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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Veal shank -- Osso what???

Osso Bucco is Italian for veal shank. I was lucky enough to find it on sale!

This recipe is modified from "Cast Iron Cooking":

Mix all-purpose flour with thyme, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper. Coat the veal shank steaks in the flour mixture.

Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Put the coated veal in the hot olive oil, brown on both sides, remove to a plate.

Put chopped onions, minced garlic, and chopped portobello mushrooms in the skillet; cook down. Add black pepper, onion powder, rosemary, thyme.* Pour in some red wine and let it cook.

*The recipe called for fresh rosemary and thyme; It's expensive, so I used dried.

Pour in some beef broth*, bring to a boil, reduce heat. Put the veal shanks back in the skillet, cover, and into the oven at 375.

*I added some of the excess flour mixture, for a thicker sauce.

My very first risotto

Pictured above is a "risotto spoon", a wooden spoon with a hole in the middle, for making risotto.

I used to think "risotto" was just a fancy word for rice. But it's not just any rice; it's short grain rice, also known as "arborio" rice, or just risotto rice.

Long grain rice is what I've always used, but it's apparently not suitable for risotto. Different size grains react differently; The shorter the grain, the stickier and creamier the rice.

This recipe is modified from "Cast Iron Cooking":

You'll need 2 cups of beef broth, but not all at once.

Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Add chopped onions, cook them down. Add 1 cup arborio rice, cook until translucent. Add 1/3 cup white wine, let it absorb. Then slowly add the beef broth, a little at a time, letting the rice absorb the broth each time.

Add chopped baby portobello mushrooms, continue cooking. Add a little turmeric*, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder.

*The recipe called for saffron threads which are expensive. Turmeric is the recommended substitute, although not the same.

When all the liquid is absorbed, add 2 tbsp butter and some parmesan cheese.

Stock making, part 4 - or should I say, broth making

So after refrigerating, the stock was supposed to have hardened into a gel. It was a thick liquid, but not a gel; therefore it's not a stock, it's a broth.

I guess I must be using too much liquid for the amount of bones. I will still proceed, though.

Since it wasn't gelled, there was no need to let it liquify before straining; I skimmed off the fat, strained a 2nd time through a fine strainer, and simmered again for a few hours, skimming off the impurities as it simmered.

I have strained it a 3rd and final time, and am simmering it a 3rd and final time, in order to "reduce" the stock (evaporate some of the liquid to make it thicker)*.

*I wondered if I could reduce the stock in a crock pot, but I couldn't get it hot enough for that purpose.

Then I put it back in the fridge overnight, to see if it would gel. Indeed it did, which is a good thing, since it's going in the Noble Pot Roast!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dutch oven or Crock Pot?

Some people cook almost exclusively in a crock pot, and can't imagine cooking in anything else.

But did you know that the cast iron pot, WAS the original crock pot? In the old days, people "slow cooked" all day in their dutch ovens, on low heat. Anything that can be cooked in a crock pot, can be cooked in a cast iron pot on low heat.

There's a very handy conversion chart here.

Although I cook almost exclusively in cast iron, I do have crock pots, and occasionally I use them, such as for boiling peanuts, cooking dried beans, and scratch tomato sauce.

My rule of thumb is, if I'm cooking during the day and will be at the house, I'll use the cast iron. If it needs to cook overnight, or I can't be there all day, I'll use the crock pot, even though I do prefer food cooked in cast iron.

So the stock I'm making, I did start out in a cast iron pot, but I want to try simmering all night, so it's in the crock pot now.

The Lodge cornbread kit

This is the Lodge cornbread kit. It comes with the Lodge 10 inch square skillet, a potholder and a recipe book.

Some people call it a "cornbread skillet"; I would call it an "anything skillet." You can cook just about anything in it!

Some people like the square corners because it's easier to fit bacon, french toast, or lasagna noodles. And cakes baked in this skillet, end up square instead of round.

Other than the shape, it's exactly the same as a round skillet. Neither is better than the other; It's just personal preference.

Sometimes it's hip to be square!

But as long as I'm here, I'll include a simple recipe:

Cut up red potatoes into cubes. (And whatever other veggie you like).

