Wow, John. The thing that surpised me most about this post is to realize that I've known you long enough that your kids, once little and in my mind frozen there in time, now have apartments of their own. Yikes, we're getting old!
Anyway, so many things come to mind but so few are reccomendable, because what anyone needs in a kitchen is so personal and many of the things I am bonded to are nameless/brandless things picked up who knows where along the way. If they're still here, they're useful--I'm ruthless about dumping anything that doesn't work out. But a quick perusal of my kitchen just now suggested a few things:
A salt keeper, at least one.
The backstory on this: Bob bought me one for my birthday a few years ago. I had not wanted nor asked for it, and at first glance I despised it. But I recognized it from the Williams Sonoma catalog--Bob had pointed it out to me months before, testing my reaction, which apparently had not been nearly negative enough.
I also remembered that it was priced at $50. Insane, I thought, for a little wood pot. But of course I had to use it, or pretend to, at least for awhile. In a matter of months, however, I completely reversed myself. It had become SO useful and integral to my kitchen that I not only loved it and wildly so, I bought a second one so that I had one on my prep counter and one at the stove. Williams Sonoma still sells them:http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/olive-wood-salt-keeper/?pkey=e%7Csalt%2Bkeeper%7C7%7Cbest%7C0%7C1%7C24%7C%7C1&cm_src=PRODUCTSEARCH||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_-NoMerchRules-_-
What the picture won't make obvious to you: though WS sells one that's more modern and pleasing to my eye that's a straight cylinder vs. this one's downward curves, the curve is ergonomic and it fits beautifully in one's hand for each of the two ways one uses it. Say you're right handed like me. I either hold it in my left hand and flick the lid back with my left thumb while reaching in for a pinch with two fingers of my right hand, or I pick it up in my right hand and flick the lid back with my right thumb in order to apply a layer directly over a roast, say, or into a pan of boiling water. (Mind, I use only kosher salt directly in cooking, and these pots are oriented for the larger grain salts. The finer grain salt you and I grew up with gets under one's finger nails.)
Stainless steel hotel pans and bowls. Not great looking, except where functional is beautiful, a stack of stainless steel bowls I bought at a restaurant supply store (they might be a brand like ACCO) save my life every day. This company makes about six different sizes that all nest, but I chose just three sizes and bought three each of a large and medium bowl, and five smaller ones. I'd guess what I have are 2 qt, 4 qt and 6 qt, and because they nest they fit within the space required for just one of the six quart bowls. Any time I do a big project there are bowls all over the kitchen. I also adore hotel pans and own a number of different sizes. Because they're square sided and flat bottomed, they hold a lot in a relatively low profile. There's invariably one about 10-11" square in the refrigerator full of fruit, and anytime I marinate meat, fowl or fish this is what the ziploc bag resides in and what, quite often, the resulting meat roasts in if it's not going outside to the grill.
Two colanders. Everybody needs a bowl shaped one that sits in the bottom of the sink, but I also have a shallower (it's probably 4 inches deep) cheap aluminum flat bottomed one with a long handle on one side and a hook on the other that hangs from sink edge to sink edge. I have no idea where I got it, and it's not something I've seen elsewhere, but wherever I was when I saw this eons ago I knew instantly that it was something I could not do without and I was not wrong. It also hangs nicely in my tall 8 qt stock pot, making a large flat surface for steaming large vegetables, tamales, dumplings and even, sometimes, seafood.
Lots of tiny tools from Zyliss: this Swiss company makes the best little stuff. Peelers, pliers, zesters, you name it. They always work better than just about any other brand's version of the same thing, and they last. I also like the bright colors they make their tools in. When I reach into my drawer for the carrot peeler, I don't look for the peeling blade, I look for lime green and spot that a whole lot faster. Anything that makes me more efficient, I love.
My Japanese Benriner mandoline, the extra wide one (which is off white, where the standard is green). And a pounding tool. I have one that's a heavy flat approximately 4" wide disk on an offset handle and it's all one solid heavy piece of forged metal. You don't need one often, but you can't do without it. Williams Sonoma doesn't have the one I reccomend, but they have this one that's similar: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/rosle-meat-pounder/?pkey=cmeat-seafood-tools&cm_src=meat-seafood-tools||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_--_-