The Cast Iron Cookie

Aka: an Imaginary Conversation with Mark Bittman, Food writer of the New York Times

cast iron cookie

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Mark Bittman, American Journalist

Hey Mark, I saw your article in the New York Times, man. “A No-Frills Kitchen Still Cooks” and I gotta tell ya man, I think you’re on to something. People do seem to think that having great kitchen gear will make them better cooks… and we can all appreciate the beautiful equipment the TV chefs use. I think you have a point, we may actually believe that some brands and products will make us better cooks. I’m not sure that’s true.  Copper pots and pans don’t come with creativity, they just don’t have that kind of power. And when in doubt – find a great recipe! The internet was MADE for recipes! Just hang out with the Minimalist Baker for like 10 minutes – just the photography alone will make you salivate.

knife best

A High Quality Messermeister Knife

Mark, where you lost me was when you started walking through the restaurant supply store, picking up various cheap tools… like actually cheap tools – not just inexpensive but seriously CHEAP. Dude, did you actually write in the NY Times that you use a $3 paring knife? Because you can seriously get your foodie card revoked for admitting that you use a cheap knife with a plastic handle… and you put it in writing where people could SEE it. Man, what were you thinking?! LOL, truth be told, I don’t really care that you use a cheap knife, I use a $20 knife pretty much every single day. It doesn’t have to be expensive to be useful. What bothers me is that you’re saying you use a disposable knife, and you’ll just pitch it after a while and get another one. Wait, what?  A disposable knife?  No. Just… no. My Austrian husband chimes in: “Organ builders and Luthiers sharpen and hone their tools – shouldn’t cooks be encouraged to buy quality tools and maintain them?” Um. Yes!


A “No-Frills” Kitchen Still Cooks.


Mark, here’s what I really don’t get. Your column was called “The Minimalist” and you’ve been writing about food and cooking since before I was even in grade school. I thought “quality over quantity” was one of the mantras of the minimalist movement, man. So what gives here? You seem to be suggesting a kitchen full of cheap kitchen gear will get the job done, but what about quality items that you purchase once and then use for life?  Isn’t there really something to be said for buying quality kitchen equipment so that you buy it only once?

quality over quantity

gorgeous saucepans

Beautiful high end copper cookware from Williams Sonoma.

I see that you recommend a small, medium, and large saucepan, 10 and 14 inch skillets, and a stock pot and ONE lid for all of that? And it’s true that the cheap aluminum ones are not much money, some of those are insanely cheap. Here’s what you may not really understand about me, your reader. I have a very special talent. I once melted aluminum on a stove top burner. It’s true. I know you wouldn’t think that was even possible… but I put a pot of chili on the burner and turned it on low, and then I went back to work. Later I came back to the kitchen (I lived in a monstrously huge house in those days) to give it a stir, and noticed a smell. Then I noticed the heat. I picked up the stainless steel pot and moved it to a hot pad beside the range… trailing molten aluminum as I went. Later, when everything had cooled and my heart started to beat normally again, I took apart the burner on the range to retrieve the aluminum paperweight I had created in the bottom of the range. That’s right, Mark. I melted the aluminum disk off the bottom of my stainless steel stock pot. Now that you know that about me, your reader, are you still suggesting that people like me purchase cheap aluminum cookware? No? Whew.  

C Carmen

Carmen Shenk, the Tiny House Foodie

Ok, fair question, and that’s “Missus Smartypants” to you… what would I tell the readers of the New York Times if I’m so smart? WHAT in my experience of being a restaurant owner and living in a micro-dwelling would I recommend to the dear readers of the New York Times? (Especially since I couldn’t tell the difference between the low setting and crucible setting on my cute vintage range.) Glad you asked, Mark. Gosh, what a guy!

sm 11 Pots & PansFirst of all, I would tell my readers to buy a cast iron Dutch Oven. It’s the sort of thing that even I can not destroy. We’ve used ours in our tiny house on a gas stove, and outside on the rocket stove and it still cleans up great! You can get the Lodge cast iron version for $40, the Lodge enamel version for $60, the French Staub version in some spectacular color for $190 and the Le Creuset version in even an more lovely color for $275. I have the 4.5 quart Le Creuset that I bought years ago (I only paid $150 for mine) and we use it often. I make all kinds of soup and stew in that pot, saute vegetables, roast beast in the oven and I even bake a loaf of bread in it from time to time. It’s a great all-purpose kitchen basic and the go-to dish for a whole pile of One Pot Wonder recipes.


