Excuses to use cast iron: dutch baby pancakes!

Some months ago a coworker mentioned their partner making them Dutch baby pancakes for a special day. I was intrigued and googled, stashing away this Alton Brown recipe. A few weeks ago I finally made it in a 9 inch pan for family breakfast (partner, kiddo, my mom and me). They were delicious but somewhat awkward to make seconds. I made up a batch, we baked it, divided into quarters and repeat. Awkward. But! I have tiny cast iron pans! They are adorable little six inch diameter pans.

So I adapted the recipe to work with the small pans! And it worked spectacularly. The only “problem” now is we only have two 6-inch cast iron and to do it right for a group needs more pans! Read inside for converted recipe!

Picture of topped Dutch baby pancake
My mom topped hers with homemade applesauce and dehydrated apple peel!

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Ambrosia Salad

You may not actually know the name of this “salad”, but it’s that one with usually fruit and marshmallows and jello probably in a creamy base. Good ones have a variety of fruit and some coconut. Bad ones are mostly incredibly sweet creamy fluff with marshmallows and jello and if you’re lucky some fruit.

I had a craving so we made some for the family holiday party after I found a Serious Eats article about the history of it.

The short version is that originally – in the 1800s in the south of the United States – it was just fresh citrus, shredded coconut and a bit of sugar. Those ingredients would all be seasonal or rare treats then, even if now they are ubiquitous and often available year round. The marshmallows and creamy base came later. The cream base is varyingly cream, marshmallow fluff, cool-whip, sour cream, mayonnaise (!) or a mixture, often along with jello. Maraschino cherries, nuts and marshmallows pieces are also more modern.

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Cincinnati Chili Experiment!

If you’ve ever heard of Cincinnati Chili you probably know it’s not really chili. It is neither the bean heavy stew or the meat and spice version. It is however delicious and I haven’t had it in ages. You can do an internet search, but in short it’s a meat and spice heavy sauce served over pasta, almost always spaghetti, with cheese (and often onions and beans). Wikipedia has a long section on how it is made in different “ways”.

My family used to make it at home but I never got the recipe and I think it is lost to time. But I found a recipe a while ago that fairly well matches my recollection of the ingredients. Tonight we made some (with heavy modifications for our cabinet and to make it vegetarian).

These started from the recipe I found but modified heavily from my memory and our kitchen contents. The main differences here are I scaled this down to the amount of “ground beef” we had on hand and I adjusted a bunch of spices based on what I remember (and what I know I like). The main changes here is I put in a lot more of most spices (other than chili powder) than the linked recipe calls for.

  • 11 ounces “ground beef” (we used Beyond Meat’s beef crumbles, hence the odd amount)
  • ~1 cup stock (we obviously used vegetarian stock as we make our own, adjust down for liquid levels with the tomato sauce)
  • 1 large (or two small) onion grated
  • 8oz canned tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder (normally I would make this hotter but due to some gastritis I’m cutting back)
  • 2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce (we didn’t put this in as we didn’t have any but seems a good idea)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (we actually used whole for these last four and ground them fresh)

Cook the onion in oil (say olive oil and coconut oil for that saturated fat goodness). Add the dry spices (except bay leaf) and let cook in oil. Add “ground beef”, liquid spices, garlic, bay leaf, stock and tomato sauce. Let it cook down for a while. It did not take hours like the above recipe to get to the texture I wanted (chunky and not too runny).

Meanwhile, grate some cheddar, dice up some onions and cook some beans (we’re making five-way, though normally I think you’d see red or kidney beans). When the main sauce is nearly done, cook some pasta. We made elbows because that’s what we have (and rice noodles seemed a bit too far), but long spaghetti is traditional. Serve some pasta in each bowl, add the main chili on top, then sprinkle a bunch of cheese, beans and onions. Enjoy!

Cincinnati Chili//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Yes, this doesn’t look like much. But it was really tasty and very similar to what I remember. The “beef” was a good texture. If we make it again we might add even more spice (not just chili powder) and I should have chopped up the onion for the topping smaller. But still mmmmmm tasty.

