What is an Immersion Blender

An immersion blender is a small kitchen appliance that is designed to blend, puree or mix ingredients in the bowl in which they are being prepared. Immersion blenders are also referred to as stick blenders, wand blenders or hand blenders.

There are numerous positive benefits to including an immersion blender in your collection of small kitchen appliances. Many modern style homes and apartments have small kitchens.  A lack of storage space is often an issue.  Immersion blenders are trim-line designed and require little storage space.  There are some colorful models available that would be a decorative addition to a kitchen counter top.

Even if you have a spacious kitchen with ample storage space, an immersion blender can become one of your favorite small appliances. It can reduce preparation time and clean-up time. You can quickly and easily mix, blend or puree in the pot you are cooking in. This eliminates the need for extra mixing bowls, which makes clean-up go more quickly.

Immersion blenders are available in various styles and with different features. Your personal cooking style and the way you expect to use your stick mixer are two key factors in determining which wand mixer would be best for you. Reports indicate that a higher price does not necessarily indicate that the immersion blender is superior in quality and durability. Some of the lower priced blenders actually receive better reviews and have better features than some of the higher priced models. You can purchase an immersion blender in the price range of $20 to $50 that has earned great customer reviews.

When you are shopping for an immersion blender you have many options and designs to select from. The length of the handle is a factor to consider. If you only intend to use your immersion blender to make smoothies or for simple pureeing tasks, a basic model with on/off switch and possibly a whisk attachment will be sufficient. In order to accomplish a larger variety of tasks and to do some heavy duty mixing, you will want to invest in a durable immersion blender that has a strong motor, a chopper option, various attachments and multiple speed options.

An immersion blender can eliminate the need for lots of small kitchen appliances that only perform one function. It is an ideal space saving, multi-tasking, affordable and versatile small kitchen appliance. After buying one, you may find yourself wondering why you waited so long to make life in the kitchen easier.

Culinary Essentials in the Kitchen

When something is considered to be “essential” it sometimes isn’t thought of until absolutely needed. Many people find this with kitchen products. There are many culinary items that are essential to have in the kitchen, and if are on hand can often divert a culinary disaster. They can also making cooking and cleanup much easier.

Mixer

A kitchen mixer is essential, because it eliminates the need for a regular hand mixer. There is no need to worry about where it went, because a kitchen mixer can just be put on top of a counter until it is needed. There are also different settings and attachments so there is no need to worry about finding a whisk. Kitchen mixers can help speed things up. Rather than sit there and manually hand whip egg whites to make meringue topping, there is a whisk attachment on the mixer. 

Plastic and wooden utensils

Plastic and wooden utensils are wonderful. They can be used for stirring, serving, and straining. Plastic utensils are even good for young children to play with if they get bored in the kitchen. Another essential in a kitchen is a colander, or strainer. Colanders are good because they can be placed in the sink to drain pasta or other things. 

Pot holders

Pot holders are essential in the kitchen. They should always be hung right by the oven so they are in arms reach if something needs to be taken out of the oven. Pot holders are good for moving shelves in the oven, and putting hot pans on top of on the dining room table. They are good for keeping your hands safe when reaching into the oven and taking out a hot pan.

Variety of spices

Different spices can be essential to the kitchen. If there were no spices, nothing would have much flavor. There are many different spices, and they can have many different uses. Some only use a small variety, and others use a large variety. Extracts are also good to have in the kitchen. There are many different kinds of extracts, but the most commonly used is vanilla. Vanilla is found in many home made cookie recipes, and tastes disgusting but smells amazing. 

Pans

Pans are essential for cooking on the stove top. There are many different kinds of pans. Frying pans, sauce pans, casserole pans, and large pasta pans, just to name a few. One should always have a variety of cooking pans for the kitchen. This is to make sure that if a pan is needed there is a possibility that it exists in the home. 

Dish towels

Dish towels and sponges are good to have in the kitchen. Dish towels can be used as make shift pot holders, or to dry wet surfaces. They can also be used to dry dishes, or to put under a dish strainer to absorb the water. It is good to keep sponges in the kitchen with a gentle kitchen cleaner so that messes can be cleaned as they are made. If messes are cleaned as quickly as possible after they are made, there will be no need to sit and scrub counters or the stove. 

