Archive for the 'Cast Iron' Category

A Basic Sourdough

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Several years ago, when I was still working in a restaurant where I occasionally had a shift baking, I did pretty well at maintaining a sourdough starter.  Then, and it’s tough to remember the exact sequence of events, but I think that breaking my leg was somehow involved, I killed the yeast.  Found it one day submerged in a pool of pink slime.  I can’t say I was really devastated, or even surprised.  I’d gotten off track with my starter, hadn’t even glanced at it in well nigh a month at that point.

Still, it was nice to be able to whip up bread with nothing but flour, water, and salt.

I’ve been maintaining a new starter for about a month now.  It was a gift from Brett (of the chocolate sourdough fame) and it has been pretty easy to maintain.  So far, at least.  And I’ve made some fantastic bread and an amazing pizza crust from the resulting dough.

It’s often been said that baking is a science and one must rigorously follow formulae to get the desired result.  I disagree.  If I were to have rigorously followed the formula for pain au levain that I used as a starting point for my dough making, I’d have come up with a ‘dough’ that more closely resembled a puddle.  “Resist the temptation to add more flour,” the recipe said, “this dough should be quite soft.”  I’m quite content to have ignored that bit of advice.

A couple of batches of bread feeling out the consistency under my belt, I decided to take more careful stock of the measurements.  Perhaps get a formula of my own that is somewhat replicable.  No idea if this will work for you, but it seems to do the trick for me.

Basic Sourdough Formula

  • 38 ounces (by weight) fed starter
  • 3 lb unbleached all purpose flour
  • 25 oz water
  • 2 Tbl kosher salt
  • 4 oz additional flour
  1. Your starter should have been fed within the last 2-6 hours.  You should have measured out about 12 oz of it and returned it to its home in a glass canning jar in the fridge.  The 38 remaining ounces are enough to make about 3 loaves of bread and 2 pizzas.  If that’s more bread than you want, give some of it away, or discard some of the starter and reduce proportionately the remaining ingredients.
  2. Use cold water, preferably water that has had several hours to sit since having come from the tap, so that the chlorine included in most tap water will have had a chance to dissipate.  Or use bottled water if you must, but from a waste reduction standpoint, I would highly encourage against that.  Heat the water to 100 degrees F.
  3. Combine the water and the starter.  Add the flour and mix.  Cover with a clean dishcloth and let sit about 30 minutes.
  4. Mix the salt into the dough by kneading it on a heavily floured surface (that’s what the additional 4 oz of flour are for).  Don’t put all 4 oz down at once.  Start with about 1/3 of it and add more as needed.  When you have a dough that is smooth, elastic, and only a little bit sticky, return it to the bowl, cover it with the dish cloth, and let it rise for an hour or two.
  5. Gently deflate the dough by separating it from the side of the bowl and pushing down on it gently.  Cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator overnight, or up to 3 days.
  6. Remove from the fridge.  Divide into portions and let sit at room temperature to warm back up.
  7. For pizza:
    1. Grease the bottoms of two standard half sheet trays.  Stretch the dough by hand to cover most of the area.
    2. Spread with sauce, sprinkle with cheese, and add the toppings of your choice.
    3. Bake in a preheated 450 degree F oven for about 30 minutes or until done.
  8. For bread:
    1. Shape loaves.  Let proof for about 30 minutes to an hour.
    2. Heat cast iron pans flipped upside down in a 400 degree F oven, plus a small cast iron pan rightside up at the very bottom.
    3. When the bread has proofed, transfer it to the hot cast iron pan bottoms.  If doing two loaves on the same pan, allow adequate space so that they don’t grow together in the oven.  Should that happen, the parts that are ‘kissing’ will still be doughy when everything else is done.
    4. Pour some water into the rightside up pan and also scatter some on the floor of the oven.  A huge cloud of steam will result.  Close the oven door quickly to keep it contained.  Watch out for steam burns!
    5. Set the timer for 20 minutes.  When it rings, remove the pan of water from the oven.  Steam for the first 20 minutes will help to produce a beautiful crust, but you need dry heat to finish it.  Set the timer for another 20 minutes.
    6. The bread is done when golden brown with a crackling crust and it sounds hollow when thumped from beneath.  Remove it to a rack to cool.

