Favorite Kitchen Tools – Stocking Stuffers

Here is a list of some smaller kitchen tools that would make perfect stocking stuffers!

  1. Garlic Press– I use mine almost every day. You don’t have to mess with peeling garlic, finely mincing etc. You put a clove in the press and just squeeze! The peel stays behind.
  2. Meat Thermometer– I use this all the time as well. I always test meat with a thermometer to make sure it’s done prior to serving. I like this one because it has the quick guide on the side of what temperatures the various meats should reach to be safe to eat. This model automatically turns on and off as you flip the probe out and press it back in. You also want to make sure you calibrate your thermometer on a regular basis. You do this by putting the probe in a glass of ice water and pressing and holding the “Cal” button to calibrate it to freezing.
  3. Heat-Resistant Silicone Spatula-It is worth it to invest in a good quality, heat resistant, silicone spatula. These are my go-to tools for cooking scrambled eggs because I can stir without fear of scraping my pan or having the spatula melt into my eggs. Look for one that is a solid piece, not one with a silicone bottom on a wooden base. I think we’ve all experienced the agony of the spatula end slipping off the handle into whatever we’re cooking. Just avoid that and go with a seamless one!
  4. Silicone Skillet Handle Cover – I have a few of these that I use with my cast iron pans. The handles get hot when cooking with them on the stove and this can help you not have to hold a pot holder the whole time while cooking. I also always put one on right away when I pull a pan out of the oven. On multiple occasions, I’ve grabbed the handle of a hot skillet after it’s come out of the oven not thinking that it’s still piping hot. Now I put these covers on right away!
  5. Cloth Dinner Napkins – We have completely transitioned from using paper napkins, to using cloth napkins. It took me a while to build up a solid collection where we could always have some clean but it has been so worth it. Not only does it reduce our usage of paper products, but I think cloth napkins add a lot of elegance to a table. They also work great to line a bread basket, or arrange a few of them down the center of your table as a runner. Get your kids involved by having them help you fold them in a fun way!

These gifts are items that I use regularly in my kitchen, and I’m sure that the home cook in your life would love them as well!

Favorite Kitchen Tools- Instant Pot

In the past I have been very selective in the kitchen “gadgets” that I purchase because I have always lacked storage space. I had an Instant Pot in my Amazon cart multiple times but then I would remove it and ask myself, “Am I really going to use that?” If I could just go back and tell myself how valuable this tool is then I could have bought one a long time ago!

Benefits and Features of an Instant Pot

The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker and multi-cooker. There are many options out there that have different features but this is the newest version of the one that I have. Here are my favorite features that make the Instant Pot so valuable:

  1. Slow Cooker: You can slow cook in the Instant Pot! If you’re concerned about space in your kitchen, trading in your slow cooker for an instant pot is definitely worth the upgrade!
  2. Saute feature: I love this feature for a roast or for soups. When I used to make a roast in my slow cooker, I would have to brown the roast first in a pan on the stove then add it to the slow cooker. Not only do you dirty to pans, but you lose all the tasty bits in the pan when you move the meat. This is not a problem with the instant pot! You can brown the meat in the pot, deglaze and get up all those tasty bits, then add the meat back in to cook the roast.
  3. Great for cooking rice, beans or grains: I can cook dried beans without soaking them in about an hour. It’s great for weekly meal prep!
  4. Easy Hard Boiled Eggs: I purchased something similar to this egg steamer rack for my instant pot. I put 1 cup of water in the pot, add the egg rack with eggs and pressure cook for 6 minutes. As soon as it’s finished cooking I quick release the steam and move the eggs to a container of cold water to stop the cooking. Perfect hard boiled eggs every time! Then put them in a jar with a little water and shake the jar around for a quick way to peel the eggs.
  5. Meal prep: I add 4-5 boneless skinless chicken thighs to the pot. Cover with your favorite salsa and pressure cook for 20 minutes. Quick release the pressure and shred the chicken. It’s tender and shreds so easily for tacos, enchiladas, topping a salad etc. You can do this with other meats such as pork tenderloin but I use BBQ sauce and a little water instead.
  6. Bowl in Bowl Method: Use the egg steamer rack from above and place your meat or other meal element in the bottom of your cooker. Then place a small glass bowl on top of the trivet filled with your other meal element. This recipe alone from Food 52 for Butter Chicken is worth purchasing an Instant Pot and it utilizes the pot in pot cooking method. You could also cook something in the bottom and place a steamer dish on the trivet to steam a veggie to pair with your meal. Think meatballs in the bottom and pasta in the bowl on top. So many possibilities!

Consider Purchasing Some Accessories

If you already have an Instant Pot, or you’re looking for some gifts ideas for someone who already has one, consider some of these accessories you can buy such as a glass lid or a steamer basket. I haven’t experimented with this yet, but there are a lot of recipes for making desserts as well using a springform pan like this. Or another option would be these egg bite molds, perfect for mixing an egg with some veggies and cheese for small portable omelet bites.

If you’re concerned about the space that it takes up in your kitchen- trust me, it’s worth swapping out your slow cooker for an Instant Pot. They take up about the same amount of space, but an Instant Pot is so much more versatile. They make great gifts. I think it would be especially useful for someone living in a small apartment where they don’t have a kitchen at all because it can be used to prepare such a variety of meals. Do you get it yet, that I love this thing?! 🙂

Favorite Kitchen Tools- Grandmommy’s Cast Iron Skillet

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been resisting the urge to put up my Christmas decorations for a few weeks now. 2020 has been such a weird and challenging year, and looking forward to Christmas and Thanksgiving has lifted my spirits recently. I’ve already put up one small tree in my dining room for some “cozy winter light” and we’ll see if I can make it until after Thanksgiving for the rest of the decorations.

