My new skillet

When I did my first cast iron post, my mom commented that she had an old cast iron skillet that she got from her mother and offered it to me. I was very excited about this because I didn’t know she had any cast iron (she didn’t use it much when I was growing up) and I love old stuff like that. I picked it up last weekend when we were there for Mother’s Day.

Although it was in great shape and probably at least 40 years old and I was very happy to have it, I was a little disappointed to find that it had no maker’s mark on the bottom. That’s not unusual and doesn’t reflect on the quality of the piece, but it meant it would be next to impossible for me to date it or really learn any more about it. Still, it had been my grandmother’s and that was pretty cool.

One thing that was curious, though, was the seasoning was completely gone from the cooking surface (but not the rest of it), yet there was no rust at all:

The lighting is a little warm, but that’s just the color of the iron; it’s definitely not at all rusty.

Because it seemed so unusual that it would not be seasoned yet not rusty, I asked my mother how she had taken care of it and whether she had purposely removed the seasoning or if it had just flaked off over time, and she responded that she “didn’t know nothing about no seasoning” and had never done anything with it, either giving it special care or purposefully removing the seasoning. She just used Crisco or oil to cook in it, though she didn’t use it much. So really it’s pretty amazing it was in this condition.

The inside was beautiful, but the underside was less pretty; the old seasoning was intact and sort of messy:

Something made me stare at the bottom of it when we got home Sunday night, though. For some reason, I thought possibly I could make out lettering in the gunked-up seasoning on the bottom. But I kept telling myself my eyes were playing tricks on me.

This is where I thought I saw letters, right above the rust.

I wanted to see letters real bad, and I looked at the bottom of that skillet harder than I’ve ever looked at anything in my life (except maybe that one old photograph of Broadway in New York – Mom will know what I’m talking about!). I shoved the skillet in Mark’s face and asked him if he saw letters. To my surprise, he said he did! He did a rubbing for me, which did seem to show something was there, but we couldn’t make it out much better than we could looking at the skillet itself. I stared and stared and stared at that skillet.

I didn’t photograph the skillet that night, but here’s a photo from later, which I have lightened a bit; you can see better where I was seeing the phantom letters:

It came to me abruptly. I was staring as hard as I possibly could at that skillet when suddenly I knew it said WAPAK. It was weird, really. I didn’t know what WAPAK meant, but Google quickly informed me…it was a cast iron company! Honestly, I thought I was going to be googling 5-letter words that looked like – – PA – all night long, because I was still sure my eyes were tricking me and those were the only two letters I was nearly certain about. It was very hard to see it. What’s even more exciting, though, I learned the Wapak company was only in business from 1903 to 1926. This skillet couldn’t have been new to my grandmother – and is definitely older than my beloved Griswold. I don’t know for sure (and my grandmother didn’t confirm or deny when I asked her), but I am pretty sure my grandmother got it from her mother-in-law, my great-grandmother, knowing what I do about my family history. My mom agrees with me. So I suddenly have my great-grandmother’s skillet!

I cleaned it up last night. I took sand paper to the bottom of it. And lo…

There was such a build-up of seasoning on the bottom of the skillet that when I was trying to date it, before I had my revelation, I thought it didn’t have a heat ring. It turns out it does: the seasoning was hiding it.

I got off all the seasoning I was will to exert the energy on with sand paper and took it inside to clean up with steel wool before seasoning.

Then I seasoned it four times. Here it is subsequently looking extremely shiny. There’s no oil in it.

And it’s like a dream! Oh my gosh, it is soooo nice! I was afraid when I got it that I wouldn’t love it as much as my Griswold and I’d feel bad liking the non-family-heirloom skillet better. But it is BETTER! It truly is as smooth as glass and the very first thing I cooked in it was sliding around ridiculously! These Brussels sprouts were chasing each other around like race cars before I completely packed them in!

Because Mark can eat much more than half a skillet of Brussels sprouts, I made two skillets-full of them and had a cook-off between the Griswold and the Wapak:

I don’t know what my life has come to that I spend my Saturday nights pitting two 80-year old skillets against each other in weird Brussels sprouts contests.

