What About “Ceramic” Nonsticks?

March 27, 2012

A typical sol-gel "ceramic" nonstick pan.

Consumers are seeing cookware with the term “ceramic” nonstick appear in the marketplace.  Most of the big box retailers are carrying at least one or two lines of these pans.  Additionally there’s a huge TV push to sell these products.  Here’s some facts that may be helpful:

1. The pans use a hard silica based compound typically combined with a release agent to achieve a smooth non-food-adherent surface.  It is a combination of  inorganic and organic compounds but not strictly a “ceramic” surface in that there’s a lot of chemistry going on in the preparation and application of these products to pans.  To be precise, most all of these coatings are of the sol-gel family of chemistry reactions.

2. Initial food release can be quite good.  However, the pans are not as “water-repellant” as traditional nonsticks after a couple of uses and many advise the use of some oil to aid in food release.  The TV ad shows an egg being blown out of the pan, a bit of “staged magic” we suspect.  While this adding of oil may certainly not add appreciably to fat intake in one’s diet, most traditional nonsticks don’t call for the use of any oil after a teaspoon is wiped into the pan at its initial use.

3.  While resistance to scratching is good in that the surface is very hard, the rigidity of the pan’s coating can aid in the cracking or peeling of the coating.  This is not so much a problem when the products are applied correctly, but preparation of the coating and its application and curing are very critical.  Most sol-gel “ceramics” are a two-part reactant coating which means they have a short shelf life between mixing and application (sort of like epoxies).  Some off-shore producers (where most of these pans come from)  don’t pay much attention to such things, particularly with cheaper priced products.

4.  It is true that “ceramic” coatings don’t have PTFE which is the active ingredient in traditional nonstick.  Consumers often get PTFE and PFOA confused in their minds, aided by much miss information often found on the internet.  But claims that “ceramics” are more environmentally friendly due to lower curing temperatures are essentially spurious.  Over the 90 percent of the energy which goes into a pan is from that needed to make the substrate–i.e. the metal such as aluminum or steel which is what the pan is essentially made from.  Most pans are now made, whether they state it or not, from recycled materials.  The amount of energy expended on cookware production in its entirety is a miniscule percentage of that used  in the world.

New Year’s Resolutions–Ten Tips for a Happier Kitchen

January 9, 2012


New Year’s is always a time for new resolutions.  Here are ten tips to help you enjoy 2012 more in your kitchen.

10.  Clean out that junk drawer.  You know the one I mean.  It’s the one that collects everything from fast food utensils to an ice pick that Uncle Arnie left at your house ten years ago.  You’ll be able to find things more easily.

9.  Make friends at a local hardware store.  Ask them if they sharpen knives or know someone who does.  You won’t find this at big box stores, but at the locally owned place.  Get your knives sharpened.  A sharp knife is a joy to use. A dull knife is more likely to cut you!

8.  You know the drawer where your storage containers reside?  Match up tops with bottoms.  Non-matchers get pitched. While you are at it, get rid of the stained and warper containers as well.

7.  Resolve to really clean your nonstick skillets.  Iknow.  It is easy to just swipe with a damp sponge. The trouble is that eventually, the non-stick loses its slipperiness due to a build up of food material in the porous surface of the pan. Use hot water, soap and a sponge and really clean those pans. They will work better.

6.  Take a look in your freezer.  A good look. Resolve that freezer burned meat and poultry get the heave-ho, along with that unidentified thing you were going to use for broth sometime two years ago.

5.  Your spice rack.  Yes, the one in the back of the pantry. Spices deteriorate (except salt, which seems to last pretty much forever).  Throw out the ones with the faded labels. They don’t taste good anyway.  Resolve to buy smaller quantities going forward, unless you are making the same dish over and over.

4.  Resolve to be creative.  After 30 years of boiling cabbage, I recently discovered a new way to cook it with very little water, a tiny amount of olive oil, and some finely crushed garlic.  It was like discovery of an entirely  new vegetable.

3.  Try some baking in 2012.  There are a number of creative ways to combine butter, flour and sugar into basic cookies that can be decorated and made into a number of recipes.  A good stand mixer makes this much easier than hand held mixers.  Saves money too!

2.  Penzeys Spices has a bumper sticker which says “Love people…cook them tasty food”.  It is true.  One of the most creative ways we can express our love for our families is with good food which is nutritious and warming. Resolve to express your love for family and friends with good food in 2012.

1. Last, but not least.  Don’t be hard on yourself.  Every good cook has memorable “failures”.  In cooking as in life, if you don’t try something adventuresome you may escape failure, but you’ll miss out on a lot.  This year, resolve you’ll try something you’ve always wanted to do but were afraid to!

A Reprint of One of Our Past Posts!

November 22, 2011

Don’t Freak Out Over the Holidays

Originally authored in 2009, the below advice is still relevant today.  Our best wishes to you for a great holiday.

Thanksgiving always opens up with numerous calls and emails from folks fretting about their cookware and their cooking.  Having the family table enlarged during the holidays is key stresser for many cooks.  Will there be enough food to go around?  Will this strange recipe that I cook only once every year work out?  Will the turkey be done?

My advice is to relax.  (And I remind myself of that when I start feeling the pressure grow).  Start far enough ahead that you won’t have to have everything be done at exactly the same moment.  A turkey benefits by resting for 30 minutes under a foil tent before carving.  There’s no law that says that sweet potato casserole can’t be cooked three days ahead, stored in the fridge, and then warmed up on a holiday morning.

