The Power Skillet

I’m a generally practical person.
True, I am given to occasional flights of fancy and I have been known to drift off into the hazy ether of daydreams during my morning subway commute, but when it comes to everyday living I’ve got two feet firmly planted on the ground. I do not like buying things that are purely ornamental and have absolutely no use beyond sitting on a shelf. For instance, I can see the use in purchasing a particularly beautiful tablecloth, or cloth napkin or embroidered towel, because they are all decorative but also functional.

I am not a collector of any sort. I have come to believe there is a special layer of hell resigned to the storage and display of knickknacks. I try to keep my teeny tiny kitchen in functional order by only having the most basic kitchen supplies. So, what is my favorite, most versatile kitchen tool? Hands down, my cast iron skillet. It’s super easy to clean, it can be used on the stove top or in the oven, it’s sturdy and will undoubtedly last forever and in an emergency situation it can easily double as a weapon. I have imagined many times that in any zombie-apocalypse scenario, I would be the girl wielding the cast iron skillet.

Cast iron is perfect for baking because dough will brown on all sides and you get a perfect, crispy crust on upside down cakes. It’s naturally non-stick and an added bonus: iron! Yes, using cast iron is a great way to get extra iron in your diet without taking supplements (that may contain lead).

Blueberry and Peach Brown Bottom Skillet Cake

For the Brown Sugar Crust:
1 cup brown sugar
a sprinkle of cinnamon
1 stick of melted butter

For the Cake:
4 TBSP butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup all purpose flour or cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
Peaches, blueberries, plums, pineapple, whatever fruit you have laying around.

Get out your 12″ skillet. Feel the power. Preheat oven to 450. Melt the butter and mix in with the brown sugar, spread evenly on the bottom of the skillet
For the cake: Sift together dry ingredients, set aside. In a separate bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar until you have a paste of sorts. Then add in the egg, milk, vanilla and cinnamon until thoroughly incorporated and smooth. The slowly fold in the dry ingredients until you have a thick batter. Pour batter into your power skillet and plunk in your fruit of choice. I particularly like stone fruits for this cake, and berries, yes, lots of berries. Bake that sucker for 25-30 mins and the skillet will reward you for your effort.

Do you see how perfectly browned this cake is? It’s the magic of the skillet. A quick disclaimer: I don’t care what celebrity chefs on the Food Network have to say about butter, I do not always use full fat animal butter in these recipes. Butter has an awful lot of cholesterol and fat and while it’s fine in moderation, it is not a healthy choice for many Americans who consume far too much animal fat and protein in other foods. For that reason I usually use a subsitute. Earth Balance is my personal favorite brand of alterna-butter (Margarine is now a four letter word that I won’t bother using). Sometimes I use half butter, half olive oil or I skip the butter altogether and use olive oil as my fat.

Butter or no butter, this cake is awesome. Some people have a power tie, other people have a power animal, I have a power skillet.

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Blueberry Morning

I love breakfast. I love that feeling of waking up after a good sleep, stomach rumbling and ready to fill, and preparing the first meal of the day. How the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans entices me, the sizzling of a griddle like an ode to the morning, and ah, the feeling of utter satisfaction as my hunger pains are quelled by, pancakes, omelets, waffles, muffins, crepes…

I have a special kind of hatred for cereal. The last thing I want on a frigid, snowy morning is a bowl of mush drenched in cold milk. Blech.
When I was a kid it was usually catch as catch can in my house, and there were plenty of days that began with cereal or overcooked slop served in the school cafeteria. Rehydrated eggs tinged green, little plastic cups of sugary orange juice and patties of grayish sausages that sat in puddles of water as if they had been boiled, were a part of daily life during the less fortunate portions of my impoverished upbringing. But on weekends, I used to wake up and make french toast with leftover, slightly stale bread for my brothers and sister. Sometimes my sister and I would make scrambled eggs with a side of tomatoes in vinaigrette. I learned through my own experience that the first meal of the day should take a little extra time and care.

A hearty breakfast sets the tone for my day and keeps me alert on my nearly two hour commute on the subway. Usually I have a slice of toast with hummus or jam and a piece of fruit, or a bowl of oatmeal, but on Saturdays, I like to indulge in a grander affair. I make whole wheat pancakes, blueberry jam, frittata served hot, and don’t forget the maple syrup. Oh, if only the entire world were drenched in sweet, sweet maple syrup, what a world that would be.

