Proper Usage and Care for Ceramic Blade Knives

Ceramic Knives

Ceramic knife blades are made from a very hard ceramic material called zirconium oxide. A ceramic blade will keep its initial sharpness 10 times longer than its steel counterpart. Impressive sharpness and chemical inertness are the main reasons for ceramic knives’ growing popularity. Being chemically inert, a ceramic blade won’t react with either acidic or alkaline foods. Fruits and vegetables sliced with a ceramic knife will keep their freshness longer than those cut with a steel knife. The ceramic won’t transfer odors or leave a rusty taste or smell on your food like a metal knife could.

While ceramic knives have been claimed to be the sharpest knives on earth, they are also more delicate than ordinary steel knives. These knives should be treated carefully because they are very fragile and their applications are limited to slicing soft foods. For tougher stuff, you may still need to use your old steel knife.

For people first starting to use a ceramic knife, it may take some time getting used to their light-weight feel and all the precautions that must be taken. Make sure to read the instructions to take good care of them and avoid damage and accidents.

How to Cut with a Ceramic Knife

A ceramic blade shouldn’t be twisted or flexed because it is not able to bend and return to its original shape as an ordinary steel knife will do. When slicing, don’t apply much force because the blade can snap. Always cut using straight slicing movements and avoid putting pressure to the side of the blade. Refrain from using the blade as a crusher.

You must pay extra attention when using ceramic knives because the blades are ultra-sharp and you can easily cut your fingers without being aware of it. Hold them at the handle keeping your fingers away from the sharp edge. Always cut away from the body. Be careful if there are kids around because these knives can cause serious injuries.

 

What are Ceramic Knives Good for

Knives with ceramic blade have less usage than ordinary steel knives, but they make a wonderful tool for cutting soft foods such as fresh fruits, tender veggies, boneless meats, and soft fish fillets.

They glide through soft foods without struggle, making it possible to achieve perfectly thin slices. You can use ceramic knives on all fruits and vegetables except those ones with a hard skin. A thin ceramic blade goes through the slippery tomato skin with minimal resistance cutting extra-thin slices without smashing.

There is less damage to cell walls because less pressure is required for cutting.  Thus, your fruits, especially apples and bananas, will not discolor fast, which allows you to create eye-catching fruit arrangements. You also won’t shed tears when dicing onions like you would when using an ordinary metal knife.

Be careful when cutting dense vegetables such as carrots and cabbages because any type of twisting motion could chip the blade.

The acids in food won’t degrade the blade, so you can use them without any concern for foods that contain vinegar or tomatoes, as well as for cutting citrus fruits.

You can cut through boneless meat and fish with precision, making the pieces as thin as you want. These knives also work well to remove fat from meats.

What You Should Not Do with Your Ceramic Knife

Avoid any use that involves twisting and flexing because such motions may damage the cutting edge. Below are some foods and stuff that are not intended to be cut with a ceramic knife.

Bones: Ceramic knives are not suited to cut through bones because this can affect the edge. The blades are quite brittle and don’t respond well to twisting movements or side-to-side force.

Frozen food: To prevent damage to the blade, do not cut into frozen foods. Cutting through frozen foods will put stress on the blade, causing it to break or chip.

Chopping: Cutting with a chopping motion is not advised, as well as any task that involves flexing such as carving meat with bone or filleting a fish. Ceramic blades are brittle, and twisting or hard chopping can easily chip them.

Crushing: Never turn the knife on its side to crush garlic cloves, spices, or other foods because the blade can break.

Tough food: A ceramic knife is not good for cutting tough foods. You should never use it for cutting foods with thick rinds such as pumpkin, winter squash, pineapples, and melons. Don’t use a ceramic knife for slicing block cheese because this task may involve heavy force and cause blade flexing.

Knives with ceramic blades are not supposed to be used for cutting anything besides food. Don’t use them to open plastic packaging or to pry lids off cans and containers.

Use an Appropriate Cutting Board

To retain sharpness and avoid damage, always use a soft cutting board such as silicone, soft wood, or bamboo. Avoid cutting on glass, granite, and marble cutting boards, as well as other hard surfaces like plates or tiles. Never scrape diced food from the cutting board with the blade of your knife.

How to Clean Ceramic Knives?

Ceramic knives are easier to clean and sanitize than their steel counterparts because ceramic is non-porous, stain-proof, and resistant to corrosion, oils, and acids. Ceramic blades will not catch and breed mold or bacteria.

Knives with ceramic blades are not supposed to be washed in a dishwasher because rattling against other utensils will harm the blades.

Clean these knifes with warm water and soap, rinse, and dry with a paper towel, or let them dry on a cloth. Don’t use abrasive products for cleaning, to preserve the non-stick property of the blade.

Be careful not to throw these knives into the sink together with metal flatware because the blades are very brittle and can break when knocked against steel flatware or when you accidentally place heavy utensils on them.

Put the knives back in their protective sheet or block holder after drying to keep the blade and your fingers safe.

Certain brands with plastic handles are claimed to be dishwasher safe, but they should be placed on the top rack without contact with metal utensils. You should be extremely careful when take them out of the dishwasher because there is a possibility of injury if you touch the edge accidentally.

Storage

Storing your ceramic knives properly is a very important part of care. Knives with ceramic blades need to be stored correctly to retain the integrity of the blades and prevent injuries. The delicate tip can break if the knife is dropped on a hard floor surface.

Don’t leave ceramic knives sitting on a kitchen counter top. Also, don’t put them into the drawer with the steel knives because metal tableware can damage ceramic blades.  There is also the risk of cutting yourself when you try to reach something in the drawer.

Store your knives in a specially designed knife block or protective case to keep them safe and secure. They often come with included blade cover for safe storage when not in use.

Look for a good knife holder that keeps your knives safe and accessible. Some knife blocks are designed to be used either in a drawer, on the counter, or on a wall.

Sharpening

When used properly, ceramic blades will hold their edge much longer than steel. Re-sharpening may not be necessary for a couple of years after purchasing. Many manufacturers will provide free sharpening services if you send your knives to them.

