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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

You can help by leaving comments on posts and by becoming a follower. I'd really like to know who you are and what your thoughts are on what I'm doing. To date, more than a quarter million people have viewed the blog and that's great. But every great leader needs followers and if I am ever to achieve my goal of becoming the next great leader of the Italian culinary world :-) I need followers!

Grazie mille!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Silicone Dish Scrubbers

A Product That Is Just Peachy

I've probably read a hundred articles lately telling me how nasty and unsanitary the old traditional hand dishwashing methods are. The very thought of gazillions of bacteria lurking in sponges and dishcloths is enough to give anybody the willies. Statements like “your dish sponge is dirtier than your toilet bowl” are certainly evocative if not downright disgusting.

I've never been much of a sponge user. My mother and my grandmother took me down the dishcloth route at a young age and I've always followed that path. Sponges just seemed nasty to me: a sponge is great fresh out of the package, but after a couple of uses......yuck. Proper use of a dishcloth always seemed preferable. Cleaner, somehow. “Proper” being the operative word.

I know people who wad up their dishcloths and leave them in a damp, smelly heap on the counter beside the sink. That's not exactly “proper use.” That's a cabana for a bacterial pool party. If you wring out your dishcloth and place it on a rack of some sort to thoroughly dry between uses, it'll be good for a few days. Then you toss it into the laundry to be washed in hot water and bleach and you put out a fresh one. Pretty simple.

But even if you follow such a regimen, eventually you're going to wind up with a stinky dishcloth. It seems like the older mine get, the more quickly I have to replace them and there are a few that even bleach doesn't seem to help anymore. Those are the ones that get turned into floor rags. After several decades, I had pretty much resigned myself to that cycle of use. Then I discovered something new.

I came across an article touting silicone dish scrubbers as the latest and greatest thing. They're non-porous, so they don't collect bacteria. They're easy enough to clean when you do have to clean them, and they're durable, so you don't have to toss and replace every week. I'm not really one to jump on a bandwagon every time one passes by, but I figured, “what the heck,” and ordered one of the newfangled gizmos online.

I'm impressed. What's more, my mother and my grandmother would be impressed. These things are great.

There are several varieties of silicone scrubbers on the market. The particular one I initially saw reviewed was the Kuhn Rikon Stay Clean Silicone Scrubber. Here's the product description: “Say goodbye to your smelly sponge. Over 5,000 Silicone bristles clean dishes and multiple surfaces. Cleaner than your typical sponge. Non-porous Silicone dries faster and won t harbor bacteria. Better for the environment, this fun and flexible scrubber will stand the test of time. Collect them all. Use dry to remove lint and hair.”

The most common complaint among people who tried this eight or nine-dollar gadget was that it didn't create a lot of suds, causing more soap use, and that, due to the soft, flexible nature of those “5,000 Silicone bristles,” it was practically useless for actual scrubbing. But I liked the concept, so I kept looking.

What I found was really peachy. In fact, it's called “Peachy Clean.” It was developed and is manufactured in Georgia, the “Peach State,” and comes peach-scented. All well and good from a marketing standpoint, but does it work? In a word, yes.

Here's the company's spiel: “Peachy Clean® is the world’s only silicone dish scrubber, perfect for everyday kitchen use. It is designed to provide long lasting antimicrobial resistance to odors caused by bacteria, mold, and mildew. It is fast drying to prevent a moist environment that may facilitate bacteria, mold, and mildew growth. Peachy Clean® is designed to stay cleaner and be easier to clean than traditional products. Simply put, it’s just not as gross.”

The “Peachy Clean” scrubber is shaped and textured like an actual sponge. Because it is made of silicone, of course, it is not absorbent in any fashion as a regular sponge would be. You can't use it to wipe up spills or whatever. But it is fantastic for washing dishes. It's got just enough texture to get most jobs done. Is it going to scrub burned-on cheese out of the bottom of your pan? No. You'll still need a heavy-duty scrubber for that. (Better yet; stop burning cheese to the bottom of your pan.) But for general dish duty, it's pretty darn effective.