Last weekend, I got these amazing, giant and juicy organic blueberries that were just calling out to me. When I ran into a recipe for baked oatmeal, I knew it was the perfect vehicle for these blueberries. I took a relatively fat and sugar laden recipe and made it my own.

Baked Blueberry Oatmeal
1 ½ cups quick oats
¼ cup molasses
1 Tbsp evaporated cane sugar
¾ cup milk
¼ olive oil
1 egg (or the equivalent, to cut fat you can use a ¼ cup of applesauce instead)
2 Tbsp flax seed meal
¼ cup sliced almonds (optional)
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350. Mix all the ingredients in a 9×9 baking dish. Bake for 20-25 mins.

That’s it. Flax seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which as we all know, helps protect arteries and the heart from building up cholesterol. Oatmeal and flax go well together as flavor components. They are both nutty and the creaminess of the oats compliments the slight bitter taste of flax.

The original recipe called for ¼ cup butter, and a ½ cup of sugar. I’ve made it healthier with flax, replacing the butter for olive oil and trading the sugar with molasses and evaporated cane sugar. Molasses is much healthier than processed sugar, it retains vitamins and minerals lost in the refining process. It is slightly less sweet than sugar, so I add a titch of unprocessed cane sugar to boost the sweetness a bit. I think in the future a mashed banana would do better for sweetness or a few chopped dates rather than adding more sugar.

This is my kind of hot breakfast. Stick to your ribs goodness.


Killer Tofu

I have a confession to make. For a good solid three years, I was vegan. I am not ashamed of my previous food choices and in fact, I continue to primarily eat vegan/vegetarian meals and I love it! Before you angrily close your browser in disgust, I hope you consider the abundance of foods available to veggie lovers. Contrary to the opinion that vegheads are self important, food nazis who can’t enjoy the simple pleasures of eating, or that they must be anorexic, or have severely traumatic relationships with food, the world of vegetarianism can be full of excitement and wonder. If your diet only consists of meat and dairy products, that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of pleasure or fun to me. I truly became a foodie when I entered into the world of fresh ingredients and vegetable bliss.

Part of my initiation into vegetarianism involved learning to cook with tofu. Prior to high school, my only other experience with tofu was a song from the Nickelodeon cartoon “Doug” sung by the fictional band, “The Beets,” it went like this: “OOooooeeeeeoooooOO, Killer tofu!” And I remember singing that at the top of my lungs with my sister and brothers, sometime in the early ’90s. Tofu was funny, strange and certainly exotic. I have to admit I feared it. I first tried making a stir fry with the vacuum packed, silken tofu and the jello-like blob that slurped out of the box completely disintegrated into a soupy mess in the pan. I invested in a tofu cook book and tried my hand at tofu “meat” loaf, barbecue tofu, and even tofu puddings. Some recipes failed miserably and I was left with slop, but for the successes I felt a sense of real pride. Tackling tofu takes patience and the ability to think outside of the box. It’s a fantastic food for creative, artsy types.

Tofu is not as frightening as you may think. The lack of flavor means that the squishy stuff will absorb surrounding flavors and does a great job of soaking up sauces and marinades. You can bake it for a chewy texture or steam it for a soft, pudding-like texture, you can make it for breakfast, dinner, lunch and dessert. It’s just as good as an egg, and you don’t have to worry about salmonella or cholesterol. Tofu is still my go-to when I want a quick protein boost. You can add it to smoothies, combine it with favorites like peanut butter and hummus, or eat it simply as the Japanese do: cold, garnished with only green onions and soy sauce. If you’re not ready for the traditional preparations, you may be overjoyed to learn that tofu can replace many common recipes.

I bring to you my favorite killer tofu recipe, scramble.

looks like eggs, but...

Here’s my recipe for basic tofu scramble:
1 block extra firm tofu
1Tbsp olive oil
1tsp black pepper
1tsp rubbed sage
2tsp oregano
1Tbsp turmeric
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt to taste

Drain the tofu (make sure this is not the vacuum packed, shelf stable tofu. Buy fresh tofu, packed in water, usually found near the produce isle). Squeeze out excess moisture from the block of tofu and crumble to medium curds.
In a pan on medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add garlic and cook for about a minute before adding tofu. Cook tofu for three to five minutes to heat through. Add remaining ingredients. The turmeric will give your tofu a golden color akin to the color of egg yolks.
The mixture only needs to be cooked until hot.
I love adding sauteed vegetables or greens to this basic recipe. The sky’s the limit with possibilities. So get out there and try it for yourself!

Tofu scramble with swiss chard and asparagus *heaven*