… and it’s not about the Reproductive System, either:
(c) 2014, Davd
One early March morning, as i was sitting in my bed doing an important chore, it occurred to me that an average-sized woman could do it better than i was, for good anatomical reasons.
(Yes, the bed is a clue. The fact that i was sitting up in bed [with my back propped against three pillows] is a better clue.)
I was mending a felt boot-liner, with a needle and thread. Some seams had come open, probably due to the original thread wearing through; and while the felt is fairly easy to sew, the places needing mending would be impossible to fit into the business end of a typical household sewing machine *
So there i sat, mending seams in a felt boot-liner; and the work went just fine except when i had knots to tie. I was using polyester thread, because it “takes wear better”, and a small-eye needle so as to disturb the integrity of the felt as little as possible. Threading the needle went almost well, given good light; though the diameter of the thread was something like 80% of the diameter of the needle’s eye. The problems came when i had to tie knots in that very fine thread, and couldn’t do it by manoeuvring the needle. Tying two short [2-4 cm] lengths of fine sewing hread—well, guys, as most of you know, our fingertips are just too [ahem.. NetNanny won't allow that word] stubby to do it even half easily. I got the job done, but not nearly as easily …
… as a woman whose three middle fingers are about the same thickness as my “pinkie” [aka “little finger”—NetNanny seems to be OK with baby talk, and that's one BabyTalk word that fairly many “grownups” actually speak.]
With three fingers a few mm thicker than a pencil, and a pinkie about the same thickness as a pencil, on each hand; a woman in the smaller half of the hand size distribution would have found that knot tying much easier than i did.** So while hand mending isn’t necessarily “women’s work”, some of it is work that should be women’s when the men have work to which our anatomies are more suited, enough to keep us busy—work like heavy gardening, for instance.
It made more sense that cold March morning, for me to spend an extra 5-10 minutes tying knots that a woman’s hands were more suited to tie, than to take the job somewhere else for smaller fingers to do. Taking the job elsewhere and fetching it back would have taken much longer. It makes more sense for me to do fine detail work involved in growing tomato plants indoors to be planted out when the frost is gone, for the same basic reason. But if i were living with a woman whose hands were less stubby than mine are, i’d dig the transplanting holes (over a cubic foot in size, anyway) and split the firewood, and she could transplant new tomato sprouts. We’d each be doing sex-appropriate work.
* Perhaps a shoemaker would have a machine that could do such jobs, and i can remember when there was a good working Scandinavian shoemaker in Thunder Bay, to whom i took not felt liners but leather boots for work. That was 25 years or longer, ago; and i wonder if there are any shops like his, today.
** (Assuming, if anyone had thought to quibble, that her hand-eye coordination be about as good as mine and her intelligence anywhere above the bottom quarter of the range.) There may be times when small boys can do fine-fingertip work better than their stubby fingered fathers and elder brothers.
I do some 50 hours of mending, give or take a dozen or two, each year. That’s partly because i don’t care a [ahem.. NetNanny might not allow that word either] of a lot about Looking Nice when working in the forest and the gardens, and partly because it costs me an hour or more, and $10 or more [sometimes much more] in fuel, to “go shopping.”
..Something Juicy from Last Summer’s Garden:
(c) 2014, Davd
The snow is two feet deep at least, and if you dug down through it to the garden, you’d get nothing worth bringing into the kitchen. The nearest to fresh food you can get from a summer garden in winter, will be roots, apples, and cabbages. So .. how to make roots fresh and juicy? and give them some of that sweet taste that really good vegetables can have in the green season?
In the case of carrots—shred them—and add raisins. Shredded down to spaghetti thickness, carrots turn out to be quite pleasantly juicy; raisins add a complementary flavour, extra sweetness, and have a texture that goes well with the shredded carrots.
You can use a “grater” to shred carrots, or an electric “food processor”. My favorite tool is a hand-cranked, three-legged arrangement that uses tapered cylinders to cut the vegetables.* The cylinder i use for carrot-raisin salad shreds the carrots into strings just slightly thinner than uncooked spaghetti; and if you use a “grater” to shred them, or an electric “food processor”, that’s still the thickness i recommend.
When the carrots are shredded, all you do is add raisins—and as usual, i advise adding fewer rather than more to start. You can always add more later; they are near enough to impossible to separate out once added, that i’ve never seen anyone try. (If you do have too many raisins, you can leave some in the bowl, shred in another carrot or two, and put it in the ‘fridge for another day. I haven’t tested how long carrot-raisin salad will keep, but covered in a fridge, it ought to keep say, 2-4 days.)
What kind of raisins to add? My preference, again “as usual” is for robust flavours, so i add darker rather than lighter ones—and smaller rather than larger. If Corinthian raisins, which are often called “currants” in stores, are the same price as larger and paler ones, they are what i’d recommend. I suppose i usually use Thompson seedless raisins when i use store-bought because Corinthians have lately cost a good deal more.
I also have a Beta grape vine, which produces dark blue grapes with a fairly strong flavour and soft seeds; and they have made me good salads many times. I believe i prefer Beta grapes as raisins in the winter, when the garden isn’t producing, rather than as fresh grapes when there are all those other tasty things coming from the garden.
Beta grapes are reported to be hardy to -40; they should grow where most Canadians live. Of the very hardy grapes, they are my favorite so far.
Whatever grapes you dry or buy as raisins, and whatever variety of carrots you shred, this salad belongs in your winter repertoire. The ingredients can be grown in most Canadian gardens, their cost in the stores is moderate compared to most vegetables and sweets today, they keep well until you’re ready to use them, and the taste is quite different from those of beets, cabbage, peas, spinach, and other vegetables that you can freeze well or store in a cold-room or ‘fridge.
- – -
* The tool might have the name “salad-master”, but i’m not certain of that—nor do i know for sure if there might be more than one such tool with different specific designs—i bought mine at a yard sale. I find it easier to use, cooking for one man or maybe two or three, than an electric “food processor”; there is less fuss to setting it up and to cleaning up after. It’s much faster and a little safer for my fingertips, than a flat “grater.” I can set a bowl under and a little outside the cutting cylinder, to catch the shreds, and then eat the salad out of that bowl if i’m eating alone.
… this time, Black and Pinto …
(c) 2014, Davd
Home made pea soup can be a welcome part of your regular diet; but if that’s the only pea-family protein food you cook, it’s likely to get monotonous, eating pea soup at noon every day. i like to alternate my leguminous protein meals among peas, chickpeas, lentils, and especially, at least two kinds of beans. The beans are the ones i like best: Black beans, pintos*, and chili-sin-carne [meatless chili] to be exact. In this “post”, i’ll describe cooking black and pinto beans; chili-sin-carne is a little more elaborate and merits a “post” of its own*.
Pea soup cooks almost quickly to a thick purée; black and pinto beans cook more slowly to a tender but still distinct consistency in which you can see, and feel [in your mouth] the individual beans. Each of the three legumes has a distinctive flavour, as different from the others, say, as beef is from pork is from chicken. They should each have a distinctive seasoning as well. Black and pinto beans can be soaked and cooked in the same basic way—but i advise you not to try switching the seasonings from one to the other, any more than you’d season beef with sage.
Beans follow the same basic cooking pattern as peas and lentils; but their soaking times are longer. They benefit from savory, onion, and celery or liveche, but the other seasonings are different—and quite different for black vs. pinto beans.
The basic pattern, to repeat, is:  Soak with savory, but at least overnight this time;
 add a little soda for quicker cooking,
 season with herbs (no smoked fat),
 bring to boiling [stirring down foam is more a problem with black beans than pintos] and
 simmer until the texture is “done”, which with these beans will require one to three hours.
As with pea soup, then, measure a volume of beans one-eighth or less as large as the volume of the pot you’ll use, into that pot or some container that can take some heat. Then measure 3-4 times that volume of water (or vegetable stock) into another pot, add some savory if you have savory, and bring it to the boil. If you have added savory, lower the heat to a gentle bubbling, and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Then turn off the electricity if you used an electric stove, and pour the boiling water onto the beans. (You can also put the peas in a bowl or other holding container, heat the water in the pot you’ll use to cook the soup, and pour in the beans when it’s ready.)
Next, let the dry beans soak up water for 8-12 hours. (They shouldn’t need longer, but they can soak for a full 24-hour day without harm.) When they’re ready, they will have visibly swelled and there will be much less water on top of them.
Since acid legumes take much longer to cook, add some baking soda to the beans when you put them in the pot to cook (or if they soaked in that same pot, when they’re about to go on the heat.) Stir the soda in well, and you might see some bubbles—perhaps less likely than with peas or lentils.
While heating the beans in their soaking stock, fry some onion in vegetable oil (or collect some chive if you’ve chive growing in your garden.) If you have celery leaves and trimmings, or liveche, add that. Add chives whenever you like—it can be good to add some when the beans are coming to the boil and some more when cooking is done. Fried onions should be added as soon as they are lightly browned.
To black beans, add also one or two bay leaves. Bay leaf, savory, celery-liveche, and onion [or chive] are my favourite seasoning for black beans, developed from the recommendation of a chef who trained at a fairly famous Toronto restaurant.
