Megan’s Holiday Gift Guide

cast-iron-skilletMegan McArdle’s annual Holiday Gift Guide: Kitchen Edition is useful and entertaining as ever.

I do most almost all the cooking in the family but I can get by with far fewer gadgets as most of my recipes involve large chunks of meat and some vegetables and/or starches.  I’d add a decent iron skillet to the must-have list, for example, as it’s incredibly versatile for everything from broiling steaks to making corn bread.

Megan’s suggestions for kitchen tongs, corkscrews, coffee grinder and silicon oven mitts are especially good for the lower end of the price range.   I have no direct experience with the Bodum burr grinder she recommends but my wife found a Cuisinart burr grinder at Costco for a fraction of the price a few weeks back and I’ve found it an upgrade over our old blade grinder, which is now at the office.

FILED UNDER: General, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Alex Knapp says:

    I can’t do cast iron. There’s something about the fact that trapping rancid grease and rotten vegetables within the pores of your cooking implement being seen as a good thing just doesn’t sit well with me.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I can’t do cast iron. There’s something about the fact that trapping rancid grease and rotten vegetables within the pores of your cooking implement being seen as a good thing just doesn’t sit well with me.

    I’m pretty good at wiping it out thoroughly and I tend to use it at anywhere from 400 to 600 degrees. Plus, I wind up washing it with soap more often than is usual because I wind up with some sort of sauce in there that needs to get cleaned out. I just dry it thoroughly and reglaze it with a light rubbing of canola oil and putting it back in the oven.

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    I went with a seven-layer (along the sides, not just the bottom) set of pans with surgical grade stainless as the cooking surface — non-porous and non-stick. Pricey, but worth it. Even cooking and heating throughout, and since the steel is non-pourous you get an excellent sear on the meat without having to use oil, which makes the effect of pan-frying meat much more similar to a grill.

  4. I snagged the Bodum grinder years ago, when it was only $40. It was good, but being known as good has led to a price increase. These days I’m using a Kitchen Aid Professional, which is better … but also more breakable. There is something perverse about our attraction to glass as the high end.

  5. I might have used that Bodum for 10 years, by the way.

  6. sam says:

    Hey! I’ve got that skillet. And I do all the cooking around here, too.

  7. Matt says:

    Alex would you give me a link so I can check this cookware out myself?

  8. Our Paul says:

    Oh my gosh, hard to believe…

    I do most almost all the cooking in the family but I can get by with far fewer gadgets as most of my recipes involve large chunks of meat and some vegetables and/or starches.

    No need to go into the fine distinction between a gourmet and a gourmand, the “large chunks of meat” is defining. But it just might explain James puzzling disdain for sweetbreads on his trip to Montreal. I mean, in the Belle Province, the chef is defined by his sweet bread preparation. Consider this lovely skillet recipe.

    There is hope in this statement:

    I’d add a decent iron skillet to the must-have list, for example, as it’s incredibly versatile for everything from broiling steaks to making corn bread.

    Ah yes, said the man in the white hat and a thermometer tucked into his left sleeve. It has to be iron, and it has to have a good fitting lid. Thus this by Alex Knapp brings forth a grrrrhh and a squint with constricted pupils:

    I can’t do cast iron. There’s something about the fact that trapping rancid grease and rotten vegetables within the pores of your cooking implement being seen as a good thing just doesn’t sit well with me.

    Fortunately James takes a shot on how to re-glaze an iron skillet. Time to get to the meat of the correspondence. It is clear that neither James nor Alex have stumbled across skillet paella, and I bring it to Sam, my man’s, attention. There is a variety of ways of preparing a skillet paella, but try this one for two. About 45 minutes to an hour, but hey mon, if you are going to do it, do it right:

    Rice, 1/3 to 1/2 cup, liquid should be 3/4 the amount of rice, defined below.
    Chicken stock, as needed.
    Spices, pinch or two of cayenne or saffron.
    Onions (red or white) chopped, 1/2 cup or more.
    Red or yellow peppers, chopped, 1/3 of cup, or more.
    One sausage, spicy (chorizo preferred, but any other non hot spicy sausage will do) sliced (1/4 to ½” wheels)
    8 shrimp peeled.
    2 sea scallops, coarsely chopped.
    6 cherry stone clams, washed, cooked in 1/3 cup of water, set aside when all are opened, reserve the liquid.
    3 to 4 chicken legs lightly dusted with garlic salt, pepper, and OLD BAY Seasoning.

    Prep time over, refresh your combustible liquid, take a slug or two, and get ready to roll.

    Into your skillet, a small glug of olive oil, chicken legs, and braise (brown), then set aside. Do not brown too much or your rice will look dirty.
    Into the skillet, onions, sausage, peppers. Sauté lightly, 3 to 5 minutes. (Add garlic for 1 minute if you favor a garlically paella). Set aside.
    Into the skillet a small glug of olive oil, heat, then rice. Stir (wooden spoon) until rice is coated and starting to cook. Add all set aside ingredients (chicken legs, onions, sausage, peppers, chopped scallops (shrimp clams reserved). Add spices (pinch or two of cayenne or saffron), and appropriated amount of liquid mixture (clam cooking liquid and chicken broth). When the rice starts to bubble on the stove top, add the lid to skillet, wait 3 minutes, then shove into a 350 degree oven.

    You now have 30 to 35 minutes to makes the salad, set the table, open a bottle of wine, and get ready for the final push to open nirvana’s door. You may take one or two more slugs of you combustible liquid, for it is all down hill from here.

    At 30 to35 minutes, check paella. If the rice is fluffing up, go. If it needs a splash of liquid, give it a small dose and mix up. If it is to wet, take of the top, and evaporate some of the liquid.
    At go, add clams, open bivalve into the rice. Add shrimp, they are the thermometer, arrange ½ buried into rice. Sprinkle a liberal amount of frozen peas over the rice. Put the top back one, into the oven.
    When the shrimp have turned pink, the deed is done…

    Pssst 1# This is the Full Monte skillet paella, you really do not need all the ingredients…

    Pssst 2#: The shrimp are added last so as not to over cook the beasties. This dish is supposed to be succulent…

    Pssst 3#: Always keep a bag of frozen scallops and shrimp in the freezer, they are versatile goodies for quick meals. They may actually get you away from “large chunks of meat”.

  9. MarkedMan says:

    Burr Grinder. One of the “Gourmet” items that really, dramatically made a difference to both me and my wife. Much better coffee.

  10. Drew says:

    And today on the food channel……

    My mother, who was a great cook, had several iron skillets, claiming them to be the cornerstone.

    My wife has gravitated to “All-Clad” which appears to be aluminum.

    I’m the neanderthal…….”when do we eat?”

  11. There are people who like to put various sorts of foods directly on the coals in an open fire. Hard to get more neanderthal than that.

    I have some cast iron, because I like to have them, but don’t use them too much. A flat cast iron griddle makes a good comal though, for hand-made tortillas.

  12. sam says:

    My mother, who was a great cook, had several iron skillets, claiming them to be the cornerstone.

    Your mom, skillet-wise, knew her onions. Unfortunately for me, my wife likes electric cooktops, and so I can’t use any of my iron skillets except in the oven. I have laid down the law, though: Next range is going to be gas. (Now I have to see I can get the bill out of committee–the chairwoman rules with an glasstop fist.)