Eggnog Pumpkin Pie

I made pumpkin pie for the first time this Thanksgiving with my mother-in-law using the Bittman recipe. She then sent me her preferred recipe. This is what I did to make a version with eggnog.

First I compared ingredients and ratios. Eggnog already has egg and spices in it. These two recipes were also fundamentally different in the base ingredients: 6 eggs vs 4 eggs and 4 cups of milk/cream/half-and-half vs 3 and 1/3 cups. The spices were also very different. Somehow the Bittman “How to Cook Anything” app version only calls for 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (among other spices) for two entire pies while my mother-in-law’s preferred recipe (used for many years at family holidays) called for 2 teaspoons. The other spices were similarly far less. The pies we had at Thanksgiving were a bit bland even to my taste and my mother-in-law even adds extra to her recipe! Eyeing those recipes, I baked two pies with these ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups pumpkin (ours had been frozen in pre-cooked chunks so we thawed, pureed and measured about this much)
  • 2 cups eggnog. The Bittman recipe’s 4 cups was way too much and even the 3 and 1/3 seemed too much. This is probably because the pumpkin is not strained.
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves (the Bittman only called for a “pinch”!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (Bittman, a “pinch”, mother-in-law’s a full teaspoon)

Given that the ratios of the major ingredients are closer to my mother-in-law’s recipe, I’m baking it off as that recipe specified. Preheat oven to 425F, bake for 15 minutes, then turn down to 350F for 45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Result:

Eggnog pumpkin pie//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The result was very fluffy. I fear it may have slightly curdled, but it was still very tasty. The Bittman recipe calls for only baking (at a lower temperature) for less than 50 minutes. There was still not enough spice. I’m not sure the eggnog added much objectively, but it’s emotionally satisfying.

Coconut and Pineapple Mashed Sweet Potato (aka Yam) Casserole

A typical Thanksgiving dish is a sweet potato casserole made with mashed and spiced sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows and then baked. I’ve been making this variant using coconut and pineapple for topping (as well as coconut cream inside) for a few years. I’m doing it again this year, so I thought I’d post the recipe somewhere public.

Ingredients:

  • 3 large orange sweet potatoes (like garnet). I do mean large.
  • 1 package solid coconut cream mixed up in a cup or so of water (example).
  • 1/2 cup (or more if you like it sweeter) maple syrup (or other preferably liquid sweetener you prefer such as honey)
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (I ground fresh from sticks)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more) ground nutmeg (fresh ground)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more) ground all-spice (fresh)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more) ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more) ground coriander seeds
  • 1-2 cups dried coconut flakes
  • 1 pineapple cut up into 1 centimeter by 2 centimeter chunks or 1-2 cans of pineapple chunks that size

Steps:

  1. Peel sweet potatoes and cut up into smaller chunks. Boil until soft. Drain.
  2. Mash sweet potatoes with the reconstituted coconut cream, maple syrup and spices while still warm and place into a large casserole dish (or just mash in the dish like I did). Make sure it’s thoroughly mixed (no one wants a huge bite of clove except me).
  3. Cover the top with a thin layer of coconut flakes
  4. Cover that over with a solid layer of pineapple chunks.
  5. Just before baking, cover with rest of coconut flakes.
  6. Bake in 350F oven, uncovered, for 30-45 minutes (depending on how cool it got before baking).
  7. NOM. NOM.

Possible variations I’ve considered:

  • A heck of a lot more spice. I’m always wary of adding too much since these can be very strong spices.
  • We cut up a fresh pineapple for this, but if you used canned, you could drain some of the water and mix into the mash as substitue for some of the syrup or in addition.
  • Adding chunks of pineapple or bigger chunks of coconut throughout the mash.
  • Crazy layering: layer of mash, pineapple plus coconut layer, more mash, etc. Probably wouldn’t hold together though visibly and is probably equivalent to just adding pineapple and coconut to the mash.
  • Put casserole into small individual serving size dishes.