I am a huge fan of cast iron cookware. I love the fact that it is so resilient. You can bring a rusted cast iron pan back from the brink of death with one afternoon of work. I love their chemical free non-stick properties. And the fact that cast iron pans can last a lifetime means their environmental impact is even lower.
My brother got me a Number 8 Griswold cast iron frying pan a few years ago and that pan is the workhorse of my kitchen. I use it pretty much every time I cook. I also have a smaller Lodge pan, which is not as nice as the Griswold but still good. About 8 or 10 years ago, I bought a large cast iron Dutch oven and lid at an antique store while visiting my brother in Gettysburg, PA. It was heavy, rusty, and I could easily imagine it hanging from a branch over a fire on one of those Civil War battlefields, back when the battles were actually going on and not just being reenacted by a bunch of guys with too much time on their hands. I bought it with the intention of scrubbing it up, reseasoning it, and putting it back into service, but over the years it ended up serving as my repository for a bag of votive candles, stuck in my bricked-in fireplace.
Last weekend, I decided to finally give this old pan a try, so I spent an afternoon scrubbing it, washing away decades of grime, rust, and neglect. I slathered the entire thing in shortening and baked it at 250 for 2 hours. The lid is covered in a thick layer of rust, but the lid to my stainless steel soup pot fits it perfectly, so that's what I'm using for now. The Dutch oven is as good as new, and performed wonderfully in its first test-drive this weekend.
Much to my chagrin, I've been craving beef stew lately. I haven't made beef stew in at least 8 or 9 years, and of course went through a long period where I ate no meat at all. I guess I've been craving beef stew because I've seen "Julie and Julia" recently, and the Boeuf Bourguignon looked really delicious. It's probably also the weather, and the fact that at this time of year I get really sentimental for my mom's cooking. She always made beef stew in her cast iron Dutch oven, starting it on the stove top and finishing it in the oven, filling up the house with a wonderfully homey aroma. So, sorry world - I ate red meat this week (all natural, hormone free and humanely raised, of course).
Though I do want to try to make Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon someday, I opted for a simpler looking Martha Stewart Food recipe that I adapted to my mother's beef stew method, beginning on the stove top and finishing in the oven. Bon Appetit!
Beef Stew in a cast iron Dutch oven, preferably Civil War era
1.5 pounds stew meat
3 Tablespoons flour
salt and pepper
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small can tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
1 14.5 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 dried bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 in pieces
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
Preheat oven to 350. Toss beef with flour, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Heat oil in cast iron Dutch oven over medium-high heat until hot. Sear beef until browned on all sides, remove from pot, and set aside. Add more oil if needed, then add onion, celery, and garlic to pot, and saute over medium high heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for one minute more. Add wine and cook, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, until reduced by half. Return beef to pot and add tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil on the stove top, then partially cover and put in the oven. Lower heat to 325 and bake for about 2 hours. Check now and then to see that the stew is simmering, not boiling too hard, and stir occasionally. Remove beef from pot, and strain remaining contents of pot into another bowl, discarding solids. Returned strained liquid to pot, along with beef, carrots, and potatoes. Add a bit more water if needed to cover vegetables, bring to a boil on the stove top again, then return to oven and back for another 1 and a half hours, or until potatoes, carrots, and beef are fork tender.