Monday, March 25, 2013

Ways to make pots, pans last longer

Follow these guidelines for choosing and maintaining sustainable cookware and bakeware.
By Tom Watson


With all the reality-cooking shows on TV, maybe the next one should be a competition to choose safe, durable cookware. To make sure it has the required drama and suffering for a reality show, the producers could arrange for an eco-friendly, cast-iron skillet to fall on a contestant's head.

Ouch! But going “green” with your pots and pans doesn't need to be painful. Just follow these guidelines for choosing and maintaining sustainable cookware and bakeware that can last a lifetime.

Don't get burned

The most common cookware-related worry among consumers is that nonstick cookware emits toxic fumes. Just last month, a California-based environmental blogger recommended that readers immediately toss out all their nonstick cookware.

That's not necessary. Nonstick cookware should be safe in normal use, according to Consumer Reports magazine and various regulatory agencies.

Cooks still need to be careful, however. The chemical PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) in Teflon and many other nonstick cookware coatings may create hazardous fumes if a pan gets extremely overheated, say to 500 degrees or more. Never leave a pan unattended or empty on a hot burner.

Go for a guarantee

Although nonstick cookware that does not contain PTFE may sound tempting, consumers usually have no assurance that alternative nonstick coatings are any safer. Several environmentalists and researchers have expressed concerns about “nanoparticle” cookware coatings.

On the plus side, a potential health benefit of nonstick cookware is that you can use less oil and butter when cooking.

But a significant environmental problem with nonstick PTFE pots and pans is that many last only two or three years. Choose pots and pans, especially nonstick cookware, with a lifetime or 25-year warranty. Check online reviews as well.

Mix it up

Even if it seems like a great deal, resist buying a large set of cookware with items you'll never use. A 10-piece set will serve the needs of most households, since lids are considered pieces and that usually means six pots and pans and four lids.

However, rather than using a set of a single type of cookware, many serious cooks use a mix of cast iron, stainless steel, copper and aluminum pots and pans.

Look for cast-iron skillets, one of the greenest choices, at thrift stores or antique shops. Never buy nonstick cookware used, since the coating may not last. When you're done with a nonstick pan, put it in the garbage.

Take good care (rhymes with cookware)

Extend the life of your cookware by treating it right. Different types of pans have specific care requirements, so read and follow manufacturers' care advice.

As a general rule, don't put cookware through the dishwasher. It will last longer if you scrub it out by hand with soap and hot water.

New cast-iron pans are usually “pre-seasoned.” That means they have been oiled to make them nonstick. But you'll still need to re-season them yourself occasionally, which involves oiling and baking them.

Bake with caution, or duck

Do you know anyone whose glass bakeware has exploded during or just after baking? Many folks have experienced this, including Seattle-area residents. According to Consumer Reports, Pyrex and Anchor Hocking bakeware products are made from soda-lime glass and are more likely to shatter than European-made bakeware, which is usually made of a more expensive glass called borosilicate.

Even though this problem has received national publicity for several years, the ConsumerAffairs consumer-news website continues to receive complaints, including more than 20 about exploding Pyrex in the past three months.

Anchor Hocking and World Kitchen, the maker of Pyrex, generally blame the users, but they do offer practical advice for keeping your bakeware in one piece, such as this on the Pyrex website: “Always place hot glass bakeware on a dry, cloth potholder or towel,” and “Never place hot glass bakeware on top of the stove, on a metal trivet, on a damp towel, directly on a counter or in a sink.”

If you aren't comfortable using soda-lime bakeware, search online for “borosilicate bakeware” to find sources for those products.

Whether you aspire to be on “Top Chef” or just dabble in the kitchen on weekends, you'll get more out of cooking and baking when you have the right tools for the job.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Dutch Oven Cooking: Two guys who keep the fires burning

CAMP VERDE - By the time Lewis and Clark emerged from the wilderness, following their epic transcontinental voyage of discovery, most of their cargo had been jettisoned.

