(non-breaking news): Cast Iron Skillets are Magic

I realize that this is not new information. My grandmother was loyal to her cast iron skillet and would talk about things like "seasoning the pan" and other cryptic phrases that scared me off. I had found many a recipe that recommended using a cast iron skillet, and as long as it wasn't one of the stovetop to oven ones, I ignored the advice thinking, "how different can it be, I have a skillet that works fine". Oh. It's different. I stumbled into using one when we went camping last year and I got one for campfire cooking. I brought a bag of the dry ingredients for The Compassionate Cook pancakes pre-mixed in a ziploc. I had the soy milk, water, oil and vanilla along and mixed it up there in the woods. Those were the best mother f-ing pancakes that I ever had. At the time, I thought it was because we were cooking and eating pancakes at a campsite in the middle of Yosemite valley, and I'm sure that was a bit part of it. However, when I got home, I made stovetop pancakes with the same recipe on that same skillet, and there, in the middle of my apartment in Los Angeles- were the 2nd most amazing pancakes that I ever had. Which proved beyond a doubt that it was the skillet's doing. I have used it since for stir fries, it's particularly amazing at browning tofu (for particularly wet tofu, I have baked it in the skillet and it is to die for). It comes in handy for most everything (though I read that tomato based dishes are a no-no in it). I seasoned it once, and it could use another round of that when it cools off enough to put the oven on (I followed the Martha god's instructions from her Cooking School book, but she has instructions here). To convince you of the magic of it, I challenge you to try this potato recipe. It's great with a tofu scramble or savory breakfast. I would even go as far as to serve it on the side of a comfort food dish like Salsbury Seitan. It is insanely good! Like eyes into the back of your head good. There are crispy pieces of potato that are as crunchy as chips, and then the softer centers that are so creamy and good that any condiment just gets in the way. Also, it's quite easy, you'll need: • 1 bag (use about 9*) of the small tri-color potatoes at Trader Joes. If you don't have one close by, most stores have something like this, it has the small variety of white, yellow and purple potatoes. • Salt and Pepper to taste • Butter or vegan margarine (one of the bi-products of going back to vegetarian vs vegan is that I started to use butter, I'm not proud, but it may be what makes these so amazing). • your magic cast iron skillet Wash potatoes well and slice about 9 of them width wise depending on size varying from paper thin to about 1/8" thick max. There's a magic combo of how many you can use without crowding the pan and making it too hard to get the right consistency and crunchy parts that you're after- too many potatoes in the pan and it won't get there. I mix the colors up after slicing because it's prettier that way Heat the skillet on medium heat, put a few pats of butter or margarine in the pan and then layer the slices all along the bottom. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the first layer and put 3-4 more pats of butter or margarine on top. Repeat for 2 more layers of potatoes. I haven't timed how long this takes, but it's awhile- at least 30 minutes. What you'll need to do it let those taters sizzle away in the pan and flip when you have some browning and crunchiness on them. They will start to clump, fall apart a bit, there will be some stuck together, free those up from time to time to get everyone some quality skillet time. you'll know they're done when they've shrunk down a bit and there are some curled up crunchy bits in there coupled with what looks like scalloped potatoes. Test for salt and pepper, season if necessary and serve immediately. These re-heat okay, but there's nothing like them when they're fresh out of the amazing wonderous cast iron skillet!

Profiteroles est Tres Délicieux et Facile (Profiteroles are f-ing good)

So, this is about the most dairy that I've used in a recipe in years. It's appropriate that that should happen with this specific dish. My first year-long foray into being vegan ended in a tiny restaurant in Paris with a dish of profiteroles. It was the first time that I had ever heard of them or had them, and after a year of dairy abstinence, my eyes rolled back into my head and I proceeded to blissfully gorge myself. It helps that I was raised in Wisconsin, the land of cream puffs, and profiteroles are basically cream puffs with ice cream and chocolate sauce. So loving profiteroles to me was like a fish loving water. These were made with a recipe from Martha Stewart's Cooking Class, a darn helpful tome of a book that I turn to from time to time to find out how long to roast a beet or how to prepare a certain veg. It does have a load of meat info too, which I could do without, but we all know chica's a carnivore. The recipe on her site here is similar to what I made, and has a video that shows essentially how to prepare these. I used a kitchenaid for the egg bit, and truth be told- I never use eggs for anything and was a bit grossed out by that. I think if I make them again, it'll be a vegan version (I'll be sure to report how that comes out). I did the ziplock "piping bag" trick and I worked great. They baked to perfection, poofed, and were a hit at the dinner that I brought them to (the toddler started eating them by diving her face onto the top of one and licking the chocolate... success!). I used a vanilla bean ice cream and made the chocolate sauce (Martha again) here- directions are "step 6". These look deceptively complex and really make it seem like you're a superstar gourmet pastry chef, when in actuality, they are easier than making a cake.

Beet Salad (Caprese)

Beet "salad" seems to mean beet caprese at most restaurants. Which I'm totally not complaining about- its flippin amazing! Therefore, I had to recreate and share. I roasted red and golden beets for 45 minutes (I highly recommend tin foil, as roasting's a hot mess), then let them cool a bit, sliced them and served with buffalo mozzerella, the RFD vinegrette and some chiffonade sliced basil. Throw some candied walnuts on the plate and voila! Ah-maz-ing starter! Perfect for making while you have beets in the house for Beet Burgers. If you're a newbie to beet roasting like I was, there's directions here.

Naan Pizza



This is a fast, fast weeknight dinner, and is cheat cooking (jarred sauce and pre-made naan), but it really makes for a tasty, good meal. This is my take on the Naan Pizzas at "Cowboys and Turbans"- the Indian/ Mexican fusion place on the east side (that looks like it may be closed now, but...?) It's a place as weird as their name, but the food is really good. They have these Masala fries that are ridiculously good, as well as these Naan Pizzas, which is essentially an Indian dish piled on top of naan (like a pizza!)

The recipe requires that you're near a Trader Joe's too- as their masala sauce is awesome!

- 4-6 pieces naan (TJ's has it frozen, but that's not vegan- it's kind of hard to find vegan naan, but possible if you hunt for it)
- 1 large bag spinach, stems removed
- 1 brick tofu (TJ's shrink wrapped organic super firm is great for this), cubed small
- 1-2 jars of TJ's jarred Masala sauce (we use about 1 1/2 usually)
- 1 cup peas
-1-2T canola oil

(Preheat the oven if your naan requires baking) Heat the oil in a large sautée (or sauce) pan, add the tofu and cook until slightly golden brown, add sauce and peas to the tofu, cook until peas are cooked through. Throw your naan in the oven. Add spinach by the fist fulls until it wilts down, add more, etc until you've added the whole bag.

Now, I'm not a dunker with cookies and I don't like soggy food, so my preference is to cook the naan a bit crunchier than usual, and pile the spinach/ tofu masala mix on top just before eating. I wouldn't assemble and wait at all before diving in or your naan will get soggy. I also recommend a fork and knife vs pizza slice-style eating unless you happen to be wearing a rain poncho.