Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

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Cooking with and Caring for Cast Iron Cookware

Cooking with cast iron is such a visceral experience, using a pan that could be as old as your grandparents, the oil sizzling in the pan, and the aromas as you create a depth of flavor not possible in a Teflon pan.

egg skillet

My grandma used cast iron in her kitchen every day. The roasts she cooked in her dutch oven were full of flavor and tender as can be. In the morning she would cook eggs in a small cast iron skillet. She had the coating on her pans so fine tuned that she could just slide the egg out of the pan without a spatula. Whenever I pull out one of my cast iron pans I feel connected to her and the commitment she had to feed her family delicious, nutrient-rich meals.

Cast iron is quite inexpensive and will last a lifetime. You can pass them onto your children; they are nearly indestructible. However, there is a learning curve to using cast iron cookware. Here are a few tips to give you a head start.

seasoned cast iron

Preheating is vital

Cast iron heats unevenly but retains the heat wonderfully. Use a heat-tolerant oil like avocado or coconut oil in the pan and heat until the oil begins to shimmer (move across the pan due to the warmth of the pan).

Don’t skimp on the fats!

More and more research is showing that saturated fats are not the demons we used to think they were, so don’t be afraid to throw a glob of your favorite healthy fat in your pan. It will help develop that non-stick surface and depth of flavor. Start with a couple tablespoons for an 8” skillet.

cast iron cooking

Sear it!

Developing rich flavors is one of the benefits of cooking with cast iron. Once your skillet and oil are good and hot, then add in your veg or meat. Allow it sear before stirring or flipping. I especially enjoy caramelizing onions and browning meat in my cast iron.

Deepen the flavor

Flavor develops in the oil and on the surface of cast iron cookware. To create more depth, you will want to build your flavors in what is best described as layers.

Start with the fat, then add in the aromatics like onions and garlic. Next, add flavorful vegetables like mushrooms and celery. At this point, you can do almost anything. You have the base for soup, a casserole or a stir-fry.

Now you can remove all of the vegetables and cook your meat. Make sure to put more oil in the pan. Once the meat is cooked, your pan will be bursting with flavor. If you want to go one step further, you can make a gravy by deglazing the pan and thickening the liquid.

roast beef in cast iron

Stove top or in the oven, cast iron can do both. There are no plastic or wood parts on cast iron pans. That means you can sear your food on the stove top and then move it to the oven to finish cooking. You can also bake a quiche, cornbread or oven pancake in a cast iron skillet.

Use a flexible steel flipper and not a plastic spatula. Cast iron gets very hot and can cause the plastic spatula to melt. Contrary to the way you baby a Teflon skillet to protect the finish you want to very deliberately make contact with the cast iron using a metal flipper.

Wash but don’t soak your pan. Now that you have eaten one of the most flavorful meals ever, it is time to get that pan cleaned up. If you have stuck-on food the easiest way to loosen it is to put about 1/2 inch of water in the pan then put back on the stovetop until it begins to boil. Now you can easily wash it.

cleaning cast iron

It is ok to submerge the pan and to use soap. Just make sure you do not leave the pan in the sink to soak. Rust will develop, and then you will have to season it (a process of sealing the pan with heat and oil). I use a stainless steel scrubby on my cast iron. It doesn’t absorb the oil and seems to preserve the finish on the pan better than anything else.

You Turn!

  • What favorite memory do you think of when you see cast iron?
  • What is your favorite meal to cook in your cast iron cookware?

Minimalist Kitchen Podcast Episode

minimalist-kitchen

This week I talk about a minimalist kitchen in my tiny house.

Listen in by clicking here

Equipping a Minimalist Kitchen

The kitchen is a prime target for clutter.  Companies are inventing a gadget for every little thing – anything that can make cooking a little easier.  In the end, we find our kitchens filled with gadgets, multi-function counter top appliances and it all adds up to a whole lot of clutter.  Some time ago I realized one thing about all these things in my kitchen: they don’t add up to better food on the plate.  I realized what really matters are the initial ingredients and technique, very little relied upon the tools.

minimalist-kitchen-header

With this realization I began to declutter my kitchen using my tried and true box method (read about how to do it here).  As I needed things, I would pull them out and after a few months I still had 80% of my kitchen things still left in the box.  During this time I brushed up on some of my knife techniques, read up on how professional chefs cook, and focused on simple.

A few things to keep in mind.  I have this setup for how and what I like to cook, I don’t like to bake much, I’m mainly stove top or grill.  I also am cooking for myself, maybe one other person.