To pintos, add chili powder and oregano—plus celery-liveche and onion, and the savory in the soaking water.. My cooking spoons are more nearly two than three teaspoonfuls in size, and i add one rounded spoonful of chili powder to 2/3 litre of dry beans [soaked up overnight to well over a litre]. However, chili powder varies in “heat” and you may have to do a bit of trial and error to find how much of the kind you have fits with your personal tastes. (As usual, err on the “light” side to start—put in less chili powder rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves.) I use home grown “Greek” oregano, which is stored as loosely crumbled rather than a fine powder, and add a bit more in loose volume, than of chili powder.
As the beans come to a boil, black beans tend to foam a good deal “worse” than pintos. Stirring the pot will help to work down the foam. This is something to watch and be ready for, when cooking any legumes from scratch.
For black beans, choose a pot that the soup fills about half way, two-thirds at the most, so there is some room for the foam as they approach boiling. When they start to boil, and you’ve reduced the heat to what keeps them simmering (boiling slowly and gently), the foam should disappear or reduce to a very thin layer at the top of the soup. Pintos can be cooked in a relatively smaller pot; but if in doubt, use the same size as for black beans and pea soup.
If you add salt to the pot before tasting, err on the “light” side, as with chili powder—put in less salt rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves into the soup.
As an estimate, these beans will take one to three hours to cook to a pleasant softness. As the beans begin to soften, take out a half spoonful, set it on the stove top to cool, and then taste. (I keep a jar lid or a tiny saucer near the back of the stove top as a “spoon rest”.) If it seems to you there should be more chili, celery-liveche, chive, or oregano, add more now; but if in doubt, don’t. Some seasonings seem to gain strength with time.
Beans, like pea soup, are economical protein balancers for bread or boiled grain, hearty enough to satisfy, warming and comforting in cold weather. They should be regulars in a frugal and especially in a semi-vegetarian diet. Black and pinto beans can even be mixed with plain boiled rice or barley, and will give the grain enough flavour to make a decent tasting dish. (I don’t recommend mixing pea soup or white beans with plain boiled grain, though.)
I tend to enjoy both black and pinto beans more, eaten cold, than i do pea soup.
* Romano beans are fairly similar to pintos. Until recently, pintos were the least expensive of the retail beans in this area, and i cooked them quite often because they taste so good with chili and oregano. Then Wal-Mart raised their price by well over 50%, and i haven’t cooked them as often; i like black beans at least as well and they now cost slightly less in this area, where before they cost 50% more. If pintos are the low-cost beans where you are, i do recommend them.
I don’t cook white beans often; because as i’ve written a few times before, i prefer robust flavours. If they’re inexpensive where you are, or you especially like them, i recommend some kind of meat to flavour them: Bacon, ham or a light-tasting sausage like “hot dogs”. (If you abstain from red meat or from pork, you can get “chicken wieners/frankfurters” to flavour your white beans…or you can use those smoked soybeans.) Frying the onions in bacon fat might be enough; and as with all dry legumes, i recommend savory in the soaking broth and celery or liveche.
There is also the molasses [and i don't know what else] technique which has made Boston famous: White beans baked with molasses and [??] eaten Saturday night and Sunday morning … and then they went to church [ahem].
Beans, .. Beans, .. Beans, .. Beans…
Chickpeas, .. Lentils, .. SplitPeas, …
Frugal, Staple, Healthy Food…
(c) 2014, Davd
Perhaps you know that marching song:
“They’re good for your heart
The more you eat, the more you [ahem .. this site is restricted to PG-13 language*]
And when you [ahem] you feel so fine!
So eat those beans up every time…
Well, all you kiddies chanting as you hike, or riding the bus to ski or hockey camp, i’m hoping along with you, that those beans, chickpeas, lentils, and green and yellow peas are indeed good for all our hearts. For the past few years, i’ve eaten meatless mid-day meals most days—over 90% of the days of 3-5 years. There are several good reasons for eating [beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas] most days, and [ahem]ing isn’t among those good reasons.
Appreciating meat more by having meals without it—is. By eating lunches of black beans with bay and onion, chili-sin-carne, pintos with chili powder and oregano, chickpeas gurdwara-style, split pea soup with bacon or ham, and curried lentils, i include several flavour combinations in my diet beyond those of beef, chicken, [white] fish, pork, and salmon. That makes my meat meals more enjoyable because they are less “routine”.
It also saves me a serious bit of money, and no small amount of time.
When i cook up a breakfast of pork chop or ham slice and porridge, the meat cooking effort serves me for one meal and the porridge effort serves me for three. When i cook chicken cacciatore for dinner, the meat cooking effort serves me for two meals and the pasta effort serves me for three. When i cook up a pot of beans, chickpeas, lentils, or pea soup, it usually provides the high protein part of 3-7 meals**. Legumes [in the botanical rather than the French usage***of the word] are especially valuable as food because they are high in protein, and their protein complements grain protein well: Pea soup and bread or popcorn, beans and rice or barley, curried lentils and whole-wheat bread, any of them with rice or barley heated in salsa, and you’ve a meatless meal that gives you a decent, adequate amount of protein toward your day’s needs.
Cooking all these dry legumes follws the same basic pattern; but soaking times and seasonings vary with the size, texture, and taste of the different crops. I’ll use pea soup as the example this time, and soon, i’ll post some variations for lentils and a few major kinds of beans.
The basic pattern is:  Soak with savory,  add a little soda for quicker cooking,  season with herbs (and perhaps smoked fat),  bring to boiling [stirring down foam in some cases] and  simmer until the texture is “done”. It can be completed in a half day with peas and lentils and needs almost a full day (i usually work by soaking overnight and cooking in the morning) in the case of black, “chili”, and pinto beans. Don’t expect to cook dry legumes from scratch in an hour or two.
German cooking has some important wisdom for us about beans, peas and lentils: Savory [Satureja hortensis and S. montana] improves the flavour of all the dry legumes and should be added to the soaking water. German cooks call the Saturejas, Bohnenkraut [bean herb]. Some cookbook i read over the years, said they also reduce beans’ tendency to cause [ahem]ing. Whether or not they do that, i’m satisfied with their good effect on the taste. S. montana [“Winter savory”] is perennial and i’ve found it easier to grow than S. hortensis—which most cooks believe has the finer flavour for elegant dishes. For soaking legumes, i use S. montana.
To start a pot of pea soup, then, measure a volume of “split peas” one-eighth or less as large as the volume of the pot you’ll use, into that pot or some container that can take some heat. Then measure 3-4 times that volume of water (or vegetable stock) into another pot, add some savory if you have savory, and bring it to the boil. If you have added savory, lower the heat as when making coffee or sausage soup, and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Then turn off the electricity if you used an electric stove, and pour the boiling water onto the peas. (You can also put the peas in a bowl or other holding container, heat the water in the pot you’ll use to cook the soup, and pour in the peas when it’s ready.)
Next, let the dry peas soak up water for 2-3 hours. (Black, chili/kidney, and pinto beans should soak 8-12 hours—“overnight”, usually—and can soak for a full 24-hour day without harm. Peas and lentils should soak no longer than overnight, though in a cool room they may tolerate up to 24 hours.) When they’re ready, they will have visibly swelled and there will be much less water on top of them.
While soaking, legumes have some tendency to become acid, and acid legumes take much longer to cook. Therefore—for cooking speed and not because you want more sodium in your diet—add some baking soda to the peas when you put them in the pot to cook (or if they soaked in that same pot, when they’re about to go on the heat.) Stir the soda in well, and you might see some bubbles—you almost certainly will see some foam when they near the boiling point.
While heating the peas in their soaking stock, fry some onion in ham or bacon fat [or vegetable oil if you abstain from meat or from pork]. If you do abstain from meat or from pork, i suggest getting some smoked-soy-protein [imitation bacon] to add instead, at least for one try; but it is not necessary. Onion is pretty well necessary; and seems to me to go best if lightly browned, preferably in smoked fat. In summer, you might prefer chives—which should not be fried [duuuuuuuhhh].
If you don’t use ham or bacon fat, nor imitation bacon, then adding a bit of thyme might give the pea soup a little extra vigor.
As the peas come to a boil, they are likely to “foam up”, and stirring the pot will help to work down the foam. This is not a food to put on the stove at high heat and then leave for a half hour—you’re likely to come back to burnt foam around the bottom of the pot, and a somewhat unpleasant smell in the kitchen. If you keep watch on the pot of peas as they heat, you can probably do some other chores near by, but choose chores that you can put down to stir the pot and adjust the heat.
Also, choose a pot that the soup fills about half way, two-thirds at the most, so there is some room for the foam as the peas approach boiling. When they start to boil, and you’ve reduced the heat to what keeps them simmering (boiling slowly and gently), the foam should disappear or reduce to a very thin layer at the top of the soup.
If you add salt to the pot before tasting, err on the “light” side—put in less salt rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves into the soup.
