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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Has enameled met its match? Nickel plated

Pictured above is nickel plated cast iron.

Enameled cast iron was created to address the drawbacks of traditional cast iron. However, it has its own drawbacks. Nickel plated cast iron is an attempt to eliminate all the drawbacks of both.

Nickel plated cast iron is reportedly dishwasher safe, broiler safe, no seasoning required, rust proof, chip proof, suitable for metal utensils and outdoor use, a much better conductor of heat than enamel, and "memory free", meaning that your food doesn't contain a lingering flavor.

The FDA approves nickel plated cast iron for cooking food in restaurants. Regular cast iron is only authorized for serving.

The most obvious drawback is the price. It's very, very expensive.

In fact, it was attempted by Wagner during the 20th century, but everyone was happy with their cast iron and unwilling to spend the extra money.

Consumers have also reported rusting, due to small pinholes in the nickel, and that it isn't "non stick"; You have to grease the pans.

That's the extent of what I know. I won't be buying any, so I can't report on its quality. But, it looks like enameled cast iron may have met its match.

Traditional cast iron, however, isn't going anywhere anytime soon, due to its value and cult following.

The Lost Skillet

This is the Lodge 13 1/4 inch skillet, with a nice looking roasted chicken.

I call it "the lost skillet" because I don't have this size, nor can I come up with any reason to justify getting it. I wish I could*.

*Of course I can-- I love cast iron!

** And now I have a gas stove, so I have perfect reason.

See, on an electric stove, due to the size of the burners, 12 inches is the largest you should use. Which makes this skillet too big for the stovetop*, although it can be used in the oven and outdoors.

*Gas stoves, with bigger burners and better heat distribution, are fine for this skillet.

But I already have a 15 inch skillet for oven and outdoor use only. I really don't need another skillet that I can't use on the stove.

The skillet itself is $30, and the matching lid is $54. A bit much for the sake of completing a collection.

I just found the Lodge 9 quart dutch oven for $81; The lid is interchangeable with this skillet*. Again, at 13 1/4 inches, it's too big for an electric stovetop**.

*So for only $27 more, why not just get the pot?

**but once again, fine for a gas stovetop.

If only I had a gas stove, but I don't. So for now, this will remain "the lost skillet."*

*I have since obtained one; See my future article, "the new lost skillet".

As for what could be cooked in it... just about anything. If you want a big skillet, but 15 inches is too big, then this one's for you.

A 12 pound turkey can fit in this skillet.

Friday, July 30, 2010

cast iron heart shaped pan

I tried for 30 minutes to find a picture of this pan I came across a year ago, a cast iron heart shaped pan.
I wanted to write about it, but couldn't find a picture anywhere.

It wasn't from a brand I recognized, and I didn't buy it because I thought it was ugly.

The reason I almost got it, was I wanted some cast iron that would fit in my toaster oven without much wasted space. This pan was the right size, but I'm not very fond of heart shaped stuff. If it were round or square, it would have been perfect.

I still don't want to buy it-- I just wanted to write about it. And apparently I couldn't buy it even if I wanted to. I can't find it.

So what do you do with a heart shaped pan, besides obviously making heart shaped cakes for valentines day? I don't know, heart shaped cornbread or meatloaf?

You could use it in the toaster oven like I was going to, cook anything that can be cooked in a small skillet, reheat leftovers. Just like the pie pans.

I found that the pie pans, as well as the square baker, do fit in the toaster oven. So, no need for the ugly heart pan anymore.

Now I've been asked, why would I want to use cast iron in the toaster oven? Because I LIKE it!

"NO set of cookware is worth $1400!"

Speaking with an Amway distributor, I asked him if Amway's 27 piece cookware set was actually worth what it retailed for, almost $1400.

He replied, "NO set of cookware is worth $1400!"

I won't bore you with the razzle-dazzle company sales pitch, complete with made-up words, about why they claim it's worth $1400.

But I will do a price comparison of what you get in this set, compared to its cast iron equivalent.

