At-home cooking

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Re: At-home cooking

Postby churro » Tue Aug 25, 2015 10:19 pm

A few words about cast iron:
This may be controversial, but I really like the new lodge cast iron products. They are not milled smooth like the vintage ones, and tend to be much thicker, heavier and more unwieldily than my vintage pans, but the sandy surface seems to be no less non-stick than the older ones, and the bulk seems to help them hold their temp when food is added (cast iron needs to be thoroughly pre-heated in order to keep food from sticking, so multiple batches need to be staggered a little so the pan can re-heat in thinner, i.e. vintage, pans). The pre-seasoning is ok, at least as a start, and the weight is manageable, for me, and makes it less likely to warp or crack from abuse. If the sandy surface offends you, just remember that the additional bulk might just mean that they will last long enough (like, generations) until that surface is worn smooth.

I have been in the process (for nearly a decade now) of rehabilitating a 12" lodge skillet that I bought new in 1998, used for a few years, then threw away after a negligent house-sitter left it soaking in soapy water for a week. This skillet had the sandy surface and hefty construction characteristic of the newer pans. My father noticed it in the trash, rescued it and re-seasoned it, then gave it back to me. He hadn't gotten all the rust off before re-seasoning, so I stripped it in the oven on the self-clean cycle (to my wife's dismay), and again re-seasoned it. It has taken until now to get the original seasoning back onto it, but today I fried some eggplant in it for eggplant parmigiana. There was a bunch of leftover flour from dredging the eggplant, and a bunch of leftover oil in the pan, so I poured the flour into the pan to soak up the oil, then disposed of the sludge in the trash, then heated the pan until it started to smoke to help season it.

The result was a perfectly smooth, perfectly seasoned surface. I need to experiment, but I think a combination of oil and flour might just do a better job of seasoning than oil alone, and has the additional advantage of providing the visual reference of the flour browning to monitor progress/temperature. I have recently acquired some brand-new lodge pans to experiment on, so I'll let you know.
Last edited by churro on Wed Aug 26, 2015 12:17 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: At-home cooking

Postby churro » Tue Aug 25, 2015 11:23 pm

It occurred to me that it might be good to provide a recipe with the previous post. One of the new Lodge pans I got was the LCC3 combo cooker, which is basically a 3 qt dutch oven designed so that both the lid and pan can be used as skillets, one deeper, the other shallower. I bought (Walmart, under $40) this to replace an identical item I had previously (and foolishly) traded for several very nice vintage skillets. I've been missing them ever since because I have not found a better rig for making pitas, and I LOVE pitas!

Pita bread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
7 oz water
1 tsp sugar
1 packet (or 1 tbsp) yeast
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp olive oil

Mix 1 cup of the flour, all of the yeast, all of the water and all of the sugar in a non-reactive bowl. Stir very well, then cover for 24-48 hours (they have more flavor if they go longer). Store in a cool place (the refrigerator works, but give it 2 days- less in a warmer place). Add the remaining ingredients and stir until it forms a ragged ball, then knead well until it forms a nice ball, not too sticky (use additional flour to keep it from sticking to your hands or the counter). Roll into a long log, then cut into 8-12 equal sections (depending on how big you want your pitas to be). Roll these out flat with a rolling-pin and let rise 1+ hours on a lightly floured wooden surface (the counter works, but a wooden surface seems less sticky).

Meanwhile, put your cast iron dutch oven into the oven @ 400 degrees to thoroughly pre-heat. When the time comes to cook, turn 2 stove burners to medium heat, place the dutch oven on one of them. Have a basket lined with a cloth napkin handy. Remove the lid from the dutch oven, place on the spare hot burner and carefully transfer one of the risen disks of dough into the dutch oven. Replace the lid and bake 1-2 minutes. The pita should puff completely, making a hollow center (if it does not then you handled it too roughly, did not raise it long enough, did not pre-heat the pan enough, or did not leave it in long enough, but they will still taste good). Flip it and replace the lid, baking 1 minute more, then repeat for the rest of the rounds, transferring them to the napkin-lined basket and covering with the napkin. Serve warm, or let cool completely in the basket and bag for later.

It sounds more difficult than it is, and they beat the pants off of the store-bought variety. You'll get the hang of it before the first batch is done. If you want, use 1 cup white flour and 1 cup whole wheat. When done right, each forms a perfect pocket to receive fillings, and is softer and more delicious than any pita you've ever bought. They will keep a couple of days, so make them ahead for camping, if you want.

