Chat Leftovers: Cast Iron Cleaning, Restaurant Supply Shops

Some real goodies leftover from this week's What's Cooking chat inspired today's post that covers cast iron, pumpkin-centric partying and public-access restaurant supply shops. Here's the lowdown:

Charlotte, N.C.: I'm wondering about maintaining my cast iron skillet. My wife scolded me for scrubbing it with dish detergent. I try to spray it with oil after I use it. Any suggestions on the proper way to care for cast iron cookware?

Well, you're both right, kinda sorta. There are lots of schools of thought on how to clean cast iron cookware; some argue that even a drop of detergent will ruin the seasoning. Most veteran cast-iron enthusiasts, however, agree that long soaks in water will ruin the sought-after nonstick layer, which means starting over from scratch and re-seasoning the pan.

My thoughts on cleaning both my cast-iron skillet and wok is that a small amount of soap (a few drops) applied to the scrubby part of a sponge and worked into the pan swiftly under hot water, is a good thing, as it removes caked on food and residual grease, which over time, gets rancid.

As soon as you've rinsed the pan, put on the stove and turn on the heat, allowing it completely dry. Then, with a paper towel, apply a very thin layer of vegetable oil, rubbing it in to minimize stickiness.

I've never had to deal with stubborn stains in my cast iron, but I bet a little baking soda rub would help ease things before washing.

Arlington, Va.: My young 'un is turning the big 1 this month, and we'll be celebrating with a small afternoon party with the family. Since she's truly our pumpkin, and since October is her birthday month, I'd like to serve some pumpkin-themed goodies. So far, I have pumpkin bread, pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies and mini pumpkin cheesecakes. I'd like to add something savory to the mix as well. Any suggestions, or ideas to supplement what I've already listed?

I'm thinking a winter squash puree would be nice to kick things off; it's a quick-cooking soup that requires time on the stove and can be made in advance. Take your pick from butternut, buttercup, baby blue Hubbard, delicata, for starters. Spaghetti squash is too stringy, acorn squash too bland and Kabocha a bit thick-skinned for soup, so use these varieties for other dishes.

I might also consider squash-filled ravioli -- or even a squashy gnocchi! These projects would require a full afternoon of prep, so keep that in mind as you plan your menu. Oh! I've done a really fun sweet potato dip that's seasoned with roasted onions and tahini paste. Makes for a great snack at the beginning of your shindig. Although I haven't improvised with winter squash, I see no reason why it wouldn't work.

Vienna, Va.: I moved here from L.A. where I routinely went to Surfas, a wholesale restaurant supply store open to the public (everything from huge pans to bricks of good chocolate). I can't seem to find anything comparable here other than Sur La Table etc. Any suggestions?

Compared to other cities, the Washington area's restaurant supply offerings are less obvious, requiring the persistence of a detective and a car. I found three without schlepping to Baltimore (not that there's anything wrong with that). I'm listing these three because a real person answered the phone and could verify a) access to the public and b) its hours.

One last note: I have not personally visited any of these stores, and until I do, I'm counting on you to fill in the gaps. Ever been? And did I miss any? Share your public-access restaurant supply tidbits in the comments area below.

Located in an industrial complex off Edsall Road in Alexandria, Va., is the outlet store for Superior Products (5701 General Washington Drive; 703-333-5878), owned by restaurant/hospitality giant U.S. Foodservice. You may also see references to "Next Day Gourmet " when shopping. Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Glen Burnie, Md. is home to a mega restaurant supply warehouse owned by H &M Wagner & Sons, open
Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m.-noon. Okay, so I lied; driving to Glen Burnie is just 10 miles shy of Baltimore.

Local chain Three Brothers Pizza, with 15 Maryland locations, has a market in Bladensburg (Three Brothers Center, 4521 Kenilworth Ave.; 301-864-1570) that sells all kinds of imported Italian goodies as well as cookware. Without a first-hand look, I cannot verify how its equipment compares to larger warehouses, but for stocking the pantry alone, it may be worth a looksee. Open 7 days a week; the woman I just spoke with says someone is usually on hand to take orders from 8 a.m. Call ahead and check before going.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 4, 2007; 10:43 AM ET Chat Leftovers , Food Shopping
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You made a quick mention in the most recent of marinating tofu and dipping in cornstarch--I'm a longtime tofu eater and had never tried that. Did it last night, added to stir fry of red pepper, baby portabellas and tatsu choi and it absolutely rocked. Marinade was garlic, ginger, Bragg's aminos and some hot pepper oil. Thanks for opening my eyes to very tasty tofu preparation!

