Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rolling and Cutting Fresh Pasta

Now that you've made the pasta dough, you probably want to do something with it. Sure, it looks cute on the counter but, it'll be tastier as actual pasta. I learned a lot since the first time I used a pasta roller, so it's been getting easier, and more fun, for me.

Attach your pasta roller to your work surface. Divide the dough into eight portions. (If you're good you can do it in six portions. I just have a tough time dealing with the dough once its gets too long.) Work with one portion at a time, keeping the others covered in plastic wrap or under the inverted bowl.

Flatten the dough portion with your hands to make a roughly rectangular shape, about 5 inches long. Pass the dough through the rollers at it's widest setting without pulling or stretching it at the other end. Drape the dough over your hands as much as you can. Using your thumbs risks puncturing the dough.

Lightly dust one side of the strip with semolina flour (you wondered where that was coming in to recipe, didn't you). Fold the dough strip into thirds, like a letter, folding the new flour inside and making a rectangular shape. Feed the dough strip through the roller at least six times, each time folding the dough, pressing out the air, passing it through the rollers, and dusting with semolina flour.

Set the rollers to the next notch. Flour the strip lightly on both sides and pass it through the roller without folding. A fairly well-shaped rectangle will form. Fix any breaks by pinching the pasta together.

Feed the dough through the rollers, once on each remaining setting. If the dough starts to stick, dust it with flour again. If you're making a thicker noodle, such as spaghetti or fettuccine, only go up to the next to the last setting.

Lay the strips on dry dish towels for five to ten minutes, keeping them covered with more towels, until the dough is slightly dry. Don't leave it for too long or it will make it hard to cut. Because I have a small kitchen, I'll drape towels, and the rolled pasta, over the backs of my kitchen chairs instead of taking up the much needed counter space.

Cutting the Pasta

To be cut properly, Fresh rolled pasta must be slightly dry, but not too dry. If it's too dry, the pasta will become brittle and break apart when you cut it. Work quickly so you can avoid this problem. If the pasta dough is drying too quickly, cover it with a slightly damp dishtowel while it's waiting for you to cut it.

Most rollers have cutter attachments of varying widths, making this part easy. If the dough sticks in the cutting rollers (it's not dry enough), dust it with a little flour. Conversely, if it's too brittle and the cutter won't grab the dough, try cutting off the edge of the dough to get rid of the most brittle part.

And even simpler way to cut fresh pasta is to fold it up and cut it in long pieces with a chef's knife to whatever thickness you want. Pappardelle is about an inch wide. Taggliatelle (or fettuccine) are about 1/4 inch wide. Fettuccia Riccia are as wide as papperdelle, just rolled as thick as fettuccine. Quadrucci, which is great in broth based soups, is just taggliatelle cut into little squares.

Maltagliati (literally “badly cut”) are irregularly shaped hand made noodles. Using a sharp knife, cut the fresh pasta into strips, about 2 1/2 to 3 inches wide. Next, cut these strips into triangles or diamond shapes. They don't have to be perfect. That's the whole point of “badly cut.”

Pretty fluted edges can be made by cutting the pasta with a fluted pastry wheel. To make farfalle (bowtie), use a fluted wheel to cut pappardelle, and then cut the noodle across into 2 inch lengths. Pinch each one in the middle to form little bows.

Cook, sauce, and enjoy!

Monday, April 28, 2008

How to Make Fresh Egg Pasta Dough

Now that I've had my pasta roller for a while, and made a few batches of fresh pasta, I'm ready to share the recipe I used. If you've got others, I'd love for you to post them. Mine originally came from Julia Della Croce, but I modified it slightly after watching Chef Todd English on Chef's Story.

It may not seem like it, if you've read the post on the first time I used my pasta roller, but I'd made pasta fresca before. Early last year I made it, more or less regularly, using an extrusion machine. The drive shaft for the extruder got lost somewhere (that's what I get for having my kids do the cleaning up) and I've not used it since. I don't think the results were as good, though. I suspect it has to do with the gluten not developing right during kneading.

