For the first five years that we lived in this house, we lived with a defunct dishwasher. Oh, we thought we had a working appliance when we bought the place. In fact, we were thrilled at the prospect of not having to hand-wash everything after years renting non-washer abodes. But we were hoodwinked. For legal reason I won’t tell you about the scam that was pulled on us, but needless to say, we were quite disappointed when we ran that very first load as homeowners through its cycle, and the floor flooded.
Being “young” (a relative term) parents, we watched (still do) every penny and decided we could keep living without a dishwasher for a while. “A while” became years, and our dishwasher basically became a cabinet for seldom-used cookware and appliances. But one year, after helping wash up after a particularly dishy Thanksgiving dinner, my in-laws surprised us with the delivery of a brand new Maytag dishwasher…and we’ve never looked back.
Tonight however, after a fabulous dinner, we had to wash most of the dishes by hand because we were completely out of dishwasher detergent. As I was scouring the pans and scrubbing the glasses, I looked about our tiny galley kitchen at the years of accumulated crockery, flatware and culinary paraphernalia we’d accumulated. Some of it was sentimental: items we’d inherited or had purchased to recreate our childhood kitchen comfort zones. But most of it was/is totally expendable. That being said, there are a few items around this place that are indispensable. The Kitchen Trifecta, if you will.
The Potato Ricer
This device is basically a hand-press for boiled potatoes, guaranteed to turn a cooked spud into a lump-free puree that would satisfy the fussiest of Thanksgiving guests. But it’s so much more. I think mine comes in contact with tuna far more often than it does with tubers. Ever open a can of tuna and find yourself pressing the detached can lid down against the fish flesh so hard that the lid eventually buckles, your thumbs ache, and the tuna is still too moist to turn into salad? Two seconds in a potato ricer, and you’ll have every last drop of liquid squeezed from Charlie. Yes, it makes perfect potatoes. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. How about homemade baby food? And let’s talk spätzle! If your love of noodles has advanced beyond spaghetti and mac-and-cheese in a blue box, then you’ve heard of spätzle, an egg noodle popular in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and beyond. The recipe has few ingredients and seems simple enough. I’d tried making it a few times from scratch, pressing the dough through a colander as many cookbooks suggest. But I’ve always ended up swearing and returning to store-bought boxes. Then a friend suggested I try using my potato ricer instead. Done and done. Take that, Knorr!
A Cast Iron Skillet
These black beauties are good for more than just conking men on the noggin. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet is the working mule of any cook’s kitchen. I found mine at a thrift store for $2. It was black as tar, crusted and disgusting. But it was solid, had a sturdy wood handle, and the promise of many awesome meals to come. I snatched it up, brought it home, and sprayed it with oven cleaner to remove the years of caked on gunk. While you don’t want to “wash” a cast iron skillet, you do want to clean it, and its previous owners apparently didn’t know the difference. Once it had the charred on, caked on remains of myriad meals removed, I knew the pan had to be re-seasoned. This being my first cast iron skillet, I wasn’t sure how exactly to go about that task. Fortunately, the monkey-friendly Google came through for me, and entering “How to re-season a cast iron skillet” yielded the desired information. Grease, heat, cool, wipe, repeat. Voila. That was five years ago. This baby hasn’t seen soap since, and is better than any Teflon-coated piece of crap you could buy at Target. Best $2 my kitchen has ever seen. Anyone want pancakes?
A Good Knife
I have a lot of knives. Paring knives, boning knives, butter knives, “chef” knives…I could stab, smear or spread the crap out of any of you. But for people who truly enjoy cooking, it all boils down to ONE good knife. Just as some parents may have a “favorite child” (Bastards! I love my children equally!...That’s my story and I’m sticking with it), all cooks have a “favorite knife.” It’s the one that will slice through a tomato without dimpling it, will open a package of bacon, or butterfly a chicken breast like it were made of butter. I have a relative who paid $80+ for their “favorite knife.” I bought mine for $7.49 at Marshall's. I think I could de-bone the mailman without having to resharpen this puppy. (Chill out, Mailman Mark. Purely a figure of speech.) I miss it when it’s in the dishwasher and I’m forced to use its ugly stepsisters to chop and mince. I would sleep with it under my pillow were it not for my fear of my husband filing for a restraining order.
Speaking of husbands, mine just came home from the store with dishwasher detergent pellets. So I can stop going all pioneer bad-ass on these pans and treat them the way God intended, with “normal wash” and “economy dry.” Except for my baby. Mommy’s gonna hand wash and dry you, lil’ cast iron skillet. I may not always know how to treat my fellow man, but I ALWAYS know how to treat my cast iron.