"Good ingredients prepared simply" is the most basic truism in cooking. Be extremely wary of what you learn on cooking shows; there is as much fetishism for people who will never cook as there is instruction for those attempting to learn. Anyone who tells you that crushing garlic is bad but chopping garlic is good is attempting to intimidate you, not educate you.
Vegetables benefit from being undercooked and suffer horribly from being overcooked. When in doubt, aim low.
USDA "minimum done" and "recommended done" are not the same things. There is a great deal of controversy here but Thermoworks has yet to steer me wrong. On a related note, I'll bet you feel you can't afford one of these. That's okay. You don't need one immediately. But mark my words - as soon as you get one, you'll wish you had one a lot sooner. Put it on your wish list or whatever because anything that allows you to execute flawless poached eggs, steaks and fudge in one tool is a worthy investment.
American Chinese cuisine is fundamentally four(?) mother sauces and a couple preparation techniques. Not surprisingly, French cooking is similar. Master the sauces, master the cuisine... and then you can mix it up and improvise with a great deal of success.
A "really great steak" is like a "really great omelet" - it's really great ingredients left alone as much as possible.
Tools matter. Reddit likes to argue about which you need more, a good set of pans or a good set of knives. Then they get into pissing matches about what "good" means, someone throws the Cutco bomb and it descends into invective. This is dumb because the whole point of having decent tools is that they make the process fun instead of a chore and generally you need to cut things that go in a pot and unless you're a rawist...
Wusthof or Henkels, choice is yours, that set of four knives, a steel and a pair of scissors for $130 on eBay will do just fine. I've found that Wusthof tends to keep an edge better than Henkels but that could be confirmation bias on my part 'cuz I like their logo better. Not sure who's making Cuisinart's blades these days but they're okay. Despite what Rachael Ray is telling you, you don't need a Santoku. You probably do need a carving knife, a chef's knife, a bread knife and a paring knife (and a decent pair of shears). You also need a steel because the more often you hone the edge the longer you can go between sharpenings. And you should probably start out by getting your knives sharpened for you. This costs anywhere between $2 per blade in Seattle to twenty fucking dollars in LA.
I was all set to drop $400 on some All-Clad back when I was in my early '20s but instead bought the (then $150) Kirkland Signature set. Aside from a couple Le Creusets I have purchased no cookware since 1998... and I have a $100 thermometer.
Non-stick is a waste of time. Do not bother. The teflon will come off over time, your choices of cooking implements is severely limited and you don't need it. In order to keep food from sticking you need only raise it to room temperature (by running it under warm water, for example) prior to putting it in the skillet. Once butter stops sizzling, it's ready to cook. And by limiting yourself to steel, enamel and cast iron, you can use spectacular tools such as this which will render nonstick to ribbons in two sets of pancakes. Best of all, should you have a kitchen disaster (such as reducing olive oil to varnish by getting distracted while heating a pan), stainless iron and enamelware all respond favorably to a blast with Bon Ami.
The best "starting out" cookbook is not The Joy, it's not James Beard, it's not America's Test Kitchen, it's Eduard de Pomaine's French Cooking in Ten Minutes from 1930 for the simple reason that it argues ingredients plus cooking equals food, a fundamental maxim entirely lost by todays overfetishized food worship culture.
Cooking is learned by cooking. It is learned by experimentation. It is learned by confidence. It is not learned by letting others tell you what you can't do, by assuming that if it's tarted up with excessive prep it will somehow be better. And finally, know that presentation matters. I've personally been skeptical of this but I spend half the year eating out of a buffet. last year, one of the cooks prepared me a plate of the exact same food I eat out of that buffet and lemme tell ya - well arranged food actually does taste better than that very same food heaped on a plate. Don't get precious with it but have a little pride.
I leave you with this: ZOMG Thomas Keller cooking a ZOMG roast chicken.
See how obsessive that fucker is? Now hie thee to Amazon and watch Season 1, Episode 3 of Julia Child's French Chef from 1963. Notice how it is the diametrical opposite. I've cooked both. Know what?
They taste like chicken.