**Please note: To see the photos contained within a post, you must click on the title of the post to open it separately. Why? I don't know. I just know that it needs to be done to see the pics. :)

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I am adding a new series to the blog: “Ask The Pan Handler.”

Once or twice a month (or more or less as time permits), I will respond to reader questions on the blog. If you want to ask a question, you can find the contact form for the Ask The Pan Handler series in the footer on the site, or by clicking here. Please be as specific as possible with your question, and provide clear photographs if you are asking me to help with identification of a piece. If you submit a question, I will consider it for an upcoming “Ask The Pan Handler” post in the blog. Specific instructions are found on the Ask The Pan Handler contact form.

When I started this business, I learned very quickly that people all over the United States were interested in learning more about their personal vintage cast iron cookware. With the ever-increasing interest in eco-friendly and healthful cooking, the enthusiasm continues to grow. I have received many, many calls and emails from people asking me questions about their personal vintage cast iron cookware. People might have a piece of cast iron cookware that has been handed down through the generations, or they have found a great old piece somewhere, and they are very excited to learn more information about the heritage of the pan, or cleaning of the pan, how to remove rust, etc. I am thrilled that so many people are excited about vintage cast iron cookware, and I wish that I had the resources to personally answer all of the questions I receive. As I don’t, I figured the next-best-thing would be to answer select reader questions and publish them on the blog for all to see. If I don’t know the answer, I can reach out to others in the cast iron community for assistance – other collectors have always been very generous with me in sharing their knowledge. That way I can share my love of vintage cast iron, and we can all  learn together and row in our enthusiasm for vintage cast iron cookware!

Please do continue to do your own research before sending off an email. I won’t be able to respond to individual questions, and I won’t be able to respond to all questions. It will also take some time before an answer to a question might pop up on the blog. So in the meantime, do take a look at the links on my FAQs page to learn more about your vintage cast iron cookware. You might also check out the pretty lengthy photo-saturated blog post on identification of unmarked cast iron cookware. Just a little leg work on your part will turn up a wealth of information!

Sometimes, though, you just can’t find an answer. In that case, “Ask The Pan Handler!”

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All photos courtesy the talented Sarah Lamb of S.Lamb Photography, (c) 2015.

Chris and Linda – First Place!

Chris and Linda took first place at the November 2015 cast iron cooking competition sponsored by The Pan Handler LLC. They prepared a tasty “deconstructed apple pie” in Griswold Aebleskiver pans, and served it alongside cinnamon ice cream. We all oohed and aahed – ’twas delicious, and a great ending to all of the fabulous food we enjoyed that day.

Deconstructed Apple Pie in Aebleskiver Pans

Ingredients

Apples:

1 box puff pastry (found in the freezer section)

7 small Granny Smith apples

½ stick butter

Sprinkle of cinnamon

Juice of one lemon

Sauce:

½ c pecans

½ c brown sugar

½ t cinnamon

¼ c Craisins

½ stick butter

½ c apple juice

Cornstarch

Whipped cream or cinnamon ice cream. Directions 

Defrost and unroll puff pastry, cutting each sheet into 9 equal squares. Invert the Aebleskiver pan (could also use a muffin, popover, or gem pan) and drape puff pastry over the upside-down cups, using every other cup so they do not touch. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, pulling out occasionally to press pastry down onto cups. Remove when golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Apple Filling

Core and peel apples. Cut in half across width of apple. Place peeled apples in bowl with ½ of the juice of one lemon and water. Let apples sit for a few minutes. Place ½ to 1 tsp of butter in each cup of the Aebleskiver pan. Put one half of an apple in each cup. It is okay to press the apples in the cups if they don’t perfectly fit. Sprinkle apples with a small amount of lemon juice and cinnamon. Bake apples at 400 degrees for 15 minutes Let cool in pan, and run a sharp, small knife around the edge of each cup to loosen each apple.

Pecans

Toast pecans in a small cast iron skillet over medium heat with 2T butter. Add 1 T brown sugar and ½ t cinnamon. Stir to coat. Remove from heat; set aside.

Sauce

Heat all sauce ingredients on stovetop. Whisk occasionally. Reduce volume to 2/3rds original. Thicken with cornstarch as needed. It is best to dissolve the cornstarch in a small amount of apple juice before adding to the saucepan – reducing clumps Set aside, keep warm.

Assembly

Place pastry cups on serving plate. Put ½ apple, cut side up, into each shell and put ¼ c. sauce mixture on each. Sprinkle with caramelized pecans and serve with cinnamon ice cream.

Chris and Linda’s deconstructed apple pie served alongside cinnamon ice cream.