Tips for Cooking in a Cast Iron Pan

Cooking in a cast iron skillet can be a no fuss experience in cooking with an extremely versatile and sturdy piece of cookware.  Not only can they be brought back from the brink of near destruction, but they can be polished up into a cooking pan that can be passed down to your children.

You can take a cast iron skillet or pot that is quite rusty and place it directly into an open fire, open part facing downwards, for about 30 minutes and remove it with leather gloved hands to cool to the touch on the ground.  After it has cooled off well, it can be scoured with a steel wool pad in order to remove the big chunks of rust. 

Once the pots has been well scoured, you will want to wash it well, inside and out with soap and water and place it on a low heat cooking stove until dry. When it is cool to the touch, you will need to grease the inside and outside of your pan with cooking grease or lard, and place it in an oven on 275-300 degrees, for about an hour.  It is a good idea to lay a piece of aluminum foil underneath the pan while it is seasoning, so that the dripping oil does not smoke up your house.  You may want to repeat this process a couple of times before using your pan to do anything other than fry with.  It is not necessary to season your skillet again, unless the pan has had to be scoured or the food begins to stick in it.  Usually when the food begins to stick in the pan, I fry something.  That does the trick.

If your skillet begins to look a little dull, you can give it a greasing before putting it away.  It is not necessary to wash your skillet with soap, unless you cooked something with a strong smell or flavor, such as: fish, or seafood.  Usually your skillet will just need a quick rinse down and stove drying.

Cleaning cast iron is a breeze once it is properly seasoned too. If you fry in your skillet, you can simply just dump out the used oil and wipe out the skillet.  If the skillet has a little cooked on food, you can wash it out with warm water, place it on a low heat stove to dry, and then rub a little grease in the skillet while it is still warm, before storing it away.

Cooking in a cast iron skillet is just like cooking with any other skillet, only that once it is properly seasoned, you can bake in it.  Well seasoned cast iron can also be a healthier alternative to using oils or Teflon coated skillets to cook with.  When you cook with cast iron, it releases a certain amount of iron into your foods.  Most people benefit from this, especially if they are elderly.  Some people should not cook in cast iron if they have a sensitivity to iron or have been told to watch their iron intake.

Cast iron skillets can be used to slow cook meats and roast in the oven, by placing your seasoned meat in the skillet with ½ cup of water and then allowing the meat to slow roast in the oven on 350 degrees (covered), until tender (cooking time will vary based on the amount of meat being cooked). 

I have personally used my cast iron skillet to cook southern style buttermilk cornbread, and even pineapple upside down cake; in or on top of the stove.  Because the skillet cooks so evenly; you can bake in it on the top burners of your stove just as well as you could inside the stove.  The finished product comes out with a slightly flaky outside, and a deliciously moist inside, without the product sticking to the pan.  Just follow the directions to the recipe you want to use, only use your cast ware as the pot, pan, or skillet.  You can use you cast iron ware to fry, sauté, slow cook, bake, broil, stir fry, and brown.

If you are able to find cast iron cooking ware in a thrift store for a decent price, then it is better than paying full price for it.  Although it can be a little pricey brand new, it is well worth the price.  If you can get it cheaper, then that is even better.  Sometimes the pans you find second hand are antique, thicker, heavier, better quality, and worth a nice price.

I have an entire set of cast iron ware that belonged to my great grandmother, and you could not pay me enough to part with it.

How to Season Cast Iron

My son recently wrote me from Italy with the news that he had just purchased some cast iron cookware. He wanted my advice on how to care for it and also on what to cook in it. Here’s what I told him:

Cast iron, eh? Good choice! Take care of it and it will last forever.

First things first: clean your new cookware. Most new cast iron pots and skillets have a protective food-safe wax coating on them. It won’t kill you, but it’ll sure taste funny if you don’t remove it before using the pan. Try to avoid using soap to clean your cookware. Some people say it ruins the seasoning; some say it doesn’t matter. I always prefer to err on the side of caution. Unless it’s really gross, just scrub it with a scouring pad – not steel wool, but the little green or blue scouring pads, or something equivalent – in really hot tap water. Dishwashers are a definite no-no! And, obviously, you want to make sure your cast iron cookware is thoroughly dry before you put it away. Rust is ugly and it doesn’t taste good.

