Friday, February 26, 2010

Recipe: Cast Iron Skillet French Toast

French toast fresh from the skillet with butter and syrup 

Cast iron French toast is the bomb.  But there's a secret ingredient that takes it from good to great.

In my younger, gluten-filled days, the best French toast came from (surprise!) French bread. If you have the intestinal means, I would strongly recommend sticking with that program.

For gluten free French toast, there are several hundred terrible options, and a few good ones.  I recommend going with Udi's gluten free whole grain sandwich bread.

Here's that secret ingredient:  Sherry (the liquor, not the girl). 

(makes enough for 4-6 slices of French bread)
  • 1/2 cup milk (whole milk is better)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • dash of cinnimon
  • dash of nutmeg
  • dash of ground cloves
  • pinch of salt
  • sliced bread
  • butter
Mix the milk, egg, sherry, and spices/salt together, making sure the eggs are beaten well.

Always start with a shiny (well-oiled) cast iron skillet.  Heat a large cast iron skillet (or griddle) on medium-low heat until hot (a drop of water should dance on the surface and evaporate within 2 seconds).  This will probably take 8-10 minutes. Be patient.

If you're OK with gluten, the best choice by far is French bread sliced into 1 1/2 inch thick slices.  If you're going gluten free, Udi's sandwich bread is an outstanding choice. Either way, dredge your bread though the liquid, turning it over a few times to ensure even coverage and some good interior soaking.  No one likes dry French bread... so err on the side of a longer soak and more wetness—especially with thicker bread.

Add a pat or two of butter to your hot cast iron skillet, and swish it around for even coverage. Lay your dredged bread slices into the hot skillet.  Cook for 1-2 minutes (until browned on the bottom) and then flip the bread slices over. Cook for another 2-3 minutes (again, until nicely browned).  If you think the inside is too moist, you can cook the slices for another 30 seconds to a minute on each side.

If you're keeping the French bread in a warming oven before serving, consider reducing the cooking time.  Re-butter the skillet each time you add fresh bread slices.

If your pan is too hot and the bread seems to be burning before the insides are done, remove the French bread from the pan, and remove the pan from the heat. Once things have cooled down, get the pan back on the heat and the French bread back in the pan... and continue.

Serve as soon as possible with a large pat of butter and warm maple syrup.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Recipe: Eggs, Sunny Side Up

Eggs sunny side up in a cast iron skillet

Frying eggs in a cast iron skillet is easy and healthy.

Most folks I know trust nothing but a Teflon pan for cooking eggs.  For this reason, eggs are the leading cause of cancer-causing-chemicals-being-ingested-along-with-your-food in America.

Doesn't your sweetheart deserve better?

Here's the fix:

  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 pat of butter

Always start with a shiny (well-oiled) cast iron skillet. Heat a small cast iron skillet on medium heat for 4-5 minutes. It should be hot enough to quickly foam the butter (this is the water boiling off), but not so hot that the butter browns or the pan smokes.  A good test is to toss a drop of water in the skillet. If it crackles and pops as it evaporates, the pan is ready.

Once the skillet is hot, toss in your pat of butter, and swish it around to melt it.  Then crack the eggs into the pan, and cover with a tight lid. Turn the heat down to medium-low. The steam inside the pan is the key to getting the top of the yolks hot before the bottom of the yolks cook or the whites burn.

Cook for 3-6 minutes... until the whites are cooked, and the yolks are hot. The exact timing will require a bit of experimentation based on your stove, pan thickness, and your tastes.

You will generally want to pull them just as the thin layer of egg white that covers the yolk is beginning to cook (turning white). All of this depends on your preference, of course.

Practice really does make perfect.

If you prefer your cast iron fried eggs over-easy, over-medium, or some other style, feel free to flip the eggs. In this case, you don't need to cover them.

Serve immediately.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Recipe: Buffalo Stroganoff (gluten free)

The quickest way to ruin an otherwise outstanding stroganoff is to end up with tough or dried out meat.  To avoid sub-par stroganoff, use a tender cut of meat like prime rib, ribeye, tenderloin, or top sirloin. For truly sensational buffalo (or beef) stroganoff, you'll want to season, roast, and cool your cut of meat prior to beginning the stroganoff. 

