Cleaning Out the Icebox

One-pan skillet meals to excite the tastebuds

Summer is here, and this year — more than any other — it feels really special. The warm breezes, the open windows, the smell of the lake — these are all things I cherish. They feel so much bigger this year than in years past. 

This past year has been a whirlwind — quite a shift in existence. Things I had deemed essential all my life have gotten a thorough evaluation, and many have been left by the wayside. Things I’ve been reminded not to take for granted include my health, my loved ones, my family, the natural beauty all around us and — funny as it may sound — my antique cast-iron skillet.

This skillet has been in my life for nearly two decades, and at times it feels like an additional appendage on my body. It has been right with me in preparing pancakes for my son and some memorable meals for friends and family over the years, and it’s my go-to pan for frying up a pound of bacon. 

I take good care of my skillet: I wash it and season it with just a smidge of oil after each use. When it’s not in rotation, it typically sits on my stovetop like a trophy, waiting to jump into the ring again and again.

Throughout the Safer At Home order this spring, my love for this pan grew deeper. I went from being a mom who was always on the go — and eating on the run much of the time — to a working-from-home mom, cooking almost every meal from the comfort of my own kitchen. 

I have embraced this transition, and it has been fun to put on my thinking cap to come up with meals that use many of the ingredients I often use, but that taste fresh, novel and exciting. My cast-iron skillet has been with me throughout this ride, and for that I’m grateful.

The longer we were ordered to be home, the more creative I had to become. I got good at cooking a full meal in just my cast-iron skillet, with whatever was on hand. This technique saved on cleanup time and allowed me to make full use of the precious groceries in my refrigerator — and the concoctions truly were delicious! 

I did learn to always have a few essentials on hand, and I figured out how to substitute ingredients that were stated in recipes for what I had, rather than running to the store for the exact ingredients. The results were good enough to eat!

Fast-forward to summertime, when our gardens are flourishing and the markets are bursting with fresh produce. Now is the time to seize the day, when we have the best local fare at our fingertips. When the produce is bountiful, the eating is good! I challenge you to cook dinner in one pan with what you have on hand. The results may surprise, impress and very much please you!

Garden-Fresh Skillet Bowl

Serves 2–3

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp + drizzle olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • ½ jalapeño, deseeded and julienned
  • 2 celery stalks, diced 
  • 1 sweet pepper, julienned
  • Garlic scapes (if available)
  • 2 baked potatoes, cubed, with skins on
  • 1 baked sweet potato, cubed, with skin on (I try to keep parbaked potatoes or sweet potatoes on hand to use as the main staple in skillet meals.)
  • 2 chicken sausages, sliced (optional)
  • Splash of white wine 
  • Fresh salad greens
  • 1 beet, shredded
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 2 or 3 eggs, fried
  • Sprinkling of nuts
  • Sprinkling of hemp seeds 
  • Sprinkling of feta cheese, crumbled 
  • Splash of lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Fresh dill, cilantro, basil, chives: chopped, with stems removed  

Heat the pan to medium-low heat. Add the butter, olive oil, onions and a pinch of salt. Cook low and slow until the onions are translucent — about 15 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium high, and add the smashed garlic cloves, jalapeño, celery, sweet peppers and garlic scapes. Sauté, stirring often until the veggies are al dente. Turn the heat back down to medium low. Add the cubed potatoes and sweet potatoes, chicken sausages (optional) and splash of white wine. Cover and cook, stirring often until the potatoes are browned.

Divide the skillet hash into 2 or 3 bowls. Top each with a handful of salad greens and a sprinkle each of shredded beets and carrots. Finish each serving with a fried egg — they’re best when the yoke is soft. Add a sprinkling of nuts, hemp seeds and feta cheese. Finish it all with a drizzle of olive oil, splash of lemon juice, salt, cracked black pepper and a sprinkle of fresh herbs. Enjoy!