October 3, 2013
A consumer recently wrote regarding the preparation of foods using the sous -vide method. Literally French for “without air”, sous-vide is a method of cooking foods at lower than normal temperatures in water for lengthy periods of time using plastic pouches from which most or all the air has been removed. Essentially the even heating of the water bath is transmitted to the food allowing it to retain juices and flavor that could be lost in cooking at higher temperatures.
Sous-vide requires a precisely controlled temperature water bath which surrounds the vacuum packed food. There are two ways to accomplish this. Stand alone sous-vide water baths typically have a water tank, a heating element which is controlled by a thermostat and often a basket to aid in lowering and raising the food pouches from the water. The other method is the use of an immersion heater, often times with a pump on it to circulate the water and produce a even water temperature, again, thermostatically controlled. The immersion heater is typically clamped to a conventional stock pot or deep Dutch oven.
Beef cooked in the sous-vide method. Done on the outside, tender in the middle.
Sous-vide cooking has been around in fine restaurants for a long time and are just now making its way onto the consumer market. A simple water bath unit for occasional use can be had for under $200 and a simple immersion heater is available online for just over $200. We’ve had both in the kitchen for workouts recently. Some points:
- It takes time and effort to use. You have to thaw the food, if frozen, place in a pouch and extract air. This can be simply or difficult depending on the shape of the food, the size of the bag, the type of vacuum unit used, etc.
- For cuts of meat, searing may still be required in order not to serve a rather “under done” looking plate to your family or guests. For time challenged cooks, this is yet another step.
- It requires planning. Forget the thirty minute meal. Many recipes required four to six hours to get done. The larger the food portion within the bag, the longer it takes to cook it.
- The quality of inexpensive sous-vide products can be dicey. At the lower end, there appears to be the assumption that the product won’t be used every day.
A number of years ago, a friend showed us a technique for making omelets by putting the eggs in a Zip-Lock bag and placing the omelet into boiling water. Sous-vide is a modern version of this technique. While it is a perfectly acceptable way to prepare food and can make tough cuts of meat quite tender, it is still a time consuming process suited more to the person who cooks for a hobby as opposed to the time-challenged cook.
February 20, 2013
Ah, the web. Source of so much knowledge and so much miss-information. Herewith we bring to you things to NOT believe when you read them on the web, no matter how authoritative they may seem:
- PTFE or Teflon has been “phased out”, “banned” or “unavailable” after such and such a date. Wrong wrong wrong…. PTFE is the active food release ingredient in many nonstick coatings, including Teflon, a registered trademark of Du Pont. Self-identified environmental columnists/bloggers confuse PTFE with PFOA. They are two different things. Yes, the EPA has reached an agreement with nonstick producers to eliminate the chemical PFOA in their processes for making PTFE and as of today, it is completely removed from all traditional nonstick coatings made by reputable firms. But PTFE is still around, and so is Teflon and it will be, despite the so-called experts columns.
- Aluminum causes Alzheimer’s disease. Yes, there are still “experts” that proclaim that aluminum ingestion causes this awful disease. There are also people who believe we live on a flat planet. There’s never been any truth to this canard, which dates back 50 years. Interestingly, in the 1920′s aluminum supposedly caused stomach cancer. Truth is, almost 100 percent of aluminum cookware today is coated with nonstick coatings anyway, which means raw aluminum never touches the food in the first place. And most of these claims come from shyster salespeople trying to sell you on our next myth….
- There is cookware that will produce “health”. Hotshot cookware salesmen and saleswomen make money claiming their cookware is somehow “healthy” or doesn’t poison your food, or will produce extra vitamins in one’s diet. Notice they are usually selling a product which does this and whatever you have home doesn’t. There are reasons to buy high priced cookware, one of which is the typical lifetime warranty (which is for “real”), but the health claims are bogus.
