Have you got US$64.00 bucks for a ten-inch omelette pan? How about US$120.00 for a 4 1/2 quart saucepan?

The Calphalon corporation is a division of Newell Rubbermaid (www.newellco.com). Rubbermaid makes all manner of plastic housewares as well as other plastic items. Calphalon itself makes pots and pans out of aluminum, steel, and Teflon, and utensils and cutlery out of steel and other materials. They can be found at www.calphalon.com (the site doesn't work at all well with Netscape 6).

Calphalon has several "lines" of cookware: The "Commercial Hard-Anodized" line is pricey (that's the US$64.00 frying pan), "Professional Hard-Anodized" is a bit less (US$54.00 for our 10" benchmark). Those two differ only in the handles: The Commercial line features the "patented Cool V™ handle", which is alleged to stay cooler while cooking. Both are made of aluminum, which is light and conducts heat well.

There are also a few stainless steel and non-stick lines, descending in price down to the "Simply Calphalon" line, the cheapest of all, with a 10" omelette pan for only US$40.00. The "Simply Calphalon" items have a "bottom core" of aluminum, used once again for its conduction of heat.

This heat-conduction thing is important: The burner on your stove doesn't provide an even output of heat over the entire bottom of a pan. It's hotter in some areas than others. Now, if we say that a material is highly conductive, we're saying that heat will travel through it with relative ease, and a mass of the stuff will tend to settle down rapidly to an even temperature throughout. Think of a room full of cats: They'll put as much distance between each other as they can, producing an even distribution of cats. If, however, you spread glue on the floor, the cats will tend to clump where you drop them. A room with a glue-covered floor might therefore be said to have "poor cat-conductivity". Thus also with energy: Good heat-conductivity means that when you heat your pot or pan, the whole inside surface will tend rapidly to reach the same temperature, so the food inside will all cook at the same rate. You won't have one bit fully cooked while another bit isn't quite ready yet. You won't have anything weird or unpredictable happening to your yeast cutlets and marinated algal blooms. And that's why people bother making cookware out of aluminum.

The hard-anodized items are remarkably easy to clean — food doesn't stick to them well, and you can use a Brillo pad on anything that puts up much resistance — and you can use metal utensils with them while cooking. Best of all, they have a smooth, very dark gray matte surface that looks like it belongs on the Death Star (for me, this is a significant part of the appeal). They are not very heavy: For home defense, I prefer a conventional cast-iron skillet, while for domestic disputes my wife still relies on the traditional rolling pin. Your mileage may vary.

The two anodized aluminum lines have the widest selection of different products: If you're thirsting for a Round Braiser or a Paella Pan, the Simply Calphalon selection will not fulfil you.

The word "Calphalon" intrigues me, but I can't find a derivation. Prices are from the Calphalon web site. The mailing address provided on the web site is located in Toledo, OH, USA. As mentioned above, Calphalon has over the years diversified into knives, kettles, salt and pepper shakers, and all manner of whatnot. They're best known for pots and pans.