With Christmas and the holidays comes gift giving season. I love giving gifts but I’m sometimes unsure of what to get someone if I don’t know a lot about their hobbies. My husband for example is a musician and I find it challenging to purchase music related gifts without him specifically telling me something that he wants. I usually search for gift guides on the internet related to various hobbies where someone familiar with them lists some items that your loved one may be interested in. I have put together a series of post to inspire some gift giving for the aspiring chef and home cook in your life, or pickup some items for yourself 🙂

My first post in this series is about my love for cast iron, and the story behind my favorite cast iron pan.

The History Behind My Cast Iron Skillet

My family is from Texas, and I have a lot of special memories of cooking with my Grandmommy when we would travel there for visits. She shares in my love of thrift store shopping and collecting cookbooks.

I remember the best cheeseburger I ever had was one that she made for me on one of her iron skillets. She used a tortilla iron skillet, or one with really short sides. The skillet retained the heat so well and gave the burger a perfect sear. Then she melted the cheese on top and the little bits around the edge that melted onto the skillet got crispy. Then she spread some butter on the buns and toasted those as well. WOW! I’m salivating just thinking about those burgers. I remember that summer we went to some flea markets, and I just had to have one of these tortilla iron skillets. I found one, and it’s the one I still use when I make burgers or warm up tortillas. Every time I use it, I think of her and my memories of that delicious burger she made me. I also bought a small 6 inch skillet to take home that summer and those two pans were the start of my cast iron collection.

Years later I was in search of a larger cast iron pan that I could cook a chicken in. I had been searching for one and had asked for a new Lodge pan for Christmas. She got wind of this, and in her love for wanting to bless others, she found a way to get me one of her large cast iron pans all the way from Texas.

The special thing about cast iron is that as long as you take care of it properly, it will just get better with age. More seasoning is added every time you cook with it. Every time I cook with that pan I feel like in a way I’m back in my Grandmommy’s kitchen cooking with her because her seasonings are also the pan. Someday I will be able to pass it down to the next generation and share with them the stories of the meals that have been prepared, and the conversations shared around that skillet.

Pros of Cast Iron

  1. It’s a great pan for searing meat and finishing it in the oven. I cook my pork tenderloin in cast iron by first searing it on the stove, then transfering the pan to the oven to finish cooking. This is also an excellent way to cook a steak or pork chop.
  2. It just gets better with time as you cook with it. Every time you cook with your cast iron, you’re adding seasoning and increasing the non-stick layer of the pan through the fat that you use. I can fry an egg in my cast iron skillet without it sticking because I have built up a nice non-stick seasoning layer.
  3. They’re great to bake in. I bake biscuits in them or if you have a smaller one you can bake a giant cookie. Skillet pies are also delicious… Cobblers… you get the idea.

Cleaning Cast Iron

I think people can be intimidated by cast iron because they’re unsure of how to clean it. NEVER put your pan in the dishwasher. I’m cringing just thinking about that… I like to clean mine while they’re still hot because the gunk comes off easier that way. I use a metal spatula, or a hard rubber scraper to scrape up any bits that are stuck on the bottom. I may even add a small amount of water to help loosen up any stuck on gunk. Then I use a paper towel to wipe out the pan, and wipe again with a clean damp paper towel. Usually that’s all it takes!

For the bigger messes, you can use a small amount of soap and water, but always make sure you season it afterwards to make sure your pan doesn’t get rusty. Seasoning requires adding a small amount of oil, smearing it around with a paper towel, and heating the pan up again. This is good practice to do periodically anyway to keep you pan in good shape. Use an oil with a high smoke point such as canola. Something like olive oil will start to smoke before it really gets hot enough to season the pan.

Buying Guide

I think a classic 12 in skillet is a great place to start if you’re interested in experimenting with cast iron. A 12 in is large enough to hold an entire chicken, yet still versatile enough that you could cook breakfast eggs in it. Lodge makes quality cast iron for affordable prices. Here is a versatile skillet that would make a great purchase or gift.

Another option for cast iron is a double burner griddle/grill pan. Mine has a permanent residence on my gas stovetop. It makes excellent pancakes and toast for breakfast and I also use it a lot for grilled sandwiches. Flip it over and you have an indoor grill pan! I cook chicken breasts on mine to slice up for salads. One note on the double burner griddle- our old place had a glass top stove and this pan did not work well. Consider the type of stovetop you have before buying a pan like this. This is the one that I was gifted a few years ago.

If you’re scouring the thrift store for cast iron these are the characteristics I would look for:

  1. Look for an assist handle if buying a larger skillet. This is a small handle opposite from the larger handle. These skillets can be very heavy, and having that assist handle provides two hand holds when pulling something heavy from the oven.
  2. A smooth shiny cooking surface. A well-seasoned cast iron pan will have a smooth and shiny finish. If a pan hasn’t been cared for properly it may have rust or an uneven finish. Some of this can be remedied with a little elbow grease and a good seasoning but unless you find a Griswold or a Wagner pan I would just skip over the rusted poorly seasoned ones.
  3. Make sure it’s not warped. Try to set it on a flat surface and wobble it a little. A warped pan will have hot spots and won’t provide an even cooking surface.

Now what about this enameled stuff?

Enameled cast iron tends to cost more because it has an enameled surface. I don’t know the science behind it, but it’s a layer over the cast iron that assists with making it non-stick. It’s also what you see when you find a cast iron pan that has color on the outside. I have an enameled dutch oven that I use to bake bread or for stews. I love it! I would recommend a 6 qt like this one.

Whether you’re buying cast iron for yourself or as a gift, you won’t be disappointed. They can become family heirlooms where generations are cooking off seasoning that was developed years ago. What a special way to feel connected to others in the kitchen!