Ask the audience: on soup and non-non-stick pans

by DaniGirl on October 25, 2011 · 14 comments

in Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

Hey bloggy peeps, I have two domestic questions for you today. Please save my family from my domestic obliviousness!

First, I was surprised to read this summer that non-stick pans can release carcinogenic chemicals, apparently to such an extent that people with birds never use them for fear of killing the birds. That was enough to encourage me to reconsider using them… and then I realized that pretty much *all* the pans, cookie sheets and muffin tins in my cupboard have some sort of non-stick coating.

I’ve started small and bought a (really big) stainless steel frying pan. I actually really like it — it’s deep, with a thick bottom, and it transfers the heat really evenly. But, I cannot figure out how to not burn whatever I’m cooking to the bottom of the pan. I’ve added extra butter and oil, cooked faster with higher temps and slower with lower temps, and no matter what I do, I burn the snot out of the bottom of the pan every.single.time.

Am I missing something? Before I take the plunge and give up the rest of my non-stick-ware, which I really do want to do, do I need to take some remedial cooking lessons?

Second, I picked up a really interesting lentil, barley and noodle soup mix from the store, but I am a relative soup virgin. The family likes soup, but I been intimidated by making them from scratch. So I can probably just dump the lentil and noodle mix into some chicken or vegetable stock, but what else can I do to it? Just dump in random veggies? Ugh, I have come a long way in the kitchen in the last few years, but home-made soups have thus far intimidated me.


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 liz October 25, 2011 at 1:44 pm

For stainless steel, turn the heat on medium in the first place, and let the pan heat before adding oil or butter. If using olive oil, add some butter too. Peanut oil has a high smoke point and will help keep things from sticking.

I use my stainless steel pan mostly for spaghetti sauce, and for poaching eggs (it’s got nice straight sides). For everything else, I use cast iron.

If you buy unseasoned cast iron, you need to season it first before you use it. To season it, you rub it all over thoroughly with oil (apparently, flaxseed oil is best), shortening, or lard. Then you wipe all that grease off again as thoroughly as possible. Then you put it in the oven, turn the oven to 500 degrees F (if your oven goes that high), and bake it for an hour and let it cool in the oven for at least two hours.

This will make an extremely non-stick surface for most purposes.

Never wash your cast-iron with soap, since that will take away the seasoning. I use hot water. Then I pour some oil onto the pan, and wipe it thoroughly before I put it away in the cupboard.

For the very occasional time there’s something stubborn stuck to it (like when I’ve carmelized something in the pan) I use a mixture of oil and kosher salt and scour with a paper towel.

2 Coco October 25, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I love homemade soups and eat them nearly everyday in the winter. Whatever you have left over from dinner, add to your soup base. I like to buy a bbq chicken, cut up and throw all sorts of veggies, chick peas, corn nibblets and hot sauce or a few red pepper flakes…depending on your boys taste buds. You can also make ( buy ) meatballs to add to the mix. Put some bread/crackers on the table and dinner is done. If you have a slow cooker you can Google some great soup recipes. Oh, added benefit is the house smells go good !

3 liz October 25, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Also, for anything stuck to the bottom of a pan: just add a bit of wine and more butter and deglaze it. Make it into gravy.

4 Sally October 25, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Ooo! I know soups! I’ve gotten to the point where I make them up as I’m inspired now, but the basic strategy is always the same.

You always want to start with some sort of sturdy chopped vegetables to make the base for the soup, like an onion and a couple carrots, perhaps some celery, mushrooms or leeks. Let those soften and color quite slowly in some oil in the bottom of your pot. If you’re doing ground beef, sausage, bacon or some sort of meat that needs to be browned, cook it at the same time. You can also brown a soup bone, but that’s pretty hard core. If you’re planning to throw already cooked chicken or ham into your soup, just wait.

Once you have some really good color on your base and those little brown bits sticking to the bottom of the pan, you deglaze by adding the liquid. I always use chicken or beef broth/stock, but you could just add water if you’re willing to spend a longer time cooking your soup.

