Monday, April 29, 2013

Warning! And Salad!

  May I just say: Spring is coming to the Raggedy Garden! Outdoor living is just around the corner. Cast iron pans can be used on the grill. With excellent results. Like if you want to make breakfast outside on warm, sweet mornings. Yup.

               Now, about warnings, and Salads......

           Just a warning. You never grab the handle of a cast iron pan when it is hot. Never. Never. Grab a hot pad, oven mitt, thick towel, anything that will protect your hand from HOT iron. This is even more important than never, never wash cast iron with soap.  (my apologies to the Kullaklan)
           Salad has nothing to do with cast iron what so ever. And, who doesn't know how to make a salad? I didn't. I came from Minnesota. Did you know that they call a bowl of chopped up lettuce a Minneasota Salad? I'm thinking that Minnesotans have gotten more savvy since those days. No offense meant. But I have picked up alot of great salad hints over the years, and the different places I have been. Of course, you could go on for many sentences about all the different kinds of salads. This story is about Chef Salads.
            So far this year I have been the giver, and receiver of many, many meals. Make A Meal is a super deal! When you are sick, sad, ultra busy, grieving or joyful, it's the nicest sight in the world when someone comes through the door with a nice meal. It slides a big load off your shoulders. If you are making a meal for someone, you try to think of something easy to carry around, something that will stay nice and fresh for the car ride, and you hope it won't be what the other five people brought that week already.
             So one day, I was wracking my brains over what to make. There would probably be alot of people, as there was family from all over at the house. Visions of a nice crunchy Chef Salad came dancing through my head, and the more I thought, the better it seemed. Easy to make up, easy to transport, good to eat, and easy clean up. How can you beat that!
             When you bring a meal, of course, you use tossable foil containers, so no one has to try to get all kinds of containers back  and remember what belongs to who. So I used a big roasting pan for the greens. Thats easy, just get some nice dark green Romaine, cuz' thats the letuce thats good for you. I like to add some fancy greens, just for color and form and fun and flavour. Garden lettuce comes in wonderfully here, if its that time of year. If not, then just use a bag mix or search through the produce section for frisee, radicchio, leafy greens, spinach, what ever looks good. Then I just slice up your other veggies, carrots, cucumbers, onions, peppers (use different colors), radishes, sugar peas, tomatoes (little ones are nice), what ever strikes your fancy, and place them along the edges, so folks can take what they like.
              Then use a 9x13 and fill it up with meats and cheeses, sliced hard boiled eggs. Send along a package of dried fruit and some bacon bits. You can bring salad dressing if you want, but people usually have what they like in their Fridge.  Then just add some fresh homemade bread, rolls or muffins, and you're set!

      Its easy to make it look special, too, by using a little imagination.
             Chef Salads are nice to do for a smaller bunch, in individual bowls, too. If they are going to be eaten fairly soon, they are much enhanced by adding chopped apples, pears, or citrus and nuts. Chopped walnuts, sliced almonds, cashews, or the candied nuts are good, too. Also, I like to cut the lettuce in small pieces. It's not so messy. At least I always dislike trying to eat a salad with such big chunks of lettuce that you have to try to get it all in your mouth, or a piece of lettuce will fall on me or the table (awkward), or you try to cut it in your bowl, and stuff flies around (embarrassing).

              I like using a soup bowl for these.It seems to make a perfect portion. With summer coming on, this is always good hot weather food. If I'm doing a big one, for a crowd, I will get a spiral sliced ham (usually the cheapest meat you can find at the grocery), and either cook up some reasonably priced chicken you have in the freezer or a turkey, the day before you make the salad. It always tastes better than deli meats. You can do all the work enough ahead of time so you can sit around and enjoy your company rather than being stuck in the kitchen by your lonesome while others are laughing and talking and having a good time.
              Chef Salads are nice, because you can basically just use what ever you happen to have around. You can use your imagination and pick up some fancy additions if you want to go that direction. Your guests are always impressed. It tastes so good. It's good for you. Even the iron horse cowboy ( who thinks vegetables are what meat eats ) is impressed and praises the meal when he has his stack of meat covering up the greens.
             Don't burn your hand! Eat salad. Have a good day!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Smokin' Rainbows