The only things remaining, outside of trade items aquired from the Western tribes, were their guns, their knives and their cast iron cookware.

When George Washington's mother divided her estate, she made provisions for passing on her cookware to her heirs. She referred to it as her "iron kitchen furniture."

And early pioneers heading west packed, as an integral part of their larder, a collection of cast iron kitchenware.

There was a time not all that long ago when cast iron cookware was appreciated in a way that few other things were. It came in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the single most important component was an iron pot with a tight fitting lid, widely referred to as a Dutch oven.

The most popular version was a uniquely American invention, its designed credited to the famous patriot Paul Revere, that had three iron legs cast onto the base of the pot and a lid with a cast edge that kept the ashes out of your dinner.

When Bill Stafford first began cooking with Dutch ovens he had little idea of the history behind the tools of his trade. But after nearly 20 years cooking for trail crews, charitable organizations and special events around the valley, he has discovered that he is carrying on a tradition older than America itself.

"I didn't get into the Dutch oven cooking for historical reasons. But once I got into it, the interpretation of its common sense approach to producing a lot of food for a lot of people with relatively inexpensive ingredients, became an added reward," he says.

With Stafford and his partner, Bob Tenner, the history and practicality of the Dutch oven remains as appreciated as ever. And for anyone who has had an opportunity to sample dishes the two have prepared, it's easy to see why.

Stafford has been cooking in Dutch ovens since 1994. That was the year he began pulling duty as a Forest Service employee, cooking for volunteers and agency employees doing backcountry trail work. It's also the same year he began serving Dutch oven meals for Camp Verde's Bread of Life Mission.

Tenner, who moved to the valley from Florida, began helping Stafford in 2004. He didn't have much experience with Dutch ovens when he started, but at no point has he ever been the junior member of the team.

"The first time I cooked with a Dutch oven the meal was burnt biscuits that looked and tasted like hockey pucks," says Stafford, "Like Bob, I got my first taste in the Boy Scouts. I got my cooking merit badge burning biscuits in a Dutch oven.

"I've learned a little since then, but I would still be burning stuff if it I wasn't for Bob. We are partners in this. It's not something one person can do well, and more than two can handle when the number of meals reaches 40 or more."

Together they put on at least 20 demonstrations and meals a year. They still cook for the Bread of Life every six weeks or so.

They still cook for the Forest Service, and they can be seen on a regular basis at Fort Verde, cooking for volunteers and the public, at events like the Buffalo Soldiers, History of the Soldier and this weekend's Fort Verde Days.

They have cooked for as many as 300 people at once, managing upwards of 30 ovens plus cowboy coffee pots at one time. They have cooked stews, roasts, biscuits (unburned), cobblers, and just about anything else that will fit under the lid.

"I'm a slob in the kitchen. I tend to slop things around. So I do well outside," says Stafford, "With Dutch ovens the clean up is easier and anyone who can walk and has at least one good hand can do it. It's not rocket science."

They both have a collection of Dutch ovens, many with histories that date back well over 100 years. Their appreciation runs deep. And it is clear when watching them do their thing that they love what they do.

But the real lure for both of them is the final product -- the dish that emerges once the ash-covered caldron comes off the coals and the lid is opened.

"There is something about a meal coked in a Dutch oven," says Tenner, "It taste better. I don't know if it's from smoke being drawn in under the lid or the oil we treat the ovens with. All I know is that whatever you cook in one has a unique, woodsy flavor you can't get anywhere else."

Stafford and Tenner will be sharing all the benefits and techniques of Dutch oven cooking on Saturday and Sunday, on the parade grounds at Fort Verde State park, as part of the Fort Verde Days celebration.

