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Cookware That Really Works


Jay Francis
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Recently, I have been to several wedding and have had the opportunity to view the Bridal Registries at Sur La Table, Williams Sonoma, Birdbath and Beyond, etc. As I was reviewing the wish lists, I found myself thinking, "No, you really don't want that, you should be asking for this..." a lot. And it occurred to me that I was in a good position to make some notes on what really have worked for me over the years.

1. Knives. I fancy buying an expensive knife, but in reality, I have gotten by with an 8" Wusthoff chef's knife, a Chicago Cutlery 8", a Chinese cleaver, and a restaurant supply 12" for upwards of 15 years. Knife sharpening has always been a problem. I use a Chef's Choice manual sharpener.

2. Pots. Definitely a 12" or 14" seasoned cast iron pan for all high heat applications. Next, I splurged and bought an All Clad 2 quart saucier with lid for making sauces and candies. Everything else is teflon lined. Sur la Table has an incredible offer on a 2.5 quart Autograph 2 Anolon saucier right now for $20 including a whisk. The teflon lined pots that I own are by Circulon. They are first generation, flimsy, and basically junk. But they have a lifetime warranty on them and I haven't had to exchange them yet. The newer Circulon seems more heavy duty.

3. Cuisinart. Seems like they just do better engineering than others. Definitely a Cuisinart food processor is the way to go, and I would buy mine used on ebay, so as to get one of the classic square base models like a DLC-7. The Cuisinart blender, with its very wide base is fantastic.

4. Coffee Grinders. I've had several years of continued success with the grinder that Starbucks sells for about $80. I had a Melitta before it and it could not grind with any precision.

5. Silpat. Love it. Although I did have to exchange one of my first ones under warranty because the silicone disappeared in one section. Might have been because I exceeded the recommended heat level though.

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Mixers. Well, by default it looks like the KitchenAid artisan mixer is the defacto standard. I own and extra bowl which is highly recommended. I bought the attachments for meat grinding (never use) and the plastic cover for keeping flour and stuff from spraying out of the bowl (never use).

Dishwashers. We own a Bosch dishwasher that is incredibly quiet. However, if yo buy a Bosch, be sure to get the extended warranty. We have had two breakdowns that would have cost a LOT of money if we hadn't had the warranty.

Stoves: Due to space limitation, we own a Jenn Air that sucks the smoke and fumes down draft to the floor. Basically, the Jenn Air doesn't work as far as venting odors is concerned. Anything higher than a sauce pan, won't have its vapors sucked in, plus, the suction pulls heat away from the burners, so that everything takes longer to cook. The grill attachment that comes with it is junk, doesn't work. The oven is superb, both conventional and convection are precise and trouble free. So if you are buying a Jenn Air so you can grill meat inside the house, or control odors, forget it. If you are buying to have a great oven, this is a very good stove. Also the venting action works perfectly for the oven, just not the stove tops.

I have gone back to cooking my smelly foods outside on my propane burner with my wok, when I don't want the house to smell up.

Vacu-Vin. The company that makes the wine corks also makes containers for storing food, that you can remove air from. I couldn't find any locally and ended up buying a large supply directly from the company. I use my flat containers and my cylindrical containers weekly for storing everything.

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Oxo Measuring Cups. 1 Cup and 2 Cup Sizes. These are the ones where you view the measurement when you look down into them. They really work and have become indispensible. I also fall back on a 8 cup Pyrex measuring bowl regularly.

Garlic Press. Oxo makes several different ones. I saw one of their fancier ones used on America's Test Kitchen, the one where you can remove the piece that the garlic is pressed through for easy cleaning, and it is excellent. I no longer chop garlic at all. This is the dull silver and black design.

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3. Cuisinart. Seems like they just do better engineering than others. Definitely a Cuisinart food processor is the way to go, and I would buy mine used on ebay, so as to get one of the classic square base models like a DLC-7. The Cuisinart blender, with its very wide base is fantastic.

I have to disagree with you on this one. This issue got discussed some here.

CA has made their feed tube design so "safe" that it is completely impractical. A quote from my post:

The KA has a simple feed tube design like the old CA did. I had inherited my mother's CA and then the original, oh so simple lid broke. I had to replace it with a new one that doesn't allow you to do a continuous feed, particularly necessary for any sensible use of the graters and such. The KA I looked at at Sur Le Table didn't have any such nonsense. I ran into this lady at SLT who just happened to be a regional buyer or something for their small appliances. She discussed the situation with me at great length with the two units side by side. She agreed that CA had a nutty design and that SLT sells a lot of KA to folks that got frustrated with the CA, gave it to the kids, and bought a KA.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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3.  Cuisinart.  Seems like they just do better engineering than others.  Definitely a Cuisinart food processor is the way to go, and I would buy mine used on ebay, so as to get one of the classic square base models like a DLC-7.  The Cuisinart blender, with its very wide base is fantastic.

