Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kitchen Tips for the Holidays

Shout out to +George Strayline on Facebook: yeah, I do this kind of homebrew AND I do that kind of homebrew, too.  You should see how I handle a Weller gun, OM.  How about a lemon meringue pie browned with a propane blow torch? While I'm soldering a radiator with it? ...erm...the torch, not the pie.  

I hope you've saved your scrap guywire because I'm going to suggest to you the following: the next time you go on a DXpedition that takes you longer than 30 minutes to drive to, scrub ya a fair sized spud, wrap it in foil, and secure that puppy to your vehicle engine's exhaust manifold with that guywire and make sure you take some salsa with you on your trip because by the time you drive up to the site, lunch will be ready.

Yeah. Guywire. An exhaust manifold is one place that duct tape won't work. Scraping that offa there will not go well, and it will not smell pretty. Oh--and I don't climb towers anymore, sorry.   ^_^

Edited to add wise words just posted by George S. on Facebook:
Just a reminder for all the Black Friday shoppers: Anything you buy this week will be obsolete next week. You've been warned 

No doubt a good number of you are food shopping with T-day in mind, and probably looking ahead to Christmas and New Year's Eve, too.  Let's face it, folks--we party most of the cold months away.  You may think you're on top of things by planning far ahead and cooking ahead when you think you can get away with it, but there are a lot of folks waiting for the good food sales when stores figure everybody has already bought their goodies and they need to clear the inventory.

That last bit has changed because turkeys are also held over for Christmas and New Year's and promoted for those, and that's why we haven't seen good turkey clearance sales at the last minute like we used to.  Vendors are intent on marketing turkeys all year now, so forget about it.

People who plan ahead so that their T-day is basically on time will occasionally be beset with kitchen emergencies and salvage operations when the plans and/or recipes go wrong at the last second, too.  You can bet that kitchen veterans have a Plan B in mind to salvage any Plan A that goes wrong, and when preparing stuff from scratch (as opposed to preparing stuff out of boxes and cans), more stuff can go wrong than won't, but fact remains that scratch stuff beats the helloutta canned/boxed stuff when you can pull that off.

As I go through the annual routines in my own kitchen, I'll keep updating this post as I run into kitchen situations for everybody else's benefit, but with the caveat that I've been a kitchen veteran so long that you're not likely to get an exacting recipe suitable for novices.  When stuff goes wrong or I feel like changing stuff, I usually do it on the fly without measuring devices.  Sorry. ^_^

The first tip I'll present is a vegetable that, after prepping, can be in and out of the oven in 20 minutes, but IF your oven has a broiler element at the top.  Toaster oven/broilers will work, but in smaller quantities. It goes like this, and all ingredient amounts are approximations.

Julienne yams/sweet potatoes, toss in a bowl big enough to accommodate however many you're fixin' to serve.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil; sprinkle with cumin, ginger, hot pepper flakes or powder (easy, now), garlic powder, onion powder and seasoned salt.  Toss until it's all coated.  Preheat the oven for about 400 degrees F, then arrange in single-layer fashion on a cookie sheet.  Throw it under the broiler at a top rack slot and broil 10 minutes.  Remove the cookie sheet, turn the lot over with a spatula and broil another 10 minutes.  You're done, unless you've burnt the lot...in which case you'll have to adjust oven temp and/or rack slot, and all that depends on how thin your julienne is  The thinner, the more apt it is to burn.  Yeah, go ahead and use that food processor to julienne stuff or modify the process to accommodate french fry shapes. Another variation would be to squeeze sprinkles of lime over the lot as it comes out of the oven.


 Edited to add an olive oil recommendation, if all you're concerned with is flavor.  Pompeian Extra Virgin is the best, in my view. For a milder form with less bite but still has great taste, go for a different grade of Pompeian than Extra Virgin.