          Freshly caught rainbow trout, in the spring, cooked up in a smokin' hot cast iron skillet. It melts in your mouth. It tears up your taste buds. It lingers on your tongue.  Maybe you can go a fishing. There must be a rod and a reel around somewhere, just waiting for you. Sneak the kids, or the iron horse cowboys, thats what I do. A rushy litttle brook, some warm sunshine on your back, some rubber boots, and you are off. If not, you might be lucky enough to have a young 'un that likes to fish, or an old retired friend that will gift you with his catch. You can clean it yourself, or sweet talk some one else into doing it. Have 'em cut off the head and tail, then cut down the middle, and you have a nice butterfly fillet to cook.
         A picture can't convey the beauty of the rainbow. In the water, nor when he jumps out, swirling and flashing in the sunlight, spraying you with drops of diamond glitter water. There he is, plump and ready for the pan. You need to heat up that skillet, so it's smokin' hot. When you plop in that dab of butter, you want it to smoke and sizzle in the pan, and turn immediately brown. Drop in your butterfly fillet. Careful, now, don't let it splatter's smokin' hot! About five minutes should be good. The skin will be crisp and crinkly and the flesh pink and flakey. Slide a fork under the back bone, and it will glide right off. Stick the bones off to the side. Turn off your heat. Brush the trout with some heavy cream and sprinkle it with finely crushed Ritz crumbs. Put the trout,( in the pan), under your pre heated broiler and let it brown nicely. Done! Sweet! Eat it up. Sit there staring at your empty plate, almost wishing you had some more.
       Clean up your mess! There's not much , everything was done in that one cast iron skillet! When it cools wipe it down, rinse with hot water, and set it away for the next good thing that happens along.I have a cast iron cooking range, too. I use it when the weathers cold and the fire burns and crackles. You gotta keep that wood box full, though. Said one small boy the other day, as he dropped in an arm load of wood, "I can't believe you are making me do this." Quite under his breath, so the iron horse cowboy would not hear. But he did it, none the less, and beamed at me as he strode back out the door.
      When iron horse and I first started house keeping, we were rather poverty stricken. We would rent a row boat every evening for the large sum of $1.00 and catch our limit of rainbows. Then it was trout and eggs for breakfast. It was good, and good for you, they say. Sometimes I remember back then, how much fun it was and how good trout and eggs tastes, when you are hungry.So maybe, I'll go a fishing in the morning.. Come over for breakfast!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Cast Iron Yumminess Cookie