Stop in and get a taste of two guys who love everything there is to love about a Dutch oven. And, if you make it at the right time, you might also a taste of what keeps their fires burning.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It requires some elbow grease, but cast-iron cookware has its merits

It doesn't surprise me when I decide I prefer to do something the old-fashioned way.
As a rule, I'm slow to embrace change, regardless of the progress it represents. Generally, my children are the opposite. So I'm amazed when one of my children — in this case, my son-in-law — opts for "last century" over "latest technology." But this time, I saw it with my own eyes, so I know it's true.

I was in Georgia visiting my new grandson when I walked into the kitchen and saw my son-in-law cooking with a cast-iron skillet. Two things surprised me. The first was that he was cooking. The only reference to his culinary skills I had ever heard involved opening cans of Chef Boyardee ravioli. (Not that I think that's a bad thing. In fact, it's one of the things I like about him.) But now, not only was he standing in front of a stove frying meat, he was using a cooking utensil that many households abandoned years ago in favor of Teflon-coated pans.

He told me he used it all the time. And I thought, well, if he can, so can I. We had used some cast-iron frying pans decades ago, but found they were too much trouble to care for with two little kids demanding our attention. Besides, with two more mouths to feed, we couldn't afford meat, hence the fondness for Chef Boyardee, and Teflon.

I searched around and finally located our cast-iron pans. I would have found them much faster if I had just asked my wife because she knew right where they were, and I would never have looked there. But finding the pans was just the start of my adventure.

What I found wasn't so much a pile of cast-iron pans as much as it was a rust collection. Suddenly, my new project didn't seem like as much fun. I sorted through the pans and selected the one with the least amount of rust. Along the way, I wondered why we had so many of the doggone things. We must have a hundred pounds of cast iron that we don't use. Maybe they multiply, I don't know. But they sure do rust.

This meant the first order of business was rust removal. That involved a lot more elbow grease than I had intended to expend. But, after significant scrubbing, I finally got down to cast iron. On the plus side, the pan was a little lighter. The next step was "seasoning" the pan.
I did a Google search and there are literally hundreds of ways to season a cast-iron pan. Some involve lard, vegetable oil or shortening. None of them involve elbow grease, which is a good thing since I was out of it after cleaning off the rust. I opted for vegetable (canola) oil because it was the easiest, my normal course of action. After oiling the pan and baking it for an hour, my pan had passed the first stage of seasoning.

The second stage was frying a pound of bacon. That seasoned the heck out of it. The bacon tasted a little rusty, but the pan was at least usable at that point. The challenge now is to see if I'm willing to keep up the maintenance.

I suspect I will … for a while. My wife has let me know in no uncertain terms that the cast-iron frying pan is my responsibility. So my fascination with cast-iron cooking will probably last just as long as I am willing to clean the pan and keep it seasoned. I give it two weeks.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Jane Says: Ditch Your Nonstick Cookware for Cast Iron

Jane Says: Ditch Your Nonstick Cookware for Cast Iron

Stuff you should know about cast iron cookware:

My pans are old and made by manufacturers such as Lodge, Wagner, and Griswold. They all happen to be so well seasoned they are as slick and impermeable as a politician's grin. If you want that patina, troll yard sales or online sources until you find the sizes you're looking for. I've only used the “preseasoned” cookware made by Lodge a couple of times, and it seems to work fine. And even though you won't be able to pretend it's a family heirloom, it certainly makes the mere idea of cast iron more approachable to someone who's unsure about how to season a pan properly or who simply wants a frittata for lunch. Today.
There is a real mystique about cleaning cast iron. Personally, I think all that business about wiping it out, then filming it with oil until you use it again is disgusting. Guess what happens? Unless you use that pan all the time, the oil coating is going to turn rancid. Aside from tasting vile, rancid oil forms free radicals in the body, and we all know by now that those are harmful. I'll take a modern-day nonstick pan over rancid oil any time.

So how do I clean my cast iron? I wash it, very gently, with dish detergent . (I have wanted to confess this unorthodoxy for years.) That said, I don't use an abrasive scrubby, and would never let cast iron soak or sit in the sink for hours or put it in the dishwasher. After washing, I work it over with a kitchen towel, then put it in the oven to get dry as a bone.

