Healthful meals made easy with skillet cooking

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Skillet cooking can be a great way to not only change up your daily cooking habits, but also a way to keep a healthier diet going into this new year. In many cases, skillet cooking also cuts down on dirty dishes as many skillet recipes are “one pan meals,” and they come together quite quickly when time is at a premium.

A skillet is a flat-bottomed pan, usually round in shape, with shallow, flared sides that may be slightly curved. A good size in 10 to 12 inches in diameter. They can be made from copper, cast iron or aluminum. Some have a nonstick coating for easy cleanup and are commonly used to pan-sear, pan-roast and fry foods. This skillet should be thick enough to conduct heat evenly while being light enough to handle and maneuver.

Cast-iron skillets are perfect for making fonds or browning foods with a crispy textured crust. Fond is the residue and food particles left behind after browning meats or vegetables. Fonds are used to prepare sauces and bases that are added to other foods to enhance the taste with a deep, rich flavor.

Cast-iron skillets are a favorite among many cooks. Here are some tips from realsimple.com for using and caring for a cast-iron pan:

• There’s only one thing you shouldn’t do in a cast-iron pan — boil water. It will cause the pan to rust.

• Cast iron takes longer to warm than other surfaces but retains heat very well and diffuses it evenly.

• Cast iron remains hot long after it is removed from the stove. As a reminder to be careful, drape a thick towel or a mitt over the handle.

• To avoid getting smudges on all your kitchen towels, designate one to use exclusively for drying the cast-iron skillet.

• Cooking in cast iron increases the iron content in food. The longer the food is in contact with the skillet, the more it absorbs.

• Traditional cast-iron skillets don’t come out of the box with a nonstick surface. That comes with seasoning, or coating the skillet with cooking oil and baking it in a 350-degree oven for an hour. It won’t take on a shiny black patina at first, but once it is dried with paper towels, it will be ready to use.

• You will reinforce the nonstick coating each time you heat oil in the skillet, or you can hasten the process by seasoning the pan as often as you like.

• For best cleaning results, rinse a cast-iron skillet with hot water immediately after cooking. Use a mild abrasive like coarse salt and a nonmetal brush to remove burned-on food. You can also use a couple of drops of dishwashing soap occasionally.

• If a cast-iron pan gets a sticky coating or develops rust, scrub it with steel wool and reseason it. To prevent rust, dry the pan well and lightly coat the surface with cooking oil. Cover with a paper towel to protect from dust.

You don’t have to use a cast-iron skillet to achieve a delicious skillet meal. Use a pan you are most comfortable with, and give some of the recipes below a try. If you have a favorite skillet recipe, please share it with me!

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