I’ve had several people recently ask whether I post recipes or links to the foods I make. If you follow my Instagram feed, you’ve known for a long time that I’m one of those chronic-food-photo people.
I used to joke that taking photographs of my food and drink was part of my job; then it actually came true. You can find all my stories for LNP posted on Lancaster Online.
Here are a few new kitchen essentials that I’m enjoying.
Aroma 8-cup rice cooker
I love this thing. It’s tidy and all the components fit nicely together for storage ease. Cleaning is simple, and even though it should be hand-washed and dried, it doesn’t take long at all.
You can make rice in the morning and have it stay warm right in the unit for most of the day. You can also program it to start at a certain time, which is handy if you’ll be out for a few hours and want rice ready for dinner when you get home.
Now here’s a tidbit of information I wish I would have known when I first started using this rice cooker. It comes with a 3/4 cup measuring cup, and the directions state that if it gets lost or broken, a standard 3/4 cup can be substituted.
Then, in the rice-to-water ratio page in the instruction manual, it says to use one, two or three cups of rice to x amount of water. I read this as a literal one cup, not the 3/4 cup included with the set. So, the first few times I made rice it was not quite cooked and still hard in the center.
Even when that happened, though, troubleshooting was simple. I just added some more water (between 1/2 and one cup), pressed the power button once and the cook button again.
I’ve been making rice for years with a standard pot and lid, and every single time I would end up with a gloopy, boiled-over mess on my glass stovetop, and rice that was sticky. The Aroma rice cooker solves the problem of mess and texture with a literal touch of a button.
You can cook any kind of rice in this cooker, and there are specific settings for white and brown rice.
The instruction manual comes with instructions on using the unit for steaming meats and vegetables, and even making stews and soups, neither of which I’ve yet tried.
At just under $30, the Aroma 8-cup rice cooker offers excellent value for every kitchen.
If you want to make a great loaf of French or Italian bread, a baker’s couche will give your finished product that customary crusty exterior while leaving the interior perfectly chewy.
What is it? A baker’s couche is, quite simply, a piece of sturdy cloth that keeps your loaves in shape. I roll one edge under until it’s a tidy tube, shape my baguette and tuck it against the rolled tube, then pinch up a side of couche against the baguette, and repeat one or two more times before layering the remaining cloth over all the loaves.
What benefit does a couche offer? Besides keeping your loaves in that perfect baguette shape, it also whisks humidity from the dough, enabling it to bake with a crusty exterior finish.
Care for the couche is easy: shake off extra flour, hang to thoroughly dry out, and refold for storage.
I would avoid using overly sticky dough so it doesn’t cling to the linen. Also: don’t wash it. No sense introducing your bread to unnecessary chemicals.
I like my baker’s couche from Brotform, and it’s under $20.
This is the first item on this list that I can’t believe I haven’t owned until now.
How many times have I had to saw through a beef brisket instead of having my knives slice through butter? How many times have I nearly taken off a finger, not because my knife was oversharp, but because it was so dull that instead of cutting through food, it slipped off a rounded side?
Too many times!
This two-stage knife sharpener is a $5 fix for your basic kitchen needs. First, run your dull knife through the coarse side three or four times, applying even downward pressure. Then apply the same pressure on the fine side about six times. Wash the knife and be amazed at how functional a knife can actually be.
Lodge cast iron skillets and Dutch oven
Yet another “I can’t believe I just started owning this kitchenware item,” I bought these primarily for camping trips last year.
I purchased a four-piece Lodge cast iron cookware set and now use it not just for camping, but in my everyday kitchen.
Care for it (like these other kitchen tools) is easy. I clean mine with a dedicated sponge, because it’ll blacken everything it comes in contact with, and hot, soapy water. There are some people who refuse to use soap, but I find that using a mild dish soap like Method has never left any unpleasant flavors on my cast iron.
Immediately dry your cast iron, to avoid any oxidation that can eat holes in your lovingly seasoned cookware. I wipe the interior with a thin coat of neutral oil, and touch-up any exterior parts that look like the seasoning may need attention.
With proper care (and it really isn’t a delicate cookware), it’ll last for generations.
This 5-quart Dutch oven comes with a lid and has been large enough for me to make any soup or stew recipe. I also like using it for deep-frying, because I can put two inches of oil in it and don’t get splattered with hot grease.
You know what else the Lodge Dutch oven works beautifully in making? No-knead bread. Preheat the Dutch oven and lid inside the oven, let your boule rise on a piece of parchment paper and slip it inside the Dutch oven when it’s at temperature. Cover with the lid for the first 2/3 amount of baking and remove the lid for the rest, to allow the top to develop a beautiful golden color.
A 12-inch Lodge cast iron skillet is an ideal size for general use in the kitchen. Make two perfect grilled cheese sandwiches in it. It’s just the right size to make your favorite fruit cobbler in the grill on a hot summer day. Crash hot potatoes fit nicely in this size, enough for a small family’s dinner.
Both of these pieces run right around $35, and it’s an investment for a lifetime. In fact, my brother is officially moving out next month after graduating from college, and this is what he’ll be getting as a housewarming gift from our family.
Protip: Never ever, never EVER touch cast iron after it’s hot, unless your hands are properly protected. Those handles get hot, and retain heat for a long period of time. Don’t forget to use hot pads or sufficient dish towels to insulate. You can purchase for under $10 silicone holders to slip over skillet handles.
Also, never shock your hot cast iron with cold water.
I’ve been cooking a lot from my new “Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook” since receiving it as a Christmas gift in 2015. So far, one of my favorite recipes is that for Spiedies, a recipe for pork tenderloin that gets cubed and marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, white wine vinegar and fresh mint, oregano and parsley.
Don’t try doing as the original recipe says, and setting it 4-inches under your broiler. That resulted in flames rolling out of my oven after not even four minutes. After I brought my racing heart back under control, I finished the cooking in my Lodge 12-inch cast iron skillet (see above!) and it turned out beautifully. I added a smear of mayonnaise to the inside of a toasted hoagie roll and melted some sharp American cheese on top before finishing with the side sauce and it was delicious.
- 1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup white wine or rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 bay leaf, crushed well
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 (10-inch) hoagie rolls, split and toasted in 375-degree oven until crisp
- Mayonnaise, to taste
- 4 slices sharp American cheese
- In a large bowl, combine the cubed pork and all marinade ingredients. Massage well together, then cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add meat to it. Allow to sear on one side before turning the pieces and allowing to brown on all sides. Cook to 145-degrees and remove to plate to rest for five minutes
- Spread both sides of toasted hoagie roll with mayonnaise, stuff with cooked pork, top with cheese slices and place under broiler until cheese has melted. Spoon sauce mixture on top and serve.
- If you'd like to grill this, click through to the adapted-from recipe and you'll find instructions there. I do not advise using the broiler as suggested on the Saveur recipe, unless you enjoy fire pouring from your oven.
Have you gotten any must-have kitchen tools or gadgets recently?
Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you want to purchase one of my kitchen essentials, and do so through the links above or my Amazon store, I’ll receive a small amount of money in return.