July 15, 2019 (94 Days Old)
Brad's Balsamic Broccoli, Version 1.0
Holding court over a third of my gas grill stands the first cast iron skillet I ever owned.
It migrated to permanence atop the outdoor flames because — as a no-name skillet that had been replaced by worthier branded pans — it was either take up residence there, or gather dust in the dark corners of some storage cupboard.
As it turns out, even the cheapest of pans can evolve into something worthy with enough time and diligence: hundreds of grill cycles, always just there and smouldering over the flames, sometimes with a few vegetables, or a pan of potatoes, or mostly just oiled and empty, that cheap little pan has become so perfectly seasoned that it has serious lessons to teach the other iron knights.
Little wonder that on a quiet Sunday evening it was called to duty to roast a pan of greens to compliment dinner.
The Ingredients
Two cups of BROCCOLI chopped and washed.
Two tablespoons of OLIVE OIL.
Three tablespoons of BALSAMIC VINEGAR.
SALT to taste.
The Build
Heating the oil in the pan over a hot flame is probably a key step.
Like anything cooked on cast iron, a hot pan is your friend: too cool irons and you’re cruising to soggy town.
If you’ve bestowed a permanent skillet to your grill or barbecue, your general pre-heat should cover the warm up, but if not, bank on 10 to 15 minutes to get things sizzling.
The rest of the recipe is just as simple: oil in pan meet broccoli, salt and vinegar.
Toss, coat, cook, gill until those florets have a hint of browning on the tips — which is gonna be tough to tell because you covered everything in brown vinegar: but you’ll see it, trust me.
If you’re clever, you’re also gonna time this so it comes of the pan, into a serving dish, and then into your belly without much delay.
In other words, don’t prep this one ahead.
The Serve
We complemented this dish with a side of peppered rice and a simple peanut grilled chicken.
The flavours are not delicate, be warned.
This is as much a feature side dish as it is a handy way to liven up your greens.
The balsamic adds a rich tang to the vegetable that clings between the flowers and can surprise you if you bite in just the right place.
I could see how this would also pair nicely with a baked potato or some mediterranean-style pork dish.
Give it a try and let me know how you improve it.
Other Users Say
July 14, 2019 (95 Days Old)
Bread In A Hot Iron Pot
It would be tough to keep a website about cast iron interesting without talking specifically about the food that is created with a hot iron pan.
Similarly, it would be tough to keep a website about my cast iron experience without talking specifically about sourdough bread.
As much as my sourdough process is one that has followed a path from making a
starter
STAAR-terr
A sourdough "mother dough" which is a bit of dough where the active yeast colony is kept alive. Each time bread is made, part of the starter goes in the dough, part is "fed" with fresh flour and water for next time.
(mother dough), methodically refining a recipe, and understanding the nuances of
fermentation
FUR-mint-eh-shun
The time during which an live organism grows inside of food. In the case of sourdough, yeast grows inside of dough. This produces gas (for fluffy bread) and flavour (for tasty bread).
that lead to changes and improvements in the final flavour, all that bread eventually spends a span of time in the heat in a great big cast iron
dutch oven
DUHch UHH-venn
A heavy, deep, thick walled pot with a tight-fitting lid. They are named this because of some renaissance era casting process not because they are in any way a "Dutch thing."
.
Sourdough is slow food.
If you were around in the ‘oughts of the twenty-first century, you may recall the bread-machine craze that swept North America, where everyone seemed to be buying a single-function box for their counter that would barf out a loaf of bread every couple hours (so long as you kept feeding it ingredient mixtures).
Flour, Water, Salt
In a future post I’ll detail the effort required to
grow a starter
grow a starter
Take some flour and water mixed: Then find some wild yeast and cultivate it through many different phases of decay, growth, and finally bready-amazingness. This will test your nerves and your nose and your resolve.
from scratch, but for now, and for those who haven’t yet stumbled upon the cast iron approach for cooking a leavened loaf, here’s my simple recipe.
A good bit of starter goes into a bowl.
By weight, add 500g of the flour mix of your choice.
By weight, add 12g of salt.
By weight, add 350g of warm (but not hot) water.
Stir to combine, but only just to combine, then let it sit for a good 20 - 30 minutes for the gluten in the flour to blossom.
With a wet hand, grab, pull, stretch, and fold the dough until it’s reached a good, cohesive, well-blended texture (this doesn’t take much more than a couple minutes).
It's all about that wait.
Sourdough is a days-long effort for no other reason than the longer the dough matures, the better the “sour” flavour.