Instantly this skillet has become the one thing in my kitchen I will never part with.

Oh, and speaking of cast iron. After mentioning that my parents got a glass top electric stove when they remodeled their kitchen, because they can’t get gas and apparently it’s hard to find non-glass top electric stoves these days, I did some research on ranges. Since we are renting and I can’t very well build the kitchen of my dreams in a rental home, I’ve never looked into them much. It seems glass tops really are prevalent, which is horribly annoying since there is no way in hell I’d ever buy one. I learned about something called induction ranges, though. Apparently they are even better than gas. They cook using a magnetic field. They are instantly responsive to changes in the heat setting and they have a high output. They are also safer than both gas and regular electric stoves. I’m very interested. One of the major disadvantages is you must cook in ferrous (magnetic) cookware. Guess what is extremely ferrous? Cast iron. In fact, cast iron is just about the only thing you can cook in. Which is a-okay with me! I’d miss my Calphalon pots, but if it comes down to me ever having to choose between glass top – giving up my cast iron – and induction – giving up my Calphalon, trust me, great-grandmother’s skillet ain’t going nowhere. And my wok is cast iron, which means basically I’m all set.

Too bad induction ranges cost $3,000 or I’d go break my electric coil stove and make the landlord buy me one! Seriously, though, does anyone have any experience with these?

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Cooking in and caring for cast iron

I was trying to decide what a good dish to make for my post on cooking in and caring for cast iron would be, and thought it would be easiest to make something I’ve already featured so the meal itself isn’t distracting from the tips on using cast iron. I realized that Carolina Red Rice was perfect because it allows me to demonstrate just about everything I want to show you.

Because it is so heavy, cast iron takes a little time to heat up. Once it’s hot, though, it can’t be beat for heat retention. After prepping all my ingredients, I usually set the pan on the burner, set it to medium or medium high, and let it heat for a minute or so while I finish setting everything nearby for my mise en place. After the pan is hot, I add a small amount of oil. There are three basic ways to add oil to the pan: 1) pour it in, then tilt the pan to swirl the oil until it coats the bottom, 2) mist with spray oil, and 3) brush the oil on. I like the last two best because you can use less oil and not only is cast iron heavy, but the handle gets hot (grip it with a tea towel if you need to touch it).

I have this little brush I got in Japantown that I often use:

You could also use a pastry brush that you’ve dedicated to this purpose, or if you must, a paper towel, although I think that’s wasteful. In most cases, you need only a very thin layer or oil.

Wait 30 seconds or so for the oil to heat up, then add whatever you are frying. I’m frying some fake bacon here; I only brushed the smallest amount of oil onto the pan (and I probably could have gotten away with no oil):

Now a word about utensils. The best rule of thumb is to stick to the same utensils you’d use for non-stick cookware, because you don’t want to scratch your seasoning. Scratching the seasoning on a cast iron pan is not the mortal mistake it is on non-stick cookware: the worst that will happen is you have to re-season it, but it’s best to treat it somewhat carefully. That said, the occasional use of metal utensils, such as these tongs, is not going to do any real damage.

It’s my opinion that babying cast iron too much rather defeats one of the main reasons for using it, which is that it’s indestructible. So once your seasoning is in good shape, don’t be afraid to let loose and use whatever utensils you want. You probably don’t to chop anything with a knife while it’s in your cast iron skillet, as that probably will damage your seasoning, but using a metal spatula here and there isn’t going to do significant damage.

Once the bacon was done, I removed it. Here I’m showing you my other preferred method of oiling the skillet: spray oil.

You probably need a lot less oil than you think do – especially after you’ve been using the pan regularly for a few months – so just spritz a little. If stuff starts to stick, I’ll show you what to do.

Now I’ve added the veggies I am sautéing.

