“Cook It In Cast Iron.” By Cook’s Country. $26.95.

I received my first set of cast-iron skillets as a wedding gift in 1983. But, like two mismatched newlyweds, the pans and I proved to be incompatible; they were unseasoned and I was unskilled at bringing us into some form of working relationship. Following years of avoidance, the skillets and I separated. They ended up with my best friend, and I wished them all the best.

Thanks to Food Network chefs like Ree Drummond, cast-iron cookware has returned to the fore in culinary adventures. So, after years of living a nonstick skillet existence, I decided it was time to give these humble heavyweights another try. Providing sound advise for making the most of my new investment was Cook’s Country’s cookbook “Cook It In Cast Iron.”

The first 15 of 295 pages of this cookbook are dedicated to familiarizing the reader with this weighty wonder of a pan, offering advice on seasoning cast iron, myths associated with its upkeep and tips for using it for varied methods of cooking and baking. Most of the recipes call for a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. There’s a top-10 recipes list for those new to cast-iron cooking and a thoughtful discourse about why this pan, prized for its heat retention, belongs in every kitchen.

The cookbook offers a good selection of recipes to choose from, including an array of appetizers, main dishes, breads and desserts. Since I now own three seasoned 12-inch cast iron skillets, I thought “why limit myself?” I didn’t. I invited some friends to dinner and broke out my pans.

The cookbook offers recipes for many traditional favorites, such as pot pie and chicken with biscuits, but I opted to test recipes I’d not previously made. After all, the folks at Cook’s Country had already spent countless hours in the kitchen experimenting with these recipes to figure out the best way to execute each dish.

My first choice was an appetizer of baked Brie with honeyed apricots. I was not disappointed. The dish took just a few minutes to prepare and looked impressive, and the results were delicious.

While fresh apricots were in season, I used the dried apricots called for in the recipe. They yielded a concentrated sweetness and a dense, chewy bite, reminiscent of baked medjool dates. A tiny amount of rosemary gave this dish a pleasant savory edge. And, using fresh cracked salt and pepper elevated the flavors. Sprinkling a few freshly minced chives on top and drizzling it with a wee bit more honey just before serving only enhanced the presentation. I served it with store-bought bruschettini (tiny bruschetta toasts), which proved to be the perfect foil. Crackers or crusty bread would work, too.

Also on the menu were a caramelized onion, pear and bacon tart, and a skillet apple pie. After my company left, I washed and re-seasoned my pans in anticipation of our next big adventure. I think this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

– Deborah Sayer

BAKED BRIE WITH HONEYED APRICOTS

1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped

1/4 cup honey, divided

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced fine

1/4 teaspoon each, freshly cracked salt and pepper

2 (8-ounce) wheels firm Brie cheese, rind removed, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, add apricots, half of honey, rosemary, salt and pepper. Microwave 1 minute, stirring halfway through cooking. Add Brie cubes and toss to coat. Turn mixture into a 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Bake 10 to 15 minutes. Drizzle with remaining honey and sprinkle with chives.


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