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Skills & Gear

Learn how to make the most of vegetarian ingredients, plus check out our helpful cooking tips and suggestions for kitchen tool essentials.

Ann Gentry

If you've ever dreamed of having a chef on retainer, here's the next best thing (or almost): this column. To start, we ask Ann Gentry, our own executive chef and the visionary founder of the organic vegan eatery Real Food Daily, which kitchen tool she thinks is well worth the splurge. Here's what she told us:

Jam Session

Small wonder artisanal jams are all the rage these days. The decorative jars contain preserves made with little batches of perfectly ripe fruit, meaning they have a naturally sweet taste you can't get from mass-produced spreads. So why not make them in your own kitchen? Early autumn, when temperatures are cooler, fall fruits are at their best, and the holiday season is fast approaching (homemade preserves make lovely gifts), is an ideal time to try your hand. We've put together a collection of simple, foolproof recipes that let the flavors of the fruit shine through.

Sweet Sensations

In the chocolate world, size matters: smaller is definitely better. Sure, a huge slice of cake has its appeal, but it can't compare to a selection of miniature treats that offer a wide range of flavors and textures. Plus, those tiny confections are just so cute! This time of year, they're also remarkably versatile. Packed into a pretty box for a Valentine's Day treat, arranged on a plate as an elegant chocolate dessert, or taken to the office to share with co-workers, a few little morsels add up to a whole lot of love.

Pan for All Seasons

Not so long ago, almost every cook in America kept a cast iron skillet on the stove. "It wasn't until after World War II that other metals began to be used for cookware," says Mark Kelly, marketing and promotions manager at Lodge Cast Iron in South Pittsburg, Tenn., America's sole remaining manufacturer of cast iron cookware. Aluminum and stainless steel pots and pans were lighter, and the advent of nonstick coating (ostensibly) made them easier to clean. The end result: the cast iron skillet moved from the top of the stove to the bottom of a cabinet—if a cook owned one at all.

Bread Winners

Crusty, chewy, and fragrant freshly baked bread fills your kitchen with homey aromas and transforms everyday meals into something special. But for those who haven't got a lot of experience, bread making can seem complicated and time-consuming. Here are some helpful hints to speed the process along and remove the fear factor. Once you've mastered the technique, you'll want to make your own bread all the time— and you may just have to. Homemade loaves will disappear faster than anything you can buy at the store.

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