Cooking with Cast Iron

frittata or pizza

I do not consider myself a chef.

Well, not really. I’m still learning. Like many men, I got my start in cooking by boiling water. Then came popping popcorn on the stove and eventually I graduated to bacon and scrambled eggs. In college I played with the great-in-theory George Foreman, but was constantly frustrated as it left my meats dry and was a total pain to clean. Settling back into a lazy routine, I resorted to making salami sandwiches innumerable with the occasional package of Ramen (Or even Zatarains!)

Marriage opened up new possibilities and I found myself frequently manning the grill. I like the grill for its cleaning ease. Grilling is an art I hope to one day perfect — is there any accomplishment for a man more envious than that of a seasoned grillmaster? Sure. Like killing a grizzly bear with nothing but your wits and bare hands.

One day.

In the meantime, my cast iron skillet is my the primary weapon in my cooking arsenal — I use mine daily and continually find new uses for it.

For those unfamiliar with the wonders of a cast iron skillet, they have great heating properties thanks to the material: heat is well distributed by iron, which makes for a relatively even cooking surface. The heavy duty nature of cast iron skillets makes them heavy beasts. My Lodge 12 incher tips the scales at over 7 lbs. They often come pre-seasoned giving the skillet a blackish color rather than the dull gray of raw iron.

What’s the deal with seasoning a skillet? Cast iron is porous. Being iron, its also susceptible to rusting if exposed to the elements. Seasoning a skillet is getting a layer of oil and fat into the porous iron and between the iron and everything else. You want the fat layer, which is why you do not use soap to clean your skillet! You read right. And I know what you’re thinking: how can you clean anything without soup?

With the cast iron skillet, you learn to accept soapless cleaning. Most of the time, I just use a brush and hot water to get my skillet clean. Other times, I might boil some water on the skillet and then scrub it clean. The beauty of the oil/fat coating on the skillet is that it makes clean-up a pretty painless process. Once you scrub the skillet clean, you just dry it off. If the skillet looks too dry, you will want to rub some oil onto it.

And this brings me to an important tenet of cast iron cooking — an admonishment you might not find in too many other places — that is that you should avoid cooking with vegetable oil at all costs, specifically when using a cast iron skillet. Despite the many good reasons to avoid vegetable oils, the main one I’m concerned with is that vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which due to their abundance of easily broken double-bonds, lead to the production of unnatural byproducts when repeatedly heated. In other words, if you’re leaving the oils on your skillet, you want those oils to be robust enough to handle repeat heatings. Vegetable oils just aren’t up to the task.

Olive oil, having a lot of monounsaturated fatty acids, is a better choice. However, I’ve found that it tends to smoke at lower temperatures. And MUFAs still have at least one easily broken double-bond, which makes the fat molecules prone to deteriorate over time from reheating/reusing the skillet.

Luckily there are some good alternatives. Cook some bacon. The grease that remains is high in saturated fats. Let that skillet soak it up! Though I’m not the biggest fan of reusing bacon grease, I have re-used it intra-day; in other words, if I had bacon for breakfast I’ve reused the grease later that day to cook pork chops or steak in the skillet.

Since fresh bacon grease is hardly handy all the time, I was happy to discover coconut oil. Coconut oil must be one of the greatest unsung heroes of the oil kingdom. I’ve blogged about the apparent goodness of coconut oil before (here and here). Now that I’ve been using coconut oil on my skillet for a good month or two, I’ve got nothing but praise for it. I find my skillet easier to clean, less prone to smoking, and coconut oil to make for an excellent medium. It is, without a doubt, the cast iron oil of choice.

With all of this talk about using a cast iron skillet, the question that remains unanswered is: what are you cooking?

