The first part of this post is dedicated to the things in the kitchen that I couldn't live without! They are what I call my kitchen powerhouses!
This is the most used pot in my kitchen. Of course, it is my dutch oven. Mine is Le Creuset and I've had it since I started law school. It is actually a thrifty find since my mom bought me an entire set at an antique auction for what one pot would have cost at Williams Sonoma. It may sound weird to buy used cookware, but this was gently used and Le Creuset lasts forever so it had many cooking years left in it (even with my cooking). As I have said before, everyone needs a good dutch oven and this is something that you need to buy the best you can afford. A lot of the time, high quality dutch ovens will occasionally show up at your local thrift store, and Home Goods and Tuesday Morning usually will have a good selection of top of the line cookware, so check out these places before you purchase. But again, a good dutch oven is like a nice handbag, piece of furniture, or pair of shoes, meaning that you need to buy the best you can afford, it will be worth it in the long run!
This is the cookbook that taught me how to cook! And I would describe it as the original Rachael Ray since most of the dishes are ready in about an hour. My mom has had it since I can remember and a lot of my favorite dishes that she makes are recipes from this book. I think it may be out of print at this time, I actually found mine at a charity book sale. However, amazon.com or your local used bookstore may have a copy of it. While the title may not be exciting and it may seem little old fashioned and not gourmet, I promise that the title is deceiving. The first dish I ever made was corn and bacon chowder out of this cookbook and I love it as much today as I did in 7th grade when I first made that dish. Word of warning - don't expect tons of lovely pictures of the food because there are none, but there are plenty of easy to follow, fast, and inexpensive recipes that are just waiting for you to personalize!
I know that I mentioned earlier in this post that I was going to talk about my freezer full of premade dishes. This is a great idea because it gives you several entrees that you can just defrost and add a little something extra too and dinner is finished. I do this with chili, pasta sauce, and soup. I find these foods freeze the best and they are most often the dishes that I create a ton of leftovers. I started taking those leftovers and putting them in plastic containers and freezing them for exams (or a particularly stressful day). I highly recommend doing this, it's a great way to keep leftovers from being wasted and it definitely stops me from eating fast food 3 times a day during exams! Just add either some extra tomato sauce and parsley to the frozen sauce and add pasta (if reheating pasta sauce); add some extra cilantro and top with cheese, sour cream, and salsa to reheated chili and you've got dinner that doesn't taste frozen!