My husband’s company routinely hosts various team-building employee contests each year, in part to raise money for the various charities they support. Needless to say–when those contests are open to spouses and food-related–I always play along!
The most recent contest was two-fold. In one corner of the normal Friday afternoon social, they set up a home-crafted beer contest … and in the other, they set up a contest using grains, sugar and various flavorings in a different way: desserts!
My entry was a Persian/Kurdish/Turkish dessert called Çok: a cardamon and ginger-spiced cookie I learned from my adopted Persian mother, where you wrap a spiced nut mixture in phyllo dough, drizzle it with an obscene amount of butter, and then bake it to a crispy brown.
I went into the contest serious, including pre-baking a small batch earlier in the week to fine-tune the exact flavor/texture I was looking for, long before I cranked up and made 200+ pieces to serve: in both full-sugar and Splenda-sweetened versions, including phyllo-rose decorations for my serving plates
We also had some REALLY tough competition:
- a rhubarb gelato that was absolutely yummy, and my personal favorite of the various competitors.
- a kahula cheesecake. Do I have to say anything more?
- something called Loaf, aka Beer Loaf. I’d never been exposed to it before that day, but it’s apparently a favorite treat in some circles … something born out of the college years. It’s basically a really large marshmallow krispie treat, frequently molded into large shapes or onto objects like wine bottles and the like for the great visual on your snack table. In case you don’t know, marshmallow krispie treats are GREAT for making food art for parties like that! You make it, let it cool enough to work with it (but not too cool), and then use it like modeling clay. For example, my daughter and I made marshmallow krispie treat sushi for my grand daughter’s birthday one year. Loaf is made from the same classic sort of recipe (marshmallows, butter, and a crispy rice cereal) … with whatever else you have in the pantry added in, chocolate items given preference … especially in this guy’s entry.
- a fruit tart, one of those thin shortbread-like crust-types with a thin cream cheese and/or custard layer, topped with artistically-arranged and glazed fresh fruit.
- a pear whipped cream cake that reminded me of trifle. Soft cake, soft pears, lots of whipped cream. Definitely yummy!
- a bar mix plate that included several different salty and sweet items; nuts, crunchy stuff, two different types of brownie/cake chunks.
- a baked pear tart that was absolutely beautiful! The guy who made it definitely knew how to make crust glorious … and he didn’t slack one bit with the taste of the pears inside, either.
Yes, it was tough … but I’m pleased to say that I won second place
The best part? I won a $50 gift card to Sur le Table … so I had to go spend it
We finally got there yesterday, and after plundering the store for more than an hour, I finally chose a Mario Batali 4-quart enameled cast iron dutch oven I found on their clearance asile. They were closing out the creme color, and it’s not one I would have probably chosen if I’d had a better option, but I couldn’t beat the price. I got it for $62.50 + tax, which is even cheaper than Amazon.com is right now for the colors they offer in the same size. I LOVE a deal, and I’m going to love this pot as well! In fact, I took this picture right before I cooked a roast and veggies in it, so … believe me … it didn’t quite look this pristine for long!
TheeEEeennn … I couldn’t miss an opportunity to plunder the rest of Sur le Table while I was there, right?
I also decided to add this beauty to my kitchen:
It’s a stainless steel griddle pan, designed to go on your BBQ grill or across two burners on your stove. I got it because, honestly, I’ve just waited longer than I can stand it for someone, ANYONE to come up with an electric griddle that uses a rolled steel surface like this … rather than one of those nifty non-stick surfaces that I just don’t like as well.
I love my electric griddle. I use it all the time, and for all sorts of things … not just grilled cheese and pancakes. I learned many years ago that if you plug in an electric griddle, wipe just the barest of hints of oil across it with a paper towel, turn it on FULL BLAST … and then resist the urge to use it before the currently heating light goes off … you’ve created a cooking surface that can sear/cook lots of other things really nicely. Steaks, burgers and chops can all benefit from that form of cooking, but I’ve also been using it to do things like … fried rice! It’s not as bizzare as it sounds, you know! I know most Chinese cooks use a wok to cook their fried rice, but have you ever eaten in a Japanese teppanyaki restaurant? The classic Benihana kinda place? That’s how they cook their fried rice … right down on the steel griddle, right in front of you. It just takes a slightly different technique to do it that way.
