Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Finex Factory Tour

Cast iron cookware aficionados, take note. An upstart called Finex has reinvented the cast iron skillet, and it seems they’ve set their sights directly on Lodge.

I’ve been wanting to get my hands on one of their pans for a while now, so I jumped at a recent opportunity to tour their Portland production facility.

I’m not gonna lie, I felt like a kid in a candy store walking into the workshop and seeing all of the skillets-to-be.

After ushering us into an office housing a sizable collection of vintage cast iron cookware, Finex founder Mike Whitehead began the tour with a talk about the origins of his company.

Like so many others, Mike’s parents threw out all of their cast iron pots and pans when Teflon came out. But an interest in what’s in our food and where it comes from fueled Mike’s desire to return to cast iron cookware, as did an appreciation for how people connect to it and value it as heirlooms. Modern cast iron pans didn’t live up to his expectations. Fortunately Mike had the background in manufacturing and design to create his ideal cast iron skillet and mount what would become an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign. He was determined that his pan be made in America and that it be a premium product. As Mike puts it, the name Finex reflects “a cross section of all things fine”. The 12-inch skillet features a smooth surface, six dripless pouring spouts, a quick cooling handle, and a thoroughly modern look. Though he has clearly updated every detail of the classic cast iron skillet, Mike still proclaims, “Griswold is our North Star.”

The first step of making a Finex skillet is sand casting. I really wanted to see how this is done, but unfortunately for me it happens in a different facility. The pans emerge from the molds with lots of extra material around the edges which must be removed.

They are heat treated to relieve stress in the metal from the casting process. The heat treatment causes them to rust.

Next, the pans are CNC machined. I don’t know what CNC machining is exactly and this is another manufacturing step done off-site, but the result is a mirror-smooth, nonstick cooking surface inside the pan.

In my opinion, this is what really sets the Finex skillet apart and why Lodge had better watch its back. The swirl pattern is removed, but I missed the explanation of how that’s done.

(Apparently, being surrounded by so many toys made me too giddy to retain all of the information.) The pans go for a ride in a rock tumbler to further smooth out any rough edges.

The “rocks” are made of ceramic and start off angular but look more and more like river stones with use.

A thin layer of flax oil is applied by hand and baked on to season the pans. I thought it was interesting that they use a couple of regular Blodgett ovens for seasoning the pans. By my count, they can season a maximum of 12 or 16 pans at a time. Putting together the handle (which looks to me to be inspired by vintage waffle irons) requires a labor-intensive, multi-step process.

The springs start out dull and are polished.

Ooh, shiny!

The brass caps are polished as well.

There’s some drilling.

There’s some assembly.

And finally, it's done.

It truly is an artisan product—so much of the work is done with passion and love by hand.

After seeing and handling the pans, I had no doubt that nothing would stick, not even a fried egg. I did, however, question if the pouring spouts were truly dripless, which got me the following demonstration.

Not one drop of water ran down the side of the pan. I’d like to see if oil and sauce pour as cleanly.

By the way, did you notice that pouring demo was done with a smaller pan? That’s a 3-D printed prototype of the 8-inch skillet that’s to be the second product in the Finex line. The Kickstarter campaign for the baby pan surpassed its goal within days of opening. A lid for the 12-inch pan is currently in development as well.

I was certainly impressed by what I saw at Finex. Even the warranty was impressive.

Like I said, Lodge better watch out! But the proof is in the cooking. Hopefully I’ll be able to give their skillet a test drive soon and judge how it actually performs in the kitchen. I will say I wish I had one of these to play with when I was writing Seared to Perfection.

Thank you to Mike, Shauna, and the rest of the Finex crew for the fantastic tour and the delicious cornbread!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cooking on AM Northwest

May I present for your viewing pleasure this morning’s AM Northwest cooking segment, starring my meat pounder and me.

In case you missed it, here’s my first appearance on the show.

In other Marinades news, The Kitchn reviews the book and says, “I think this cookbook will take you by surprise. We so rarely think of marinades by themselves, as recipes of their own merit that can go from weeknight chicken to steak night to a quick shrimp sauté. They're such an easy way to dress up an otherwise usual and mundane weeknight meal. Marinades will have you looking at, well, marinades in a whole new way.” Love it!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Joys of U-Pick

Nine different varieties.

Eating fruit that’s warm from the sun.

Getting to know your farmer.

Twenty pounds of cherries for $30. Plus free all-you-can-eat in the orchard.

Cherries that keep for weeks (seriously, weeks!) and are still better than “fresh” cherries at the grocery store.

Eating cherries to your heart’s content every day for weeks!

Black Forest Panna Cottas
Printable Recipe

8 ounces cherries, pitted and quartered
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ cups milk
1 tablespoon gelatin
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon Kirsch
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or scant 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Combine the cherries, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and ½ cup water in a small pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, or until tender. Let cool slightly and puree in a food mill using a fine disc.