For this recipe, I had leftover roasted buffalo prime rib from the night before, which I sliced and added to the stroganoff a few minutes before serving.  This kept the meat tender and intensely flavorful, since it had been thoroughly infused with my roasting crust.  As a bonus, the meat was a beautiful shade of medium-rare pink at serving time. I'm quite sure General Pavel would have approved.

The only ingredient I didn't have for this meal was sour cream—which is the most common way of getting that oh-so-essential tang into your stroganoff.  I did have buttermilk, and surmised that by making my white sauce with buttermilk I could achieve the proper tang.  It worked out great... but you could easily use regular milk plus sour cream as well.

I served this over gluten free penne noodles, but you can serve over just about any pasta you like.  When boiling your pasta, the water should be well-salted (it should taste like a somewhat too-salty soup).

  • 2 cups gluten free white sauce made with buttermilk OR 1 cup gluten free white sauce plus 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 3-4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound roasted buffalo prime rib
  • 3 cloves crushed fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • salt
  • pepper
  • chopped fresh parsley (optional)
This recipe begins with pre-roasted and already cooled beef or buffalo. 

To begin sauteing the mushrooms, heat a large cast iron skillet on medium heat.  While the skillet is warming, cut mushrooms into (roughly) 1/4 inch slices.  Once the pan is warm toss in the butter to melt it, and add the mushrooms.  Saute gently for 5 minutes, and then add the onion.  Continue sauteing the mushrooms until they are soft and have given up most of their moisture (perhaps 15-20 minutes total).  Add more butter (if need be) to keep the skillet moist, and turn the heat down if the mushrooms begin to brown.

While the mushrooms and onions are sauteing, make your white sauce according to my gluten free basic white sauce recipe (you can also just use wheat flour to make the white sauce if it isn't a concern).  For the white sauce, use buttermilk in place of regular milk. 

When the mushrooms are finished sauteing, clear a place in the middle of the skillet (and again, add more butter if the pan is a little dry), and add the crushed garlic.  Cook the garlic for 30-60 seconds, scraping the pan if necessary (with a wooden spatula) to avoid browning or sticking.

Add the white sauce to the skillet (and sour cream if using it) to stop the garlic from cooking.  Add the red wine, soy sauce (or tamari), and dijon mustard.

Mix everything around to combine, and taste the stroganoff for seasoning.  You will very likely need to add salt and black pepper.  Remember, you'll be serving this over pasta, so the stroganoff itself should literally burst with flavor.

Once the pasta is ready and plated, and all other side dishes are cooked and on the table, add the sliced meat to the hot stroganoff.  Mix around for 2-3 minutes until the meat is hot—but still pink. Taste it to make sure you don't have any cold spots, and to make any final seasoning adjustments.

Serve immediately over the pasta, and garnish with a little chopped fresh parsley for good measure.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Recipe: Camp Dutch Oven French Fries

French fries are nutritious, healthy, gluten-free, and insanely tasty if cooked properly. In a word, French fries can be exceptional. Exceptional French fries are not embarrased to share a plate with filet mignon, chateaubriand, ribeye steaks, and even the snootiest burgers.  But exceptional French fries don't just spring out of thin air.  Especially when you're camping.

While exceptional oven-roasted French fries are pretty straight forward, when you're cooking over an open fire out in the woods, it's a different story.  I had worked out a skillet fried version of campfire French fries last spring, but when I received my new camp dutch oven for Christmas this year, I thought I had better experiment some more.  The beauty of the camp dutch oven is that it allows for true roasting and baking, since you can pile hot coals on top of the lid.

Here's how to achieve exceptional roasted French fries over an open fire:

  • 2-3 large russet potatoes (for an 8-quart dutch oven)
  • oil
  • kosher salt
  • Canadian steak seasoning
Git you a campfire started.  In this particular case, Will Cash and I were up at Rocky Mountain National Park.  It was January.  We were at 8,000 feet.  It was about 10 degrees.

