October 26, 2014

Induction Cooking is Hot- and Cool

Induction cooking has been around for a while, but it seems that in North America it is just beginning to assert itself.  I’ve recently learned more about how the technology works from some helpful sites. 

At choice.com.au they offer a clear explanation about the magnetic fields:

Each ‘element’ (an induction coil) generates a magnetic field that induces heat in steel cookware placed on top of it. In essence, the pot becomes the element that cooks the food, so the cooktop surface doesn’t get as hot as other cooktops. Induction cooktops have the same instant control as gas and are the fastest of all cooktop types to heat and cook food — for example, they take about half the time of conventional electric cooktops to boil water.

They go on to explain that induction cooktops are smooth surfaces that are extremely easy to keep clean.

Because the heat is contained by the vessel, the cooking surface doesn’t get hot.  This picture shows that induction cooking is hot and cool.

Another site, theinductionsite.com, has very thorough explanations of induction cooking and even includes some simple drawings like this one below with clearly labeled descriptions.

diagram of induction process

How Induction Cooking Works:

  1. The element’s electronics power a coil that produces a high-frequency electromagnetic field.
  2. The field penetrates the metal of the ferrous (magnetic-material) cooking vessel and sets up a circulating electric current, which generates heat.
  3. The heat generated in the cooking vessel is transferred to the vessel’s contents.
  4. Nothing outside the vessel is affected by the field–as soon as the vessel is removed from the element, or the element turned off, heat generation stops.

(Image courtesy of Induction Cooking World)
As mentioned in point two in the diagram, pots and pans must be made of a ferrous, or magnetic metal.  One way to check if your current pans are ferrous is to see if a magnet will stick to them.  If your pans do not have a ferrous metal base, you will need to consider the cost of some new cookware along with the generally steep cost of these cooktops. (I found them online for $1,800-$5,000.) There are some induction ranges in the works that can use other metals, but they’re not available yet.

I had concerns about the magnetic fields generated by the coil, and discovered that they are not completely unfounded. People with pacemakers should take precautions near the range and might want to check with their doctors before getting one. Theinductionsite has a whole page dedicated to the controversy surrounding radiation from electromagnetic waves.

There seem to be plenty of both pros and cons to induction cooking- lower energy use saves money, but the cooktop is expensive and may require new cookware.  Food cooks more quickly, but new techniques must be learned.  The safety of the burner going off automatically if there is no pot on it, but the pots slide easily and could get unintentionally bumped so the food won’t cook.  If you are shopping for a new range there is a lot to consider about induction cooking and the choice will be a personal one.

Sometimes You Just Need 13 Dozen Cookies

This week we’ve been testing the KitchenAid Professional Series 600 Lift Stand Mixer (in onyx black).   I may not be a professional baker, but I’m no stranger to flour.   Most months I bake at least 16 loaves of bread, 4-6 quick breads and unreasonable amounts of cookies and brownies. Crazy yes,  but with four kids and lots of drop in neighbors, I like to keep my kitchen stocked with something freshly baked.   After 20 years of baking, I know the feel of a well kneaded bread dough.  So needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to testing the current crop of mixers.

The KitchenAid Professional Series 600 Lift Stand Mixer is an extremely powerful machine.   Although the manual warns that the motor can get hot, I had it knead 13 cups of bread flour without it even breaking a sweat.  The new PowerKnead dough hook plowed through close to 5 pounds of flour easily. Using the wire whip,  I was able to bring 12 egg whites to stiff peaks in under 4 minutes on my way to a pretty decent chocolate angel food cake.   I made a large batch of chocolate chip cookies without having to soften the butter.  Just as suggested in the manual, I used the  flat beater to cream it with the sugar.

The Professional Series 600 gets its strength from its old style construction. It is a durable metal machine with solid steel gears, an industrial strength motor and no plastic in sight.  This is a machine your grandkids just might inherit from you.

But with power comes size.  The mixer is over 17 inches tall, with a 16 by 12 footprint.  The standard bowl holds six quarts.  That six quart bowl carrying a full load of bread dough can reach 10 pounds or more.  To handle the load, the Professional Series 600 has a bowl lift mechanism that will lever the bowl and its contents up to the mixer blade or dough hook.   Unfortunately, when you lower it to empty the bowl, you still need to wrestle 10 pounds of dough up and out of the bowl for rising.   Even with smaller loads,  it’s a cumbersome operation to scrape batters from the 6 quart bowl.

