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Originally published May 31, 2013 at 12:15 PM | Page modified May 31, 2013 at 12:24 PM

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Nancy Leson stands by her pan(s)

She introduces readers to her household's workhorses: pots and pans they can't live without.

Seattle Times food writer

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I just ordered a 5.5 quart stainless steel saute pan from Amazon (Cuisinart). I'm... MORE
I have quite a few pots and pans of the original Bon Marche Belgique line. They are my... MORE
Sounds like Nancy has a thing for cooking chicken. The Le Creuset oven is terribly... MORE

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BEFORE MY husband and I said "I do" — before 130 guests assembled in our backyard — we'd already set up shop in the kitchen.

By the time we married, Mac and I were both enthusiastic home cooks, old enough to know better. What we knew is this: No one needs a big, fancy set of pots and pans to make a house a home.

So don't fret because you can't afford to lavish newlyweds with a complete batterie of Mauviel French copperware. (Dear Daddies Warbucks: Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

Instead, allow me to introduce you to our workhorses: pots and pans we can't live without.

I came into our union with a set of heavy-bottomed, stainless-steel cookware purchased at the store formerly known as the Bon Marché. It held me in good stead for more than 20 years. The contemporary version of that Belgique collection, available at Macy's (and often on sale for less than $200) no longer nests for easy storage, nor is it made in Belgium (it's a China import), though it does boast glass lids.

My Belgique covered fry-pan is getting less of a workout since I scored a deeply discounted All-Clad stainless D5 saucier for $69.99 at T.J. Maxx, though my 8-quart Belgique stockpot, outfitted with a bonus pasta insert, still gets major play.

If you're thinking, "Who needs a pasta insert when a free-standing colander will do?" shut-uppa-you-face. Then think of other ways to use a stockpot with a pasta insert: for blanching vegetables, say, or hoisting the collapsed remnants of a whole chicken, leaving its golden broth in the pot. What about a carbon-steel wok? I paid $18 for a biggie at the Seattle Restaurant Store and won't argue with Chinese cookbook maven Grace Young, who insists this versatile vessel is "the only pan ideally suited for stir-frying, pan-frying, braising, poaching, boiling, deep-frying, steaming, smoking foods, and even cooking rice."

I do, however, argue with my husband, whose kitchen came with a well-seasoned 8-inch cast-iron frying pan. That's a great starter-weapon for any new wife, though this old bride prefers our latest addition: a pre-seasoned 15-inch Lodge skillet, large enough to fry a whole chicken. At $59.95, this is your baby.

I also married into a copper au gratin, a pretty oval thing perfect for roasting potatoes, though I'm even crazier for my Le Creuset stoneware gratin pan ($60). Longer and wider, it supports a layer of potatoes and a buxom chicken.

If I had to call out my top pot, though, it would be my Le Creuset 5 ½-quart enameled French oven (pardon my Dutch). A major investment, it's one that will last into the next generation. Whether I'm making split-pea soup, braising short ribs or baking no-knead bread, that regal red round is nonreactive and retains heat like nobody's business. The enamel interior cleans up easily, too. If the price ($275) is too rich, know that your friend Rachael Ray has her name on a knock-off. So does Lodge, whose 6-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven sells at Fred Meyer for $89.99 (less with coupon).

Of course, there's more to outfitting a kitchen than cookware, as our most-used wedding gifts attest. Among them, a 10-inch Atlas brass pepper mill (thank you, John Hinterberger), an insulated stainless-steel olive-oil dispenser (indispensable!) and an Aroma 4-cup electric rice cooker that needs upgrading to a larger model — now that we're feeding a hungry teen.

Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times' food writer. Reach her at nleson@seattletimes.com. John Lok is a Times staff photographer.

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