If you prefer doing the job at home, it takes specialized equipment and some practice. Knife sharpeners for ceramic blades come in the form of a manual device that uses diamond abrasives, or an electric device with advanced performance. Both types will provide you with good results, but electric sharpeners are faster and easier to use.  Look for a sharpener that can be used to sharpen both types of knifes.

The sharpening process will repair small damage, remove chips, and restore the cutting edge to its original sharpness. 

Photo credit: byzantiumbooks via Foter.com / CC BY

Natural Food Dyes for Home Baking

Image courtesy of joephotostudio at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of joephotostudio at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Food colors are a type of food additive used to increase the visual appeal of food or drinks. They come in forms of liquids, powders, granules, gels, pastes, and more. Food dyes are widely used in commercial production of foods and beverages. The largest sources of color additives in an average diet include soft drinks, frozen desserts, candy, baked goods and dairy products. Children especially love bright, vibrant colors and are increasingly becoming targets for food manufacturers.

Like other food additives, food coloring substances may be classified as either natural or synthetic. Natural food dyes are produced from plant, animal, and mineral sources, while artificial colorants are synthesized from petroleum.

Is Food Coloring Safe?

The supermarket shelves are packed with brightly-colored cupcakes, baked goods, gelatin desserts, soft drinks and many other brightly-colored foods, especially during holidays. Many of these products are geared toward children, who are especially sensitive to synthetic food coloring.

Parents may unknowingly cause health problems for children by giving them foods that contain artificial food dyes. Many parents experienced that and found that after consuming such foods, children’s behavior changed and became unpredictable. This may be unwittingly caused by the chemicals used in producing synthetic dyes.

Many of currently approved dyes raise health concerns and, in some people, can cause side effects and adverse reactions. Some commonly used artificial food dyes have been linked to behavioral problems, allergies, and various types of cancers. Consumption of widely used food colors, such as Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40, have been associated with hyperactivity and behavioral issues in young children.

Some artificial food colorings are still in use, despite being linked to harmful side effects. Once you consider the possible side effects of artificial food dyes, it makes sense to completely avoid them and use natural alternatives. To stay away from artificial dyes, you should limit the amount of highly processed foods in your diet and opt for fresh foods that have high nutritional value. Check labels carefully and avoid products that contain additives with a combination of colors and numbers in their name.

Natural Food Colors

Cupcake Coloring Set (PINK, YELLOW, and BLUE) Amazon.com

Natural food colors provide an option to add colorfulness to foods without using toxic chemicals. They are considered a safe alternative to the chemically-loaded synthetic food dyes that are usually available to buy at the grocery store. Natural color additives are obtained primarily from natural sources, which include fruits, vegetables, seeds, leaves, insects, algae, etc.

Natural food dyes are gaining increasing popularity with consumers’ growing preference for natural products. With the growing concern about the safety of artificial food coloring, more and more people are switching to safer alternatives. Parents want to be able to decorate birthday cakes and holiday cookies with their kids without putting extra junk in their bodies or feeling sick afterward.

Natural color additives are especially valuable for kids who are sensitive to artificial dyes.

Artificial Versus Natural Food Colorings

India Tree Jimmies – Carnival Mix – Natural Colour on Amazon.com

Natural food colors are not likely to be harmful to your health. They offer additional benefits of biologically active compounds like vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, chlorophyll, and other cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Artificial food dyes don’t add nutritional value to the food. These chemicals may have harmful side effects and could cause health problems in adults or children.

Artificial food dyes are more stable, allowing food to sit on shelves longer, which is beneficial for food manufacturers.

Natural food dyes are less stable and less consistent than artificial ones. They are sensitive to heat and light, which may result in a shorter shelf life. Natural dyes are prone to degradation at high temperatures, resulting in less vibrant colors. You need to use them during the first few months after purchase as they will fade after a certain time. Don’t buy in large quantities because you might be disappointed when they turn out dull.

Natural color additives result in less intense colors and their range of shades is limited compared to the vivid pigmentation you will get with artificial food dyes. They usually offer pastel and slightly duller colors, which are less likely to attract customers.

Artificial food colors are generally cheaper because they are less expensive to produce. Natural dyes are more expensive and you need to use a larger quantity to get the color you desire. However, when used at higher levels, natural colors may influence taste, odor, or flavor of the food.

Purpose of Food Coloring

Food dyes are used in food preparation for several reasons including:

1) Aesthetic Appeal

Color additives give food an inviting look, making it more attractive and visually appealing to customers. Sellers use a variety of food dyes to create a fresh, attractive looking food to encourage consumers to buy it. Sometimes, coloring agents are added to foods to offset the loss of natural pigments due to exposure to light, air, or high temperature during processing or storage. Consumers are less likely to buy something when it looks colorless and unattractive. Sellers especially pay attention to adding vibrant, decorative colors to fun foods to make it more attractive to children and their parents.

2) Easy Identification of Food

Color additives enhance the colors that occur naturally in the food and help consumers visually identify products. As it is the first thing the buyer sees, color has a great influence on the perception of flavor and taste. Consumers use colors to identify a food, judge the quality, or to determine the taste of a food.

 

 

The Pros and Cons of Modern Graniteware Roasters

What Is Graniteware Cookware Made Of?

Graniteware is just a type of enamelware and it is also a brand name.

Graniteware is also a widely-used term in the enamelware collectors’ community to refer to the enamelware items made from the 1870s until the end of World War II. The older graniteware pieces were made of tin or iron. They had more layers of glass coating and were heavier compared to modern kitchen items. Graniteware kitchenware gained popularity fast because of the convenience of the glass surface combined with the strength of metal. The glossy porcelain surface was easier to maintain than heavy rust-prone cast iron pieces.

Graniteware kitchenware has nothing to do with Granite except its similarity in appearance. Today graniteware kitchen items are made with a steel core and glass coating. Porcelain enamel is fused with metal at 2,000 F creating a non-porous, inert, and naturally non-stick glass surface. The Graniteware items made today are thinner in construction and more lightweight than Grandma’s used to be.

Is the Graniteware Made Today Safe for Cooking?

Modern Graniteware is made of thin carbon steel covered with a layer of porcelain enamel. The glass coating is inert and free of harmful chemicals. It will not interact with any type of food or change the taste or color of your meals. If the porcelain coating is not damaged, Graniteware cookware is safe for cooking and storing any type of food including highly acidic dishes. If there is a chip on the outside of the cookware, it will not affect the item’s safety or cooking ability, but if the coating is chipped off on the inside, you must stop using it for food preparation and storage.

