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The agony of adapting to different equipment


Fat Guy
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There are dozens, if not hundreds, of routine kitchen tasks that I perform a certain way based on the combination of equipment I have.

For example, when I hard cook eggs I always use the same thick anodized aluminum pot, I start it out at the high-heat setting on my stove and shift it to the low-heat setting for ten minutes (timed on my timer) once it comes to the boil. I do this with so little effort it barely interrupts whatever else I'm doing.

Not long ago, I was over at someone else's house and had to hard cook some eggs. I was completely befuddled. A different pot, a different stove, a different timer. Not only do I think the eggs didn't come out all that well, but also I found that I had to pay attention every minute for about 20 minutes.

Another example: I have a specific pot I use for popping popcorn. Again, this is pretty much an automated task for me at home. People come over, I offer popcorn, I make it, and they're like, "Holy crap you made popcorn just then?" And I think it comes out really well -- it almost all pops, there's no burning, it's light and fluffy the way popcorn should be.

Meanwhile, I was over at somebody else's house and I simply could not make good popcorn. The pot was too thin, the stove was electric -- I couldn't get it together. There were tons of burnt kernels, and the ones that did pop weren't nearly as nice and fluffy as what I get at home. The actual popcorn may also have contributed, but I blame equipment failure for a lot of the mess.

I'm hoping to find out that I'm not alone here.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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You're not alone. Each pot has its own characteristics. In the case of popcorn, I was using a 2 quart All-Clad. Then I wanted more popcorn and tried an old Revere 3 quart. That light construction was a disaster. All kinds of kernals left un-popped and those that were popped didn't have as good a flavor. In my quest for more popcorn in one popping, I moved on to my All-Clad 4 quart. Better than the Revere by a longshot, but still not as good as the All-Clad 2 quart... which I've gone back to. If I want more popcorn, I'd rather do two batches in the 2 quart.

Rudolf Hauschka wrote a book many years ago which, in part, delved into cooking - heat sources, pots, covers, etc. - and what I still remember from reading that was his observation that a good cook doesn't use just any pot. She (this was Europe in the 30's) would go through her whole collection of pots and pans to select just the right one for the task at hand.

When we're at home we all do that, don't we? It's when you're trying to cook at someone else's home and confronted with all these strange pots (many of them useless) and then forced to use an electric range, that things can go awry very easily - at least in my case.

No, you are not alone.

Edited by Country (log)
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Not only are you not alone, I can raise you on the frustration level...

I'm teaching at a culinary school. I only teach part time and I teach baking and pastry to culinary students. Each time I show up to teach the three week section, I'm in a different classroom with different stoves, ovens, fridges, etc. (and different students, which is a whole other level of frustration). The pots and pans are usually okay (the same throughout the school), but having to run around to gather pastry equipment and then not knowing how the ovens are calibrated in each kitchen...augh!

What's worse is, if you screw up at a friend's house, it usually can be laughed off...if you screw up as a teacher, there goes your credibility!

edited to add: don't you hate going to a friend's house and trying to use their dull knives without stabbing yourself or slicing a finger off?!

Edited by alanamoana (log)
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You are definitely not alone.

I often make dinner at other peoples houses, usually involving extensive prepwork and hauling of large quanitities of esoteric ingredients. I have (and still am) learned the hard way not to do too much. I consistently find myself turning around in circles, remember what it is I had planned to do next. In the meanwhile, my gracious hosts are unhelpfully asking how they can help. Of course, one can improve though. For the elaborate dinners I now try to write out a list of all the equipment I will need. I often ask about specific things, and if feasible bring my own equipment (which nearly always includes my knives, a small whisk, and favorite stirfrying implement). When I get there I try to familiarize myself with the kitchen, and learn where all the specific things I need are stored.

I have been learning about the psychology of attention recently, and there is a lot of mention of how learning goes through stages. Initially something new and unfamiliar takes up a lot of conscious attention and mental power, but as it is practiced more and more it progresses towards being almost fully automatic and using up little resources.