The “Peachy Clean” should last for three or four months. It actually comes with a three-month warranty. The manufacturer guarantees it won't stink for three months. I've been using mine every day for about a month and so far, so good. Clean up is a snap: just run it under some hot water and shake it dry.

Best of all, it's cheap. I got a three-pack on Amazon for about ten bucks. Walmart has them online for about the same price. They're available in select stores, but mostly stores in the Southeast, so Amazon or Walmart are your best bets.

Like I said, I'm about a month into using mine and I'm very happy with it. It does what it's supposed to do – clean the dishes – without doing what it's not supposed to do – stink. I've still got a dishcloth next to the sink for wiping down countertops or sopping up spills. And I keep heavy-duty scrubbers under the sink for use as needed. But for everyday dish washing, the new Peachy Clean® is just peachy.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Seven Simple Rules For Cooking Pasta Like An Italian

Do It The Right Way

A lot of cultures have come up with a way to combine flour with water and/or eggs to produce some form of noodle or pasta. Italians certainly didn't invent the stuff, but can there be any doubt that they are the masters of it? Italians have elevated pasta to an art form. Spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine, tagliatelle......the list is almost endless. There are more than 350 forms of pasta in Italy and about four times as many names for them. That's because the same pasta shape can be called something different in different parts of the country. According to Academia Barilla, gnocchi is the forefather of all pasta; it evolved into other shapes through the manipulation of the dough, either by hand or through the use of simple tools, to produce local variations. And if Italians are so proficient at making pasta, it stands to reason they are expert at cooking it.

And yet, whether it's human nature in general or American hubris in specific, a lot of people these days keep coming up with ways to “improve” the process. “Use less water,” they say, or “use cold water.” They're all over the place about salt and time and they're constantly foisting off “pot ready” pasta and “gluten-free” pasta and similar aberrations.

Fine. Whatever. You want to be an innovator? Go for it. You want to create your own “superior method” of doing something Italians have been doing for centuries? Be my guest. But I'm here to tell you if you want good pasta, you've gotta do it the right way and that's the traditional Italian way. With that in mind, here are seven simple rules for making pasta like an Italian.

Rule Number One: Boil It and Don't Oil It

Ignore the heretics who tell you you can get perfect pasta out of a shallow pan and two cups of cold water or some such nonsense. Pasta needs lots of boiling water. Four to six quarts. And boiling. Only boiling water will gelatinize the starches in the pasta, making it tender and digestible. And keep the water boiling from start to finish. If you turn it down to a simmer after you've added the pasta, you'll wind up with mushy pasta.

Pasta needs room to swim. The reason pasta sometimes sticks is because it gets too crowded to develop and release those starches we were just talking about. Big pot, lots of water. Somewhere, sometime, some well-meaning somebody who didn't know the first thing about pasta decided that you could put oil in the water to inhibit the sticking. Uh.......no. Basic science: what happens when you mix oil and water? The oil separates and you get an oily film floating on top of the water, right? Then you drag the pasta up through it and all it gets you is oily pasta to which nothing will stick, including whatever sauce you're putting on it. Remember: Lots of water, boil it, and don't oil it.

Rule Number Two: Salt It

Salt gets a really bad rep these days. As an essential nutrient for human life and health, salt – or at least its sodium component – is a vital electrolyte and osmotic solute. You simply can't eliminate salt from your diet. However, since excessive salt consumption – unfortunately common these days – can increase the risk of certain cardiovascular diseases, it's usually a good idea to keep your intake to a minimum. So when I tell you to add about three tablespoons of salt to four or five quarts of water, you're likely to suffer a heart attack just thinking about it. But it's true. È vero. Italians will tell you the water should “taste like the sea.” “Aaaarrrrghh!” you cry. “All that salt will kill me!” But laboratory research has determined that the pasta being cooked doesn't actually absorb that much of the salt: given three tablespoons of salt to five quarts of water, the pasta only absorbs ½ to ¾ teaspoon of the salt. The rest is discarded with the pasta water. So it's not really an issue.

