Cast-Iron Inspiration

March 17th, 2015

cast iron

A friend recently decided to outfit a new kitchen and asked for my advice. She was getting ready to purchase a high-end set of cookware, she informed me, and wanted to know what brand I recommended.

I dismayed her by telling her that I wouldn’t recommend purchasing one full set of ANYTHING. Instead, I thought (and still think) that a kitchen needs a little bit of a lot of types of cookware.

I like my stainless-steel saucepans. I like to have both a nonstick and a regular frying pan. I like a huge pot for stocks and soups. And I believe that every kitchen needs a bit of cast-iron.

In my case, that cast-iron consists of one enameled Dutch oven in a convenient size (about 5 quarts; larger is hard to lift!) and black cast-iron skillets of varying sizes.

Most of my skillets came from relatives or tag sales, although I do have one new one, from Lodge Manufacturing Company.

I use my skillets for a variety of tasks—most commonly for toasting nuts or for baking cornbread, frittatas, or upside-down cake.

Reading Dominique DeVito’s brand-new Cast-Iron Skillet Cookbook, which publisher Cider Mill Press sent me for review, has given me a number of additional ideas for cast-iron cookery.

In addition to my favorites, DeVito provides cast-iron-friendly recipes for unexpected dishes: casseroles; coffee cakes; vegetable roasts; and a variety of breads, from dinner rolls to Indian naan.

I have to admit it would NEVER have occurred to me to try preparing General Tso’s Chicken in my cast-iron pans—or to bake a giant chocolate-chip cookie.

Most helpful of all, DeVito provides hints on caring for cast iron. I knew one wasn’t supposed to wash these pans with soap. It turns out that I have been seasoning my pans incorrectly all these years, however!

If you’d like new ideas for your old pans, or if you are thinking of adding a cast-iron pan to your cookware collection, leave a comment below. The comment can describe your own favorite use of cast iron—or anything else you would like to express.

Cider Mill Press has generously promised to send a copy of the cookbook to one of the commenters. Please comment by next Tuesday, March 24. The next morning I will select one comment (randomly, I promise!) and get in touch with the winner to get his or her mailing address.

Meanwhile, I leave you with a recipe from the cookbook suitable for this week. I have already made my own favorite soda bread, but I’m seriously considering trying this savory take on a Saint Patrick’s Day favorite as well.

Let me know if you make it—and don’t forget to sing a few sentimental Irish (or Irish-American) songs today. My solo for our local Saint Patrick’s Day concert will be George M. Cohan’s “Mary.”

And the whole assembled group will sing “An Irish Blessing.”

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Cheesy Chive Soda Bread

   Courtesy of The Cast-Iron Skillet Cookbook

Ingredients:

3 cups white flour
2 cups spelt flour
3/4 cup rolled oats (not instant)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
2-1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped chives
1-1/4 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, oats, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Whisk to combine thoroughly. In another bowl, combine the butter, buttermilk, and egg.

Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, and stir vigorously to blend. Dough will be sticky. Stir in the chives and 1 cup of the grated cheese.

Liberally grease a 12-inch cast-iron skillet with butter. Scoop and spread the dough into the skillet. Grate pepper over the top; then sprinkle the remaining cheese over it. Using a sharp knife, make an “x” in the center, about 1/2-inch deep, to settle the cheese further into the dough as it cooks.

Bake in the oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes until the bread is golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to sit in the skillet for a few minutes before serving.

Makes 1 loaf.

A Saint Patrick's Day image from the past: my mother kneading soda bread

A Saint Patrick’s Day image from the past: my mother kneading soda bread

Meredith’s Easy Moo Shu Pork

March 2nd, 2015
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My nephew Michael at a recent hockey game. Teenagers get cold and HUNGRY.

My family and I were going through some of my mother’s old files this past weekend, and my brother David chuckled as he ran across one of my report cards from Sixth Grade. He reported that the teachers seemed to like me but that I had apparently needed improvement in posture (I still need it!) and punctuality.

With this history of tardiness perhaps it’s no surprise that I fed David and Company their Chinese New Year feast a bit belatedly, just a few days ago in fact.

