Friday, June 24, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things: Cooking & Baking Edition

I thought it would be fun to look a little closer at some of the individual things within my house that make it function a bit more like a home.

This will kick off a new series, A Few of My Favorite Things, that I'll be periodically posting over the next couple of months.

Up first is looking at five different products that I've found to be essential when it comes to cooking and baking: Those items that have proven to be totally utilitarian, often-used (almost on a daily basis), or simply just keep meals from being ruined before dinner even starts.

Here's a little more about each product and why I recommend it:

1. Cast Iron Skillet
: It took me awhile to give cast iron a try, but now that I have, I will never go back! This is pretty much the only skillet I use, so much so that it stays on the stove-top all the time. (Although part of that is also likely due to the fact that it's pretty big and doesn't really fit anywhere else!) I also love it because it's so simple to clean up; no soap needed! Here's an article that goes a bit more into why you should consider going cast-iron in the kitchen.

2. Digital Timer: Sometimes I try to multitask a bit too much, resulting in dishes that end up extra-crispy (or worse). So a timer quickly became essential. (This one also allows you to take the temperature of your food, but we don't use that option very often.) I like that this one has strong magnets on the back (our previous timer met an early death by falling off the fridge) and a loud beep that you can't ignore.

3. The Food Substitutions Bible: This book has been a standby in my kitchen, because invariably I have a recipe I want to try, only to discover I have run out of eggs or don't have allspice in my spice collection. Detailed with specific substitutions, this book has the well-researched answers with thorough recommendations of how and when to make certain substitutions. You'll be surprised at some of the easy swaps you can make!

4. Bread Machine: This is the gadget that I, surprisingly, use the most in the kitchen. I love being able to whip up bread in just a couple of hours, without having to run to the grocery store. I'm still doing a lot of experimenting, but I have nailed down some homemade standbys, including pizza dough, hamburger buns and bagels. The version I've linked to here isn't the exact same one I use, although it's the same brand. Mine is one my mom has had for years (likely a decade) and has kindly let me experiment with for the past year! Given that it's lasted for so long, I feel like I can really recommend this brand! Plus, it's pretty affordable, too.

5. Pampered Chef Pizza Stone: I received this as a wedding present, and while at the time I didn't do much baking to speak of at all, I now find that I use this baking stone at least once a week, for everything from pizzas to cookies. So much so that it's now covered in gnarly black and brown stains that it proudly wears like battle wounds, because as they say, "The worse it looks, the better it cooks." (Here's a more in-depth article about choosing stoneware.)

P.S. Unless otherwise stated, all items pictured and linked are the exact version I've come to love!

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