I’ve noticed that I have a couple of go-to kitchen items. Workhorses. Favorites, if you will. Sure, my knives are top among the things I use every day. I love my knife.
My knife is old. I know it’s old because it has a wooden handle. Wood handled knives are no longer considered a practical choice, as they can harbor bacteria, need special oiling care, and are not good in the dishwasher (though I think that anyone who puts a good knife in the dishwasher is crazy!). Wood is porous and vulnerable to damage from water. It expands and contracts slightly with changes in humidity and temperature. In addition, wood handled knives are not covered by the warranty, as wood is a natural element and thus cannot be guaranteed. But, you know, I love my knife and would never give it up! It’s prefect, it’s comfortable in my hand. It’s the knife I’ve grown up using, so it becomes like an extension of my hand when I use it. It’s the prefect size and shape for me.
And, of course, a good silicone spatula is something I always reach for. It gets the last bits of food out of a jar. Scrape all the batter for a cake into the baking pan. Stir the scrambled eggs while they’re cooking in a non-stick pan. Flip potatoes. The uses are pretty much endless. My favorite spatula has a picture of Remy from Ratatouille. (What could be better than a cartoon about food that was helped by Thomas Keller!)
But, my two current favorites things in the kitchen are my cast iron skillet and my food processor.
Cast Iron Skillet
I got my cast iron skillet many years ago when I first became a vegetarian. Oh how I wanted that skillet! I wanted it mainly because it adds dietary iron to the foods cooked in it. And, it can be difficult for vegetarians to get enough iron (I no longer believe that’s true if you’re careful about what you eat, but not everyone is careful – I wasn’t when I became vegetarian so many years ago).
So, my mom got me the coveted cast iron skillet. It was heavy! It was big! It was a little daunting. I seasoned it promptly when I got it. But it was bulky and kind of hard to move around. So, it ended up getting relegated to the back of the cupboard. Where it sat, for a long time. I found it again when I moved out of my mom’s house. There it was, all rusty and forgotten. I felt bad, this thing I had wanted so much and then abandoned. So, I did I little reading about how to save it, and I did a lot of scrubbing with some steel wool and salt. And, then there was some more scrubbing. And, maybe a little more scrubbing. Finally, I got all the rust off. Then I had to reseason it.
What I know now is that the more you cook with it, the more you season it every time you use the cast iron skillet. Now I use my skillet at least once a week. It’s stored in the oven ready to work for me at a moments’ notice. And, I get a nice arm workout every time I use it because it’s so heavy.
Why cast iron?
The cast iron skillet is an ideal heat conductor, it heats evenly and consistently, it’s inexpensive, and with proper care, it’ll last a lifetime. Food glides out of it; the pan goes from stove to oven; no special utensils are needed to cook in it; it won’t warp, and cleanup is a cinch.
Always preheat your cast iron skillet before frying in it. To check to see if the pan is hot, drop some water into the pan; the droplets should sizzle, then roll and hop around the pan. If the water disappears immediately after being dropped, the pan is too hot. If water only rests and bubbles in the pan, it is not quite hot enough. Do not pour large amounts of cold liquid into your hot cast iron frying pan. This can cause the pan to break.
And, never forget your potholders! The handles get HOT when cooking!
Wash your cast iron by hand in hot water immediately after use. Do not wash the pan in the dishwasher. I rarely use soap in my skillet – it doesn’t need it and the soap could remove the seasoning. The skillet gets so hot that any concerns about bacteria would be heated away. But, if you worry about bacteria, it has been said that a small amount of soapy water can be used to clean the skillet. Be sure not to scrub too vigorously, and don’t submerge the pan in water. This could cause damage to the seasoning on the pan.
Dry your cookware completely. Cast iron will rust if it isn’t dried immediately after washing. Start by towel drying the pan. Then, place it on the stove over low heat for a minute or two to pull out any remaining moisture. If desired, lightly coat the inside of the pan with oil and a paper towel, and heat for a minute or two longer. This will help to restore any seasoning that might have been lost during washing.
