The Oven Mitts Saga

Many years ago, I purchased a pair of oven mitts that seemed to last me almost forever. Well, not quite forever, but a good long time – as in many years. But with much use, the did eventually get worn out and I had to purchase new ones.

In four years, I am now on my fourth pair… which seems a bit ridiculous to me, knowing that I got very good use out of a pair that were purchased many years ago.

When they did finally wear out, I went to a local kitchen supply shop and was sold on silicone oven mitts. They were pricey, but I was told that they were the “new thing” and could handle the heat. I was a bit surprised at how thin they were, but decided to try them out.

They could handle the heat – and quite a bit of my baking is done at temperatures of 450 and 500F. I could feel some warmth when removing the cast iron dutch oven after it had bread baking in it at 500F, but nothing that was bothersome.

Until one day… I reached into the oven to pull out the dutch oven and felt searing heat against bare skin! Of course, I immediately lurched my hand out of the oven and upon inspection, discovered that the stitching along the side of the silicone oven mitt had broken.

This exposed part of my hand! Not a very good design for an oven mitt at all.

After the silicone mitts, I went back to the more traditional style. I have no idea what the brand was, but sadly it had no where near the quality of the original pair that I owned, had. They lasted perhaps 6 months before they became worn. Mind you, I do quite a bit of baking – but not really anymore than I did previously.

It was a bit of a pain to sort of adjust my grip when using them, until I could get out and get a new pair. This time, I decided to settle on a recognized and trusted brand and purchased a set of Cuisinart Oven Mitts, with a silicone grip.

The mitt is not 100% silicone, rather just in the grip area, while the rest of the mitt is of a different material. Inside the mitt, there is some lining with an insulating material.

At first, I was quite happy with these. They fit nicely and even my son could wear them on his much smaller hands and still be able to grip things while adding or removing from the oven.

But how long did they last? All of two months! After about two months of use, the lining inside had torn apart with the insulation being worn away. Another “Ouch!” moment when removing anything hot from the oven.

To say I was disappointed in these Cuisinart Oven mitts would be an understatement. You would think that a product with their name on it would be a high quality product, but these are definitely not of high quality. In fact, I’d say they are very poor.

Some time ago, I needed to order some office supplies and generally use Staples.ca. Curious, as I knew they sold some baking supplies online, I checked for oven mitts and discovered they carried a number of different styles of heat resistant gloves – not only for baking, but also for other uses where protection from high temperatures is required.

The brand they sold were “Superior Glove” (website here). I had never heard of them, and decided to order a pair.

The model I ordered from Staples was the TBMOB 17″ Terry Oven Mitt with Oilbloc.

When they arrived, I was a bit puzzled as it seemed I had received two left-handed mitts. I inquired of Superior Glove’s customer service and received a reply: “The TBM is an ambidextrous mitt and can be worn on either hand.

Well.. they can be worn on either hand, but are most comfortable on the left.. they don’t really seem to be totally “ambidextrous,” – but that is my only minor complaint with the mitts so far.

They are actually a really high quality product and have been well used since I received them.

I’d like to help you get a pair, but unfortunately they seem to be only available in Canada at this time.

Here is the link to the actual product I purchased on Staples.ca:

http://www.staples.ca/en/Superior-Glove-Works-TBMOB-17-Terry-Oven-Mitt-with-Oilbloc/product_1639741_2-CA_1_20001

If you do a lot of baking and have a favourite oven mitt brand, let me know!

 

A Summer Salad Dressing – Mediterranean Style

I love salads in the summer, and often will make them so large that they are a meal onto themselves.  Often, I won’t follow a particular recipe, but certainly enjoy a “Greek” type of salad with lots of feta cheese crumbled over lettuce, cucumber, tomato, onion… and anything else I might have.

I like to whip up my own salad dressing as well – and a dear friend of mine from Greece says it’s pretty similar to what she would do for a salad dressing. Often, I don’t measure the ingredients very precisely but after enjoying salad with the dressing, my son asked me for the recipe so he could duplicate it. So… the next time I made it, I decided to precisely measure the ingredients.

