I find that having good equipment is just as important as having a nicely stocked pantry - it allows me to try to new recipes as well as cook and preserve a variety of things with out too much worry.
For the absolute Essentials I find these items are a must.
- Quality Pots and Pans (preferably without non-stick coatings)
- A Cast Iron Skillet and/or Dutch Oven
- Casserole/Baking Dishes
- Cutting Board
- The Basic Utensils -Vegetable Peeler, Can Opener, Spatulas, etc.
- Quality set of Metal and Wooden cooking Spoons
- Wet and Dry Measuring Cups and Spoons
- Cookie Sheets
- Mixing Bowls (I love my vintage pyrex)
- Food Processor (great for chopping veggies or making baby food and everything in between)
- Quality set of Knives
- Muffin Tins
- Pie Plate
- Air Popcorn Popper
- Bread Machine
- Grilling Tools
- Cookie Cutters
- Canning Equipment
If you really want to invest (or making a lucky consignment/thrift find like my mother) I do recommend a Vacuum Sealer . My mother found a barely used vacuum sealer for about $20 and it's quite the handy tool. Plus if you package your fresh fruit and vegetable with extra space in the package they are resealable.
Cooking Gear is often something well worth the investment - the last thing you want is something essential giving out during the prep on the Thanksgiving Day.
What are your favorite things to cook with?