Turn the heat up to bring it to a simmer and add other vegetables. We make our soups more like soups — full of veggies. I’ll often do 1/2 a cabbage, regular potatoes, sweet potatoes, canned diced tomatoes, larger pretty slices of carrots, frozen veggies like green beans, okra or corn, anything really! Add your meat if you haven’t already. I usually throw in a bay leaf, sprigs of fresh herbs or sprinkles of dried herbs and some peppercorns too (my kids don’t mind picking them out, but you can tie them up in cheesecloth if you want to be fancy.)

When it starts to simmer you should turn the heat down to very low, just enough to keep a few bubbles going, and LEAVE IT. I’ll let beef or pork based soups simmer for 3-4 hours. The longer it simmers, the better if will be. (Chicken based soups are tricker to get right and take less time. All the flavor leeches out of chicken meat after a while and the lighter flavors take a more delicate touch.)

You can throw in rice or pasta and soft vegetables like zucchini or eggplant for the last 20 minutes. If you like a creamy soup, pour in a little cream or half-and-half just before serving. If you want to add leafy greens like kale or spinach, do it at the last minute too.

The easiest soup, in my opinion, is a chunky vegetable soup based on ground beef or sausage with tomatoes. You can add ANYTHING to that basic combo and it will turn out right. Our favorite beef soup is a kind of Mennonite borscht (no beets!) that’s made with onion, carrots, cabbage, tomato, ground beef, potatoes, beef broth, a bit of dill and cream. Good luck!

5 Sally October 25, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I meant to say “we make our soups more like stews” but perhaps you figured that out. 🙂

6 Leanne October 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm

I don’t use stainless steel for pots: it conducts heat too quickly and doesn’t retain it well. I am building a collection of ironware. Follow the instructions for seasoning pots and pans @Liz outlines above with one exception: put the pot or pan in the oven upside-down and put foil or a couple cookie sheets under to catch drips. This will ensure there won’t be any gummy spots where the oil/lard/tallow pools. And, use tallow if you can get some (beef fat). It’s the best fat to use for seasoning.

Soups are really easy and you can do them quick or put a little extra time in to really make a crazy healthy food.

First thing: start saving your veggie scraps. Every time you peel and top and toe veggies, put the leavings in a freezer bag and chuck it into the freezer. Then, every time you eat meat off the bone, save the bones off the dinner plates or out of the roast pan and chuck those into a baggie. When the bone baggie gets full, put the veggie peelings and bones into a crock or stock pot, fill with water, add a splash of vinegar and boil on a slow/light boil for 8-16 hrs. Strain and compost the solids while portioning the liquid (now called stock) in 4 cup/1 litre portions in the freezer. Use the stock as your soup basis.

The other indispensable soup (and general cooking) flavour tool: home made veggie bouillon. You can make a basic mirepoix bouillon by combining 4 ribs of celery, 2 carrots and 2 onions and 1 TBSP of sea salt in a food processor. Mix until made into nearly a paste or very fine mince.

Depending on what you have in the fridge (this can be a good way to get rid of the veggies that are getting near the end of their days), you can expand the flavour complexity/depth by adding in leeks, garlic, celeriac, parsley, cilantro (really, really good!), fennel and whatever flavourful veggie you think would work well. Just be sure that you add in 1TBSP of sea salt per about 2 Cups of veggie mince. You can freeze the extra in jars, but the salt will preserve the bouillon in the fridge for a month or two.

We add this into ground beef for burgers or meatloaf. It goes into all soups. I add it into sauces and gravies… anywhere you need a punch of flavour, add this stuff in! As an added bonus, this makes a super tasty hot soup drink that’s actually super good for you. Just put a tsp or 2 in a mug with boiled water and drink up on a cold day. (Always reminds me of when I was a kid and bought “chicken soup” in a paper cup from an ice rink vending machine to warm up.

Your mix either comes with a “flavour packet” or is just the beans. If it’s just the beans, you can add a half cup or so of the mix to any broth base (such as 4-8 cups of stock plus 2-4 TBSPs of bouillon. Chuck in some leftover chicken and you’re done!

7 Leanne October 25, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Here are a few of my soups, if you need some more inspiration:

Broccoli Chicken Soup
Linzen Suppe (German style lentil soup)
Granny’s Mince Stew

8 Carly October 25, 2011 at 9:06 pm

We do the kitchen soup thing and throw in whatever is handy. One tip I learned from the Podleski sisters (Looney Spoons, Crazy Plates, etc.) is that if you’re making a tomato based broth, one small can of low-sodium V8 juice adds a really great flavour to your soup. Mmm!