I think all of us who cook a lot have automatic processes that are fine tuned to our own kitchens. Take us out of our environment into a place where the detailed settings don't apply anymore, and it is going to take some time to adjust.

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I absolutely agree. I can never get dishes I make in other folks' kitchens come out as well as they do in mine. I think it's everything combined. Different pans, different heat levels of burners and ovens (huge), slow reaction time as you search for the equipment you forgot to locate ahead of time.

I usually don't make total hash of it, but I'm always thinking, man, this was a lot better at home!

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Funny you should mention popcorn, because when I moved out of my parents' house into my own place, my brother and I had a battle-of-wills to see who'd keep "the popcorn pot". It was an old aluminium affair, part of a set that had been a wedding present to my parents 30+ years prior, and was battered and bruised beyond belief. But it was the only pot we could *ever* make successful popcorn in.

He won out in the end I'm sorry to say.

Si

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I'm currently getting used to my first fry pan with a copper disk, which is taking some real adjustments. After a couple of decades using other metals, I'm finding that the damned thing is too responsive -- a criticism I'm embarrassed to admit.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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This was a real problem at the family cabin, so I have, over the years, gradually re-stocked most of the equipment with decent knives, measuring utensils, some different pots and pans. We've been up there for enough years that I have figured out the stove.

Along the same line, if you are helping in my kitchen, don't put things away that you aren't sure of their rightful home!

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Another example: I have a specific pot I use for popping popcorn. Again, this is pretty much an automated task for me at home. People come over, I offer popcorn, I make it, and they're like, "Holy crap you made popcorn just then?" And I think it comes out really well -- it almost all pops, there's no burning, it's light and fluffy the way popcorn should be.

Meanwhile, I was over at somebody else's house and I simply could not make good popcorn. The pot was too thin, the stove was electric -- I couldn't get it together. There were tons of burnt kernels, and the ones that did pop weren't nearly as nice and fluffy as what I get at home. The actual popcorn may also have contributed, but I blame equipment failure for a lot of the mess.

I'm hoping to find out that I'm not alone here.

Reminds me of the time I decided to use my brand new from Paris tin-lined copper 3 qt. saucepan to pop a batch of corn - I have an old favorite revere ware pot that makes beautiful popcorn, but I just couldn't wait to use the copper!

Long story short - the next thing I know, I'm melting the tin lining and cursing myself for trying something different in the kitchen when I already had the perfect pot!

And while the pot didn't need re-tinning, it has never looked as nice as the day I brought it home!

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Knives! I once was at a sister-in-law's house for a family reunion. Since I had nothing else to do but sit and watch her. I said, "Mary, would you like me to cut up those chickens?" Big mistake! My in-laws all had the worst excuse for knives I have ever seen. I didn't cut those birds. I hacked, sawed, chopped, and tore them apart.

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Hi there. We have just returned to our renovated apartment after being out of there for 3 months. We went from a 1950's kitchen to a 2007 model in 2 months. Of course, we have returned to all new appliances. I am more than intimidated! We went from a GE all gas range to an incredibly powerful Bluestar range, with 2 22k burners and an 1800 ceramic broiler and oven. There are open burners on this monster- something else I am not used to. It also has convection when I want- another first for me.

In addition we have this big Prestige profile range hood on top of the Bluestar. Not that it can capture all that much in a NYC apartment- but it helps. Thank goodness for the window a few feet away. Instead of a normal microwave we bought a nifty Whirlpool Velos- which also speed cooks and microwaves and steams. My old microwave was the source of great O.R lite microwave natural popcorn- the only one I truly liked. There is no way I feel comfortable with this new fangled "time saver."

But then again- a dishwasher!!!! Ah... the first one in 30 years! It is a new Miele- so now I have to figure out which of the 26 settings to use???????

Maybe I will go back to some good old cast iron pots!- my old buddies!