I’m still finding new things to cook on mine all the time. Going forward, I hope to share some of my favorite cast iron dishes. For now, here’s a list to get your juices flowing:

  • Bacon. Is there anything more cast iron basic than that?
  • Spinach. Particularly at the end of cooking some meat — drizzle some olive oil on it if you want.
  • Pork chops. Having grown up eating plenty of grilled pork chops, I was convinced that they were doomed to being the other dry white meat. I’m happy to report that the skillet delivers a mean, juicy pork chop!
  • Steak. Wowie this is good one that draws on searing the steak and using an oven or grill to round out the cooking.
  • Fish (i.e. salmon). Fast, easy, flavorful and creating a nice crispy crust.
  • Broccoli/Cauliflower. A brief sautee makes for a tasty side.
  • Bratwurst. Faster than the grill – just as delicious.
  • Flank steak fajitas. Need I say more?
  • Taco meat. Ground beef plus diced jalapeno peppers. Mmm.
  • Meatballs. “You like-a my spicy meat-a-balls!”
  • Cornbread. My dad’s recipe. It cannot be beat.

In short, though I’ve a ways to go to being a chef, I’ve made it leaps and bounds thanks to my trusty cast iron skillet. Its versatility, ease of use, and the quality of food it produces is unmatched. It’s also great in that it doesn’t require firing up a grill or oven to make great, quick meals for one to four people. For would-be-chefs like me, learning to cook with cast iron is a blast.

This post should serve as an introduction to my favorite piece of cookware. Going forward, I’ll be able to jump right into explanations of how to cook specific delectable dishes with cast iron.

Stay tuned!

Debate on God

My friend Matt Siple and I have begun a debate about God. Matt is arguing for the existence of God. I am countering and, to a certain extent, arguing against. You can follow the debate’s progress by starting with Matt’s post on the Absurdity of the Converse, which is the following argument:

The case for God that I maintain is that without Him, I wouldn’t be able to make a case for anything. The proof of the existence of God is the absurdity of the converse. The atheist has no rational way to account for universal abstracts, particularly laws of thought (e.g. laws of logic, moral absolutes). Any use of the immaterial cannot be explained by the atheist.

My rebuttal can be found at autoDogmatic. A clip for the curious:

AotC strikes me as an argument that presumes the conclusion (Perhaps the fallacy of many questions). Said differently, for someone who believes in God, the idea that God does not exist must be absurd.

Small business owners tighten their [black] belts

Al Tracy, a martial arts studio owner, is warning other martial arts studio owners of the difficulties they will be facing in a worsening economy. I found the article interesting in light of having recently joined a dual CrossFit/Jiu Jitsu gym.

Fortunately for this gym, I think CrossFit is really taking off and most of the participants are adults. Nonetheless, I found Tracy’s warning worth sharing. It is unfortunate, but I can only assume that the effects of a deteriorating economy will grow in the days to come.

July 6, 2008

For too many studios my advice will be too late

3,200++ Martial Arts Studios went out of business in the month of May alone.

In the history of Martial Arts in the United States – nothing like this has ever happened. In one month about 20% of all studios closed their door. Most will never reopen! Most should never been in business to start with.

Fact: Starbucks is closing 600 locations this year because people cannot afford to pay $3 for a cup of coffee.

How do studio owners – especially those with 90% kids expect parents to pay $100 per month plus testing fee’s? Now they have the added expense of $4 a gallon gas.

This is a no brainier for parents: Cut out the kids Karate and Dance lessons.

Hat tip to Mish.

In other unfortunate economic developments, not only is copper wiring being ripped out of homes (both foreclosed or still being built), but reports have emerged that catalytic converters are being sawed off of vehicles for the platinum they contain.

I don’t plan on blogging economics much on this site, but all of this is sad and I only see it getting worse in the coming months. I implore readers to save what they can, get out of debt, and (while hoping for the best) prepare for the worst.

Also, it probably wouldn’t hurt to invest in a bit of gold and silver (if this sounds crazy to you, just do some research — diversifying your savings away from financial assets and real estate by getting into commodities, particularly precious metals, is pretty basic advice).

Celebrate the Fourth: Declare some Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Though I’d love to celebrate Independence Day by pulling-a-founding-fathers and casting off the bondage of the state, such a declaration would scarcely do much for me. A number of Americans have tried it only to be hauled off to jail for tax evasion. Nevermind that I do consider myself an independent, sovereign individual: it’s just that the state does not care for my freedom, wanting rather to take that which is mine for its own purposes.

