POT LUCK

Basic kitchen equipment should be inexpensive, durable, and versatile.

Whether your idea of a good home-cooked meal is a simple casserole or an elaborate feast, suitable kitchen utensils and kitchen ware rank in importance with a functioning sink, refrigerator, and stove. Equipping a kitchen properly doesn’t demand exorbitant expense, but buying flimsy equipment can lead to culinary disaster. You can boil water in just about anything, but don’t try concocting even the simplest omelette in some thin frying pan that appears to be made of old beer cans. It’s bad for your temper – and your digestion.

It is better to own two or three solid, well-made pans than an enormous set of poorly constructed and ultimately useless ones. Plan to invest in pots and pans made of substantial materials – enameled iron, tin-washed copper, heavy no-stick aluminum, and that old favorite, cast iron. Be sure to buy lids to cover them, too.

Avoid over-specialized gadgets. A plain rubber spatula can scrape mixing bowls, fold in egg whites, spread frosting, or work flour into butter mixtures; a radish flower cutter, on the other hand, only cuts radish flowers. And since no kitchen ever seems to have enough space, the cook tempted to buy a gadget would do well to imagine that item lying unused in much-needed storage space for months on end.

Nor should beginners be tempted to furnish their kitchens with equipment that just looks pretty. Color-coordinated sets of pots and pans are pleasing to the eye, but a cook limited by visual concerns to a matching set of thick aluminum, for example, will find that certain foods cooked in it will discolor – eggs and highly acidic foods in particular. Unmatched utensils purchased carefully, one at a time, and with an eye toward use will produce better meals.

Most of the basic tools can be purchased almost anywhere; dime stores, grocery stores, hardware and discount stores all stock standard items such as funnels, flour sifters, potato peelers, and strainers. On the other hand, some of the familiar and seemingly standard articles sold in these stores may prove virtually useless to a serious cook. The light 10-inch rolling pin, for instance, which you see everywhere, is a poor substitute for the big chef’s pin or the French hardwood pastry roller sold at gourmet cooking stores. With a little comparison shopping, you can quickly find the best prices and quality.

Treated and coated surfaces and other developments in cookware have eliminated much routine maintenance. The new Calphalon line of cookware, for example, improves on standard aluminum with a nonstick, scratch-resistant surface that’s practically maintenance-free. But in most respects, a few rules still apply. Never put pots and pans in the dishwasher, since even the toughest treated surfaces won’t withstand the heat and harsh chemicals. Copper requires regular polishing with either a commercial paste or your own mixture of scouring powder, vinegar, and salt. No matter what kind of knives you buy, keep them sharp, using the sharpener attached to many electric can openers or an Arkansas stone and honing oil. New cast iron and some crepe and omelette pans require special treatment: Cure them before using (follow the directions accompanying the pan), and don’t use soap unless the directions specify it, or everything you cook in them may taste slightly soapy.

Whether you’re stocking your first kitchen or augmenting the one you’ve worked in for 20 years, exploring gourmet cooking stores can be both educational and delightful. You can keep up with the latest improvements in cooking ware, and you may discover an item which will introduce you to an entirely new area of cooking. Attendants in cooking stores are usually very well informed, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your curiosity in the store will probably be rewarded at the table.

DAILY GRINDS

1. Invest in a goodpepper mill, such as thisone by Peugeot, butbuy any old grater.Mallets transform cheapcuts into culinarydelights.

2. Whole spices crushedin a mortar and pestleproduce more taste thantwice the amount ofpre-ground spices.Squeezing will give youjuice, but only a juicergives you tasty pulp as well.

3. Knives, likesaucepans, shouldrepresent an investment.Carbon steel knives,like these by Sabatier,take a fine edge. Buyhigh-quality stainless orcarbon steel; protectyour investment with a knife block and asharpener.

4. To stir, turn, ormove, two is the rule.Have a slotted spoonand spatula as well aslong-handled forks andladles. And no cooksurvives without tongs.

5. Graduated metal drymeasures and measuringspoons shouldsupplement yourmeasuring cups.Funnels are invaluable.

6. Electrical appliancesaside, all you need tomix and beat are rotary beaters and whisks.

7. Wooden spoons andrubber scrapers canfold, scrape, and blendwithout bruising orimparting unwantedtaste to delicate foods.

8. Strainers in varioussizes sieve everythingfrom tea to jelly.

9. The most basic ofall: a can opener,kitchen shears, a jarwrench, a vegetablepeeler, and an ice pick.

POTPOURRI

1. Heller one- and two-quart casserole dishesdo double duty asmicrowave and ovencook ware.

2. A large stainless steelcolander with a ringbase won ’I tip whenyou’re steaming ordraining, unlike afooted one.

3. The transparency andeven heating of a Pyrexdouble-boiler allow youto avoid scorchingdelicate sauces.

4. Nested ceramic orPyrex mixing bowls area must: Being ovenproof, they can serve asemergency casseroles.

5. Soufflé dishes aren Vonly for soufflés; buy agood, standard-sizedone as an addition toyour casserolecollection.

6. A small investment inthree graduatedmeasuring cups savestime and temper whenmixing both dry andliquid ingredients.

FLOUR POWER

1. Most pie recipes callfor eight- or nine-inchpie plates. A void spillswith a high-sided nine-inch plate; aninexpensive bag of pieweights helps preventshrinkage and bucklingof the crust.

2. Novice cooks often ruin pastry byoverworking it; aninexpensive pastrycutter and doughscraper almost alwayssolve the problem.

3. A big, heavy rollingpin (longer than 10inches) is de rigueur;never roll a pastrywithout a pastry clothand rolling pin cover.Brushes, one light andone heavy, shouldanswer all ordinarybaking needs.

4. Specialized bakingrequires specialequipment: creamhorns, tartlet pans, petitfour molds, madeleinepans, and a pastry bagwith at least six tips.

5. Every kitchen musthave a sifter, but breadpan sizes depend onrecipes. Invest first in acookie sheet and twoeight-by-eight-inch cakepans (not pictured). Theadventurous cook willalso invest in open-ended French breadpans.

HEAVY METAL

1. Own at least threeheavy frying pans, ineight-, ten-, and twelve-inch diameters. Oneshould have straightsides for southing.Enamel pans by Copcoand copper ones byCop-R-Chief are heavyand distribute heat well.

2. The most basickitchen needs foursaucepans in enamel,commercial aluminum,or stainless steel. Beginwith one-, one-and one-half, two-, and three-quart sizes. Stainlesssteel by Cuisinarl andaluminum by Calphalonare permanentinvestments. Buy lids tofit both pots and fryingpans.

3. Oval-shaped roastersmore nearly match theshape of their contents – turkeys, capons, etc. – than square ones.Offset handles simplify pouring.

4. Heavy stock pots onthe back of the stovecan turn carrot tops,potato peels, and bonesinto a gourmet’s dream.

5. The Dutch oven,such as this one by LeCreuset, works on topof the stove or in theoven to cook everythingfrom black-eyed peas tocassoulet.

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