A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Anybody got a Dolly to cart away this crap?

If you're new to my blog today — well, first off, I'm happy to have you here! — please be advised that I'm in the middle of an all-week exploration of the reasons I've kept some of my kitchen equipment and carted away some other things.  You might want to scroll down and read all the posts starting on Monday, February 21.  Well, you could skip the brief one about me turning into a woodland creature, as it doesn't address the main theme of the week.  But it would be a shame to miss some adorable pictures of Willy and, well, me.  [embarrassed blush]

We've already talked about items that we love because they do one thing and do it well:

One-hit Wonder Woman
But today I want to discuss the Steve Martins of the kitchen — those versatile tools we keep finding new uses for.  (Sorry, Steve, I didn't mean to imply you were a tool.  Even though I AM jealous of your high level of accomplishment as a singer, dancer, comedian, actor, banjo player, essayist, novelist, etc. etc. etc.  AND, on top of all that, you have the nerve to be handsome as all get out.)

All-purpose Tool

To qualify for retention in my kitchen under this test, an implement must prove its versatility in accomplishing a wide variety of tasks.  There's some overlap here with the frequency-of-use test, because things with a wide range of uses tend to get used frequently.  But there is a difference.  Subtle as it may be.  Just go with me on this one; indulge my meticulous distinctions.

Versatile tools are a godsend to those of us inhabiting small living quarters.  We swoon at the very concept of 2-in-1, because we barely have room for even that 1.  Tools with multiple functions create extra space for those Hello-Dolly tools that we have to keep around for their single — albeit crucial — function.  (Have I mentioned my corkscrew?)

As you can see from the level of grime obscuring its true beauty, we run our toaster oven ragged.

This little appliance not only toasts our bread, but also our bagels and other baked goods in non-standard shapes and sizes.  Unlike in regular toasters, you can also do melty cheese toast in here.  Or reheat/crisp take-out pizza slices (you can cram in 2 slices at a time if you're strategic).  Or heat up leftovers.  Or pretty much any task that requires raising the temperature of some solid substance.  Many people clean their toaster ovens (I've heard) when they get messy, but we were lucky to find this one in the trash downstairs just when our last model was getting too grimy for even our permissive standards.

(Our regular gas oven/stove was a castoff as well.  Last summer, our neighbor offered us her nearly new, pristine, top-of-the-line Maytag when she got a hankering after something even fancier in brushed aluminum.  Thanks, Irma — you're a gem!  And just in time — we would've had to clean that old one soon.)

Ironically, I almost never use the next multi-function item for the primary use it was designed to do:

Not being that kind of cook, I'm rarely feeling the need to measure anything, but this oven-proof measuring cup is great for beating eggs and then pouring them into a pan, chopping herbs with kitchen shears, making salad dressings, baking my breakfast fruit, storing leftover tea when I need the pot for another batch, watering plants and refilling the dogs' water bowl, and holding liquid ingredients awaiting addition in something I'm preparing.  And I guess I do use it to measure grains and water, so I get the proportions right.

Cast-iron-ically, this sweet little pan is the other thing (besides my mortar/pestle) that I miss a lot when I'm cooking away from home.  It's beautifully seasoned from years of use, and cleans up easily with just a scrubber sponge and water.  (I always dry it over a flame to prevent rusting.)

What do I do in my 8-inch skillet?  I scramble eggs, grill hamburgers and small steaks, roast cumin and sesame seeds and other spices (this is its most frequent task), roast peppers and other veggies, pop spices in oil for the chaunk that finishes many Indian dishes, heat corn or wheat tortillas, cook flatbreads, bake egg tortillas, and whack Peter over the head when he's been out too late carousing.  That last application is false, obviously.  It's completely inconceivable on so many levels.  But the little pan is multi-talented nonetheless.  And I'm sure it would actually make a good weapon if I ever needed one.  But not against my D.P.

I'm hoping you'll comment below about creative and perhaps unexpected uses to which you've put some of your kitchen tools.  Maybe you will enable me to reassign the function of one of my lesser-used tools to another tool and free up some additional shelf space.  Or you'll at least entertain me.

We're in the last 5 days of February — spring will be here soon!  (Translation for Aussie readers: We're in the last 5 days of February — fall will be here soon!)

Tomorrow: the quality-of-results test


  1. My bench scraper has been unexpectedly useful. I lived without one until a couple of years ago-- silly me. It's such a simple tool, just a metal rectangle with a curled over top. I use it for: scraping up the bread dough and flour into lumps; picking up rolled out pie dough, cookies, and little pizzas to put onto their respective baking pans; cutting scones into their nice little sections; cleaning all the little nubby bits off of the rolling mats before washing; and cleaning the little crunchy bits (LCB's) off of my cast-iron (also sometimes lifting out the solidified bacon grease). Also, when your pie crust gets stuck to the mat because you underestimated the flour needed, you can pick up the edge with the bench scraper and brush some flour under it so you can complete your rolling.

    I'm with you all the way on how useful a cast-iron skillet is, I have a bunch of them, from the little six incher I use to fry three eggs with cheese for one kiddo to the seventeen inch massive one I use to make meals for the five of us. (Can you believe it, amazon had it for about twenty bucks and free shipping(!) a couple years ago. It was the free shipping that really got me on an item that heavy.) I'm safe from any burglers, you betcha!

    I glanced at the latest Cook's Illustrated in the library the other day, and they recommended flaxseed oil for seasoning cast iron. Apparently it acts a bit like linseed oil (the stuff linoleum is made out of) and creates a really tough, glossy surface. They had the whole procedure there, I don't recall the details, but they seemed pretty standard at the time.

  2. My favorite kitchen tool is my set of cast iron. I picked these up at a garage sale years ago and they are worth their weight! One is a regular 9 inch skillet but it has a slot opposite the handle. The other cast iron is flat, like a crepe pan, with a little hook that fits into the slot. When they are apart I have two very servicable cast iron pans, but when together I have a very tight fitting lidded pan. I have also used them with the flat on the bottom to crush things like seeds and cracker crumbs. I wish I had a morter and pestle like you do.

  3. I would love to hear more about cast iron care. So far I only have a dutch oven, but a skillet is on my wish list. I could swear I dried it thoroughly last time I used it, but when I got it out earlier this week there was rust on the inside.

  4. Cast iron care is pretty easy, after the initial seasoning with oil. (treadle27 above recommends flaxseed oil; in the past, I've used canola, peanut, and other vegetable oils). You thoroughly coat the pan inside and out with oil, using a brush or piece of paper towel to apply it. Then you bake it in the oven and it makes a beautiful, shiny, dark, burnished finish that protects the iron from rust and makes it relatively non-stick. Once the pan is seasoned, you just wipe it clean after use and dry it over a burner. If the finish gets damaged by a metal tool or over-eager scrubbing, you can re-season it as often as necessary. In this way, your cast-iron pans can last your whole lifetime....and beyond.

  5. Yep, cast iron is like a parrot, you'll likely pass it down a generation. :) The good news is that a bit of rust is fully repairable, I've found some pieces cheaply that way.