Rustic Turkey Ragu

It is the last day of March and, after a fairly mild month, light snow flurries are hinting of a bigger storm passing through the Sierras. We need the snow, desperately. This region is in a severe drought and therefore residents don’t mind if winter chooses to come a bit late. Bring on those April showers.

Even with the mild weather, it has still been challenging to keep those extra winter pounds off. Seems I always pack on about five to seven of them. I’m not always disciplined with my diet and I am partial to a local coffee shop’s vanilla chai lattes. Probably not the leanest things to drink but they sure hit the spot! So now, when my pants feel a bit snug around the waist, I have to think about eating better and getting to the gym (and limiting my chai addiction). Lately, I have been incorporating leaner meats in my dishes, like ground turkey instead of ground beef. Here is a nice rustic skillet dish that is fairly light, but hearty enough to keep you warm on a chilly winterish spring evening. I used pasta that I had in the pantry, but wheat or a gluten-free variety would make an excellent substitute.

IMG_8711Ingredients
12 oz. Ground Turkey
1 tsp oil (olive, Canola)
2 medium Carrots, chopped
1 stalk Celery, chopped
4 oz. Cremini Mushrooms, chopped
1/2 Onion, chopped
1-2 Garlic Cloves, chopped
28-oz can 2 14-oz cans) Diced Tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup Dry Red Wine
1 – 2 tsps. fennel seeds, crushed
12 oz. Pasta
2 Tbsp Fresh Parsley, chopped, or 1 Tbsp. dried Parsley
Grated Parmesan Cheese

Heat the oil and cook ground turkey...

Heat the oil and cook ground turkey…

...until no longer pink.

…until no longer pink. Remove to a plate.

Cook the carrots, celery and onion over medium heat.

Cook the carrots, celery and onion over medium heat.

Cook for about five minutes until they begin to soften.

Cook for about five minutes until they begin to soften.

Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook through, about three to five minutes.

Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook through, about three to five minutes.

All the veggies cooked through.

All the veggies cooked through.

Add the diced tomatoes.

Add the diced tomatoes and mash with a potato masher or meat pounder.

Incorporate with the veggies for the beginning of a nice ragu.

Incorporate with the veggies for the beginning of a nice ragu.

Add the wine...

Add the wine…

...fennel seeds...

…fennel seeds…

...and cooked turkey.

…and cooked turkey.

Stir together and bring to a simmer.

Stir together and bring to a simmer.

Reduce to low heat; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened and the flavors have developed, about 30 minutes.

Reduce to low heat; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened and the flavors have developed, about 30 minutes. While your ragu is getting its groove on, cook your pasta as directed on the package.

Serve the ragu over the cooked pasta. Sprinkle with parsley and parmesan. Enjoy!

Serve the ragu over the cooked pasta. Sprinkle with parsley and parmesan. Enjoy!

 

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Guest Post: Lessons on finding the best cast iron skillet by Doug Thomas

Doug Thomas

Doug Thomas, my friend and fellow founding member of the Northern Sierra Dutch Oven Group, spends a lot of time researching and collecting cast iron cookware. He is one of Nevada’s reigning State Dutch Oven Champions and recently competed in the 2014 International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championship Cook Off. I asked him awhile ago if he’d be interested in writing some guest posts for my blog as his knowledge on cast iron, both new and vintage, is boundless. Below is a lovely article on what types of cast iron make the best skillet, along with some tips on collecting vintage pieces.

What is the best skillet for cooking and why?

Without a doubt the best skillet for cooking is made of cast iron. Cast iron skillets hold heat more uniformly and for longer periods of time than other types of metals. Additionally, they should be bare cast iron, not coated with enamel or porcelain. They should not have wooden handles so they can be interchanged from stovetop to oven. Bare cast iron cookware, however,  does require seasoning with oil to seal the pores of the metal to prevent rusting and provide a smooth surface. Bare seasoned cast iron also imparts a certain flavor to the food being cooked and many medical personnel proclaim that it adds a certain amount of iron to the cooked food. Some doctors have even proclaimed that iron supplements can be reduced or eliminated with regular cast iron cooking.