The kitchen of our original tiny house on a sunny day in the winter.

The second thing on my list in a good basic sauce pan. I don’t think a person needs three sizes as you suggest, but then you weren’t writing for people who live in tiny houses. That’s more my gig. When space is at a premium, I think one sauce pan is plenty. Somewhere between a 2 and 3 quart is right in my opinion, and I like the All-Clad ones for a whopping $121, but I use an inexpensive $33 NuWave one and like it just fine. I don’t use it much because I reach for the Dutch Oven first, but I’m glad I have it and we use it.


Buttered and ready for cookie dough!

The final thing on my list is the kitchen standard for cooks everywhere, the cast iron skillet. They’re usually somewhere around $15 and can be purchased new or you can buy a used one in an antique store and the price will be roughly the same. Again, this one works indoors on the range and outside on the rocket stove and they are indestructible even for someone like me. They are heavy and I would pack a few heavier things like this in a box and put it in my car when we were moving the tiny house from one parking place to another.

14 MiscI would recommend getting and using lids for each of these three items. In a tiny house it is especially important to use the lids and also to have and use your exhaust fans to keep moisture from building up in your home because that can turn into a mold problem. Many of us in the tiny house world have a mold story. Not fun.

Mark, even if I give you grief for the $3 knife, I still think the larger idea of your article is still an excellent point. A no-frills super simple kitchen gear list really does “still cook” as you put it. We got used to having lots of stuff in our big kitchens, but the truth is that we can simplify a great deal and still make great food. Simplifying is not sacrificial if you do it right – and that’s why I wrote my own Super-Simple Kitchen Gear Listthe super simple kitchen gear list 600 and then I turned that into a Workshop to walk people through it in more detail.  And while I’m not big on cheap kitchen equipment, and we don’t use anything disposable in our kitchen, my Buyer’s Guide can help your reader choose the kitchen tools that really do work quite well. And even a $100 knife that stands in for the unneeded food processor will save power and space… and that’s a beautiful thing. That gorgeous knife may even be a good deal when you consider what a pleasure it is to cook with a loved one enjoying great conversation rather than the noise of some obnoxious power tool.

Mark, thanks for pointing out that you wrote that article way back in 2007. The beauty of your article is that it’s still so relevant that minimalists are still pointing people to that article more than a decade later. Well done, Sir.

IMG_5953Also Mark, here’s my Cast Iron Cookie recipe. It only makes one cookie. (Quality, not quantity) You’ll just have to suffer through.  (And no need for a mixer for this recipe – so it’s perfect for a tiny house!)

¾ cup softened butter

2 eggs – we got these fresh from the farmer this morning.

1 teaspoon vanilla

I combined these ingredients with a wooden spoon. No power tools needed. Then I added:

2 cups all purpose flour

¾ cups brown sugar

¾ cups white sugar

1 cup oatmeal

1.5 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup chips – I used chocolate chips and then threw in some M&M’s as well.

1 cup nuts – I used almonds

Spread dough in a buttered cast iron skillet and top with more chocolate chips if desired (or M&M’s) then bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Test with toothpick for desired doneness. I prefer cookies goey, my Austrian likes them crunchy. You choose.IMG_5952

These just came out of the oven and I carved a little bite out of the side.  Then that one was so good that I went back for another little nibble… then Xaver must have discovered them because every time I came back there was more missing.  These are absolutely delicious! 



Enjoy them while they last!  And remember… it’s just as true with cookies and it is with cookware: Quality over quantity.

Learn more on my Super-Simple Kitchen Gear list Workshop. 

Carmen Shenk Logo Mini

Making Vanilla Extract

It’s so easy to make vanilla extract!  And the best part is – it’s homemade so you know exactly what’s in that bottle.  Same with DIY mouthwash – instead of vanilla beans, add cinnamon sticks.  It’s an intense refreshing mouthwash that tastes heavenly.  It’s also a great flavoring for a variety of things.  I’ve got some projects coming up in the new year that require some beautiful vanilla, so I’m looking forward to using this extract.