How can you call the classic square base DLC-7 better engineering, when they stole it from Robot Coupe (France) and had it made in Japan?

Robot originally designed the product and sold it in Europe before Cuisinart got the rights for the U.S. market in the early 70's. After a disagreement with Robot, they stole the design and went abroad for manufacturing. Robot is cuurently with Kitchenaid, for better or worse.

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Sur la Table has an incredible offer on a 2.5 quart Autograph 2 Anolon saucier right now for $20 including a whisk.

Do you know if this available online or in store? I looked online and couldn't find it on their site...

I agree it sounds like an incredible deal.

Tastes pretty good, needs more salt

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I still vote for the classic Cuisinart food processors. The ones I have don't have those fancy safety feed tubes (the benefit of buying used). I have the old non locking design and also one of the tops that just has the hole in the top.

Going on 20 years with my Cuisinart DLC-7 with no maintenance problems.

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For me, a good thermometer is an essential tool. After going through a few dial type "instant read" thermometers (which never died - I just didn't like them) and about 5 or 6 probe type electric thermometers (which go bad the instant any liquid graces the crimp), I gave up and got one of these bad boys . Best kitchen investment ever.

It's fast enough that you can get a pretty accurate temperature profile in seconds. You push it in a little, take a reading, push it in a little more get another reading, etc. Of course, you can do the same thing with any thermometer, but the Thermopen makes it practical. You can easily take 10 measurements in the time it would normally take for 1. Maybe it's the engineer in me, but I love mentally mapping out temperature gradients of roasted chicken thighs.:biggrin: I thought I would miss being able to leave the probe in the oven/oil/whatever, with the display at a safe distance, but it takes measurements so fast that it's not an issue. For all practical purposes, it's instant. Put it in the oil, pause for two beats, take reading. Accuracy has been excellent so far - it's lasted far longer than any other thermometer.

Anyway, I can't recommend the Thermapen highly enough. It's a great gadget. I'm actually kinda pissed that it's recently started popping up in cooking catalogs and stores. Do you have any idea how many hours of googling I put in to find these things in the first place? :biggrin:

...
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Stick blenders -- great for emulsifying salad dressings, pureeing soups and sauces without having to clean up a blender or fp, etc. One of those things that makes great sense when you think of it.

Cast iron - simple, cheap, effective. Not for everything, but good to have on hand, and certainly cheaper than All-Clad or Calphalon

A decent chef's knife that's kept sharp. Most of my non-cooking friends don't even have one and so try to do their all their chopping with 5-inch serrated knives.

whether it's a CA or a KA, a good-sized food processor is well worth the price.

Pyrex - 8x8, 9x13 baking dishes, pie plates (at least one)

A good whisk

Wooden spoons in various sizes

Oven mitts and/or pot holders - again, I'm surprised that many of my non-cooking friends don't have even one of these and just rely on dishtowels (and most home cooks don't have the asbestos fingers of a professional chef)

Bowls in various sizes - more uses than I can think of for mixing, serving, and storing, either glass or stainless

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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Bravo, John. I was hoping that others would pick up this thread and post about favorite products.

By the way, since I use my thermometers for candy making too, what is the upper temperature limit of your thermapen?

Thanks.

Jay

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For actual cookware, these are the results from Consumer Reports to which I am a subscriber:

Nonstick sets. The Calphalon Commercial Nonstick, $500 for 10 pieces, is great for a demanding cook who's willing to pay a premium. The set did everything well, and has companion pieces you can add as needed. However, it's heavy. Simply Calphalon Nonstick, $200 for 8 pieces, and Cook's Essentials, $125 for 10 pieces, weigh less and are better choices for cooks on a budget. Of the three, only Cook's Essentials claims to be dishwasher-safe.

Uncoated sets. Best of this type was the Wolfgang Puck Bistro Collection. It has 20 pieces (including a 6-piece tool set and a nonstick frypan) and costs $150. It's oven-safe up to 425˚ F. Other very good sets include the Farberware, $250 for 10 pieces, Tools of the Trade, $250 for 12 pieces, and Magnalite, $115 for 8 pieces.

I own the Calphalon Commercial Nonstick and I love it.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I am very passionate about (and protective of ) Wusthof knives. Knife preferences are a personal thing, but I realy like the heft of the Wustof. I have an 8 and 10 inch chefs knife, a Santoku and a pairing knife.

I love my Le Creuset enamled cookware. I have various sizes and use them for the many braised dishes and daubes that I cook.

