Late last summer, as my sister was registering for her wedding, she called me to see what cookware she should add to her registry. I responded with a very detailed email, including links, and drafted a blog post on the topic that’s been sitting in the queue since last August. Better late than never, right? It does seem like the perfect time for this post, though. For one, wedding season is coming. For two, as you might have noticed, I’ve been linking the products I like to Amazon lately. I’m now an official Amazon affiliate, so instead of just helping you out by linking you right to the products I use most, you can reciprocate without paying an extra dime. Yep, that’s right–Amazon kicks me a little loose change when you use my links (like the one in this paragraph) to get there and purchase anything–not just the product I linked. For example, my first affiliate sale was on someone’s purchase of mass quantities of diapers. Thank you diaper shopper!
If you need convincing, skip down to read more about my affiliation with Amazon.
And if you’re hungry, click here to skip to the spiced eggplant lentil stew recipe (it won’t disappoint).
My Essential Cookware
For years, I developed a love of cooking using cheap or inherited pots and pans. If a $200 skillet sounds outrageous to you, I get it. You’re talking to the queen of frugality. I’d much rather see a home cooked meal in a $5.00 thrift store pot than fast food or takeout. But, if you are looking to upgrade for whatever reason (marriage, moving, a sudden abundant cash flow or lottery win), these pieces are a true investment that will last, most likely, for the rest of your life. $200 skillet divided by 3 uses per week for the next 60 years? $0.02 per use. I prefer to think about it that way, whenever I buy anything spendy. Over the last few years, I’ve inherited some much nicer cookware, been the recipient of a few generous gifts (both of my Le Creusets were birthday gifts), and shelled out some of my own cash for a small, powerhouse collection of pots and pans that I love.
Today’s post is strictly about cookware. As in, things you heat up on the stove or in the oven. Watch for future posts about my most indispensable tools, small electrics, serveware, and cutlery.
I tried to list my essentials in order of necessity, which will be different for everyone. I cook a lot of one-dish, vegetarian meals, so my cookware needs might (or might not) be different from yours. The reason I recommend these products is precisely for their versatility–long live the multi-use kitchen tool. While I frequently make dinner for just two, the sizes listed below are not specific to a certain size household and, again, are highly versatile when cooking for one, two, or six.
1. High Sided Skillet/Sauté Pan
All-Clad Stainless Steel 4 qt. Sauté Pan
My first sauté pan with straight sides (or maybe that’s the technical definition), this piece is a game changer. It’s deep and wide, for everything from stir fries to sauces. Use it for anything you’d normally do in a frying pan, just in larger quantities and better suited to liquids. The 4 quart is the perfect size for one or eight. Beware that if you bump up to the 6 quart, it takes up a lot of real estate on the stove top.
2. Medium Sauce Pan
Big enough for making soup, blanching vegetables, or boiling 8 ounces of pasta, but small enough for a sauce. My only complaint is that it’s heavy, so make sure you keep one light saucepan around if handling it one-handed (or that you have bigger muscles than I do, which shouldn’t be too hard, either).
3. Small Sauce Pan with Clear Lid and Lipped Edge
Okay, so my requirements are a little specific, for good reason. I added this pan to my collection after several hot milk spills (hence, the lip) and batches of burnt rice (hence, the clear lid). It’s also nice to have for small batches of grains–cooking a cup of quinoa in a 3 quart pan doesn’t make much sense.
4. Large Pot
Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron 7 1/4 qt. French Oven
This may seem like an odd (and heavy) choice for cooking beans, boiling large batches of pasta, or making stock. However, I’ve found it to be a champion on all fronts, the weight being the only real disadvantage. I used to use the tall All-Clad stock pot, but it was too narrow in diameter and also quite tall. I also found the interior pasta strainer to be a major burn hazard and didn’t really understand what to do with it, since my sink is not directly next to my stove. If your stove has a hood/microwave over it, as mine does, or you’re vertically challenged, as I am, that one will frustrate you. And if you ever do any deep frying, this is the best, safest pot–one instance in which the weight is a plus. Final bonus: the rainbow of colors, which will likely prevent you from reaching a decision for hours, or even days.
