Skillet Love author Anne Byrn, left, with Cheryl Barksdale, who won a Lodge cast-iron skillet at the dinner.
A 12-inch Lodge cast-iron skillet was one of the most popular wedding gifts in the United States last year, according to Zola, a wedding planning and registry service. In fact, it was THE most requested wedding gift in seven states (followed by a waffle iron in five).
This is no surprise to Nashville cookbook author Anne Byrn, who was in Knoxville recently as a guest of Union Ave Books to promote her latest tome, Skillet Love. The cookbook features 150 recipes you can make in your cast-iron skillet. To prove the point, Chef Drew McDonald of The Plaid Apron and his staff made eight of the book’s recipes for an appreciative group of diners who paid $80 for the dinner and a copy of the book on a recent Wednesday night.
I have a cast-iron skillet, of course. But I only use it to make cornbread. At least that’s the only use I’ve had for it until now. With this book in hand, I plan to branch out to wilted salads, vegetables, chicken and even dessert. The Mississippi Mud Cake that Chef McDonald turned out from the book ranks among the top five desserts I’ve ever had. Read on to see some of the dishes from this personable New York Times best-selling author.
Wow. Arugula salad with orange, avocado and sweet pan drizzle. “When the warm olive oil, onion, brown sugar and red wine vinegar dressing is poured over, the greens wilt and the flavors combine,” Byrn explained.
It was fun seeing friends Betty Sue Sparks and Marshall Peterson there.
Byrn’s grandmother’s spoonbread. She found the recipe written in her grandmother’s beautiful cursive handwriting. “Spoonbread is that wonderful intersection between soufflé and cornbread — puffed and golden and quick to fall, so you must serve it at once,” Byrn advises. (This one had fallen a little when it came out. But, we didn’t care!)
Here’s how it looks in the cookbook!
My friend Monique Anderson and I had fun sitting across from Lisa Xiques and her daughter, Rebecca Xiques.
Here’s Monique with her mentor, Anne Mayhew, a beloved retired University of Tennessee administrator who lives near The Plaid Apron. Since The Plaid Apron normally is open only for lunch and brunch, Anne said she makes a point to always eat there whenever there’s a special event and it’s open for dinner.
Here, she samples the dish called “Karen’s Blistered Green Beans.” It’s named after Byrn’s friend Karen Vanarsdel, an expert at Chinese cooking.
Byrn said her friend brought these beans to a potluck. “I know you expect green beans at a potluck to be smothered in cream soup and covered with canned fried onions,” she notes in her book. “But Karen created a medley of pork, green beans, ginger, garlic, chiles and vinegar that had big, bold flavors.”
Hasselback sweet potatoes were awesome!
From left, Becky Tate, Elizabeth Seymour Eschbach and Mimi Meredith. Elizabeth is the sister of my lawyer friend, the late Arthur Seymour Jr.
Glazed carrots “like Mom made.” You can use this same recipe on okra, as well, Byrn said.
The author, left, posing with my downtown friend, Linda Gay Blanc, with whom Monique and I shared a table.
Sticky chicken thighs with ginger and garlic. “The iron skillet loves recipes in which the marinade and sauce cook and caramelize in the pan,” Byrn notes.
It was such a fun way to enjoy a meal — and a book signing.
“The Best Grits and Shrimp” is what this dish is called.
Byrn offered a few interesting tips for this dish, which, she said, started out as a breakfast food for coastal fishermen. Hmm.
1. Use local shrimp if you can get them. But, if not, she recommends frozen Argentinian shrimp from Trader Joe’s. “They are sweet and more lobster-like in flavor than most shrimp,” she insists.
2. Nestle the raw shrimp into the nearly cooked grits to avoid overcooking.
3. Use stone-ground grits because they have more texture and flavor.
Mississippi Mud Cake with chocolate fudge icing. Damn, it was good!
“What makes this recipe perfect for the skillet is that it can be made entirely in one pan,” Byrn says. (Well, except for the icing.)
Chef Drew McDonald wearing — what else? — a plaid apron.
Union Ave Books’ Davis Shoulders with my copy of Skillet Love.
Thanks to The Plaid Apron and Union Ave Books.
Can’t wait to go back — when I’m not cooking from my new book!