Fun With My Cast Iron Skillet

It has been on my Christmas and birthday lists for a few years now, and I have to believe that the only reason I hadn’t received it until Christmas 2011 is that it is so difficult to wrap. I think the only reason I never picked one up for myself is that it is so difficult to. . . well. . . pick up. This thing is heavy.

My first cast iron skillet.

Perhaps the only reason that I finally received one last year was that my dear family had realized that a steady diet of kitchen experiments had packed more flab onto my upper arms than muscle. Maybe now I can tone my arms AND cook a delicious meal, all at once. Maybe now that my wedding dress is hanging in the corner, and the only area of my body that can’t be corseted, bustled, pulleyed, pushed or levered into an optical illusion of perfection is my arms. . . perhaps that’s the reason I decided to start using the cast iron skillet on the regular.

. . . Oh how I long for midsummer weather right now. Maybe after spending two beautiful (and chilly) weekends in the wide open spaces of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley, I was feeling a little country.

Or a little campy.

Or I was a little tired, from scoping out outdoor wedding venues all day long for two Saturdays in a row.

Maybe I just wanted to whip up some comfort food for me and my honey, and what better way to do it than with my brand new cast iron pan? Whatever the reason, I got to seasoning my skillet on Sunday morning, and I decided I was going to put this beast of a cooking vessel to good use.

While the skillet hung out in the oven, I did my research so I would know what I was dealing with. Known for its durability and heat-retention properties, cast iron cookware has been a kitchen essential for centuries. A cast iron pot can be used over an open flame, on the stovetop and in the oven. I assume is works on the grill, although that is another domain I have not yet conquered. Cast iron skillets are great for certain dishes because they distribute heat evenly and retain it well.

The first step to using cast iron cookware is seasoning, which builds a natural non-stick coating on the pan. My cast iron skillet came pre-seasoned, but the instructions suggested that I season it again before use to ensure the best results. I found a lot of different methods on the web for seasoning the skillet, so I kind of combined them into the method that I used. First, I wiped down the skillet to remove any dust or dirt that may have accumulated on it while it lived in my cupboard for the last month. Then I preheated the oven to 350 degrees F. Next, I poured in the pan enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom to about a quarter of an inch. Using a folded paper towel, I coated the interior sides of the skillet with oil from the bottom of the pan. I placed the skillet in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F, then I turned down the heat to 200 degrees F and baked for an additional 45 minutes. Finally, I used two potholders to carefully remove the skillet from the oven and onto a trivet, where I let the skillet cool completely before use.

It worked great!

The first dish I tried was a frittata. I have wanted to make a frittata for years but I never had a pan that was stovetop and oven safe. Isn’t that sad? So I was all over this Tyler Florence recipe for a basic frittata. I omitted the ham and added about one cup of halved grape tomatoes, a few tablespoons of chopped fresh basil and a few handfuls of fresh spinach to the pan to wilt before adding the egg mixture. And of course I sprinkled cheese on top because I won’t have eggs any other way.

I loved taking the pan from stovetop to oven and then out again to see the beautiful result. Here are the before and after shots:

The frittata is done when it has puffed up in the pan and it is golden brown on the edges. Isn’t that just lovely? I served the frittata with a little side salad and I felt fancy like the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. Except I wasn’t hosting a ladies’ brunch at my palatial home in the Hamptons. I was watching Game of Thrones with Kyle in our cozy little home in Woodland Heights. But I felt fancy, I tell you!

The only downside is that if you thought this skillet was heavy before, you will seriously struggle to wrestle it out of the oven when it’s all full of egg and veggie goodness.

It’s like a garden party, on my plate, in January.

This was so much fun, I think I’ll take the skillet for a spin again tomorrow night. Next up: cornbread. But don’t worry, I have found a whole list of healthy cast iron skillet recipes so I won’t only cook (creamy, cheesy, buttery) comfort food all the time. I’ll quit at cornbread and then move on to a nice low fat, seasonal vegetable dish, with extra iron skillet bicep curls.

But first. . . cornbread.

Yum!

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VegologyBlog.com Domain Warming Party

Welcome to vegologyblog.com, the new home of veg:ology!

