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As is probably pretty obvious by now around here, much of my time in Colombia has been spent in people's kitchens, principally my boyfriend's mother's. Though the fact that most ovens in Colombia lack any form of temperature control drives me crazy, Colombian kitchens come standard with a fair amount of ingenious gadgets that aren't seen in the states but that I think would be equally as useful for many households.
The mini egg fry pan:
I realize this seems, uh, highly unnecessary at first, but if you like fried eggs, it is amazingly effective. The egg doesn't stick, the cover helps the white cook through without overcooking the yolk, and you can even serve the egg in its pan at the table it's so pretty. These little pans are also extremely useful for frying small amount of spices, onions, garlic and the like.
The plastic mesh strainer:
These are used to strain juices, however they are also good for sieving flour, washing dry beans etc. Unlike mesh sieves, they don't rust and are much easier to clean.
Cazuelas de barro:
Traditional ceramic cookwear that can be used in the oven, on the stove, and as a serving plate/bowl given how elegant-looking they are. They retain heat very well and aren't nearly as heavy as cast iron.
A pot to make hot chocolate (thus the name), agua panela, or just to boil water, chocolateras are lightweight and much more multi-funcional than kettles. The natural accompaniment to chocolateras are molinillos (the wood-handled utensil in the picture above) which are very pretty but (much to my boyfriend's dismay who proudly defends them) I find them annoyingly ineffective for making hot chocolate (I prefer to use a stick blender or even a whisk).
And, the jackpot of jackpots: the pressure cooker:
I know that most Americans associate pressure cookers with kitchen accidents and explosions, but I've never had a problem and as I understand it the new pressure cookers are much safer than the ones of past generations. We literally use our pressure cooker every day; if it's not to cook dried beans or some grain, or potatoes in 5 minutes, it gets used as the all-around stock and soup pot, with or without the top sealed shut.
And now, for the most basic of basics, and something that you don't actually need any new equipment for (but it's such a basic I almost consider it to come with the kitchen), let me tell you about Colombian rice. A Colombian kitchen without a pot of rice on the stove is a kitchen in disuse. It's most often just white rice, but rice that tastes so good “plain”that newcomers to the magic will comment without fail, perplexed as to what exactly is in the rice that makes it taste so good.
Why we in the states think its so difficult to make perfect rice I have no idea; I can only tell you that I, without realizing it, utterly failed at rice before living with a Colombian. And the irony of Colombian-style rice is that it's not only about 1000 more delicious than the normal rice you're used to eating, it's also insanely easy to make and practically fool proof. It goes like this: 1. Take a medium-sized pot and place it over low heat. Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil (canola or sunflower or whatever, just not olive) to the pot and then 1 cup of medium-grain white rice, stirring so that all the grains are coated with the oil. Add in 2 cups of water and 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook, uncovered, over low heat until the water level is below the top grains of rice but still a bit wet, about 10-15 minutes. Give the rice a quick stir, lower the heat to the lowest it will go, cover the pot, and let cook another 10 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the rice is fully cooked. It's not a bad thing if the bottom browns (but doesn't burn) a bit-- the browned bits at the bottom are the most coveted parts, called el pegado (the stuck bit). That's it! You can add a chopped scallion or two to the vegetable oil (don't let it brown) right before you add the rice if you want, but it's not necessary. This will make enough rice for 3-4 as an accompaniment to beans, fish or anything else you normally eat rice with.