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Living with a small kitchen: cookware [Sep. 19th, 2011|08:34 am]

The subtitle of this entry should be "Or how I justify owning 7 skillets."

Because let's get right to the confession. I do. Here they are:

Scale is a little hard to comprehend in this photo, but the two skillets at the top are what serve as average large skillets in most households: 12" ones. The cast iron one to their left is a monstrous 15"-er. When I get it out, it triggers a vision of cowboys on the Goodnight-Loving Trail, driving cattle while Cookie and Stumpy fry up a mess o' beans. It doesn't appear to belong in a home kitchen, even when I'm using it.

So why do I own it? Because it's a terrific size for heating red hot and flash-cooking flat breads. And it can handle vast quantities of bacon. As an example, last night I remembered that I had a roasting chicken in the fridge that needed to be cooked, but I didn't feel like roast chicken. So I quartered it, and browned the seasoned pieces in some bacon fat. I removed the pieces and sauteed chopped onions and mushrooms (portabella and rehydrated porcini) until the onions were carmelizing. Then I was able to push the veg to one side of the pan and make a roux in the other half. Added the rehydrating liquid and chicken broth and mixed it all back up, then kept throwing in herbs and spices until I was happy with the results, added the chicken back, slid the whole thing into the oven for 45 minutes and served with rice. I couldn't fit that whole chicken into a 12" skillet, and I couldn't have gotten the even sear on the meat with stainless steel. Cast iron transfers heat to its outer edges beautifully, and cooks more evenly than any other metal. In fact, if pressed I would argue that I need one more skillet - a 12" cast iron one to complete my collection.

As I said at the beginning of this series, an argument can be made that all a kitchen really needs is a 12" skillet and a stock pot. Yet I will staunchly defend and protect my ownership of all these. Because in the last week, I have used each and every one of them at least once. In fact, last night alone I used both the small cast iron ones and the medium stainless steel one. The 12" All-Clad and the 12" off-brand skillets would seem to duplicate each other, but the All-Clad has sloping, saute-pan sides that make it good for meats and getting a good browning, while the deep one is great for things that simmer with a sauce. The smaller pans? I frequently end up using 2 or three of them at a time. And all the stainless steel pans nest together in the bottom drawer of the range, while the cast iron stack together nicely in a cabinet. I like the convenience of having them all.

If I get a 12" cast iron skillet, will I get rid of one of my other 12" stainless steel ones? Possibly, but cast iron does not like acidic foods, so I might keep them both around for tomato-based dishes. I mean, it's not hoarding if you actually use the items, right? Right??

(Note that I have no nonstick stovetop pans in my kitchen. I don't like nonstick surfaces, and find that there's nothing that sticks to my pans if they are properly cared for.)

Moving on, let's get all the confessions out of the way. I said you only need one stock pot, right? Well, I have 4:

Of course, others would argue that I have 5:

but I don't think the dutch oven really counts. I mean, I'm never going to boil water in it.

Though I might well use it for beef stew....

Anyway, I have what is, admittedly, an abundance of stock pots. But I do actually use all four. Part of it depends on the volume of what I'm cooking, part of it depends on the nature of what I'm cooking. The two furthest from the camera are stored at the back of the cabinet and don't see quite as much action, but if I'm cooking something that starts with a saute in the pot, I like their wider bottoms for that. And the furthest one back is much larger than the other three. I could probably live with just two if I have to, but none of them is simply taking up space and not being used.

Then there's sauce pans:

Here I will admit that the largest pan duplicates the use of the smallest stock pot and could probably go. But I find it hard to break up the set. The advice given on most sites is not to buy them as a set, and I think they are right. If an elephant showed up in my kitchen and stepped on my saucepans (what? it could happen), and I was replacing them with high quality, All-Clad pans, I would probably get just two in the middle sizes and call it good.

While we are in the neighborhood of the topic, a word about quality. You want it. Well-made pans will provide even heat and better performance. That being said, you can get along with pans you pick up at Target. Don't use not being able to afford All-Clad as an excuse not to cook. These off-brand pans have served me well for many years, and while I would gladly trade them for the shiny weight and quality of high-end pans, I'm not going to break the bank to replace them. After all, it gives Ferrett years of Christmas prezzies to get me!

Okay, enough with the pictures. Those are the workhorses of your kitchen. What else do you need? Here's my list of musts:

  • Cookie sheets/jellyroll pans - at least two good large ones. I prefer the ones with sides because they are more versatile than the flat pans

  • Baking pans - 8"x8", 9"x13", one of each will probably do unless you do a lot of entertaining or go to a lot of potlucks. From cakes to lasagnas, these are your ovenware pans. This is where I do have nonstick coatings. Avoid the pans with sharp, folded corners as food works its way into them and never comes out again.

  • Roasting pan - a large pan with a roasting rack will brown chickens and roasts nicely, and catch all the drippings to make lovely sauces. I consider it a necessity, but you can get my with a

  • Broiling pan - the enamel ones that look like they came with the oven are just fine.

