Kitchen Focus

Now that it's starting to get warmer and our days seem to be getting longer, it's time to think about ways to avoid spending too much time in the kitchen. After all, there are softball games to attend, lawns to mow, and boat rides to take! Who wants to turn on an oven and wait 3 hours for it to turn the kitchen into a sauna? So, with that in mind, I'm presenting a series of columns that focus on tools that will help you keep you and your kitchen cool and put a meal on your table without much fuss or involvement.

Our first tool of choice is the electric skillet. Often overlooked, electric skillets are truly versatile tools in the kitchen. I use mine to make everything from pancakes to chicken picatta and everything in between. It's one of the most used appliances in my kitchen once summer rolls around and I want to avoid turning on the stove or oven as often as possible. I've even plugged it in on the deck and used it to make side dishes to accompany meats I've prepared on the grill. Talk about cool!

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of using an electric skillet is the amount of control that it gives you over temperature. In my opinion, there's no better tool for techniques like poaching -- in which keeping an even simmer without increasing to a boil is very important. It's also great for putting together a quick stir-fry or casserole and then keeping it warm without burning it for hours. Choosing the proper temperatures for the proper cooking methods does take a little practice, but once you've mastered that, it's a consistent process from then on. I recommend that one fill a new electric skillet with water and play with the temperature controls for a bit to see the effect that it has on the water. Knowing when water will simmer or reach a rolling boil will help you determine how to best achieve a golden brown texture on a chicken breast or the ideal tenderness in a tuna steak.

When choosing an electric skillet, I recommend choosing a model that has a consistent nonstick surface -- and that means choosing the proper utensils for using with it -- that allows you enough area to be able to hold a typical amount of food for your needs. If you regularly cook for just a few people, a small square skillet will likely suit your needs. If you have a large family or entertain regularly, you might want to choose an oblong model that gives you more heated surface to work with. The lid should have an adjustable vent and a handle that is comfortable and does not get hot with use. Some models include a transparent section in the lid, but this is not necessary and can only be particularly helpful when the vent is open enough to clear most of the condensation that occurs while cooking.

Of course, no discussion of electric skillets would be complete without a couple of recipes! I'm including a nice, wide variety here to give you an idea of what's possible with this handy appliance. Enjoy them and, as always, I encourage you to share your own recipe ideas and comments. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at .

One-Skillet Cabbage Rolls

  • 1 head green cabbage
  • 1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 c. minute rice
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped onion
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3-4 c. tomato sauce -- choose your favorite variety

Fill the electric skillet 2/3 full with water and bring to a boil. Tear the leaves off the cabbage and cook them in the boiling water until they are wilted enough to be flexible. Cool them completely and pour the water out of the electric skillet.

Mix the ground beef, rice, onion, egg, salt, pepper, and cinnamon together. Form a few tablespoons of the mixture into a cylinder, and then carefully roll it up in a cabbage leaf. Secure the rolls with toothpicks.

Place the rolls in the electric skillet and pour enough tomato sauce in to nearly cover them. Cover the skillet and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the meat is cooked and the consistency is to your liking.

  • Yields: 6-8 servings
  • Preparation Time: About 2 hours

Mustard-Crusted Pork Tenderloin

  • 1 c. chopped green onions
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 T. Dijon mustard
  • 4 tsp. olive oil
  • 16 oz. pork tenderloin
  • 1/2 c. chicken broth

Combine the green onions, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, mustard and olive oil in a food processor and process until a thick paste is formed. Spread this paste liberally over the pork tenderloin.

Heat an electric skillet to 400 degrees and quickly sauté the meat on all sides in the pan. Add the chicken broth to the pan, reduce the heat to 300 degrees, cover and cook for about 20-25 minutes or until a thermometer reads 160 at the center of the tenderloin. Serve sliced with the pan juices as a sauce.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: About 40 minutes