Rust Rescue 101: Saving your cast iron or wok

The blight happened.

My beautiful cast iron griddle and grill, along with my new-ish Chinese wok both got rust. It certainly makes a case for remembering to heat up your cast irons and woks after washing to make sure ALL the water is evaporated off.

Luckily, it’s not too difficult to get rid of rust from your cookware. The bad news is that once you do, you will have to go through the lengthy process of reconditioning your pan, grill, or wok all over again.

Below is my 3-step process of how to get rid of the rust. The fourth step is thrown in for good measure.

  1. Put about a tablespoon of sea salt and oil onto your cast iron cookware or in your wok.
  2. With a piece of steelwool, work the salt and oil around the rusty areas of your cookware and scrub it off
  3. Rinse off the salt and oil. Don’t use soap. Just rinse it off so all the salt is gone.
  4. Follow the instructions for reconditioning your cookware.

Happy cast iron or wok cleaning!

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Bouquet garni

IMG_9318A bouquet garni is a bundle or sachet of herbs that you assemble and add to something you’re boiling or stewing for a prolonged period of time like a soup, stock, or stew. The bundling or sachet allows you to remove the herbs quickly and easily once what you’re making has enough flavour – not unlike a tea bag. French stocks in particular strive to be crystal clear, and so the bouquet garni is key in helping to achieve this.

Ingredients:

What you include in a bouquet garni will depend on what you’re making, but generally, thyme and bay leaves are used as a base. Other herbs that can be added or asked for in a recipe include:

  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Tarrgon

Some recipes also ask for certain vegetables like carrots, celery, and onions to also be included in the bouquet garni. For those recipes, it’s better to use a sachet method as the vegetables can break down over the course of cooking. Some also wrap everything up inside a few layers of leeks that have been halved lengthwise and tie it together.

Preparation:

Assembling a bouquet is very easy. There are two main methods:

1) Stack and bundle your herbs together and tie it tightly together with a string

2) Place them into a tea bag or cheese cloth and tie that tight with a string

Voilà, You’re ready to go!

As local as possible: Fresh City Farms

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Earlier this season, a good friend of ours stumbled across a new food box program in our city: Fresh City Farms. After our time with Culinarium, which sadly closed its doors earlier this year, we were open to participating in another food share program.

What is attractive about Fresh City Farms that sets it apart from other programs was its door-to-door delivery, organic promise, and finally, the hyper-local focus of their food philosophy – as local as possible, in fact.

Perhaps organic and door-to-door is obvious, but why local?

1. It’s healthier. The produce we eat is in essence converted energy from the sun. I know this is an oversimplification of a far more complex series of systems; however, at the heart of it, food is energy. The sooner we eat that produce once it’s harvested, the greater the amount of energy we retain from it. The longer our food is in transit, storage, and processing after its harvested, the more energy is lost. It’s no wonder fresh fruit and vegetables from a farmer’s market always looks, smells, and tastes so much more flavourful than the same tired looking fruit and vegetables near the end of a week at a grocery store (or perhaps in a fridge at home for too long). You know the kind I’m talking about.

That said, there is nothing wrong with eating food that has been shipped in, it’s just that we’re not getting as much nutritional value from it. In some cases, it can’t be helped… there are certain things we simply can’t get where we are. At the same time, there is also so much variety locally to be explored and experimented with that it brings to question. Why not?

2. It’s more environmental. The transportation of import foods over long distances means high costs in energy and fuel for their transportation and storage. Eating more locally means a reduction in the need for those logistics and energy burn.

3. It supports local sustainability. By buying straight from local farms and gardens, more of our dollar goes to the families who grow the food. It doesn’t get split up along the way by a series of middle men. (In case it’s of interest, the Story of Stuff is worth checking out if you haven’t already in the past.)

So back to Fresh City Farms. Most of their produce is farmed in gardens right in the city and when necessary, in nearby farms. Only when the produce cannot be farmed here in Ontario does Fresh City Farms bring it in from the outside, and when they do, it’s clearly labeled. You can opt-out of certain produce, or add additional products to supplement your weekly food box. Food boxes come in small and large sizes that contain fruit or vegetable, or both, and can be delivered weekly or biweekly.

When you order, you can also send the foodbox to a pick-up point, or if you have three or more deliveries to the same address, you can create your own pick-up location. Pick-up locations get a few dollars off each food box. It may take a little communication and follow-up to get your box set-up, as they’re still quite new, small, and ironing out wrinkles. But once it’s set up, it’s worth it.

Our friends and we have been getting our food boxes like clockwork this season and it’s been great. If you haven’t yet, give them a try.

Love candles, hate the mess: Getting the wax out of your mason jars

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Today’s post is a bit of a departure from our usual posts around food and all things related to food, but I thought that this tip could be useful to those of you who have run into this problem. I’ll explain.

In our household, we love candles, and we love our mason jars. So much so that we had a couple hundred at our wedding that served mainly as candles. But once the night was over, what we had left over were well over a hundred perfectly good mason jars with wax melted firmly into the bottom.

I searched high and low for the best solutions on getting the wax out. Some tips suggested softening the wax by putting the jars in the microwave. Others gave instructions around either putting boiling water into the jars or boiling the jars in water to boil out the wax – as melted wax floats on water. Another recommended placing the jars in an oven and heating no more than 200F and pouring the melted wax out onto a piece of wax paper. All great solutions, but none very practical for the girl that needed to attack the waxed jars en masse.

