Sunday, June 2, 2013

Kodiak Cakes Waffles are Da Bomb!


For me, home waffles have been a losing proposition. I either spend way to much effort effort making good ones from scratch, or I make some disappointing boxed-mix waffles. Needing some waffle mix in a pinch, I stopped in at the local Meijer. Lo and behold this Meijer had quite the selection of mixes. As is my nature, I studied the ingredients and nutrition of every box until I came across Kodiak Cakes - Buttermilk and Honey. It had the holy grail of ingredients lists:
100% whole grain wheat flour, 100% whole grain oat flour, non-fat sweet cream buttermilk, dry honey, leavening, egg whites, salt. Just add water.

I quickly added it to my cart and the next morning I went straight for my Belgian waffle iron. (On a side note, it's worth spending a little extra on good iron. The cheap ones don't cook evenly.) Per the instructions on the box, I combined the mix 50/50 by volume with water and stirred it with a whisk. (Its good to incorporate some air into the batter. It makes for fluffier waffles.) I sprayed the iron with some oil and poured in a scoop of batter and waited for the beep.

Out popped a wonderfully golden waffle. I quickly topped it with a large dose of whipped cream (the real stuff) and a handful of fresh blueberries. I was one of the best waffles I've had (and hands down
the best boxed waffle.)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Egg Salad Variant

After this past holiday weekend I found my self with two dozen eggs edging up on expiration.  My method of choice for saving eggs is hard boiling followed by a week of egg salad or deviled eggs. After prepping the eggs for egg salad I realized I was short on every veg one typically throws into egg salad. During my frantic rummaging through the fridge I noticed my jar of Olive Muffalata and thought, "This couldn't be any worse than pickle relish." I added a dab to a spoonful of the eggs and it was rather tasty.

Egg & Olive Salad

Ingredients:


  • 2-4 Hard Boiled Eggs cubed
  • Spoon full of Mayonnaise
  • 2 Spoon fulls of Olive Muffalata
  • S&P to taste

Directions:

Mix it up and eat it! (optionally in a sandwich)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Well-Tempered Sentence

I recently came across The Well Tempered Sentence at a used book shop near my aunt's house. I, being interested in punctuation, immediately picked it up and gave a few pages a thumbing. What a wonderful surprise it was! It contained all my favorite punctuation marks illustrated with peculiar, mysterious, and at sometimes surreal example sentences. Google has a few pages available for your perusal. I recommend that you check it out.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How to Pour Out a Bottle Quickly

Credit: Joseph Golden, NOAA
No body likes waiting for all the flat soda to pour out from a bottle into a sink so you can recycle it. I remember my second grade teacher challenging some smarty pants to a race to see who could pour out a bottle the fastest. The kid of course tipped it over and let it glug away while the teach poured it slowly and left a gap for the air to flow back in. Her method was far superior.

Avoiding turbulence is key to pouring out a bottle quickly and poor airflow causes turbulence. If we can find a better method of supplying air we can pour the spent soda out faster. Spencer's Gifts has solved this problem as well as the age old college problem of not getting drunk fast enough with a special beer bottle attachment which has a straw to relieve the back pressure; however, I found a better method with no additional equipment required: The Tornado Technique™. (Note: when pouring into your mouth, it's a lot less messy to use the attachment.)

The Tornado Technique™ is simple, just twirl the bottle as you pour it out so that the liquid inside starts spinning. As gravity pulls the liquid out it adds energy to the spin which transforms it into a self sustaining whirlpool. As the whirlpool is draining into the sink the replacement air will come up through the center. No more waiting! Alternately, if your goal is to pour the bottle out as slowly as possible in order to just watch the tornado, there's a bottle attachment for that too.

Getting over First Person Motion Sickness

For years I've suffered from motion sickness related to 3D motion in some video games (mostly first person games). I mostly worked around this by using smaller screens, keeping the lights on in the room, and trying to avoid tunnel vision (which is hard during intense scenes). I recently purchased Antichamber, a game designed for all my puzzling weaknesses, and unfortunately its non-Euclidian nature just wasn't agreeing with me.

I dug around the web a bit looking for cures to motion sickness but there was nothing new; I had tried them all. That is, until I found a forum post (which I'm unable to locate) that said that you can just keep pushing and eventually your body figures out it's not dying. Sounds like fun, right? So here's what happened.

At first I could only play 20 minutes until I was past feeling ill and into the heaving stage. I decided to take a break for an hour or so, then went back to playing. After an evening of nausea, break, nausea, break, I progressed to a 45 minutes session with only feeling ill and clammy hands. Not bad for one day.

