Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Chili Tortilla Casserole

Chili Tortilla Casserole

 Well, it has been a very busy summer for me.  I haven't posted in quite awhile. I've been busy helping my aging parents and getting my Etsy business up and running http://www.etsy.com/shop/Treesees Time has flown and now the weather is getting colder and the holiday's are approaching. I thought I would share one of my favorite throw together meals that is perfect for this time of year when you want a warm easy dinner.

 I call this time of the year “Casserole Season”. I’ve made this dish for years for my family. It was one of their favorites. I like to make it with organic ingredients, lean ground beef and low fat cheeses. For such a dense cheesy casserole, it is really quite healthy. I like using an old Corning-ware deep square baking dish. I recommend a deep dish rather than a 9 x 13 baking dish to layer the ingredients. ​ ​

      Chili Tortilla Casserole 

1 ½ pound of lean hamburger or turkey  burger 
½ cup of chopped onions 
1 can of organic chopped tomatoes with mild      chilies 10 to 12 oz ( do not drain) 
1 can organic tomato sauce 8 oz. plus ½ can of  water. 
1 can of organic black beans partly drained
½ cup of pitted and sliced black olives. ( you    may use more to taste) save some for topping
1 Tablespoon of Chili powder 
½ Tablespoon Cumin powder 
2 teaspoon of sugar Salt and Pepper to taste 
1 bag of Stone Ground Tortilla chips 
1 ½ cup of Shredded low fat cheddar cheese 
¼ to ½ cup of low fat Pepper Jack Cheese.
Olive Oil 

Serve with : 1 Avocado sliced ( optional), Sour Cream, and remaining chips

In a large deep fry pan, fry the ground beef until almost done. Add the chopped onions and cook until translucent. Add the can tomatoes, beans, olives, and water; stir gently. Add sugar, chili powder, cumin and salt and pepper; mix well. Bring to a low boil, then turn down and simmer while you prepare the baking dish and shred the cheese. Add a little water if needed to the meat sauce ( do not let the sauce dry out) It should be a little watery to absorb into the tortilla chips.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Shred cheese and set aside. Lightly grease baking dish. Layer bottom of baking dish with chips overlapping them. Scoop meat mixture on top of chips. Sprinkle ⅓ of cheese on top of meat mixture. Continue layering; chips, meat mixture and cheese, finishing with cheese. Sprinkle top of casserole with olives to your liking.

Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes or until warm on the inside and cheese is melted. Serve with sliced avocado, remaining chips, and sour cream.

 Substitutes: You can use; Rotel Original or Rotel Fire Roasted Tomato and Chilies, and regular cheese. The Stone ground Tortilla’s just give a more rich flavor than famous brand plain tortilla chips found on the chip aisle, but can be substituted for any style tortilla chip

I like the Stone Ground Sea Salt Chips from Costco

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Fresh Tomato Salsa


                                                                                Western Salsa

   Come the end of July out here in the West, the gardens are full of goodness. Fresh tomatoes, sweet peppers, jalapenos, and early onions, and limes are ready to be made into a cool refreshing Fresh Garden Salsa.  How good it is to sit in the cool evenings under the stars and sip on our favorite evening drink and snack on my home-made Western Salsa and blue corn chips. 
   Our remaining cilantro is ready to be picked before turning to seed and giving us a harvest of coriander seeds to be used in pickles and stews. I planted a few new rows and tubs in the shaded areas for a later fall harvest. One can never have enough cilantro to garnish in salads and other favorite meals, like my Tex- Mex Meat Loaf. It just adds that extra interest and taste to the dish.

   I like to plant the heirloom Amish Paste Tomato. It’s like a Roma, but more blocky and meaty. It is one of my favorite for salsa.  I found a few places on line that that sells the seeds http://www.seedsavers.org/amish-paste-tomato ,  this site has a little history of the tomato.  Then there is Burpee Seed Company, which most gardeners are familiar with  http://www.burpee.com/vegetables/tomatoes/tomato-amish-paste-prod002037.htm  I personally purchase starts are our local nursery where they carry a large selection of heirloom variety vegetable and local native plants.