What is an issue in some circles is when to salt the water. There's a great debate among the factions that say add the salt to the cold water, add the salt to the boiling water, and add the salt after the pasta is placed in the boiling water. And the answer is.....there is no answer. The problem with adding salt to cold water is that salt is corrosive and can eventually pit and damage your cooking pot if it's left sitting on the bottom while the water heats up. The problem with adding it after the pasta hits the water is one of possibly uneven distribution. So most experts agree that salting the water at the full boil and giving it a few seconds to disperse before adding the pasta is the best way to go.

Why salt the water at all? Because pasta has essentially no flavor of its own. And the only opportunity you have to add flavor is through salting the water because that's when the pasta is most susceptible to absorbing its flavor. Salting pasta after it's cooked will give you nothing but overly salty pasta. The noodles have already opened up, released their starches, and set. You have to get the salt in there during that cooking process or your window of flavoring opportunity closes.

One of my restaurant cooks prepared a batch of spaghetti that was absolutely bland and flavorless. I asked him how he had cooked it and he told me “with a little salt in the water.” How much was “a little?” About a teaspoon. In two-and-a-half gallons of water. “Throw it out,” I told him, “We're starting over.” And he watched with wide eyes as I dumped about a half-cup of salt into the fresh pot of boiling water. “Taste that,” I told him. “What does it taste like?” He replied, “Like salt water.” “Perfect,” I said. “Remember that.” And when he tasted the finished product a few minutes later, he enthused, “Wow! You can really tell the difference. I'm going to make it that way at home from now on.” Lesson learned.

Rule Number Three: Don't Break It

Don't ask for an explanation of this rule, just accept it. It's an Italian thing and it is what it is. I tell people all the time that Italians can hear the screams of the poor pasta as it's brutally broken and tossed in a pot. Actually, there is an explanation: long pasta is long for a reason. Otherwise it would be short. The reason long pasta should be left long is so that it catches and holds more sauce as you twirl it around your fork. Of course, if you are one of the unfortunates who cuts your spaghetti into bite-size pieces that can be scooped up with a spoon, may I recommend “Spaghetti-Os” and respectfully suggest you stay out of Italian homes for your own safety.

Rule Number Four: “Bite Me”

I don't know who the whackadoodle was who first came up with the idea of testing the doneness of pasta by throwing it at a wall and seeing if it sticks. Maybe there was alcohol involved. Personally, I think such people should themselves be thrown at a wall to see if they stick. The only thing you'll get out of this ridiculous method is sticky, messy walls and pasta that says “bite me.”

Perfect pasta should be cooked al dente – literal translation: “to the tooth.” What this means is that the cooked pasta should be soft enough to bite into without feeling a crunch, but still quite firm at the center. And the only way to test if something is done “to the tooth” is to get your teeth involved. Take a piece of pasta out of the water, blow on it to cool it a bit, and take a bite. In the center of the pasta, you should be able to see a thin core that is lighter in color than the surrounding outer layer. That is called the “punto verde”, or “green point,” and its presence indicates that the pasta is al dente. If the pasta is crunchy throughout, it's undercooked. If it's the same color and texture throughout and you don't see that “punto verde,” the pasta is probably overcooked.

Rule Number Five: No Rinsing, Please

Cooked pasta is covered with a light coating of the starch it produces as it cooks. And some people erroneously believe there's something healthy and desirable about rinsing away that starch. So under the faucet the colander full of cooked pasta goes, and down the sink goes the starchy coating that helps pasta hold on to the sauce. There's really only one time when you want to rinse cooked pasta and that would be if you are using the pasta in a cold application like a pasta salad or something. Rinsing also stops the cooking process so you're not throwing hot pasta in your cold salad. Otherwise, don't rinse it. In fact, most experienced pasta cooks just lift the pasta straight from the boiling water with a pasta fork or tongs. And always remember to reserve about a cup of the cooking water. You'll see why in a minute. Using a colander to drain pasta is okay if that's your thing, but don't rinse the pasta and don't leave it laying in the colander, either. Which leads us to the next rule.....

