Outfit your kitchen like a pro
"There aren't too many things that haven't been improved upon in today's kitchens, but one exception is a well- seasoned cast-iron skillet. It can typically perform as well, if not better than more expensive non-stick cookware," said Sharon Davis, a family and consumer sciences consultant and spokesperson for the Home Baking Association.Cast-iron cookware is heavy, but that's one of its assets - it holds the heat, but, because of its weight, is less likely to burn food, she said.
Cast iron cookware can usually be used on stovetop burners and in the oven. It's not dishwasher safe, but once well-seasoned, is unlikely to scorch and is easy to wash, said Davis, who advised swishing out seasoned pans with hot water and drying them in a still-warm oven or burner.
Davis, who may be familiar to many in Kansas as a former spokesperson for the Kansas Wheat Commission and K-State Research and Extension agent, uses different-sized cast-iron skillets to make her family's personal pizzas. She favors inexpensive, but durable cookware, but is above all, a cheerleader for home cooking and baking and family meals: "Making meals together a priority is major in terms of successful education for children and good relationships for everyone in your home."
"Eating at home usually is also less expensive than eating the same - or similar foods - at a restaurant and often is more healthful. You know exactly what you're eating," Davis said.
"If you can read a recipe, you can cook -- and have fun doing it," said Davis, who recommended choosing recipes for favorite foods that have step-by-step directions.
"After slimming traditional recipes from excess sugars and fats, the trend is swinging back to well-prepared familiar foods that taste good. Portion control is a major key to managing weight and health, though," she said.
Where to start when you don't typically cook or bake?
Davis suggested first choosing one basic cookbook such as a recent reprint of the Betty Crocker or "Better Homes & Gardens" cookbooks that were popular in the 1950's and '60s. Or, test kitchen Web sites and children's cookbooks offer excellent pictures, guides to measuring and methods.
To outfit the kitchen, we asked Davis and Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist, to survey kitchenware departments and make recommendations to stock a basic kitchen. Their suggestions included:
- 1- to 2-cup liquid measuring cup;
- A set of measuring spoons and a set of dry measuring cups;
- Stainless steel wire whisk, for blending and stirring;
- Instant read thermometer (like chefs keep in their pockets) to test doneness;
- Paring knife for fruits and vegetables;
- Serrated slicing knife;
- Utility knife;
- French knife for chopping;
- Kitchen shears for cutting poultry, pizza, etc.
- Can opener;
- Colander and/or strainer for draining pasta, fruits and vegetables;
- Box grater;
- Vegetable steamer that fits in a saucepan;
- Salad spinner (one of Davis' favorites);
- One or more cutting boards, wood or manmade, that can be sanitized after each use;
- Two or more potholders, so they can be laundered often Like tools, when well cared for, kitchenware will offer years of dependable service at a low cost per use, Blakeslee said.
For home baking, the two women recommended the following basics:
Why two baking sheets? Baking sheets should be allowed to cool between batches; having two speeds the baking process.
While the choices of commercially prepared baked products are many, home baking typically provides an opportunity for creativity in the kitchen, Davis said.
For more information on equipping a basic kitchen, home cooking and baking, contact a county or district K-State Research and Extension office or visit Extension's Web site: www.oznet.ksu.edu or the Home Baking Association's Web site: www.homebaking.org.