Thank you so much for participating, Chris and Linda, and congratulations on your big win!

Learning they had been assigned dessert. I think they had been hoping for appetizer or main!

Linda knew that the pan was an Aebleskiver; they had a leg up already!

Working away!

Chris and Linda with their Aebleskiver pans.

 

 

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All photos courtesy the talented Sarah Lamb of S.Lamb Photography, (c) 2015. As you can see, Sarah was entranced by those crab legs!

Rob and Anna took second place at The Pan Handler LLC’s November 2015 cast iron cooking competition. Linda loved these crab sticks! I do not eat crab, so Linda’s score on taste for this dish was doubled to come up with the total score for the crab sticks.

Rob and Anna were assigned an appetizer course, and had two Wagner E bread stick pans in which to create their masterpiece. I think they had the hardest pan with which to work; they were very creative in coming up with a great appetizer!

Rob and Anna’s Crab Sticks with Lemon Aioli Sauce

Serves 6.

Crab Sticks Ingredients: ¼ c. mayonnaise 2 scallions, peeled and thinly sliced 1 lg. egg, lightly beaten 1 T. Dijon mustard 2 t. fresh lemon juice, plus additional wedges for garnish 1-1/2 t. Old Bay seasoning ½ jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped 1 lb. fresh crab legs, cooked and shredded (or 1 lb lump crabmeat, picked over) 1-1/4 c. panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), divided 1 T thinly sliced chives ¼ t kosher salt 1/8 t freshly ground black pepper 1 head Bibb lettuce, rinsed well and drained 2 T vegetable oil Spray can of olive oil Preparation: Cook the crab legs in a large pot of bot of boiling water. Drain and rinse with cold water. Prepare the lemon-dill aioli sauce (ingredients and directions below). Cover and refrigerate. Whisk first ingredients in a medium bowl. Add crab; fold to blend. Stir in ¾ c. panko, chives, salt, and pepper. Divide into eleven equal portions. Form each portion into sticks to fit into the cast iron pan. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes. Line a platter with lettuce leaves. Brush cast iron pan with vegetable oil. Place remaining ½ c panko onto a plate. Coat each crab stick with panko. Place each crab stick into the bread stick pan. Spray the top of the crab sticks with olive oil. Cook in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown and crisp on top. Plate the crab sticks onto the lettuce leaves, garnish with lemon wedges. Top each stick with a dollop of lemon-dill aioli sauce. Lemon-Dill Aioli Sauce Ingredients 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled. 1 t Dijon mustard 2 large egg yolks 2 T chopped dill 1 c olive oil 1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice Salt to taste Preparation Place the garlic, mustard, egg yolks and dill in the bowl of a small food processor or blender. Process until evenly combined; about 10 seconds. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil in a thin stream until completely combined; about 2 minutes. Stop the processor, add the lemon juice, season with salt, and pulse until thoroughly mixed and with a thick consistency. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then pulse until all ingredients are evenly incorporated. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before using. Cover with a tightly fitting lid and refrigerate. May prepare sauce up to one week in advance.

In the heat of judging.

Anna and Rob presenting their crab sticks for judging.

Crab sticks in the Wagner E Bread Stick Pan!

Nice presentation!

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Photos courtesy of the talented Sarah Lamb, of S.Lamb Photography (c) 2015.

Debra and Jerome offered the use of their big beautiful kitchen for our cast iron cooking competition. Debra and Jerry love entertaining and cooking – they often host big parties and celebrations with friends and family. They are good friends, expert cooks, and gracious hosts. Their kitchen is very well-equipped. At one point during the cooking, Anoushka asked Jerry if they had a food processor. Jerry told Anoushka where they were. Anoushka was surprised to see that they had three different food processors, in different sizes. But of course they do! They have pretty much anything you need to create a masterpiece dish.

They are also fierce competitors. I know that they spent time before the competition examining the rules, discussing options, and asking questions. They dressed in complete cooking gear – chef’s hats (Debra’s said “She Who Must Be Obeyed”), chef’s coats, and cooking pants (Jerry’s had chili peppers and Debra’s had wine and glasses). They even had matching meat thermometers in the pocket on the sleeve of their chef’s coats, for the intimidation factor. I love it that Debra and Jerry wore their chef’s outfits when they went grocery shopping. I imagine that they drew a few stares and questions.

Jerry, with meat thermometer in pocket.

Debra and Jerry knew that one of the judging criteria was appeal to users of cast iron cookware, and they know I have a large customer base in the Southern United States. They took that into consideration when selecting a dish. Debra is a Southern girl at heart; she was born and lived in Texas until she was 13.

Debra drawing for the course.

