Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Kitchen Stuff that Keeps Me Close to Fabulous

I found out recently that I cook.  

All the work I do in the kitchen?  My friends say it's "cooking."  I never knew!  

I truly never say that I'm "cooking" anything.  Until last week, if you asked me if I "cooked," I would have said "no," because to me cooking involves a certain creative intuition, a dash of this and a pinch of that, beautifully plated four course (at least) meals, and mysterious words like saffron, bearnaise, and aioli.  And I'm more into one pot meals that definitely don't involve aioli.  I would always refer to what I do in the kitchen as "making."  I make a lot of dinners.  I make casseroles and soups like nobody's business.  But it never felt like "cooking."   

Last week, some lovely women I know assured me that I cook.  I make things from scratch, so I guess that qualified me.  Ok, I don't do everything from scratch (I always have a boxed cake mix on hand for emergencies...) but nearly all of my dinners are from scratch (and any breakfasts that don't involve boxed cereal :) )  And even though I manage to keep everyone fed over the summer, this is the time of year when I really ramp things up and start to work in my kitchen and make my kitchen work for me.  Things are really cooking.  I'm cooking. 

If I had to choose a role model for my kitchen endeavors it would be less like America's Next Top Chef contestants (I've never seen it, but I'm pretty sure they do aioli and they don't do casseroles) and more like Ma Ingalls.   

Every day Ma made regular food for the people she loved, often under irregular circumstances.  Ma made bread when they had flour and corn cakes when they didn't.  She made vinegar pies and pies out of green pumpkins.  She made regular cheese, and head cheese (no thanks, Ma), and roasted pigs' tails.  She helped with the maple syrup and saved sugar for Christmas candy.   She worked wonders with wild fruit and home-grown vegetables.  She did it all without electricity, kitchen gadgets, and Pyrex.

For Ma and me, there are very few meals with spectacularly prepared meats flanked by a variety of side dishes, followed by tediously crafted desserts (occasionally there are, but not usually!)  Usually Ma and I favor feeding our families with simple, healthy, hearty meals.  I'll clearly never really be like Ma.  (I mean, for one, I buy all my ingredients, so "from scratch" quickly becomes very relative.)  Ma was fabulous.  I'll never be fabulous in the kitchen, but occasionally I get awfully close.  I know when it happens because my children are very good at praise and thanks when I make something they love!  Here are some kitchen gadgets that I couldn't live without could live without if I had to, but I'd like to hang on to them because they're my best chance at being as fabulous as Ma :)

Crock Pot - Starting out with the obvious.  I'm pretty sure this is the favorite kitchen item of all busy moms, the exceptions being those moms who have a personal chef and those whose brains have been hijacked by aliens - they'd use a slow cooker if they were thinking straight, but they're not... because aliens.  Although I use it frequently, I'm not super creative with my Crock Pot.  I could be better.  But they (I have two) get regular use for apple sauce, soup (obviously), stew, and pot roast.   Once I used it to make pumpkin pudding.  That was good.  

Bread Machine - I love my bread machine :)  I use it for straight-ahead bread for sandwiches and soup.  I make sweet fruit breads for breakfasts and pizza bread for lunches or snack.  And I use the dough setting more and more - it's been wonderful for dinner rolls, pizza dough, Christmas Eve cinnamon buns, and even monkey bread.  I love my bread machine.  Did I already say that??

Immersion Blender - this little gadget is worth every penny when it comes to making creamy blended soups.  One year I tried blending hot soup in batches in a traditional blender.  Never again.  It took longer to clean up that mess than it did to make the soup.  Now, my immersion blended is always front and center at soup time.  

