To Stick or Not to Stick….

Innovation is a wide ranging concept and everyone has a different opinion on what constitutes something being innovative. Some innovations are specifically sought out, looking for a new or better way of doing something, while other ones are discovered by accident. The non-stick coating on fry pans was one of those accidental discoveries.

In 1938, DuPont, a New Jersey research & development company had tasked a team of scientists with researching alternative, non-toxic chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants for refrigerators. Dr. Roy Plunkett produced 100 lbs of tetrafluorethylene (TFE) gas for experimentation, storing it in cylinders on dry ice. The next day, when he went to open a cylinder no gas came out. Perplexed, he cut it open and found polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a waxy, white substance instead. Being a scientist, he tested the properties of this new polymer and discovered that it was extremely slippery, non-corrosive, chemically stable, and had an extremely high melting point. This new substance was quickly transferred to DuPont’s Central Research Department for further study and Dr. Roy Plunkett was promoted and transferred to another division.

Dupont patented the chemical in 1941 and created the trademark name, Teflon in 1945. Initially, Teflon was only used for industrial and military applications because it was too expensive to produce. It was not until the late 1950s that the first nonstick cookware was created, when Marc Gregoire, a French engineer, found a way to bond Teflon to aluminum. Marc and his wife founded the Tefal Corp. & started selling his non-stick pans in France. With FDA approval, Tefal started selling Teflon pans in the US, popularly known as T-fal pans.

Now for the million dollar question – how do you get an inherently non sticky substance to stick to metal cookware?

1. Start with the metal base of the already shaped cookware. Most are made of aluminum, others from stainless steel.

2. Apply the non-stick coating either by roughening the surface of the metal base first so it sticks better or add a special primer that sticks to both the metal base and Teflon coating. Then add several layers of the non-stick coating and finish it off by baking it at 800 degrees F for 3-5 mins, to harden the coating and adhere it more securely to the metal base.

Dr. Plunkett was honoured for his discovery and inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1985.

Reflections

An interesting fact I learned, Teflon is actually a brand name so not all PTFE non-stick pans are Teflon. As a future chef I think it’s important that I am educated in the equipment I could be using to cook with and learn about the different options available. Over the years, more non-stick options for pans have become available, such as anodized aluminium, ceramics, silicone, enameled cast iron, and seasoned cast iron. (I realize cast iron has been around for a while, but it seems to be increasing in popularity nowadays.)

I have a few alternative non-stick pans that aren’t Teflon coated.

IMG_3942  Non-stick pans are an important innovation because it changes how people cook their food and allows not so skilled cooks to have more confidence and success in the kitchen. The likelihood of ruining their eggs, pancakes, meats or other food by it sticking to the pan is greatly reduced, without needing extra skills or knowledge. Health conscious people would also be happy about only needing a little oil/butter to coat the non-stick pan before cooking, vs other pans that require a fair amount of butter/oil to prevent sticking.

Learning more about non-stick pans interested me because I grew up cooking with them and still use them today; making enticing eggs, fancy french toast, puffy pancakes and classic crepes.

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes I made last year.

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes I made last year.

French Toast Baguette w/ whipped cream & strawberries I made last yr

French Toast Baguette w/ whipped cream & strawberries I made last yr

Until next time!

Sources

http://home.howstuffworks.com/nonstick-cookware.htm

http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/online-resources/chemistry-in-history/themes/petrochemistry-and-synthetic-polymers/synthetic-polymers/plunkett.aspx

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2011/08/teflon-was-invented-by-accident/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-stick_surface

It Was Mr Mustard, On The Farm, With A Pitchfork!

Time to learn a little about where all the delicious food we cook and eat comes from!

For this week’s blog, I had to get to know a farmer. Even though I’m living in Toronto, I knew this wouldn’t be a problem because I grew up in the country, on a farm. Well, more of a hobby farm than a full-time farming operation. We had about 2 dozen chickens, several egg-laying hens, a few pigs and some beef cows. Even though I grew up surrounded by farmers that did it for a living, I never learned the details about their way of life.

