Friday, March 9, 2012

Finding the right tools for the job

As time goes on, and my goals in the kitchen become more complicated, I find myself looking for better tools to help with the process. The right tools for the job definitely make any task more approachable. Recently, thanks to gift cards and after-Christmas clearance sales, we were able to add a few lovelies to my kitchen arsenal, and I thought I would take a few posts to share with you the things that I love, that help me bring dinner to the table. To clarify, I am sharing my thoughts, and I have not received any incentive to write these opinions.

Some tools can be lumped together with others, but there are a few that deserve to be in the spotlight, like pots and pans, for example. The proper vessel can make or break your cooking experience, whether you are frying eggs or making candy, roasting meat or cooking a custard. I am still building my collection, but I think I am off to a great start.

After having a set of stainless steel pans that failed* and left me with no pots and pans to cook in, I was totally lost. I have to cook everything from scratch, so I had to figure out what was needed and fast. I was scared of buying stainless steel pans, since I couldn’t afford anything that didn’t have those copper sandwich discs attached to the bottom, and that was the fail point on the old set. After much research, we settled on enameled cast iron, but then I needed to pick a good brand. Reviews led me to two names: Le Creuset and Staub, and Le Creuset had a nearby outlet. We headed over there and walked away with:

One combination pot with a small egg pan for a lid and one large skillet.

I needed one large skillet for frying tortilla

We were on such a limited budget that this pot was an awesome find. The lid doubles as a pan that I have used almost exclusively for eggs.

 A few months later I found a small pot on clearance, this is intended for use on the grill.

I often found myself making a meal, only to realize that I needed three of the small pot or two of the medium pot, so I would cook one dish, put it in an oven-safe dish and keep it warm, wash the pot and make the next dish. As they say on the shampoo bottles, lather, rinse, repeat, as needed.

Under strong advice, I purchased this oval Dutch oven, and I have used it on the stove-top to cook soup and beans, and in the oven to cook a roast.

We started studying the after-Christmas sales, and in January of 2012, Hubby gave me two pieces of Staub enameled cast iron, and then we happened on a clearance sale and got one more. Without the sales (and gift cards), no way could I have bought these lovelies, but, oh my. I unwrapped the first pot and all I could do was stare in awe.

Beautiful blue.
Lovely green with bonus mini cocottes

At last a second small pot, tall and deep.
 These are so beautiful that I couldn’t believe that I was going to be able to use these every day in MY kitchen. I loved the Le Creuset and I still use it, but I have to say that in my collection the Staub are my favorites and, in my opinion, their design is better.
  • Staub has a black enamel interior and the lids fit tightly and have basting spikes that allow the condensation to drip onto the food. 
  • In my experience the light interior of the Le Creuset stains easily and the lids don't fit quite as well, although they are advertising a new improved interior that better resists stains and tighter fitting lids.  
  •  Staub has a truly beautiful exterior enamel that has a depth resulting from layers of different color. I happened to get lucky when I purchased the Staub pieces, the colors that I wanted were on sale at the stores that I shop regularly.
  • To be fair I should note that the Le Creuset comes in many beautiful colors, but each time that I was in a position to buy a piece, the black was less expensive, and price almost always outweighs color preference; I wont buy a color that I truly dislike, but I also wont pay a lot extra just to get a color that I like better.
I’m hoping to get more pieces of Staub in the future, including their saute and frying pans, a pancake pan, a teapot, maybe even some of their specialty pans, like their gorgeous pumpkin cocotte and rectangular terrine. Then again, I wont be too picky, if I find more great deals on great pots and pans, I will try to find a way to bring them home. ;) With both brands, these pots and pans are heavy. I often joke that they are my part of my kitchen workout, but I have no doubt that they will give me many years of faithful service.

*The set that I had to stop using  had that attached copper sandwich-disc that is so popular these days, but these delaminated with not-so-lovely popping sounds. After looking them up online, I found that this set of popular-chef-branded pots and pans had done worse than come apart for many people. I had gotten off lucky, except that the company ignored my warranty request, and I could find no recall information. After that experience, I find myself shying away from any product with a chef’s name on it.

Showing in this day in 2011: Banana Mango Whoopie with Coconut Cream Cheese Filling