Cookware Conundrum

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As a newly-engaged bride-to-be I must admit that I have already given extensive thought to my registry. Sure, I may have chosen the china and silver and perhaps the fiancé has chosen a must-have electronic or two, but one thing I just cannot resolve is my—I mean, our—cookware. It’s the classic dilemma: Le Creuset vs. Staub. What is the modern young couple to do? First, I hit the blogs.

I found that Le Creuset seems to be the more popular choice. This would be hard to deny even after just a few seasons on the wedding circuit. Bridal showers abound with Le Creuset boxes with shiny, often brightly colored, bakeware within. But, being someone who is not necessarily concerned with what stocks the kitchens of my contemporaries as much as what stocks the kitchens of my favorite chefs (professional or domestic) I move on to the facts.

Both appear to be comparable. Le Creuset has a slightly higher price tag but stays within a $50 range of Staub.

The Basics:

• Staub is considerably heavier and has a dark, cast-iron enamel surface that is supposedly the secret weapon for browning and searing like the pros. In fact, Staub was created with the pros in mind so the high quality performance comes as no surprise.

• Likewise, Le Creuset’s ever-classic shiny enameled cast iron interiors are beloved by America’s favorite TV chef personalities. Its lighter materials require a bit less physical exertion—especially for a petite cook like myself.

• While braising or searing beware: Your Le Creuset cookware may start to show signs of wear eventually. I don’t view that as a bad thing necessarily, kind of like a worn in pair of leather boots.

• The lid of Staub’s products contain self-basting spikes that help drip juices back into the pot making moistness your last concern.

• Don’t fear the ouch-factor: Le Creuset’s handles take a long time to heat up.

• Both products are dishwasher safe but, hand washing is recommended.

My Thoughts on the Cookware Conundrum:
First of all, I think it is impossible to go wrong. But, if you are not averse to a little variety, take a few of both. I hear compromise is key when it comes to marriage so why not start in the kitchen, right?

Nonstick, Cast Iron, Stainless Steel: Which Cooking Pan Is Right for the Job?

W hen you're ready to whip up your morning omelette or prepping your Chimichurri Marinated Fajitas for dinner, which pan are you using? Of course it's a saucepan, but what is it made from? Cast iron for heat? Perhaps nonstick cookware for easy cleaning? The cooking pan conundrum is a question that wracks the brain of every home chef. When in doubt, many of us are guilty of ignoring pan type altogether and opting for size. Well now it's time to say 'no more' to using the wrong pan for the job and start cooking right with a little help from the folks over at Tasty. Discussing the three main varieties of pans, Tasty shows us how to use our cookware set properly in everyday cooking.

As a beginner home cook, you're no doubt familiar with nonstick pans. They are super easy to clean and seem to tackle almost every meal with their handy non-stick coating. Unfortunately, these fry pans with a smooth cooking surface don't fit all meals. Nonstick is best for your delicate dishes, like getting a nice golden coloring on your savory grilled cheese or delicate flaky fish.

Leave the high heat to the beloved cast iron skillet. Versatile and durable, use in it on the stove, in the oven, or on top of the outdoor grill. Stainless steel cookware, on the other hand, is your best bet when it comes to tackling a range of cooking from baked goods to using with a double boiler for melting chocolate. It may sound intimidating, but with the right amount of oil and heat, you can use your pan like a chef.

Each pan has its own benefits and drawbacks when it comes to cooking. While your basic grill pan or sauté pan is the perfect size, the material is more important than ever. The important thing to consider is what meal you are preparing, and how to appropriately take care of your cookware.

Should You Avoid Aluminum and Teflon Cookware?

I've been looking at cookware lately, trying to figure out which ones are the healthiest and which ones are energy-efficient. While scouring the web for info, I found that aluminum pans and Teflon-coated cookware have some health concerns attached to them. Are these health concerns warranted? Here is what I found out:

Aluminum's Link to Alzheimer's Disease

In order to learn about this particular connection, I went to the Alzheimer's Society's fact sheet. They say that the link between Alzheimer's disease and aluminum is circumstantial and nothing conclusive has been proven. I also learned that the average Canadian ingests 10 milligrams of aluminum per day. I'd assume its roughly the same for other North Americans. The World Health Organization claims that we can ingest up to 50 milligrams of aluminum per day with no adverse effects.

