A gourmet kitchen on a really low budget? Well, I'll confess, many of my kitchen items are purchased at discount stores or on clearance, and I maintain a running list of what I need and wait for major sales. I also have very little storage space in this kitchen, so I really DO need to keep it to the basics. I avoided the lure of sets, which have a lot of pieces I don't want or need, and chose the pieces that seemed most logical for my everyday cooking for two + leftovers for the next day. Here's what I have, and why I chose the particular things that I did.
I'm not being paid for any of this, just to make that clear. After ten years of nearly daily cooking, it was time to refurnish my kitchen, and based on my experience, needs, and research, this is the result.
1.5 qt. pot, Cuisinart Multiclad Pro
4 qt. pot, Cuisinart Multiclad Pro
6" saute, Cuisinart Green Gourmet
12" wok, Cuisinart Green Gourmet
Stainless utensils: ladle, pancake turner, large spoon, large slotted spoon
Wooden spoons (2)
Food processor (at least 6 cup)
Plastic or silicon pancake turner and saute spatula (for use on nonstick)
8" Chef's knife
8" Bread knife
6 qt. pot, Cuisinart Multiclad Pro
10" skillet, Cuisinart Green Gourmet
12" skillet, Cuisinart Green Gourmet
2nd Chef's knife
2nd Bread knife
Nonstick popover pan - unfortunately have not found a green alternative for this
Muffin pan (no need for nonstick - you can just use paper inserts)
2 8" cake pans (use parchment paper as alternative to using nonstick pans)
2nd food processor (1 cup)
Kitchenaid standing mixer
Cuisinart Multiclad Pro - I was looking for reasonably priced pots, stainless steel with aluminum core. Well, really, I was looking for pots with a copper core, but they were simply out of my price range. Realistically speaking, even though I cook nearly every day, the advantage to a copper pot is not enough to justify the price difference. (But those All Clad Copper Core pans sure do look beautiful!) The German made Fissler pots I also would've loved to buy are simply ridiculously expensive with the current exchange rates.
There is conflicting information out there on whether there is much difference in heat efficiency between pots with disks on the bottom, and pots with a core extending throughout the pan. I took my chances on the full core. These pans are heavy quality, have riveted handles that stay cool longer, and look nice. After using them for a year, I'm really pleased with them - they heat quickly and clean easily. They are heavy duty, but not so heavy that they are hard on my hands. And I'm pretty sure they will outlast me. Warning: not rated for induction stoves. I gave up on my dream of an induction stove anytime in the future! Also outside of my budget for many years to come, it appears.
Cuisinart Green Gourmet Eco-Friendly Hard Anodized - I'd been looking for a PTFE/PFOA and petroleum free nonstick alternative for years. Why? Well, if it the fumes from nonstick can kill birds, I'm pretty sure they aren't so good for me. Ironically, though current nonstick coatings are FDA approved, many studies report that the flaking my mother always worried about isn't the problem - it's the offgassing at higher temperatures (for more info check out the EWG articles). I'd been getting by on cast iron, but really, folks, for vegetarians... well, it was hard work. Somehow I could never get them cured so well that it was easy to clean them. For folks with carpal tunnel, wrist, or finger problems they are also really heavy. I was about to give up, though, and begin investing in enamel clad cast iron pans, when these appeared on the market. So far, I LOVE them. They are ceramic coated. Even easier to clean than traditional nonstick, heavy duty, yet not too heavy. Lucky for me, the only green option I'd found thus far proved also to be reasonably priced!
Wusthof Classic Knives - When looking for knives, look for knives that are forged, not stamped, from high carbon steel. Consider whether the handles will be slippery when wet.