I don’t use my pan with any acidic foods (tomatoes, applesauce, wine, vinegar, etc.). I’ve read that if you want to cook acidic foods in the pan, remove them promptly and wash the pan immediately after use. In fact, these acidic foods will actually absorb more iron from the pan, so the food you are eating will be iron-rich. But, I prefer to avoid acidic foods in the pan altogether to avoid damaging the seasoning and possibly the skillet itself. Acids can corrode the cast-iron, and impart a metallic taste to the food.
To season or reseason your cast iron
If food is sticking to your cast iron skillet, it’s a sign that the pan isn’t fully seasoned. To achieve the desired non-stick surface, you’ll need to reseason your pan. You may also find it beneficial to lightly oil your pan before and after each use. A true non-stick surface develops over time, and after much use. Seasoning your pan means that you are filling in the microscopic pores and valleys that are part of the cast iron surface.
- Coat your cast iron pan inside and out with vegetable oil (like safflower, canola, or light olive oil) or vegetable shortening.
- Place a piece of foil under the pan, and place in a 300° oven for one hour.
- Remove the pan from the oven, and wipe off any liquified oil or shortening with a paper towel. Your pan is now seasoned.
I recommend repeating this process several times, as it will help create a stronger seasoning. Remember, I seasoned my new pan, but it rusted anyway. And, the new pans come pre-seasoned. Don’t let this fool you; it’s nothing like the seasoning that will ultimately develop through use of the pan. So, season these new pre-seasoned pans as well.
The more you cook, the smoother the surface becomes. And, if you start to notice that the pan starts to look dull and not shiny, reseason it.
Things you can make with the cast iron skillet:
Tuna, asparagus, red potato, and hard-cooked egg with sweet and soy dressing
Orange-Shallot Tofu with Avocado Served on a Bed of Roasted Lentils
Chili Verde Stew
I’ve also noticed that I use the food processor all the time, for all kinds of things.
Roasted Tomato Salsa, Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, Homemade Butter, Homemade Chile Powder, Vegetable Enchiladas, Traditional Pesto, for the pineapple salsa in the Soy Glazed Barramundi with Pineapple Salsa Served Over Black Rice, for the coconut sugar in the Coconut Gumdrops, for homemade breadcrumbs (take the heals and leftover bits and parts of bread or hot dog buns or homemade bread and toast it up then pulse in the food processor to get nice flavorful bread crumbs), some people make dough in the food processor, and the list goes on and on.
I got my first food processor many years ago. I decided to start with a really small one (I think it holds about 2 cups worth of food). I thought I’d see if it was worth the investment. I used it to make my own nut butters (which aren’t quite as smooth as the store-bought ones, but that’s ok). I used it to grind spices. I used it for small batches of salsa. And, well, if I had something big to process, I could always do it in two or three batches. I still use the little one for things like spices and nuts. It makes quick work of those little jobs.
But, I saw the potential usefulness of having a bigger food processor. So, I now know that it truly is one of the workhorses of my kitchen.
I use it all the time. And, you may have heard that cleaning it is a chore. Not so, I say! I take all the parts (after wiping them as clean as I can with my spatula), and drop them in the top rack of the dishwasher. Voila! Cleaned and ready to go for the next use. If the idea of throwing the blades in the dishwasher doesn’t appeal to you, by all means, handwash them so you know they won’t get dull, but the rest of the parts, there’s no worries about putting them in the dishwasher.
Mine came with all the attachments (some may not) to slice and shred as well. When I’m making something like Caramelized Carrot Risotto, I use the shredder to make quick work of all those carrots.
The food processor is a bit different than a blender in that you don’t need liquid to blend things like you do with a blender. The blender is mainly used to puree items to make things like soup or smoothies. With the food processor, you can still leave things in chunks. I really like the chunks that it gives, because they aren’t always the same exact shape like they might be if you cut them but hand. The chops or chunks that the food processor gives can be left fairly sizable or they can be pulsed again to create smaller and smaller pieces. Just be sure to go slowly with the pulse button so that you don’t over chop (or puree things). There’s nothing wrong with opening the top after each pulse to see what you have inside.
The food processor mixes as it chops, so no need for a second step of mixing the batch.
My favorite kitchen helpers
So, there you have it, my four favorite helpers in the kitchen: my knife, a good silicone spatula, a big heavy cast iron skillet, and the food processor. I highly recommend them!