Pots & Pans Registry Advice
While I love to cook, I've never had a set of **nice** pots and pans - more just a mix and match of things I've found here and there. Now that I'm getting married, I'd like to register for a set of good cookware. I've stuck mainly with Calphalon, but basically just because that's what I've had. I'd love to have some recommendations for lines & brands. My only requirements are below:
1. Nonstick & can use Pam type sprays
2. oven safe
3. durable / not easily scratched
Megiac gives a greaty list. I prefer the All Clad stainless, but that's a personal thing. Depending on your comfort level with larger pans, though, I personally find the All Clad 12 inch skillet to be more useful than the 10 inch. It is significantly heavier, though. Other things that I've discovered/collected over the years. Having one or two extra 3qt sauce pans around is always helpful. They can be used for just about everything from risotto to soup to small stews and small amounts of pasta or any sort of sauce.
I'd stay away from pre-defined sets as I ended up with pots/pans I simply never use (the 6qt "stock" pot in the All Clad set springs to mind immediately. Its just the wrong size for pretty much everything in my kitchen).
Most non-stick coating even on quality pans tends to wear out over time. If you are going to spend the money -- or someone else is -- buy good quality pans and then supplement that collection with a few non sticks that you buy yourself and are more or less disposable.
I use a combination of Le Creuset and All Clad MC2 series pots that were gifts off our wedding registy. I usually do not have any problems with sticking in the All Clad pans because they conduct heat so well (big change from the Revere set that I used previously). The things that I use the most are:
1) Le Creuset 8 qt. dutch oven
2) All Clad sauce pan
3) All Clad braiser
4) All Clad multipot (for steaming or, without the insert, cooking pasta or potatoes)
5) All Clad 10 inch saute pan
The way you have stated constraint #1 is internally contradictory. You don't want to use Pam on a nonstick surface -- it is redundant and (more importantly) turns into an unholy simulacrum of a tar pit as time goes by. Either learn to put cold oil into a hot pan, *OR* use nonstick.
Back to the business at hand. This is one of those "if I knew back then, what I know now..." questions that, thanks to Williams-Sonoma's liberal exchange policy and the miracle of eBay, my wife and I had a second chance to answer ;-). So, here are some suggestions that are unlikely to ever prompt a second guess as you acquire more and more skills in the kitchen.
The one pan that will never hold you back is a copper-bodied saucier: Falk Culinair and Mauviel make great ones, and the Falk piece is a "try me" loss leader at $90 for the 1.4qt version, so maybe you should be kind to your friends and ask for that. On the other hand, it appears that Bed Bath and Beyond, as well as Williams Sonoma, carry the Mauviel version for something like $150, which is a lot of money, but also happens to be brilliantly designed. A 12" cast iron skillet (ask for a vintage Griswold #10, if your friends have really great taste), which will allow you to throw a ton of food into a pan without it going stone cold, and then put the whole assembly under the broiler to finish. A Staub or Le Creuset dutch oven will provide even heat and the capacity to cook for a crowd, and they last more or less forever. If you have any friends who are talented with a wok, ask for one, and beg them to show you how to use it properly. It's so much harder than it sounds to stir-fry competently, without burning or steaming the food, and if you get the hang of it, you will have acquired a very useful skill.
You can buy (and dispose of) a nonstick omelette pan anytime and anywhere. You get married once (ok, rarely... well, for most people... never mind, the point is that it's a ''special'' occasion). Since people are inclined to shell out a little extra for the good stuff on this special occasion, you might as well do right by them and yourself, and suggest items that are worth the expense.
By the way, your "mix and match" cookware collection is exactly the right way to go about it and you should never for one instant doubt that you have gone about things the right way! First thing is to ask what you need that your current cookware cannot deliver, *THEN* ask what sort of pot or pan would best meet that need. *NOT* the other way around!
Congratulations to you and your fiancee.