You might also want to add a bit of liveche or celery leaves and trimmings, if you have either; and perhaps some pepper. Myself, i suggest you try some of the celery-liveche flavour while the soup is cooking; but hold the pepper until you eat your first bowlful (because it doesn’t need to cook into the peas and broth the way celery does, for full value.) If adding pepper after cooking pleases you, you can add some during cooking next time. As with salt, err on the “light” side in adding celery or pepper—put in less rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves into the soup.
As an estimate, pea soup will take half an hour to an hour to “cook down”. Cook it until the peas “mush” to a smooth consistency. As the peas become obviously soft, but have a while to cook yet, take out a half spoonful, set it on the stove top to cool, and then taste. (I keep an upside-down jar lid or a tiny saucer near the back of the stove top as a “spoon rest”.) Then, if you want to add celery, salt, or pepper, they will have some time to merge with the soup.
When they are “mushing”, peas may start to stick to the bottom of the pot. You can feel them starting to stick with a spoon … stir often enough that the soup, as it cooks, doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot .. which means, the hotter the element, flame, or woodstove top, the more stirring. If the sticking gets really difficult .. they’re probably done
Pea soup is an economical protein balancer for bread or boiled grain, hearty enough to satisfy, warming and comforting in cold weather. It, and beans and lentils cooked as i’ll describe soon, should be regulars in a frugal and especially in a semi-vegetarian diet. I normally have grain and legumes, with no meat, for my mid-day meal, which is the meal i most often “don’t want to take much time cooking.” In the summer especially, i can take out cooked beans, lentils, or pea soup, cut some bread, heat rice or barley in salsa, or perhaps fry chapatis [whole-wheat-flour tortillas] and be fed and back to work in jig time.
I’m planning to make the next ‘post’ a description of the different timing that cooking beans requires, and seasonings for black and pinto beans. Later i’ll describe curried lentils (which for timing and consistency, cook like peas rather than like beans), a hot South Asian style of cooking chickpeas, and how to make good chili without meat.
The pea-family of large edible seeds, like the grains which are large edible seeds of the grass family, provides good staple food at relatively low cost. Once you’ve cooked any of these seasoned legume foods a few times and can reliably make it taste the way you want, you can take it to potlucks and—in this age of commercially seasoned “pre-cooked foods”—you are likely to get as much appreciation as if you’d brought something much more expensive. Commercial seasoning tends to be bland and timid. The herbs i use with these legumes, are not—only the chickpeas in South Asian style are “hot”, but good herbs used with a fairly generous hand, give a strong savoury flavour that really improves peas, lentils, and beans…
.. whether or not you [ahem]… and on the modest amounts potluck guests usually take of any one thing, they pretty likely won’t.
* .. and millions of boys and girls younger than 13 have sung “f..t” on hikes and even tour buses, but perhaps the Net Nanny is prissier than they are…..
** To re-heat pea soup, i use a small stainless-steel bowl with a wide bottom, which i sit on a less-hot part of the woodstove top. Those of you who use electric stoves only could use a small stainless steel frying pan on very low heat, a “double boiler”, or the microwave if you have one.
*** en-Français, legumes refers to what Anglophones call vegetables. Botanically, legumes refers to the pea-family of plants, whose roots host bacteria that can fix nitrogen from the air in the soil, into forms that plants can take in and utilize. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas are high in protein that complements grain protein well, because of those bacteria hosted by the roots of the plants that produced them.
… “on the cheap” but still good.
(c) 2014, Davd
New Year’s Day reminds me of coffee. I don’t think i drink more of it than on other days; methinks it’s because i’ve noticed many other people taking coffee that morning, who don’t on most mornings.
If you’re going to have coffee—however often or seldom—it might as well be good coffee, and it might as well be made right at home, even in your slippers and pajamas if you don’t feel like getting dressed before breakfast.
I never understood why people would drive to Robin’s or Tim Horton’s [Starbucks, etc, in the US] to buy a cup of coffee! Good coffee is easy to make at home; and if you’re not wealthy, you can make it quite economically. In the past two years, i’ve bought dark-roast coffee for seven to ten dollars per kilo and made good, re-heatable coffee from it. (I’m not going to push dark roast at people who prefer lighter coffee; but i’m making the point that dark-roast, which usually costs a bit more, can be had that cheaply. Me, i definitely prefer dark.)
Coffee should never be boiled. An old professor, decades ago when i was a young professor, told me that “coffee can be made with water that’s not boiling, but for tea, the water must be boiling!!” (Yes, he was English.) I did remember his insistence about tea, but i also remembered what he said about coffee, especially after i read that boiled coffee is less healthy (even carcinogenic? Let me know, via replies*, if you know.)
The answer, as Germans especially and most Finns know, is to put the boiling water on the coffee-grounds, and filter the liquid from the solids. Because the coffee-grounds are cooler than boiling, the mixture is at least slightly cooler also—but hot enough to brew the coffee.
The standard ways to do that today are a drip-machine and the Melitta filter cone. The cone is simpler, less expensive, and works at the barbecue, in camp, anywhere. If the electric power fails, the coffee doesn’t. And i get to tell you “how to boil water.”
I doubt any man who can read this, can’t boil water somehow. As we proceed to learn more and more ways to cook, we’ll also learn that there are better and worse ways to go about boiling water—and the way that’s best for sausage soup may not be best for pea soup or rye porridge. Sausage soup is pretty easy to cook; some kinds of porridge are a little more difficult; and if you want a challenge, try cooking pea soup or black beans with bay and onion, in a pot that’s full almost to the very top.
Boiling water for coffee amounts to getting it to a lively boil and then easing back to just-bubbling (very much like cooking sausage soup.) If you’re making coffee and not doing much else at the same time, then you want the water to take just long enough to boil, that you can have the pot, filter, and coffee-grounds ready for it.
I make a full pot three or four times per week, and then heat leftover coffee for breakfast and at mid-afternoon on the other days. My stainless steel pot can hold a litre and a half of liquid, and i usually make about a litre and a quarter of coffee. I find that five rounded but not heaping scoops, of the kind that come in cans of Melitta and some other brands, makes a 1¼ litre pot whose flavour pleases me. (That might mean that one level measure per six ounces [which for some strange reason is the volume coffee can instructions define as one cup, rather than eight] is close to my tastes.) There’s some work to making coffee, and good filter-cone coffee keeps its flavour well and reheats well, so i make a full pot most times and only empty a pot at one sitting when there are two or more others drinking it with me.
First part of the job, then, is to decide how much water to heat and how much coffee to put in the filter cone. For me, that’s a long-established routine. You may need some trial-and-error to get the ratio of coffee to water where you like it best; the can of coffee will probably have some advice from which to start. (Remember, the sellers are in business to make profits, so they may suggest using more coffee than most people need.)
Use fine-ground coffee. I do not believe the claims on some coffee cans, that “all purpose grind” is good [even "ideal"] for all coffee makers—my experience has taught me it is not ideal for filter cones or drip machines. (I do buy some dark roast coffee in that “all purpose grind”—and then re-grind it in a Braun coffee grinder i was lucky enough to buy at a yard sale. No grinder?—no “all purpose grind”, then, is my advice.)
When water approaches its boiling point, on an electric stove or a hot woodstove, the bottom of the pot begins to “roar” softly. That’s your clue: Get the ladle [a clean mug will do if you don't have a ladle yet, and if you're heating water in a kettle you don't need either] and as you see very small bubbles** forming at the bottom, take a small amount of hot water and just dampen and heat those grounds. Leave the heat under the water [port or kettle] fairly high until the larger bubbles start coming to the surface, and then ease it back to whatever setting [or position on the woodstove] will just keep a lively boil going.
With luck, the time it takes the small amount of water you added, to dampen and heat those grounds, will be the same as the time it takes the main pot of water to boil. When both have happened—when the grounds are dampened and the main pot of water is boiling—ladle water onto the grounds until the filter cone is full. You’ll smell a fine, fresh coffee aroma as the not-quite boiling water extracts the flavour from the grounds. Keep ladling until the filter is full of water and grounds.
Next, let the filter drain, which will probably happen pretty quickly. The sides of the cone will be covered with coffee grounds and no water will show at the bottom.
Next, ladle boiling water [it will actually be just below boiling temperature when it reaches the filter cone] onto the grounds, all around the cone, washing them into the middle of the filter. When you’ve done this, the filter probably won’t be full of water; if it’s not, ladle some on top of the mixture of water and grounds, to fill the filter again; and then let it brew. The filter will probably take longer to empty this time.
It’s OK to pour yourself a cup after the second drain-down, even if there’s a little water left to “brew with”.
If you’ve put on to boil, a little more water than you expect to produce in coffee (because some water will be left in the grounds, which start out dry and end up soaking wet, and a wee bit will boil away); then whatever hasn’t been used up in the first two filter-fillings should be added when the second filling has drained into the coffee-pot. Pour it so as to ‘wash’ all the grounds into the bottom of the cone, and then, i suggest, stir them briefly [the handle of a spoon or fork will do; a big spoon may be too big]. They will drain slowly, perhaps even more slowly than the second filling. When the water has drained away, the surface of the grounds is likely to be shiny.
That’s it—good home-made coffee, never boiled, and (perhaps for that reason) good when reheated*** as well.
