Friday, February 24, 2012

Apple Cake

After posting about my cast iron, I realized that I should probably post a recipe or two that uses cast iron. We had friends over one night for "Pioneer Woman Appreciation Night." It could have easily been called "Butter Appreciation Night." I made some yummy sandwiches and apple cake in an iron skillet. I've made the sandwiches a few times, and even blogged about them. I used my 10 inch skillet to make the sandwiches.  I should have used it for the apple cake.  I ended up with a baking sheet under the 8 inch skillet in the oven because I was afraid of the mess that would happen if the cake started to boil over. Thankfully there was no spill-over.  The cake was delicious! 4 adults and 3 children managed to eat the whole thing.  Since the Pioneer Woman has great step-by-step instructions for this recipe, I'll send you over to her website instead of retyping everything. If you are looking for something non-chocolate that is easy to make, I recommend you make this as soon as possible!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bacon Mac

I was in the mood for mac and cheese the other night, but wanted to get my son excited about it. He is a shells and cheese (from a box) kid. He's not a picky eater, except when it comes to mac and cheese.  I asked him if macaroni and cheese with bacon sounded good. He got really excited when I mentioned adding bacon.  I ran to the computer and looked at tastespotting for mac and cheese recipes.  I found two recipes  that looked fun. I combined and tweaked them using cheese I had in the fridge.  The recipe turned out great. We all loved it.  My son wasn't wild about the panko on top of the bacon mac, but he scrapped it off and ate his food.  This recipe is definitely a keeper! One of these days I'll get up the courage to add lobster to it!

Bacon Mac
Adapted from Food 52 and Recipe Girl
Serves 4 - 6

8 oz elbow macaroni (or other pasta), cooked according to package directions.
1/2 pound bacon, cooked, drained, and crumbled
 5 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup flour
2 3/4 cups whole milk, heated warm
2 cups grated cheddar
2 cups grated Gruyere
1/2 cup grated romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
salt and pepper, to taste
dash of nutmeg
dash of cayenne
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1) Preheat oven to 375. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a 4 quart dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat (if your pan isn't ovenproof, grease a 2 quart casserole dish). Add flour and stir until smooth.
2) Slowly stir in the warm milk. Add the ground mustard, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles and thickens (about 10 minutes).
3) Add cheese, and stir until melted.  Add pasta and crumbled bacon.
4) Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan or glass dish.  Add breadcrumbs and stir to coat breadcrumbs in butter.
5) If using a casserole dish,  pour the mac and cheese into the dish.  If you are using a dutch oven, just leave the mac and cheese in it.  Top with bread crumbs.
6) Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cast Iron

Clockwise, starting with the red one: 4 qt enameled dutch oven, griddle, 10-inch skillet, griddle with  panini press, aebleskiver  pan, 3 quart dutch oven, fajita pan, 8-inch skillet. In middle: 5-inch square pan, cornstick pan.

I've seen quite a few posts lately on message boards and blogs about cast iron.  From reading these posts, I learned that a lot of people are afraid of cast iron.  Many of the posts I read were from people who had cast iron, but didn't use it because they were afraid of ruining it.  My 8-inch cast iron skillet is proof that you cannot ruin cast iron!  My mom gave me that skillet when I was a junior in college and had just moved out of the dorms into an apartment.  She knew that a cast iron skillet was a necessity to anyone starting out.  I used it quite a bit to make pancakes, fish, grilled cheese, and quesadillas in college.  A few years ago, I was making some tomato sauce and used the skillet to brown the sausage. I wasn't thinking and threw the tomato sauce into the pan.  Then I let the sauce sit in the pan for a few hours.  When I went to clean the pan, I was convinced it was ruined.  I called my mom and she told me to scrub it really good with steel wool then reseason it.  That was all I had to do.  The pan was saved.  It's pretty hard to do irreversible damage to cast iron.  To clean it, I let the pan cool, use water and a very cool lodge scraper to get rid of what is in the pan.  Then I wipe the pan with a towel and brush some oil on it (coconut is my current favorite for cast iron), then heat on low heat for 10 minutes. Before I put the pan away, I just wipe out the excess oil with a paper towel. When my large skillets are in need of a little reseasoning in the bottom of the pan, I just fry something in them. It works like a charm. 

Cast iron holds heat really well. I rarely use more than medium heat with my cast iron.  If I do, I turn it down to medium a few minutes into cooking.  When I'm making grilled cheese, I usually turn down to medium-low when I flip the sandwich.  Once I'm done cooking, I move the pan to a different burner, it helps the pan cool much faster.

I will admit that I have more cast iron than I probably need, but it is fun to have around.  I'll go over what I have, what I use it for, and whether or not I think it's something that is a "kitchen essential." 

4 quart enameled cast iron dutch oven: My new favorite pot.  It was a Christmas present  from my husband. I love it. It is safe for the stove top and oven.  I have a 7 quart dutch oven that isn't cast iron, that I use for big pots of soup, beans, broths, and stews.  The smaller one is great for pasta, smaller batches of soup, and will be great for small roasts and whole chickens. Whatever you do, don't make black beans in it.  It took a lot of baking soda to clean the black off of the bottom and I still have a few stains. 

Round griddle: I could not imagine life without this pan.  I use it for pancakes, eggs, grilled cheese, quesadillas, and heating tortillas. It is almost always on top of the stove.  I told my mom that I wanted one.  She gave me hers for Christmas one year and bought herself a new one.  Cast iron that has been used and well seasoned is a great gift. 

8 and 10 inch skillets: These pans are great for fish, making fajitas, fried chicken, crispy bacon, any type of pan frying, apple cake in an iron skillet, corn bread, chicken fried steak, making gravy or white sauces, or searing steaks. They also make wonderful cheeseburgers.  The 8 inch pan is perfect for sausage gravy. I usually use both pans when I'm cooking fish or chicken, so I can make all the food at once.  

If you are looking to start your cast iron collection, a 10 inch skillet or round griddle would be my top places to start. 

Griddle with panini press:  I use this one for making sandwiches and occasionally for "grilling" sausage or chicken breasts inside.  It is also great for cooking veggies like peppers or eggplant. 

Aebleskiver pan:  This is the round pan with the little circles inside of it.  I grew up eating these because my mom's side of the family was Danish. They are delicious and a wonderful treat for breakfast. When I got married, my mom gave me the aebleskiver pan and even seasoned it and used it a few times for me. I will eventually post about these because everyone should know how yummy they are. 

3 quart dutch oven: This one is mainly used for decoration. It was regifted to me.  I think it's pretty, but I just don't use it. 

Fajita pan: This was a wedding gift and I have a lot of fun using it.  I heat it up in the oven for about 10 minutes.  Then I pour the fajitas onto the pan before I serve.  It's like being in a restaurant where they bring you sizzling fajitas for dinner. 

5 inch square pan:  This pan is perfect for making 1 grilled cheese, one or two eggs, or a few links of sausage. This is my newest pan.  There times where I'm making myself a salad for lunch, so I make my daughter a grilled cheese. It is nice not to have to heat up one of the bigger pans and just use this one.  If you do a lot of cooking for one, I recommend this pan. 

Corn stick pan: I use this for making corn bread in the shape of corn on the cob.  They are perfect for dipping in honey :)

Don't be afraid of cast iron.  Find the size that works for you and enjoy it.  Remember, the more you use it, the easier it will be to use.