Lodge cast iron dutch oven. For stews that require the meat to be browned first, cast iron is much more effective than enamel lined pots. The one draw back is that it is harder to determine the color of the fond at the bottom of a black pot as opposed to the white enamel of a Le Creuset pot.

All my pots and pans are All-Clad. That sounds expensive, however, I buy them all from Cookware & More, in Flemington, NJ, which is a direct factory outlet for All-Clad. They sell factory irregulars, which amount to nothing more than very minor visual imperfections (small scratches). It is amazing, they are much cheaper than what you would buy at retail (33% off, sometimes more), and the imperfections would occur after one use of a brand new pot or pan. This is the web site

Cookware & More

Wooden spoons, I have many.

Cooking tongs, incredibly useful and versatile, I always have them out.

Chinois. I find it essential for straining stocks and sauces.

Cheese cloth. Cheap and key for stocks.

A flame tamer. It insures that I can get the slghtest simmer for my stocks, stews and soups.

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If it looks like the newlyweds are starting a kitchen from nothing, I like to give a good general-purpose cookbook like How to Cook Everything or the CIA's Cooking at Home.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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How can you call the classic square base DLC-7 better engineering, when they stole it from Robot Coupe (France) and had it made in Japan?

Robot originally designed the product and sold it in Europe before Cuisinart got the rights for the U.S. market in the early 70's.  After a disagreement with Robot, they stole the design and went abroad for manufacturing.  Robot is cuurently with Kitchenaid, for better or worse.

  • Manufacturing and engineering are related but separate processes, all the more so if they are done in different countries. Regardless, I'm not aware that Japan has a reputation for manufacturing (or designing, for that matter) shoddy products.
  • The Robot Coupe technology was indeed licensed in 1971. But the Robot Coupe was a commercial design, and almost completely unsuitable for domestic use. Before putting it on the market, Sontheimer had to re-engineer almost every part. It's not possible to "steal" your own work.
  • Robot Coupe still markets commercial equipment under their own name; their North American base is in Jackson, Mississippi, and has been for thirty years. I can find no evidence that they are in any way associated with KitchenAid, unless Robot Coupe manufactures KA food processors. This is a common practice, and not consistently correlated with product quality. But even if they are, KitchenAid has an excellent reputation in consumer products, despite some recent issues.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Anyway, I can't recommend the Thermapen highly enough. It's a great gadget.

I've been thinking about getting a new thermometer; the 'instant read' thermometer I have now is hardly that. How is the Thermopen with hot liquids?

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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Tongs

Wooden spatula

Pastry cloth and roller cover for pie dough

Second the motion on a good coffee grinder - lowest price grinder that is a good long term investment would be Starbucks Barista if its on sale for $80 or so or the Solis Maestro at about $100 (the Barista is actually the old Solis 166 nut the Maestro has a few advantages). For espresso a Solis Maestro Plus at about $150 is lowest acceptable entry level.

Stainless steel bowls

Multiple plastic cutting boards to use in addition to the big wooden cutting board

Swing-way brand manual can opener - they are the best and skip the Junior model - its not worth saving a buck or two

Can someone convince me what I need a stand mixer? I have an immersion blender for basic whipping and blending and do my limited dough mixing and kneading by hand. How often do you use your KA stand mixer and for what purposes?

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I've been thinking about getting a new thermometer; the 'instant read' thermometer I have now is hardly that. How is the Thermopen with hot liquids?

It works very well. Boiling water comes in at 210 or 211 or so, which is probably about right given that I'm maybe 1000 ft above sea level. Higher temperature liquids (oil) seem to be accurate as well, but I don't own anything to compare it to. It doesn't have much mass in the tip, so it comes up to temperature very quickly, and it doesn't need to be very deep to get a good reading - only 1/4" or so is all that's required.

I think that's what you were asking. If not, I guess I haven't tried boiling the case... I don't think the outcome would be good.

There really isn't much I would improve. It's a model of brutal simplicity. Maybe a little smaller display so you could slim up the case. The numbers are HUGE! Or maybe added ballast to make it feel more substantial - for 80 bones it should feel like there's something in it. But the actual performance is superb.

...
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What is a flame tamer?

It is a round peice of metal that you place over your burner. It absorbs and distributes the heat so you can obtain a perfect simmer.

This is the one I have

Flame Tamer

Thanks! This could eliminate some of the cursing that goes on in the kitchen.

Of course the downside of this is that there will be less reason to replace that nasty, horrible, unpredictable piece of garbage stove that I have now.... did I mention that I really hate this stove???? :wacko:

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Not sure if the original question included appliances, but:

Ditto on the Bosch dishwasher for being quiet. Don't have the extended waranty, though, so I'll cross my fingers. No breakdowns yet.