Put them in this square skillet. Sprinkle on rosemary and tarragon, then spray olive oil flavored Pam. Into the oven at 350.

Stock making, part 3

This is my 2nd attempt to make beef stock. I used the same basic method, with some changes.

Last time I used the bones from my spare rib dinner, but they didn't have enough meat on them. Beef shank bones are best.

I put the meaty bones in a cast iron skillet, drizzled with olive oil, black pepper, into the oven.

Last time, I roasted the bones at 400; This time at 300, so I could roast the bones and veggies at the same time, and I didn't want them charred.

I quartered some onions, carrots and celery*. On a cast iron pizza pan, drizzled olive oil, black pepper, into the oven at 300 along with the bones.

*Twice as many onions as carrots and celery. I had planned to use garlic cloves, but forgot them.

Roasted both for an hour, turned off the oven and let them cool.

I took the bones out of the pan, and put them in a cast iron pot. I poured off the excess fat, deglazed* with cold** water, and added the liquid to the pot. Then added the veggies to the pot.

*The first time, there was nothing on the pan to deglaze, because the bones had no meat.

**Liquid for stock needs to be cold.

For additional liquid, I took some leftover vegetable soup from the fridge, and strained the liquid from that. Added some ice, and a little more cold water.

The goal is for the liquid level to be 3/4 of the bones and veggies. The first time, I had covered the bones and veggies with water, and did not make sure it was cold.

Added italian seasonings, bay leaves, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, minced garlic and dried onion flakes.

Once the liquid reached a near boil, reduced it to low. I simmered uncovered for 5 hours, then decided to let it simmer all night; I felt that would be more safely done in a crock pot, so I transferred the contents and set it to low.

So I turned off the crock pot this morning, let it cool, removed the bones and veggies with a slotted spoon, strained through a medium strainer into a stainless steel pot*, stuck in the refrigerator.

Once it cools, hopefully it will have formed into a gel. If it remains liquid, then it's a BROTH, not a stock. Either way, I will skim off the fat, allow it to liquefy at room temperature if gelled, strain the 2nd time through a fine strainer*, and go from there.

*1st strain is through a medium strainer; 2nd and 3rd, through a fine strainer.

heating up frozen foods

I won't be actually cooking for tonight's dinner, since I have some frozen fried shrimp that I want to use up, as well as some frozen french fries.

Yes, cast iron is great for frozen foods. Just pop in the oven, like you would on a normal baking sheet.

I began my second attempt at making stock today, and will report on my findings in my next post.

Lodge Signature Series?

Pictured above is the new Lodge Signature Series cookware.

It is very pretty... and, pretty expensive! It was created to compete with All-clad, Calphalon, and other fancy expensive lines.

It has marine grade stainless steel handles, marketed as "cool to the touch"; Consumers report that while it's cooler, you still need a potholder.

It's for oven or stovetop use.

Nothing indicates whether it can be used outdoors, but the handle rivets are silicone coated, so I'd assume not*. I wouldn't use a $100 skillet outdoors anyway.

*A Lodge employee told me that outdoor use is not recommended.

Also, nothing indicates that this cookware has the benefits of enameled cast iron, such as no seasoning required, suitable for glass cooktop*, or rust resistant. So, I would assume not.

*Apparently it can be used on glass cooktop, but it does need seasoning, and it can rust.

It is a clever marketing strategy, since some insist that high quality cookware has to be expensive.

I've been scoffed at, for claiming that my $20 Lodge skillet is as good as their $120 Calphalon.

Besides the cooler stainless steel handles, there is no difference in quality between the traditional line and the signature series. Just the price.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Skillet chicken tenders with monterey jack cheese

This recipe was modified from "A man, a can, a tailgate plan." The original recipe called for canned cheese sauce, which I would never think of using.

First, don't buy those chicken breast tenders for $4 a pound. Get split chicken breasts for $2.19 a pound, cut off the bone, and cut them in strips.

Fry up a stray piece in a small skillet for the dog.

Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Add chicken tenders, chopped onions, chopped mushrooms and minced garlic. Cook until the chicken is completely done. Add worcestershire sauce, onion powder, garlic powder.