Rule Number Six: Cook It In The Sauce

Somewhere Americans got the notion that the proper way to prepare pasta was to cook the life out of it, drain it dry, pile it on a plate, and dump a quart of runny red sauce over the top of it. And nothing could be further from the truth. The proper way to prepare pasta is to cook it until just a minute or so shy of al dente, drain it lightly, and immediately drop it into a pot or pan of simmering sauce to finish cooking for the final minute or two. If the sauce seems a little too thick, that's where the reserved cooking water I mentioned before comes in. Mixing in just a fraction of a cup of this starchy, salty goodness will “finish” your sauce like nothing else. Preparing pasta this way allows it to fully absorb the flavor of the sauce in a way that dumping the sauce on top will never achieve. The pasta and the sauce marry and incorporate for a perfect – and perfectly delicious – dish. You can't get the same results by using your fork and mixing up the sauce on top with the pasta on the bottom once it hits your plate. It just doesn't work. I know, I know – that's probably the way your local “Italian” restaurant serves it. And I'll tell you why: because that's the way Americans expect it. For example, I advertised that the spaghetti served in my restaurant was prepared “Italian style.” And wouldn't you know there were a few people who complained that, because the sauce was already mixed in, it looked “like yesterday's leftovers.” We eventually found that if we cooked the spaghetti “our” way but served it with an extra little dollop of sauce on top, people like that would accept it. Several very Italian friends of mine serve “American-style” spaghetti in their restaurants simply because they have to. Of course, when serving me they lay out a plate of properly prepared pasta because they know that I know the difference. And now you do, too.

Rule Number Seven: Serve It Hot

There is an oft-repeated Italian saying that goes, “pasta waits for no one.” Cooked pasta is at its very best when it's fresh out of the pan and piping hot. Italians drop everything when the call “è tutto pronto” is made. You'll never hear, “Okay. I'll be there in a minute.” When dinner is ready, diners need to be ready, too; ready to sit down and enjoy a plate of perfectly prepared pasta cooked in the traditional Italian way.

Mangia bene!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

How To Make Real Whipped Cream

Wholesome, Delicious Whipped Cream In Two Minutes Or Less

I cringe whenever I pass the freezer section in the supermarket and see somebody reaching in for the “whipped topping.” I just want to wail, “Nooooooo! You can do so much better!” But it is what it is. For better or worse, nowadays when people think “whipped cream” they automatically reach for the “Cool Whip.” (Sigh)

Here comes the old codger in me: “Back when I was a boy, we didn't have 'Cool Whip.' We just went out in the field and chased the cow around in circles until she gave whipped cream.” Well......actually, we went to the grocery store and bought a can of old-fashioned “Reddi-Wip.” “Cool Whip” and other “non-dairy” products were still a few years in the future.

A food scientist named George Lorant can be credited/blamed for the existence of “Cool Whip.” He created it while in the employ of General Foods back in 1966. The marketing hook was the shelf life: unlike real whipped cream or even the popular canned product, “whipped topping” – as the manufacturer likes to call it – will keep for-freakin'-ever in your freezer. Even out of the freezer, the stuff is practically indestructible. I know of people who conducted “science experiments” in which they left a scoop of “Cool Whip” out in a bowl on the counter for as long as two weeks without observing any apparent change in the integrity of the substance. Some reported that it did eventually harden into a plastic-like state. Yum, yum! Just what I want on my All-American Apple Pie; a lump of All-American Plastic.

Wanna know what it is you're slathering on your dessert? Here goes: water, hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, skim milk, light cream and less than 2% sodium caseinate (a milk derivative), natural and artificial flavor, xanthan and guar gums, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate and beta carotene.

BTW and FYI, polysorbate 60 is an oily liquid used as a thickening agent, emulsifier, and stabilizer in cosmetics and skin care products. And sorbitan monostearate is a synthetic wax primarily used as an emulsifier to keep water and oils mixed. See why I feel like screaming when I see somebody reaching for the stuff? As I frequently say, I'd prefer to be embalmed after I'm dead, thank you.

