Friday, July 29, 2011

Cast Iron Maiden

You know how I promised you a cast-iron post?  Well, I consulted with a friend who used to be in the culinary gadgets business (she worked in that high-end cookware store in the mall - you know the one), and she came up with a whole list of reasons that cast-iron is amazing.  I have her list in bold, and I've supplied a little blurb about each one.

  1. It’s a natural non-stick.  Once you season your cast-iron skillet, you don't have to worry about your food sticking.  As long as you re-season it every so often, it's the perfect non-stick pan.
  2. Due to #1, its fumes won’t kill your family bird.  While I'm not quite sure about birds, non-stick pans do give off fumes that can harm you, and the environment.  When non-stick pans are heated to high temperatures, they give off about a dozen harmful chemicals.  When cast-iron pans are heated to high temperatures, they just get hot.
  3. Inexpensive purchase price.  Cast-iron is cheap.  You can get a 8 1/2" diameter skillet for fifteen dollars, as apposed to a $25 non-stick pan, or a $160 stainless steel pan.
  4. Easy to clean. I mean, what other kind of cookware begs you not to use soap on it? Any stubborn food particles can be scrubbed with a brush and coarse salt.  You can also wipe your pan out with a paper towel, if you want.
  5. Retains heat very well, which uses less energy.  Cast-iron takes a little longer to heat up, but once it's hot, it stays hot.  It also tends to distribute heat more evenly, which means you'll have better eggs, pancakes, cornbread, or whatever you choose to make in your skillet.
  6. In the end, you can pass it along to another generation to use, since even if it got rusted from years of attic neglect, you can sand and re-season it and voila – you have a new pan and you can go back to #1 above :)  That's what I love about cast-iron: It'll last forever.  I've seen pans that are at least fifty years old.  They're great family heirlooms: "This was my great-grandma's first cast-iron frying pan..."
  7. It can even be used when not in use- but that may be a whole new list …
  •  A.  Can be used as a food press to make panini or evenly cooked bacon- just plop it on top of the food in another pan.  This does work - we've tried it.
  • B. Creative door stop.  Hey, it's heavy enough!
  • C. Pound out chicken breasts evenly.  "Bang! Bang! Bang!"
  • D. Makes use of charcoal that is done cooking your food: while coals still hot, put some bacon grease on the pan and set out over coals. It will season that pan and prolong the non-stickedness.  Like I said above, right?
  • E. Just looks cool.  And, really, what more can you want?
  • F. Protection from burglars: just hit someone over the head with one of these when they walk past the doorway and you won’t have anything to worry about.  For a good example, see the new Disney Princess movie.

Our cast-iron collection.  From the top left, clockwise: Dutch oven, skillet with a lid,
loaf pan, butter melter, other skillet.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Am I Supposed To Do With All This Summer Squash?!?

Sometimes it feels like all they sell at the farmers' markets, all you get in your CSA box, and all you can grow in your garden is summer squash and zucchini.  Of course, it's amazing at first.  Squash is a refreshing change from all the greens you got during the winter, and the first veggies of the season are always great.  However, once the novelty wears off, what are you supposed to do with all that summer squash?

Well, you can grill it, you can sauté it, and you can freeze it.  You can use some of your favorite squash recipes, and then... you're left with a big pile of squash, and no idea what to do with it.  Except maybe try this recipe that my family loves.

Squashage (serves a family of five easily)

My dad made up this recipe - even the name.  It's a great summer dish, or a winter one, if you froze some of your squash.

For a vegetarian meal, skip the pork, and use up even more of that summer squash!

Three average-sized yellow squashes
Three average-sized zucchinis
1 medium onion, red, yellow, or sweet - your choice - chopped
1 red pepper - cubed
1 yellow or orange pepper - cubed
1 lb. ground Italian sausage or ground pork
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. salt
1 t. black pepper
1 T. oregano
1 T. dried basil
Mozzarella cheese - as much or as little as you like - grated
Parmesan cheese - as much or as little as you like - grated
Chopped parsley (to sprinkle on top)

Sauté your veggies in a pan.  In another pan, brown your meat.  Add seasonings and spices to both pans if you're using plain ground pork.  If you're using Italian sausage, you only have to add seasonings to the veggies.  When the meat is browned and delicious, add it to the veggie pan and mix it all  up.  Put about half of the mixture into a deep 8x8 pan.  Put half of the mozzarella cheese on top, add the other half of the meat and veggies, and put the last layer of mozzarella cheese over that.  Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese and parsley and bake in a 350° F oven until the cheese is brown and bubbly.  Serve, eat, and enjoy!

By the way, if you have a good summer squash recipe, share it!  I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say that you can never have enough squash recipes.