A discussion for another day.

Fourth of July celebrations these days are ironic: they pay lip service to “freedom” while cheering on government. The Declaration of Independence was about throwing off the bondage of government and being free.

Yes, July 4, 1776, is a day to remember, a day when certain men set a precedent by declaring their innate, individual freedom as human beings. I honor that declaration today and every day by believing in the freedom of individuals.

Rather than merely talk about freedom and independence, I have a challenge: find some small way to throw off the chains of government. Doing so means declaring some independence.

How? It’s pretty easy: completely ignore some “absurd law” of your choosing by breaking it. What’s an absurd law? Any law that restricts the free use of your property1 or prohibits you from engaging in some harmless activity.

This could mean driving without your seatbelt. Or it could mean smoking marijuana. It could be as silly as watering your lawn on an uneven day. Maybe for you its carrying a concealed weapon in public (like a pocketknife). Have an open container in a public space. Ignore a traffic sign on an empty road. Perhaps the most popular will be shooting off some fireworks. The point, though somewhat absurd itself2, is that by breaking absurd laws, you express your freedom as an individual with unalienable rights: you declare some independence and celebrate freedom.

If you choose to declare some independence today, I’d like to hear about what you did. No act is too mundane nor too profane. Get creative and be free. Finally, it should go without saying that there are plenty of laws worth abiding by3: expressing freedom requires being responsible for yourself and respecting the property1 of others.

1 Your stuff and your body.
2 Though we live in awfully absurd times.
3 Most of which require no study of legal or regulatory texts — or require being displayed on signs.

But for

Brad* created a personal webpage sometime back in 1996. That spurred my brother and me to create our own website on AOL — The Owings Brothers Page (archived). This site had grown stagnant some two years later so I created the first embodiment of The Justin Owings Page (archived), which chronicled 4th period lunch, published bad pictures of friends, made fun of teachers, and archived ostensibly humorous IM conversations. A few short years later, a senior in college, I was tasked to create a website for an IT class. I went a little over the top for the assignment and created a new and improved (?) Justin Owings Page (archived). Highlights of this endeavor mostly revolve around Mr. Mister, the yam — not the band.

One of the last and likely most enjoyable, educational classes I took in college was Law and Economics by Professor David Mustard. The only “textbook” for this class was David D. Friedman’s Law’s Order, a fascinating read about how law has been evolved through economics.

In fall 2004, springing from discussions on the subject with Shannon mixed with the prodding of my older brother, I created Contraddiction. Contraddiction was doomed from the start as I had no steady internet access, relying on the sporadically available, unencrypted wifi clouds emanating from neighboring apartments. Regardless, I enjoyed blogging and it left me wanting more.

In mid-2005 we secured steady internet access. In January 2006 I began reexamining (at a high level) going back to school, specifically to secure a Ph.D. in either Accountancy or Economics. I emailed Professor Mustard who graciously responded — but I quickly determined that a Ph.D. was not for me. Yet I was reminded of how much I enjoyed that college class on economics and law. Some googling resulted in the discovery that David Friedman had started a blog, Ideas. I became a regular reader.

DDF wrote a post on Gangs and I was spurred to to comment. Another commenter on the same post was a fellow named Aaron who, as I realized upon randomly following the link associated with his name, also lived in Atlanta, working at Emory. From Aaron’s homepage, I also found Aaron’s Furl, which I subscribed to via RSS in Gmail.

The insights and discussion at Friedman’s blog inspired me to take another stab at a website, one replete with a full-fledged blog. Around my 25th birthday (February), I created autoDogmatic.

I invited three friends to co-blog on aD, but mostly, I was the only one blogging regularly. Six months in and all the while reading Aaron’s Furl, I stumbled upon an article written by Aaron about the Federal Reserve’s reserve requirements. An interesting read (if you’re into that kinda thing), there was one link in the article that was broken. I searched around for the correct link and emailed it to Aaron, mentioning to him that I had been subscribing to his Furl for the past few months. We got to pinging emails back and forth and realized we had a good bit in common.