SEASON, SEASON, SEASON! Otherwise your cookware will rust, your food will taste funny and everything you try to cook will stick. Seasoning is easy. After your initial cleaning (or anytime, really) coat the cooking surface of the pan with oil, shortening or lard. Yes, lard. Personally, I use bacon grease, but Crisco or vegetable oil works just as well. Rub a little on the outside, too, just for good measure. Turn your oven on to 350 and stick the pan in there for an hour. Some people say you should turn it upside down for the first half hour then turn it over. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t; I’ve never seen the difference. It helps to have a cookie sheet or aluminum foil on the rack below the one you’re “baking” your pan on. Catches any oil that drips and keeps your oven clean. After an hour, take the pan out and let it cool. Ta-da! It’s seasoned. Sort of. You might want to do it more than once. And, once it’s seasoned, the more you use it, the more seasoned it becomes. Things might stick a little the first time or two, but after you get it broken in, you won’t be able to tell it from Teflon.

If you’re not going to be using the skillet every day, lightly coat the inside with a little oil before you store it. Just a few drops spread around with your fingers or a paper towel. Cooking sprays work well, too. Just remember to wipe this out before you use the pan again. Sometimes the surface oil will get a little rancid and can taint whatever you cook. Don’t store your cookware with a lid on. Cast iron needs air circulation.

You’ve got a gas stove, right? Gas flames are best for cast iron cooking. Electric burners tend to cause hot spots and you have to be careful about high heat settings. But gas stoves and cast iron cookware are made for each other.

You can cook just about anything in cast iron. It conducts heat evenly and well. Cast iron is great for frying and sauteing. You can even use it in the oven for baked dishes and cornbread. Avoid cooking acidic foods like tomatoes. The acids in tomatoes – and some beans – do not react well with cast iron. You might have to reseason after cooking acidic foods.

Cast iron is not indestructible. Close, maybe, but not impervious to damage from abuse. High heat is not good for any cookware. Exposure to high direct heat for a lengthy period can cause cast iron to crack. Not pretty. Medium to medium-high is the best temperature range for cooking and cast iron is great at low, simmering temperatures.

Don’t store foods in cast iron. A lot of people are bad for taking a pan off the stove and sticking it in the refrigerator, thinking it’ll be easier to just heat up whatever is in it tomorrow. Do that with cast iron and you’ll get some unpleasant tasting surprises. The iron will leach into your food and cause discoloring and a metallic flavor and the oils and acids from your food will leach into the iron, pitting the surface and ruining the seasoning. It’s worth the extra minute to put your food in a storage container.

Cucinare felice!

A Guide to Yeast in Baking

You’ve decided to learn to bake with yeast, good for you! This opens up a door to unlimited baking pleasures as you imagine, tall fragrant loaves of bread, luscious cinnamon rolls, and even light as a feather dinner rolls. Baking with yeast is as easy as, shall we say pie? Yes, it’s as easy as that!

Here is a simple guide for you to follow when learning the basic techniques of baking with yeast.

What is yeast?

Yeasts are the microscopic living beasties that like to live in wet, sweet environments. There are hundreds of kinds of yeast with some used to leaven bread products. The genus and species called “Bakers yeast” is Saccharomyces cerevisiae which basically means sugar fungus.

How yeasts grow:

Bakers yeasts do love their sugar and that is exactly what they eat, sugar. These living organisms eat sugar and as they dine, they multiply. Each of the beasties is about the size of a human blood cell, they reproduce by budding, each of these buds then breaks off from the mother (so to speak), and makes it’s own cell, this budding when mixed with flour creates a buildup of carbon dioxide gas and our bread doughs rise.

Different kinds of yeasts:

In the baking world, there are three kinds of yeasts available to use. The familiar “dry active yeast” that is sold in small 1/4oz. packets and the other form is a “compressed yeast cake” sold in small 2 oz. foil wrapped cakes; both of which must be dissolved in a liquid and allowed to “bloom” before using.

The popular “quick rising yeast” does not have to be added to a liquid before mixing, it is added along with the dry ingredients. It is activated by the warm liquids and oils used in the recipe. This quick rise yeast rises in about half the time as the others thus making it a very popular variety.

Baking yeast is widely available in any grocery store in all these forms. Organic yeasts are sold mostly in health food stores and whole food markets.

What can you make using yeast?

White, Whole Wheat, Whole Grain, rye, Pumpernickel, Sour Dough breads, just to list a few breads.