Because the mixer is so large and powerful,  I wouldn’t recommend it  for making one loaf of banana bread.  If you’re planning on outfitting the school bake sale, or doing your christmas baking,  you could produce 8 loaves or abundant cookies  with ease.

One of the things this mixer does do,  is morph beyond a standard stand mixer.   You can add a sausage stuffer, pasta maker, ice cream maker, citrus juicer, grain mill, food grinder, rotary slicer/shredder.   That powerful motor doesn’t have to sit idly on your counter waiting for your next birthday cake.

In the final analysis,  the professional series 600 stand mixer is exactly that.  It’s a professional piece of equipment.  This big, powerful tool is a great addition to a catering kitchen,  although overwhelming and a bit unwieldy for daily use in a typical family kitchen.    But, if you want to be able to make 3 pounds of fudge, hundreds of cookies, or a big pile of bread at the drop of a hat, this is the machine to get it done. 

If you want to see a demonstration video, there are two nice ones on this product page

CAPACITY:
KitchenAid’s marketing liturature identifies The Professional 600 Series as the most powerful stand mixer in their product line.  It is  able to churn through 14 cups of flour per batch.  Enough to make  8 Loaves of White Bread, 13 Dozen Cookies, or 8 Pounds of Mashed Potatoes.   It features a 10-speed slide control ranging from a very fast whip to a very slow stir.   New with this model is the PowerKnead™ spiral dough hook that  replicates hand-kneading to handle 20% more dough than previous models.

DESIGN

  • Stand Mixer – Removable bowl on a permanent stand
  • Bowl-lift Mixer Style -A lever raises bowl into mixing position, or lowers it for removal
  • Multi-purpose Attachment Hub – Attach pasta maker, grinder etc. to connector on the mixer’s front
  • All-Metal Construction, direct drive transmission, steel gears, and commercial motor protection for lifelong reliability

PERFORMANCE
575 Motor Wattage
14 Cups Flour Power
6 Quart Mixing Bowl Capacity
67 Point Planetary Mixing Action
Electronic Speed Sensor – 10 Mixing Speeds

INCLUDES
Professional Wire Whip
Burnished Flat Beater
Clear  Pouring Shield
6 Qt. Stainless Steel Bowl w/Handle
Burnished PowerKnead™ Spiral Hook

 Available for $399, with lots of 50 dollar rebates.

Stay tuned for our review of the 5 quart KitchenAid Artisan Series Stand Mixer.

A Photo Finish in the Refrigerator Race

Whirlpool has entered a new contender in the race for kitchen bells and whistles.  It is called the Central Park Connection and its gimmick is a digital photo frame that is built into the door.  The theory behind this new gizmo is that it will cut back on kitchen clutter by reducing the number of photos posted on the fridge with magnets.  They plan to add an intuitive interface that will allow you to charge and play MP3 player, satellite radio, DVD and CD players, a family calendar and cell phone.

I honestly cannot see the point of this new fridge. The storage and usage is comparable to other refrigerators on the market.  Why would anyone need this?  It won’t necessarily cut down on fridge clutter- anyone with children will still want to display their artwork and many people post community notices and invitations on the fridge. 

This new refrigerator must be aimed at the minimalist, modern designer with money to spare. (The MSRP is 1999.00)   I also can’t help wondering what happens when the frame breaks or becomes obsolete?  Then the photos will need to posted around it making more of a mess. 

This is not something I’ll be pining for.

Can KitchenAid Stand up to the Grind?

One of the easiest ways I have found to get calcium and vitamins into my kids is to offer them smoothies as an after school snack.I just throw a variety of frozen fruit, yogurt and some milk into the blender and produce a treat they love. This is a great time of year to pull out the blender and make a cool treat.

