Friday, October 30, 2009

step by step, oh baby

For anyone who actually got that NKOTB reference, kudos!

A new mental challenge has launched, though unless I am severely underestimating the situation, my decision in this matter will have no effect on my everlasting soul. Regarding the matters of conscience with which I have been struggling lately, I will say this (also related to the title):

I don't need to decide right now. That realization is very liberating! Somehow, I managed to convince myself that by the end of October I had to make an all-or-nothing decision about whether or not I will commit myself to being a faithful vegan, but I don't, actually. I have spent a month avoiding dairy products and eggs. I have also forsaken honey (and found agave nectar to be an equal substitute) and I am thinking more critically about the non-food aspects of a vegan lifestyle. As was evidenced in my 3-part series on honey, it takes me a little time and pondering to come up with the decision I am convinced is right for me.

Speaking of food...dinner last night wasn't terribly interesting and I really didn't have anything interesting to say about it. I guess I could say the same for dinner tonight - they were both good dinners, but neither of them really stood out against some of our favorites.
The Garlicky Spaghetti with Beans & Greens was very tasty and even more photogenic. Angst attacked me from behind (and totally surprised me, to Mister's great delight) when I started to open the bag of arugula. I told him it wasn't spinach, but he didn't care and gleefully ate his piece of arugula while I stealthily added the rest of the bag to the pot. I love the creamy butteriness of cannellini beans, especially in contrast with the peppery bite of the arugula. Someday I'll have to eat it raw, in a salad, like normal people.
Tonight I made Chickpea, Tomato and Spelt Soup. I had never had spelt before, and apparently, neither had my husband, since he didn't know what it was until I showed it to him. He's getting wise to my tricks. He asked me what I was making for dinner and then asked what spelt was (presumably so he could stop me before I made something gross). I forgot to add the salt and I think that made a big difference in how garlicky I perceived the soup as being - I'll make it again someday and I will be sure to add the salt with the spices.

Now, on to the important stuff - my newest dilemma. Having found that I can, for the most part, count on getting feedback and various responses from those of you who read my blog, I hope I'll continue to get some great information, especially from anyone else who loves to cook. When I got married (two years ago, in case you've forgotten already), I felt it was uncouth to tell people where we were registered because it is never my opinion that I deserve gifts. As a result, we got a lot of gift cards. Between my bridal shower and the wedding, we probably got at least 5 gift cards to Bed Bath and Beyond in varying amounts, and I am on the mailing list, so they send me coupons for $ off or % off my purchase. I took my gift cards and my coupons and left very satisfied with myself for purchasing an entire set of name-brand cookware for $85. Well, you get what you pay for, and two years later, I find myself in a position of needing to replace at least half the set.

Initially, I thought that I would just get a whole new set and keep the few pieces that are still in relatively good condition, but then I realized that there are really only a few pieces that truly need replacing:

1. my 2.5 quart saucepan is in urgent need of being replaced. I don't know what happened - I can only guess it's the result of my continuing inability to judge the cooking time of rice and having to scrape the bottom bits off of the "non-stick" pan. In any case, I want to replace it ASAP.

2. my 6-quart stock pot is okay, but definitely showing signs of wear and will need to be replaced eventually...that is, sometime in the next few months. It just makes me nervous when I cook spices and hear them grinding against the bottom of the pot while I stir.

3. my wok (though it's not actually part of the set) is getting seriously scratched up and as I mentioned previously, the last time I used it, it abruptly decided that it doesn't want to be non-stick anymore. Also, it looks like it's starting to rust a little near the scratches and though iron is a vital nutrient, I'm not sure that's the best way to get it.

4. my saute pan does not actually need to be replaced. There is nothing wrong with it - it's not scratched, it still believes it is non-stick, I use it just about every day specifically because it doesn't give me any trouble. However, as I explained when I made the Black Bottom Tofu, since it is a smaller saute pan (3 quarts) it doesn't really allow the food to spread out as much as I would like it to. Also, I have recently learned that things don't really caramelize in non-stick cookware. So I don't need to replace the saute pan as much as I would like to augment my "collection" (aka, start it) of saute pans...So it appears that my first piece of stainless steel cookware will probably be a saute pan.