Those will get you by in almost any situation. After that, it's a matter of space and interest whether you have such things as muffin tins, bread pans, casserole dishes, etc. I have such things, and they get relatively little use.

Next up: gadgetry!

Crossposting from Dreamwidth now. Sigh. If LJ won't let you comment, you can comment here: http://zoethe.dreamwidth.org/784286.html?mode=reply:

[User Picture]From: ba1126
2011-09-19 01:18 pm (UTC)
I love this post! I love my pans! Hubby loves HIS pans! We have a "baker's rack with 5 wrought iron shelves that hold all the pans, baking sheets, sieves, mixers, etc.! Thanks to my son's love for Alton Brown, I have learned how to clean and season cast iron, so we have several of those in the collection, too!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-19 01:24 pm (UTC)
Having eliminated all available walls in my kitchen, such a rack is not a possibility for me. But I do love my pans.

Cast iron is the bomb.
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[User Picture]From: wdomburg
2011-09-19 02:33 pm (UTC)
We have the same dutch oven. :)

I have more cookware than most people and still find myself wanting to fill out the collection. My collection is mostly Calphalon Tri-ply Stainless (two 6" tapas pans, two 8" saute pans, two 12" saute pans, 12" stir-fry pan, 14" "everyday" pan (think double-handled saute), 1.5 quart sauce pan, 2.5 quart sauce pan, 3 quart "chef's pan" (think sauce pan w/ sloped sides), 6 quart stock pot) and Lodge (8" skillet, 10" grill pan, 10" chicken fryer, 7 quart dutch oven).

I envy your monstrous 15"-er and I currently lack any deep skillets. And if I got those, I'm sure I would find something else to want. Big cast iron griddle, maybe. :)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-19 03:58 pm (UTC)
Oh, I definitely still want more pans. The extra deep chicken fryer appeals to me. Lehman's Country Store in Amish Country, with their full range of Lodge products, is a kind of porn shop visit. I try to control myself, though.
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[User Picture]From: oceansedge
2011-09-19 02:40 pm (UTC)
Cookware geeks... I loves em...
2 sets of Logastina Padova cookware (got em onsale for a fabulous price 70% off) ... I love these pots.

12 skillets...one 12" cast iron (I'd kill for a 14"), one 10" cast iron, one 12" stainless steel copper bottomed saute pan, two 12 inch ceramic non stick saute pans, two 12" ceramic non stick skillets, (because I can't use cast iron on the glass top stove, and the SS just doesn't get hot enough to give me a good non stick...), one stainless steel wok pan, one enameled cast iron 6" skillet, one stainless steel 6" skillet, one 10" crepe pan, and one 15" paella pan
3 stock pots: one 12 litre, one 15 litre, and a 8 litre canning kettle. 6 crock pots, 5 various shaped enameled cast iron cookware, more pyrex glass bakeware than one can shake a stick at, many many casserole dishes, 4 large roasters, muffin pan, cake tins, springform pans, cookie sheets, ...... I've lost count of, and two kitchen aid mixers... and still I want more (need a mini cheesecake tin, and a proper tart tin-with the removable bottom, and a angel food cake tin)

I once saw a house with a walk in china cabinet off the main kitchen, I lusted, and then added it to the plans for my dream kitchen (along with the AGA, and the gas cooktop, and the wall ovens, and the wood fired brick bake oven)... must have bakeware storage!

Edited at 2011-09-19 02:41 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-19 04:02 pm (UTC)
House hunting with friends here in Cleveland led me into many houses with butler's pantries. Oh, how I lusted after those. The problem was that they were built in houses where the kitchens are very much closed off from the rest of the living space, and I don't like that part.

While I'm glad to learn that I'm not the only one with lots of skillets and pans, I fear that you are on the verge of needing an intervention. ;-)
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[User Picture]From: mariadkins
2011-09-19 04:12 pm (UTC)
i have a 12" iron skillet that mostly gets used for baking cornbread, pineapple upside down cakes, and the occasional cobbler.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-19 04:33 pm (UTC)
Good uses for it. My mom used to make pineapple upside down cake. Mmmm.
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From: anonymousalex
2011-09-19 05:30 pm (UTC)
Still enjoying this series. I find it interesting how personal these things can be, and you can't really say generically what ought to be in a kitchen. You make good use of seven skillets, while I generally get by with three. On the other hand, we have if not more, then larger stock pots--mainly for all the fruit processing that must go on when one has trees. The canning pot doesn't count as a stock pot, right?

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-19 07:30 pm (UTC)
Canning is another beast all its own. But if the canning pot could double for a stock pot, that's handy.

I have wanted a ginormous stock pot, but really have use for one less than annually, so have refrained, since I won't use an aluminum one of the others are too expensive for so little use.
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[User Picture]From: phillipalden
2011-09-19 06:51 pm (UTC)
You should see our kitchen. In addition to tons of pots and pans, we have; a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, (with pasta making attachment,) a bread maker, an ice cream maker, (with its own internal compressor for freezing) - along with numerous other machines and tools.

