Thursday, September 24, 2009


I have an update to my Pots and Pans post and some wonderful news for people who prefer not to spend all their disposable income on cooking equipment. I finally got around to buying a few pieces of Tramontina cookware highly recommended by Cook's Illustrated.

10 inch TriPly-Clad skillet ($30)

6.5 quart dutch oven ($50)

I've been using the skillet interchangeably with my 10 inch all-clad skillet for 3 weeks now and I can't see the difference in performance. Heats quickly, cooks evenly, browns well producing excellent fond (brown bits). If anything I found one benefit to the Tramontina skillet over All-clad. Its handle doesn't have a dip right down the middle making it easier to handle. That dip never bothered me about the all-clad skillet, but I know it bothers some people, so Tramontina makes a great alternative. It's also one third of the price. An equivalent all-clad skillet is $90. I can't speak for durability yet. I've had the all-clad for 10 years and it's in perfect shape. If I am still blogging in 10 years, I'll let you know how Tramontina holds up :)

The dutch oven is huge and performs great. So far, I've made 2 braises and one no-knead bread.

In case you are wondering why my lid handle looks different than the one on Walmart's site, it's because Jason replaced it for me with a metal cabinet knob per Cook's Instructions. The one that came with the pot is technically not safe at 500F necessary for the bread.

My only two gripes with the dutch oven is that it's insanely heavy (they are all like this, so it's nothing against Tramontina) and the rim of the pot and the lid are naked cast iron, not covered with enamel.

This means that they need to be rubbed with oil and seasoned in 350F oven for an hour before first use. That's a minor annoyance since it's a one time activity. But it also means that you can't let them stay wet or they might rust, and the pot needs to be dried by hand after washing. That's a somewhat bigger annoyance since it happens every time I use the pot. Not sure why they left them naked. They covered the entire pot with enamel. How hard would it be to do the edges too?! The reason I am not too worried about it is that the edges don't normally touch the food.

The price for this beast is simply incomparable. An equivalent Le Creuset costs $240 (five times the price of Tramontina). Again, I can't say anything about reliability, and since I don't have any Le Creuset cookware, I can't compare them first hand. But Cook's has been using and abusing these pots for years and I doubt they'd be recommending them if they fell apart.

So, where do you buy these pots and pans? Walmart. If such huge stores make you feel agoraphobic, you can order your pots on-line and have them shipped to your local store for free. That's the best way to make sure you'll get exactly what you want. My wonderful husband spared me the need to go to Walmart and picked up the pots for me. From what I hear it took forever to find a helpful staff member who knew where my pots were, so be prepared to wait. But the goodies that have been coming out of these wonderful pots every day, quickly erased the memory of dealing with Walmart personel.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Moving, Bluestar range, and Kobe Hood

I've been in a blogging comma for so long, I forgot how to blog. People who can blog about the craziness in their life (like opening restaurants, giving births, writing books) fascinate me. Those are the real writers. But my ability to write completely leaves me in such situations and getting back into it is hard. But now that we have moved, got the new kitchen ready for classes and Sammy started new daycare, I don't have any excuses for blog laziness.

You might vaguely remember a series of agonizing posts I wrote in the spring about choosing a range. I ended up choosing Bluestar and thought I'll give you an update on how it's working out so far. Does this $3,000 dragon cook better than my $300 Kenmore at the old place? Is it as big of a maintenance nightmare some people on gardenweb seem to indicate?

First, let's get one thing straight. A good range doesn't make a good cook. Every dish I've made so far tasted the same as it did on a Kenmore. However, bluestar does have some advantages and some disadvantages over a normal range you can buy at Sears.

Advantages (in order in which they matter to me):
  • I can fit 2 good size pans front to back.
  • The grates are sturdy and don't move.
  • The broiler is super powerful.
  • Water comes to a boil much faster.
  • Large skillets cook a bit more evenly.
  • The simmer burner can go super low.
  • The oven is larger.
  • Grease splatters don't show on cast iron grates.

Getting the range set up and working is a hassle! Let's start with the fact that I got a gas range even though I ordered a propane one. It's hard to say who screwed up, my contractor or Bluestar, but there was a lot of finger pointing. A Vesco technician came over to convert it and said that everything is adjusted and working fine. At the time of his visit my kitchen looked like ground zero (the contractor had to cut granite to fit in the range and install the ductwork for the hood). With all the craziness, I didn't notice that 3 of the 4 burners couldn't be reduced past medium-high heat. Luckily, Jason figured out how to adjust them by reading the manual. You have to take the knobs off and turn the screw inside them with a tiny screwdriver. After the adjustment, the burners have a great range of high to low.

As soon as I set the first skillet with oil on the range, I realized that the grates weren't level. When we disassembled the top, it turned out that a few screws were missing, which put grate supports out of alignment. Luckily, the installers left us some screws and we managed to fix the problem. My question was why were we left to deal with all this? This is not a complaint against bluestar as much as against my installer.

One of the burners sometimes makes a roaring noise when it comes on. That's not a biggie. I can turn it off and back on and the noise goes away. The oven does that too sometimes and it is a major biggie since the oven cycles off and on. Sometimes it makes that noise not when I turn it on initially, but later on when it cycles back on. This means that I need to be around to turn it off and back on. As you can imagine I don't really feel like baby-sitting my oven, especially when making 3 hour long braises.

I called bluestar and they suspect it's air shutter adjustment, which they don't cover under warranty (surprise, surprise!) They said that it's always perfect when it ships, but often gets messed up during shipping and it's my installer who should be responsible for this. My installer hasn't even returned my call yet. Vesco came out today and adjusted the air shutter slightly, but they suspect the propane pressure might be too weak at times and now I am waiting for the propane company to come over.

In other words, we are still working out the kinks.

Now a few words about the infamous infrared broiler. After I figured out how to tame this dragon, I do love its power, but it took me 6 fish fillets to get used to it. If you set the rack at the highest position, everything is burnt. If you set the rack a notch lower (which is almost the middle of the oven), it doesn't brown. I finally figured out that for most fish dishes top rack is the best setting, but you have to check them every 20-30 seconds and move the pan around a little to make sure they are browning evenly.

My only pet peeve with the broiler is that it turns off when the oven reaches 500F, so you can't use the broiler right after using the oven. That's a bit of a pain since I sometimes need the broiler right after the oven and vice versa.

All in all, I love cooking on a bluestar and believe it's the best deal as far as professional style ranges for the home go. But I still think that the cost and the installation hassle is not worth it for most cooks.

Although I am still a bit ambivalent about the range, the hood is something I am in love with and think it was worth every penny. I got a Kobe Island Hood that was on the cheap side as far as island hoods go. I was a little worried about how it will perform, but so far it's been fantastic: sucks up all the smoke and does so very quietly. No more fire alarms, and I can easily talk over it in class. The oil cups are surprisingly easy to clean, but they rarely get any oil in them because it gets sucked in so well. The user interface leaves much to be desired, but that's a small price to pay for good functionality.