Friday, July 22, 2016

Stargazer Cast Iron

Have you noticed my growing interest in cast iron pans? Used to be, I'd only recommend clad cookware to my readers and students because it is possible to deglaze with acidic ingredients, because of ease of care and cleaning, and because mass-marketed cast iron is so heavy and hard on the wrists. But a whole new crop of makers, including Borough Furnace, Field, Finex (remember the factory tour?), Lucky Decade, Smithey, Solidteknics, and Stargazer, is convincing me to embrace their modern versions of the traditional cookware.

Lately I’ve been trying out the Stargazer skillet.

This is what it looks like after a number of uses.

My Stargazer arrived earlier than expected. I didn’t have anything special in the house to cook, but it is one sexy skillet and I couldn’t wait to use it. Just frying up this humble meal in it was a pleasure.

The cooking surface is silky smooth and the grilled ham and cheese sandwiches made a satisfying zipping sound sliding around on it. It seems like this pan retains heat nicely and yet is more responsive to temperature changes than any of the other modern CI I own. Also, I was tickled to find that the handle makes a great spoon rest. I inquired if that was by design, and Peter Huntley, Stargazer’s creator, replied, “I'd love to take credit for the built-in spoon rest, but it's just a coincidence that a comfortable curve for the hand is also a nice spot for a spoon. Who knew?” What a happy coincidence!

Then came the sear and sauté action in the Stargazer.

It is so slick. Even my hubby, who cares not about cookware, commented on what a nice pan it is. BTW, this was accompanied by Truffled Mashed Potatoes (check out Seared to Perfection for the recipe).

The more I use this pan, the more I love it. I wish new CI pans such as this were available when I was writing Seared to Perfection. I might’ve developed recipes a little differently.

Thank you to Peter and Stargazer for providing this pan in exchange for my unbiased opinion.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Dutch Babies for Lodge's 120th!

This month Lodge is celebrating its 120th anniversary, and since I’m a big fan, I’m joining the party. And I’m bringing Dutch babies!

When you think about it, 120 years of “Made in USA” is a big deal.

Lodge hasn’t merely survived where all of the other major cast iron cookware foundries have failed, it has managed to innovate and prosper, and perhaps what’s most exciting to CI aficionados like myself is that Lodge is currently undergoing a massive expansion. I, for one, cannot wait to see what they’ll come out with next and whether they’ll bring back some favorite pieces from their past. (Like the breakfast skillet and maybe the chile-shaped muffin pan. Hint, hint, Lodge.)

Too bad 120 candles won’t fit in a Dutch baby! Because these puffy pancakes are my absolute favorite thing to make in my Lodge cast iron pans. I especially like to use their cute little 6 ½” skillets to make individual babies. I mean, who doesn’t love having a baby of their very own?

There was only a second to snap this photo before the heat from the oven started melting my phone, but this is how properly puffed Dutch babies should look.

They’re enormous! For that unbelievable puff, use high heat, preheat the cast iron skillets with the butter until the butter is nutty and brown, add the batter directly into the hot pans, and bake until the crust is set and very dark and caramelized. Go darker than you might think—they’ll taste amazing and they won’t fall when they come out of the oven.

I’ve made Dutch babies in other vessels before, and they’re not the same. A Dutch baby made in a stainless pan or a ceramic baking dish lacks the deeply caramelized crust and deflates as soon as you take it out of the oven. You’ve just got to have Lodge cast iron for Dutch baby perfection!

Happy 120th anniversary, Lodge!

Individual Dutch Babies
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
¾ cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 450˚F. Divide the butter among 2 6 ½” cast iron skillets and bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until browned. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture in thirds, whisking after each addition until smooth. If you add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients all at once, you will inevitably wind up with a lumpy batter. As soon as the butter is brown, divide the batter among the hot skillets and bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Serve immediately.

Serves 2. For breakfast, lunch, or brinner, these babies are delicious served with nothing but a spoonful of preserves or a drizzle of maple syrup or honey. Take them from simple to spectacular with a topping of seasonal fruit and lightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream. Strawberries and cream is always a hit at my house.

Sometimes I serve the babies right in the pans, sometimes I slide them out onto plates.

The cast iron keeps them warm longer, but of course it melts toppings like whipped cream faster too. For a more substantial crust that is even more resistant to falling, substitute 2 tablespoons of cornstarch for 2 tablespoons of the flour. If you treated yourself to a Lodge 120th Edition 8” skillet, you can use it to make a single large Dutch baby. It will take 7 to 9 minutes to brown the butter and 24 to 27 minutes to bake the 8” baby.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Victoria Versus Lodge Cast Iron

Have you ever heard of Victoria cast iron cookware?

I got my hands on a few pieces, and at first glance I was impressed by the quality.

