Sunday, December 28, 2008

Old Lodge Skillets

This is one of my favorite skillets that I use at least weekly. It is a favorite of mine because it is a number 9 and I'm a big fan of that size {approx 11 3/4"} plus it is very smooth and slick. According to "The Book of Wagner & Griswold" (aka the "Red" book), this skillet has characteristics of those made between 1910 and 1920, as well as those circa 1925 - 1930s. It may be a transition piece.

Old Lodge cast iron is very nice but it is difficult to date with total certainty because Lodge did not maintain records of each minor design change.
One easy way to identify unmarked or private label Lodge iron is from the break in the heat ring found at the 12 o'clock position. Another variation was three breaks in the heat ring found at 9, 12 and 3 o'clock. The handle is considered to be at 6 o'clock.

Another distinguishing characteristic of some of the old Lodge skillets was the raised number on the handle. You can see how smooth the interior is. Also notice that even the unmachined/unpolished portions of the piece are very smooth as a result of the fine grained iron used.

Joseph Lodge's first cast iron hollow ware foundry was named the Blacklock Foundry. After being destroyed by fire in 1910 Joseph rebuilt the foundry naming it the Lodge Manufacturing Company. Joseph lived until 1931 but even today members of the Lodge family continue to run the company. Lodge was overshadowed by its domestic competitors (namely Wagner and Griswold) until the 1960s. Today Lodge stands as the sole surviving U.S. maker of cast iron cookware.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No Knead Bread from a Dutch Oven

Putting the Oven back into Dutch Oven
Thanks to Jim Lahey, owner of the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC for sharing this technique. It is super simple and very consistent. I own a nice Kitchen Aid stand mixer so kneading does not bother me. The finished product is what excites me. This bread is phenomenal.

I have to wonder how much of the bread's quality comes from the slow rise and how much comes from the Dutch Oven? The DO certainly makes for a steamy environment which promotes the development of an excellent crust.

Mark Bittman's adaptation of Jim Lahey's recipe.
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.
I've been making this in my Wagner Drip Drop Roaster and it is a great way to harden up and finish the seasoning on a DO. If all you ever do is cook on the stove top you might want to make a few loaves of this bread. You'll find another talent that your DO has been hiding.

Really good bread is hard to come by in a rural area and I'm stoked to be able to make this myself. It is by far the best European style bread I've ever pulled off.

* After watching the video again I think Lahey poured some olive oil around the dough before letting it rise. I have not done this but plan to do so on the next batch. It is great in pizza dough and I see no reason why it would not improve bread as well.

Thanks to Urban Chick Goin' Hillbilly for making me aware of this style of baking.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cleaning Your Cast Iron Cookware

“If everybody's thinking alike, somebody isn't thinking.”

Cleaning your cast iron after use is one of those things that is easier than many people think. As a bonus, if you use and take care of your iron properly it gets consistently better over time.

If you remember only two things from this post please remember:

1) Use your cast iron often. Frequent use improves the seasoning which makes the iron more nonstick. The improving nonstick quality is, in turn, going to make cleanup easier. Cleaning the cast iron properly will not degrade the nonstick properties and will make cooking with the iron even easier. It is kind of a Yin and Yang thing.

2) Clean the iron with the least aggressive method that will do the job. If a quick wipe with a paper towel and a rinse under hot water is sufficient then don't use a stiff brush and soap.

Use and cleaning are interrelated with cast iron. You should be giving your iron a nice slow warm up on a fairly low heat setting. Let a skillet warm up for 5 minutes at medium low rather than cranking the heat to high and trying to use it in 2 minutes. Adding too much heat too quickly to cast iron is about the only way to warp it in daily use.

Add oil to your preheated skillet right before adding the food. This prevents sticking which makes cleanup easier.

After cooking remember that cast iron stays hot for a very long time. Let it cool until it is warm enough to handle without a hot pad. Letting cast iron heat up and cool down slowly is important. If your cooking application requires rapid changes in temperature you should be using aluminum or copper. Horses for courses as the idiom says.

Most of the time all I do to clean a piece of cast iron is to run the hottest tap water into the piece while gently using a brush to remove any food items. I then dry the piece by putting it into the oven at 250 degrees or putting it on a stove burner set to low. Using heat to finish drying is critical for both removing all traces of moisture (especially for those who live in humid areas) as well as sanitizing the cookware.

