Re-seasoning cast iron

breakfast

Frittata, dressed greens and toasted homemade Italian bread.

My mom bought me my first cast iron skillet as a Christmas gift a few years ago. The skillet is 12″, pre-seasoned and I still love it with all of my heart. I use the thing constantly—for searing steaks, frying eggs, making pizza, and even roasting chicken. The first thing I set out to make in the skillet was a frittata. I imagined the crispy edges and browned bottom of the omelet and began to tear through my refrigerator picking up veggies, cheeses, and meats along the way. 

Well, I guess I could have made a frittata in my 12″ but then I began to think of more than a half dozen of eggs staring me down and it quickly lost its appeal. So, I set out on a quest to find something in the 6-8″ range, searching department store sales and restaurant supply stores. There were plenty to choose from but I quickly found the perfect one at a thrift store outside of Philly. 

I had seen cast iron skillets in thrift stores before but they were usually heavily spotted with rust or cracked so I often passed right by them. This one was a 6″ and had a few of the tell-tale signs of extended use but looked pretty good overall. The pan was sporting a $3 price tag so I decided to take the risk and see if I could bring that baby back to life. 

As it turns out, re-seasoning a cast iron is not difficult. As long as the pan is not cracked and rusting right through, you should be able to clean it up. First, use steel wool or a scouring pad and scrape all the blackened bits and rusty spots from the bottom of the pan with some hot water and a mild soap. Next, dry your pan and turn your oven up to as high as it will go. Let it heat up for 10 minutes or so while you grease up the pan. For this step you can use oil, bacon fat, lard, or even Crisco. I used olive oil because I had it on hand but the choice is yours. Put your pan inside of the pre-heated oven and bake for about 45 minutes. Carefully take the pan out and allow to cool down. Depending on the condition of your pan, you may need to re-grease and bake again to get that nice, non-stick finish. It also helps to cook some fatty foods in it to help with the seasoning (bacon, anyone?). 

Once your pan is in tip-top shape, all you have to do is maintain the season. I wash my pan with warm water and scrub with a bit of course sea salt for when it’s particularly crusty. After every use you should be oiling up your pan and heating it on the stove just until smoke begins to appear. Turn off the heat, maybe give it a quick wipe, and always remember to let it cool before storing. 

castiron

Believe me, that first frittata will be worth the wait and the work.

Frittata:

The best thing about a frittata is you can put absolutely anything in it. Really! Use your imagination and don’t forget to leave some ideas in the comments section. 

6″ cast iron skillet

1 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. diced shallot
1 chicken sausage (I used sweet Italian), chopped small
4 eggs
1 oz. goat cheese, softened
1 cup chopped mixed greens
salt and pepper to taste. 
 
Preheat oven to 375 with a rack in the top third of the oven. 
 
In a small bowl, beat eggs. Add goat cheese and whisk together—it’s okay if there are still a few clumps because they will melt up when you bake the frittata.
 
In your newly seasoned cast iron skillet, saute shallot and chicken sausage in butter over medium heat. Add greens.
 
When the greens have just started to wilt, add egg and cheese mixture and continue to cook over medium heat until the sides and bottom begin to set—about 5 minutes or so. You can run a silicone spatula around the edges to check its progress. When the frittata is mostly set (the top will still look a little runny), transfer your pan into the preheated oven and allow to cook until puffy and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can broil it although I often forget things in the broiler and have set off the smoke detector one too many times. :-/
 
Allow to cool for a few minutes then run that spatula around the edges, loosening the omelet from the pan. Transfer to a cutting board, slice and serve! 
 
 
 
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Tips on meal planning and food budgets

Hopefully you’ve all begun to recover from your holiday gluttony and are well on your way to a healthier and happier 2013. This week has been all about exercise, raw vegetables and as little cheese as possible (I’ve still had some cheese—I mean, come on, I’m only human). But one of my biggest resolutions has been focusing on my food budget. I often find myself SO excited about a new recipe that I’ll run out, buy a bunch of ingredients and get cracking. Sometimes, these dishes only yield a serving or two, leaving me with no leftovers and another trip to the grocery store in my near future. Since my current salary doesn’t allow for this, I’ve started carefully planning my meals and grocery trips. If you’re in the same boat as me, here are a few tips on how to make your groceries stretch without emptying your wallet.

First things first—do a quick inventory of your pantry. It’s easy to forget about that bag of rice or those cans of garbanzo beans leftover from a hummus making spree. With each new grocery trip, they’re just pushed further back into the dark corners of your pantry. Now, that’s not to say that you should be using anything that’s been in your cabinet since the ’60s, but you catch my drift (I’ve gotten into the habit of writing the date when my grains were first opened—that way I can eliminate any stale flavors). Once you know what you have, you can start to split the portions up into meals. Half cup of quinoa on Tuesday, half pound of pasta for Wednesday… Next, I’ll take a look at any dairy, veggies or other goods in my refrigerator. Is there anything a few days away from the sell-by date? Those items should be first priority on your menu. The key is to limit the amount of waste and get the most out of your purchases.

Now comes the fun part. Sit your butt down (maybe with a favorite cookbook or food blog) and start brainstorming recipes. I tend to look for meals that will make good leftovers or ones that can be reworked into new meals. For example, a roast chicken is your best friend. The first night you get the real deal. Then the remaining chicken can be used for sandwiches, hash, tacos, soups—use your imagination! After you’ve cleared the leftover meat from the carcass, you can boil down the bones with leftover veggie ends and VOILA!-chicken stock that can be frozen and repurposed for soups, braises, or cooking liquid for your grains. (Tip: When I’m chopping up my veggies, I toss onion ends, carrot peels, mushroom stems or whatever other veggie ‘waste’ is lying around in a plastic bag and stick it in the freezer for future stock making. Chances are, you would have thrown them out or composted them anyway so why not use them for another meal?). That brings me to another point—your freezer is crucial to making meals last. No one wants to eat a bowl of chili every meal for a week. Just take half that pot, split it into a couple of containers or bags, date it and pop it in the freezer. That’ll give you a quick, homemade meal you can defrost a week or two later. The Brown Eyed Baker has a great post on organizing your freezer here.

Last but not least, do a little deal hunting. I’ve never been a coupon cutter or circular browser but sometimes you can find a great sale on that perfect cut of steak or your favorite brand of canned tomatoes just by looking around. Whole Foods, for example puts their weekly circular online so you can see what’s on sale before you leave your house—this is especially helpful for us North Brooklyners who are a hike and an L-train ride away from the closest location.

Don’t worry, we can get through this together. Happy Austere January!