Saturday, 3 May 2008

Saga of the Grill Press

As the Teflon controversy finally crawled into my skull and convinced me to slowly place less dependence on their non- stick qualities, I turned back to the old reliable cast iron wear hidden somewhere in the jumble of items too valuable to toss, but not used enough to keep at hand. Rather than rely on the old frying pan – needs a lot of work to bring back to its former glory – I purchased a pre-seasoned 9” square griddle pan with ridges. I confess I’m addicted to those pretty grill lines perfectly crossed on steaks, pork chops, chicken breasts and various vegetables that we prefer not to boil endlessly in water. Testing the newly purchased cooking utensil with some chicken breasts brought to light a couple of problems. One, it took longer to cook than I preferred – fussy. Two, due to the extra time on the grill, it left a slight, but noticeable burnt taste which we decided was objectionable. How to rectify these minor dilemmas?
Somewhere in the back of my mind lay the answer. Ah, yes! I remembered seeing a grill press – that cast iron item about 8” in diameter with a wood handle – perfectly formed to place atop whatever was in the griddle to speed up the cooking time; and as an added advantage, it was reputed to be excellent for squeezing out excess fat (told me on the cute advertising tag). How could one go wrong? Quick, run over to the gourmet shop and pick one up. Once home, it takes only a moment to realize the press is light grey in color and both the pre-seasoned griddle and the older frying pan are black. So I recall that in the past you were expected to season your cast iron at home the old fashioned way. Wash it with hot water, slather on some cooking oil and bake in the oven for 45/60 minutes and let cool. With loving use, the new item would eventually darken and take on the preferred black patina treasured by cooks. At first the wooden handle seemed to preclude placement in the oven, but on further examination I discovered it was easily removed by removing the two holding screws. Therefore, after the wash, the light application of oil and placement in a 350’ F oven, I awaited the buzzer announcement that I would be able to use my newest utensil for the preliminary test.
As I relaxed in my Lazy Boy reclining chair, intent on completing the New York Times crossword, a weird odor arose from the kitchen causing some concern as it definitely was pouring out of the oven. Why would such a foul smell arise from a bit of cooking oil? Smack upside the head! Suddenly, I remembered reading an article online which indicated that manufacturers were now coating cast iron with a protective wax finish before shipping. Ran to the kitchen and hauled out the grill and sure enough, the waxy coating had shrivelled in spots and was clearly visible. No problemo – as they say in Mexico. Left it to cool then attacked it with steel wool and plenty of hot water until the sticky substance was committed to history. And then: began the process anew, oil, oven heat etc. Tremendous success on the second try, once cooled you could feel the smoothness and eye the slight patina already in evidence.
Happy to report, the initial use of combined griddle and press was a total success. If I neglected to mention before, I relied on the use of an electric indoor Teflon covered grill – okay, I confess, a George Foreman special, quick and easy until the Teflon wears off – hope I do not half to burn up my apron a la “Hell’s Kitchen & Gordon Ramsay”. Cooked in almost the identical time and did so without sticking. Plus cleaning up cast iron pans somehow connects you even closer to the joy of the cooking process.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Odds and Ends #6

Fatty Acids

Just when I thought I had it organized and under control; along pops up information to mess things up or so I thought. Let’s recap: try and achieve a ratio of 2:1 to 4:1 of omega 6 fatty acids to omega 3 fatty acids to permit proper utilization of the latter. Too much omega 6 spoils or prevents the chemical reactions of omega 3 into required compounds. Apparently this was much easier to accomplish before the advent of packaged foods – read filled with the wrong oils and loaded with preservatives. All I had to keep stuck in my brain was to eat plenty of cold-blooded fish, actually fish from colder waters like sardines, salmon etc. to attain a nutritional balance. On a quick glance at the headline, I assumed the new class of fatty acids would somehow have received a numeric designation to fit in with the existing 3 and 6 families. And therefore, I would be forced to learn a whole new set of ratios together with additional food combinations. What a relief to discover they seemed to have only discovered some previously unknown type of bio-machine oil. Now the meal planning for the next year can proceed as laid out in the Excel spreadsheet produced on New Years Eve.
As my finger hovered above the keyboard to send me to another site in cyberspace, I drew back in deep thought. Maybe better to hold on and tag the article for future reference. When my bio body eventually begins to break down, science has promised a plethora of cybernetic replacements to keep me going ad infinitum. Once I get the mechanical parts installed the sensors in the newly discovered fatty acids will help to relay information to my new-fangled on board computer monitoring the efficiency of my substituted limbs and organs. Plus the computer can arrange with the hospital for an oil change appointment.