This is an oil and vinegar dressing – there is supposed to be a precise ratio of oil to vinegar but I can’t recall what that is.  Of course, vinegar and oil don’t mix well together unless you add an emulsifier, which helps to bind the oil and vinegar droplets together. The molecules are still not really “mixed” together, but instead the emulsifier works as a surfectant. And emulsifier for oil and vinegar (or water) have opposite sides, one of which is attracted to water and the other is attracted to the oil droplets.

For an emulsifier, I like to use mustard powder because it works well and also provides a taste I enjoy.

So, here’s the ingredients:

  • 1/2 Cup Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • 3 Garlic Cloves, Minced (Yes, We love garlic!)
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Himalayan Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 Teaspoon White Sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Dried Basil
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
  • 1/8 Teaspoon White Pepper
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Mustard Powder

I combine all the ingredients and then use an immersible blender to mix it all up together.

Drizzle over your salad. Enjoy!

Blueberry & Kale Smoothy

blueberriesBlueberries! Ever since I was little, I’ve loved blueberries and try to find ways to incorporate them into our regular eating. My son absolutely adores blueberries and I can remember times when he was little, after a big bowl of blueberries sat down in front of him, his lips and fingers would be stained blue.

The blue colour, according to the Ontario Blueberry Grower’s Association is due to the “high levels of anthocyanin” in the berries. Anthocyanins have a known high anti-oxidant value, but it is debatable whether they provide much value to humans after digestion. But regardless, blueberries are a healthy snack and we find them delicious!

Combined with kale, we’ve been enjoying a smoothy including the main ingredients of blueberries and kale. I don’t particularly like raw kale, but I know it has many health benefits.  And at this time of year, kale is in abundance at the local Farmer’s Market, and quite inexpensive.

Some of these listed benefits include:

  • Enormous amounts of Vitamin K
  • Rich in important minerals
  • Lots of fibre (helps to reduce bad cholesterol)
  • May be a cancer preventative food

So, we try to get good amounts of kale into our diet on a regular basis. And I’m pretty lucky a my 13 year old son doesn’t mind trying new things and enjoys a wide variety of vegetables – but raw kale does have a taste that is not pleasant for everyone. The answer to that is to mix in a good handful of blueberries into the smoothy, which takes the edge of the raw kale taste. It actually tastes great when served very chilled on a hot summer day!

We’ve been using the recipe (more or less) found over on the HHB website. It’s one of my favourite websites as they investigate claims about health foods and supplements, and look for the science, if it exists, to determine whether or not there is any basis for any number of health benefit claims.

Some suggest that fresh blueberries are the best, and while that may be true if you are able to actually go out and pick them and then consume them within a day, you may want to consider the idea of purchasing frozen ones from the grocery store, instead of the ones in the fresh produce section.

The reason for this is that when commercial growers pick their blueberries, they are frozen immediately, thereby ensuring the quality. On the other hand, blueberries found in the fresh produce section may have been picked several days before they arrive at the grocery store or supermarket, and have lost some of their quality in the days between being picked and when available for sale.

But fresh picked are definitely wonderful, if you can get your hands on them!

If you’ve had problems with the taste of raw kale, but know you should be adding more of it to your diet, consider the kale blueberry smoothy. Perhaps add a few drops of stevia as well, to sweeten it up.

Here’s the recipe from HHB.

Chocolate Babka

chocolate babka“Mmmm! Dad, this is probably the best thing we’ve ever made!”

Those were David’s words as he took a bite of the chocolate babka loaf that we’d left cooling for awhile after taking it out of the oven. And sure enough, it was quite amazing to taste – so good that it was not long after that the entire loaf had been devoured.

I had tried making it a couple of weeks earlier, and while it was good, it was not as good as I had hoped it would be. I know why it did not turn out as good as the second time: I did not let the dough warm up to room temperature long enough before putting it in the oven.  When I baked it a second time with my son, I did not make that mistake and the bread came out amazing!

