Tonight for dinner: beef pot pie in cast iron dutch oven

Tonight I am having beef pot pie made in a cast iron dutch oven.  This reduces my prep dishes to clean to two.  In the dutch oven I browned the meat, added onions, celery, carrots and potatoes and cooked those a little also.  Then a jar of gravy, frozen peas and pepper.

In dish number two, mixed up two cups of buttermilk biscuit mix, and added french fried onions as the crust, spoon that on top of the filling directly in the dutch oven.

All goes into an oven at 400 degrees for about thirty minutes.  By using the dutch oven instead of a casserole I don’t have to clean that now.

Bread in your dutch oven


The first attempt wasn’t great.  The bottom was over cooked and I think my yeast is old, and I went a little far with the flour on the turned out dough but this is the closest to really good bread I have ever had.

I am going to try to make the dough in my bread machine and then bake it in the dutch oven.  Waiting overnight is a little long.

I am also making sour dough starter so that I can make a sour dough version.

NEXT: Let’s get a good pizza crust.  I like the crust to resemble artisan bread, crunchy out side, chew inside, big and fluffy with lots of air pockets.

Cast Iron cookware

When my hubby (then boyfriend) and I first moved out on our own we bought a cheap non-stick cookware pan set.  Within short order they began to peal and scratch and we began to eat the stuff in our food.  That was gross, so I said- never again- I will never get non stick again.  So we bought a cheep stainless steal set.

Two pieces of the four are still OK, but after a broken handle (the plastic part just snapped off while it was full of boiling water), and a lid shattered I bought a couple of restaurant stuff from a restaurant supply store.  Those were expensive and not much better.  It think that they are seen as disposable.  Not a life time investment.

AND I got sucked back into the non-stick world, I thought if I bought a higher quality product it would be OK- NOPE.  Even the really good ones have about a 5 year life.

I have had a 10 inch pan and a dutch oven in cast iron that I liked well enough, but it wasn’t really non-stick despite the claims.  It turns out, I was using them wrong.  After a bunch of internet research and a little experimentation here is my treaty on pots and pans.

For stock pots and sauce pans you should get a good quality stainless steel.  These weight far less than cast iron, and full of liquid they are heavy enough.  You will want at least 2, maybe 3 pieces.  One large 8 Quart stock pot with a lid.  This is for boiling pasta, making soups, and stocks.  The second piece is a 3 or 4 quart sauce pan, this is for heating up sauce, making mac and cheese and instant mashed potatoes.  The third is a small sauce pan, no more than 4 cups, that you can make small batches of stuff like small amounts of ramen, milk, sauces, gravy and caramel for caramel corn.  There is a big difference in weight for cheep and expensive, but I don’t think you need to go tri-ply or anything super fancy.

Next your pans, which should be cast iron.  I think you need three pieces a 8″ skillet, a 10.25″ skillet and a 12″ (5 quart) Chicken fryer with lid.  The fryer becomes your work horse.  It can act as a dutch oven and do stews, soups, roasts, bakes, oven pan cakes, pot pies, corn bread, cobblers, etc. It can be a skillet making large batches of breakfast foods, skillet meals, and one dish meals.  It is large enough that it can contain a skillet meal for 4, and contain splatter for frying.  I don’t really deep fry, but it most closely matches the size and shape that I was looking for so don’t be deterred by the name.  The 8″ skillet is for single servings of eggs, and little bits of stuff like roasting nuts.  The 10″ skillet is for medium loads and when preparing a fancy meal, you might need an extra pan.  You can get a 5 quart double dutch oven (it is a slightly different shape) instead of the 10″ skillet if you want to splurge, but once you have the fryer I don’t think you will need it.  The bottom is a dutch oven and the top is a 10.25″ skillet.  I don’t think you should get anything bigger than 5 quarts in cast iron, they become really heavy, and I think heavy cookware is dangerous cookware when dealing with hot oil and water.

Now, while doing reading I realized I have been cooking on cast iron wrong, and caring for it OK.  Keep a good season on it, cook with the right method and it really is non-stick. You need to get the pan good and hot (like sizzle water drops hot) before you add the oil, and then heat up the oil (you don’t need much) before you add your food.   I originally got sucked back into the non-stick world for two reasons- eggs and pot stickers.  I tried making pot stickers in my cast iron skillet and made a huge mess of it.  But that was because I didn’t know what I was doing.  Now that I pre-heat the pan and use a flat edged metal spatula (more on the spatula later) I don’t have a problem, and I have made a full conversion.

Caring for your seasoning.  Use the general advise, don’t use soap, don’t scrub it more than necessary, and oil it after each use.  What I didn’t know is that you can scrap it with your flat edge spatula and wipe it out (carefully!) while it is still hot.  Then re-oil.  That takes care of most of it.  The straight edge spatula is one without the gentile curve at the front.  By using a metal spatula you can scrap off any food bits, but also maintain your seasoning better.  After 10 years my 10 inch pan had pits in the seasoning, which made it more sticky.    I had to remove some layers of seasoning with steel wool and then scraped it smooth with my spatula while re-seasoning.  I can’t tell you the difference it makes.

