Years ago, when I was a young mom, I tried cooking cornbread in a cast-iron skillet. Maybe I didn’t follow the recipe directions properly or failed to season the pan correctly. Maybe it was a cheap pan, and I was never going to have success. Whatever the reason, my attempt ended in pure disaster. The cornbread adhered to the skillet and no amount of digging was going to result in anything but messy crumbs.

I ultimately tossed the cornbread and pan in the trash. And I never tried cast-iron cooking again.

Am I ready to try again?

Megan Keno promises to break down the barriers of cast iron cooking with her new book, “Cast Iron Gourmet.”

Cast iron has been a kitchen staple for centuries because of its even heating, superb heat retention and natural nonstick surface. Fans love its flexibility because it can go from stove top to oven to outdoors over an open fire.

You can make everything in a cast-iron pan, from perfectly seared steaks to decadent desserts.

Keno, founder of the Country Cleaver food blog, wants her book to demystify cast-iron cooking and make converts of us all. In her introduction, she explains the two types of cast iron and arms you with the information to choose which one you need and how to get the best bang for your buck.

The cookbook, just under 200 pages, is filled with 77 enticing recipes like Sweet and Spicy Pineapple-Braised Pork Ribs; Crispy Chicken Thighs; One-Skillet Enchilada Casserole with Cotija and Crema; Banana, Bourbon and Pecan Baked Oatmeal; Roasted Vegetable Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms; Quick and Simple Beef Stew; Apricot-Almond Babka; Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls with Honey Butter; Quiche Lorraine with Spinach in a Hash Brown Crust; Cherries Jubilee; Double Chocolate Fudge Skillet Poke Cake; and my personal favorite, Half-Assed Apple Pie.

Right now, I’m going to go find that cast iron pan I received as a gift about five years ago, take it out of the box and make a half-assed attempt at one of the following.

If you don’t like unshelled shrimp staring back at you with beady little eyes, try this paella made with chorizo and peeled shrimp.

Chorizo and Shrimp Paella

• 1/2 pound sliced chorizo sausage

• 1/2 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 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes

• 1/2 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp

• 1 cup peas

• 1 teaspoon chipotle paste (optional)

Over medium-high heat, add chorizo to cast-iron skillet and cook until crispy and brown on all sides, about five minutes. Once the chorizo is cooked, set aside on a plate.

Add the olive oil to the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Sprinkle in the arborio rice and stir to toast the rice, about five minutes.

Stir in the garlic and cayenne until just fragrant. The rice should look slightly translucent and toasted golden brown.

Deglaze the pan by pouring the white wine into the skillet and stirring the rice with the wine. Allow the wine to evaporate and then whisk in the chicken stock and tomatoes. Cover the pan and cook the rice for about 11 to 12 minutes, until the rice is almost cooked through.

Stir in the shrimp, chorizo and peas. Continue to cook covered for another six minutes, or until the shrimp is cooked through and the peas are tender. For a little extra kick, stir in chipotle paste. Serve hot.

Makes six servings.

 

Here is a really good reason to own a cast iron skillet.

Cowboy Butter Skillet-Grilled T-Bone Steak

• 1 (2-pound) T-bone steak or 2 (1 pound each) bone-in rib eye steaks

• 7 tablespoons butter, softened, divided

• 1 clove garlic, minced

• 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

• 2 teaspoons minced parsley

• 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper

• 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

• Kosher salt and pepper

• 3 tablespoons light olive oil

• 2 to 3 sprigs thyme

• 2 to 3 sprigs rosemary

• 3 whole unpeeled cloves garlic

•1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola

Set the steaks out at least 45 minutes prior to cooking to take the chill off. This will promote even cooking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix together 4 tablespoons butter, garlic, lemon zest, parsley, ground pepper and red pepper flakes. When mixed completely, wrap gently in parchment paper and create a roll. Twist the ends of the parchment paper closed and place in the back of the refrigerator.

Bring skillet to temperature slowly starting at medium heat and then turning up to medium-high heat. This will ensure that the pan heats evenly without creating hot spots.