I have been doing this for years using a Hamilton Beach blender I purchased on sale at a local drugstore almost twenty years ago. Now we have a problem. kitchenaid-blender.gifAbout five years ago, my husband bought me a Kitchenaid blender that claims to be strong enough to crush ice at all speeds, but after years of occasional use, the coupler started breaking apart.The coupler is that small black gear-like circle that connects the blender jar and blades to the base. It has broken in two stages. The first time, when two pieces broke off, I called Kitchenaid customer service. The representative there was friendly and sympathetic, but as our blender was out of warranty, she offered no advice other than that we could continue to use the blender as it was although, it would add a slight strain to the motor and therefore shorten the lifespan of the appliance somewhat.

kitchenaid-blender-drive-coupling.gif

So, we continued using the blender for the next few months.Yesterday, two more pieces of coupler broke off.I have sent the base to be repaired at an authorized repair shop at a cost of $25. This is not a huge cost, but as a percentage of an $80 blender, it seems high considering how often (or not, really) we used it. I just think a blender that claims to be an ice crushing, high powered appliance, made by a quality manufacturer should be more durable.

Char Broil 4 burner grill – first thoughts

Char Broil Commercial Series 4 burner gas grill We’re working on a radio segment on grills over at TechTalk Radio and I’ve been lucky enough to test the Char-Broil Commercial Series 4 burner gas grill (Model 463268107). Here are my first impressions out of the box so to speak. This thing is shiny. And BIG. I’ve been using an old cast iron, two burner Arklamatic for over ten years, and barbeque probably 60+ days a year. So i’m used to working hard to make room for my burgers or steak on one burner and my wife’s trout or salmon filet on the other and alternating peppers and veggies as one side or the other finishes. Right out of the gate, using the CharBroil 4 burner grill is like moving into a bigger house. Your stuff looks lonely in all of that space. Last night I grilled a full chicken and only managed to cover a small area over a single grill. Later this week, we’ll fire up the grill for the whole editorial production team, and we’ll easily have room for 20 or 30 pieces of chicken on half the grill.

Living in California with a wife who isn’t that much of a carnivore, I’ve also gotten used to grilling more delicate fare, and wondered if a 50,000 BTU grill would just destroy a less robust food. So we also did a grill test on some items that would make a Texan wince.shrimp-on-the-barbeque.JPG I grilled a few pieces of Surumi – a delicate white fish based fake shrimp, some light salmon fillets, some red trout, some yellow and orange peppers, and (carefully) some lightly marinated tofu.

I was a mildly surprised at how well the grill did. When cooking foods other than burgers and steaks, I tend to spray the grill with olive oil spray to keep the food from sticking, and I preheat the grill for 10 minutes to let it get nice and hot. The grates are a very heavy duty cast iron, tightly spaced, with each grate bar shaped like a triangle so that it tops out in a very narrow line but with minimal gaps between grates to lose your food. I’ve been very pleased with the results so far. The grates really picked up and distributed the heat nicely. The salmon steaks especially came off the grill soft and flaky with a nice grill pattern on the surface but well cooked through and through. Even though I’ve only been grilling small portions that easily fit on a single burner, I’ve found that I’ve had better results if I turn on the neighboring burner also to pick up more indirect heat (the interiors thermometer suggests I was running around 325 degrees with the lid down).

The Charbroil Grill itself

Assembly
The CharBroil 4 burner Commercial Series Grill is a big piece of hardware. FedEx delivering the grill for testingOur test unit showed up all by its lonesome in a big fedex truck and took three of us to get out to the deck where we are testing our grills. In the end, it was easier to open the box and pull out the grates, doors and side panels to make the box lighter and easier to manouver. Although the grill would certainly fit in the back of a Suburban or pickup, unless you’ve got a couple friends with strong backs, I’d recommend letting the store deliver the grill to you.

hand-and-wrench.JPG building-the-frame.JPG grill-top.JPG grill-on-frame.JPG controls.JPG
Assembly was well documented, and pretty straightforward. The manual is concise, has clear illustrations including blowups of the details of each individual step. Assembly manual for Char Broil 4 burner gas grill Every illustration has a specific listing of exactly which screws and fasteners to use, and the order to use them in. For guys like me who tend not to read instructions cause we just “know how to put things together” its worth actually following the book. Not reading closely , I put a pair of screws into a back panel a step early and had to pull them back out when I discovered that another panel had to be inserted before they could be driven in.

