My new skillet

When I did my first cast iron post, my mom commented that she had an old cast iron skillet that she got from her mother and offered it to me. I was very excited about this because I didn’t know she had any cast iron (she didn’t use it much when I was growing up) and I love old stuff like that. I picked it up last weekend when we were there for Mother’s Day.

Although it was in great shape and probably at least 40 years old and I was very happy to have it, I was a little disappointed to find that it had no maker’s mark on the bottom. That’s not unusual and doesn’t reflect on the quality of the piece, but it meant it would be next to impossible for me to date it or really learn any more about it. Still, it had been my grandmother’s and that was pretty cool.

One thing that was curious, though, was the seasoning was completely gone from the cooking surface (but not the rest of it), yet there was no rust at all:

The lighting is a little warm, but that’s just the color of the iron; it’s definitely not at all rusty.

Because it seemed so unusual that it would not be seasoned yet not rusty, I asked my mother how she had taken care of it and whether she had purposely removed the seasoning or if it had just flaked off over time, and she responded that she “didn’t know nothing about no seasoning” and had never done anything with it, either giving it special care or purposefully removing the seasoning. She just used Crisco or oil to cook in it, though she didn’t use it much. So really it’s pretty amazing it was in this condition.

The inside was beautiful, but the underside was less pretty; the old seasoning was intact and sort of messy:

Something made me stare at the bottom of it when we got home Sunday night, though. For some reason, I thought possibly I could make out lettering in the gunked-up seasoning on the bottom. But I kept telling myself my eyes were playing tricks on me.

This is where I thought I saw letters, right above the rust.

I wanted to see letters real bad, and I looked at the bottom of that skillet harder than I’ve ever looked at anything in my life (except maybe that one old photograph of Broadway in New York – Mom will know what I’m talking about!). I shoved the skillet in Mark’s face and asked him if he saw letters. To my surprise, he said he did! He did a rubbing for me, which did seem to show something was there, but we couldn’t make it out much better than we could looking at the skillet itself. I stared and stared and stared at that skillet.

I didn’t photograph the skillet that night, but here’s a photo from later, which I have lightened a bit; you can see better where I was seeing the phantom letters:

It came to me abruptly. I was staring as hard as I possibly could at that skillet when suddenly I knew it said WAPAK. It was weird, really. I didn’t know what WAPAK meant, but Google quickly informed me…it was a cast iron company! Honestly, I thought I was going to be googling 5-letter words that looked like – – PA – all night long, because I was still sure my eyes were tricking me and those were the only two letters I was nearly certain about. It was very hard to see it. What’s even more exciting, though, I learned the Wapak company was only in business from 1903 to 1926. This skillet couldn’t have been new to my grandmother – and is definitely older than my beloved Griswold. I don’t know for sure (and my grandmother didn’t confirm or deny when I asked her), but I am pretty sure my grandmother got it from her mother-in-law, my great-grandmother, knowing what I do about my family history. My mom agrees with me. So I suddenly have my great-grandmother’s skillet!

I cleaned it up last night. I took sand paper to the bottom of it. And lo…

There was such a build-up of seasoning on the bottom of the skillet that when I was trying to date it, before I had my revelation, I thought it didn’t have a heat ring. It turns out it does: the seasoning was hiding it.

I got off all the seasoning I was will to exert the energy on with sand paper and took it inside to clean up with steel wool before seasoning.

Then I seasoned it four times. Here it is subsequently looking extremely shiny. There’s no oil in it.

And it’s like a dream! Oh my gosh, it is soooo nice! I was afraid when I got it that I wouldn’t love it as much as my Griswold and I’d feel bad liking the non-family-heirloom skillet better. But it is BETTER! It truly is as smooth as glass and the very first thing I cooked in it was sliding around ridiculously! These Brussels sprouts were chasing each other around like race cars before I completely packed them in!

Because Mark can eat much more than half a skillet of Brussels sprouts, I made two skillets-full of them and had a cook-off between the Griswold and the Wapak:

I don’t know what my life has come to that I spend my Saturday nights pitting two 80-year old skillets against each other in weird Brussels sprouts contests.

Instantly this skillet has become the one thing in my kitchen I will never part with.