This is very similar to the smothered pork chops, except for the cheese sauce.

Heat some milk in a separate skillet, add grated monterey jack cheese*. Cook until the cheese is melted and mixed with the milk. Add to the chicken and veggies.**

*I was going to use swiss, but changed my mind at the last minute.

**Next time I'll just grate the cheese directly into the chicken and veggies, and melt. It would have been thicker that way.

Serve with wild rice.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What do the model numbers mean?

From time to time, you will hear cast iron skillets referred to by their model number.

It appears that Wagner, Griswold, and Lodge all had the same model numbers for their skillets, ranging from 2 to 14, with 2 being the smallest and 14 being the largest.

However, the model number is not to be confused with the actual size of the skillet. They are different.

Each brand's model numbers are approximately the same size, within a quarter to a half inch.

The #3 skillet is approximately 6 1/2 inches.

The #5 skillet, approximately 8 inches.

The #8 skillet, approximately 10 1/2 inches.

The #10 skillet, approximately 12 inches.

The #12 skillet, approximately 13 1/4 inches.

The #14, approximately 15 inches.

Any model in between those numbers, are somewhere in between the respective sizes.

There's a great illustration of skillets and their model numbers at the following link:

I also just discovered a skillet and dutch oven size and capacity chart at the following link:

Apparently, the numbers referred to what size stove eye the skillet heat ring would fit in.

Since most of us no longer use wood or coal stoves, that's no longer relevant.

Griddles had a different size / diameter standard, but I haven't found a chart for that yet.

I do know that a #6 is about 8 1/2 inches, a #7, about 9 inches, and a #9, about 10 1/2 inches.

How to season cast iron?

I suppose no cast iron blog would be complete without some basic seasoning instructions.

And yes, you do still need to season "pre seasoned" cast iron.

If it's not pre-seasoned, it will have a wax coating that needs to come off. The best way is to heat it up on an outdoor burner and let it smoke off.

For seasoning, lard is best, but crisco is fine too. Not vegetable oil.

Preheat the oven to 250.

Heat the pan for 15 minutes. Remove, take a spoonful of lard and smear it on the pan until it's coated. Back in the oven for 30 minutes.

Remove, wipe off any excess with a paper towel while still leaving a thin layer on the pan, and back in the oven for 30 minutes.

Then turn the heat off and let it cool.

Or just do it the old fashioned way, and fry bacon in it a few times.

If your pan develops a sticky residue, put some water in it and boil. It should come off.

Each time you use the pan, put a thin layer of cooking oil in it for storage.

Dutch ovens: Outdoor or Indoor?

Someone posted a question online, about a dutch oven she received as a gift.

She didn't know if she could use it indoors, or outdoors only.

It depends on what kind. Pictured above is an outdoor dutch oven, also called a "camp oven." It has 3 legs for placing over hot coals, as well as a flat lid with a lip, for placing coals on top. It also has a wire handle, called a "bail handle", for hanging over a campfire.

This type MIGHT be possible for indoor use, but not practical; the legs would make it awkward on an electric stove, as well as on the oven rack.

The other type of dutch oven looks just like a normal pot, and is absolutely suitable for indoor use, both oven and stovetop.

Usually instead of a wire bail handle, They have side loop handles.

On the contrary, if it's an enameled dutch oven, it should not be used outdoors. If it's any color besides grey or black, then it's enameled.

As a general rule, you put 2/3 of the coals on top, 1/3 on bottom, unless you're deep frying or broiling.

If you're deep frying or boiling, they all go on bottom, and when broiling, they all go on top.

You can stack camp ovens to cook multiple dishes with the same coals, and you can flip the flat lid to use as a griddle.

You adjust the number of coals to adjust the cooking temperature. Some dutch oven cookbooks state the amount of coals you need for the recipe.

For an 8 inch camp oven, 15 coals = 325 degrees, + 25 for each additional coal.

For a 10 inch, 19 coals = 325 degrees + 25 for each additional 2 coals.

For a 12 inch, 23 coals = 325 degrees + 25 for each additional 2 coals.

For a 14 inch, 30 coals = 325 degrees + 25 for each additional 2 coals.

