I'm still fussy and confused, but I do have lovely new cookware, and I'm here to tell you about it. After a lifetime of Teflon, it took me a while to get over my nervousness about testing the stainless items — particularly making eggs in the skillet. I've tried out almost everything now, and recently made excellent omelets in the skillet, which turned out to be an exhilarating experience. So I think the purchases are a success. I'll write more about omelets (and the the Leidenfrost Effect) later.
Demeyere 5-Plus Fry Pan at Williams-Sonoma
Wait for a sale!
I'm a lazy, basic cook, there are just two of us for meals (despite Possum), and we have a tiny kitchen, so I didn't want or need much beyond replacing my old Teflon and cheap stainless: some saucepans, a skillet or two, and a larger pot for stove-top casseroles. I decided to spring for high-quality cookware that met my needs now and won't be "outgrown" if my skills improve. And everything had to fit in our limited space.
Demeyere Atlantis Saucepan at Williams-Sonoma
I bought four stainless pieces by Demeyere, a century-old Belgian company that was acquired by Zwilling/Henckels a few years ago. Their cookware is intelligently designed, expertly made, praised by serious cooks, and very attractive. Not every piece is made of the same materials but they all have between five and seven layers of metal, including 18/10 stainless, aluminum, and aluminum alloy; sometimes there are silver and/or copper layers, too. The handles are welded so you won't have to clean crud around rivets. They developed a "Silvinox" finish for their steel that removes impurities and makes it both more silvery and slicker for cooking. The rims are curved for pouring, another smart idea, and the handles stay cool. They have steel lid; I prefer glass, but I kept a couple of old glass lids that fit on some of the new pots.
I shopped with two goals: 1) to make cooking a pleasure and cleanup simple; and 2) to buy safe (nontoxic), quality items so I'd never have to replace anything in a few years, as one must with nonstick cookware. I want this stuff to last a lifetime, at least partly because cookware shopping is a pain and I never want to do it again! No wonder every brand sells 10- and 12-piece sets that people imagine will be their simple solution. But those sets rarely include just what we want or need. Knowing we are overwhelmed, stores encourage us to spend big money and then buy more.
Demeyere Atlantis Curved Sauté Pan (saucier) at Williams-Sonoma
Demeyere makes several cookware lines at different prices. I bought a saucepan and saucier (rounded saucepan, good for thickening sauces and for things that need stirring, like risotto) from their Atlantis line. Not only were they just what I wanted, I found them for half price, so they priced more like All-Clad items, but are far better, I think.
Demeyere's top-of-the-line skillets (called Proline) are said to be the very best you can buy, but I don't need perfection. I chose a less-expensive skillet because it was a pound lighter — easier to handle, and because I'm not so experienced that I'll notice the subtle qualitative differences between the two. My skillet and small saucepan are from Demeyere's "Industry" line (aka "5-Plus," "Industry5," etc., depending on where you find it). I had some Williams-Sonoma gift cards, and ordered them during a good sale. The "5-Plus" cookware at William-Sonoma is identical to the Industry5 stuff at Sur la Table, except for the handles, which are smooth and comfortable at W-S but are "shot-blasted" and strangely rough and unpleasant at Sur la Table.
The 9.5" skillet can handle most dishes for two (and we have a larger ceramic one as well). I made a killer grilled cheese sandwich for lunch; my bogus grilled cheese may be a thing of the past. (I picked up an extra pound of butter at Trader Joe's today, thinking about my pan.)
I also bought two more pieces that I hope will last for decades. You do not need to spend a lot of money on cookware. In my opinion, the better you can cook, the more primitive your cookware can be. (I am not a good cook so I need help from my pans, but my grandmother used aluminum from the dime store and a cheap enameled roasting pan to turn out meals her descendants still rhapsodize about 30 years later. Every one of us would kill to know how she did it. To her, it was so effortless it wasn't worth demonstrating or explaining. Alas.)
To replace my 4-quart Teflon saucier, I bought this lightweight cast-iron braiser from World Market for $37 plus free shipping:
When it arrived I saw it was made in China; their cookware can be toxic or even radioactive. I wrote to World Market for more information; it took them about two weeks to reply that their cast-iron was tested by Bureau Veritas, a third-party lab, and that it passed all state and national requirements for product safety and performance. Phew.
I'd considered a Le Creuset soup pot instead, but felt it wasn't worth so much money. I love my Dutch oven but I don't use it for much besides soup these days, although that may change. Heavy cast-iron takes a long time to heat, it's cumbersome, and I'd have nowhere to store it. This pot has a similar qualities with less weight, including an enamel coating inside and out. It works well for my favorite mac and cheese recipe, which starts as three classic sauces: roux, Béchamel, and Mornay. Then the cooked pasta goes in... and then I usually struggle to pour the hot contents into a baking dish to put under the broiler. As I lifted this pot to maneuver it above my baking dish, I realized: short handles! This pot can go in the oven! My old one had a long handle and didn't fit. This braiser can tolerate 450 degrees (without thinking, I broiled it at 500 for a few minutes; I won't do it again).
My final new acquisition, still untested, is a De Buyer steel crèpe pan with turner ($29.95, but get it on sale):
I've been making crèpes in Teflon frying pans since high school so it was Time. Reviewers rave about De Buyer pans' nonstick qualities for eggs as well as crèpes when they are properly seasoned. I want to try it. I'll force myself to break it in with Nutella-banana crèpes soon.
I'm curious (but nervous) to use this blue/carbon-steel pan for cooking in general. These pans have qualities similar to cast-iron but heat and cool more rapidly. They can take high heat and sear and brown beautifully, like regular steel. But, with use, seasoning, and proper care, they become increasingly nonstick — naturally, like cast-iron. They are supposed to be superb for frying and sauteing as long as no wine, tomatoes, or other acidic ingredients are used. Carbon-steel pans are common in professional kitchens and have always been loved by serious cooks, but even the very best ones are relatively inexpensive. I like the way they darken and age over time. And — bottom line! — they remind me of Paris. Not bad for a pan that cost me $24.
I'm still looking for a bargain to replace my nonstick stockpot but we are in good shape for dinner now. I can make most recipes that come into my head, and it's nice. I already have a wish list, though, for when we move and have more storage. For instance, I'd love to own this little beauty, if it's ever hugely on sale — I'd be tempted to carry it instead of a fancy handbag at parties because it's so pretty. However, I baked banana bread the other day and realized that almost all of my bakeware — cookie sheets, loaf and cake pans, etc. — is nonstick, too! The research begins again....