Anything that helps me to locate my misplaced glasses immediately warrants my attention; so this item titillated my interest. That is, until I hit the first paragraph indicating my place in the universe might be amongst the ‘slower-witted’ or why else would I have succumbed to the enticing headline. When an article starts off suggesting I may be lacking in cranial acuteness, my anti-advertising awareness indicator pops up and warns me someone may be trying to sell me a remedy for what ails me. So now doing the odd sudoku and the New York Times crossword every weekend may not be as effective as computer based puzzles which tend now to come in plastic clad packages complete with $60 barcodes. And does throwing your weight behind a computer based system mean you have oodles of stock in the company? Probably! Not only that, but they proved me wrong and out-of-touch. Once on the MindFit site, I discovered the asking price was close to $150 – I wasn’t even close – MindYou, shipping is free! Unfortunately, I’m too slow-witted to understand the purchasing procedure; and therefore, unable to place an order. Talk about a Catch-22: in order to get smarter, I first need to order the MindFit program; in order to order the MindFit program, I must first get smarter. Help, I’m developing brain freeze without the benefit of an ice-cold drink.

Greener than Grass

I applaud anyone who allows their landscaping to reflect the natural condition of the land and refuses to worship the establishment of an anal retentive, manicured grass lawn. Over the years, I’ve tended to avoid being a slave to the dictates of the perfect green carpet: weeding, watering, fertilizing, mowing, de-thatching, rolling, aerating, raking, topping, reseeding and then starting over at the top. Unless you resort to hiring lawn service professionals for monthly upkeep, count on three to four hours hard labor for every hour relaxing on your greenery.
After being faced with almost a quarter acre of lawn to care for in my first house, I turned about two thirds into a vegetable garden which not only halved the upkeep, but provided enough produce for almost the entire year.
At another dwelling, while I was deciding what should be done with a barren back yard, nature took over to provide a year round display of greenery. For close to nine months, a tremendous variety of wildflowers went through their natural cycles presenting a constantly changing tableau with no need for any interference. Despite the absence of noxious weeds, the neighbours frowned upon the seeds being borne on the wind to settle on their putting greens.
And I’ve experienced the value of a moss lawn with its laissez faire approach to landscaping when I lived outside the city on a smaller acreage. Faced with a poor sandy soil – heavily infiltrated with rocks and stones – surrounded by cedar trees dropping needles adding to the already acidic earth, I watched as various weedy plants sprouted across the bare expanse and realized delicate grasses would never establish themselves without year long care (luckily snow covered it for four months to solve the blight temporarily). But with the aid of liberal areas of shade and the unique dampness of British Columbia, at least two types of native moss gradually began to spread outward from the trees and crept silently to attain full ground coverage by the third year. Left to its own devices, the mosses even crowded out the naturally occurring weeds, preventing any sunlight from encouraging their growth. Once thickened, we could enjoy a permanently lush green carpet without an ounce of effort or care.


For some reason I expected the headline ‘Dwarf Cloud Rat’ to relate to astronomy as in dwarf star or Magellanic Cloud and assumed the word rat had been co-opted as a new technical term. Little did I realize in other areas of the world rats make their homes in trees much like their sticky-pawed, bushy tailed cousins do in my neighbourhood. Most of my experience with rats has been confined to observing them scooting in and out of garbage piles. On the odd occasion, I’ve watched them slither up stucco or cedar siding gaining access to bird feeders or lapping up barbeque drippings on apartment decks. While I have picked and handled a couple in laboratory settings, never did I have the urge to keep them as pets or explore their habitat. Bad enough the Norway rat has managed to sail its way around the world to spread disease and set up shop as a local pest; the last thing I want are fuzzy rats hanging above me as I navigate the city streets – our northwestern crows problem enough. So if you choose moss over grass for your lawn as per the previous entry, beware permitting the moss to cover your trees for fear of inviting unwanted guests!