Check out my article which includes a chart and calculator.

I don't have a camp oven, but intend to get one in order to learn how to use one.

I'm considering the Camp Chef ultimate dutch oven, which features a top and bottom rack that greatly expands its usefulness, and a center convection cone for faster cooking.

Supposedly you don't need top heat for the ultimate dutch oven due to the convection cone, except for baking. I can't test that theory until I get one.

Recycled breakfast lasagna!!!

Normally I would not post about a reheated meal from the previous day, but this is noteworthy.

Yesterday, I made "breakfast lasagna", which was ham, cheese, and bread with an egg/milk mixture poured on top and baked. It was good; I saved the leftovers to reheat for breakfast this morning.

It appears that overnight, the bread fully absorbed the egg/milk mixture.

So I broke the bread into smaller pieces, took 4 more eggs, mixed them with milk, poured it over the remaining leftovers, and baked at 350.

Since the bread fully absorbed yesterday's eggs and milk, it now has the taste of french toast, making it 10 times better than yesterday. OMG!

So next time I make this, I'm going to soak the bread in some eggs and milk, as well as pour eggs and milk over it. That one extra step is well worth it!

roasting a turkey outdoors vs. frying

I decided to try my hand at roasting turkey outdoors, in the ultimate turkey roaster, a large dutch oven with a cone in the center.

This dutch oven is marketed as a healthy alternative to turkey frying, which it is. This is my review, in comparison to what the company claims-- Which isn't too off base, mind you.

First they claim it's much healthier, which is a given. Roasted is always healthier than fried.

Next, they claim that you don't have to spend 50 bucks on peanut oil. Also right on target. You don't have to buy oil at all, but you should spray generously with Pam, being cast iron.

And since there's no oil, you don't have to carefully measure the amount of oil, nor do you have to wait for the oil to heat up when cooking. So setup is much faster, not to mention safer.

With the roaster, you can use dry rubs and seasonings, as opposed to only injectable marinades when frying.

Now here's where my opinion differs: Cleanup being easier. True, you don't have to wait for the oil to dry and then recycle it. But, "Just use warm water and a washcloth," my foot!!

It took a lot more than warm water and a washcloth-- it took SEVERAL runs of HOT water and a steel wool pad! (Not one with detergent; You can't use detergent on cast iron). And cleaning out my sink each time I emptied the water.

I finally decided to boil water in it, which made it easier to clean. Next time I'll do that initially.

They claim that the taste of fried turkey is GOOD, while outdoor roasted turkey is FANTASTIC. I say the other way around: Fried turkey is fantastic, albeit bad for you; Outdoor roasted turkey is good.

A couple of things I should have done differently:

The instructions said to calibrate the thermometer, which I did not do, so I didn't know that the thermometer reads 10 degrees less than the actual temperature. For example, if it says 160 degrees it's really 170 degrees.

Secondly, the instructions said to add 1/2 cup of liquid 30 minutes into roasting to prevent burning; so I added 1/2 cup every 15 minutes as an extra precaution-- and also I didn't want it to be dry.

The result was a "steamed" turkey as opposed to roasted. Which made it very very moist I must say. Very moist... but someone pointed out, "It tastes steamed, not roasted". Which isn't necessarily bad, but next time I'll only use a 1/2 cup after 30 minutes*.

*Actually, I did that the next time, and it still came out "steamed."

And third, I need to learn how to inject marinades into the breast meat. The breast was very moist which is a plus, but not very flavorful, as breast meat is very hard to make flavorful. The steaming washed off much of the spices I had rubbed it with.

The problem is, most marinades are "cajun" and I really don't want a cajun turkey-- I want a traditional roasted "butter and poultry seasoning" turkey. Apparently you can inject melted butter mixed with poultry seasoning into the breast, so I'm going to practice on roasted chickens in the coming months.

I wouldn't say I prefer one method over the other, they both have their plus and minus, although I did like not having to spend $$ on oil.

I would say that this is very similar to "The Big Easy", a contraption marketed as an "oil-less infrared turkey fryer." Which really isn't a "fryer" at all; It's an outdoor roaster.