* at everyman dot ca
** Those very small bubbles are dissolved air being driven out of the water, i’ve heard, not the water itself boiling: The hotter water is, the less dissolved gas it will hold; and as the water comes close to boiling, dissolved air will be driven out so fast you can see it. The larger bubbles are water-vapor (steam); boiling is the transformation of liquid water to gas.
To transform any given amount of water from liquid to steam takes more than twice as much energy, as to raise itstemperature from freezing cold to boiling hot. Once water reaches its boiling temperature (100C [212F] at sea level and normal atmospheric pressure) it won’t get any hotter before turning to steam. Boiling water hard doesn’t make it hotter, it makes it vaporize more quickly.
*** It might be worth adding that i usually cook breakfast on a woodstove; and i set a mug’s worth of leftover coffee in a small stainless steel cooking pot, off at one of the cooler parts of the stove top. I don’t reheat the whole pot of coffee, only what i’ll drink next; and i don’t use a microwave or high heat.
I also use a cloth filter, sewn up from bedsheet or pillowcase type fabric, which has a tight weave and is designed to take hot water. I rinse it between brews of coffee and occasionally throw it in the washing machine—but not with white fabric, unless you’re trying to dye it light tan.
…and a few suggestions for turkey if you are going to get together with some other men:
(c) 2013, Davd
This winter, i am without “wheels”. The day before a 45 cm snowfall, my vehicle wouldn’t start. Last winter i drove 11 times between late December and mid-April. A friend i won’t name without his blessing to do so, said he could drive me a few times per month—as many as i’d driven the first months of this year—and suggested i take the vehicle off the road until Spring. (He even drove me to the city to suspend the insurance, return a library book, and do some food shopping, after the storm.)
This won’t be my first Christmas alone. I do plan to feast. I don’t plan to get exotic—no pineapple, no sweet potatoes; my vegetables will all be kinds that grow near here and the whole meal is likely to be from Canada.
I’m still deciding between salmon, steak, and a shoulder-ham for this Christmas’s feast. A turkey is ‘way too large to cook for one man, and those three alternatives are waiting in the freezer. The shoulder ham is less likely than the other two, because it’s difficult to time the thawing.
I don’t want to go outdoors and stand in two feet of snow to “grill” either steak or salmon. The steak would be ‘fried’ using the technique i’ve posted for frying meat, with mushroom gravy and pasta or boiled potatoes, and spinach frozen from my summer garden. (The mushrooms are optional; i happen to have some salted forest mushrooms in the fridge. There’s also some Siberian kale from the fall garden, and some tomatoes that were picked green and have ripened to pink but aren’t likely to get red, so i might have a second-class but still good kale-tomato salad. There will definitely be cranberry jam or sauce, because cranberries grow all around here.) The wine will be home made Merlot or Pinot Noir.
The salmon would be steamed with carrots and probably rice. The steamed cabbage blog describes steaming technique; with Pacific pink salmon i’d use vegetable stock for the steaming liquid, put the rice in the pan with the stock—a little more than twice as much stock as rice—cut the carrots to half an inch thick or less, lay them in the steaming basket with gaps about that same width, put the salmon filet on top, and sprinkle it with frozen chive and dried tarragon. One pot cooks the fish, the carrots, and the grain; and the carrots and salmon flavour the rice. When the carrots are done, the fish should be; i’ll check the rice and if it is also done, add some more frozen chive . The other vegetable will be either spinach or salad—steamed cabbage is not quite feast enough for Christmas, in my opinion anyway—and the wine will be Riesling or Chardonnay, also home made from a kit. (I like robust flavours, as you might have noticed.)
Some of you reading this know enough cooking techniques to mimic one of those solo feasts, or plan one you personally will like even better. If so, enjoy … If not, think what you can readily do with the skills you have so far: For instance, you might have a favorite kind of sausage—one that’s too high in saturated fat to eat often, too good to make soup from, but easy to cook. (I thought of salami, but it’s normally eaten cold, and a cold Christmas dinner is something to have if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere or the tropics… so it won’t appeal to most readers.)
If you like the idea of steak—or a pork chop, chicken filet, fried rather than steamed fish—but aren’t confident about making gravy or sauce for the pasta, rice or potatoes, you could choose pasta and buy a bottle of commercial sauce. (I buy commercial sauce myself, when it’s on special for a dollar a bottle [650-700 ml], and keep some handy for when i am in a hurry.) When you take the meat out of the pan, pour the commercial sauce in to heat; and it will pick up some meat drippings and taste better.
With my experience, i buy more crushed and diced tomatoes—and grow tomatoes also—and make most of my own sauces; but commercial sauce which has captured some pan flavour is good enough to go with a steak, a pork chop, or a chicken filet. Fish doesn’t seem to improve commercial pasta sauce, though. A better trick with fried fish is to boil some potatoes and mash them in the pan after the fish comes out.. then add some butter, oil, or margarine, and pepper. If you happen to have chive or green onion, add some of that too.
If you have a favorite commercially prepared food—some favorite brand of pizza, corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips—maybe that’s your best Christmas dinner this year. The main point is, it should be a treat—and to your taste, not mine (unless our tastes agree, in which case it’s both.)
If you know another man who will be ‘alone’ at Christmas, think about getting together for a feast you both appreciate. I won’t suggest turkey, though—a whole turkey is awfully big for two.
If you are organizing to join three or more other men who will be ‘alone’ at Christmas, and have bought a turkey, looking up the roasting procedure in a good cookbook, and “doing the usual Christmas dinner” together, isn’t really that difficult. Give yourselves plenty of time if you aren’t experienced at cooking turkeys. Share out the tasks other than the big bird: One man makes dessert, maybe; one makes cranberry sauce and gets one vegetable, one does the mashed potatoes, maybe one makes the stuffing, and so forth. Get together ahead of time to agree on who does what.
My favorite seasoning for stuffing, for turkey, other poultry, or baked fish; is Sage, Celery, Onion, and Pepper*. Some blog early in the New Year, i intend to give more attention to herb and spice combinations; for instance, i make chicken cacciatore with Sage, Oregano, Celery, Onion, Pepper, and often add basil or garlic in season. The oregano goes especially well with mushrooms and tomatoes, and is the signature herb for Italian cooking that’s not sweetened.
When boiling potatoes, adding bay leaf or rosemary will give them a special extra flavour that most people really appreciate.
As i was writing this blog, CBC Radio’s “Maritime Noon” show began with the announcement that a professional butler would tell listeners how to behave properly at holiday dinner, so they might be invited back. (I turned off the radio, so i didn’t hear the butler’s advice.) If being a guest is really so difficult—which i guess it is for some and not for others—dinner alone might be more comfortable. So depending on where you live, how well you get along with your nearby kinfolk if there are any, what other single men you know near by, and what faith you follow, go to church if that suits you, have some kind of a special meal without worrying whether it’s fancy enough, share it with men you like if kin you like aren’t near by and single buddies are—and maybe, remember that on that first Christmas, all Jesus ate was milk.
Many scholars believe that Jesus was actually born in the springtime, and that the church’s choice to celebrate His birth at the start of winter has two main reasons behind it. First, Easter—Resurrection Day—definitely was in the spring, and the two great feasts with their weeks of thought and preparation shouldn’t overlap. That gave a reason to celebrate Jesus’ birth in a different season. Second, there were pagan Winter Solstice festivals that the churches didn’t want their membership taking part in, and remembering His birth gave Christians something else to hold their attention. It does seem reasonable, that a Caesar ordering hundreds of thousands of subjects to travel to their ancestral home towns, wouldn’t order them to travel in the winter.
* I grow liveche (Lovage, Levisticum officinale) and use it instead of celery in soups, sauces and stuffings. Its taste is stronger and richer than celery, but definitely celery-like. Most readers probably won’t have it available. Celery leaves, outer stems, and trimmings are at least as good for seasoning stuffing as are the succulent, mild inner stalks: Cut them fine, same as the onion. Chive is (in my opinion) better than bulb onion for most cooking; but for stuffing, i’d cut the onion fine and fry it in canola oil or bacon fat until it just begins to brown, then add to the stuffing. Put it in raw if the frying is a bother—but do cut it fine.
.. building on experience for a “presentation quality meal”
(c 2013, Davd
“Fish” is about as diverse a class of foods as “meat” or “vegetables”. Filet of sole is light and delicate in taste and texture; sockeye salmon is robust and delightfully oily (and the oil is rich in the Omega-3 polyunsaturated fat that most people’s diets lack.) Mackerel has a strong odor that is also oily but very different from sockeye salmon, and can easily become “rank”; and its taste in the mouth is much lighter than sockeye or even Atlantic and coho salmon. Even among the fishes whose meat is called “white”, there is a great difference ranging from sole through pollock [goberge] and haddock to cod and on to some strong-flavoured kinds of sea bass.
