Happy Mother’s Day!

High School Graduation: Marge Kauschen

Every day is Mother’s Day. That’s what my Mom probably should have said. From the time I was born, looking back on all the pictures she was always there for me. When I was sick, when I was sad, when I was happy. She was always there.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and I lost her four years ago. I honestly think that she reached a point where she realized that I could make it on my own. She taught be to look out for myself, pay the bills get things done that needed to be done. She taught me to cook so that I’d never go hungry. She fought for me so that I would get good teachers and schooling.

I probably could have done more. I think the last thing I did for her was make her a grandma. Granted, I had help in that aspect. I had a lot of help and it wouldn’t have happened without Wife. I’d include a picture of her, but she doesn’t like to be in the limelight. She has that same aspect as my Mom. She never wanted to or tried to replace her and that’s a good thing. Wife is a smart cookie like my Mom and I think I did a good job in conning her into spending the rest of her life with me.

So today if you have a Mom that isn’t with you anymore I want you to think about her and what she gave up to make you who you were today. If you have a Mom that is still with you or you’re married to just take the time to remember that they’re doing an awful lot to keep you and your family on the right track.

Cast Iron Cookoff

When my Mom died we had an awful task on our hands. We had to go through all the junk she had collected over the years that was useless to us now. We happened to save a few things that we weren’t sure why until I came across a piece that struck me as something I had to play around with. My Mom’s old cast iron pan.

This pan was a Wagner #10 pan and my experience with cast iron only had been in the Boy Scouts when we were camping and from what I know now they didn’t teach us how to handled the cast iron pots and pans very well. My Mom’s old skillet had seen better days and I wish I took a before picture just to give you an idea what it looked like before I started reconditioning it. I did find a couple of pictures below which are pretty close to what it looked like before I started, but it was actually worse than this.

I started searching google for different ways to recondition a cast iron pan and found a lot of information, but most of the techniques were minor variations on the same thing.

1. Coat the pan with an oven cleaner and leave it for up to a week spraying more on every few days
2. Wash it with soap and water
3. Use fine #000 steel wool to remove any of the left over bits that haven’t come off
4. Re-season the pan

photo from black iron dude's blogThat’s all pretty easy stuff to do so I started off to work on it. I sprayed it down and had it bagged up in my basement where I’d re-spray it every few days and then one day when I was looking at some info I found on cast iron pans I found the following information, The Wagner Sidney, OH plant was closed in 1903. Uh, wait a sec, WHAT?! I started looking up pictures and found an exact match for my Mom’s pan and it turns out that I had a cast iron pan sitting in a caustic solution for close to a week that turns out she got from her Mom who got it from her Mom. I had my Great Grandmother’s pan from the late 1800’s to beginning of the 20th century sitting in a death bath of evil chemicals.

I yanked it out of the bag and started washing it off to make sure I hadn’t ruined it. I had forgotten something, it’s cast iron. The pan was fine, but still had a few spots of over a hundred year old seasoning left on it so I put it back and sprayed it some more. When I was finished I added another step that the Black Iron Dude suggested of soaking it in two parts water to one part white vinegar to counter act the lye in the oven cleaner.

Now it was time to re-season the pan. This is where people differ in their views. Some like it hot others like it not so hot. I chose the not so hot since some people seem to like this first and then move up to the hotter seasoning plus I’m not sure our pot holders would help me with a red hot 550° skillet. I put it in the oven after washing it off set to around 150° for about 15 minutes to make sure it was completely dry. I pulled it out and turned the oven up to 350° and started rubbing some coconut oil all over the inside and outside of the pan. It then goes back into the oven for about an hour and then when you let it cool down it’s seasoned. I’m going to do this a total of three times so I’m not finished yet, but you can see how far it’s come from the picture. After the first seasoning you can see that the pan is a little spotty, but it’s still smooth as glass on the inside.