I learned about this bread and how easy it is to make from Peter Reinhart’s video series on Artisan Bread Making. A fantastic course, by the way. I would never have thought to try this if I had not watched Mr. Reinhart make it. Some of my friends, family and acquaintances have seen photos of the finished baked chocolate loaf, and have asked for the recipe, so here goes:

One thing to be noted is that Peter Reinhart’s recipe calls for dark chocolate chips. I did not have those, but we had milk chocolate chips.  Even though we had to substitute the milk chocolate, it still came out very good. As well, you will need to start the dough the night before you want to bake the bread. Be sure to note that there is a recipe for the dough, and a separate recipe for the filling, which you can make just before you want to bake the bread.

Dough Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup Milk
  • 2 Tablespoons Instant Yeast
  • 6 Tablespoons (3 oz) Butter
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
  • 6 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 4 Egg Yolks
  • 3 1/3 Cups All-purpose flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt

Method for Dough (1st Day):

Heat the milk in a small pot to around 97F. Add the butter, stirring until thoroughly melted. Stir in the oil.

Whisk in the yeast, sugar, vanilla and egg yolks.

In a mixing bowl, add the flour and salt and then stir in the milk mixture. Continue to stir until thoroughly mixed and you should end up with a smooth, soft and sticky dough.

Transfer the dough to a floured or oiled surface where you can stretch and fold it several times. The dough should firm up, when you should then transfer it to a an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When you are ready to make the loaf the next day, remove it from the refrigerator, and roll out the dough into a 15″ X 15″ square, with the dough about 1/4″ thick.

Filling Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups Chocolate Chips (we used milk chocolate, Mr. Reinhart used dark chocolate)
  • 8 Tablespoons (4 oz) Butter

With the chocolate chips in a mixing bowl, melt the butter and then pour over the chocolate chips. Mix thoroughly, coating all of the chips with melted butter. Some of the chocolate will melt a bit; you do not however need to try to melt them all.

Method To Finish Loaf (2nd Day):

Preheat oven to 325F.

After you have rolled out the dough, pour the chocolate/butter mixture onto the centre of the dough. Spread out leaving about a half inch border on all sides.  After you have evenly spread the filling, begin rolling the dough up, being sure to pinch the ends as you do to prevent the filling from leaking or squeezing out. You’re likely to get some filling on your fingers, and some will possibly squeeze out. Just rub it back into the dough.

After you have completely rolled the dough, cut it in half lengthwise, and then spiral the two parts together.

This will leave you with one very large loaf, or you can divide the dough into two, and bake two loaves in loaf pans.

babka loaf in loaf pan

Loaf resting in loaf pan before putting in oven.

Alternately, you could also bake one full loaf on parchment paper place on a baking sheet.  We decided to do two loaves, each in a loaf pan. If using loaf pans, make sure they are well greased.

Put the loaves in the loaf pans (or on the parchment paper lined sheet) and cover with plastic wrap for an hour before baking.

Peter Reinhart says that if you bake one full size loaf with this recipe (instead of dividing the dough into two), it will take 50 to 60 minutes to bake completely. We found that 35 minutes was perfect with the dough made into two separate loaves.

After baking, allow to cool for half an hour before removing from the loaf pan. It will still be quite warm and will need more time to cool before slicing and eating. You could also glaze the loaves as we did, using a mixture of 2 cups icing sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/4 cup of milk.

Enjoy. You will be wanting to make this again, soon!

babka slice

“Son Approved” Meatloaf

meatloaf in cast iron pan

Piping Hot Meatloaf Right Out Of The Oven

As some of my acquaintances know, I often don’t use a recipe. And even when I do use a recipe, to me it’s a “guideline” most of the time. For example, a recipe that calls for one clove of garlic, well… I’m more likely going with two or three! Some recipes that don’t have garlic on the ingredient list – when I’m cooking, garlic just might be added anyhow!

Meatloaf is not much different – never really followed an exact recipe, but tonight my son David thought meatloaf for dinner sounded good after several days in a row of turkey. So, I decided I would sort of keep track of what and how much of the ingredients I put into it.  Interestingly, my son thought it was one of the best meatloaf dinners that he’s ever had. His plate was pretty full as it was to start with, but he had seconds of the meatloaf. Thankfully, there’s enough left over that we can have it for lunch tomorrow as well.

Just like the banana bread, I like to bake meatloaf in my Lodge cast iron loaf pan. It’s big enough for the two of us, and with leftovers for the next day. But if I was cooking this for a larger group, I’d likely to have purchase more of the Lodge cast iron pans or resort to the larger size standard sandwich bread loaf pan.