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Re: At-home cooking

Postby zelph » Wed Aug 26, 2015 9:27 am

The information on seasoning Lodge cast iron comes at a good time. My wife is really into seasoning the iron. I'll have her read over your information about the flour/oil technique.

I love Pita smothered with Gyros oil and cucumber/onion sauce :mrgreen: I will definitely try your recipe. I'll have to talk to my wife about the best iron pot that she has for them. She can experiment and then I'll take over when she has it down pat. ;)

I'll also pass this info to my daughter that loves cooking Hispanic foods.
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Re: At-home cooking

Postby churro » Thu Aug 27, 2015 11:57 pm

My puppy ran out in front of a car this evening. He died instantly, no suffering, but I'm still in shock. We thought we had trained that out of him, but he got onto the wrong side of the road, then panicked when a car came, and got hit trying to get back to the yard. It'll probably hit me harder tomorrow, as now I am still kind of in denial about it. My wife was right there when it happened, and feels responsible because she had been calling him to try and get him to safety, so she feels like she caused it somehow. I keep telling her that it's sad, but not to make it worse by blaming herself or playing the "woulda, shoulda, coulda" game. Most folks go the speed limit, which is 40 mph, but the road is straight and rural, so some folks (that car, for instance) go really fast. This isn't the first beloved pet we've lost that way... :cry:

Anyway, I need to distract myself to prepare for bed, so I'll relate a little experiment I have been conducting on seasoning cast iron. Since I have more pans than I need, I selected the 3 I use most often and started seasoning one with olive oil, another with crisco and a third with bacon fat. After several months of doing this, I cannot tell the difference in seasoning from looking at them, but have noticed a few differences in how the various fats behave while the pan is seasoning. These results are far from conclusive, since the pans are different sizes and I often use them preferentially for different things (eggs in one, biscuits in another, etc).

Basically I have noticed that any of the above fats will leave a sticky residue if I use too thick a layer of fat, don't heat it hot enough or don't heat it long enough. The stickiness can easily be removed by simple heating longer, even a few days later, but the sticky surface tends to collect dust. Therefore it is best to make sure it is cooked past the sticky stage in the first place.

The three fats seem to have different smoke-points (the temperature at which it begins to smoke), so I season with bacon fat at a lower temp than crisco, and olive oil at a higher temp than either one. This might seem a little backwards, because the olive oil begins smoking at what seems like a lower temp than the crisco, but it also takes longer, unless I turn up the heat. In general, I prefer the olive oil and bacon to the crisco, if only for the smell as it is seasoning.

I keep running across contradictory instructions online, but my feeling is that any oil or fat will work, provided enough heat is provided for enough time. Since it can be a little smokey and smelly, bacon fat emerges as my favorite, because it smells the best of the one's I have tried and does not take too long. I have seen warnings about rancid smells developing, but have only seen that with pans that sat unused for several months. I think that as long say you use a very thin layer and heat the pan slowly and sufficiently this should be avoidable, and the rancid smell disappears quickly if you simply pre-heat the pan sufficiently for efficient cooking.

Here are a few tips that seem to work:
1) Pre-heat the pan enough. This varies depending on what you are cooking, but in general, adding the oil or fat to a warm pan, then beginning the cooking as the first few whisps of smoke show up works well. Pre-heating the pan in the oven can help get it even'y heated to exactly the right temp for the food you are cooking and the oil you are using. Be patient! The cookware will last longer and behave more predictably when heated slowly and thoroughly.
2) Add a pinch of salt to the fat before adding any food. This seems to minimize the surface area of the food that is in contact with the metal, giving you little "gaps" for prying the food loose.
3) Let the food cook enough to start to brown before you mess with it too much. With eggs, that might mean seconds. With meat it might mean a minute or so, and with biscuits, pancakes or bread it will be longer. Once a "crust" starts to form, the food releases nicely.
4) Don't overload the pan. Contrary to the rumors, Cast iron isn't all that conductive. If the temperature of the surface drops below a certain point, you'll get some sticking. A thicker, heavier pan is more forgiving of being overloaded than a thinner, lighter one. Cook in batches if you have to.
5) Get the food out of the pan before it fully cools. You can rest your enchiladas, bread or lasagne in the pan for a little while to make it less runny and easier to serve, but then transfer it to a serving platter, re heat the pan a little and deglaze with a small amount of HOT water (cold water, or too much water could crack your pan). swirl and scrape the boiling water with a wooden spoon and all the residue will come off easily. Dump the excess water down the sink and immediately wipe with a paper towel and cool slowly. It's easy and leaves a nice surface.
6) If you wipe on any oil, heat it gently to just below the smoke point,, then wipe off excess oil carefully. There will be enough left behind to do the seasoning, without leaving pools that will turn sticky or uneven. If you will not use the pan for a while, keep heating until it begins to smoke, then wipe clean again and cool. No rancid smell, that way.
7) Use your pans as often as possible. They get better with use, and problems with rust are not likely when a pan is used properly and often.
8) Find a fat and seasoning method that smells good to your spouse or roommates, or do your seasoning outside on a grill. These smells can linger, and be a constant reminder of what a pain in the rear you were last night, or make your date-night less romantic. Conversely, It might remind everyone in the house what a great dinner you made them last night. Being considerate WILL pay dividends, trust me :D