What brand is the best?

There are many differences of opinion as to which brand is preferred. Perhaps one of the best skillets is the one grandmother or great-grandmother used.  With proper care, cast iron skillets can last indefinitely. In addition, the early cast iron skillets were manufactured differently than the ones currently made. They were thinner and therefore of lighter weight. The surface of the metal was also very smooth compared to the porous surfaces found today.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Skillet with Griswold markings. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Early manufacture of cast iron skillets began in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  One of the earliest companies was Griswold. Their pans were marked with “ERIE” due to their production in Erie, Pennsylvania. In the early 1900s this was changed to “GRISWOLD.”

Another company, Wagner Ware went into business in 1891 and continued making cast iron for over a century. Today there is a Wagner and Griswold Society that is still quite active. Beware of Wagner skillets currently being sold in cardboard boxes as they are made in Asia. This skillet says “Wagner’s 1891 Original” and was manufactured between 1991 and 1999.

Lodge Skillet with Lid

Lodge Skillet with Lid

Lodge is the only factory still making cast iron skillets in the U.S.A. today. They were founded in 1896, and are manufactured in Tennessee. The current skillets are quite porous and thick-walled compared to the earlier versions.

Skillet with Piqua marking. Photo courtesy of etsy.com.

Skillet with Piqua marking. Photo courtesy of etsy.com.

A lesser-known skillet manufacturer was the Favorite Stove Company. It manufactured pans from the 1910s through the 1930s. These skillets have a very smooth surface and are lightweight. The bottom says “PIQUA” or “FAVORITE PIQUA.” Some have a smiley face under the name. This is an excellent skillet that is often overlooked.

Wapak Hollow Ware Chief Marking. Photo courtesy of ebay.com.

Wapak Hollow Ware Chief Marking. Photo courtesy of ebay.com.

Lastly, the Wapak Hollow Ware Company was formed in Wapakoneta, Ohio in 1903 where it produced several lines of “thin wall” skillets that were lightweight until 1926. These are currently some of the most sought after pans. Some have the word “WAPAK” on the bottom and the most collectable ones have the crest of a Native American chief on the bottom.

Several companies currently import cast iron skillets and include: Bayou Classic, Camp Chef, Coleman, Old Mountain and Texsport.

Choose your cast iron skillet wisely and it will treat you with a lifetime of pleasure.

Shepherd’s Pie

A good friend is experiencing a dream vacation with her family in Australia and New Zealand right now. Yes, I’m a wee bit jealous, but also can’t wait for her to get back to learn about her amazing trip. Before she left we went out to lunch at a favorite Reno restaurant, the very healthy and divine Great Full Gardens, and our conversation naturally turned to her planned adventures and what types of local cuisine she’ll sample. I confess I have never tasted the notorious vegamite (she had and didn’t care for it), but I remember trying shepherd’s pie made by some Australian students during a fun University of Nevada, Reno event – the Night of All Nations. The event features cuisine, music, dance and other experiences which represent the University’s and Reno’s cultural diversity. The annual event offers a wide sample of global cuisine and attendees can pass from booth to booth filling their plates full of such items as Spanish paella, Indian chicken masala, and Australian shepherd’s pie. Even the Klingon nation was represented, but I don’t recall trying any of their food.

So, inspired by my friend’s trip and what I experienced at Night of All Nations, I decided to make shepherd’s pie in my skillet. Traditional shepherd’s pie is made with lamb or mutton, but more common versions are made with ground beef. I decided to make a heartier version, using steak. I knew this would be a dish my husband would like because it is topped with a mashed potato crust. The following recipe is inspired by one found at simplyrecipes.com, with a few personal tweaks. The recipe also left the herbal seasonings up to the choice of the cook. I used Herbs de Provence because it consists of a nice assortment of herbs and seasonings, including basil, rosemary, tarragon, garlic, lavender, marjoram, savory, thyme and parsley. All that spicy goodness in one bottle!

