You have heard it before; "the kitchen is my happy place!". Everyone has their happy place. For the passionate home cook, the kitchen undoubtedly is. However, there are several parts and pieces that need to come together for this happy place to be truly happy!
A few days ago, after a dear friend prompted me for suggestions on cooking utensil favorites, as she sets up her new kitchen, I was inspired to start this article. Coincidentally another friend had asked me a similar question.. and so here it goes! I would love to hear your favorites once you go through mine :) I am going to lay it out as the day goes by! I will break it down further in more in depth articles, and perhaps video demos as well, but here's some bite sized information to start with.
To anyone that's setting up a new kitchen, my first suggestion would be to get rid of all non-stick cookware that's coated with petroleum products. PFOA/PTFE to be precise. I don't need to preach, just google the many reasons, this is absolutely the first thing to do to protect yours and your family's health. My recommendations below keep in mind this constraint, so I stick to any products that are either cast iron, PFOA & PTFE free or stainless steel, with 1-2 exceptions. Also, do note, that this post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage if you make a purchase using the links listed below.
The most important meal of the day as the wise say. For me, that's eggs at least 4-5 times out of 7 in any given week. So I will start with the right pans to make eggs.
8" non-stick to cook 1-4 eggs. My favorite and what I use i.e. the one that has lasted the longest after going through several, is the Stone Earth Pan by Ozeri. Some constraints to arrive at this conclusion: chipping-resistant, truly non-stick, free to petroleum coatings and heat distribution and of course, price. and a bonus feature: a magnetized induction stove safe base for rapid heat transfer.
Sunny side up/over easy/over-medium eggs
This is typically what I make the most! I just LOVE a good over easy eggs especially if they are from pasture raised hens. I go to a happy place just thinking about it ;) Yes I am weird like that! So you may have heard it before. The best and most versatile cooking pans in this planet are cast iron pans. And while I agree with that, I still believe there are limitations to it and times when you really don't want to. Example, scrambled eggs for instance unless you want to load up on oils or butter in which case any pan will work. So in this case, for a good sunny side up, no one can even come close(IMHO) to a good 6.5 inch cast iron pan especially if it's for 2 eggs. What I use is the Lodge Cast Iron Pre-Seasoned 6.5 inch skillet.
The taste of eggs made on a cast iron skillet just stand out. If you don't believe me, compare the same eggs with the identical cooking method and test it out!
If you want to make a bigger batch of eggs, try the Lodge Pre-seasoned 8 inch skillet. This should easily cook 4 sunny side ups or over-easy/over-mediums.
Not a cast iron fan?
But still want a good sunny side up or over easy eggs? There's still hope! There are those days when I do reach for this super versatile 8 inch pan. After comparing 3 brands, I arrived at calphalon. Over $30 for an 8 inch skillet seems hefty for some, but trust me when I tell ya, it REALLY delivers, and will last a long time. Not to mention, the handle doesn't get hot, the bottom is heavy so doesn't burn easily.. It's just good! So my favorite in this category is the Calphalon Triply Stainless Steel 8 inch pan.
If you are in a rush, put a lid on top to cook them in both directions, and you are all set! You will never go back to cooking your sunny side ups in a non-stick pan.
Now this is the most difficult baby of all! It's intimidating for most home shefs to make the perfect poached eggs and I found myself on a mission to finally crack the code (which is a topic for a separate blog post). The most crucial one though, is having a deep stainless steel container to boil the water (or, I should say, bubble the water - it should never be boiling for poaching eggs!)
Without a doubt, you've gotta go for something that's triply, meaning the metal is bonded most commonly with stainless steel, aluminium and copper. Now, there's also all-clad cookware - I have just never used it, but I know several celebrity chefs talk about it, so I am sure that it holds its worth as well.
For poaching eggs, you need surface area as well, so my recommendation is to get this Calphalon Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware
This pot is SO versatile - I cannot even begin to state. For everything from lentils to soups, to stir frys.. even making a small batch of pasta! One cannot go wrong with this sweet utensil ;)
I am of Indian origin, and as a habit, I do a lot more cooking on stove than the oven, so I make a lot more use out of my pots and pans than the baking dishes. Based on what you are preparing, and keeping the price in check, here are my favorites.