Back to utensils again. As I mentioned, you can use any type you prefer (just be mindful not to scratch the seasoning up too much if you use metal), but I like wooden or bamboo best. My favorite utensils are the wooden spoons my mom handed down to me, and I also have this set of bamboo spoons and turners, which is great. They are also perfect for use with a wok as well. I’d go so far as to say my wooden utensils are among the top five most important things in my kitchen.

Sometimes, especially if your seasoning is pretty new, you’ll find food sticking to the pan. Don’t be alarmed, and don’t add more oil. Now, I actually tried to get my onions to stick so I could show you this, and they just refused! So I had to pretend. If your food is sticking, first make sure the heat is high enough. Food is less likely to stick at higher temperatures. To deal with food that’s sticking, deglaze the pan: just add a little stock, wine, or water …

… and stir, scraping off the browned bits and mixing them into rest of the food.

I usually use a little bit of any liquids I have prepared that are to be added later, or if I’m drinking a glass of wine at the time, I just dump some in, or if necessary, I just use water. Here I’ve measured the stock for the recipe; to deglaze the pan, I just poured a little of it into the pan:

The next step in the Carolina Red Rice involved adding additional ingredients including tomatoes, which is a good prompt for me to discuss the cooking of acidic foods in cast iron. Acidic foods like tomatoes like to eat through your seasoning, and for this reason, some people suggest never cooking these foods in cast iron. Some people have also complained of cast iron imparting a metallic taste to tomatoes. While it may be a good idea to shy away from tomatoes and other acidic foods the first few times you use a recently seasoned pan, there is absolutely no reason to not cook any type of food in cast iron once it’s well seasoned. In fact, I bought my first piece of cast iron, a pre-seasoned Lodge Dutch oven, specifically for making tomato sauce because I wanted to get more iron in my diet: it leaches into tomatoes well. If you by a pre-seasoned piece, you should be able to cook tomatoes right away. If you have just seasoned raw cast iron, I’d say use it maybe 5 or 6 times before cooking with tomatoes, just to be on the safe side. If your food tastes at all metallic, it’s not seasoned well enough. Re-season once or twice. What you don’t want to do is let tomatoes sit around in your cast iron for hours on end, but you don’t want anything sitting around in your cast iron for hours: it’s always got to be cleaned right away, which I’ll discuss later. So, by all means add those tomatoes to the skillet! Trust me, nearly everything I make has tomatoes in it.

Next up is another reason to love cast iron, though I didn’t do it when I featured this recipe last time (probably because I planned to refrigerate the leftovers in that Corningware dish). Cast iron can go from burner to oven, in fact, cast iron can withstand any temperature a home oven can throw at it. In fact, some people recommend putting cast iron through the oven’s self-cleaning cycle as a way to remove rust. I’ve never tried it because I’m afraid of the self-cleaning cycle, but I have put cast iron in a 550-degree oven and it couldn’t care less about the heat. Being oven-proof makes cast iron great for, say, browning onions on the stovetop, then tossing in the rest of a casserole’s ingredients and moving the whole thing to the oven to bake.

The original recipe for Carolina Red Rice called for covering the oven-safe casserole with foil, but I always use a lid if I have one. I don’t have a cast iron lid, but I do have a Calphalon lid that fits my skillet, so that’s what I’m using here:

After baking for 40 minutes, the rice was done:

Now, at this point in time, a lot of people would insist that you remove the rice to a serving dish, and then clean your skillet before it cools. The key to cleaning cast iron, they say, is to do it while it’s hot. This is where I am in contention with the hardliners. I’m not saying that cleaning it while it’s hot is not the best way to do it, but I am saying that there is no way I’m going to do it before I eat. I actually do clean up as I cook: all my prep bowls from the mise en place get cleaned up as I go along, and the only thing that’s left over to do later is the very last pan, pot, or dish required by meal. But I like to eat my meals hot and although cleaning cast iron is not the scary ordeal some make it out to be, I’m simply not going to do it until the meal is over.

Often Mark and I will watch a movie while we eat. So sometimes my skillet might sit, unclean, for two hours, as it did tonight. All that rice and tomatoey goodness was just hardening right on to my skillet!