I always run a sink full of hot soapy water and try to wash up as I cook.  That way it isn’t a mound of pans and pots to clean up at the conclusion of the meal.  Thanksgiving, I loaded the food processor parts, pots and pans into the dishwasher and did a mid-morning load.  Made the time after our meal much calmer.

We also set the table about two days before the holiday, which gave us plenty of time to repair the hole that mysteriously appeared on the good linen tablecloth between last Christmas and this Thanksgiving.

November 3, 2011

Welcome iPhone App–Find My Cookware and Bakeware

Hard to believe, but there are two generations of Americans in the world now who passed through school without any training in home economics or what used to be called “domestic living”.  The past forty years have seen such courses go the same way that physical education did–abandoned in favor of more training to take those periodic tests of ability.

We get calls weekly from consumers who are confused and intimidated by their kitchens.  They lack the confidence to try even simple recipes.  They don’t know if the cookware and bakeware they own is up to the task.  Given the chance to go buy cookware or bakeware, they are “at sea”.

With that background we started back in April of 2011 developing a program that will install on an iPhone and using a series of questions, help consumers find cookware and bakeware.  Given the food desired to be cooked and the method used to prepare, the consumer is then prompted for any preferences they may have about their cookware and bakeware selection.  The logic of the program then leads them to CMA members’s website where they can find out more and also find where to purchase the product best suited to their needs and desires.

Behind the logic went a a great deal of thought and preparation.  CMA members entered product lines and scored them on what foods they were most suited to cook and their general price range.

The result is what we think of a simple and elegant application that will help reduce confusion for consumers.

More information is at:  http://itunes.apple.com/tw/app/id476263479?mt=8

Fall–A Great Time to Cook

October 18, 2011

With frost–or at least the threat of frost–in the air, it’s cuisine-change time.  Summers are full of light salads, cold entrees and grilled meats.  Fall means more baked goods, hearty soups and dishes that warm the soul and satisfy one’s hunger.

A favorite of late around the CMA kitchen is a quick and easy Spaghetti Carbonera recipe which was recently featured in a Williams Sonoma catalog.  Basically a few ounces of pancetta (we usually just use bacon) well-rendered (i.e. cooked until crisp–we drain off the fat), mixed with 1-3/4 cups of grate Peco-Romano or Parmesan cheese and three large eggs and then stirred quickly into a pound of piping hot pasta.  Add a little of the pasta water to thin if necessary.  Add some extra cheese if desired and serve with a green salad, a bit of Italian bread and you have a meal that is ready in less than a half hour.

Many cooks shy away from baking thinking it is messy and too time consuming.  However when you see what a bag of store-bought cookies cost these days, a quick twenty minutes or so or preparation time for dessert and lunchbox cookies, plus the time to cook, seems like a better deal all the time.  Cookies are perhaps one of the easiest baked goods to cook.  There are hundreds of simple recipes which basically combine butter/margarine, sugar and flour and tasty add-ones to produce fresh and delicious food for the family.

Good food and good cooking to you this fall!

Delicious Spaghetti Carbonara Welcomes Fall

Cooking Safely After A Storm…

August 26, 2011

With bad weather predicted for the East Coast this weekend from Hurricane Irene, we are reminded

Irene's Projected Patch Up the Eastern Seaboard

that many people depend on electricity to cook.  If your power is out for several days, here are some reminders and ideas about how food can be prepared:

  • Modern gas ranges’ autoigniters won’t work.  Keep a box of kitchen matches to light the burners on your gas cooktop and/or oven.
  • Don’t cook using charcoal inside.  Burning charcoal produces deadly carbon monoxide.
  • A small generator won’t run an electric stove.  Stoves require 220 volt circuits and it takes a good size generator to produce that voltage and amperage.  An average sized generator should power an electric skillet or an electric griddles designed for indoor use.
  • Do make use of your outdoor grill. Make sure you have plenty of propane before the storm comes.
  • Keep the freezer door of your refrigerator closed.  It will keep the cold in longer. However, most experts say that food that thaws should be immediately cooked or discarded.  For many home freezers food can only be kept unthawed for about one to two days after the power goes out.
  • Listen to radio broadcasts for warnings.  If power is out at water treatment plants, it may be necessary to boil drinking water.  Stock up on bottled water for drinking and cooking prior to the storm’s arrival.
  • Stock up on canned goods.  You can also consider using an alcohol warmer such as those made by Sterno to heat food directly in a can.


When You Can Use Your Cookware in Your Oven…

August 4, 2011

A consumer writes, worried that cooking a dish under their oven’s broiler, using a skillet, has released dangerous fumes into their home.

While we are confident that no poisons were emitted in this ten minute long exposure under the broiler, it is a cautionary tale.

It may look like cookware, but this cornbread pan is specially designed for oven use. Note the all metal, cast-iron construction

Unless the cookware has all metal construction, it should not be placed under a broiler. Many pieces of cookware with thermoset plastic handles can withstand 350 degree oven temperatures, but temperatures directly under a broiler are typically too high to safely expose anything other than metal to. The risk is not poisonous fumes but setting fire, or melting the handle itself.

There’s a reason that very few bakeware pieces are anything other than metal, and any handles or grips on bakeware are typically made using silicone which can handle very high temperatures without igniting or smoking.

The best advice is to use bakeware in the oven and cookware on top of the stove unless the cookware is solidly construction of ONLY metal.


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