Dinner Rolls, Croissants, Buns for Hamburgers and Hot Dogs, Bagels and Pretzels are all made using yeast doughs.

Cinnamon Rolls, Sticky-Buns, Kolatches, Swedish Rea Rings, French toast, and Stuffing for your holiday turkey.

Not to mention French/Italian breads, Brioche and Challah among other delightful ethnic breads that utilize yeast as the leavening.

Tips to great yeast doughs:

1. Use fresh yeast, check the dates on each package, and discard if outdated.

2. Activate the yeast following the package directions.

3. Don’t forget to feed the yeast; they love their sugars. Cane sugar or sugar beet sugars, and molasses work quite well in yeast goods.

4. Use nice warm, 120-130oF not hot water, milk, or liquids; too high a temperature, over 139oF will kill the yeasts.

5. Be patient, the yeasts need time to grow. It could take up to 3 hours to make yeast bread, from start to finish.

6. Follow the recipe exactly.

Following this guide and the tips found here you will be a yeast dough savvy baker in no time. Remember, practice does make perfect and perfectly baked yeast goods are your goal!

How cheese fits meal plans in the kitchen

American cooking has generally become matched with certain types of cheeses with a high rate of availability. That’s the economic reality. Although a vast number of cheeses commonly exist, such as the wonderfully subtle Asiago variety, new cheeses tend to be slow to catch on despite being well worth incorporating into kitchen meals. Quite a lot of effort would have to be directed to get the American diet to incorporate more cheesy goodness onto its dinner plate, and so the old favorites prevail for their own defining set of versatile reasons.

Monterey Jack

Literally, “mountain king common,” Monterey Jack was originally marketed by David Jacks, a 19th century businessperson whom helped bring fame to this California cheese by exporting it from Monterey Co., California. The idea came from queso del país, artisan-made by Franciscan monks who brought the recipe to the state in the 1700s.

A popular and favorite mild, white cheese, Monterey Jack makes a great platter item served all by itself or with snack crackers.

Its certain favor for imparting Mexican cuisine with luxurious cheesy flavor generally suits any but not every need for mild cheese, and Monterey Jack makes an ideal choice to melt or toast. It can often be used as an effective substitute for cheddar but not the other way around, proving its versatility.

Something about canned black olives and Monterey Jack just naturally seem to complement each other. It also works exceptionally well browned on sandwiches, going well with Swiss, Colby, or even American cheese. Monterey Jack also treats pickles right.

Dry Jack has been aged at least six more months than Monterey Jack and has a fuller flavor with more notable accents.

Cottage

Not to be ignored, cottage cheese supplies both a delicate and tasty processed cheese for stuffing many dishes. Salads, gelatins, lasagnas and layered dishes, … and Italian Casserole. Eating Well suggests spinach cakes, pierogis, deviled eggs, and cheesecakes.

Also try cottage cheese in baking as a milk substitute.

American

Of all the cheeses, nothing quite prevails like orange-yellow American processed cheese. Perhaps it’s not due to the whimsical, salty flavor that tastes so separate from accouterments of any meal it has been served with.

American cheese comes in large block form — American processed cheese — but can also be enjoyed from individually-wrapped slices and individually-sliced stacks packaged in convenient sizes. A flavorful cream-colored version can also be found.

It makes a good sandwich and has an acceptable following for cheese sauce dishes, but it’s not distinctive enough to draw an all-purpose epicurean following for use with specialty platters.

Cheddar

The great favorite that says “cheese” to most, Cheddar may be the most popular cheese in America veritably alongside popular blends of pizza cheeses.

Of all cheeses, soft orange Cheddar expresses itself with delightful tang in a host of varieties that include mild, medium, sharp, and extra-sharp. And if cheddar ever gets dull and boring, specialty Cheddar can also be bought in white varieties that also delight gastronomic regard.

Cheddar graces our salads, tops our casseroles, spritzes up our snack platters, spices up our snack chips, flavors otherwise bland soups, and readily makes a snappy toasted cheese sandwich. When mixing cheese with vegetables or macaroni cheese, it’s usually Cheddar cheese — unless it’s American.

Muenster

Thought to have originated from an old 10th century Irish scroll and now popular world-wide, Muenster cheese offers a mild cheese with a distinctive mellow flavor like some vague something out of a brewery. So it serves well as a snack food alone or with crackers and incidentally goes well with beer.

