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Cast-iron skillets: The foundation for week-day dinner wonders |

Cast-iron skillets: The foundation for week-day dinner wonders

Sometimes the first thing I pull out when making dinner at night is my cast iron. This is especially true when I’m planning to use leftovers to make “something” for dinner.

If a cookbook promises “less fuss and fewer dishes,” I am liable to open it, as my quest continues to discover delicious dinners that I can get on the table before 9 p.m. – after work, on a weeknight.

If the book also happens to be about cast iron, I’m almost sold before I open it.

“Cast Iron Gourmet” by Megan Keno (2017, Page Street Publishing Co., $21.99) met both of those criteria and claimed to offer “77 amazing recipes.”

Leaf through the book and you’ll find recipes that come together in “thirty minutes or less,” a chapter on dishes with “five ingredients or less,” and another on “one-pot wonders.” There’s even a “meatless Monday” collection.

Most are straightforward, simple recipes that rely on few specialized ingredients. If you’ve visited her website,, then you already know her style. She tosses in a few convenience products but, for the most part, the dishes are whole foods that come together in minutes.

Her techniques and methods ring true as well. For example, her tips for making a big old T-bone steak look right on to me, down to the finishing in the oven.

She also offers tips. For example, she keeps mirepoix on hand in the freezer: Equal part carrots, celery and onion frozen in 2-cup portions. This way, she saves time when wanting to throw together a quick beef stew. (I made her beef stew the other night, with a few of my own additions, of course. I do the same with our South Louisiana trinity: I freeze chopped onions, bell pepper and celery for quick use.)

She has a chapter on desserts, too, like this blueberry crumble recipe, which looks delicious.


Below are three recipes from “Cast Iron Gourmet.”

If you have other quick and easy cast iron recipes, please share them with me at, so I can share them with others. (Please include exact amounts and cooking instructions when sending recipes; a photo, too, if you have one.)


“One of my family’s traditions is serving nontraditional foods on the holidays,” Keno wrote of this one-pan supper. “One year we had an authentic paella with all the fixings, from chorizo to mussels to chicken and squid.

“Now, I’m not the biggest seafood lover in our family — I leave that to my stepdad. But this paella, with shrimp and chorizo, is a perfect balance for seafood and meat lovers alike. It’s been simplified to be weeknight-friendly and has the flavors you crave without spending all day at the stove.

“Though this has tomatoes in it, you can use a straight cast-iron skillet if you don’t have an enameled one handy. This dish cooks quickly enough that the acid of the tomatoes shouldn’t affect the flavor.”

She notes that one can add chicken wings, mussels or clams “to up the authenticity while still keeping it great for the midweek.”

Chorizo and Shrimp Paella
Serves 6

1/2 pound sliced chorizo sausage

1/4 cup olive oil

1-1/2 cups arborio rice

3 cloves garlic, minced

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1/2 cup white wine

1-1/2 to 2 cups chicken stock

1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes

1/2 pound peeled and de-veined medium shrimp

1 cup peas

1 teaspoon chipotle paste, if desired

Over medium-high heat, add chorizo to skillet and cook until crispy and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove chorizo from pan, set aside.

Add olive oil to pan, and reduce heat to medium-low. Sprinkle in arborio rice, and stir to toast rice, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cayenne until just fragrant. Rice should look slightly translucent and golden brown.

Pour white wine into pan and stir rice with wine. This will deglaze the pan, that is, loosen any bits of food. Allow wine to evaporate and then whisk in chicken stock and tomatoes.

Cover pan and cook about 11 to 12 minutes, until rice is almost cooked through.

Stir in shrimp, chorizo and peas and continue to cook, covered, for another 6 minutes or until shrimp is cooked through and peas are tender. If you want a little extra kick, stir in teaspoon of chipotle paste.

Serve hot.

Chorizo and shrimp paella from ‘Cast Iron Gourmet: 77 Amazing Recipes with Less Fuss and Fewer Dishes’ by Megan Keno (Page Street Publishing Co. 2017) (Photo by Megan Keno) 

The next time I see chicken thighs on sale, I’m stocking up. This is a delicious way to enjoy a less expensive piece of poultry. It looks fancier and more complicated than it really is.