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Re: At-home cooking

Postby zelph » Sat Aug 29, 2015 7:40 am

The news of your puppy saddens my heart :(

Cooking news makes me feel better.

Flaxseed oil sticks in my mind about seasoning cast iron. I goggled and find this info Scientifically informing :

Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning: A Science-Based How-To
January 28, 2010, 6:31 pm
The post after this one on “black rust” describes why you should heat the pan before applying oil for seasoning. This helps the seasoning to adhere and makes the pan pleasantly black. ... seasoning/
In a previous post, I illustrated how I cleaned and reseasoned an antique cast iron popover pan. This was my first attempt, and my seasoning technique was somewhat haphazard because I couldn’t find consistent, science-based advice. I used a combination of organic avocado oil and strained drippings from organic bacon. This worked pretty well on the popover pan, which doesn’t have a polished surface. But the smooth inner surface of a skillet showed an unevenness of color and texture, and the seasoning wasn’t hard enough. It was too easily marred by cooking utensils or scraping against oven racks.
I wanted to understand the chemistry behind seasoning so I’d know how to fix this, but there is nothing that addresses this issue directly. A Web page on cast iron posted by someone similarly obsessed with the science gave me two crucial clues, the phrases “polymerized fat” and “drying oil”. From there I was able to find the relevant scientific literature and put the pieces together.
The pictures below are both of the same antique cast iron skillet. The “before” close-up on the left is from a picture of the skillet in my previous blog post on making German Pancakes. I stripped the pan with oven cleaner and reseasoned it based on my new understanding. The “after” close-up on the right shows the result.

