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?

 

July 12, 2012

Cold-Brewed Iced Tea

I love iced tea in summer. It has less caffeine than coffee, doesn’t need sweetener, and still tastes delicious and refreshing.  I never worry about drinking my calories, because it has hardly any.  It’s also incredibly versatile – one can turn pretty much anything into iced tea.  I used to make iced tea during my time as a barista in the coffee shop in Cambridge, but I’d never really made it at home.  Until this summer that is.

 

 

I first made a batch of cold-brewed iced tea from bags of Trader Joe’s pear and white tea.  I was trying to use up teas in Boston to reduce the amount of stuff I needed to move, and iced tea was a great way to do so in the hot weather we experienced while we packed up our home.

This week, in Oregon, it’s been pleasantly hot as well.  I’ve turned the shady back deck into my own personal office, camping out with my laptop and books to get work done in the great outdoors. What an incredible difference from a few short weeks ago! I get to enjoy the sounds of squirrels chasing each other, bluebirds calling to each other, and the occasional annoying crow.  The flowers are in full bloom around the yard, and it feels like it couldn’t be more beautiful.

 

 

 

The memories of my refreshing first attempts at cold-brewed iced tea came back earlier this week.  I discovered an old quart canning jar in the basement,  picked out some loose-leaf black tea, poured it into a coffee filter, closed it up with a wire twist, and threw in a sprig of mint from the garden.  No lemon on hand, but that would have been good too.  A few hours basking in the sunshine (where it was hard to photograph without getting a reflection of myself and my camera) and it was ready to go into a glass of ice to savor at my outdoor desk.

 

 

Cold-Brewed Iced Tea

1 quart jar (preferably see-through so you can watch the steeping progress)

4 tea bags OR 4 teaspoons loose-leaf tea (herbal, black, green, or white)

1 coffee filter (if using loose-leaf)

Optional: combination of mint sprigs, basil leaves, lemon slices, orange slices, or fruit (berries or peaches are delicious)

1. Fill the quart container with cold tap water (filter if you need to, but please don’t use bottled water).  Place the loose-leaf tea in a coffee filter and twist closed with a wire twist like the kind that come with bread or sandwich baggies.  Submerge the coffee filter package or tea bags into the tap water.  Add any flavorings you like or leave it plain.

2. Set out in a full-sun area (on a windowsill or outside if you have a space safe from roaming pets who might knock it over).  Let it steep for at least four hours, up to eight.  The longer it steeps, the more developed the flavors become.  Taste it the first time you make it so you can decide when you think it’s done to your liking.  Remove the tea bags and flavorings and chill it, or serve immediately over ice.

 

July 6, 2012

Broiled Salmon and Thoughts on Oregon Cuisine

Last week, as we were frantically packing up our lives in Boston, I kept telling myself that it was all going to be temporary.  That this craze was going to end, and suddenly we would find ourselves on the back deck in Oregon, under the oak trees enjoying a salmon dinner and a beautiful sunset.

 


It took a few days after our arrival home for this dream to come true, but finally today it was sunny and warm enough.  And the salmon was delicious.

As we had prepped for our trip, friends who knew our love of food kept asking us what Oregon cuisine was like.  I kept going back to one opinion I’ve recently come across.  At a conference I attended a couple weeks ago, I met a Portland-based consultant for food and sustainability, Ron Paul.  Paul argues that Oregon cuisine is not so much about the dishes and method of cooking, as it is about letting the “pristine flavors of [...] regional ingredients [...] emerge.” He continues that this focus on the taste of ingredients over recipes and methods is what makes it possible for professional chefs and home cooking enthusiasts to be on even footing.  Therefore, a smoked salmon dip is just as Oregonian as a salmon filet with soy glaze and shaved Thai basil topping. I like this way of thinking, but want to explore it more in relation to other theories of cuisine.

Nevertheless, using Paul’s theory of Oregon cuisine, Oregon’s bounty of U-Pick produce farms, farm stands, and now CSA’s is an example of what we can do to promote our regional cuisine.  In short: if Oregon’s cuisine relies on its ingredients, then we need to make sure that those ingredients are available to both chefs and the public.  Paul is promoting the James Beard Public Market in downtown Portland precisely to encourage this farm-to-table, regional Oregon food system.

 


With this definition of Oregon cuisine in mind, through a truly Oregonian method, my parents recently acquired a beautiful, freshly-caught Chinook salmon.  Fishermen of the Yakama, Warm Springs, Nez Perce, Umatilla, and Chinook tribes in the mid 19th century signed a treaty with the US government so that they could maintain their right to fish their traditional waters for salmon and other fish.  Today, this fish is sold in parking lots up and down the Columbia River, most often at Cascade Locks under the Bridge of the Gods.

The ten-pound fish was too much for my parents to eat in one go, so they portioned it and froze filets. To our delight, David and I now get to benefit from them.  Tonight, on the back deck, we enjoyed broiled salmon, lightly seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper and crispy brown on the edges.  I served it with sauteed zucchini and onion slices and some boiled potatoes tossed in butter and dill.  For the occasion, we opened a bottle of Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon, so you could argue that the majority of our meal came straight from the Columbia River Gorge.  It doesn’t get much more Oregonian than that!