The whipped cream sold in a pressurized can – of which “Reddi-Wip” is still the most popular – is a little better. At least there you've got a shot at a few natural ingredients: nonfat milk, cream, sugar, corn syrup, maltodextrin, inulin (chicory extract), cellulose, mono- and diglycerides, polysorbate 80, artificial flavors, and carrageenan. Of course, polysorbate 80 is yet another emulsifier employed, in this case, to help keep the whipped cream from separating. It's also used as a surfactant in soaps and cosmetics. And carrageenan, an emulsifier extracted from red seaweed, has raised a lot of red flags in health circles.

So rather than topping your dessert with a spray of chemically enhanced foam from a can or a scoop of plastic-like substance from a plastic tub, why not do the smart, tasty, and healthy – or at least healthier – thing and make your own whipped cream from scratch? It's really easy.

I admit to never having had real whipped cream until I began my culinary education. My mom was one of the convenience-addled zombies of the '60s who sprayed from a can or scooped from a tub because it was just what everybody else did. Using anything that didn't come out of some sort of package or container in those days marked you as a kind of throwback to an earlier, unsophisticated, less “modern” era. But since I turned out that first batch of homemade whipped cream, I have never gone back and now I look with pity upon those who choose, through simple ignorance, to continue using horrid, unnatural substitutes.

Please do yourself a favor and try this the next time you want to dollop some whipped cream on top of your favorite dessert: bypass the freezer case and go to the dairy section. Don't reach for a spray can. Instead, pick up a carton of heavy cream or heavy whipping cream.

Contrary to what some would have you believe, you don't have to have a $400 stand mixer to make whipped cream. In culinary school they make you do it with a whisk. That's fine if you're young and energetic and have a lot of elbow grease. I'm old and lethargic and my elbows aren't nearly as greasy as they used to be, so I use an electric hand mixer.

You're going to need a metal or glass mixing bowl; plastic won't work nearly as well. Some schools of thought say this is because plastic ions leach into the cream and inhibit its ability to whip. I know this can be true of egg whites, but I'm not so sure about cream. I think it's more a matter of temperature: cream whips better in a cold bowl. Heavy cream contains lots of fat. In the whipping process, that fat is broken up into tiny droplets that disperse evenly and begin to stick together, forming a matrix that traps air. But the whipping action also generates heat which can cause the matrix to fall apart. When you're working in a cold bowl, the cold helps counteract the buildup of heat. In fact, everything should be as cold as possible, including the whisk or beaters and the cream itself.

Okay, so you've got your chilled equipment ready; now you just need some cream. Make sure you get the heavy stuff; light creams contain less fat and don't whip as well. Unless you're in need of insane amounts of topping, a small carton – a half-pint or a pint – will suffice. Since cream doubles in volume when whipped, a pint – or two cups – of liquid cream will produce four cups of whipped cream. And unlike the plastic topping in the plastic tub, real whipped cream will break down fairly quickly, so don't make a lot more than you need.

Depending on what you're going to do with it, you might want to sweeten or flavor your whipped cream. Easily done with a little sugar and some vanilla extract. Some people insist that powdered sugar is best because it blends easier than granulated sugar. Also, there's a touch of cornstarch in powdered sugar that may help stabilize the whipped cream after it's whipped. But either one is fine as far as taste is concerned. And some say clear vanilla extract is better from an aesthetic viewpoint because regular vanilla will slightly color the finished product. Meh. Or you can just go with plain unsweetened, unflavored cream. It's up to you and your taste buds.

The process is simplicity itself. After thoroughly chilling all the components – about fifteen minutes in the freezer is good – pour the cream in the bowl, set your mixer – or your mixing arm – on “high,” and have at it. Add in the sugar and the vanilla – or lemon, or orange, or rum, or whatever other flavoring you choose – and whip until stiff peaks form. Don't go crazy and overwhip or you'll wind up with sweetened, flavored butter. Maybe it's not as simple as pushing down the nozzle on a spray can or scooping out of a plastic tub, but it's a whole lot better.

