Checking It Twice

By Corby Kummer

My friend Ellen, like many people I know a much more skilled cook than I, wrote with some well-taken exceptions and good additions to my post on Megan's updated kitchen gift list. With her permission I offer an abridged summary:

I completely agree with you on all points, but one: Calphalon. I took the finish completely off on two separate and newish pots, twice, with batches of a rhubarb compote. Returned pots to company, who swore this was impossible, but they admitted it and that the anodizing does go in the presence of high-acid (think also tomato sauces). I sold every piece I had, concerned about leaching of aluminum and its anodized components into food (not good).

I've had similar experience with acidic ingredients: I long heated tomato sauce in a large Calphalon pot while pasta boiled in the gorgeous Alessi double pasta pot I got as a gift (it still retails for $500! Seems like it did fifteen years ago; the company's Web site dates it to 1982), and then I would heat the drained pasta in the sauce--as you of course also do every time you make pasta. The bottom of the pot turned white years ago. I assumed it was the acid, but haven't been concerned about leaching, because once aluminum, the core material, is anodized, it is said not to leach into food, and it never occurred to me that anodizing itself could deteriorate. Similar concerns might explain why a nice-looing set of three Calphalon pots, unused, turned up recently at my local thrift shop.

Have since cooked only in stainless (Sitram), stainless-lined copper, cast iron, and enamel-lined iron (Le Creuset). Am baking Jim Lahey bread in my brand new splurge Emily Henry ceramic pot.

For some reason Le Creuset seems to be undergoing a big revival this year. Always reliable, like well-seasoned cast iron, which of course is the base, and the enamel saves you from having to worry about the seasoning to keep it fairly stick-free. Maybe it's the new colors the enamel comes in, contra Megan's advice never to buy colors you'll later regret.

I, too, haul out my ancient Cuisinart for certain but rare applications (grinding nuts with flour, making a vat of hummus every few weeks, and also for your Unbeatable Chocolate Biscotti, made frequently). My knives, the Kitchen Aid mixer, or the blender I still have (wedding present to my parents--you can imagine the colors) by far the best.

Two Cuisinarts also appeared at my local thrift shop, one the original, and handsomer, International Style squared-off design, one the less-successful rounded one. The signs said they worked perfectly. They were still dusty.

Am mystified by the Silpat craze. I don't even like the feel of it, like all those ghastly sticker rubber kids toys of gross creatures. Just bake cookies on parchment!

And buy sturdy metal cooking sheets, and lots of them. Time to decide which cookies to bake in the snow--and finally dig in to some of the new cookbooks I've been saving for this week. Report to follow, but know that my first stop is Jim Peterson's new Baking, which like all of his books--many of them written in collaboration with our Sally Schneider--will be instructive beyond the recipe at hand.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/12/checking-it-twice/32380/