after dinner sneeze

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Archive for the ‘Odes to Cookware’ Category

k’s favorite pot

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k says: I was perusing afterdinnersneeze, as I like to do when I’m too tired to do any more work for the night, but not yet ready for bed, and I saw the 2010 posting about Dutch ovens. I have no relevant information to share, no pros and cons lists, but instead, here below are my truest emotions about “my favorite pot.”

My favorite pot is our gray Le Creuset pot. It is gorgeous. It’s heavy. It’s shiny. I love cooking in it because it feels like you’re really cooking a real dinner. These days, dinner often consists of cereal, an apple and some cashews. But when we cook with the Le Creuset, it means we are cooking something special. Some of my favorite dishes have been cooked in this pot – cm’s pasta with butternut squash, perfectly browned conchas, braised chicken with vegetables, and of course “the good soup”. We used it to wow our judges in the famous Iron Chef battle, home edition, of 2009. (k and cm vs. t and g, Battle Carrot.) I’m sure the beauty of the pot itself bought us a couple points.

The truth is, it’s not a totally necessary pot. Most days we can get by with our other mediocre pots and pans. For many years, we did just fine without it. The year after graduating from college, cm and I and our two close college friends hosted a weekly dinner for our friends that still lived in the area. It was our first time learning how to cook, trying new recipes, and playing host. We called it “Sunday Dinner Series.” We stuck almost exclusively to recipes, poring through our first cookbook as well as trying our hand at our childhood favorite recipes. I remember Sunday Dinner Series fondly. It was the beginning of our love of cooking and eating with friends. Unfortunately, it fizzled off as we ran out of money…

Five years later, we were ready to own our first Le Creuset. cm and I went to Williams Sonoma after spending many months percolating on the idea, now wielding a gift card from cm’s parents. As we examined the wall of beauties, stacked up perfectly just like t said, an older couple started chatting with us and tried to convince us to buy an entire set of Le Creuset’s in one color. They were in the process of doing just that, as a wedding present for their son. Since a set costs many hundreds of dollars, we settled on our one pot… the one in the color that was on sale. It felt like a big day. I felt like a real grown up. We soon would have more visits to Williams Sonoma, and even purchase more Le Creusets, with the help of our wedding registry. But none would be more special than our first visit and our first Le Creuset purchase.

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19 November 2011 at 11:04pm

An Ode to Dutch Ovens

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t says: An honorable mention for my list of awesome kitchen equipment goes to our Dutch oven.  As mentioned in our recipe for short rib ragu, I have a very bizarre attachment to our Dutch oven; his name is Francois.

Francois says, "get in my belly!"

A lot of research went into buying Francois, not because it was warranted, but because I obsess about things. I’ve been using him a lot over the last 6+ months and now feel justified in highly recommending Dutch ovens to anyone who wants super-tender meats.  The downside (and the reason why he only achieved an “honorable mention”) is that most recipes that I come across take a few hours to pull off, as I’m usually braising large quantities of meat (for strictly veggies or seafood, smaller vessels are more efficient to use).  Thus, our Dutch oven is our go-to cooking vessel on the weekends, so we can make a whole mess of food and eat it throughout the week.

If you fancy purchasing one of these guys soon, then here’s a little primer.

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26 March 2010 at 5:28pm

An Ode to Rice Cookers (and white rice!)

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t says: Time for number 2 on the list.  Meet “Li’l Red” … our rice cooker.

"I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that ..."

g and I love starch.  If we had to go Atkins, we’d be really really grumpy – our meals need pasta, bread, or rice.  Of the three, I’d argue that rice is the most versatile.  Bread requires effort to make and gets hard quickly.  Pastas might be quicker to make than rice, but are seldom served plain.  Rice, on the other hand is very simple to make, cannot be overcooked in a rice cooker (unless you put too much water in it), and goes with nearly every meat and veggie.  It also tastes wonderful on its own.  Actually, one time, when k was over, we made white rice – she was surprised by its flavor and asked if we doctored it with anything.  As you might guess, we go with rice quite frequently.  And, using a rice cooker, it doesn’t take up valuable space on our stovetop and is foolproof.  g also likes that it’s red …

Li’l Red was cheap (<$20) and makes enough rice for 6 servings.  Making 2 cups of rice (which inflates to about 4 finished cups of rice) works out well for me and g to have enough rice for 2 meals, each.  So critical is a rice cooker for successful rice cookery that I’ve even added this post to our “recipes”.  Some tips and tricks:

1)  Prepare the rice according to the rice cooker’s instructions.  g made it once following rice’s instructions – yea – it was not good.

