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Five Awesome Benefits of Cooking with Cast Iron Skillets

You may have noticed that my cooking recipe shots always include a cast iron skillet. Yep, I grew up with them, in fact most of the ones I have were handed down from my grandmother. The term skillet does not specifically apply to cast iron but instead describes a pan with slanted sides. Still, I always refer to my cast iron as a skillet because it makes me feel like I’m about to do something really bad ass. “I’m going to throw this in the skillet”- it just makes food more exciting don’t you think?

I always assumed that if cast iron skillets were good enough for my grandmother, and many generations before her, then they certainly must be better than the non-stick cookware that was all the rage for quite some time. Turned out that was a pretty good call. Now that we know that non-stick cookware is made with PFOA’s that emit carcinogenic fumes, cast iron is once again the best choice for non-stick cooking. In fact the humble skillet is so versatile, affordable and easy to care for that it’s really the only pan you may ever need.

 

1.      Multi-Functional: Cast iron can be used both on the stove top and in the oven. It’s also able to withstand very high heat cooking which makes it a great stand in for high heat grilling.

2.      Added Health Benefits& Safety: A properly seasoned cast iron skillet requires less oil to be used when cooking which means less oil being absorbed into your food. It also fortifies your food with iron which boosts energy levels as well as the immune system. Cast iron cookware is also the best replacement for both non-stick cookware, which emits toxic PFOA fumes while cooking, and aluminum cookware.  

3.      Perfect Cooking: Browning food, even heat distribution and searing are all features of you can take advantage of when cooking in cast iron.

4.      Sturdy and Affordable:  cast iron lasts forever so handing the skillets down through the family or picking up a great deal at a yard sale is easy to do. Even when purchased new, cast iron skillets are almost always more affordable then their fancy counterparts. Since cast iron does not scratch you can also make the healthier choice of using stainless steel cooking utensils over plastic.

5.      Easy to Clean: A well-seasoned skillet is a breeze to clean up-  fill your dirty skillet with water and bring to a boil on the stovetop. Even the most stubborn burned on food will easily wipe free with a cooking utensil. A little salt can be added if an additional abrasive is needed. Then rinse with clean water and return to the hot stove for a few moments  to evaporate off any excess liquid and you’re done!  

 

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Storing Fresh, Local Herbs for Winter

Now that I have tasted real herbs from my garden (as opposed to dried or even fresh herbs from the grocery store) I will never go back! The difference in the abundance of taste and aroma is astonishing. Have you ever noticed how much difference there is between a grocery store tomato and one you’ve grown at home or purchased at the farmers market? It’s not just flavor either, there is a wealth of scientific research that documents the stark contrast of national value between grocery store and home grown or farmers market produce. Herbs, like other fresh produce, are rich in nutritional and health benefits. So in addition to being more flavorful and casting a stronger aroma, local herbs will also provide you with much greater health benefits.

So now is the time to harvest what you have or pick up a bundle at the farmers market to store for fall and winter. My two favorite winter storage options are drying and freezing. Freezing works much better if you want the fresh look and taste of the original herbs. For example I find frozen cilantro to be a far better addition to fall Mexican dishes than dried. It retains its bright green look and original texture and is still rich in taste and smell. Parsley & basil are examples of something that works well both frozen and dried, depending on what types of recipes you are using it in. Oregano and thyme, dill and the sort are all amazeballs dried!

How to do it? It’s easy, so easy it’s not even funny.

Freezing herbs: Simply wash and pat dry. Then chop lightly and roll a log in a piece of wax paper for storing in the freezer, about the diameter of a quarter. When you want to use the herbs simply unroll the wax paper and slice off the amount that you need.

Drying herbs: herbs can be dried in a dehydrator or the oven. If you are using a dehydrator you will want to follow the directions for your particular model based on the heat settings offered. Oven drying directions are below. Once you dry them simply crumble them by hand to the desired consistency and store in clean, dry jars for winter use.

To Oven-Dry:

  1. Place herb leaves or seeds on a cookie sheet one inch deep or less.
  2. Put herbs in an open oven on low heat – less than 180 degrees F – for 2-4 hours. To see if the herbs are dry, check if leaves crumble easily.
dried dill that has been partially crumbled into a storage jar. 

dried dill that has been partially crumbled into a storage jar. 

After a great deal of research, this is the super affordable and, so far, amazingly efficient, dehydrator that I selected. 

dehydrator


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