Surviving a Hurricane and Eating well!

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. 

New Glass Cooktops Require Extra Vigilance to Avoid Damage!

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!



CMA’s New Cookware and Bakeware Finder is Out!

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!


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: