Favorite Kitchen Tools- Grandmommy’s Cast Iron Skillet

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been resisting the urge to put up my Christmas decorations for a few weeks now. 2020 has been such a weird and challenging year, and looking forward to Christmas and Thanksgiving has lifted my spirits recently. I’ve already put up one small tree in my dining room for some “cozy winter light” and we’ll see if I can make it until after Thanksgiving for the rest of the decorations.

With Christmas and the holidays comes gift giving season. I love giving gifts but I’m sometimes unsure of what to get someone if I don’t know a lot about their hobbies. My husband for example is a musician and I find it challenging to purchase music related gifts without him specifically telling me something that he wants. I usually search for gift guides on the internet related to various hobbies where someone familiar with them lists some items that your loved one may be interested in. I have put together a series of post to inspire some gift giving for the aspiring chef and home cook in your life, or pickup some items for yourself 🙂

My first post in this series is about my love for cast iron, and the story behind my favorite cast iron pan.

The History Behind My Cast Iron Skillet

My family is from Texas, and I have a lot of special memories of cooking with my Grandmommy when we would travel there for visits. She shares in my love of thrift store shopping and collecting cookbooks.

I remember the best cheeseburger I ever had was one that she made for me on one of her iron skillets. She used a tortilla iron skillet, or one with really short sides. The skillet retained the heat so well and gave the burger a perfect sear. Then she melted the cheese on top and the little bits around the edge that melted onto the skillet got crispy. Then she spread some butter on the buns and toasted those as well. WOW! I’m salivating just thinking about those burgers. I remember that summer we went to some flea markets, and I just had to have one of these tortilla iron skillets. I found one, and it’s the one I still use when I make burgers or warm up tortillas. Every time I use it, I think of her and my memories of that delicious burger she made me. I also bought a small 6 inch skillet to take home that summer and those two pans were the start of my cast iron collection.

Years later I was in search of a larger cast iron pan that I could cook a chicken in. I had been searching for one and had asked for a new Lodge pan for Christmas. She got wind of this, and in her love for wanting to bless others, she found a way to get me one of her large cast iron pans all the way from Texas.

The special thing about cast iron is that as long as you take care of it properly, it will just get better with age. More seasoning is added every time you cook with it. Every time I cook with that pan I feel like in a way I’m back in my Grandmommy’s kitchen cooking with her because her seasonings are also the pan. Someday I will be able to pass it down to the next generation and share with them the stories of the meals that have been prepared, and the conversations shared around that skillet.

Pros of Cast Iron

  1. It’s a great pan for searing meat and finishing it in the oven. I cook my pork tenderloin in cast iron by first searing it on the stove, then transfering the pan to the oven to finish cooking. This is also an excellent way to cook a steak or pork chop.
  2. It just gets better with time as you cook with it. Every time you cook with your cast iron, you’re adding seasoning and increasing the non-stick layer of the pan through the fat that you use. I can fry an egg in my cast iron skillet without it sticking because I have built up a nice non-stick seasoning layer.
  3. They’re great to bake in. I bake biscuits in them or if you have a smaller one you can bake a giant cookie. Skillet pies are also delicious… Cobblers… you get the idea.

Cleaning Cast Iron

I think people can be intimidated by cast iron because they’re unsure of how to clean it. NEVER put your pan in the dishwasher. I’m cringing just thinking about that… I like to clean mine while they’re still hot because the gunk comes off easier that way. I use a metal spatula, or a hard rubber scraper to scrape up any bits that are stuck on the bottom. I may even add a small amount of water to help loosen up any stuck on gunk. Then I use a paper towel to wipe out the pan, and wipe again with a clean damp paper towel. Usually that’s all it takes!

For the bigger messes, you can use a small amount of soap and water, but always make sure you season it afterwards to make sure your pan doesn’t get rusty. Seasoning requires adding a small amount of oil, smearing it around with a paper towel, and heating the pan up again. This is good practice to do periodically anyway to keep you pan in good shape. Use an oil with a high smoke point such as canola. Something like olive oil will start to smoke before it really gets hot enough to season the pan.

Buying Guide

I think a classic 12 in skillet is a great place to start if you’re interested in experimenting with cast iron. A 12 in is large enough to hold an entire chicken, yet still versatile enough that you could cook breakfast eggs in it. Lodge makes quality cast iron for affordable prices. Here is a versatile skillet that would make a great purchase or gift.

Another option for cast iron is a double burner griddle/grill pan. Mine has a permanent residence on my gas stovetop. It makes excellent pancakes and toast for breakfast and I also use it a lot for grilled sandwiches. Flip it over and you have an indoor grill pan! I cook chicken breasts on mine to slice up for salads. One note on the double burner griddle- our old place had a glass top stove and this pan did not work well. Consider the type of stovetop you have before buying a pan like this. This is the one that I was gifted a few years ago.

