Cooking with Cast Iron

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Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe your grandparent did it, maybe your friends are doing it.  Cooking with cast iron is easier than you think, and is a great alternative to using stainless steel or non-stick pans.  Because cast iron absorbs and distributes heat more evenly, it is a joy to work with and yields better results once you get used to it.  To succeed with cast iron is a four-fold process, then before you know it you’ll be talking shop about cast iron with all your peers and elders.

One:  Selecting your cast iron.
If you’re buying new, pick out a pan that suits your needs size wise, or consider buying a large skillet and a small skillet.  New pans often come pre-seasoned.  It should say on the label.  Lodge is a very good brand, be it expensive.  Follow your gut and pick a pan that appeals to you.

If you’re buying used, from a thrift store or garage sale, make sure there are no cracks or deep pockmarks.  Most likely you will be removing the seasoning from this pan and re-seasoning it.  Directions for that will follow.  A little rust is acceptable as it will be dealt with in the seasoning stage.

If you’re getting your pan from a friend or relative, ask them about how the pan was used.  If for instance they cooked bacon every day and you are a vegetarian, you will probably want to strip the existing seasoning and re-season it.

Two: Seasoning your skillet (if needed, or go to three…)
If you’re pan is used begin by washing it thoroughly with hot water and soap, scrubbing it with steel wool inside and outside to remove any gunk or rust.  With a really tricky number, you may need to combine soaking and scrubbing at intervals until all gunk in gone.  The pan will appear greyish and porous, but it’s ok if it’s surface is not completely even in color and texture.  As you scrub the old seasoning will be flaking off in pieces.  Get it all out of your system now because this is the last time you will ever use soap on your skillet.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400.  Rinse your skillet well and allow it to dry completely in the hot oven.

Once the pan is dry it’s time to smear it all over with oil.  It’s easier to handle a cool pan, but you can smear it while it’s hot if you like.  Here are your oil options:
bacon fat
lard
a non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (Spectrum has a good one)
a high heat oil such as a non-gmo corn oil or a refined coconut oil.
The safe heat-range of any good quality oil should be displayed on the label.  Look for one that is safe in a 400-500 degree range.

Smear inside and out, including the handle.  Place the pan or pans upside down in the hot oven.  Put a piece of foil or a baking sheet on the rack beneath to catch any oil that drips off.  Bake your pan for at least an hour, then turn off the oven and leave the pan inside to cool gradually.

For best results, repeat the seasoning process, sans the washing part, at least once.

Three:  Using your skillet.

Remember to do things in this order, and you will do just fine.
1. Heat your skillet.  This opens the pores in the iron to receive the cooking oil or fat.
2. Add your preferred cooking oil or fat to your skillet once it is hot. This ensures that the oil will soak into and coat the pan instead of swimming around in your food.  Animal fats like bacon drippings, butter or ghee are your pans best friend, but it’s understandable if you are vegan and prefer to use vegetable oils.  Please always choose good quality oils and use them within their safe temperature zones.
3.  Cook away.  Look at you go!  If you find your pan is too hot at some point, remove from heat, then reduce the heat and bring the pan back to the burner.
4. Clean your skillet!

Four:  Clean your skillet!
While your pan is still hot, use a hot pad to bring it to the sink.  Rinse the pan with warm water and scrub off any food that remains.  Use a sponge or scrubby that is designated for this and never touches soap, or you will be back to square one!  Don’t try to scrub off the oil, only the food bits.

If the food is really on there, fill your hot pan with water and simmer on the stove, using a spatula to scrape off bits, until the food is loosened and can be scrubbed off.  No. Soap.

Once your pan is food bit free, it’s back to the stove to be dried.  Turn on the burner as if you were beginning to cook again and heat your skillet until it is completely dry.

Once dry, remove from heat and coat the inside, and occasionally the outside, with oil using a folded up paper towel.  Oil is the bread and butter of iron pans.  It gradually creates the seasoning of the pan that keeps food from sticking to it and protects it from rust.  Do not fear the oil.  If you’re worried about germs, recall that you are making your pan piping hot on the regular.

There will probably be an adjustment period with your pan mostly related to figuring out how hot to get it and how much oil to use to prevent sticking.  Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.