As I said before, if your cast iron is not perfectly seasoned, you may not want to let acidic products sit in it for too long because they are corrosive, so if you have a newly seasoned piece and you’ve cooked tomatoes in it, that’s one case in which I would say you should move the food from the pan before sitting down to eat, especially if it’s going to be a while before you get around to cleaning it up. Otherwise, it’s okay to go enjoy your meal before cleaning up. It’s not okay to wait until tomorrow to clean up, but an hour or two isn’t going to hurt the pan.

After you’ve eaten, remove most of the food from the skillet, preferably with your wooden tools.

The key is to do as little cleaning as you can get away with. Ninety-five percent of the time, I can get away with rinsing the pan out and maybe wiping lightly with a soft sponge: no soap and no abrasive scrubbies.

Soap is the enemy. Or rather, most soaps are the enemy. Most dish detergents are made to cut oil, and while that’s great in most cases, it’s exactly what you don’t want when the oil in question is seasoning your pan! A small amount of very mild soap isn’t going to ruin your seasoning, but dish detergent will. Honestly, once your pan is seasoned well enough, even washing with dish detergent once in a while isn’t going to hurt it, but once you get the hang of it you’ll realize you don’t ever need dish detergent on cast iron.

Never plunge a hot cast iron pot into tepid or even warm water. The rapid change in temperature could cause it to crack, which is just about the only way you can possibly destroy cast iron. Never soak cast iron. If I need to lightly scrub the pan, I use a bamboo brush, just as I do on my wok. If there is gunk that’s being very resistant, simply fill the pan with water and bring to a boil; simmer for a couple of minutes, then remove from heat and pour the water off. The gunk should slide right off with it.

If you simply can not get rid of baked-on food, even after boiling water in the pan, sprinkle some salt in the pan and rub with a paper towel, then rinse with water and re-season. I’ve actually never had to do this. Boiling water in it for a minute or two has always cleaned it right out with no problem.

When the pan is clean, dry it completely with a towel. Never let it air dry.

Cast iron’s biggest enemy is rust. It’s not a very formidable enemy because it’s pretty easy to clean up, but even so, since it takes a few months of regular use to get a beautiful seasoning, it sucks to have to start over again. To avoid rust, keep the pan dry at all times. One of the reasons I told you in the seasoning tutorial to season the outer as well as inner surface of the pan was because the seasoning helps prevent rust. (The other reason is so you can use it as a grill press!)

After the pan has been cleaned and dried, you can prepare it for storage. There are three ways you can do this, and you can decide which to do based on how roughly you treated it during its last use and cleaning. 1) You can do nothing: simply store the clean, dry pan wherever you keep it. This is the method to use if you used it lightly and the seasoning is in good shape. If all you had to do to clean it was wipe it out and the seasoning looks black and shiny, you don’t need to do anything else. 2) Spritz lightly with oil and store. If the pan seems a little dry or looks sort of matte, you can spray it lightly with oil before storing. Sometimes I’ll rub the oil in with my fingertips (I don’t find it necessary to waste a paper towel for this). 3) Do a light re-seasoning. If the pan got pretty dirty and you had to work pretty hard to get it clean and you really want to give it a special treatment before putting it away, spray or rub the interior of the pan with a thin film of oil, then heat the pan over medium high heat for about 5 to 10 minutes, allowing the oil to bake on. Let it cool then store. You can do this while you are cleaning up other stuff in the kitchen.

I usually do #1 or 2, but it never hurts to do #3, so when in doubt, season! Here I’ve sprayed it lightly with oil:

Then I just rubbed with my fingertips:

And that’s pretty much it. The main thing I want to stress is cast iron is not as big a deal as some people make it out to be. It’s strength is its durability. You have to remember a few things, primarily that water is the enemy of iron, but for the most part, you can really do anything with it and that’s what makes it so great. The only things you can’t do is leave it soaking in the sink overnight or put it in the dishwasher. I actually forgot to mention the dishwasher before now because it would never even occur to me to put a pot or pan into the dishwasher. But please don’t put cast iron in the dishwasher. Or the wooden utensils I recommended. Those don’t go in the dishwasher either. (Putting wood in the dishwasher actually opens its pores and infects it with bacteria! And if it didn’t rust first, the same thing would probably happen to cast iron as well…it’s porous, believe it or not, and heating it causes it to become more so.)