I’ve been putting the Victoria 6 ½” egg skillet through its paces. Here’s how it stacks up against the Lodge 6 ½” skillet.

As many of us know, the Lodge is pre-seasoned with soy-based vegetable oil. Victoria’s factory seasoning is kosher-certified single-source Colombian palm oil. The Lodge has a slightly smoother surface, but the Victoria skillet is significantly smoother than any Chinese CI I’ve seen. Both brands seem to have casting voids here and there. The Victoria is nearly a quarter of a pound heavier than the Lodge. The source of much of the extra weight? The gently curved handle of the Victoria is about an inch longer. I felt both handles were equally easy to grasp and both pans were equally easy to maneuver, even when hot, but the difference in the weight, shape, and size and overall ergonomics might be more noticeable with heavier large pans. The Victoria has enormous pour spouts comparing to the Lodge. In fact, they are so large that they don’t give a Dutch baby all the support it needs as it bakes and rises, causing it to split at the rim and resulting in a less than attractive but nevertheless delicious specimen. But, and this is a big but, the spouts work beautifully well for pouring. Not a drop of oil dribbles down the side of the pan! The same cannot be said about the Lodge. Both the Lodge and Victoria seem to brown food and release food equally well. Dutch babies bake and color evenly in both skillets. Sunny-side-up eggs slide out of both skillets with ease. Overall, I’m extremely pleased with how the Victoria skillet performs and I’d recommend it. You might like it especially if you find Lodge handles to be uncomfortable. One other point of interest about Victoria CI: according to a company representative, the factory recently installed the same machinery that Le Creuset uses, and they’re in the process of migrating all molds to the new machine. I cannot wait to see what they come up with next!

Thanks to Creative Home & Kitchen for providing the Victoria cookware samples.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Chinese Green Onion Pancakes in Cast Iron

Last week I whipped up batch of these for lunch. Since I used cast iron in the process, I took a couple of quick snapshots with my phone and posted them in the Facebook Cast Iron Cooking group just for fun. Within minutes I was inundated with requests for my recipe. It was such a pleasant surprise I felt I had to write it up and share it!

This flatbread, which is a favorite at dim sum restaurants, is at once flakey, crisp, and chewy. It’s a bit unusual because it’s made with a hot water dough. And because the rolling process results in many thin layers of dough and oil sandwiched together, it’s a laminated dough of sorts.

To be honest, I never measure any of the ingredients except for the flour and water for the dough. The thing to know is that the ratio is 2 parts flour and 1 part boiling water by volume. The procedure may seem a little long, but it’s really quick and easy and fun to do once you get the hang of it. Take care to slice the green onion very thinly or it will tear through the dough. A short dowel roller, which can be found for around $2 at most Asian markets, is ideal for rolling these out.

Chinese Green Onion Pancakes
Printable Recipe

½ cup plus ¼ teaspoon all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Kosher salt
¼ cup boiling water
¾ teaspoon dark sesame oil
¾ teaspoon canola oil, plus more for frying
1 large green onion, thinly sliced
Soy sauce, for serving

Mix together ½ cup of the flour and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Add the boiling water and, using chopsticks, mix until all of the flour is moistened and the dough is cool enough to handle. Then knead for a minute or two until smooth and elastic. The dough will be somewhat sticky. Cover with a second inverted bowl and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix together the sesame oil, canola oil, and ¼ teaspoon of the flour in a small bowl.

Cut the dough into thirds and form each portion into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 ball of dough to a 6 to 7-inch wide circle. Drizzle about 1/3 of the sesame oil mixture over the dough circle and spread it evenly with the back of a spoon, leaving a ¼-inch border at the edge. Sprinkle over about 1/3 of the green onion.

Roll up the dough circle like a jelly roll.

Then coil up the roll like a snake.

Tuck the outer end of the roll under the coil to secure it and then press down on the coil lightly with the palm of your hand to create a disc. Make more discs with the remaining dough, sesame oil mixture, and green onions in the same manner.

Roll the discs out in the same order as you made them: On a lightly floured surface, roll out each disc to a 6 to 7-inch wide pancake.

As you work, stack the pancakes on a plate between sheets of parchment paper to keep them from sticking to each other.

Fry the pancakes in the same order as you rolled them: Heat a cast iron griddle over medium-low heat until very hot but not smoking. Add a generous drizzle of canola oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the griddle. Add 1 pancake and cook without disturbing for 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden brown.

Using a spatula, turn the pancake and continue to cook over medium-low, pressing down on it lightly with the back of a spatula, another 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.

Remove the pancake to a cutting board. Fry the remaining pancakes in the same manner.

Cut the pancakes into wedges and serve hot with soy sauce for dipping.

Makes 3 pancakes, enough for a generous snack. Feel free to double or triple the recipe if you have to share.
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