Pat the steaks dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons olive oil together until combined and simmering. If the pan starts to smoke too heavily, reduce the heat slightly. If the butter or oil scorches, start over.

Sear the steak in the pan for about four to five minutes per side until it naturally releases from the pan and is deep golden brown. Do not disturb the steak or check it for doneness too frequently. If the steak does not release from the pan naturally, let it continue to sear until it does. Flip the steak and place it on a portion of the skillet that it previously did not cover, if available. You want to give it a fresh hot place to sear. Place the sprigs of thyme and rosemary into the pan along with the whole garlic cloves.

Place the skillet into the oven and bake until the steak is done to taste. The thickness of the steak will determine how long it needs to be in the oven. For a 2-inch T-bone steak, cook 20 minutes for medium rare and 25 minutes for medium. If cooking rib eyes, reduce the bake time by five to seven minutes before slicing and serving. Spoon any juices from the pan back onto the steak as it rests. Slice the herbed cowboy butter and place a couple of pats on top of the steak to melt. Top with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese and serve.

Make two to four servings.

 

I’ll give skillet cornbread one more shot. It was probably the pan’s fault anyway.

Green Chili and Cheddar Beer Bread

• 2 1/2 cups flour

• 2 tablespoons sugar

• 1 tablespoon baking powder

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

• 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided

• 1 can (4 ounces) mild chopped green chilies

• 6 tablespoons butter

• 12 ounces Mexican beer

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir in 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese and green chilies until combined, breaking up any clumps of cheese.

Heat cast-iron skillet on the stove over medium heat. Add butter to the skillet and melt it, swirling it around until the bottom and sides of the skillet are coated. Drizzle the melted butter over the dry ingredients and set aside the skillet.

Pour beer over cheese mixture and stir just until combined. Do not overmix; it’s supposed to be lumpy and very thick.

Pour cornbread batter into heated skillet and spread it out over the whole pan. Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar cheese. Bake immediately for 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove skillet from oven and let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Makes six to eight servings.

 

This snack cake almost shouts fall. It would be perfect for any occasion.

Applesauce and Raisin Skillet Cake

• 1 cup apple cider

• 1 cup golden raisins or dried apples

• 1 1/2 cups flour

• 1 teaspoon baking soda

• 1/2 cup sugar, divided

• 1 teaspoon apple pie spice

• 1 egg

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1 cup applesauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

If you are not using a well-seasoned skillet, line skillet bottom with a round of parchment paper.

Pour apple cider and raisins or dried apples into a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and let the fruit absorb the cider. Turn the heat off after about five minutes. Allow fruit to cool in the pan.

While fruit is cooling, whisk together flour and baking soda.

In another bowl, whisk together sugar and apple pie spice. Set aside 2 tablespoons sugar mixture for later to top the cake. Whisk remainder into flour mixture.

In a mixing bowl, whisk egg, salt, melted and cooled butter and vanilla. Whisk together until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds.

In a food processor, blend together cider and raisin mixture until nearly smooth. Fold applesauce into the egg and butter mixture until completely combined. Lastly, fold in flour mixture until just incorporated. Pour into lined skillet and smooth with the back of a spoon or spatula. Sprinkle the remaining apple pie spice sugar over the top of the cake and place it in the oven for about 35 minutes, checking at 30 minutes just to be sure it’s not overcooking. Test the doneness with a toothpick in the middle of the pan. If a few crumbs remain on the toothpick, it is ready to remove from the oven.

Place on a wire rack to cool completely before serving.

Makes 12 servings.

 

Really, the author makes everything in the book sound easy. If you’ve always wanted to master the art of cast-iron cooking, you should consider grabbing a copy of Megan Keno’s “Cast Iron Gourmet.” It’s listed for $13.82 on Amazon.com.

Looking for a recipe? Have one you’d like to share? Write to Potluck, Times Record, P.O. Box 1359, Fort Smith, AR 72902. Email: jharshaw@swtimes.com.