We get a lot of questions about what cookware to get and one thing we always recommend is a cast iron skillet. Cheap, dependable and naturally non-stick, a cast iron skillet will quickly become one of the most frequently used pans in your arsenal. Properly cared for it will also outlive you--try doing that with your teflon coated non-stick pan. Our preferred choice is the Lodge Logic 12" pre-seasoned skillet [$27.50]. This American made pan is great for everything from making fried chicken to pancakes to cornbread.
You've only got two hands, but a stand mixer is handy enough you'll swear you have an extra set. KitchenAid's iconic stand mixer is a workhorse in our kitchen and while not cheap is well worth the investment. We use it for everything from whipping egg whites, to making juice to kneading bread dough.
An enameled cast iron dutch oven is one of our workhorse pans. It's perfect for making pasta sauces, stews, braising meat, deep frying and even some kinds of bread. Le Creuset is the largest brand name in this space, but at north of $200 their pieces are priced a bit more than most consumers (including us!) are willing to spend. Our kitchen sports a 6-Quart Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven [$69.32] and yours should too.
OXO's iconic Angled Measuring Cups are an ingenious spin on an essential peace kitchen equipment. Designed to be read from the top down, these measuring cups are the fastest and most accurate we've used. Measurements are provided in cup, ounce and milliliter denominations. We recommend the two cup size [$7.99], but there are also one [$6.99] and four cup sizes [$9.99].
It would be cruel to plug Ratio without also mentioning kitchen scales. If you don't yet have a digital kitchen scale, get one. It's that simple. You'll be amazed at how often you use it. We use the Escali Primo Digital Multifunctional Scale [$24.95] and have had no issues. It can handle up to 11 pounds, has options for metric and imperial and has a tare button for easy measuring. It even comes in seven different colors if you're the type that has to have everything match.
Some of our upcoming recipes will feature weight measurements, so be sure you're on the same page.
Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking [$16.20] by Michael Ruhlman is a new cooking reference book that will be getting a lot of use in our kitchen. Instead of laying out recipes, Ratio deals in the fundamental building blocks--the ratios between main ingredients. Bread is 5 parts flour, 3 parts water. There are lots of other variables (yeast, salt, fats, kneading, cooking temp, etc), but the fundamental essence of bread is the ratio of flour to water. Ruhlman gives you the ratio and an example recipe with measurements, but also ideas for lots of variation.
Fresh squeezed juice is incomparable--the Feds may be trying to keep us safe with pasteurization but we think most of the flavor dies along with the critters. If you have a KitchenAid stand mixer, consider picking up the juicer attachment [$25.95]. It makes quick work out of a bag of citrus. We juiced local organic grapefruit mixed with local tangerines this afternoon with great results. The juice is great as is, mixed into a cocktail or even as a base for salad dressings. It would also make a great base for sorbet, but that's for another day.
Silicone baking mats have caught on big time in the past couple of years and for good reason--you'll never stop finding uses for them. We use ours for almost anything that goes in the oven (cookies, bread, pastries, vegetables, etc), but also more unconventional uses such as as a surface to knead doughs on and under cutting boards to provide a no-slip surface.
There are a few brands out there, but we went with the original SILPAT brand made by DeMarle [$19.99]. It fits nicely into a standard half-sheet pan, but if you have different needs there are many other sizes.
Storage containers are an important part of any kitchen. At minimum they must safely protect food, but a great container will do much more. OXO's POP containers are exactly that. We recently replaced several glass storage jars with POP equivalents and couldn't be happier.