Ultimate Dutch Oven

This is the Ultimate Dutch Oven, by Camp Chef. I don't have this one; I have its larger cousin, the ultimate turkey roaster, which is discontinued. It's intended for outdoor use.

This pan is marketed as the "outdoor microwave", since it cooks faster due to the center convection cone. The lid can be flipped and used as a griddle. It has a bottom rack for smoking or catching meat drippings, and a top rack for cooking food above your main dish.

I regret that the ultimate turkey roaster does not have a top rack, which would expand its usefulness. It just has a bottom rack.

The turkey roaster also has a domed lid, that can be used as a pot. I tried my 12 inch lid as a cover, but it wasn't quite big enough.

A Lodge 13 inch lid would possibly work*, or I can just use my 15 inch skillet or pizza pan as a cover.

*UPDATE: I tried the 13 inch lid. It doesn't fit with a perfect seal, but it does fit.

I pondered for a week, what I could possibly do with the turkey roaster besides cooking turkey. It's essentially an outdoor oven, so just about anything. It can roast ribs, brisket, chickens, ham, and roasts.

It can be used as a steamer for seafood, as well as a smoker for other meats.

Even though it doesn't have a top rack, there's no reason you can't just put your potatoes and veggies alongside the meat. After all, it is large enough to roast a turkey.

Of course, any one pot meal can be cooked in this. One recipe is for "ultimate veggies", which is roasted veggies with cream of chicken soup, sour cream, and shredded cheese mixed in.

I'm thinking you could bake breads in it too, but you might need coals on top for that.

You can use the rack and lid as a makeshift charcoal grill.

I would say that the ultimate turkey roaster is very similar to "The Big Easy", a contraption marketed as an "oil-less infrared turkey fryer". Which really isn't a "fryer" at all; It roasts the turkey outdoors.

I've considered the ultimate dutch oven, since the turkey roaster is large and cumbersome. But the ultimate dutch oven has legs, which wouldn't work on my electric stove. Otherwise it would be perfect. And the top rack would be nice, too.

But, I definitely don't need another pot.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I WISH you could fry turkey in cast iron

It's a known fact that cast iron is best for frying. I wish you could fry turkey in cast iron. But, there are no cast iron turkey frying pots.

Frying turkey is a holiday tradition here in cajun country. It's much faster than oven roasting, and very delicious.

It can also be dangerous. Please read the instruction manual entirely! Never fry turkey indoors; Keep pets and children away; Have a fire extinguisher handy; Never leave the fryer unattended; Never overfill the oil; Never attempt to fry a frozen turkey.

Once again, NEVER attempt to fry a frozen turkey. Buying fresh is best, and make sure it's dry. If you must buy frozen, defrost COMPLETELY.

It's not recommended to rub seasonings on a turkey before frying, but you can inject marinades.

You need a propane burner. I do not recommend King Kooker products due to their quality; I recommend the Bayou Classic model SP10, which is a turkey fryer AND crawfish boiler in one unit.

Most outdoor burners are designed for boiling OR frying, but not both. With the SP10, you don't need two separate appliances because the flame can be adjusted to high for boiling, or low for frying.

This model is not to be confused with sp14, which looks similar, but is low BTU for frying only. Sp1 is high BTU for boiling only.

Next, you need a turkey pot. Turkey pots need to be tall and slender, so as not to waste very expensive peanut oil. I recommend Bayou Classic model 1118, which is 32 quart, stainless steel.

Aluminum is cheaper, but stainless steel is easier to clean, lasts longer, and aluminum doesn't leach into the food. Turkey pots should come with a special turkey rack and lifter, and a thermometer.

You should get a drain rack to place the turkey on, once it's lifted out of the fryer. They are sold separately. Don't use wood, because of the hot oil.

You need a table set up outside, with a pan for the done turkey. Poultry lifting forks are also handy.

You need frying oil. Peanut oil is best, and very expensive. LouAna offers "southern frying oil", a peanut oil blend that is less expensive.

Most turkey pots have a maximum oil line for your size turkey, but if not, place the packaged turkey in the pot, fill it with enough water to 1 inch above the turkey, and remove the turkey. The water level is your oil level. Dry the pot before adding oil.

