Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Kitchen "Essentials"

Jules over at Pancakes & French Fries posted today was talking about a few baking items she always uses. I don't have any superstitions, per say, about which item I use. I do, however, have five items which are used so often in our kitchen that I have come to deem them as "essential". Would we be able to continue creating dishes without them? Yes. Would that process be considerably more difficult. Of course.

The five items we use at least once a week, if not more, are as follows:

  • the 5qt cast iron french oven 
  • the 10" cast iron skillet 
  • the 5qt stand mixer 
  • the 7-cup food processor 
  • and restaurant quality jelly roll pans 
All were gifts in some manner or we'd probably still have most of them on a "someday" list. We have very generous friends and family!

We inherited a Staub Elite Enameled Cast Iron 5qt. French Oven from a friend of a friend that was moving and left a TON of stuff in her house to be donated or otherwise homed. I was helping my friend with the house cleanup and this was among the things we accepted. We use the pot at least once a week - usually more. We love that it can go stove-to-oven. One thing to keep in mind - and consider when cooking - is that cast iron retains heat VERY WELL. So when the soup is done - especially a cream-based soup - it will continue to cook even when you remove it from the heat. We almost always have stuff stuck to the base by the time we put away leftovers. The great thing about enamel is that with a soak, it wipes clean fairly easily.

Sweetie received a Lodge 10" cast iron skillet as a Christmas gift a few years ago. It lives on the stovetop. We don't even bother putting it away because we use it every day, multiple times a day. I grew up with a small one in my parents house that also lived on the stovetop and was used mainly for cooking my mother's eggs in the morning. We use ours for everything. I've used it for pancakes, eggs, breadsticks, pizza (goes directly into the oven!), homemade tortillas, quesadillas, and cooking or searing meats.

I bought the Kitchenaid Artisan 5-qt stand mixer for Sweetie for Christmas about 4 years ago. A year later, she received a second bowl because she uses it THAT OFTEN. She loves making all sorts of breads and baked goods and that mixer makes it 300 times easier. We thought we'd use the meat grinder attachment but the motor really isn't designed for the extensive use we wanted to put it through so we ultimately put that attachment away. We haven't gotten rid of the attachment yet so it's not a definite "never going to use" item yet but we haven't used it since we received the food processor.

I received the Cuisinart Pro Classic 7-cup food processor for Christmas last year. It has a spot to live in the china cabinet but it really only gets put there about one week out of the month. We use it to puree nuts, make smoothies, whip up banana/yogurt treats to freeze for our dog, and to "grind" (finely chop) the veggies, roast & organ meats for our dog's homemade food. The only thing I don't use it for is shredding cheese. It seems more of an effort to clean the unit than to take more time and use the cowbell shredder manually.

Sweetie has accumulated five half-size sheet pans over the years and one quarter-size sheet pan. She also has racks and silicone mats for each of them.  Most of them are Vollrath 5303 from the "Wear-Ever" Collection. We have a restaurant supply store in the area that is open to retail customers. They take a beating and keep on heating! We use them heavily and after four or fives years there is still no warping and no denting. The raised edges makes them ideal for roasting vegetables and seeds, cooking bacon (on the rack), or any other messy baking items. They work just as well as a sheet for baking cookies too! We also tend to pull them out when we need a moveable working surface.

Those are the items we love in our kitchen. Please share in the comments if you have any items you love in your kitchen or home!

Friday, May 10, 2013


Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be great, awesome, naturally gifted at something. To be able to just do that thing without having to work at it to get there. A reality check reminds me that this isn't the case for most of the talent I witness on a daily basis. I completely understand and respect the amount of learning, practicing, failures and repeated attempts that come to most people before their talents are realized by others as greatness. Even then, that person tends to push themselves to be even better. They have a drive to consistently improve their skill.

When I assess myself honestly in regards to that drive - that passion - that is needed to be great at something; I see a lack of a very specific and necessary characteristic. I lack the drive to improve.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who has been posed the question: If you could do whatever you wanted, regardless of money or time, and be fully supported in your endeavors; what would you do?

I've never been able to answer that for myself. I don't have a passion that speaks so strongly, so loudly in my heart, that life would be just AWESOME as long as I was doing it. I wonder if my lack of passion stems from fear of failing or from not pushing through the frustration of failure along the way. Maybe I LOVE art. I collect art supplies, gather ideas, store sketch notes and project ideas with the intention that *someday* I will turn them into reality. Years ago I would write poems, short stories, and song melodies. Maybe I LOVE music. I hear songs on the radio and think, "I want to DO that!". I imagine myself on a stage playing a song for a crowd or laughing and having fun while entertaining friends. It's a very "rose colored glasses" scene (Something to note here: I generally don't like the focus on me. WHY I daydream of being the center of attention is beyond me but there it is.) There is a commonality within these two things; music and art both allow for the creation of something. Maybe I LOVE to create. I get lost in time when building programs, craft projects, posters, taking photos for a specific concept, or building something with my hands. Is that the thing I would do if I could be fully supported? I don't know. It's scary to say "this is the thing I LOVE" because what if I'm never good enough to measure up to my own standards of what that thing should be? Failure is scary.

I wonder about how many opportunities or experiences I've turned down or tuned out because I was afraid to fail. It's easy to assert that I will dare to push myself but quite another to remember to actually do it before the default ego says "no".

I don't really know where I'm going with this. It's nearly midnight and I'm tired and rambling. This started out as a status update on Facebook before I realized I was typing a paragraph and moved over here to hash it out instead. I don't have a solution. The obvious solution is to just do it. Just dare to fail and fail and fail until that moment arrives where I realize I'm not failing anymore and I enjoyed the failures of my passionate talents just as much as I enjoy the successes of my non-passionate talents.

The obvious isn't easy. The obvious is a frightening venture.

Monday, May 6, 2013

100 Push-Ups In 6 Weeks: Week 2 Exhaustion Test

Exhaustion Test after Week 2 of the "100 Push-ups in 6 weeks" program (using the free Android App because I'm cheap and it was out there).

15 push-ups. 

15 total. After I entered that number into the app, I received this message:
Bastards! But really, I did 15! I'm pretty damn proud of my improvement. 
I peeked at the next workout. I'm still technically "Week 2" but the reps are double what I did for the last workout. Eek!