Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category


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)


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.



I needed to bring some food for nibbling to my cast iron cooking competition, so of course I wanted to bring something made in cast iron. One of the great things about Pinterest is that I can easily save recipes I want to try later. Amongst others, I have a board for appetizers, and I have a board for cast iron. Off I went to the cast iron board. And sure enough, there was a great-looking and sounding recipe from Tasty for spinach artichoke dip with dinner rolls made and served in a cast iron skillet. Because I wanted a few more rolls to surround the dip, I prepared it in a my ERIE size 11 pan instead of the size 8 that was used in the Tasty recipe.

It was delicious!



– 12 Frozen Rhodes Dinner Roll Dough Balls (you want the kind that have to thaw and rise for a few hours)

The rolls I used. Be sure to get the kind that thaw and rise; those you can put around the outer edge of the skillet so that they will be “pull-apart” style.

– 8 oz softened cream cheese – 1 c. grated Parmesan and Romano cheese (I purchased a blend of grated Parmesan and Romano from Trader Joe’s) – 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese – 1/4 c. Sour Cream – 14 oz can artichoke hearts; drained and chopped – 3/4 c. frozen chopped spinach; thawed and drained. Press the water out of the spinach by either pressing it down on your colander or pressing it between your hands or between layered paper towels. – 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped – 1 t. dried basil – 1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes – olive oil with 2 chopped garlic cloves



Spray your cast iron skillet liberally with Pam, being sure to include the inner cooking walls. Place the dinner roll dough balls about 1/2″ apart along the outer cooking edge of your skillet. Cover the rolls with plastic wrap that you have sprayed with Pam (so the dough balls do not stick to the plastic). Let rise until thawed and doubled in size; about 3 hours. While the dough is rising, place about 1/8 c. olive oil in a small bowl and put 2 chopped garlic cloves into it, so that the olive oil is infused by the garlic. Combine all other ingredients – the cream cheese, parmesan and romano, mozzarella, 2 chopped garlic cloves, spinach, basil, and red pepper – in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready for use.

When the dough has thawed and you are ready to cook, remove the plastic wrap. Scoop the artichoke mixture out of the bowl into the center of the  pan. Brush the rolls with the infused olive oil, and top with a small amount of the grated Parmesan / Romano blend. Bake in a 375 degree preheated oven for 25 minutes. If you find that the bread is browning too quickly, you may reduce the heat to 350 degrees.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.

Pull the rolls apart, dip into the artichoke mix, and enjoy!

Spinach artichoke dip made and baked in my ERIE no. 11 cast iron skillet. This skillet is a gem and great cooker, despite a hairline crack near the handle. I love this old pan!

My good friends Jerome and Debra Abrams were kind enough to offer up their beautiful large kitchen for me to have a cast iron cooking competition.

Part of the lovely large kitchen in the Abrams home.

And so it was born…the first-ever Cast Iron Cooking Competition, sponsored by The Pan Handler LLC. This post will talk about the competition itself; posts to come will detail the different dishes the teams prepared, along with the recipes that were created by the teams.

Pan Apprentice Linda scoring the empanadas.

Ten friends who were great sports participated in the event as teams: Bonnie and Doug, Mary and John, Anoushka and Rob, Debra and Jerome, and Linda and Chris. Pan Apprentice Linda agreed to serve as judge alongside me, and the very talented Sarah Lamb of S.Lamb Photography photographed the event. The photos in this blog post are courtesy S.Lamb Photography.

I sent out instructions and the score sheet in advance of the competition, so teams could see what they were in for. Each team would gather at the Abrams home, where they would pick a piece of paper to learn what course they would be assigned for the competition: 2 appetizer, 2 main, and 1 dessert. Each team would then pick to learn what pan they would be assigned to create their course. Teams were not told in advance what pans would be used. I warned teams that they would not receive a “typical” pan; i.e. they would not receive a size 8 skillet. I told them they might want to look at the “baking, gem, and muffin” pan category on the shop’s site because surely at least one team would be assigned a pan from that category.

Once team members had their course and pan assignments, they would be given $30 cash and 90 minutes within which to plan their dish and shop for groceries.

Teams were told that creativity would count for 25 points of the possible 100 points. The goal was to show an innovative and creative (but not crazy) use of the pan. Teams were also judged on mass appeal (15 points), taste (15 points), appearance/presentation (15 points), ease of preparation (10 points), recipe instructions (5 points) and team spirit (15 points). The teams were asked to dress and participate as a team; they sure did!

Drawing for the course assignment.

Debra drawing for her team’s course.

Linda and Chris learning their course assignment – dessert.

John and Mary drew main course.

The big day arrived on November 7, 2015. Five cheery teams gathered, drew from a bowl, and learned their course assignments. We then headed outdoors, where there were 5 paper bags containing the pans. Teams drew, opened the bags, and learned what pan they would be assigned.

The bags with the secret pans.


Bonnie with one of the #3 skillets she and Doug were assigned.

Bonnie and Doug: Appetizer, 6 #3 Skillets

Anoushka and Rob with one of the Wagner E bread stick pans they were assigned.