Oh, and speaking of cast iron. After mentioning that my parents got a glass top electric stove when they remodeled their kitchen, because they can’t get gas and apparently it’s hard to find non-glass top electric stoves these days, I did some research on ranges. Since we are renting and I can’t very well build the kitchen of my dreams in a rental home, I’ve never looked into them much. It seems glass tops really are prevalent, which is horribly annoying since there is no way in hell I’d ever buy one. I learned about something called induction ranges, though. Apparently they are even better than gas. They cook using a magnetic field. They are instantly responsive to changes in the heat setting and they have a high output. They are also safer than both gas and regular electric stoves. I’m very interested. One of the major disadvantages is you must cook in ferrous (magnetic) cookware. Guess what is extremely ferrous? Cast iron. In fact, cast iron is just about the only thing you can cook in. Which is a-okay with me! I’d miss my Calphalon pots, but if it comes down to me ever having to choose between glass top – giving up my cast iron – and induction – giving up my Calphalon, trust me, great-grandmother’s skillet ain’t going nowhere. And my wok is cast iron, which means basically I’m all set.

Too bad induction ranges cost $3,000 or I’d go break my electric coil stove and make the landlord buy me one! Seriously, though, does anyone have any experience with these?

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How to make a heavy-duty, steel tofu press

I am often asked where to find non-plastic tofu presses. There are a couple of places you can get wooden ones online, but the really nice ones are stainless steel and seem only available in Japan. I have a wooden one that I got in Japantown in San Francisco, but I’m not even 100% happy with that one because I use such heavy weights I’m afraid it’s going to fall apart. It’s a bit wobbly. So I thought I’d make myself a heavy duty tofu press and show you how to do it at the same time.

Here’s what you need:

2 medium (about 8.5″ x 4.5″) loaf pans: the cheapest you can find; they need to be able to nest
a drill, with 1/8″ and 7/32″ bits (or thereabouts) that are good drilling for metal (the ones I bought said “soft metals” and worked fine)
sand paper

Unless you plan to make more than a pound of tofu at a time, don’t buy large loaf pans. Your tofu curds won’t fill it deeply and you’ll end up with very flat tofu. I usually start with 8 to 10 ounces of soy beans (ending up with about 12 to 14 ounces of tofu) and the medium pans I bought are the perfect size.

I had a helper, by the way:

Optional materials:

that little pointy thing you tap to make indents so you can center the drill; I don’t know what it’s called

Finding cheap loaf pans was the hardest part of this project, oddly enough. It’s easy to find inexpensive pans – these were $4.99 each at K-Mart – but they are much thicker, heavier, and nicer than the old, cheap tin pans I was trying to find. You can try scouting out thrift stores for old, thinner pans that may be easier to perforate. These worked fine, though, so don’t go nuts looking for something lighter. You also need a matching set so they nest, which may be harder to find in thrift stores.

While I was at K-Mart, I called up ole Fortinbras to confirm with him that drill bits that said good for “soft metals” would work on fairly heavy loaf pans. Fortinbras is in Florida and did not answer the phone. He’s supposed to be my handyman, at my beck and call, ready to answer all of my tool questions at any time. Damn him! I took a chance and bought the bits without his counsel. They were fine.

How awesome is my drill, by the way? It’s older than I am!

It was my grandfather’s. He died when I was very young but I remember him and he was the greatest. I’m very attached to his drill. Even if you can see sparks inside it while you’re operating it and it has big vents my hair could get caught in, getting tangled around the motor and catching fire on those sparks. So I get excited when I have projects that involve drilling. I tried to think of a way to do this without a drill in case some of you don’t have one, but drilling seems to be the fastest, easiest way. Hopefully most of you at least know someone who has a drill you can borrow.

Prepare the drill by inserting the smaller bit. The picture depicts the larger bit. Pretend it’s the smaller one.

I marked where I wanted to put the holes by tapping indents with this doohickey using a hammer. That’s optional, and you could also use a marker of some sort.

Hullo, Brachtune. This was just before I turned the drill on and she ran away, though when Mark came home and flopped down next to me, she decided she loves Mark more than she is scared of the drill.

VERY IMPORTANT! WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES! Or failing that, onion goggles, as I did:

Not only should you wear goggles any time you operate a drill because bits can break during use- it’s happened to me – but drilling metal will cause a lot of metal shavings to fly around and you do NOT want that in your eye.

Drill holes with the smaller bit, using the indents as your guide if you made them …

… then re-drill the holes with the larger bit:

Here I’ve marked all the holes I want to make on the bottom of the pan:

Then I drilled all the small holes …

… including a row around the bottom of the sides of the pan:

Then I drilled my big holes:

At this point in time Fortinbras returned my phone call and upon hearing I was playing with power tools advised me to drink a beer. According to Fortinbras, the operation of any power tool is enhanced by the consumption of beer. Fortinbras knows much more about power tools than I do, so I take his word on these things. I retrieved a beer.