You’re not going to ruin your cast iron, though. There’s no need to be afraid of it. The main thing to do is just use it often. In fact, I meant to mention this in my previous post, but one of my recommendations is to not buy a full set of cast iron. You don’t need one in every size. Buy one large skillet, then later buy one small skillet if you feel you need it. And a Dutch oven if you like. But the best thing you can for your cast iron is to use it, and if you only have one skillet, you’ll have to use the same one all the time, and the seasoning on it will just keep getting better and better. A couple of months after getting my cast iron skillet, I can’t even make things stick to it when I try!

I started writing this post up while the rice was baking, then when it was ready, Mark and I went downstairs to eat and watch TV for a couple of hours. When we came back upstairs to clean up, we found this:

That’s Brachtune sitting on this post. She had typed a lot of Zs. Oh my, how many Zs she had typed in the middle of this post. Bad cat!

Also, today was Free Comic Book Day. Mark and I got free comics at our local comic book store. And also spent $60 on comics. I see how this works.

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Seasoning cast iron – without lard

As I said before, I am sorry I don’t have more skillets to give away because I wish I could give skillets to everyone who wanted them. As it turns out, Poopiebitch won the drawing for the skillets, and Lisa of Cravin’ Veggies won the bread pan. But as a consolation prize for everyone else, I decided to write up a tutorial on seasoning cast iron. Why? Because cast iron is very cheap and completely awesome and I want those of you who need skillets but are low on funds to consider it.

You can buy new cast iron pots and pans just about anywhere. Fortinbras wanted to pass on a tip for you: he suggests buying them in a camping store, where you can find the same pieces you’ll find in the fancy, expensive cooking stores for much cheaper. I bought a large Martha Stewart raw cast iron skillet at K-Mart for ten or fifteen dollars. “Raw” means the skillet is un-enameled and completely unseasoned. (Martha Stewart also sells reasonably-priced enameled cast iron pots.) Lodge is the most popular modern-day maker of cast iron in the United States and often what you will find in camping stores. Lodge also sells “pre-seasoned” cast iron. I have a pre-seasoned Lodge dutch oven. Buying pre-seasoned cast iron saves you the step of cleaning the pot or pan and gives you a head start on seasoning, but it also costs more money and in my opinion isn’t worth it. Lodge pieces are nice as far as modern cast iron goes and the pre-seasoned stuff isn’t bad, it’s just misleading because you still have to season it, and if you’re seasoning anyway, you might as well save your money and do it all yourself.

My favorite way to buy cast iron is to find the vintage stuff. Griswold is the most collectible and therefore the most expensive. Griswold stopped producing cast iron in 1957, so any Griswold pan is at least that old. My large skillet is a Griswold No. 9 from the 1930s. I LOVE it. Remember my omelette from a few nights ago?

The only oil I used in that pan is a very light spritzing of olive oil from my mister and that omelette didn’t stick one bit. People aren’t lying when they say properly seasoned cast iron is “practically non-stick”. I lucked out when I found that skillet; I think I only paid $50 or $60 for it and it barely needed to be cleaned; I just seasoned with one coat of shortening and began using it heavily and it’s now perfect. Griswold pans often go for more than a hundred dollars. But the point of this tutorial is helping you find cheap pans. So forget Griswold, unless you find it in a thrift store or yard sale where the owner doesn’t know what they are giving away (and in that case, grab it). There are reasons the quality of a Griswold pan is higher than others, but those reasons are very negligible.

