It's a good thing I love cooking in cast iron, since I seem to attract pans of that ferrous material like a magnet. Cast iron has some great cooking properties--it's heavy and so it distributes and holds heat well, and, properly seasoned, food doesn't stick. Plus plain cast iron can be used in the oven as well as on the stove top. They're quite reasonably priced, too, for pans that last. Cast iron isn't hard to care for, but you do have to follow some basic rules of thumb to preserve the "seasoning" and prevent rusting.
Cast-iron pans come in all shapes and sizes. I've acquired quite a few, from my grandmother's little 4" skillet (just big enough for one egg; I use it to melt butter), through a pile of more standard skillet and Dutch oven sizes, all the way up to the one Lodge Cast-Iron used to call the "Big Ol' Skillet"--a 17"-diameter wonder that my mother gave me for my holiday cooking. I use my 8" and 11" skillets for almost anything. The 8" is a great size for lunch for one (a burger and a few strips of onion fit fine), or for warming corn tortillas. It's also the right size to bake a half-recipe of my mom's cornbread; the 11" is the full recipe size. The 11" size is great for family meals; I'll often have vegetables sautéing in one, and a cut-up chicken cooking in another.
My cast-iron Dutch oven is the perfect tool for one of my favorite winter dinners--a whole chicken seasoned with herbs and garlic nestled on top of a bed of slow-cooking vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, parsnips, beets--even brussels sprouts are good), baked with the lid on until the chicken is falling off the bone. It's also the pot of choice for a sumptuous stew. And the Dutch oven is, in my opinion, where the "pot" in "pot roast" must come from; I wouldn't cook one in anything else.
Breakfast is great for cast-iron cooking, too; if you're a bacon fan, nothing cooks it better, and the grease from the bacon is great for your skillet as well. Eggs and bacon in my square divided griddle, given to me by a friend. Pancakes on the griddle or in the 11" skillet. Hash browns in any convenient cast-iron skillet. And it may not be the perfect omelet pan, but my omelets have turned out tasty anyway.
But that Big Ol' Skillet? Enough sliced sweet potatoes to feed an army, brushed with oil and covered with foil, baked in the oven (it takes up one whole rack in mine) until the sweet potatoes are super soft and start to caramelize. Just the ticket for my New Year's Lucky Black-eyed Peas Party and Southern Food Extravaganza.
And Mom? If you're reading this...I'd love one of those 10 1/4"-diameter Deep Skillets next!