Stews, lentils, saucy dishes
No to repeat the information above, but really, Calphalon does a great job at their stainless steel cookware. Now, if you are in the mood to splurge, all-clad is the grand daddy!
I have however, been skimpish on spending that much, so my favorite has been the Calphalon 5 qt dutch oven above that I pointed above. It browns nicely, holds heat pretty well, has a wide mouth so stir-frying which will later lead to a saucy addition, is just so handy! Pasting the image here again to make it easier for you.
This wok has seen such heavy traffic from me, sometimes I feel bad for this chap ;). In my effort to "go-green" I went through at least 4 different makers, and finally the one that stuck around, and in fact I presented a couple of my friends with is Green Earth by Ozeri. The most versatile non-stick PFOA/PTFE free cookware is the 12 inch Green Earth Wok.
A word of caution, don't get mixed up with the Green Earth Series of "pans" - they have a textured ceramic bottom and I have a love hate relationship with those. I don't recommend the pans. The smooth bottomed wok however, has held the coating, hasn't chipped, browns well and is a great piece of cookware.
Pasta, stock pots
Usually for most of pasta boiling and stock making needs, 6 quarts is a decent size. Here having a triply is not that necessary, so any stainless steel deep pan should be great. Having said that, for the best results, you still need a heavy bottom pot. What's great for boiling pastas, making stocks etc. is the Calphalon 6 qt stainless steel cookpot.
I do know that some cuisinarts and a few other brands do have similar pots for a bit cheaper, so definitely compare the options. Again, as long as the bottom is still heavy and feels sturdy, has good handles.
Perfectly browned fish, hash browns, stir-frys
Now don't we all want those perfect crab cakes that just slide off the pan or hash browns or making fish fillets or cooking okra (that tends to stick a lot), cast irons and even stainless steel sometimes fall short. Thank goodness for non-stick cookware! On account of several tests, this is the one pan you will be thankful for that will stand the test of time (everything dies but this will outlast its other sister pans in the category) is Tramontina 14 inch restaurant fry pan. The best part, it doesn't break the bank!!
Commercial grade aluminum, PFOA free, oven safe for up to 400 degrees and just a super smooth non-stick surface! You couldn't go wrong with it. For the smaller sizes check out their 12 inch skillet.
Crepes, pancakes, dosas (indian rice and lentil crepes)
This category is what I call, the most sensitive. Meaning even browning, heat distribution is the most essential element of the cooking process. You don't want to see unevenly browned crepes just as you wouldn't want to see light and dark brown patches on your pancakes. For these reasons, the only time I splurged into All-clad 12 inch griddle, and I thank myself many many many times for that decision ;). I couldn't be more proud to add this to my collection, about two years ago. It has given me perfect crepes, pancakes and quesadillas!
Fried chicken anyone?
For those days when you have to make 6 sunny side ups OR fried eggs or a nice batch of good fried chicken, nothing beats the cast iron pan. If you don't believe me, hear it from Paula Deen or Ina Garten ;) I couldn't do without the Lodge pre-seasoned 12 inch skillet for those reasons.
Cast iron holds the heat so well, it's unbelievable, what you get at this small a price!
Red meats, stews
I love a good goat stew or lamb stew or pulled pork any day. Now, the thing with these meats is, they are just tough. Slow cooking is the best way to go. However, if you don't want to deal with a slow cooker and want some of that good iron that gets introduced by cooking in cask iron cookwares, this is an essential to your pantry! Presenting, the 5 quart dutch oven!
Once I made my indian goat korma in this dutch oven, I didn't even look at my pressure cooker! I can't tell ya, the taste is just so so much better. You could potentially get similar results in a slow cooker, however you would still need to do the browning part in this dutch oven or a non-stick. I like this cast iron dutch oven as I start here, and stay here! One pot wonder!