That’s right, we’ve moved to our new domain and we’re loving life in our new digs. We are still hosted by wordpress, so your old links and bookmarks should redirect you to the new site. However, I suggest that you update your bookmarks anyway to give the new domain the love it deserves.

We’re still unpacking the boxes, figuring out where the furniture goes, and making some cosmetic updates so you may see more exciting changes over the next month. But since we’re here and I’m happy to have you readers as guests, I thought I’d throw together a little domain warming party with all my favorite recipes from vegologyblog.com.

But first, a tour!

Have you checked out the Travel Page?

This is where you will find links to posts about my food-related adventures. This page is fun when you feel like you need an escape and helpful when you’re actually planning one. I hope I’m lucky enough to continue filling up this page with delightful places and delicious food.

Make sure you also scroll down the sidebar on the right side of the page to check out all the fun things there too. The Catch Up section provides you with easy links to my most recent posts. The Subscribe button allows you to sign up to be notified every time I post something new. The Twitter box shows you my latest tweets in case you don’t follow me on twitter, which you definitely should.

You can find older posts by typing a search term into the Search box, clicking on a relevant tag in the Tag Cloud (Click-Click), or browsing the archives through the Past Posts box. Finally, don’t miss the Random Thought box. I couldn’t resist adding a text widget with whatever thought comes to mind when I feel like updating that little box.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes our tour. Feel free to visit the Contact or About pages at your leisure. Now let’s eat!

Here are some of my favorite cozy homemade recipes from the past, to celebrate our future at vegologyblog.com.

Butternut Squash with Spinach and Feta

Veggie Pot Pie

Pumpkin Chili

Persimmon Cookies with Cranberries and Walnuts

Thanks for reading and welcome to vegology’s new home. I’m excited to share all that I have planned over the next few months!

XOXO, Lauren

P.S. It is totally acceptable to leave recipes and send baked goods to express your enthusiasm over vegologyblog.com. Really, totally acceptable and encouraged. 😉

 

Extreme Juicing Challenge

If you have noticed that the posts over the last week have been a little sparse, you may feel that I have some explaining to do. The reason I haven’t been writing is that I haven’t been cooking or eating food. It’s not you, it’s me. I haven’t been bringing much to the table lately besides this:

A few weeks ago, I went to a screening of Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, a film about a man who drastically improves his health by consuming only fresh fruit and vegetable juice for 60 days straight. At the conclusion of the screening, my friend and I participated in a Q&A with Joe Cross, the man behind the movie. After hearing about the health transformations that people have made while inspired by Joe’s film, we decided to give it a try. We considered doing a ten day “Reboot” but eventually committed to doing just seven days of nothing but juice.

This is the part of the story where I feel obligated to tell you that a juice fast is not for everyone and you should consult a physician before embarking on a any diet plan. I also should mention that I did a lot of research before choosing the plan that was right for me, and although I may refer to this as a diet, weight loss was not the goal of the fast. I did this for three reasons:

  • To cleanse my body of toxins and give the digestive system a rest so that my body would have energy to heal itself naturally
  • To become more attuned to my body’s nutrient needs and to explore my relationship with food
  • To experience the changes and feelings that other juice fasters had described in online articles and in person, because I was fascinated by some of the typical side effects of an all juice diet

My friend and coworker Liz committed to doing the fast with me and I was looking forward to having support at work for the inevitable times when I would feel like giving up. As we talked to more people about what we were planning to do, we found another coworker who had completed a 3-week juice fast a few years ago and who was interested in joining us. After that, two more women decided to join us with a modified juice diet, in which they included healthy foods and smoothies. In this recap, I will cover the diet that Liz and I followed.

Phase 1: Before the Juice

I knew that my greatest challenge would be giving up caffeine, specifically coffee. Ever since I started working as a barista in a neighborhood coffee shop in my hometown , I have had a love affair with coffee. In fact, before the juice, I had not gone a day without coffee in about ten years. In some states, coffee and I would be just one joint tax return away from common law marriage. One week before the juice fast, I weaned myself off of caffeine by stepping down my coffee consumption and then substituting green tea followed by substituting herbal (naturally decaffeinated) teas. I was still on the green tea at the beginning of the fast, but I was off it for the second half of the diet.

