Friday, April 16, 2010

Ooooh, shiny! : The cookware post

These are my new lovelies! I got them on sale at Macy's this morning. The pans were $19.99 each, and the the spatula and bowl scraper were around $4 each. The pans are stainless with glass lids, and the spatula and scraper are silicone. The scraper has various measurement conversions on it. The pans have riveted lids and heavy bottoms. They do not have non-stick interiors. Everything has a hole in it or a loop on it so it can be hung on a pot rack or utensil rack.  One pan has a glass lid that's OK to use in the oven, while the other lid is not good for that. The pans were originally $60 or $50. Comparable Calphalon or All-Clad stainless pans run $80 and up. Mostly up. I've always needed more than one pan of this size group at once, so I bought two different ones. I lucked into two additional items which fit my needs and requirements, and had additional markdowns off the clearance prices - but note that I have already decided on my requirements.

These are the sorts of things I think of when I buy kitchenware. I went yesterday to Macy's to see a few items, and I researched the sale items on the web. I reviewed my budget, and decided what to buy. What sort of questions do you ask yourself? Or do you even know to think of these things? Do you think they are important to you? 

I've had so many friends ask me for help with how to cook these past few years. My generation and the one after it are very sadly undereducated in how to do one of the most basic things in life: get food in one's belly. I realize that I'm something of a weirdo among my coworkers, many of whom are twentysomethings whose parents do not cook either. Good food is expensive, obesity is rising, and our health is on the decline. Unfortunately, no one's really all that happy with their food either. Then, there's the whole organic vs. conventional produce debate, the GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms, or genetically altered foods) arguments, and a reduction in Home Economics classes. Add to that a massive gap in basic preparation knowledge, and my friends are at a loss. 

Most of my family is fine, since both sides have super-cook grandmothers and their children continued cooking. Everyone in my family values food, so I have much in the way of knowledge and skill passed down. That doesn't help some of the kids I work with, those from single-parent, multi-job families whose parents were never home enough to cook, let alone teach their children how. Even with the advantages of a massive garden at my grandmother's house, my grandparents' generation still bought into the prepared foods trap as sold by the government post-WWII. Even with such amazing cooking skills, my grandmother still served fish sticks, and my mother still served canned English peas (yuk!). 

So, I'm taking up arms against this crap. It begins here. I will help my friends learn how to cook healthily, affordably, and well. 

Um, but my friends don't have any tools to speak of. Pots and pans with potentially toxic liners, tons of paraben-laden plastics, and a microwave is about as far as most of them have gotten. Not good.

So, we begin here: cookware. For you, my friends, I will highlight some of the basics in cookware buying, some guidance on where to buy, and a good way not to spend a zillion dollars. The items here are fantastic places to start!

Here's the Martha Stewart pan I bought today. It's on Amazon also, and Amazon is matching Macy's price. That's handy if you don't live near a Macy's or if you can't get there quickly enough to take advantage of the sale. But just so you know, full price is still a good price for this item. You'll use it FOREVER.

Here's the Amazon link for the Cuisinart pan. This is the one that CAN be put in the oven up to 500 degrees F, lid and all. If you have to choose between the Martha Stewart pan and this pan, pick this one.

But THIS is the pan I use constantly.

It's a Tools of the Trade 12" sauté pan. I've only ever seen it at Macy's, and I got it seven or eight years ago for $10. They have stacks of them at every Macy's I've ever been to. I use mine DAILY. It is the world's best pan for bacon, it has enough room for asparagus, it can pan-cook a whole cut-up chicken, and it gives sautéing mushrooms plenty of room to brown. This is the pan that I always have to wash because I used it cooking my last meal, and it's still dirty. I LOVE this pan. It's one of two pans that made the cross-country move to California. It's on special this weekend at Macy's for $14.99. :D

Note the blackening on the bottom: that's a good seasoning coat built up from years of use. You can see that blackening inside the pan also, in the scratches in the corners of the pan. This is good. Seasoning from built-up coats of carbonized cooking oils creates a non-stick surface which is natural and safe. Basically, nothing will stick in the edges of this pan. If I wanted to, I could season this whole pan and make the whole thing non-stick. I still might. But that's another post.

So all of these pans have one thing in common: they're shiny stainless steel. Why stainless steel? Well, there are apparently lots of possible ways for non-stick coatings to poison us. Since manufacturers are under no obligation to label a manufactured item with potentially nasty chemical coatings or additives, you just don't know what's in the non-stick surface, or if it's truly safe to use with food. The other, more important thing is that non-stick coatings are NOT designed for high-heat cooking. The compounds in the coating are known to break down above 500 degrees F, and that temperature can come and go in a real hurry. I didn't know that before, so these new pots are for me to replace my lovely Calphalon dutch oven for higher-heat uses. I'm going with the better safe than sorry route, personally, but here's a nice article that talks about cookware materials. It's your choice, but there are green and safer non-stick surfaces available. Anodized aluminum is the best choice for non-stick, but it is pricier.  For the most part, I'll stick to stainless steel and cast iron, but you don't have to.

Basically, stainless steel pans with heavy bottoms cook more evenly than cheapo pans. They're easy to clean up. They're pretty. They can be affordable. Many professionals choose stainless. For these reasons, I'm sticking with stainless when I'm not using cast iron.

It's beginning to look like cast iron needs its own post.

Another thing: notice the all-metal construction? That means they can go from stovetop to oven. This is a very useful feature. You may not realize it now, but you'll need that feature someday, at least on one pan. Trust me.

To summarize, if you have $35-$40, you can get the Cuisinart pan and the Tools of the Trade big sauté pan. You'll be able to make most everything you need with these two pans. They'll serve you well for many years.  They're easy to clean, they can be on the stovetop or the oven, and you'll love them. You'll see them in many upcoming posts.

Check back for posts on cast iron, utensils, and updates on good places to purchase cookware, not to mention recipes and cooking tips on tasty, inexpensive food.

Until then, sayonara!

-- Sent from my Palm Prē

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