Anoushka and Rob: Appetizer, Wagner E Bread Stick Pan

Debra is clearly pleased to have drawn the patty mold bowls.

Debra showing Jerry (who is holding Benny) the pans they drew for the competition.

Debra and Jerome: Main, 6 Griswold Patty Mold Bowls

Mary drawing her pan number.

John saying “what the heck is this pan?” about the Griswold no. 11 French roll pan that they were assigned.

Really? A French roll pan? What is that?

Mary and John: Main, 2 Griswold French Roll Pans

Chris and Linda opening their pan assignment.

Linda knew that it was an aebleskiver pan!

Linda and Chris: Dessert, 2 Griswold Aebleskiver pans

After receiving their assignments, teams huddled and planned their dish, and then headed off for groceries. Teams then returned, organized their course of action, and off they went! Everyone began cooking and chopping and rinsing and processing and baking. Oh my, it was a site to see!

Soon, the kitchen was filled with wonderful smells. My stomach began to rumble. Sarah took some videos of the cooking process; here they are!

After an hour or so, the dishes began to come to completion and be presented for judging. The first dish we sampled was Bonnie and Doug’s. They had created delicious chicken empanadas in the size three skillets for their appetizer, topped with avocado and tomato. There was enough for everyone to get a taste; Linda and I sampled and scored. Our friend Jim came by too, and helped with sampling and scoring.

Doug and Bonnie hard at work.

Doug and Bonnie slaving away.

Doug is a master cook. He usually brings his BAP (big a** pan – a Griswold #20 hotel skillet) when we go camping, and creates fabulous breakfasts for our crew.

Doug crimping the pastry dough.

Cooking the chicken empanadas.

Chicken empanadas dressed for service.

Chicken empanadas fresh from the oven!

Next up was Mary and John’s spectacular mini beef wellingtons, created in the Griswold French Roll pans. Mary has been a very close friend of mine for many many years and she knows my food weaknesses. Talk about playing to my weaknesses – I was particularly fond of the mini beef wellingtons!

Mary working away. I was particularly fond of her chef’s scarf!

John and Mary working on their masterpiece; Linda in the middle doing…something?


Seared hangar steak.

I particularly love this photo. Look at Bonnie and Doug’s expressions in the background. The competition was fierce!

Mini beef Wellingtons pre-baking. Originally they place the bundles on parchment paper, but discovered it was unnecessary.

Mary and John with one of their pans.

Anoushka and Rob had gone all out and purchased fresh crab legs (teams were permitted to spend more than the $30 given them, but it came from their pocket). They created fresh crab sticks with aioli and dill sauce in the Wagner bread stick pans. I do not eat crab, so Linda’s score on taste for this dish also counted as my score for taste. Linda tells me that the crab sticks were very delicious – she loved them!

Isn’t this a gorgeous pic? I love the water droplets.

Sarah was somewhat transfixed by the crab legs. :)

Rob cooking the crab legs.

Anoushka and Rob hard at work.

Anoushka preparing the aioli dill sauce.

Prepped and ready to serve. There is a dollop of the aioli sauce on the end of each crab stick.

Anoushka and Rob presenting their crab sticks.

Rob and Anoushka with their Wagner E Bread Stick Pan.

Debra and Jerome gave their dish a lot of thought. They knew I was interested in appealing to some of my Southern clientele, so they worked hard to incorporate that into their creation. In the Griswold patty mold bowls, they made a lamb and beef Shepard’s pie, with fresh vegetables and a sweet and white potato topping, topped with roasted pecans. For those who liked spicy they added jalapeño; for those who didn’t they left out the jalapeño. They also prepared homemade biscuits to accompany the dish. Oh my were they good! I particularly liked the lamb/beef mixture and the seasoning they had used; there was; it had a great peppery taste. The flavors mingled beautifully.

Some of the ingredients for the Shepherd’s pie.

The patty mold bowls with some of the Shepherd’s pie ingredients.

Jerome and Debra hard at work.

Beef and lamb mixture for the Shepherd’s pie

Debra and Jerome had instant-read thermometers in their chef’s coat pockets; aiming for the intimidation factor.

The burners were full, so Jerome ended up cooking some of his dish outdoors on the grill burner.

The first layer of the Shepherd’s pie.

Debra presenting their dish to Jim, Linda, and me.

Debra and Jerome used a mixture of sweet and white potatoes for the topping for the Shepherd’s pie.

Jerome and Debra with their patty mold bowls and an extra Shepherd’s pie they prepped in a size 6 skillet.

Finally, we sampled Linda and Chris’s dish. They had been assigned dessert and the Aebleskiver pans. They were very creative in making the most use of their pan. They made puff pastry cups by cooking the cups over the cups on the underside of the pan. Then they roasted apples and spices in the muffin cup side of the pan. They created a wonderful deconstructed apple pie, and served it alongside cinnamon ice cream. We all oohed and aaahed. And gobbled it right up.

Chris prepping the puff pastry cups.

Cups pre-baking

Service of the deconstructed apple pie. Delicious!