Shepherd's PieIngredients
Approximately 1 1/2 lbs. Steak, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 Onion, chopped
1 – 2 cups vegetables such as chopped Carrots and Celery, Fresh Corn sliced from the cob
Approximately 3 large Potatoes
8 Tbsps of Butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup Beef Broth
1 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
Salt, Pepper, Seasonings of choice (I used Herbs de Provence)

Peel and quarter potatoes. Boil in salted water until tender, about 20 minutes

Peel and quarter potatoes. Boil in salted water until tender, about 20 minutes

Melt 4 Tbsps. of butter in large skillet.

Melt 4 Tbsps. of butter in large skillet.

Saute onion, carrots and celery over medium heat until tender, about 10 minutes.

Saute onion, carrots and celery over medium heat until tender, about 10 minutes.

Add steak and saute until no longer pink.

Add steak and saute until no longer pink.

Add fresh corn and heat through.

Add fresh corn and heat through.

Add salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence (or your seasonings of choice).

Add salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence (or your seasonings of choice).

Add Worcestershire sauce and beef broth.

Add Worcestershire sauce and beef broth.

Combine everything thoroughly.

Combine everything thoroughly.

Mash cooked potatoes with the remaining butter (4 Tbsps.) and cover the meat mixture. My potatoes are a little on the chunky side - just how I like them!

Mash cooked potatoes with the remaining butter (4 Tbsps.) and cover the meat mixture. My potatoes are a little on the chunky side – just how I like them!

Completely covered with mashed potatoes.

Completely covered with mashed potatoes.

Bake in a 400 degree oven until bubbling and the crust begins to brown, about 30 minutes.

Bake in a 400 degree oven until bubbling and the crust begins to brown, about 30 minutes.

The tasty layers of Shepherd's Pie. Enjoy!

The tasty layers of Shepherd’s Pie.

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

Deep Skillet Chicken Pad Thai

Greetings and Salutations…and Happy New Year to boot!

I hope the holiday season treated all of you well. It seems to have flown by! After a crazy year-end cycle at work, I am trying to get back into a normal routine again…especially when it comes to cooking and devoting more time to this blog. It seems harder and harder to make time for certain things in my life…things that are important but seem to end up on the back burner when juggling professional and personal obligations. I know we all experience it in our lives and try to find a balance. I am looking forward to things slowing down a bit so I can stop and smell the roses…or in this case, the Pad Thai!

So, it’s no secret that Thai food is one of my absolute favorites (I’ve raved about it more than a few times on this blog). One of the most commonly known dishes is Pad Thai, which is basically a stir-fry with rice noodles and other ingredients such as chicken, seafood, vegetables, and eggs. One wintery day a few weeks ago I experienced a mean craving for this delectable dish, but did not want to venture out into the cold to a restaurant. I found a basic recipe online and enhanced it a bit, omitting certain items like bean sprouts and amping up the quantities for the sauce, plus adding a little peanut butter. What I discovered is that Pad Thai is very easy to make and perfect for a cast iron wok or deep skillet. Below is a basic recipe compliments of allrecipes.com, with a few tweaks on my part. I hope you like it!

Deep Skillet Chicken Pad ThaiIngredients
1 (12 – 14 oz.) package Rice Noodles
1 pound Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 clove Garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsps. Canola Oil
4 Eggs
2 Tbsps. White Wine Vinegar
3 – 4 Tbsps. Fish Sauce
6 Tbsps. White Sugar (adjust quantity to taste)
1 Tbsp. Peanut Butter
1/8 Tbsp. Crushed Red Pepper
1/4 cup Chopped or Crushed Peanuts
3 Green Onions, chopped

First step, prepare rice noodles according to package directions.