The next day I played an hour before bed and only felt a little nausea. I finally broke though! Then the day after that I played an hour and a half with no issues. Well no issues with the motion sickness. Antichamber, on the other hand, gave me plenty of problems. But, like with any well-designed puzzle game, the problem is you and you know you just have to push through it.

Cool (Dangerous) Microwave Tricks

I was just reminiscing about all the cool stuff I've microwaved in my life so I turned to YouTube to see if anyone has done it better. As expected, they have: I never thought of using a glass to trap the plasma. Anyway, here's some videos of people reliving my childhood.

Microwave a CD:


Microwave a Grape:


Microwave a Lit Match:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Batch Cooking Kabobs

This past Easter I hosted around 20 people for dinner. Cooking for 20 people is easy if you're making a roast but this year I was inspired to make some Shish Kabob and Shish Tawook. Here's how I pulled it off:

Meat
5.5lb Lamb Leg Roast
6lb Chicken Breasts

For the lamb I trimmed the fat and tried to separate it into the component muscles before cubing. I was left with a couple tasty meat flaps for lunch. The chicken I cubed normally.

Marinade
For the Kabob marinade I used this Greek dressing recipe. While the recipe is restaurant sized, I scaled it down to 30 servings (2 cups of red wine vinegar) and I had some extra to use as dressing. For the Tawook I made the same recipe only substituting lemon juice for the vinegar. After mixing the dressing, I ran it on high in the Blendtec to get it to emulsify. It started separating the next day, but after two weeks it's still 80% emulsified. Perhaps next time I make it I'll substitute fresh garlic, or add some more mustard. Both will help the emulsion hold.

I left the meat in the marinade for 24hrs. This made the meat wonderfully tender as acid will break down some of the connective tissue. A couple pieces of lamb that were fairly tender before I put them in were a little over tenderized. It's hard to control for this because large cuts of meat have such a variety of muscles.

Cook Prep
Assembly is straight forward. Separate the skewered meat with onion or green pepper for even cooking. Be sure to soak wooded skewers in water so they don't burn. The last time I cooked a large batch of kabobs there was a large bottleneck at the grill. So after some internet research, I pre-cooked the kabobs to medium-rare in the oven. 450 degrees for 12 minutes while I warmed up the grill on high. Normally this would char the outside before they cooked but with the pre-cooking they only have to stay on long enough to get some delicious grill marks. About 15 minutes before I was ready to serve, I briefly grilled the kabobs and had them ready to eat in no time.

Is It a Dessert or Not



The other day, I was at Costco looking to get some granola bars to fill in the gaps, but my typical fare was crowded out by a wall of protein bars and snack bars. I checked the ingredients on each one and they all failed to actually be healthy. It's like each one is trying to play whack-a-mole with macronutrients. First, you have your basic candy bar like Quaker Chewy: all sugar and fat with not much protein. Then you have your 'diet" bars that are zero carb but have a ton of artificial sweeteners and fat to make them pliable. (Nonnutritive food softeners never feel quite right.) And finally, the king of the snack bar aisle, protein bars featuring a whopping 20g of protein. These bars are terrible. They're sawdusty/mealy because of all the soy protein a they're loaded with sugars and fats to make them palatable.

Ultimately the problem with these bars, and more generally with all diet food, is that they're trying to make you think you're being healthy when in actuality you're eating dessert. Protein bars are not healthy; they're a bad tasting dessert. Quaker Chewy's aren't a "snack" they're a mediocre dessert. Next time you're at the store, check the label. If they've added sugar, or sugar substitutes, or magical sweeteners like stevia, then it is a dessert and should be treated as such. (Personally, I count white flour as dessert too.)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying to not eat dessert. I'm saying that you shouldn't pretend things aren't dessert when they really are. Lying to yourself (or believing marketing lies) is why most diets fail. If it's too good to be true, it probably is. Just stick with the same basic diet advice that as been around since before it was even called a diet. Eat mostly vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds with a side fish/meat/eggs/dairy. Then, when you're done (always at the end of a meal), have a real dessert like chocolate, or ice cream, or something from the bakery. Just be sure to enjoy it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Orange Liqueur Attempt #2

So I made another attempt at making an orange liqueur that captures what it truly feels like to be an orange. Once again I failed at the impossible but, lucky for you, I've got a couple new tips.
First up, when it comes to zest, more is better. This time I used the zest of ten oranges removed with a vegetable peeler. Instead of peeling them all at once and having to throw out oranges because I couldn't eat them all before they got crusty, I peeled one every morning and added it to the jar of vodka at my breakfast table. Because of that the steep time on this batch is hard to calculate, but the time from first orange to straining was 21 days. Judging from the difference in color between the first and last oranges it needed to steep a little longer. It is probably a good idea to wait two weeks after the last orange. There is no risk of over steeping.

