“Skillet: Over 70 Delicious, One-Pan Recipes,” By Anna Helm Baxter. Hardie Grant, $19.99

I really enjoyed the story Staff Writer Meredith Goad wrote some years back on her collection of family cast-iron skillets.

The memories, the tradition, the connection to her Southern roots – all of those things are evoked whenever she grabs her trusty skillet to prepare a meal.

Similarly, I listened with a mix of awe and bemusement as my son recently talked about his girlfriend’s prowess with a cast-iron skillet in the kitchen. She’s taught him a few things and now he eagerly fries up an egg or two for breakfast, and is experimenting with some skillet suppers. (I’m sure the fact that you don’t clean a cast-iron skillet in a conventional way underscores his enthusiasm…)

He was top of mind as I flipped through the pages of Anna Helm Baxter’s “Skillet,” a collection of fundamental but enticing recipes for one-pan meals and desserts. She had me hooked from the very first sentence of her introduction: “Before having children, I had little understanding of what being stretched for time actually meant.”

Five years into motherhood, she’s all about practicality.

“In approaching this book, I wanted to be certain that these recipes were achievable on a worknight. Achievable after a long day at work…. Achievable when you don’t have a dishwasher (human or machine)…

“What you will find are easy, flavorful, complete meals to share with your loved ones. Because really, that’s the most important part of going to the effort of making dinner.”

TESTING THE METAL

Baxter helpfully provides a chapter on equipment – the pros and cons of a cast-iron versus stainless steel skillet, how to care for them and cook with them. I didn’t know, for instance, that you should always preheat a stainless steel skillet to the point where a bit of water forms a ball before adding oil or butter. That temperature helps ensure food won’t stick.

 

After the introduction and primer on equipment, Baxter gets right to work with recipes, arranged by main ingredients: vegetarian, fish & seafood, meat & chicken, pasta and sweets.

It’s a very no-nonsense format. There aren’t any flowery introductions above each recipe, or amusing anecdotes. Just the ingredients and the recipe, all typed out in a font reminiscent of the Underwood manual typewriter I used in my first newspaper job.

As straightforward as the text is, the accompanying photos seem three-dimensional. You can peek under the crust of the Chicken and Mushroom Pot Pie recipe to see the hearty filling beneath. You have to resist the urge to wipe your finger across the glaze in the photo of Chocolate Swirl Roll.

Searching for a suitable recipe to try, I first stopped on Fried Ricotta Dumplings. A luscious-looking combination of ricotta and Parmesan dumplings topped with capers and basil.

But alas, I had no ricotta or fresh basil on hand so I made a mental note to try this recipe next summer when the basil in my garden is at its peak.

Israeli Couscous Paella also looked terrific, but alas, no saffron threads in my cupboard.

Baxter likes to incorporate ethnic dishes in her repertoire. Roasted Cod and Patatas Bravas; Chilequiles; Spanakopita Pie, and even a Toad in the Hole, which I assume is a nod to Baxter’s British upbringing. She trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine in London, but has now settled in Brooklyn with her growing family.

Finally, I gave Chicken Piccata a read, piqued by a new recipe for an old favorite in our household. Nothing like a big pot of chicken piccata and gravy served over mashed potatoes for filling, stick-to-your-ribs winter meal.

Baxter’s recipe has a lighter touch. She uses capers and edamame rather than mushrooms. More lemon juice instead of the lemon juice-sherry combo I usually use.

But the prep is easier (I made a mental note to explain to my son what it means to butterfly a chicken breast.)

When I served it to my husband, he was delighted. The chicken was flavorful and moist and the pan gravy delicious. He was a little stumped about the thin, fried lemon slices that are an accompaniment, but he noshed on them anyway.

Although the pan I used doesn’t have the provenance of Meredith’s – hers harken back to nearly the Civil War – it did belong to my mother-in-law. Maybe we can start our own tradition, buoyed by some of the recipes in this book.

Carol Coultas can be contacted at 791-6460 or at:

[email protected]

CHICKEN PICCATA

Serves 4

4 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied, cut in half and pounded to an even thickness

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup plain, all-purpose flour, for dusting

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup lemon juice, plus 1 lemon, sliced

1 ounce unsalted butter

1/2 cup chicken stock

3 tablespoons drained and rinsed capers

3 1/2 ounces of shelled broad beans or edamame, pods removed

Season the chicken and dust in flour. Heat a large stainless steel skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and cook half the chicken and lemon slices for 2-3 minutes per side (1 minute for the lemon) until brown. Remove and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining oil and chicken. Add 1/2 ounce butter to the pan and whisk in the lemon juice, stock and capers. Return the chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Put the chicken on a plate and whisk the remaining butter into the sauce. Fold in the beans. Serve the sauce over the chicken.

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