Will, sensibly, began by clearing snow out of the fire ring.  He then set up and lit the fire, and fed it for a half hour until we had a nice big bed of coals.

While your fire is being prepared (ideally, by your five-year-old), cut the potatoes into skin-on "steak fries".  Add a good coating of oil to the camp dutch oven (an eighth of an inch or so), and toss in the potatoes.  Season the raw fries generously with kosher salt and Canadian steak seasoning (or just pepper and granulated garlic).

If you have the luxury of a U.S. Forest Service campfire ring-plus-grill contraption, you can probably place your camp dutch oven right on top of the grill. Adjust heat as necessary by ading or removing coals from under the grill. Start with less heat than you think you need!  You should have no open flame, and your bed of coals should be pretty sparse. 

If you don't have a fire ring with a grill, simply clear out an area of coals on one side of your fire, and then replace a few coals in the cleared out area.  Because the ground near the fire will also have heated up, and the fire will be in close proximity, you don't need many coals under the dutch oven.

Place the lid on the dutch oven with the writing facing you (mine says "Lodge" and "12" since it is a 12-inch in diameter Lodge dutch oven). Pile as many coals on top of the dutch oven lid as you can fit, and cook the French fries for 7 minutes or so.

Lift the lid to check on the fries, and stir them around a bit to make sure they aren't burning on the bottom.  Rotate the base of the dutch oven about 90 degrees, and place the lid down with the writing facing you (since you rotated the base, keeping the lid facing you will have the effect of rotating the lid relative to the food inside).  Check on the French fries every 7-8 minutes, and each time you do, stir the fries around, rotate the base of the dutch oven 90 degrees, and replace the lid with the text facing you.

Camp dutch oven roasted French fries will take 20-30 minutes to cook.  Because of the thermal mass of the camp dutch oven, you can hold your fries for 10-20 minutes in summer, or 5 minutes in winter, while you finish cooking the rest of the meal.  That said, these fries are best when served nearly immediately... so once they are browning nicely and nearing completion, you can start grilling your burgers so everything is ready to serve at the same time.

If your French fries are cooking too quickly (often the bottom of the dutch oven gets too hot), pull the dutch oven off the fire, and re-arrange your coals as necessary to reduce the heat.  In this too-much-heat scenario, be sure to stir the fries around more frequently to avoid burning.

Serve with tomato ketchup (and a burger) immediately!  Eat quickly so your food doesn't freeze.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Recipe: The Definitive Hot Toddy

I know this recipe has nothing to do with cast iron... but friends and family ask for my hot toddy recipe often enough that I thought I'd post it here for easy reference.

This medicinal drink is the perfect thing if you have a cough, sore throat, the flu, a cold, or general malaise.  It will cure most sore throat issues directly.   And rest assured that if it doesn't, you won't care!

  • 3 tablespoons (give or take) of honey
  • 4 ounces brandy, rum, or whiskey
  • juice from 1/2 half fresh lemon
  • cloves
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
Add honey to a glass—about an inch of it in your standard rock glass.  Then add the brandy on top—about an additional inch and a half.  Add a few whole cloves, a dash of nutmeg, and a cinnamon stick.

Heat the glass in the microwave for about 45 to 60 seconds.  Watch the glass closely!  It will boil over very quickly once it heats up.  When the liquid has just started to boil, pull it out, juice the half-lemon into your hot toddy, and drink it immediately.  You have to drink around the whole cloves anyhow, so don't worry about the lemon seeds.

The healing power of this hot toddy comes from it being just barely on the drinkable side of hot.  Re-heat if necessary to keep it hot.

If you don't have access to a microwave, you can simply heat the honey, brandy, and spices on the stovetop, and then add them to the glass... and proceed with adding the lemon. 

WARNING: This recipe will absolutely impair your ability to operate machinery.  It may also make dumb ideas seem like good ones.  Time for bed now.