Dutch ovens Do Double Duty   

Years ago when I moved into my first apartment, my grandmother gave me a Dutch oven as a housewarming present. I didn't have the foggiest idea what to do with it. In fact, at the time I was sure I was the only 21-year-old in New York City who owned one.

It stayed in my kitchen cabinet for years. Whenever I moved it came with me, but I treated that poor pot like an outcast, wondering every so often if I would ever use it. Today it's one of my best friends.

Why such a change in attitude? I learned just how versatile and indispensable it is. From the oven to the table, from the fridge to the range, from soups to stews, there's little this pot can not do.

You know which pot I'm talking about: the one that doesn't look like any other. It's big - typically holding about 5 quarts - and heavy. This gem heats evenly, has large, sturdy handles and has a heavy, tight-fitting lid that is slightly domed. 

What a Dutch oven does best is long, slow cooking. One pot dishes like chilli, stew, pot roast and soup are perfect candidates. One of our family favorites is 40 Clove Garlic Chicken. The tight fitting lid keeps all the juices inside, while the dome actually returns the condensation from the cooking steam back to the pot. The net effect is self-basted braising. The food is tender and its taste is a meld of all the ingredients.

The Dutch oven happily does its thing with low heat on the stove top or in the oven. It's elegant enough to bring it to the table and serve from - just make sure you put a heat resistant pad or trivet underneath.

Do you like cooking one day and eating the next? Not a problem - the oven will go right into the fridge. In fact, Dutch oven owners learn that dishes like stew actually improve by sitting overnight in the fridge after they're cooked.

LeCreuset a French company known for its line of enamel-coated cast iron cookware has been selling ovens for many years. They may have caught your eye in the store because they come in seven colors. Imagine that - a color to match any decor! 

Sizes range from two quarts to 13 quarts. A 4 ½ quart pot costs about $135 and a 5 ½ quart pot costs about $150. The oven is incredibly sturdy. It won't wear out and it keeps its luster long after it's broken in. Clean up is a snap too.

Yes, there are other manufacturers that sell ovens, but in my humble opinion the LeCreuset is the best value around.