Afterwards I mixed a test sample 50/50 by weight with rich sugar syrup (recipe in this post). It was good, but I was curious if the Blendtec could make it any better. I blended it on high for 30 seconds or so and then strained it with some cheesecloth.
Let me tell you, cheesecloth is so much more efficient than using strainers (or coffee filters as my friend likes to use). I used this cheesecloth I bought off of Amazon. I cut off a square leaving the factory fold in it (so it was about four layers thick) and put it in the bottom of a collender. After the cloth started getting clogged I picked it up, made a little satchel out of it, and wrung out the remaining alcohol into the collection jar. I placed the resulting golf ball sized lump of zest in a bowl and started straining again.

After all the straining I mixed it 50/50 by weight with rich sugar syrup and poured a glass on the rocks to try. (It is much better chilled.) It was better than the first batch. Not amazingly better, but it tasted a little closer to orange candy than orange juice. I wonder if there's any limit to the more is better rule for zest.

Now, I just need to figure out what to do with this cereal bowl full of orange zest. Any tips?

How to Peel a Banana the Easy Way

I've always hated mushy bananas. My whole life I've been nicking the peel with a knife to make peeling easier. Just recently my friend showed my how to peel a banana, perfectly, without tools.
  1. Turn banana stem-end down.
  2. Pinch the stubby end.
  3. Peel.
  4. Enjoy.
Tip: Be sure to place your pinky on the stem when holding the banana for better aim.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Orange Liqueur Attempt

After the success of my Limoncello, I decided to branch out into other citrus fruits. This time I made a batch from oranges hoping for a drink that tastes like an orange smells.

This Attempt

  • Put 97g Orange Zest
  • 500g (546ml) Kettle One Vodka
  • 7 days Rest.
  • 500g Rich Sugar Syrup

Results

It just was not flavorful enough. I am not sure if I needed more zest or more time or both. (I plan to use ten oranges in my next batch.)

Recovery Plan

With nothing to lose, I decided to see if I could extract more flavor from the existing peel. I poured the liqueur into my Blendtec blender and added the peel. I blended it on max speed for a minute, which blended the peel beyond recognition. (Most blenders would make ground orange zest. The Blendtec made orange dust.) I then spend a half hour pouring the liquid though various mesh strainers. I could only filter it about 100ml at a time before the mesh would clog and I would have to rinse it out. I gave up after three filter sizes. You could still see some sediment but if you shook it up you could not taste it.

New Results

It was delicious. The final product tasted like a screwdriver (O.J. + Vodka). Only it is the best screwdriver you will ever have. Everyone who tried it thought it was amazing. Unfortunately, it did not taste like an orange smells, which is how my limoncello turned out. Next time I will have to try different varieties of oranges or maybe a citrus blend. Does anyone else have some experience working with oranges?

Peeling Citrus For Making Liqueur

In my post on making limoncello, I glance over harvesting the zest. Making the zest is tricky because you want just the yellow part of the lemon. If you leave any of the white pith, it will impart a bitter taste. The size of the zest also matters. The finer the zest the cloudier the limoncello. Here are my notes on the various tools for removing the zest.

Grater

The microplane grater is the classic tool for making zest. Slow and steady wins the race here. As long as you are careful, there will not be any pith in your zest. The big downside to this method is the amount of work it takes to make the zest. In addition, because it makes fine pieces, the resulting limoncello will be cloudy. I am not a fan of this method.

Lemon Zester

A zesting tool removes the zest very fast. Because it uses a scraping mechanism, it will not remove any pith. However, lacking an actual blade like a peeler, it will make your thumb sore from the extra force required. Additionally, it wastes a lot of zest in between the five scrapers. Ultimately this tool makes decorative zest and is slow at zesting in bulk. Save this tool for when you are using extremely clean tasting vodka and cannot allow even the smallest bit of pith.

Vegetable Peeler

A vegetable peeler is my preferred method of removing the zest. It is quick due to the wide blade and you can remove nearly all the zest in one continuous stroke. (The picture is the zest of an entire orange.) While fast and easy, it can cut a little deep if you are not careful. If you are good with a knife, you can cut the pith off and if you are not, then just throw away the section with the pith. You can see some pith remaining on the right curl in the picture. Leaving zest in large pieces will make for a very clear limoncello. Unfortunately, you will always have some pith when you use this method but it will not be noticeable if you are only using mid-range vodka.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Making Limoncello

Recently a friend of mine brought me some fine limoncello from Italy. After one taste I was hooked. Unfortunately for me, I am unable to find a comparable bottle in my local liquor stores. Thus I decided to make my own.