Considered a versatile cheese, it can be used to top meat casseroles, meat, or just plain grilled on a bread of choice.

Its Mexican counterpart (which can be substituted) is queso criollo.

Mozzarella and provolone

Beloved both served on pizza and for many a casserole, these cheeses have gained adoration for how well they complement a zesty pizza sauce, meats, and certain vegetable or mushroom ingredients. They also get high marks for their gooey flavor, spiked with a subtle pungent flavor that picks up some flavor from herbs used in the sauce component of the dish.

Provolone makes a good sandwich unheated, and if melted, both provide a sandwich or a sub with their own unique savory sloppy stringiness.

Swiss

Holy cow, but this cheese has its own personality!

A fetid or slightly sour/off-flavor cheese in its own right, it has the barest of commonalities with Limburger, Munster, and Feta that veer off into distinctive pungence.

Also try Swiss cheese in French Onion Soup with garlic or garlicky cheese bread browned under the oven broiler.

Swiss also performs wonderfully as a sandwich cheese. Try it on Pumpernickle rye with sauerkraut and corned beef on a Reuben sandwich.

Colby cheese

Named after a town in Wisconsin where it originated, Colby cheese offers a delicately mild, unusually textured flavor of cheese without the certain tang of cheddar.

In terms of texture, it could precisely be called the polystyrene of cheeses, which is to say nothing about its smooth flavor, except to say that a milder cheese comes few and far between.

Colby cheese serves well cubed on a platter or served on sandwiches. Its mild disposition doesn’t interfere with pickled toppings nor does it alter them. In effect, the cheese pairs much better with pungent toppings such as prepared horseradish or served with hot-peppered relish by helping dilute the flavor most discreetly.

Feta and Telemes cheeses

Genuine Feta cheese, pailed from goats-milk, should really be distinguished from Telemes cheese pailed from cows-milk, whether or not trade rules make that distinction.

Feta goes great with cooked food from pastries to pasta, meat dishes, and salads raw or with ad-hoc cooked meats and/or hard boiled eggs. Its versatility has been hailed to be good for baking as well. For example, it can be added to cornbread batter prior to cooking.

Feta has a sour, salty disposition instead of a tang complete with hidden creaminess just subtle enough to question wanting any.

A visual inspection basically identifies Feta cheese to be the tofu of cheeses, often packed as a cheesecloth-impressioned cake in waterproof rectangular containers.

Parmesan

Used often with pasta sauces both in combination and sprinkled as a topping, Parmesan has earned fame for being a hard cheese used in grating applications to add more flavor. As a hard cheese, its range of uses becomes necessarily limiting.

For example, though Parmesan cheese can be sprinkled on a sandwich, it would be much more likely to be sprinkled over a sauced dish such as pizza, Alfredo pasta, or carbohydrate-bludgeoned carbonara sauce, where it serves as a thickening agent.

Parmesan doesn’t have to be an expensive cheese, at least according to Reader’s Digest.  At an economical $12 per pound, it can still fit the budget because it’s not used in large quantity. That’s still cheaper than a number of common household spices.

As an indication of quality, some Parmesan cheeses are saltier than others, which distinguishes a natural creaminess from the case of preservative filler (you’ll use a whole lot more on foods in search of reconnecting with the missing flavor of yore). Not to name names or anything, but differences in Parmesan quality are nothing short of stunning.

Cream cheese

The best use of cream cheese as it concerns cooking would certainly be as a substitute for cream or a substitute for sauce cheese. Or otherwise, it would be a preferred dessert cheese with applications both baked and uncooked.

For example, use cream cheese if you only have the greater portion of a sharp cheese — or use it if you only have the lesser portion of a mild cheese — toward completing a sauce-portion of a recipe, but because it doesn’t brown up tasty like other cheeses. So if putting it in lasagna, it would be better blended in with ricotta and Parmesan than it would be used to top the dish with the remaining bag of an Italian cheese blend.

Many chefs find the most available of cheeses to be the ones worth cooking with. And cost is not much of an obstacle to using these cheeses regularly. A rather impressive number of dishes are popularly served with cheese, and the cheeses described above can serve and substitute all but the most savory of authentic gourmet intentions. Try something new and take your palate to explore one of the top delicious ingredients on any shopping list. Check out the cheeses.