Keep in mind that Lodge lids are interchangeable. The lid for the 2 quart pot, fits the 8 inch skillet; The lid for the 3 quart pot, fits the 10 inch skillet; And the lid for the 7 quart pot, fits the 12 inch skillet. So you could have a lid for each item, but you can also share lids to save money and cabinet space.

Also keep in mind that, since cast iron is suitable for oven, stovetop, broiler, and outdoor use, each piece is actually a minimum of 2 in one.

2 quart saucepan with lid; Lodge 2 quart serving pot with lid, $30

3 quart saucepan with lid: Lodge 3 quart chicken fryer with lid, $29

8 quart pot with lid: Lodge 7 quart dutch oven with lid, $40. Lodge doesn't have an 8 quart pot*.

*Lodge does have a 9 quart pot; Its lid fits the 13 inch skillet.

8 inch fry pan with lid: Lodge 8 inch skillet, $11; 8 inch lid, $17

10 inch fry pan with lid: Lodge 10 inch skillet, $15; 10 inch lid, $15

12 inch fry pan with lid: Lodge 12 inch skillet, $19; 12 inch lid, $25

Now, the lids for the "pro logic" sloped skillets are different; They're slightly smaller. The regular lids do work for these skillets in a pinch, but if I need a lid, I just use the regular skillet.

2 quart saute pan with lid: Lodge 10 inch sloped "pro logic" skillet, $17; Lid, $20

3 quart saute pan with lid: Lodge 12 inch sloped "pro logic" skillet, $25; Lid, $30

Junior dome lid: This is a flat topped lid that you can set another piece on top of, for stack cooking. The Lodge 5 quart double dutch oven, for $42, has this kind of lid, which doubles as a skillet.

So far we're up to $335, assuming you want each to have its own lid. If you share lids, it's $228. And an extra 5 quart pot/skillet set to boot.

We're missing the senior dome lid, steamer insert, pasta draining insert, and 3 mixing bowls with plastic lids. These pieces don't have a cast iron equivalent, but I guarantee you will find 3 mixing bowls with lids, a steamer pot, and a pasta draining pot, for less than $1000!*

*Which still leaves us missing the senior dome lid. You can get a Lodge combo cooker, $28, which also has this type of lid, same size as the double dutch oven lid, with a panhandle. It won't be 2 different sizes, but you now have two "dome lids", and then an extra deep skillet to boot.

Now, the lid to the Lodge 4 quart "pro logic" dutch oven, which sells for $38, fits the 10 inch sloped skillet. So instead of buying just a lid for $20, you could have a whole pot for only $18 more.

Similarly, the lid for the Lodge 7 quart Pro Logic dutch oven, which is slightly different from the regular dutch oven and sells for $60, fits the 12 inch sloped skillet. A whole pot for only $30 more.

I didn't include the prices for the 9 quart pot, $81, and the 13 inch skillet, $35. Throw those in, and you still haven't reached $1400 yet.

I'd venture to say you could buy the entire Lodge line, and not yet have reached $1400!

This cookware set does not have a wok, griddle, pizza pan, roaster, grill pan, or any bakeware. For that kind of money, it doesn't seem to offer much.

Cracker Barrel cast iron

I love Cracker Barrel. It's been one of my favorite chain restaurants for over 15 years.

I don't know if they cook their food in cast iron or not, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did*.

*No, the FDA prohibits restaurants from cooking food in cast iron, unless it's nickel plated, although they can SERVE on cast iron. That's a shame!

I do know they SELL cast iron cookware in their stores. I always have to go look at the cast iron, and promise not to buy any.

Their cookware is by Lodge, with a Cracker Barrel logo on the bottom. The only picture I could find is the special guitar shaped pan.

Besides bearing the Cracker Barrel logo, it's exactly the same as the regular Lodge cookware.

I saw a listing on ebay for a "cracker barrel chicken frying pan". The item description was for a 6 inch skillet. You can't fry chicken in a 6 inch skillet!

Unless you're a collector, I'd go with regular Lodge, since it's exactly the same, and cheaper.

