I thought this issue would be a great time to propose some food related resolutions for all of you amateur chefs, foodies and gardeners. Some of these I have strictly adhered to for years. Others I am aiming at myself more so than you, dear reader. Think of this as part self-deprecation, part soap box. Whether I am currently a practitioner or not, these are things I believe can better your station in life, win you more friends, and make you more beautiful on the inside.
Caring for cast iron
Those of you who love your cast iron wouldn’t believe how many out there mistreat the most important piece of cookware they own. Designed to last a lifetime, while your other cookware loses its luster cast iron keeps getting better with age, but only if properly cared for. One false move and you are starting all over again. Here are some tips to preserving Grandma’s hand-me-down.
A new skillet must be seasoned. A rusty old skillet must be re-seasoned. This can be done with vegetable oil or shortening. Coat the iron inside and out and bake it in a preheated oven. Not too hot, 300 degrees for an hour or so should do the trick. I put a cookie sheet on the bottom rack to catch any grease that drips.
Now that it’s seasoned, the best way to enjoy the everlasting nonstick property is by not damaging it. Yes, it’s OK to wash it. Never in a dishwasher and without soap if you can avoid it. Sometimes you may need a little water, but often a good wipe down with a paper towel will suffice. Sound gross? Think about a cast iron griddle in a restaurant. You’re going to pretty much cook off any of the bad juju.
My rule is to not use it for anything that is going to cause me to need soap. No cheese sauces, cream, or sticky stuff that will adhere to the sides. The weight cooks evenly when up to temp and I use it mostly for roux, indoor steaks, eggs, sausage with peppers and onions and most importantly cornbread.
Cornbread in anything but cast iron deserves another name. I cringe at the thought of some powder cheese sauce box dinner in my perfectly seasoned skillet knowing something abrasive will be needed to clean the leftover bits.
Stay sharp. Don’t cut yourself
The only time I ever cut myself in the kitchen was with a dull knife. Make a resolution to purchase a decent set of knives, perhaps German, and vow to keep them sharp. A blade with a keen edge goes where you tell it to go. A dull one bounces off of an onion like a beach ball. That’s how you get hurt.
I’m not into endorsing products, but I’ve had luck with the devices that use a pair of converging steel wheels. This works exceptionally well for smaller knives or softer steel. For larger knives you may preserve your investment by having a pro do the sharpening. I do OK with a sharpening rod, but I would prefer a sharper edge than I am capable of producing. While you may be creating something that is capable of slicing off a digit, it is less likely you will have an accident with a good set of knives.
Broaden the onion horizon
We all get in a rut sometimes. Let’s not do that with onions. The onion is the most important part of my diet. I love them in almost everything. For years I bought yellow onions (by far the most common) and then switched to white for no reason. Now that I am older and arguably wiser I try to purchase the proper onion for the application.
Yellow onions (British say brown onion) are fine for everyday use. They caramelize well and are fairly universal. Boring! They sweeten up when cooked and are not very offensive in odor or bite.
White onions are also universal. They are a little sturdier than yellow and provide a bit more bite. Served raw these can get the waterworks going. Onion lovers may enjoy this one as a substitute in recipes calling for yellow. Give me a disc of plain white onion with a giant scoop of coleslaw. Heaven.
Red equals raw. I love the red onion for salads, with ceviche, macerated in oil, and in most things less than fully cooked. There’s a certain amount of sweetness in a dressing or vinaigrette that the red can provide. But stir fry grilling is a great application, too.
Vidalia. When these hit the produce section I almost quit buying the other stuff. Named for their origin in Georgia these babies are a little sweeter than others. Oh, the sweetness is worth the wait. I enjoy them while I can, and am sure to make a nice pot of chili during their season.
Thank God for little green onions. Don’t forget about these. They are cheap and oft overlooked. Chop them up (I actually use scissors) and throw them in the dish for a last minute seasoning in soups, pasta dishes, and anything that has a sauce. I love them in a Bloody Mary and as a garnish for seafood. Yes, I eat them raw.
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
At MacDonald Manor we have a designated garden area. It’s reserved for peaches, oranges, kumquats, strawberries, corn and tomatoes. The usual fare. I wouldn’t call myself Old MacDonald just yet. Bubble on the other hand is cultivating crop after crop year round.
Right now he’s growing purple top and white globe turnips, cabbage, cauliflower and peas. Next step is composting for March when we all get busy with corn, tomatoes, etc. But the fact that he’s putting his own food on his own table (and occasionally mine) is enough to make me think everyone with a yard full of sunshine should make a resolution to grow their own.
Composting is for winners
Composting is about the easiest thing you can do. If you have a tendency to be lazy, it’s the greatest way to cover your tracks. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A pile of leaves will do. Throw your eggshells and banana peels along with your leftover onion skins and cabbage leaves into the pile and give it a turn every once in a while. You’ll leave a smaller footprint and your new garden will flourish. Combine this with recycling and your lazy butt will only have to take the can to the street every other week! It’s a resolution to promote laziness! I love it!