Pampered Chef Manual Food Processor - this thing can chop anything.  Well, not really.  But it chops all the stuff you need it to in the kitchen.  I use it most often for chopping fruit for jam and onions and peppers for salsa.  
nut chopper - soooo much better than smashing nuts in a plastic baggie with my rolling pin.  I first bought a nut chopper because my husband always reminisced about one his mom had when he was a kid.  Now my kids and I love it because it's an easy way for them to help out in the kitchen.  Boys in particular, love to watch rotary blades chopping things up :)

good knives - good kitchen knives make all the difference in the world.  (I use Henckels) Now, if I only knew the secret to sharpening them...  

a sifter - if you've ever tried to "sprinkle" powdered sugar into or onto anything by hand, you know how not pretty it is.  Sifters make perfectly powdery powdered sugar  :)

a zester - it's a small item, but it makes a huge difference when it comes time to giving your recipes a delicious citrus-y zip.  I used to not have a zester and I look back on those dark times and wonder what was the point of it all  ...  

We tend to zest a lot around here, but my two favorite things to use the zester for are jam (I've written before how all homemade jam can become gourmet jam simply by adding lime juice and zest - or lemon if you're lime-less) and these orange kisses - a treat I try to reserve for Easter brunch, but sometimes my self control gets the better of me and I make them a few other times throughout the year...

Orange Kisses at Easter.  So good :)

I love knowing that I "cook."  I love making healthy, delicious, and relatively "from scratch" stuff from my family.  (I really struggle with the "from scratch" thing actually... if I use whole wheat flour from the store but I didn't grow it and mill it myself, how from scratch is my finished product??   Anyway...)   This past weekend I started my yearly ritual of making dinners in bulk and freezing meals for the winter.  I'm so grateful for the blessings of modern conveniences and kitchen gadgets that help me get very close to fabulous in the kitchen :)

What are the kitchen appliances and tools you love to use in making every day food for the ones you love??


  1. Alright, now I am going to go dust off the bread machine. Nothing better than that smell.

  2. I have several kitchen tools that I didn't realize how indispensable they were until I owned them. An immersion blender, microplane, Sil-pats for baking, garlic press, mesh sieve, and a pastry blender come to mind.

    1. Talk to me about Silpats. I just heard that word for the first time yesterday when I was making dinner - the recipe for garlic bread sticks said to use one. What's the big deal??
      And I forgot about my pastry blender! When we got married I saw that my husband had one to contribute to the marital kitchen - though he couldn't even tell me what it was or why he had it! Like you, I never knew how essential it was until I tried it!

  3. Have had the immersion blender sitting in my Amazon cart. Now to take the plunge....:)

    1. You won't regret it! It's so wonderful for soup. I've also used it for apple sauce, baby food, and smoothies :)

  4. "They'd use a slow cooker if they were thinking straight, but they're not... because aliens." I laughed so hard at that (thankfully not because aliens). I'm personally in love with my garlic peeler. It's a rubbery tube and peels garlic perfectly if I don't want the cloves smashed with a knife (which is another perfectly acceptable method of peeling garlic). It got misplaced a few weeks ago and I realized how much I love that little rubbery cylinder.

    1. I am unversed in the ways of garlic (see comment below) but I goggled it and this rubbery garlic peeler is actually a real thing! Thanks for teaching me something new!

  5. I love cooking too, and knowing that I've made a whole, healthy meal "from scratch".

    I have been thinking about getting an immersion blender, maybe I'll add that to a future Christmas or birthday list! And I love baking bread myself, so I'm holding off on getting a bread machine... maybe when I have more kids keeping me busy.

    I love my garlic press and my pampered chef adjustable measuring spoons.

    1. Ok.. Now you,Willow, and Christine have all mentioned garlic presses/peelers. This is the part in the comment where I confess that I have never handled, or peeled, or pressed a clove of garlic. I've always used pre-chopped garlic in olive oil (comes in a jar). I think perhaps it's time I graduated to a big-girl garlic press. (Everyone else is doing it!)
      I have never baked bread on my own. I think that's a fabulous skill to have!!
      And I hope you get an immersion blender. You'll love it!

  6. Love my Kitchen Aid food processor and at Christmas my husband spoilt me totally with a Kitchen Aid mixer!!! my joke is it's a 10th child present;)
    Also love our Champion juicer. Another item I we use alot are mixing bowls, and glass baking trays.

    Intrigued by the zester, I think I need to become more adventurous.


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