Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Use of Earthen Clay Cookware in the Contemporary Kitchen

Earthen clay pots have been around since time immemorial. Early civilizations took advantage of their porous nature, which stores steam and other natural vapors, making then well suited to slow cooking where even, gradual distribution of heat is of paramount importance, to efficient water storage vessels in which those same pores lend themselves to storage of pure, clean water at cool temperatures over long periods of time.

To the lay person, the term clay commonly refers to fine-grained, earthy materials which acquire plasticity upon becoming wet. Clays’ chemical compositions are hydrous aluminum silicates which usually contain minor amounts of impurities such as potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, or iron. Geologically, a precise definition of clay has been elusive as the term sometimes is used loosely, and erroneously, interchangeably with the term shale, which technically refers to clays which contain decomposed and usually fossilized organic components. 

Clays can be divided into two classes: clays found at the primary location of their formation and clays which have been transported by natural forces such as erosion, water or wind and deposited in a secondary location. The secondary process is characterized by chemical decomposition of rocks which contain silica and alumina, rock solutions containing a variety of often insoluble metallic impurities and disintegration and solution of shales. The three basic categories of clays are illite, kaolinite and montmorillonite.

Due to their primary formation mechanism, clays and shales most frequently are found in sedimentary depositional environments such as alluvial river valleys and oceanic turbidites close to the mouths of ancient and current rivers and large streams. Due to their profoundly different impacts on the formation, storage and flow of fluids, gaseous, liquid and highly viscous fluids to highly plastic “pseudo” solids in hydrocarbon bearing formations, petrophysically shales are classified as being either structural (as in externally particulate), dispersed (internally distributed within porous rock types) or laminated (layered between clastic silica or carbonate layers).

Our concern for the purpose of this piece is with pure, natural, sometimes referred to as primary clays. Our principal motivation is the known health hazard created by the introduction of certain impurities, particularly those of the metals class, into the food chain; a secondary motivation is the impact some of these impurities can have on an otherwise pure clay vessel’s structural integrity.Primary clay pots must be seasoned before their first use and thereafter heated slowly and evenly. They cannot safely be placed directly upon a preheated stove top or into a preheated oven. They are best suited to slow cooking, where their purity and the natural vapors and any added seasoning or spices which are trapped within their pores act to tenderize and enrich the flavors of the food. In an effort to extend the functionality of clay pots to recipes calling for high heating, such as braising or sautéing, ceramic material and enamel glazes often are applied at very high temperatures to the surface areas of most commercially available clay pots. But these supplemental treatments carry a price, they invariably introduce undesirable impurities into the pots. 

The belief that the hazardous byproducts of toxic minerals which can result from use of cast iron, aluminum, stainless steel and copper clad cookware or from nonstick coated cookware are relatively harmless is not necessarily validated. Enzymes in our bodies can become altered with toxic rather than health inducing components. Metals are reactive while foods are organic and mostly alkaline; under the catalyst of heat the metal ions, chemicals and oxides from glazed, ceramic, metallic or artificially coated cookware react with and leach into the food it contains.

Primary clay, on the other hand, is inert and natural pots composed of primary clay do not introduce in and of themselves any foreign substance, harmful or otherwise, into their contents. Its primary agent  of heat transfer is not by conduction or convection, rather it is via photon transmitted electromagnetic radiation in the far infrared end of the visible spectrum. 

One of the best, and ironically most affordable, producers of primary clay cookware is Miriam’s Earthenware Cookware (MEC™), located in Massachusetts. MEC concentrates solely on the production high quality, hand crafted to exacting standards, pure primary sourced clay  cookware. MEC’s production begins with the careful selection of primary clay from the few commercial sources of such material within the US. Each batch of clay then is submitted to certified laboratory testing against rigorous standards of purity. Any batch that doesn’t match doesn’t catch.

The pots are thrown by local artisans until they meet demanding standards of perfection. Lids are spun and custom fitted. After these steps, they are fired by local craftsmen under precisely controlled time and temperature profiles. Finally, they are inspected closely for the slightest imperfections. Any product which falls short of MEC’s show window standards but is eminently presentable and serviceable is consigned to MEC’s reduced price slight irregularity inventory.