“Crispy chicken thighs stuffed with creamy goat cheese and herbs are the way to anyone’s heart,” Keno wrote. “Goat cheese, with sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and spinach, is a superb way to dress up a regular weeknight meal or make it special for a date night in.

“Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs work best for this recipe.”

Keno recommends bringing the chicken to room temperature before cooking: “The bone acts as an insulator, so a cold bone will prevent the meat nearest the bone from cooking at the same rate as the surrounding meat.”

Goat-Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Thighs
Serves 4

1-1/2 pounds chicken thighs

1/4 cup wilted spinach, squeezed of excess moisture

1/4 cup drained marinated artichokes, finely chopped

2 tablespoons marinated sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped

1/3 cup goat cheese crumbles

1/4 cup softened cream cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup chicken broth

Remove chicken from fridge at least 20 minutes before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature for even cooking.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In bowl, stir together spinach, marinated artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, cream cheese, salt and pepper.

Pat chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season chicken with salt and pepper.

Gently spoon goat cheese filling under skin of chicken and pull skin taut over chicken. If it won’t stay, use a toothpick to secure skin.

Preheat olive oil in pan over medium heat on stove. Place chicken in pan skin side down. Cook until dark golden brown and crispy, about 4 minutes, using caution not to tear skin and lose filling. Using tongs, turn chicken over and cook on other side until it’s dark golden brown, about 4 minutes.

Gently try to lift chicken. If it sticks to the pan, continue to fry until it releases naturally.

Pour chicken broth into bottom of pan and carefully cover pan with aluminum foil. Place it in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until internal temperature of the chicken reaches 160 degrees.

Remove pan and let chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Goat-cheese-stuffed chicken thighs from ‘Cast Iron Gourmet: 77 Amazing Recipes with Less Fuss and Fewer Dishes’ by Megan Keno (Page Street Publishing Co. 2017) (Photo by Megan Keno)  

“This enchilada casserole was part of my typical dinner rotation as a kid, and now it is making another appearance in my own home,” Keno wrote. “I added traditional cotija cheese to go with the sharp cheddar and the slightly salty Mexican crema. Your cast iron serves multiple purposes with this recipe, from browning the ground beef to baking the casserole. It’s a truly stove-to-table meal.”

The recipe calls for enchilada sauce. You can buy this at the grocery, of course. If time is not an issue, or, if you prefer, here’s a simple recipe from Martha Stewart.

(Cutting into this is a bit like cutting into a pie. The first piece might not be the prettiest.)

One-Skillet Enchilada Casserole with Cotija and Crema
Serves 6

1 pound ground beef

1 packet taco seasoning

1 cup chopped yellow onion

1 cup chopped cremini mushrooms

2 cups red enchilada sauce

1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained but not rinsed

2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup shredded cotija cheese

5-6 flour tortillas

Cilantro, minced, for garnish

Mexican crema or sour cream, for garnish

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Place 10-inch skillet over medium heat; add ground beef and taco seasoning. Cook about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add onions and mushrooms to skillet. Stirring every 2 to 3 minutes, soften the mushrooms and onions. Once they are softened, about 5 minutes, stir in the enchilada sauce and pinto beans. Bring mixture to a simmer, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes.

Next, stir in two-thirds of the cheddar and cotija cheeses, and mix together until cheeses melt.

Pour beef-and-bean mixture into mixing bowl; set aside.

Add 1 large spoonful of the beef-and-bean mix, enough to lightly coat bottom of skillet, and then press in 1 tortilla. Add another large spoonful of the beef-and bean mixture, enough to spread a thin layer over tortilla. Top with another tortilla.

Continue layering this way until almost reaching top of skillet, using about 5 or 6 tortillas. Top last tortilla with any remaining beef-and-bean mixture, and then sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until cheese is melted and edges of top tortilla look slightly crispy.

Remove skillet from the oven.

Cut into casserole with a sharp knife into desired portion; scoop out portions using a spatula.

Garnish with minced cilantro and Mexican crema or sour cream.

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