Come on…tell us the secret!

October 6, 2009

Lots of folks sidle up to me (either in person or over the phone, in a dropped-voice confidential tone), and ask conspiratorially,  “Come on, tell me really what the best cookware is?”

Supposedly, since I have spent the past 30-plus years in the one end or the other of the cookware business, I have some superior yet secret knowledge that one, and only one type/brand of cookware is truly the “one”.

But I am telling the truth when I say,  “that depends.” What’s best for you isn’t what is best for someone else.  What I find to be the best, might not be the best for you either.

A hodge-podge of kitchen pans

A hodge-podge of kitchen pans

Don’t mind scrubbing pots, or enamored of making “fonds”, then stainless steel cookware may work best.  Are you old fashioned and like country-cooked meals, then cast iron may be your choice. Or, if you are time-stressed and don’t want to scrub cookware and are used to cooking  30-minute quick meals, then nonstick coated aluminum might be best.  Into pots of stews bubbling on the back burner for half a day?  Then an porcelain enamel cast iron pot could be the best.  Whipping up lots of egg whites and cream, then a copper pan might suit.  The best cookware depends on the cook and recipe.  As I often joke:  A really good cook could take a coat hanger and a license plate and produce a pretty good meal.  I know cooks who would burn water in a $500 piece of copper cookware handmade in France.

I suggest trying a pan or two first rather than buying whole sets of cookware. That way you can determine what fits your lifestyle.  For many cooks a variety of pans suits better than having everything visually match. That might mean a nonstick fry pan for eggs, and sautéing, a large heavy Dutch oven for slow cooking of stews and soups, and a variety of sauce pans for vegetables and other foods.

If you could peer into my kitchen cabinets you might laugh.  There’s cast iron in there that dates from the 1920s.  My grandmothers multi-ply stainless she purchased in the late 1950s (still works great), and pieces that are less than six months old.  And yes, I use them all.  It depends on what is on the menu.

Hurray for Ethnic Diversity in Foods

September 22, 2009
A typical tangine cooker

A typical tangine cooker

In the small city in which I grew up for the most part, there was a single Italian “themed” restaurant which served spaghetti with three different sauces.  There was no Mexican, Indian, or Chinese cuisine available, unless you bought a “kit” at the store.  Canned chop suey was as close as we could get to a Chinese meal.  My parents waxed nostalgic for the sort of Chinese restaurant in which they ate while they lived in Cleveland just after World War II.  Once a year, my father (who is now 90), bought a Chef Boyardee pizza in-a-box and mixed the dough, let it rise, rolled it out and then poured on the canned sauce and added powdered Parmesan cheese from the box. Start to finish, it took the whole afternoon. The scent from the oven where it baked was fabulous and we thought we were exotic gourmands compared to our neighbors.  The one thing my family did do was to cook spaghetti sauce from scratch, simmered all afternoon on the back of the stove, filling the house with a wonderful aroma.  It was from a recipe they’d learned in Cleveland from a family they’d roomed with during the great post-war housing shortage.   When I was about 16, a friend’s family served canned spaghetti sauce and I could taste the sugar in it.

Today of course, America is awash in foreign cuisine.  The array of fresh ingredients to produce around-the-world recipes is astounding.  As a for instance, cookware producers make and sell tangine dishes, along with recipes from the Middle East that are mouthwatering.  In the 1950s, the big spices were salt, pepper (already ground of course), chili powder and cinnamon.  There are countless recipe books and hundreds of thousands of recipes which allow the cook a chance to experience foods from all around the world.  Most even town of more than a couple of thousand population has at least a Chinese buffet (I’ll not comment on the quality of the food in such a place) and a Hispanic theme eating place.

In short, it is a lot easier to be adventuresome in one’s eating habits today than it was just a couple of decades ago.