Monday, December 27, 2010

My Cast Iron Skillet Hates Me

There are certain things you cannot do to a cast iron skillet. I think I have done all of them at least once. I asked for a cast iron skillet last year for xmas because all of the cool old ladies I've ever met had them. To me cast iron skillet=honorary good cook. I carefully oiled mine and baked it at 350 degrees for an hour or so thinking this would make a magical force field over my skillet and make it invincible.  I was told this was "seasoning" my skillet. Still not sure what this is supposed to accomplish, since my skillet is still one temperamental b*tch, I must be doing something wrong. If I look at it right, the handle looks like a giant contemptuous middle finger taunting me saying, "Eff you, you will never win!"

My husband said the only thing you are supposed to make with a cast iron skillet is biscuits...mainly because his grandma was a master of homemade biscuits so now that's all he can associate a cast iron skillet with. I'm beginning to think he may be right and I just have to get it through my head that "seasoning" does NOT mean non-stick. For example, I tried frying up potatoes the other day...things were just fine until I tried flipping them with a spatula, and instead of flipping, my potatoes clung defiantly to the skillet as if to say "Sorry, skillet wins. Now we will stick together and watch you panic as you frantically try to pry us apart. Muhuhahahaha..." Now the skillet AND the potatoes hate me. Same thing with ground beef, squash, and now even my beloved tortillas have joined the war. They all cling to her like their lives depend on it.

I've even tried to schmooze the skillet and only wipe it out with a paper towel instead of using water or soap...which still kind of grosses me out. Alas, it wouldn't fall for my gesture, and just tore up my paper towel and rolled the small pieces in oily wads and watched delightfully as I had to painstakingly pick out each one like tiny, little, 'F you' spit wads. So, finally I held up my white flag, gave the skillet another shellacking of oil and threw it in my oven where it now lives. Luckily, I have found as long as I keep her oiled up, she doesn't kill my tortillas...other than that she pretty much dead to me and stays in the dark oven cave.

After vowing to agree to disagree with my skillet, I hit the internets to find out what I was doing wrong. I found some really valuable tips that I never knew before. I may make friends with her after all...

Tips To Live By So Your Cast Iron Skillet Doesn't Hate You

  1. To season properly, coat skillet with oil or shortening, bake for 1 hr at 350 degrees. Or you can season by adding a thick layer of kosher salt in the skillet, putting a layer of oil on top of that (1/2 inch), heat skillet until oil smokes, pour out salt and oil, then wipe with a paper towel.
  2. Heat is important, make sure your skillet is hot before you put food in.
  3. Never put food straight from the refrigerator into the skillet, the drastic temp contrast causes food to stick. Food should be close to room temperature.
  4. Never boil water in your cast iron skillet, it will rust.
  5. Be patient, don't flip your food too soon. Wait until it gets a good sear on the outside, then flip to avoid sticking.
  6. Never put in the dishwasher.
  7. Always coat with oil when you are done (learned this from Grammy, not the internet).
  8. If your skillet is hot, don't put it under cold water, it could crack
  9. Wash with mild detergent and scrub brush if you have sticky stuff on the skillet, or wipe out immediately with a paper towel after use. If you let it soak the skillet will no longer be seasoned, so you'll have to season again.
  10. If your food starts tasting metallic, re-season your skillet.
  11. Don't store foods in your skillet, the acids will break down the oils.
  12. Cooking with an cast iron skillet adds iron to your food. This is good, and is a fun fact I never knew, however don't cook tomatoes in your skillet because the tomato's acidity will react with the iron which could cause your tomatoes to turn a dark color and taste metallic as it soaks up the iron. Share this tip with your anemic friends!
  13. Cast iron skillets can last a lifetime if they are properly cared for (my grammy still uses the cast iron her mom used), non-stick pans only last up to 5 years.
  14. Oh, and don't forget, the handle gets HOT, so use a mitt or pot holder :)
I'm going to try these tips, then maybe me and Skillet can be friends after all...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What The ____ Is That?! Part Deux


