‘Tis the season to entertain. Get your kitchen ready with these recommended culinary essentials, from Callie’s Biscuits and Southern Traditions.
At Callie’s we use two-inch aluminum biscuit cutters, but at home my girls and I use a juice glass. Test some of your juice glasses or shot glasses to see which you like best. Dip the open end in flour to keep it from sticking, and then press out the biscuits from the dough. Not only does this save you from buying and storing yet another kitchen gadget—you’re creating a family heirloom. Pretty soon that juice glass will come to be known as the biscuit glass.
At Callie’s we use French rolling pins with tapered ends, made from one piece of wood. At our house in Idaho, my rolling pin is the more traditional model with handles. But don’t get hung up over this tool. In a pinch I’ve used a wine bottle. In fact, any cylinder will do. If you are using an improvised rolling pin, put parchment paper between the dough and the cylinder to protect the dough.
You only need one thermometer whether you’re frying, cooking a roast, or making candy. But it needs to be a good one with a probe attached by a cable. This tool is worth it. It takes away so much guesswork and frustration. It is my best friend when I am frying—I consult it the whole time. With mine, I can set the desired temperature and then leave the temperature probe in whatever is cooking, and when the temperature is reached, it beeps. So much better than standing around holding a thermometer and watching the numbers move. I do not have time for that.
You’d be surprised how inaccurate most oven thermostats are. Especially with biscuits, piecrusts, and cookies, you want to make sure you’re not sabotaging yourself with an oven that runs hot or cold. Use an inexpensive oven thermometer to keep tabs on the real oven temperature, and if the thermostat turns out to be pretty far off, call a repairperson to recalibrate it for you.
I have maybe five pairs of tongs in different sizes, and I keep them within easy reach in a bin on my counter. I use them for everything from flipping fried chicken to picking up hot bacon to pulling meat out of its bag of marinade without making a mess. Get a nice pair that will last. The springs often break in the cheap ones.
CHARLESTON RICE STEAMER
Mama always had a pot of butter beans and a steamer full of rice on the stove—no matter the time of day or the meal being served. She put soup over rice, okra and tomatoes over rice, and served butter beans over rice with almost everything. Rice in her house was a constant companion to any dish. And even though Mama lived on rural Johns Island in a tiny house with chickens out back, the stovetop rice steamer was just as ubiquitous in the genteel homes of Charleston, with rice on every plate as an accompaniment and in dishes such as hopping john and all kinds of variations of pilau (pronounced pur-low in the South Carolina Lowcountry). I’ve had my stovetop rice steamer for ten years, and it delivers fluffy, nonsticky rice every time. The traditional models are aluminum and cost about thirty-five dollars. I have seen some fancier stainless-steel steamers, but the aluminum is just as durable as long as you don’t let the water burn out of the bottom. Around Charleston you can find rice steamers in hardware stores and some specialty cooking stores, but you can also find them online. Once you have one, you will enjoy the luxury of mindless rice cooking. No more checking the rice, no more sticky clumps, and no more burning on the bottom. The steamer cooks the rice and then keeps it hot and fluffy until you’re ready to use it. Do take note that in a rice steamer you use a ratio of 1 cup of liquid to 1 cup of rice.
A vegetable peeler makes a great cheese slicer for any hard cheese. If I’m grating a bunch of cheese, I use my food processor. If I need just a little, I pull out the peeler and slice or shave it as needed.
TWO KNIVES AND THE BEST SHARPENER IN THE WORLD
Chopped vegetables are a key ingredient for so many of the recipes in this book; even when they aren’t the main event or flavor, they create the flavor base for everything from roast chicken to soups. I know a lot of people who avoid cooking just because they find chopping vegetables to be so tiresome, but try it with a really sharp knife and you will be amazed by how much quicker and more fun it is. It can even be meditative at times! In my experience, you only need two knives: a serrated knife for slicing bread and a Santoku-style knife. They don’t have to be expensive brands.
The key to chopping is keeping the blade sharp. For this I count on my Chantry brand knife sharpener. I rely on this sharpener so much I pack it in my luggage when I travel and take it with me everywhere I go. I give my knife about twenty passes through the Chantry before I cut anything. I sharpen my knives in the Chantry every day just before I use them. It makes all the difference. You’ll look for things to chop just for the fun of it.
My whisk is one of the items that I keep on my countertop. It’s a necessity for incorporating oil into salad dressings and marinades and for introducing flour into anything liquid. Lump-free gravy just isn’t possible without a whisk.
There are times when using scissors is easier than cutting with a knife. I use my shears to cut roasted vegetables, snip fine herbs like dill and thyme, and make smaller bites of almost everything for my children: pizza, chunks of meat, and tortillas, to name a few. Do be sure to use your “food scissors” for food only, and keep them clean.
RESEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS
I go through enough plastic bags to send me to environmental hell. I use them to marinate meats. To store prepped ingredients. To hold homemade pickles in the fridge. To tote snacks. To shake and coat chicken for frying. To keep things in the freezer. I know it’s bad. As my penance I do not use any paper towels or paper napkins. And one day I’m going to give up baby wipes, too.
When I don’t have my reusable grocery bags, I always ask for paper. I drain bacon and anything fried on paper bags—the bags soak up the grease even better than paper towels. I put fried chicken in a paper bag and stick it back in the oven to keep it warm—and totable. You can shake anything in seasonings or breading in a paper bag. Rediscover these classics if you’ve forgotten about them; you’ll even love their pulpy smell and the loud crunching sound they make as you handle them.
Parchment paper is essential to making my Cinnamon Stickies. I also like to use it to wrap sandwiches for picnics and other outings. It makes the sandwiches look like they came from a gourmet deli. I love the rustle of the paper as I unwrap one to take a bite! And you can spread the paper out under the sandwich like a placemat to catch the pieces that fall.