The formula for our meal came courtesy of Meredith Deeds. Meredith is a chef and cookbook author who recently published a recipe for Moo Shu Pork in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, encouraging readers to experiment with different international cuisines.

My nephew Michael happens to love LOVE Moo Shu Pork. (Well, who doesn’t?) I don’t usually repost other writers’ recipes, but Meredith’s was such a hit with my family that I asked her whether I could use this one. She graciously gave her permission.

Unfortunately, Michael refuses to believe that Moo Shu can be served without pancakes so I used tortillas instead of the lighter lettuce leaves Meredith prefers. Maybe over time I’ll convert him to the lettuce leaves. More likely, I’ll end up going to a specialty market and purchasing Chinese pancakes.

Everything else in the recipe was available at the mid-sized supermarket I visited.

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If you’re a Moo Shu fan, do try Meredith’s recipe. It’s easy, and it’s fresh (all those vegetables!). And you’ll feed the whole family for little more than you’d pay for one serving of this dish in a restaurant. Note: the pork is easier to slice if you pop it in the freezer for 20 minutes or so before you deal with it.

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The Moo Shu

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce, plus more for serving
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 (3/4-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into thin strips
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided
2 eggs
1 pinch of salt
10 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thinly (I had some button mushrooms in my fridge so I ended up using those and augmenting them with shiitakes.)
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 (10-ounce) bag finely cut coleslaw (without dressing). You may of course shred your own cabbage in season, but it’s awfully easy to purchase it shredded!
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
16 Bibb lettuce leaves or small flour tortillas as needed

Instructions:

Whisk the hoisin sauce and vinegar together in a medium bowl. Add the pork and marinate for at least 10 minutes. (I got distracted and ended up marinating it for more than an hour. It was still terrific.)

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk together the eggs and the salt in a small bowl. Add the egg mixture to the hot wok and stir until the eggs are just set. Transfer the eggs to a plate, and cut them into thin strips. Wipe out the pan.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the same wok or skillet over high heat. Remove the pork from the marinade; allow the excess marinade to drip off (reserving the remaining marinade). Stir-fry the pork until it browns, about 3 minutes. Transfer the pork and any liquid in the wok or skillet to a plate or bowl.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the skillet; when it is hot, add the mushrooms and stir-fry until slightly golden, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots and the coleslaw and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the pork, the reserved marinade, and the green onions; stir-fry 2 more minutes. Toss the pieces of egg into the mixture at the last minute.

Serve the stir-fry in the lettuce leaves or the tortillas, with more hoisin sauce OF COURSE.

Meredith says that this dish serves 6. When one of those 6 is a hungry teenager who loves Moo Shu and stuffs his pancake VERY full, it may serve only 5!

No, it isn't the pork I'm sniffing in this photo--but I couldn't find my hat so I used an older photo. I DID want you to see me in my faux Chinese regalia.

No, it isn’t the pork I’m sniffing in this photo–but I couldn’t find my hat so I used an older image. I DID want you to see me in my faux Chinese regalia.

A Quick Valentine Treat

February 10th, 2015

shoe enoughweb

If I were a truly famous food writer (as my nephew Michael, bless his heart, believes I am), I would probably meet people who read my blog all the time. I’m not and I don’t.

Monday evening, however, I ran into a reader.

I was walking to the music rehearsal for my local singing group. On Sunday, I did my solo concert, “What the World Needs Now,” and now I am rehearsing with the rest of the gang for our annual Saint Patrick’s Day extravaganza.

A woman stopped me and said, “You’re Tinky, aren’t you?”

I admitted that I was indeed Tinky.

“I have been enjoying reading your blog,” she informed me. “But you know, the blog still thinks it’s Christmas.”

She had a point. I have cooked over the past month or so. I have not posted here, however. Some months are just a bit frantic.

To give you (and the woman, whose name I should really have asked for) something to read until my life settles down, I’m sharing a recipe I made recently at my seasonal job at Williams-Sonoma.

I was teaching a kids’ class on no-bake Valentine desserts. The store had a recipe we HAD to use—and it was actually very good. We started by making the Chocolate Rocket, from Jennifer Tyler Lee’s cookbook The 52 New Foods Challenge.

