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Building the Perfect Kitchen
Part II: Pots and Pans
By Kirk Leins
In the December issue of YOU, we began our series on how to build the perfect kitchen. The first article was all about knives and their importance as a starting point when acquiring tools for your new galley.
Without a doubt, pots and pans should be your second area of focus when putting together a kitchen. The reason is simple. After prepping a meal, the next step is cooking it. Pots and pans are the vehicles that make this process possible.
Like knives, there is a marked difference between good and bad versions of pots and pans. Good pots and pans should be able to go from stove top to oven without a problem. The technique of starting a meal on the stove and finishing it in the oven can be used for all sorts of dishes. To accomplish this, it's an absolute must that you avoid anything with a plastic or wooden handle. This also includes lids. It doesn't take a scientist to figure out what happens when wood or plastic are subjected to high heat. I'm also not a very big fan of glass lids as they are oven-safe, but only to a degree.
The next quality shared by good cookware is that it's constructed with heavy-gauge materials. Lightweight cookware, made from weak or thin material, will have the propensity to warp and dent, and even burn your food. Quality pots and pans, on the other hand, are less likely to scorch food because of their ability to heat evenly. Hot spots in a pan (or the lack thereof) can become the difference between a perfectly cooked meal and an overcooked one.
There should also be a practical design and comfort level to your cookware. This is something that is completely personal. The only way to determine what you'll like best is to try different items in the store. Pick up a piece of cookware, and take it through a phantom test. Handle it as you would in your kitchen. If it doesn't feel right, don't buy it.
Now that you know which features contribute to quality cookware, the next step is figuring out what pieces to buy. This will depend primarily on how much cooking you do, but here are some general suggestions.
The more cooking you do, the more pans you will require. I suggest having one grill pan, either non-stick or cast iron. This will allow you to grill meat and vegetables inside your kitchen as opposed to on a barbecue. I also think it's a good idea to have a 10 or 12-inch cast-iron frying pan. This is what you would use to sear meat like hamburgers and steaks, fry chicken, and even make corn bread.
A roasting pan is also a must. This will allow you to roast large pieces of meat, poultry, and fish, as well as large quantities of vegetables. While you're at it, you'll also want a few sheet pans or cookie sheets. These are great for baking cookies, warming bread, and roasting smaller cuts of meat.
These are pretty much the basics as far as pans are concerned. You'll accumulate additional pans as you do more cooking. For now, these are all you really need.
After the stock pot, all a fledgling chef really needs is a quality sauce pot. Ideally, you would acquire these in various sizes, beginning with small, medium, and large. If multiple sauce pots aren't in the budget, simply get a medium-sized one. This could be used for everything from sauces and gravies to steaming vegetables.
If your budget allows, an enameled cast-iron casserole dish is a nice addition to any kitchen. This would be used for such things as stews, jambalaya, or any slowly-braised meat like pot roast or short ribs. These come in sizes based on quarts. My suggestion is to start with either a 3.5 or 5 quart model.
Brand names, prices, and where to buy
Another route is your local restaurant supply store. Most stores of this nature will sell both All-Clad and Calphalon products because of their ability to survive in a professional kitchen. The irony is that very few professional kitchens use these brands; and if they do, it's maybe a pan here or a pot there. Rarely is it their entire collection. It's just too expensive when you consider the amount of wear and tear and the resulting turnover.
If high-priced cookware is out of the question, my suggestion is to look at a brand called Vollrath. Featured at many restaurant supply stores, Vollrath is the choice of many professional chefs. All of Vollrath's products are well-constructed and cost about half the price of the two aforementioned brands. Vollrath products can also be found online.
For any cast iron cookware, look no further than the brand called Lodge. They've been around forever and are very reasonably priced. Once upon a time, you would have to "season" a new cast-iron pan before using it. Lucky for us, the good folks at Lodge are now selling their products "pre-seasoned" This means once you get it out of the box, all you have to do is wash it and it's ready for use.
Lodge pans can be found anywhere from restaurant supply stores to some of the larger hardware stores. The good news is a Lodge 10-inch pan is only going to cost around $20. Take good care of it, and it will last you forever. One of the benefits of cast iron is that it only gets better with use.
When it comes to the enameled cast-iron casserole dish, there's really one name that stands out – Le Creuset. These items are expensive so I only recommend buying them when you're ready to use them. Count on spending about $120 for a 3.5-quart casserole and $180 for the 5-quart model. Some outlet malls have a Le Creuset store, and they're usually the best when it comes to price. To find a store near you, simply log on to www.lecreuset.com. If there isn't one in your area, you may want to search the Internet for a good deal.
For sheet pans, cookie sheets, muffin tins, or anything else of that nature, a restaurant supply store is your best option with regard to price.
This concludes part two of our lesson on building the perfect kitchen; and I hope you're enjoying it as much as I am. I promise that by the time we're done here, you will have more than a functioning kitchen. It will also be practical and cost effective!
Coming Soon, Building the Perfect Kitchen, Part 3: Gadgets and Utensils.
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