By Lindsey Wolford
Welcome back to my kitchen! Grab a drink or a snack, or both, pull up a chair and let’s chat. This week I want to share some of my kitchen “must haves” and a few weeknight dinner recipes that I hope shake things up for your family. It’s always great to have your normal go-to weeknight meals but remember it’s my goal to help you think outside the box and maybe explore some other options.
Let’s start with some of my kitchen “must haves.” It was not easy to narrow this list down, believe me, but I will start with some of the items I can’t live without and we can expand on this list later:
• A sharp knife
• a good cutting board
• an apron
• a garlic press
• an Instant Pot
Having a sharp knife along with a good cutting board are at the top of the list for a reason. A dull knife and nothing good to cut on can make any kitchen experience super frustrating and worth throwing the towel in, and that is the last thing I want you to do. If you don’t have a knife sharpener consider getting one. The one I use just requires me to slide the blade of the knife between two metal wheels and it makes the most terrible sound — like nails on a chalkboard — but it gets my knives sharp in no time flat! A good cutting board isn’t hard to find and shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg; I have a solid wood cutting board. In the past I have used plastic and glass cutting boards and I wasn’t impressed. I like how sturdy my cutting board is, but to each their own — just get one you like and be sure to keep it clean and disinfect it.
Now let’s talk about an apron. I am sure there are many who think an apron isn’t necessary but let me tell you, once you have a good one you won’t want to go back. I don’t like something that pulls around my neck and I also don’t like a half apron because it doesn’t provide the coverage, I think is necessary. The apron I use, and am absolutely in love with, came from the Vermont Apron Company. The apron I prefer comes in a comfortable, cross back with two pockets in the front. They have tons of fun prints, but hands-down this is the best apron I have ever had!
While a sharp knife, a good cutting board and an apron were in my top three, a good garlic press is in the top five because I use it daily. If garlic isn’t your cup of tea no worries, but in my kitchen, garlic is in almost every meal. Yes, you can use minced garlic in a jar or garlic powder, but there is something about fresh pressed garlic that makes the garlic flavor much more pronounced and more authentic. My mom gave me my first and only garlic press and like I mentioned before, I use it every day.
Last, but certainly not least is the Instant Pot. This appliance changed my life! I can take frozen chicken and make it shred-able in roughly 40 min. I can make ribs that fall off the bone in this amazing gadget in 70 minutes, and I always make my soups and stews in the Instant Pot. I will admit that when I first heard of the new and improved pressure cooker, I was a little nervous, but this wonderful gadget is pretty foolproof. You put your food in, adjust the pressure gauge at the top, select your desired food setting and go about your day. When the food is done you have two options: you can wait for the pressure to release (this takes an additional 10 minutes or so), or you can flip the pressure gauge on the top and do a quick release. When doing this be warned, high pressure steam is going to shoot out of the top so move quickly!
Enhance Your Weeknights
Now that we have discussed my top five kitchen “must haves,” let’s get to the good part — food!
I want you to think outside the box for weeknight dinners and I have two fun options for you: fish tacos and a cool weather kielbasa sheet pan dish.
First let’s tackle the fish tacos — I recommend using a fish like cod or mahi mahi due to their hearty texture and mild flavor. Take your fish and season with taco seasoning or garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, and onion powder on both sides — just a sprinkle of each will do. You can cook the fish any way you prefer: grilled, baked or pan seared, however I prefer baked or pan seared. If you are going to bake it, bake at 425 degrees for about 25 min. If you decide to sear the fish, put some oil in a pan and put on medium high heat. Place the fish in the pan and sear on each side for about four minutes.
Once the fish is done place on a paper towel lined plate to drain off any excess oil. Serve your fish in a soft or hard taco with fresh onion, cilantro, tomatoes, avocado and fresh squeezed lime. If you are feeling adventurous mix all of those ingredients together with some fresh garlic and a bagged coleslaw mix (don’t use the mayonnaise dressing) and you have a fun taco topping or side! Serve your fish tacos with any other side of your choice – Spanish rice and beans, chips and dip, or refried beans are always good options.
This next dish is a new favorite in our house — 2 packages of kielbasa, one large butternut squash, 3 to 4 apples (something sweet like a pink lady or a gala), one large onion, garlic and thyme. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and cut up all the ingredients into bite sized pieces and put into a large bowl. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on the mixture, mince some garlic onto the mixture — a clove or three should do. Next use about a tablespoon of dried thyme followed by a dash of salt and pepper.
Toss everything together to get all pieces coated with oil and all those wonderful seasonings and flavors well blended. Spread the mixture out on a foil lined pan or two and bake for about 35 – 45 minutes or until the squash is tender and the kielbasa has nice crisp edges. I love to serve this dish with garlic butter toasted sourdough bread.
So I have loaded your plate to the brim with my top five kitchen “must haves” along with a couple easy, weeknight recipes to help you step outside your norm and spice things up in your kitchen. Remember, any recipe, mine included, is a guide or suggestion — feel free to add your own flare and make it your own. Cooking should be fun and inspirational while invoking some kind of positive feeling and for me that is love. It makes me so happy to share my food and ideas with you and until next time I am sending love from my kitchen to yours.