Good tools are essential in the kitchen; it’s not snobbery it’s practical. Working with poor tools is a pain, and you should not suffer unnecessarily when cooking. Here are some thoughts about tools.
Pots and Pans: My mother always used heavy cast-iron skillets and aluminum pots. Well, aluminum is out of fashion now, but most of us use whatever pots and pans come to hand. In Europe, I bought a ‘cheap’ set of pots to set up housekeeping. Stainless steel with clad-aluminum bottom. They have turned out to be more than worth the investment. They are stable on the stove, clean up easily and the heavy bottom holds heat and distributes it all across the surface. Also, Pat has a Le Creuset 5-quart Dutch oven that is a wonder for stews and other large-quantity dishes. There is also a high-sided ‘fry’ pan with a top that is a miracle. Cost a bundle; is worth every pfenning.
We have a couple of Lodge cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens. They're worth their (considerable) weight in gold. Also, our Le Creuset pots that we use all the time, especially for baking our No-Knead Bread and any large amounts of things.
Don’t skimp on pots.
Knives: It used to be that carbon steel knives were the only really good ones. Not any more. JA Henkel of Solingen, Germany, makes a ‘rust-free’ steel knife that, unlike normal stainless steel, holds an edge with no trouble. Much better than carbon steel. You just need to keep them sharp. We use a Henkel diamond sharpener that just ‘sets’ the edge; better than a steel. I use an 8” (20 cm) French chef for almost everything. It’s the most versatile knife in the world.
Keep your knives really sharp. Test a knife edge by setting it vertically on your thumbnail and sliding it sideways. If it doesn’t catch, the knife is dull. This won’t hurt your nails, but it can save you a lot of work. Dull knives don’t cut well, and they slip. When knives slip, you get cut. Dull knives are dangerous.
Never put good knives in the dishwasher! Dishwasher detergent ruins the edges. Often forever.
Spaghetti Lifter: We used to use those quaint wooden things, but the prongs kept falling out. Then we invested a scandalous sum in a metal spaghetti lifter. Simply great.
Microplane: The real deal for zesting lemons or other citrus is actually a woodworkers tool, the Microplane. Use it upside-down so the zest collects in the groove of the tool.
Sunkist Tool: Sunkist, the orange-growers co-op, distributes a plastic tool you can use to score citrus skin (for peeling), make lemon peel twists. The other end is a sort of spatula for slipping under the skin when you peel. Write or call them, or try their web-site: www.sunkist.com
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