Cheap but exotic fruit cocktail, and you can use some of these ingredients from the can: First fill about 2/3 full a storage bowl, which has a lid (kinda like what Ziplock, Glad, and Rubbermaid sell, or equivalent) with orange juice, and hopefully you will have already bought the following:
reduced price overripe bananas that are still in good shape
grapes, if they're on sale.  If not, forget it.
pineapple chunks, out of a can or not
oranges (and canned mandarin oranges will work)
shredded sweetened coconut

First add as much banana slices (about 1/2 inch thick) and apple chunks as you like, making sure that they're amply submerged by the orange juice.  They'll turn an awful brown if you don't; some types of pears also turn brown, so if you're not sure about that, add them in first too.  Then add as much of the other ingredients (except the grapes) as you fancy, still making sure that the lot remains submerged in orange juice as you go, adding more juice as necessary for that. What you'd want to do with the grapes is split those in half and add just enough grape halves to disperse evenly through the rest of the mix without sinking to the bottom.  If you stir the mixture after you add the grapes, they definitely will sink to the bottom. If you're good at picking out the best mangoes, by all means add them too.

You can serve this cocktail immediately; if you're fixing it up the night before, a nice touch would be to add dried apricot chunks, which will soften up overnight.  It goes well served over pound cake, sponge cake or shortcake.  Throw ice cream on it if you like. Splurge and throw coarsely chopped pecans in it and drizzle a bit of chocolate syrup over what's in the dish you're using to serve it up.  Just squiggle the thing like a haute cuisine restauranteur.  People wanting to go fancy with liqueur, I recommend infusing the cake part with one of the following: anisette, amaretto, CheriSuisse (it's the best but any other cherry-chocolate liquer will do), Grand Marnier if you can afford it, apricot brandy, sherry, spiced rum.  Soak a sugar cube in vodka, place it atop the dish, set a match to it and you've got flambé.  A high octane rum will work, too.  Another variation would be a vanilla wafer garnish.


 So you want to bake your own bread but you know that using all-purpose flour will result in a dry, hard product but you don't want to use (or can't find, or don't want to pay the extra money for) what's labeled as "bread flour".  In a recipe that produces 2 loaves, use all-purpose as called for except for 1/4 cup of it.  That last 1/4 cup should be corn starch.  Blend that in with your dry flour before you get it wet and you'll be in good shape.  Also, when it's time to knead, don't dust your board with flour either.  Use corn starch.


 The biggest gripe with roasting one's own turkey at home is the usually dried out white meat.  That's why turkey friers have been big sellers even though they can burn down your house if you're a rookie.  That's a pretty drastic high calorie cure for dry white meat.  So is the tactic that made Butterball famous--injecting fat into the tissue before roasting.  I've tried a number of approaches with different levels of success, and these are the ones that have worked, and some with side effects:

* Roasting bags (no stuffing).  But they retain the juices at the bottom of the bag and the backside of the turkey turns out soggy.  I modified the approach with better success: put the bird in the bag neck first, place the bird in a pot roast type of roasting pan into which I put about 2 inches of water, and then at one corner of the bag near the neck, snipped a small piece of the corner off so that the bag would drain into the bain marie (ahem--the water at the bottom).  The reason for the water at the bottom is to keep the roaster from burning after hours in the oven.  That water will evaporate rather than prevent the bag from draining properly, so it works. Just check that water/broth level periodically to make sure it hasn't dried out, especially if you've added vegetables to it.

* Frequent au naturel basting, no bags, with or without stuffing. Using the fat that's rendered from the bird as it roasts, it's old fashioned but it takes up your day with your leg chained to the oven--you have to baste every half hour.  It'll work as long as you mind your roasting time.

* Starting out with a high oven temperature for the first hour and then reduced to proper temperature the remainder of the roasting time.  Yeah, that'll work, but you still have to baste every half hour after you reduce the temperature.

* Using an egg wash to baste with.  This is one of the best tasting ways to do it; the first baste using 2 eggs mixed with either milk or water does the trick and the golden tone you get from that is unmatchable.  This sort of egg wash works well as a variation on home-made bread, too, actually.  For the turkey, after that first wash with the egg, you can do a standard baste and then another egg baste if you have some wash left over from the first go-round.  Yup--baste every half hour.

