I had a chance to update my assortment of cooking stuff recently and wanted to share what I came up with, and how I’m using them. Now, I’m not quite starting from scratch, but close enough. My collection of pots and pans and utilities consisted of the remnants of a few different sets of pots that we’ve purchased over the years, dregs and survivors mostly.
So off I went to restock my kitchen the way I like it.
Things I had to have-
New Garlic Press- Now, I’ve had some good ones and I’ve had some bad ones. Since I was at Target, I opted for the Michael Graves version. Michael Graves is one of Target’s designer partners who have put together some very cool and very functional items, matching design and usability. Neat stuff, especially the coffee maker and the teapot. I wanna like all his stuff, but, sorry to say, on this item.. total fail. The Graves press is difficult to use because 1) the square shape doesn’t hold a large garlic clove very well, and 2) when I pressed down on a particularly big clove.. the handles bent. FAIL. So, I got to find one like the one I had a few years ago, one piece of steel. with oversized old guy handles well equipped for someone who’s got arthritis. I loved that one until some jackass in the family took my suggestion and used it to strain ginger through it and subsequently broke both handles off. Not so good for ginger, great for garlic.
Cutting board- I’ve had a couple over the years and tend to go with the thick white plastic versions. DO NOT like the thin ones that kind of fold up.. we have a couple of those at the lake. They’re at the lake because I cut them from the prime time team at home. The one I found had black plastic handles that helped “stick” it to the counter. Handy. I bought two, one for meat and one for veggies and dairy. It’s made by Oneida and runs about $25.00, worth the extra.
Knives – I’ve spent a stimulus package of cash on kitchen knives in the last 30 years I’ve had a kitchen of my own. Not including wedding presents from a quarter century ago, we’ve had Wustoff, Chicago Cutlery, ceramic, steel, Cutco, ronko, Buck and OldTimer knives. Common theme, they all cut stuff. They do it better when you first buy, crappier after several years. Chicago Cutlery in particular didn’t even cut stuff well when I first bought them. A few years ago I had a big epiphany in the knife department.
While at a fishing/outdoor show thing many many years ago, I got suckered into the ginsu demo and bought a couple ginsu all purpose bread like serrated knives. Bought one for the lake and one home, I think it was a BOGO deal. Well, guess what. After a few months I found that I was going to my ginsu’s almost exclusively, cheapest knives in the drawer got the most use. I’m never spending $700 on a knife again. I picked up a set of Henckel Santoku knives, came in pack of two, for about $20.00. These were very decent knives, stainless, one piece of steel, through the handle..
Two years later I couldn’t be happier with them. Also, they’re still sharp, my left thumb is about 1/16” inch shorter now they’re so sharp. And after a couple years the handle on one is getting lose, and rather than fret about it.. I’ll toss it and get a new one. I’m only out $15.00.
Pots and Pans
Here we go, where the rubber hits the road.
First up- fry pan: At the lake I have a lodge logic cast iron fry pan that like more than two of my kids. The thing is perfectly seasoned after 10 years of use and never having washed it. The patina makes it the finest non-stick surface on the planet. I do everything from eggs and pancakes to deep fried bluegill in it. And, never clean it, other than a quick hot water wash. When you borrow my cabin, you get a welcome packet that talks about how to use the appliances, entertainment stuff, well and potties, and.. starts with the admonition “DO NOT WASH THE FRY PAN”. Just say’n.
I had a roommate in college who ate fried sausage 3X a day for the 4 years. BTW, he is still alive, a testament to being German and predisposed to sausage. He didn’t clean his sausage fry pan the entire two years I knew him. He’d cook the meat, wipe it down with a paper towel and toss it back in the cupboard. At the time I thought it was kinda disgusting. Then again I came from a household where everything was polished and shined to with in an inch of it’s life.
Even the only cast iron thing we had.. a small pan that was constantly scrubbed until it was shiny and, as I’ve learned now.. useless.