Update: I now recommend woven plastic scrubbers over a brush. Same process, different tool.

You may be wondering about the use of soap. I think it is unnecessary for most cleaning and will definitely impair the early seasoning process of a piece of cast iron.

I think it is OK to set a well seasoned piece of cast iron in some mildly soapy dishwater if you just fried a mess of catfish and want to remove the odor. I would not do this with a skillet that is still developing a seasoning. (if a fried egg does not glide around inside a skillet it isn't fully seasoned yet) Adding harsh soap directly to the iron cookware and scrubbing it with a dishrag or brush will set your seasoning back (or flat out remove it) and may impart a bad flavor.

A better option than dishwashing soap may be plain old white vinegar. Vinegar removes odors, most grease and sanitizes as well. Add 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water and store in a spray bottle. When needed simply spray the cookware, wipe with a dish brush, rinse and dry in the oven or on the stove. Do not let the vinegar set too long as it can corrode iron. (You also need this vinegar spray to take care of wooden cutting boards)

A dishwasher should never be used for cast iron. The iron will rust in that hot, steamy environment.

Sometimes I use the edge on a silicone or wooden spatula to scrape out stubborn bits of food.

Here are four scenarios that should cover the range of cleaning challenges.

1)You've sauteed some mushrooms and garlic in olive oil. Nothing stuck so wipe out with a paper towel and rinse under hot water. Set the skillet back on the burner over low heat to dry.

2)You've stir-fried some flank streak and vegetables, a fond remains after deglazing. Run hot tap water and brush skillet until clean. Set the skillet back on the burner over low heat to dry.

3)You think your skillet is fully seasoned so you scramble some eggs but discover it wasn't seasoned enough. Lots of egg residue remains stuck to the bottom. Add hot water to skillet and let sit while you eat breakfast. Dump out water and add 1 to 2 tablespoons kosher salt and some oil and scrub the egg gunk out. Rinse well and set the skillet back on the burner over low heat to dry. Continue to use pan with an eye toward further seasoning.

4)While frying chicken in the back yard a hawk drops a dead muskrat into the hot oil. Consider using soap at this point.

This picture shows a Lodge 10.25" skillet after sitting on a burner set to low for 10 minutes. As you can see the temperature of the skillet is at least 50 degrees hotter than any nasty organism can survive. If you dry your cast iron on a burner or in the stove as I recommend they will be just as sanitary and safe as anything in your kitchen.

Seasoning cast iron properly, using it often and cleaning it in the least aggressive manner make up the holy trinity of enjoying your cast iron cookware. Once you master these you can count on your iron cooking well and lasting several lifetimes.

Another article I like re: cast iron care is this one LINK found on Cooking in Cast Iron.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

CHILI - Good for what ails you

Chili, my way, with extra sharp cheddar, onions, jalapeno and habenero.

I'm not from Texas so you may wish to disregard anything I say about chili. I've never even had chili in Texas. With that out of the way I'll proceed by saying I think this is pretty elemental chili and therefore probably close to the real deal. No beans, no tomatoes, no rice, no spaghetti. Hell, there aren't even any onions except as a garnish.
3 pounds lean beef - cubed
6-8 thick slices bacon - I used Nueske's
2 Negra Modelos or Shiner Bocks - I drank all the Negra Modelos
2 bay leaves
6 heaping tablespoons chile molido (powder) - I use a blend of Ancho and NM chiles.
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 head finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano (or marjoram)
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons paprika
4 tablespoons Masa Harina
Dice bacon and brown in cast iron Dutch Oven, rendering the fat. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon. Make sure you have one slice as a snack. (Save the rest of the bacon for latter use)
When bacon is removed, add meat in batches and sear over medium high heat. Small batches brown better.
Add all the beef, both beers and the bay leaves.
Cook in a covered Dutch Oven at 250 F. for 90 - 120 minutes until meat is tender.
Dump all remaining ingredients except Masa Harina into the DO, stir and cover. Put back into oven for another 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes add some of the chili gravy to the corn flour and stir to make a slurry. Add to Dutch Oven.
Cook on the stove top for 10 minutes, stir frequently as chili thickens. When your spoon stands straight up you are done. If you can wait serve the chili the next day. This is a food that improves overnight IMHO.

Heat level is medium but it has a very intense red chile flavor. I tend to eat it slowly as I enjoy the way red chiles change flavor every few seconds as you eat them. I like to add heat with the mix of jalapenos and habeneros.

