Getting Personal About Pots and Pans
It was a simple question, or so it seemed: What's Cooking reader "Clueless Bride," who's planning to register for cookware, asked for guidance about picking pots, pans and anything else to make her soon-to-be newlywed kitchen sparkle.
She got lots of advice all right, but what she probably didn't anticipate was being put on the spot about registering in the first place! (That's what you get when you ask a bunch of highly opinionated readers for their advice.) Her question in yesterday's chat spawned a lengthy, all-over-the-map thread that inspired today's blog post.
As many of you know, I'm a newly wedded bride, so many of the planning issues on "Clueless Bride's" to-do list are still fresh in my mind. The hows and whys behind a bride's choices for her wedding day are highly personal, with deep psychological, cultural and socioeconomic roots that go beyond the scope of a cooking blog. There's no right or wrong but we can probably all agree it's pretty fascinating to watch a bride-to-be in motion.
Many readers ganged up on "Clueless," accusing her of taking the fun out of gift giving by telling her guests what to buy to make her kitchen dream come true, or that she's opportunistic, eager for all the loot that comes with being an American bride. Whether or not you want it (I was in the undecided, conflicted camp), it's inevitable -- the loot does comes with the territory --- people want to celebrate your milestone and shower you with gifts.
Another reader asked why must a woman wait to get married to properly equip her kitchen -- and as someone who waited to say "I do" until she was 40, I can appreciate this sentiment. What about couples living in domestic bliss without the paperwork, or cooks (both men and women) content to be single? Are they not equally entitled to a culinary baterie of their dreams?
Still, the issue remains: What does a home cook need in the way of pots and pans? Is there a benefit to buying a boxed set? Stainless or nonstick? And what about cast iron? How much should I spend?
As mentioned in yesterday's chat, I advocate the mix-and-match method over buying a boxed set. I prefer quality to quantity, too, with an emphasis on function (versus fashion). As you'll see in the photo above, my pots and pans are few (okay, there are a few more, but they couldn't fit in the photo) but carefully selected for the jobs they perform. Here's a sketch of what I use on a regular basis, give or take a few pieces. It's minimalistic, but I like it that way.
The Le Creuset four-quart enameled cast-iron pot came into my life about seven years ago, and we're still in love. I cringed when I plunked down $145 for that pot, but in hindsight, I can say I haven't regretted a cent. I use that thing a few times a week -- for stews, curries, soups, that polenta from earlier this week, even deep frying in a pinch.
At first I was resistant, thinking I wouldn't use it much, but my wok has proven to be quite the workhorse. Woks are not just for stir fries, people; they scramble eggs in under one minute, fry up gloriously crispy fish and chicken, handle simmering curries with gusto. I don't know why I waited so long for one, and I spent less than 30 bucks.
On the back burner, you'll see a nine-inch cast-iron skillet, which I use for all kinds of dishes -- from grilled cheese to corn bread. I paid fewer than 10 bucks for mine at a thrift shop several years ago.
You're probably wondering why I've got a saucepan with a nonstick interior. In a word: candy. A nonstick surface is key for cooking sugar, and I like it for eggy custard, the foundation for many an ice cream.
In addition to this skeletal crew, I have a very small saucepan (about one quart), which I like for sauces, a nonstick skillet that I reserve for pancakes and a deeper (but not too deep) stainless skillet (with a missing handle) that I like for searing fish and making risotto.
On my wish list is an additional saucepan of the stainless variety, and perhaps a griddle. But if they don't materialize this year, that's fine. I'm still cooking up a storm with my small armory.
Your pots-and-pans thoughts are most welcome in the comments area below.
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