It’s that gift-shopping time of year. If you’re like us, you’d rather skip the mall and buy tokens for the nice people on your list online (OK, and the naughty ones, too). Have you checked out the NOURISH Evolution Market? Lia and I have filled it our must-have kitchen tools–the stuff we use every day and what we think makes cooking easier and more fun.
Of course, you can head straight over to the Market and browse to find goodies for everyone or just make a wish list for yourself. We’ve also gone through and picked our favorite selections. Here’s what we suggest you slide under the menorah or tree.
Stocking Stuffer: Oxo Good Grips Melon Baller ($9). “Mine went missing a few weeks back, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dug for it since,” says Lia. “Aside from the fact that it makes balling melons a breeze, I use it to quickly de-seed squash, scrape seeds from cucumbers, core apples and much more.”
Under the Tree: Colorful Oxo Nesting Mixing Bowls ($25). “I’ve got a mishmash of mixing bowls right now; some that nest, some … not so much,” says Lia. “I love how bright and colorful (and in NOURISH Evolution shades, even!) these Oxo mixing bowls are. The fact that they’ve got a handle and anti-skid bottom makes them even more attractive.
From Santa: Bormioli Rocco Food Storage Containers ($24). “I’m asking for three sets of these from Santa to take the place of my Tupperware,” Lia confesses. “I’m ready to give up plastic once and for all.”
Stocking stuffer: Messermeister Pro-Touch Swivel Peeler ($7). I got this peeler in my culinary school knife kit, and I love how nimble and sharp it is. It can handle anything from delicate tomatoes to potatoes to thick-skinned winter squash.
Under the Tree: Fagor Duo 6-Quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker ($91). I used to be terrified of pressure cookers, but this model won me over. It’s foolproof, with a locking lid, easy-to-use pressure indicator and automatic pressure-release function. If you’ve resolved to cook more with dried beans and whole grains in 2011, you want this.
From Santa: KitchenAid Professional 600 Series Stand Mixer ($321). These are the workhorses of the kitchen–you can use them to whip egg whites, knead bread dough, make cookie dough, cut fat into flour for pastry and, if you add attachments like the pasta maker and ice cream maker, do a whole lot more.
We both love…
Stocking stuffer: RSVP White Marble Mortar and Pestle ($17). Lia makes a great case for using a simple mortar and pestle instead of food processor for everything from grinding spices to making pesto. This trim model is easy on your wallet, won’t hog kitchen counter space and can handle most any job.
Devotees of cast-iron cookware are fond of calling it “the original” nonstick pan. But it wasn’t until I lived in Alabama that I came to appreciate the hardworking charms of a humble cast-iron skillet. Southern home cooks are particularly attached to their cast iron, which is often passed down from their mamas and which years of cooking have endowed with a gorgeous dark seasoned patina that’s an amazing stick-resistant surface.
Cooks prize cast iron because it heats slowly and evenly and retains heat better than just about any other material. It’s great for high-heat cooking, to sear a steak or scallops, for instance. A deep skillet is ideal for frying chicken.
If you happen to have a cast-iron skillet languishing in the back of your cupboard, now’s the time to rescue it form obscurity and re-season it. If your mom didn’t pass along a family skillet, get one now. It’s a small investment (about $20) for an heirloom-quality piece of cookware. You can find cast-iron pots and pans at any housewares store and many hardware stores, or online. Most new cast-iron pans come preseasoned and ready to cook. But even those will need occasional re-seasoning when you notice food starts sticking to the pan.
There are nearly as many ways to season cast-iron cookware as there are cooks, and everyone swears theirs is the One True Method. Some cooks swear by animal fat (i.e., lard) for seasoning; others say you should never use animal fat. Some sources say you must bake the oiled pot in a high oven; others advocate a low oven. This is the method an Alabama friend shared with me:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Generously coat a clean skillet with fat (I like canola oil, which has a neutral flavor). Rub the pan with a paper towel to blot up any excess oil.
Bake the pan the oven for about an hour.
Remove the pan from the oven. Let it stand until it’s cool enough to handle. Reapply oil and bake again. You can repeat the oiling/baking process several times, if you like.
If you use, clean and store your cast-iron properly, you’ll rarely need to re-season it:
Always preheat the pan and add a little fat to it before adding any food.
While the pan is still warm, but cool enough to handle, clean it by rinsing it with hot water (no soap necessary) and (if needed) scrubbing it with a stiff brush. If any food does cling to the surface, sprinkle it with coarse salt, and scrub it off. Some people say you should never use dish soap, though the folks at Lodge say it’s OK. In any case, never put a cast-iron pan in the dishwasher. Dry the pan immediately and thoroughly to prevent rust.
Apply a thin layer of oil to the pan’s interior, and store it uncovered. If you need to store a lid with it, or stack other pans on top of it, place a clean folded paper towel in the pan to allow a little air to circulate.
If you’ve got an old cast-iron pan that needs restoring, here’s an easy method from Lodge (yes, it’s not exactly the same as the method above, but remember, there’s room for variation):
And don’t forget to use your pan often. The more you cook with it, the better seasoned it will be and the less often you’ll need to re-season it!