Also, read this TreeHugger article written by Helen Suh Macintosh professor of environmental health at Harvard University. Basically, she says that the aluminum found in pots and pans isn't really that dangerous and that the amount of aluminum we absorb from cooking with aluminum pots is only 3-6 milligrams. But, she goes on to say that storing acidic foods in aluminum pots and pans is likely to leach more aluminum into the food than usual and not to store foods in such a way. Aluminum, like copper or steel pans, shouldn't be used if there are scrapes or gouges in the pan's cooking surface. It looks like aluminum isn't that dangerous, but worries still linger.

NOTE: Anodized aluminum pans can cook acidic food without any of the leaching problems that regular aluminum has.

Teflon/Non-Stick's Health Conundrum

Non-stick pans are another story. When heated to temperatures of 360 degrees Celsius, (685.4 Fahrenheit for us folks in the United States ) Teflon-coated pans will release perfluorooctanoic acid, a likely carcinogen. Not that people often cook at temperatures that high, but now you definitely shouldn't. Chemicals released by non-stick pans can cause the death of pet birds. It can also cause flu-like symptoms in humans. Teflon-pan makers have made a deal with the EPA to remove the poisonous chemicals from non-stick pans by 2010. Consumer Reports claims that the pans aren't that dangerous, because of the extreme temperatures needed to release the chemicals. You're more likely to start a fire than anything.

Note: Remember, if the Teflon coating in your pans is all scratched up, don't use them.

Although non-stick and aluminum get bad raps, they seem to be only mildly dangerous in certain circumstances. In my personal opinion, I'd rather use other types of materials to cook my food. Why take a risk? But I wouldn't turn down food cooked in non-stick or Aluminum cookware or any food, really.

To be a master chef—which material works best?

There are endless styles of cookware construction, each with their own benefits and downfalls. Focusing on the home chef, here’s a brief breakdown of today’s most popular styles. Consider the level of maintenance you’re willing to put up with as well as the general strengths and weaknesses associated with each cookware material.

Stainless steel – Sleek, beautiful, durable and nonreactive, stainless steel cookware is exceedingly convenient. It’s relatively easy to clean, complements nearly any style of décor and won’t impact food’s flavor like other reactive metal varieties.

On the downside? Stainless steel gets HOT. If you're used to cooking with cast, you're used to cranking up the heat. With stainless steel cookware, heat control is vital. You’ll need to practice a “low and slow” cooking mentally to ensure that you don’t burn your food or make a mess in your pans.

Cast iron – A fabulous farmhouse option, cast iron is quaint, classic, versatile and hard-wearing. Pans tend to be heavy but resist warping and scratching and can safely go in the oven. They also conduct heat very easily, offer non stick convenience and can be seasoned over time for flavor-infusing effect.

What’s not to like? Cast iron proves rather bulky, and in order to season pans properly, there’s a lot of maintenance involved.

Ceramic – This variety has experienced rising popularity in recent years as chefs seek cooking flexibility and low maintenance. Ceramic withstands extreme temperatures and conditions, performing seamlessly whether it’s inside the oven, atop a hot stove, spinning in the microwave or store in the refrigerator. Choose from a variety of vibrant colors.

What’s to worry about? In general, ceramic is durable but prone to cracking and complete destruction if dropped. Sets are also on the heavier side and may discolor your countertops upon rough contact.

Copper – Have a need for speed in the kitchen? Copper conducts heat fast, distributing and maintaining balanced temperatures quite consistently. This makes it advantageous if you braise meats, brown poultry or cook sauces often. Its chic metallic exterior is also oh-so-trendy.

Does pretty have problems? Yes. Copper is typically expensive, dents easily, may transfer a slight metal taste and requires tedious polishing to ensure it maintains its stunning color.

Carbon steel – A favorite of many professional chefs, carbon steel is a lesser-known cookware style boasting some serious benefits. As a mix of cast iron and stainless steel, these beauties are comparatively lightweight, offer non stick ease, provide even heat distribution and cost efficiency.

The disadvantages? Carbon steel can be fussy to maintain, especially if you choose to season the surface like you would a cast iron skillet. Also, you won’t be able to pop it in the dishwasher like other models.

Confident you can now make the right choice? With a savvy shopping approach, you’re sure to find the perfect cookware set to complement your unique cooking style.