Cast iron pie pans-- Lodge doesn't make them

Pictured above are cast iron pie pans. Lodge does not make them; These are Sante Cabin and Old Mountain, respectively.

Both pie pans are larger than a 9 inch skillet, smaller than a 10 1/4 inch.

Yes, I'm a nerd and I measured.

I've later learned that this is a size 7 pan. The 9 inch is a size 6, and 10 1/4 inch is size 8.

If you're a true Lodge fan and would rather use Lodge, the 9 inch skillet serves well for pie; The chef skillet and 10 inch pro logic skillet also work.

Of course the pans are useful for so much more than just pie. They're essentially skillets, without a panhandle. They fit in some toaster ovens.

I've read reports of people using cast iron as a dog dish, since it's too heavy for him to flip over. If I were to do that, I'd use the Sante Cabin pie pan.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cast iron rice cooker

Fooled you again. There are no "cast iron rice cookers," exactly.

Pictured above is the Lodge 2 quart Serving Pot, which is the perfect size for making rice.*

*Because of cast iron's seasoning, I'd recommend cooking rice in stock or broth, when using cast iron. For completely unseasoned white rice, I use a regular rice cooker.

It's sometimes called a "bean pot."

It's marketed as a "serving pot", for "table presentation of soups, stews, beans, and family favorites." It's actually a 2 quart dutch oven.

You can certainly use it as a serving pot if you want, but it has so much more uses than that.

Someone stated on Amazon that it's overkill to buy a pot just to reheat soup. But it's not just to reheat soup either-- use your imagination.

I originally got this to use as a "fry baby", not realizing it's too shallow for that purpose. Lodge no longer makes their "deep fry pot", unfortunately.

At 2 quarts, it's too small to cook a full meal for a family, but it's the perfect size for two people, side dishes, braised veggies, or desserts.

Some people use it to bake small loaves of bread; One consumer reported cooking rice and then pouring in a can of soup, for a simple meal.

The included lid fits the Lodge 8 inch skillet, as well as the discontinued deep fry pot.

This pot can be considered an 8 inch deep skillet, although it doesn't have a panhandle.

The corn fritters revelation

I got a revelation while cooking corn fritters for the very first time.

I realized that this is essentially, pancake batter with corn in it. And that you can make all kinds of other "fritters", such as crab meat or shredded potatoes, by simply mixing whatever you want in pancake batter and frying it up.

The recipe called for 2 cups self rising flour*, 2 eggs, black pepper, 1 can regular corn, 1 can creamed corn, 1/4 cup milk.

*Actually flour with baking powder and salt, but it's easier to just use self rising flour.

Heat oil in a cast iron skillet. Mix all ingredients together into a batter, and fry.

If you make pancakes with bisquick, just follow the bisquick recipe and add your corn.

I once made "potato cakes" by peeling and boiling potatoes, grating them into a bowl, mixing in egg, bread crumbs and precooked onions, and frying.

Another time I tried to make them by frying leftover mashed potatoes. All I got was a brown crust stuck to the pan and hot mashed potatoes. I wonder what I did wrong?

It occurred to me tonight, they can also be made by grating the potatoes in pancake batter, along with the onions and bread crumbs.

Both the potato cakes and corn fritters can be made crispier by sticking them in the oven at 300 after frying.

Three bean salad, that isn't exactly three bean

I wanted to make three bean salad today, but two grocery stores did not have wax beans.

So I substituted canned beets, making it a two bean salad with beets.

The recipe calls for 2 cans of cut green beans, 2 cans of wax beans, 2 cans of red kidney beans, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1/4 cup mustard, 1 cup sour cream, chopped cooked onions, lemon juice.

Cook the onions in a cast iron skillet or griddle before adding to the salad.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lodge Color cookware

There's two kinds of cast iron on the market today: Traditional, "natural" cast iron (which includes pre-seasoned and not pre-seasoned), and Enameled.

If it's not pre-seasoned, it will have a wax coating that needs to be removed. The easiest way is to put it on an outdoor burner and melt the wax off.