Christmas Layered Mints

I make a number of Christmas treats each year, and this one is so simple and fun, and it’s always so fun to see how people respond.  This year I really stepped it up a notch using a transfer sheet to leave a design on the chocolate, and I’ve also upgraded to Young Living’s Vitality line of essential oils – spearmint and peppermint – and the flavor is fresh, complex, and wonderful.  This is such a fun quick project for the holidays and I hope you try it and let me know how it goes for you.  And as always, thanks for watching, I really appreciate it!29c45-1a2bcarmen

Creativity & Adaptability in Tiny House Living

larger cake photoWelcome to this week’s video on creating great food in small kitchens, I’m delighted that you’ve joined me again!  This week I faced an interesting challenge.  I wanted to make a wedding cake as I have so many times in the past… only I downsized my cake pans and no longer have the professional kitchen to work in!  So how do I make a great cake without all the stuff I think I “NEED!”?  The truth is, what we think we need is often determined by what we are used to having – not on some authentic understanding of NEED.  As soon as you change what you’re used to, that will change what you need.  So going tiny is one of the best ways to find the liberation of not needing so much stuff!

IMG_20171105_122533692Then you get in the middle of a potentially frustrating situation when you no longer have the STUFF… what then?  I no longer have cake pans, so I could either borrow some (which I did) or rent some (it’s an option for some things) or I could find a different and creative approach.  In this case, I baked thin layers of cake on large sheet pans and then trimmed them to the sizes I wanted.  It was lots easier and there are no big pans to store in my Tiny House Foodie kitchen (or my actual 125 square foot tiny house for that matter).  This is just an example of how you can find creative solutions to whatever situations come up in your tiny haven home.  Simply get intentional about being creative and adaptable, and you’ll be fine.

Where there’s a will… there’s a way.

I promise.



Oh, did you happen to notice in the video where I used Lemon Vitality Essential Oil from Young Living to flavor the icing?  Seriously, that lemon buttercream was the BEST PART of the cake!  If you’re interested in learning more about that and the other Young Living products I use in my tiny home and in the Tiny House Foodie kitchen check out one of my other projects:  Good things are happening over there and if you love simplicity, wellness, and value like I do… then you should pop on over and have a look around!  XOXO


Sunflower Cake (Apricot Almond Cake)

Welcome back, I am so pleased to bring you my new favorite Paleo treat: “Sunflower Cake” or “Apricot Almond Cake” if you prefer, or even “Cake with Two Names” (or even three)!  No matter what you call it, it is inspired by Mary Berry’s Wobbly Apricot Tart, but it’s CAKE!  PLUS, it’s Paleo, which means no dairy, no gluten, no grains, and no problem.

There is no refined sugar in the recipe, but unfortunately, the almond paste comes with lots of sugar in it and my local stores don’t stock a almond paste that isn’t already sugar sweetened.  Marzipan is one of my favorite flavors, and it’s apricot season here, and the fruit has been marvelous this year!  That means it’s time for this delicious Apricot Almond cake.

So without further ado, here’s the recipe: (And you don’t have to have a mixer to make it!)

  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (I’m using Pink Himalayan Rock Salt)
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda

Stir together and break all clumps.

  • Then add 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2/3 cup coconut oil (it’s hot here today, so mine was already liquid, but if yours is pretty solid warm it slightly until it’s soft)
  • 2/3 cup honey (you may sub in maple syrup)
  • 4 large roughly treated fresh eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract (sounds like a lot, I know.  If you vanilla or almond extracts are extra strong, adjust accordingly.)

Stir together, and pour into a 9 inch round cake pan that has been buttered with coconut oil and lined with waxed paper (the waxed paper is an optional step that zero waste folks will be fine to skip).

  • 2 large fresh apricots, peeled, and sliced thin

Place the apricot slices evenly around the edge of the cake for sunflower petals.  I used two large apricots in the video, but I’ve since been back to the market for more and they were quite small the second time, so use what works for your situation.  It’s never wrong to have a  few left lovely fresh apricots left over for snacking.

  • 4 ounces almond paste

Roll paste into snakes, cut into even rounds and roll into little balls to be used for the middle of the sunflower.  Use a little powdered sugar to keep the paste from sticking to everything.  Any extra almond paste may be chopped and stirred into to the batter.

Bake at 350 degrees, conventional oven, for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.