 


Broiled Salmon Filet

Note: When picking out a salmon fillet at the fish counter, you want one preferably from the head (wider) section of the fish, which has more fat and therefore more flavor. Look for a fillet with thick white stripes of fat in between the pink flesh.  The pinker doesn’t necessarily mean better – most farmed salmon gets feed with pink food coloring in it.  Look for wild salmon if you can get it, which often will have a lighter-pink color compared to the farmed.

1 8 to 10-ounce fillet of salmon
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the broiler to high and place the rack in the middle of the oven. (Note: if you’re not sure how hot your broiler is, heat it to low – you can always turn it up if need be)

2. Wash the fillet and pat it dry with paper towels.

3. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or tin foil.  Place the salmon skin-side up and coat with half the olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

4. Place in the heated oven for three minutes.  Check to see how it’s doing after a minute and a half and adjust the heat as necessary.  If after three minutes it looks half-way cooked and the skin is nice and crisp, flip it over.  Coat with the remaining olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper.  Cook for three more minutes.  Check to see if it’s done.  If not, adjust the heat if necessary and return to the oven to finish cooking.

5. Serve immediately.  If you don’t like the skin, you can easily lift the cooked salmon off and leave the skin on the parchment.  Otherwise, serve the salmon with the skin (which is very healthy and delicious).

Guten Appetit!

May 25, 2012

On the Move and Daring to Compete

I’ve been quiet around here this past month and my twitter feed has been napping, but my offline life has been far from silent.  It’s screaming with changes, plans, uncertainty, and excitement. It can’t sleep because it’s whirring over lists and dreams.

 

 

You see, after ten years away, I’m moving back home to Oregon.  Oregon!  There are so many amazing things about Oregon that I can’t wait to take advantage of.  The Coast. Multnomah Falls.  The Cascades.  Fog and rainbows.  Silver Creek Falls.  Cape Blanco. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  The High Desert.  The Salem Art Festival. Family.  Friends.

When I graduated high school, I couldn’t wait to leave Oregon.  My college choices came down to one in Portland and one in Massachusetts.  I chose Massachusetts, and I’ve lived here for eight of the ten years since (the other two being in Germany on study abroad and then my Fulbright). I’ve been trying to get back to Oregon the moment I left it, but the timing has never been right until now.

It’s strange to think I’ve lived in Massachusetts so long. I still feel like a visitor of sorts.  I’m starting to know the local politics and the local worldviews (listening to WBUR really helps with that). But I still don’t know the cardinal direction of Hingham in relation to Boston, I’ve not spent more than a couple days on the very base of the Cape, and I’ll never understand why nobody smiles at each other in the streets or on the T.

 

 

On the other hand, Massachusetts has been my home for almost all of my adult life.  The other night, coming home from a late work function, I stopped over the BU Bridge and snapped some sunset photos of my favorite angle of the Boston skyline.  I am in love with this skyline.  I will truly miss it when I’m away.

I will miss the crew boats on the Charles.
The runners on the Esplanade.
My walks through Cambridgeport.
Sacco’s Pizza and Bowling.
Friends.
Comm Ave —

Wait.  I don’t want to get carried away.  I don’t think I’ll miss Comm Ave.  Enough of this nostalgia. (Quick side-note: why do all the images of Comm Ave on Google show the pretty part of Comm Ave that nobody ever walks down? There is hardly a photo of actual Comm Ave, the concrete mess of cars, bikes, trains, and people)

Okay, let’s get back on track:

I’m going home to Oregon to pursue my dreams. Kind of like a modern Oregon Trail (via a direct JetBlue flight).  I have some plans, and I will say they will partly involve this blog, but for now I’m in the writing lists stage, the scheming stage to set things as straight as this elusive plan will let it be.

 

 

Who knows what will happen once I get there, but I know this: I need to be diligent and organize my time wisely (I’m much better with deadlines, and this plan has no outside deadlines like the ones I’m used to, other than trying to find a paycheck).  Quitting a full-time job with benefits to move across the country to a known unknown is not easy.  I’m quite frankly afraid.  But a couple phrases have stuck with me over the past few months that I keep going back to:

Dare to compete. Hillary Clinton told a story that in prepping for her Senate race she was at an event for girls in sports called “Dare to Compete.” A tall basketball player leaned over to Hillary and repeated the mantra, “Dare to compete, Mrs. Clinton. Dare to compete.”  Or, as my sister kept telling me in high school, don’t say “no” before you’ve even tried.

Fail Forward. I have this fierce desire to plan it all out – to be in control of my future, while at the same time I know that this is impossible.  When I can’t imagine what will happen to me in a month from now, or several months from now, I tend to worry.  I fear the unknown.  Mostly because I fear it will bring failure.  I read an entrepreneur’s summary of her experience with this, and she said the best thing she has learned is that failure is part of the process. Learning from failure is one of the better (if harder) ways to learn.  Yesterday, word was officially spread at work that I am leaving, and a coworker, excited about my pursuits, told me that if I fail at my current goals, nobody can take that away from me. Nobody can judge me for failing because I did it, and I will take that experience on to my next adventure.

 

 

And with that, I continue this screaming life of lists, packing, sorting, and moving. I dare to compete, and I will fail forward.

 

 

*Photo Credits: The first two photos were taken by me, the third (of Berley Lake in the Oregon Cascades) by my sister, and the last in Salem by David.