If you want to know how to start a sourdough starter, there are plenty of great resources that you can find to guide you.  Strange but true culinary school tidbit… when I was in the baking rotation of culinary school, the sourdough recipe they taught involved no starter.  Instead, they added pickle juice to the dough to give it tang.  I was incensed.  “That’s not a real sourdough!” I protested.  The chef instructor said, “wait til you taste the bread.  That dough really is sour!”


Cast Iron Makes a Huge Difference

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

I got some church lady pierogies this week and brought them home to cook.  I always cook lots of vegetables to go with them.  This week, it was onions, garlic, mushrooms, hot pepper, and bell peppers.  My copper-bottomed stainless steel was out and handy, so I used it.

I got about halfway through adding the vegetables into the pan and realized that it was getting a bit crowded, so I grabbed my ceramic-lined cast iron off of the pot rack (the only cast iron that hangs—the rest sit in the cupboard being so heavy that they’ve bowed the cupboard floor.  Whenever we get around to redoing the kitchen, we’re going to have to install a specially reinforced cupboard with custom-built organizational slots to accommodate my collection).  I fired up the heat under that pan and transferred about half of what was in the stainless pan to the new one once it got hot.

Even though my stainless pan was over the so-called ‘power burner’ on my stove, and even though I actually had more gas burning under it than I did my cast iron pan, the vegetables in the stainless pan were cooking but not taking on any color while the ones in the cast iron pan were taking on a beautiful caramel hue.  I wound up doing multiple transfers/ retransfers between the two pans to get all of the veg to caramleize properly.

My Standard Pierogie Vegetable Mix Recipe

Slice onions, garlic, mushrooms and peppers.  Add about a half stick of butter to a hot pan.  Once it has mostly melted, put the onions into the pan along with a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste.  Cook over mediumish heat, stirring about once a minute.  Once the onions have softened and are starting to brown, add the garlic.  Cook for 1-3 minutes until it starts to brown.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have shrunk and taken on some color.  (if your pan is getting too full, divide between two pans).  Add the peppers and cook until they have softened.

One-pan instructions

Remove the cooked vegetables to a plate to hold.  Add the other half stick of butter to the pan.  Brown the pierogies in the butter, flipping just once.  When the pierogies have browned, return the vegetables tot he pan.  optional: Add chicken or vegetable stock and reduce over high heat to a sauce.

Two-pan instructions:

Put all of the vegetables in one of the pans.  Add chicken stock and reduce over medium-high heat to a sauce.  Meanwhile, add the other half stick of butter to the now-empty pan.  Brown the pierogies in here, flipping only once.  When they are browned, transfer them to the vegetable-filled pan, arranging them in an attractive radiating star pattern across the top of the pan for family-style service.

Cranberry Sample

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

This morning, Angstrom and I made my cranberry-oatmeal coffee cake for breakfast.

We had finished mixing most of the ingredients and I was pouring the frozen cranberries into the batter when Angstrom told me, “I want a cranberry.”

It wasn’t so much the fact that they were frozen that made me pause.  After all, Angstrom had happily requested—and eaten—frozen blueberries as his snack earlier in the week.  So, I knew he could handle the cold.  I just wasn’t sure how he would react to the flavor—and after trying a raw cranberry, would he still be interested in the coffee cake?  But, if he doesn’t taste the raw one, how will he know the flavor transformation these berries undergo during the cooking process?

“Raw cranberries are very tart,” I told him as I handed him one to try.  “They’ll be sweeter once they’ve cooked.”

He popped it in his mouth, crunched it up, and ate the whole thing.  “Cranberries are very sour,” he told me.  We finished mixing the coffee cake and then read a couple of books while we waited for breakfast to bake.