A little of this chili goes a long way, it is very filling. You also get to spend quality time bonding with your Dutch Oven and that is the really important part.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wagner and Wagner Ware

People are funny. When it comes to old cast iron the name Griswold gets the collector's heart to beat a little faster and to grab their wallets. Erie, Martin, BS&R, Favorite...collectors will be on those like stink on a monkey. Wagner and Wagner Ware (did you know there was a difference?) seem to get less respect and I think that's both good and bad.
It is good because as users of old cast iron we get to buy some superb pieces for a lot less money than a comparable Griswold. It is bad because I think the old Wagner and Wagner Ware pieces deserve a little more respect. A Wagner Ware #8 skillet like the one pictured above can be easily purchased for less than twenty five dollars. Mine will cook omelets better than some Teflon-coated sissy pan yet they do seem a bit under appreciated. Maybe there is resentment that Wagner eventually ended up owning Griswold right around the time the quality of both brands went sharply downhill?
The name "Wagner" did not appear on skillets after 1922. When you find one like this #10 shown above you are looking at an old piece. The Sidney, O. stands for Sidney Ohio. The Chicken Fryer, lid and the #8 skillet were probably cast in the 1940s.

The Wagner Manufacturing Company was founded in Sidney OH in 1891. It became one of the two largest makers of cast iron cookware along with Griswold and continued to be a family owned company until the mid 1950s. After being sold to the Randall Company, Griswold was also acquired in 1957 (you can find pieces with both markings). In the years that followed a series of transactions took place that ended up seeing the Sidney foundry close in 2000.

Lehman's is currently selling a Wagner Ware 3 skillet set that they report as being "USA made". I have not seen these pieces nor do I know where the foundry is located. It is possible that these skillets were cast prior to the closure of the Sidney OH foundry and are now being "finished" here.

Some production has occurred in China since the Sidney OH foundry closed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

I didn't make this. Black Iron Chick did while I farted around in the garage. She was proud enough to take pictures so I figured I'd better post about it.

The recipe comes from my battered old "New York Times Cookbook" and it is unusual because it does not call for cornmeal. The cake reminds me of angel food cake in taste and texture but it has enough butter in it to keep Vermont and Wisconsin happy and in budget surpluses for years to come.

Stuff that goes in it:
1 and a half sticks of butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
pineapple rings, canned or fresh
1/4 cup pecans ~ We used 1/2 pecans and 1/2 walnuts.
1/2 cup granulated sugar (we use organic sorta brown sugar)
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 and a half cups AP flour
1 and a half tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk

What you do with it:
1) Oven preheated to 375 F.

2) In a number 8 (10.25") cast iron skillet { you could try another type of baking dish but some say you'll spend an eternity in a very hot place if it ain't a cast iron skillet } melt 4 TBsp. butter over medium low heat and add the brown sugar. Stir until sugar melts and add the pineapple rings and pecans.

3) Cream the remaining butter with the sugar, egg and vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and add alternately with the milk.

4) Spoon the batter over the pineapple mixture. Bake for 35 minutes or until done. Let cake stand for 5 minutes before inverting onto a plate.

Whipped cream would be a good topping but this was good as you see it. Pears or peaches can substitute for the pineapple if that's what you have.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dutch Oven Ham and Bean Soup

Winter is here.

As I write this it is 12 degrees Fahrenheit and I've got 8 inches of snow. My garden hoses are coiled up under the snow and I'm feeling guilty about the stonewall I didn't build. More snow is due this weekend.

Time for soup!

A pound of Great Northern Beans were soaked overnight earlier this week. The next night they simmered in my Lodge 5 qt. Dutch Oven for a few hours in a mix of water and chicken stock with a bay leaf. I took them off the heat when they just had a little mealiness left to their texture. This sounds like more work than it really is but you can used canned beans if pressed for time. A quicker one night option is to use a crock pot to combine the soak and cooking. This works very well.
1 lb. beans in their simmering liquid from above
1 pound cubed ham, browned
1 onion diced
3 cloves garlic sliced thin
1 celery stalk preferably with some leaves on it
1 big carrot
1 tsp. Herbs d'Provence
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. mustard powder
fresh parsley
water to cover + more for broth (I didn't measure but my 5 qt. DO was full)
salt and pepper to taste

  • Brown cubed ham in a well seasoned cast iron dutch oven, remove to a bowl
  • saute vegetables until softened
  • add soaked beans and ham to pot, add seasonings and water (or stock)
  • cook until beans are pillow soft but not turning to mush
  • Garnish and serve with cornbread and a salad.
A good variation would be to add collard greens, kale or any other dark green leafy vegetable towards the end of the cooking. You can also substitute sausage {like andouille, chorizo or linguica} instead of the ham or try another type of bean.