Modern Graniteware Roasters

Columbian Home Products Covered Rectangle Roaster at Amazon.com

Today, GraniteWare roasters are thinner and less sturdy compared to older models. Some cheaper models are thin and flimsy and may have sharp edges which are not finished safely. But most of those roasters are still good enough to cook your Thanksgiving turkey to perfection or for baking your own “artisan” breads. These pans are perfect for handling large meals and can be used for any type of food you can roast in an oven.

Advantages
  • Inner carbon steel core distributes heat evenly and quickly.
  • Dark porcelain surface absorbs heat quickly, lowering cooking times.
  • The products are lightweight and much easier to handle than comparable cast-iron items.
  • You can cook meals in the oven without any mess.
  • Smooth glass surface allows for easy cleaning.
  • The food comes out tender and delicious.
  • Affordable prices make this cookware a reasonable choice for budget minded customers.
Disadvantages
  • This cookware cannot be used on glass surfaced stoves, as they can crack the cooktop.
  • Modern Graniteware is too thin to hold heat well.
  • Thin-layered GraniteWare is prone to chipping, especially if dropped.
  • Despite the manufacturers’ claim that the surface is non-stick, many users experience sticking issues. I often have burned food stuck to the bottom and sides of my granite roaster. However, the burnt residue will come off easily if you leave the pan in the sink to soak with some soapy water.
  • Some buyers find today’s Graniteware kitchenware too ordinary and unattractive. 

Cleaning and Care

The impervious surface makes this cookware easy to clean. Most GraniteWare roasters are dishwasher safe, per manufacturer’s claims, but they also clean up easily by hand with soap and water.

To remove the burnt juices, fill the pan with warm soapy water and let it sit for a few hours.

Make sure you are using gloves whilst washing to prevent cutting your fingers on sharp edges.

Do not heat the roaster while empty.

Do not drop it on hard surfaces to avoid chipping.

Store the cookware by turning lids upside down and placing inside the roaster. When you store smaller roasters inside a larger one, place a dish towel between the lids and the pan to prevent chipping while being stored.

5 Convenient Features of a Cast Iron Pizza Pan

Ergonomics

When you cook pizza in a cast iron pan, you don’t need any additional equipment except heat resistant gloves. The handles give you more control, making an iron pan much easier to handle than a traditional pizza stone. It is easy to slide oven mitts underneath to remove the pizza from the oven when it’s ready to serve. The handles are particularly convenient if you want to rotate your pizza for uniform heating during the cooking process or you need to add more toppings while the pizza cooks.

Traditional pizza stones don’t have handles and it can be tricky and messy to get the pizza in and out of the oven. You need to be careful and use additional equipment when transferring pizzas to and from the stone.

The lip helps to keep the dough and all the ingredients in the pan and prevent spilling of cheese and juices onto the bottom of your oven. This prevents cheese and other ingredients from burning onto the bottom of the oven and causing it to smoke.

Easy Pre-heating

Lodge Pro-Logic P14P3 Cast Iron Pizza Pan on Amazon.com

It takes longer for an oven with a stone in to reach the required temperature than with a cast iron skillet. The stone absorbs heat and slows down the heating process. To cook your pizza using a stone, you need to put the stone in the oven and preheat to 500 F for at least 30 minutes. Be careful never to place a cold stone into a hot oven since the thermal shock will cause it to crack.

A cast iron pan will not break if you place it in the hot oven, but for best results it is recommend to preheat a cast iron before filling it with your ingredients. Cast iron needs some time to spread the heat evenly, but once it reaches the desired temperature, it stays hot. Placing pizza in a thoroughly preheated cast iron skillet ensures that your pizza is uniformly cooked and an easy release from the pan.

It also takes longer to cook pizza using a stone than using a cast iron pan. An iron pan shortens the cooking process by 1-2 minutes compared to cooking on pizza stones.

Strength and Durability

A cast iron pan is nearly indestructible and, with proper care, it will last decades. The non-stick performance improves with use. Cast-iron can be used at any temperature and it resists cracking when exposed to sudden changes in temperature. It won’t break if you accidentally drop it on the hard floor. You can place cold dough or frozen pizza in a hot cast iron pan without worrying, while you should refrain from placing cold food on hot stone.

Pizza stones can’t handle sudden temperature changes. They often break due to thermal shock or when dropped. You need to put the stone in while the oven is cold, or keep it in the oven all the time. You must also wait until the stone is completely cold before removing it from the oven. When liquid ingredients in the topping fall onto the stone, they can cause fluctuation in temperature, creating small cracks which can lead to breakage in the future.

Versatility

The cast-iron pizza pan is a very useful multi-functional cookware item, much more versatile than a stone. It can be used on almost any heat source including the stovetop, BBQ grill, in the oven, under the broiler, and over a campfire. It can also serve as a griddle for cooking many types of meal.

You can cook hundreds of different foods in a cast-iron skillet. It works great not only for cooking homemade pizza, but also for making eggs and bacon, roasted vegetables, breakfast pancakes, crepes, cookies, biscuits, rolls, breaded fish fillets, and much more.

Performances

Once preheated, the cast iron pan heats evenly and holds heat very well bringing the whole pizza to the same uniform oven temperature. This ensures that the pizza cooks evenly without hot spots. Your pizza should be thoroughly cooked, without uncooked portions and burned crust.

The cast iron pan will remain hot even when you remove it from the oven. The crust will continue to cook for several minutes, while the topping won’t get burnt. The pizza stays warm for a long time after cooking.

Is a Cats Iron Pizza Pan Worth Buying?

All materials used for baking pizza have their own advantages and disadvantages. Pizza stones have been improved over time and have become more durable than they used to be. Many people prefer the taste and crust of stone-baked pizzas. There are also stones with improved ergonomic features like added handles. Stainless still pizza pans also have their advantages, such as high durability and extremely easy maintenance.

Buyers select cookware items for cooking a pizza according to their personal preferences. If you are one of those who prefer cast iron over other materials, you might want to have a look at this Lodge Pro-Logic Cast Iron Pizza Pan. This pan has met the expectations of many satisfied customers and is highly recommended by users for making delicious homemade pizzas.