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this one made me laugh. last year we rented a self-catering cottage with a couple of friends, one of which loves cooking as much as i do. in anticipation of all the great meals i envisioned us making together i practically packed the whole kitchen into the car! knives -- for definite, a few key pots, my toolbox and more. turns out my friend brought almost as much and we had doubles of lots. also, that particular cottage owner must have liked cooking too because there was pretty much all i could want in terms of pots and pans. there was even a food processor.

since i got in trouble with my partner for hauling all that kit i now limit myself to just my toolbox and my knives and maybe my handblender. the rest i leave to fate.

the hardest thing for me is adjusting to the cookers.

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Call me weird, but I kind of like the challenge of cooking in other people's kitchens. Maybe because I've done it a lot, I find that being able to adapt is oddly satisfying (after I get over the frustration, of course). I have learned to take my knives and a few other indispensible tools to vacation rentals, though.

And sometimes I make serendipitous discoveries when I'm forced to adapt. When I moved, it took me a while to get my cookware unpacked. I finally found enough to make a curry, but realized that I didn't have the pan I usually use for rice. I ended up using an egg poaching pan (minus the insert for the eggs) -- kind of a small saute pan with a glass lid. Whether it was the pan or the new stove (electric for the first time in quite a while), it was the best rice I've ever made. Perfect.

I now have a new rice pan.

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Funny you should mention popcorn, because when I moved out of my parents' house into my own place, my brother and I had a battle-of-wills to see who'd keep "the popcorn pot". It was an old aluminium affair, part of a set that had been a wedding present to my parents 30+ years prior, and was battered and bruised beyond belief. But it was the only pot we could *ever* make successful popcorn in.

He won out in the end I'm sorry to say.

Si

I love this story!

Umm but yeah, it's a real b-i-t-c-h to have whatever reputation for whatever dish or specialty and then fumble like a newby over something as simple as the right spatula etc. Chef-boy-wonder always seems to be able to rise above this when he is cooking for us though. Gifted is as gifted does I guess. Gifted as synonomous with works your ass off that is.

He also once said that our kitchen is well stocked with equipment though. I don't see it that way but he was trying to make some of my cakes for his friends once and he shelved the project because of equipment issues. We are fairly well stocked for cake.

We're open to getting a piece of new equipment if necessary for our dining pleasure when he's gonna do his magic but our kitchen is not really well stocked. We and he are just familiar with all the stuff in there. Like the special popcorn pot theory. But I mean his sister sent him an amazon gift certificate for his birthday and he got an omlette whisk with it. Gifted maybe synonomous with nutjob?!!! :rolleyes:

Dude, Dude, I just got this fabulous little brush. It's umm, got a like a make up brush feel to it, fat & fluffy. Then it's got a pump barrel where you can fill it with pearl dusting powder and prime it 2 or 3 times and it is perfectly filled with just the right amount of dust to apply, no waste. It is the bomb sha bomb for applying pearl dust to a cake. Don't leave home without it. :biggrin:

Interesting how we bond with some of our tools, pots, pans huh?

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Another example: I have a specific pot I use for popping popcorn. Again, this is pretty much an automated task for me at home. People come over, I offer popcorn, I make it, and they're like, "Holy crap you made popcorn just then?" And I think it comes out really well -- it almost all pops, there's no burning, it's light and fluffy the way popcorn should be.

Meanwhile, I was over at somebody else's house and I simply could not make good popcorn. The pot was too thin, the stove was electric -- I couldn't get it together. There were tons of burnt kernels, and the ones that did pop weren't nearly as nice and fluffy as what I get at home. The actual popcorn may also have contributed, but I blame equipment failure for a lot of the mess.

I'm hoping to find out that I'm not alone here.

Reminds me of the time I decided to use my brand new from Paris tin-lined copper 3 qt. saucepan to pop a batch of corn - I have an old favorite revere ware pot that makes beautiful popcorn, but I just couldn't wait to use the copper!

Long story short - the next thing I know, I'm melting the tin lining and cursing myself for trying something different in the kitchen when I already had the perfect pot!

And while the pot didn't need re-tinning, it has never looked as nice as the day I brought it home!

I eat popcorn on a very regular basis. I'm very picky about my popping vessel, and I've tried many, many different vessels. The very best, I've found, is a cheap Chinese wok.