5. Oven Safe Non-stick Skillet
Calphalon Non-stick 8 and 10 Inch Omelette Set
My guess is that you own a pie plate of some sort, but, if not, this sturdy number can be used for many a brunch dish, such as my potato crusted cheesy tart. Chances are, the cheap non-stick skillet you got at Target 5 years ago is no longer (if it ever was) oven safe. Omelettes are still one of my downfalls in the kitchen, but at least I know I’m working with good equipment.
6. Cast Iron Skillet
Lodge 12 Inch Cast Iron Skillet
Don’t make my mistake and wait years into your cooking career before buying one of these! Maybe it’s my lack of camping experience, but I was unaware of the cast iron craze until very recently. No wonder PW loves cast iron. This thing is amazing, versatile, indestructible, low maintenance, and, in my opinion, dirt cheap. Just get it.
- Eggplant, gouda, & fig jam quesadillas (or any quesadillas)
- Spaghetti squash with mushrooms and pesto
- Socca chips
7. Half Sheet Pan(s) and Oven Safe Wire Rack
Williams Sonoma Goldtouch Half Sheet Pans & Steel Cooling Rack, Half Sheet Sized (non-affiliate links)
Sheet pans are absolutely indispensable for almost any oven cooking or baking, not just cookies. There are much cheaper versions available on Amazon, but the nonstick qualities and weight of the goldtouch line, exclusively from Williams Sonoma, will hold up under any temperature and constant use. The wire rack doubles as both a cooling rack and a holder for roasting bacon or reheating leftovers that are prone to sogginess, like pizza or sweet potato kale pancakes. If washed gently by hand, the nonstick qualities may outlast the pan itself.
8. Dutch Oven
Le Creuset 4 1/4 qt. Enameled Cast Iron Chef’s Oven (non-affiliate link)
I have this in both enameled cast iron and stainless steel, and the later rarely sees the light of day. I do like the handling of the stainless steel version for meat, but for everything else, especially stews and frying, I prefer cast iron. Before I got my large Le Creuset pot, I used this constantly. It’s perfect for risotto, and the eggplant stew recipe below. The size and shape combination appears to be a Williams Sonoma exclusive, so you’re subject to their current color selection. Check your local WS store for more options.
- Loaded sweet potato risotto
- Spiced eggplant and lentil stew (below)
- Garlicky broccoli cheese soup
9. Basic Frying Pan
All-Clad Stainless Steel 10″ Fry Pan
Perfect for getting a nice sear on anything, sautéing vegetables, crafting delicate sauces, or frying bacon nice ‘n’ slow. Unlike the high sided, covered sauté pan, this one allows for flipping and shaking with just a flick of the wrist (and lots of practice).
10. 9×13 Inch Metal Casserole
Calphalon Non-stick Bakeware Covered Cake Pan
I even use this thing out of the kitchen, for hauling photography props up and down the stairs to my “studio” (aka, the guest room). Aside from typical baking uses, it comes in handy for doubling recipes usually made in a pie pan. Unlike a nicer looking stoneware or glass baking dish, this one is super light and easy to transport, especially the model I linked with the lid.
Why You Should Shop Amazon via Natural Comfort Kitchen
Because I would do the same for you. Seriously! I support websites and podcasts that provide me with excellent free content, via their Amazon links. Now that I’m a food blogger providing free recipes and content (and loving it) I understand how meaningful a 5 cent commission can be. I mean, that buys one whole jalapeno pepper!
Without getting too technical, keeping NCK up and running isn’t free. I pride myself on bringing you a reading experience free of random or contradictory banner ads, but my costs of ingredients and web hosting add up quickly. I really appreciate any support, even if it’s using my links to go buy the stuff you normally buy on Amazon (like diapers…or toothpaste…or Kindle books). You can access the link through the disclaimer at the bottom of any of my recent posts, and I’m working on an icon to put up in the sidebar to make it effortless for you to click through to Amazon via NCK, instead of just typing Amazon’s address into your web browser. Hopefully these links provide you with a distraction-free reading experience but are easy to access if you’re curious about products I recommend or if you want to support me. I can promise you I won’t link every other word or product.
