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Santa Barbara, CA, United States
I enjoy creating original wine-pairing recipes that are healthful and delicious. I work for Touring & Tasting a Santa Barbara based wine club and national magazine as Food Editor. However, I am not paid for this blog and the opinions expressed here are strictly my own. I received my Personal Chef Skills Competency Award from the SBCC's School Of Culinary Arts. In 2012, I started Inside Wine - Santa Barbara with pal Lila Brown which features wine tastings with winery owners and winemakers. I also serve on the Board of the Santa Barbara Culinary Arts group, which had Julia Child as one of the founding members and funds scholarships for SBCC culinary students in her name.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Paean to Cast Iron

Sing a song of praise for humble cast iron! My cast iron Dutch oven was on the bottom of a thrift store shelf with a lowly $10 price tag on it years ago. I've hauled the heavy thing through countless moves and it has rewarded me with wonderful stews, beans, tender pot roasts and corned beef and cabbage (back in the meat eating days), and even produced fluffy cakes with crispy bottoms and centers filled with warm berries. My cast iron skillet was also a thrift store find and makes great fajitas and chili rellenos. I've even found three cast iron cornbread pans that make cob-shaped mini-loafs. Like a good chef's knife, my cast iron an essential basic for any kitchen. The Dutch oven can be baked for hours or put over a low flame for long simmers without burning because it spreads the heat evenly throughout the pot. The skillet is great for searing and deep frying for the same reason--no hotspots or burn areas. A few tips for cast iron:
  1. Buy it at a thrift store--it's nearly indestructible, so unlike other cookware, it is rarely damaged. You don't need to spend $200+ on enameled cast iron (though it's nice!)
  2. Dirty surface: if the surface of the used cast iron is cruddy--or yours gets food built up due to improper cleaning--recondition it! (see Lodge instructions)
  3. NEVER use soap. Use a scrubbie or Scotch pad, with warm water, to remove food then heat on the stove to dry it thoroughly. This will also sterilize it, as the cast iron will heat up to over 300 degrees (on high BTU stoves, like a Viking, it can be 500-600 degrees or more if left too long). The highest Servsafe minimum internal temperature to kill pathogens is 165 degrees for 15 seconds.
  4. Seal it: let it cool after heat sterilizing it and oil it completely--I use olive oil and a paper towel--don't forget the top and sides of the lid. The thin film of oil keeps water out of the metal, preventing rust.
  5. No acidic food in cast iron as it will react and may turn the food black--make your spaghetti sauce and marmalade in stainless steel.
    Cast iron is better and greener than Teflon; Teflon can leach into your food.

This week's Online Grapevine weekly wine discount special: the highly-rated California 96 Point Sonoma Chardonnay calls for something special. Try this quick-and-easy but flavorful recipe of jumbo shrimp marinated in lime and cilantro, then quick seared with Poblano chilis, onion, green beans and squash. 
8 jumbo shrimp in shells (about 1 1/3 lb.)
1/4 cup olive oil + 4 Tbsp.
juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 cup orange (or tangerine) juice
2 yellow crookneck squash, with seeds removed, cut into strips
2 poblano chilis, seeded and cut into strips
1 small onion, cut into slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup green beans
The shrimp cooked in the shell will be tender and not dry out during cooking. They are a bit messier to peel and eat, but worth the effort. Carefully cut the shell along the back of each shrimp to reveal the vein--remove it, then wash the shrimp, drain and place them in a glass bowl with 1/4 cup oil, lime juice, cilantro, oregano and orange juice. Mix well, cover with lid or plastic wrap, place in refrigerator and let marinate for at least four hours, stirring occasionally so the shrimp is evenly marinated. Prep the vegetables so the pieces are similar in size. In a heavy skillet (cast iron works best), heat the 4 Tbsp. of oil over medium, add the onion and garlic and cook for a minute, stirring. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the other vegetables, turning over with a spatula continually to cook evenly. They will char in places but cook until just "al dente" then add the shrimp. Continue cooking and turning until the shrimp just turn evenly pink. Do not overcook. Serve with hot tortillas, refried beans, guacamole and this week's 96 Point Chardonnay.

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