The kinds of fish that cook well “poached in salsa” tend to be white or pink fleshed and relatively light in taste—though sole may be “too light” and tends also to be sold in filets that are thinner than ideal for the technique. This autumn, Pacific pink salmon [Oncorrhynchys gorbuscha] from Alaska and B.C. has been available, frozen whole [gutted, don't worry], at lower prices than any other kind of fish; and i’ve confirmed that it is delicious poached in salsa—as i knew of “pollock” (in English, or goberge in French) from earlier. I’m confident that other species of fish, especially haddock, perch when available in large enough pieces, and probably greenling, will also be good poached in salsa, but perhaps not cod, mackerel, or the higher-fat, stronger-flavoured species of salmon.
(Fish has become much more expensive during my adult life: As a graduate student on a tight budget i often bought rockfish, a very similar fish in taste and texture, for 25-30 cents per pound [55-66 cents per kilo, but in the 1960s, things were done in pounds]. Sirloin steak cost $1-$2 per pound, a good comparison because it, like fish filets, has almost no waste. Today i can get sirloin steak for $4-$5 per pound, or four times the price then; while the least expensive regularly available white fish costs at least ten times its price then.)
Poaching is simmering applied to meat or eggs “by themselves”, often in a flavoured broth: The broth (in this case, salsa picante) is kept just barely boiling, usually for a short time. Poached eggs, for instance, cook for 3-5 minutes. I poached pink salmon in about ten, and if you have doubts whether the fish is cooked, it shouldn’t hurt to cook it for fifteen.
You can make a batch of salsa, pour off two-thirds if you’re cooking just for yourself, and then add 150-200 grams [5-7 ounces] of fish. Or you can put a third of a batch of salsa into a pot (or a small stainless steel frying pan), heat it close to boiling, add the fish, and cook. Either way, a quarter to a third of a batch of salsa and 150-200 g of fish, should feed one man one meal.* For more people, multiply the amounts… and increase the size of the pot or pan.
Let the fish simmer [boil very gently], don’t boil it hard; and 10 minutes should be cooking time enough but if in doubt, 15 won’t hurt. Simmering gently, the salsa shouldn’t stick to the pot; if in doubt, test the bottom with a spoon. When the fish is done, it will be firm in texture. I haven’t made good notes about the time pink salmon takes to cook, vs pollock/goberge, but my educated guess is that salmon takes longer… so fairly thin pollock filets might be done in 5-6 minutes.
When the fish is cooked, add some grain—i almost always use boiled barley or rice—and you have a meal. Salsa in that amount counts as 1-2 ‘servings’ of vegetable in the terms of the Canada Food Guide, the fish is high-quality protein, and the grain gives a little extra balance to that protein. Salsa with a bit of fish taste from the cooking goes well with fish and grain.
My favourite among white fish readily available in the markets, for poaching in salsa, is usually called “Alaska pollock”. (I’m unaware of any way that “Alaska pollock” differs from other pollock, so “pollock” and occasionally goberge is what you’ll read here.) I can usually buy it for $9/kg at the CoOp and sometimes on special for $7.50 at another store, as frozen filets. If you’re near the West Coast and can get “greenling” or “rock cod”, those might be well worth a try. On the East Coast, they’re seldom if ever seen.
If you’re cooking for yourself or for “the guys”, the fish, salsa, and some cooked rice or barley, can be eaten from a bowl (shallow, wide bowls are sometimes called “soup plates.”) If you’re doing “a little nicer presentation”, you can separate the fish from the salsa, put it on a plate, and then add cooked grain to the salsa to serve separately. (I wouldn’t use salsa in which fish was cooked, for dipping corn chips…. or put it on the grain to go with chicken or red meat—but “it’s moot”, because that fish-poaching salsa gets used up in the same meal.)
The commonest white fish species in Atlantic Canadian stores are cod, haddock, pollock, and sole. For poaching, i prefer the pollock, which is the mildest-flavoured of the first three, and often the least expensive of the four. Haddock would be my second choice for poaching in salsa. Cod seems too strong-flavoured for best performance with salsa, while sole seems to me to be “too light” .. but you might think differently, so go ahead and try them if you like: De gustibus, non disputandum est.
I now know pink salmon is delicious poached in salsa. It’s well worth while cooking pink salmon this way; the difference versus pollock, is that pink salmon also comes out very good steamed with carrots, or grilled, or salted raw. (Other salmon species, and Western cutthroat and rainbow trout, are even better salted raw, or smoked, than is pink salmon… if you can manage a trout pond, that’s a great way to grow yourself some fine food!) I might try poaching brook trout sometime—but not the stronger-flavoured Atlantic, coho, spring, or sockeye salmon, nor mackerel and herring. Mackerel and herring are good ‘pickled’ and (mackerel especially) poached in a vinegar based broth; as well as smoked. The oilier, richer-flavoured salmon species are good fried, grilled, salted raw with herbs, as well as smoked, and the thicker cuts can be baked with or without stuffing.
Cod has a more distinct, stronger flavour than haddock or pollock, so i suggest steaming it with chive and a little tarragon or perhaps sage… a technique that also works well with pink salmon, and will be the subject of a future blog for those who don’t know the steaming technique. Your tastes might be different than mine, so go ahead and try those species of fish too, if you’re so inclined. What i can say is that pollock, which is mild flavoured even among white fishes, is mighty good, as is pink salmon, which is mild flavoured even among ‘red’ fishes
The first four “posts” on cooking started with an easy variation on a Finnish soup that not many non-Finns seemed to know about, then described how to sort out a cabbage and make the cooked part tastier, then described two techniques, for healthy fried meat and slightly fancy porridge, which add together for a good hearty breakfast. The last post, on salsa, described something a bit fancier; and now, combining salsa with poached fish and boiled grain (which cooks almost the same as making porridge, but takes noticeably longer than quick oats and is less likely to stick), you have a “presentation meal”, something you can serve that tastes special and many other folks won’t know how to do. (I strongly suggest you cook any meal for yourself and your housemates, at least twice, before doing it “for presentation”.)
Don’t get proud, though: There’s lots more to learn, and this week i’ll be thinking about what might come next. Maybe fileting those whole fish, and-or a review of boiling grain?
* Those “hungry-man” brand frozen dinners brag about being “a whole pound of food”. That’s 454 grams if they are being precise. 150 grams of fish, plus 250 grams or maybe 300 of rice or barley, and salsa, plus a vegetable, add up to at least one pound. 200 grams of fish, plus 300 grams or maybe 400 of rice or barley, and salsa, plus a vegetable, and an apple (banana, orange, etc.) should add up to more than half-again the size of that “big meal”, and without a calorie count that will make any active man get fat. (By the way, i did notice that sausage soup is “too high in saturated fats”, and i don’t recommend you eat it more often than once, maybe twice a week. I wrote my first cooking post about sausage soup, because it is relatively easy for a beginner to cook, and gives beginners a good first experience—plus many people haven’t known about it before.)
..sin cilantro, y todavía muy buena:
(c) 2013, Davd
It’s expensive to buy in a jar; it’s easy to make at home; it turns the reliably economical “canned diced tomatoes” into a versatile treat, it keeps a week or longer in the ‘fridge, and it goes superbly well with boiled barley or rice. You can even poach fish in it (Pacific pink salmon and pollock/goberge are two of the least expensive and poach very well in salsa), add rice or barley, and have a good, very healthy one-pot meal. Salsa can be a basic part of your diet, economical in time and money, and about as healthy as anything you cook.
If cabbage and carrots are the standard winter vegetables, canned or frozen* tomatoes are the choicest summer vegetable that can come into the winter kitchen almost as good for cooking as fresh. I delight in fresh cucumbers, and eat one or two per day all summer, but i don’t even want to think about eating frozen or canned cucumber. (If you just imagined the texture of a thawed cucumber, i’ll wait for you to go retch.) Dill pickles, yes, i do buy those fairly often in winter; and a few times i have actually made them—but tomatoes are more nutritious and dill pickles cost more per volume, plus their alum and salt content isn’t altogether healthy.
For making salsa picante, diced canned tomatoes are the form to buy. (For pasta sauce, “crushed” tomatoes are preferable, but if diced cost noticeably less, they’ll do OK for pasta sauce as well. Don’t try to make salsa from crushed tomatoes.) Frozen tomatoes can be thawed, chopped in a food processor or blender (or in the cooking pot, with kitchen scissors) and make good salsa; but i tend to use frozen for pasta sauce. For now, i’ll write two techniques for canned, diced tomatoes, and later, a few words about adapting them if you have fresh or frozen.
“The midwinter technique” uses canned diced tomatoes, onions, fried in good vegetable oil, and three spices you will find valuable for other cooking as well: Chili powder, cumin, and paprika. (all three are sold fine-ground, dry; and they all keep well; so if in doubt, buy a larger size of each if the price per kilo is lower that way.)
If you have celery leaf, celery seed, leftover celery (the outer stems tend to be coarse and strong-flavoured, as are the outer leaves of cabbage) or the stronger celery-like herb lovage [liveche, Levisticum officinale] add a little to the tomatoes when you start them heating.
The standard can of tomatoes contains 796 ml or 28 ounces (i would guess in the US it will read in ounces) and costs about a dollar on special**. (If you find that size cans of tomatoes for much less than a dollar, buy a dozen or two; they should keep more than a year.) Being canned, they need no special storage conditions.
