Posts Tagged ‘cookware’

I’m taking a break from poetry and politics this week (because, oy, it’s been a rough start to the year), and instead turn to things domestic.

Throughout 2022, I tried a few new things in the kitchen (stop it! I’m talking about cooking, here), some of which turned out exceptionally well. I am not a chef, searching for the finest ingredients, using top-of-the-line equipment, and trying my hand at the most complex of recipes. No. Definitely not. What I am is a cook that likes to make the best meal with the least amount of effort using readily available ingredients and affordable cookware. In cooking, I search for that balance between work and result, cost and return. In other words, I’m a lazy foodie.

Finding that balance can be a challenge, but this year past, I discovered a few new (to me) products that really helped that equation, products I’d like to recommend to you: one brand of cookware, and two ingredients.
(Note: I receive NO kickbacks or compensation for these recommendations; I’m just one home cook passing along info on my good experiences.)

Recommendation #1: Cookware

One of my long-lasting battle campaigns has been with non-stick cookware.

A bit of personal history . . . When I was young, Teflon and Silverstone were the only non-stick games in town. Cheap was a necessary byword back then, and what I bought was awful. Made of thin stamped aluminum, they lasted maybe a year before they started to break down, flaked bits of black into my omelettes, became warped and dented with use, and got tossed out and replaced in relatively quick succession. Sometime in the ’90s I graduated to thicker-bodied cookware—like T-Fal and Calphalon which, while more expensive, didn’t break the bank and definitely lasted longer. Still, though, they were thinly coated products, and that coating still got scratched (despite proper care), the skillets still warped, and though their lifespan was about three times that of the old stuff, replacing them every two or three years annoyed me. Later, my cookware budget increased and technologies changed, so I tried several types of anodized non-stick cookware, but the extra cost did not translate into longer life or a reduction in warping on larger skillets. These days, I use stainless for pots and sauciers, cast iron for grilling and Dutch ovens, but I still want non-stick skillets for sautéing, cooking eggs and fish, and making pancakes/crepes. So, the battle continued.

Until last year.

Last year I saw a non-stick skillet on sale. It was an 8″ skillet, and it was $13. It looked unlike any other skillet I’d ever tried and had received high ratings so, being extremely dissatisfied with my pricy Scan-Pan and Anolon skillets, I figured I could risk a little coin on this loss-leader.

Made by Carote, it was “grey granite” in color—an unusual but pleasantly retro look, reminiscent of old enamelware—was made of thick aluminum with five layers of heavy non-stick coating, and had a wood-tone handle (also lovely) that was super-comfortable and secure in the hand while also being oven-safe to 500°F. It didn’t take long for me to fall for this little skillet, especially after I realized that it had no riveting on the inside (where the handle connects), making cleanup (almost) a pleasure. Moreover, the base of the pan was thick, devoid of “hot spots,” and was designed to evenly expand and thus avoid warping.

When I checked the rest of the Carote line, I found that even the regular prices were a third the cost of the higher-end pans I’d been trying, so I picked up a ten- and a twelve-inch skillet, with covers, all for less than the last Scanpan skillet I’d bought.

They’ve been in daily use for the last three months, and I could not be more pleased. They come in other colors, which isn’t a factor for me, but might be for others, and a ten-piece set (skillets, pans, covers) can be had for around $120.

Recommendation #2: Ingredients

Another of my culinary challenges has been sauces.

If you make sauces, you need stock and you need a thickener. Making stock at home means saving bits and bobs from larger cuts and/or buying bones to roast, then hours of simmering and reducing all to turn a gallon of water into a quart of decent stock. Buying stock means, well, you can’t, not real stock, anyway; sure, you can buy broth and emend it, or you can buy bouillon cubes and try to counter all the salt, or . . .

I present to you More Than Gourmet’s classic demi-glace reductions. These are a collection of gelatinized demi-glaces that may be used as stock, as a demi-glace, or as the basis for a heavier sauce. They are shelf-stable until opened, at which point they will last six months in the fridge. While not sodium-free, they are made with about a third of the salt/sodium of standard bouillon preparations and, to tell you the truth, I really can’t taste much salt in them at all, even at full concentration. They come in various incarnations, including vegetable/vegan, mushroom/vegan, veal, chicken, duck, lamb, and fish.

You can get them in small 1.5 ounce packets (including a variety pack, if you want to try some out), but I’ve been buying them in the one-pound tubs (yes, I use them that much). One thing I really like about the one-pound tubs is that I can open it up, carve off a slice, build my stock base, and if that’s not flavorful enough, carve off some more and deepen the concentration. Whether I’m making a quart of stock or a cup of glaze, these reductions are my go-to ingredient.

But, what about thickening that stock for a sauce? Well, for that I used to spend a lot of time making roux. Take equal parts fat and flour, cook them up at a low/med heat until they get to the desired nuttiness/darkness, and then hope you made enough for the quantity of base you want to thicken. I got into the habit of making a mess of roux, parceling it out into teaspoon punkles or cooling it into a sliceable stick, so I wouldn’t have to make it each time. Not optimal, but workable.

Jacques Pépin to the rescue!

I read an article in which the master (who, it turns out, doesn’t like fussing about with things when there’s a viable, equally useful alternative) sang the praises of Gold Medal’s Wondra. Now, Wondra has been around for decades, and chances are you’ve seen it at the grocer’s, down there on the bottom shelf under all the froufrou flours and organic/non-GMO pastas. Chances also are that you’ve never bought it, used it, or heard of it (I certainly hadn’t).

Wondra is a flour that is pre-cooked and finely milled, so that it dissolves immediately into liquid (hot or cold), with no lumps. Put that liquid on some heat and: voilà! instant thickener. In other words, it works just like corn starch, but it doesn’t have that gummy, flavorless, starchy mouth feel, but rather adds a bit of that woody/toasty base you get from roux. If you add some butter to the mix, it’s almost indistinguishable from a roux-based sauce. Combining Wondra with the More Than Gourmet reduction (and appropriate spices, herbs, aromatics, etc.) is a quick and easy way to get to the perfect ladle of sauce. Of course, if you’re trained at the Cordon Bleu, you’ve just fainted dead away, I’m sure, but for us mere mortals, this is a godsend.

But wait! There’s more!

Wondra has other uses, too. As a dredge on fried foods, it gives a crispier, lighter crust. I tried it last night on the slurry I use to make a lacy “skirt” around dumplings and gyoza, and it was light, fragrant, and oh-so-crispy. A massive improvement over using AP flour.

And it can be used for crepes as well, not only making them lighter and less glutinous, but also allowing you to skip the “resting” step that crepe batters usually require.

Wondra is my latest discovery from 2022 and, as such, I haven’t plumbed the depths of its possible uses, but it’s already earned a spot as a pantry staple.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for stopping by and may the year ahead be healthy, strong, and peaceful.



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And for the Foodies…a couple of gear recommendations.

First, a great stocking stuffer idea.

I’ve made a bit of a study of corkscrews. I’ve tried a ton of them, of nearly every type. There’s the old-school helix-with-a-handle jobs; turn the handle and pull with all your might. There are the standard wing version (or, as I always thought, the little man who raises his arms when you twist his head). For a decade or so, the two-prong slip-n-grip models ruled the world; they were good, too, but they’re not as popular now. Most recently, it’s the “rabbit” type that’s in vogue; a gripper and a handle that plunges the screw down into the cork in one clean shoop, and pulls it out on the pull-back.


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