2)  There are actually different kinds of rice out there.  We like short grain rices – our favorite is koshihikari short grain rice (we like Tamaki Gold as pictured, but there are other good ones out there).  My mom’s favorite, which is also delicious, is Kokuho Rose (it has a pink emblem on the package).

3)  Mom sometimes adds other things to white rice to make it more nutritious.  For instance, you could use barley, beans, peas, or even brown rice!  Brown rice might change the cooking characteristics – I don’t know – I’ve never tried it.  If you want to be a purist, add nothing to rice – no seasoning, vanilla, or even oil.

4)  If you’re making white rice, you must wash the rice thoroughly before cooking.  Basically you need to rinse the rice in water as many times as it takes for the water to run very-nearly-clear.  Basically, do it until you think you’re done, and then rinse it three more times.  I’ve done it by hand in the included rice pot or using a fine sieve – the latter works faster.  No matter what you do, this super-secret step is super-vital.

5)  When the rice is done cooking, fluff it with the included paddle and then replace the lid until ready to eat.  To “fluff” the rice, drag the paddle across the surface of the rice (kind of like how you would scrape a water ice with one of those wooden spoons) and lift up gently.  Keep doing so to get a nice fluffy pile.  When fluffing the rice, you want to avoid packing it together (e.g. you don’t want to do what they do with Chinese takeout white rice).

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21 March 2010 at 1:17am

An Ode to Calphalon Non-stick Pans

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t says: #5 on the list … and whoa! Snoozefest! You must be thinking:

Pans! You’re going to start your top 5 pieces of interesting kitchen equipment, and you’re going to mention pans!? On top of that, some Calphalon pans! And non-stick pans at that! But ‘real’ home cooks praise All-clad and Mauviel for pans and dis’ non-stick as only for pansies!  And if they absolutely have to use non-stick, they go ScanPan.  So what person who claims he’s “obsessive” and does “research” before making purchases is going to praise Calphalon!?”

Me … but don’t worry – a story’s coming [below] …

First off, let’s make this clear: I’m not going to pretend that these pans heat the quickest, distribute the heat most evenly, or anything like that. Actually, Cook’s Illustrated already tested these kinds of non-stick pans, and I’m pretty sure that the Calphalon pan didn’t win (All-clad always wins – ugh – so expensive!). So why bother with the Calphalon Contemporary non-stick pans?

It ain't All-clad, but I like it!

1) They look pretty. Ok – this is an opinion – but the brushed exterior looks great out of the box and does an ok job hiding the inevitable disgustingness fairly well (pans are meant to be used).

2) They’re cheap. Not only that, although they’re cheap, they’re not so thin that they’ll warp when heated – that’s a good thing! Sadly, that particular link doesn’t include a lid in the price – but I’m sure that similar options can be found.

3) Their non-stick is reasonable. It’s not the slickest ever (I like to play it safe and wipe it with cooking oil on a paper towel), but always cleans up in a cinch, no matter what I burn on it.

4) Lifetime warranty. What? Warranty? Why? Well, I personally don’t think that there exists a non-stick pan that will stay non-stick forever. Furthermore, I don’t think there’s a non-stick coating that won’t peel … eventually. Every non-stick pan I’ve used has had this happen to it – and I’m betting that even ScanPans will degrade over time with repeated cleanings. Lo and behold – back when I had only this one pan and therefore used it nearly every day (including some very high-heat applications – which technically one shouldn’t do with non-stick pans), it lasted only a year before I noticed that the coating was peeling! I was not amused, as I made certain to use only the finest, softest sponges when cleaning the interior.  I called up Calphalon and was afraid that they’d simply accuse me of abusing the pan (like “wear and tear”) and wouldn’t do anything. Wrong. I mailed it to Calphalon the next day and a brand new one came to me ~3 weeks later (I only had to pay shipping one way). The next time this happened (i.e. the following year, as it was still my everyday pan), I was a little more whiney and complained when I called and voila (or as that dumb tv commercial says: “wa-la!”), this time they even covered the return shipping and got it to me in 2 weeks. Now that I have other pans to play with (and use my non-stick only for eggs, fish, and pancakes), I likely won’t have to return it as often – but I always know that I can if I wanted …

So, in the end – I guess all I’m really saying is this: we like non-stick pans with awesome lifetime warranties. Whether it’s Calphalon or not is irrelevant – just so long as they don’t blame you for “wear and tear”.

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10 March 2010 at 9:56pm