The farmers I chose to talk with were family friends of ours, the Mustards. Like a lot of the farmers in our area, Craig and his twin brother Chris inherited the family farm. They are 5th generation farmers, who grew up helping out on the family farm. Their dad Grant, also wanted them to know what life was like off the farm, so throughout high school, he made them get summer jobs away from the farm. Their dad never pressured them into taking over the farm, but it was in the boys’ blood.

Chris and Craig went to the University of Guelph, as all farm kids do that want to go into agricultural and farming. Since Grant knew of the boys interest in farming, he positioned the farm in such a way to allow for an expansion in operation. After university, Chris & Craig joined their father full time on the farm in 2004. The brothers started with 360 acres and they’ve expanded their land to 800+ acres, some of which they own, some they rent. Chris’ area of expertise is the dairy cows, while Craig’s is the field crops and farm machinery. Chris lives on his family’s original farm with his wife Jill, while Craig lives just down the road with his wife Rebecca, who he met at Guelph while she was there on a year exchange from Sydney, Australia. It was Craig and Rebecca that I talked with.

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Chris and Craig farm via conventional agriculture instead of organic. Some of the reasons they don’t farm organically, is that it’s more time consuming, expensive, labour intensive, and can’t feed the growing population since there is less yield per acre used. Since it’s only the brothers and their dad running the farm, they wouldn’t be able to make a living farming organically. Craig also believes that conventional agriculture can be just as sustainable or more than organic farming as long as you look after your land. Clearly their family has been doing something right if the land is still fertile and productive after five generations of farming on it. Some of the ways to ensure the sustainability of the land is through the use of manure as a natural fertilizer and crop rotations to replenish the soil. They would plant hay first because it leaves lots of nitrogen in the soil after it’s harvested, and than corn, which needs lots of nitrogen to grow properly. They also grow soya beans and wheat. Better technology, such as GPS sprayers, map out exactly where the crops have been sprayed, so there is no overlap when spraying a few hundred acres of land at a time, which reduces the amount of pesticides needed.

When I asked Craig if there were any political or environmental initiatives or stances that he supported, he answered so quickly that I could barely finish my question. He is a big supporter of Supply Management for dairy. He supports this system of farming because it’s better for rural economies, there is no boom and bust cycles, so you don’t need to have a huge amount of cows to ensure you can produce enough milk to make a living. Since the supply and demand is regulated by the Dairy Farm Control Board, farmers can be assured of a consistent stream of income which allows them to budget their expenses better. The steady income also allows them to buy better equipment without worrying about going bankrupt if they have a bad crop year or the selling prices drop dramatically. Supply management also ensures fair prices for everyone, from the farmers, to the dairy processors to the consumers. All dairy farmers have a certain amount of quota of butterfat they can produce per day from their cows for sale.

The downside is that it’s hard and expensive to get into dairy farming because there is a central pool of quota and only a limited number of quota available for farmers to buy. It costs $25,000 to purchase 1 quota, giving you the right to produce & sell 1kg of butterfat per day, which is roughly equal to the milk produced from 1 cow.

The Dairy Association also wants to help new dairy farmers start out, so they reserve a certain number of quota to encourage young farmers. The quota system helps farmers better manage and control their milk production so they aren’t dumping litres of excess milk if they overproduce, nor are they struggling to get by if some of their cows get sick or go dry. If a farmer realizes that he is constantly overproducing more than his 1kg/per day, he can sell a quota of butterfat back to the Dairy Board and into the central pool of quota, where another farmer could buy it. Chris and Craig have about 60 cows and 78 kgs of butterfat quota.

