We don't know if there's a book about cooking that we've thought about more than this one by Tamar Adler, a former Chez Panisse cook who was once an editor at Harper's Magazine. It's about cooking simply, and enjoying the simple meals that naturally follow from thinking about your ingredients in cycles. We forget, sometimes, that the leftover stems from blanched broccoli are wonderful cooked with olive oil and piled on toast; that their cooking liquid could be the base of a soup; that the stems of greens like Swiss chard and kale make a lovely pesto. She reminds us that stale bread can make something delicious and that yesterday's bean broth could be the start of a pasta dish today. This book sends the valuable message that dinner doesn't always need to be a big deal.
A good bench scraper is one of those tools people don't think they need until they start using it. I use it for everything from transferring chopped vegetables or herbs from one place to another, to portioning dough, to giving my cutting board a quick clean. Next to my chef's knife, the bench scraper is the tool you'll see in my hand most often.
A New York Times best-seller! The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, by J. Kenji López-Alt, is his column by the same name on this very website, blown up to 900-plus pages (and seven-plus pounds) of concentrated culinary science. Gorgeous color photos, detailed how-tos, and elaborate explainers cover ingredients, technique, gear, and the secrets of the universe underneath it all. May include puns.
When fall and winter roll around, I start thinking about rich, comforting casseroles, which means that these stoneware baking dishes get pulled out, filled, and popped into the oven at least once a week. They're great-looking on the table and provide gentle, even cooking all around for really nice, crisp edges on your lasagna.
If her first two books are any indication, Nancy Singleton Hachisu is poised to become the Julia Child of traditional Japanese home cooking. In this, her second book, she tackles the deeply fascinating—and even more delicious—world of Japanese preserving. From easy pickles made by packing foods in miso (kabocha squash! eggs! apple pears!) to homemade miso, salt-rubbed vegetables, and air-dried fish, this should be the next frontier in all your home preservation undertakings. I'm getting excited just thinking about it.
When I tested bread knives earlier this year, I was absolutely blown away by the cutting quality of Tojiro's bread knife. It surpassed every other serrated knife I tested, cutting beautifully clean slices of even the most tender bread, and making quick, neat work of ripe tomatoes. It's a must-have as far as I'm concerned.
How do you make perfect caramels, ice cream, gravies, and reductions? A nifty pot called a saucier. The durable stainless steel is cladded with aluminum for even heating, essential for temperamental ingredients like caramel and egg custards. A curved bottom makes whisking a snap (no more lumpy gravy!), and the wide top encourages evaporation for fast sauce reductions. You can buy cheaper versions than this All-Clad saucier, but this is one piece of equipment in which quality really makes a difference.
What's a quarter sheet pan? Well, it's half the size of a half sheet pan. What's a half sheet? It's the rimmed baking sheet we all use at home for cookies and such. (If you're wondering what a whole sheet pan is, you'll find them in restaurant kitchens.) So why would anyone want a quarter sheet pan? Oh, man, because they're amazing. I love them for all kinds of recipe tasks, like holding small amounts of ingredients I'm prepping or roasting. I reach for them just as often as I do the half-sheet size, because sometimes you need the SUV, and sometimes you need the compact. Simple as that.
When my little sister first moved out and started cooking on her own, this straight-sided sauté pan from All-Clad was the first gift I sent to her. It has a wide, flat base for searing off big batches of meat, and high sides so you can braise, stew, or simmer several meals' worth of food directly in it. It's the ideal vessel for stove-to-oven dishes like this Braised Chicken With White Beans, or a one-pot pasta dish like our Macaroni and Beef. Versatile and robust, it makes comfort food all the more comforting.
High-quality Swedish steel and Japanese design, along with great features like a perfectly balanced handle and blade and an ergonomic bolster, make the Misono UX10 Santoku the most-used knife in my arsenal.
Winter is all about slow-cooked braised dishes, and Molly Stevens's text is the bible on the subject. Stevens first devotes dozens of pages to discussing the equipment and technique behind braising in incredible detail. Then she provides unfussy but impressive-sounding recipes to make the most of your newfound braising skills. A little hint: The vegetable recipes are some of the best.
Another essential kitchen tool, the Microplane grater does fine grating work way better than those tiny, raspy holes on a box grater. Whether you're quickly grating fresh nutmeg or cinnamon, taking the zest off a lemon, or turning a clove of garlic into a fine purée, the Microplane is the tool to reach for. It'll make a great stocking stuffer for the budding cooking enthusiast. Just be sure to keep the safety guard on it—the idea is "stocking stuffer," not finger-shredder.
If you're looking for one definitive primer on pasta-making in its myriad forms, this is it: Superlative step-by-step photographs take the guesswork out of potentially intimidating fundamentals, like mixing and kneading dough, as well as more intricate tasks, like pleating teardrops of corn- and cheese-stuffed culurgiònes. Better yet, author Marc Vetri arms you with the tools and knowledge that allow for controlled, intelligent experimentation and exploration before sending you into the fray.
Proper seasoning is one of the most important parts of cooking, and if you're still using plain table salt from (heaven forbid!) a saltshaker, you're shooting yourself in the food. Using kosher salt from a salt cellar lets you feel exactly how much salt is getting into your food, whether it's a tiny pinch or a big ol' wallop.
In the inexpensive-thermometer department, the ThermoPop comes in an impressive package. An easy-to-read display rotates at the touch of a button, so you don't have to twist your head to read it. It takes a few seconds longer to read temperatures than its big brother, the Thermapen, but it's every bit as accurate.
Paring knives don't need to cost a lot to do their job—questions of balance and build quality matter less in a knife that fits almost entirely in the palm of your hand. Of all the ones I tested, this inexpensive blade from Wüsthof came out on top, with a razor-sharp edge and comfortable grip. This is my new go-to paring knife, and I already have several of them at work and home.
The slope-sided skillet, like this one from All-Clad, is a chef's best friend and one of the most versatile pans in the kitchen, whether you're sautéing vegetables, searing meat, or cooking one of our dozens of one-pan meals. The best have solid stainless steel construction, with an aluminum core for even heat distribution.
I can't tell you how many times I burn bread crumbs or forget about the nuts I'm toasting in the oven. At least, I used to. That was all before I got myself a couple of these easy-to-use, loud kitchen timers that I can hang around my neck, so I never forget about something in the kitchen, even if I leave the room.
A high-speed hand blender is great for whipping up silky soups and purées, making emulsions like mayonnaise and Hollandaise, or smoothing out sauces, all right in the pot. No need to dirty up an extra blender jar!