There you have it!  Commiserate with your friends and grandparent.  Enjoy your new found freedom from non-stick by throwing all of that poisonous trash away and baking a cornbread in your oven, in your new cast iron skillet (you can do that!)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day- love it or hate it?  Whether you will spend it blissfully gazing into your significant others face and savoring your good luck, bitterly perusing NetFlix and indulging in some light Facebook stalking, OR refusing to buy into such a garish and crudely executed sell-out and focusing your eyes down and straight ahead, one thing holds true… You got to eat!

This Thai Curry recipe can be applied to red or green curry. Whatever protein or vegetables you like can be substituted as well.

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Thai Curry
2 cans of organic coconut milk (not light! refrigerated for 20-30 minutes, I’ll explain later)
2 small cans of green or red curry paste, or 2-5 heaping Tablespoons from a large tub
2 cans worth of vegetable or chicken stock (about 28 oz)
1 cup of tofu, cubed, or chicken or beef (freeze for 20-30 min prior to slicing, see below)
2 or more cups of vegetables (bamboo shoot, bell pepper, zucchini, mushrooms), sliced in bite-sized pieces
small handful of Thai basil leaves
2 or 3 Keffir lime leaves
good quality Thai fish sauce (Red Boat brand recommended), or soy sauce
Palm or Organic sugar, to taste (traditionally green is served sweeter than red)
Fresh bird’s eye chili, chopped (green), or roasted red chili flakes (red), optional
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper

Note:  Sometimes I find Keffir leaves and Thai basil for sale at Whole Foods or Central Market, but the best place to find them is at one of Austin’s Asian markets.  If you can’t find one or another, don’t try to substitute, just omit them.

I learned this curry technique while working under local chef Jam Sanitchat.  Once you’ve done it a few times you know the basic art of curry making, so try different proteins and veggies!

Directions:
Select a small stockpot or large saucepan and begin heating it over a medium low flame.

Open your chilled cans of coconut milk.  The cold causes the cream to solidify at the top of the cans.  Scoop the cream into the hot pot.  Beware of hot splatters.  Reserve the coconut milk at the bottom of the can to add later.

Stir the cream until it evenly coats the bottom of the pot, and reduce the heat until the cream is slowly bubbling.  Allow to bubble, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the cream appears thicker with gently rolling hills, about 5-10 minutes, depending on how high the heat is.

Meanwhile, cube your tofu or slice your protein.  The chicken or beef you stashed in the freezer with now be easier to slice thinly.

Once the cream is thick and hilly, add your curry paste, stirring until well incorporated.  If you’re measuring paste from a large tub, remember that the more paste you add, the oilier and spicier your curry will be.  Continue to simmer the mixture for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The longer you simmer, the spicier you’ll curry will be.
In the meantime, wash and prepare your vegetables.  Keep them separate for now as mushrooms and bamboo need to cook longer than peppers and zucchini.

Now add your protein and stir gently.  Throw in the Keffir leaves.  Add a pinch of sea salt.  Simmer until cooked, or about 2-5 minutes.

Pour in the reserved coconut milk, then add 2 cans worth of broth or stock.  Stir and raise heat to bring pot back to a simmer.

Once pot is bubbling again, add your veggies.  Bamboo shoots can go in whenever, they don’t get mushy.  Mushrooms will go in first.  Make sure you stir them often to encourage them to sink.  Peppers and zucchini will go in once mushrooms are almost completely tender.  Simmer until just cooked, as they will continue to cook in the hot curry until you eat them.

Now it’s time to taste.  First should be spicy, then salty, then sweet.  Add fish sauce or soy sauce and sugar as desired, a small amount at a time.  Sweetness mellows spice, saltiness counteracts sweetness.  Knowing this, you can craft the perfect curry.  If you will serve the curry with rice make it a shade saltier than you normally would.

If you’d like an extra kick, add extra chili now, traditionally fresh for green or roasted for red.
Simmer for a few more minutes to set the flavors.  At the end, add a dash of black pepper.

Turn off the flame.  Add the handful of Thai basil leaves and stir until wilted.  Serve immediately with Thai jasmine rice, or cool quickly to be reheated and served later.  Cooling can be accomplished by pouring into several shallow containers, or with an ice paddle if you have one.

Super Bowl- Super Eats!