Set out your ingredients: A can of diced tomatoes, a small-to-medium-sized onion (i prefer sharp to mild), celery stem or celery leaf (or liveche) if you have it, and your containers of chili powder, cumin, and paprika.
First, put a small frying pan on the stove (or you can use the pot where you’ll make the salsa) with a thin but visible layer of oil in it, and get it heating while you cut up the onion, fairly small. I quarter onions “from pole to pole” [from the root end to the bud end], and the quarters are easier to peel than an onion is while whole. Setting two peeled quarters together on the cutting board, flat side down, you can slice them a quarter inch thick or thinner, fairly quickly. The onion layers will separate, so quartered and sliced, a medium onion will be down to fairly small pieces. (You can cut the outer layers of each quarter halfway ’round it, halfway to the middle, to make the pieces really fine.)
Put the onions in the pan to fry until lightly browned. Medium heat should do.
As soon as the onions are chopped and starting to fry, open the can of tomatoes and when the lid is almost cut free from the can, use it to hold back the tomatoes and drain some of the liquid into a mug or teacup for thickening the salsa at the end. Then pour the tomatoes and the rest of the liquid into your cooking pot (unless you’re frying the onions in it, in which case wait until they start to brown) add celery (or liveche) if you have it, and heat on medium power. While the tomatoes are heating, add one flat to slightly rounded tablespoon of chili powder, and one slightly rounded teaspoon each of cumin and paprika, then stir. Add the onions as soon as they’ve browned a little.
As with porridge—as with all cooking—you should stir often enough to keep things from sticking to the bottom of the pot, as well as to mix things together. You can soon learn to feel with the spoon, when things start to stick. I don’t find salsa ingredients tend to stick until the cornstarch is mixed in and thickens.
The best timing is for the spices to go in while the tomatoes are still almost cold, and the onions when they and the spices are halfway to boiling. When the mixture is about to boil, ease the heat to medium-low, stir, and let things boil for just a minute or so, while you stir a generous forkful of corn starch into the liquid you saved in that mug. (A fork is much better than a spoon for stirring corn starch into liquid, and the liquid should be cold rather than hot while you’re stirring in the powdered corn starch.)
Next, add the corn starch and liquid to the pot, (this time the spoon will be better for stirring, though the fork can be made to work) and quickly stir it in well. As soon as the cornstarch mixture gets to boiling, in the presence of fat (the oil that came in with the onions), it will thicken the salsa. Cornstarch only needs to cook for half a minute—and hey! compadre!—you have home-made salsa. (Turn off the power, or take the pot off the woodstove, before the salsa sticks, now that it’s thickened.)
Freshly made and boiling hot, salsa will heat cooked rice or barley from the ‘fridge, and they’ll average out at a pretty decent eating temperature. I usually mix two parts grain to one of salsa—approximately. Use the proportions you like best—it’s your food.
(A frugal trick would be to pour the salsa into the can the tomatoes came in, then put some grain into the pot to absorb most of the salsa that didn’t pour, put that grain into the bowl you’ll eat it from, and then add salsa from the can to the proportions you want. A tin can can take boiling heat, and if you have a snap-lid that fits it, you can store the salsa in the ‘fridge, in that can, once it cools—compact and a minimum of fuss.)
The amounts of chili powder, cumin, and paprika i listed above work well for me; but chili powder varies in “heat” and so do men’s tastes. Adjust the amounts from your experience after you’ve made salsa once or twice. You can add “sweet peppers” to your salsa, but you don’t need to, and they’re often very expensive in Canada. Likewise with cilantro, which most weeks, i couldn’t even find in the stores nearest me… the cumin is enough, combined with chili powder and paprika, to give the basic salsa taste.
I eat salsa 3-10 times per week, year-’round, because it’s easy to make and i really enjoy tomatoes. In summer i make it less often because i’m having fresh tomatoes in salads and sandwiches… but salsa and barley or rice combine so well, and are so quick to put together when i’m in a hurry, that even in summer i use that combination fairly often.
In summer, i use fresh tomatoes, and chives rather than onions, because i prefer the chive flavour and the green colour makes the salsa look even better. (Next summer i’ll probably post more details about that.) The next post, this late autumn, i think, should describe how to poach “white” fish in salsa. Meanwhile, get some canned diced tomatoes, chili powder, cumin and paprika, onions and cornstarch if you don’t keep them on hand already, and give basic salsa a try.
It’s a good, handy, versatile technique to know.
* Tomatoes from the garden can be put in a plastic food bag and frozen in their skins. The skins protect them from drying out [“freezer burn”]. They do lose their texture when thawed, but for salsa or pasta sauce, that’s a minor rather than a major loss.
** I’ve found them at that price in the nearest Wal-Mart most of this year. Perhaps the Wal-Mart house brand has a bit more liquid and a bit less tomato, so i usually buy Co-Op or a name brand if it’s available at the same price.
.. for Flavour and Health: The Art of the Cast-iron Pan
(c) 2013, Davd
If you want a cheap laugh, and don’t mind being thought a fool, go into a good steakhouse and say “Boil me a T-bone.” (Even “Boil me a pork chop” is cheap dimwit comedy rather than mere ignorance.) Fried meat, we often hear, is unhealthy for us, and especially for our hearts and arteries. .. but would you boil a steak? even a pork chop or a slice of ham? Not if you’re sure it’s in good condition!
Since frying and grilling (and roasting for thick pieces) are the best simple ways to cook fine cuts of meat, it’s worth learning how to do them well—to get delicious meat with little or no risk to your health. The skills involved—much like riding a bicycle or driving nails with a hammer—will need careful attention at the start, to go well; and then you’ll gradually “get the hang of it” and they will become a comfortable routine.
You can make a stainless steel or Teflon-surface frying pan do a good job, but the metal that serves me best—that does a good job most easily and the best job when used with care—is cast iron. It seasons well with vegetable oil (or with animal fat); it builds up enough heat in its heavy metal, and delivers that heat fast enough, to sear meat well; and it’s easy to clean without damaging it. (Yes, it does need “seasoning” [for cooking performance, not for flavour] with oil; but that oil can be a very small amount and it will help sear the meat.)
Next time you see cast iron frying pans at a yard sale or second-hand store, if they’re reasonably priced, get the sizes you don’t already have. A little rust can be cleaned up and once well seasoned, cast iron pans won’t rust again. Oil protects the metal from rusting. If the rust has made pits in the cooking surface [inside bottom] deeper than your thumb-nail is thick, i wouldn’t buy
it even for only a dollar.
To season a cast-iron frying pan, first clean it thoroughly and let it dry. (It will dry fastest if it is at an angle between horizontal and vertical, inside down. To force-dry it quickly, heat it on a stove, fairly low power.) Then heat it to about the boiling temperature of water. (If a drop of water sizzles or even evaporates quickly without jumping around, the pan is hot enough.)
Now add a small amount of canola oil, corn oil—a good vegetable oil but not olive.* I aim to just cover the bottom of the frying pan with oil, when it’s hot—and hot oil spreads much more thinly over the iron than cold oil. You don’t need much. When the oil runs freely around the bottom of the pan—not sluggishly as oil does when it’s cold—tilt the pan this way and that until the bottom is oiled all over, then turn off the power or slide the pan to a relatively cool corner of the woodstove. Leave the pan fairly hot for at least a minute, then put it on a cold stove element, a trivet, an oven shelf, even a block of wood, to let it cool.
The first time you try this, you may find it hard to estimate how much oil to add. Take your time, and watch how the oil and the pan-bottom are interacting—this is learning time, not wasted time. Add a little and if it’s not enough, a little more… and if you wind up with too much you can pour the excess on the dog’s food, into a clean empty tuna can, even into another frying pan where you’ll cook potatoes or eggs, which cook best in more than a film of oil.
When the pan has cooled, then, if there is enough oil in it to run visibly to the low side when the pan is tilted, you can pour that oil out if you’re planning to fry meat. (Leave it in if you’re planning to fry potatoes or eggs. I often set a small frying pan inside a larger one, upside down with one edge tilted upward slightly, and let the oil run into the larger pan, .. then later, if i’m going to fry potatoes in the small pan, i put the oil back in addition to the oil from its latest seasoning… or i use that excess oil to season the small pan next time.)
It’s good to let a pan cool to complete the seasoning, then re-heat it when you’re ready to fry that pork chop, chicken leg, beefsteak, or fish. If you’re in a hurry, you can usually get away with using a pan that’s just been seasoned… but i wouldn’t make a habit of that.
Frying has at least two, different stages: Searing and cooking. Searing always comes first: The meat is browned at high pan heat—well above the boiling point of water—to seal the outside so the moisture will stay in. Throw a pork chop or a steak—even a chicken leg—in boiling water without searing it, and so much of the flavour will go out into the water that the meat will taste insipid, and the water will seem “bloody” rather than meaty. Before you make a beef stew, pot roast, chicken cacciatore, pork with bean sprouts and mushrooms in Chinese or Japanese style—before moist-cooking generally—you should also sear that meat.
