People ask me this a lot, so here goes... NOTE: Some of these items are almost comically expensive. However, they are well made and last for years. If you're very interested in cooking, everything on this list has a terrific "pay-per-use" value (I.e. price, divided by times used). This is also the rationale I employ when buying a $75 sweatshirt.
  1. An excellent chef's knife.
    I am partial to Wusthof, but there are several good brands (Shun, Henckels etc.). If you walk into any high end cooking store, they can show you options. Everyone has a favorite. As a casual but serious home cook, you should be looking for a knife in the $150 range. Also a plus, you can take it back to the store and they will sharpen it for free.
  2. A Le Creuset round Dutch oven.
    If I could only have one pot or pan in my kitchen, this would be it. You can basically cook anything in here, from making chicken stock on the stove to slow-roasting a pork shoulder all day in the oven. You can even use it to make bread. I like the biggest size for large dinner parties, but the 9 qt. works well. Martha Stewart makes a less pricey, and decent Dutch oven too. On rare occasions, I've sometimes seen old Le Creuset at flea markets and on eBay. Keep an eye out.
  3. A Vitamix or other powerful blender.
    Vitamix love has almost become a parody at this point. But in all honesty, mine has replaced almost every other electric gadget in my kitchen. It's not just a super powerful blender for green juice. Use it to make soups, ice cream, hummus... It's also easy to clean. And if you do use it for smoothies, unlike a juicer, it allows you to get nutrients from the whole fruit or veggie. Please comment if you like NutriBullet or Blendtek better. But, while you may be cute, I think you're wrong ;)
  4. A Kitchenaid mixer.
    It seems very 1950s, but if you are doing any baking, this is a must. Good for cookies, bread dough, whipped cream, egg whites, pie crust etc. You can also get add-on attachments for pasta making and meat grinding. However, for basic home use, I think you really just need the whisk and dough hook. I'm sure there are other good brands, but this is my favorite because there are two Kitchenaid mixers in my family that have lasted multiple generations.
  5. A digital probe thermometer.
    Double entendres aside, a thermometer is useful in everything from roasting a turkey to making caramel. You can also use it to check the accuracy of your oven. It's best to get one with a clip or magnet to attach it to the side of a pot for frying or candy making. My favorite is the Thermapen because it's accurate and truly multi-use (-58* up to 572*).
  6. A microplane/grater/vegetable peeler.
    This can be an all-in-one tool or three separate. Pretty self explanatory. If I were making a longer list I would also put mortar and pestle on here for muddling and spice grinding. But it's not essential (see Vitamix re: spice grinding)
  7. A mandolin slicer.
    This is probably the most "controversial" tool on this list, only because with good knife skills you don't really need it. But I use mine a lot, and it makes slicing so easy and quick. Particularly good for thinly slicing radishes and onions. The one I have (and adore) is the Grunwerg Benriner. You can find it for a decent price on Amazon. PS: it's not weird to "adore" a slicing tool, right? I promise I also adore real live humans. Sometimes.
  8. Utensils.
    It's a bit of a cheat to put these in one category. But the good news is you can get them all at Ikea (or your Brooklyn locavore wooden-spoon maker of choice). You'll need: tongs, ladle, measuring cups, measuring spoons, rubber spatula, metal spatula, wooden spoon, Chinese deep fry mesh skimmer, and a pairing knife. I'm leaving corkscrew off of here, because as any Frenchman will tell you, all you really need to open wine is a shoe and a wall.
  9. That's it! But some runners up...
    It's sort of bad form to leave off a chinois or sieve (for straining purées, pasta water etc.) But if you absolutely had to, you could rig something with cheesecloth I think. Also, of course ideally your kitchen has more than one pot or pan. My next picks would be a cast iron skillet (again stovetop to oven) and a hotel pan. But gun to your head, you really could make almost anything in a Le Creuset. Other cooks, what else would YOU add to this list?!!!
  10. Also all the tools you don't need (but are really fun.)
    At some point I'll make this list. Like a sous vide water oven and an immersion blender. So fun!! Hmm. It's possible I have a problem....