Monday, September 23, 2013

The most important thing in my kitchen

Total steps yesterday:  15,002
Exercise plans for today:  strength training

I love food, which is probably clear from the number of posts about frozen yogurt.  Fun fact:  the recommended diet for an endurance runner is almost identical to the recommended diet for a pregnant woman, other than I eat a lot fewer turkey sandwiches now.  It's one reason there aren't a ton of posts on here about how to eat while pregnant - it was already how I was eating, so other than giving up sushi and a few other things, it hasn't affected  my day to day life the way exercising while pregnant has.

It's a toss up on whether good exercise or good food is more exciting to me.  And while I enjoy an anniversary dinner at a Cajun/Korean fusion tapas restaurant as much as the next yuppie girl, it's cooking at home that really gets me going.  I love creating meals, whether it's figuring out new 15 minute recipes for weeknights, or executing multiple hour three course meals for a weekend dinner.  So today I want to talk about the most important thing in my kitchen.

There are the indispensable things I use daily and that I recommend every home chef get. A good chef's knife, always hand-washed and kept sharpened.  A set of good pots and pans in as many sizes as will fit in your kitchen (and in your budget).  At least one non-stick skillet for throwing together quick meals with easy clean-up.  A coffee maker with a time delay setting (and a french press and an espresso maker just for good measure). But none of these are the most important.

There are the items that I don't use every day and could do without, but they make life so much easier when you have them.  My rice cooker, which probably gets used at least once a week.  My stand-mixer, which is the only reason I ever bake and can also be used to shred chicken super fast.  My mandoline, every home chef's secret to successful homemade french fries.  All of these are amazing when I need them, but not my most important.

And there's the smaller day to day items that just make it more pleasurable to cook - ample spatulas and stirring spoons, one or more sets of measuring cups and spoons, the right tool for the right  job (shockingly, potato masher > fork when you need to mash potatoes).  All of these things make my kitchen fun, but only one makes it home:

The greatest cooking pot ever
Let me back up a minute.  I'm blessed to be married to another food lover who understands my desire to spend a large amount of money on kitchen supplies.  And further, we're blessed to have the funds to upgrade supplies as needed.  But a few years ago when I first moved out on my own, this wasn't the case.  I wasn't seriously in to cooking and just needed a few things to get me by.  My parents had recently upgraded their kitchen, and my mom offered me this old pot to take with me.

Now, this pot is smaller than the stockpot that came with my newest cookware upgrade.  The bottom is uneven, as is the heat dispensation.  The only area guaranteed to heat quickly are the handles, which aren't heat resistant.

But this pot was given to my parents as a wedding gift almost 41 years ago.  Many of my memories from my mom's kitchen are of meals simmering in this pot.  Spaghetti was my favorite dinner growing up, and to this day any time I make lasagna or spaghetti sauce, I insist on using this pot.  Additionally, it comes out to play whenever I'm trying a new liquid based recipe.  When James wanted Cajun food last winter after our New Orleans honeymoon, I used this pot to make chicken etouffee for the first time.  It always comes out when I make baked potato or chicken lime soup, two of our household's wintertime favorites.  It's not necessarily conducive to many summertime meals, which is why I'm always rather pleased to rediscover it when the weather turns cold and warm comfort food becomes the focus.  Somehow, the recipes always taste better when made in this pot rather than my newer, nicer stainless steel version.

I was doing the math last night while cooking lasagna for probably the 20th time in this pot.  As mentioned, it's been in my family for almost 41 years now.  Guessing conservatively that this pot has been used an average of once a week, it has nourished my childhood family of seven (and James' and my family of two) more than 2,000 times.   And it shows no signs of stopping any time soon.  While the uneven bottom and heat make it difficult to tackle more complex things like risotto, it's perfect for soups, stews, and sauces meant to simmer.  I will feed Lil W as many meals out of here as possible, and maybe one day pass it along when s/he moves in to a first kitchen of their own.  My child will really have no choice but to learn to cook, and I'm glad there are kitchen staples like this to aid him/her in their culinary journey.

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