Tip of the Week: Tools of the Trade (Part Three)

This week, I am sharing the third and final part to my “Tools of the Trade” series. This has been an interesting segment for me, because it has forced me to determine what kitchen tools and appliances are absolutely necessary, and which I could live without. My intention behind this series is to help anyone from the skilled chef to the home cook find the right products in the kitchen. This week, is focused on cookware and bakeware. Those two things are much simpler in my mind. I see two main categories when it comes to those things: pots/pans and bakeware

Pots and pans are one of the most important items in any kitchen. Without them, stove top cooking doesn’t exist. The problem with pots and pans, is that people get way too many and they become easily cluttered. I recommend investing in four or five high quality pots and pans. I prefer the All-Clad brand for all of my pans. The stainless steel surface makes it easy to clean and ideal for even cooking. I will have one two quart sauce pan for making smaller batches of sauces. I have found that I don’t need anything bigger if I am just cooking for one or two people. I will also keep a larger pot for soups or stews. Ideally, I will have an eight quart pot. I like to keep two large sauté pans (12 inches). One non-stick pan because there are are a lot of times when a stainless steel pan isn’t the best non-stick surface. Using a non-stick surface allows for oil-free cooking, and makes flipping tofu “eggs” a lot easier! I like keep a stainless steel sauté pan on hand as well because it provides optimal browning and conducts heat much better. A cast iron pan of some sort isn’t necessary, but it definitely is nice to have around. If seasoned properly, it provides the best of both worlds! It can have a non-stick surface while evenly conducting heat to create a perfect caramelization. Ideally all of my pans will be oven safe as well. If my pans are oven safe, then I don’t have to worry about having to transfer food to glass or ceramic baking dishes when I want to finish something in the oven. If I don’t need an absurd amount of glass or ceramic bakeware, I am able to save cabinet space and money!

I didn’t know what else to title this category other than bakeware. It seems very broad, but I am breaking it down into a couple of different items. Sheet pan and specialty bakeware. First of all, a sheet pan is very important. I use one on a daily basis. For what I need, I typically have a larger one, but any size is fine. I have found that it is hard to find a good sheet tray that doesn’t warp. Over the years, I have noticed that over time, some sheet pans that are made out of cheap metal will rust and warp. I have found that a heavy duty aluminum works well. As far as specialty bakeware goes, I have an obnoxious amount of cupcake/muffin tins, tart pans, spring form pans, silicone mats, pie tins, donut pans, etc. I could go on for pages just about specialty bakeware. I think there are about five necessary things in my kitchen: a cupcake tin, a square metal baking dish, a round metal baking dish, a silicone baking mat, and a tart pan. The purpose for the cupcake tin is obvious, but I also use it a lot for cornbread, muffins, mini cheesecakes or pies, or as a mold for other foods. One of my favorite uses for a regular sized cupcake tin is making individual scalloped potatoes. Layering the potatoes in the tin allows them to get crispy and golden on all sides, while holding a nice shape. When they come out of the tin, they are perfectly round and evenly portioned. I also find it necessary to have a square metal baking dish. I prefer a metal dish because the edges are usually more defined than the glass ones, and they can be a better non-stick surface. I typically use a 9″ x 9″. I make a lot of brownies, so a square dish is essential! I prefer the 9″ x 9″ size because I know that if I cut the pan in even thirds all the way around, each piece will be 3″ x 3″. I also keep a round metal baking dish on hand at all times. Once again, I prefer a 9″ x 9″, which is a standard size. A circular pan is nice to have around for cakes. I don’t make whole cakes too often, but I prefer cakes for any type of celebration. I also like using the round pans for baking things like biscuits and cinnamon rolls. It’s nice being able to line circular baked items around a circular pan to get the pull-apart effect. For some reason, I find it much more visually appealing when circular items like that are presented in a circular pan. One of the most important items in my kitchen is a silicone baking mat. I use mine for everything, not just baking. I like using it in place of parchment paper when I am making cookies, baking tofu, or making oil free roasted vegetables. The last item that I find necessary is a tart pan. I use mine for more than just tarts. It gets used for quiches, cheesecakes, brownies, and pies. I will use my larger tart pan instead of a spring form pan. The edges are more appealing, and there aren’t hinges to rust. My favorite use is for pie. It provides nice scalloped edges, with the ease of removal. The outer part of the pan removes easy, which makes cutting pies much cleaner!

The range of cooking tools and gadgets is so broad, that I wasn’t able to cover everything. I have enjoyed sharing all of my favorites, though. I hope these tips have been useful! I know I wish I would have had more guidance when it came to purchasing cookware years ago. Now that I know, I am glad that I can use my experience to lead others in the right direction.

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