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  • Lead in Your Glazed Cookware

    A few weeks ago, Heavenly Homemakers mentioned an issue I’d never heard of before – that there’s a concern of lead in glazed ceramics, including the crocks of slow cookers.

    Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of information out there. I Googled (or rather, Swagbucked) the issue and read enough to make me concerned enough to stop using my slow cookers (I have a 5-quart and a 1-quart). Then I remembered my favorite slow cooker recipe site, A Year of Slow Cooking, and found this post in which Stephanie says she was assured that Crock-Pot brand crocks don’t contain any lead.

    That’s the brand of my 5-quart cooker, but I’m not sure if I believe the company’s claim – and I haven’t used my slow cooker since. I’d like to keep using it, but my boys are very young and lead is so damaging to developing brains that I’m just not sure it’s worth the risk.

    In the meantime, I think for the holidays, I am going to ask for expensive Le Creuset cookware. They explicitly state in their FAQ that they don’t use lead, and explain how they use cadmium, so I tend to believe them. And I have to use something to cook my food in!

    But it looks like my oven is going to be getting a lot more use this winter. And hopefully by the summer, I’ll have a more definitive answer regarding slow cooker use.

    Pumpkin Gelato vs. Pumpkin Ice Cream

    After I made all that pumpkin puree last week, I promised the boys pumpkin ice cream. After all, we have an ice cream maker which somehow didn’t get any use during the summer. But we live in Southern California, so it’s plenty warm enough for ice cream still.

    However – among the various food allergies I have to deal with is a partial egg allergy, and I was uncomfortable with the amount of eggs called for by the homemade ice cream recipes I found. In searching for “eggless pumpkin ice cream,” I discovered that most gelato recipes don’t call for eggs, so I decided to make pumpkin gelato instead. If you’d like to make actual ice cream, I thought this David Lebovitz recipe sounded particularly good.

    I tried this New York Times Pumpkin Gelato recipe. I loved the texture – even though I’ve made ice cream before, I’m always amazed at how a sloshy liquid can gradually turn so creamy and thick.

    The taste of the gelato was unfortunately disappointing. I would add a lot more vanilla, cinnamon and sugar next time. Maybe even use a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract for added depth of flavor.

    The kids didn’t like it either, but I’m very pleased to have discovered gelato for my ice cream maker. A big part of the reason I didn’t make ice cream this summer was the egg allergy concern, and now I have a viable and easy alternative. :)

    Pumpkin Puree: Homemade vs. Store Bought (with recipes)

    I bought some sugar pumpkins at Trader Joe’s and roasted them to make puree yesterday, so I thought I’d do a price comparison on homemade pumpkin puree vs. canned pumpkin.

    One can of organic pumpkin puree at Trader Joe’s is $1.99, and contains approximately 3.5 1/2 cup servings, or about 1.75 cups.

    Sugar pumpkins are $1.99 each at Trader Joe’s – they’re fairly small, which I think makes for better flavor. I tried to pick pumpkins that were heavy for their weight, so the flesh would be moist and dense. Three pumpkins yielded about 6 cups. That works out to $1.74 per 1.75 cups, and I also got about two cups of roasted pumpkin seeds out of my pumpkins. But the price per unit doesn’t factor in the time or energy costs it took to make the puree.

    So I’ll call it about even. After all, making pumpkin puree requires a fair amount of effort, while canned pumpkin has a huge convenience factor in its favor.

    Actually, because the pumpkins I bought weren’t organic, the canned pumpkin probably costs less. But as far as I know, pumpkins are pretty low risk when it comes to pesticide and fertilizer residue. Plus, fresh pumpkin tastes phenomenal and canned pumpkin raises BPA concerns for me.

    Want to try it for yourself? Here’s how I made my pumpkin puree:

    Homemade Pumpkin Puree
    Makes about 2 cups per pumpkin

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut a small sugar pumpkin in half. Scoop out the seeds and strings, saving the seeds if desired. Place the pumpkin cut side down on a lined baking sheet and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until you can easily insert a knife through the pumpkin.