We decided to meet up for a beer and a discussion. We were both probably shocked at having met another anarcho-capitalist within Atlanta. And as Aaron wasn’t blogging anywhere at the time, I invited him to join forces on autoDogmatic. He accepted.

Aaron blogged mostly on economics and I stuck mostly to politics, but our overarching theme intersected significantly — we were both staunchly anti-government, anti-Federal Reserve and, most importantly, pro-freedom.

A few months passed and around the end of December 2006, Aaron emailed me a link to a pretty basic webpage he had created titled, “The Mortgage Lender Implode-O-Meter“, which he was going to use to track as mortgage lenders went bust (Old news these days, I know!). I created a logo for it and helped him out a bit on design. Within weeks, MLI had out-trafficked autoDogmatic. By March it was being featured on CNBC.

The Implode-O-Meter’s success meant that it required a lot of Aaron’s attention, and he was still working full-time at his “day job”. I was helping out when I could. Aaron knew I was tired of my day-job and asked me to join forces and take MLI to the next level. With a bit of prodding from Aaron and a nervous, but supportive spouse, I took up the offer in May 2007. This ultimately led to the formation of our own company, Implode-Explode Heavy Industries, in July, which owns all the Implode-O-Meters as well as a few other sites.

I rediscovered all sorts of new freedoms having left corporate America. Most notably, I suddenly felt free to blog using my real name. Within a few months, I picked up justinowings.com and established this site.

That just about brings things to the present.

Just a couple days back, my friend David, who just himself left the traditional j-o-b, started his own blog. And it was his first post that got me thinking on how I got here to the blogosphere owning my own web-media business utterly clueless as to what will come next.

But for the aforementioned events — many of which were small things, entirely unworthy of note — I would not be here writing this post.

De Vany’s stochasticity of life is in this pseudo-randomness. Life is fluid, complex, and frequently molded in big ways by things unnoticed at first, and poorly understood later, if ever.

The only lesson I can glean from it all is to follow my whims, no matter how fanciful or silly they are because those whims apparently add up.

Life is fantastic that way.

*To bring it full circle, it seems that some twelve years later, Brad is blogging these days, too.

Mobog

You might notice a new little ditty on the sidebar I’ve titled “Mobile JNO”. This is a widget from Mobog, which is a service whereby you can email (or MMS) pictures to Mobog to be published for the world to see (Here is my directory). Moboggers can comment on the photos, etc.

What’s the point? Mobog enables me to snap live-action shots on my Blackberry 8320 (Curve) and insta-post them to the ‘net, which then propagates seamlessly to the blog widget to the right.

We all see funny, bizarre or interesting stuff that we’d like to share with others. Mobog drastically reduces the cost of everyday photo-sharing by eliminating the hassle of getting a photo off your phone, up to a server, and onto your site. It’s easy.

Uses I could see for this service?

  • meal-blogging — its fun to share your home-cooked dishes with others, particularly others who are following somewhat unconventional diets.
  • exercise blogging — I could see some live-action photos a la Crossfit, Vibram Five Fingers in action, mountain biking snapshots, walks, etc.
  • economic happenings — with the economy imploding, shots from the frontlines might be interesting.
  • life’s little oddities — you know, the stuff like the “Please stand in line here” sign at the DMV — the line to take a number (I have this photo).
  • other ideas?

Mobog is a little thing, I know, but the little things give this site dimension, so I’m going to give it a try.

Update on Crossfit and Diet

Wanted to do a brief update on my progress with Crossfit and diet.

I’ve finished week three of Crossfit and it continues to kick my ass. The good news is that I’m getting closer to proficiency on kipping pull-ups. I sometimes seem to slip into a bit of a butterfly kip, so I wonder if I should try to develop that (as the butterfly is arguably more efficient). Regardless, I’m feeling better about the pull-up, which is important for Crossfit.

