Make it a Dutch oven.

Forget cutesie cake pans, pretty aprons, sexy knives, or colorful silicone spatulas. Get one of these ovens—they, too, come in fun colors. And, if you already have one…ask for a bigger one! (No, I am not working for the Dutch oven people. And unfortunately, they have not offered me anything free.)

Last Christmas, I got a Le Creuset Dutch oven. (Confusingly, the Le Creuset website calls them “French ovens”— but don’t be deterred, they’re the same thing.) I asked for the color “flame” because it’s kind of sassy and warm. And somehow, in less than a year, it already feels like an extension of me.

I cook just about everything in my little Dutch oven. It allows me to make everyday soups and tomato sauces, deeply-flavored stews, and impressive braises. I cook pasta in it, I bake bread in it, I turn it into a double boiler. My Dutch oven’s heavy bottom and even heat conduction make it perfect for stirring up creamy risotto or polenta, making homemade pudding, or creating my own caramel sauce.

By far the best part is how easy and delicious it makes entertaining, particularly in the winter. I love to plan a meal around a cut of meat slow-cooked in my Dutch oven. These dishes usually start with a little sear, a quick sauté, and some liquid. Then it’s into the oven to do its thang. A few hours later, my meal is tender, meaty perfection in a rich, complex sauce.

Yes, you read that right. Two hours before the meal I am essentially done with the main course. I can clean my apartment, take a bath, select wine, have a glass of it, set the table, make a salad, put out hors d’oeuvres, and choose an actual outfit—not just whatever I frantically throw on when I realize my guests have arrived and I’m in sweats. With the help of my Dutch oven, I can actually be the sane, attractive, and talented cook and hostess I like to think I am.

And as a grad student with a tight budget and a zero-tolerance policy for meat that has not been humanely raised, I can really only afford scraps of the good stuff. This may seems sad, but my trusty Dutch oven is the key to turning the cheap cuts of meat from lambs, goats, cows, and pigs into tender, flavorful, fall-apart-good meals.

A few weeks ago, Tony and I made an incredibly tender braised lamb dish that we served over risotto. We made a first course, dessert, and hors d’oeuvres and then had so much time left over that we made fresh bread. Our guests were floored.

The other day, we decided to cook for a few friends at the last minute. I had just received an enormous box of figs from the California Fig Advisory Board (thanks!), so we quickly threw together a goat stew with cumin, aromatics, and black mission figs. Not only was it unbelievably tasty, we also had time to clean the kitchen before our fellow diners arrived.

If you don’t have a Dutch oven, you should seriously consider making the investment or asking (guilting or coercing) someone else to make that investment for you. It will change your culinary life—and maybe your whole life, too.