I put a generous amount of peanut oil in the bottom of the wok, heat until blazing hot, and then toss in some kernels. I then place the lid from a pyrex casserole over the kernels, so the lid just coveres the kernels (the lid gets "nested" in the wok). I then put on oven mitts. When the kernels start to pop, I lift the lid just above the kernels and keep raising the lid, to accomodate the expanding kernels (this prevents the kernels from steaming). At a certain point, I remove the lid altogether. Usually a few kernels will fly out of the wok and onto the floor, but it's not a big deal. I then season immediately (usually with salt, sugar, paprika, cayenne, and sometimes lemongrass powder), tossing the popcorn in the wok to coat with seasoning and to toast the seasoning a bit. I think it's the best popcorn I've ever had.

Sometimes, I get caught at someone's house, and they'll ask me to make popcorn (because they've tried mine). If they don't have a cheap Chinese wok, I cringe.

Edited by Khadija (log)
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Knives! I once was at a sister-in-law's house for a family reunion. Since I had nothing else to do but sit and watch her. I said, "Mary, would you like me to cut up those chickens?" Big mistake! My in-laws all had the worst excuse for knives I have ever seen. I didn't cut those birds. I hacked, sawed, chopped, and tore them apart.

I second and third this!!! I can improvise with just about anything but sharp knives...and the proper size for the job to boot.

I used to cook alot at a friend's house when she was sick and also at my sister's. Neither had anything but dollar store paring knives (you know the ones...about the size of a large toothpick and made with a micro-serated aluminum blade) and one big knife more suited to hacking one's way through the Amazon River basin.

Every birthday, Christmas, Valentine's Day, etc I gave each of them a nice knife until they had a decent modest set. They are now "knife snobs", too. Funny how contagious that can be. Once you cook with good knives, you can never go back!

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This happens all the time. I carry my knives with me (and the odd Microplane and a vegetable peeler after some real disasters) but you're always stuck with someone else's cooktop, oven and whatever miserable excuse they have for cookware.

Personal favorite? Being given access to a 6-burner DCS gas range only to find that only one burner works and its settings are on/off.

Then there's the "I'll go blind if I keep looking at it" ugly plates people buy.

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I have TWICE now volunteered to cook at my friend's house--once a sit-down dinner party for twelve (make that 13 when one of the "no" rsvp-ers decided to show up after all) and once for a cocktail party for 50--and I'm still not sure how I agreed to the second time.

I thought I was prepared for the dinner party--had my list all drawn up, did most of the prep work at home, packed up the equipment I thought I'd need--but it was awful. Bad as my stove is, her stove was worse--wimpy burners and I'm not ever sure the oven ever heated up. Luckily I had packed a knife, but only one, so I was constantly washing it (and her single cutting board--wtf?). The comment about turning around in circles really hit home, because I constantly found myself doing just that--turning around in circles trying to figure out where I was going to plate something (I had forgotten serving utensils, thinking "everyone has spoons" only to be proven wrong). It was awful. And I swore "never again"

Then, six months later, I found myself agreeing to cater her cocktail party. What was I thinking? I forgot completely that she doesn't own cutting boards (what does she eat, I wonder) and that her knives are from Target before Target was cool. And I couldn't bring myself to serve on her

"I'll go blind if I keep looking at it" ugly plates

but I hadn't brought enough of my own, so then I had to run home and get some more of mine. And the unhelpful offers of help (to which I was tempted to respond "could you go out and buy some basic kitchen equipment?") only made me twitchy. :blink:

You kind of expect that sort of thing when you go to a condo kitchen (although you certainly can be surprised now and then) and I always pack an emergency kit of spices (and I knife, if I'm not carrying my luggage on the plane--it's tough to explain to TSA these days), but this was a friend (that I didn't particularly want to insult outright).

I, too, have specific pans that I always use for certain things and I'm not sure I could even cook polenta in anything except my favorite pan and I *know* I can't saute onions and garlic with anything except my special, long-handled, small-bowled bamboo spoon from C&B. Much as I hate my current stove, at least I know exactly where the burner needs to be set to simmer (such as it is) or boil. I may be storing serving pieces on temporary shevles hidden beneath the dining room table, but at least I own them (and they're nice, plain, soothing, white).