The Join the Reboot website recommends that you slowly transition yourself to a plant based diet during the week before the fast. I do not eat a lot of fruit, so I started incorporating more fruit into my diet the week before. As a vegetarian cook, I typically make sure that my plate is half full of vegetables, so I did not need to make many diet changes during the transition.

On the night before the fast, I got together with Liz to shop, cook and juice. Check out how much produce we bought for three days worth of juice for two people! We spent about $100 on the first trip ($17 per person per day) and bought as much organic produce as we could. It costs less to do this with conventional produce. If you want to do some organic and some conventional, use the EWG’s dirty dozen and clean fifteen as your guide.

The last supper was artichoke spinach lasagna with feta and a glass (or two) of sangiovese. The juicing was a ton of fun and for the apple-carrot-ginger juice, I used fresh ginger for the first time ever. I know, that is ridiculous. I just always used the jar because I didn’t know it made that much of a difference. Now I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the jar again.

Phase 2: During the Juice

Days 1-3

The first three days were the hardest. I started out really excited and motivated, but soon I desperately missed chewing and I started having food cravings.I had lunch on the first day with two coworkers who were doing the plan with me. We were all expecting to have some digestive issues the first few days based on what we had heard. I planned to be near a bathroom for the first three days, but the only thing that I felt was going straight through me was water. No emergencies, no discomfort, no digestive cleanse. I had expected to, as a coworker put it,  “hit the big flush button” on that first weekend. No such luck. My relationship with the porcelain throne was as normal as ever.

The transition to waking up in the morning and having nothing but juice was a little difficult for me. I am used to starting my day with a protein, a carb, and some coffee. The juice just seemed incomplete to me. I realized by the second or third day though that it was all I really needed in the morning.

On the second day, Liz and I headed to the farmers’ market and the smells of all the foods we couldn’t have were so overwhelming. I almost couldn’t handle it! We must have looked like some crazy sweets junkies as we drooled over the mulled apple cider with brown sugar, palms sweating, eyes twitching, jonesing for some added sugar. We tore ourselves away from the cider, the doughnuts, the bagels and the Bombolini pasta and focused on the produce. We picked up some local organic veggies at the market and then we made more juice on the third day.

rough morning

By the third day I was easily fatigued and I was experiencing mental fogginess. I woke up congested in the mornings and my skin was less than perfect. Allegedly these are common signs of toxins leaving the body. I also lost 8 pounds in the first three days. A portion of that was a loss of water weight due to the fact that my body was no longer retaining water to aid in the digestion of insoluble fiber (which was left behind in the pulp and was no longer a part of my diet). By the end of this phase, I could easily differentiate between food cravings and hunger and this was a big revelation for me. I started to feel more in control of my health when I was able to make that distinction without difficulty.

We also killed my juicer on the third day due to prolonged use and possibly the presence of water/juice in the motor. It sounded a little funny, then it smelled like burning, then it started smoking. It was ugly. Check out the crime scene photo from my juicer’s violent death:

We had ordered a new Breville though that was due to arrive on day 4 so we were not without a juicer for long.

Days 4-5

Days 4 and 5 were when it really started to turn around for me.I felt like quitting altogether on day 4 and it was really good that I was surrounded by people who were doing the diet with me. I kept trying to visualize plants capturing the sun’s energy and converting it to nutrients that my body could use to heal and re-energize. It helped a little. I was still making lists of all the foods I wanted to eat when the diet was over. Surprisingly, most of them were healthy whole foods. Baked sweet potato, spinach salad, a ripe banana.

My energy improved and my head was clearer by day 5. I started to get creative with the juice combinations and did fancy little things to make juicing feel more special. I created recipes for “mojito juice” and my own version of mean green juice. I got some adorable color-changing straws at Target. I poured my juice into fun glassware, and I tried adding coconut water and sparking water to my juices. I truly started to have fun with it by the end of day 5.

I think my favorite cashier at Whole Foods in Short Pump started to catch on to what Liz and I were doing. What else could we possibly be doing with all this produce?

One of the biggest challenges I had while on the fast was baking a coworker’s birthday cake on day 5. I have mentioned before that in my office, we have a homemade cake for every person’s birthday and last week it was my turn again. Hello carrot cake! I didn’t even taste the batter or the frosting. If you’re ever in the mood for torture, try frosting a two layer cake and then washing your hands instead of licking your fingers. It is tough!