Farming on such a large scale is a lot more complicated than I realized, and I don’t think farmers get nearly enough respect and appreciation for their hard lifestyle, working from dawn to dark. The amount of business knowledge you need to properly run a farm surprised me and I admire them for having to do both the physical work and business/paperwork side. I can’t say that I entirely understand the quota system but it was certainly interesting learning about it. We never had dairy cows growing up, so I had no previous knowledge or experience with dairy farming. From my limited understanding of supply management, it sounds like a pretty good system. I can’t say that I know much about the commercial production and selling of beef either since the beef cows we had, we raised for ourselves and friends vs for commercial sale.

Craig and Rebecca are fun people to chat with anytime, so I enjoyed talking with them about their passion for farming. (Check out Twitter for more of Chris & Craig’s farming adventures.)

It’s been fun, until next time.

This Little Piggy Went to the Market…

This week I went in search of a butcher shop. I could’ve made it easy and gone to ones I’d already been to before at Saint LawreMeat-Deptnce Market or Kensington Market, but I was feeling adventure. I searched online & found one that was among the top butcher shops in Toronto according to blogTO and not too far away. The Meat Dept at Broadview and the Danforth is a small but interesting place to visit. They have a good selection of beef, veal, poultry, pig and a few other types of game. Most of the cuts they had I knew how to cook and had them before, but I was eventually able to find one that I wasn’t too familiar with.

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Smoked pork hocks caught my eye, they cost about $5/LB. The butcher suggested braising them as the best cooking method, since they are a tougher cut of meat and need a long, slow stew to tenderize the meat. The hocks are generally cut from the lower end of a ham & above the foot/ankle, at either the front or rear legs.

To cook the hocks, you would cover them with either water or vegetable stock and braise them with some root vegetables, like cabbage or collard greens for approximately 2-3 hrs, depending on their size.

The recipe book – Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, also suggested braising them in liquid. 

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Braised pork hocks could be effective in a fast-paced restaurant as long as the chef knew approximately how much to make before hand, since it takes a few hours to cook. Although on the plus side, the leftover braising liquid would make a lovely broth for a split pea soup or basting liquid for other pork dishes.

The Art of Soft-Boiling an Egg

How do you cook the perfect soft boiled egg? I asked my family this question and they had a few different responses. So in the spirit of experimentation, I tried Leanne, my sister-in-law’s method on both a gas & an electric stove, as well as my mother’s suggestion.

My first attempt was Leanne’s way, using a gas stove. I put 1 egg in a pot of cool water with a splash of vinegar & brought it to a boil. Then set the timer for 4 minutes & promptly ran it under cold water to stop the cooking.

IMG_3628IMG_3630My egg turned out quite well, albeit not perfect. The white was nice and firm, but the yolk was slightly more cooked than I would have preferred. The yolk was still runny and I could dip french fries into it, but there was too thick of a wall of cooked yolk around the runny centre.

Attempt #2 – Same method, but this time on an electric stove, since that’s what Leanne uses and I was curious how the different heat source would affect the cooking of the egg. Both Leanne and I were baffled when my egg turned out to be more of a soft, hard boiled egg.

Attempt #3 – I took my mom’s suggestion and brought my pot of water to a boil first, added a pinch of salt and then my cold egg. Let it cook 4 mins and then ran it under cold water. I guess mother still knows best, since it turned out perfectly! The egg white was fully cooked and the yolk was completely liquid & perfect for dipping toast into.IMG_3633

I think this method could work for up to about 50 eggs but I’m not sure it would work for 500 eggs. I think putting 500 cold eggs into boiling water at once would cause too much of a temperature drop, so you would probably need to leave them in the water for 1-2 mins longer.

Until next time!

Soup’s On

Soup’s on…and it’s fuchsia!

The kind of soup I wanted to make was a pretty easy decision, especially when other versions of it were shown during soup week – Lithuanian Borscht, also known as cold beet soup. The reason I chose this soup, is because it reminds me of my nana & papa (mom’s parents) and my heritage. My grandparents left Lithuania & came to Canada during WWI, even though my mom was born in Canada, between her parents & their neighbours, she had a very European upbringing. Since we spent a lot of time with my nana & papa while growing up, we were raised with a love for eastern european food: meat, potato pancakes, perogies, mushrooms, onions, beets and dill. My love of beets started young and is still going strong! My nana and papa made beets many different ways, but cold beet soup was especially satisfying on a hot summer day!

