Archive for ‘Tools & Techniques’

August 1, 2012

Kitchen Tools: Pots and Pans Part 2

Earlier this week we talked about what to look for when purchasing pots and pans.  Today I’m going to go over the cookware I use, and why it’s so useful.  A well-stocked collection of pots and pans will really help in the cooking process, not only to be able to do multiple dishes at once, but also so that everything cooks in the manner it’s supposed to (sautéing in frying pans, braising in dutch ovens, etc.).  Of course, this is just what works for me, and it may be different for you.  I’m simply sharing what I like in hopes that it helps others curate their own collections.

*Note: I’m giving brands NOT because I was asked to/am paid to (I wasn’t and I’m not), but to give you an idea of what we use and like. There are other good brands out there, and I recommend you look for what works best for your price point and needs.

Without further ado, here is what we use the most:

Pots

  • 1 1.5 quart saucepan + lid (part of our Calphalon set) – for small batches of rice, oatmeal, tomato sauces, etc.
  • 2.5 quart saucepan + lid (part of our Calphalon set) – for larger batches of the above and for soups
  • 1 6 quart stock pot + lid (part of our Calphalon set) – to make stocks (wow! imagine that!)
  • 1 6 quart enameled dutch oven + lid – for soups, stocks, braises, roasts, bread, and anything else that benefits from being cooked on the stove and then pushed into the oven.

Pans

  • 1 10-inch frying pan – called omelet pan in the industry  (part of our Calphalon set), for browning chops, cutlets, stir-fries, schnitzel, and, well, frying things.
  • 1 3 quart saute pan – like a frying pan but has straight sides, for making simple braises and cooking things that need a lot of surface area like a frying pan, but also need some height on the sides to keep the food in. I love to make noodle dishes in here, especially when I’m tossing the noodles with the toppings at the end.
  • 1 8-inch (or 10-inch, as you wish) non-stick omelet pan – for omelets, scrambled eggs, rösti and crepes, not much else.
  • 1 untreated/unseasoned cast iron frying pan (season it yourself) – we got our unseasoned Lodge frying pan at TJMaxx for $6 and it’s the best pan in the house, for pretty much anything except acidic foods (no tomato sauce): use it for bacon, fried eggs (not scrambled, see above), pancakes, cutlets, steaks, corn bread, heating flatbreads such as pita, and cooking just about anything else. A seasoned cast iron browns meat really well. This is our favorite pan in our collection, hands down, and always stays on top of our stove ready to go. Be sure you only clean it with water (no soap!), wipe it dry, and swish it quickly with a lightly oiled cloth after each use to maintain the seasoning. A well-seasoned pan over time becomes almost jet-black.

On Lids
We have only four lids (the ones that came with our pots). The large stock pot lid fits our frying and saute pans nicely, and we rarely have to use two lids at once.  However, if you feel the need, you can buy extra lids for your pans from almost every company.

Things I Find Less Useful

  • Anything with only one use (e.g. fold-over omelet pans, egg poacher) – we call this “David’s Rule” in my house
  • A wok – a lot of people find these really useful, we just never used ours. That said, my mom uses a semi-wok semi-sauté pan that Calphalon calls an “Everyday Pan” and loves it.
  • 8-inch regular frying pan – This came with the Calphalon set, and I don’t find as much use for this because it’s too small. The only thing I like to use it for is to pop mustard seeds when making raita. I can easily do that in another frying pan or sauce pan though, so I don’t find ours useful.
  • 12-inch non-stick pan – I bought David a set of two non-stick cooking pans (a 10-inch and a 12-inch) and I just don’t like the 12-inch. It’s just too big.  David disagrees, so there you have proof to take all this with a grain of salt!
  • Double boiler – I flip-flop on this one because my parents have one and I like using it, but lack of space has won out so far. Generally I just place a metal bowl over my 1.5 quart saucepan and call it a double boiler. Works for me, and I’ve used the method to dip 300+ chocolates in one go, so I think it’s good enough.

 

So tell me, what’s your favorite pan in your collection? Where do you buy your cookware? What do you stay away from?

July 30, 2012

Kitchen Tools: Pots & Pans Part 1

 

I thought I’d share what pots and pans we use in our house to cook all our food. This will be a short series of posts, starting with today’s on five points to remember when shopping for pots and pans.  The key to having a good set of useful pans, is knowing what you’re going to use them for.  We’ve curated our collection to reflect our needs, which vary a lot so we have a wide range of cookware.  Your priorities will likely be different from ours, but hopefully this will help you as you sort through and add to your own set.

