One look at those weird bathing suits and caps (or shaved heads) that the Olympic swimmers were wearing and we all realized anew that athletes are always looking for something to give them enough of an edge to lead them to the gold medal.

Those of us who like to cook can relate to that. Name me a cook who can walk past a store specializing in cookware, or even the cooking equipment section in a hardware store, without stopping to finger the merchandise.

I had been looking at Calphalon for years. Calphalon is the black nonstick cookwear that was originally designed for restaurant chefs. It has been around a long time. I remember when it first came on the market and a Godchild called me from Alaska to see if I thought she should buy it. I am ashamed to say that I never thought of trying it for myself, cast iron and stainless steel with copper bottoms had done the trick for my Mom and had come flooding to me as wedding gifts. They suited me sentimentally and since I already had them, they suited me monetarily.

Well, dear friends, the other day I was seriously introduced to Calphalon, bought a piece, tried it and decided that my ancient pots and pans were not up to the pace set by this contender for my cupboard space.

I especially like the fact that all of the handles are ovenproof (like cast iron) and it is nonstick which allows low fat cooking with easy cleaning. I don't want this to sound like a commercial; there are similar products on the market. I just happen to now have two pieces of the new Calphalon and they are making me very, very happy. The holidays are coming and perhaps when they're over (if I word my letter to Santa Clause carefully) my two new pots will be nesting with some of their family members.

I am discovering anew that the type of cookware makes a big difference in cooking results. All of us who write about food are constantly made aware that the terms used in cooking can confuse recipe users. (Especially now that Home Economics is a thing of the past in our schools.) Maybe this will help.

WHAT THE RECIPE IS TRYING TO TELL YOU

1. Sautéing - the process of cooking food in a thin layer of oil over intense heat. You must allow sufficient room in the pan for water to evaporate during the cooking process.

Allow foods to rest outside the refrigerator for 5 to 10 minutes before cooking. Be certain the pan is clean. Any food or oil residue can cause food to stick. Preheat pan so foods don't cook slowly before they sear and sauté.

Pat food dry to remove moisture before adding to a hot pan. Water turns to steam and delays the sautéing process.

Don't overload the pan. If food is touching it can't brown properly.

Don't let a fork touch the food. Each time food is pierced it loses moisture.

2. Deglazing - Adding liquid to the pan after the food has been removed. Adding water, wine, milk, stock or fruit juice to the pan creates a dramatic, steaming and bubbling in the pan. The caramelized juices release easily from the pan bottom, blend with the liquid and begin to reduce. After a few seconds the liquid has a deep color, rich flavor and aroma. Cook a little longer and you drive off some of the water and making a flavorful sauce full of nutrients.

For thickened sauces or gravies, a roux (a mixture of flour and water) is stirred in. The longer it cooks the more color and flavors change, from pale blonde to nutty brown. Tiny bubbles are a sign that the flour is fully cooked.

3. Doneness - For meats, poultry and fish.

Rare - Lay your hand at rest with the fingers curled. With a finger of the other hand, press the fleshy area on the inside of your hand below the thumb. This is what a rare-cooked piece of meat should feel like - soft and yielding.

Medium - Now spread your fingers and thumb open about halfway. Press the same fleshy area. This is what medium doneness should feel like - firmer but still resilient.

Well Done - With your hand now spread wide open to the limit, press the same fleshy area. It is now firm and does not yield much to pressure.

WINE BRAISED SAUSAGES AND ONIONS

Smoked sausages with their slightly sweet flavor are delicious for this dish.

1 tablespoon butter

1 red onion, chopped

6 to 8 large sausages

1/2 to 3/4 cup dry white wine

1 to 2 garlic cloves, chopped

Dash balsamic vinegar

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté for 10 minutes, until softened. Add sausages and sauté until lightly browned, turning as needed. Add the wine, increase heat to high and boil until it has evaporated, then add the garlic and vinegar. Simmer for a few minutes to combine flavors. The finished dish should have only a smidgen of sauce on the onions, not a lot of sauce. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

CHICKEN THIGHS WITH CIDER CABBAGE

Five seasonings make this dish quick, easy, low-cost and a perfect autumn dish.

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

3/4 teaspoon ground thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon coriander

8 chicken thighs, skinned

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 cups apple cider

8 cups sliced red cabbage

1 red onion, thin sliced and separated in to rings

2 tablespoons wine or white or rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

Combine first 5 ingredients and rub mixture over chicken. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet; add chicken thighs and cook 5 minutes per side until browned. Remove chicken and keep warm. Add cider to skillet and deglaze, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Bring to a boil; cook until reduced to about 1 cup. Remove 1/2 cup and set aside. Add cabbage and remaining ingredients to skillet; bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium; cook 5 minutes or until cabbage wilts. Return thighs to skillet, nestling into cabbage mixture; add reserved 1/2 cup reduced cider. Cover and cook over medium-low heat 30 minutes or until chicken is done (can do this in oven). Makes 4 servings.

POTS AND PANS DON'T AGE GRACEFULLY!

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