At this point in the season’s retail packagepalooza, I normally wouldn’t suggest another minute, and nickel, spent. But recent workouts with a certain piece of multipurpose kitchen equipment warrant the following: If you’ve got returns or a gift certificate or a Bed Bath and Beyond coupon, swap or spend it on heavy-gauge, stainless-steel hotel pans (also called “steam table pans”).
Chefs and caterers know how versatile these pans are, with rimmed edges that can slide onto rolling storage racks and act as handles. The pans are part of the occasional trickle-down of restaurant equipment that works well in home kitchens — like fish tubs and those high-density plastic cutting boards.
Hotel pans come in a range of sizes and depths. The half-size is about the same length/width as a 9-by-13-inch Pyrex dish, but with 2 1/2-inch or 4-inch walls, the pans can be popped in the oven without fear of spill-over.
I use the half-size ones for casseroles and as bain-maries (the water-bath way to evenly cook ramekins of custards and such), for oven-poaching; as stove-top smokers (with a tight fit of aluminum foil on top); for marinating and for soaking thick slices of challah bound for French toast. I can sear a brisket on the stove top then transfer it to oven or grill — the shorter walls are particularly advantageous when cooking meats and roasting chunky vegetables.
Soup cools faster in them (more surface area). I bake cakes in them. I fill them with ice and water to cool down blanched vegetables. I freeze dough portions and side-by-side meatloafs and matzoh balls in them, till firm. I just used two of them to serve a crowd-size amount of meatballs in marinara, plunking the pans directly atop trivets on the table.
Plus, the pans stack inside each other for tidy storage and don’t mind the insistent scrubbing of a Brillo pad. I no longer buy those disposable aluminum things, because hotel pans are so handy for transporting. Sold yet? I’ve purchased them at Best Equipment near Union Market and I’ve seen them at Bed Bath and Beyond as well as through various online purveyors.
Check out just a few of the hotel-pan-friendly recipes from our Recipe Finder (www.washingtonpost.com/recipes): Butter-Poached Standing Rib Roast, Baked Ricotta Custards, Poppi’s Potato Pudding, Ginger Pots de Creme.
In our weekly Free Range chats, we often are asked about our favorite recipes, and from time to time we wax poetic a la Staff Favorites. Here’s a roundup of the ones WaPoFood published in 2014 that we’ll be making deep into the new year (in no particular order):
Whole Roasted Cauliflower With Chimichurri and Almonds: One of the most visually striking dishes, from the grande dame of vegetables.
Bucatini With Sun Gold Tomato Sauce: So simple, so delicious. It’s all about good, sweet Sun Golds.
Fish Fillets in Spicy Vinegar Sauce Beijing Style: A Chinese classic, in an easy-to-make home preparation.
Eggplant Parmesan Sub: Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Fast” cookbook wasn’t always as “fast” as promised but this eggplant parm sandwich was worth whatever amount of time it required.
Golden Lentils With Soft, Sweet Onions: From Mollie Katzen, a comfort-food revelation.
Green Bean, Artichoke and Hazelnut Salad:
Green Bean, Artichoke and Hazelnut Salad:Memories of Paris’s new bistro culture, on a plate.
Parmigiano ‘Gelato’: A magic condiment, made of just Parm, cream and a little nutmeg (and drizzled with fine balsamic), comes together like ganache.
Greek Giant Bean Stew With Lemon-Honey Sauce:
Greek Giant Bean Stew With Lemon-Honey Sauce:From Zaytinya, gigante beans star in a hearty dish.
Crepe Lasagna With Mushrooms and Spinach (Lasagne di Crespelle con Funghi e Spinachi) : It takes a little advance work to make the crepes, but they turn gloriously silky when used instead of noodles in this casserole.
Eggplant Cheesecake: Only Yotam Ottolenghi would be able to turn eggplant into something this luxurious.
Sunday Brunch Omelet: Practice, practice, practice, and you can make an omelet as perfect as the one from Le Diplomate.
Salted Chocolate-Rye and Pecan Cookies: A surprising combination, from the innovative minds at Tartine in San Francisco.
Caramelized Garlic and Butternut Squash Tart With Almond Crust: Gorgeous to look at, and lovely to eat, with a gluten-free crust.
Quince Jam: Quince season in the fall is short, so jump on making this sweet-tart spread as soon as you can.
Rompope: It makes you want to kiss a Puebla nun, in thanks.
Cashel Blue and Toasted Pecan Terrine With Frisee and Apple Jam: An impressive-looking appetizer that can mostly be made several days in advance.
Pistachio and Feta Dip: Salty and bright green, this dip is sure to be another party hit
Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Cookies: Lisa Yockelson’s perfect, buttery rendition of the dessert classic.
Gingery Tofu Sliders: Inspired by banh mi, these meat-free sandwiches come together quickly if you marinate or cook the tofu the day before.
Fennel-Kohlrabi Pasta: Savory and quick, with a bright sweetness from the carrot juice.
Crawfish and Smoked Tomato Gratin: Decadent crowd food, packed with tomato goodness.
Tuna Tacos With Lime Aioli and Honeydew-Jicama Slaw: A winning combination, perfect for spring and summer. Ready in 30 minutes.
Praline Tiramisu: A make-ahead, freezable dessert doesn’t get come much prettier than this.
Laab Kai: Secret ingredient revealed (toasted rice powder!), and a Plate Lab Party hit.
Creamy Greek Noodle Soup: You might need a bowlful of this today.
Buttermilk-Cedar-Brined Turkey With Gravy: Worth every minute of time you spend making it.
Tagliatelle With Hazelnuts, Salami and Radicchio:Salty, sweet, soft, crunchy — and finished in 30 minutes.
Prosciutto, Goat Cheese and Green Bean Roll-Ups: A caterer-worthy hors d’oeuvre.
Turkey Breast Stuffed With Pears, Dates and Hazelnuts: A flavorful, sophisticated alternative to a whole turkey.
Which 2014 recipes were your favorites? Share your questions, comments, recipes and food finds below; and with @WaPoFood and @bonniebenwick on Twitter.