 

What are the Best Cooking Utensils for Non-stick Cookware?

id-100412134
Image courtesy of punsayaporn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To take proper care of your non-stick pots and pans it is important to follow the directions given by the manufacturer. One of the most important rules to remember is that you should refrain from using any metal utensils on non-stick coating. Non-stick interior finish is not designed to withstand metal knives cutting food in the pan, or sharp-edged metal spoons and spatulas. Using metal tools for stirring or to remove the food from the pan can easily damage the non-stick finish. Once the coating gets scratched or pitted, it’s best to replace damaged piece of cookware.

When cooking in your non-stick cookware, you need to use scratch-friendly cooking utensils such as wood, bamboo, silicone, or nylon. Kitchen utensils made from these materials will help you to preserve the non-stick surface and prolong the life of your scratch-sensitive cookware.

What to Look when Buying Utensils for Your Non-stick Cookware

Safety: Cooking utensils should be manufactured from safe food-contact materials. Look for FDA-approved materials that won’t chemically react with acidic or hot foods.

No-scratch feature: To avoid damage of scratch-sensitive interior coating, select utensils that are made of scratch-friendly materials for non-stick pots and pans. Also look for ergonomic design and smooth finish.

One-piece design: One-piece cooking tools are less likely to fall apart. In addition, the food usually gets trapped in the area where the handle and the body meet. One-piece utensils are more hygienic because there are no areas for bacteria to hide and multiply.

Hanging loops: A hanging hole at the end of each utensil offers more storing possibilities. Instead of keeping them in the drawer, you can hang them on the utensil holder or on the kitchen wall.

Maintenance: Your cooking utensils should be easy to handle and clean. Dishwasher safe or bacteria-resistant materials are a more convenient option than those that requires special care to remain clean and nice-looking.

Before making the final decision, look for advantages and disadvantages of cooking utensils that are commonly used when cooking with non-stick cookware.

Silicone Cooking Utensils

Ensure the silicone tools you select are made from FDA-approved food grade silicone. Be careful with cheap imported silicone utensils, as they may contain potentially toxic fillers.

Pros:

High heat resistance: Most silicone utensils can withstand heat up to 450°F before melting. You can use them for stir-frying and you don’t have to worry if you leave a spoon in the hot pan unattended for a few moments.

Durable: These kitchen tools are sturdy and long-lasting. They won’t warp, chip, or corrode like some other utensils. They will always look new and will retain their vibrant colors through many washes.

Hygienic design: Silicone utensils are easy to keep clean. They don’t pick up food particles and don’t attract bacteria.

Easy to maintain: Silicone kitchen tools can be washed in the dishwasher and they also can be washed easily by hand. They are waterproof and stain-resistant. Unlike wooden cooking tools, they can be left in the sink overnight without problems.

Playful colors: They come in a variety of pretty colors that don’t fade with use.

Non-slip texture: The non-slip surface makes silicone cooking tools easy to handle and grip. The handles never get hot. Silicone items are also extremely lightweight.

The flexibility: The smooth silicone spatula has enough flexibility to let you easily flip a burger, scrape out a mixing bowl, or get out the content around edges of jars.

Cons

Silicone kitchen tools are floppy and may flex when you use them. They won’t break, but the handles are not firm enough to mix food.

Static electricity builds up on silicone items and causes them attract dust, so utensils can look dirty when not in use for a while. They also can retain a powdery residue after coming out of the dishwasher.

Silicone Utensils with Stainless Steel Inner Core

Some silicone tools have a stainless steel core for extra firmness and stability. This steel core in the handles makes stirring thicker items easier. Silicone is an excellent insulator, so the handles won’t get hot when used for stirring food on the stove. The handles won’t break when you put pressure on them or use them to mix a thick mixture. The spatulas offer enough resistance to mix the heaviest dough while remaining flexible at the tip.

Silicone Utensils with Nylon Core

There are also silicone kitchen utensils with a nylon inner core that makes them sturdier than those made just of silicone. The all-in-one design gives them a solid feel and strength under pressure, but they are still soft and gentle enough to avoid scratching your non-stick pans.

Wooden Utensils

Pros:

Natural product: Wood is a natural product that won’t leach chemicals when used for cooking foods.

Decorative: Wooden cooking utensils look nice and elegant, easily fitting in with any kitchen decor. They add a beautiful natural style to your kitchen.

Comfortable to hold: Wooden utensils don’t transfer heat and they feel comfortable and sturdy in your hand.

Perfect for stirring and mixing: A wooden spoon is especially suitable for stirring risotto, boiling caramels, and working with other foods that give a little resistance. It will do the job quicker and easier than a spoon made of flexible materials. A wooden spoon is also good for tasting food you are preparing.

Cons:

Maintenance: Wood utensils are not dishwasher safe and need occasional conditioning. Otherwise, they will soon show sign of wear, such as dryness, cracks, and chips. Food-grade mineral oil should be applied regularly to extend the life of these products.

Hygiene problems: Wood absorbs moisture and can pick up food particles, which provides a good environment for bacteria to grow. For this reason, wooden utensils are not considered to be sanitary.

Not odor-resistant: Wooden utensils can pick up stains and sometimes also keep food odors. To remove the food odors, use a cleaning paste with baking soda and water.

Bamboo Cooking Tools

Pros:

Strong and durable: Bamboo kitchen utensils are long-lasting and strong. Bamboo tableware products are pretty thick and will not warp or crack from wetness like wooden spoons.

Stylish: These utensils add a natural touch to your kitchen. They are nice tools for serving salad.

Comfortable to use: Bamboo utensils are lightweight and comfortable to use. They are easy to grip and effortless to use for mixing, stirring, or tossing.

Anti-microbial properties: It is proven that bamboo has natural anti-microbial function, so you don’t have to worry about bamboo kitchenware collecting bacteria or germs.

Environmentally friendly: Bamboo is a fast-growing plant and a highly renewable resource. Bamboo utensils are biodegradable, recyclable, and environmentally sustainable products.

Cons

Not dishwater safe: You need to wash them by hand using soapy water and should avoid soaking them in water for longer periods. Coating them with a food safe oil occasionally helps maintain their shape and luster.