I’ll start off Sunday by cooking eggs in it. On a side note the inside of this pan is a smooth as glass even before I started to restore it. That’s a sign that it’s an old pan. Looking at this pan taught me something in that when I got married 16 years ago we were given a lot of pots and pans, almost all non-stick. Most of those aren’t what you would call non-stick today. The teflon wears down and just doesn’t exactly do what it’s supposed to after awhile while friends of mine who swear by a good seasoned cast iron pan say it never sticks. Here I’ve got a pan that lasted over 100 years and was pretty easy to bring it back to looking better than new. I’m hoping to get another 100 years out of the pan now. If this works out like I hope it will our non-stick pans will be going away very soon and I’ll be adding more antique cast iron [hint, it’s usually cheaper than new non-stick if you want to do the work].

Stay tuned for more info.

Pesto alla Genovese

While I have a Germanic last name, I grew up in an Italian household. My family traces it’s roots back to Genoa in the Ligurian provence of Italy. As a kid what we ate was considered ethnic food. For most kids my age Italian food consisted of Spaghetti-O’s. For us it was pesto. It was something no one had heard of and you never saw it on the menu’s in Italian restaurants.

I learned how to make from my Mom who learned it from her Mom, etc, etc. When my Dad lost his job and we were low on cash we had pesto with tagliarini pasta at least once a week. Tagliarini is kind of like fettucini only thinner. When basil was in season she’d go to the farmer’s market down on Alemany and get a box sometimes two boxes and then the chaos would begin. I got the job of stripping the leaves off while my Mom and Grandmother would pull out their wooden bowls and mesaluna’s and start chopping the basil. It wasn’t the real way you’re supposed to make it as it was normally ground with a mortar and pestle, but these were more modern times pre-cuisinart. I loved it and ate it up by the piles. A couple of nights as a kid I had it before going to a Boy Scout meeting and apparently all the garlic that was in there became very apparent to everyone in the auditorium.

After I got done with the leaves it was time to grind the pignoli [pine nuts] and chop the garlic…lots of garlic. I think I had the easiest jobs of all. While pulling the leaves off the stems was tedious it wasn’t anything compared to chopping the leaves with the archaic double bladed knives that probably dated back to the 20’s. When the chopping was done my Grandmother would put the chopped leaves into a large bowl and slowly pour in olive oil [not the traditional Ligurian extra virgin olive oil, but good enough] and slowly stirred the chopped basil and oil until it got a creamy texture. Then I got to add the pignoli and garlic and finish up the stirring. My Mom would then start jarring up the extra and that would go into our downstairs freezer.

We always saved the last bit for dinner that night and my Dad who used to work down in the Marina would be told to drop by Lucca’s and get some fresh tagliarini for dinner. Typically you add some parmesan cheese to the mix, but my Mom and Grandmother always liked to let us decide how much cheese we wanted on it. This tradition carried on for years until a day in the 21st century my Mom wanted some pesto, but didn’t have it in her to go through the process. I suggested we try the food processor and of course she balked.

So I bought a bunch of basil picked the leaves and threw it into the food processor we had at my house. I tossed in about 5-6 cloves of garlic and a little olive oil and turned it on. Slowly adding a little bit more and more until it looked about right, but I left out the pignoli because I was lazy and they’re kind of expensive. We found some fresh tagliarini at a local upscale grocer who I won’t mention and brought it over to her house to make dinner one night.

Where’s the pine nuts? OK, I should have expected that. How’d you make it? You don’t have all the…wait! You made it in a food processor? Yes ma, that’s what I did, so do you like it? She liked it and started doing it that way herself.

Now pesto is everywhere. It’s in mayonnaise, on pizza’s someone will probably make a pesto chocolate bar soon. I see it all the time at the supermarket, but I’ve tried it a couple of times and I still go back to making it myself. It’s cheaper, fresher and just reminds me of good times in my past. Incidentally, if you substitute Italian parsley for the basil you get a great South American steak sauce called chimichurri that I’ve written about previously.