   When making my Western Salsa, I start out with ripe tomatoes, a few jalapeno peppers, onions, and a bunch of cilantro. I use my own home grown ingredients, but you can purchase yours.  The big difference is that I prefer the fresh picked ingredients, because it adds so much better flavor and texture.  My home grown limes, cilantro and tomatoes have such a different taste than store bought. Plus, I do not use any pesticides or other chemicals on our garden plants.

   The nice thing about this salsa is that it is a great base to add other ingredients too. You can pineapple, peaches, or nectarines, to give it even a more summery taste

               Western Salsa    (makes approximately 1 quart)

2 lbs of tomatoes, approximately about 10 to 12 of the Roma type – washed and cored.
½ medium onion sliced
2 med mild jalapeno peppers (here is where you can adjust your desired hotness and add more or add a hotter variety)
1 large glove of minced or pressed garlic
1 bunch of cilantro (1 packed cup of clipped leaves)
1 lime squeezed  ( 1 to 1 ½ Tablespoons juice)
1 table spoon of sugar

Remove outer skins from garlic. Wash, slice and remove seeds from jalapenos. (use gloves when removing seeds)  Wash and remove leaves from cilantro. I prefer to use the leaves only; Tear or cut cilantro leaves into smaller pieces off the stem. Some people chop their cilantro and use the leaves and stems. This is your choice.  Wash and remove any bad portions from tomatoes; bruised areas, stems and brown spots, core tomatoes.  Peel onion and slice into about ¼ inch wide slices. Wash and slice and quarter the lime, set aside for later use.

At this point if you are using a food processor  you will not have to cube the tomatoes, onion, garlic, or cut the cilantro.  If not using a food processor, then peel, and chop the onion into small pieces. Cut the jalapeno’s and garlic into very fine slices, and then chop into tiny bits. Chop tomatoes. Mix all fine pieces of vegetables and the tomato juices into a large to medium size mixing bowl. Use glass or stainless steel. The acid from the tomatoes and lime can give off a metal flavor when using aluminum or tin. Add about a tablespoon of squeezed fresh lime juice, the sugar and the cut up cilantro. Mix well. Let set for at least an hour for all the flavors to blend. You can adjust to your preference for sweetness or hotness.

If using a food processor, place all ingredients except for the lime and cilantro into processor. Whirl until the desired consistency of your choice. I like mine a bit chunky. Add about a table spoon of fresh lime juice and the cilantro leaves. Whirl for an instant blend to mix the leaves and juice. 
Storage -

Pour into serving bowl or canning jar and let set in refrigerator at least an hour for the flavors to blend before serving.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Australian Kelpie and Hangin Tree Dogs - Buddy and Sissy's Story


A story of my introduction to two amazing dogs and life with canines   

I had to write this article because, where ever we go, we get such compliments on these two. People are amazed how well they are socially and how they work together.  If you are considering a new Pup and have the room for one of these breeds you wouldn’t go wrong with one of them. Remember that these two are working dogs and need stimulation to keep their minds and bodies active.

     I have always been an animal lover, but never had much experience with dogs, but I became fortunate to have two wonderful pets that have changed my opinion of the canine world. See, I had always been a cat person, had pet rats, turtles, fish, ant farms, and a few birds, but never a dog.
The only memories that I have of dogs in my life are; a childhood camera clip of a dog my parents had for a short time, the home movie clip shows me at about the age of three in my dad’s arms as he is holding me on his lap swinging me on the swing set.  The dog appears, jumping on me and leaving muddy footprints on my holiday dress, as I am bent in half trying to pet the dog.  Then my aunt runs into the frame of the pic and shoos the dog away.  The only other memory is one of my aunt’s Chihuahua, Cindy, which seemed to always have some sort of nasty black stuff in its eye, and that when we would babysit it, I would dress it up in my doll clothes. One other memory of it was when it was sleeping on my bed and became sick on my quilt my grandmother made me. By the way the stain is still there. My mom never could get it out. Well, those where about the only encounters that I had ever with dogs.
     It wasn’t until I had kids that a friend of mine found a dog that was fully trained.  She put ads in the paper, called local vets, and posted on veterinary hotlines for missing dogs. This was before they had the missing pet internet sites and chips. She felt that the dog would be great for my kids, which he was. Needless to say, I had no experience with taking care of a dog or how to make a companion out of one. My son and daughter adopted the dog right away and pretty much took care of its needs, besides me walking it at night around the block a few times to get my exercise.