If it is pre-seasoned, you still should season it, and it will still stick the first few times.

If it's enameled, it's rust resistant, and no seasoning required. For people who hate the extra care that cast iron requires, that's a benefit.

Enameled cast iron was developed by the French, because they were tired of having to season their cookware.

It should be noted that enameled cast iron is NOT "non stick"; You still have to grease the pan before use. You just don't have to season it.

Another proposed benefit is being able to use it on glass cooktops. However, the instructions state in small print that you still need to be careful and LIFT the cookware to move; never slide. I've read reports of people using regular cast iron without a problem, but it's not recommended.

So I guess I will never own a glass cooktop.

Another proposed benefit is being able to cook tomato based dishes. Personally, I've not had a problem with cooking tomato based dishes in traditional cast iron, although I wouldn't cook "from scratch with real tomatoes" sauce.

Enameled is still not recommended for the dishwasher or microwave.

Since it's rust resistant, you can put your pan with the leftovers directly into the refrigerator overnight, or marinate your meats before cooking, which would be convenient.

And technically you can put it in the freezer too, but why would you want to?

The drawbacks are: It NEVER becomes "non stick", as cast iron does after seasoning; Enamel can chip or crack; You can't use it outdoors; You can't use metal utensils; And, it costs much more.

Also, enameled is oven safe only to 400 degrees*, so it's not broiler safe. Traditional can stand higher temps than that.

*Actually, this was due to the plastic knob.  Lodge has since replaced that with a stainless steel knob.  So now it's oven safe to 500 degrees.

I rather like that cast iron is indestructible, suitable for outdoor use and metal utensils, and is a good bargain! So for me, compared to its drawbacks, the proposed benefits of enameled cast iron are not enough to justify the extra cost*.

*I have since obtained one enameled pot.

The Lodge Color cookware is its enameled line, in various colors. They also have the L series, which is more fancy and expensive

The colors aren't just red, green, blue, and brown. Oh no, they're Island Spice red, Emerald green, Caribbean blue, and Cafe Brown.*  Ooh.

*They've added two new colors:  Burgundy and Pumpkin.

There's a rectangular roaster, an 11 inch skillet, and various sized pots with lids.

At one point I considered the roaster, balking at the price. I didn't think there were any traditional cast iron roasters, until I found the one by Old Mountain.

Lodge Color cast iron is less expensive than other brands that exclusively sell enameled cast iron, such as Le Creuset and Straub. I can't imagine the more expensive brands being that much better quality, or more functional.

So if you feel that the benefits of enameled justify the extra cost, despite its drawbacks, then Lodge Color is what I recommend.

The Paula Deen Cast Iron Covered Oval Casserole

I came across this at Wal-Mart today: The Paula Deen Cast Iron Covered Oval Casserole. It's a 5 quart cast iron pot, basically, called a "covered oval casserole" to make it sound fancy. It was $45.

This pot-- oh wait, "covered oval casserole"-- was not enameled, but most of Paula Deen's cast iron line is enameled, including the "hoecake pan", a fancy expensive griddle.

There was an issue last year where some Paula Deen cast iron cookware was recalled due to it shattering at high heat, but that's been resolved.

I've never used it, so I can't make a judgement call on its quality, but it was thin, and I'd prefer to stick to a brand I trust. Besides, this pot is ugly.

One thing I noticed: The underside of the lid is smooth. The Lodge lids have "self basting" spikes, which is a feature I like.

In any case, if you like the looks of this pot, I'm sure you'll find many uses for it.

I also noticed that Rachael Ray has her own cast iron cookware line, consisting of enameled "covered casseroles" (pots) in various shapes, sizes and colors. It's expensive.

"Ideal for a multitude of uses from oven to table!" I've never used it, so I can't judge it's quality, but Amazon customers post poor reviews.

I don't disagree that either line is useful; I just think you're paying extra for the celebrity labels.

Cast iron cooked fried chicken

I haven't made fried chicken in over a year. Cast iron is best for fried chicken.

