Compleat Idler, Education

Idler’s kitchen — Cast Iron

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

I thought I should talk a little bit about my preference for cast iron cookware, aside from my conservative if it was good enough for my grandparents it is good enough for me tendency. There are many ways of cooking and I tend to go with my region—my childhood was in the high plains more or less and all but two years of my adult life has been in the Southwest economic region. Cast iron was a fact of life in my grandmother’s kitchen and I got her stockpot when my mom passed. I own a number of skillets and three Deutsch ovens. The star of the show is my No. 7 skillet (which has nothing to do with Jack Daniel’s distillery license) by Griswold Iron Works. This brand is supposedly big with Buckskinners and the company has ceased to exist. The big name right now is Lodge which has introduced a line of iron-lined ceramic cookware for ceramic top stoves which my wife likes.

The advantages of cast iron cookware are consistency of heating, heat retention, and a better non-stick surface than teflon. The disadvantages are weight, time taken in maintenance, and the fact that my wife loves her ceramic top stove. I got around the stove a couple ways. I used to keep a two burner propane stove on the kitchen porch and now I have a one burner propane stove that I use on the counter. I also use this for other plans because gas gives better control.

So why do I use utensils that I cannot throw in the dishwasher or soak in suds and rinse clean which require that I have an extra burner that sets off the smoke alarm occasionally. The answer is results. I can scramble eggs at a low temperature without having to switch burners. I do not have to grease the pan when I brown meat or fix hamburgers. When I do a shepherd’s pie or blue cornmeal tamales, I can stick the pan in the oven without the handle melting. And I do not need to worry about aluminum and its ill effect on food—iron is a nutrient.

I do have some advice for my fellow cast iron users. Avoid the Chinese utensils. They cost less and are sometimes lighter—you can find them in proprietary brands. But the metallurgy is suspect and the Chinese use surplus ship hulls and vehicle hulls as sources of iron. I do not trust the metal.

Bon appetit.

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Compleat Idler, Preparedness

Idler’s kitchen – cool weather

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

It is hard to believe that fall is coming. It used to mean training events, camporees, campouts. All of these equate to food. And in cooler weather, we need warmth which means fuel. Granola is criticized for the fats—the fats are what your engine burns to keep your body warm inside that super insulated parka you laid out the big bucks for.

But while granola or preferably GORP is good for snacking you need a good breakfast. While my camp coffee requires an EPA permit for disposal, it is not enough to really warm up. Next to dessert breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And here I am going to discuss two, if you have enough time, get a couple bowls of both before you head out on your “trail.” Both require cooking which tends to turn some people off—it is one of my few outdoor activities left.

First we make a pot of oatmeal. No, I do not mean one of those little pots that come in the one or two-person cookset from Scout supply or and outdoor or Chinese goods outlet. A note here: Aluminum burns and burns nasty. I still have an aluminum GI messkit and a couple small pots, but I prefer Lexan or enameled plates. I used to use my enameled canner but it has lost some of the enamel and I do not remember whether I pitched it or remembered to save it to sterilize topsoil. If your group gets up to twenty or larger, use a big stainless pot. This also doubles for boiling water in wine or beer making and deepfrying turkeys.

Ingredients: Water, butter, brown sugar, rolled oats, chopped or dehydrated fruit. Remember that you can add more water, but you cannot reduce it. Leftovers do not reheat.

Equipment: Gas burner or campfire. The way things are going I would use the gas burner for more control and less fire hazard. Pot, depending on size of group. Steel, long handled spoon which can be used to both stir and serve. A towel to wipe your hands on is essential unless you have no qualms about wiping your hands on your jeans.

Procedure: Bring water to a rolling boil. Toss in the rolled oats—the generic rolled oats are packaged differently, but they are the same thing. As the oats begin to form, throw in a couple sticks of butter and chase them with at least half a bag of brown sugar, keep stirring while someone else pours in the fruit. I like raisins and apples. And add your cinnamon at the end and stir it in. My friend an mentor Richard Branson (The design professor, not the millionaire) would throw in a bag of red hots. Buy your cinnamon in the restaurant size. You’ll use it up in a couple trips. I am not much on measurements but a carton of rolled oats will serve 8-12. A half a bag of brown sugar will be enough. If you have 30 or so you add more of everything.