The reason to buy vintage over modern is nearly all cast iron made before the 1950s is alleged to be of a higher quality than what they sell today. The main reason is the surface of modern cast iron is not entirely smooth; it is slightly bumpy. Run your fingers over the surface of a Lodge piece and you’ll see what I mean. The surface of my Griswold, on the other hand, is very smooth – often referred to as “glass-like”. The other reason to buy vintage is I just like old stuff. I prefer owning stuff that has a history. But that’s just me. If it’s easier for you or cheaper for you or if you simply prefer to find modern cast iron, go for it. You won’t have to work as hard to clean it at any rate. If you do buy vintage, don’t worry about superficial rust. In fact, you can often find amazing deals on rusty cast iron because the seller doesn’t realize how easy it is to remove and clean. The only thing you need to worry about when buying old cast iron is cracks or warping. The piece should sit level, and also not be cracked. Cracked cast iron pretty much can’t be repaired, at least not cost-effectively.

When I gave away my Calphalon skillets, the only real sacrifice I was making was the small skillet, which I sometimes used for toasting seeds and the like. I wanted to keep the set together, though, and also welcomed the opportunity to buy a small cast iron skillet. So yesterday I went to my favorite antique mall, where I got the Griswold, and found two No. 3 skillets. I couldn’t decide which I wanted. One was a Wagner, which is another really good brand, but it was rusty, and one was unmarked with a logo, but because it has what’s called a heat ring, is probably the older piece, and was also in slightly better condition. As they were only $7 each, I just got them both!

Now I’m going to show you how to clean and season these pans, but I want to make it known that I am NOT an expert at this. I’ve seasoned my cast iron wok, and I lightly re-seasoned my Griswold skillet, and I continued-seasoning my pre-seasoned Lodge dutch oven, and I didn’t run into any problems with any of them, so I think my method works, but I don’t have years of experience or anything.

A lot of people recommend seasoning cast iron with bacon fat or lard. And I have no doubt they are both excellent ways to season, and definitely the most time-honored. This would be how all vintage cast iron was originally seasoned. But obviously I don’t use animal products so neither is an option for me. Also, don’t think it’s out of the ordinary to not use animal fats because many people recommend using things like palm oil. If you research cast iron seasoning on the internet, you’ll find all kinds of conflicting advice. People advising vegetable oil; people saying vegetable oil makes cast iron sticky. People saying use 250 degree Fahrenheit ovens; people saying use 550 degrees – and anything in between. I’m not a scientist so I can’t tell you scientifically which methods are best. What you essentially want to do is oil the cast iron and then heat it up hot enough and long enough that the oil carbonizes, permanently adhering to the iron and creating the “non-stick” patina. I have found that using Earth Balance shortening and a 500-degree oven has worked perfectly. If you can’t get or don’t want to use Earth Balance, I would try palm oil, which the primary oil in EB shortening. You can pretty much season with any oil, but your results may be different than mine.

If you have a brand new or a dirty old pan (the non-pre-seasoned new ones come with a waxy covering that needs to be removed), you need to scrub them completely clean. The very fortunate of you who can find a vintage piece that is clean and has a nice, smooth surface, as I was when I found my Griswold, can skip this step. You can use a steel wool pad to remove the rust:

Just start scrubbing away!

I got rid of most of the rust in just a few minutes:

But then I scrubbed some more:

I got off all of the rust – that’s the most important thing – but I didn’t remove all of the old seasoning. I could have, and I’d have ended up with a smoother surface, but I was tired of scrubbing, and eventually after use, the seasoning will even out.

Next, get your oven ready. Place one rack in the upper half of the oven, with the second rack immediately below it. Place a large cookie sheet or piece of foil on the lower rack. This will catch any dripping oil. Heat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Yes, my oven needs to be cleaned.)

Heat the pan over medium-low heat and place a small pat of shortening (or a small amount, depending on the pan size, of oil) in it:

Allow it to melt as the pan gets warm. When it’s completely melted, take a paper towel and completely rub all surfaces of the pan, coating them in a THIN layer of oil. I didn’t bother with the handles of my vintage pieces, so I could grip them with my oven mitts (they were seasoned already anyway), but all other surfaces, including the bottom, should be covered:

Place the pan(s) in the oven, upside down, directly over the baking sheet/foil. It doesn’t matter if the oven is not entirely pre-heated yet.

