Category Archives: Kitchen Tool Talk

Kitchen Tool Talk: Technology Time

Gentle Readers, there is no one as fervent as the newly converted, and The Practical Cook is no exception. You see, though my day job puts me at the bleeding edge of technology, my personal connectivity has lagged behind a bit. Not for any reason in particular, just circumstance and timing. Always something else to be done, until recently.

My New Sous Chef: the iPad.

My New Sous Chef: the iPad.

I broke down and bought an iPad. It is in part for The Practical Cooks Junior, who can probably control the space station with it at this point. But it was also a way for me to increase my productivity. I love having it in the kitchen. It’s great for jotting down ideas, checking recipes, taking a picture (in some circumstances), and Tweeting while I saute.

Now I’m pondering which apps to download, and whether I want to create one myself. So I’m crowdsourcing this one today: How do you use technology in the kitchen? Do you print recipes, keep a tablet or computer at hand, livetweet your dinner? (Wait, that last one is probably just me . . .)

Questions, challenges, suggestions? Email me at practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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And tomorrow, it’s time for Weekly Menus once again.

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Kitchen Tool Talk: An Ode to My Cast Iron Skillet

Gentle Readers, is there anything better than a cast iron skillet? Yes, The Practical Cook would argue that one you get as a hand-me-down is better still. My 10-inch cast iron skillet is from my Granny, featured in the header picture. And if you haven’t added a cast-iron skillet to your cooking toolbox, here’s why you should.

Squash frying in the cast-iron skillet

Squash frying in the cast-iron skillet

An Ode to My Cast Iron Skillet: 5 Reasons to Own and Love It

1. Cornbread. It creates the perfect shape, the perfect crispness, and has a convenient handle for easy oven removal. And do I really have to defend cornbread? Fry some bacon in it first, then make cornbread. You can say thank you later.

Cornbread with Molasses

Cornbread with Molasses

2. Sauteed greens. Studies have indicated that there is some transfer of iron to food cooked, so I say, why not double down and go all Popeye on the spinach? The high heat tolerance makes it perfect for a quick flash-saute of greens of any stripe, and I use mine for spinach constantly.

Green Garlic + Spinach (Less Fluffy Now)

Green Garlic + Spinach (Less Fluffy Now)

3. Preheating. You can get a cast iron skillet hotter and keep it hotter than any nonstick I’ve ever tried. I use nonstick pans, but I am not crazy about any kind of serious heat used on them. So when the French toast recipe of my dreams says preheat the cast iron skillet over medium for 5 minutes, I can do just that.

Challah for French Toast Frying in the Pan!

Challah for French Toast Frying in the Pan!

4. Easy cleaning. This is the one reason I think people shy away from cast iron. You don’t clean them in the traditional manner using commercial detergent, but they’re not hard to maintain. I use salt or baking soda to scrape off anything stuck, I wipe down with vegetable oil, I re-season on occasion with a bake in the oven, and I cook bacon whenever I can. That really puts a nice patina on the skillet.

Sausage, greens, and pierogie

Sausage, greens, and pierogie

5. Longevity. Yours and the pan’s. I still don’t have my Granny’s strength in either a) wielding the thing or b) touching it with bare hands. Clearly, The Practical Cook’s generation is a soft one in comparison. So we need to toughen up! Oh, and the pan lasts a really long time too.

Cast-Iron Skillet Getting Hot Hot Hot!

Cast-Iron Skillet Getting Hot Hot Hot!

Of course, every time I cook with this pan, my Granny is in the kitchen with me. That’s reason enough for near-daily use. Thank you Granny for starting me down this road. Maybe one day the sausage gravy I make in your pan will equal yours.

Are you a cast-iron fan? Share your story in the comments section below! I’m feeling a comments-based giveaway coming on soon. So get some practice now, comment today!

Send your ideas, challenges, and bacon recommendations to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Up next, Mango and Blackberry Parfait.

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The Practical Cook’s Guide to Buying Cookbooks

Gentle Readers, today’s regularly scheduled post was delayed by a bit of live music. Alas, The Practical Cook was unable to fully review the cookbook in question due to the Carolina Chocolate Drops being completely awesome. However, there is still something to say on the subject of cookbooks. As the season of gifting approaches, how does one practically approach purchasing cookbooks?

So here is The Practical Cook’s Guide to Buying Cookbooks:

1. Beauty vs. Brains. First consider which type of cookbook you’d like, the art table varietal or the grease-splattered one. Please note that this is oversimplified, and there are happy occasions where there’s a blend of glossy photos and highly-accessible recipes, but those are rare. So make a decision upfront: glossy is good for people whose collections you don’t know well, or who have a show kitchen. For the serious cook, ferreting out a rare volume that’s highly rated may be a better fit.

2. Classics vs. Specialty. Welcome to my personal dilemma. I like having several “workhorse” cookbooks around. For me, that’s Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything, Gourmet Cookbook, and Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. Between those, there are few things I can’t muddle through. However, I love Indian food, African food, food that starts with the letter “B,” etc. If you know the person is learning to cook, gift with a comprehensive volume. If you go specialty, pair with an unusual ingredient used in the book for a complete package.