After my dough has been mixed, it gets covered and goes into the fridge.
I’ve done the math for myself, and I know that if I need a loaf for Saturday evening (say for a party) that means I need to cook it on Saturday afternoon, which means it needs to be out of the fridge for the final
leavening
LEH-vuh-ning
The span of time waiting for bread to rise to be ready for cookening.
on Saturday morning, which means it needs to be in the fridge Friday morning (at the latest) which means I need to make the dough Friday early when I wake up and before I got to work, which means I need to
feed my starter
feed my starter
Cut the starter in half and throw one half in the trash (or bake with it if you don't want to be wasteful.) Add a cup of flour and a half cup of warm water. Mix. Wait. Repeat forever.
on Thursday evening, and if I haven’t baked in a couple weeks then I should have done two feedings, which means Thursday morning for the first feed.
Deep breath.
Three days for a loaf of bread.
The Cookening
The dough emerges from the fridge, little-changed visibly but deeply, fundamentally, amazingly different than when it went inside.
The core of that dough is now alive with the wonderful yeasts that have been building a rich, dough-based society ripe for expansion (and exploitation).
Turning that dough into a smooth, leavening-ready ball which will sit in a covered basket for 6 to 8 hours is really the subject of what should be a video: It’s tough to explain in words and needs to be shown.
Instead, skipping ahead, let’s talk about cast iron again.
In particular, 30 minutes before I’m ready to cook, when the dough is basically doubled in size, I’ve ensured my oiled dutch oven (lid on) is preheating to 475F in the middle of the oven.
No one said this was going to be complex: 7 quarts of hot iron are pulled from the pre-heat, the dough is rolled from its basket into the centre of the vessel, the lid is put back on, and the whole thing goes back into the oven for 30 minutes of magic.
One Important Step
After 30 minutes, the lid is removed, and the cook’s diligence is required to hit the perfect browning (not burning) point somewhere between a further 10 and 15 minutes of baking.
The cast iron may play only a minor role for the last hour of a three day process, but it is an important role.
Simulating a bakery oven in a home kitchen, the cast iron dutch oven is a story of consistent heat, contained moisture, and an oven-within-an-oven.
As I keep writing on this site, exploring the nuances of a hobbyist’s cooking perspective, sourdough, how sourdough and similar slow foods intersect with the world — universe and philosophy — of cast iron cuisine will hopefully become apparent.
Slow food from thoughtful ingredients and purposeful cooking.
Cast iron and sourdough are the opposite of bread machines and
Instapots
INN-stah-pawts
Tradename for those fancy counter-top gadgets that cooks a bunch of different things, like rice, bread, eggs, soup, etc. You'll be able to pick one up at a garage sale cheap in about 2 years.
and microwave speed-heating food into mush.
They may just take one step together, but it’s an important step and one worth pondering.
Other Users Say
July 11, 2019 (99 Days Old)
Lodge Twelve Inch "Canadiana" Skillet
You just cannot understate the feeling of gut-level satisfaction that spills out of a hot pan in the form of a family meal.
Raw joy is probably a misnomer, if only because nothing that purposefully leaves a simmering cast iron skillet is ever raw.
Crisp, juicy joy, marinated in its own juices would describe it better.
It also didn't hurt that it was joy spilling from a brand new piece of cast iron.
Just Browsing
Thing is, I rarely shop.
I pass through stores and shops more like a pith-hatted anthropologist, prodding merchandise with my eyes and imagination but rarely interfering directly.
When something catches my eye, I step closer and if it actually holds my attention long enough, I'll reach out and examine the thing for a bit of cautious tactile research.
I skated closer to the cast iron display at the department store nearby my office as I shortcutted through on my way to the local pizza dive about a month back.
As my family would have it, I've got more than enough cast iron in my collection (so I wasn't hunting) but the stamp of a collector's edition maple leaf on the bottom of a twelve inch pan was too overwhelming to my otherwise scientific indifference.
Hook.
Line.
Sinker.
Out of Sequence
A twelve inch pan seems like the most obvious pan to start a collection with.
START with.
It's big.
Practical.
And robust enough for virtually any application.
If I was starting afresh on my cast iron collection, a twelve inch pan would be near the top of my list of acquisitions.
Yet for some reason, and though I'd collected and groomed my cast iron for over three years, I found myself with nary a single one of this size to show for my
curation
curation
When I buy new pans or pots with the intention of building a custom set to suit my cooking needs.
effort.