Griswold skillet closeups: old seasoning on left, new seasoning on right
Start With the Right Oil (It’s Not What You Think)
I’ve read dozens of Web pages on how to season cast iron, and there is no consensus in the advice. Some say vegetable oils leave a sticky surface and to only use lard. Some say animal fat gives a surface that is too soft and to only use vegetable oils. Some say corn oil is the only fat to use, or Crisco, or olive oil. Some recommend bacon drippings since lard is no longer readily available. Some say you must use a saturated fat – that is, a fat that is solid at room temperature, whether it’s animal or vegetable (palm oil, coconut oil, Crisco, lard). Some say never use butter. Some say butter is fine. Some swear by Pam (spray-on canola oil with additives). Some say the additives in Pam leave a residue at high temperatures and pure canola oil is best. Some say it doesn’t matter what oil you use.
They are all wrong. It does matter what oil you use, and the oil that gives the best results is not in this list. So what is it? Here are some hints: What oil do artists mix with pigment for a high quality oil paint that dries hard and glassy on the canvas? What oil is commonly used by woodturners to give their sculptures a protective, soft-sheen finish? It’s the same oil. Now what is the food-grade equivalent of this oil?
The oil used by artists and woodturners is linseed oil. The food-grade equivalent is called flaxseed oil. This oil is ideal for seasoning cast iron for the same reason it’s an ideal base for oil paint and wood finishes. It’s a “drying oil”, which means it can transform into a hard, tough film. This doesn’t happen through “drying” in the sense of losing moisture through evaporation. The term is actually a misnomer. The transformation is through a chemical process called “polymerization”.
The seasoning on cast iron is formed by fat polymerization, fat polymerization is maximized with a drying oil, and flaxseed oil is the only drying oil that’s edible. From that I deduced that flaxseed oil would be the ideal oil for seasoning cast iron.
As a reality check of this theory, I googled “season cast iron with flaxseed oil” to see what came up. The very first hit is a page written by a guy who seasons his cast iron cookware with linseed oil from the hardware store because it gives the hardest surface of anything he’s tried. (I’m not sure how safe that is; I don’t recommend it.) Below that were several sites selling traditional cast iron cookware from China, which they advertise as being “preseasoned with high quality flax oil”. I don’t know whether they really use food-grade flaxseed oil (which is expensive) or linseed oil from a hardware store. What’s significant is the claim. Seasoning with high quality flaxseed oil is something to brag about.
With this encouragement, I stripped one of my skillets and reseasoned it with flaxseed oil. As you can see in the picture above, the result was a dramatic improvement. The finish is smooth, hard, and evenly colored.
Seasoning Is Not Cooking: Different Principles Apply
The first time I seasoned a pan I chose avocado oil because it’s monounsaturated and doesn’t easily go rancid. It also has the highest smoke point of any edible oil, 520°F, so I could heat it in a 450°F oven without passing the smoke point. I knew that when cooking, you should never heat an oil past its smoke point because that causes the release of “free radicals”, which are carcinogenic. I was careful not to choose a polyunsaturated oil – and especially not an oil high in omega-3 fatty acids – because these are especially vulnerable to breakdown with heat and the release of free radicals.
Ironically, it’s for exactly these reasons that the best oil for seasoning cast iron is an oil high in omega-3 fatty acids – in particular, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Free radicals are actually what enable the polymerization. Drying oils, which produce the hardest polymers, are characterized by high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially the omega-3 fatty acid ALA.
The lard that was traditionally used for seasoning 100 years ago was much higher in ALA than fat from pigs today, because back then pigs ate their natural diet. Today they are raised on industrial feedlots and forced to eat grain, making their fat low in omega-3s.
Since lard is traditional but no longer readily available, many people substitute bacon drippings, but this is a bad idea. If it’s conventional bacon, you’re baking in carcinogenic nitrates. But even organic bacon is not good for an initial seasoning because it’s filled with salt.
The reason that Pam seems to work well in seasoning is that its main ingredient is canola oil, which is relatively high in ALA (10%), making it a “semi-drying oil”. Flaxseed oil, a drying oil, is 57% ALA. But it’s not a good idea to use a spray oil, no matter what oil it’s made with, because of its additives. You’re doing chemistry here. If you want good results, use pure ingredients.
Fat polymerization can be triggered or accelerated in a variety of ways. As best I can tell from my reading, the cast iron seasoning process is an example of “radical polymerization”. The process is initiated when something causes the release of free radicals in the oil. The free radicals then “crosslink” to form the tough, hard film you see in a well-seasoned pan.
So what is the “something” that initiates the release of free radicals in fat? Iron, for one thing. High heat, light, and oxygen, for some others. To prevent cooking oils from going rancid – i.e., breaking down and releasing free radicals – you need to store them in dark, tightly sealed containers in a cool location. To initiate or accelerate the release of free radicals, put the oil in contact with bare iron and heat it above its smoke point, which will cause even non-drying oils to release free radicals.
I haven’t defined “free radical” or “crosslink” because that gets into details of chemistry that you don’t need to understand to season a cast iron pan. All you need to know is that the molecular structure of the oil changes and becomes something else, something tough and solid. The process is initiated with the release of free radicals, which then become crosslinked, creating a hard surface.
Free radicals are carcinogenic inside your body, and also a cause of aging. So don’t ever heat oil you’re going to eat above its smoke point. If the oil starts to smoke, toss it out and start again. When you’re seasoning a pan, you’re not cooking food. By the time the seasoned pan comes out of the oven, there are no more free radicals.
The Recipe for Perfect Cast Iron Seasoning
The basic idea is this: Smear a food-grade drying oil onto a cast iron pan, and then bake it above the oil’s smoke point. This will initiate the release of free radicals and polymerization. The more drying the oil, the harder the polymer. So start with the right oil.
Go to your local health food store or organic grocery and buy a bottle of flaxseed oil. It’s sold as an omega-3 supplement and it’s in the refrigeration section because it goes rancid so easily. Check the expiration date to make sure it’s not already rancid. Buy an organic flaxseed oil. You don’t want to burn toxic chemicals into your cookware to leach out forever more. It’s a fairly expensive oil. I paid $17 for a 17 ounce bottle of cold-pressed, unrefined, organic flaxseed oil. As it says on the bottle, shake it before you use it.
Strip your pan down to the iron using the techniques I describe in my popover post. Heat the pan in a 200°F oven to be sure it’s bone dry and to open the pores of the iron a little. Then put it on a paper towel, pour a little flaxseed oil on it (don’t forget to shake the bottle), and rub the oil all over the pan with your hands, making sure to get into every nook and cranny. Your hands and the pan will be nice and oily.
Now rub it all off. Yup – all. All. Rub it off with paper towels or a cotton cloth until it looks like there is nothing left on the surface. There actually is oil left on the surface, it’s just very thin. The pan should look dry, not glistening with oil. Put the pan upside down in a cold oven. Most instructions say to put aluminum foil under it to catch any drips, but if your oil coating is as thin as it should be, there won’t be any drips.
Turn the oven to a baking temperature of 500°F (or as high as your oven goes – mine only goes to 450°F) and let the pan preheat with the oven. When it reaches temperature, set the timer for an hour. After an hour, turn off the oven but do not open the oven door. Let it cool off with the pan inside for two hours, at which point it’s cool enough to handle.
The pan will come out of the oven a little darker, but matte in texture – not the semi-gloss you’re aiming for. It needs more coats. In fact, it needs at least six coats. So again rub on the oil, wipe it off, put it in the cold oven, let it preheat, bake for an hour, and let it cool in the oven for two hours. The picture above was taken after six coats of seasoning. At that point it starts to develop a bit of a sheen and the pan is ready for use.
If you try this, you will be tempted to use a thicker coat of oil to speed up the process. Don’t do it. It just gets you an uneven surface – or worse, baked on drips. Been there, done that. You can’t speed up the process. If you try, you’ll mess up the pan and have to start over.
The reason for the very hot oven is to be sure the temperature is above the oil’s smoke point, and to maximally accelerate the release of free radicals. Unrefined flaxseed oil actually has the lowest smoke point of any oil (see this table). But the higher the temperature the more it will smoke, and that’s good for seasoning (though bad for eating – do not let oils smoke during cooking).
I mentioned earlier there’s a myth floating around that vegetable oils leave a sticky residue. If the pan comes out of the oven sticky, the cause is one of three things:
• You put the oil on too thick.
• Your oven temperature was too low.
• Your baking time was too short.
It’s possible to use a suboptimal oil for seasoning, like Crisco or bacon drippings, and still end up with a usable pan. Many (most) people do this. But the seasoning will be relatively soft, not as nonstick, and will tend to wear off. If you want the hardest, slickest seasoning possible, use the right oil: flaxseed oil.
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Re: At-home cooking

