Kitchen Cookware: Culling and Curating for the New Year

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retro kitchen stoveWho doesn't feel the need to spruce up things at home when the new year rolls around?

Hand up over here. I've been methodically going from room to room getting rid of clutter and doing a deep clean. It feels good to start 2011 fresh.

Naturally, post-holiday revelry, the kitchen needed some attention. I went through the cupboards, tossing out opened items that were long past their "“use by" or "best by" dates. (Pre-holidays I'd already pulled perfectly good non-perishables from the pantry to donate to food banks.)

After pleading from a friend over the winter break (who was horrified, for health reasons, to see me make crepes for the kids in a Teflon pan), I finally ditched the ancient non-stick cookware, as one of my 11 food-related goals for 2011. (They're not new year's resolutions anymore, since they're allegedly harder to stick to than goals or intentions. Go figure.)

cast iron pot on stoveAll this clearing and culling can leave some holes in your kitchen arsenal. On the one hand, I’m of the school of thought that all you really need to cook is a pot, a sharp knife, and a couple of cutting boards (one for fruit and veggies, one for stinky stuff like onions and garlic, and maybe one for animal protein.)


But if I’m honest, I have little gadgets that I love that take up space. Hand-held citrus squeezers and a garlic press (shocking I know) come immediately to mind. It’s not like I have a microwave or a massive mix master — there’s no room in my kitchen for all that big, electric equipment (and I’ve never liked the idea of “nuking” food anyway.)

Still, there are some gaps post purge in my pots and pans section and, armed with my new year resolve, I’m determined to start the year with the right gear. When I turned 40 I bought myself a decent set of stainless steel Calphalon pots, so I’m all good there. (Can’t recall now why I chose that particular brand, but do remember for years I’d suffered from All-Clad envy, which seemed to be the kitchen cookware of choice for young newly weds when I was in my 30s, so perhaps it was a rebellious act.) And I have a cast iron skillet that gets lots of use too. ( Info on how to season, clean, and care for a cast iron pan. Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning: A Science-Based How-To.)

vintage cast iron skillet and ladleI'm in the market for a new wok for stir fries, an enameled Dutch oven for soups, and some ovenproof dishes for roasting and baking. Over at Serious Eats this week a post entitled Equipment: The 7 Most Essential Pots and Pans offers ideas for all the items on my list and gives you options at either end of the price spectrum.

I must be the last person on the planet to discover Silpat and silicone baking sheets, thanks to a timely reminder from fellow food blogger No Pot Cooking.

And artisan preserver June Taylor, whom I interviewed this week, chimed in on my 2011 food-related goals blog post that she cooks almost exclusively (except for her jams, which are cooked in big stainless steel vats) in La Chamba clay pots (available locally, she notes, at Global Exchange.)

Stores like Sur La Table have their big blowout sales this time of year (20-40% off in the case of that store). I swung by the Berkeley branch this week but it was jammed and sold out of roasting pans. But lots of folks in line to pay with Le Creuset cookware in tow. I’d been eyeing some of these pots (most snapped up before the holidays) at a high-end thrift store on San Pablo Avenue called Scavengerie, which is filled to the brim with used enamel, copper, and stainless steel cookware.

And naturally I was delighted to read in the Chronicle last weekend about the recent opening of Pot + Pantry, a little slip of a store stocked with new and vintage kitchen tools in the Mission (22nd and Guerrero). The place has been getting lots of press, see Mission Loc@l and SFoodie.

Run by a former Williams-Sonoma merchandise coordinator and inventory management staffer, Donna Suh Wageman knows a thing or two about culling kitchen equipment to the necessities. (A girl after my own heart she's moved twelve times in the last ten years, which beats my seven moves in nine years.) Her collection is carefully curated so that everything she stocks is the sort of tool you’ll turn to again and again. I stopped by this week and while I didn’t come home with a retro groovy casserole dish (there were several to choose from), I did pick up a nifty stainless steel pasta ladle.

A jaded friend sniffed that Wageman simply does the sorting for you, and that Goodwill, the Alameda Point Antiques Faire, ebay and garage sales might elicit the kind of finds that she picks up from estate sales for a fraction of the price. But what busy working professional has the time for all this kitchen equipment scouting?

Wageman will soon begin trading and buying gently-used, brand name kitchenware from All-Clad and Le Creuset, as well as vintage kitchenware from Dansk and Pyrex in great condition. So it might just be a good time to clear out your own kitchen cupboards. What say you?