- This cookware is friendly to the environment. The energy consumed by making all the cookware in the world in the year has less impact almost any other thing: flying, driving, using electricity, etc. etc. Cookware claims about being somehow “Green” are usually based on faulty science. Many things affect the environment, but cookware’s manufacture is so tiny as to be inconsequential.
- “X” = Cookware/Bakeware is the best: “Best” by who’s standard. Chef’s sell their names for money. Endorsements are a dime a dozen. There’s no one “best cookware” out there. The best is what suits your budget, cooking lifestyle, and your comfort level. Don’t feel guilty about your cookware or your bakeware. If you like it and it works for you, enjoy it!!
November 20, 2012
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?
Our 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.
October 29, 2012
Natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy challenge the cook. Life without electricity is not fun, especially if you have large quantities of foods in freezers, and have an electric cooktop and/or oven.
Prior to losing electricity, arrange food in freezers so that meats are on the bottom and other items are on the top. Most modern freezers can keep food below 40 degrees for a couple of days (less if it is hot weather). Experts say that if food has ice crystals in it, it can be re-frozen, but meats that have reached 40 degrees should be cooked immediately. The coldest air in a freezer will be in the bottom. Once electricity goes out, DON’T open the freezer if at all possible. Each opening cycle allows more warm air to enter and more cold air to escape.
Other strategies? If you can get dry ice, it will keep foods frozen for days either in the freezer or in ice chests. You can also pack regular ice around frozen foods, but it won’t do as good a job as dry ice, which is actually frozen carbon dioxide.
If you have a gas cook top, you can light it using a match since the igniters won’t work without electricity. You may have to resort to cooking outside using charcoal.
Cookware and bakeware that has been in flood water need to be sanitized with at least a 5% bleach solution and/or run through a complete dishwasher cycle to remove potential germs and dirt.
August 2, 2012
Smooth glass cook tops are becoming popular. The have a sleek look. Food spills don’t have to be excavated from a drip pan or from around a gas burner port. Many consumers are very happy with their choice.
However, there are disadvantages to their use. A standard gas cooking surface makes noise when the gas is on. An old-fashioned electric stove eye, when it is on high, glows with enough intensity to get one’s attention. The new glass cook tops however are silent and even though they may glow red through the cook top’s glass, this visual indication can be hidden by a large pan.
The picture below shows the result of what was most likely a boil dry situation where the pan, without food or water in it, absorbed all the heat it could before the porcelain enamel melted into the glass of the cook top.
Porcelain debris merged with glass cooktop
How can this happen? Kitchens are sources of distraction. We now have telephones, televisions and other entertainment devices close to where we cook. It’s easy to forget what we are doing when a pan is pre-heating or is being dried by being placed on stove top. More than once I’ve left a cast iron pan (too heavy to dry by hand!) on a cook top and ruined its seasoning by overheating it.
While this sort of event rarely results in problems with conventional cook tops, the result on a glass smooth top is more devastating. Often, the porcelain fuses with the glass and results in the glass being broken or pitted when the pan is removed. Such damage is not covered by warranties and can result in a several hundred dollar repair bill.
Here’s a shot after the loose porcelain was apparently cleared away. You can clearly see the top is no longer smooth, but pitted and damaged.
Damaged glass cooktop
So, be extra vigilant when using a glass cook top, and particularly cookware with porcelain on steel or porcelain on cast iron coatings. You could save yourself a substantial repair bill!
May 31, 2012
The CMA now has an app for the iPhone and iPad which is designed to help consumers find the right cookware and bakeware for the foods they want to cook and how they want them cooked.
The free app is available from the iTunes store and is downloadable for both iPhones or iPads. Consumers simply select the food they want to cook, choose from top of stove or inside the oven, and their preferred cooking method. The user is then prompted for any preferences they may have. The database maintained by CMA members then shows consumers a variety of products meeting their needs and steers them to manufacturers websites where they can get more information, find retail outlets, and in some cases even order directly from the source.
Beta testers have told the CMA that they find the app intuitive and quite helpful. We are hoping thousands of dedicated cooks will do the same!
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.