I hate numbered lists (they’re so overdone in the blogosphere and most of them are “DUH”) but here we have it, because there’s no easier way to do this. Five basic tips when shopping for pots and pans:

    1. Buy quality: Good pans are designed to last a very long time (see exception in #4). With pots and pans, the most important thing is to have an even heat distribution on the bottom of your pans. This means, you need a thicker pan.  The most popular are what’s called “tri-ply” with an aluminum core and stainless steel coatings on the inside and outside of the pans. Flimsy and thin one-ply aluminum or stainless steel pans (like those from big box or grocery stores) will just scorch your food beyond recognition.

 

    1. But don’t pay for it: A great place to look for high-end cooking pans is at discount department stores, or by waiting for large department store sales. At discount stores, just make sure to avoid pans with dents and scratches (especially for enameled and non-stick pans, as scratches can cause poisons to leach out and into your food – you don’t want that).

 

    1. Oven-proof is good: be sure you have at least one pot and one frying pan that can go straight from the stove-top to the oven. All our frying pans have metal handles, and a dutch oven is designed precisely to do this (we bought a cheaper Martha Stewart brand dutch oven and replaced the plastic nob with a metal one from Le Creuset so we can use it in the oven above 450F)

 

    1. Non-stick is sometimes good: Most of our cookware does not have non-stick coatings because we like to do a lot of scraping and banging on our pans, and non-stick just doesn’t stick up to that (har-har). We do have a few pans with Teflon coatings that we have been trying out, and I recommend one non-stick frying pan for cooking eggs. Otherwise, there is no need for non-stick. We almost always buy our non-stick pans from discount department stores because we can get quality pans for cheaper there (usually in the $20 range), so we can replace them when they start scratching. We don’t like eating poison.

 

    1. Maintain your pans: Not so much of a shopping tip as a preventing-from-shopping-again tip: Let your pans cool down (avoid putting a hot pan in a cold sink with cold/lukewarm water!), then wash them as soon as possible after using. Also, be sure to scrub the outside as well as the inside because oils build up on the outsides as you cook, and burn the next time they go on the stove, leaving brown and black film/marks on the outside.  They’re cleanable, but it’s just easier to clean them before they burn on. I admit I do both of these things wrong, and our pans have not yet warped, and we are not too picky about how the outside of our pans look. But honestly, I feel guilty every time because I know I should maintain our pans better. And one of these days, David’s saucepan is going to warp or crack under heat stress and then I’ll feel terrible that it was my fault.

 

Up next: A comprehensive list of our pots and pans and what I like about them, as well as some things that I don’t find so useful.  In the meantime, what are your tips for purchasing pots?  Where do you go for the best deals?

 

February 12, 2012

How I Clean My Counters with Vinegar


I’ve been bit by the cleaning bug this weekend, so you’ll have to bear with me here.  I just really want to share with you something that, if nothing else, will perhaps help you save a few dollars on the counter or other surface cleaner you may be buying.

A few years ago, Cook’s Illustrated published their findings of a study regarding the effectiveness of expensive produce cleansers.  You know, those spray bottles you see in the produce section touting their ability to get your vegetables squeaky clean?  They researched four different methods of cleaning* and came up with somewhat surprising results.  Apples and pears were split into four groups:

  1. Cleaned with antibacterial hand soap (not suggested by anyone, just done for purposes of the study)
  2. Cleaned with a vinegar solution (one part vinegar, three parts water)
  3. Cleaned with water and a scrub brush
  4. Cleaned with water only

Why they didn’t use a commercial vegetable cleanser, I’m not sure.  Perhaps their goal was actually to look for alternatives to these pricey solutions.  In any case, the one that worked the best?  The vinegar solution: it killed 98% of the bacteria on the surface of the fruit.

So, with that in mind, I’ve switched my cleaning supplies**.  I keep a spray bottle of one part vinegar to three parts water next to my sink and use it to wipe off my counters.  The funny thing is, that I actually rarely use this spray bottle for my produce. What can I say? I’m a person of habit, and I have just gotten so used to washing my apples with water and scrubbing a lot.


I use distilled white vinegar and water, and instead of having to measure out the portions each time, I spent a few extra minutes the first time I measured them out marking the points on the bottle where I should fill first with water, then with vinegar. Handy for a lazy person like me.