Really good cast iron was made before 1950’s or 60’s.  Now days they come pebbly and not very smooth so it is hard to get a good non-stick finish.  What I have done with two of my new pans is to sand down the Lodge pebbly finish until smooth with 220 metal sand paper.   Lodge is the best cast iron on the market today.  I did this by hand, just doing the cooking surface and up the sides a little.  This will remove the factory seasoning and it will take a while, but I did this to my newest pan and it is a much better surface to season and will get a better non-stick coating faster.

Getting a good seasoning requires you to burn grease onto your pans and this means smoke.  So be careful, don’t leave them unattended, disconnect the smoke detectors and open all the windows.  The best way to get a good seasoning is to rub oil or fat on your pans, heat them up in the oven to 300 degrees and then take them out of the oven, put them on a hot burner and burn the heck out of it.  As it stops smoking (smoke will roll off of it) add another thin layer of fat with a paper towel (carefully).  Repeat as long as you can stand. Best option at least 5 times.  Make sure the finish turns black.  I wish I could try it, but I think that doing this outside on a grill would work really well, but I don’t have a grill.  Other places recommend baking them for a hour at 300 degrees, but you only get one layer.  By smoking it on a stove top or grill you get a layer with each application of grease.  Pans are metal and can crack with sudden temperature changes, so cool them slowly.

There you have it, what to buy (to save you money), how to treat it, and how to make a great, durable non-stick surface. The best part, the more you us your cast iron, the better it becomes.



Carnivorous plant dormancy

I have three carnivorous plants, two Venus fly traps and one pitcher plant.  Last year I only had the one Venus fly trap and I was worried about winter dormancy.  I read up on the internet and it talked all about keeping light, but cold (40 degrees) and where am I going to do that?  They suggested the fridge, but that doesn’t have light.  I live in Illinois so outside is not an option.

Instead I just left it in the window and watered it less.  It went into dormancy and out of dormancy all on its own.

I think that this worked for the following reasons:

1. It is West facing window, and a basement window so the sun we get in the winter is much less than in the summer.  The reduction in light and then increase of light triggers its sleep and wake cycle.

2. The window is fairly non-energy efficient. which is bad, but also means that the air is significantly cooler next to the glass.  By pushing the plants against the grass it keeps cool, still gets sun, but doesn’t freeze.

Terrariums: They also recommend keeping the plants in terrariums.  I have never done this.  The plants grow nicely without this.  I do water with the tray method by keeping the plants in a cup of water during the summer.  In the winter I water whenever the plants don’t feel wet.

Feeding: Some say to feed the plants only once a month.  I feed my with every open trap.  I have a small kid who loves to see it eat, or even feed itself.  We feed the pitcher plants a lot too.  This doesn’t seem to hurt them at all.  In winter I don’t have traps that eat, so I don’t feed it then.

Classroom: This year my kids’ classroom needed to show that all living things move.  Plants move slowly, turning toward the light.  Traps move quickly to capture prey, fast enough for kids to see it.  The kids always like it when the traps come into the classroom.

Castle bunk bed from Ikea Mydal

So I have the best Dad in the world.  He helped us turn a mydal bunk bed from Ikea into a castle bunk bed with stairs.

First we switched the ladder from the “front” to the end.

Ladder on the end

Ladder on the end

So we added in a bar on the foot of the bed, and then created an opening on the foot for the top bunk by attaching a bar (the old ladder side piece) and then sawing off the two end pieces.

We didn’t attach the rails for the top bunk.

No top rails

No top rails

These became additional bars at the head of the bed as something to rest against.



My son wanted to help, so he put foot prints going up.



This is a railing piece that keeps the kids from falling off of the stairs, and provides access to two book shelves made out of the stores for storage.  I painted them with vines.

Front of bunk bed

Front of bunk bed

We attached another pieces of plywood that acted as the top bunk railing.  We cut windows into it and a scalloped top.  Then I painted like stone.

The final touch is a set of curtains for the bottom bunk and matching hand made quilts.

Hibbard Elementary Chicago Craft Sale and Flea Market

Hibbard Elementary school will be hosting its first Flea Market/Craft sale on Dec. 14th, 10 AM to 4 PM, 2013.  Tables are still for sale, $25.00 per table and all your proceeds are yours.  Entrance is free for children, and $1.00 for each adult.

There will be concessions for sale, homemade items, flea market tables, and raffle gift baskets.

Email for more information.

Hibbard Elementary, a Chicago public school, hosted by the PTO, Parent Teacher Organization.


3244 W Ainslie Ave
Chicago, IL 60625

So for all the Google search criteria:

Chicago Craft Fair

Chicago Craft Shows

Chicago Craft Sales

Chicago Holiday Craft Show

Chicago Holiday Craft Sale

Chicago Holiday Craft Fair

Gardens looking Tired

So the garden beds started to look tired about mid Aug.  The plants get over grown, the heat finally takes its toll on them.  So no more pictures are coming.  However, plans are underway for next year.

I have some really big pots that might get a coat of paint and be put out front, as well as more pots and ideas for mint.  I am hoping my mint survives the winter, in which case I will try and sell divides at a yard sale.  We will see how that goes.  With 21 different mints, I have plenty to sell.