Decided to take a friend up on her advice and made Spaghetti Squash Marinara for the first time ever. I love spaghetti, and didn't think it was possible for me to love it more...but this totally made my taste buds high-five each other. Freaking blissful amazingness, is the only valid way to describe it. I was a little skeptical when she said, once cooked the squash will make noodle-like shapes if you drag a fork across it...but I'll be damned, sure enough that's exactly what happened.
Here's how you tame the spaghetti squash:

First you cut it in half lengthwise. Then poke holes in the skin with a fork

Pull out all the seeds and pulp and put it face down on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Then just turn it over and start scraping out it's insides with a fork. Here's a sh*tty video for you if you need a demonstration:

You can use the squash's skin as a bowl as you scrape out it's innards. When you scrape out all the guts, you can put it on a plate then top it with your favorite marinara sauce, for a nice vegetarian dish. Or if you are an animal lover, and a self proclaimed member of PETA (not the naked, angry PETA, the People Eating Tasty Animals:PETA) add some meat sauce or meatballs to your squash. I chose the meat sauce and just added some ground beef to some marinara that I canned over the summer. SOOOO GOOOD. I didn't miss the starchy noodles one bit, and actually I  prefer the squash noodles, because I can eat a lot more and I don't feel like I'm going to explode. One cup of squash only has 42 calories and is packed full of folic acid, potassium, vitamin A, and beta carotene. I'm definitely going to plant some this year. So in conclusion, I am really pissed at myself for not trying winter squash sooner, I've been missing out for 25 years of my life!  Don't make the same mistake. 

Homemade marinara is really easy, once you put your ingredients together it just takes a while to simmer so don't be intimidated! I like a flavorful, thin sauce without the crazy chunks and surprises floating around in it. So my recipe is pretty simple:

My Homemade Marinara
2 16oz cans of tomato sauce
8oz water
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp Oregano
2 tbsp Basil
1 Bay Leaf
2 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp Chili powder
Salt to taste (1/2Tbsp or so)

Add all ingredients to a big saucepan and simmer, uncovered for at least 45 min or until sauce is the desired consistency. The longer it simmers, the more thick and  flavorful it gets. Be prepared for your stove to look like a war zone if you don't watch your pot. You don't want it to boil, just simmer (small, calm bubbles). Stir every 10 minutes or so to keep from burning. Add to any pasta, spaghetti squash, or pizzas. I always make french bread pizzas with my leftover sauce.

I recently found this recipe for Spaghetti Squash Stir Fry that I will most definitely try soon! Happy eating!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What the ____is that?!

Ever take a trip to the farmers market or grocery store and see a vegetable or fruit you've never seen or heard of before? Or perhaps, you know what it is, but have no desire to try it? Why is that? Fruits and veggies are cheap, so it's not a big deal if you try something you don't like because you can always give it to the neighbor or throw it in your compost pile, or at a friend. So this is my challenge to all of you: try something that's in season that you've never tried before, get recipes online, and experience something fun and new! You may discover something you won't know how you lived without. I did just that last week.

I was given some winter type squashes, or "squarsh" as my relatives down South would say, by my bestie who brought some home from work (another perk of having friends working in agriculture). At first I was thinking, "What the hell am I going to do with those?" I've seen these on people's tables as decorations before, never actually seen or heard of them being eaten...There has to be a reason for that, right? I decided to try and do something with the acorn squash first, since it was the smallest and least intimidating. I looked online to make sure I could saute it, because I wasn't going to make the same mistake I did with Hiyacha persimmons and just plunge into this thing and get a mouth full of prickly sh*t. So...

Here's how to saute acorn squash for a side dish:

I cut the acorn squash in half, it was so tough! I had to use my body weight to crack this thing open. I cut it into 1" thick slices, then cut the slices into cubes. I splashed about a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and dropped in my squash pieces. I sprinkled them with onion powder, garlic salt, and a little bit of cayenne pepper and sauteed them on medium heat for about 10 minutes, flipping them over every few minutes to avoid scorching. Make sure to pick out one piece and taste to make sure your squash is nice and soft all the way through. The seasonings form a nice and subtle salty crust and compliment the naturally sweet and savory potato/yam like texture of the squash. Soooo deliciously wonderbar (that's German for freaking awesome)!