I don’t like commercial cleaning products and tend to avoid them. We did most of our cleaning with bleach (for the bathroom) and vinegar (for the floors) already anyway. We also invested in a few inexpensive wash cloths in fun green and blue colors and rotate them through.  Now, each night after we finish washing dishes, we squirt all the surfaces in the kitchen, including the kitchen table, and wipe them down with our cloths.

You might think our whole kitchen constantly smells like vinegar, but it doesn’t. That’s because the vinegar smell dissipates after it dries. Some people put orange blossom water or essential oils in their sprays, but I don’t like to because it just confuses my taste buds when I go to make and eat something with orange blossom water (imagine if those smells in commercial cleaning products were actually edible and suddenly you went to eat it in a dish – ew).

For the longest time I would get so frustrated, because I’d have to rotate through cloths so quickly (every day in some cases). I hate doing laundry (as I said, I’m lazy), and I just couldn’t keep up with these cloths. This is because they’d harbor the bacteria I would wipe up from the counters, no matter how hard and well I rinsed them out afterward. The smell alone was enough to gross me out, not to mention thinking that they canceled out any good I did using my vinegar solution with cross-contamination right back onto my counters.

And then suddenly, a couple months ago after years of this struggle, it dawned on me: If I use the spray bottle of vinegar solution to kill bacteria on my counters, couldn’t I do the same with these cloths?

Bingo! I have been able to extend the life of these cloths between washes and only switch them out once or twice a week now. Each time I use it to wipe something up, I rinse it well with hot water, wring it out, and then give it a few good sprays on both sides before hanging it up to dry above the sink. No more bacteria, no more smells, much less laundry. It’s a win all around!

How do you clean your counters? What’s your favorite cleaning tip?

Vinegar Counter and Surface Cleaner

1/4 cup vinegar
3/4 cup water

Mix vinegar and water in a spray bottle and use on counters and tables. I also spray my plastic meat cutting board after I wash it and leave it in the dish drain to dry. The vinegar and smell will dissipate as it dries.

*I can’t link directly to the Cook’s Illustrated article because it is under their pay-only portion of the site which doesn’t have universal access, so I have linked to an NPR review of the study as well as the Cook’s Illustrated homepage.

**A quick note on food safety: this method for cleaning counters would not be condoned by a health inspector, and it probably doesn’t kill 98% of bacteria like it does on the smooth skins of apples and pears. I haven’t done my own scientific analysis, but my personal experience suggests it’s pretty darned close. In over two years of using it I have no reason to believe it’s not effective enough.

November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner: The Roundup, Schedule, & Shopping List

And here we are – it’s Thanksgiving Week!  Here is the roundup of recipes we’ve gone over this month in preparation:

Thanksgiving Menu

Apple Martinis

Butternut Squash Soup
Roast Chicken & Stuffing
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Dinner Rolls (goes to King Arthur site with step-by-step picture instructions)

Pumpkin Pie
Apple Pielets

For those who still need or want to make turkey, gravy, and cranberry sauce, my sister shared with me this fantastic video by Mary Risley, a woman after my own heart.  Here’s everything you’ll need to know on these dishes:

 

Schedule & Shopping

Now, grab a glass of wine/beer/apple martini and relax.  Here’s a shopping list and schedule for you. The shopping list is based on one times each of the recipes, which will make a dinner for 4-6. You can edit both to fit your needs.

Thanksgiving Shopping List
Thanksgiving Timeline

Happy Thanksgiving!

May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving full of happiness, laughter, cooking, and fun.  May the conversation at your table never be awkward, may your kitchen mishaps create funny stories, and may your family and friends enjoy health, love, and joy this year!

February 1, 2008

The Writer’s Notepad

As I’ve hinted at, I’ve decided to start a new column on my blog. It’s based on the food writing course that I am taking as part of my master’s in gastronomy at Boston University. The instructor is Sheryl Julian, editor of the food section of the Boston Globe. Each week we write a different type of journalistic food writing, and I will be publishing what I write on my blog. Any feedback and comments are greatly appreciated!

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An unseasoned cast iron pan

The Cast Iron Come-Back

Once coddled by housewives in the 19th century, and even taken by Lewis and Clark on their expedition in 1804, cast iron pans have become the neglected stepdaughter of modern cookware. These skillets are now more likely to be found rusting in tag sales than in kitchen cupboards. Their versatility in the kitchen and their natural nonstick characteristics are bringing them back into fashion.