Hello again lovely readers. I know this is a cooking website, but I have a special place in my heart for appliances. My friend recently told me about her daughter's joy at getting new school shirts, because the other children made fun of her over the ...


 
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How Does Your Washing Machine Work? and more...

How Does Your Washing Machine Work?


washing machine settingsHello again lovely readers. I know this is a cooking website, but I have a special place in my heart for appliances. My friend recently told me about her daughter’s joy at getting new school shirts, because the other children made fun of her over the state of her clothes.

I assure you that no one consults with me about removing stains or keeping whites white. But I know enough about machines to give my friend a lesson, and I want to share that with you too. After all, we use washing machines for dishtowels, tablecloths, and other cloth items found in the kitchen.

In my post on thermostats, I pointed out that ovens and air conditioners are pretty simple machines. They are either off or on, and what makes them smart is knowing how long to be on before things get too hot or cold. Washing machines can handle a few functions other than temperature. But each of these functions is also simple.


The key to understanding washing machine settings is that you are usually choosing between cleaner clothes, and wear and tear on your clothes. To get your clothes clean, the machines have to be harder on your clothes. Your machine will work hard too. The best choice is a gentle cycle that will still get your clothes reasonably clean. Gentler cycles, especially a slow spin cycle, means less ironing as well.

Fortunately for us, machines are getting better at cleaning clothes with less water and detergent. Gentler (and shorter) cycles are often good enough in the vast majority of cases. For example, the “pre-wash” option, essentially an additional wash and rinse, is usually not necessary, even for cloth diapers.

Here are the main functions of washing machines:

  1. Temperature. In the US, most machines that are fed from hot and cold water taps. So the options are cold, hot, and if both faucets are turned on, warm. But European machines connect only to a cold water tap, so the machine needs to heat the water, even as high as 90° C. High temperatures are hard on clothes, and if the machine heats the water, this adds a lot of extra time to the cycle. The benefit is questionable, as modern detergents work well in cold water.
  2. Length of washing cycle. This is the main operation of the machine. During the washing cycle, the machine agitates the clothes to loosen up the dirt. Usually this  runs for 5-20 minutes. The longer the cycle, the worse for your clothes. But if clothes are very dirty, a short cycle might not be enough.
  3. Strength of washing cycle. Usually there is one setting for “normal” and one for “delicate” clothes. With a “delicate” cycle the machine spins more slowly so the clothes are not moved around as much.
  4. Spins per minute. After the washing cycle, fresh water is added to rinse out the clothes. Then the machine spins quickly to remove the excess water from the machine, and wring it out from your clothes.
    Spin cycles are calculated according to the number of spins per minute, with a range from 400-1200 spins per minute. With faster spin cycles, there is less moisture in your clothes. So if you are using an electric or gas dryer, a faster spin setting saves time and money, because the dryer can operate for less time. It’s less important if you are hanging clothes on a line. Keep in mind that high spin cycles don’t make your clothes cleaner, but they are especially hard on clothes.
  5. Resting time. Delicate or gentle cycles, and energy-saving cycles, will add pauses for soaking time during the washing cycle. My kids have gotten concerned because the machine doesn’t seem to be doing anything. But soaking at regular intervals helps remove dirt, allowing a shorter, colder, or gentler washing cycle while getting the clothes just as clean, and causing minimal stress on your clothes. While a longer cycle generally means more wear and tear on clothes, if the cycle includes lots of soaking time, the opposite will be true.

To review, the following settings wear out clothes the fastest, but get them cleanest: Wash in the hottest water, in a “normal” or “cotton” cycle, for as long as possible, and spin at the highest number of rotations per minutes.

And these are the settings that are gentlest, but might not get your clothes as clean—although in many cases they are clean enough: Wash clothes in cold water, with the shortest, “delicate” cycle, at the lowest spin setting, and include more soaking time. If you like, read the manual to see how to stop the machine from executing the final spin. In this case, the machine will spin just enough to remove the excess water from the machine, leaving the clothes dripping wet. My friend has a garden, so she liked the idea of hanging clothes outside for the benefit of the plants.

In the machines of my parents’ time, you could choose hot/warm/cold, delicate or normal, and how many minutes you wanted the cycle to run, The multiple combinations of the above options make machines more complicated. Because most machines are computerized, the manufacturers can choose from all the variables, to recommend the best option for each type of load. Of course, we usually put a variety of types of clothes in a single load so it can be hard to choose. But that is for another day.

Another factor to take into consideration is speed. If it’s important for you to get your clothes drying quickly, choose a shorter cycle. But if you are not home anyway, it doesn’t matter. Some cycles use much more water than others. I found the information about cycle length in the manual that came with the machine. Many machines can automatically choose the correct amounts of water according to the weight of the clothes, but it still varies according to cycles.