If you’re scouring the thrift store for cast iron these are the characteristics I would look for:

  1. Look for an assist handle if buying a larger skillet. This is a small handle opposite from the larger handle. These skillets can be very heavy, and having that assist handle provides two hand holds when pulling something heavy from the oven.
  2. A smooth shiny cooking surface. A well-seasoned cast iron pan will have a smooth and shiny finish. If a pan hasn’t been cared for properly it may have rust or an uneven finish. Some of this can be remedied with a little elbow grease and a good seasoning but unless you find a Griswold or a Wagner pan I would just skip over the rusted poorly seasoned ones.
  3. Make sure it’s not warped. Try to set it on a flat surface and wobble it a little. A warped pan will have hot spots and won’t provide an even cooking surface.

Now what about this enameled stuff?

Enameled cast iron tends to cost more because it has an enameled surface. I don’t know the science behind it, but it’s a layer over the cast iron that assists with making it non-stick. It’s also what you see when you find a cast iron pan that has color on the outside. I have an enameled dutch oven that I use to bake bread or for stews. I love it! I would recommend a 6 qt like this one.

Whether you’re buying cast iron for yourself or as a gift, you won’t be disappointed. They can become family heirlooms where generations are cooking off seasoning that was developed years ago. What a special way to feel connected to others in the kitchen!

Cultivating Hospitality in a Socially Distant World

Cultivating Hospitality. That is not only the title of my blog, but a mantra I want to live by. I want to cultivate relationships, belonging, togetherness. I want my table to be crowded with food, friends, and meaningful conversation.

I have been mourning every day the loss of togetherness in the forms that I am most accustomed to: The loss of friends and family around my dinner table; The loss of conversations at a restaurant while sharing an appetizer of guacamole; The loss of the excitement you get when you clink your glass together with a friend’s and share a “Cheers!” It’s a lot of loss, and a lot of mourning.

Social distancing has been going on for weeks now and I feel like it’s becoming my “new normal” but within this “new normal” is an adaptation of what togetherness and hospitality looks like. The need for hospitality has not gone away, it just looks a little different now. I’m discovering what it looks like for me every day. Maybe now hospitality means taking only what I need at the grocery store, knowing that someone else probably needs that extra bag of flour and I don’t need two. Or maybe it means tipping more generously than I normally would when I support a local restaurant with a take-out order. And what does connection look like now? Maybe it’s a simple video-check in with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Some friends of mine recorded a happy birthday video using some unique instruments that they play and sent it to someone on their birthday. What a great idea! Technology has provided us with the ability to stay connected during this time, but we don’t need to rely on technology for connection. Maybe you can send a handwritten note to a friend in the mail? Or maybe you can bake a treat and leave it on your neighbor’s porch. We’ve had friends drop of cards and care packages over the last few weeks and to say that they lifted our spirits would be an understatement (Thank you friends- You know who you are).

Another thing to consider is how you are fostering connection with the people you’re quarantined with. Just because you’re in the same space as someone doesn’t mean that you’re connecting with them. I’ve found it easy to get caught up in the day to day tasks of working from home or the easy distraction of technology, and before I know it most of the day is behind me with no tangible connection or conversations with my husband. Set aside part of the night where the electronics have to be away and you spend time talking or playing a game together. Make a strict rule of no phones at the table and really prioritize dinner time as an opportunity for meaningful conversation and connection. Ask you family to dress up for dinner and set a fancy table for a restaurant experience at home.

I think what we need right now is hope. I find hope in my faith and that has been a pillar of strength for me during this time. I’m also finding hope in seeing how communities are coming together to support health care workers, or public service professionals. I see the hope in how hard the teachers and parents are working to provide the best education possible for the kids during this challenging time. I see hope in a family spending time together with their phones away and they’re laughing together. I see hope in so many places, especially when I choose to look for it.

So as I reflect on the last few weeks and months, I am left with a challenge to myself: How am I cultivating hospitality in this social distant world? How am I seeking and experiencing hope, and how can I share hope with others?


Charcuterie Boards

I. Love. Charcuterie. Boards.

I love everything about them. I love the thought involved in picking the items for the board; I love the process of arranging everything together; I love the family style grazing that happens when people share a board; I love all the snacks that a naturally created from the leftovers. They’re perfect for picnics, casual gatherings, or formal events. They can me tailored to any budget or to accommodate food allergies. Should I go on, or do you fully understand just how much I love charcuterie boards?

I’ve made charcuterie boards before as simple dinners, or as a snack to have available prior to a meal for my guests. I’ve been wanting to make a large one for friends to share over dinner and when I saw fresh figs in the store the other day I felt inspired to pull one together.