Ideally it should be soaked in buttermilk first, but I didn't have any tonight.

Mix flour, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, paprika and seasoned salt.

Dredge the chicken through the flour mix. Add a little more seasoning to each piece.

Melt some crisco in a cast iron fryer or dutch oven. When it sizzles to the touch, it's ready. Of course don't use your fingers-- use chopsticks.

Using tongs, carefully put each piece in the hot crisco and quickly put the lid on.

You'll need to periodically remove the lid and turn the pieces over. Watch out for popping grease.

Use a meat thermometer in one of the pieces to determine doneness.

If anybody has other recipes or techniques to suggest, feel free to comment.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lodge tiny serving kettles

These are Lodge tiny serving kettles. They're meant for, well, serving.

One is a pint, and one is a half pint. The Lodge 5 inch lid fits the pint kettle.

You can't use them on the stove or in the oven due to their feet. Just serving.

Product info states, "This is the way soup, stew, and chili should always be served!"

The pint kettle used to be sold in sets of four, as "cajun gumbo bowls."

They have "hundreds of uses, hot or cold". Salsa, dips, stews, nuts, dessert, condiments or snacks.

I agree that these kettles are useful for their stated purposes, but, the Lodge melting pot serves the same purposes, with the additional benefit of being able to use on the stove or in the oven.

I would say the same for the Sante Cabin cobbler pots, but those are discontinued.

So if you want a small cast iron bowl for serving purposes, the Lodge melting pot, which is just under one pint, is the way to go.

Unless aesthetics matter to you, and you like the little feet.

Lodge Cactus pan and Perch pan

Cool, I finally figured out how to post two pictures in the same article!

Pictured above are the Lodge Cactus pan and Perch pan, respectively.

They are used for specially shaped cornbread, or any other baked good.

I don't have them, don't plan to get them, they're a cute novelty.

Nice gift idea for someone who lives in the desert or who likes to fish.

The Lodge straight sided muffin pan

This is the Lodge straight sided muffin pan. The molds make muffins that are smaller than a regular muffin, but larger than a mini muffin.

Medium sized muffins, if you will. You can make cupcakes, but they'll be smaller than the standard cupcake liners.

This pan can fit in most toaster ovens.

A small box of Jiffy muffin mix fits this pan. For a larger box of muffin mix, you will probably need 2 of these, unless you have a cornstick pan.

I'm normally one to "think outside the box" and come up with other uses for typically one-use pans. So what can you do with this pan, besides muffins, brownies, cupcakes and rolls?

Maybe meatballs, leftover batter*, or serving various dipping sauces.

*They used to make cast iron "leftover batter" pans, which were small pans used for just that, baking leftover batter that didn't all fit into the main pan. You can use a small skillet for that-- or this pan.

I just saw online, a "mini cheesecake" pan that looks exactly like a muffin pan. So you can make mini cheesecakes.

Another consumer reported making yorkshire puddings. I've never tried that before.

And someone else reports that he puts this pan on his electric range on low, and then glassware on top, so he can use glassware on his stove. Personally, I would not recommend trying that.

I just use it as a "leftover batter" pan, myself.

This skillet is not for cooking.

What we have here is the Lodge Miniature Skillet. It's only 3 inches. So, it's not meant for cooking.

It's a decorative ornament. It looks like the Lodge ash tray, with smaller side spouts.

The Lodge website says you can use it to warm olive oil, melt butter, or toast spices.

I say if you're going to get a tiny skillet to do the above things, get the 5 inch, since you can at least cook a breakfast sandwich egg in that one. I'm not sure an egg would fit in this one.

Some have witty sayings printed on them, such as "We don't cook much in this house," "Diet skillet," or "Honey I shrunk the skillet."

I'm not sure I like any of the witty sayings. I wonder if they make customized or personalized ones?

The only reason I'd buy it is maybe for Christmas presents. Now that's an idea.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Two ways to make refried beans

Why use canned refried beans? Here's two ways to make them yourself:

You start with dried pinto beans. Cook them overnight in a crock pot.

