I recently wrote about my favorite kitchen gadgets, the small ones (see A few of my favorite things, part one). The following short list has my favorite big things, the ones that don’t fit into a drawer. One reason they’re favorites is because they all come with great stories. Some have multiple uses. For instance, the salad spinner can also be used to make art or dry your socks. And my husband is incredibly versatile.
Cast iron skillet with a lid. I inherited two cast-iron skillets from my mother, who’d gotten them from her mother. At the time, Mom had gotten some arthritis in her wrist, so she was happy to pass them along to someone who could actually lift them. I loved them like they were my children — I never washed them with soap, and I always seasoned them with vegetable oil after each washing. Then, several years later, catastrophe! My mother discovered a recipe for blackened fish and demanded the return of one of her cast-iron skillets. It took us months to get a new skillet as well-seasoned as the original, 75-year-old pan.
But it was worth it. We use our cast-iron skillets for everything, and they can easily go from the stove to the oven for dishes like upside-down cake or chillaquillas. Properly seasoned, they’re just as non-stick as Teflon or Silverstone, and a lot safer.
Cuisinart food processor. Christmas, 1990. My fiance was flying from Virginia to Ohio to spend the holiday with me, but he nearly missed his flight because of my present. He had decided to get me a food processor, and after reading Consumer Reports, determined that nothing less than a real Cuisinart would do. The problem was that he blithely planned to walk to the airport, a distance of about two miles. He picked up his suitcase in one hand and the shopping bag with the Cuisinart in the other. A half block into the walk, he shifted hands. And shifted back. And forth. And back. And forth.
With packaging and attachments, that Cuisinart weighed almost 25 pounds. And so he struggled all the way to the airport. When I picked him up on the other end, his hands were still sore, and until Christmas morning, I had no idea why.
That Cuisinart is still going strong at 17. It slices, it grates, it juliennes, it chops. It makes perfect pie crust and apple-cranberry relish to die for. And every time I use it, I think about how much I adore the man who gave it to me.
Second-generation pressure cooker. There are two kinds of cooks in the world: Those who use a pressure cooker, and those who don’t. I can’t imagine life without a pressure cooker, because I love whole grains, dried beans, and long-cooking vegetables like artichokes and beets. I know you can simmer those things on the stove for hours; one of my old black bean recipes specifically mentions simmering for 4 hours. But after having a pressure cooker for 12 years, there isn’t anything I cook on the stove that takes longer than 45 minutes — and the burner is only “on” for the first half of that.
If a true pressure-cooker fanatic is someone with two cookers, I’m a fanatic.
The term “second-generation” refers to the fact that today’s pressure cookers have a spring-loaded valve and additional fail-safes to prevent pea-soup-on-the-ceiling explosions that made the original 1950s pressure cookers infamous.
Countertop salad spinner. For most people, the word “countertop” seems unnecessary, because what other kind of salad spinner is there? For me, the other kind is the big one, the one down in the laundry room.Until 1980, my mother washed her lettuce, always iceberg, and put it on the counter on a towel to dry. Salad spinners had been invented, but were not yet common. Then she read an amazing article in the New York Times that suggested putting the lettuce in a pillowcase, tying the top shut, and putting it in the washing machine on “spin” cycle. In a top-loading washer, when you get the knob in just the right position, it simply spins without spraying any water into the tub, and the centrifugal force is the same as any salad spinner.
The problem was, as the family teenager, the job was delegated to me. It was novel at first, but eventually I became bored with it, because I had to descend to the dreary basement laundry corner and stay there until the spin cycle, which always seemed a lot longer than necessary for a head of lettuce, was complete.
Today, although I have my own washer and my own dreary basement laundry room, I also have a cute little salad spinner from the thrift store. I don’t think I’ve ever used it to dry iceberg lettuce, but I’ve done many batches of romaine, Bibb, red leaf, spinach, and all manner of gourmet greens that weren’t available to my mother. I’ve also postulated that if a washer can be used as a salad spinner, then a salad spinner could be used to dry clothing. As a cruising sailor who believes that every item needs to have multiple uses, I wouldn’t be averse to spinning a few pairs of underwear or socks in it.
Barry, my sous-chef. There isn’t anyone I’d rather play in the kitchen with. He is more religious than I about seasoning the cast-iron skillets (he never really forgave my mother), and more likely to use the larger pressure cooker to create a batch of homemade chili so huge we’ll be eating it for weeks. He also shares “in” jokes with me, like the “shoot” attachment that came with the Cuisinart. They called it a chute attachment, but that had to be a misspelling. Its role in life seemed to be “shooting” food all the way across the kitchen instead of putting it into the bowl.
While the salad spinner could be used to dry socks, he’s so versatile — and kind — that he will also wash the darn things for me.