The first cookware set I ever had was RevereWare that was so old the copper bottom had worn off and it could only be identified by the engraved emblem on the bottom. It was great when all I had to do was boil water, but once I started to actually COOK, I found the metal way too thin and the bottoms were warped which made the food cook unevenly (obviously).

My current set is Cuisinart. I am a Cuisinart queen - almost all of my kitchen appliances are Cuisinart: my beloved coffeemaker, my treasured immersion blender, and my invaluable food processor. I even have a Cuisinart travel mug. So it seemed like a good idea to get Cuisinart cookware, especially when I could get a whole 10-piece set for $85. I get kind of retarded about saving money sometimes. When I was getting ready to buy that set, I knew I didn't know anything about the qualities of various kinds of cookware. I hacked my way through a jungle of explanations about hard-anodized, non-stick, copper-core, enameled, etc. As soon as I saw the "value" of that cookware set, everything I had pored over shot right out of my brain as though it had never even settled there.

So, here I am again, poking around on various websites, trying to make a much more responsible decision than last time in the hopes that this set of cookware will last me until I can afford (and justify) a truly amazing collection of all different kinds of metals and construction - as well as a kitchen large enough to store them. At the moment, I'm leaning towards Calphalon Contemporary because I have a few pieces (like my amazing square skillet) that I love. I have already had some "helpful" suggestions from a couple of friends who also love to cook and know that it's serious business:

Friend #1 suggests that I slowly build my collection of high-quality cookware piece by piece (or step by step?) so that I can get what I really want but can't afford a whole set of. Considering that I don't actually need a whole set of cookware right now, that could work. I have two issues with this.
1. I feel like they put together cookware sets as a bargain - you know, a package discount? So, I feel like I will spend more by buying a piece here and a piece there.
2. Just one piece of the cookware I really want can cost more than half of what an entire set of Calphalon can cost.

Friend #2, who is a very bad influence on me, suggested I get a part-time job at Williams Sonoma for the holiday shopping season and thereby take advantage of the very generous employee discount they offer to purchase the aforementioned very expensive cookware at only a fraction of it's regular cost. I think this suggestion is brilliant. I also think that I would spend every cent I earned there on fun cooking toys. If there was anything left after the toys, I would take it across the street to my other toybox - MAC.

The main problem with that suggestion is that I already work 6 days a week, so I don't know where I would find the time for another job.

Does anyone have any other suggestions or feedback? What do you use? Do you like it? Would you recommend it? If you had all the money in the world, what brand would you buy? My current answers to that question are Le Creuset and All-Clad. If I had a spare $4,000 lying around, I would absolutely buy this.


  1. Hi, Natalie, I have Analon brand cookware & I love it. It and Calphalon are about the same quality. One thing I've found is that Ross (if you have one near you) has FANTASTIC deals on pots & pans...last year I bought my grandma a $200 Calphalon stock pot/lid for $50. It might be a place you can get those stainless steel saute pans for a good deal. You might spend more over the long run, but if you haven't saved up the money now, you aren't doing yourself a favor by spending $$$ you don't have. (Do I sound like friend #1?)

    Happy shopping! Jackie

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Jackie! The tip about Ross is very helpful - I've primarily been comparing prices between Macy's and BB&B. All-Clad is one of those snobby brands you can only get at places like Macy's or Williams Sonoma and there isn't a single pot or pan under $100, but I could do a combination of All-Clad and Calphalon. you do sound a bit like friend #1, even though I could actually gather the money for a quality Calphalon set now, it's just a matter of proper fund allocation... Thanks again for the help!

  3. I loved NKOTB! Before the group made it's comeback, my friend opened up for Jordan Knight a few years ago. He sang all the parts to NKOTB songs. Such a sad display.

    Have you tried discount stores like Ross or Marshall's? They often have huge discounts on sets and pieces. There are some nice pieces there. I saw Le Creuset just yesterday and it was 1/3 of the retail price.