To sear and then cook well, a pork chop should be at least half an inch [1.3 cm] thick, and ¾” [2 cm] isn’t too much. (There is a different technique, using a thin-bottom steel pan and a gas flame, for cooking thinner meat; and most of those i’ve met who do it well, also speak fluent French. Few of us who speak mostly English, even have gas flames to cook on, except maybe in a camp stove.)
So get the pan surface, with its thin film of oil that wouldn’t move around at room temperature, hot enough that the oil moves around easily or the pan threatens to go dry. Put the meat in, brown one side, turn it, brown the other side, and to be thorough, brown the edges also. (For a breakfast pork chop, the two large “sides” are enough, but doing the edges is still a good idea unless they are made up of bone or fat.)
If you’re not sure when the meat is browned, you can lift it and look. (Be sure you get the whole side of the meat down against the pan, each side, at the start and after looking. Pushing down with a spatula that’s almost as wide as it is long, will usually do the trick.)
As soon as the second side is down on the much-hotter-than-boiling pan, or when you start searing edges if you do, lower the heat; and when done searing, cover the pan. Searing is taking all the water from the surface of the meat, browning it, and thus sealing that surface; but you don’t want the meat dried out all the way through. Slower cooking after searing will produce a juicy and still fully cooked pork chop. You want the pork cooked to a tan colour clear through, not red or pink. If it has been well seared, it will still be juicy and tasty, not dried-out, not waterlogged.
(Why fully cooked? Mostly, because of trichinosis. Trichinae are tiny worms that can live in the muscles of pigs, bears—and unlucky humans. You don’t want them in your muscles, and apparently, they can survive stomach acid and get through the intestinal wall; so standard cooking practice for pork, since trichinae were discovered, has been to “cook it well done.” If there are trichinae in the pork, cooking it well done will kill them. Today, most pork is inspected and pig farmers seem to have learned how to keep trichinae out of their pigpens—but better safe than sorry.
Chicken and ground beef are also supposed to be “cooked well done”, because of disease bacteria rather than trichinae. It is possible to produce ground beef that is safe to cook rare or medium; but that involves a lot of cleaning and sterilizing and the big meat packers don’t seem to find it profitable.)
When the pork chop is done, you can put your porridge (or a slice or two of bread, or even cooked pasta or rice or barley) into the pan to soak up the mixture of fat and water that has formed during slow cooking. (If it’s mostly fat, you can choose instead, to pour it on the dog’s food dish. Dogs only live ten to fifteen years, and as far as i know, don’t have time to develop dangerous “arteriosclerosis”. They do enjoy pork fat; and when i have a pork chop with enough fat in or on it, to cut out, Fritz [my dog] gets the fat and counts it for a real treat.)
Whole grain porridge flavoured with pan brownings and a little meat juice from the slow cooking, is my preference. Add an apple**, and you’ve got a hearty healthy breakfast.
The same frying technique works, with a little adjustment, for steaks and lamb-chops. Beefsteak can be cooked “rare” to “medium” as well as fully [“well done”]. Lamb (and young mutton) i’d cook medium but not rare. For rare and even for medium, a thicker piece of meat will fry [or grill] best: An inch thick if you want rare, ¾” or more for medium… but i wouldn’t go thicker than 3 cm [an inch and a quarter] without consulting someone who’s more experienced with very thick steaks.
For chicken and ground meat, use the same technique as for pork, because the health authorities today say consistently, that these meats are not safe to eat partly cooked. Chicken “cutlets”, “filets”, “nuggets” and strips, are near enough uniform thickness to cook like steaks and chops, if they are all meat. I use mainly salt and pepper to season pork and beef after searing, but might add chive and tarragon to chicken.
Chicken pieces of any type that are “breaded” or otherwise coated, don’t need searing, so read the package directions and then adapt them to your liking. Chicken thighs [cuisses de poulet] without back attached, may also be uniform enough to fry like chops, though i’d be inclined to sear-and-simmer, as i do with whole legs. Chicken breasts with the skin still on, can be steamed skin-side up, and tend to be better that way. (Those techniques will be the subjects of future “posts.”)
To sum up: The best way to fry a 2-3 cm [¾" to 1¼"]; piece of meat—a chop, chicken ‘filet’, or steak—is to sear both flat sides in a seasoned cast-iron frying pan, lower the heat, cover the pan, and cook until it’s to your liking (or the safety requirements.) Steaks, pork sirloin chops, and white meat chicken “filets”, may benefit from searing the edges as well. When the meat is done, the frying pan will usually contain “meat juices” that can be used to flavour bread, barley, pasta, rice—or for breakfast, porridge is my favourite. What with apples and spice plus meat juices for oatmeal and meat juices alone for rye porridge, i find porridge is a food i can eat daily for weeks and months… and its proteins complement those in the meat.
Meat fried this way has very little extra fat, and that fat is healthy vegetable oil. The technique is easy once you’re familiar with it, and the results are as good as you’re likely to get until you’ve mastered the smoky-coals barbecue—which is a more demanding technique i expect to write about starting next spring.
… by the way … cooking most of the fat out of smoked bacon, really isn’t frying as we otherwise use the term.. it’s slow cooking in a frying pan, while real frying starts out “fast”.
* I believe i’ve been told that olive oil won’t work because it’s unstable at frying temperature. I’ve never tried it for frying, because it costs several times as much as canola oil, which is healthy and fries things well.
** Apples are high in pectin, which helps protect you from high-cholesterol foods. (See e.g. Castleman, Michael, 1991. The Healing Herbs. [Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press] p. 54) Thus, i usually eat apples with red meat and with eggs and have bananas and oranges with fish or poultry… when i have them. Apples grow right where i am; bananas, oranges, and pineapple don’t.
.. and a few more of the many ways to enjoy the virtues of Boiled Whole Grain:
(c) 2013, Davd
Breakfast, i’ve been told, should be the best and heartiest meal of the day. Supper should seek wisdom in the French souper from which it apparently derives, and be a small, light meal by comparison. The mid-day meal, whether you call it lunch or dinner, should be substantial if you are a farmer or other hard manual worker, and intermediate if you work in an office (and don’t bicycle a long distance to work and back, do a run and a workout every day—you get the idea.)
I wish i had a simple multiple-choice response sidebar where you who are reading this, could let me know how well your usual meal sizes and contents, agree with that dietary advice. Mine match only moderately well, and often that’s because it’s the evening when i have time to cook something really good. Where i match the pattern best is at breakfast—i do, normally, eat a good substantial breakfast of meat and grain and fruit. These good hearty breakfasts are rather easy to learn to cook—so, here goes.
A good substantial breakfast can consist of fried meat (pork chops are usually the most economical in terms of protein per dollar spent, sometimes ham is, and if you have access to low-cost trout or salmon, by all means eat it for many, even most of your breakfasts. Trout and salmon go better with rye porridge, maybe cornmeal “mush”, rather than oatmeal, but oatmeal will be good too.)
For this week, i’ll guesstimate that many more of you can fry a pork chop or a slice of ham (or bacon—if you dare risk the high fat content) than have learned to make porridge “from scratch.” It’s only a guess, and soon i’ll post a simple “recap” on cooking meat in a frying pan. It will feature good vegetable oil, of which only a thin layer is needed, and the simple art of browning [aka searing] the meat surface. For those of you who have good cooking experience, those points should be enough for the meat part.
The rule to follow unless you have reason to know better, in cooking grain, is Two-to-One [2:1]: Two measures of water to one of grain. This rule works well with oat and rye flakes, with rice and barley cooked by themselves, (but not with that old brand name hot cereal called “Cream of Wheat” nor with Steel Cut Oats.) I’ve used it successfully with a mixture of wheat flakes and “ground toasted corn”, which is good with beef and also with pork smoked or unsmoked.
The commonest porridge in Canada, the UK, and the US, though, is “oatmeal”: Oat flakes cooked for a few minutes in gently boiling water. (There are other definitions in Scotland, i’ve heard half-seriously; so if you’re a Scot or share a kitchen with one, you might want to have a few minutes talk about that. For most of us, oatmeal is made from oat flakes boiled in twice their volume of water.) Rollling the oats into flakes makes them cook faster without making them cook up worse, so that’s how most oats are sold for human consumption. (Horses, as far as i know, get them pretty well as they came out of the thresher. Since horses can’ t read and can’t cook, we’ll proceed with the human version.)
OK, there is an order of procedure to making oatmeal; it’s easy to learn, follow, and remember; and it does matter. First, measure the oat flakes: I use a fairly large mug, always the same mug, because the amount of oatmeal it produces makes three good servings. Find a measuring technique that produces the amount you (and whoever has breakfast with you) can eat in one or two sittings (maybe three sittings if you eat alone.) Then set that amount of oat flakes aside to wait for the water to boil. (I have an odd plastic container i use for the oat flakes to wait in; you could use a clean tin can, an empty margarine container, one of the bowls you’ll eat the porridge from when it’s done… whatever fits your household.)