This pudding used avocado for the majority of its fat. It was lovely and dark and chocolaty. (If you’d like to try that recipe, you may find it here. Lee didn’t say whether one should pack the brown sugar so I packed it lightly, and the result was delightful. Even the kids who didn’t think they liked avocado enjoyed it.)

Next, we made a little chocolate bark. (I had some made up in advance so the kids didn’t have to wait for theirs to cool.)

For our last creation, the chef in charge of classes at Williams-Sonoma suggested that the kids and I make a chocolate mousse. There was just one problem. Chocolate mousse usually takes at least a couple of hours to chill—and the class only lasted for an hour.

So I cheated and made chocolate chantilly. Chantilly, for those of you not in the know, is what the French call whipped cream. The chocolate rocket was definitely healthier—but this was decadent and delicious. And I did explain that a little of it goes a long way.

Here’s the recipe in case you’d like a quick faux mousse of your own for Valentine’s Day.

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Chocolate Chantilly with Raspberries

Ingredients:

2 cups heavy cream
6 ounces 70-percent dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
raspberries as needed (1 to 2 pints)
plain whipped cream for garnish (optional)

Instructions:

Place ice and water (more ice than water) in a large bowl. Set them aside.

Heat 1 cup of the cream in a saucepan until it JUST starts to boil. Remove it from the heat, and stir in the chopped chocolate. Continue stirring until the chocolate melts and dissolves.

Pour the cream/chocolate mixture into a mixing bowl, and place the mixing bowl in the bowl of ice water. Make sure that none of the water leaks into the mixing bowl. Let the chocolate cream rest in the ice water for a few minutes while you do something else.

Stir in the rest of the cream, and make sure the mixture feels cool. If it doesn’t feel cool, let it sit in the ice water for a minute or two longer. When the chocolate cream is cool beat it with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gently add the sugar and vanilla.

Using a spatula fold in the raspberries—or just arrange them artistically on top of the chocolate cream in bowls. Top with a little additional whipped cream for extra decadence. Serves 8.

Here I am after my Valentine concert, with pianist Patty Pulju.

Here I am after my Valentine concert, with pianist Patty Pulju.

Barking Epiphany

January 5th, 2015

new year

Happy New Year! I hope you’re all sharing the optimism I have about 2015. It’s odd that just turning a page on the calendar should make one feel hopeful. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that this New Year will bring wonderful things.

Even before Epiphany I had an epiphany about my work. I am shifting gears bookwise. I spent a lot of time last year testing recipes for my book of funeral foods. Nevertheless, I haven’t established the right tone in my writing for the narrative. So that book is being postponed until after I finish another project that is percolating in my brain and laptop. Stay tuned for developments!

Meanwhile, as Epiphany strikes I want to share one last Christmas recipe. As many of you may know, for the last couple of years I have done holiday sales at a local branch of Williams-Sonoma in order to make extra money for year-end giving. My knees aren’t always thrilled with the job, but the people I work with are great.

Moreover, I have always strongly believed that everyone needs to spend some time doing retail work. This experience helps us remember to be extra nice to the people behind the counter when we shop.

Williams-Sonoma’s signature Christmas product is its peppermint bark. We have been handing out samples of this confection for a month and a half now, and it has ALMOST disappeared from the shelves.

Our store’s resident chef mentioned recently that one of the other stores had held a contest asking customers what they would make using the bark. This of course got me wondering what I would make myself—and it didn’t take me long to come up with something! I decided on a peppermint icebox cake.

The end product, as you can see below, looked appropriate for the season—rather like a log in snow. Another time I might crumble the peppermint bark a bit more; as you can see, its bits resembled dirty rocks in the snow. Or I might just use crushed candy canes. The flavor was pretty darn terrific, however. And I can’t really think of anything simpler to make.

I wish you all a wonderful new year full of good work, good health, and good food.

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Barking Icebox Cake

Ingredients:

2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1 package (9 ounces) Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers (these flat, round chocolate cookies are difficult but not impossible to find; just ask around at area grocery stores)
1/2 cup crumbled peppermint bark or peppermint candy

Instructions:

Whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Fold in the vanilla and extract.

Spread about 1-1/2 tablespoons of the cream mixture onto a wafer. Top it with another wafer. Stack the creamed wafers standing up until you have 9 or 10 wafers; then gently lay the stack on its side on a serving plate. Repeat, adding to the horizontal stack, until you have used up the remaining wafers.