Debra and Jerry were assigned main course, and had 6 Griswold Patty Mold bowls with which to create a masterpiece. From Debra’s big beaming beautiful smile, I could see that she was happy to have pulled the Patty Mold bowls. And really, who wouldn’t be? The Patty Mold bowls are a great size for single-size servings of just about anything!

Jerry and Benny the Standard Poodle, drawing for the pan assignment. You can see John in the background staring at his Griswold French Roll pan. I can almost see the thought bubble over John’s head: “How in the world am I going to make a main course in this pan?”

Debra and Jerry prepared a spectacular Shepherd’s Pie, and served it alongside biscuits. It was delicious! I particularly liked the flavor of the beef/lamb mixture. Debra and Jerome’s Down-Home Shepherd’s Pie with Biscuits, made and served in Griswold Patty Mold Bowls

Serves 8

Ingredients

The dish has three main layers. The bottom layer is the meat mixture. The middle layer is the vegetable mix, and the top layer is the mashed sweet and white potatoes. Debra and Jerry topped the Shepherd’s pie with toasted pecans, and garnished with thinly-sliced jalapeño pepper.

Bottom Layer:

1-1/2 lb ground beef 1-1/2 lb ground lamb 2 eggs, lightly beaten (Debra and Jerry used eggbeaters) ½ c. Panko bread crumbs 3 T unsalted butter ½ c red wine ¾ c finely chopped onions ¾ c finely chopped celery ½ c finely chopped green bell peppers 1 T + 1tsp. minced garlic 1 T Worcestershire sauce 1 tsp Tabasco sauce if desired; more may be added when serving ¼ c 1% milk

Meat seasoning mix:

¼ tsp. onion powder ¼ tsp. garlic powder ¼ tsp. white pepper ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

Middle Layer:

2½ T drippings from meat layer ½ c red wine 1-1/2 c julienned carrots 1 c julienned onions 1-1/2 c julienned zucchini 1 c julienned yellow bell pepper 1 c julienned red bell pepper  

Vegetable Seasoning Mix:

¼ tsp. onion powder ¼ tsp. garlic powder ¼ tsp. white pepper ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

Top Layer:

1 lb white potatoes, peeled and quartered 2 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered ½ c 1% milk 1 stick unsalted butter 1 tsp. salt 1 tsp. white pepper

 

Optional toppings:

1 cup toasted and chopped pecans, for garnish 2 thinly sliced jalapeno peppers, for garnish

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine the beef and lamb. Add in the eggs and bread crumbs; mix by hand until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a cast iron skillet, combine 3T butter, onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and meat seasoning mix (onion powder, garlic powder, white pepper, and cayenne pepper). Cook over high heat, stirring frequently and scraping the pan bottom well, for about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, cool, and add to the meat mixture along with ¼ c of the milk. Mix well by hand and place patties of the beef mixture onto the bottom of the patty bowls. Extra may be placed into a separate cast iron skillet (the Abrams used a #6 cast iron skillet for the extra shepherd’s pie).

Bake the patties until brown on top, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and pour off drippings, reserving 2½ T for the vegetables. Set aside any extra drippings for cooking the biscuits. 

In a large cast iron skillet, combine the reserved drippings with vegetable seasoning blend and sauté over high heat, stirring frequently, for 1-1/2 minutes. Add the red wine and julienned vegetables; continue cooking until the vegetables soften and become noticeably bright, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Raise the oven temperature to 525 degrees.

Mound the undrained vegetables over the meat patties in the patty bowls, away from the edges.

Boil the potatoes until fork tender. Drain, reserving 1 c cooking water.

Place hot potatoes into a large mixing bowl with the remaining 1 stick butter, the remaining milk, and salt and pepper. Stir with a wooden spoon until broken up, then beat with a whisk (or electric mixer with a paddle) until creamy and velvety smooth. Mix in a little of the reserved water if necessary, until desired creaminess.

Layer the mashed potatoes evenly over the top of the vegetable layer and top edges of the meat. Bake until brown on top, about 8-10 minutes.

Toast chopped pecans in a small cast iron skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently.

Slice and seed jalapenos.

When the pies are fully cooked, remove from heat. Top with toasted pecans and (optional) jalapenos and serve immediately, with (optional) side of biscuits, Tabasco sauce, ketchup or gravy as desired.

Debra and Jerry’s Shepherd’s pies presented for serving, on cork trivets. Some pies had jalapeños and others did not; they wanted their dish to appeal to as many people as possible.

Optional Side: Pillsbury Grand Buttermilk biscuits. 

