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The most foolproof fruit dessert and more summer cooking conundrums, solved

Elena Besser answers viewer's burning summer cooking questions and shares her go-to warm-weather dessert.

Summer is in full swing, with picnics, cookouts and all kinds of other outdoor gatherings abound. On this installment of TODAY's Kitchen Conundrums series, chef and TV host Elena Besser is answering viewer questions on warm-weather entertaining. She recommends her favorite do-it-all pan, shows us an easy hack for scooping out eggshell pieces, breaks down the best spices to have on hand and shares her foolproof fruit crumble recipe.

If I can only use one pan, what's the best all-around option?

A cast-iron skillet is by far my favorite due to its versatility. It holds heat evenly, is virtually non-stick (if seasoned properly) and has a nice lip on it to hold liquid. Whether you're baking or cooking chicken, a cast-iron skillet will do the trick every single time. I also love how it looks; it is awesome to bring straight to the table when serving. Less dishes to do in the long run.

Though it may sound intimidating, seasoning a cast-iron pan is a lot easier than people think. The truth is, all you need to do is follow these easy steps: Start by cleaning the skillet with hot soapy water, dry it thoroughly and apply an even layer of neutral oil with a paper towel or pastry brush. Place in the oven, upside-down (so the oil doesn't pool), at 400 F for an hour. Alternatively, I like to dry mine and place it on a stovetop over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, brush with a thin layer of oil, let it cool and store.

What's the best way to get bits of eggshell out of the bowl?

Whenever I get a piece of shell in my eggs, I take the cracked larger shell piece and scoop it up. Rather than your fingers or a spoon, the original shell is able to latch onto the broken piece and easily pull it out. Never fish around with your fingers again!

Which spices should everyone should have in their kitchen?

It can feel intimidating to navigate the seemingly endless dried spices at the grocery store, but here are eight spices I like to have in my pantry at all times that cover many bases and easily elevate any dish.

  1. Cumin: The flavor and aroma are earthy and cozy with a touch of bitterness coupled with subtle sweetness. It is used in so many cuisines, adding an extra pop of flavor and dimension to anything you're cooking.
  2. Garlic powder: A savory and sweet spice made of dehydrated and ground garlic cloves, this spice adds a garlicky, savory, umami element to any dish.
  3. Paprika: A bright red spice that has sweet, fruity and slightly spicy notes. It adds an extra pop of color and brightness to dishes.
  4. Crushed red pepper: These little flakes add some warmth and heat to any meal you are cooking, whether it be an avocado toast or a bowl of pasta.
  5. Oregano: Tastes like Italian food. Dried oregano has a floral woodsy richness that tastes great in dressings, soups, pastas and proteins.
  6. Bay leaves: To add depth to any soup, braise or stew, bay leaf is my go-to. It tastes like a cross between oregano and thyme — slightly floral and herbal. Just remember to remove it before serving because it can't be digested!
  7. Black peppercorns: Never buy pre-ground pepper; it is so much better to buy the peppercorns in their whole form and grind them when you are cooking. They will have a more potent flavor rather than pre-ground which hardly has any flavor.
  8. Cinnamon: Its warming elements add depth and spice to both sweet and savory dishes.

As soon as spices are ground, their flavor dissipates into the air as they lie dormant in their jars. Therefore, they need a little heat to wake them up, bring out their natural oils and intensify their flavors. So, when I am cooking with spices, I always like to toast them first. Toast them dry in a skillet, in a single layer (to ensure even cooking) over a low heat for a couple minutes, until fragrant.

What’s a foolproof fruit dessert?

This crumble recipe is my go-to for summer entertaining, as it celebrates the bounty of the season but is also so easy to prepare.

Summer Fruit Crumble