The biggest sporting event of the year is taking place this Sunday- Super Bowl 48! The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos are getting ready for a heated competition in freezing New Jersey at the brand new MetLife Stadium, and with the way these two teams fought their way through the playoffs, this is sure to be one incredible match-up! But not only do we have the game to look forward to- we have all the delicious game day treats to enjoy! Here are some of our favorite Super Bowl friendly recipes that will help fuel an amazing day of football and fun!

 

Cheeseburger Mac and Cheese Casserole

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1 16 ounce package elbow macaroni

2 lbs ground beef

1 large onion, chopped

1 15 ounce cans tomato sauce

1 cup ricotta cheese

¼ cup sour cream

1 green bell pepper, chopped

Half a bunch of scallions, chopped

½ shredded cheddar/jack cheese mix

¼ shredded mozzarella

1 bunch of chives, chopped

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, add salt. Cook the macaroni 7-8 minutes,  so it stil has a bite to it.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Heat the olive oil, then add the beef and onion. Brown 7-8 minutes, until onions have softened and meat has good color. Drain the fat, then add the tomato sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and allow it cook for 4-5 minutes while you work on the rest of the ingredients.

 

Combine the ricotta, sour cream, bell pepper, scallions, salt and pepper in a bowl. Spread half of the pasta in a casserole dish, then add the cheese mixture and top with the rest of the pasta. Pour the meat and tomato sauce mix over the pasta and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake the casserole until the cheese is melted and browned, 20-25 minutes.  Allow the casserole to sit for 10 minutes. Garnish with chives and serve.

 

Fudgy Football Brownies

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1 lb unsalted butter

1 lb plus 12 ounces of dark chocolate chips

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate

3 tablespoons instant coffee granules

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

2 and ¼ cups sugar

1 and ¼ cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

Chocolate frosting

White decorative frosting

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

 

Grease a 12×18 baking sheet with butter, then sprinkle with flour.

 

Melt the butter, 1 lb of the chocolate chips, and the chocolate in a medium bowl over a small pot barely filled with water that’s been brought to a boil. Allow the mix to cool for a minute or two. Carefully mix together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar in a large bowl. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and let the mix to come to room temperature.

 

In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt. Add to the chocolate mixture when it has cooled off. Toss the remaining 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a bowl, then add to the batter. Pour into the baking sheet.

 

Bake for 20 minutes. Tap the baking sheet against the oven to allow some air to escape from the pan, then bake for another 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

 

Allow to cool thoroughly. Using a football shaped cookie cutter (or, we used an oval ramekin!), cut the brownies into footballs. Top with the chocolate frosting, then use the white decorative frosting to make a football.

 

Recipes on the Go!

There are a lot of advantages to cooking at home. It’s cost effective. You control what goes in your food, so you can add and omit and add things for your health needs and flavor desires. So then why don’t people cook at home more often? The excuse used most often is that people simply don’t have enough time! Here are some of our favorite recipes to prepare in a flash. All of these recipes will take you about 15 to 30 minutes to cook up, and use quick and easy cooking techniques you can apply to future recipes to breeze right through them!

 

Garlicky Steak and Soba

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6 tablespoons of Tamari soy sauce

4 tablespoons of mirin,

6 tablespoons grape seed oil

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

4 cloves of garlic, grated

1 ½ lbs of flatiron steak

1 cup beef stock

¾ lb shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced

10 scallions, cut into 3 inch sections and sliced lengthwise

1 12 ounce package of soba noodles

1 5 ounce pack of enoki mushrooms, trimmed and separated

A bunch of red shisho or red chard, shredded

Toasted white or black sesame seeds

Black pepper

 

In a bowl, combine the Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons of tamari. 1 tablespoon mirin, 2 tablespoons oil, 2 of the grated garlic cloves, and some black pepper. Add the steak, mix together well, and allow the meat to marinate and come to room temperature for about 20-30 minutes.  Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the soba.

 

Heat a grill pan or cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of grape seed oil, then place the steak in the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes, flip over, and cook an additional 5 minutes. Cook a bit extra for well done meat. Move steak over to cutting board to rest. Drop the soba in the hot water for cooking.

 

In a small pot, heat up the stock with the rest of the tamari, garlic, and mirin. Heat up a large pan and cook the shiitakes. When they start to brown, add the scallions. At the very end of cooking the scallions, add the enoji mushrooms. Cook another minute and add the cooked veggies to the sauce.