Stuff you should know about enamel-coated cast iron cookware:

I try not to name-drop, but it's no secret. It's not nearly as sexy, mysterious, or inexpensive as unadorned cast iron, which is why I'm not giving it the same amount of space. But its signature pale interior allows you to easily gauge the doneness of whatever you're cooking, and unlike cast iron, it won't react to an acidic tomato or fruit sauce, giving it an off flavor or unappealing color. And I never ever get tired of how it cleans up like a dream. The only tough part is having to pick a color.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cast-iron fans say there's nothing it can't cook

Cooking with cast iron is a way of life for Dawn Mills and her family. Before she turns on her home oven, she has to relocate all of the cast-iron cookware that she stores inside.
"I probably have upwards of 50 pieces; a majority of them are Dutch ovens used for outdoor cooking. Many are skillets," Mills said. "But I have my favorites ... the pieces that I want to cook with no matter where I am cooking."

In March, she and her husband, Jim, will be competing for a third time in the International Dutch Oven Society World Championship Cookout in Utah. For the preliminary competition, they will cook Chipotle Chicken Rolls - a variation on chicken cordon bleu - Italian Cheese Bread and Southern Pecan Pie.

If the Newkirk couple advances to the finals, they will cook a recipe called Three Little Pigs - a pork tenderloin stuffed with ham and wrapped in bacon - Parmesan Herb Rolls and Very Berry Cherry Pie.

Learning to cook outdoors developed as a welcome distraction from her empty nest, she said.

"When our sons left home, it started to be a hobby for us," Mills said.
Mills, assistant principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Ponca City, is the secretary of the Heartland of the Prairie Dutch Oven Society in Oklahoma. The group meets monthly for Dutch Oven Gatherings and hosts a benefit for the American Red Cross every spring.

Cast-iron cooking has many benefits, Mills said.
"If you have it seasoned correctly, it is a very nonstick surface. The cost is also decent and it lasts forever, and you don't have to worry about the lining peeling out," Mills said. "And when you put the lid on, it is like its own little convection oven."

Certain foods, such as cornbread, taste best cooked in cast iron, Mills said.
"You need to take the skillet and get it pretty hot first with a good oil base and then put the batter in there," Mills said.

Some cooks swear that you can tell the difference between fried chicken that's been cooked in cast iron and chicken that hasn't. Cast iron also gives a nice sear to a steak, and many chili cooks prefer to use cast iron.

During demonstrations, Mills tells people that "there's nothing you can cook on the stove or in the oven that you can't cook in cast iron" outdoors. She even made a coconut pie once and whipped the meringue by hand.

Ken Jones, another member of the Heartland of the Prairie Dutch Oven Society, said there is an art to cooking with cast iron.

"We use recipes that are made for the Dutch oven, but I like to take regular recipes and adapt them," Jones said. "Cobblers are very popular - so are cakes. Casseroles also convert to Dutch ovens, as well as biscuits and breads."

It does take longer to cook outside using briquettes for heat, Jones said. But there are benefits to that, too.

"It's the original slow cooker," Jones said. "We do a lot of talking while we cook."

Jones said anyone interested in learning more about cooking with cast iron outdoors can watch a demonstration by the Oklahoma Dutch Oven group based in Tulsa. The group gathers at Haikey Creek Park during the warm months and can be reached at

Here are some recipes made for cast-iron cookware.

Dawn Mills said her mother made this family recipe for her when she was little and she has gone on to win cooking competitions with it.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Iron Ladies: Cast iron takes the prize for most versatile kitchen performance

Cast iron is the Swiss army knife of the kitchen. It is a versatile tool, a multipronged culinary threat capable of searing an ahi steak and crisping a cornbread crust.

