Thursday, December 30, 2010

Quick and Easy - All-Clad to the Rescue!

Not long ago, I was not much of a cook.  I lived by myself, got home from work late and basically did not feel like putting in the effort to cook a meal and then be stuck eating that same dish for the next three meals!  Nick, on the other hand, actually enjoys cooking and is really good at it.  Not wanting to be outdone...and since cooking for two is way more fun, I decided to get my act together and cook some dinners.

However, there were more than a few road blocks in my culinary development.  While my mom had done an excellent job outfitting my kitchen with most necessities, I was definitely missing some things, like a cheese grater, which does not seem like a big deal until you attempt homemade Mac and Cheese that requires grating an entire block of cheddar.  Lets just say using a blender, in my head GENIUS!, was a big mess.  My other big issue was pans.  I only had two cheap non-stick fry pans: one was only for making eggs and the other at best 10 inches in diameter.  Neither was going to help me reach chef status.  Actually, the pans ended up causing more problems that anything - lets just say lots of problems were had!

I realized that it would be worth investing in some good cooking supplies to help me along - making dinner cannot be THAT hard.  Lucky for me, most of my friends had recently registered and done all the research on the different brands of pans for me!  Generally, before I even finished asking the question, they would all reply "All-Clad," they last forever and are totally worth the price.

After much hemming and hawing about whether to bite the bullet, we went to Williams-Sonoma, because whenever I have a kitchen question, they know the answer and have exactly what I need.  So a very pleasant lady at the store in the Copley Mall informed me that my friends were correct, All-Clad was the way to go.  The only question left was what pan to buy.  Only having two pans myself, I had no idea of the varieties there were in just pans, not even counting pots!

I played with lots of the different pans, picking them up, mimicking my "moves" in the kitchen to see if the pans would be too heavy - those big ones can be difficult to even take out of the drawer!  This is where the sales lady was really helpful.  Turns out, All-Clad had this package of two different pans that had only recently come out, one 9 inches in diameter and the other 11.  The set was not even out on the floor yet!

Pans from Williams-Sonoma
While smaller in size (I went in thinking I needed 12 inches), they actually had higher sides, thus held more and were a good combination fry and saute pan.  Even better, the package was on sale!  So I took the plunge and invested in some nice pans.  I can now say, six months later, they were totally worth it.  These pans still look great and really are not difficult to clean up!!  Just do not try pancakes or eggs in these - I still break out the non-stick for those guys.

The dinner I made last night is a perfect example of why these All-Clad pans work so well.  I made sauteed chicken with asparagus and mushrooms, a recipe I found on Martha Stewart's website.  I am a firm believer that Martha can do no wrong!  This recipe really only has three main ingredients: chicken, asparagus and mushrooms (four if you count the rice or pasta).  I added a little onion (as there was an extra in my kitchen) and garlic because some of the reviews say that the dish can be a bit bland.

the basics
So again, I chopped up everything that needed chopping in advance so it would all be ready to go!

ready and waiting
I generously salted and peppered my chicken and added about a tablespoon of olive oil to my 11 inch All-Clad pan and added the chicken.  I made sure everything was spread out with no overlapping in hopes of an even cooking job.  After the chicken was on, I started to boil some water for the pasta.

browning chicken
When I first browned chicken in my pan I thought I was ruining it - there was NO WAY those brown bits would EVER come off.  Turns out, not only are they supposed to stick they actually do come off later in the dish to add delicious flavor.  Even better, the brown bits actually have a name, fond!  In the picture above, you can really see the fond sticking to the pan, one of the main reason to use stainless pans.  After the chicken was finished cooking, I placed it in a bowl and set it aside to be added back later.
Next I added the onion, asparagus, and mushrooms to the pan.  Then I added about a cup of water.  Sure enough, after I added the water and did a few aggressive stirs, the brown bits came unstuck, which always amazes me and now were mainly responsible for adding all sorts of good flavor to the other components of the dish.  Then I sprinkled everything with some more salt and added a spoonful of minced garlic and stirred it all together. 

brown bits doing their thing
When the asparagus reached a nice "done," tender but still crispy (about 7 minutes) I added the chicken back in and let everything cook together.  I plated the pasta I had cooked.  After giving a few good final stirs I took the pan off the heat and topped the pasta making sure I got some of the juices as well.  This helps flavor the pasta better.

Finished Product!
This dish is a great example of how having my nice All-Clad pans keep what is a simple dinner actually simple.  The pans also help to make this dish much more flavorful!  While I would love to expand my All-Clad collection, due to some size restrictions in my kitchen and apartment, we have not added any others.  In general though, this package of pans has worked out great for most of our cooking needs.

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