 

Combine the sauce and the noodles and place in individual serving bowls. Slice the steak against the grain and divide amongst the bowls. Garnish with sesame seeds and shredded shisho.

 

Chicken Parmigiano Soup

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5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces

4 cloves garlic, chopped or finely grated, plus 1 more clove, cut in half

2 onions, sliced thinly

1 28 ounce can of chunky style crushed tomatoes (Look for Passata, if possible)

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 quart chicken stock

1 cup of basil, chopped or chiffonade

8 slices of baguette, cut on a bias

1 cup of Parmigiano reggiano (or domestic Parmesan cheese), grated

Salt and pepper, to taste

 

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

 

Heat a big pot over medium heat and add some olive oil. Season chicken and cook in the pan until the small chunks are cooked thoroughly, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from the pot. Add the rest of the olive oil, then the onions, garlic, and pepper flakes. Cook for another 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stock, bring to a boil, then add the chicken back to the pot.

 

While the soup is cooking, take the baguette slices and drizzle them with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Toast in the oven for a few minutes, until golden brown, then rub with the halved garlic clove and top with some grated cheese. Put the break back in the oven for 1 minute, until the cheese is melted.

 

Add some of the basil to the soup, stir in, and serve the soup with the garlic-Parmigiano bread and some basil sprinkled on top.

Our friend, the Slow Cooker

The slow cooker is an underappreciated, but fantastic kitchen tool. Just load it up with your favorite ingredients, turn it on, and let it work its magic while you go on about your day. A few hours later, you have a delicious, flavorful, healthy, and tenderly cooked dinner, all with an easy cleanup. It does all the work for you, but your food tastes like you’ve been slaving over it for hours! It’s also great in winter for making your favorite hearty soups and stews to warm up with. You can find a slow cooker pretty easily, and at a great price too. No need to worry about burning or overcooking something; the easily adjusted heat levels on the slower cooker takes all the guesswork out. It really is the miracle kitchen tool! Here are some of our favorite slow cooker recipes to try out.

 

 

Beef Bourguignon

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1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

6 slices of bacon, cut into small chunks

2 lbs. of beef chuck or beef stew meat, trimmed ad cut into 1 inch cubes

3 large carrots, sliced into 1 inch chunks

2 yellow onions, cut into a larger chop

5 cloves of garlic, sliced

1 ½ cup red wine, preferably a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France

1 tablespoon tomato paste

4 springs fresh thyme, leaves removed from the stems

¼ cup all purpose flour

1 lb Cremini mushrooms, halved

1 bay leaf

1 bunch parsley, chopped, with a few stems left whole

Egg noodles, to serve with

Salt and pepper, to taste.

 

Render bacon in a large skillet. Remove when crispy, leaving the fat in the pan.

 

Put flour in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Coat the meat with the flour, shaking and tapping off the excess. Brown the meat in cubes in the bacon fat in batches. Remove from skillet. Add carrots, onions, mushrooms, and garlic. Allow to soften for 5-7 minutes. Deglaze pan with wine, add the bay leaf and the whole parsley stem, and transfer the contents of the pan over to the slow cooker. Add the beef to the slow cooker, cover, and cook on low for 7 hours. Garnish with chopped parsley and bacon and serve over egg noodles.

 

Sausage Cassoulet

 

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4 lb. boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into 8 pieces

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

6 slices thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips

3 medium onions, chopped

2 cups dry white wine

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 can peeled San Marzano tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped

2 cups chicken broth

12 cups cooked Great Northern beans or other small white beans, drained

6 links of Andouille or chorizo sausage, pre-cooked and cut into thick slices

5 cloves of garlic, sliced

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 cup panko bread crumbs

 

Add the bacon to a large skillet. Cook until crispy and remove from the pan. Drain on paper towels and reserve.

Brown the pork in two batches and leave out of the pan for now.

Add the onions and garlic cook until soft, about 7 minutes. Deglaze with wine and let it reduce by about half, which should take about 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes and broth.

 

Add the contents of the pan to the slow cooker, then add in the beans, pork, and sausage. Cover and cook for 10 hours on low, until the pork is tender. Skim off the fat from the top.

Let the cassoulet stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving. While the cassoulet is sitting, toast the panko for 1 or two minutes under the broiler until golden brown, then crumble in the bacon and mix in the chopped parsley. Serve the cassoulet with the breadcrumbs mixture on top.

 

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