If there's one thing years of schlepping around in the kitchen has taught me, it's that necessity is the mother of selection.
The Great Truth about kitchen equipment is that what you really use needs to be convenient, so what is visible in someone's kitchen is likely to be very revealing about his or her character. I, for one, never would consider a Significant Relationship with a Veg-O-Matic. Or with its owner. If I have just one life to live, let me live it with the Cuisinart.
If, on a bet, I had to reduce my kitchen to 10 items (or condense my custody settlement into one carton), the list would include:
Two Calphalon skillets, one 8-inch and one 12-inch; two knives, a razor-sharp little parer and an 8-inch Henckel chef's; an ancient cast-iron skillet deep enough to double as a dutch oven; a wooden spoon; a salad spinner, which doubles for draining pasta; a time-set coffeemaker; a covered pot, preferably enameled; and, of course, the Cuisinart.
Now, what does that say about me? That I'm savvy (I know from experience what brands I like), imaginative (I know how to get along without a colander), accomplished (you don't use a food processor for macaroni and cheese) and practical (Calphalon and cast-iron last, as far as anyone knows, forever).
It also reveals that I'm slightly, but not obsessively, weight-conscious (no rolling pins, cookie tins or bread pans); that I cook by intuition (no thermometers or measuring cups); and that I like to cook for company (the large skillet, the dutch oven, the processor).
Now, take a moment to reflect on what secrets your kitchen counters would spill to the sharp eyes of a Likely Prospect. Maybe you should rearrange your appliances a little bit. At least be aware of the implications:
A blender suggests that you're (a) still in the fruit-and-rum stage of social bartending, or (b) a leftover health food freak who whips up tiger's milk and yeast and bran for breakfast.
A hot-air popcorn popper hints that you're waist-watching, but it also implies a sociable personality--you like company, old movies on TV, professional sports.
Peelers and scrapers seem very '50s. I mean, potato skins are not just In, they're expected. However, carrots are still ambiguous. Tomato curlers and those how-much-would-you-pay extra bonus twirlers that make telephone cords out of potatoes are definitely Airhead.
Percolators imply that either your palate has been destroyed by too much institutional brew, or that you never had one. You want to suggest that you make the kind of coffee that wafts lovingly through the house in the morning, or warmly after dinner; a filter-type drip probably is best for all-purpose, but an espresso pot, especially if it has that stained, years-of-use look, advertises sensuality--the culinary equivalent of a Paco Rabanne layout.
Extra-long chopsticks for cooking and serving suggest a sweeping magnanimity and real dexterity. A range of eating chopsticks, from ordinary to lacquered and rounded to sharp, is very good. A mat for rolling sushi is even better. A wok is okay. An electric wok is gawdawful.
Poultry scissors are serious. Whisks are persuasive if not too pristine, but graters evoke, to many, American cheese omelets. A spring-operated onion chopper is somewhere between cute and nerdy. Parallel tomato slicers are solidly suburban, and tend to retain the rusty, sulphurous scent of old hard-boiled egg yolks..
A chopping block--or even better, several of various beauty and thicknesses--coupled with professional-grade knives suggest your proficiency with flashing steel and dashing dices: the chef as Errol Flynn. Corning ware or acrylic plastic versions, while serviceable and in some opinions cleaner, have a wimpier gift-from-the-in-laws aura. If you're going to have marble, make sure it's big: a lush, Pavarotti-ate-here pasta-rolling slab, not a prissy little cheese square.
Mechanical pasta makers suggest an indulgent personality, and lots of gratification. A simple pasta rack suggests that you indulge others.
Oven mitts are out. Oversized pads are okay, but double-duty, devil-may-care dishtowels are the most efficient.
A croque monsieur iron is leftover '60s Upper West Side cute. A Magic Pan surplus bottoms-up cre pe pan is even worse. A toaster oven is the pits. It reeks of economical, quick-cooking single meals--or toast. And Nobody eats toast anymore. Instead, just leave out the bagels, or the croissants, or the sticky buns, and hope your Prospect takes the hint.