Postby churro » Sat Aug 29, 2015 11:52 am

zelph wrote:The news of your puppy saddens my heart :(

Thanks. I dug a grave yesterday, and we buried Ruger when my wife got home. I lost it, having kept my emotions bottled up until then. I'm going to mis him.

I just might have to get some flax seed oil and try that out. I might even strip a couple of pans to start fresh with only flax oil to see if it's really better. I have a hard time believing that I need such an expensive oil, but maybe using it as a base-coat is a good compromise.

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Re: At-home cooking

Postby Ridgerunner » Sat Aug 29, 2015 6:23 pm

I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your puppy, churro. It is heartbreaking losing a pet as they are so much a part of the family. Prayers be with you and your family.
"Many of lifes failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up".....Thomas Edison

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Re: At-home cooking

Postby churro » Sun Aug 30, 2015 12:37 am

Thanks, Ridgerunner.

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Re: At-home cooking

Postby churro » Tue Sep 01, 2015 10:46 am

A neighbor gave me a cured, uncooked ham a while back in return for some help stacking firewood. Another friend gave me a Traeger grill. He'd failed to clean it for several years and a grease fire burned up the thermostat. Rather than repair it, he gave it to me and bought a new one. I did the repairs and cleaning yesterday, got it working properly (with a few calls to the Traeger customer support number- they were really helpful!).

I think I will smoke that ham today. It's been thawing in the refrigerator for several days. I got applewood pellets for the grill, and I have some homemade apricot jam for a glaze to brush on it. Should be good! Along with some mashed sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli, it should make a nice dinner.

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Re: At-home cooking

Postby zelph » Tue Sep 01, 2015 4:16 pm

Evertime I read your food posts....I drool :lol: :dinner: :bbq:

I think I may have save the life of a wayward dog along side the highway today(2 lane back road). I saw the dog along the roadside as I passed it by. It had the look of being lost/confused. I looked in my rear view mirror and it went onto the road soon after I passed it. No cars behind me, only on coming traffic 1/2 block ahead. I flashed my bright lights to warn them of something on the road. The first vehicle was a tow truck and it applied brakes and pulled off the road to hopefully assist the poor little pooch. I later came back the same route and there was no evidence of the pooch :DB: .........made my day :D
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