Of course, you can do all sorts of things with meatloaf and I’m sure what I do is pretty standard, but for those that want to know pretty close to what I do, here it is:

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. approximately unfrozen ground beef (sometimes referred to as mince or mince meat)
  • 1 Medium sized onion, finely chopped (by the way, if you want to learn the best way to dice onions using a Chef knife, check out this free Complete Knife Skills Course with Brendan McDermott. (Yes, it’s FREE!).
  • A single stalk of celery (sometimes called rib as opposed to the whole “head” of celery) – finely sliced.
  • One full “bunch” of Green Onions, finely sliced.
  • 4 Garlic Cloves – minced.
  • 2 Teaspoons Himalayan Salt (Why Himalayan? Well… why not? It’s good!)
  • 1 Teaspoon ground Cardamom (This is enough to give a “hint” of cardamom to the finished meat loaf. You could use more).
  • 1 Teaspoon or so of ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Lea & Perrin’s Sauce (Worcestershire Sauce)
  • 1/3 Cup of Ketchup (but also more for later on, as a “glaze” over the meatloaf before you put it in the oven. See method.)
  • 2 Eggs – Beaten
  • 1 Cup approximately Bread Crumbs.
  • Butter (How much? I dunno… you’re going to do some sauteing so read the method and add what you need! 🙂 ).

Method:

Grease loaf pan, put it in the oven to heat while the oven is pre-heating to 350F.

Prepare the onion, celery, garlic and green onions. Heat up a skillet and melt butter so it covers the surface of the skillet. Saute the onion, celery, garlic and green onions for several minutes.  If you need more butter, add more butter. Start with a tablespoon. I am sure I use more than that, however.

Add Ketchup, salt, pepper and cardamom to the vegetables.  Stir well, cook a few minutes longer and then remove from the burner and allow to cool.

In a bowl, add the ground beef and eggs. Then using a spatula, add the vegetable mixture to the bowl. Mix these ingredients well then slowly mix in the bread crumbs. Depending on how moist the mixture is, you may want to use a bit more – or less – of the breadcrumbs. I found a cup was perfect, this evening.

You want a fairly stiff mixture that you are going to scrape out of the bowl, using a spatula, into the loaf pan.  Press the mixture into the pan, and form a smooth top with the spatula.

Add more ketchup – enough to cover the ground beef mixture entirely – over the meatloaf. You just want a fairly thin coating of ketchup covering it all.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 1 hour.

meatloaf slice

Moist and tasty meatloaf slice…

When you remove the meatloaf, set aside the pan on a surface where you can allow the meatloaf to sit for a good ten minutes. Although it will be smelling oh so very good, and you’ll be tempted to try to remove it from the pan and eat it right away, don’t. It needs ten minutes of cooling to set. So take those ten minutes to mash your potatoes and steam your broccoli and spinach (which is what we had, as well as carrots), or go set the table.

If you follow the above ingredients and method fairly close, you will have a very tasty and moist meatloaf that will be “kid approved!” And adults will enjoy it as well.

Additional Comments:

1. Meatloaf is one of those things that you can have lots of fun with and play around with spices, herbs, and many ingredients. However, if you have children, you have to bear their tastes in mind, and what they are expecting. I have all kinds of ideas that I want to try in a meatloaf, but I’m not going to do it when my son is hungry and he is looking forward to something he is familiar with.. although I do love to introduce him to new tastes and experiences in food – but in those cases, I am always prepared to fall back on something in case his first taste is so not what he was expecting, that he may “think” he does not like it.

I say “think” because often, tastes are judged on what we expect, especially when we’re younger. If you are expecting something to taste a certain way, but it does not, there could be the element of disappointment which comes across as “not liking it,” when in fact, the next time you taste, you discover you quite enjoy it. Taste then is often very much psychological as much as it is about our palette.