The recipe I used was found online because I don’t actually have my nana & papa’s recipe. They haven’t made this soup in a few years since they are both 90 yrs old, so I keep forgetting to ask them for the recipe. The recipe I used seemed to have all the essential ingredients, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Lithuanian Borscht (Cold Borscht)

IMG_3503Ingredients:

  • 1lb beets (2-3 beets, depends on size)
  • ½ english cucumber (or 2-3 baby cucumbers)
  • 2-3 eggs
  • Small bunch of green onions (like 4-5 stems, not more)
  • Small bunch of fresh green dill
  • 1 quart of original kefir or buttermilk
  • About 1 quart of cold boiled water
  • 3 tablespoons of original sour cream
  • Salt to taste

This soup is relatively easy to make, just time consuming with boiling & peeling the beets. The kefir was the only ingredient that I specifically had to find & buy because everything else I often have on hand.

1. Prepare ingredients: boil beets skin on and cool them down till room temperature (this takes some time, you can boil them in advance, even a night before to speedup the process; (which is what I did) using canned beets is another alternative, but I never did it myself); I’ve also never thought to use canned beets either – it was always fresh beets! also boil eggs till hard, cool then down too; rinse greens and cucumber:

  1. Once boiled beets are cooled down, skin them:  (this was always my favourite part of eating beets in general, was peeling off the skin and getting my hands all purple & stained!) 
  2. Take big cooking pot and grate the boiled beet into it using big slots of grater: (this part was a little more difficult than I thought it’d be, the soft beet would only grate so far before it started falling apart)
  3. Peel and dice eggs:

    And add them to the cooking pot:

  4. If cucumber has hard bitter skin – remove skin, also if seeds appear to be hard – remove them too. Then dice cucumber and add to the cooking pot:
  5. Clean green onion, chop it and add to the cooking pot:
  6. Add finely chopped fresh dill: (the key is to use LOTS of dill & it must be fresh vs dried for full flavour)
  7. Add 2-3 tablespoons of sour cream and season with salt:
  8. Mix everything:
  9. Add all buttermilk or kefir: (an alternative version is to puree it so it’s all blended together smoothly)
  10. Add about the same amount of water (or more, to taste) and mix everything. Cover cooking pot with a lid and put it to the fridge or cool place for about an hour to let flavors meld: (personally, I let it sit over night for optimal flavour melding! Like stew, it develops more flavour the longer it sits)IMG_3505IMG_3506
  11. Serve cold out of fridge as a soup course before main dish.

I was quite pleased by how my beet soup turned out, especially considering I’ve never actually made it before. The taste was similar to what I remember, the major flavours being beets & dill. The sour cream and kefir give it a creamy, smooth texture which contrasts well with the earthy & fresh herb flavour of the grated beet pieces & chopped dill.

I actually made my cold beet soup on the same day that my friend was coming over for the night. She likes both beets and dill  and trusts my cooking skills 🙂 so she was happy to try some. She enjoyed it and could easily see how it would be very refreshing when it’s hot out.

I wouldn’t change anything from this recipe, since I’m happy with how it turned out. But if I make it again, it would be with my nana & papa’s recipe or my mom’s cousin, I remember liking her soup too when we had it at Christmas Eve one year. There is also a restaurant in Roncesvalles, TO called Cafe Polonez. Their Polish version of cold beet soup looks pretty similar to the Lithuanian one, so I’d be interested in trying that one out too. The recipe is part of a collection of recipes from different restaurants featured on the Food Network show, You Gotta Eat Here.

Until next time!

