LEARN FROM YOUR POTS AND PANS

In writing a story the other day for Saveur, about the evolution of my kitchen, I was made aware once again of how much one’s work space is a reflection of the person whose domain it is. Over the years I’ve not only become attached to my batterie de cuisine but so many of the pots and pans and kitchen implements and memorabilia, even my Garland stove, have taught me valuable lessons in cooking.

When I decided that there was a need for a good book on the strategy of cooking for one, I realized that an important part of reducing recipes and making them work in single portions lay in adjusting the pan size. I had to rethink my cooking habits, and gradually I stashed away the big equipment on top shelves. I hung close to the stove, within easy reach, my 4-cup Le Creuset pot, my trusty 8-inch iron skillet, a small wok, an omelet pan, and my father’s miniature square skillet. They have become my fellow conspirators in conjuring up new dishes.

The wok gave me the idea of sautéing a leafy green vegetable in a little olive oil and a few slivers of garlic until almost tender, then nestling in an egg (or 2) to steam with the greens. The omelet pan always beckons when I’m looking for a quick supper and can put to use some of the tidbits I’ve stored in the fridge to make an omelet or a heartier frittata. The small square frying pan that my father left me inspired me to reduce my Potato Dish for Julia to a potato dish just for me; it was just the right size and shape.

My 6-inch iron skillet is probably the pan I use the most. It is the right vehicle for a dinner-in-one-dish because it lends itself to quick searing and then resting in the oven (just remember to use a sturdy potholder when you take it out). It is the perfect pan for making a dinner such as fried eggplant slices with a thin layer of meaty cutlets; you do the frying and layering on top of the stove, splash in a bit of tomato sauce and broth, top with cheese, and then slip it into the oven for a final 10 minutes. I’ve found that both skirt steaks and fillets of fish are best seared quickly in my iron pan and then left to finish cooking for a few minutes in the oven; when I take them out, the sizzling hot skillet is ideal for making a fast pan sauce. A quick dressing for pasta can also be made in that pan or in the wok while the pasta cooks and then—à la Lidia Bastianich—I fish the strands out of the boiling water with a big mesh spoon and tongs and drop them into the sauce for a final cooking.

Sometimes just seeing a pan in a kitchenware shop can be an inspiration. That’s what happened when I first encountered the relatively new popover pan with its separate cups. I had to have it and went right home to experiment with making just two popovers, which worked (and, of course, you can bake them in Pyrex cups). The individual tart pan with its fluted edge and removable bottom sets off my taste memory and I am thinking of all the possibilities of a little quiche.

I remember that when Evan and I returned in 1951 from three and a half years in Paris I was determined to bring home the cocotte I had bought in the flea market there. I had learned to make in that heavy iron pot reasonably good stews and braises and I suspected that I would never find anything like it in those days in New York, where light aluminum for the frail, beleaguered housewife was still the rage. But there was something deeper here: I knew that that cocotte connected me to the French for whom cooking was a pleasure and sitting down to a meal was to be honored, whether en famille or alone (perhaps even more so if you are alone).

18 Responses to “LEARN FROM YOUR POTS AND PANS”

  1. [...] Jones, author of The Pleasures of Cooking for One, blogs about the evocative nature of pots and pans: “In writing a story the other day for Saveur, about the evolution of my kitchen, I was made [...]

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sandra Walters. Sandra Walters said: Judith Jones | The Pleasures of Cooking for One » LEARN FROM YOUR …: Over the years I’ve not only become .. http://tinyurl.com/yjg6pdw [...]

  3. Judith,
    Much of my kitchen gear is gifts from family and friends. I have a small (2 quart) Le Crueset cocotte that my father gave me for Christmas one year, a copper egg bowl from my sister on a birthday, and a surprisingly handy santoku blade a friend thought I needed and knew I’d never buy. One of the great pleasures of my cooking is that these implements connect me to loved ones and bring them to mind whenever they come to hand.

  4. Artoeat says:

    Equipment has as much emotional pull as the ingredients it touches.

  5. Jo says:

    Judith, I read about your blog in MacLean’s magazine. I am single, and I love good food. My mother taught me how to cook (her grandmother was French), and I still loving cooking wonderful recipes for myself. My son-in-law is a trained chef as well, and my daughter also loves to cook.

    My 6-inch iron skillet is my favorite utensil, and I use it often. My favorite breakfast is one scrambled egg with feta cheese, and a hot cup of coffee.

    I’m so glad I found your blog!

  6. Leanna says:

    I recently read your article in Macleans magazine while visiting my parents house. I loved the idea and look forward to trying your recipes. I am a lover of homemade food and when cooking for one that can be challenging. The temptation to simply buy a frozen dinner or similar is quite strong especially when ones life is particularly hectic. Although married, my husband and I live apart due to work/career reasons right now, so I relish recipes that don’t leave me immense amounts of leftovers. I have tried that as well, and find I end up eating the same thing for a couple of weeks.
    All this to say..Thank-you!

  7. Gloria says:

    Judith, you often talk about cooking extra and keeping leftover meats, cream sauces, etc. in the fridge/freezer in order to create new meals later. I wish you would talk sometime about your methods for refrigerating and freezing these things. Do you use very small containers for small bits? Or perhaps freezer bags? How would you go about saving a cup of cream sauce, for instance? I know it is a simplistic question but I seem to have trouble organizing my “little bites” and then remembering what I have. Thank you so much for writing your book. I only recently discovered it and now can’t wait to read The Tenth Muse!

  8. [...] a little skillet (perfect for a omelette, and exactly what Judith described in her latest blog post on her kitchen supplies), I handed the woman at the counter my purchase. I asked her, rather nervously, “The manager said [...]

  9. Holli says:

    Thank you! The dinner for one recipe in the November Glamour magazine caught my eye and I ordered your book from Amazon that day – it’s perfection. There are many recipes in this book that look challenging and fun – not to mention delicious. I’ve had the book a few days and already made the steamed egg nestled in a bed of greens twice. So simple, perfect and healthy. LOVE IT! Thank you! Thank you.

  10. Ann Griffin says:

    Wonderful book for those of us who enjoy cooking and eating well and are not prepared to deal with “fast food” once the family has left the nest. Thank you!!

  11. Rozellia says:

    I feel a strong bond with Judith Jones after being a chef on the other side of the world having cooked from so many books she has edited and now I have written my own first efforts and would love nothing more than to have her opinion. How do I reach you Judith? You rock.

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