Let me know what you think of my recipe.  I think it works as a dessert and as a breakfast cake.  And as you can see in the video, it’s easy to make in only 6 square feet plus oven and a sink for doing dishes.

Thanks for visiting my blog and stay tuned for many more great new recipes that you can make, even in a teeny tiny kitchen!  Even if you live in a tiny house like we do, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor!


Ridiculously Easy Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

3 fresh large eggs

1/2 cup of oil
1 cup of pumpkin puree (or make your own)
1/2 cup of strong ginger tea
1.5 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg.

Go ahead and mix all that until the eggs are fully incorporated… then add one Duncan Hines White Cake Mix.  Shhhh… that’s our little secret.  Mix until just incorporated with fine lumps.  This is going to be a thick batter and it will make more than the usual 2 dozen cupcakes.

Meanwhile, how about my Ridiculously Easy Spice Buttercream? So here goes… pull one pound of fresh sweet cream butter (salted) straight out of the fridge and cut it into chunks.

Pile that straight into the Kitchen Aid and get it going on a low speed as the chunks will want to fly out.  As soon as the butter has quit flying, turn up the speed.  And don’t worry… it really doesn’t take it long to go from this:

 …to this light and fluffy whipped butter.

Add two tablespoons of Goldschlager (Swiss cinnamon schnapps) gold bits optional.  Add one teaspoon of ground Tumeric, followed by one pound of powdered sugar.  Whip until the buttercream returns to a beautiful consistency.  Add food color if desired to get a pumpkin color (orange and yellow).

Here are some choices for decorating these cupcakes. 
Give a little swirl to the icing, and top it with a candy pumpkin.

They look smashing!

Or you can give them comical faces!

And for that, we’ll need chocolate ganache!  And really, what marvelous treat is ever complete without that silken chocolate wonder of warm melted chocolate and cream?  Yum!

The recipe for ganache is also is ridiculously simple.  Warm 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream in the microwave in a glass container (or in a bain marie or double boiler if you hate microwaves like I do).  Once the cream is warm, add 1 1/2 cup fine dark chocolate and stir.  For the chocolate I use a combination of my favorite dark chocolate, along with my favorite bittersweet chocolate to make ganache that is darker and richer than what I usually reach for.  Since the amount is small and it is paired with a sweet dessert, the ganache itself can be a darker chocolate without adding more sweetness.  Stir until the mixture is silky smooth, warming it as needed.  Since there is so much variation in chocolate products, expect to adjust the ganache by adding more chocolate if needed, bit by bit, stirring a lot.  Put your pastry bag in a glass and fold the top over.  Fill partly with ganache.

 Bring up the sides of the pastry bag carefully to avoid spilling the ganache.

 Close the top of the bag and secure it with a twisty-tie, or binder clip, or whatever you have handy.  With buttercream this isn’t an issue, but with soft runny ganache, once you lay the bag down the ganache will seep out of the bag and make a delicious mess unless you clamp the ends closed.

Now that your ganache is ready, it’s time to pipe on friendly Jack O’ Lantern faces…
or drizzle ganache over cupcakes…
(ganache in a pastry bag IS the perfect chocolate delivery device).
The pumpkin part looks more complicated than it is.  And if you’re not sure about it, pipe it out on a plate until you get the hang of it.  Start by making a large circle of orange icing around the edge of the cupcake.  Then make half rounds on each side making them a tad fatter in the middle.  Keep building on the other ribs of the pumpkin until it is time to close the gap in the middle with one single last “squish” and your pumpkin is done.  I added a pumpkin stem and curl from chocolate icing, then added the happy faces with ganache.  I should have taken photos of this part but I’ve done it so many times I just didn’t think about it… and swish swish I was done.  They are cute, aren’t they?


Tiny House Friendly Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

I hosted a shindig but didn’t have room to host it in our tiny house.  So I asked my Mom if she’d mind if I hosted it at her place.  I brought all the food, hosted the party, then cleaned up the mess afterwards, and left them with a fridge full of goodies.  This was a delightful realization that I gained from living tiny… I don’t have to own the kitchen to enjoy cooking in it!  And people may be more accommodating to allowing a tiny house person to use their kitchen than you think…. especially if there are some chocolate hazelnut cupcakes in it for them.  =)

Easy Chocolate Cupcakes:
3 fresh large eggs
1/2 cup of oil
1/2 cup of unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 cup of strong black coffee (cool)

Go ahead and mix all that until the eggs are fully incorporated… then add one Duncan Hines Devil’s Food Cake Mix.  Shhhh… that’s our little secret.  (Pay no attention to the directions on the packet!)  Nobody has to know how ridiculously quick and easy this cake comes together.  You can do this with a mixer… or you can do this with a wooden spoon.  Either will work just fine.  Stop stirring when the batter looks like this… still kind of lumpy.  And start filling those cupcake liners.