Close the oven door, and optionally open any nearby windows. It may get a little smoky, in fact, you want a bit of smoke; it means the process is proceeding properly. It may also smell a little funky.

Let the pan bake for about an hour, then remove it and let it cool on top the stove for about 10 minutes. It should look darker than it did when you began, though it may still be gray:

Repeat the process, beginning at melting the small pat of shortening in the warm pans …

… and smearing on all surfaces. Note that after use, the paper towel is essentially still white. If after wiping with the shortening, the paper towel becomes dirty, one of two things probably went wrong: 1) you didn’t thoroughly clean the piece or 2) you didn’t bake it hot or long enough.

Repeat the oiling / baking process three or four times, depending on how much time you have and how thoroughly it was originally seasoned. As I said, I only baked my Griswold once, but I did these skillets three times. Here’s the end result:

When they are thoroughly seasoned, they will be completely black and their surface should be relatively smooth. You don’t have to complete all of your baking cycles in one day, though I find it relaxing to dedicate an afternoon to it; it gives me an excuse not to leave the house and I just spent the whole day reading and drinking tea.

It’s best to cook something pretty greasy the first few times you use the pan, I’m told, to help break it in and finish curing it. I sauteed some shallots in each of mine for dinner tonight and they performed marvelously. This post is getting long, so I’ll save cooking in cast iron, and taking care of cast iron, for one or two later posts if you guys are interested. I really do recommend that those of you who feel you can’t afford nice cookware consider cast iron. It’s one of the few instances in life where the best quality you can buy is some of the cheapest! It just takes a little start-up effort and a little consideration when cleaning, but the rewards are huge. Most non-stick cookware is pretty much disposable. It doesn’t last long, can’t be heated very hot, requires special utensils, often contains a known carcinogen, and has to be thrown out the moment the surface is scratched. Invest in cast iron and you’ll have an heirloom you can hand down to generation after generation of your children, and actually contains nutrients instead of carcinogens! That’s right – cooking in cast iron imparts nutritional iron – which vegans can be low on – to your food! It’s practically impossible to destroy cast iron: no matter what you do to it, the worst case scenario is you have to repeat this tutorial. Furthermore, after a few months of use, my cast iron skillet is more non-stick than the one Calphalon non-stick pan I have (most of mine are not non-stick because I don’t like or trust it)!

That wraps up the tutorial, but here are a couple of related photos for you. First, I mentioned I spent the day reading and drinking tea. I make most of my tea in a cast iron tea pot! (Man, I love cast iron!) Here’s my tetsubin, which I got in San Francisco’s Japantown, with one of the Chinese tea cups my mom gave me:

Next up is a pic that might make a lot of other cast iron aficionados shudder. I mentioned above I once bought a Martha Stewart brand cast iron skillet for next to nothing, despite the fact I said I prefer to use old items. The reason I bought this one new was it was cheap and I wasn’t planning to season it or cook in it. It lives in my oven as a steam pan for bread baking. I wanted cast iron because although it will rust, it will not warp, and it stays hot, producing the amount of steam I want. Here is what happens when you allow cast iron to remain in contact with water!

As bad as that pan looks, though, if I wanted to, I could clean it up with no problem.

I’ve mentioned before that I essentially have just one baking rack in my oven, because I keep a huge stone and the afore-pictured steam pan in there. I removed the stone today for my seasoning:

All that stuff is just baked on; the black splotches are pizza sauce. The stone is actually becoming seasoned itself this way. The only maintenance it requires is brushing crumbs out. If you are at all into making pizza or hearth breads, FibraMent baking stones are expensive but worth the investment. Yesterday I baked these two sourdough loaves at the same time on one baking stone:

Alright, more cast iron information coming up if there is interest, and I’ve got to get around to making dinner – using those skillets – now!

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