My philosophy is to start with the coldest, most delicate cycle and see if that is effective for your clothes. With more delicate cycles, the machine shouldn’t be too full so that the clothes can move around easily. I also find that after a regular or “cottons” cycle for my clothes, especially towels, they start to get holes. Machines today has settings that are so delicate they are equivalent to hand-washing.

In the machine pictured above, for linens and most casual clothes, I choose the “Mix” cycle that takes about 45 minutes, including heating up the water to 40° C. If I like I can use the “Eco” feature that includes more soaking time. If some of the clothes are delicate or I want to avoid wrinkles, I set the spin cycle to a lower speed, or click on the “Easy iron” option.

One last tip: Use a minimal amount of detergent. Your clothes shouldn’t end up with a strong smell of fragrance. Excess detergent (and softener) can clog your machine after a while, and doesn’t help your clothes either. But don’t use laundry balls, that purport to clean clothes without detergent. They are no better than washing without detergent.

Was this post useful? Let me know in the comments.

You can also order my e-book:  Download Cook Smart! Learn the Secrets of Your Kitchen Appliances.

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11 Reasons to Choose Fresh Foods, and a Few Reasons Not To


Happy New Year! This is an update of a post originally published December 23, 2011.

A friend was wondering whether it was bad to eat soy patties for lunch every day. This led to a discussion of ingredient lists on packages and concerns about processed food.

We’ve all been told to choose home-cooked foods over convenience foods.


But my friend wanted to know why processed foods are bad. Can’t we just check the list of ingredients? If there are too many chemicals that we’ve never heard of, we are wary. But maybe if the ingredients listed on a label are natural, the processing isn’t such a big deal.

Or is it?

My friend pointed out, correctly, that processing is often a good thing:

  • Cooking makes foods tasty and easier to digest.
  • Processing, including cooking, canning or drying, helps foods last longer. This in turn lowers the price in some cases, as less food needs to be thrown out.
  • Processing can eliminate pathogenic bacteria, as when milk is pasteurized.

So a certain amount of processing can work in our favor, although these benefits may also come with lower nutritional value. Still, the real problem is when foods get over-processed.

But there are also negative consequences when processing foods. Here are some examples:

  • Ingredients we don’t want. Manufacturers add emulsifiers and starches for improving texture, preservatives to keep food fresh longer, and flavors, colors, sodium, mono-sodium glutamate, and sugars to make food more palatable to the average consumer.
  • Low-quality ingredients. The label is only as specific as the law required by your country. The ingredients might say corn, but does that mean corn starch or cornmeal? Or maybe kernels? They are not equally healthy. What conditions were they grown in? How old are they?
  • Using the least healthy part of an ingredient. A classic example is apple juice concentrate, which contains almost pure sugar. Even though it’s natural. You’re getting sugar from a large number of apples, but without the fiber and the anti-oxidants. Fibers are also removed from grains.
  • Ingredients at the bottom of the list can still impact your health. Some ingredients can cause harm even in small quantities. And the product must contain a minimum amount of an ingredient for it to appear on the label, so you could be eating unpleasant things without realizing. Ask parents of children with life-threatening allergies how much they rely on package labels.
  • Toxic chemicals might be used in the manufacturing process, like enzymes that make foods softer or remove bitterness. But since they’re not officially ingredients, they won’t appear on the list.
  • Packaging.  A few years ago a toxic chemical, BPA, was found in certain plastics. Now there is controversy about whether small amounts of BPA are truly dangerous. But chemicals used in packaging (of both processed and unprocessed foods) can leach into food.
  • Vitamin and mineral loss. Water-soluble vitamins are not retained in fruits and vegetable even after minimal processing. Once you slice a tomato it starts to lose Vitamin C. When you remove the Vitamins, minerals and fiber are removed along with parts of the whole grains so they will last longer. Many processed foods contain white flour, which has a long shelf life. The company might add some of the vitamins and minerals back into the food in another form (think children’s cereals), but your body may not absorb them as well.
  • Oils and fats. Since good fats are expensive processed foods contain cheap, unhealthy oils, often in large quantities. Here the label will give you a clue—but you can only decide whether you want to buy the product or not. At home you can choose the type and quantity of oil.
  • Heating. Processed foods are usually exposed to high temperatures. High cooking temperatures create AGE’s, or advanced glucation end products. These toxic glucose byproducts are associated with high blood sugar and diabetes. They are found in most heated foods and, in great excess, in commercial infant formulas because cow’s milk must be heated at extreme temperatures to make it edible for babies. Reducing the amounts of processed and grilled foods also reduced the level of AGE’s in the blood.
  • Price. You pay for convenience. Even if you can get food for less than it costs you to make at home, you end up with lower quality ingredients, unnecessary additives, and unknown processing methods.
  • Environmental Impact. Processing uses valuable water and fuel, and creates pollution.