In the past week or so, I’ve switched to incorporating Martin Berkhan’s LeanGains 16-hour-fast, 8-hours-fed diet methodology. So I typically won’t eat until lunch, and I’ll Crossfit around 5pm and eat dinner around 7:30 or 8:00 pm. I’ll quit eating after 9pm (or so) until the following day at lunch. Berkhan’s idea is to charge up on energy around lunch, workout and then provide the right macronutrient combo post-workout going into a fast. During the fast, your body has the tools it needs to repair/rebuild/build muscle.

Its a decent combination of fasting and exercise. It just “works” for me as the Crossfit gym here is only open in the afternoon/evenings (prohibiting me from working out fasted in the morning).

I have seen some noticeable improvement in muscle definition, which I mainly attribute to continued reduction in body fat though I’m optimistic that I’ve been able to build some lean muscle mass, as well. The real clincher here will be if I can:

  1. Lean out and achieve a never-before-seen vasculature in my midsection (a.k.a. the “six pack”, but also the lesser-mentioned-but-equally-important pectoral definition)
  2. Put on some weight, which would necessarily be lean tissue (per the requirement in No. 1)

I have taken some steady progress photos that have, as yet, gone unpublished. Assuming I accomplish the above goals, which I now expect will happen soon, I will publish these shots on this site — bashfulness be damned!

Stay tuned.

Asus eee 900 laptop

As being able to stay functionally connected while traveling is an important part of my work1 and having drooled over one of these for nearly a year, I finally took the ultra-portable plunge and picked up an Asus eee pc laptop (900 series) off ebay. Boy is it small:

I got the 900 eee with Linux (Xandros), quickly activated the “advanced desktop”, and by the next morning had already determined to install Linux Ubuntu 8.042 (Note: Ubuntu on the eee marked my first Linux OS install) so I could run compiz fusion3 and have greater program flexibility.

There are ample reviews on the 900 eee (as well as the 700 series), so I won’t get into all of that here. However, I’d just like to share a couple of first impressions:

  1. Size. It is difficult to appreciate the size of the eee from pictureas on the internet. I don’t have particularly big hands. The phone in the picture is a Blackberry Curve. The nearest everday-object comparison would be to take two DVD cases in your hands. The eee is only a smidge bigger. It is awesomely tiny. The 8.9 inch screen is solid, packing in 1024×600 pixels, which makes web browsing easy, with little (none so far) side-to-side scrolling
  2. Typing. Review upon review critiqued the keyboard as small and difficult to type on. I was a bit concerned that the keyboard would be difficult to touch-type on. I was happy to discover that concerns were entirely misplaced. There is certainly a learning curve on the eee’s diminutive keyboard; however, rather than let words convince you, here is some hard data:
    • I completed the “Enchanted Typewriter” at typingtest.com on my full-sized laptop keyboard at 99 net words per minute.
    • Within 30 minutes of starting up the eee 900 in Xandros, I got 65 net wpm on the “Zebra” test.
    • A couple days later, I’ve managed 78 net wpm on the eee 900 with mixed use (flipping between the full-sized laptop and the eee laptop.

    My only difficulty on the eee’s keyboard has been the apostrophe key, which I frequently miss for enter. With a little practice, I figure that won’t be too “small” a problem to overcome!

  3. Linux » Ubuntu: A complete Ubuntu noob, I’ve been pretty solidly impressed with the ease of installing Ubuntu on the eee. I’m eager to try sticking Ubuntu on my Asus G1S-B2, and thanks to pendrivelinux.com, it seems I can do this without having to reformat the harddrive! More and more I believe that Microsoft and Windows are going the way of the dinosaur. Innovation is in the open source community!4

It will take a bit more use to form a conclusive opinion of the eee 900, but so far, I’ve been nothing but impressed. Ultra-affordaable5 ultra-portability? Done. And if the emergence of competition is any indicator (it is), this market is only going to keep growing. Yay for technology!