We can cook almost anything from scratch, though right now we rarely do.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-19 08:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, people definitely have more pans than I do, but my focus is on what you can get by with in a small kitchen.

I do want a pasta maker....
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[User Picture]From: dacuteturtle
2011-09-19 07:04 pm (UTC)
Many years back, I took a moratorium on buying computer equipment. Instead, I dedicated a year, and $50/month, to buying good cookware. All Cuisnart, vintage mid-90's. I still live with fruits of that labor.

Our mainstays are three saucepans (small to medium-big), and two frying pans (10" and 12"). Other stuff does get used, but not nearly so much.

I will gloat about our 1950's waffle iron.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-19 08:28 pm (UTC)
That's a good investment. Mine aren't bad, they just aren't...elegant. But I do love cast iron.

I've often wished I could have my mom's waffle iron.
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[User Picture]From: merle_
2011-09-19 08:18 pm (UTC)
Are those all of the pots and pans, or all of the frequently used ones? I probably have that many in total (not moving in a decade and a half helps things build up) but have only a few in each category that I use.

Pans: one tiny 8" non-stick (eggs), one huge non-stick (tomato things), one cast iron. The last two live on the stove.

Two soup pots / large pasta boiling like things. Well, three, but the third is huge and only comes out once a year for making vegetable stock.

One iron skillet. Two sauce pans, one small and one medium (one will be drying on the stove at any moment). One roasting pan that gets occasional use.

Everything else is stuffed in the backs of cabinets. I don't even use my wok these days! Time for another trip for a good will dropoff...
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-19 08:30 pm (UTC)
That's all the pots and pans. Nothing hiding out in the closet. I don't even own a wok anymore.
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[User Picture]From: delosd
2011-09-19 09:08 pm (UTC)
I second the motion on getting good use of of occasional cheap cookware. I have a couple of little Mirro aluminum non-stick saucepans (probably about 8") that I drag out when I need a couple more pans on the burners to heat liquids or a small amount of vegetables. I've had these things for more than 25 years!

And, oh yes, the joys of storing stacking, multiple-sized skillets in small places! :)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-19 10:36 pm (UTC)
All that old cookware stuff that I used to have went with the house in the divorce, along with my Kitchen Aid, my cast iron, and the good flatware my parents had given us.

Can you tell I was basically in "flee" mode?
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[User Picture]From: xpioti
2011-09-19 09:17 pm (UTC)
I have a cast iron wok. When making Chinese food (from scratch) at home, there is no competition for my cast iron wok. And I'll get rid of my other two pieces of cast iron -- an 11" pan and a Dutch oven -- when they dig them out of my grave. :)

My theory on judging the quality of cookware is amusing: if I can use it as a weapon, it's allowed in my kitchen. (Never diss my measuring cups, I can do some serious damage with 'em. ;D)

You're not a hoarder if you can see the floor. *virtuous nod* Hubby was watching shows about hoarders for a while, trying to encourage me to get rid of stuff; it didn't work. :)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-19 10:39 pm (UTC)
I've thought about a cast iron wok, but I really don't have space for one. I refuse to have pots and pans that live solely on or in the range. Because they I would be continually looking for somewhere else to put them while I was cooking.

I tried watching Hoarders and it made me actively gag.
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[User Picture]From: finding_helena
2011-09-19 09:46 pm (UTC)
It's not hoarding if you use them all.

This is making me wonder if I should get a cast-iron pan, but it seems that most of what I make in a skillet involves either tomatoes or cheese sauce. I dunno.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-19 10:41 pm (UTC)
If you do tomatoes in it, you have to be ready to re-season the daylights out of it every time. On the other hand, if you are iron deficient tomatoes in cast iron will leach a lot of iron out of the pan and into the food.
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[User Picture]From: kisekinotenshi
2011-09-24 09:55 pm (UTC)
I'm just gonna admit here that I'm afraid of cast iron. I have no idea how to handle it. I have learned the hard way that non-stick pans are an ass and I will never buy another one (stainless steel FOREVAH). And I miss having a proper oven that I can put a real baking pan into. I had to buy mini-pans to use in my current oven.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-25 01:20 am (UTC)
Cast iron is the easiest thing in the world. They take hardly any cleanup, and they always look impressive. You shouldn't be scared.

My first house had a half-sized oven, and I produced a Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixin's from it. I love my current, capacious oven, but don't let a small one put you off!
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[User Picture]From: naath
2011-09-26 12:38 pm (UTC)
Nice cookware, I haz an envy.

What's the difference between a stockpot and a saucepan? I has an ignorant too. (I'm pretty sure, from the pictures, that we have saucepans but no stockpots).
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-09-26 01:31 pm (UTC)
Stockpot doesn't have a long pan handle, and is generally bigger than all but the largest saucepan.

Remember that this is the accumulation of many, many years. At one point I had a dented, aluminum nonstick skillet and a couple equally dented saucepans.
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