Super easy, right? Just to be clear, as of now, I’m not affiliated with any of the brands I recommend. I haven’t done any sponsored posts as of today, and that will only change if I’m approached by a company I really love or that I put through the ringer in my kitchen and end up loving.
The Amazon affiliates program might not be a great way to monetize your blog and turn it into an income you can live on, but it does help to offset some costs. If you have a food blog and are interested, the program is open to anyone, and you can find more info here. Feel free to ask me any questions about my experience with the program. It’s still brand new to me, but I’d be happy to share.
Spiced Eggplant Lentil Stew
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 14 cups 1x
Appearances are deceiving when it comes to this stew. Its deep Mediterranean flavors more than compensate for the brown color, and a few sauces fix even that.
- 3 T olive oil, divided
- 2 C chopped yellow onion or shallots
- 1 celery rib or 1/2 cup sliced fennel, finely chopped
- 5 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 C dry French green lentils, rinsed
- 1 can (14 to 15 oz.) diced tomatoes, preferably no salt added
- 2 qts. vegetable stock
- Splash of red wine (optional)
- 2 eggplants (around 2 lbs. total)
- 2 T harissa, plus extra for serving
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- Tzatziki, for serving (recipe in my free eBook)
- Pesto, any type, for serving (or fresh parsley)
- Bread or rolls, for serving (optional)
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium. Add onion, celery, garlic, and bay leaf. Cook until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add lentils and stir constantly to toast, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, stock, and wine, if using. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender.
- Meanwhile, turn on broiler (low setting, if applicable) and line a sheet or 9×13 inch pan with foil. Coat clean, dry eggplants with olive oil (1 tablespoon total) using your hands. Broil on baking pan 6 inches from heat, about 25 minutes, turning eggplants onto a new side every 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool when heavy and blackened. Cut tops off eggplant and peel off the skin. Pull into strips, removing conspicuous chunks of seeds, if desired, and place in a colander set over a bowl or the sink for 5 to 10 minutes. Pulse eggplant in food processor until long fibers are broken up and mixture has just turned creamy and spreadable.
- Uncover stew and reduce heat to low. Stir in eggplant puree and 2 tablespoons harissa, plus salt and pepper to taste (start with 1 1/2 and 1/2 teaspoons, respectively). Once well mixed and warm throughout, serve in bowls with extra condiments and bread.
Nutrition: the stew alone is vegan. Depending on your choice of condiments, it’s likely gluten free and vegetarian after adding sauces. Pesto will be the most likely culprit in spoiling either of these classifications, so be sure to check your ingredients in the case of allergies or strict adherence.
If you don’t have harissa, I’d recommend adding chili powder (even better: ancho chili powder), ground cumin, ground coriander, ground caraway seeds, and a bit of cayenne pepper to the onions when they’re almost softened. Stir for a couple minutes, until the spices are aromatic. You may also wish to add smaller quantities “raw” at the end, to finish the soup. In lieu of all that, sriracha will provide some heat and flavor, although it won’t match the complexity of the harissa.
The lentils make this stew insanely filling, especially when served with bread. The recipe will likely feed 12 or more–just don’t use giant soup bowls, or you may end up throwing a lot out. The recipe halves fairly well (you can still add the full can of tomatoes) and freezes great.
Feel free to make a day or two ahead–the flavors noticeably deepen after just 12 hours in the refrigerator.
Recipe adapted from Food & Wine magazine, December 2014 print issue.
- Prep Time: 15 mins
- Cook Time: 45 mins
- Category: Stew
- Cuisine: Vegan
Note: This page contains Amazon affiliate links. It does NOT contain sponsored content, and I have no relationship with any of the brands I recommend, at the time this post is published. Amazon links offset my ingredient and website maintenance costs, so I can keep bringing you useful info and spicy recipes like these. Thanks!
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