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Showing posts from September, 2007

Cast-Iron

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I heard a salesperson in a cooking store explain to a customer that "iron is a good conductor of heat." That’s true when compared to air or wood, but compared to copper or aluminum, it’s hardly a contender. While iron (cast or otherwise) does not take or conduct heat easily, it does retain it very well. Iron likes whatever temperature it is now and doesn’t easily change. It will eventually give-in and start heating up and, when it does, it's like a big thermal fly-wheel. This is where cast-iron wields its charm.

If you get a thin stainless steel pan nice and hot, then throw a thick steak on it, it'll cool down almost instantly. There just isn't enough mass in the pan to fight back against that big, chilled chunk of protein. Perform the same task with a hefty cast-iron pan, and you'll find the steak will continue to sizzle as the pan gives up heat from its own reserves and takes on new heat from the flames (or coils or magnets) below.

However, all of that powerf…

All-Clad - Is it "All-That"?

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In any activity, using the best available tools is ideal. While that pursuit is often tempered by budgetary restrictions, budgeting for and spending what is necessary on quality tools for cooking is almost as crucial as what is spent on ingredients. I was reminded of the importance of such tools while preparing dinner at the home of my friends Rick and Erica.

I had decided steaks were to be the main course so I grabbed a somewhat thin, but serviceable, pan from their cupboard, cranked up the heat on their electric cooktop (notably identical to the one featured in the Brady Bunch), and parked the pan on those familiar glowing coils for a good preheating.

As I seasoned the meat, an odd and downright eerie sound began emanating from the stove, almost as if it was moaning. While searching for the source of the sound, the pan slowly began to warp, like something out of "The Terminator", gradually curving toward me as if coiling up and preparing to strike. I took a step back, unc…

"Add pasta." Okay, when?

Regardless of one's level of culinary skill, it is still quite possible to walk out of a restaurant thinking, "How did they do that?" Some aspects are obvious - the best ingredients give best results - but others can be a bit more elusive such as the tendency to cook everything in a single pot, the goal to reduce the number of dishes to wash. Hard to know how much damage has been done to our expectations about flavor and certainly texture.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was cooking a minestrone-esque soup and presumably followed the recipe which put pasta in a pot alongside raw carrots, celery, meat, etc. These other ingredients all required much longer cooking times than the pasta resulting in, as you'd guess, overcooked pasta. Way overcooked.

But there were more subtle issues. Even in California, there remains a generational tendency toward dried herbs and pre-made packages of "seasonings". I watched him cut up the carrots with a dull knife and thumb pos…

Farmer's Market, or Buyer's Market?

I read Michael Ruhlman's blog regularly for genuine insight and snarky commentary. I love that he goes out of his way to not only acknowledge when he's wrong, but to stand vocally and emphatically corrected.

In this installment, a casual mention of an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer noting that our general assumption of a farmers' market is that of cheaper produce. Mr. Parsons, of course, set him straight.

One part of the Plain Dealer article that struck me is that the pricing of farmers' market produce was 28% higher than that of supermarket produce. Rather than being cheaper, it was considerably more expensive, on a percentage basis.

I suppose our (or at least my) assumption that farmers' markets would be lower stems from the prices you get out in the countryside as you drive by their farm. It's you that's incurring the expense of fuel and time to hunt down such bargains.

I've always found the charm to be, not of lower prices, but of higher quality …

Table or bar?

One aspect of business travel I cultivated (largely out of necessity) is the fine art of dining alone. I've since come to accept, and often even prefer, dining at the bar as it offers a number of efficiency-boosting dining options.

1. When there are no open tables and a line of people out the door waiting for one (via reservations or on the list as walk-ins), there is often room at the bar. Unfortunately, the seating philosophy is a bit of a free-for-all that requires a delicate mixture of manners sufficient to avoid conflict and assertiveness to gain yourself a seat. I've found a drink in hand passes the time nicely while waiting for a spot to open up and also allows for a perusal of the menu and/or wine list.

2. Once seated, the entertainment value of a bar seat really begins. For one thing, bartenders don't usually remain “in character” the way servers do. They will be polite and helpful while tossing napkins in front of you like a seasoned blackjack dealer, but the mom…