    Later in my life, I meant my new husband. He had two dogs. One was his old gal that and another was one that a friend abandoned on him.   After his dog Casey passed away, the other one was lonely.  My husband talked about all the dogs he had in the past and how much they were a part of his life. It made me want to go out and find him a new dog.  That’s when I ran across Buddy, an Australian Kelpie. (This is a good site for info on a Kelpie http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/australiankelpie.htmBuddy was a pup that someone purchased from a breeder as a companion for their dog, but their dog would have no part of the pup and attacked it a couple times and was living in a small house, locked in the bathroom so that the other dog wouldn’t attack it.

    When I brought Buddy home, he didn’t have a real name yet.  It was to be my husband’s dog.  He said the name would come naturally to the dog as we became more familiar with its character. When calling the pup to him, he would naturally use the term “My little Buddy”.  Well, the name stuck. Buddy, it was.
     My husband had all the experience with training dogs, so I let him be in charge. The pup was going to be his anyways.  Well, it didn’t end up working that way.   I picked up Buddy right before the school year ended.  I work at for the public schools and I am off for the summer.  All that first summer Buddy spent with me. I took him everywhere because I didn’t want to leave him alone for fear of the other dog and Buddy’s past experience with his previous owner.  Buddy joined me on my hikes and camping events with my women’s hiking group.  He met all of the members’ dogs and had such a good time with me.
Buddy Camp out at Spicer Lake Calif

    Buddy soon became my companion dog and not husband’s.  I took Buddy to training and I learned how to work with a dog. Buddy now can run a full obstacle course and do a search/rescue for me if I became lost. He has never left my side and has been an inspiration for me to develop a line of leashes, www.etsy.com/shop/Treesees, dog soap, and I'm creating a new line of dog accessories that will be introduced later this summer.
    After the friend’s dog passed away the following year, Buddy needed a companion and my husband wanted a dog that was his Buddy, not mine. The search for the perfect dog for him was on. It looked like it was going to be a challenge for me. He wanted something that was; small that he could put in a canoe, one that could withstand high desert sand and heat; a dog that would keep up with his pace on runs and hikes, and especially one that wasn’t a bird dog, since we have homing pigeons, chickens, rabbits, and cats on our little Hilltop Haven.
    I researched a bunch of different dogs and suggested many.  The answer was always “No, that would not work”.  I finally settled on looking for a small cattle dog, possibly a Blue Healer ranch dog.  They are loyal, have great endurance and are easily trainable. Then one day I ran across a lady who had posted an ad for a couple pups. They were ranch dogs, but not Healers. They were a custom mix of a Catahoula Hound, Australian Shepard, Border collie, and Kelpie.   This mix is called a “Hangin Tree Dog” named after the Hangin Tree Ranch, where the owner wanted the perfect ranch dog; dependable, has high endurance, no fear to be around cattle, great temperament, intelligence, and easy with hardly no maintenance coat.  You can read more about these amazing dogs here, http://www.hangintreecowdog.net/

    When I went to pick up the new pup, the lady had one female and a male and the mom. I was able to see what this pup was going to look like as it grew older. A great asset for I was looking for a smaller dog. The mom was about knee high, strong muscular legs, extremely large paws for her size, short slick coat, markings of a Catahoula hound and a Border Collie. She was very friendly once she was given the Ok that I wasn’t a threat.  I chose the young female. It looked more like the dad, which was not a true Hangin Tree dog, as the mother was. Dad was another rancher’s Border Collie.  This litter didn’t have the true Hangin Tree blood line of both mother and father. But, it was still basically the same mix in my mind, with a bit more Border Collie.
    My husband named her “Sissy”.  Sissy has turned out to be such great dog. She is everything my husband wanted in a dog and more, and such a personality!!  She was a bit of a handful at first, with wanting to do as she pleased, even turning her head away from my husband when he was trying to get her to work a command. That’s the Border Collie in her, but she learned so fast and is such a devoted dog. She will jump at anything he tells her now.