During this phase of the fast, I felt like I finished climbing the hill and started to breezily slide down the other side. My body adapted to the diet and started to crave juice. My hair was really shiny and my skin started to look better. Although (gross-out alert), it appeared that all of the toxins in my body were trying to escape through one facial pore. Ugh.

I also realized how little food I need to get through my day. I hoped that this would translate to better portion control down the road. On day 5 I felt the energy that I had heard other juice fasters describe. I was sick of beets and a little tired of carrots so I started to experiment with new fruits and vegetables. I made a mental note to try and eat a greater variety of foods in the future.

Days 6-7

I felt completely awesome on days 6 and 7. I had energy and I was alert all day. Most of all, I was amazed at how much energy I could have from eating right, with no coffee at all. I learned that when you don’t have the crutch of caffeine to lean on, you are forced to eat good-for-you foods and get a full night’s sleep in order to have energy. As much as I missed eating some foods, I was much better at resisting temptation during these days. Kyle’s dinners didn’t bother me at all.

His and Her Veggies?

I supplemented the homemade juice diet with juices from our local grocery store Ellwood Thompsons. I even made fewer servings ahead of time just so I could try out new combinations at the ET juice bar. So imagine my disappointment when I walked in on the morning of day 7 and discovered that Ellwood Thompsons’ juicer was broken. I had not made enough juice for the day because I was counting on ET to fill in the holes. So I made the decision to break the fast at dinner that night with a whole lot of vegetables and a wee bit of tofu.

My First Real Meal in Seven Days!

What I really missed the most on these last few days was cooking. Cooking at night in my kitchen is such a stress reliever for me, and I love to do it as much as possible. It engages my mind and body in a creative way and I missed having that outlet while on the fast. So I decided on a simple salad for my reintroduction to solid food, but I also cooked a Thai-inspired sweet potato, tempeh and kale stew for Kyle on the last night. I did not taste a drop of that stew on the first night but the experience of cooking it was ultimately very satisfying.

On these last few days, I felt radiant. I was lighter on my feet and more energetic and passionate about everything. My senses sharpened (allegedly a symptom of starvation) and I could smell and taste every little thing. This continued through my first solid food meal, which happened to taste a little too salty. The flavors of everything were so intense and I really enjoyed tasting every component of the plate. My family and friends told me I appeared to be in a better mood than usual and I absolutely was. I felt a renewed commitment to health by the end of the experience.

Phase 3: After the Juice

I eased back into a solid food diet, starting first with raw or steamed vegetables and fruits and a small amount of nuts and legumes. Then I gradually added soy protein, then cheese, then wheat. I did start drinking coffee again, but not every day. I love coffee too much to give it up forever. I have been eating solid food for four days now and everything is going very well. I am eating mainly vegetables and fruits at the moment, plus a bit of whole grains and plant-based proteins here and there.I have had three fresh juices since completing the fast. I can’t quit you, green juice!

As I reflect on the juice fast, I am very happy that I did it. I believe that I accomplished what I set out to do. I learned a lot about my relationship with food and proved to myself that I have the self-control to make better diet choices every day. I got to experience the energy and heightened senses that always fascinated me when I heard about other juice fasters’ experiences.

I think I detoxified a bit, but to be honest I don’t think I got much out of the cleanse portion of the fast. Because I had no “big flush” and I felt pretty good throughout the whole fast, I don’t think I had many toxins to release. Vegetables, especially the green leafy ones, act as little scrub brushes in your digestive system, cleaning everything out as they pass through your system. Many fruits, vegetables and herbs have detoxifying effects on your liver. Regular cardiovascular exercise keeps your lungs and heart healthy. Because I eat a vegetarian diet with at least 50% consisting of fruits and vegetables, and I live a somewhat active lifestyle, I think that I am naturally cleansing, healing and detoxifying my body all of the time.

