A Dutch Oven
A Cast Iron Skillet
Look for clean models that are 100 percent cast iron (no wooden handles, please!) from reputable buyers.
A Chef's Knife
A Good Paring Knife
A Slotted Metal Turner
A Good Pepper Mill
$45 might seem like a big chunk of change, but a real pepper mill is much better than the plastic disposable type, and it's an investment that will improve practically every savory food item you cook. The Unicorn Magnum Plus Pepper Mill ($45) is sturdy, has a tough, nickel-plated grinding mechanism, an easy-to-load design, and a quick grind-size adjustment screw. It puts out a heavy storm of pepper with each twist, and with care, it should last a lifetime.
A timer, like the Polder 3 in 1 Timer, Clock & Stopwatch ($14.97) can prevent that. It's got an easy to read display, an unobtrusive size, intuitive buttons, a loud alarm, a magnet for sticking to the fridge, and a nylon lanyard for keeping it right around your neck, so there's no way you can forget about your roasting peppers—even if you leave the kitchen.
It's not a replacement for a good thermometer, but it's great to remind you of everything going on in your kitchen.
A Benriner Mandoline
The Benriner Mandoline Plus ($41.80), on the other hand, features a sharp, angled blade that cuts much more efficiently than the awkward straight blades or clumsy V-shaped cutters. Walk into any four-star restaurant, and I guarantee you'll find at least a couple Bennies—as they are affectionately called by line cooks—occupying a prominent place in the kitchen.
Faster slicing means more time to spend with each other for the holidays, which may be a good or a bad thing.
A Potato Ricer
It's one of those things that you might never think about buying for yourself, but once you get one, you'll never go back to the old potato masher again.