               The Raggedy Garden dwellers are cast iron cooks. This is literal truth telling, because I have cooked with the same cast iron pans all the years. It is also innuendo truth telling, because the Raggedy Garden cowboy thinks that I have a cast iron stomach. The reason he thinks this is because he is a meat and potatoes and eggs man. And I have been known to try various other dainties like quiche... quiche is made of eggs, but that "quiche" word is suspicious. I know the Readers Digest had a story called "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche", back in the 70's, but if I was a man I would say, "Just for that I WILL eat quiche". Oysters , they were on the half shell, all smothered with creamy sauce and cheese and stuff...I think there might have been an oyster in there somewhere, but I'm not sure. Escargot....It was soup. It was rather salty. The escargot were chopped up in miniscule pieces. Soup de Escargot sounds much better than snail soup. And you don't envision all those critters you war against in your garden. Or, if you are from the Pacific Northwest, they do not look anything like slugs, which are bigger, slimmier snails with no shells. Brie and Feta. Yes, I've tried both. A chunk of Brie , slathered with maple and wrapped in pastry? Yes! Feta? Not so much. And corn chowder, which I dearly love, thick and bacony and loaded with corn...But he says they tried to make him eat it in school and it looked and tasted like dirty dish water. So, I make a mean corn chowder, but only for some one else, or if the cowboy is off on his iron horse.
          Cast iron is easy to cook with. They have every shape of cast iron pan you can imagine, beside skillets. Muffin tins, cornbread pans that look like ears of corn, dutch ovens, tea kettles, griddles, you name it. I have a 10 inch and an 8 inch skillet and a big dutch oven, with legs. It has a permanent spot on my wood kitchen range. It weighs a ton. You wouldn't want to be huffing it around too much. When you need a large amount of soup or stew, or chili, or a ham or a roast that you want to slow cook, it is just the ticket. The two skillets, I use them for everything. Breakfast turns out beautifully in them. Eggs...perfect over easys. Pancakes, french toast, grilled english muffins or bagels...evenly browned and golden. Unless I wander off with my nose in a good cook book  or something, and forget about them. ( Then they can be the color and shape of charcoal briquets.)  They even have cast iron waffle makers, but you can't plug 'em in!
        Cast iron is easy to care for. Alot of times, you can just wipe them out, after they are cooled off, with a paper towel. Of course you are never, may I add NEVER, supposed to use soap on cast iron. But if you're clean squirmmy,  you will feel like you have to. That's okay. Just do it. Make sure you rinse well with hot, hot water and air dry. I always just leave mine on the stove top, and they have never rusted. If they do get rusty looking, you need to coat them well with cooking oil and put them in a warm oven for a few hours, and they will look like new again.
       My friend, Cindy, has a covetable collection of cast iron, and guess what? Her mother doesn't dare to eat at her house, because she doesn't wash her pans with soap! Sigh. You still gotta love your mother, even if she's difficult sometimes. Remember all the times she stuck up for you, when you were being difficult.
        Makes just right grilled cheeses for lunch. Supper, they fry up steaks and hamburgs and chicken. Wonderful for stir fry. In the oven they go for scalloped potatoes, mac and cheese, any casserole....Baked beans, meatloaf, they all come out like they are supposed to. And , of course, dessert and goodies! Why not? You can bake a fine round loaf of bread, (who decided sandwiches have to be in a loaf shape?) some cinnamon rolls, pie...and of course a cast iron cookie!
         So, why a cookie in a skillet? Well, all you need is the skillet, a wooden spoon, and a measuring cup. No dirty dishes and mixing bowls and cookie sheets. That should be enough right there!

                                      Cast Iron Yumminess Cookies
                                          Preheat oven to 375
                                            1 cup brown sugar
                                            1/2 cup granulated sugar
                                            1 cup soft margarine
                                            1 teaaaspoon vanilla
                                            2 eggs
                                            2 cups flour
                                            1 1/4 cup old fashioned oats
                                            1 teaspoon baking soda
                                            1 teaspoon salt
                                            2 cups of yumminess, your choice
                                      ( I used chocolate chips, raisins and craisins )
                                            can use any flavor chips, nuts, marshmallows,
                                            whatever seems good to you.
      I didn't take the margarine out to soften soon enough, so I put it in the skillet on low heat to soften it up some. Don't melt it, just soften it. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Dump in the flour and oats, baking soda and salt. Mix in. Your wooden spoon works great for this. If you don't have a wooden spoon, you will just have to use something else. A wooden spoon is best, though. ( I will tell you about wooden spoons another day.)   Mix in your goodies. Slide the skillet in the heated oven and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes.

                 Here's where the maple sugar makers come in the house for coffee. They think house smells really good. You cut them big, pie slab sized pieces, all hot and melty, with a scoop of ice cream, and this is all you have left. They think you are magic, or something, and groan contentedly. No muss, no fuss, just a cast iron skillet and a wooden spoon.
        *** If you need gluten free, just whizz up enough oats (in the blender) to make 2 cups of oat flour, instead of the regular flour.                         

              Of course, if you don't have a cast iron pan, you can just drop these by tablespoon-fuls on a cookie sheet. They would, no doubt be good cookies, but just regular, plain old cookies.. no pizzaz! Have fun, and eat cookies, with love from the Raggedy Garden..