Inconsistency in quality: Some imported items may have rough spots and edges due to the lack of quality control.

Nylon Utensils

Pros

Rigid and strong: They are strong enough to stir anything you cook or bake.

Easy to care for: Nylon tools are dishwasher safe, which makes them very easy to maintain.

Cons

Low heat resistance: Nylon is heat resistant up to at 400F. Nylon cooking tools are likely to melt if you leave them in the pan.

Cheaper items may be bendable and prone to breakage.

Nylon utensils are not considered an eco-friendly product.

 

 

What Makes a Good Grill Basket for Vegetables?

id-100459056Do you struggle to fit veggies, mushrooms, shrimps, seafood, and other small size chunks on the grill? Are you tired of dealing with the skewers and awkward aluminum wraps? Can you forget about those inconvenient tools and losing your precious pieces of food through the grill grates? There is a simple way to attain delicious and crispy vegetables without making a mess. A grilling basket for vegetables is a huge food saver and the perfect tool for grilling veggies and other small size foods. This must-have addition to your BBQ allows the heat to reach the veggies and lets the food absorb that smoky flavor, but prevents food pieces from falling into the fire. The basket also enables you to shake or stir vegetables without getting half of them eaten up by your grill. This handy product helps you to grill tasty and delicious veggies and cook healthy meals at the same time. This can help you consume more vegetables, making your lifestyle healthier.

What Features a Quality Vegetable Grill Basket?

Materials

The grilling basket should be made of a durable material that stands the test of time. A quality grilling basket will serve you for many years without going rusting, twisting or warping. If you opt for a basket with a non-stick finish, select the product with an FDA approved non-stick coating to eliminate health concerns.

The Size

The size of the basket you’ll need depends on who you’ll be grilling for. The product should be big enough to hold an appropriate quantity of vegetables, but still small enough to fit on your grill. Make sure to measure your grill before purchasing.

The Depth

Deep walls help hold a lot of veggies and allow for efficient mixing. The sides of the basket should be high enough to allow room for stirring and tossing around your veggies throughout the cooking process. This way, your food will be kept inside the basket and will cook more evenly.

The Handles

The handles should be wide enough to allow for a comfortable lift and easy movement of the basket.  Sometimes, the measurements don’t include the handles. Before purchasing, make sure the product dimensions are compatible with your grill/smoker. Some brands have removable handles, which makes it easier to close the lid on our grill with the handle removed.

The Holes

The holes or slots should be large enough to let marinade drain and allow heat to get through, but still narrow enough to allow you to toss without losing small pieces of veggies through the openings.

Safety

A good basket is smooth and has no burrs or sharp edges. This is especially important if the basket is not dishwasher safe and you can experience difficulty while cleaning it. Burrs and sharp edges that have remained around holes can make cleaning difficult or even cut your fingertips.

Cleaning

Stainless steel baskets are dishwasher safe. Some durable, non-stick, scratch resistant porcelain enamel coatings are also 100% dishwasher safe, like this one.

The baskets with a non-stick surface should be hand washed. Make sure the non-stick coated basket you will buy fits in your kitchen sink. Mesh baskets are extremely hard to clean, but those with a non-stick coating are easier to clean than non-coated ones.

Temperature Limitation

Pay attention that some vegetable grilling baskets cannot be used over an open flame. Stainless still baskets have the ability to withstand high temperatures. Certain types of non-stick coating are recommended for use only up to 200F, while others are recommended for certain types of grills only.

Appearance

Shiny vegetable baskets don’t keep their beautiful appearance after repeated use. To keep them like new, it requires a lot of effort. The black enamel coating won’t change its appearance, unlike stainless steel products.

The Country of Manufacture

Grilling baskets made in the USA have been made to very strict standards, which doesn’t necessarily apply to imported grilling accessories. B00ZJT1ITO

Stainless Steel Vegetable Grilling Baskets 

Advantages

  • Durable and long-lasting.
  • Dishwasher safe.
  • You can use metal utensils.
  • Stand up to high temperatures.
  • Safe for use on any grill.

Disadvantages

  • Darkens after a few uses.
  • The food can stick to this basket.

Tips

Enamel (Porcelain) Coated Grilling Baskets

Advantages

  • Porcelain finish is safe for contact with foods.
  • Dishwasher safe.

Disadvantages

Not completely non-stick.

Tips

  • You need to use spray oil to prevent sticking.
  • Don’t use metal utensils on them to avoid chipping the porcelain.

Non-stick Coated Grilling Baskets

Advantages

  • Non-stick coated surface helps prevent food from sticking.
  • Non-stick coating makes for easy clean up.

 Disadvantages

  • You can’t use metal utensils as they would scratch the non-stick surface.
  • Non-stick coating comes off over time.
  • Certain brands are not designed to withstand high temperature.
  • Not dishwasher safe.

Tips

  • You will only want to use silicone or wooden utensils to prevent damage to the finish.
  • Make sure that non-stick coating is FDA approved and therefore safe for contact with food.

Image courtesy of KEKO64 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why is Grilling Vegetables Becoming such a Popular Method of Cooking?

ID-100454219 (1)As you probably know, vegetables are not only considered to be incredibly good for our health and well-being, and if cooked right, they are certainly much more than a basic accompaniment to meat, fish, and other main meals. The problem that some people have with vegetables is the fact that they overcook them, under-cook them, or simply cook them wrong, so not only are they the wrong texture, but they also taste pretty bland, or pretty foul if truth be told. However, if cooked correctly, fresh vegetables will not only bring any main meal to life, but truthfully they will taste better than many of you could have ever imagined a vegetable to taste in the first place. Without a doubt, the most beneficial and popular method of cooking vegetables nowadays, is grilling, but why is grilling becoming so popular when it comes to the humble veggie?

Grilling as a Method of Cooking

Grilling, or barbequing as you may know it, is popular method of cooking over an open flame, usually outdoors in the warmer summer months. With grilling, you cook the food on a metal grill, either over hot charcoal, or gas burners, to give the food a fantastic smoky taste that just cannot be matched in any other way. Grilling not only makes the food taste amazing, it also makes it look fantastic, as there is just something about fresh grill char marks that makes food seem that little bit more appetizing.

