Tips & Tricks

The Design & Uses of Cookware 

I was given a project at the part time gig that had me doing a little history on a topic I rather enjoy – Cooking.  More specifically, pots and pans – why they are designed the way they are and the best uses for them.  Since I’ve done all the work and the presentation, I thought I would pass a little of the knowledge off on to you!
First things first, the shape of any cookware piece has been thought out and created based on the main uses for the piece. The biggest design feature that determines function is the shape and height of the sides of each piece.  All of these shapes and functions will be covered with the pieces below, but the just is that if the sides are vertical, this will cause less evaporation and is great for making stocks, soups, rice and reheating sauces; and if the sides are shorter and curved, this will cause either more evaporation when you are reducing sauces or more food surface to air ratio which is great for all around cooking.
The Standards:

My research stumbled upon information from Real Simple online listing a Stock Pot, a Saute Pan and a Sauce Pan as the three pieces to own if you own nothing else.  Where I agree with them to some extent, it depends on the style of cooking you are accustomed as to whether you would want a Saute Pan (French) vs a Skillet/Fry Pan (American).  So, let’s review these pieces.

Stockpot – A Stockpot is a large pot with vertical sides at least as tall as its diameter. This allows stocks to simmer for long periods of time without reducing (evaporating) too much.  This pot is perfect for soups, broths, corn, lobster and most things that you are making in large quantity. Just remember, if you have a 12 quart stockpot, you don’t have room for 12 quarts of soup/broth, make sure to adjust to around ¾ size of your pot.
Sauce Pan – Similar to the Stockpot, it has vertical sides to create the environments for as little evaporation as possible.  Sauce Pans can range in size from 1 quart up to 3.5 or 4 quarts.  Most of the time, the pan has one handle, but when you get to larger sizes, they can also have a second handle to ease lifting of the pan when full.  Ironically, the name is not indicative of the best food to cook in there…Sauce Pans are more for simmering and boiling, than sauces. Higher sides to prevent spillage, so this is a great piece to reheat soups and sauces, make rice, etc.
Sauté Pan vs. Fry Pan/Skillet –
A Saute Pan is usually larger in diameter (10″ to 14″), with short, straight sides.  The word ‘Saute’ is French for ‘to jump’ and the design is meant for cooking smaller pieces of food at high heat, or ‘dry heat’ as it is sometimes called, with plenty of surface area to move ingredients around. There may be some fat involved in the cooking (butter, oil or combo of both).The purpose of the vertical sides allow for the larger surface area,but food does not spill over.
The Fry Pan/Skillet is one of the most popular and familiar pieces in most peoples kitchens. Similar to Saute Pan in size, but instead of being vertical, the sides are gently sloped to prevent steam from building up and to allow you to turn food with spatula easier.  Generally best for larger pieces of food and a lower heat than Saute for longer periods of time. This allows larger pieces of food to cook all the way through.  Varying sizes work for multiple uses, such as pasta dishes, chicken, bacon, etc and don’t be fooled, this piece can also make dessert – my friends and I made a skillet lemon soufflé in a 10” pan a few years ago that was Divine.

The Extras:
Beyond just the basics mentioned above, there are other pots and pans that can be a great asset to your kitchen.  Some of them may come in a cookware set, but not individually; some of them may be only available to purchase outside of collections; and, yes, some of these may not be ‘needed’ in your kitchen, but they all serve their purpose and can be a great way to expand your cooking expertise.  I have found over the years that cooking with well made and higher quality pots and pans truly makes a difference in the outcome of your food.
Omelet Pan – Almost identical to skillet in design, but has more slope on the sides to allow for the omelet to slide out (some designs will vary with the different manufacturers).  The size can vary also, depending on your personal preference for the size of your omelet.  Where seven inches can be too small and create too thick of an omelet, ten inches could create too thin an omelet.  You will need to find your perfect fit.
Saucier Pan – This pan is in between a sauce pan and a skillet.  It is perfect for making sauces because it’s sloped sides allows for quick and even evaporation of liquid, or ‘reduction’, as it is sometimes called and it works great with a whisk.  It is a perfect style pan for home made caramel or other sauces that need reducing.  Most recently, I made a wonderful lemon curd in mine.  This is one of my favorite pans.
Casserole Pan – It’s vertical sides lend to the less evaporation and it is ideal for baking casseroles, simmering soups and stocks, cooking pasta, and slow-cooking stew in the oven.  Similar to Sauce Pan in that there are varying sizes depending on your need, generally between 2 quarts and 4 quarts.
Butter Warmer – Obvious size is perfect for melting butter, but is also useful for heating syrup, and sauces or small amounts of soups (perfect for individual).  Some come with the convenient pour spouts on either side.
Roaster – Obviously, these are meant for roasting meats.  There is a large surface area and lower sides allow heat to reach full surface of the meat, but the sides will hold juices that release during cook time that can be used to make awesome gravy.  Most roasters are sold with the rack to hold meat and truly allow air flow around the food.
Woks – Woks are well known as an Asian influence in the Western world.  The intention of the design of this piece is to heat oil in small area in center to cook your food, then the sides stay warm enough to keep cooked food warm while rotating all the food through the center.  In the Western world, we primarily think of the use of the wok is only for stir-frying, but they are versatile and are great for indoor smoking, braising and steaming, and even deep frying.
Dutch Ovens – There is a whole other segment that could be covering all the different types of cast iron enameled cookware, but the one most well known is the Dutch Oven, or as some call it the French Oven.  The design and purpose is to create oven conditions on the stove top.   They are usually very heavy, but with that weight, they trap and rotate heat for even oven-like cooking.   These are perfect for braising meats and stews, or anything that needs to be cooked for long periods and dishes that need to go from stove top to oven during the cooking process.  
Now that I have shared all this knowledge and research with you, I’m ready to bust out some pans and see what I can whip up in the kitchen.  I hope this lesson in design and function of cookware can help you pick the best pan for your next cooking adventure!  Stay tuned, more recipes to come!

Happy Cooking!   11.12.2011

My Top 5 Quick Snacks to Cool Down

I cannot speak for the rest of you, but when it gets hot like it’s hot in the Twin Cities right now, I am not able to eat those rich, heavy meals that appeal to me so much in the winter.  Here is a list of my favorite ‘Cool Me Down’ snacks when those temps get high.

  1. Frozen Fruit – Fav’s are Grapes and Pineapple – Just put them in a freezer safe container or zip lock bag and freeze for a few hours or overnight.  Then, enjoy when ever you want a few.  I prefer the large dark purple grapes.  They are so juicy and taste like frozen heaven.  
  2. Water – Water – Water – in any form:  Sparkling, tap, flavored.  Gotta keep hydrated.
  3. Root Beer Float – a few scoops of vanilla ice cream topped with root beer.  Ahhhhh, refreshing and it makes you feel kind of like a kid again.  If you don’t do well with ice cream, frozen vanilla yogurt does the trick.  It’s a little different taste, but still incredibly refreshing.
  4. Watermelon – this works chopped up, eaten off the rind, frozen or blended and mixed with sparkling water.
  5. Salad with Light Dressing – load up on the dark greens and veggies and top it off with some garbanzo beans in there for protein.

Now that I have sufficiently made myself hungry listing these wonderful treats, I am making my grocery list for this very warm week.  

Everyone stay cool and hydrated!   9.2.2011

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