Mastering the art of college cooking

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Photo by Laura Fox

While most college students dream of gourmet food at the bottom of an instant top ramen well, recent trends have shown a revival in the yearning for gourmet American food.

With the movie release of “Julie and Julia” in 2009, yet another renaissance ignited sales of Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” During the movies opening week, sales spiked to No. 1 on Amazon’s best sellers list. Within several days, 11,000 copies were sold.

Unfortunately for many under this trend, the world of gourmet cooking is desired, yet still highly unknown. Especially at the beginning of the semester, many students move out and find they have to cook for themselves for the first time. Even after surviving perhaps a semester on pre-made food, the cost of these products is often expensive and still leaves an extensive void for mom’s home cooking.

As one of the many full-time students who works part time, I have noticed that feeding oneself regularly, nutritiously and inexpensively is a constant challenge for college life, yet we yearn so much for a hot, homemade meal.

Looking back to appreciate my mother’s kitchen, I was keen in particular to gain one particular saucepan that would soon be the center of my new college-life cooking experience. When I used to cook at home, like my mother, I always reached for the same pan. It was versatile, relatively inexpensive, and well-made enough to cook every one of my future meals for a lifetime. Luckily I knew where to get one just like it.

At two and a half inches in height, the rims are tall enough for a soup, and low enough for a steak or burger. It’s almost exactly like the one that my mom uses for nearly every meal. I went to T-J max and got the same Cuisinart brand, stainless steel, cast aluminum bottom pan for with a lid and lifetime warranty $29.99. The best thing is that I save money by going and buying 2 or three different types.

According to the highly esteemed Julia Child, “stainless steel with a cast aluminum bottom on the other hand is good, as the thick aluminum spreads the heat.” Specifically, the bottom of any pan should be at least 1/8 of an inch thick in order to conduct the most heat. Usually, the thicker and heavier the pan, the less likely it is to warp, which results in a pan that wobbles on the cooktop and doesn’t spread heat evenly.

Unlike cheaply made Teflon pans at Wal-Mart, which will more than likely need to be replaced on an annual or semi-annual basis, stainless steal can be used with any kind of spatula and not damage the coating.

Speaking of the coating, copper pans with tin linings, though excellent conductors of heat, are high end and also expensive in order to maintain the tin wash. The toxic chemical reactions of the two metals also make it sometimes risky to leave food in the pan after it’s cooked.

Although aluminum and iron are good heat conductors, they will also discolor foods containing white wine or egg yolks and that could end up being another disadvantage to these types of pans.

As for me, I’ll feel good knowing that I invested in something worthwhile for all my cooking adventures. With some practice, who knows? They might even turn out to be gourmet!


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