If you use an ice cream scoop, it goes quickly and it is not difficult to keep the size consistent.  Fill them between 1/2 and 2/3 of the way full, as you see here. (And if you store your liners properly, they won’t wrinkle up like these did – oops!)

Bake the cupcakes at 350 degrees for 20 minutes to start with, then keep a close eye on them.  At the point that you can touch them lightly and they spring back, they’re done.  My handsome husband prefers the clean toothpick test, and that’s also fine.  The important thing is to get them out of the oven before they start drying out.  The applesauce and oil make this recipe moist, but even that won’t be enough if they are over baked, or left out on the counter for too long – drying out.  Not to worry, these cupcakes are going to be pampered every moment of their SHORT lives!

Ok, so this next part is a little challenging to do in a tiny house kitchen if you don’t have a stand mixer or hand held mixer.  And in that case, it’s perfectly fine to look in the grocery store for a can of your favorite kind of vanilla buttercream.

While that cake is in the oven, let’s start the Ridiculously Easy Buttercream! So here goes… pull one pound of fresh sweet cream butter (salted) straight out of the fridge and cut it into chunks.

Pile that straight into the Kitchen Aid and get it going on a low speed as the chunks will want to fly out.  As soon as the butter has quit flying, turn up the speed.  And don’t worry… it really doesn’t take it long to go from this:

…to this light and fluffy cloud of butter.  Gently add one pound of powdered sugar a bit at a time, and wait for it to return to this lovely fluffy texture.  Add a teaspoon of good quality vanilla.

It really is that simple.  This buttercream it lovely, light, and airy, and not too sweet.  If you accidentally add a bit too much powdered sugar, no worries, just add a teaspoon of water at a time until it’s the consistency you like.

Now here is where it gets fun.

I have a real weakness for Nutella!  And it’s my favorite secret weapon when I want a decadent treat without a lot of fuss!  It’s delicious and all the work is already done for you!  Mmmm.

Here’s the secret: begin by cutting a little cone shape out of the top of each cupcake.

 Then fill the divot with Nutella.  I used a pastry bag to pipe it in place, it is fast and easy.

 Just like that, and done!

Then put the little cones of cake back on the tops of the cupcakes.  This makes them look like they have little pointed heads.

Here’s how I made the icing for these Ridiculously Easy Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes.  Curious?  Take out your Nutella container, spoon a big healthy dollop of Nutella right into the buttercream.  That was easy, right?  Now stir with your spatula.  Just a few stirs, you want to leave lots of yummy stripes in the buttercream so *just barely* stir together the Nutella and the buttercream.  What could be easier?

How much Nutella specifically?  (I knew you would ask.) I used half of the buttercream recipe I listed above, and stirred in about 2/3 of a cup of Nutella into that very loosely.  (Hang on to the rest of that buttercream, I’ve got other plans for that!)

Here’s the easy way to fill the pastry bag.  Find a glass that is the right size, fold the tip up at the bottom, and put it in the glass, wrapping the ends of the bag down over the side of the glass.  If you don’t have a pastry bag on hand, just use the end of a sturdy plastic bag that you do have.

Fill the bag with icing.  Then once you have the icing bowl out of your hands, pull the bag out of the glass, close the top to avoid adding air bubbles, then give it a twist to close the bag completely.  Tie it closed with a twist tie if you want to.  Trim off the tip of the bag with a scissors and you’re good to go.

Keep your thumb tight against your hand to keep icing from coming out the back of the bag.

Then carefully pipe the icing around the sides of the cone and finish with a little swirl at the top.  If the cupcakes will be sitting out for very long, then be sure to cover as much of the cake as possible to keep them from drying out.

Here they are, my Ridiculously Easy Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes!  Tada!

 Now… isn’t it about time for our party?
I’m ready.