Good morning, mid-month readers.
* There is nothing like a good neighbor, as an anonymous Exchanger affirms. "We are getting lots of eggs from a neighbor's chickens, and my wife mentioned a recipe called Eggs Sardou [involving creamed spinach, artichoke hearts, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce]. It looks pretty complicated, and I wonder if any of your readers has an easy version."
* Daisy LaNieve inherited a cast-iron skillet that got put in the dishwasher; A.E. discovered rust on the margins of her Le Creuset enameled cast-iron skillet. Our correspondents both wonder how you would rehabilitate cast iron, whether just the margins or the entire skillet, after misuse.
* In today's mail, one of you noted an inescapable cooking fact: "Experience pays off." As every rookie has known and lamented, one cannot begin experienced, so learning to cook might include a few batches that end up in the trash. This morning I remember a certain newlywed attempt at mashed potatoes that I beat into submission and also into something like glue. Now, after many tries, I use an old-fashioned potato masher only.
So tell us, won't you, one thing you have learned by experience in your kitchen.
CORNBREAD IN CAST IRON
I'm going to call the next writer, who prefers anonymity, C.I.H. — for Cast Iron Heir. And where cast-iron skillets are mentioned, cornbread commentary usually follows. This is Mr. Heir's version.
1 1/2 cups self-rising cornmeal (I use Three Rivers brand)
1 cup milk or less
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon bacon drippings
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Insert skillet in oven to heat.
In a bowl, add cornmeal and half of the milk to make batter.
Add egg, blend well and add rest of milk to make a batter that will pour. If batter is too stiff, bread will be dry and hard. If too wet, it will be soggy in the middle. This is where experience pays off.
When oven and pan are heated, add drippings for a couple of minutes. Smoking is a good temperature.
Remove from oven, and swirl to coat skillet bottom and sides. Do not let skillet cool down. Add batter to depth of about 1 1/2 inches. I discard any leftover batter.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes until the top is browned but not hard. Oven times may vary, so watch carefully.
Remove when done and immediately invert over a plate. Bread should fall out onto plate. Set aside skillet to air-cool.
Jane Guthrie, who has a wealth of kitchen knowledge, began today's missive, "I have to add my two cents to black iron skillet care.
"I read for pleasure and enjoy a good detective read. One favorite author is John Lescroart. I suspect he is the cook behind his character Dismas Hardy's cooking skills.
Dismas cooks tantalizing, simple meals in his black iron skillet and always, always the meal ends with cleaning his beloved skillet, empty and dry. He adds plenty of table salt, then scours the skillet, rinses and dries.
"And I keep my skillet upside down in the bottom of the oven."
In this lively discussion of cast iron, there emerged one of my favorite poems, shared by its author Laurie Vaughen. It's about just such a skillet and the first stanza goes like this: "What gets handed down has weight. / Black as coal and heavy to hang in place, / a skillet remembers the oil, the cure, the wait, /the generations of hunger, words of grace."
Yep. What gets handed down has weight, in the kitchen and perhaps in every room of the house.
Kathleen Maxwell of Lakesite offered a loving description of her father and his food specialty, and she also shared a creative way to honor his cooking — most particularly his French crepes. In the process she painted a portrait of a fascinating fellow.
"He and Mom danced on Broadway when they were young, and he studied cooking in France in his 20s. He taught English for many years and made chocolate candy until his 90s. I believe he is in heaven serving his brandy chocolates as often as possible.
"My Dad was 94 years young when he wrote out his recipe for me. I had it put on towels for my sisters and brothers for Christmas last year. Mom and Dad lived with me until Mom passed away and Dad remarried — at 91 years young — and moved out on his own.
"The grands and greats used to see which one could eat the most crepes at one seating. He usually served them sweet, but I am sure they would be delicious savory too."
3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup flour
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup milk
5 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar (when using as a dessert)
Blend all ingredients together in blender. Store in quart jar in the refrigerator overnight.
When ready to make crepes, heat an 8-inch nonstick skillet over moderate to high heat. (Depending on the crepe pan, spraying it with cooking spray is optional.)
Pour the batter slowly into the skillet using about 3 tablespoons of batter. The mixture will barely cover an 8-inch pan as you tilt and swirl until the crepe is no longer shiny. Lift with a spatula, and transfer to parchment-paper-lined plate. Stack crepes or place on plates, fill with desired fruit filling or savory filling, and then roll and serve. You can dust sweet crepes with powered sugar.
This might take a little practice, but you can enjoy eating the ones that get torn.
Betty Domal wrote from Moore County, Tennessee.
"This is a favorite cucumber recipe in our family and anywhere I take it to a potluck. It's in the cookbook 'Dining With Pioneers' Volume II, copyright 1986.
"This recipe is really easy to make. I have a bowl of it in the refrigerator now."
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons celery seed or celery salt (optional; I omit)
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups white vinegar (or half apple cider, half white)
7 cups peeled thinly sliced cucumbers (about 4 whole)
1 to 2 onions, sliced thin (I like sweet onions)
2 green bell peppers, sliced thin (optional; I never use them)
Mix together salt, celery seed, sugar and vinegar.
Add cucumbers, onions and bell peppers.
This is better if prepared a few hours ahead of time and even better prepared a day or two before serving. It keeps up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator, though it never lasts that long in my family.
Notes: I prefer English cucumbers if available, 2 to 3 depending on size. I have also used about 8 pickling cucumbers. I like to have 2 to 3 cups each of cucumbers and onions. You could have a little more of either one, depending on what your family likes.
That's it for today, but there is always next week, so y'all come.
* Easy Eggs Sardou
* Rehabbing cast iron
* Kitchen lessons taught by experience
TO REACH US
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