My One-Item Christmas Gift Guide

Christmas is coming, which means that it’s time for many of my favorite blogs, especially the food ones, to give me their annual list of suggestions for the foodies in my life (see here and here, for example).  Now, I enjoy reading what other people like as much as the next guy, but the problem with lists like these, for me,  is twofold.  Uno, the things are often super-specific. I can already tell you that my mom will not like tea that tastes like pine trees, or even sounds like it might taste like pine trees.  Two, the gifts on these lists tend to offend my delicately frugal sensibilities ($24 for 12 oz. of olive oil?  Seriously? In my dreams.)

And so, ESers, I bring you the only food gift you need this holiday season: the classic cast iron skillet.  Here are five reasons why it makes the perfect gift:

1. Everyone needs one, whether they know it or not, and if they already have one, they probably need it in another size.  (Come on, so cute!)

2. It’s perfect for a tight budget.  They are a good value to begin with, and I find them often at thrift stores where, after simple re-seasoning, they are at least as good as new.

3. Not only functional, if you hang it on the wall, it makes you look like you know what you are doing in the kitchen.  Just be sure to use wall anchors.

4. It offers endless cooking adventures.  My new fav: cake baking (see photo above and recipe below).

5.  Even for the non-cook,  cast iron skillets always come in handy:

Skillet Apple Cake

Adapted from this recipe at Everybody Loves Sandwiches.

2 apples, one diced, one sliced
1 c all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1 t ground ginger
1/4 t kosher salt
4 T unsalted butter, at room temperature (or, if, like me, you have poor planning skills, soften butter for 10 seconds in the microwave)
1 c sugar
1 egg
1 t pure almond extract
1/2 c. sliced almonds

Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 350ºF.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger and salt.

Blend the butter and sugar together with a hand mixer until creamy.  Add in the almond extract and egg and blend until fluffy. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Turn down the mixer to a low speed and add in the flour, stirring until just blended. The batter will be very thick. Using a rubber spatula, slowly fold in the diced apples, and half of the almonds. Dump the batter into a well-buttered 10-inch cast iron skillet and spread it out into an even layer. Top with sliced apple and remaining nuts.

Place the skillet in the middle of the oven and bake until the cake is golden in color and the center springs back when lightly touched, 30 to 40 minutes. (The heat from the pan will continue to bake the cake after it is removed from the oven, so take care to remove it when it is just barely done). Serve warm from the skillet with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Note: According to my husband, this was “even better than the other apple cake.”  This is the first apple cake I’ve ever made, but I’ll take it as a compliment anyway.

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