Many these concerns also apply to foods we buy in their natural state, to prepare at home. However, it’s much easier to research one ingredient than those from a long list, especially when you can examine the food for yourself. And even if you cook with white flour and soy oil, you still avoid many of the “extras” in convenience foods.

The main concern of a food manufacturer is profit. So it will aim for a product with cheap ingredients, a uniform taste that appeals to many (sugar/salt/fats), and long shelf life (processed foods last longer than fresh, even without the added preservatives).

As for labels, food producers only share whatever makes them look good. Whether the food is healthy or not interests them only as far as their marketing department. They will brag that a food contains no food coloring, while not mentioning that sugar is the main ingredient.

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11 Food Processor Tips for Bakers


flour tortillas on plate

Fresh flour tortilla

When my friend Efrat asked on Facebook about the best tools for making bread, most people replied that they use their hands or a mixer. It seems that many people still see a food processor as a tool for slicing and chopping and the occasional cake. But if used correctly, the food processor excels at mixing and kneading all kinds of dough and batter.
For those of you who have never used it for anything but vegetables, I’ve compiled some tips to make the first time easier. The tips are applicable to all kinds of doughs and batters including challah, dinner rolls, pitas, tortillas, pasta, or pie crusts, and recipes made from non-wheat flours.

  • If you are a beginner, start with a recipe using a small amount of flour like 2-3 cups (up to 500 grams or 1/2 lb).
  • Use the plastic S-blade for any kind of dough or batter. You can learn here about how I ruined my previous machine after using the metal blade to make homemade pasta.
  • For anything stickier than a cake batter, start with a food processor that has a strong motor. Usually that means 1000W or higher. Both a good-quality and a poor-quality machine will shut off if the motor gets too hot. But only a good one will start again.
  • If the machine gets too hot and shuts off, make sure to turn off the power. Otherwise it could start again when you are not in the vicinity, and bounce its way off the counter.
  • The tricky part of bread-making in the processor is getting the dough to turn into a ball. If you succeed, the dough comes out easily and the bowl stays relatively clean. Start by mixing the flour with the yeast, eggs, baking powder, or oil – everything but the water.  While the machine is running, gradually pour in about 3/4 of the amount of water called for by the recipe. Then add the rest of the water even more slowly. Once the dough collects into a ball, you have added enough water. Let it run for another thirty seconds.
  • Be careful! If you add too much water, you could end up with a sticky mess. Adding more flour at a that point doesn’t help, at least not for me. If that happens, it’s not terrible. Actually it is, or at least it’s time-consuming. Use a flat plastic spatula to remove as much dough as you can from the bowl and blade.
  • Yeast doughs that need to rise can remain in the bowl, if there is enough room. Inserting the pusher into the feed tube will keep most of the air out.
  • You can turn off the machine at any time during the mixing to check progress.
  • If you don’t want the dough to rise in the food processor bowl, for example because there isn’t enough room, transfer the dough to a bowl or a cloth that has been dusted with flour. Some chefs recommend rubbing the dough with oil. Cover with a damp cloth, or wrap the entire bowl in a loosely tied garbage bag.
  • After the dough doubles, shape it and let rise again.
  • Use caution when making dough or batter in larger quantities. The manual should state the maximum amount of flour that the machine can handle. If not, experiment until you figure it out.

More posts on food processors:

Less is More: Review of Magimix 5200XL


Food Processor Recipes for Beginners

Food Processor Basics

Use Your Food Processor Efficiently


Ethiopian Lentil Wot (dip) and Injera


Hello, dear readers! I am reviving the website with two Ethiopian recipes that my 20-year-old son tried over the weekend. After the recipes, I’ll share a short review of a few new products from a company called Yoffi.

After high school, my son spent a year volunteering in a town where he interacted with many immigrants from Ethiopia. He’s been wanting to making traditional Ethiopian food, so he consulted with his friends and the internet.

First we have injera, a traditional Ethiopian bread made from the grain teff. He found teff in a store specializing in Ethiopian products, but it is available (at a higher price) in most grocery store chains in Israel.


If you have ever worked with sourdough or any other type of fermentation, injera is a cinch. Even if not, it is fairly simple. “It’s high in protein and calcium, super-nutritious,” my son told me.

The teff sat in our freezer for a few weeks until he came home for long enough to complete the fermenting process. One recipe recommended only one day of fermentation, but most suggest three or four. After 24 hours we decided to let it sit for another 24. I’ve read that fermentation happens more quickly if you do it often, and your kitchen environment is full of wild yeast. This may or may not be true, but 48 hours was more than enough.