    This pair combination, of Buddy the Australian Kelpie and Sissy a Border Collie Hangin Tree mix has been amazing! Buddy mostly uses air scenting and eye contact, Sissy is mostly eye contact, searching as she is running.  When she locks on to something she is focused on it intently. She will ground scent too, when commanded to “Go search”.  Many times we take them out to play hide-and- go seek. They have never failed to find one of use on the trail.  Neither one of them have had issues with thunder or noise.
    I have learned so much from these two about the canine world and how to be companions. These have adopted our cat Brat into their pack and heard our chickens from my vegetable garden.  They keep wild animals, as foxes and skunks away from our home, and even have learned the sound of the rooster calls when a predator bird is in the air above the hens.  Buddy and Sissy will look up barking while searching the sky for the predator, most of the time able to scare it away.

    Thank you for reading about my introduction to these two unique breed of dogs. They really have become a special part of my life. I hope that you find your perfect companion, and if you already have, I would like to hear about it..



Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Cleaning a Wood Stove's Glass Window, Natural Way to Clean your Wood Stove's Glass

 Cleaning a Wood Stove’s Glass

Well, a happy spring to everyone.  Here up on the hill we have been busy with the annual spring cleaning. We are still having a few days of cold weather and this last week we even had some morning frost on the rooftops and deck, but this hasn’t stop us from getting those windows cleaned, yards trimmed and garden tilled. But one of my most frustrating jobs is cleaning the wood stove.  I just can’t seem to get it cleaned to my liking.  Our wood stove is an older stove that came with the house when it was purchased. The stove puts out such great heat and we can cook on it as well. It is our main source of heat for the winter, so it is used every night and during the days when we are home. That is a lot of grime and ash that gets built up on the stove’s window.  The window is very grayed and dim. The brass is pitted from so much use by the prior owner and all the fires we have had hasn’t helped.
When it comes to cleaning it, I have tried everything that I could think of to remove that built up layer of ash and smoke. The glass looks like it has the same whitish deposits that calcium and soap builds up on your shower doors. YUK!  and just as hard to get off!!

When I visit my parents I am always amazed at how their woodstove glass looks. It is always crystal clear and the brass shiny. Theirs is only about 5 years newer than ours and they also use theirs for the main source of heat. One day I asked my mother what she uses to keep their stove’s window looking so pristine.  She laughed and said it was a simple step that she does every day or so before building the morning fire, and it didn’t include chemicals or abrasive scrubbing!

The secret to a shiny wood stove’s window glass!

  It is the wood ash that is produced from the burnt wood and water!

Wood ash has natural chemicals that when mixed with water will form a base Potassium Hydroxide ( lye). This has been used for centuries in making soap! It has also qualities that gardeners use in soil, calcium carbonate, potassium, and magnesium.
You can take the time and look up all the uses for wood ash and what wood ash has in it. It is a mixed bag of things, considering the type of wood that is burned. Interesting info on it if you are inclined to so a little research.  

In the morning or when the fire is cool, my mom takes a couple of soft cloths, or soft paper towels. She dampens two with a little bit of water and uses a dry one for wiping it after cleaning. On one of the damp towels, she dabs a bit of (only the top fluffy white) ash in the wood stove, carefully not letting any of the wood bits or hard ash onto the damped towel.
She then rubs this onto the glass in a circular motion. After she then wipes it off with the clean damp cloth and dries with the clean dry cloth. That’s it!!  So Simple!    She may do this twice if it is really dirty.  She said that if I did this every day or so, mine would look just as nice. (See Pics at end of post of how mine turned out)

        For the brass, she uses a paste that she makes from a couple shakes of
“Bar Keepers Friend” and water on a paper towel. Rubs it on and wipes with a damp towel and dries it.

 Click here for; My recipe for homemade household cleaner for Brass and Copper it is simple to make and whole lot less expensive, just a few cents to use and is environmentally more safe as well using natural ingredients.

** Always make sure that when you use cleaner on brass, that the brass is not finished. Using cleansers on finished brass will remove the finish.