The net result is ready availability of the benefits of healthy gourmet cooking with the finest pure earthenware at remarkably affordable prices to the working middle class, be they blue color or white color. The exceptional quality and attention to detail provided by MEC normally would be expected to be found only at the most elite cookware suppliers. To view a sampling and a compete description of their offerings, you can visit

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Processing Meat For Big Game Hunters

Hunting season is just around the corner and already has begun in the high country of the Rocky Mountains. Bagging and processing big game can provide a variety of your own tastes to supplement your meal menus until next year’s season opener. When you process the meat yourself, you gain the added benefit of being able to select your preferred cuts and grinds and add your favorite spices to the mix.

The process, of course, begins with dressing, cooling, skinning and quartering your game in the field. After you’ve returned home, you have a choice of turning it over to a butcher or a meat processor or processing it yourself. If you do it yourself, that can become something of a hobby in its own right. You get to call the shots on which cuts, grinds, spices and seasoning you would like to use and perhaps experiment a bit.

When you process fresh meat, whether domestic (e.g. from a nearby rancher or farmer) or wild, you need to pay close attention to the quality and capabilities of the equipment you will use. Inadequate processing appliances not only can transform a hobby into a chore, but can inject distasteful and sometimes harmful impurities into the process, especially if not properly cleaned after each use. 

Money spent on top quality machinery is a long term investment since it ensures reliable and easy meat processing for years to come and facilitates an enjoyable rather than a frustrating experience for the hunter after the hunt is over. And done properly, it provides many months of savory, unique alternatives to everyday supermarket fare.

There is a selection of manufacturers who produce high quality home as well as commercial meat processing equipment. One of the best is LEM Products, a small, family owned and run manufacturer in Wisconsin which concentrates solely on producing several families of top quality meat processing equipment whose capabilities are custom built to suit ranges from the occasional, once a year home processor to full time, every day commercial butchers and meat processors.

Visit to see an example of a mid-range assortment of typical equipment such as slicers, grinders, mixers and stuffers at affordable prices for the serious meat processor. A range of different capacity, power (manual or motorized) and price to suit every need and budget is available and all units include free shipping, which quickly can become a significant addition to the invoice for larger and/or heavier items if charged separately.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How To Plan Your Kitchen Necessities

So you're planning on expanding your kitchen to something more than a bottle opener and a machete?   Good it's about time.   There's no better way to impress a member of the opposite sex with a fully stocked kitchen including all the kitchen necessities you need to be a successful cook.

First, you need the basics.   A good set of knives is essential for any kitchen.   Make sure you have a variety of sizes and types for slicing and chopping.   You can also match the with a set of steak knives, which would look very nice.   You want to spend some money on quality knives made of a good stainless steel.   The knives should feel heavy and solid.   These will be one of your best investments for years to come, so make your choice wisely.

Once you have a good set of knives, you'll want something to cut on.   You can actually find some very simple and inexpensive cutting boards made of a thick plastic, available in many discount stores.   Get a bunch of these as they're inexpensive and they'll come in very handy when you're cooking.

Next are the tools you'll use to actually cook your meals with, which should include some good stainless steel pots and pans.   This is another place you'll want to spend some money on as good stainless steel is indispensable for cooking material.   You'll want a variety of sizes of pans and pots, including sauce pans and ideally a flat skillet.   Once you acquire a good set, you'll need to learn how to use them.   It takes a little practice with understanding how hot they need to be before you start cooking, and you won't need to heat them up on high power to get them to the proper cooking temperature like you do the cheaper pots and pans.

Bowls and mixing bowls are a great addition to any kitchen.  Extra large stainless steel bowls are a great investment and will come in handy in many ways, from actually mixing big recipes for baking or even for serving big dishes.   These are a great addition for completing a useful kitchen.

Once you have these essentials, the next step toward kitchen necessities includes a set of baking pans and casserole dishes that you can use for baking.   You can always go with the disposable aluminum ones until you acquire a full set, but you will need some pans and ideally some thinner cooking sheets.   These come in very handy for various baking needs.
Power tools are a very useful investment in your kitchen.

Putting together an arsenal of bare necessities would include a hand mixer and a blender.   Don't worry about the hand mixers, but do plan to spend for a quality blender.   These come in very handy in a variety of ways in a kitchen, especially when you're trying to prepare something in short order for a big meal.

Spoons mixing utensils along with eating utensils are a no-brainer and you'll need these to complete your kitchen and you can settle for cheap stuff until you can afford the better quality utensils.