Heat 2 Tbsps. of oil in cast iron skillet or wok.

Next, heat 2 Tbsps. of oil in cast iron skillet or wok.

Add chicken and garlic, saute together until chicken is browned.

Add chicken and garlic, saute together until chicken is browned.

Once browned, remove chicken to from skillet.

Once browned, remove chicken to a plate.

Heat remaining oil over medium-high heat.

Heat remaining oil over medium-high heat.

Crack eggs into hot oil and cook until firm, looking almost as if they are scrambled.

Crack eggs into hot oil and cook until firm, looking almost as if they are scrambled.

Cooked eggs.

Cooked eggs.

Return the chicken to the skillet.

Return the chicken to the skillet.

Combine with cooked eggs.

Combine with cooked eggs.

Add the cooked rice noodles.

Add the cooked rice noodles.

Add vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes, and peanut butter. Combine thoroughly.

Add vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes, and peanut butter. Combine thoroughly.

Garnish with chopped green onions and peanuts. You are set to start your new year in Thai fashion!

Garnish with chopped green onions and peanuts. You are set to start your new year in Thai fashion!

Rustic Skillet Pot Pie

Well, guess who has returned to the blogosphere! I sincerely did not intend to take such a long hiatus, but it seems my life got full again over the past few months. I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday and shared it with those nearest and dearest to your hearts.

My husband and I actually went out for Thanksgiving dinner, something we haven’t done in 10 years. With both of our hectic schedules, we decided to truly take the day off and let someone else do the cooking this year. Sadly, no Turkey Day leftovers, but also no big mess in the kitchen to clean up.

I still managed to bake a pumpkin pie and have cranberries patiently waiting in my fridge to be turned into homemade sauce. And I finally attempted my first skillet pot pie, which in this version I made with leftover grilled chicken, but it would also work beautifully with leftover turkey.

The pie crust comes from a recipe I received when I took a pie crust class at Nothing To It Cooking School, a local culinary center. As much as I’d like to share the recipe with you, I don’t feel that I can as it may be proprietary and I don’t have permission to publish it. But you can certainly find basic pie crust recipes online or find frozen crusts at the grocery store.

Finally, I failed to take a group photo of all of the ingredients. See what happens when you neglect your blog too long, you forget how to do things. I’ll get my act together, I swear!

Anyway, enjoy this rustic dish and my thanks to all of you who continue to follow The Skillet.

Ingredients
2 Pie Crusts
6 Tbs. Butter
1/2 cup chopped Onion
1 cup chopped Carrots
1 cup chopped Celery
1/3 cup All-Purpose Flour
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Pepper
1 3/4 cup Chicken Broth
1/2 cup Heavy Cream
2 1/2 cups cooked Chicken or Turkey, cut into bite-size pieces

If using a cast iron skillet, heat oven to 400 degrees and remove all racks, except one on the lowest rung. If using a glass, ceramic or aluminum pie pan, then heat oven to 425 degrees. One thing I learned at the pie crust class is to always cook pies on the lowest rack in your oven.

In a deep cast iron skillet or 2-quart saucepan, melt butter and saute onions, carrots and celery together until soft.

In a deep cast iron skillet or 2-quart saucepan, melt butter and saute onions, carrots and celery together until soft.

Add flour, salt and pepper.

Add flour, salt and pepper.

Combine thoroughly until dry ingredients coat vegetables.

Combine thoroughly until dry ingredients coat vegetables.

Stir in chicken broth.

Stir in chicken broth.

Add heavy cream.

Add heavy cream.

Combine thoroughly.

Combine thoroughly.

Add chicken or turkey.

Add chicken or turkey.

Combine thoroughly into creamy veggie sauce.

Combine thoroughly into creamy veggie sauce.

Place one crust in 10-inch cast iron skillet or 9-inch pie pan. Spoon filling into skillet.

