My beloved and I will be celebrating 19 years of wedded bliss soon (that's on top of the three years of pre-wedded bliss we enjoyed before that), so I believe I'm in a good position to give some perspective on this.
If I were starting from scratch today, knowing what I know now after all these years of having a home together and all these most recent years of that home being my job, here's are the top 5 things I would get for my kitchen:
1: Pressure cooker(s)
|Fagor "Splendid Line" Multi-Pressure Cooker 2-in-1 Set|
All my friends, loved ones, and probably a few random strangers know my love affair with pressure cooking. If you have a good stove top pressure cooker you can use it without pressure as a regular pot--most of them come with a regular lid that you can use for just that purpose--and stove top models come in many sizes, have lots of accessories available, and are made from the tough stuff so they last forever. One maker even has a pressure cooker you can use for small-batch pressure canning!
If I were buying pots and pans from scratch, I'd go for a collection of a small pot, a medium pot, a large pot, a pressure lid, a regular lid, and I'd make sure the largest pot was approved for canning. The only pieces I know of in the States that fit this description is from Fagor. They're expensive because they're the best. Put them on your bridal registry and make sure the office gang that is going in together to buy you something "really nice" knows that this is it. The set in the picture is the one I have, plus the steamer basket (I have a separate, really big canner that is not from Fagor--it is great too--but sometimes you just want to can 2 quarts instead of 20, you know?).
At this point you're thinking, "What if I'm not into canning?". Still get the canner pot. You need something that big when you have dinner parties. Later, when you are into canning you'll be glad you don't have to go out and get all the stuff.
2. Cast iron skillet(s)
|Lodge Logic LCC3 Pre-Seasoned Combo Cooker, 10.25-inch|
I like Lodge brand because they are a Tennessee company, but if you are lucky someone in your family has a cast iron skillet to hand down to you as a token of their affection. Even if it looks like it has been out running with wolves, accept it gratefully. All you have to do is remove the rust (vinegar and steel wool are your friends here) and give it a coat of oil to season it--it will be sparkling and just like new.
3. Good knives
|J.A. Henckels International Classic 8-Inch Stainless-Steel Chef's Knife|
One small enough to handle peeling tomatoes. One big enough to cleave a butternut squash in twain.
Choose something heavy and make sure you can actually see that the blade extends thru the entire length of the handle. Oh, and put a whetstone on your registry and spend the time between now and the big day learning to use it. I have and love Henkel knives--mine look just like the one above except that mine are not blurry.
4. Wood cutting boards
|Michigan Maple Block Co 24" x 18" Maple Cutting Board|
Don't fall for the pretty, shiny glass boards with pictures of roosters or artwork by Van Gogh on them. They will ruin those beautiful knives you made sure to tell your not-at-all-crazy aunt to buy for you. Get real wood. For the purposes of your kitchen use it doesn't matter what kind of wood it is--pick something that fits your aesthetics and political leanings. My favorite board is maple and is made up of lots of boards smooshed together--what is that type of composition called?--well, just look at the picture and you'll know what I'm talking about.
Put at least two, clearly different boards on your list. You want one to use only for cutting raw meat/poultry/fish, and the other can be used for veggies or cooked meat/poultry/fish. NO CROSS CONTAMINATION, PLEASE. You will thank me when your dinner guests do not develop food poisoning.
OK--here's one place where I do think a concession is reasonable. If you wish, you can choose a plastic board to use for cutting raw meats. I have one that is exactly like the one in the following picture. It can be sanitized in the dishwasher or in the sink with a little bleach. However, don't get carried away with fear. Your wood cutting boards can be sanitized too, and with stuff that is much milder than bleach.
|Progressive International Cutting Board|
Also, I know you and your beloved are going to be living in an apartment the size of a tent--still, get the biggest cutting boards you can. They don't take up much room (unlike those big pressure canners I told you to ask for) but there is very little that is more disheartening than trying to cut a 10 lb. roast on a 5 lb. cutting board. ;) If you are really squeezed in, you can store them under the mattress (unlike those cast iron skillets I told you to ask for).
5. Real towels
|60 Hometex Heavy Weight Cotton Terry Towels|
I know what you're thinking: why would I make more work for myself by adding another load of laundry to the list? I do it because once I'd spent the money to load up on real towels, it only cost 50¢ per week to have plenty of towels to use with wild abandon. Compare that to the cost of using white paper towels with wild abandon (trust me--one good shop towel will do the work of 5 paper towels).
For some reason Costco doesn't have these towels on their website. Don't buy them at Amazon--they are overpriced there. If you don't have a Costco store near you, send your loving friends to a local auto supply store. They'll have an exciting shopping adventure and a lovely story to share with their grandchildren.
Disclaimer: I still use paper towels for certain things--pet accidents for example--but otherwise it is reusables all the way.
There are other nice things you can get for your kitchen (digitial gadgets, I'm looking at you), but this list will get you started. After that, you'll have plenty of time to consider investing in a complete set of sushi rice paddles.
Fellow established homemakers, what 5 items do you recommend to the newbies?