When the holes are all drilled, the next thing to do is sand them smooth, on both sides.

Now, Fortinbras was on the phone with me when I began this step and he started saying something about how I wanted Raymond Burr to clean up the holes but I don’t know what he was talking about. I think it involved me buying some sort of additional power tool. In my opinion, if my grandfather’s drill didn’t come with a Raymond Burr attachment, it can’t be necessary. And sand paper worked just fine. In fact, sanding the holes was much easier than I expected, because the drill removed most of the metal from the hole instead of just pushing it aside. See, here’s the first tofu press I made, a long time ago, before I had the wooden press:

(Wow, it looks so primitive!)

I didn’t use the drill because I was a sissy back then. It’s hard to see, but what I did was hammer nails through the pan, which caused very sharp edges inside the holes. That was annoying. You probably need Raymond Burr to clean those holes up.

Anyway, the drilled holes were pretty smooth to begin with and a brief session with the sandpaper finished them right up in no time. I did start turning into the tin man in the hand area though:

Do any of you watch Black Books? It’s the best show ever so you should. Looking at my hands after sanding my holes, the only thing I could hear in my head was the Cleaner saying, “dirty, dirty. Everything is very dirty.”

Since everything is so dirty, wash the pan (and your hands!) and dry it.

Then vacuum or sweep up all those metal shavings. They’d be no fun to step on barefoot!

And that’s it! The press is done. I’ll show you how to use it in a little bit. Next, if you don’t have one, you’ll want to make a lining for the press. Use a lightweight, cotton or nylon, very porous fabric. Probably not dyed. I like muslin or chiffon. Muslin is easier to finish the edges of. To figure out how large you want the lining to be, measure the length, width, and depth of the pan.

For my 8.5″x4.5″x3″ pan, I multiplied 4.5 by 2 (once for the top and once for the bottom), then multiplied 3 by 2 (once for each side), then added that plus 2 inches for overlap, which gave me 17 inches for the width. For the length, I took 8.5 once (because the width is wide enough to cover the top, this dimension doesn’t need to be doubled), but rounded it up to 9, then added 3 x 2 (for the depth of the top and bottom) and added 2 inches, which also gave me 17 inches. So I made a 17″ x 17″ square. You don’t have to be quite so fancy with your calculations. Just make it large enough that it can wrap the pan neatly without a lot of excess fabric.

It fits in the pan and would completely cover the contents, without too much left over to bunch up:

Then I just zig-zagged the edges to help prevent unraveling.

The finished lining:

Now to use it. You can read my tutorial on making tofu for the details, and I’ll just show you the new press in action with photos.

I set the perforated pan in the sink to drain the whey.

Then I line it; I think it’s easier to wet the fabric so it stays put.

Then fill with the curds:

Fold the fabric up:

Place the non-perforated loaf pan on top:

Then add weights. I use a couple of cans, then my steam pan (the cast iron skillet I didn’t season and use for steaming bread) and a molcajete. I like very firm tofu. For a less firm tofu, just use less weight.

After half an hour or so, remove the weights. You can see how far the top pan has sunk:

The flattened tofu:

I use the edges of the liner to lift the tofu out:

The finished tofu. There are ridges where the curds seeped up into the folds of the liner.

I trim them off and reserve them in case I want to throw them into something.

This vintage glass loaf pan/refrigerator dish is the perfect size and shape for storing the tofu. Just cover the tofu with water:

Place the lid on, and refrigerate!

This tofu turned out better than my tofu has been lately, and is so firm I’ll be able to stir fry it without it falling apart. My tofu press was a success! Total cost: $9.98 for the loaf pans and about $2.50 for the drill bits, which I bought just because I wasn’t sure any of the ones I already had were good for drilling metal. That’s a lot less than I spent on my “real” tofu press and this one will take a lot more abuse. It’s also much easier to apply the weights. This project has saved me a trip to Japan to buy a stainless steel tofu press! Er, wait…that sort of backfired, didn’t it?

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Meet Hieronymus the Bosch and look at some pizza

Ugh, I’ve been so busy lately. I haven’t had time to be very creative in the kitchen, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to introduce you to my early Christmas present from Smark: Hieronymus!