* Roast the unstuffed turkey until the white meat is slightly underdone, remove the meat from the bird and roast the rest of the way separately.  Worth doing if you're not the type to make bird presentation at the table the high drama of the day. 

* Give up and just order Chinese take-out.  C'mon, lotsa people do that; Asian restaurants are probably the only ones open on T-day. 


Going with a semi-formal feast and want to do something a little different with the dinner wine than the usual 150 different labels of Riesling?  Try Rhine with the turkey and just don't tell anybody that's what it is, unless they ask.  It's not bad in the giblet gravy, either.  My favorite all-occasions wine is actually Portuguese: Madeira.  Good at dinner, good with dessert, good all by itself...unless I'm cooking Italian, in which case it's either Chianti in the red sauce, Marsala in the brown sauce, Marsala on the table.  A good Port would work, too; Chianti as a table wine is an acquired taste and is likely to not agree with everybody. An excellent American dessert wine favorite would be Pink Catawba...or, if the dessert is overly sweet, White Catawba.


 There's nothing so wrong with the greengrocer's brussels sprouts, green beans, aparagus, broccoli that a little lemon juice can't cure.  Leave that bacon out of this--it doesn't help, really.  Marinate fresh green beans and brussels sprouts overnight in brine with a squeeze or two of lemon juice.  Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over steamed broccoli.  When cooking the beans or sprouts, do so with an onion.  Drizzle with olive oil...or...in the case of green beans, with toasted sesame oil you can get from the Asian section of your store.  It also goes well with broccoli.  You don't really need that can of mushroom soup.  You really really don't.


Suppose that you bought ready-made pie crust and canned pie filling because you really really really wanted a traditional pie for the dinner, but the cat caught his tail in your electric mixer and you had a major setback.  Now what?  Well, how about blintz for dessert?  You might have to go out and buy the cottage cheese and cream cheese for the filling, but you probably have the rest of the ingredients already handy, including the pie filling.  No, the pie shell doesn't work into this one,  but what you could do with that is cut it up into squares for cookies, throw a dab of fruit jam in the middle, fold over opposite two corners, bake, and serve them up as cookies.

For a small container of cottage cheese, use one half of a package of cream cheese, both at room temperature, and cream them together well, then cream in a teaspoon of sugar and a splash of vanilla.  For the crepes, throw together equal parts of flour and pancake mix and add twice as many eggs as you'd put in there for regular pancakes.  Add enough milk until the mixed consistency resembles thin whipping cream.

Thin out the pie filling with a bit of corn syrup and warm this mixture up separately while you griddle up the crepes, on medium low heat, to about 8" disks, then as each disk solidifies (don't brown them yet), place on a plate, put a dollop of cheese filling in the middle, then fold over four ways until the end result resembles a square pillow.  Repeat until you have enough that will fill the griddle comfortably.

Put them back on the griddle and THEN you brown them, folded edges down at first, then flip to brown the top.  Plate them up, spoon some of that warm pie filling topping on the top and voila--blintz.  This topping also works well on cheesecake.  The blintz works best as a last-minute preparation, made (and kept warm) right before dinner is served.  That's about as long as it will keep well at its peak.



Thank you, Project Gutenberg, for pointing this out via Mental Floss, who got the image from Wiki.  Also from Project Gutenberg: the cookery bookshelf.


Oh yeah, you got it--I'm just as much a mad scientist in the kitchen as I am in the time machine.  I think fish fingers & custard is a smashing idea, and you, dear reader, still aren't sure if I'm not really an incarnation of "the soufflé girl".

 By the way, I *do* believe in Santa Claus.  And Santa Clara, of course.  And I don't believe in ghosts, either.  Now to throw a little more doubt on this subject: Oswin was involved only with hot soufflés (as a Dalek), and there are also cold soufflés, which people today call "mousse" (if it's made with eggs and not gelatin).  Hot ones are often called puddings, provided that those are made with eggs and not corn starch. Omelets made by separating the eggs first are also soufflés. Me, I'll do all kinds.

