The serrated palette knife is beautifully versatile. It cuts bread and cakes, spreads icing and cream, loosens sticky edges around tins, and slides under and lifts biscuits from baking trays. It is also useful to have a smaller palette knife for spreading over and sliding around smaller dishes, such as ramekins.
A long, 7 inch (18 cm) cook's knife is essential for chopping herbs and slicing and cutting up meat and vegetables. I would also choose two smaller cook's knives with serrated edges and in different sizes, plus a rounded-end serrated knife, which is excellent for slicing tomatoes swiftly and easily.
Curved paring knives
I like my curved paring knife for paring and peeling thicker skins, when a potato peeler won't do the job.
Care of knives
If possible, store your knives in a wooden block or on a magnetic rack, so they're not crashing around in drawers against other implements, which can damage the blades. Never chop on a laminated surface, marble or any other hard surface, as this can damage and blunt blades. Use wooden or polypropylene chopping boards, as these have a certain amount of 'give' that will ensure the blades don't get damaged.
You've got to have them – they have so many uses, from snipping chives to cutting air vents in pies, and from cutting string on puddings to scaling fish. A good tightly riveted pair, kept strictly for kitchen use, will come in handy more often than you might imagine. My great-grandmother's were called bacon scissors, but sadly, it's hard to find any bacon with rind nowadays.
A lot of people imagine that they can't carve very well, but the truth is probably that the knife they are using simply isn't sharp enough. It's important to keep your knives sharp, and practice makes perfect when using a sharpening steel. When sharpening, 'little and often' was the best advice I was given by a butcher – and I have also found the following advice good for anyone who wants to learn: hold the steel horizontally in front of you and the knife vertically then slide the blade of the knife down, allowing the tip to touch the steel, first on one side of the steel and then on the other and remember always to sharpen the whole length of the blade, not just one section. If you really can't manage a sharpening steel, there are knife-sharpening gadgets available: they just tend to wear out knives rather more quickly, that's all.
A handy tool for grating a small amount of cheese or vegetables, each side grates to a different fineness, and one of its endearing qualities is that it is so easy to clean. I tend to use two of the sides: the coarse grater (for, say, Cheddar) and the slightly finer side (for Parmesan). The very prickly looking side tends to grate too finely and gets clogged up.
I use a small nutmeg grater, which has a built-in compartment for holding a few whole nutmegs. It hangs on a hook within arm's reach, ready for instant use.