Place one crust in 10-inch cast iron skillet or 9-inch pie pan. Spoon filling into skillet. Place the second crust on top, seal edges, and cut a few vents.

Bake 30-40 minutes until crust becomes golden brown.

Bake 30-40 minutes until crust becomes golden brown.

Let it rest for 5-10 minutes, then serve. I am thankful for my skillets and plentiful food.

Let it rest for 5-10 minutes, then serve. I am thankful for my skillets and plentiful food.

Smokin’ Basil-Tomato Chicken Skillet

Smoky skies

Hazy days in Reno

Well, it is darn smoky here in Reno, compliments of the massive Rim Fire burning outside Yosemite National Park, nearly two hundred miles away. More than 100,000 acres are ablaze and only five percent of the fire is contained. Each morning we are greeted with smoky, hazy skies and a blood-red sun (which, where I come from, is an ominous apparition). The mountains and foothills are eerie shadows in the distance and sometimes not visible at all.

I lived in Billings, Mont., back in 1988 when the historic Yellowstone fires blanketed the region in smoke and ash. These past few days remind me of that very long summer spent wondering when I’d see blue skies again. The local news predicts we’ll start to see things clear out around Tuesday, but I won’t hold my breath (well, maybe I should!).

So what does all of this have to do with cooking? It means I can’t or shouldn’t be cooking outside, which is part of what summer is all about. Last week I was grilling tri-tip, but this week is all about what to put in my poor neglected skillet.

So here’s a quick (dare I say smokin’), tasty and healthy dish for you to try. I wish you all clear, blue skies to end your summer!

IMG_8338Ingredients
2 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 14.5 oz. can Diced Tomatoes, no salt, drained
1/4 cup fresh Basil or Basil Paste
3 to 4 oz. prewashed Spinach
1/8 tsp. each, Salt and Pepper
2 to 3 Tbsps. grated Parmesan Cheese

Add chicken to hot cast iron skillet.

Add chicken to hot cast iron skillet.

Cook through for about 5 to 7 minutes.

Cook through for about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and basil. I used basil paste, my new favorite ingredient.

Add the tomatoes and basil. I used basil paste, my new favorite ingredient.

Combine and heat through.

Combine and heat through.

Turn off the heat and add the spinach. Stir constantly as it wilts.

Turn off the heat and add the spinach. Stir constantly as it wilts.

Serve alone or over your favorite pasta. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. A smokin' fast dish!

Serve alone or over your favorite pasta. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. A smokin’ fast dish!

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

Inspired by some of the summer dish responses (mixed berry cobbler) to the recent cookbook giveaway and my own craving for strawberry rhubarb pie, I decided to compromise and make a strawberry rhubarb cobbler. I practically squealed when this came out of the oven. I was so excited to try it and it smelled divine.

I must confess that cobblers are not my forte. The pastry part usually comes out a bit on the gooey side, which means I used too much liquid in the filling.

But I am happy to say that this particular cobbler came out perfectly. It’s simple, tasty – a little tart, a little sweet – and may have become my new summer favorite.

Strawberry Rhubarb CobblerFruit Filling Ingredients
3 cups Rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups Strawberries, stemmed and sliced
1 cup white Sugar
2 Tbsps. quick cooking Tapioca
1 tsp. Orange zest

Place the cut rhubarb in a bowl.

Place the cut rhubarb in a bowl.

Add the strawberry slices.

Add the strawberry slices.

Next, add the sugar.

Next, add the sugar.

Add tapioca.

Add tapioca.

And the orange zest.

And the orange zest.

Combine ingredients.

Combine ingredients.

Cover and let macerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Cover and let macerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Strawberry Rhubarb CobblerCrust Ingredients
2 Tbsps. white Sugar
1 cup all purpose Flour
1 1/2 tsps. Baking Powder
1/4 tsp.  Salt
1/4 cup Butter
1/4 cup Milk
1 Egg, lightly beaten

Combine sugar, flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

Combine sugar, flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

Cut up the butter and add to flour mixture.