The problem with doing these sorts of things on a non-stick electric griddle is the non-stick coating itself. That miracle of modern polymers is great at low temperatures, but it doesn’t like excessive heat for long periods of time … so cooking this way on a standard non-stick electric griddle ages the non-stick coating fairly rapidly. Plus, that happens no matter how much you pay for the griddle. I get about the same amount of life out of the ones I buy from cheap retailers for $20.0o ($15.oo in November/December/January) … as I do from the up to $100.00 versions I’ve bought in much fancier places. It takes usually takes about a year to 18 months for it to start, but–eventually–the non-stick coating starts burning in various spots, usually in spots where the non-stick surface gets a small scratch, or right over the heating elements, even if you’re very careful about not scratching them. Those burnt spots in the non-stick coating start being quite as non-stick as the spots around them … which starts to lead to uneven cooking across the whole grill. Once that starts, I know I’ve got about another six months to a year before the grill becomes too damaged to be worth keeping, because that problem is just going to get worse with time.
I’m hoping that my new stainless steel griddle will solve that problem for me
The new griddle isn’t without it’s own special issues. When I showed it to him in the store and told him my plan to use it indoors (rather than outdoors, as the packaging suggested), my husband instantly said: I can see where that could work on the BBQ grill, but if you put it on the stove, you’re not going to get even heat. You’re going to get hot spots and colder spots, right?
I reminded him of the griddle at a teppanyaki restaurant. Watch a teppanyaki chef at work the next time you have the opportunity. They’re great (often hokey) showmen, of course … but I’m talking about how they manipulate the food on the griddle in front of them. If you’ll watch, you’ll notice that they cook certain foods in certain parts of the griddle, often cooking one right in front of them … while others are further out from that central location. That’s because the heat source under a teppanyaki griddle doesn’t cover the whole griddle. Most commercial teppanyaki griddles have either one or two burners, nestled underneath the steel plate. The burner(s) heat(s) all of the steel plate … it just doesn’t heat it evenly. Needless to say, the spots directly over the heat source are much hotter than the outlying areas … so teppanyaki chefs use that to their advantage. They use their experience to keep certain foods closer to the heat, and others further out … so that–just like all great chefs–they can manipulate the cooking times of various different parts of the meal … such that the service is always hot, perfectly cooked, and seamless … no matter what combination of different-cooking foods you chose for your teppanyaki feast.
That’s exactly my plan for my new stove-top griddle. I have an electric stove, so I’ll have a two-burner teppanyaki griddle! Plus, one burner will be bigger/stronger than the other … so I’ll have a wide variety of cooking heats available to me on my new toy
Cooking on a steel-top griddle is somewhat different than cooking on a non-stick griddle … mainly, they’re definitely NOT non-stick. I’ll have to use some different cooking techniques with this new griddle … but I’ve got that covered. You see, waaaaaaaaayyyyy back in the day, your fearless blogger spent a couple of teenaged summers standing over the griddles in a couple of fast food restaurants … one of them fairly well-known and decorated with golden arches. It’s been a long (LONG) time since I did it hands-on, but I remember how to cook on one … and how to clean and maintain one, too.
The cooking surface on a stainless steel griddle is a lot like the surface on a cast iron griddle, so you have to use more fat when you cook than you do with a non-stick griddle, and you keep them up basically the same way you do your cast iron pieces. No soap. Keep them just ever-so-slightly oily when you’re not using them. Occasionally–especially if you’ve been too rough with your utensils and scratched the surface too deeply–you need to take a bit of steel wool or even some fine-grit sandpaper to even out the surface to keep food from sticking in the groove … but most times all you need to do to maintain this sort of griddle is to–while the heat is still on under it–dump off the excess grease, give it a good scraping with your spatula to remove any stubborn stuck bits, and then wipe it down with a hot, wet towel. Once you’ve cleaned off any surface grime, turn off the heat and let the griddle cool and dry right there before you put it back into storage. Handled that way, it should last you just as long as any good cast iron piece would, and give you years of awesome burgers, steaks, chops, fried rice, eggs, hash browns, sausage, bacon, pancakes and a whooooooollllleeee lot more