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Illustrations: John Dykes (Sara Moulton and Christopher Kimball) Ross MacDonald (gnocchi, pasta water)

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Potatoes You Can Rely On

Properly made potato gnocchi—which should cook up tender and light—require breaking down hot boiled potatoes with a food mill or ricer. Even with the right equipment, it can be a fussy process that too often results in disappointingly pasty results. Looking for a shortcut, Jennifer H., of Chugiak, Alaska, asks whether it’s possible to replace the fresh potatoes with dried potato flakes.

We were dubious, but our research uncovered many gnocchi recipes that call for instant potato flakes (including one from Boston restaurateur Barbara Lynch). Turns out the flakes aren’t just a shortcut they also simplify the most common gnocchi conundrum: mastering the potato-to-flour ratio. When making gnocchi the traditional way, too little flour leads to gnocchi that dissolve in the cooking pot too much flour produces stodgy results. And getting the ratio right can be a guessing game because it depends on the water content of the potatoes, which varies. In our testing, we found that instant potato flakes easily and reliably produced the tender gnocchi we were after. To make, stir 1 cup (71 grams) instant potato flakes into 1 cup boiling water, then cool to room temperature. Add 1 lightly beaten egg, 1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, then gently hand-mix. From there, simply follow standard gnocchi protocol: Gently knead the dough on a floured counter just until smooth, then roll it out into a 1⁄2-inch-thick rectangle. Cut the dough into 1⁄2-inch strips, then roll each strip into a log. Cut each log into 1-inch pieces. Briefly boil the gnocchi in salted water, then drain on a wire cooling rack. And there you have it: the easiest potato gnocchi ever.

Flour Power

Among pizza- and pasta making aficionados, Italian Tipo 00 flour has a reputation for producing superior crusts and noodles. But many people ask why, what it is and how it differs from other flours.

In Italy, most flour is graded as either Tipo (Type) 2, 1, 0 or 00, an indication of how finely ground the flour is and how much of the bran and germ have been removed. For example, Tipo 2 is the coarsest, while Tipo 00 is ground to a baby-powder fineness. Though finer-textured, Tipo 00 has a protein content similar to that of all-purpose flour. Combined, these traits help Tipo 00 produce tender yet toothsome pizza and pasta. But we wanted to know how it performed in other varieties of baked goods. We prepared scones, shortbread and a basic yeasted boule with both flours. In our tests, we found that the finer-ground Tipo 00 hydrates far more easily than all-purpose flour, resulting in doughs that were far less sticky. With our bread, Tipo 00 flour produced a loaf that was nearly identical to our all-purpose loaf. However, with the pastries, all-purpose flour was the clear winner, as Tipo 00 flour resulted in tougher scones and crunchy shortbread. That’s because the finer grind exposes more of the flour’s protein, leading to gluten development that makes baked goods chewier.

Using Your Noodle

During a recent trip to Italy, a local surprised us by saying that everyone (including Italians) cooks pasta wrong. Conventional wisdom holds that we boil the water, then add the pasta. But our Italian source insisted that pasta cooks best at 176°F—a temperature well below the 212°F required to bring water to a full boil. Could it be true?

To test this theory, we needed to consider the science of pasta cooking. A high-quality dried pasta consists of starch granules surrounded by a network of proteins. When the pasta is cooked, the starch absorbs water, swelling and gelatinizing, while the heat causes the surrounding proteins to firm up and hold the starches in place. This process occurs between 158°F and 176°F, and it’s in this range that pasta becomes al dente (flexible, yet firm to the bite). For our test, we cooked two varieties of dried pasta— rigatoni and fettuccine—at both a low simmer and a hard boil. We were surprised that during the first 10 minutes of cooking, the simmered pasta softened more quickly than the boiled pasta. But after 10 minutes, the differences balanced out, with the boiled pasta reaching the al dente stage first. We believe this happened because the greater heat energy of the boiling water activates the insolubility of the pasta surface proteins more rapidly, transforming it into a protective outer layer that shields the pasta’s starches from water. By contrast, the lower heat energy of the simmering water appears to affect pasta proteins more slowly, allowing the water to penetrate the pasta and gelatinize the starches more rapidly. Thus, we found no benefit to simmering pasta. In fact, boiling is not only quicker, it’s also better for pasta that is only parcooked in water, then finished in a sauce. The higher heat causes the pasta to absorb less water, so it can absorb more sauce during the next stage of cooking

Cupcake Conundrum

Please weigh in on this very pressing issue: I will host 19-31 guests for a picnic and am serving cupcakes for dessert. Initially I planned to make 18 cupcakes of two varieties so that each person could choose to eat one of each. I do not eat cupcakes. I have already baked the 18 cupcakes.