Julia Della Croce says that you shouldn't use semolina flour, often marketed as pasta flour. She likes a fine 00 white flour, or all-purpose flour. I use all-purpose flour because it's easier to find in the local grocery store. If you like the flavor of semolina flour, I'd recommend trying different ratios of all-purpose flour, and semolina flour. That's what I'm going to start trying, anyway. In this case, I'm using just a touch at the end.


2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (plus extra for dusting your work surface)
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (optional)
semolina flour (just enough for the rolling process)

Combine the eggs and oil in a food processor, and pulse two or three times until mixed. Add the flour, a little at a time, until a until the dough starts to ball up. You may not need to use all the flour. If you can't get it to ball up, after all the flour has been put in, add one tablespoon of water and pulse once. Proceed to the next step.

I'm using a food processor to get things started because I've not mastered mixing the dough together on the counter without getting it all over the floor.

Remove the dough from the food processor to a lightly floured work surface. Gently knead the dough until you get a very soft ball. It should be firm enough to handle, but very pliable. Work in a little more flour if you need to. You want it to be soft and responsive, but not sticky.

Using the heels of your hands, flatten the dough ball and knead it from the middle outward, folding it in half after working it each time. Knead both sides, trying to maintain a round shape, until the dough is even and elastic. This should take about ten minutes.

Cover the dough with an inverted bowl or plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 15 minutes, or up to three hours. If it's going to be more than a half hour, I'd recommend refrigerating it.

Try using whole wheat flour along with the all purpose flour. I use 2 cups wheat flour, to 1/2 cup white flour, or sometimes just whole wheat flour. It creates a soft and mildly nutty pasta that's great with light sauces. Heartier sauces mask the delicate flavor.

Next time, we'll go over how to roll and cut the dough, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Master Recipe - Bolognese Ragu

There are some recipes that are important parts of a chef's repertoire. They provide a tool for learning and perfecting certain cooking skills and a foundation for flavor exploration. Armed with such recipes, cooks can easily provide a meal for themselves, of for a large party for family and friends. Because it's pasta month here at “Mormon Foodie,” I wanted to share a fundamental pasta ragu - Bolognese.

Ragu's are rich, meaty sauces, and this one is no exception. Named after the city of Bologna in northern Italy, Bolognese sauce is a rich, meaty mixture of beef and soffritto – a finely chopped mixture of celery, onion, carrot and garlic. I like to serve it with tagliatelle (a cousin to fettucini) noodles, but it would work great with many different pastas, such as spaghetti or penne.

To total prep time for this sauce is about 1 1/2 hours, and serves 6. It can easily be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for about three days, or in the freezer for up to three months.


1 celery stalk, trimmed
1 medium yellow onion
1 medium carrot
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup beef stock
1/2 cup red wine
14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg,
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Parmesan cheese

Finely chop the celery, onion, and carrot. Pour the oil into a large pot, then add the butter. Put the pot on a burner over medium heat until the butter melts and foams. Turn the heat down to low.

Add the celery, onion, carrot, and garlic to the hot oil and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for about five minutes, or until the vegetables just start to soften, but not brown.

Add the ground beef and break up with a large spoon. Cook until it looses it “redness”, stirring frequently. Sprinkle in the flour and mix well.

Add the tomato paste, beef stock, red wine, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and stir together. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low to get a slow simmer. Partially cover the pot, making sure that some steam can escape.

Cook for about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so, to make sure the mixture doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot. If it does start to stick, add a little water and stir well.

When the sauce is ready, it will be thick and glossy. Taste to check the seasoning. If there's excess fat on the top, it can be removed by blotting it up with paper towels. Add more salt, pepper, or nutmeg, if desired (although it shouldn't have an obvious nutmeg flavor).

Keep the sauce warm while cooking your pasta. Pour over hot pasta and mix before serving. Top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

Secrets to Success

If you really want this recipe to work, you've got to use a deep, heavy pot. That way, things won't thicken too quickly. Cook the vegetables slowly so they will release their fullest flavors. Don't skimp on the rest of the cooking time, either. Long, slow cooking is one of the secrets of a great Bolognese.

While this recipe lists canned tomatoes, feel free to chop your own fresh ones. I just don't see the point when it comes to long cooking sauces. Save the fresh tomatoes for other dishes.