Three Tools every Chef needs

Having worked in a restaurant since I was fourteen I know a thing or two about kitchen gadgets and which ones will get the job done. All of these I use on a regular basis and I have included in their description which company makes the best working one at the best price. Every cook should have these basic items, without them

1. Your Hands

Company: GOD

Yes, I know it is not really a tool you can purchase however it is the chefs number one choice when it comes to certain tasks. Like every other tool you have, treat your hands with respect. Wash and clean your hands constantly and train them by repeating certain movements and exercises, because without them, every tool on this list is useless. One rule of thumb my teachers always told me was “if your hands can do it, you had better let them.”

2. Chef’s Knife [French Blade]

Company: WSTHOF (I love their knives)

To a professionally trained chef the knife is just an extension of his arm. This is where your hand comes into play; with practice any task is possible with the use of your knife. As with all of a chefs tools, he should keep his knife clean and sharp at all times. If you are serious about cooking, do not be afraid to splurge a little bit on a knife, seeing as how it is the second most important tool in your possession.

2A. Knife Sharpener

Company: Arizona Whetstones

To help maintain your knife a knife sharpener is a necessity. Electric Sharpeners and Diamond Sharpeners are not good for your knife, although they do provide a quick sharp edge to your knife it quickly fades away. Using a Whetstone or a Sharpening Stone can vastly improve your knives performance. Not only does it provide a sharp edge it lasts for a while to.

3. Saut Pan

Company: Any, however look for the following features: Stainless Steel, Durable, and a Copper Bottom

Third on my list is a saut pan. The art of the saut is one of timing and skill, and with the right pan you can become a pro in no time. Look for one that is made of stainless steel, not Teflon. Having worked in the industry for almost 10 years now, I have not once cooked with a Teflon pan. Remember that it may be a bit messier but a good cook knows how to clean up as well. With this pan you can cook a vast number of dishes, from scrambled eggs to shrimp scampi it is made easier with a good saut pan.

Although a simple list, it still gets across the basics of what you should have on hand if you wish to tackle the culinary world. These key three items are the ones that will lead you to success in any cooking venture you may have.

Making Bread Homemade Bread Bread Machine

The time honored tradition of making homemade bread is a practice that has been passed down through generations. The fragrance of baking bread can bring the family together in the kitchen like nothing else, and it can be a fun way of involving children in food preparation while teaching them a useful skill. Bread machines and food processors make the job easier, but mixing and kneading the dough by hand is such a satisfying experience.

In this age of food technology, ingredient lists on store-bought bread can be a little scary. Who wants all those unpronounceable ingredients in their food? Making homemade bread allows us to choose what goes into our bodies. Whole, natural ingredients provide our families with the nutrition they need and are an economical alternative to costly bakery loaves.

Making bread requires three steps: Mixing the dough, proofing, and baking. Making bread dough is as easy as mixing together flour, liquid, yeast, and a few other basic ingredients depending on the variety of bread you are baking.

Next, the dough is kneaded to develop the gluten, which is a protein in the flour that provides the light, airy, slightly chewy texture of bread. Kneading is performed by pushing and stretching the dough against a hard surface, then folding it back on itself. This is repeated over and over, while occasionally rotating the ball of dough ninety degrees.

Proofing refers to the process of letting the dough rise. This is to develop the flavor and produce the lattice of tiny air holes in the bread as the yeast work. Finally, the dough is baked, releasing its mouthwatering fragrance as the dough becomes bread.

Basic white bread dough requires just six ingredients. In a large bowl, combine 2 cups warm water, 1 packet active dry yeast, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and 3 cups flour. Pour onto a well floured surface and knead an additional 2 cups flour into the dough, kneading for a total of 10 minutes. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until at least double in size, or about two hours. Knead again on a lightly floured surface for about one minute. Shape into loaves, rolls, or pizza crusts. Allow to rise for 30 minutes, and bake in a preheated 350F until lightly browned and hollow sounding when tapped, about 35 minutes for loaves, 20 minutes for rolls, and 8 minutes to prebake pizza crusts.

Fresh from the oven and slathered with butter, fresh bread is a delicious treat. Homemade bread requires little hands-on time, and the results are definitely worth the effort.

Restoring Cast Iron Cookware

Cast iron should have a good patina in order to keep foods from sticking. Patina is the dark shine and smooth feel that is the end result of first seasoning your cast iron cookware, then using it regularly to build up to the smooth, black, shiny patina. Of course if you have a rusty old pan in front of you, you’ll need to not only visualize what this pan can become, but you’ll need to bring it to fruition.