Now that there is the possibility that there could be as many as 31 guests, would you make additional cupcakes to allow for gluttony? It's a party, and a long one, so I do think it is possible that many would eat two cupcakes if they were available.

The batches of each recipe yield 18 cupcakes. How important, if at all, is it to bake equal amounts of each? That will take a lot of time and there is considerably more party prep to do, but it is not impossible.

If you chose one variety only would you make extra mocha cupcakes or extra lemon strawberry cupcakes?

And yes, I realize that this is a fairly trivial issue but, if I'm honest, it is plaguing me!

Conundrum Aerator for Wine Decanters

Instantly oxygenate your wine with no more waiting for wine to breathe in an open bottle or decanter. Simply insert directly into your decanter, then pour your wine through and serve.

This product is no longer in stock

Availability date: 03/01/2013

+ Product Specifications

  • Material: Glass, Stainless Steel & Plastic
  • Includes: Conundrum Glass Aerator, Glass Aerator Bowl & Stainless Steel Filter, Decanter Adapter & Stand
  • Height: 6.75" (17.5 cm)
  • Diameter: 4.25” (11 cm)
  • Packaging size: 5.1 x 5.1 x 8.7 inches (13 x 13 x 22 cm)
  • Packaging style: Giftbox

+ Product Description

Instantly oxygenate your wine with no more waiting for wine to breathe in an open bottle or decanter. Simply insert directly into your decanter, then pour your wine through and serve. The unique 3 phase aeration and oxygenation system provides up to twice as much scent and flavour compared to serving from a bottle or traditional decanter.

Unique 3 Phase Process!

Phase Three: The wine continues into the bottom of the aerator and travels strategically out and onto the sides of the decanter providing superior aeration and oxygenation.
Finally, the wine comes to rest in the decanter ending the journey bursting with flavour and scent.

4 Piece Glass Aerator with Stand

The included glass aerator separates into multiple pieces for easy cleaning.

What Is an Induction Range?

Induction cooking is a process by which cooking vessels are heated by magnetic induction. Traditional gas and electric ranges use thermal conduction from an open flame or electrical heating element to heat cooking vessels instead, which can cause radiant energy to pass on into the food you prepare. An induction burner uses electromagnetic energy to directly heat your pots and pans. Induction burners feature a ceramic plate with an electromagnetic coil beneath. Once a burner is turned on, an electric current runs through the coil and generates a fluctuating magnetic field but no heat on the burner itself. When you place an iron or a stainless-steel pan on the burner, the magnetic field induces smaller electric currents in the metal construction of the pan. Much of the energy produced by those small currents is converted to heat. Focalized heat such as this allows you to boil water or cook foods in half the time that it takes with a standard gas or electric stove. Induction cooktops also cool more quickly than conventional burners.

When you think about it, your freezer may be the most incredible appliance in your kitchen. It’s the magical land where ice cream comes from, but it’s also a time machine for meal prep and leftovers. The problem here is that a lot of leftovers look the same, especially once they’re surrounded by a layer of ice. Then you’ll either defrost the wrong thing or just leave that food in freezer purgatory forever, because going through the trouble of defrosting soup instead of homemade pasta sauce is a pain. Don’t let freezer buildup happen to you. Labeling that food eliminates that entire conundrum.

Heads up, germophobes. Remember how I said your kitchen sink is one of the dirtiest spots in the house? There’s a strong chance your sponge is even dirtier, and washing dishes with a dirty sponge just spreads bacteria. Throw your current sponge away right now and replace it with a fresh one. (If you’re really that attached to it, at least run it through the dishwasher.) Or, make the switch to a dish brush since it’s not a paradise for bacteria.

Watch the video: Best Pots And Pans To Have For Every Kitchen - Kitchen Conundrums with Thomas Joseph (August 2022).