            Well with this new information, I couldn’t wait to get home and try this on my ugly stove’s window. Because mine was so dirty and the window had some scratches, it took a couple cleanings to get through some of the grime. By the third day it was looking better. Unfortunately the weather has changed and we have stopped using the wood stove and there is no more ash. I should have set some aside to us to clean it through the spring and summer. You can see the difference it made in just a few cleanings. It isn't pristine like my mom’s, but I think it will get there with a little more cleanings.
                                  I will have to update my pics next fall-

Before Cleaning

After One Cleaning

After Third Cleaning


Homemade Copper and Brass Cleaner

Homemade Copper and Brass Cleaner 

I have been handed down several older lamps that have Brass bases. Over the years I have found hidden in my grandmother's closet and Uncles garage a multitude of brass cleaning products, from old yellow and red bottles of "Brasso",  a buffing cloth called "The Brass Butler"  and a silly looking packaged cloth with a crown on its name called the  "Rich Glo Dry Shine Cloth" just to name a few.
I did find that "Brasso" is still on the market. I found it on line and at the large hardware stores. 

But, I like to use my homemade cleaners.  Its so much better knowing what has gone into the making of the cleaner. Also, it is so much more economical.

When cleaning brass items, you need to make sure that the brass is not coated with lacquer or any other coating. Many of the cleaners can remove the finish and destroy the luster. On finished brass you can easily remove the tarnish and polish it up.

Fine Brass should not be cleaned with any abrasive, as salt or other coarse materials. 

I have a few home made recipes that I like to use on my household items, as with this brass dog leash clasp. When it gets dirty from all the fun hikes we take, I will use a small amount of cleaner on it. Find out more about this leash and others I have made. Here is a link to my shop for leashes and other items. Treesee  http://www.etsy.com/shop/Treesees?ref=s2-header-shopname

          Here is my recipes

 Kitchen and Household Copper and Brass Cleaner
(note that this is a medium abrasive cleaner for heavy tarnished items)

Mix together the following in a small bowl.
¼ cup of flour
¼ cup of salt - I use fine grained table salt, so it is less abrasive than Kosher salt
¼ cup of white vinegar
¼ hot water
1 tsp of lemon

       You need to make sure that you clean the entire cleaner off with a wet cloth and dry well. Lemon can corrode brass if left on for too long.

Simple cleaners

Ketchup - A couple squirts of ketchup rubbed on the item with a soft clean cloth. This one I have seen my uncle use on occasion 

Milk and Water - Warm up a mixture of 1/2 part milk and 1/2 part water in a stainless steel pan and pour into a glass bowl deep enough to allow the item to soak. Wash off and dry completely. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Cast Iron Cookware, Helpful links for Cast Iron Cookware, Myths and Facts about cooking with Cast Iron


Why Cast Iron Pans

   Cast Iron has been around for centuries. No doubt it is very durable. You will rarely find a cast iron pan that has been rusted out to beyond use or cracked.  They can last a lifetime! There are many rumors and stories that surround the use and care of cast iron, some true and some not so true. So, let's get down to the bottom of cast iron pans and find out why they are a great item to have in your collection of cookware.

   Cast Iron will hold its heat longer than other pans once it has been preheated. It will radiate the heat. With some other pans once they are heated and a food item is placed into the pan to brown, the pan will cool down a bit and may cause food to take longer to brown, causing a steaming effect. Because cast iron holds it heat longer, it is better for browning foods.  

   Some people do not like cast iron because they feel that there are hotspots that can cause burning in areas and cooler areas where food does not cook evenly. The key here is that cast iron needs to heat up slowly and allow the heat to generate outward through the pan from the burner. One problem with the hotspots that people encounter is the size of the burner. A small burner will not generate the heat on a larger pan as fast, and it takes longer for the pan to heat fully. It is essential to choose the correct pan size for the correct burner and allow for it to preheat.  

   Another issue and myth is that cast iron pans leak iron into the food. If your pan is well seasoned this should not happen because the oil coating protects it. When acidity foods simmer or stew in cast iron it can cause on occasion some of the seasoning to break down and lift off the pan, this can emit a little iron into foods. Very little iron will be released if any at all.  If you have a high sensitivity to iron, then you may want to opt for a different type of pan or make sure that your pans are well seasoned.  

   Rusting is another factor that people are concerned about with cast iron pans. Rusting occurs  when too much acid is in the pan while cooking, as with rich tomato based sauces which cause the season coating to be pulled off. In turn it leaves the pan material exposed to air and any moisture after cooking. The rusting does not occur during the cooking process. I occurs only after the pan is used and not oiled and seasoned, and left where moisture can collect on it.   You always want to keep the pan seasoned to protect it, keep it from moisture and not to use high acidity foods in cast iron. If you should get any rust in your pans, wipe it out. Rinse and wash well. Re-season your pan. See my previous post on how to season a new pan or follow the directions below. You can use this method for cleaning rust spots from your pan. You may want to choose to simmer high acidity food types in other pans as enameled or stainless steel.

