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.


With Fireworks

I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly patriotic person, but every year I tend to find myself participating in a get together of one sort or another on the Fourth of July. Where I grew up, in Phoenix, Arizona, fireworks did not happen every summer because of the risk of brush fires. Then, in college I moved to a mountain town in Northern AZ where the entire area surrounding the city was liable to spontaneously combust at the mere mention of an open flame.
It wasn’t until last year, when I moved to Chicago that fireworks were back on the table, in a big way. We live right next to a park that literally crackles and sizzles with the sounds of explosives for the entire holiday weekend, and rather than find that annoying I think it’s great. I think it’s great that once a year it’s entirely acceptable to set off explosives in a public park.

So, with the sounds of whizzing cherry bombs infiltrating my kitchen, I decided to make a French cake and top it with strawberries and blueberries. “Why not pay homage to the contributions the French have made to American culture,” I thought. (Well actually, I got the berries because they were on sale and they looked so sweet and delicious, and the french cake has been on my baking set list for a while now.)
I could have made biscuit-like shortcakes instead, but this moist, citrus-y cake evokes something a little more elegant.

I can not and will not take any credit for the cake recipe. It unabashedly comes from Molly Wizenberg, author of “Orangette” one of my favorite food blogs. The only tweeks I made were adding valencia orange zest, vanilla, and baking it in a loaf pan as opposed to a 9X9 round, cake pan.

French Yogurt Cake

1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp valencia orange zest
1/2 cup yogurt
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Syrup
1/4 cup lemon and orange juice
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

Heat oven to 350. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and zest until just incorporated.
In a large bowl, mix yogurt, sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Slowly fold in flour until a creamy batter.
Lastly, add in the oil and mix thoroughly until smooth. Pour batter into an oiled and floured loaf or cake pan. Bake for 25-35 mins until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. When done, transfer to a rack and drizzle the syrup over the warm cake.

For the fruit topping, I simply rinsed the berries, quartered the strawberries and tossed with a bit of the juice and about 2 TBSP of confectioner’s sugar. Let the berries sit in the fridge for an hour or two so the juice from the berries can pool at the bottom of the bowl.

I topped mine with hand-whipped cream. For that, I pour the cream into a chilled bowl, add a few TBSP of confectioner’s sugar and a drop of vanilla and beat until stiff.

Voila!

I’m certainly not a nationalistic type, but I have to thank the French for their cake recipe. I intend to devour every bite under a sky of sparklers.
Happy Fourth.