If you’ve never tried this coffee cake, I recommend making it when cranberries start showing up in the stores in the next few weeks.  Then, buy a half dozen or so extra bags of cranberries and throw them in your freezer so you can make it for the rest of the year.

Firehouse Demo Recipes

Monday, July 5th, 2010

I had a fantastic time cooking fresh foods at the Slow Food Pittsburgh table on Saturday morning.  How could I not?  Slow Food unleashed me to shop for whatever ingredients I could use, then I got to cook up whatever I felt like making from the freshest food available!  I just hope we collected enough donations to make the day worthwhile for Slow Food—because if so, I hope that will increase the chances of my being invited back soon for another Saturday of fresh food demonstrations.

Several of the shoppers/ samplers asked me if I had recipes for what I was cooking.  The simple answer was no, I didn’t—because I had no idea what I was going to make until the ingredients presented themselves to me.  For instance, the first dish of the day was a total shocker: Mott Family Farm had yellow transparent apples available, and the early, sour apples make an excellent applesauce—so that’s exactly what I made with them.

Instructions follow for each of the dishes I made: applesauce, Grandma Tolley’s salad (with my own twists), sauteed sugar snap peas with kale, pan seared summer squash with parmesan, freshly made croutons and vinaigrette (to spice up any salad), and maple sugar salmon.  Whew!  That was a full morning of cooking.


Pork Chop Waffle with Ramp and Rhubarb Sauce

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

I went shopping at the Farmers @ The Firehouse Market this morning to get my ingredients for my Kick Ass Cookery with Corduroy Orange live from the Waffle Shop cooking show; combined what I bought with some pickings from my garden; gathered my spices and my cooking equipment…. In short, I prepared everything I needed for today except for taking a camera to snap a picture of what I made (D’oh!).  But, here are instructions in case you’d like to have Pork Chop Waffles with Rhubarb and Ramp Sauce.

  • 1/4 pound ramps
  • 1/4 pound spring (green) garlic
  • 1/2-3/4 pound rhubarb
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger
  • 10 leaves dinosaur kale
  • 6 leaves kohlrabi greens
  • 6 leaves red mustard greens
  • 1-2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 4-6 ounces apple cider (I used Woodchuck brand hard cider)
  • 4-6 ounces vegetable stock
  • 1 pork chop
  • kosher salt
  • pepper (I used a mix of black, white, green, and aleppo peppers)
  • powdered ginger
  • cardamom

Cut the green, leafy tops of the ramps and the spring garlic away from their denser bottom sections.  Set the tops aside for later and cut the bottoms into a fine dice.

Start the diced garlic and ramp bottoms caramelizing in a hot pan with a bit of oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan), some pepper, some ginger, and some kosher salt.  Stir frequently so that the onions’ natural sugars toast in the hot oil but do not scorch and burn.

Meanwhile, cut the rhubarb into 1/2-inch chunks and add them to the pan as the garlic and ramps approach the point when, should you caramelize them further, they would run the risk of burning.  Provide the rhubarb with a very small pinch of salt and stir it in with the ramps and garlic.

Remove the stems from the kale and the kohlrabi.  Cut the greens into thin ribbons, and add them to the pan.  Saute them briefly, then add the flour and stir the flour in to combine with the oil that the vegetables are sauteing in.  Once you have formed a roux around the vegetables, add the cider, slowly, and stir it in to combine with the roux.  Let simmer for a few minutes, and adjust the consistency of the sauce with vegetable stock as necessary.

For the pork chop, craft a spice mix from the spices and the kosher salt.  Use as much pepper as you would like to reach your tolerance for spiciness.  Temper with ginger, equivalent to perhaps 1/3 of the pepper you have used.  Stir in a pinch of cardamom—a little dab’ll do you!  This spice is bitter in large quantities—and enough salt to balance the spices.  Taste the result.  Adjust as needed until you have the taste you desire.   Rub this mix on the pork chop and then sear the chop in a hot cast iron pan (in order to get the sauce and the chop done at the same time, sear the chop at about the same time as you’re crafting the roux to make the sauce.  It helps to have an assistant in order to accomplish both tasks simultaneously).

