Recessionista in the Kitchen: How to Care for Your Pots, Pans, and Knives, and Help Them Care for You
Do you feel like a klutz in the kitchen? Have you been schlepping the same rotten, scratched cookware around with you since college? It doesn't take much effort to learn how to care for your kitchen-dwellers: and if you do, they will care for you, and your wallet. And that, my friend, is reciprocity at its finest!
Everything with Teflon Non-Stick Coating
So! Non-stick coating? Very cool. It lets you cook without much oil or butter, and is an absolute blessing for bakers who don't own stock in the company that makes those little paper cupcake cups. Gah.
If you scratch your teflon cookware, you are pretty much poisoning yourself and your loved ones. There are some serious chemicals involved in the miracle of teflon, which can be easily damaged or rendered dangerous through your own silly misuse. And your uterus-having friends might blame you for their children's birth defects! Heaven fore-fend!
How to avoid getting and giving Teflon-cancer? It's not so hard, really.
- Cooking: only use "implements" made of wood, plastic, or silicone. Metal anything will scratch that tender surface. Also, only use teflon-coated whatsits on low or medium heat. Anything above 500 degrees F will damage the coating and possibly produce "noxious fumes." And for heaven's sake, cut up everything before dumping it in, and cut your zucchini bread after it's been removed, painlessly and curse-free, from its non-stick baking mold.
- Cleaning: Use non-abrasive sponges or a cloth to clean this thing, and don't put it in the dishwasher. Good thing you weren't using it on high heat and have to somehow deal gently with blacked caramel tar now fused to the side...
If you've just realized your ancient, scraped up pans have been slowly filling you with cancer and have run out to get new ones, here is how to make them last for ever and ever and ever:
- As soon as you're home, wash them in warm water with a mild detergent, and towel dry.
- Season the pan with a light coating of oil (the best way to do this is to apply it with a paper towel).
- Add your ingredients to the pan before heating it.
- If your pan has picked up stains or something, and that bothers you for some reason, you can simmer a mixture of water and a few tablespoons of dishwasher detergent over a low heat for 15 or 20 minutes.
Ta da! You are a clever keeper-of-house who shall not have to replace cookware every few months. Think of the savings!
Super Shiny: Stainless Steel!
Okay. These aren't my favorite, but they do have a golden shiny upside: scrub the crap out of them, they're fine; use whatever super-maxi-detergent you want, suds and foam, they're fine. They're usually dishwasher safe, although "experts" recommend removing them after the wash cycle and hand-drying to avoid spots.
If there are any deeply upsetting stains settling in, just wet the pot's surface, sprinkle it with baking soda, and put a little elbow grease behind one of those scrubby sponges.
That oughtta do it.
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Cast Iron: the Gold Standard of Heirloomy Goodness
Cast iron skillets, muffin pans, summer dresses: you name it, I'll love it. Anything made of this stuff was basically made to be abused, repeatedly, and yet issue forth only the most delightful, delicious, iron-rich foods known to man - handy for those of us with mild anemia. This pan will last forever, has unbelievable heat conductivity (both in terms of handling high heat and having notoriously even heat dispersion), and of course can be used with Any Kind Of Heat Source. Campfire pancakes and carburetor omelets? S'all good.
Despite the material's remarkable and easy-going durability, however, I'm sure you won't mind if I pass along a few pointers for making the very best of this kitchen-gold. But do go ahead and rest easy knowing that if you scratch this particular friend, he will not go and poison you and your loved ones to death out of a malicious sense of ham-handed retribution.
First things first: these pans do have to be seasoned and how you do so will effect how the pan interacts with the edibles it is later called on to produce. The seasoning process creates a (non-toxic) slightly-nonstick coating and protects the poor dear from rust. Personally, I recommend seasoning cast iron anything with flax seed oil, because it seems to be the most durable and straight-forward (I do not condone unnecessarily complicated seasoning theories). Flax seed oil creates a durable finish that allows you to use a mildly abrasive sponge when cleaning without any problem (with other methods, using soap and abrasive scrubbing power to clean the pan will strip the protective finish and you'll have to start again).
For this method:
- Oil the pan, inside and out - about a silver dollar-sized dollop, spread around with a paper towel or similar. Don't forget to do the handle.
- Bake at between 350 and 500F for about half an hour. Get that oil good and bonded. Don't worry about any smoke.
- When it's cool, repeat the first 2 bullets. I've found that 4 rounds of this is perfect, but know some folks who swear by 7 or even 8. Go with your gut. And/or level of patience.
- Let it cool before you wash it.
- Scrub away, but you probably won't need much in the way of soap. This depends on your seasoning method - many make soap very problematic (you'll then have to re-season), but with flax seed oil, a little soap is fine.
- Dry with a clean towel. Cleanish is okay too, in my book.
- Don't store food in it! Yeesh.
- And for heaven's sake, don't put it in the dishwasher.
These things will last forever - generations worth of forever - if you treat them right. And just think: my grandmother's pans have something like 50 years' worth of seasoning on them!
Does your blade need sharpening?
Gently touch it to your thumbnail. Does it slide or catch? If it slides, it's a dull safety-hazard of a blade.
Knives! Sharpening, Storage, etc.
A dull knife is nobody's friend. Those buggers cause frustration, injury, and probably world wars. So how do we keep our knives?
- In a knife block (you know, a wooden block with special grooves for each knife)
- Or in a drawer, but only if in a sheath. Knives put in a drawer without sheaths will quickly damage each other, the drawer, your poor, grasping hands... Sheaths are easily made with heavy paper or cardboard folded over and taped/stapled. No excuse.
- We clean them with hot water and a soapy sponge, and towel dry. It's actually easier than putting them in the dishwasher, which can be corrosive or damage handles or whathaveyou anyway.
- We use cutting boards made of anything BUT ceramic, marble, or glass (these will damage the knife's edge on the very first cut).
- We sharpen our blades at least once a year, but ideally three or four times a year. See below for a good video for how to sharpen kitchen knives.