Although cookware makers will press hard to persuade you otherwise, the home cook can really get by with a minimal amount of pots and pans.
The first, and my personal favorite, is a second-hand Dutch Oven which I received from my mom for a birthday several years back and we have named The Green Goddess.
Although it’s easy to envision soup, stews, or chili in this one wonderful pot, its simple shape and somewhat dogged appearance belies the diversity of creations it can produce with ease and minimal effort. Yes, you read right: easy and looks-like-you-cooked-all-day results.
The Dutch Oven, in case you haven’t Googled it yourself, does hail from the Netherlands which is where its craftsmanship was honed.
Today, they seem to be everywhere — from grocery and thrift stores to high-end kitchen boutiques — there is a bounty of brands which range in price from $40 to $400. My first is a Martha Stewart brand whose enamel has chipped a bit but that still produces the same results as my yellow Le Creuset. And, the real wonder of The Green Goddess is that I don’t have to worry about diligently cleaning after each use.
So, depending on how you store or display your cookware, a used or new model will suit your needs and will help you be a dinnertime superstar. Here are the first things to try:
The easiest homemade bread you will ever make —
PBS Kitchen Explorers produced this recipe for No-Knead Artisan Bread that I have been experimenting with for the past several years. Once you have some repeated successes, try experimenting with substituting some of the white flour with wheat, rye, or buckwheat and adding honey, herbs, and even cocoa powder to create your own favorite artisan bread.
The basic recipe includes a whopping 4 ingredients and can easily be mixed by hand, or automated with a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook. Over the years, I have made some adjustments, and now mix in our Kitchenaid, and add in both a hand knead and additional hour rest before baking.
If you already have a favorite bread recipe, you can adapt and bake in your Dutch Oven and transform a plain loaf into a beautiful boule, crusted with oats, seeds, or extra flour. To date, a Potato Bread recipe from the StarTribune is the clear winner at our house. A highschool friend of my sister’s, who now lives in Golden Valley, shared this recipe and it makes dynamite toast for brunch or breakfast.
Note: I use my old Dutch Oven (aka The Green Goddess) for this simple bread recipe because roasting at the high temperature adds brown spots that must be scrubbed off of a new one. A thick paste of baking soda and water plus a little elbow grease works cleaning miracles. You can also forget the parchment paper if you fully preheat your Dutch oven before putting your dough into the pan.
Braise baby, braise!
There used to be a neighborhood restaurant at 29th and Johnson in Nordeast Minneapolis called Amici and among my favorites there was a red-wine braised beef. Tender, perfectly seasoned, and paired with mashed potatoes, it is the perfect comfort food for the long winter months we endure in the Twin Cities.
Although I don’t have the recipe they used, the dish was one that both tantalized and taunted as I never thought I could create something like that at home. But with the help of The Green Goddess, we have conquered fears and conjured flavors.
Here are my top two recommendations for beginning braises (apologies in advance to vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian audiences):
Bon Appetit’s Beer Braised Carnitas will help you shine on Taco Tuesday.
Smitten Kitchen’s Red Wine Braised Short Ribs will delight dinner party guests.
If these aren’t your thing, search braised beef, braised pork shoulder, or braised lamb and see what you come up with.
And don’t forget to serve your crusty, homemade artisan bread on the side, you Dutch Oven devil you!