Finally, the best one surfaced and it was beautifully simple. Freeze the jars. Wax shrinks slightly when frozen, so it pulls away from the jar and is very easy to snap from the bottom with a good old fashioned butter knife. It also works beautifully in getting that tricky waxy residue off the glass. So no scrubbing required. The only downfall with freezing the jars is how to get the wax out if the lip of your jar is smaller than the base (where the wax has melted into), like is the situation with mason jars. You can chip away and try to break the wax (as we did initially), but then you’d run the risk of using too much force and either chipping or even breaking the jar, or worse, getting hurt (as we also did initially).

So in light of that, I’ve made some adjustments to my mason method madness.

Here it is. My simple four step process of getting wax out of your mason jar:

1. Freeze the jars. You only need to keep them in for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how much wax you have in your candle. Depending on how big your freezer is, you can put a lot of jars in and freeze them all at once.

2. Pop out and flip the wax. This is easy. All it takes is either a shake of the jar or for the more stubborn ones, a butter knife and a little twist. The wax will pop free. Now flip the wax over upside down in the jars (or just turn the jar on its side with the wax resting on the side of the jar) and let it all thaw (only takes 30 minutes or less).  Letting the wax thaw will allow you to break it up without the risk of breaking the jar or hurting yourself. Flipping the wax over in the jars so it’s not resting back on the bottom of the jars makes sure the wax doesn’t thaw and get stuck to the bottom of your jar again. Obviously, you only need to flip and thaw the wax if it’s a lot of melted wax that’s too big to get out of the jar.

3. Break the wax. Use that same trusty butter knife and gently, but firmly press the knife into the angled wax to break it. Usually, the wax will run in currents – I usually break the wax in one of the creases and find that it comes apart really easily.

4. Quick rinse. You can give your jar(s) a quick rinse to get any stubborn crumbs of wax out. But at this point, you’re basically all done!

Now you have your full unwaxed jars back for their next candle or use. And the great thing is that they’re so versatile. We now use our abundance of masons for drinks, dried food, canning, lighting, flowers, and still as the occasional candle. Although if anyone wants to buy a dozen or two, we could probably afford to give some up – we have lots!

Choosing and seasoning your wok

Choosing and seasoning your wok

Choosing a wok can be an overwhelming task. They come in a multitude of different materials, sizes, and makes. Rather than reviewing each type, I’m just going to cut to the chase. The best woks for the average household are 14″ in size (not too big or small), made of carbon steel, and hand hammered. Check that the sides are thick and strong enough that they don’t bend when you push on them. Luckily, that combination of wok is actually quite inexpensive (I got mine for $13 CAD), despite being hammered out by hand. Depending on the kind of stove you have, you  may also need to get one with a slightly flattened bottom so it sits on your stove range. That said, you can get circular wok burner rings for the traditional round bottom woks. It’s also best to avoid the non-stick woks. Not only are you usually paying a lot for these pans, the non-stick surface doesn’t do well under high heat, which is one of the biggest benefits of cooking with a wok.

For a more comprehensive break down of the different types of woks, I really like the overview written on Serious Eats.

Once you have your wok, it needs to be seasoned. There are different ways to achieve the same result. This is the method I like best.

What you need:

  • scouring pad or steel scrubber
  • lard or a high smoking point oil

Optional:

Garlic scapes

It’s summer, and a great season for garlic scapes. Garlic scapes, also called green garlic, are the flowering tops of “hard-neck” garlic (the Rocombole variety of garlic, in case you’re interested). They don’t flower, but end up forming smaller bulbils that will grow more garlic, if you plant them. A lot of gardeners cut them off though, because the stalks keep the garlic from growing larger, plumper bulbs – the part we’re most familiar with eating – and take several years to really get to the point of a large enough bulb to eat. Lucky for us though, because they’re delicious.

Depending on how long they’ve been left on the stalk, garlic scapes can be very tender (if cut early) or a little harder and stronger in flavour (if cut later). You know how long the stalks were left on the garlic by how curly they are. The curlier they are, the longer they were left on the stalk.

The taste is still very garlicky, but slightly “greener” in flavour. A delicious addition to soups, salads, pasta, risotto, and basically anything you’d normally put garlic or scallions in.

You are most likely to find scapes from a local grower or grocer that carries local seasonal produce. They also last in the fridge for a long time and a little goes a long way.

Love fish? Help keep them around.

Documentaries are a staple in our household. We watch them as religiously as some families follow their favorite sitcoms or catch up on the evening news. This evening, I finally got around to watching “The End of the Line“, based on the book by Charles Clover with the same title. If you haven’t watched it yet and are one for documentaries, I highly recommend it.

The documentary discusses the fishing industry and focuses on the current state of the health of our oceans – and more importantly, the expected degradation we can expect if we do nothing to change our attitudes and behaviors. Having gone diving in some local waters that have been depleted of ocean life and also others that are protected areas that were teaming with life, I have to say the documentary struck a particularly sensitive cord in me. What a shame if within our generation we saw some of our most beloved fish disappear into extinction and the waters look as barren as they already do in some parts.

Upon finishing the documentary, I went to the film’s website where they have more information about what the average person can do, and updated news links about the fishing industry. They also provide links to other sites that give listings of restaurants (unfortunately, mainly in the United States) according to a sustainability ratings, as well as recommended fish to eat and to avoid – based on current population levels. For a detailed pocket fish guide (PDF) of the recommended fish to avoid and eat, you can download it here.

I’ve included a summary chart of the top ten fish to avoid and to eat below, in case it’s of interest to you. I know it was to me.

Image from fish2fork.com

If you’d like more details about why each of the fish is listed in either the avoid or eat list, you can find the original chart on the The End of the Line website. Just select the fish you’re interested and more content will appear.