Turns out, the roommate was a genius. Actually pre-genius, his true genius would come out later, and people pay him a couple hundred large every time he speaks, in my book, that’s a genius.
I get told to shut the hell up. That, is being a moron. But I am comfy with it.
Anyway.. Here’s the deal on fry pans, in my experience.
1) Cast Iron forever. The beauty of a dirty cast iron pan.. not dirty but seasoned, is that they are essentially non-stick, and as we’re learning, non-stick with no carcinogens spreading coatings. And while that’s nice and convenient and all, seasoned cast iron allows food, and specifically meats, to char a bit with out foaming up, which adds lots of flavors. And for breakfasts.. they can’t be beat. Oh.. Lodge Logic is the cast iron of choice at Casa Del Sankary.. it’s sturdy as hell, maybe a week bit too sturdy as it’s heavy as heck and inexpensive. $20.00 for a 12” pan at Target.
2) There is a role for non-stick pans. You don’t need the best of the best.. but don’t go totally cheap either. The cheapo pans lose their coating quickly, and stuff sticks to them and who knows what you’re ingesting. I like the T-Fal pans I found, they were pretty inexpensive, but the coatings were quality and pans were decent. Plus the had a little red spot in the middle that changes shape when heated to let you know that the pan is ready to go. I know a little water does the same thing. One more thing, I knew I liked them, but when America’s Test kitchen rated them as a best buy I figured I had good taste.
3) Stainless. I have one deep-dish stainless pan that I use for curries and paella and such. It’s from Cuisinart. I like it.. I use it, but you really have to watch the heat on it or you’re going to burn stuff and, permanently stick them to the bottom of the pan. Which is a bitch. You wind up soaking it, heating it up, soaking it some more.. The thing that keeps s me coming back to it over and over again; the tight fitting top that holds in steam. A great one-pot meal thing.
- My Martha Stewart Cast Iron enameled Dutch Oven, and this was from Macy’s, which knocks off the LeCruscent cookware that’s about 4X the price, is the single most useful cooking pot in my kitchen, BAR NONE. Kid you not. I use it for more things than any other pot or pan I own.
The beauty of the thing.. you can brown meats and onions in the thing, add ingredients and liquids, cook stove top, cover and put in the oven.. chili, soup, rice dishes, deep fryer, roaster, pot roast, coq au vin, Moroccan Chicken, beef stew, it’s all there, in one pot, no muss no fuss. If you get nothing else on this list, get one of these.
- Allclad. Well the Cuisinart knockoff that’s made the same way. Allclad is a stainless pot that comes come 3, 5 and 12-quart sizes I think. It’s basically a copper pot inside a stainless pot, which means the heat is even distributed throughout the ENTIRE pot, not just the bottom. Since a real Allclad 5 quart pot goes for about $200.00 I looked for a reasonable knock off. T-fal makes a lookalike, but it’s only got the copper on the bottom. Cuisinart has a real knockoff that uses an aluminum core that heats uniformly across the sides and so forth. Same principal only at $60.00 or so at Macy’s, a much better deal.
- I also keep a small 1-quart pan to heat butter, olive oil.. basics for adding ingredients to other stuff. Mine is a Target T-Fal.
- I did replace my wok, my original stainless wok from San Francisco that I got at a Chinese restaurant supply. Ya must have a decent wok to make any kind of Asian food, and since we tend to like Korean, especially Bimbim Bop.. had to have one.
- Problem with a wok, as I’ve noted here, you can’t really get them hot enough on a home stove, especially a home stove with glass top. Never going to happen. I bought a green version from Target, $30.00.. sits on the glass with a flat bottom, important to help get the heat required. BTW, used it recently to make beef with broccoli, fantastic.
And that, is how I retooled my kitchen. The rest of the stuff, measuring cups, spatulas, etc.. get what ever you like, just do yourself a favor and actually pick the utensil up and get a feel for it in your hands. I bought a peeler a while back that I didn’t do that with, thing was a piece of crap that actually hurt my hands to use. In cooking gadgets, a test drive goes a long way.