Footnotes

1 Though I regularly work on a full desktop-replacement lappy (Asus G1S-B2, quite a powerful system for graphics processing), it weighs in at over six pounds and as its over twice the dimensional size of the eee, it requires its own backpack. As such, its hardly conducive to traveling. As it’s a fairly powerful machine, it’s also not cheap — almost 4X the cost of the eee. This simply makes me even more wary of traveling with the G1S in fear that I might lose it or have it stolen.
2 Here is a list of sites that I ended up using to get Ubuntu Hardy working smoothly:

3 This is a lot cooler than it sounds — “compiz” is a GUI that does a number of things, one of the coolest being that it allows you to rotate amongst the four desktops on a cube-like interface. To see what I’m talking about, check out this video. It puts Vista and Apple O/S to shame.

4 What does that tell you about the “benefits” of intellectual property law? Microsoft was built on IP law — meanwhile, Linux is thriving entirely without IP law and the rent-seeking behavior it induces.

5 The eee 900 can be had for $550 or less. Mine was purchased off of ebay and is the 20 gb version.

Get some sun

Following up a bit on my post regarding hormesis, is an article I read regarding the importance of getting sun exposure for creating Vitamin D from U.S. News. Points of note from the article:

  • There may be a connection between reduced risk of heart disease and Vitamin D, which can only be created by our bodies if they are exposed to UV-B rays from the sun.
  • You don’t get enough sun exposure in the winter to create Vit D if you live north of Atlanta. This brings to mind the correlation between skin color and proximity to the equator.
  • Fair-skinned folk like me only need a paltry 10 minutes in the midday sun to generated more than enough Vitamin D. Yeah! At last a benefit to being so susceptible to sunburn!
  • Glass stops UV rays, which is why you don’t get a tan from riding with that moon roof open or having your arm on the car door window sill.

In thinking about sun exposure, I think about cancer and sunburns. Furthermore, I’m reminded of the commonly held tenet that its your worst sunburn that gives you cancer. Somewhere between sunlight causing cancer and lack of sunlight being unhealthy must be a happy middle ground — perhaps one met with as little as ten minutes a day.

In other sunlight-and-health news, one health editorial wonders if its lack of sunlight on certain areas of the body leads to the worst, most untreatable types of cancer (link). [H/T PF]

George Carlin, R.I.P.

George Carlin died at age 71. He was a damn hilarious comedian, philosopher and human observer. That is redundant.

Here are a couple of interviews with Carlin:

The A.V. Club circa 1999:

GC: Well, they say, “If you scratch a cynic, underneath you’ll find a disappointed idealist.” So I would imagine there’s some little flame, however weak, that still burns, but I know time is against my seeing that. I think this world would need a long time, maybe a thousand years, to evolve to what may be a golden age, and in the meantime, there are all these very small, parochial struggles between peoples of different language and color and arbitrary political and national boundaries. And my understanding of it is that there is no hope, because I think we’re locked in by commerce. The whole idea of the pursuit of goods and possessions has completely corrupted the human experience, along with religion, which I think limits the intellect. So with those two things in place as firmly as they are, I don’t see any hope for getting around them short of some sort of interesting cataclysm. So I root for a cataclysm, for its own sake, just as entertainment. I don’t even care if it has a good result. We’re circling the drain, and I just like seeing the circles get faster and shorter all the time.

Mother Jones circa 1997 (Carlin was actually married for at least 30 years prior to his wife’s death):

Q: Are you lonely?

A: There is a core of loneliness. It’s partly existential. Secondly, I was raised a loner. My parents were not there. My father was asked to leave because he couldn’t metabolize ethanol. Actually, my mother ran away with us when I was 2 months old and my brother was 5. Real dramatic stuff: down the fire escape, through backyards.

So, I sort of raised myself. I was alone a lot and I invented myself — I lived through the radio and through my imagination.

One of the interesting things about “outsidership” is that underneath it there’s a longing to belong. I just wish the thing I refused to belong to — the species, Western capital culture — was a little more respectable.

The full interviews are worth reading if you have the time.

A couple of must-see videos after the jump.

Read more “George Carlin, R.I.P.”