The ten-and-a-quarter inch had been adequate for most purposes in home cooking for a family of three, and often the better choice: more convenient for a trio of eggs, say.
And definitely lighter to store.
I always did have an eye on that twelve tho.
Just Give Me a Reason
When a few weeks of mulling finally passed, and the excuse of an upcoming camping trip triggered the buy-now impulses of my brain, I explained the cashier (because she asked) that this beauty would be starting life atop the heat of some real flames, under a sunny sky in the lakeside campground of a July long-weekend adventure.
I'd be cooking for my family in the wilderness, or as much as the wilderness that could be reached with a pickup truck and some wet gravel roads.
She double-bagged it for me.
It's a beast.
A heavy, beautiful beast.
Brand Loyalty
Almost my entire collection is a piece-by-piece jumble of Lodge-brand iron.
The Canadiana Series Twelve Inch Skillet is a standard round pan, with an eye-hole handle and pour spouts at the three and nine o'clock positions.
What sets it apart is an elegant embossing on the base of not just the Lodge brand, but a stylized maple leaf and the word "CANADA" filling the usually blank space.
I'm a sucker for cast iron pans generally because, in my mind, they are tools purchased with a sense of hopeful
legacy
legacy
I like to think of this as stuff I plan to pass down to future generations.
, pans I'll pass down to my kid and grandkids.
The limited uniqueness of the oh-Canada pattern enhanced that emotion for me.
It only helped that it was a Lodge-brand to boot.
'Tis the Re-season
The span of my post-purchase
seasoning
seasoning
Getting a new or newly cleaned pan ready to cook by carbonizing an oil on the iron surface, creating a non-stick layer.
efforts span a breadth as numerous as I have pieces: the oil and bake, the bbq method, the ole’ campfire trial, a burn-in on the stove top, sacrificing a dozen eggs, or just cooking something.
With the twelve inch skillet I wasn’t going for anything special, nor did I really have a plan other than to make sure I wasn't hauling it out to the woods without at least one trial at home.
It happened that I had a half-package of bacon in the fridge leftover from a dish we’d made on the weekend-past, so bacon it was.
At home we have a gas range-top, and I don’t think I’d be the cast iron guy I am had we not made that investment half a dozen years ago.
Now, six years later, I was firing up the main burner with a fresh piece smoking-hot before me, and a handful of greasy pork waiting to meet its destiny.
Campfire Pizzaria
Finally in the wilds, we mixed up a batch of yeast crust, let it rise for a few hours and eventually started prepping the ingredients.
Cooking over a campfire is tricky for anyone who is used to the consistent heat of a home stove (or in this case, oven).
It takes an honest fifteen minutes to get a pan properly, evenly heated.
Hot spots and cold spots.
Keeping a good base of embers glowing red while stoking a low fire to replenish.
You don't want raging flames, but a weak fire will lose interest in your pan before you can wave the smoke out of your eyes.
My crust was (if I'm being honest) a little thick, but it cooked and browned up nicely as I baked it solo in the hot pan.
Toppings were simple: cheese, some capicola ham, and a good slather of sauce.
The pizza was delicious and the pan was initiated.
And then it rained
I swapped that pan between our coleman campstove and the firetop the rest of the weekend because the intermittent rain meant the weather was fine for a fire, but tough for cooking over it.
It fit four standard burger patties like a champ.
Egg sandwiches were a long morning event, sizzling an egg to perfection over the fire, toasting an English muffin directly on the flames, and melting the ham, egg and cheese into a rich gooey disc in the pan.
Grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch were a cake walk compared to the eggy versions, and we wrapped the whole pan in foil (filled with some chopped squash, onions, potatoes, carrots and celery) and let it roast above the fire-pit as our camping crew enjoyed beers and grilled some marinated steaks over the open flame.
The Cast Iron Guy Verdict
Do you need a twelve inch skillet? It is a workhorse for outdoor camping adventures, I can attest to that.
If I was going out to the great outdoors for longer than a long weekend, I wouldn't hesitate to rely on this kind of pan for most any and every meal.
Where the ten and a quarter is great for small meals or a duo of morning eggs, the twelve proved its utility with a bit of extra space for full meal cooking and a wide scope of applications.
If I'd thought of it, I'd have paired it with my lid (the one from my dutch oven fits ok) and I think this piece of oh-canada cookware (with or without a groovy maple leaf logo) could have lived atop that fire and fed anyone who dared try to tame her.
No regrets.
Maybe I'd better start wandering through the cast iron section of the department store more often.
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