Once the one side has seared, turn the chop over and cover your cast iron pan with the saute pan that you have made the sauce in.  This will help keep the finished sauce warm whilst (and at the same time as) trapping more heat around the pork chop to help it cook all the way through.

As the second side of the pork chop cooks, slice a few inches of rhubarb into very thin pieces and stir it into the sauce to add a second, fresher and tarter layer of rhubarb flavor.  Slice the mustard greens and the tops of the ramps and green garlic into thin ribbons to use as a garnish.

Flip the pork chop once more to reheat the first side and prod the pork chop with your fingers to make sure it feels done.  If you;re in doubt, feel free to slice it open to check out the inside.  An appropriately cooked pork chop will still have a pale pink hue to the center.

Serve the pork chop atop a freshly cooked waffle.  Spoon a line of the rhubarb and ramp sauce across the waffle such that it covers a corner of the pork chop, leaving at least half of the chop exposed to display the crust that has developed from searing the spice rub.  Top it all off with a small pile of the thinly-sliced mustard, ramp, and garlic greens.

Meat and produce used for the creation of this waffle was purchased from the following farms:

  • Mott Family Farm
  • Next Life Farm
  • Goose Creek Gardens, Ltd.
  • Heilman’s Hog Wash Farms
  • The Allegheny Mushroom Man

Find all of these farmers and more every Saturday at the Farmers @ The Firehouse market in the Strip District.

Thanks also to Sophia for appearing on camera today.  Unless that thanks should go to Sofia.  I’m actually not quite sure how she spells her name….

Roasted Red Pepper Lime-Aigrette

Monday, April 5th, 2010

This salad dressing uses lime juice instead of vinegar to provide its acid.  Roasting the limes alongside the red peppers helps them to yield all of their juice.

  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 2 limes
  • The leaves from a 3.5-inch sprig of fresh rosemary, minced
  • Extra virgin olive oil equal to the limes’ juice (~1/3 cup)
  • ~1/4 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)

To roast the red peppers and the limes, get a cast iron skillet large enough to accommodate all 4 pieces hot on a medium-high flame.  Put the peppers and limes down on the hot skillet.  Keep a loose eye on them and turn them whenever their skin gets scorched–the limes will likely need to be turned sooner than the peppers.  Turn, turn, turn (to everything there is a season, turn, turn, turn) until their skin is dark and puckered on all sides of the pepper, and the limes have four scorch marks and have softened considerably.

Cut the limes in half and juice them.  Measure the juice that they yield, as this will influence how much olive oil you need.  Run the peppers under a slow trickle of cool water and pull the skin from the meat.  Discard the skin; cut the meat of the peppers from the seeds, stems, and ribs of pith.  Cut the peppers into approximately 2-inch chunks.

Combine the peppers, the lime juice, the salt, and the rosemary in a blender and puree.  With the blender running, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the pepper-lime juice mixture.  The blender will help to create a strong emulsion between the oil and the pepper puree.  this dressing should keep well without having to be shaken before each use… but it contains no preservatives except for the acid in the lime juice, so don’t let it languish forgotten in the rear of your refrigerator!  [Although, as good as it tastes, I doubt that using it up quickly will be an issue!]

What to do with Short Ribs?

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

I got some beef ribs and some stuff called boiling beef that looks like ribs.  What the heck am I supposed to do with them?

Braise them and they’ll be beautiful.  Especially if you make a barbecue sauce to go on them and finish them on the grill.

First, season them.  I like a nice chili rub: salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin, and paprika.  Throw in a couple more kinds of pepper if you have them on hand; just adjust the toal amount of pepper used to match your idea of how spicy they ought to be.  I like to mix my spices together and taste them alone before I add them to my meat, just to make sure I like the combination of flavors.  At that point, I adjust as necessary.