Measure ½ cup of the milk into a small bowl and slowly sprinkle over gelatin. Combine the remaining 1 cup of milk, 1 ½ cups of the cream, and remaining ¼ cup sugar in a small saucepan. Heat to a bare simmer. Whisk in the gelatin mixture and then the cherry puree, Kirsch, and vanilla. Chill over an ice bath until just beginning to thicken. Divide among 6 dessert cups. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until set.

Bring the remaining ½ cup cream to a bare simmer in a small, heavy saucepan. Place the chocolate into a small bowl, add the hot cream, and whisk until smooth. Let cool slightly and divide among the dessert cups. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until set.

Serves 6. If you can get your hands on it, use Tahitian vanilla, which has a uniquely floral character.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reviews and Red Beans

I was at the airport, anticipating my visit to Texas and my cooking class at Revival Market and biding my time at the newsstand when I saw it.

I’d already seen it online, but there it was in the Fine Cooking August/September print edition, on “The Reading List” between reviews of Fire & Smoke and The Essential New York Times Grilling Cookbook. And you know that person you see alone in a public place smiling a bit too broadly for seemingly no reason at all? I became that person. A grin from ear to ear on my face, I had to fight the overwhelming urge to show all the strangers in my immediate vicinity. I quickly paid for just one copy (I did consider buying the whole stack) and ran out of the store to call family and friends to spread the good news. I didn’t feel bad for a second boasting that Fine Cooking describes Marinades as “the kind of utilitarian cookbook I will turn to again and again on a busy weeknight when I want to switch up the flavor of my usual grilled chicken (or pork, or steak, or fish).”

So how about a taste of some of the recipes in the book? BookPage offers up the Grilled Lamb Rib Chops with Curry Marinade. The Detroit News includes that one as well as the Grilled Baby Back Ribs with Asian Plum Marinade, Grilled Chicken Breasts with All-Purpose Tex-Mex Marinade, Shashlik with Shashlik Marinade, and Grilled Fruit with Caramel-Vanilla Syrup along with this interview with yours truly. Kate Lawson says, “Vaserfirer basically has never met a food she hasn’t tried to drown, and I mean that in a good way.” I love that! I also love that they ran my Shashlik photo BIG in their print edition!

For more Marinades, tune into AM Northwest between 9:20AM and 9:40AM on Tuesday, August 12. I’ll be demoing another delicious recipe from the book.

Speaking of the visit to Texas, we decided to make fajitas with Pico de Gallo, Guacamole, and homemade flour tortillas for dinner one night when I was there. This menu was decided on just as we stood before the vast meat case at Central Market. As I began to inquire about skirt steak, my mother guided me over to the pre-marinated meats. She insisted we get their pre-marinated meat for fajitas because it was her favorite. Can you believe it? Could my own mother betray me like that?! “I didn’t just write an entire cookbook with 200 marinades to buy that pre-marinated stuff.” She later claimed my rebuke was accompanied by “that scornful look”. Whatever. We bought the fresh meat, soaked it in my Carne Asada Marinade overnight, and I showed her what’s what. She wrote on her Facebook page, and I quote, “I will never buy pre-marinated meat again. Lucy’s recipe made the best fajitas we ever had.” Vindication is mine!

You can find the Carne Asada Marinade recipe in the book, so here’s another dish that’s often requested of me when I visit the fam in Texas.

New Orleans Red Beans & Rice
Printable Recipe

1 ½ pounds red kidney beans, picked over and rinsed
¼ cup canola oil
3 yellow onions, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
5 stalks celery, diced
8 to 10 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ pounds andouille, sliced
1 2-pound smoked ham hock
2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
Kosher salt
Cooked long grain white rice, for serving
Sliced green onions, for serving
Minced Italian parsley, for serving

Place the beans into a large bowl and add enough water to cover by several inches. Cover with plastic wrap and let soak overnight at room temperature.

Drain the beans. Heat a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the onions and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, or until soft. Add the bell peppers and celery and sauté for another 10 to 12 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and sauté 1 to 2 minutes more, or until fragrant. Add 2 ½ quarts water and the beans, bay leaves, thyme, pepper, white pepper, cayenne, Worcestershire, andouille, and ham hock. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 2 ½ hours, or until the beans are very tender. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaves. Remove the ham hock to a cutting board and let rest for about 15 minutes, or until just cool enough to handle. Remove 3 ladlesful of the beans to a bowl and mash with a potato masher. When the ham hock is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bone and chop. Return the pork and beans to the pot. Return to the heat, bring to a boil, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the desired consistency. Stir in the Tabasco and season to taste with salt. To serve, spoon some of the rice into the center of each bowl, ladle the beans over the rice, and sprinkle with the green onions and parsley.

Serves 12 to 14. Mashing a portion of the beans ensures that the results are creamy and thick.
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