Posted by: lisa up north | October 4, 2007 11:58 AM

I'm very protective of my beloved cast-iron skillet, so I refuse to use soap (even a tiny amount) on it, for fear of ruining the beautiful surface I've cultivated. Instead, I rinse out the skillet with hot water to get out as much of the residue as possible. Then, I add kosher salt (maybe a Tbs. or two) to the damp pan and scrub with a paper towel or dishrag. For heavy duty cleanup, you'll need more salt and a lot more elbow grease and you will have to rinse and repeat a couple times, but it works really well. Pat dry, then lightly oil it.

I actually prefer using vegetable shortening/Crisco for this part, cause I find that it's less sticky than oil (which my boyfriend used before I set him straight.) I'm a native Southerner, so I'd never even heard of using oil on a cast-iron skillet till I started reading Washington Post chats!

Posted by: Danielle | October 4, 2007 12:00 PM

I too have a soon-to-be-one year old. Any recommendations for a pumpkin cake? Would something like a pumpkin bread (if you have a recommendation, please post) work in a cake pan?

Also, I've been to the Superior Products in Alexandria before. I think I've been able to find most of what I've gone in there for, and seen all kinds of things I never would have thought of owning, but want once I see them.

Posted by: Allison | October 4, 2007 12:23 PM

For restaurant supplies, check out Capitol City Market, near New York Avenue and North Capitol streets in the district. I think it's slated for redevelopment (you can never have enough luxury condos!), but might still be around. The Post did a great story on it in May 06 that Google can find (though the Post's own search had trouble with it). Title is 'The Insiders' Market.'

Posted by: Jenny | October 4, 2007 12:32 PM

Kim, can you post your other Baltimore finds for those of your readership in/around Baltimore?


Posted by: Jen | October 4, 2007 12:44 PM

Hi Chatters,

I work about a quarter mile from the restaurant supply store in Alexandria. I will check it out this week and let everyone know what they've got. The website says it's only open M-F, so not too convenient for folks who have work obligations elsewhere!

Posted by: Sean | October 4, 2007 1:07 PM

Before I moved from College Park to the District, I visited Beltway Restaurant Equipment to outfit my new kitchen. They are open to the public and carry small-wares such as knives, cutting boards, spatulas, etc. as well commercial kitchen equipment. They're about a five minute drive from the IKEA in College Park in Beltway MD. Check out their website:

Posted by: Nick | October 5, 2007 8:19 AM

In response to the chatter that asked about making salsa verde with green tomatoes - I highly recommend it. Ever since my garden began overflowing with green tomatoes that would not turn red I started making salsa verde. I chop them up and toss them with quartered onions and whole cloves of garlic, along with some oil and salt and pepper. Then roast in a 400 degree oven for about an hour - the aroma is to die for. After I let it cool, I puree them and cook on the stovetop with some diced jalapeno pepper (to your liking) and mash in some avacado (in season). It's wonderful with everything, but especially enchiladas.

Posted by: Emily | October 9, 2007 2:15 PM

So I went to the restaurant supply store in Alexandria. They have lots of industrial size equipment like refrigerators, stoves, sinks, etc. as one would expect. They also have a good selection of utensils and mixing bowls. For the home cook though I thought the selection a bit lacking. I was looking for a case of wine glasses possibly, and what they had for tableware and glassware were the kinds of things you'd expect to find at a diner, but not a nice restaurant. Of course everything is in volume, so depending on what you need, I'm sure they can accomodate, but the selection for what I was looking for was rather limited.

Posted by: Sean | October 9, 2007 4:32 PM

For the person looking for cases of wine glasses, I just bought some nice ones at Best Equipment Corp in the Florida Ave market in SE. Definitely nicer than diner quality and their willing to sell you odd numbers (i.e. not necessarily a case). They are also open on Saturdays.

Posted by: Jule | October 17, 2007 1:35 PM

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