher came from a yard sale in Pennsylvania and I paid fifty cents for it. It's heavy (almost like cast iron) and works amazingly well. Why are potato mashers no longer made like this? You are almost ricing the potatoes as you mash them and the mashed potatoes that result are never heavy or gluey. Like the cast iron skillet, I expect this potato masher to easily last every day of my life and then move on to another generation.
Mike gave me my Kitchenaid mixer for our third or fourth Christmas together. I love my Kitchenaid mixer and it is among the very best gifts I've ever received, right up there with the puppy and the toy sewing machine that really sewed that I received for Christmas when I was eight years old. I don't use my mixer every day, or sometimes even every month, but it sits there on the counter waiting for big cooking projects, and allowing for the possibility of all kinds of things that I could never make without it.
My china cap was bought for $5 at a flea market in Pennsylvania. In generations past when home canning was more widely done, I think every farmhouse in America had one of these. It was used for making applesauce, or tomato sauce, or jelly and jam. The wooden pestle is perfectly fitted to the metal cone and lies flat against the edge of the strainer. You press down while rolling it around the edges of the strainer, which allows you to extract whatever it is you're working on with a minimum of effort.
My Kitchenaid pasta roller attachment is the reason I make pasta on a semi-regular basis. It works far better than the hand-cranked models of pasta rollers and allows you to roll out enough pasta for lasagna (where homemade pasta completely transforms lasagna from something heavy to something cloud-light) or fettucine or ravioli in no time at all. I hesitated over this attachment for a long time because it was expensive but it was one of those purchases that has more than paid for itself in satisfaction.