Second, measure the water—two fillings of that same container you used to measure the oats—into a pot [it's OK to call it a pan, but it should have a lid, and don't use a frying pan] where you’ll cook the porridge. (If you measure the water first, the container will be wet and the oat flakes will stick to it… the order does matter.) Then put the water on the stove (and turn on the power). You’ll want high heat to get the water to boil quickly, unless for some reason it takes a long time to get the apple and spices into the pot.
The apple can be any variety you like to eat. My favourites are Brunswick, Forgeron, Honeycrisp, Paulared, Spy—and Fuji, Gala, King, which won’t grow here. Cortland, Red and Golden Delicious, Jonagold, and any good cider apple, are also to my liking. For me, McIntosh and Yellow Transparent are too light in flavour—i also avoid light beer when robust is available; and much prefer Merlot and Pinot Noir to claret—but de gustibus, non disputandum est.* Use whatever kinds of apple you like to eat.
How much apple? This is a technique, not a precise recipe, and again, “tastes” may vary. I’d use 1/10 to 1/4 the amount of oat flakes—and remember, both the cut-up apple and the oat flakes are loose—there’s a lot of air space in that measure. Because i’m using them boiled, i’m willing to put apples that are bruised, or bird-pecked, even the good looking parts of wormy apples, into the pot. Often i use the smallest, most damaged apples i bother to bring in the house. (Since only two of my trees produced more than ten apples this year, and together they bore less than i will eat over winter, i brought in apples half the size of a tennis ball, if they looked sound—this year. When the harvest is big enough that i can be “choosier”, i’d like to have chickens to feed the small and damaged ones to.)
Cut the apples up “fine”—into pieces from the size of a split pea to the size of a white (“Great Northern”, or “Navy”—not Lima) bean. A little larger won’t hurt; but they should cook fast once the water boils, and they should distribute well through the porridge rather than there being several fairly big chunks in one spoonful and no apple in some others. Get them into the pot before the water boils, preferably; and let them have a minute or two of boiling before the oat flakes go in. If you put them in when the water is boiling, you should wait for it to come back to the boil, and then give the apples a minute or two at boiling—more fuss and bother, which is why i put them in before the water boils.
Right after adding the apples, add a little ground cinnamon and a tiny amount of ground cloves. My big mug holds over 12 ounces—just over ,4 litres. I use an amount of cinnamon that equals the size of one of those small white beans—maybe up to the size of a dry chili bean before i soak it for cooking. My ground cloves are in a shaker-top container, and i give one or two quite small taps or shakes—with the container tilted just below the horizontal, not upside down. Cloves are expensive, and their flavour is very strong, so go easy on cloves.
Once the water, the apples, cinnamon and clove reach the boil, ease back the power if you’re using an electric or gas stove. When the apples, cinnamon and clove have boiled for a minute or two, add the oat flakes, gradually, stirring while they go in. (A “soupspoon” or “tablespoon” size spoon is most appropriate; a larger one or a teaspoon can be made to do the job.)
The cold oats and the stirring will probably cool the water and stop the boiling for a minute or two. If the power is at a level where the pot will boil lively but not furiously, a minute or two should be all it will take to get them boiling again. Stir again as they come back to the boil; but you don’t need to stir constantly: Stir often enough that the porridge, as it cooks, doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot .. which means, the hotter the element, flame, or woodstove top, the more stirring. “Quick oats” will cook in three minutes or maybe less; large flake oats or rye flakes will take five minutes at least (and should be stirred at least twice while boiling. Opening the lid to stir, means more steam will escape while you’re stirring, and that means you’ll need a little more power to keep the boil going. At first it takes more attention than when you’ve got used to your pots and stove.)
If you’ve got your pork chop or slice of ham cooked when the porridge is ready, add an apple (or a banana, an orange, etc.) and there you have a hearty, very nourishing breakfast. Most of you, i do believe, will find it tastes better and feels better digesting, than a bowl of dry cereal—even granola—or a boiled egg and toast, which boiled egg and toast take about as long to cook as a pork chop and porridge, once you get the hang of making porridge.
I described Spiced Apple Porridge because it’s about the most complicated form of porridge i make. When you’ve made Spiced Apple porridge, adding cut-up apricots, blueberries, cranberries, raisins, raspberries, or whatever other fruit to porridge will be easier by comparison: No spices needed, and less or no cutting.
People who know more about nutrition than i—or write as if they did—say that refined grain, such as pasta, white bread, white flour, white rice, is much too large a part of the American—and they often imply, the Canadian—diet. Whole wheat bread, whole wheat pancakes, and especially, boiled whole grain give more complete nutrition. The easiest way to get whole grain in your diet, is boiling it in soups, stews—and good old porridge. That bears repetition: Whole grain porridge, whether oats, rye, or even corn or wheat (and corn and wheat together make a tasty porridge that goes better with beef than oatmeal does), is healthier than white bread or part-whole-wheat, or part-white-flour “rye” bread. Porridge beats toast for food value. It beats many of the “dry cereals” out of a box, that cost as much per kilo as steak does. And when you put porridge into the frying pan where the meat was cooked, it picks up the “juices” left behind, and tastes better still.
If you live by yourself or cook breakfast for just yourself, the easiest way to eat porridge and meat, is from the frying pan where the meat was cooked. A small frying pan is just about as convenient to put on the table as a plate (put some paper under it if you cooked on a woodstove, so the bottom won’t dirty your table or your place mat; and let it cool down almost to eating temperature so it won’t mar the table.) It will need cleaning anyway, so by eating from it, you save cleaning a plate—and unlike a plate, you can let the dog help clean a frying pan.**
Oatmeal is the commonest porridge in Canada and the States. Cornmeal “mush” is common in some places, and pretty good with pork and beef. (I think it would be good with chicken, too—but i’ve never had chicken for breakfast on any regular basis.) Wheat flakes with cornmeal, especially toasted coarse cornmeal, make a good porridge for beef and pretty good for pork. (This is written in Canada and like the US, we say “corn” to refer to what the English and most Africans call maize [Zea mays, maís en Español]. When i later refer to corn oil, that means oil pressed from maize, not from grain-in-general.)
The porridge i think really deserves more use and appreciation, though, is rye.
This autumn of 2013, and the rest of the year so far, rye flakes have sold at “Bulk Barn” for less than their price for oats. Rye goes very well with pork (including bacon, ham, and pork sausage) and better with beef than does oatmeal. It also goes best of the grains i know—better than barley, corn, oats, rice, or wheat—with salmon and trout. If you go fishing and have trout or salmon to cook for breakfast—rye porridge is the best accompaniment i know. (Well, if you can get whole rye bread, that’s equally good, a little less work but more expensive. I looked through the chain stores in Miramichi, the first Saturday in November, and found no rye bread. I didn’t ask at the deli counters, but on the shelves—no rye bread that i noticed. My practice, if i had access to good whole rye bread as i had in Thunder Bay, would be to have rye bread with cold fish and rye porridge with hot, freshly cooked fish, of the salmon-and-trout family.)
I’ll recommend that you get rye flakes, unless they’re awfully expensive where you are, and make rye porridge for at least 10% of your breakfasts. It goes well with pork, best with “red” fish, better with beef than oatmeal does. When you have two or more variations on oatmeal, plus rye porridge, in your repertoire, then maybe try cornmeal, or wheat flakes.
Meat, porridge, an apple or other fruit—in the summer, a cucumber or tomato maybe, and your choice of coffee and teas, make up a substantial breakfast that starts the day well and happily. More than one kind of fruit is usually even better than just one. (Cucumbers and tomatoes are botanically fruits, by the way; and i for one can’t appreciate vegetables like beets, carrots, lettuce and spinach first thing in the morning… so i write fruits. If you really delight in carrots and spinach for breakfast—well, de gustibus, non disputandum est.*)
“Breakfast like a king, lunch like a fine gentleman, sup like a pauper”, goes an old saying. The Jet Lag Diet prescribes meat for breakfast because high protein food energizes you. (Meatless pasta, or those ramen noodles with the little envelope of mock broth, would then be the dietetic sleeping pill.) My custom of having a decent-sized piece of [usually fried] meat, porridge, and fruit for breakfast isn’t quite kingly, but neither am i… and feasting like a king might do me the same harm it seemed to do Henry VIII. (Durant’s The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin: 1300-1564. NYC: Simon and Schuster, 1957, esp. p. 576, describes King Henry’s obesity and ill health.)
I expect the next post to be shorter, and focus on techniques of frying meat, for those who lack good experience at that. Meanwhile, if you can fry meat at all, go ahead and enjoy meat-and-porridge for breakfast. A week or so of too much saturated fat in the frying pan shouldn’t hurt you much, and many of you may already know how to fry well with modest amounts of healthier fats.
* That’s a famous Latin maxim, and a rough English translation is: “Let there be no arguments, no fights over matters of taste.”
** Dog saliva can carry microbes you don’t want in your food—but the operating temperature of a frying pan is well above the boiling point of water, and will kill them even more surely than boiling (which is the standard “aggressive sterilizing technique”. My rule about giving dishes to the dog to lick, is “will it boil or be hotter than that, next time it is used? If yes, let the dog enjoy what’s stuck to the pan or pot. If no, don’t give it to the dog unless you’re willing to sterilize it with bleach before you use it again.”)