Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cast Iron Pots and Pans -- The New Old Way to Cook

When my wife and I got married she nearly begged that we not ask for non-stick pans because the the possible, if not probable, flaking and leaching of chemicals into our food.  I reassured her that top-end non-stick pans would not flake and last forever if they were well maintained.

We received a very expensive set of top-brand non-stick pots and pans for our wedding!  Hooray!

Fast forward four years and, you guessed it, the pots and pans we used so delicately being ultra careful not to scratch or place in the dishwasher started to flake leaving small particles of non-stick stuff in our food.

With a degree of "I told you so", we set out to find new pans.  And, instead of the big sets that include many more pots and pans than most people need, we determined we only really needed a few pieces.

We settled on the age-old cast iron pan.  It has been the pan of choice for hundreds of years and they can last that long too!

Why cast iron?  They really do last a lifetime or two or three or more.  They are very inexpensive.  They are naturally non-stick.  They do not have harmful chemicals and even add a touch of iron to the food you prepare in them.  They are enviornmentally firendly.  The pans and pots (dutch ovens) also retain heat and sear so well that it makes preparing foods a joy.

The only downside we could come up with was the weight, but I know there are some lightweight versions now available.

There is a little bit of maintenance involved.  Never place cast iron in the dishwasher, but simply clean with a brush and some hot water.  Most new cast iron is pre-seasoned, but don't overlook a good cast iron pan at antique shops or garage sales.  Many people see rust on cast iron and discard.  To remove any rust or to reseason watch the video below.

These are two of our most used pans.  We have a third frying pan, but could have done just fine with two.  The one of the right came from IKEA and was made in China, our others were from Lodge Manufacturing -- the only cast iron manufacturer remaining in the United States.

Enjoy cooking healthy and purchase the last set of pans/pots you will ever need.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Never Bleached. Never Bromated. King Arthur Flour.

Does Flour Matter for Health and Results?

Two years ago I began baking for our family.  Cakes, brownies, cookies and perhaps pastries come to mind when I write "baking", but bread was my intent.

I read books about bread making and set out.  And, if you're like me, and have tried bread, it isn't nearly as easy as directions make it seem.  I had my share of burnt loaves, flat loaves, loaves with massive air pockets, and bread that is as a dense as a brick.  You may know my pain.

But not wanting to give up, I discovered a little flour company in Vermont on my grocery store shelve.

I, like most I assume, was buying the store-brand flour.  When the next best brand went on sale I bought it and discovered that my bread was a bit better.  Following a hunch, I sprang for the most expensive flour one time and purchased my first five-pound bag of King Arthur brand flour.

I can buy 5 pounds of the store-brand for $1.49.  King Arthur sits atop the flour board at $3.75 at my grocery store.  Many of us are programmed on cost, but really, for most, $2.25 more is not sending us to the poor house.  And, that $2.25 divided by the many baking projects from that one bag doesn't add a huge financial burden to any baking project.  It's worth it.

From the moment I opened the bag I knew my baking would somehow be different.  The very feel of the flour is different, better.  The baking projects, while always having its unique challenges, ended significantly better.

Being the inquisitive person I am, I set out to learn more about this company that supplied my wonderful flour.  The history is long and fascinating and dates back to the late 1700's making this the oldest flour company in America.  It is employee owned and they offer plenty of baking resources and supplies through their mail-order catalogue and even offer extensive baking classes in Vermont.

But what sealed the deal for me was the phrase on their bags "Never Bleached.  Never Bromated."  Bleached?  On my return trip to the store I visited the flour isle to see if my previous flour purchases had been bleached.  Yes, yes, and yes.  In fact, every brand of flour I previously purchased was bleached.  How about bromate?  Ditto.

What is Bromated?

I didn't even know what bromate was, so I conducted a bit more research and discovered it was an unnatural additive linked to cancer:

Potassium bromate (KBrO3)Potassium bromate (KBrO3), is a flour “improver” that strengthens dough and allows for greater oven spring and higher rising in the oven. Potassium bromate, commonly referred to as simply “bromate” is a slow-acting oxidizer, contributing its functionality through out the mixing, fermentation and proofing stages, with important residual action during the early stages of baking. Azodicar-bonamide (ADA), potassium and calciumiodate, and calciumperoxide arerapid-acting oxidizers, while ascorbic acid (vitamin C) work s at intermediate rates, but all release their activity in mixing and proofing bromate, when applied within the prescribed limits (15 - 30ppm ), is completely used up during the bake leaving no trace in the finished product. How ever, if too much is used, or the bread is not baked long enough or at a high enough temperature, then a residual amount will remain.
The primary concern regarding the use of bromates in baking is its demonstrated link to cancer in laboratory animals. It was first found to induce tumors in rats in 1982. However, since 1991, instead of banning bromate outright the FDA, with somewhat limited success, has merely encouraged bakers to voluntarily stop using it.
Bromates have been banned in numerous countries, including the United Kingdom in 1990 and Canada in 1994. In addition, in 1991, California declared bromate a carcinogen under the state’s Proposition 65. As such, baked goods sold in California would have to bear a store level cancer warning if they contained m ore than a certain level of bromate. As a result, most California bakers have switched to bromate-free processes.  
This information was taken from the King Arthur Flour website.

The Bleaching Process

The bleaching process isn't necessary and only speeds up the product to the store shelves -- thereby making the sponsoring flour company a bit more money.  Flour has a yellowish color when it is first processed and the yellowing naturally fades away during aging, but most flour companies speed the whitening process though a process of bleaching generally using benzoyl peroxide -- yes, the same stuff used for cleaning wounds and acne!  It also has some altering effects on the wheat such as reduced Vitamin E and Protein.  This process is banned in Europe, China and Canada over health concerns.


In the end, it was worth it to me to pay a few extra pennies (maybe nickels) toward each baking project to have a better finished result and a healthier family.