Grilling helps us to consume more veggies – As you probably know, fresh vegetables are an essential part of a balanced and healthy everyday diet, as vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, dietary fiber, and other nutrients that do the body a whole world of good. By eating vegetables, we can help control our weight, lower our bad cholesterol, boost our immune systems, strengthen our hearts, cardiovascular systems, boost our brain power, and fight off illness and disease. The problem is that many people are not getting enough veggies in their diets as they find that they lack flavour and are of the wrong texture. Grilling however, caramelizes the natural sugars and juice in vegetables while adding smoky flavour and crispy texture, which in turn makes them more appealing and enables us to consume more fresh veggies on a regular basis.

Is grilling a safe method for cooking foods? – When we think of grilling, some of the first examples of food that instantly spring to mind are steaks, burgers, sausages, chicken legs, and various types of fish. The problem with grilling meat and fish however, is that the cooking process generates two forms of toxic chemicals and by-products, known as: Heterocyclic amines, or HCAs for short, and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, or PAHs for short. Studies have found that these chemicals contain carcinogenic properties that have been linked to a number of aggressive strains of cancer.

Does that mean grilled veggies can also be bad for us? – No, it does not. You see, the HCAs and PAHs we mentioned previously, are only produced naturally via grilled fish or meat, and they are not present in vegetables. This means that, even when charred and cooked over high heats, vegetables will not create carcinogenic compounds that damage your health and could result in cancer. Put simply, grilled vegetables are perfectly safe and are incredibly healthy and delicious.

General tips for grilling perfect veggies

Before we wrap things up, let’s finish up by taking a look at a few general tips for grilling perfect vegetables each and every single time you cook some up. These tips include the following:

Use a grilling basket – One reason why people are put off from grilling vegetables is the fact that, due to their natural size and shape, many of them may roll in-between the grill racks or off the side of the grill itself. Using metal skewers or aluminium foil is often a solution that people tend to try, but again, the foil can break and collapse, and can prevent you from cooking over an open flame, plus the vegetables may often fall off the skewer, and again, fall into the burning fire. Grilling baskets however, are perfect for small and fiddly vegetables because they allow the user to stir and flip the foods as they wish, without making a mess. It keeps the veggies together so they don’t fall through the grates.

Grease the basket with oil or butter – Coat the bottom and sides of the basket with olive oil or spray it with Pam to prevent the veggies from sticking to the pan. Preheat the basket before you throw in your veggies.

Use a marinade – Marinades are not only for meat and fish, as marinated vegetables will taste absolutely fantastic. You can marinade them in whatever you like, though generally olive oil, garlic, natural yoghurt, and fresh herbs and spices are some of the more popular examples.

Keep an eye on your veggies – There is nothing worse than an overcooked vegetable, so when cooking them over the grill, make sure you keep an eye on them to ensure they’re cooked just right. Don’t mess with them that much, other than giving them the odd flip, but if you notice them burning or sticking, move them to a cooler part of the grill and let them cook slower instead. 15 minutes on a very hot grill is about right for most veggies.

Don’t touch the handles Make sure to use a heat resistant gloves when handle it, as basket becomes very hot after sitting on a grill.

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Cooking and Baking with Terracotta Kitchenware

What is Terracotta?

ID-100380183Terracotta is a reddish/brown colored earthenware clay that is kiln-fired at low temperatures. Iron compounds and heat intensity are responsible for terracotta’s brownish-orange color. The color of terracotta earthenware may range from earthy shades of brown to lively reds. After firing, the clay loses its water and becomes a solid but still porous material – terracotta. After being shaped into the desired form, terracotta can be glazed, which makes it waterproof and easy to clean.

People have used terracotta throughout history for pottery and sculpture, as well as bricks and roof tiles. Terracotta, which in Italian means “baked earth,” is one of the oldest materials used for cooking food. Ancient Romans cooked in this earthenware, and now many chefs around the world are keeping this old tradition alive.

Using Terracotta in the Kitchen

This type of fired clay is perfect for long cooking over low heat. Terracotta pots are suitable for simmering, slow cooking, roasting, frying, baking, and boiling. Terracotta vessels can be used to serve right from the oven and straight to the dinner table.

Terracotta is ideal for baking purposes, since it distributes heat evenly, helping your baked goods turn out perfect.  Traditionally, pizzas are cooked in brick ovens. Porous terracotta draws in moisture from the dough, producing a perfect crust.

The following rules must be followed when using terracotta cookware:

Wash your terracotta cookware thoroughly with hot water before using it for the first time. Do not use soaps as they may block the delicate pores and affect the taste of the food cooked in terracotta pots.

Unglazed terracotta needs a good soak in water for at least 15 minutes before every use. This way the terracotta can absorb water, which will evaporate slowly from the pores during cooking.

Always place terracotta cookware filled with food in a cold oven, then set the temperature. This way you can avoid cracks and breakages in your vessels.

Cooking in terracotta requires a higher oven temperature than other types of cookware. Regular recipes can usually be converted for clay pot cooking by raising the cooking temperature by 100F and adding a half hour to regular cooking time because the dish is placed into a cold oven and because clay does not get hot as fast as metal cookware.

To make sure that your terracotta cookware is made of clay that is tested and free of impurities, always check the label and purchase only high quality pieces from reputable vendors.

Advantages of Using Terra Cotta Cookware

Terracotta cookware has a reputation as a “green” way of cooking.  All nutrients and flavours remain preserved inside the pot, making an excellent foundation for a wholesome meal.

Heat and moisture circulate slowly in porous terracotta pots, which is the perfect environment for delicate and slow cooking.

Terracotta is an excellent retainer of heat.  Meals cooked in a terracotta pot, when set aside with the lid on, retain heat and moisture for a long time without becoming soggy.

Unglazed terracotta absorbs oil and becomes seasoned with age and use, which improves the non-stick performance and quality of the bakeware.

Terracotta kitchenware looks natural and it brings a touch of retro to any kitchen. These are great cookware pieces for serving and add nice spice to the table for family dinners.

Disadvantages

Terracotta cookware cannot withstand sudden and extreme temperature changes. Going from a hot surface directly onto a cold counter top or to cold water in the sink can cause the terracotta to crack.