3. Whole Book vs. One Recipe. Spend some time reviewing whether you’d actually cook from it. Read the index, the table of contents, and one recipe start to finish. I have bought cookbooks on the merit of a single recipes. Sometimes, that’s all it has to offer, sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised. (And if you need to treat yourself to a cookbook, The Practical Cook is certainly not one to judge.) But also consider buying cookbooks that will teach you method, or just spark your imagination. They are your kitchen reference materials!

More specific reviews pending as I work through a stack of cookbooks! Don’t forget to use your library as a resource: it’s a great way to evaluate a line of cookbooks, a style, a new type of cuisine, etc. I almost always have one checked out for review. The more I cook and eat, I find the author’s perspective on food is the key to whether I’ll find the tome useful. Read the intro, get to know the author, and enjoy!

What are your cookbook buying habits? What’s your favorite one? Share in the comments section below! (If you’re reading this in email, click through and join us by posting a comment!)

Send your recipes, questions, and thoughts to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Up next, Weekly Menus!

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Kitchen Tool Talk: Three (More) of My Favorite Things, Dishwashing Edition

Gentle Readers, as I pondered what I would miss most while on the road, I settled on the obvious: my dishwashers. All three of them.

My Favorite Dishwashers

My Favorite Dishwashers

As you can guess from the site graphics, I grew up in the kitchen, and one of my first jobs was washing and drying the dishes for my granny. She was particular about it, and forced me to slow down and do it right. I couldn’t be more grateful for that lesson these days.

My Less Cute, but Practical, Dishwasher

My Less Cute, but Practical, Dishwasher

But as modern times have given us new tools, The Practical Cooks Junior don’t wash as many dishes these days, but they do dry and put their dirtys in the dishwasher, and they can put away the silverware faster than Rocky. I’m proud of them for learning how to take care of themselves. It is never too early to involve the young people in your life into the rhythms of the kitchen. It’s a skill they’ll have for a lifetime.

I’m pretty sure granny would approve. So to The Practical Cooks Junior, you are rock stars. It will be all too soon that I come eat in your kitchens.

Did you grow up in the kitchen? Share your story as a comment below.

Send your dishwashers to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Tomorrow, tips from a reader on Long-Range Meal Planning. Seeing is believing, people, tune in.

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Kitchen Tool Talk: Three (More) of My Favorite Things, Spicy Edition

Gentle Readers, as you know, The Practical Cook enjoys making Indian food, and other dishes with some kick. One of the key elements is measuring out the ingredients and having them ready to toss into the recipe at a moment’s notice (read, mise en place). But how to accomplish this without growing extra arms?

Kitchen Tool Talk: Spicy Edition

Spice Jars, Pinch Bowls, Metal Spoons

Spice Jars, Pinch Bowls, Metal Spoons

1. Metal Measuring Spoons. Accept no imitations. If you use turmeric, ever, you’ll understand why I specify. I love that my measuring spoons are still attached by the ring they came on. Easy to find, like my own set of culinary Allen wrenches.

2. Glass Spice Jars with Labels. Years ago, I bought spices in the grocery store, like everyone else. I never used that much cayenne (well, I do now), and it would fade into nothingness. Now, I save the jars of yesteryear, and fill them with the far cheaper and fresher bulk spices from Whole Foods or the local Indian store. Commit to replacing your worthless spices with half as much fresh stuff. You’ll be shocked at the difference.

3. Metal Pinch Bowls. Though in a proper Indian kitchen one would have a multi-welled tray designed for holding various spices, I use this set of 6 small metal bowls I picked up at Macy’s years and years ago (thanks NYC) for well, almost everything. They wash, they’re easy to use, and they are perfect to line up next to the stove to grab and season in the approved order.

It’s not just Indian food that makes this items favorites, this picture is from yesterday’s Veggie Chili. If you season your food ever, the above tips can make your life simpler, and spicier. What’s not to love?

How do you manage your seasoning needs? Comment, Tweet, Facebook me.  I’m waiting to hear from you.

Send your pinch bowls and queries to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Up next, Cheese Bread Recipe or Improving the Canned Crescent.

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Kitchen Tool Talk: Three (More) of My Favorite Things, Engineering Edition

Gentle Readers, The Practical Cook has been hard at work in the test kitchen, but her mind has wandered to her working life. My days are filled with conversations with engineers. My childhood was filled with one too (we had the best and most well constructed forts, the fastest vehicles, etc.; thanks big bro).

Here are my tools of the trade, as a kitchen engineer.

Three More of My Favorite Things: Engineering Edition

Kitchen Toolbox: Scissors, Pencil, and Measuring Tape

Kitchen Toolbox: Scissors, Pencil, and Measuring Tape

 1. Kitchen Shears. Though I’ve mentioned them before, they’re good for all manner of this things. From cutting butcher’s twine to parchment circles to opening bottles or cutting poultry, they are the utility knife of the kitchen.

2. Pencil. For grocery lists, tracing, labeling freezer items, and more, the pencil is a classic. Mine just tend to be sparkly and covered with princesses or butterflies.

