As for essential tools I have many that I consider truly essential! But, in reality we can truly get by with very few. I consider a good set of cutting boards, a set of great sharp knives, my cast iron skillet, quality stainless steel pans, spoons, spatulas and tongs a necessity. I try to stay away from most plastics as they do wear quicker and tend to harbor bacteria. I’m still using the same stainless steel tools and cookie sheets I spent a small fortune on 20 years ago, so that expenditure has paid off. The cast iron skillet has been passed down through my hubby’s parents and grandparents and it too is still going strong. I did purchase new heavy gauge stainless steel pots and pans about 10 years ago and they look brand new as stainless cleans so well. I also stay away from all non-stick surfaces as they do wear eventually and I just don’t want that in our food. I do change my cutting boards and rubber spatulas every couple of years just to be on the safe side despite always running them through the dishwasher at a high heat.
As much as I like all my pampered chef toys, they could all be eliminated by using just what I have listed above. Personally I cannot live without my essential Kitchen Aid stand mixer & hand mixer and my Cuisinart mini food chopper. I have a blender, but only use it to make my home made Creamy Tomato Basil soup and the occasional margarita. I don’t even own an electric can opener. I do love my slow cooker and my Magnalite stock pots and roaster, but they too could be substituted with other pots and pans if absolutely necessary.
Now for seasonings, this too is subjective based on the foods you prepare, but honestly if that recipe you cut out of a magazine calls for Herbs de Provence don’t run out and buy it for a one time recipe. It is a combination of herbs you probably already have on hand. It usually contains rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay leaf and thyme. So you can adjust what you have with your own likes. What I consider essential in the spice cabinet around here is kosher salt, sea salt, white & black pepper, celery salt, garlic salt/powder, basil, thyme, oregano, marjoram, parsley, paprika, cinnamon, apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice, PURE vanilla, maple sugar, orange rind, bourbon extract, rum extract and vanilla powder.
In the pantry I have flour, bread and cake flour, self rising flour, sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, coconut, raisins, cornstarch, baking soda and baking powder, barley, split peas, tapioca, white rice, brown rice and various pastas.
In the way of liquid essentials I have worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, honey, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, olive oil, canola oil, balsamic vinegar and several flavored rice wine vinegars.
In the refrigerator I have mayonnaise, ketchup (both homemade when I have the time), mustard (despite my severe allergy everyone else LOVES it), sun dried tomato pesto, Better than Bouillon chicken and beef bases, fresh lemons & limes, minced garlic and chili sauce.
The real key here is to have what YOU need on hand at all times without a lot of effort.