Assembly took about two hours, and could easily a one man job except for the five minutes needed to lower the grill onto the cabinet. Nevertheless, if you can find a son or daughter (or in my case, 4) to help out and tighten screws, the job is a lot more fun. Its clear how much care went into the design of the installation procedures when you see the pack of included screws and fasteners. Instead of a plastic bag with mishmash of small pieces, charbroil gives you a blister pack with each screw and lock washer packed with its mates, clearly labled on the back, with perforated flaps for easy access. Blister pack of screws for char broil 4 burner gas grill

My only suggestions to Char Broil to improve the process: 1. Give me an extra screw and washer of each size. When one washer rolled away, we were sunk untill we could find it again. and 2: Give me a better caster wrench. (To tighten on the wheels on the bottom of the cabinet they give you a small wrench cut out of 3mm sheet metal, which has to bind against the caster’s nut, also out of 3 sheet metal. Sliding off by even a millimeter loses bite on the caster. I found it easier to just get my own wrench and finish the job.)

Nevertheless, I was very pleased with the fit and finish of the unit, and the obvious attention to detail. For example, when you go to hang the doors and need to hold them vertically in place to screw them on, you’ll find that CharBroil has given each one a small little hook that hangs on the lip of the door frame holding them in perfect alignment while you put in the mounting screws. No need to struggle to hold the door up with your knees while you fumble to drive in one screw while holding the next screw in your teeth.

Appearance

The CharBroil Commercial Series 4 burner Gas Grill is a very attractive piece of equipment. It has a substantial weight and feel, but with nice lines. The exterior of the grill is completely stainless steel, with silver tone plastic knobs. Part of the grill is a higher quality stainless steel, and part seems to be a lower quality steel. On the either side of the grill is a solid stainless steel shelf. The left shelf has a flip up surface that exposes a side burner for those who need to heat up a pot of beans, or corn, or spicy cajun dipping sauce.

All of the seams are very tight and smooth with minimal gapping to let in moisture and eventual rust. The surface does seem to pick up a bit of smear and a slight mottled discoloration from being out in the moist nighttime air. I would probably cover it if I wanted it to last forever, but we might instead try hosing it down every night leaving standing water on the surface and see how the metal holds up to years of simulated rainstorms and abuse. We’ll let you know how things shake out.

I only had a few design concerns. My biggest -and its almost a deal breaker:- There’s no place to hang my spatulas, tongs and grill brushes. The engineers at Char Broil shoud add hooks to the underside of the right shelf so I can hang my tools. For now I’ve had to put a paper plate down on the right side shelf and lay the messy ends of my flippers/tongs on that. This week I’ll go buy some S hooks from the local hardware store, remove the towel bar on the right side, slide on my hooks, reattahc the bar and jury rig up some hanging space. My weaker complaint, and I realize that it’s really just a personal bias, I wish there was a place to put some lava rocks, and to occasionally toss in some hickory chips. The burners are each topped by a steel heat dissipater, but they are sloped downwards, and don’t connect, so there’s no surface above the burners to hold lava or wood chips. Since this is a pretty common design structure across most grill this size, I guess I’m not supposed to complain, but nevertheless, I like when my marinade drips on the lava, burns up and resmokes my food while it grills.

All in all, it seems clear that this is a well engineered, well thought out piece of equipment. It is moderately priced, looks beautiful, and performs beyond expectations. Any outdoor chef should be pleased to stand next to it.

Product Specs and Usage Tips:

Four Burner Gas Grill

  • 500 total sq. in. porcelain cast iron cooking grate
  • Add 170 sq. in. Secondary cooking surface, for a total of 670 total sq. in. cooking area
  • Stainless Steel lid
  • 50,000 BTU Main Burners
  • 13,000 BTU Sideburner
  • Electronic Ignition
  • Double Doors

Here’s a copy of the assembly manual for the 463268007 4 burner gas grill.

Here are some maintenance tips for getting the best lifetime of use from your grill:

Season your cast iron grates so they won’t rust

Learn how to clean your stainless steel grill to keep it looking as shiny as the day you tested it. This great cleaning guide from CharBroil includes a video.

Here are some cleaning tips for the grates themselves.

When all else fails, here are troubleshooting tips for your new gas grill