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.


Mushroom Toasts

For someone on vacation, I’m keeping myself pretty well occupied. This weekend, after my venture to the Green City Market, my days were filled with cooking up all of the beautiful produce I snagged. One of my prized treasures from the market was a 2lb bag of mushrooms from River Valley Ranch. The mixed bag included tiny baby portobello mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and shitake. They were honestly the most beautiful mushrooms I have ever seen. The oyster mushrooms had large, velvety white petals, and the shitake were smooth, brown and perfect.

Almost instantly, I knew exactly what I was going to make mushroom toasts. This is the quickest, most delicious meal you can make with a sack of fresh mushrooms. I promise.

Buttery Mushroom Toasts
2 lb of mushrooms (or really, however many you have)
1 small shallot minced
2-3 tbsp unsalted butter
about 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
4tbsp dry white wine
1-2 tsp cornstarch mixed with water or wine.
parsley to garnish
salt and pepper to taste

Thoroughly wash the mushrooms of any grit. Pat dry with a towel. Cut stems on mushrooms and slice. The smaller button-shaped mushrooms I cut in half or in quarters if they were larger. I sliced the shitake and oyster mushrooms lengthwise. In a pan on medium-high heat, melt butter and saute shallots for 2-3 mins. Add in mushrooms and parsley. Cook mushrooms until slightly tender (5-10mins.), there will be considerable juice in the pan.

For this recipe you want the mushrooms juicy so you can make a gravy. Add in the wine and stir until liquid reduces slightly (1-2mins). Add in the cornstarch to thicken the gravy.

Top your favorite bread with the mushrooms. I picked up a crusty loaf of Italian bread.

The mushroom toasts were indescribably savory and they made a surprisingly hearty meal. It almost goes without saying, but there were no leftovers.