From here, the simple, healthy way is to just mash them up. That's what I do.

Or the slightly more complicated, unhealthy way is to fry them up in lard, in a cast iron skillet. Crisco will NOT do; It's got to be lard.

Butter might also work, but I haven't tried it.

You could cook down chopped onions and minced garlic before adding the beans. Add chicken broth or bean juice to thin if necessary.

See my recipe for bean dip.

chickpeas and rice

Tonight's recipe was another "creativity in the face of tragedy" concoction. Being resourceful with what you have on hand.

I had some dried chickpeas that I normally would use for hummus, but decided to make better use of it: chickpeas and rice.

It's very similar to my wonderful beans and rice recipe in an earlier post:

First cook up the dried chickpeas overnight in a crock pot. Heat up olive oil in a cast iron pot. Add chopped onions, minced garlic, sliced smoked sausage, and cook.

Add the chickpeas, thyme, sage, onion powder, garlic powder, seasoned salt.

Cook rice separately in chicken broth.

The peas were a little watery so I added some wondra flour to thicken. It was good.

Tomorrow when we have this again, I'll slice up some ham I found in the freezer to add.

More stuff not cooked in cast iron

One of my earlier posts was titled "what can't you cook in cast iron?" Not a whole lot.

Here's a few recipes not cooked in cast iron, because they aren't "cooked" at all.

Homemade salsa: Once you've tried it, you'll never go back to the jar. Tomato, onion, cilantro, minced garlic*, and 1/2 a jalepeno**. Mix in a blender.

*If it's raw garlic, cook it down first. Or just use the jarred variety.

**Less jalepeno for mild, more for spicy.

Add ranch to the salsa if you like.

Homemade guacamole: Again, you'll never go back to pre-made. Avocado, tomato, onion, cilantro, minced garlic. Mix in a blender.

Hummus: Chickpeas, tahini paste, a little garlic, lots of olive oil. Mix in a blender.

Milkshakes: milk, ice cream, nestle quik if you want it chocolate. Mix in a blender.

Smoothies: Ice, milk, and your favorite fruit. Ice cream optional. Mix in a blender.

Pesto: Fresh basil, olive oil, almonds, garlic, parmesan cheese. Mix in a blender.

Salmon spread: Leftover salmon, cream cheese, oregano*. Mix in a blender.

*Worcestershire sauce or liquid smoke, optional.

Ham spread: Leftover ham, cream cheese, oregano*. Mix in a blender.

*Again, worcestershire sauce or liquid smoke, optional.

Deviled ham: Leftover ham, dijon mustard, hard boiled eggs, oregano, cooked onions*, chicken broth. Mix in a blender.

*OK, the onions are cooked in cast iron.

Tuna or chicken salad: Tuna or cooked chicken, hard boiled eggs, mustard, olive oil mayo, pickles, cooked onions. Mix by hand or in blender.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are also not made in cast iron, unless you want them grilled.

Now, items served WITH salsa, guacamole and hummus, ARE made on cast iron:

Cut up corn tortillas or pita bread in triangles, and lay them out on cast iron. Spray with olive oil pam. Into the oven at 250.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The cast iron popcorn popper

I fooled you. There are no "cast iron popcorn poppers", exactly.* But you can cook popcorn on the stove, in a cast iron pot.

*There is a made-in-Taiwan popcorn popper on the market, advertised as "cast iron," but in small print it says "steel with non-stick finish."

Now, before tonight I had never personally popped popcorn except in a microwave, but I decided to try it out in cast iron.

You need 1/4 cup cooking oil to 1 cup popcorn.

Heat up the dutch oven first, then pour in the oil. Allow the oil to heat up, then put in 2 kernels. When those 2 kernels pop, it's ready. Pour in your kernels and quickly put on the lid. Shake.

Then add salt and butter.

It's been a wonderful experience, but it made a mess on the stove and some kernels overcooked.

I think I'll stick to microwave popcorn*. Yeah, I know that's a sacrilege.

*I later tried it a different way, based on the comment posted below. I got much better results.