Whether you're a trained chef or your cooking experience is limited to burning a piece of toast, these are the cookware essentials to have in your kitchen arsenal.
1) 10-inch skillet
This particular piece will likely become your go-to piece of cookware. When shopping for the skillet, look for medium- or heavy-weight pans, and opt for pans with a non-stick finish. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet in the same size is another good tool to have; it'll enable you to create a nice sear on steak, chicken, and other proteins.
2) Two- to three-quart saucepan with lid
You'll use this pan for boiling pasta and rice, steaming veggies, heating soups, making sauces, and much more. If you regularly prepare large-batch soups and stews for freezing, consider also purchasing an eight-quart stockpot, or, for stove-to-table dining, a four-quart dutch oven.
3) Eight- or nine-inch chef's knife
Spring for the most high quality knife that your budget will allow, and note that this is one piece you'll want to shop in person. Head to a kitchen supply store to "try out" a few knives; that is, hold a few and decide which one feels the most comfortable.