2. I can’t say enough about the FREE Complete Knife Skills Course with Brendan McDermott. I would say his lesson on cutting onions was time so very well spent! If you cut onions and find yourself “tearing up” up in the eyes, then you need to sign up for Brendan’s course. I thought I was pretty good with a Chef Knife.. getting tips along the way from others, but Brendan has shown me I had a lot to learn, and boy did I learn!  Did you know you can reduce the eye  tearing simply by using a specific method to cut up onions? Take the course! And learn more as well.

3. Don’t buy a complete knife set in the big box stores. They might seem like a “good deal,” but in reality, you should be investing in THREE high quality knife styles, and you may find different manufacturers suit you better for the particular style of knife you are using. For example, I have  used a variety of Chef Knives over the years, including supposed “high quality” Japanese, German and American.  About a year ago, I discovered the Wusthof Classic Ikon Chef’s Knife.  It’s a beauty, and far better quality than anything you will get in any of the big box stores’ “specials” – even on common “good reputation” brand name knives.

Having said that, I’m leaning toward a Messermeister serrated bread knife – not just for bread, but also for large waxy skinned vegetables and other  harder to handle cuts. I like the model that has a slight curve in the blade, so it will cut efficiently through things other than just artisan crusty bread. Can you think of pineapple and butternut squash?

4. Sometimes, I like diced garlic, and sometimes I like minced (or some call it “shredded”). Most people might use a garlic press. I discovered something much better, called the Garlic Twist.  I love this thing!

Let me know if you enjoyed this meatloaf recipe, and what you would do differently! I’m always interested in new ideas and trying new things!

Honey Banana Bread

baked banana loafI sometimes buy too many bananas. Well, more correctly, I don’t eat the bananas I often buy, like I had planned on doing, when I was at the grocery store. Usually, this isn’t a big problem as my son loves bananas at just about any stage of ripeness, but I’m a bit more finicky and once any brown spot develops on the skin, I don’t like to eat them. I prefer them when just as they are starting to ripen up.

My son hasn’t been around for the weekend, so he wasn’t here to eat up the bananas I purchased last week, and that were starting to over ripen for my tastes. But he will be here later this afternoon, and the first thing he does when he arrives is ask for a cup of tea, then wonders aloud if there is any good food for a snack that he can have. So, the kettle is on, while I await his arrival and a loaf of banana bread is cooling on the rack. I didn’t know anything too fancy like add chocolate this time, but I do substitute honey for some of the sugar. And I bake it in a cast iron loaf pan (which I also do meatloaf in – that’s planned for dinner and recipe will follow).

The cast iron gives the loaf a perfect crust, but you should note that I put the loaf pan into the oven while it is pre-heating.  It is greased first, and then allowed to heat up as the oven heats while I am mixing the ingredients.  I think doing it this way (rather than pouring the bread dough into a cold pan and then putting into the oven) goes a long way to a perfect crust as well as reducing the cooking time about five or ten minutes. Most banana loaf bread recipes that I’ve seen call for baking for 60 to 70 minutes, while this is ready in 55 minutes. Your results may vary as not all ovens are the same.

Total preparation time is about ten minutes. You will also want to allow some time for the loaf to cool after you remove it from the oven.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Very Ripe Bananas

    ripe bananas

    When they get too ripe, make them into bread!

  • 1/3 Cup Melted Butter
  • 3/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Liquid Honey
  • 1 Egg, Beaten
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • Pinch of Salt if using Unsalted Butter. If using Salted Butter, you don’t need this.
  • 1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Unbleached White Flour

Method:

Grease loaf pan and place in oven. Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Mash up two peeled bananas in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter, and then the egg. Add sugar, honey and vanilla extract and mix well.

Add salt (if using), and then the baking soda. Stir well before finally mixing in the flour.

You should end up with a thick batter like dough.

With oven mitts, remove the loaf pan from the oven and pour in the dough, smoothing it out with a spatula.  Return the loaf pan to the oven and bake for about 55 minutes. The loaf should have a golden brown crust and you should be able to stick a toothpick into the loaf and pull it out without any dough sticking to the toothpick when fully baked.

Allow to cool for 20 minutes before slicing.

Enjoy! Even though the dough already has butter, I enjoy spreading more onto a slice before eating.

Here’s what the banana bread looks like right out of the oven and still in the loaf pan:

banana loaf in pan