Cut up the butter and add to flour mixture.

Work the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or fork until it looks crumbly.

Work the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or fork until it looks crumbly.

Add the milk and egg.

Add the milk and egg.

Combine until the dough is just softened.

Combine until the dough is just softened.

Pour the fruit mixture into a  10-inch cast iron skillet or 2-quart casserole dish.

Pour the fruit mixture into a 10-inch cast iron skillet or 2-quart casserole dish.

Spoon the dough over the top of the fruit mixture.

Spoon the dough over the top of the fruit mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

To make homemade whipped cream, visit my post on the Upside Down Cranberry Rumpkin Cake for the recipe.

Skillet Cashew Chicken

Well, the temps here in Reno over the weekend are supposed to edge into the low 90s. I think summer is finally upon us at last.

During the summer I prefer to eat on the lighter side – dishes that are healthy, full of fresh veggies and aren’t too heavy.

I like to make a lot of stir frys and, since I don’t own a wok, my cast iron skillet does the trick beautifully as it heats quickly and evenly.

One of my favorite Chinese dishes that I order out all of the time is cashew chicken. Ironically, I never made it home. It seemed to be that special dish only for the restaurant. But no more! I found a nice recipe online that includes a lot of my favorite ingredients – ginger, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, snow peas, and of course, cashews.

Give this light and simple dish a try. You won’t be sweating over the stove and dinner will be ready in no time – so you can get on with summer fun!

IMG_0241Ingredients
3 Tbsps.  reduced-sodium Soy Sauce
1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp. reduced-sodium Chicken Broth, divided
3/4 tsp. Sesame Oil, divided
1 lb. boneless skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 Tbsp. Cornstarch
1 Tbsp. Sugar
1 Tbsp. Rice Vinegar
1 Tbsp. Hoisin Sauce
1/2 tsp. minced fresh Gingerroot
1/4 tsp Salt
2 tsps. Canola Oil, divided
1 1/2 cups fresh Snow Peas
2 medium Carrots, julienned
1/2 cup unsalted Cashews
Cooked Rice, optional

In a large resealable plastic bag, combine 2 Tbsps. soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. chicken broth, and 1/2 tsp. sesame oil; add the chicken. Seal bag and turn to coat. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In a large resealable plastic bag, combine 2 Tbsps. soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. chicken broth, and 1/2 tsp. sesame oil; add the chicken. Seal bag and turn to coat. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and 1/3 cup chicken broth until smooth.

In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and 1/3 cup chicken broth until smooth.

Stir in the sugar, vinegar, hoisin sauce, ginger, salt and remaining soy sauce and sesame oil. Set aside.

Stir in the sugar, vinegar, hoisin sauce, ginger, salt and remaining soy sauce and sesame oil. Set aside.

Drain chicken and discard marinade.  Heat oil in cast iron skillet. Add the chicken.

Drain chicken and discard marinade. Heat oil in cast iron skillet. Add the chicken.

Stir fry until no longer pink. Remove to a plate.

Stir fry until no longer pink. Remove to a plate.

In the same skillet, add the carrots and snow peas.

In the same skillet, add the carrots and snow peas.

Stir fry until tender crisp.

Stir fry until tender crisp.

Return chicken to the skillet.

Return chicken to the skillet.

Stir sauce mixture and stir into chicken mixture. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for about a minute or until thickened.

Stir sauce mixture and stir into chicken mixture. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for about a minute or until thickened.

Add the cashews.

Add the cashews.

Serve with or without cooked rice. Enjoy!

Serve with or without cooked rice. Enjoy!

