MORE AND MORE often, your Significant Others may be newly single, or singularly new. The just-divorced, belatedly liberated or frankly inexperienced have much to recommend them as objects d'affection , as they tend to have great untapped reservoirs of what Woody Allen calls "lurve" just lurching to be free. On the other hand, they may never have had to fend for themselves in the kitchen, and unless your romance is barreling along at a serious rate, you had best lay out the basics.
(Buying them a so-called beginner's cookbook has several drawbacks. It diminishes the personal aspect of the lessons, which can be great fun for both of you. Second, those "must-have" lists of kitchen equipment seem to be pages long and filled with such things as a dozen carbon-steel knives with matching handles and umpteen nesting copper bowls. And third, even the most detailed cookbook takes some knowledge for granted: The best-laid plans will gang astray if you can't break eggs.)
The barest necessities will include at least two really good and comfortable knives; one with a four-or five-inch blade and a longer, say eight inches or more, for serious slicing. A really fine (expensive) knife will keep its edge for a long time, but not if it bangs around loose in a muscellaneous cutlery drawer. Give it a good home, and don't use it as a can opener or a screwdriver.
High on the list -- a handful of assorted wooden spoons and such with different lengths, shapes, etc. A set of measuring cups and spoons. A spatula (slotted is more practical) and a meat fork. A can opener/bottle and a corkscrew. A box of safety matches. Potholders.
A cutting board (you'd be surprised how many people are slicing round steak on a plate). A rolling pin, which can double for the meat mallet and ice crusher. A colander.
A good pan is hard to find, but worth the money. Get two, at least the bigger one with a fitting lid. and heavy. Revereware will do, enamel over iron is better, but aluminum stuff from the supermarket is not acceptable.
Ditto skillets -- at least two, and one with a cover. There is some sense of economy in getting a skillet and a saucepan that share a lid, but what if you want to use both at the same time? Probably one should have a no-stick surface for everyday abuse and experimentation, and the other should be a heavy aluminum-alloy like Calphalon for fancier work. If a third is in the offing, invest in a real iron skillet, the old-fashioned kind, even if you have to beg, borrow or steal an antique.
A food processor is wonderful, if you get custody of it in a property settlement (or if you settle for a bargain brand). Otherwise, start with a good blender and a hand mixer.
Get a coffeemaker.Some people will say that doesn't belong in this list, since you could boil water and make instant, but that doesn't meet Standards. A good filter pot isn't that expensive, and worth it.