There you have it; wholesome, delicious whipped cream in two minutes or less. On the downside, I suppose, you'll have to give up the “poor man's Tupperware” you get with the “Cool Whip” containers, but believe me, it's worth the sacrifice. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Let's Talk About Non-Stick Cookware

Nothing That Fragile Has A Place In A Busy Kitchen

Over the years I've written a lot about cookware. And even though I've mentioned it in other posts and articles, I don't know that I've ever directly addressed the subject of non-stick cookware. So here goes.

In the first place, I hardly ever use it. And when I do, it's for specific purposes only. You see, for general use, non-stick cookware is really lousy.

Oh, I know it's popular in big box discount stores and in those “as seen on TV” places. But in a real working kitchen, it's pretty much useless. In my restaurant kitchens, I kept non-stick pans in stock for one purpose: eggs. And I threatened my cooks that if they damaged the egg pans, they'd replace them. Because non-stick cookware is incredibly easy to damage. You can damage it with high heat. You can damage it with rough handling. You can damage it with improper tools and utensils. Sometimes I think you can damage it just by looking at it. Nothing that fragile has a place in a busy kitchen. Unless you want to replace it every couple of weeks.

In my home kitchen, I have a few non-stick pots and pans hanging around among the stainless steel, the carbon steel, and the cast iron. And I use them for eggs. And rice; my favorite rice pot is non-stick. Otherwise, everything else cooks in the aforementioned stainless steel, etc.

“But doesn't everything stick,” you ask? No. Largely because I know how to cook. And I know how to care for my cookware. And I guess there's a third component: I'm not afraid to spend money on my cookware.

Non-stick cookware became the rage of the age soon after it was introduced back in the 1950s. Developed by DuPont in 1938, “Teflon” was the first practical non-stick coating. “Teflon” is a synthetic fluorinated polymer, or fluoropolymer. Technically named polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE, the stuff was a military secret at first. They used it to make seals resistant to the uranium hexafluoride gas used in atomic bombs. In 1944, DuPont registered the “Teflon” trademark and began developing it for commercial use.

According to legend, a French engineer started using the stuff to coat his fishing gear to keep it from tangling. His wife suggested he apply the coating to her pots and pans, and a new industry was born. The Tefal company was formed in 1956 and began turning out non-stick cookware for home use.

The question is often asked, “If nothing sticks to Teflon, how do they get Teflon to stick?” They start by roughening up the substrate metal. That allows for better adhesion. Then they apply Teflon in layers, either rolling or spraying it on over the textured surface. The more layers, the better the non-stick quality. Some pans have as many as seven sprayed-on layers. You pay money for those. Some have only a single layer rolled on. With those you get what you pay for.

Early on, DuPont realized that high cooking temperatures would cause Teflon to exude toxic gases. That's why they originally only employed it in coating bakeware. When PTFE-coated pans are heated beyond about 650°F, the coating begins to break down, releasing a byproduct called Perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. PFOA was initially used as an emulsifier in the processing of PTFE-coated pans, but when manufacturers figured out that the fumes produced were harmful to humans and lethal to birds, they started phasing out the substance. In fact, the resulting polymer fume fever is nicknamed “Teflon Flu” in medical circles because it causes flu-like chills, headaches and fever along with chest tightness and a mild cough.

Pardon me if I don't get excited over the prospect of being made sick by my cookware.

In addition to the fumes, overheated non-stick coatings can become unstuck. High temperature cooking can result in blisters, pits, and flakes. Further damage can be done to the coating through improper use of cooking utensils. A metal spatula, spoon, or fork is an invitation to replacement of a non-stick pan. And you really should replace scratched or damaged non-stick because the scratching and pitting only exacerbates the fume problem and do you really want flakes of polytetrafluoroethylene mixed in with your scrambled eggs?