We tallied our score sheets. It was really hard to announce winners, because the scores were so tight and the teams all worked so hard and prepared wonderful tasty food in creative and unexpected ways. In the end, however, the creativity that Linda and Chris showed in the use of their pan won the day, and they took first prize. In a squeaky tight field, Rob and Anoushka took second with the creative use of their Wagner bread stick pan, with the crab sticks that Linda just loved.

1st Place: Chris and Linda with their deconstructed apple pie in the aebleskiver pans.

2nd Place: Rob and Anoushka and their crab sticks in the Wagner E bread stick pan.

Look for separate blog posts to follow with the dishes and recipes that the contestants created.

We had so much fun – I hope it will become an annual tradition!

L to R: John, Doug, Chris, Rob, Jerome, Jim

L to R: John, Mary, Chris, Linda, Linda the Pan Apprentice, Doug, Mary (note that Linda and I are wearing matching judge flannels?), Debra, Bonnie, Jerome, Maisie, Jim, Anoushka, Rob. Good sports, all!

Turbo Bread4

I first heard about this “turbo bread” on the reddit cast iron sub-forum. Folks were raving about it.

I am not a big bread person. I can take it or leave it, and I typically leave it. But this bread looked so easy, and people thought it was great, so I had to give it a try.

‘Twas delicious. And easy!

The instructions are contained in detail in this very thorough youtube video from “artisanbreadwithsteve.”

I made very few changes to the recipe that Steve sets forth in his video. I added two tablespoons of agave nectar with the water to add a hint of sweetness, and I dusted with chia, instead of sesame, seeds.


Scant 13 oz warm tap water 2 T agave nectar (or honey) 3-1/2 c. bread flour 1-1/4 t. active yeast (1 envelope) ¼ t. salt About 2 T chia seeds


Preheat large glass bowl for 20 seconds in microwave. Mix 2 T agave nectar with scant 13 oz warm tap water. Pour into bowl. Add yeast and stir. Add 3-1/2 c. bread flour and salt. Stir until mixture forms a shaggy ball. Place dough ball in a warm draft-free area and let rest and rise for 1.5 hours. Pull and stretch dough using the handle of a wood spoon (see Steve’s video for details on how he does this). Cover with a lint free cloth and let rest for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray number 8 cast iron skillet with Pam. Roll ball in chia seeds and dust with flour (Steve’s video explains this better than I can). Roll dough into skillet. Bake about 40 minutes at 400 degrees. Let cool, remove from pan, slice, and ENJOY! I had mine with some homemade chicken noodle soup; delicious!






The other night I made a nice small steak and served it with a Caesar salad. I love Caesar salad (who doesn’t?) but I didn’t want the extra calories that the dressing brings, so I decided to try Chef Jamie Oliver’s light dressing, which is made with low- or non-fat Greek yogurt.

The steak was made in my Griswold #8 cast iron skillet, and cooked in the stove. Usually I make my steak on the cooktop or on the grill, so this was a bit of an experiment for me. Based on a recipe I found on the web, I made a nice dry rub with coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, with a bit of brown sugar to caramelize the crust of the steak.

The meal was yum. The steak had an explosion of pepper, with a lingering hint of sweetness from the brown sugar.

Note: For the small steaks I used in this recipe, it would have been better to have cooked about 5 minutes per side instead of the 7 minutes. With 1-1/2” steaks, however, 7 minutes should be just about right to give you a medium to medium-rare steak.

Serves 2

Prep time: About 10 minutes. Cook time: 14 minutes.



1 head romaine lettuce, rinsed and torn into bite-sized pieces 1/3 c. low or non-fat Greek yogurt 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 T fresh lemon juice 2 t Worcestershire sauce ~1/2 t anchovy paste 2T extra virgin olive oil ¼ c shaved Parmesan cheese, divided salt and freshly-ground pepperSteak

  Cooking spray 1T brown sugar ½ t salt ½ t ground cumin ½ t ground coriander ¼ t ground cayenne pepper about 2/3 lb sirloin steak, about 1-1/2” thick.


Make the dry rub for the steak: mix together brown sugar, salt, cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Rub the spices onto both sides of the steak. Let rest. Make the dressing for the salad: stir together yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and anchovy paste. Drizzle in olive oil, and whisk. Add half of the Parmesan cheese; stir. Salt and pepper to taste. Note: You can make the dressing in advance if you wish – I typically do, and store it in the fridge in a small jar and then just give it a shake when I’m ready to dress the salad. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place cast iron skillet into oven (I used a number 8 Griswold). Let skillet heat about 5-10 minutes. Remove skillet from oven. Place steak into skillet and put back into oven. Cook for 7 minutes. While steak is cooking, toss salad. Plate salad. Add freshly ground pepper and Parmesan to top. Turn the steak over after 7 minutes. Cook an additional 7 minutes. Remove steak from oven. Let rest 5 minutes. Serve steak as you wish; I had two pieces so I plated each. You could also slice thinly on the diagonal and plate. I served alongside dinner rolls. A nice light supper!