I listed Parmesan cheese because it's more traditional. I actually prefer Romano. Asiago is a wonderful grating cheese for ragu dishes, too. Fresh cheeses can be expensive, but they're so much better than the pre-grated variety that I can't recommend anything else. You can easily grate them with a box grater. Try slicing thin curls off with a vegetable peeler if you're feeling adventurous.

Red wine is traditional, as well. It's normally recommended that you don't use any wine you wouldn't drink. As a Mormon, I'm not supposed to drink wine anyway, so I make do with the cheaper "cooking" varieties. I think cooking sherry works better with this dish.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Organic Pasta on Earth Day

Today is Earth Day! No, that doesn't mean I'll be preparing mud pies for supper tonight. It does mean that I'll be talking about organic food. More importantly for this month, organic pasta.

Grains, in the form of whole grains, breads, or noodles, make up 75% of calories consumed by humans. Fully half of the worlds cultivated land is grows some kind of grain. Conventional wheat production makes use of synthetic agricultural chemicals, while organic rules prohibit such use. While there are certain benefits to organic grain production, there are also problems that are difficult to deal with on a large scale. The efficiency of conventional methods is hard to match when using purely organic ones.

Fortunately, the human health risks associated with the chemicals used in grain production appear to be very small. The problem lies more in environmental issues. Pollution of ground water and soil compaction due to heavy machinery are the biggest issues.

Fortunately, consumer demand has made organic pasta readily available. Twenty years ago we were lucky to even find whole wheat pasta. Today we can get pastas made from a variety of grains and in all kinds of shapes. Most local supermarkets only supply organic pasta in a few forms. Natural food stores have entire aisles dedicated to the stuff. Several national brands, such as DaVinci Italian Organics, are widely available. Local brands are, by nature, more limited. If you're making your own fresh pasta, organic flours can be also be found under brand names like Gold Medal Organics.

One problem many consumers have with the switch from conventional to organic food is the price. Most organic food is much higher in price than its conventional counterpart. Organic breads can be as much as two to three times as expensive as conventional bread. Interestingly, though, organic dried pastas aren't much more money, on average, than conventional dried pastas. Many are available in bulk bins, further reducing the cost.

If you're thinking about going organic, if only for Earth Day, organic pastas may be your first, and easiest, change. Now, go plant a tree.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Passover Food Failure

The great passover pasta experiment was a failure. I should have guessed it would be that way, but I'm kind of stubborn. Inspired by this recipe for a matzo lasagna I wanted to make a variation with slightly fresher ingredients but, it wasn't to be.

The first sign of trouble came when I tried to find matzo. Over a period of two days I visited to four grocery stores and one natural foods specialty store before I found any. Utah is, apparently, not a great place to be Jewish. Either that or there's such a small Jewish community that it's not cost effective to carry Jewish soul food.

Finally, at the Albertson's store in Tooele (just a mile from my home), I found some. In fact, I found four variations. Some with egg, some without, something called “Tea Matzo,” and one more that I think may have had sesame in it. Every one of them was marked “Not for Passover.”

The thought occurred to me, “What does it matter? You know that matzo for passover exists. You're not Jewish, so what's the big deal? Just pick one of these up.” But I'm kind of stubborn about these kinds of things. I wanted to make sure that my dish was as kosher as I could get it. At least kosher enough that most of the different Jewish sects could enjoy it. I did find something else interesting, though – matzo meal.

Matzo meal is used to make matzo balls. From what I can tell its' just crushed matzo bread. The matzo meal listed that is good for passover. It's main ingredient, in fact, was passover flour. I started thinking along very dangerous lines. “Hmmmmm . . .,” I thought, “I wonder if I could make pasta noodles with this?”

Spending more money that I probably should have for what amounted to a can of unsalted bread crumbs, I headed home, confident in my ability to make something yummy, and go a step beyond the normal.

I was wrong. It didn't matter what I did. I couldn't get the dough to stay together enough to make noodles out of it. “Hmmmm . . . Maybe I can make gnocci with this stuff!”

I did learn that yes, you can make gnocci with matzo meal. It just isn't very good and has the consistency of slightly thickened wallboard putty. My wife described it best, “I feel like I'm eating something your not supposed to to eat.”