Hieronymus is an 800-watt Bosch Universal Plus Kitchen Machine. I asked for Hieronymus after killing two Kitchen Aid mixers in four years. When I first started getting into bread baking a few years ago, I came across recipes that called for 20 minutes of kneading and said, “no way!” I did a minimal amount of research and concluded everyone’s favorite Kitchen Aid would be good enough for my “kneads” (haha, you wouldn’t believe the mileage I’m getting out of that one lately), asked for one for Christmas and received it from my parents. And it did serve my needs for a while. I wish I had researched better or foreseen that I’d be making bigger, heavier batches of dough, because three years later the KA was dead, but as I told my mom (feeling pretty guilty that I’d killed my present in only 3 years when many people keep KA mixers for 20 years), I used it almost constantly in that time and I really solidified my seriousness about bread baking.

In a strange stroke of fate, the very day my original KA mixer gave up the ghost, my friend Lanet asked me if I knew anyone who needed a Kitchen Aid because she’d just upgraded hers although her old one was in perfect working order.

It took me only a year to kill Lanet’s mixer.

Kitchen Aids are simply not cut out for whole grain doughs or even large batches of white dough. What is cut out for whole grain and large batches of dough is the Bosch Universal Plus. Mark let me open the mixer as soon as it arrived even though it’s a Christmas present, because I was sad without a mixer. Plus Peter Reinhart is counting on me to test stuff! I immediately made two heavy loaves of whole grain bread and a dozen bagels. You may recall that in my bagel tutorial I said I had to knead the bagel dough in halves to avoid stressing out my mixer. Bagels are probably one of the #1 things that contributed to my mixer demise; they are a very stiff dough. My new best friend Hieronymus, however, kneaded the full batch with nary a complaint, in fact, I’m pretty sure he could have handled a double batch!

Hieronymus may look a little different than you are used to mixers looking. The drive shaft is located in the middle of the mixing bowl – which looks therefore a bit like a bundt pan – instead of separately, above it. This is the dough hook, which it comes with:

This gives the mixer a lower profile (fits better under counters) and means you can keep the ingredients completely contained during mixing (goodbye flour-covered counter tops!!), although it does make it a little awkward when removing sticky doughs after kneading. The pros outweigh the cons on that issue though.

It’s also not as noisy as my old mixer. I don’t have to pre-mix dough ingredients, I just weigh them, dump them in, and let the mixer bring them together into a ball. It’s SERIOUS about kneading and didn’t strain at all, no matter what I threw at it. Like six 12-ounce whole wheat pizza crusts. At once. Man, I love Hieronymus!! I’m completely enamored of this mixer.

Not only that, but the blender attachment came free with the package Mark got me. In fact, that’s what convinced me to switch from the DLX to the Bosch at the last minute and I do not regret the decision for a minute.

The Bosch was cheaper and I think probably easier to use (based on what I’ve read in many forums), and the blender is AWESOME! I’ve never used a Vita-Mix, but I’m willing to bet the blender on Hieronymus would give it a run for its money. My old favorite kitchen appliance was the mixie, but I’m afraid the Bosch is outdoing the faithful old mixie. I needed almond meal the other night. The dry grinder attachment on the mixie choked with just half a cup of almonds in it. I put two cups of almonds in the Bosch blender and in two seconds had perfectly ground almond meal. The blender can crack twice as many soy beans at a time as the mixie can, and it cracks them nicely. I haven’t tried making peanut butter in it yet, but if I can do that, I’m not sure what charm the mixie will have over me any more…. Poor mixie.

I REALLY researched the mixer I wanted this time. I’m on a lot of bread baking forums and mailing lists these days and the topic comes up often. Pleasant Hill Grain came up nearly as often as a great place to buy from, and if I’ve convinced you that you also need a more powerful mixer, I definitely recommend them. I was shocked to see the package arrive two days after Mark ordered it and that was with free shipping!

Do I sound like a commercial yet? I hate sounding like a commercial. But I really love my Christmas present and wanted to share!

And just so this isn’t a foodless post, here are some pictures of the pizza I made for dinner last night. I’m usually a very minimalist pizza topping person: I just like “cheese” pizzas, light on the cheese at that. But I had some rapini I needed to use up, so I sauteed it with some onions and garlic …

… added some red pepper strips for color and sweetness …

… and topped one of the whole wheat crusts I was telling you about:

I think vegan sausage would have been good on this particular pizza, too: