The Beginner Cook

Helpful basic kitchen supplies.

I eat a lot more vegetables than meat these days, so my paring knife sees more and more use in the kitchen. This one from Wüsthof is a classic, with solid blade and handle construction, a full tang for strength and durability, and a razor-sharp edge to make trimming, peeling, and dicing vegetables a snap.  — Kenji

I can't tell you how many times I've burned bread crumbs or forgotten about the nuts I've been toasting in the oven. But 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.  — Kenji

These stoneware casserole dishes get pulled out, filled, and popped into the oven at least once a week at my house. They're great-looking on the table and provide gentle, even cooking all around for really nice, crisp edges on your lasagna.  — Kenji

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.  — Kenji

Whether I'm making a puréed soup directly in the pot, a batch of 2-Minute Mayonnaise (or 2-Minute Hollandaise), or whipping up a single serving of whipped cream, the hand blender is the easiest way to get there. The great power on this one, from Cuisinart, gives you the best bang for your buck.  — Kenji

I have a problem with wooden spoons. I collect them like nobody's business. But there are a few I always turn back to, and this one, from Le Creuset, is one of them. It's gorgeous to look at; it has a flat front, which makes it great for scraping up fond or stirring vegetables; and it's got a smooth, ergonomic grip that makes using it a joy.  — Kenji

Woks are the best tool for stir-frying if you want to get that distinctly smoky wok hei flavor, but they're also versatile vessels that you can use for braising, deep-frying, or even indoor smoking.  — Kenji

In the inexpensive-thermometer department, the ThermoPop is the new kid on the block, but he 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.  — Kenji

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.  — Kenji

A good pair of kitchen shears is one of those things that are hard to appreciate until you have them. Sure, there are all the obvious uses, like opening food packages with a snip and cutting up poultry, but that's just the start. Take another look at those things. Yes, that's right, they're also a nutcracker. Aha, yup, and a bottle opener. Did you see the flathead screwdriver built into them? Handy, right? Oh, they can also be used to unscrew stubborn jar tops. They're way more than just a pair of scissors. Plus, the two blades come fully apart, so you can wash them really well—no icky chicken juice hiding in the recesses. Isn't avoiding salmonella poisoning a gift worth giving?  — Daniel

I don't know if there's a book about cooking that I'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 one another if you begin to think of 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. I read this book over and over again to help myself remember that dinner doesn't always need to be a big deal.  — Maggie

Old cast iron has a perfectly smooth nonstick surface that's surprisingly easy to maintain. You can sear, bake, roast, braise, stew, and deep-fry in it, and there's nothing more thoughtful than a gift that you have to expend a bit of effort to find (check out eBay, yard sales, and flea markets). Of course, these modern Lodge pans will do in a pinch if vintage isn't in the cards.  — Kenji

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.  — Daniel

If you're looking to give your mom the 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, Vetri arms you with the tools and knowledge that allow for controlled, intelligent experimentation and exploration before sending you into the fray.  — Niki