In the end, I was able to whittle down to a basic set of tools in my kitchen all the while increasing the quality of my cooking/food.  So what does a minimalist kitchen have in it?  Glad you asked…

Two knives and one steel

miminmalist-knife

I see this all the time, you walk into someone’s kitchen and there is a giant knife block that contains 10-15 knives.  If we are honest with ourselves, we don’t know what half them are for and we only use a few on a regular basis.  Most of your work will be done with your 8 inch chef knife, it’s the workhorse.  Next to that I have a 3 to 4 inch parring knife for smaller, more delicate tasks.  Finally a honing steel, this helps re-align your edge between sharpening because as you use a knife, the fine edge actually rolls over, creating a less sharp edge; using a honing steel quickly un-rolls that edge and gives you back your edge.

If you ask me, put your money here.  A check knife in the $100-$200 price range with a full tang and good steel is something that is worth spending money on.  A paring knife for $50-$100 and a honing steel for $25-$50.

Two rubber spatulas and two tongs

tongs-for-tiny-house-ktichen

These two items are pretty much my go-tos when it comes to actually cooking on heat.  It keep two of each so that if I have to make things that can’t mix, I’m covered, or if I’m doing something with meat, to reduce risk of salmonella.  My tongs are a rigid silicone tipped, so they can be used on coated pans and on the grill.

One metal spatula

minimalist-kitchen-spatula

I use this for grilling or if I ever use cast iron. This is a heavy duty metal spatula that is rigid enough to scrape, but flexible enough to wiggle under a piece of meat.  I’d use this a lot more if I was a big fan of cast iron. Cast iron isn’t my favorite, but if you cook a lot with cast iron, this will be a go to.

Break apart scissors

Break-apart-scissors

Sometimes scissors are the right too for the job, including cutting up chicken.  A solid pair of scissors that come apart so you can thoroughly clean the joint is very handy.  These can play double duty for a bottle opener.

Pot strainer (or colander)

pot-strainer-for-minimalist-kitchen

I use this style of a pot strainer, its very small, compact and doesn’t take up a lot of space.  If I was more of a pasta guy, I’d upgrade to a colander, but this suits my needs.

Pots and pans

pot-set-for-minimalist-kitchen

This is the pot set that I choose for my kitchen, it was the second place that I sunk most of my money into.  When you live a minimalist life, it makes sense to spend some real money on the few things you have.  For this set, I did my research and ignored prices. This set cost me $600.  I rarely use the large soup pot and the high side saute pan, but they are worth keeping on hand.  While I still keep these two, I don’t actually keep them in my kitchen of my tiny house, I keep them in my bulk storage area.  90% of what I cook is done in the small fry pan, the large fry pan or the medium sized pot.

Cutting Board

cutting-board-tiny-house

The last thing on my list is a cutting board. I prefer a butcher block style myself.

Your Turn!

  • What else would you add?
  • What is your favorite kitchen item?

11 Low Energy Cooking Tips

Cooking with WineEvery single week day, people come back home after a day of work and almost simultaneously start using lots of energy intensive-things; they turn on the television, the computer, turn on the lights if it’s dark, they plug in their cell phones and gadgets… And then they start cooking food.

We’re all getting more aware of our energy consumption when it comes to cars (hybrids and electric cars are getting more popular) and to lighting (compact fluorescents took over in only a few years), but most of us are still in the dark when it comes to energy-efficient cooking. Here’s a few common sense tips to get your started on the road to low energy cooking.

1. Hot and Cold
The first thing that you should become aware of around the kitchen is hot & cold. It takes a lot of energy to cool something down, and it takes a lot of energy to heat it up. That’s where the savings can be made.

For example, don’t leave the fridge or freezer door open longer than necessary. When the cold air escapes, this means that your fridge or freezer will have to work overtime to bring the temperature back down. Conversely, don’t use more hot water than you need to. Don’t boil a big pan full of water if you only need a little bit!

2. Size Matters
When heating something, make sure that the heat actually goes where you want it to. This means that you should be careful to match your pots and pans to the appropriate burners on your range. Otherwise a lot of the energy you’re using is just heating up the air in your kitchen (which can mean that the A/C has to work overtime in the summer, further wasting energy).

3. Consolidate: One-Pot-Meals are Your Friend
Another great low energy cooking tip is to cook one-pot meals such as casseroles, soups, stews and stir-fries. It’s easy to see why they save energy compared to recipes that require you to use two, three or even 4 burners at the same time. You can find a variety of one pot meal ideas here.

4. Consolidate: Schedule Your Baking
Whenever possible try to bake multiple things at the same time if there’s enough space in your oven and the recipes call for the same baking temperature, or one after the other all on the same day. That way you only have to warm up the oven once, and you benefit from the residual heat left over from the previous recipe.

Read more

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