For those that followed my Wagner Ware Dutch Oven reconditioning back in August (see the archives) the lid is finished and I just acquired another #1268 Dutch Oven so hopefully you'll read about it soon.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wapak Indian Head Medallion #9 Skillet

~click photos to enlarge~

See my article on Wapak here for more information on the brand. This skillet was made between 1903 and 1926.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Favorite #8

This is one pretty skillet (inside and out).

If you don't think cast iron is pretty then get the hell off my website! Punk!

Favorite cast iron cookware was produced in Piqua Ohio by the Favorite Stove and Range Co. from 1916 to 1934. You can see a shot of the interior here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Spicy Catfish Po' Boys with Cajun Cole Slaw

~The Cole Slaw recipe is Chef John Folse's~
Ingredients for Slaw:

2 cups shredded purple cabbage

2 cups shredded green cabbage
1/4 cup golden raisins

1 small onion, peeled and grated

1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 tbsp minced parsley

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3 TBsps cider vinegar

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp dry mustard

1/4 tsp granulated garlic

1/2 tsp celery seed

salt and cayenne pepper to taste

Method: Toss cabbage, raisins, onion, carrot and parsley until well mixed then set aside. In a small bowl, combine oil, vinegar, mayonnaise, sugar and seasonings. Pour dressing over cabbage mixture and gently toss. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours while frying catfish.

Ingredients for Catfish:
6 x 6-8oz. catfish fillets
peanut oil for frying

1 cup buttermilk + 
Louisiana hot sauce to taste (marinade for catfish)
marinate catfish for at least 2 hours prior to frying.

2 cups seasoned corn flour (I use masa harina, 1 TBsp cayenne, 1 tsp. paprika, salt&pepper to taste, and a pinch of garlic and onion powders)

6 x 6-inch sliced sections of a good baguette
red onion, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. For the bread

In a large black iron skillet pour peanut oil to a depth that will cover fish by 1/2 inch. Preheat oil to 365°F. I like to do my frying outside.

Remove fish from marinade and dredge in seasoned corn flour, shaking off excess. Fry until fish pieces are golden brown. Do not overcook. Remove from skillet and drain on a cooling rack. Toast bread lightly in oven. Place 1 catfish fillet on bottom piece of the baguette. Top with sliced red onions and a big ol' portion of coleslaw and hotsauce. Add the top piece of bread and get ready for the neighbors to stop by to see what you've made.
She prefers my aspen trees.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Super Electrolysis Tank - Winter is coming

While my old electrolysis tank got the job done it was quite slow. I think the main problem was the anode (a small bbq grill) getting corroded badly. No amount of wire brushing seemed to restore the performance of the tank.

After reading about some of the hotrod setups the guys on the Wagner and Griswold Society page built I decided I'd follow suit and take the plunge on a serious charger and surround my cast iron with an anode with some real surface area. I can now set the new charger on a 40 amp continuous current which completely thrashes my old setup. (6 amps)

I have a lot of iron yet to be cleaned. (A little known fact about old black iron cookware is it multiplies like rabbits so keep your iron separated) Since the snow flies early at nearly 8000 feet (and Black Iron Chick wants her side of the garage back) I figured I needed to get the cleaning done before winter so a serious performance boost was in order.

Original article found >HERE

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Farmer's Market Skillet

I needed something tonight to go with the rest of the beef from last night. Fortunately Wednesday is Farmer's Market day in Park City. Everything you see in that old Lodge #9 (notice the raised 9 on the handle) was bought there.

I've almost had enough corn for the year but the stuff now is amazing. Rather than grill or boil it I used it to counter the bitterness of the greens.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What cast iron would I buy if just getting started?

A reader emailed to ask what black iron I would buy if I was just getting started.
I tried to imagine a scenario where I would find all my iron had vanished. Perhaps a UFO with a magnetic tractor beam had horked all my iron in an attempt to improve the food on Planet Claire?