I have to say, this is now my new favorite vegetable! Acorn squash is delicious! My husband, who has an aversion to anything green, or healthy, was even amazed on how "un-vegetable-like" the acorn squash is. You can make it as a side dish, or eat it on it's own. Interestingly enough I was given another opportunity to eat acorn squash the other day. I was at an almond grower conference, and at our luncheon we had chicken with acorn squash and brocoflower as sides. They baked our acorn squash with a little butter and brown sugar on top...Oh my, I am now mad at myself for not trying acorn squash sooner! If you could bottle up delicious sexiness, it would taste like this. Baking it with the brown sugar really brings out the savory characters of the squash, it was like nothing i've ever experienced. Funny part was, sitting at a table full of farmers, I was the only one that knew what it was! I saw all of them begin to pick at it, smell it, then take a small bite, smoosh it around on their tongues. I heard one guy ask another, "what is that?" and the other guy replies, "some type of potato?" So, feeling a little more cultured and better than everyone else, since I was now an acorn squash aficionado, I politely let them know that that potato was actually acorn squash. I found a similar recipe that you can use for either butternut or acorn squash; I thought I should share because this is by far the best way to eat acorn squash...I also love how the author of this recipe specifies using clean hands to handle the squash! Made me giggle a little.

So, in conclusion, winter squash, as I have found, is NOT solely for decorations or throwing at friends. It's actually quite tasty!  So, no more being stuck in a rut with you or your partners finicky habits. Introduce something new to your table, something local, and in season of course.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Baskets Full Of Pin-up Up Girls and Tasty Treats

I started a new tradition of making baskets of goodies for my family at Christmas. I have been canning all year long, so now's the time to show it off, and what better way to do that than with a great pair of legs. I LOVE the old style 1940's-1960's pin-up girls, Back then, pin-up models were sexy, but still classy and lady-like. So this year I decided to incorporate a pin-up theme to my baskets. Baskets are so easy to make, so much fun to personalize, and you can do them for fairly cheap. If you've been following the blog and learned to make jelly, you can add those to your basket, or just fill them with baked goods in cute little cellophane bags tied up with bows. This year I made cinnamon and sugar coated almonds, several types of jellies and preserves, and dried my own serrano peppers to use in sauces and soups. I made special tags for the various goodies in my baskets by finding a picture from Yahoo! images, then adding text with my photoshoppe program. You can do the same thing by bringing up the picture in Microsoft Paint, or PowerPoint and just adding text. Below are examples of my tags
I had fun picking out my baskets, I got each of them at Goodwill for $1-$2 each! Love that place! I also found some fun little paper doilies at the grocery store that I used to girly-up my jars of jelly. For the bottom of each basket I found some pretty garland and just cut the strand to fit each basket; and for presentation I use either cellophane from the big rolls, or you can use the pre-made bags. This year I found some shrink wrap that worked really well. To personalize each basket, you can pick out some ornaments, or buy something small to add to your basket to make it sparkle and pop. I found the best little decorations at Michael's (a craft store chain in California) for less than a dollar each.
I've had a lot of people ask for my cinnamon and sugar coated almonds recipe, so here it is (WAY EASY!!):

Sugar N' Spice and Everything Nice Almonds

3 cups almonds
1 egg white
2 cups of sugar
1/4 cup cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a large bowl, add almonds, and stir in egg white and vanilla until almonds are completely covered.  In a small bowl, combine your sugar and cinnamon, then add it to your almonds, mix until all almonds are evenly coated. Spread out almonds in a single layer on a greased cookie sheet and bake for about 20-30 minutes. At 10 minutes, stir almonds around so they bake evenly. To test if your almonds are done, at 20 minutes take one almond out of the oven, pop it in the freezer for a couple minutes to cool, then taste. If the texture is chewy, you need to bake them a little longer, if the almond snaps in your mouth, then their done. Take out, and let cool on the cookie sheet for 10-20 minutes.

Then you can stick them in cute, little cellophane bags, tie them up with a bow and a tag and you have instant Xmas presents.