DCS 5-burner range with convection oven has been great, except for a disappointing broiler. Weber in the backyard gets that done.

I must have 6 different kinds of pots and pans, and like All-Clad the best for all-around performance. For nonstick I buy cheap $20 pans at the kitchen supply store. They all get dinged up no matter how much you pay.

Don't think anyone has mentioned kitched towels. I keep a drawerful on hand (literally). With 20 or so around you never mind grabbing a fresh one. That and bleach water in a spray bottle keeps everything clean (especially when cutting lots of meat, fish, etc.).

Definitely use the Kitchen Aid for baking, grinding meat, and making sausages.

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What is a flame tamer?

It is a round peice of metal that you place over your burner. It absorbs and distributes the heat so you can obtain a perfect simmer.

This is the one I have

Flame Tamer

Thanks! This could eliminate some of the cursing that goes on in the kitchen.

Of course the downside of this is that there will be less reason to replace that nasty, horrible, unpredictable piece of garbage stove that I have now.... did I mention that I really hate this stove???? :wacko:

Wow, thirty bucks for a slab of aluminum. These things used to be much less. I wonder why the price has increased so much.

I have one that I "made" , sort of.....

One of the department stores had a table of "clearance" items, much of it damaged merchandise, including a large all clad skillet with the copper/aluminum layers in the bottom and a big V-shaped dent in one side and one of the handle rivets was loose.

I took the thing to one my my neighbors, who is a welder and he cut the sides off then ground the rough edges down and now I have an 11 inch almost round (a slightly flattened spot on one side) heat distributor. I can put three of the little butter warmer pans on it with the flame on very low.

Oh yeah, the pan cost me $2.00. I told the sales lady I was going to make a planter out of it......

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Stainless steel bowls

Multiple plastic cutting boards to use in addition to the big wooden cutting board

Can someone convince me what I need a stand mixer? I have an immersion blender for basic whipping and blending and do my limited dough mixing and kneading by hand. How often do you use your KA stand mixer and for what purposes?

Ditto on the bowls and multiple "all-but-disposable" cutting boards. I bought a ton of each at the local dollar stores during my first year at school, and they've become stalwarts of my kitchen. So, also, are silicon spatulas. I really like those, and use them for a lot of things I used to use wooden spoons for. I like 'em for things like hollandaise or creme anglaise, so that I can make a nice clean sweep along the bottom of the bowl. Saves straining later (I alternate, of course, with the whisk).

As for the KitchenAid mixer, I am not wholly satisfied with mine...I find it useless for anything larger than a single loaf of yeast dough...but still wouldn't be without it now. I have tendonitis in both elbows and a significant amount of arthritis, and while I can still challenge all comers in whisking a mayonnaise I'd sooner not bother. Meringues, especially Italian; nice light buttercreams, choux paste, genoises, and similar preparations: all are much easier in the KA. And let's not forget brioche! I sometimes appreciate the emotional therapy of a lengthy kneading session, but usually I just want the finished product.

I know there are several savoury items I use it for too, but they are eluding my sleep-deprived brain at the moment. I'll come back to this, when I can think of them. I know I use it for pureeing beans, because I don't have a food processor and my mortar and pestle are too small.

On a semi-related note, I found an offbeat appliance at a garage sale last week. It is a Moulinex "Jeanette"; essentially a light-duty meat grinder with attachments for shredding, grating, and slicing vegetables (a motorized box grater, if you will). I can see potato pancakes and kartoffel-kloesse being more frequent in my household, this fall and winter!

It's kind of an odd little thing, but I think Jeanette and I will have some fun together. At least until I get a food processor.

“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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I gave up on KitchenAid mixers after burning out the third motor on one of the 525 w, supposedly pro/heavy duty.

I have a larger very old Hobart but it stands so high that it is really a pain to add ingredients and always having to stop it to scrape down the sides, also bread dough constantly will crawl up the dough hook.

I bought an AEG made by Electrolux of Sweden. It is now marketed in the U.S. as either the Electrolux Assistant or the DLX-2000

DLX-/AEG

I have mentioned it on another thread. It does all I ask of it, including mixing and kneading Struan bread dough which is very dense, similar to rye, and the KA stalled every time I tried to use it.

I have arthritis in my hands and can't knead by hand the way I used to.

It comes with a dough hook but I have found that the roller/scraper action kneads the dough much as it would be kneaded by hand. The open bowl, with no overhead machine, makes it very easy to add ingredients and the lower bowl is much easier to use.

I read many descriptions of this machine on the Bread-Bakers list and how much those owners liked the way it worked prior to my making the purchase.

It has a separate poly bowl with whisk-type beaters that does a beautifuly job on egg whites, whipped cream, etc.

It also cleans up easily.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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