Terracotta pots need a heat diffuser before being placed on an electric or gas range, and the cooking process should be started at a low heat.

Cookware made of unglazed terracotta is porous and can absorb and transfer the flavors of meals cooked in it. A paste made of baking soda and water will eliminate most odors.

The most Common Types of Terracotta Cookware

Terracotta Tagine

Tagine is a traditional Moroccan slow cooker with a wide, shallow base and high conical lid. The unique shape of the lid allows steam to condense and fall back into the food, preventing it from drying out. This way the ingredients are cooked in their own juices, keeping the food moist and tender.

Except for popular slow-cooked tagine stews, a tagine can be used as a roasting dish as well as for cooking rice, couscous, beans, and much more. These cookware pieces can be carried directly from the oven to the table.

Terracotta Cazuela

Spanish Cazuela is a round, shallow earthenware pot that can be found in every kitchen and restaurant in Spain. These versatile cooking pots are usually glazed and come in an array of sizes. They are safe for cooking on the stove, over a fire, in the oven, and in the microwave. Cazuelas are suitable for roasting and baking, as well as for making soups, stews, and other slow-cooked dishes. Its insulating properties keep food hot for a long time. It also makes nice addition to the dinner table because of its beautiful glazed finish and traditional rustic feel.

Terracotta Clay Baker

This is a functional and beautiful addition to your kitchen and a great baking tool, particularly for baking loaves of bread. The slow evaporation of water content during the baking process results in perfectly crispy crusts.

This cooking item is perfect for achieving succulent, tender, and full-flavoured roasts. The baker should be gradually brought up to the desired temperature. The food comes out evenly done and very moist.

Clay Cooking Pots

When a terracotta pot is placed in an oven, the water slowly evaporates from the clay’s pores, producing steam. Foods are cooked gradually and evenly in their own juices. This is a more natural way of cooking compared to a stainless steel pot where cooking occurs mostly at the base of the pot.

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Which Compostable Plates Should You Choose for Your Party?

For occasions such as brief family dinners, picnics, get-togethers, and basically any outdoor event, the best alternatives to regular ceramic or glass plates are disposable tableware. They are easy to use, practical and extremely convenient for these types of occasions. However, some of them such as paper or plastic plates are produced using materials that cannot be recycled and are therefore harmful to the environment.

Importance of Choosing Biodegradable and Compostable Disposables

Materials such as plastic or paper are non-biodegradable and when used for disposable tableware, they affect the environment negatively right from the manufacturing process, to the point of use and when they are eventually discarded. Also, using disposable tableware made with these materials can affect your health as well as health of your family, and friends because many of them contain chemicals that can seep into food and result in contamination.

Due to the increasing concern for the environment, conventional disposable tableware is being replaced with bio-degradable tableware that are made from materials such as bamboo, palm leafs, grasses and waste obtained from sugar cane.  These eco-friendly plates when discarded will biodegrade quickly thereby serving as compost for growing plants.

You should make use of compostable dinnerware instead of non-degradable ones so as to contribute your quota to saving the environment. Unlike the Styrofoam or plastic tableware made from petroleum products or paper, the compostable tableware has immense benefits to the environment; they occupy a lesser percentage of landfills. In addition, you do not have to wash a ton of dishes because they are disposable and you will be doing the environment some good.

1) Bamboo Disposable Plates

The bamboo plant grows very rapidly and also gets degraded within six months, thus making it a great choice for making disposable plates. The process of making bamboo disposable plates involves cleaning the bamboo sheath, boiling, pressing and bonding them together using eco-friendly glue. After being used, the plates can be added to a compost heap and they will be biodegraded in four months or six months at most.

What are Bamboo Plates Suitable for?

This type of disposable plates can be used for outdoor events such as casual garden weddings, pool/garden bachelorette parties, conferences, picnics, birthdays, barbecues, quick family meals and almost any occasion.

They look nicer and are more durable than cheap plastic or paper table ware and can be used for any occasion where you would prefer not to use the regular ceramic plates, but still want a beautiful setting.

They are suitable for a wide range of food items including oily foods, salads, fruits, cheese, crackers, quiche, sandwiches and vegetables.

They are not as rigid as usual plates which makes them suitable for non-seating dinners. You can also use a knife and fork on these sturdy plates.

They come in different sizes; the larger ones can be used for full meals while the small sizes are ideal for side dishes and appetizers.

Other Benefits of Using Disposable Bamboo Plates

Unlike paper plates, bamboo plates can be used to serve wet, heavy or hot foods because they are tougher and can withstand larger quantities.

Bamboo plates beautiful, attractive and stylish when used and they complement any type of décor unlike the plastic and paper disposables.

Also, bamboo plates are naturally antimicrobial and do not contain any chemical that can leach into food when served because they are produced naturally, unlike plastic plates that can contaminate food with their chemicals.

2) Palm Leaf Plates

The Areca Palm tree is the most widely used plant for making disposable plates because is frond fall naturally to the ground very often. These fronts are very large and are used to make plates via a simple process that does not involve the use of any type of chemicals. The freshly fallen leaves are harvested, cleaned and dried in air. Thereafter, they are flattened, stretched and pressed using heat to form lovely patterns.

The process does not involve chemicals, thereby making palm leaf plates totally biodegradable. They are also the best option of natural and eco-friendly disposable table ware. It usually takes about 90 days for them to be biodegraded after disposal.

What are Palm Leaf Plates Suitable for?

These plates are beautiful, chic and very suitable for outdoor events as they perfectly blend into the outdoor environment.  Their color and appearance makes them suitable for outdoor-themed parties, barbecues, get-together, country wedding, family reunions, and picnics. They are quite stylish and will add an extra touch to your event.

They are stronger than the paper plates and are therefore suitable for snacks, chips, sandwiches, vegetables and main courses.

They do not get soggy easily but they are not suitable for hot or wet foods that will be served in them for long period.

Other Benefits

Disposable palm leaf plates come in many different shapes and designs which makes them suitable for a wide range of events. The beauty, attractiveness and elegance of palm leaf plates is due to the fact that the leaves retain their natural textures and designs throughout the production process.  The uniqueness of the designs will make your occasion more memorable and elegant.