Here's a vintage pudding for ya: apple pandowdy.  Grease a casserole dish; toss apple chunks (say about 4 tart apples, or large red crab apples) in a bowl with nutmeg, cinnamon, and sugar (about 1/4 cup for 4 apples), with a dash of salt, a bit of butter (about 2 tablespoons for 4 apples), then put that into the greased casserole dish. Mix up a batch of biscuit dough (sure--cheat with Bisquick,) and put the dough on top of what's in the casserole dish, then bake in a preheated 450 degree oven until it's browned.

UPDATE: It's Wednesday night, 8 pm Central, and I'm all set and ready for tomorrow.  Bring it. 

Ready for the oven
 Stuffing baked separately; no rack; bain marie with celery and carrots; bag corner snipped.  I've also noticed that my goldfinches have returned, looking for the feeder I haven't set out yet.  I call them "my goldfinches" because they return to this yard every winter even though I don't have a feeder set out. So does the hawk that preys on them. But that feeder's going up next; everybody eats well here on T-day.

Don't be so smug, Canadians. You'll get your turn around Christmas, when Dave cooks the turkey for the Vinyl Cafe.  Yeah. I know about Dave. And Morly.
Vinyl Cafe podcasts
And while I'm on the topic of favorite Canadians, here's another one: Terry O'Reilly; The previous title of his program used to be "Age of Persuasion".  It's from that page that I learned that Ron Burgundy agreed to be announcer for a Canadian Olympic curling team. Eh?  Well, any mention of favorite Canadians should never leave out Ian McFarland.  Ever.

UPDATE 2:  I completely forgot to mention that I have a favorite recipe for home made jammy dodgers, and I guess I forgot because I mentioned a version of jammy dodgers when I talked about turning the pie crust into cookies. There's a whole family of cookies called "pie crust cookies" but when made from scratch they usually involve a combination of butter and cream cheese, whereas actual pie crust involves fats like shortening, schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), or lard.

If you want to make jammy dodgers from scratch, try this:

2 3/4 cup sifted flour                           a few grains of salt
1/2 cup heavy cream                            red jam or preserves
1 cup soft butter                                  sugar, to roll the dough out on

Mix flour, cream, salt, and butter well until thoroughly blended.  Chill for several hours until thoroughly cold and firm.  Spread your board with sugar and roll the dough out to about 1/8" thickness and cut out rounds with a biscuit cutter (or similar implement, like a saved and washed vegetable can).  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes and then cool the rounds off.  Then just make jam sandwiches out of them and put back on the cookie sheet, 1/2" apart because the jam will melt off a bit, and bake another 2 minutes.  Remove and cool again, trimming whatever jam has dripped off the edges while they're warm. 

A nice touch would be to cut the disks, but in half the disks use some small round thing to cut a center hole so they'd better resemble the Doctor's favorite jammy dodgers, if you like.

I know I don't have to mention this to the people who have known me online over the years, particularly on the debate fora such as Arianna Online, Hypercrites, PBS Discussions (Hi, Bill, Rasmus!) etc. that my tagline (signature) has always been that of a well-known anarchist (hello, Basques!) by the name of Mikhail Bakunin: "I shall continue to be an impossible person so long as those who are now possible remain possible".  Ain't that right, gri. An impossible person--exactly what the Doctor called Oswald in The Rings of Ankhaten, now, isn't it.  I've been a computer geek most of my life, too. And it would be just like me to argue a compelling case to a grand marshal.  By the way, has any other Whovian besides me noticed that the cybermen salute is the same one as the one given by the grand marshal?  I have also noticed that it's an abbreviated form of the Andromedan loyalty salute.  Just sayin'..oh...the TV Doctor never went to Andromeda, did he. But back on the subject...there's one small but significant problem--I never would have called the Doctor's screwdriver a "spanner". Now THIS...

