"There aren't too many things that haven't been improved upon in today's kitchens, but one exception is a well- seasoned cast-iron skillet. It can typically perform as well, if not better than more expensive non-stick cookware," said Sharon Davis, a family and consumer sciences consultant and spokesperson for the Home Baking Association.
Cast-iron cookware is heavy, but that's one of its assets - it holds the heat, but, because of its weight, is less likely to burn food, she said.
Cast iron cookware can usually be used on stovetop burners and in the oven. It's not dishwasher safe, but once well-seasoned, is unlikely to scorch and is easy to wash, said Davis, who advised swishing out seasoned pans with hot water and drying them in a still-warm oven or burner.
Davis, who may be familiar to many in Kansas as a former spokesperson for the Kansas Wheat Commission and K-State Research and Extension agent, uses different-sized cast-iron skillets to make her family's personal pizzas. She favors inexpensive, but durable cookware, but is above all, a cheerleader for home cooking and baking and family meals: "Making meals together a priority is major in terms of successful education for children and good relationships for everyone in your home."
"Eating at home usually is also less expensive than eating the same - or similar foods - at a restaurant and often is more healthful. You know exactly what you're eating," Davis said.
"If you can read a recipe, you can cook -- and have fun doing it," said Davis, who recommended choosing recipes for favorite foods that have step-by-step directions.
"After slimming traditional recipes from excess sugars and fats, the trend is swinging back to well-prepared familiar foods that taste good. Portion control is a major key to managing weight and health, though," she said.
Where to start when you don't typically cook or bake?
Davis suggested first choosing one basic cookbook such as a recent reprint of the Betty Crocker or "Better Homes & Gardens" cookbooks that were popular in the 1950's and '60s. Or, test kitchen Web sites and children's cookbooks offer excellent pictures, guides to measuring and methods.
To outfit the kitchen, we asked Davis and Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist, to survey kitchenware departments and make recommendations to stock a basic kitchen. Their suggestions included:
Start building a basic set of pots and pans, including 1-, 2-, and 3-quart saucepans, a skillet and Dutch oven. Pans should have lids and securely attached heat-resistant handles. The two food professionals recommended heavy-gauge stainless steel, which conducts heat evenly. A heavier gauge (and reinforced steel bottom) typically prevents a pan from bending or warping.
Choose a skillet to match family size, such as an 8- to 10-inch skillet for one or two or a 10- to12-inch skillet for a family of four or more. The two women recommended a skillet with a lid, either of cast iron or stainless steel. Larger skillets may have an optional handle opposite the pan handle to steady the pan when lifting it or pouring from it.
A Dutch oven is a larger pot (with a five-quart capacity, for example) with a lid for use on top of the stove, in the oven and for camp cooking. The larger pot is suitable for preparing large-quantity recipes for soups, stews, etc., but heavy when filled with food. Check handles before buying.
How much should a set of pots and pans cost? A good, basic set - two to three saucepans, a skillet and Dutch oven - usually can be purchased for $100 to $150 when new. Shopping at thrift stores and auctions can reduce the cost.
To stir the pot, the two food professionals recommended wooden or metal (stainless steel) spoons. Medium-to-high end wooden spoons ($5 or more) typically will not conduct heat, scratch pots and pans or splinter. If choosing stainless steel, look for utensils with heat- resistant, comfort-grips. A heat-resistant rubber scrapper or paddle- like spoon and slotted spoon, which allow liquids to drain, also can come in handy. Basic utensils also include:
- 1- to 2-cup liquid measuring cup;
- A set of measuring spoons and a set of dry measuring cups;
- Stainless steel wire whisk, for blending and stirring;
- Instant read thermometer (like chefs keep in their pockets) to test doneness;
- Paring knife for fruits and vegetables;
- Serrated slicing knife;
- Utility knife;
- French knife for chopping;
- Kitchen shears for cutting poultry, pizza, etc.
- Can opener;
- Colander and/or strainer for draining pasta, fruits and vegetables;
- Box grater;
- Vegetable steamer that fits in a saucepan;
- Salad spinner (one of Davis' favorites);
- One or more cutting boards, wood or manmade, that can be sanitized after each use;
- Two or more potholders, so they can be laundered often Like tools, when well cared for, kitchenware will offer years of dependable service at a low cost per use, Blakeslee said.
For home baking, the two women recommended the following basics:
A set of three to five mixing bowls of stainless steel, glass or a durable synthetic in various sizes.
One or two 9x9-inch baking pans, either shiny metal or glass;
One 9x13-inch baking pan, either shiny metal or glass;
One glass pie plate,
Two shiny metal (preferably heavy gauge stainless steel or aluminum) cookie or baking sheets, with a lip-handle at one end. A lip or side rim on all edges can interfere with heat circulation and may affect baking time. The color of bakeware also can affect food, such as color and required baking time. Heavy gauge metal is recommended. Lighter weight pans can warp and provide uneven results. A textured surface may ease release and make cookies less likely to stick.
Why two baking sheets? Baking sheets should be allowed to cool between batches; having two speeds the baking process.
Large wire cooling rack.
Additional mixing spoons, spatula, cookie dough scoop, hand or stand mixer, loaf, muffin or cake pans or new easy-release silicone pans are a matter of preference and interests.
While the choices of commercially prepared baked products are many, home baking typically provides an opportunity for creativity in the kitchen, Davis said.
For more information on equipping a basic kitchen, home cooking and baking, contact a county or district K-State Research and Extension office or visit Extension's Web site: www.oznet.ksu.edu or the Home Baking Association's Web site: www.homebaking.org.