They are very sturdy, leak-proof, heat resistant, and microwave-safe. They are thick and can be used to hold liquid and also for serving both hot and cold food. However, they cannot be used to store wet food for a very long time, because the plate will absorb moisture and may result in leakage.

The production process is free of all chemicals and therefore, the plate will not affect the taste of food or react with food items placed in it. They are also odorless, hygienic and rapidly biodegradable without any extra effort. “Industrial Composting Facility” not required for this type of disposable dinnerware.

3) Sugarcane Plates

The fiber obtained from sugar cane after the sugar juice has been extracted is also used to make disposable plates.  The fiber is called bagasse and it is refined and knitted into home-compostable plates, bowls, and food containers. It can be discarded in a garden or compost heap where it will get biodegraded in no time.

What are Sugarcane Plates Great for?

They are more attractive than the conventional paper plates and are suitable for any outdoor party or family picnic.

They can also be used for casual outdoor wedding, a garden party, or backyard barbecues and as desert plates for a birthday party

Other Benefits

These plates are light-weight, stronger than paper plates but not as strong as plastic plates. They can be used to serve liquid or oily foods without leaking or tearing.

Sugarcane plates are usually brown in color, thus making them perfect for any home event. They can also be microwaved up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Which Biodegradable Plates Should You Choose?

You probably have already noticed that bamboo plates are the sturdiest of the three types and can be loaded with any kind of food without any problem. You can also use forks and knives on them. Palm leaf plates and sugar cane plates are also suitable for any type of party, especially for outdoor events. Just make sure to choose the best shape and size for your needs and don’t let them sit with liquid foods in them for a long time.

 

How does Waterless Cookware Work?

What does Waterless Cooking Mean?

This is a method of cooking in which the food is prepared in an environment that is almost entirely waterless. The natural juices present in the food in form of fats and water are used to cook the food instead of adding grease or extra water.

In some situations, you may need to add water to the food being cooked, but only use a very small quantity. Foods like vegetables can be cooked in their natural juices, therefore you do not need to add more water. On the other hand, foods like rice and other dry foods may require water to get them cooked, e.g. 1/8 cup of water.

This cooking method works by converting the water present into steam and this requires a special kind of cookware. As the heat increases, any form of liquid present in the waterless cookware starts to vaporize. When you rinse your food before placing it in the cookware, there will be enough water left on the food to produce steam which in addition to the natural juices in the food, will ensure the food is properly cooked. As long as you keep the waterless cookware covered, your food will get cooked without extra water.

What is Special about Waterless Cookware?

This type of cookware is specially made to ensure that food can be cooked without adding extra oil or water. In order to work properly, a waterless cookware needs even heating, rapid heat transfer as well as a material that can retain heat inside the cookware.

A typical waterless cookware is made up off several layers. The cooking surface consists of a high grade stainless steel that prevents the transfer of metallic taste to your food. Some manufacturers use surgical stainless steel which is the highest grade of steel available. The heating surface of a waterless cookware is made of copper or aluminum layers packed with stainless steel layers. An iron core is usually placed between them to serve as a better conductor of heat; it also retains heat longer and distributes heat more equally than other materials.

In order to seal the moisture inside the cookware, a special steam-release valve lid is used. The function of the lid is to prevent the escape of moisture from the food while it’s being cooked. It works by forming a seal with the pot as the heat increases and vapor is formed, thus resulting in the food getting cooked without water and without drying out. An advantage of this method of cooking is that the food will hardly lose its nutrients and flavor because it gets cooked in their own natural juices.  Due to the iron core, a steady temperature will be maintained inside the cookware and the food will get cooked faster.

Some waterless cookware has a steam control valve built-in to regulate the amount of steam in the cookware and also to detect when steam rushes out of the valve. The cookware emits a whistling sound that ensure the user knows when to turn the temperature down or put the stove off. This has the advantages of ensuring that the food is cooked at a regulated temperature and also saves energy.

Why should you Use Waterless Cookware?

The major reasons why people opt for waterless cookware include the facts that it saves money, energy and time and it also encourages healthy cooking. Other reasons are addressed below.

Safety

The materials used in making the waterless cookware add to its safety. The surgical stainless steel prevents the leaching of harmful heavy metals into the food from the pot due to its impermeable nature. The stainless steel layers ensure that aluminum does not have any contact with your food. The cookware is resistant to corrosion and so, particles of corroded parts of your pot will not get deposited in your food.

Better Nutrients Retention

This style of cooking results in meals that are healthier, taste better and look better than traditionally cooked foods. Waterless cooking has the capacity of retaining over 90% of the food’s nutrient. With the traditional cooking methods, the foods lose nutrients, flavors, appearances and even its texture.

Less Fat and Oil

When food is cooked with evenly distributed heat as in waterless cookware, it prevents sticking or burning. Also, by relying on steam, the need for cooking oils is eliminated, thus making the food healthier and saving you from high cholesterol, heart diseases and obesity.

Better Taste and Appearance of Cooked Foods

Waterless cooking also makes the food more appealing. By using waterless cookware, the texture, color, aroma and flavor of the food is enhanced. This ensures that your meals are made more enjoyable.

Reduced Cooking Time

Waterless cookware makes cooking faster, and in some cases, the cookware sets are made in the form of stacks of pots that can be heated with a single stove or burner. This will ensure that you have an even cook and also save time.

Energy Efficient

Waterless cookware is designed to cook food economically with low heat, thus saving energy. The materials used in the cookware also ensure that most of the cooking can be done while the stove is turned off.

Easy to Clean and Maintain

Usually, waterless cookware pieces are very durable, easy to clean and can be washed in a dishwasher. Stainless steel cookware may be more expensive than other cookware, but they usually come with the guarantee of a lifetime.

What are the Downsides of Cooking with Waterless Cookware?

This type of cookware is found to be more expensive than other types of cookware.

Waterless cookware is heavy when compared to other types.

The lids are not dishwasher safe and cleaning the valves could be a hassle.

The lid mustn’t be removed from the pot during cooking as this will allow the heat and moisture to escape.

You should to be in the kitchen when the steam valve whistles to turn the heat down.

You need time to adjust to the new cooking method and to learn how to convert recipes from a traditional cooking method to a waterless method.