The next day I started looking at matzo ball recipes. I figured, matzo balls are cooked a lot like gnocci is, maybe if I got the recipe closer to an actual matzo ball . . .

Okay. Yes. It is possible to make gnocci shaped matzo balls that will hold up to tomato sauce. They just weren't very good. Certainly they were better than the nonsense I had made the day before but, not good enough that I'd every want to try again.

Until the the next night when I learned about something call “pasta nudi” - naked pasta.

This is interesting stuff. It looks like matzo balls, but it's not. It's made with cheese and just a touch of flour. Hey! This might be the answer! So I tried it today.

Hmmm . . . not so good. I ended up with two pasta nudi balls floating in what amounted to matzo meal and cottage cheese soup. And it wasn't very good soup, either.

So, I'm giving up. I'm sorry. If you want the real deal, go here and visit an actual Jewish chef who knows what she's doing, instead of a non-Jew foodie trying to fake it.

Besides. I'm out of matzo meal.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Passover, Priesthood, and Pasta

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program ...

With Passover coming up, I just had to take a break from pasta month. Not being Jewish, I don’t actually celebrate it. Because Mormons (and all Christians) share a portion of our religious history with the Jews, though, I think it’s important to at least recognize these important religious holidays.

Let's make no mistakes, here. Jesus Christ celebrated Passover before he was crucified. During the Passover feast in the “upper room,” he gave his disciples the most important commandment he could, regarding their behavior, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Besides, I can’t think of any better excuse to enjoy Jewish food. Except Hanukkah.

Passover is an awesome holiday. It commemorates the liberation of the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage, and the retelling of the Exodus story is common. The whole theme of the holiday is one of freedom.

As a Mormon, I have a rather interesting take on this. Moses was the prophet associated with the liberation of the the Jews. We believe he held what is now called the higher, or Melchizedech Priesthood - so named after Melchizedech, a righteous High Priest and King in the Old Testament. His brother, Aaron held a lesser priesthood, as did the sons of Levi. Today, that priesthood bears his name: the Aaronic Preisthood. In other words, they held the authority to act in God's name for the salvation of His children. The LDS Church believes that same priesthood authority has been restored to the earth.

As a descendant of “Joseph who was sold into Egypt,” through his son Ephraim, I feel a familial connection, as well. Maybe that’s why I have such respect for Jewish traditions.

There are specific food requirements for Passover. They can vary a bit between the different Jewish sects, but the main focus is on the removal of potential leavening agents from the home. Obviously, I know very little about the whole thing so, to do my research, I had to consult some experts. The information over at My Jewish Learning was especially helpful. If you’re interested in learning more about the rituals and ideals behind Passover, you may want to pay them a visit.

What I learned presented a real problem for me. Pasta is a forbidden food during Passover. It’s Pasta month! What was I supposed to do? With the help of Chef Adena Sussman, I may have found and answer.

Stay tuned …

Friday, April 11, 2008

How to Cook Pasta

I wish I could say that cooking pasta was difficult and required the sharpest eye and mind to cook properly, but I'd be lying. Cooking pasta is pretty simple. You just boil it.

Sort of. If you want to get the best results, you do have to pay some attention to it.

When cooking for four people, use about 1/4 pound of dry pasta, or one pound of fresh pasta. Don't mix the two. Trust me. You won't like the results.

Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. That may seem like a lot of salt, but it's not. For pasta, you want the water “salty like the sea.” Add the pasta, cover, reduce the heat to medium low and set your timer. Most dry shaped pasta will cook in 10 to 15 minutes. Fresh pasta takes no time at all, only 2 to 3 minutes, depending on how thick it is. Stir the pasta often while it's cooking to keep it from sticking together.

Just before the time is up, lift out some pasta with a fork or slotted spoon and bite into it (let it cool first, please). It should be tender, but retain some of it's “bite.” That's what “al dente” means: “to the teeth.” You don't want to under cook pasta, or it will be inedible. Overcooking is just as bad. Mushy pasta is a terrible thing to inflict on others and just think, why make a great sauce only to serve it with bad pasta? (Trust me. I learned this the hard way.)