...is a proper ultrasonic pipe wrench.
(Alright alright alright--"chairs are useful, too".)

Well, I see that gri got taken offline yet again, so googling "grivitation" will give you the wrong result.  No doubt he'll keep trying.  I did manage to find an old post of his on Donation Coder, so the gri I'm talking about will look like this, on an SMF forum. He's on no other kind.

Here's a screenshot of an old post on Speak Oklahoma, showing my age-old signature/tagline:

Both boards are Simple Machines Forums.  It's the latter board I helped with the coding on.
(I added the above pic to my sig on SMF forums because of all the languages it makes its software to handle, it doesn't handle American Sign Language. Translation:  "SMF can't ASL")
What?  It turns out that ASL is very French. Ish.

For the people who do the other homebrew, the people who are usually ham radio operators, the people who buy brand new electronics gizmos only to brazenly take them apart as soon as they get 'em home, here's a heads-up on a good source of parts: the Dollar General holiday solar path light.  As a path light it's rubbish, but what's inside is a metal hydride button battery, not NiCad. 1.2v/40mAh NiMH, says the attached tag. I see that the 4-legged chip is a XY805.

The circuit card has discrete components as opposed to a singular IC blob as has been the case on the 97¢ solar lamps at Walmart which also contain a 3/4AA NiCad inside.  You may correctly conclude that the inductor that works with the 4-legged lamp chip is the appropriate value for working a LED off of metal hydride buttons, and it's not the same as what's usable for NiCads.  The 4-legged chip is one that is also metal hydride friendly, as opposed to those that work with the NiCads, which might not. The metal hydride button batteries are worth a buck apiece just on their own, IMHO, but so are the chips and the inductors.

That's not a resistor, that's an inductor, and every solar lamp with discrete components like this has one, and only one, of those.  This is the Dollar General lamp. Below, the chip is a standard ANA618 controller, works best with NiCad. The one-coil rule is true of the stainless steel lamps purchased from Aldi's--except one.
Here is indisputable evidence that an under-employed techie was hired for this assembly job.  This is what you'd do to soup up a lamp to higher brightness...but...it also shortens the hours of illumination, as it drain the battery faster. A standard lamp has a short illumination period without this mod, so this also tells you that this is an inductor of a value (and wattage, apparently) that is overdesigned, which makes this lamp desirable for parts, too. But as a lamp, it sucks.
I've souped up path lights before with different values of inductors, and if you brighten them too much, they'll also drain the resident battery too much to operate successfully off of the next-day's charge.  Insofar as the chip functions as a voltage doubler, I've found that they can and do work off of up to 6 volts source (6v DC doubles, but to 12 volts AC), and so when you wire the battery holder to accommodate an external, larger battery, it makes a great bright emergency lantern--IF the LED can handle the extra.  Some resident LEDs can handle it, and some can't; some have smoked with this modification, so mind the max IE on the LEDs you use with this.  And nothing says ya can't gang the solar cells, either.

Black Friday UPDATE: a recommendation for other like-minded mad scientists, as I'm staying in to catch this myself as I do every year via NPR's Science Friday program. The Ig Nobel Prize Awards...of which this one is the 23rd First.  I should say that Doctor Who would approve greatly of these sciences, and note ye well that the Improbable Research does have a Who tie-in, in the form of Douglas Adams, who was one of the writers for Who during the Tom Baker era.  The nature of the tie-in?  Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which involved intergalactic travel by use of the Improbability Drive, an invention which required the Brownian motion of an authentic cup of English tea, for which synthetic tea substitute was always inferior enough to not work at all in such a drive.  All hail, Doug Adams!

And with Doug, there's also a shortwave radio tie-in, as it happens.  The first time I became acquainted with Hitchhiker's Guide was, in fact, as a series broadcast by the BBC World Service on shortwave, well before the movie was shown on PBS.  And you betcha I went to see the updated version of it on the big screen.  Doug, thanks for all the fish.  Now we have Vogons running Washington.

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