Re: the stainless frying pan . . . we sometimes actually cook in ours dry (no oil, etc.) over medium-low heat. For some reason, meats especially don’t seem to stick very much. If, after getting started, the food starts to stick, we’ll add some EVOO during the cooking process to loosen things up.

Have fun!

9 kt October 26, 2011 at 2:16 pm
10 liz October 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm

My favorite soup to make is chicken barley.
First you heat up one chopped carrot, one chopped rib of celery, one chopped onion, a clove of garlic, parsley, kosher salt, and two or three pepper corns in olive oil in the bottom of your deep pot. Then you put your whole chicken (remove gizzards) on top of the veggies. Cover and heat 10 minutes. Then cover with water and cook until the chicken meat is falling off the bones.

Put a strainer in another big pot and pour the stock you’ve just made into the other pot through the strainer. If you’re going to use the stock right away, put the new pot on the stove to keep warm. Otherwise, if it’s cold enough outside, put it on the back porch to cool so you can skim the fat off it.

Now take your strainer full of yummy stewed chicken and pick through it to get rid of the bones and gristle.

Add the chicken to the stock. Add a cup or two of barley. Add lots of cut up carrots, celery, and what not. Add noodles if you like. Serve with warm bread.
And if no-one asks for thirds, say, “What? The soup, it wasn’t good?”

11 Laura October 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Glad you liked the post Dani and you are switching from non-stick. I’m like you and often burn stuff on the bottom of our stainless steel pans. I soak the pan (usually overnight!) and use baking soda to scour…it works well. I use my crock pot to make big batch soups and stews. The latest winners have been vegetable barley and a yummy lentil soup. I freeze half so we always have something on hand for a quick and easy meal. Good luck. 🙂

12 Valerie October 27, 2011 at 10:02 am

I’m not sure about SS compared to Cast Iron, but your prev posters seem to think to season it the same way. If so, another thing I do for CI might help – after cleaning, put on a hot stovetop briefly to thoroughly dry then swipe the hot pan (carefully) with a bit of canola oil before storing.

You might try cast iron – cooking tomato based things in it, especially, gives you extra iron in your diet. 🙂

13 Joy October 27, 2011 at 10:55 am

Not sure how I happened on this post, but I love my SS cookware. Use cooking spray – I use Pam, on a cold pan. Or, if you use oil, heat the pan a bit first, then add oil, then food. It doesn’t work as well as cooking spray, but I have stubbornly resisted finding out why I should NOT use a non-stick cooking spray, because. 😉 Keep the heat lower to start, then slowly turn it up if you really need to, and don’t be shy to turn it down again. Stainless steel stays HOT. And it takes longer to cook in SS than non-stick, I’ve found. (We stayed in a furnished house for a time, and there were non-stick pans there – I so didn’t like them, but got used to cooking in them within a couple of weeks. It does take time to adapt…)

Good luck! And enjoy the new pans!!

14 Meg October 27, 2011 at 11:00 am


First off.. Yes they do release carcinogens. Yuck. Best bet?? Cast iron! Buy the pre-seasoned ones and then you’re starting off set up. It’s a NATURAL non stick, because you should never wash it with soap. Use really hot water and scrub gently. Wipe some olive oil or similar on it and then put it away for next time. They’re amazing!!

Now for soup… The best bet is to always sauté some onions and garlic in oil. Then add your stock ( your choice) and ANYTHING else you want.

My favourite? Do the sauté bit, I like lots of garlic, a cup or two of chicken stock and diced peeled apple. Let it boil for about 5 minutes, till the apples are super tender. Add your favourite stewed tomatoes ( I love San marzano!) and let it simmer on medium heat for a few minutes to warm up. When you know it’s getting warm add old cheddar cheese to your preference.. More IS better this time! Let the cheddar melt in the soup and then you’re ready to go! It’s an awesome autumn soup.. And I’ve tried to make it with only local ingrediants before with success! ( I made homemade stock that day though…) so good luck! And enjoy!

Try for really awesome recipes if you’ve never checked them before. Google Ontario food recipes too and it will pop up 🙂

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