Shrimp with Fresh Basil, Thai Style

Photo courtesy of Lodge Manufacturing

Photo courtesy of Lodge

A while ago, my husband gave me a copy of the latest edition of the Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook. I don’t know if other cooks and foodies are like me, but I spend more time thumbing through my cookbooks than actually trying some of the recipes. For me, the attributes of what makes a fine cookbook are a wide variety of dishes, beautiful photographs (preferably color), easy to follow recipes, and little tidbits thrown in on history, techniques, and possible ingredient substitutions. I am also partial to cookbooks with spiral bindings, as they remain flat on the counter when you are working through a recipe.

Lodge’s cookbook meets most of my criteria. It doesn’t have the spiral binding, but quite frankly, most cookbooks don’t. But it has everything else — a variety of dishes, including breakfast frittatas, soups, stews and gumbo, delectable surf and turf dishes, desserts, and an entire section just on cornbread — and an easy-to-follow design with numerous color photos, simple directions, and sections on caring for cast iron, metric conversions, and even tips on bean hole cooking.

The recipes are diverse, not only in cultures (American, Asian, Indian, Cajun, Mexican), but in the different types of cast iron skillets, griddles, bakeware and ovens that are recommended for cooking. Overall, a great cookbook!

Following is a recipe that I tried from the cookbook, something that caught my eye as I love Thai food. I modified it a little, adding some julienned carrots and removing the jalapeno pepper from the recipe. This recipe is very simple, extremely flavorful, and fast to make. And it gets the thumbs-up from my hubby, so what more does one need!

Oh, and stay tuned! I will be giving away two copies of the Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook in the near future. Details to follow in a future post.

Thai Basil ShrimpIngredients
2 Tbsps. Asian Fish Sauce
2 Tbsps. Water
1 tsp. Soy Sauce
1/2 tsp. Sugar
2 Tbsps. Oil (Canola or Vegetable)
1 Lb. medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup thinly sliced Onion
1/2 cup Carrots, julienned
1 Tbsp. chopped Garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped Green Onions
2 Tbsps. coarsely chopped fresh Cilantro
3-4 torn Basil Leaves

Stir together the fish sauce, water, soy sauce, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. Prep the remaining ingredients, so you can add them quickly when they are needed.

Stir together the fish sauce, water, soy sauce, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. Prep the remaining ingredients, so you can add them quickly when they are needed.

Heat oil in a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet, until it becomes very hot, about 30 seconds. Turn to coat the skillet evenly. Add the shrimp in a single layer.

Heat oil in a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet, until it becomes very hot, about 30 seconds. Turn to coat the skillet evenly. Add the shrimp in a single layer.

Cook on one side, undisturbed, until the shrimps' edges turn bright pink. Toss well and turn all the shrimp cooked side up so the other side can cook, undisturbed, for 15 seconds.

Cook on one side, undisturbed, until the shrimps’ edges turn bright pink. Toss well and turn all the shrimp cooked side up so the other side can cook, undisturbed, for 15 seconds.

Add the onion, garlic and carrots and toss well.

Add the onion, garlic and carrots and toss well.

Thai Basil Shrimp

Cook 1 minute, tossing occasionally…

...until the onion softens and becomes fragrant and shiny; continue tossing so it wilts and softens but doesn't brown.

…until the onion softens and becomes fragrant and shiny; continue tossing so it wilts and softens but doesn’t brown. Stir the fish sauce mixture to make sure the sugar is dissolved and pour it around the edge of the pan.  Toss well to season the shrimp, then let cook, undisturbed just until the shrimp are cooked through and the sauce is bubbling.

Add the green onions and cilantro, and toss well. Tear the basil leaves into 2 or 3 pieces each,. Add all of the basil to the pan over the shrimp and toss well. Cook 10 seconds.

Add the green onions and cilantro, and toss well. Tear the basil leaves into 2 or 3 pieces each. Add all of the basil to the pan over the shrimp and toss well. Cook 10 seconds.

Serve over cooked rice. Enjoy!

Serve over cooked rice. Enjoy!

Cooking with the Moroccan Tagine

Williams Sonoma TagineFor my birthday, my husband gave me a beautiful tagine from Williams Sonoma. Little did he know that I had been intrigued by the tagine for years and wanted to get one. He must have used his Jedi mind powers to read mine.