Remove the pot from the heat and drain the pasta in a large colander. Shake it to drain off as much liquid as possible. Shapes like penne, macaroni, and conchiglie trap water so take extra care draining them. A very small amount remaining is okay. It helps “loosen” the sauce and lets it spread more evenly.

One way to make sure you don't overcook pasta is to cook it until not quite done, drain it, mix it with the sauce, and return it to the stove, over medium low heat. This way, the pasta finishes cooking in the sauce, and absorbs some of its flavor. Of course, you've got to have a fairly "moist" sauce to start with.

While the directions above are great for shaped pasta, such as penne or fusilli, cooking dried spaghetti and other long dry pastas requires just a bit more care at the start. Most long pastas aren't going to fit in the pot all at once, and have to soften a bit before they can be completely submerged. Fresh spaghetti's already soft, so that doesn't count.

I've found a couple of methods to deal with the problem, including breaking the pasta in half, but I like this method. Once the water boils, hold the pasta bundle in one hand and set the pasta upright on one end, in the very center of the pot. Quickly let go of the pasta and pull your hand away. The pasta will fall to the sides, spiraling out almost like a flower. This covers the water and forces the rising steam onto the pasta, softening it more quickly. As the pasta softens, carefully nudge the tops down to allow the pasta to coil into the water until fully submerged. Now set your timer. Continue as above, stirring often.

Sometimes people will add olive oil to the boiling water. My wife claims it stops the pasta from sticking together, but that doesn't make sense to me. The oil is going to sit on top, not down where the pasta is. What it can do is help stop the water from boiling over, because the oil provides a film that boils at a much lower temperature, forcing the water to break up as it pushed through the film. It's not perfect, but I have noticed a slight difference when I do this. Normally, I save the olive oil to toss with the pasta.

Chinese egg noodles (ramen) are even easier. They usually come packed in dry, flat sheets or rectangles. About 1 1/2 pounds are sufficient for four people. There are as many ways to cook ramen as there are brands. One very simple way is to bring plenty of water to a boil in a large pot, add the noodles, and then remove from the heat. Let the noodles soak in the hot water for about six minutes and drain thoroughly in a colander. You can also get pretty good results in the microwave. Put the noodles into a large microwave safe bowl. Add enough water to cover the noodles. Microwave on high for 5 minutes and drain. Either way, you can toss the noodles with a teaspoon or two of sesame oil afterward, if you like. That will keep them from sticking together and add a wonderful nutty flavor to the noodles.


Picture by Klaus Post. Used by permission.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Peanut Butter Pasta - Hold the Jelly

Peanut butter is a staple food for me. I love it's taste, texture, and smell. “Man cannot live by bread alone,” my mother would say. “He has to have peanut butter.” Now that I'm grown, I've become a bit of a peanut butter connoisseur. We don't buy any old peanut butter around this house. Oh, no. We buy the natural stuff that you've got to stir up when you get home. It's more expensive, but it's much better tasting, and better for you, than that no-stir crap that has hydrogenated vegetable oils mixed in with it.

One of my favorite pasta dishes, and a favorite of my children as well, is spaghetti with peanut butter sauce. Yep! Peanut butter pasta.

The first time I saw this recipe was in Jeff Smith's “Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook.” I loved the “Froog.” As a young man, I watched “The Frugal Gourmet” on PBS religiously. It's only natural that I picked up a thing or two from him.

As always, I've modified this recipe to fit my own tastes. It's simple enough that you might just get embarrassed telling anyone about it.

Peanut Butter Pasta


2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup hot water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/3 cup milk
dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
2/3 pound spaghetti, cooked.
Dried parsley for garnish

Combine peanut butter, hot water, soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, and cayenne pepper (leave it out if you don't like spicy food) in a small saucepan. over medium-low heat. Stir constantly until hot, smooth, and creamy. Stir in the milk and mix well. Toss with cooked spaghetti and serve, garnished with a bit of parsely.

Serves 4 to 6.

This dish works well for almost any pasta. It almost seems more at home over ramen noodles than spaghetti, probably because the flavors are straight from the Far East. My kids like it best over angel hair pasta. I like serving this dish with a side of corn, seasoned with butter and curry spice, and a tossed salad of lettuce and julienned cucumbers.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

What Pots and Pans Should I Buy?