Pour in the right amount of oil, clip the thermometer on the pot, and turn on the burner. The thermometer is for the oil, not the turkey.

Wait for oil to heat to almost 350. Don't let it get above 350; If it does, adjust the flame.

Place the turkey vertically on the turkey rack and SLOWLY lower it into the oil. Do NOT drop!

Fry turkey 3 1/2 minutes per pound, or until golden brown. Turn off the burner, slowly lift turkey out of the pot, let it drain, then put it in the pan to serve.

Let the oil cool before attempting to clean the pot. Some people like to recycle the oil and use again, since it's so expensive.

You can buy a filter pump, or carefully pour into a large funnel with coffee filters, back into its original container. You can freeze peanut oil; Don't reuse if it's rancid.

Boiling crawfish for the complete rookie

A 40 pound sack of crawfish is one of the few things you don't cook in cast iron. There are no cast iron crawfish pots; They would be too heavy and expensive to be practical.

Since boiled crawfish is so readily available in Louisiana during crawfish season, I never needed to boil my own. But I decided that I wanted to learn. Boiling crawfish is not hard, but it is very involved.

First, some common sense safety. Place your burner outdoors, on level ground, on pavement (not grass). Sweep the area around the burner, and create at least 6 feet of clearance space. Have a fire extinguisher handy. Keep the propane hose away from the flame. Never leave the burner unattended while it's lit.

WEAR GLOVES when handling live crawfish, because they will bite! Have a spare pair of gloves in case the first one gets wet. Wear old clothes, because you will have crawfish goo all over you by the time you're done, including in your hair!

Have an ice chest with cold beverages; It gets pretty hot out there, and you'll use some of the ice in the cooking process.

You need a propane burner that's at least 100,000 BTU. Most outdoor fryers, turkey fryers, etc. are 50,000 BTU or less, and are not designed for crawfish boiling.

You need a huge pot, with a basket. If you want to boil a full sack all at once, you need an 80 quart stock pot. Aluminum is cheaper, but stainless steel is easier to clean, lasts longer, and aluminum doesn't leach into the food. You could also use a 40 quart pot and do 2 batches.

You need a basket lifter, and you need some kind of a rack to set the basket on to drain. Most people use 2 pieces of wood. You need a "crawfish paddle" to stir with. Metal tongs are also handy.

You need an outdoor table, covered with newspapers to dump the crawfish on when you're done, and a large, lined garbage can by the table.

You need a hose and outdoor faucet, in order to wash off the crawfish, and fill up the boiling pot.

You need something to put the crawfish sack in, to wash off and soak/purge. This will need to be designated for crawfish use only, since it will forever smell like crawfish.

Ideally, you would use a large ice chest with a drain, but I used a 30 gallon plastic bin. You don't need a drain plug; Just keep the crawfish contained in the sack until they're cleaned, although a drain plug would be more convenient.

And then you need the "extras". Salt, onions peeled and quartered, garlic cloves, celery, lemons, and seasoning such as Zatarain's crab boil or "pro boil".

You can put other stuff in the pot to boil too, like corn, potatoes, and sausage. Some even add a whole chicken! Just keep in mind that the more extras you have, the less room you'll have for crawfish.

Now go buy your crawfish. Bring CASH because many fresh seafood merchants do not take debit cards. Full sacks were $45; prices will vary. Please check your sack to make sure it's tightly closed, because live crawfish will crawl out-- they actually chewed a hole in my sack!

First, put the sack on the pavement and run the hose over it. Then put the sack in the bin, and continue hosing down the sack. Dump the dirty water out, hose some more. Repeat until the water runs clear. Then fill the bin with enough water to cover the sack. Pour salt in the water-- 1 box per sack. Let soak for 3 to 5 minutes, then dump out the salt water and hose the sack down again.

You don't want to leave crawfish immersed in water for too long. They will drown. After you've hosed off all the salt water, you can empty the sack into the bin and watch them scurry around. If you find any dead ones, throw them out.

Now, the actual times for soaking and boiling is VERY much up for debate. I ended up boiling for 7, soaking for 20.