So, rub your ribs with the spices and sear them quickly in a very hot cast iron skillet.  Transfer the ribs to a pan with a rack and a vary tall lip, cover them, and put them in a 250F oven for about three hours.  I repeat: make sure the pan has a tall lip–these ribs will drip a whole bunch of fat as they cook, and you don’t want it to land on the floor of your oven.

I like to save this fat when the ribs are done cooking.  You can pour it off into a mason jar and store it in your fridge.  This’ll be really good lard to saute with.  Also, if you happen to make a beef pot pie, you can use it as the fat for the pie crust to really pull the flavors of all of the layers to pull together….

As soon as you take the ribs out of the pan— deglaze the skillet with a bottle of good, dark beer.  Be quick!  You don’t want the stuff that came off the ribs to burn!  Stir with a wooden spoon to gather the fond of the bottom of the pan.  Bring the beer to a b oil then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Let the beer cook down.  When it’s reduced by two-thirds, whisk in some ketchup, mustard, molasses, pure maple syrup, and the spices you rubbed the beef with (minus the salt).  Whisk smooth, taste, and adjust to your liking.

Once the ribs have finished braising, slather them with the barbecue sauce you made and hit them onto a hot charcoal grill right quick to caramelize the sauce on them.  Devour with gusto (and a cloth napkin handy).

A Nice Steak Rub

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Mix together salt, black pepper, white pepper, coffee, and habanero pepper.  Rub on steak (strip steak, tenderloin, etc.) and sear quickly on each side in a hot cast iron grill pan.  Once grill marks have been hatched into each side, turn off heat and cover pan.  Let sit 2-3 minutes.  Flip steak, recover and let sit an additional 2-3 minutes.  Serve medium rare.

Updated Cast Iron Care Tips

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

Lots of talk about “properly seasoned” and “good care”. How would one do those things with cast iron, exactly?


I’ve got basic tips on caring for and seasoning your cast iron posted here and they’re all still valid, though I have an updated and somewhat easier suggestion for seasoning your cast iron.

The method I suggested in my previous post, rubbing it with oil and putting it in a low oven, works great—but it has a tendency to fill your house with a bit of smoke. You can get seasoning results that are about as good just by heating your skillet up on the stove top and rubbing its entire interior with oil, then letting it cool. Repeat a few times, then following the last heating, flip the skillet over and rub its exterior with oil (feel free to repeat a few times, but wipe away any excess oil between heatings or you wind up back at the problem of a smoky house).

See also: tips on cleaning cast iron and an index of all my cast iron posts.

Cleaning Cast Iron

Monday, May 19th, 2008

What do you think about this cleaning tip to clean your cast iron with some dish detergent applied with a cut potato?


I couldn’t disagree more.

There’s no way I would ever expose my cast iron to dish detergent. The entire function of detergent is to break down oil—and oil is exactly what you need to build up a good seasoning on your cast iron.

Instead, I recommend scrubbing it clean with a stiff-bristled brush that is dedicated to the purpose of cast iron (ie not used on any other dishes) and drying immediately with a rag or a paper towel. When your cast iron is young, it may be advisable to rub it with a thin layer of oil before putting it away, but once it has blackened nicely, so long as you dry it well before putting it away and don’t expose it to dish detergent and don’t leave it sitting around for two days with crud in it because you just don’t feel like doing the dishes, it ought to do just fine.

If you would like to clean it with something other than a stiff bristled brush and hot water, heat up a good layer of kosher salt in the bottom of it and then use a rag gripped with tongs to scrub the pan with the hot salt. The abrasive action of the salt will get every last bit of anything stuck in the bottom of the pan without harming the pan’s seasoning. Just be certain not to throw the hot salt into the trash can immediately!! The salt will be hot enough to start a trash fire until it cools down. Instead, pour the salt off into a metal container to hold it until it cools, at which point you may safely dispose of it.