Fermentation of Ginger

I can’t say I have much experience pickling, preserving or fermenting, but I was excited to try it out. I was originally thinking of making dill pickles or pickled beets because I love them both and they remind me of visiting my nana & papa and enjoying the beets and pickles they made. Although, once I saw the suggestion for ginger beer, I was intrigued and knew that’s what I wanted to try and make. I’ve tasted homemade ginger beer once a few years ago, and I enjoy drinking store bought ginger beer, especially when mixed with dark rum!

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There were a few different methods for making homemade ginger beer, depending on how hardcore you were about it, how much & how often you wanted to make it & how much alcohol content you actually wanted in it. There is the quick & easy way:

1 ounce ginger juice (1.5oz fresh ginger juiced so don’t have to strain it later)
2 ounces fresh lemon juice, finely strained
3 ounces simple syrup
10 ounces warm water (cold water if using the soda siphon)

Mix ingredients together.  If using a soda siphon, pour ingredients into canister, screw on lid, charge with CO2, shake once, and refrigerate. You’re done. You can also use this recipe for fermenting your ginger beer in bottles. http://www.jeffreymorgenthaler.com/2008/how-to-make-your-own-ginger-beer/

This guy’s website is all about bartending & drink making, including how to build your own carbonation rig for the hardcore mixologists!

A longer and apparently very old fashioned method of making ginger beer is by growing your own yeast culture, called a ginger plant, that you feed with sugar & ginger for a week or so and add the juice to sugary water and let it ferment further. I didn’t come across this method until after I started making mine a different way. I’ll probably try this method out at a later date, most likely when it’s spring/summer, which is when I crave the refreshing zing of ginger beer more often.

I found a method of fermenting ginger beer in bottles that’s in the middle of the 2 ways I mentioned above. The method and recipe I used was from Tori Avey’s blog.

GINGER SYRUP INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger

GINGER BEER INGREDIENTS

  • 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
  • Ginger syrup (above)
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 7 cups filtered water

YOU WILL ALSO NEED

  • Clean 2-liter plastic soda bottle, funnel 
  • Peel a chunk of the ginger with the tip of a teaspoon—the papery skin scrapes right off—and grate it, using the fine side of your grater. Place the ginger, sugar, and water in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to steep for an hour. Strain the mixture (discard the ginger solids), allow to cool.IMG_3435IMG_3436
  • For the full ginger beer experience, place a funnel in the top of the bottle and pour in the filtered water. Sprinkle the yeast in, followed by the syrup, lemon juice, and water.
  • Put the lid on the bottle and shake the concoction until the yeast is dissolved. Stow it on a shady shelf or in your pantry out of dirIMG_3437ect sunlight for 2-3 days, or until fizz is achieved. At this point it is ready to drink, and must be stored in the refrigerator to prevent further fermentation.
  • Don’t forget about the bottle, or the pressure will build up so much that it may explode! (No matter the method, every recipe cautions to release the pressure every few days so it doesn’t explode.) It’s also the reason most recipes suggest making it in a plastic pop bottle vs a glass one.

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 Thankfully I didn’t have any exploding ginger beer, so I consider that a success! Although the carbonation definitely built up a lot and there was a long very audible release of gas when I unscrewed the bottle a bit before putting it in the fridge.
My ginger beer turned out fairly well I think. There is a definite smell of ginger to it, but the ginger flavour is more subtle than I prefer, more akin to ginger ale or the less gingery/spicy store bought ginger beers. (Which I know there are, having tasted a few different brands to find the ones with the stronger ginger kick!) The citrus flavour of the lemon juice mingles very well with the spicy ginger flavour. There is a bit of a beer-like aftertaste that I contribute to it having a slight alcohol content (less than 3%).
If and when I make ginger beer again, I would try out a different recipe and the plant method, which apparently produces a stronger ginger flavour since you are feeding the yeast mixture sugar & ginger for a week or so.
Now I’m off to enjoy my ginger beer the proper way – with dark rum and lime juice! a.k.a Dark N Stormy 🙂