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.