To make the biscuits, pour any remaining drippings from the meat layer into a cast iron pan (you may need to add some additional olive oil if meat was very lean.) Remove Pillsbury Grand Buttermilk Biscuits from can and coat with drippings, arranging in single layer in pan. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 12-16 minutes until golden brown.

 

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All photos courtesy the talented Sarah Lamb of S.Lamb Photography, (c) 2015.

At our cast iron cooking competition, good friends Mary and John were assigned main course, and they drew two Griswold no. 11 French Roll pans. I could see from John’s expression when he opened the bag holding the pans that he had never seen one before. Mary, however, stared at the pan with narrowed eyes, and I could literally see the wheels turning in her brain.

John and Mary showing their course: MAIN. I can actually see Mary’s brain starting to work in this photo.

John, baffled by the pan.

John asked whether teams could switch pans or courses. As I was thinking about whether I would bend the rules to permit that, Mary said “no, keep that pan.” Off they went to plan their course and change clothes for the competition.

Mary examining the pan with narrowed eyes, as John inquires whether teams can switch.

When they returned, they were wearing matching chef’s coats, and each wore a chef’s scarf. Mary’s said “Mary, Executive Chef.” John’s said “John,” and he told me it should have also said “sous,” since Mary was the expert in the kitchen and he was acting as sous chef.

Truth be told, Mary and John are both expert cooks. Mary knows me very well and she knows exactly what I like to eat. Mary told me that they were going to use the traditional pâté in the dish but she knew I wouldn’t eat it (I do not eat scary proteins, and to me, pâté is a scary protein). Mary played to my taste. These mini beef Wellingtons were delicious; they may have been my taste favorite. Like some of the other contestants, they did less measuring than they did adding what they felt necessary, tasting as they went along.

Judging the mini beef Wellingtons. While my face might look serious, my taste buds are bursting with joy.

Mary and John’s Mini Beef Wellingtons in Griswold no. 11 French Roll Pan

Serves 12 (serving size = 2 mini beef Wellingtons per person)

Ingredients: About 2 pounds hangar steak. Hangar steak is very flavorful, but tends to be tough if over-cooked. Tenderloin would work well and might actually be a better choice if you have never cooked with hangar steak. 3 shallots, peeled and chopped (reserve one of the shallots for the red sauce) 1 lb. fresh spinach, finely chopped ½ lb. mushrooms, cleaned and chopped into small chunks  Parsley and thyme to taste, chopped. Salt to taste Pepper to taste ¼ cup dry red wine, plus more for the red sauce. Mary and John used a Pinot Noir. 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced (reserve one of the cloves for the red sauce) 1 package filo, thawed (puff pastry would also work) ¼ lb. Gorgonzola cheese Butter (to brush onto each mini-Wellington prior to cooking), melted Beef broth (for red sauce)

Directions:

Season hangar steak with salt and pepper. Place 2 T. olive oil in a large cast iron skillet and heat. Sear the hangar steak over high heat in the cast iron pan, about 1 minute on each side. Set the steak aside to rest.

Seared hangar steaks, resting.

Sauté the mushrooms, shallots, spinach, red wine, and garlic in the same pan for about 8 minutes, until the vegetables are softened and spinach is fully wilted. (You will want to cook the mixture until the all the liquid is gone).

The mushroom mixture cooking next to Rob and Anoushka’s crab legs.

This might be my favorite photo from the entire competition. John and Mary are examining a recipe while working over a hot pan; Bonnie and Doug are looking on in the background. The competition was fierce!

When ready to assemble, slice the hangar steak against the grain into about 1 ½ inch pieces.

John cutting the hangar steak.

 

To Assemble:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lay the filo out on a damp cloth and keep covered. Take about 4 sheets of filo and cut into about 5×5 inch squares (do not separate the filo sheets). Place 1 piece of steak on each square of filo sheets. Top with about 2 T. of the mushroom mixture and a piece of gorgonzola. Wrap filo sheets around the steak until mixture is completely enclosed within the filo and any seam is facing down. Place each bundle into one of the cups of the French roll pan. Brush each bundle with a small amount of melted butter. Bake at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Mini beef Wellingtons, pre-baking. Mary originally used parchment paper, but then noted that it was unnecessary; a spray of Pam worked just fine to keep the little pies from sticking.

Red Sauce

 

Make a basic red wine sauce over medium heat using the reserved shallots, garlic, red wine and beef broth. Taste as you go along and flavor as you wish. Spoon a few tablespoons of the sauce on a plate and top with 2 of the mini wellingtons.

Trying to keep a poker face and delicately cutting into the mini beef Wellington, when I really just wanted to grab it and shove the entire thing into my mouth. Yum!

Mary and John’s mini beef Wellingtons, made in a Griswold no. 11 French roll pan.