Fill your pot 2/3 full with water. Add your seasoning. Put the onions and garlic in the basket and lower it in. Squeeze the juice from the lemons into the water and throw the peels in.

Light your burner, place the pot on the lit burner, then turn the heat up slowly. Taste the water; if it's not spicy enough, add more seasoning. Cover and bring the water to a rolling boil.

If you're adding potatoes and corn, add those and let them cook for several minutes before adding the crawfish. But I didn't do that this time.

Now you're ready to add the crawfish. Just grab them by the handful and throw them in-- WEARING GLOVES. Use the paddle to push them farther down, and keep adding crawfish until the pot is full.

Let the crawfish boil for 7 minutes, covered. Then take the lid off, turn off the burner, hose down the sides of the pot, add ice*, and let the crawfish soak 15 to 20 minutes.

*It's important to cool the pot after boiling because that allows the crawfish to soak up the spices.

Lift the basket out of the pot and set it on the rack to drain. After it's cooled enough to handle, dump the basket on the table and eat.

Unpeeled crawfish doesn't keep in the refrigerator for more than a couple of days. You have to peel and freeze whatever you don't eat that day. I'll be making crawfish pie soon!

Lodge cast iron wok

This is the Lodge cast iron wok. It's used for stir frying, fried rice, and other varieties of Asian food.

It replaced the earlier Lodge stir fry skillet.

There are cheaper cast iron woks available, but with Lodge, you know you're getting a good quality wok. I don't regret for a second, choosing this one.

I love Chinese food, and wanted to learn how to cook it. So I looked online for three specific recipes: Chop Suey, Chow Mein, and Lo Mein. I quickly realized that those three recipes are exactly the same, the difference being what they are served with. And, since I already knew how to make a stir fry, I was already 90 percent there.

Chop Suey is served with rice; Chow Mein is served with crunchy noodles; Lo Mein is served with soft noodles. Other than that, the recipe is exactly the same.

Use any meat you want. I used crawfish tails, because that's what I had in my freezer.

You can also pick your veggies. I used shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms, minced garlic, peanuts.

Chop Suey is loosely translated as "mixed pieces"; Legend has it that a chinese restaurant decided to chop up their leftover meat and veggies, pour sauce over it, and serve it with rice.

Then make the sauce: Mix corn starch in with soy sauce, add ginger (fresh if you have it, dried if you don't), onion powder, garlic powder, and sugar. You could also use "oyster sauce" or "stir fry sauce," available in the Asian food section.

Then have your spices ready. I use 5 spice powder, ginger, onion powder, garlic powder.

Heat up olive oil in the wok, add your meat and stir fry, then add your veggies one by one while continuing to stir fry. Add your sauce, then your spices.

Serve with either rice, crunchy noodles, or soft noodles.

I've made fried rice twice; Once in a rice cooker, and once in this wok. It definitely turned out better in the wok!

Have all your ingredients chopped and ready before you start to fry.

Cook the rice ahead of time, in chicken broth. Use whatever meat you want, or none; Chicken or pork should be pre-cooked.

FROZEN peas and carrots (heat up ahead of time)*, green onions, celery, onions, minced garlic.

*I've had fried rice before, with canned peas and carrots. Frozen is just as easy, and much better!

A couple of eggs, soy sauce or stir fry sauce, and the same spices as for chop suey.

Heat up olive oil, add your meat, then your chopped veggies one at a time. After all the veggies are cooked down, add your rice, mix it all together, then break a couple of eggs in it, keep mixing. Add your sauce and your spices.

Curry is made in a very similar way.

You start with the rice pre-cooked in chicken broth, onions, minced garlic, peas, peanuts, eggs, curry powder or paste, and turmeric. Meat is optional; Chicken or pork should be pre-cooked.

Heat olive oil in the pan, add the meat, then the onions and minced garlic, cook down, add the peas and peanuts, then the rice, then break the eggs in it and mix, then the spices.

If you have any other leftover veggies in your fridge, there's no reason you can't add it to your fried rice or curry. Chinese food is a wonderful way to use leftovers.

I just learned that, while you don't normally use a lid on a wok, the Lodge 14 inch camp oven lid fits this wok perfectly, if you would like a lid.