"It's our favorite black dress in our wardrobe of pans," said Julie Kramis Hearne, co-author of this past fall's "Cast Iron Skillet Big Flavors" [Sasquatch Books, 2011; 157 pages; $19.95]. "Everything just tastes better."

Cast iron cookware also deserves the Swiss army knife's slogan, "Your Companion for Life." It's virtually indestructable and relatively inexpensive, with 10- and 12-inch skillets starting running from about $20 to $35. And once it acquires a good seasoning, it functions much like a nonstick pan.

To boot, it also can be good for your health, as the pans leach iron, which is helpful for those with iron deficiencies. [Conversely, if you suffer from excess iron, it would be best to steer clear.]

But the true benefit of cooking with cast iron is how it handles food. It withstands, and maintains, exceptionally high cooking temperatures, so it's a popular choice for searing or frying. Meanwhile, its excellent heat diffusion and retention make it perfect for stews or braises. Also, since iron skillets develop a "non-stick" surface, they are a good choice for eggs, particularly scrambled. Bakers use it for making cornbread, cobblers and cakes.

"The more you cook with cast iron, the better it gets,"

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stovetop Cast Iron Grills - Mark, sear meat just like on a cookout

Miss the taste of grilled goodies when it's too cold to grill outside?

Or worse yet, do you live in an apartment with no space for an outside grill at all?

With the soggiest weeks of winter approaching, it's worth it to consider a good, heavy iron or anodized aluminum grill pan for stovetop use.

There are many types to choose from: a plain cast iron model is the least expensive, but must be seasoned and cared for like any other cast iron. A pre-seasoned cast iron pan is more expensive but convenient; it still must be cleaned gently, dried immediately and oiled each time you use it.

You can also find enameled cast iron, which is somewhat nonstick, seasons with use, and eventually becomes totally nonstick but it's pricey.

Finally, the folks at Cook's Illustrated recommend aluminum, but I've had a shiny aluminum grill pan that warped over high heat and was quite "sticky." Heavy anodized aluminum works better. Grill pans with nonstick coatings such as Teflon are not recommended, as the whole point of a grill pan is high-heat cooking, and nonstick coatings don't hold up under high heat.

I would recommend a pre-seasoned or enameled cast iron pan, or one of heavy anodized aluminum.

Grilling on metal is not exactly like an outdoor grill, and not exactly like searing in a flat skillet either, but somewhere in between. You get the crosshatch marks and a nice charred flavor, but not the smoke of wood or charcoal. If you want a smoky flavor, a marinade or rub made with smoked paprika or smoked salt can add it.

A superhot grill pan will smoke on its own, however, especially with foods that release a good bit of fat, such as salmon. You'll want to turn on your exhaust fan and remember that thick metal holds heat, so turning off the heat under the grill doesn't lower the temperature of the cooking surface for a long time.

Many of the rules for grilling on cast iron are the same as those for grilling over charcoal or gas.

1. Bring the food to room temperature before cooking it. Refrigerator-cold meat will not cook evenly on any type of grill.

2. Let the grill pan preheat adequately. You shouldn't use super-high heat, but do give the pan time to get very hot. Letting it set over medium heat for about five minutes should give you the heat you want. A drop of water should "skitter" over the surface and evaporate immediately when the pan is hot enough.

3. Lightly oil the food or grill surface before placing the food on it. To lightly oil, wipe it on with a clean towel. Never pour oil into an iron grill pan. You're not frying here.

4. After placing the food into the pan, leave it alone! After a minute or so, check to see if it can be moved. If so, you can turn it clockwise a quarter turn to get hatchmarks, but only flip it over once.

5. Never puncture the meat with a fork of any kind. Use tongs to move and turn it when necessary.

6. A very thick piece of meat or fish can be seared on the pan and then finished in a low oven so it doesn't get overly-charred on the surface before the center is cooked. This is one disadvantage to a grill pan versus an outdoor grill — there is no "cool corner" to place the food in and no lid to close for those last gentle moments.

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