3. Measuring Tape. Sometimes you need to know the exact size of the pan, or you’d like to know if your concept of 1-inch lengths of veg are accurate.

What’s in your kitchen toolbox? Comment below. Tweet. Carrier Pigeon. I’m listening.

Email your kitchen solutions and queries to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Tomorrow, The Art of the Effortless Party.

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Kitchen Tool Talk: Everyday Cooking Magazine

Gentle Readers, please know that I’m not a Martha Stewart fangirl by any stretch of the imagination. I’m far too practical to excel at fancy tabletops or perfectly pressed shirts. However, I heart Everyday Food magazine like nobody’s business. It’s the little Reader’s Digest-sized number you’ve probably overlooked a million times in the grocery store:

Everyday Food Magazine in the Wild

Everyday Food Magazine in the Wild

To be honest, I tried it on a lark for free with airline miles I couldn’t use another way, and got hooked a few years back. It’s one of the few publications I cook from regularly. There are few issues where I don’t dog-ear more than one recipe, AND actually make them. (Broken dreams, my cookbook shelf is littered with them.)

Please know that I am not a paid sponsor, and I actually fork over money for this magazine now. I appreciate it’s streamlined recipes, it’s seasonal fare, and the variety of kid-friendly, high-end, and all the courses. No matter your taste, there’s probably at least an idea in there for you.

I was further confirmed in this secret magazine addiction when the latest issue included a nice interview with the talent behind SmittenKitchen.com, Deb Perelman.

Do you read food magazines, the old-fashioned print kind? It’s safe to discuss here. Post a comment or Tweet.

Send deep thoughts and ideas to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Tomorrow, Taste Test: Cookie Crisp Cereal vs. Crushed Chips Ahoy!

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When in Doubt, Buy Pony Plates

For the highly observant Gentle Readers, you may have noticed stray hooves and manes peeking out from behind the food lately. That is because The Practical Cook went to Anthropologie again, and this time was accompanied by The Practical Cooks Junior. We held a family meeting in the aisles, and came home with these.

Pony Plates from Anthropologie

Pony Plates from Anthropologie

Yes, those are some spectacular ponies, aren’t they? Two in blue, two in pink, and by far the girliest plates I ever hope to own. You see, The Practical Cook is admittedly a fan of crockery, but it tends to be historic (used by great aunt so and so) or, well, practical. I love my white plates. I chose them for their clean lines and simplicity.

That Grilled Cheese Has Legs!

That Grilled Cheese Has Legs!

But now there are other cooks in my kitchen, and they demand princesses and ponies. And so it shall be. Nothing makes girls night more special, and lunch atop a pony is a treat. I often choose the pink one, just because.

Perhaps I’ll have to become the Impractical Cook, just this once. Do you have some ridiculous kitchen item that you love? Was it a gift to you or by you? Post a comment, or Tweet!

Queries or questions? Email practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Tomorrow, more adventures in eating, A Review of The Eddy in Saxapahaw, NC.

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Ode to My Multitasking Ice Tray

Gentle Readers, is there any greater freezer tragedy than something spilling out of an ice tray all over the place? Possibly when something falls into said ice tray. But there is a cure, and it is one of my favorite household things, the covered ice tray:

Covered ice tray glamour shot.

Covered ice tray glamour shot.

This is my go-to for making pesto cubes, ice, frozen corn in small bites, little stocks, etc. I only have one, I only need one. It is for little things.

Pesto Cubes Heading for the Freezer

Pesto Cubes Heading for the Freezer

Because I’m traveling in the next week, I’m pre-blogging. So by the time you read this, you may need some ice cubes (and a break from the rain). Stay safe, try to avoid Irene, and tell me how you use your ice trays. Post a comment or Tweet!

Send your water and candles to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Tomorrow, Weekly Menus, School Time Edition!

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Kitchen Tool Talk: Three (More) of My Favorite Things, Organization

Sometimes, simple is best. And proximity is even better. Today, The Practical Cook celebrates both in her three favorite things. Here they are:

Cutlery organizer, Countertop, Dishwasher, Together Again

Cutlery organizer, Countertop, Dishwasher, Together Again

1. Cutlery Organizer. This is my very favorite cabinet upgrade. I designed this kitchen myself, and I have a set of formal cutlery, and an inherited one. They both mean a lot to me, and it’s hard to find a way to store and use it. Bring on the bi-level organizer drawer. It’s built for this, doesn’t take up extra space, and I love it.

2. Countertops. Due to recent kitchen re-org, the countertops are now visible and usable. Huzzah! Nothing is more wonderful than open countertop space in the kitchen. You can make more waffles that way, run 2 projects at once, or have a place to put things down.

3. Dishwasher. With kids, it runs constantly. Better still, they can load and unload it. And with a clean countertop at hand, and the cutlery drawer right there, it’s fast and easy to get the job done. Score one for placement.

What do you love, or hate, about your kitchen arrangement? These are the things I love, more on the latter in another post. Post your thoughts below in a comment, or Tweet!

Send your org charts to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Tomorrow, as always, we have Weekly Menus!

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