Another problem with common non-stick cookware is construction; it's usually made of aluminum. Aluminum has been known to leach from the cooking vessel into the food being cooked. And aluminum has been identified as a toxin for the human nervous, immune, and genetic systems. Hard anodized aluminum is a little safer, but it's usually more expensive. And it doesn't really matter once the surface gets scratched up through heavy and/or improper use. Even anodized aluminum is gonna leach.

Furthermore, aluminum is soft. Bang an aluminum pan around your kitchen for awhile. Drop one from time to time. See how nice and oval-shaped they become?

Lastly, non-stick cookware is useless for making pan sauces. Oh sure, if you're the kind of cook who makes sauce or gravy from a packet or a jar, non-stick is great. Just dump and stir. But if you like to make a real sauce that gets a lot of its flavor from the little brown bits – called “fond” – that stick to the bottom of the pan, well......you're kind of out of luck with a non-stick pan, aren't you?

Okay, so non-stick cookware is easy to clean. But don't be lulled into a false sense of security. Inattention and improper cooking techniques can screw up a non-stick surface, and once it's screwed there's no unscrewing it. Toss the pan and start over. I got distracted while working on a mornay sauce once and it burned to the bottom of my stainless steel saucepan. Five minutes with some Bar Keepers Friend and a non-scratch plastic scrubbie and my pan was good as new. In fact, the stainless steel pans I use every day are more than ten years old and I can still see my reflection in the surface. That's mostly because I paid decent money for the pans to begin with and because I take care of them. They hang from a pot rack in my home kitchen just like the ones in my restaurant. I don't throw them in a drawer or a cabinet where they can get battered and beaten up. And they've never seen the inside of a dishwasher. Oh, and by the way, the average useful life of a non-stick pan is three to five years.

Now, you want something that's non-stick and nearly indestructible? Try cast iron. I have a Lodge 10-inch frying pan that's nearly forty years old and its surface is as smooth as glass. Nothing sticks to that rascal and it will probably wind up with one of my granddaughters someday. And if she takes care of it, she can pass it on to her kids.

When you add a ceramic coating to cast iron, you get the ultimate in durable non-stick cookware. Yeah, my Dutch oven weighs fifteen pounds, but it's more versatile than anything on the market. You can take it right from the stovetop to the oven – it'll easily withstand 500°F – and clean it up with just a wipe. Try that with cheap, lightweight aluminum cookware. No, really, don't.

The latest generation of non-stick cookware also employs ceramic coating materials rather than PTFE. It's a safer choice from a health standpoint and most of them perform pretty well. Again, you get what you pay for. If the underlying material is cheap and flimsy, no amount of ceramic coating will make any difference. I'm fond of the Bialetti brand of ceramic ware. But there are other good brands available.

Something of which to steer clear, however, is the new “copper” fad. They sell for, like, $19.95 – double your order if you order now – and are the ultimate example of “you get what you pay for.” In the first place, they're not “copper.” They're 2.5mm aluminum coated with copper color epoxy paint. I was reading over some reviews and they ain't pretty. “A crap product” was the way one guy described it. Way too light. Not heavy duty as claimed and smaller than expected, to boot. Eggs cooked on medium temperature stuck and had a metallic taste. Another satisfied customer said hers were “the worst pans she has ever bought .” They worked fine at first, but then the non-stick, non-scratch surface came off and she couldn’t get rid of the stains on the bottom and the sides. Now her pans are badly stained and scratched and she just wants to get rid of them. “Scam”was a word that got used a lot. Especially by people trying to return the things. Caveat emptor.

So here's the takeaway: By and large, non-stick cookware is okay to have around for specific purposes. You can't rely on non-stick for everything because it isn't suited for everything. It's good for eggs but it's useless for pan sauces. You can't use it with high heat, you can't put in the oven, and it'll dent, warp, scratch, and ding if you look at the wrong way. Your best bet is to buy a few pieces of the better quality stuff and stay far, far away from the cheap junk. Use it for what it's intended to be used for, care for it the way it needs to be cared for, and then go out and invest in decent stainless steel and cast iron for everything else.

Buona fortuna e buona cucinando!