However I won’t ignore the notion that the juice could have been healing my body in ways I will never know. All of those nutrients couldn’t have hurt! I don’t know if I will do a “reboot” again, but I do know that juice will continue to be a part of my diet moving forward. I plan to work on portion control and building healthy plates at every meal (not just dinner). I also plan to stop eating when I am no longer hungry, which will be a big challenge for me (especially at dinner). But after successfully completing a seven day juice fast, I have the optimistic mentality that no challenge is too large for me when it comes to my health and wellness.

Cheers to that!

All About Almond Milk

A couple of weeks ago I decided that it was finally time to try almond milk. I typically buy milk from Homestead Creamery and I occasionally pick up soy milk instead of cows milk. Lately I have tried to make more conscious decisions when it comes to animal products, and I have found myself substituting soy milk a lot when I am unsure of the source of the cows milk that is available. However, soy milk is not the only non-dairy option. There is also rice milk, coconut milk, almond milk and probably some more milks that I am not even aware of. I’ve heard good reviews of Almond Breeze almond milk, so I used a coupon to pick some up at the store one weekend.

Almond milk is made from ground almonds and water. Some brands add sweeteners and flavors so it is always best to check the ingredient list to make sure you know what you’re getting. People have been drinking almond milk for centuries. It was a staple of Medieval kitchens because animal milk spoiled too quickly. Historically it has been used as a substitute for animal milk during times of fasting in many cultures and religions. It is lower in cholesterol and saturated fats than cows milk, and it has no gluten or lactose. Almonds are high in magnesium, potassium, vitamin E and calcium, and so is almond milk. The downsides I found in research were that almond milk is a little high in sodium and it has much less protein than soy milk or cows milk.

I did a little experiment and tried the almond milk in several different things throughout the week to see how versatile it was. I first tried it plain, and found it to be a little watery, with a pleasant nutty taste. Here is a rundown of all the other ways I tried almond milk.

In Coffee: I usually take my coffee with milk or cream and no sugar. I subbed in some almond milk and wasn’t a fan. The almond milk did not add to the black coffee that slightly creamy texture that I get from soy milk or cows milk. It was very watery, and while the flavor was nice, I felt that I might as well have had black coffee because the almond milk failed to cut the acidity. Take it or leave it? Some people love it in coffee, but for me: leave it.

In Tea: Tea was a completely different story for me. I made a vanilla spice tea latte with almond milk instead of regular reduced fat milk and it was divine! I loved the almond flavor in my tea latte. It worked really well with the vanilla, honey and spices. I will definitely try this one again.

In a Smoothie: I added almond milk to this chocolate cherry smoothie and it was so amazing. Although I think any milk would have been awesome in this concoction (recipe coming soon). I like the nutty flavor in the smoothie, but I am on the fence about doing this again in the future. I usually add milk to my smoothies for calcium and protein and the almond milk falls a little short. Calcium? Check. Protein? Lacking. I found a way to make it work by adding protein powder to the smoothie, so this may become a regular addition to my blender.

In Cereal: I poured some almond milk over my Kashi Golden Goodness cereal, and it was a hit. I don’t know how this would work with super sugary cereals, but I don’t eat froot loops so I’m not too worried about it. All I know is that I would like to give almond milk an award its performance in a supporting role alongside whole grain and granola cereals. The flavor is a great addition to your bowl. I will definitely be doing this again, in cold and hot cereals.

Overall, I would recommend that you try almond milk if you get the opportunity. For me, it works in some things and not in others. Maybe you will reach the same conclusion or maybe you will love it or hate it in everything. Different strokes for different folks, people. I say it’s worth a try.

Ten Things I Learned About Nutritional Yeast

It seems like it has been awhile since I’ve shared a new ingredient, doesn’t it? I guess that’s because I’ve been saving up some good ones to test their versatility. One such ingredient is nutritional yeast. I have read about it on a few different blogs, but this is one that I haven’t seen on restaurant menus or salad bars yet, so it was kind of a mystery to me. I first tried it in Mama Pea’s potato and white bean burger recipe on 4th of July weekend.

And then I had an almost full container of nutritional yeast sitting in my refrigerator so I decided to do a little research to figure out how any why I should use it. Here are some things I learned.