    A well seasoned cast iron pan can act like a non-stick pan. With proper seasoning you can cook eggs and delicate sauces in them. This makes for a great multi functional pan without having the issue of Teflon flakes coming off in your food or using plastic cookware that melts or disintegrates, as with some inexpensive spatulas.  I always hated getting black flakes of plastic in my food and worried about what scratched Teflon would do to my health. I truly belief that we are the guinea pigs of the Teflon generation.  Cast Iron has been around for centuries and it is still in use. That has to count for something!

Construction / Metal
    This brings me to another important part about cast iron pans. Cast iron for obvious reasons is heavier and denser than aluminum or stainless steel.  While these two are much easier to hold and use due to their lighter weight, they do not generate the heat as a cast iron pan will.  The type of metal will determine how evenly it will heat, how fast it will heat up, and cool down. This is an important part when controlling the heat with the type of stove you have. Electric stoves and gas stoves will radiate the heat differently to the metals. There is a great article I found that explains all of this. A little on the scientific side of cooking and cookware, but full of wonderful information and a chart that compares the different metals in cookware.

Another great resource is the “America's Test Kitchen, where they test different cookware and recipes.    https://www.americastestkitchen.com/

Cleaning and Care of your cast iron cookware -
   There is a lot of rumors regarding using soap on your pans.  It is my opinion that a little mild soap is OK for cleaning the sides and bottom of the pan. I occasionally will use a mild soap to  clean the interior if the pan is real greasy.  I always make sure that I dry it well and apply a good coat of clean oil and rub off the excess with a paper towel or clean kitchen cloth.

   After cooking in your pan you will want to run some hot tap water in the pan. The reason for using hot tap water is that if using cold water in a hot pan it can cause distortion of the pan or in rare occasions can cause the iron to crack, especially on poor quality cast iron cooking pans.  I let my pan set a little water while I do other dishes and then come back to it. I then use a rough scrub cloth I like using my hand crocheted cloths or a long handled kitchen brush. Then I wipe it with a soft dish towel to dry and rub some cooking oil all over the inside to of the pan and along the outside edges to season the pan.  Some people recommend using a mixture of coarse kosher salt and oil. A mixture of about ¼ cup of salt and about a tablespoon of oil to clean off stuck on food. Rinse, dry and oil the pan.

Sourced from - my experience over the years and  http://www.cookingforengineers.com/article/120/Common-Materials-of-Cookware

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Cast Iron - A Traditional way of Cooking

Cast Iron- A traditional way of Cooking
I just can’t say enough about my love for cast iron cookware. It’s not just the tradition of cast iron that captures me, but the superior quality and durability that it has. Cast iron cookware also offers supreme quality in food preparation and cleanup, plus it give foods a special touch. To me it seems that because the pans are seasoned, it allows the food to mellow within its own flavors.  The added plus of the cast iron cookware is that it helps build strong arm muscles! I had always wondered why the women of the past were so strong; it must of been from lifting those skillets and Dutch ovens!
I was fortunate to receive two cast iron grills as holiday gifts, one from my mother and one from my husband. Both are quality cast iron. My mother purchased a Lodge grill and my husband a Cast Calphalon, which both have great reviews and both come preseasoned.
As you can see from the picture both are very similar. The Lodge grill is
on the left and the Calphalon is on the right