Tagines are made of ceramic or cast iron, and come in a variety of sizes, prices, colors and embellishments. They can be found at such stores as World Market or Williams Sonoma, and there are high-end cast iron varieties produced by Le Creuset. The Williams Sonoma tagine is in the medium price range, about $50, and serves as a quality pot for beginners, like the hubby and me.

A tagine (pronounced ta – jeene) is a North African earthenware pot traditionally formed entirely of a heavy clay, which is sometimes painted or glazed. It consists of two parts: a base unit that is flat and circular with low sides and a large cone- or dome-shaped cover that sits on the base during cooking. The cover is designed to promote the return of all condensation to the bottom. With the cover removed, the base can be taken to the table for serving. Tagines can be used either on the stove or in the oven.

My particular tagine is of the ceramic variety, so forgive me this one post for not using cast iron (although I do use a cast iron item with the tagine – you’ll see below in the recipe). Both my husband and I have used our tagine about four times, all on the stove, and every dish has turned out beautifully. It is a slow cooker with dishes taking about 1 1/2 hours to cook. We have mainly made Moroccan dishes, inspired by sauces we purchased at Williams Sonoma, but I also cooked short ribs in a lovely pulled pork sauce that basically crumbled with a fork. Every dish is succulent, flavorful and pull-apart tender. I have not experienced such tender food with any other dish – crock pot or cast iron.

I am in love with the tagine so don’t be surprised if a I throw in an occasional post inspired by it.

Tagines, like cast iron cookware, require some special care and seasoning before use. Tips on caring for a tagine can be found here.

That said, following is a lovely recipe for Apricot Chicken Tagine with Peppers and Rice.

Apricot Chicken TagineIngredients
1 – 2 Tbsps. Oil (not pictured)
5 Chicken Thighs
1 Red Bell Pepper
Apricot Tagine Sauce (Williams Sonoma)
Rice
Slivered Almonds (not pictured)

When cooking with a tagine over a gas range, it is important to have place a cast iron heat diffuser on top of the burner to avoid direct heat to the ceramic pot. This will help your pot from cracking.

When cooking with a tagine over a gas range, it is important to place a cast iron heat diffuser on top of the burner to avoid direct heat to the ceramic pot.

Heat oil in the base of the tagine over medium heat.

Heat oil in the base of the tagine over medium heat.

Sear the chicken thighs, about 4 minutes on each side. Cook in batches so as to not overcrowd.

Sear the chicken thighs, about 4 minutes on each side. Cook in batches so as to not overcrowd.

Nicely seared chicken thighs.

Remove your batches to a plate. Nicely seared chicken thighs.

Once all of the chicken thighs are seared, return them to the tagine.

Once all of the chicken thighs are seared, return them to the tagine.

Pour the Apricot Tagine Sauce over the thighs.

Pour the Apricot Tagine Sauce over the thighs.

Next, add the chopped bell peppers.

Next, add the chopped bell peppers.

Place the tagine coned-lid on top of the base and simmer on low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Place the tagine’s coned lid on top of the base and simmer on low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

It is this small hole in the top of the coned lid that allows air to circulate and the pot to steam.

It is this small hole in the top of the coned lid that allows air to circulate and the pot to steam.

Once cooked, the Apricot Tagine Chicken will be colorful, infused with flavor and oh so tender.

Once cooked, the Apricot Tagine Chicken will be colorful, infused with flavor and oh so tender.

Serve over a bed of rice and top with slivered almonds. Enjoy!

Serve over a bed of rice and top with slivered almonds. Enjoy!

P.S. You can still make a tagine-inspired dish in your skillet, which I have done. Use the same ingredients, follow the same steps and you can still go to Morocco for dinner tonight! Check out the photo below:

Apricot Chicken Tagine

Apricot Chicken Tagine in cast iron skillet.