Cover the log of stacks with the remaining whipped cream.

Refrigerate, gently covered, for at least 4 hours.

Remove from the fridge just before serving and garnish the cake with the crumbled candy. Slice diagonally so that black-and-white bars appear.

Serves 8 to 10.

pepp bark

More Blessed to Give

December 18th, 2014

giftsweb

I LOVE December. I know there are many who think that our streets and homes are too full of lights during this season and that materialism has taken over Christmas (and to a lesser extent Hanukkah). I am not one of those people.

The lights perform a vital function, reminding us that the world is full of illumination at the darkest time of the year.

As for the materialism, well, materialism is just stuff. And STUFF is what I love to give at this time of year.

To the very young Tinky, Christmas and Hanukkah (we celebrated both in our home) were primarily about what I would receive.

I still remember the thrill I experienced when I was seven and Santa brought a Petite Princess furniture collection for the dollhouse my mother had passed on to me from her own youth.

The house and the furniture eventually collapsed, but thinking about them still makes me smile.

A few years later, however, I began to realize that there’s something even more fulfilling than receiving gifts.

Giving them.

According to the bible, Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. It’s also more fun.

I love the way the holidays remind us to give to charities. Last Tuesday was Valley Gives Day in western Massachusetts, a time to donate online to some of my favorite causes.

A few days ago I made a special trip to stores to stock up on food items and toys to donate to local organizations. And as the year’s end approaches I’m working on donations to other nonprofit groups I support. I like to give a little something to some of my mother’s favorite groups as well. As I donate, I remember her.

With my mother in 2008.

With my mother in 2008.

Of course, we should give funds and labor to charity all year round. And I try to. But at this time of year, as we sing songs about hope and birth and love, giving becomes even more joyful.

Charity begins at home, of course, and I enjoy giving to my friends and relatives as much as I enjoy giving to charity. Planning what each person will get seems to take a certain portion of my brain that I don’t use for anything else.

Certain people are VERY difficult to shop for. In my experience many of those people are male. If men want something, they generally just go out and buy it. This habit can be very frustrating to gift givers.

As a result of this tendency, many of the men and boys on my Christmas list get food. It’s the perfect gift. They like it—and they can get the same gift year after year without complaint.

Among my favorite food gifts for men and for neighbors are my mother’s fruitcake, my brother’s favorite Indian cashews, fudge, and mustard.

On my last TV appearance of 2014 Ashley Kohl and I whipped up two other edible gifts I like to pass along to friends and relatives, my Aunt Lura’s Cranberry Chutney and my sister-in-law Leigh’s Lemon Pound Cake.

The chutney recipe is in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook (which it’s not too late to order as a Christmas present, by the way!). It’s detailed in the video here, although I think I forgot to add the chopped orange pieces on camera.

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Below is the recipe for Leigh’s pound cake. As I mention on camera in the video at the bottom of this post, it’s a very odd recipe. Its ingredients are added in an unusual order, and it starts baking in a cold oven.

As I FORGOT to mention on camera, it’s delicious—very dense and intensely orange-y.

Happy shopping and baking to you all. If you have to take on extra work at this time of year in order to afford all the gifts you want to give (I do!), work with a song in your heart.

And cook with a song in your heart.

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Leigh’s Orange Pound Cake

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) sweet butter at room temperature
3 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 cup milk
4 eggs
the juice and zest of 1 large orange

Instructions:

Grease and flour two standard loaf pans (or five to six smaller pans) or spray them with a grease-plus-flour spray like Baker’s Joy.

Cream together the butter and the sugar. Stir in half of the flour and half of the milk. Mix well; then add the remaining flour and milk. Beat in the eggs, and then stir in the juice and zest. Pour the batter into the loaf pans; they will be reasonably full.

Place the loaves in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 325 degrees and cook for 40 minutes, then raise oven to 350 and cook for about15 minutes. The loaves are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

The cakes may split a bit down the middle, but they will taste lovely. Cool the loaves in their pans for 10 minutes; then release them and let them finish cooling on a cooling rack.

Makes 2 large loaves or 5 small ones.

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