Friday Five: 5 Kitchen Favorites

I really do love to cook. I enjoy the prep, the process, the colors of the food, the sounds of sizzling, the tantalizing smells. I’m not an expert, but I love to learn new methods and to use valuable tools. I’ve tried tons of gadgets and gotten rid of tons of gadgets.  I love simplicity and versatility. So here’s a quick look at 5 things I LOVE having in my kitchen and use ALL the time:

1) Cast Iron Skillet

If I had to choose only 1 item to cook with for the rest of my life, it would be a beautiful cast iron skillet. I love that it goes from stove to oven, I love that it cooks my eggs better castironthan any other pan I’ve ever used, and I love the effect that comes from seasoning it over time. My cast iron does not see soap. Rinsing with only water, I dry it slowly in the oven and polish it up with *REAL olive oil as it cools. I love the flavor it gives to our food. I use it almost every single day and sometimes twice. It’s not the easiest tool to care for (though certainly not difficult once you learn and get the hang of it), but it is one of the most rewarding.

*I say real olive oil, because there’s actually quite a bit of fraud in the industry. I’m not a super expert, but I buy extra-virgin olive oil certified by the International Olive Council. If your evoo is less than $10 a liter, it’s probably fake. Bummer…

2) Stoneware

Yay! More pans requiring special care and instructions! But again, the reward from using them correctly…

One thing I remember about my mom’s kitchen growing up is her stoneware. She had beautiful stoneware that was artfully aged by the food she cooked for our family. There were literal tears the day one of her baking sheets cracked down the middle. It was so well seasoned, and that process takes YEARS, she continued to use the halves of the stone anyway. If you’ve never used stoneware, they start off very light colored and rough. As you use them, they build up a non-stick seasoning and darken with use (I’m pretty sure a Pampered Chef slogan is “the darker it looks, the better it cooks!”). Stoneware must be hand-washed without soap because you risk a soapy flavor being mixed in with your seasoning. Here’s a new baker pan on the left, and here’s mine on the right. It’s not dirty; it’s seasoned! I wish you could feel the difference…

I have a rectangular baker and a cookie sheet. If I had to get rid of all of my other baking sheets/dishes, I could do it with very little adjustment. These are my go-to’s. They’re just the best! I really want to collect more types. A loaf pan, a muffin pan, a casserole dish… Anyone throwing a Pampered Chef party soon??? I need to go shopping…

3) Garlic Press

We love garlic. I’m not sure there’s a recipe we have that doesn’t include it. And I have to have it fresh. There’s nothing like the smell, or taste, of freshly minced garlic. And there are actually amazing health benefits to having garlic in your diet! But if I didn’t have a press… UGH. The peeling isn’t bad, just crack it with the flat side of a knife. But the mincing. I wouldn’t have any fingertips left if I tried to do it by hand. And it just takes forever. But a garlic press! Pop it in, press it, and you have beautiful fragrant, fresh garlic for all your dinners. If you buy one though, make sure it comes with a little cleany thingy (see how professionally technical I am in the kitchen?) or you’ll end up hating the gadget when you try to get all the tiny little holes clean.

garlic press betterThis is very similar to the one I have. The technical term for “cleany thingy” is apparently “handy cleaning tool”. So I wasn’t far off. But if you’re not familiar with a garlic press, it might be an easy piece to toss with the packaging and then you’re eternally frustrated with having to clean each and every hole with…I don’t know, a toothpick? And that just defeats all the time you saved by using a press…

4) Kitchen Shears

Again, just something I grew up with! But it’s crazy to me how many friends I’ve seen NOT recognize the magic that is kitchen shears. Guys, you can cut fajita meat in seconds. You can chop meat for salads, and it looks so uniform. We use it to cut up the kids’ asparagus into bite sized pieces they can whine and complain over. We use it to cut upshears pizza that they’ll inhale as if we’ve never fed them. I use it to dress raw meat, chop certain veggies, and just to trim our portions. We even have two pairs in case I HAVE used one for raw meat and didn’t have a chance to wash them before plating our meals! Seriously, everyone needs one (or two) pair of great kitchen shears.

5) Dishwasher

dishwasherSo this one doesn’t have to do with the actual cooking, but my personal journey in adulting has made me truly value this tool. We will celebrate being married for 9 years this summer. For 4 of those 9 years, I didn’t have a dishwasher. One of Jeff’s favorite jabs is that he has ALWAYS had a dishwasher, haha. I think he was just intimidated by all of my cookware that came with special “do’s and don’ts”. Two of those years without the dishwasher were in a darling 1940s home, and it was just the two of us so it wasn’t that bad. In our current home, we didn’t have one when I found out we were expecting tiny person #3. We bought exactly two things to prepare for little Walt’s arrival: a van for all the monstrous car seats, and a dishwasher for the dirty dish monster that was beginning to conquer our kitchen. Now that we are a family of 5, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the dishwasher. I love my special cookware that requires careful washing. But I don’t love every single fork, knife, spoon, kid plate, etc. that way. We’re merely acquaintances really. I love being able to toss all that mess into a machine that will do a little bit of the work for me. Balancing a little luxury with simplicity makes me love time spent cooking even more.

I love learning new things about cooking, so hit me! What are your have-to-have-to-function kitchen favorites?

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