Last year, I asked for a frying pan for my birthday. A frying pan. Let me back up. Growing up, I remember my my mother relied heavily on their cast-iron skillets for her staple dishes: Chicken-fried steak, Beef Stroganoff, Beanie Weenies, Liver and Onions, Hamburger and Macaroni and a handful of others. Her Kentucky-born mother used one to cook fried chicken, the likes of which I have yet to taste again.
So this is what I wanted in my kitchen — a cast-iron skillet that would absorb all of the flavors of years of cooking, eventually outliving me. My Emeril (Lagasse, who else?) skillet has served up an average of at least one dish a day, including more grilled cheese sandwiches than I can count, since then. And although I don’t even try to fry chicken, I do cook up a few livers now and then, which I enjoy with my thankful pup. A skillet like this belongs in every kitchen, as far as I’m concerned.
This year, I added a new mainstay to the Bridges Bistro. A new chef’s knife. This, too, I’d been wanting for a while before finally speaking up. I was given a knife block way back when from I don’t even remember who. You’ve probably got one, too. Had it for a dozen or so years, I did, before recently getting a Crimson Series chef’s knife from Ergo Chef. I only regret not doing it years ago.
This blade has taken all the hassle out of chopping veggies. I actually enjoy chopping now, and I never thought I’d say that. The only thing more comfortable in my hand than this handle is probably my putter (well, maybe not the only thing). It cuts through forearm-sized carrots as easily as a tomato. And speaking of tomatoes, the blade deftly splits the skin and slices smoothly without destroying the fruit. If you want to enjoy the process of cooking, be sure to get a good knife.
A third essential I’ve added to my kitchen is a juicer. Once again, I turned to Ergo Chef, which makes a nifty model called My Juicer. I’d always relied on one of those old-fashioned hand juicers, in which you grind the juice out of a half of an orange or other semi-circular citrus fruit. The problem, of course, is you’re very limited in the types of juice you can make, but also, you miss out on the nutritious fiber of the fruit, extracting only the sugars instead.
I’ve also relied on a blender, but there’s so much clean up afterward. My Juicer doubles as a drinking glass. Furthermore, it travels. Ever try packing a hefty blender in a weekend bag? What a nightmare. This four-blade juicer is both powerful and portable.
Finally, a fourth must-have in my kitchen is my crockpot. I have a standard-sized ceramic model from Rival. I would starve without this ingenious device. I use it constantly and for a wide variety of dishes. It’s as simple as throwing raw ingredients in sometime around noon and, at dinner time, the house smells amazing and I have a restaurant-worthy meal. Best of all, I know exactly what’s in it (generally, a piece of meat, some veggies, and a few herbs and spices), so I’m able to choose healthy options.
I collect cookbooks (another essential, but also the topic for a later story) and have a few that are devoted to slow-cooker meals. Over the years, I’ve braised, stewed and souped at least 100 different recipes, probably a lot more. If you are short of time in the evenings or just lazy, for chrissakes, don’t throw one of those shoddy frozen dinners into a microwave; think ahead, instead, and toss a slab of beef, a few carrots, celery stalks and potatoes into the pot and have a roast waiting for you when you get home. Bon appetit.
Scott Bridges is an L.A.-based journalist who has worked as a police-beat reporter, a community newspaper editor, and a food and travel writer. He currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to The Huffington Post and Bizjournals.com, among other sites. He is a native Californian who lives on the Westside.