  1. Nutritional yeast is created by culturing yeast with a mixture of sugarcane and beet molasses.
  2. It can be described as nutty, cheesy, and creamy in taste.
  3. It is a complete protein like quinoa, meaning it contains an adequate proportion of all nine essential amino acids that are necessary in our diets.
  4. It is an excellent source of vitamin B12.
  5. It is low  in fat and sodium, despite having a salty taste.
  6. It comes from the same species of fungus as brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast but the culturing method is different, which results in a more flavorful product.
  7. While active brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast are live, nutritional yeast is deactivated during processing.
  8. Some movie theaters provide nutritional yeast along with cayenne pepper to sprinkle on popcorn. I ran into this fact over and over again during research, which begs another question: where do I find these movie theaters?
  9. It is often used as a homeopathic treatment for the prevention of fleas in cats and dogs, so it’s allegedly okay to share with your furry friends (although I won’t be trying that anytime soon).
  10. There are many different ways to enjoy nutritional yeast. Here are some of the suggestions I have come across for adding nutritional yeast to everyday foods:

Mashed Potatoes

Frittatas

Baked Pasta

Summer Vegetable Stir-fry

Cheese substitute in Mac n’ No Cheese

Vegetable Soup

Garlic Breadsticks

Egg Salad or Tofu Salad

Veggie Burgers

I chose to use it again in an adaptation of Mama Pea’s burgers with the following changes:

  • Substitute sweet potato for Yukon Gold potato
  • Substitute black beans for white beans
  • Substitute cilantro for basil
  • Add cumin into the burger mix

They were a big hit!

I am sure that I will soon try this out in a lot of my favorite foods. At first I was skeptical of what looked like a container of fish food, but now I’m convinced that I’ve stumbled upon a super food!

Veg:ology Turns 1 Year Old!

Happy blogiversary to me!

It’s true, exactly one year ago I wrote my first post for veg:ology. You can read my very first post here. Hello world.

Over the last year, I have given readers a glimpse inside my tiny Richmond, VA kitchen as I have stretched myself to continue my culinary education, a skill developed largely by means of trial and error. As I look back, I remember flying by so many milestones along the way, and I am fascinated by how I got here. There are too many memories to list here, but a few stand out. Increasing the occupancy of my one bedroom apartment by one (Hi Kyle!). Throwing my first brand sponsored dinner party (thanks POM). Receiving my first advertising payment from FoodBuzz. Writing my first guest post for another blog. Spending hours in the kitchen cooking for a sick family member over several difficult weeks (an experience undocumented on the blog as of yet). Expanding to Facebook and Twitter. Making dozens of friends through the food blogging community whom I’ve never met in person. Having my recipes republished on other Richmond blogs and websites. Completing a year of experimental cooking without one smoke detector being set off.

As I have been reflecting over the last year’s worth of blog posts, I have also been crunching the numbers. I thought you might be interested in what we’ve been doing here at veg:ology since June 2010. So here you have it, the Veg:ology Annual Report for year one.

  • Different farmers’ markets visited: 6
  • Happy Hour drink recipes and reviews: 15
  • Baking total failures: 3
  • Baking total successes: 5
  • Site visits resulting from the search term “zucchini”: 71
  • Fellow food bloggers met in person: 2
  • Garden plants planted: 6
  • Garden plants survived: 5
  • Different cities’ food scenes explored: 10
  • Ingredients used for the first time ever: 21

I started veg:ology as a creative outlet and as a place for me to chronicle my adventures with new ingredients and new cooking techniques. Here are all of the ingredients I used for the first time and recorded over the last year:

Beets, bok choy, cranberry beans, dumpling wrappers, eight ball zucchini, escarole, fennel, heirloom tomatoes, patty pan squash, persimmons, plantains, pomegranate, pumpkin (whole), purslane, seitan, shelling peas, tempeh, tofurky roast, tomatillos, whey protein powder, whole wheat flour

So what is on the agenda for next year?

I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals for the next year of veg:ology and my preliminary list is as follows:

  1. Try 25 new ingredients
  2. Try 5 new cooking techniques
  3. Attend at least one blogger conference
  4. Add another form of media to the world of veg:ology
  5. Spend more time learning from the experts

Thank you to everyone who has been reading over the last year. I appreciate all the support from my family and friends, old and new. It has been truly wonderful to meet so many new friends in this space as I find my place in the food blogging community.

XOXO, Lauren