 20151227_093237.jpg 20151227_093508.jpg

The Calphalon has a bit smaller surface size and the angle of the sides are a bit more inward than the Lodge grill. The Lodge grill is a bit more heavier.
I reseasoned both grills even though they came preseasoned. Some manufacturers suggest doing this and some do not.  I have learned over time that taking the time to season them before the first use makes a big difference when preparing the initial first meals. 
How I season my new cast iron:
        Some people and manufacturers do not recommend using soap on cast iron cookware. I do not normally use dish soap on mine once I have seasoned them. I only use a mild soap on NEW cast iron that I received or purchased new.  If I am reconditioning an older cast iron, that I may be lucky enough to find at thrift store, then I will use soap and clean it with a method that I will address in a future post. 
Now to get on with seasoning a new cast iron cookware piece.
      First, remove all manufacturer stickers from inside, bottom, and sides. This may sound like a given, but I missed a small side sticker one time and it was nasty removing the melted mess.
Next, manufacturers suggest to separate your cooking racks and place one at the top of your oven and the other at the bottom level. I place my upper one in the middle and the lower one at the bottom level. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Take a lipped cookie sheet or jelly roll pan and line it with aluminum foil.  I use this to place my cast iron on to heat in the oven. This will prevent any runoff of oil from the cast iron that may burn in the stove bottom. You can also place a layer of aluminum foil on the bottom rack to prevent any extra run off, if your piece does not totally fit on the cookie sheet. Some people place their cast iron directly on the top rack and use the cookie sheet on the bottom rack.  I place mine on the cookie sheet so that my rack does not get cooked oil on it.

Third, I wash the cast iron with mild dish soap and warm water using a soft cotton wash rag that I make from crocheted cotton yarn. Rinse thoroughly.
After I have washed and dried the piece, I use a ½  and ½ mixture of 1 tablespoon of vegetable shortening and 1 tablespoon of butter. This will oil a cast iron size fry pan. You may need more for larger cookware. (I use butter on the initial seasoning only. I do not use butter on regular usage because butter has a tendency to rancid and you do not want your butter to become rancid on your cookware in the cabinet between uses.) I rub this mixture evenly all over the piece; inside, the outside edges and on the bottom. I then place the pan upside down on the cookie sheet.


Next, you will want to cook your cast iron for about 45 min to 1 hour. After that time, turn off the oven and let your piece cool. Remove from the oven and wipe with a clean soft cloth.

Storing your cast iron: 
I like to place my cast iron on a paper plate or several pieces of paper towels on my cookware shelf. Cast iron has a tendency to leave rings on the surface that they sit on. By placing a paper plate or paper towel between each pan, if you have to stack them, will prevent any damage or rust from building up from moisture.

Using and Caring for your Cast Iron: 
Cast iron will last you a lifetime if cared properly.  When heating your cast iron you want to start on a lower temperature and let the cast iron heat up, especially if you are preheating your item, such as a Dutch Oven. I found that you do not need to use high heat with cast iron since it holds the heat so well.
After cooking a meal in your piece I find that if I place a bit of water in the pan and let it set while, as I am eating or doing my other dishes, I then can easily remove any stuck on food with just a dish cloth or soft brush. As pictured, do not use the green type or steel wool type scrubber. They are yo coarse and will damage your seadoning. The little chicken scrubber pictured is a soft plastic nylon with a foam back. I will use this on occasion if I have hard stuck on food particles, mostly to the outside of the pan. I like to use a crochet cotton cloth that I make to wash my cast iron. It is both rugged enough to do the job, yet soft, and it's washable! You DO NOT want to use abrasive cleaners or soaps on your cast iron, this will remove any or all seasoning and result in a pan that will scorch and stick your foods.

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After washing your cast iron, dry completely and rub the interior with a bit of cooking oil or shortening, making sure that you have a nice sheen to it. If you find that when you remove your cast iron from the cabinet to use again and there is a bit of rust on the piece, do not feel that it is ruined or that it will cause harm. Simply wash it with warm water, dry, and rub with oil. Place on a burner and let it heat up to warm. Do not over heat! Turn off burner and let it cool a bit. Wipe it out with a paper towel and reapply oil. Use as normal.
**Remember the first few uses may stick some things like eggs, or delicate sauces, and some meats if you get it too hot; but after several uses, your cast iron will work just as well as or better than Teflon or ceramic coated cookware.

Look for an upcoming posts on  Comparing Cast Iron, Teflon coated, Ceramic coated, and Stainless cookware.  As well as How to Refurbish Cast Iron.

Lodge is a company that was started in the Appalachian Mountains in
Tennessee. www.lodgemfg.com They have been around since 1896 and they are still an American made company that specializes in cast iron.  They have a Facebook page where you can find "how to" videos, recipes, and a slew of other interesting tidbits.  Cast Calphalon is a Newell Rubbermaid Company, www.calphalon.com  Calphalon carries a wide variety of cookware and cooking products. Some of their products are U.S. made as well as imported.