To begin with, if your newly acquired cast iron skillet or cookware is rusty, that means it is probably a vintage pan such as a Griswold or Wagnerware. Maybe you even have an Old Mountain brand. These older pans have been around for generations and are very well made.

Even if your cast iron has no cracks in it, you can restore it to almost new. I have an old Griswold with no handle that I bought for a dollar six years ago from a second hand store. I will never part with it. If the cast iron is a newer model, and is made in China, my personal advice is, don’t trust it to cook with.

Some countries paint black toxic paint on their cast iron. So, instead, hang it on your wall. If it’s a Lodge, it’s an American made product and is very safe and sturdy, so definitely use a Lodge cast iron cookware product.

To remove rust, wipe the skillet or pan with vinegar, rinse with water, then take some shortening or lard and a handful of salt and scour the pan thoroughly. Wipe clean with a soft cloth or paper towel. You may have to do this three or four times.

After the final wiping, wet the pan with hot water and immediately wipe it dry. Spread some shortening or lard (don’t use oil, it makes a sticky film in the finished product) rub in to the pan and place in a 300 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Set on stove top to cool, wipe it, then rub again with some lard and bake at 300 degrees another 45 minutes. Set on stove top to cool, then smear some shortening or lard and wipe off residue. Your cast iron cookware is now seasoned and all rust should be gone. Don’t worry if the pan doesn’t have its shiny black patina yet. With further cooking or baking, it will very quickly.

Remember, each time you use your cast iron pan, hot water and a washcloth are all you need to clean it. If food is stuck on, pour some water into the pan and simmer on low til food becomes unstuck.

Don’t use dish soap, it leaves a scent you definitely don’t want in your food. To keep the beautiful patina, simply rub a small amount of lard or shortening into the pan every time you clean it. Store it with your other pans separated by a paper towel.

If your pan is not completely dry when stored, it will rust and you will have to go over the routine of rust removal all over again. Meanwhile, follow these tips and enjoy the wonderful foods cast iron cookware will give you.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

The staple of any budget cuisine is the grilled cheese sandwich. Cheap, easy to make, relatively healthy (perfectly healthy in some situations), grilled cheese sandwiches are ideal for any lunch or dinner.

There are many ways one can make a grilled cheese sandwich, but the simplest way is as follows:

1. Butter one side of two pieces of bread.

2. Place a piece of sliced cheese on the other side of each piece of bread. (It is best to offset the cheese, so that when the two pieces are put together, the cheese does not simply stack.)

3. Place a large frying pan on a stove burner at medium-high heat. (You may use high heat if you are in a rush, or medium heat if you are worried about burning, and have the time to get it right.)

4. Place the pieces of bread, butter side down on the pan.

5. After about 20 seconds, when the cheese just starts to melt, use a spatula to flip one piece of bread onto the other, making a sandwich out of them.

6. Flip the entire sandwich periodically, until an appropriate amount of “grilling” appears on each piece of bread.

7. Serve and enjoy.

This process works for any style of grilled cheese. Steps four and five can be bypassed, if desired. Instead, make the sandwich before placing on the frying pan.

Choices of bread, cheese, and extras can greatly effect the taste of the grilled cheese sandwich. One can choose just about any type of bread. White is the most popular. Potato bread is a great alternative. A healthier choice might be multi-grain bread. The only thing to really avoid are the end pieces.

Cheese choices can be a little hairier, (not literally, let’s hope) as cheese melt differently. Sliced american cheese is the easiest to use, though any pre-packaged sliced cheese will work just fine. Shredded cheese is also good, though a little sloppier, and harder to put together. Block cheese is the hardest to use, as you need to slice the cheese yourself. It can be difficult to get the right thickness, and even then, some of these cheeses just don’t melt right.

Adding extras can add flavor, and in some cases make a grilled cheese sandwich healthier. (It can also make it less healthy.) Vegetables, such as sliced tomatoes are easy to add, as they do not need to be precooked. Sliced deli meat is easy to add as well, and for similar reasons. Bacon, a popular addition, is a little trickier, as it needs to be pre-cooked. It may be difficult to time everything just right, so you may want to cook the bacon before even beginning the grilled cheese. No matter what you add, it should be added between steps four and five.

Good luck, and enjoy.