New cookware for a newly inspired home cook
I have owned throwaway nonstick cookware my entire life. A couple of months ago I purchased 4.5 qt and 7.25 qt Le Creuset round dutch ovens, for a steal at Marshall's and on ebay, and I have realized that quality cookware is necessary. I am looking into purchasing All Clad to replace my pans and eventually 3mm copper for saucepans, and a nonstick for eggs and pancakes. I have been tempted by the 3.5 qt Le Creuset braiser, as it seems multi functional as well as the All Clad french skillet. I am not a particularly experienced cook but have gained confidence in the kitchen as of late and would like to build a well rounded lifetime cookware collection. I normally cook for 2 sometimes 4 people. I could use suggestions on type, size and brands of cookware to build a set of quality cookware.
I bought the LC 3.5 qt braiser last weekend at one of the LC outlets. With all the better quality cookware I own,I'm pretty ashamed of myself that I hadn't purchased this earlier. I doubt you'll regret the purchase.
I have a 12 inch french skillet from the Cuisinart french classic line. It's multi-clad and made in France, works in the oven and stovetop, but it lacks a lid. I really like sautéing vegetables on the stovetop with it.
The LC braised is a bit deeper and obviously a bit more heavy-duty. I made an excellent beef stew in it. Like you, I cook for 2-4, so it's a nice piece if you're to make a smaller amount of something you might otherwise make in the 7.25 or 4.5 qt.
ETA: The LC braiser was $162 or so including tax at the LC outlet. First quality. Every month they rotate which colors they put on additional discount.
That LC braiser is a very handy size and shape, so if you can find one at a decent price I think you'll get a lot of use of it.
In my cooking, a medium skillet is just about the most-used item. I learned to cook on a 9" cast iron skillet, and used it happily for decades after. A few years ago I got a tri-ply stainless skillet, and that was a nice step up -- much lighter, no worries deglazing with wine, easier to clean, and more even-cooking. But then I got a 2mm copper-stainless skillet that is my absolute favorite piece. If I hadn't cooked for so long with a cast iron skillet, it might have seemed too heavy, but it's super-responsive and even, with all the non-reactivity of stainless. My s.o. still uses the tri-ply, finding the copper one heavier than he likes.
In your case, too, it might be a lot more weight than you're used to. The next best thing IMO, and considerably lighter to handle, would be All-Clad Master Chef, aluminum lined with stainless. It's significantly more responsive and even-heating than stainless tri- or 5-ply. The aluminum in the original MC is a bit thicker than in MC2, and pieces appear semi-frequently on ebay. I treasure my 12-inch MC skillet, which only cost $35; the lighter weight of aluminum is most helpful in the bigger-scale pieces. I mostly use it for stir-frying. It's got enough surface area to be very useful also for browning meat for stews and braises, and for sauteeing down a big bunch of greens.
Le Creuset type of cookware (enameled cast iron) are good for slow cooking like stewing and braising...etc. However, you should not expand enameled cast iron cookware into any fast cooking cookware like fry pans or woks.
All Clad is a solid brand for stainless steel cladded cookware. Other similar cookware are Demeyere (more expensive) and Calphalon Triply, Cuisinart MultiClad, Tramontina Triply....etc.
Since you already have 2 Le Creuset round ovens, you can get a ~3 quart saucepan, a 10 or 12" fry pan, a saute pan. For the fry pan, you may want to consider a carbon steel fry pan, like a DeBuyer Mineral fry pan.
*Edited* I just remembered. Before you buy the All Clad cookware, make sure you hold the pot/pan in your hand. Some people like All Clad handle design just fine. Others find it uncomfortable. I know you want some cookware that last you a lifetime. Just make they are not painful cookware which last you a lifetime. :)
My best advice to you is to look at what grabs your fancy and get one piece, maybe a really good skillet next.
I am not a fan of All-Clad, but many love it. It was my first "upgrade" in cookware and I really didn't see any difference between it and my old Farberware set. I would check if there are still any specials on the Demeyere Proline skillets. It was my first Demeyere piece and was under a hundred dollars, and I got to experience cooking with that kind of pan. Real 3 mm copper is not so easy to find. I've thought of getting a thick sheet of copper and hammering it out myself. We'll see how that goes if I ever try that out!
Have a look at Demeyere and Mauviel stainless cookware on Sur La Table, the Demeyere Industry5 line has some pieces on sale, it's 5-ply, and great quality with nicer handles than All Clad (IMO). Also, I think a nice heavy cast iron or carbon steel skillet is a must in any kitchen. Look at Lodge stuff, or De Buyer Carbone Plus (West elm has the carbone plus on sale still, I think)