I thought about this when I watched Top Chef--I would have been a heck of a lot whinier about not knowing where everything was. It had to have added to the challenge/stress level to be cooking in a different location all the time (a fact the producers this past season were obviously aware of when they staged the beach cook-off).

Feast then thy heart, for what the heart has had, the hand of no heir shall ever hold.
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Great thread! I can't stand going to my sisters house to cook. She's got these beautiful appliances, beautiful kitchen but uses cheap (really cheap flimsy TJMaxx nasty cheap) pans to cook in.

The kicker is that when you look up (above the butcher block island) she's got a brand new full set of All-Clad hanging there collecting dust because she and her husband don't want to get them all mucked up because then they won't look nice.

Sometimes I want to break in there and fry up a skillet full of bacon, cook a hollandaise in the saucier, boil up a big batch of spaghetti--give each pan a chance to give their best just to know they didn't live their lives hanging there going to waste.

Love my sister but man, the genetics just didn't fall the same way there.

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I cannot cook at my mother's house. Mind you, these are the pans and knives I learned on. Now, whenever I so much as scramble an egg, I ruin it. Even my sons have noticed! Her electirc burners heat irregularly. At the beach, her gas doesn't seem to have enough btu's. She has one or two nice pans but that's all. Her really nice knives all need serious sharpening upon arrrival. Plus, I always get in trouble because she seems to buy a lot of regional food stuff which seems to cook up differently. Needless to say, we try to eat out!!

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I've cut/mangled onions with a butter knife, in the effort to cook at someone else's house. Not even so much as a nasty ol' steak knife out of that Walmart knife block. That was pretty rough. Aside from bachelor quarters, though, I'm okay to improvise almost anywhere.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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What you all are experiencing applies to almost anything. I can play a certain piano, but not all of them work the same.

My dad the carpenter always said "The right tools for the right job".

I tried cooking at a friends house with an electric stove, and the results were mediocre at best. The same meal for the same people at my house was the raving suggestion by them to make the meal for them when we were at their house visiting.

I can play my guitar, but it takes time to adjust to someone else's.

A new cooking utensil, even in my own home, takes a bit of time to get to "know".

And then there are the environmental considerations. General outdoor humidity. Bread just doesn't rise when it rains. Bread made in a house with a humidifier just isn't the same as bread made in my non-humidified house.

Flour, as an ingredient, just isn't the same from one batch to another.

I could go on and on, but since its almost Easter, I wouldn't want anyone to confuse me with a bunny! :)

doc

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Talk about adapting...

In about 2 months, we will be moving out of NYC to a house in the suburbs. The house has a really big, beautiful kitchen which I am very excited about, but (and this is a big but) there is an electric cooktop stove. I've never really used an electric stove before -- I've always had gas. Everyone keeps saying "you'll get used to it", but I shudder at the thought.

On the plus side, there is a double wall oven, which will be nice for entertaining and holidays.

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Cooking at friends houses sometimes involves turning up with a big bag full of pans and a knife roll - while it can cause some raised eyebrows [at least the first time] the increased 'comfort level' is usually worth it. That's not to deny the joy to be had in just winging it, and trying to make something tasty out of the 'found' ingredients. Cooking with 'found' utensils has rarely brought me that same pleasure :rolleyes:

As a last line of defence from the spatulas masquerading as knives in friends houses I carry one of these (the knife, not the silly tweezers). Not ideal, but better than trying to fillet fish with a butter-knife :smile:

[Good luck with the electric range Cleo - having grown up in the UK using gas I've never come to love electric ranges, and after far too many years of procrastination we're in the process of finally installing a decent gas range :biggrin: ]

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[Good luck with the electric range Cleo - having grown up in the UK using gas I've never come to love electric ranges, and after far too many years of procrastination we're in the process of finally installing a decent gas range  :biggrin: ]

We think there's a slim chance that we could convert to gas, but we're not exactly sure at this point. I certainly hope so!

Edited by Cleo (log)
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