Many months ago, I prodded my friend Tasha to write some blog posts about her kitchen tools - which ones she used all the time, and which ones she regretted ever taking home from the store.
Given a few minutes to rummage through their kitchen cabinets, I think everyone can come up with lists like that. So I did.
Digital meat thermometer
I don't know how I ever cooked meat before this thermometer came into my life. I switch it on, pull off the cover, and stab it into my teriyaki pork loin to see if it's done yet. My previous technique was to stab meat and see if anything pink came out, and then decide that either way, another few minutes would probably be smart. Let's just say I cooked with a lot of gravy in the old days.
Oneida plastic cutting boards
I use these pretty much daily. They're stained from years of use, but they're sturdy and easy to sanitize. They're grippy enough that they don't slide around the counter, which is a big plus when you're trying to chop onions on them with a huge sharp knife. Mom admired them when she came to visit, so she went home with a set of her own.
Sometimes, I actually use this for pizza. Far more often, I use it for roasting veggies. It's the perfect size to hold a couple of chopped potatoes and an onion that I've tossed in olive oil and spices. I also use it to bake frozen pierogies and to broil garlic bread. I use it as a drip catcher when I'm making pies or a baked pasta. It has looked like hell for a very long time, despite my attempts to make it shiny again, and I'm okay with that. It does its job well and never complains.
This thing has two "tenderizer" sides I've never used, but the flat pounding side has been a miracle tool for me when it comes to cooking chicken breasts. If I flatten them so they're uniform, I can cook them evenly and they don't dry out! I can't explain why it took me years to come to that revelation. These days, if I'm cooking chicken in the frying pan, I'm beating it to hell with this thing first. It's so much fun to smash things.
2 Qt KitchenAid saucepan
I picked this little guy up at Home Goods to replace a small saucepan that had sprung a leak at its handle. It's a nice heavy weight without being burdensome, and the rubbery handle doesn't get too hot to touch. I love this thing because it's exactly the right size. I always make rice in it. I cook veggies in it. I empty a jar of marinara into it and then dump in frozen meatballs to simmer them in the sauce. On the days I'm lazy and resort to those salty, convenient "noodle sides" packages, this is exactly the right size for them.