A note on sugar: I am sensitive to this issue because my wife is diabetic and I have the tendency on both sides. I have also had campers who tend to hyperactivity—a lower amount of sugar beat Ritalin as a countermeasure. There is a substitute called Splenda(tm) which measures about the same. Avoid aspartame.

At home in the kitchen: Use quick cooking oats and small quantities. The amount of activity is somewhat less.

Now we’ve dealt with my grandmother’s idea of a breakfast—although she would have real problems with the way I do it. So let’s cut to the chase with what I have heard described as Mountain Man Breakfast, farmer’s breakfast, arterial pollution, death at Lauds, etc.

I know people who believe the ads that say a particular coat or outfit will keep you warm. I have never in my retail career made such a claim. Clothes are like shelter—they ideally hold the heat in (unlike Oklahoma City) but they cannot create heat. In cool, say 30-50 degrees Fahrenheit, weather you need both shelter and heat. The oven is within and the fuel is protein and fat. When you are working strenuously in the cooler weather, the fuel burns easily—if you are sedentary and working in a temperature controlled environment, this can lead to coronary artery disease, stroke and morbid obesity. (I have never figured out why people who tip-toe around the crimes of battery, rape etc with the term “abuse” will refer to people as “grossly obese” when the term “morbidly obese” is less judgmental and is, in fact, used in medical reports—I have read it in post-mortem reports.)

So here is my particular approach that I jokingly called Prelude to Angioplasty—Southwest Style.

Ingredients: Sausage, lard or butter, frozen hashbrowns or finely chopped potatoes, dehydrated or freshly chopped onions, eggs, frozen or canned corn, cheddar cheese, black pepper, ground Ancho or Chamallo pepper and salsa (chile).

Equipment: Dutch oven(s) or cast iron skillet, large stainless steel spoon for stirring and serving, spatula for stirring and browning the meat. Iron sheet or “Lewis and Clark” cooking stand to hold charcoal and prevent fire from spreading. Shovel to move coals. Dutch oven tool. A gas burner can be used but it is less impressive. If you have a crowd, you may need a couple or three ovens full. Ditto on the warnings about aluminum—yes, I have been present when an aluminum Dutch oven caught fire. Mixing dish big enough for a dozen or so eggs. Fork to whip eggs.

Procedures: On this one I could go into detail on shopping, but suffice to say that you will get plenty of grief at checkout. Cast iron can and should be pre-heated. For each 12 or 14 inch Dutch oven you should use at least one of those pound wrapped packs of mild sausage (you’ll take care of the spice with the pepper and salsa). You start by browning the sausage—in the old days this produced enough grease to brown the potatoes and onions. Do not brown onions first because the moisture will cool the oven and retard the cooking of sausage. While this is going on, someone needs to break and stir the eggs—about a dozen per oven. You’re now browning the potatoes. Fresh onions would go with the potatoes, but I prefer the dehydrated variety which get mixed in with the eggs. Also a dozen eggs would get about two tablespoons of pepper. When the potatoes are looking brown, add the eggs. The heat from the cooking food will cook the eggs and the corn which follows the eggs in. Cover and move some coals onto the top of the oven—this is why I use only cast iron. The lip was invented by Benjamin Franklin who appreciated the Deutsch oven though he fought to eradicate the language from Pennsylvania. Let this sit about five minutes and then remove the cover long enough to dump and stir in about a pound of grated cheese. Cover for a couple more minutes and remove from heat.

Serve with salsa on the side. Use salsa from the Southwest or Mexico or make your own. None of that stuff from New York City. If you feel a need for more carbs, you can serve it with tortillas or make up some fry-bread.

Bon-appetit. Cardiologists are listed in the yellow pages.

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