Fermentating the teff:

Place a half a kilogram (about a pound) of teff in a large bowl. This amount made six or seven pita-shaped loaves. Keep some extra teff on hand, as you may need it. Add cold water and stir until you get a thick batter. Don’t worry too much about the texture, as you can adjust it later. Cover with a damp cloth or use Marcy Goldman’s trick of wrapping the entire bowl in a clean garbage bag, and tying it. The batter won’t expand much.

Check the mixture the next day. We found a layer of dark, watery liquid on the top (hooch). We kept it, but you can discard it carefully if you like, trying not to spill the thicker part of the batter. Add some warm water and stir, then cover again. You can add more teff if you feel it’s too thin.

Check again the next day (after 48 hours or so). The batter should have  a rich, beer-like smell and lots of small bubbles. Here’s how ours looked before cooking.

injera batter for Ethiopian bread

Just before cooking

The batter should be loose and pourable, like a pancake.

Cooking:

Heat up a frying pan. We used a non-stick pan, but if you don’t have one, brush with a little oil. Cover the bottom of the pan with batter. Keeping the heat high, wait until about two-thirds of the pancake has visible bubbles. Then cover the pan for another minute until the pancake is firm. Remove to a plate. The bottom will be crisp. If you’ve ever made crepes, it’s the same idea.

Here’s how it looked when it was done, with the top no longer shiny.

Injera Ethiopian bread when done.

Injera when ready

We used the injera to scoop up this simple, spicy lentil stew.

Wot (lentil dip) with chou spice

ethiopian-lentils-shuru

Ethiopian lentil wot

My son also improvised a wot, or lentil dip, getting the recipe from one of his Ethiopian friends. The defining ingredient, also sold in specialty Ethiopian stores, is a red hot-pepper-based spice mixture. Each store’s mixture is slightly different. I think this must be a version of berbere.

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons Ethiopian “chou” spice mix, or berbere

Method:

  1. Heat oil in pan.
  2. Sauté onion and garlic in oil until soft.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Bring to boil.
  4. Lower heat, cover, and cook for an additional 20 minutes, until lentils are soft.
  5. Scoop up with injera. Add fresh chopped vegetables if you like.

We were quite pleased with the result, and definitely plan to make this again. “It’s the kind of food you like,” my son concluded.

Review of Yoffi products

Vad, a representative of Yoffi, an online company selling kosher Israeli products, contacted me to review samples. I asked him to surprise me, so we received chocolate tahini (sesame) spread with hazelnut, sage tea, and silan (date spread). The company takes care to have attractive packaging, especially the red tea tin. My son loved the spread, which lasted about half an hour. We concluded that people who like halva would most enjoy it and if you don’t like halva, don’t bother. It’s rather sweet, but we would buy it again. The sage tea consists of loose, dried sage leaves, and we are enjoying it. We haven’t actually tried the silan yet. While my son likes to cook with it, I don’t, so it is still sitting here. The company is taking Passover gift orders now.

Website: Yoffi.com

I received no compensation for this review.


Don’t Judge a Fruit by Its Peel


very ripe tomato, pepper, avocadoThis post is dedicated to my brother Sholom Wacholder, who died last month at the age of 60. A dedicated reader of this blog, he loved nothing better than a good rabbinic quote. 

My visit to the store last week reminded of the Jewish saying, “Don’t look at the container, but at what is inside it.” (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:2). Roughly translated into English, this means, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The Talmud references it regarding an ugly man who is very wise and knowledgeable. And it can apply in the kitchen too!

Usually, when we pick fruits and vegetables, we look for the most attractive. But we pay a premium for that privilege. And what looks best in the store, is not necessarily the tastiest.


I noticed three different types of produce being sold for a discount: Tomatoes, avocados, and sweet peppers. As you can see from the pictures, the tomatoes looked dented and spotted, the peppers wrinkled (you may need to look closely), and the avocado skins mostly black. My adult son, who came along to help, was especially skeptical about those avocados. I told him that we might have to throw out 10-20% of the produce, but it would still be worth it.

But when I got home and sliced open a sample, the quality of the produce spoke for itself. I paid about 20-30% of the cost advertised for the higher-quality items in the same store. I had planned to cook the peppers, but they were sweet enough for salads after cutting out a black spot here and there. Those tomatoes were the best we’ve had in months.

Some tips of the avocados could not be saved, and I had to throw out two whole ones. But they were small and most were delicious, with a perfect ripeness and color. And they have kept well in the refrigerator.

Produce quality peaks just when it is about to go soft and spoil. But that is too late for the store, which risks losing the produce to spoilage. If you can use of the fruits and vegetables the store can’t sell within a reasonable time, I suggest taking a chance.

It’s fun to gamble and win! Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by sorry-looking produce?

You may also enjoy:

Guide to Choosing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Is That Avocado Ripe Enough to Eat?

Cooking with Our Mothers, Cooking with Our Children

     

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