First and foremost having a good sharp knife is very important. Not only is it safer to have a sharp knife it will speed up your prep time which always makes it easier to embark on the journey of cooking food. This does not mean you need to go out and spend 300 dollars on the best knife from Japan. My most used knife in the kitchen is a 7-inch chef knife, a 12-dollar purchase at an Asian supply store in Boston. The key is sharp and comfortable. I picked up a cheap pull through type knife sharpener and once a week or so spend about two minutes sharpening my knives. Having a sharp knife means fewer injuries; your knife should be able to cut through a tomato without denting the skin, and it should pass through without much effort at all. Now you would think “wouldn’t this also slice through my finger really well” and yes you are correct, but most knife injuries I have experienced are from pushing too hard to cut through something, or incorrect hand positions.
Pots and pans:
Teflon is evil, although the non-stick surface is nice, it’s just bad, especially if your cooking utensils are metal which will scrape the Teflon into your food… Yuck! I use stainless pots and cast iron pans. Now cast iron cook wear needs special care, you never wash it with soap, and you oil the surface frequently. The benefits are that the pan will build up a carbonized layer of everything you cook in it. So eventually the pan itself has a flavor all it’s own.
Frying with olive oil is never a good thing, when olive oil is heated to frying temperatures it becomes a bad fat. I use olive oil only as a flavoring put in the food later. My preferences are for high heat safflower or canola oil as my main cooking oil. Oils such as sesame and olive are also in my cupboard but they are used as flavorings not as the main cooking medium.
Salts and Spices:
Salt is wonderful, I have always loved salt, for cooking salt I keep a small bowl of kosher salt on the stove top, and for table salts I recommend some of the gourmet grey “full mineral” or “natural” salts. There is no sense in buying non heated full mineral salt to cook with, if when you heat it up it looses many of it’s beneficial properties, so I leave the gourmet salts for the table. Spices I find are best and most cost-effective at Asian markets or markets that offer bulk spices, obviously the fresher the better.