    Remove the pumpkin from the oven and let cool on the pan for about 30 minutes.

    Place a food mill fitted with the smallest blade over a large bowl. Scoop the pumpkin flesh out of the shell and transfer to food mill. Pass the pumpkin through the food mill, scraping down the side but not pushing the pumpkin through the holes. Use the puree as you would canned pumpkin.

    Note: I have a food mill from my homemade baby food days, so that’s what I used. It makes for a nice puree that still has a bit of texture, but if you don’t have a food mill, I *think* you should be okay with a food processor. Speaking of baby food, you could mix the puree with some applesauce, or add in a little cinnamon to give your baby a new taste.

    Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

    Separate the pumpkin seeds from the strings but do not wash them (they have a lot more flavor this way). Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil per cup of seeds and sprinkle with fine sea salt to taste. Spread the seeds out in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for approximately two hours or until golden brown, stirring every half hour.

    Mr. Food eCookbook
    Banner ad via MySavings.com.

    Plan Your Menus Around Seasonal Produce

    In the introduction to the section on side dishes in Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller writes,

    Because these dishes are weighted toward vegetables, they tend to be the most seasonal recipes in the book. . . . So you may well want to plan a meal by choosing one or two side dishes, and then determining what meat or fish would go well with what you’ve chosen.

    That’s a whole new way of thinking to me, as I generally think about varying my proteins with each meal, and then picking a standby side dish to serve with what I have on hand.

    But Chef Keller is right (of course). I’ve been shopping at the farmer’s market almost every week during the summer, and the zucchini, eggplant, peaches, nectarines and strawberries have been incredible. (My oldest and I even sampled dragon fruit for the first time – bleh!)

    I’m starting my foray into cooking my way through Ad Hoc this week with an asparagus dish, because I’m sure asparagus season is coming to an end at the farmer’s market and I know my husband and I (though not the kids) will absolutely adore the Grilled Asparagus with Prosciutto, Fried Bread, Poached Egg, and Aged Balsamic Vinegar (page 156). I’ll get my asparagus at the farmer’s market, my prosciutto at Whole Foods, and I’ll bake my own country loaf for the fried bread using leftover artisan bread dough from tonight’s pizza. I also have a fabulous balsamic vinegar from Trader Joe’s that I love.

    Becoming a Better Home Cook with Thomas Keller

    One blog that I enjoyed reading was French Laundry At Home, in which Carol Blymire cooked her way through renowned chef Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook. Many of the dishes were incredibly complex, and I derived a lot of vicarious pleasure by reading about Carol’s experiences.

    When Thomas Keller came out with Ad Hoc, a book based on his more casual restaurant, I immediately bought it and enjoyed the pictures and idea of the recipes in it. And then I shelved the book.

    I pulled the book out yesterday and started flipping through it again. The recipes really are doable – and they got me thinking. I’ve been feeling like I’m in a rut when it comes to cooking. I find myself making the same things over and over again, and while part of that is due to a lack of time, it’s also partly because I’m a little afraid of trying something new, ruining dinner, and finding myself all stressed out about feeding the kids.

    So . . . I thought of something that would make cooking fun for me again: Cooking my way through Ad Hoc. Although the recipes aren’t too complicated, they are still a little intimidating, in that I feel obligated to acquire the best ingredients possible. But at least I live in Los Angeles, where I can get hold of anything with some searching. This may get a little expensive, but it’ll still be cheaper than going out to eat. I plan to do my experimenting on Fridays or Saturdays, when I don’t have to worry about getting the kids fed and into bed by a certain hour. And I’m hoping that stretching and even going beyond my comfort zone with these recipes will make me a better cook. Plus, I know my husband and I will enjoy the food – and with a little luck, the kids will too.

    I’ll post about the recipes I’m trying, and hopefully my photography skills will improve as well!

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