What would I start with? I'd most likely begin with a few skillets. I would probably keep my eye on Ebay and look to snag a couple of older Wagner Ware skillets in 8" and 10.25". The older Wagner Wares are very nice skillets and for some reason collectors don't get all goofy for them so you can buy them for very little money. The Wagner Wares with model numbers (like 1056 or 1058) are older and smoother than the newer pieces. You could also search for a number 6 and a number 8. I think it would be reasonable to expect to buy both the 8" and 10.25" for less than thirty dollars total. If you like shopping around look at flea markets or yard sales (forget antique stores $) or auctions.

Next I would buy a new Lodge pro-logic L10SK3 12" skillet. Lodge is the last cast iron foundry in the USA making cookware and it will be a sad day if they close their doors. Fortunately, for both Lodge and us consumers, their iron cookware is way better than the Chinese made junk that is polluting the shelves of too many stores.

The Lodge L10SK3 is a big, heavy, well made pan that I like a lot (I own 2, or I did before that freaking UFO came around). It is just the thing for high heat cooking and it is roomy enough to cook lots of food in one pan. You will probably save money if you buy one in a hardware store rather than a kitchen shop. I saw them for $18.99 in a local Ace Hardware. Quite a bargain considering it'll probably last forever.

Skillets are very versatile. They make great roasting pans in addition to the stovetop uses. Lids can be picked up in thrift stores. Look for some with a domed shape and the skillet can function as a shallow dutch oven.

Down the road I'd add a 5 quart dutch oven and a griddle.

By starting with these choices one can count on cookware that gets better with age unlike teflon coated pans. They don't emit gasses or flake toxic particles into your food and they aren't made of mystery metals that have voids, inclusions, and other unknown surprises.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Wapak a loo bop...

The Wapak Hollow Ware company lasted from 1903 until 1926. Information about this company is scarce but bankruptcy is the reason listed in the Auglaize County records for Wapak's disappearance. Named after their hometown of Wapakonteta Ohio, a lower quality line was also sold under the name Oneta.
The pieces pictured above show the detail and glassy smooth interiors (note: there is no oil in that skillet) found on Wapak skillets. The first two pictured were cast between 1903 and 1910. The skillet in the upper right hand corner in the 3rd picture has the "Z logo".

In 23 years of operation Wapak produced some extremely nice thin wall black iron products. The most famous and collectible are the Indian Medallion pieces which have very ornate and original castings.
In use these pans are very light and slick. {Over time cast iron pieces have gotten heavier as the quality of the iron ore declined and casting became more automated.) These skillets are quite responsive to temperature changes on the stovetop and food glides around the slick interior with very little oil or butter.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ghost Markings

If you look between the FAVORITE and the PIQUA on this old Favorite griddle you will see a ghost mark.

The ghost mark reads "ERIE".

Erie is the name used from 1880 to 1905 or 1906 on the products of the Griswold Manufacturing Co. After 1905/6 the brand would change to Griswold and continue until 1957 as the premier maker of cast iron cookware (or hollow ware as it was called).

Favorite cast iron cookware was produced in Piqua Ohio by the Favorite Stove and Range Co. 1916-1934 is the usually cited era of Favorite hollow ware production.

So how did a Favorite griddle get an Erie ghost mark? They used an Erie griddle as a pattern to create their casting mold. Later Favorite products used their own designs and were superb.

Ghost marking is prized by collectors as these pieces are less common.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Molasses & Buttermilk Cornbread

Some cornbread recipes should include frosting.

If you want Corn Cake you won't get it from this guy. IF you want it sweet put some honey or raspberry jam on it.

Crank oven to 425.

Put a #7 (9 inch) skillet in the oven to preheat.

2 TBsp. butter
One and a half cups cornmeal
3/4 cups AP flour
2 TBsp. Molasses
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup water
One and a half cups buttermilk
1 egg

Mix all that stuff up. Add 1 tsp. lard or bacon drippings to the hot skillet and swirl it to distribute. Pour batter into hot skillet.

Bake for approx. 25 minutes and check on it. If the top feels solid and the bread has pulled away from the sides of the skillet it is done. I let the pan cool for 10 minutes before I flip it over to get the bread to drop out.

I like to eat this in a bowl with pinto beans (frijoles de olla) and salsa poured over the top.

Jalapenos, roasted New Mexican chiles, crumbled bacon and/or cheese make great additions but are not necessary.

Absolute Nonstickosity