Selecting the Elements of Your Board

There are countless articles and posts out there about what you should pick to add to your charcuterie board. Some will say that you should pick ingredients “from the same region” meaning pick cheeses, meats, and snacks that are from the same area of the world. The strategy I live by is this: Pick what you want to eat. Simple. I buy what I know I will like and what my guests will enjoy, or something new that I’m interested in trying. If they happen to be “from the same region” then I guess I’ll be extra fancy.

I also try to think of flavors and textures when building a board. I always incorporate something sweet, salty, and tangy such as jam, marcona almonds, and olives. For texture, I like to include a fresh french bread cut into small slices that will provide a softer vessel for topping. Crackers provide a crunchier option. I also incorporate fresh and dried fruits, as well as fresh veggies. I think a lot about color when picking my fruits and veggies. Radishes, mini bell peppers, grapes and figs all bring bright varieties of colors to the board.

When picking the meats, I try to have a chicken/turkey option for someone who doesn’t eat red meat. I usually include salami, prosciutto and turkey. I almost always include brie on my boards because it’s one of my favorite cheeses. In addition to the brie, I usually try to pick something with intense flavor like a blue or stilton. I also like to include a smoked cheese like smoked gouda. You can also add variety by mixing up the milks of the cheeses such as a sheep’s cheese or a goat’s cheese.

Assembling the Board

If i’m making a smaller one, I’ll just make the whole thing on one of my larger platters/boards. This one was going to be larger so I used a table cloth, a large platter, and some banana leaves as my base. I knew I would want to keep the cheeses on the platter so they would be easier to cut. I then added the banana leaves around the platter to provide spaces for items that contained more moisture, and a place to lay the meat so the fat wouldn’t stain my table cloth. I bought these leaves at my local grocery store knowing that they would be food-safe. You could buy leaves at a florist but then you run the risk of them being sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals.

Once I had my base down, I placed some of my small bowls containing marcona almonds, honey, jam, olives and pickles. I placed them around my board then filled in the rest as I went. I used grapes for height, and placed the mini peppers around for color. Then I added the cheeses on my large platter and filled in with crackers and the rest of my elements. I finished the board by garnishing with fresh rosemary.

My Board Elements

  • fresh french bread
  • sesame crackers
  • whole wheat crackers
  • marcona almonds
  • mini bell peppers
  • prosciutto
  • salami
  • sliced turkey
  • fresh figs
  • cornichons
  • pitted Italian olive blend
  • dried apricots
  • 4-berry jam
  • honey
  • grapes
  • radishes
  • smoked gouda with chilies
  • cheddar cheese (goat’s milk)
  • brie
  • blue cheese

What elements will you include in your board?



A food blog 2 years in the making

 “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”

Julia Child

Ever since I can remember, food has been a passion of mine. There are numerous pictures of me at various life stages licking the beaters after my mom and I made cookies together. I remember standing on a step stool so I could reach the stove and help my parents cook dinner. As I grew older, I started to make dinner on my own and eventually did most of the grocery shopping for my family. I loved getting my cookbooks out and making my grocery list and meal plan for the week. I loved walking through the produce section finding the best deals and freshest fruits and veggies that were in season. Making meals has been, and continues to be, a way I show love to the people in my life.

So much of cooking also has to do with where the ingredients come from, and I also happen to love gardening and growing my own food. I grew up in Lancaster Pennsylvania, and if you’ve ever been there you’ll know that it is a beautiful place full of farms and local Amish produce. We always had a backyard garden growing up and I loved the anticipation of going out there to see what was ready to be picked.

Fast forward to 2017 and I found myself graduating with my master’s and finally being out of school. I had been dreaming of the day when I would have my free time back to invest in things that I enjoyed. I began my “no more school list” about 6 months before graduation and one of the items on there was “start a food blog.” It was just a dream at that point, as I knew it would take some work, but I also knew that I wanted to have an outlet to share my passion for food. Graduation came and went, but the blog never happened.

Now I’m 2 years post-graduation and choosing to make this dream become reality. I want to have a place to share my love for food and how it can bring people together.

Cultivating Hospitality came out of my desire to not just have a food blog filled with recipes, but to have a place where I can share stories of sharing food with others and how meaningful that can be. My Christian faith is very important to me, and out of that comes my love for hospitality and making others feel welcome and included. I want to continue to cultivate this within myself. “Cultivate” also comes from my love for gardening and growing my own food. These themes will be the backbone of the blog.

My desire is for this to be a place where you can share in my journey of cultivating hospitality within myself and with others. You’ll hear some of my favorite food memories; you’ll learn some of my favorite recipes; you’ll be with me in the garden as I plant and harvest my own food. Join me, as I journey in cultivating hospitality!