As much as I like my new pasta roller, if you're going to cook pasta, you need a good cooking pot.

Pots and pans are some the most important pieces of equipment in your kitchen so, buy the best you can afford. You might be surprised at the quality you can get, at affordable prices, these days. Even so, don't go cheap. You want to buy quality pans that will last you for years, saving you wasted time and burned food.

What Pots and Pans do I Need?

Start off with about three deep pots, and one shallow pan. A saute pan is going to be the most versatile of the shallow pans. Most of the time, measurements for pans are taken across the top, not the bottom. Keeping that in mind can save you from buying a pan with a huge top, and a very small cooking surface on the bottom.

I like stainless steel pots and pans, with “sandwich” bottoms, because of the great balance of clean up, durability, cost, and heat distribution. A “sandwich” bottom is a heavy base made from a metal filling, sandwiched between stainless steel. Good heat conductors include copper, copper - silver alloy, and aluminum. They're slightly more expensive, but they will last for years.

For families, a large 9 1/2 inch pot is a great size for a large pot. Get one with two short metal handles that will allow it go into the oven. Then it can double as a casserole dish. It'll hold about 5 1/2 quarts and is large enough to hold an open steamer basket. They're useful for most cooking purposes, included sauces, soups, pot roasts, and, of course, pasta. They should come with a tight fitting lid. I prefer glass lids so I can see what's going on inside after I cover it.

A medium pot, about 7 inches in diameter, is essential. They hold about 3 quarts and come with either two short metal handles, or one long one. I use mine for cooking rice, and many pasta sauces. Just like the large pot, you want a tight lid.

A smaller sauce pan, about 5 3/4 inches in diameter and holding one quart, is the last starter pot. I have two: one with a stainless steel dual bottom, and one stainless steel with a copper-bottom jacket. Non-stick sauce pans are popular for making sauces with milk or cream, because of their tendency to stick, but I've not found that to be issue if you don't use too high of heat. I use these for sauces, or other dishes, where I don't need quite so much. I also use them when boiling eggs for breakfast. Once again, a tight lid is important.

I prefer a good 10” non-stick saute pan, with deep, straight sides and, again, a tight lid. Make sure the handles will hold up to high heat so you can put them in the oven, just like your pots. Mine has a short metal handle on one site, and a long metal handle on the other. This is really the work horse of my kitchen pans. It's excellent for frying, boiling, and most stir-frying.

What Other Pots and Pans Should I Get, Later?

Once you've got your three deep pots and a saute pan, consider getting an omelet pan. These are shallower than a saute pan, and have a curved edge. The curved edge makes it easier to “flip” the food in the pan.

Measuring across the base is important with an omelet pan, although most of them I've seen in stores report the size by measuring across the top. A 6 1 /2 inch bottom will be good for two-egg omelets, where a 9 inch bottom (my favorite) will be better for larger Spanish or Italian omelets. These pans are also useful for most frying tasks, including cooking pancakes. Some people prefer non-stick omelet pans because they can be easier to use.

A stove-top grill can be a great addition, as well. They make it easy to achieve a lovely grill mark indoors, without having to fire up the outdoor grill. Choose a pan with well defined ridges. It should be heavy, but not so heavy that you can't lift it easily. Some have folding handles that make them easier to store.

A griddle can be a good addition, as well. I've moved to a larger, electric, one for making pancakes, but I used a smaller, stove-top one can be good for making pancakes (you can get more on them than in an omelet pan). Many stove-top grills can be flipped over to double as griddles.

A steamer basket is a must for steaming vegetables or fish. Collapsible stainless steel ones are very popular, and very affordable. If you cook a lot steamed dishes, though, you may want to consider upgrading to a large, more expensive, bamboo one at some point. I certainly enjoy mine.

If you really like to stir-fry, at some point you'll want to get a wok. Get a large one, around 13 1/2 inches in diameter, if you've got room for it. Smaller ones can be had, but they won't hold as much. Good ones are made of pre-seasoned carbon steel and are easy to take care of. A wok with a slightly flat bottom are going to work well with both gas and electric burners. Many come fully equipped with a lid, ladle, spatula, and shovel.