Sunday, March 21, 2010

New house. New kitchen. New stuff!

As my regular readers know, I recently bought my first house and moved in right at Christmas (nice timing, I know). Consequently, I'm still living out of boxes to a certain extent, and as we purged SO MUCH during the move, we are still lacking important things like, oh, furniture that is awaiting my big tax refund before purchase. But I have started making some smaller improvements in the most important room in the house--the kitchen!

I began with some new dishes. What I really wanted was Fiestaware in several different fun colors. But I settled for some Tar-ghay knockoffs in funky, retro colors. I started with eight each: dinner plates, salad plates, bowls, and mugs, half in a bluish-teal and half in a green color called guacamole. Later, I added four additional dinner plates in a sunny yellow, and all 36 pieces were less than $75! Ok, I also had to buy matching neoprene oven mitts and a kitchen clock (that's how they getcha!), so that probably takes me to a little over 100 bucks. Still, that would only get you two Fiestaware place settings, and I have more than eight sets of these super-cute dishes!

Then there was the issue of my old pots and pans. About twelve years ago, I bought my first set of higher-end cookware, a $400 collection of Calphalon Professional Nonstick acquired from (and financed through!) Dillard's department store. It had served me well over the years, and with their lifetime warranty, whenever the nonstick coating started to wear off (which was far too often!), I could ship a pan back, and they would replace it, free of charge. But I have since become concerned about the dangers of nonstick coatings (the noxious fumes that are emitted at higher temps and the possible carcinogenic properties of the inevitable Teflon bits that flake off). So after doing a LOT of research for a LONG time, I came to the conclusion that my new pots and pans had to be triple-clad stainless steel for durability and the most even cooking, and that the ideal brand, of course, would be All-Clad. But you have to be a neurosurgeon to afford just one of those pans! (Same with Sitram, Paderno, Demeyere, and so on.)

Then last summer, Cooks Illustrated had an article comparing All-Clad to several other lines, and shockingly, an inexpensive brand called Tramontina sold at---wait for it---WAL-MART(!!!) performed just as well, and an 8-piece starter set sells $149 at present, less than the cost of ONE AC pan! The main downside was that the starter set came with some undesirably small pans. But Wal-Mart also sells a 10-piece set with larger, more conveniently-sized pieces for $249 (this JUST dropped from $279, though apparently, it was available on "Black Friday" for $199, but I am trying not to think about that). You can only find this set online, but they will deliver it to your local store for free! I may want to add one or two more open stock pieces eventually (looking at the 12-inch jumbo cooker and the 8-quart stock pot with steamer insert). But I am going to get a feel for the pots and pans that came in the set first and then decide if I am lacking anything.

I confess that I took the pots and pans out of the packaging and just left them on the counter to admire for a couple of days. But finally, I was ready to christen the 12-inch skillet with some lemon ricotta pancakes for a weekend brunch. Now they say that you only need to cook or low or medium at most with these fully-clad pans. So I started out on level 4 on an electric stove (out of 10...ours don't go to 11!). And I put a ton of oil and butter in the pan, for fear that the very soft batter would stick. But I ended up pouring off all but a thin slick of the fat, and turning the pan down to 3! It just cooked so well and so evenly, and the clean up was a cinch (a simple soaking usually does the trick, or you might use a little Barkeeper's Friend and a nylon scrubbie). In sum, I am in love with high-quality cookware (even more so when it's at a discount price)! Why in the world did I wait so long??

Oh, and the pancakes were pretty good, too. This is embarrassing, but it was a Bisquick-based item. You see, I wanted to make this biscuit recipe from a now-defunct restaurant in the Midwest called Bill Knapps (never heard of it myself, but the recipe sounded good). I asked my roomie to pick up some Bisquick at the store, but I did not specify what size, so she brought home this GINORMOUS box of the stuff! Now I'm looking for creative ways to use it up. Here's what I did (to make six big pancakes):

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

1 large egg
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup Bisquick
1/2 cup (to 3/4 cup) whole milk
finely-grated zest of half a lemon
2 teaspoons sugar
pinch of salt

*If you have them, adding a cup of fresh blueberries would be wonderful, too!

Whisk the egg and ricotta cheese together until fully combined and very smooth. Then add the Bisquick, milk, lemon zest, sugar and salt and whisk just until combined (if the batter looks a little thick, add a little extra milk).

Preheat your skillet, and add a little oil or butter (or I do a bit of both). Using a 1/4-cup measure, form round cakes in the pan, and cook approximately three minutes per side, or until browned (wait until the surface is dry and bubbly before flipping).

Serve with a drizzle of melted butter and a good dusting of powdered sugar and/or your favorite berry jam!

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