The basic template for limoncello is to soak lemon zest in vodka for a while then dilute with sugar syrup. Be sure to clean off the wax coating from your lemons. You can use fruit wash from the store, or distilled white vinegar. I like to scrub them with a soft scrubber sponge (the blue one) to help get it all off. You can remove the zest with a microplane grater, a zester, or a vegetable peeler. Be careful not to remove any of the white part. It will make the liqueur bitter.

The sugar syrup I use is some home made rich sugar syrup, which is 2:1 sugar:water by weight. This is twice as sweet as simple syrup. In fact, that is the 20C saturation point of sugar in water so if you chill the syrup below room temperature it will start crystalizing. If you want to make the syrup in bulk, the syrup resulting from 1.5kg sugar dissolved with 750ml water  fits inside a 1.75L bottle.

Here is the recipe for my first batch. Note: I measured everything with a scale therefore the liquids are by weight not volume.
  • 36g Lemon Zest (from 5 lemons)
  • 500g (546ml) Kettle One Vodka
  • 11 days rest
  • 500g (385ml) Rich Sugar Syrup
Results
ABV: 23.47%
Luckily enough this batch came out fairly good, though a tad too sweet for my liking. It will make a good reference recipe to compare future batches against. Despite the sweetness, everyone else referred to it as liquid crack which, contrary to the stories of recovering addicts, means it was very good. Let me know if you make a batch.

How to Open a Can Cleanly

I always hate the way can openers leave the lid stuck to the can by that last little fragment of metal. I'm sure you do to. The problem is the way the can opener bends the metal when it punctures the can. Here's how to avoid it:
  1. Puncture can with initial squeeze of can opener.
  2. Open can backwards for half a twist.
  3. Open can forwards normally.
The issue, as I discovered, had to do with the shape of the edge at the puncture site. By twisting it backwards you are providing a nice clean edge to finish the opening action.

Popping Perfect Popcorn

Last year I was on a popcorn kick, and I made it my goal to pop the perfect movie theater style popcorn. After countless batches, I succeeded. It turns out that there is a lot more going on with popcorn than you would expect.

Popcorn Selection: Butterfly vs. Mushroom
Butterfly popcorn is your basic popcorn. When it pops, it has wings sticking out in random directions. It is the standard popcorn available at most grocery stores and in microwave bags. Mushroom style pops in nice round balls and is more durable, which makes it the ideal for coated popcorns like caramel corn. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of chewiness and more hulls. Get the Butterfly unless you need the strength Mushroom for coated popcorns.

Oil
The greatest popping oil is coconut oil. In fact, it was the go to popping oil in theaters until the mid 90's. It is light tasting and slightly sweet. Corn and Vegetable oils impart a slight earthly taste to the popcorn. Do not worry about it being a saturated fat. Not all of its constituent fats are saturated. Being a vegetable fat, it does not have any of the hormones or chemicals that bio-accumulate in the saturated fats of higher food chain animals.

The ideal ratio of fat to corn is 1:3. So 1/3 cup oil with 1 cup corn. You can use less, but if you go too low, the flavor will not stick. I typically round down to the nearest whole measure so that I do not have to dirty too many measuring cups.

Flavor
The key flavors for popcorn are butter and salt. Nothing defines popcorn flavor quite like Flavacol - pre-mixed artificial butter flavor and salt. This is what I use. If you are worried about getting popcorn lung (unlikely) and want to avoid using artificial butter flavor then there are alternatives*. Just be sure to get "Popcorn Salt" which is just extra finely ground salt. The smaller grains make a difference.

The art of popping
Popping perfect popcorn requires even heating and ventilation to get rid of the steam that will make the popcorn chewy. Wabash Valley Farm’s Whirley Pop is a special popcorn popping pot that does all this. It has a stirring arm attached to a crank to get even heating and vents in the lid to let the steam out while keeping the popcorn in.

To get a good pop, you want an evenly distributed high heat. This it requires so much oil: it spreads out the heat. More heat means bigger flakes but more risk of burning (both the popcorn once it pops and the oil which can smoke). I typically use medium high heat on my stove because after that point, the flame spreads out to wide and I do not get even heating. If you have a dual ring open burner stove, you can turn it up higher.


My (formerly) Secret Popcorn Recipe**
  • 1/2 cup Butterfly-style Popcorn
  • 2.5 tbsp Coconut Oil (I use one flat and one with a little extra)
  • 1 1/4 tsp Flavacol (Only 1 tsp for your second batch if you didn't wash the pot.)
  1. Place Oil and Flavacol in Whirly Pop on Medium-High heat until the oil shimmers.
  2. Pour in popcorn and shut the lid.
  3. Turn crank slowly (about 1 turn/sec) until popcorn starts popping.
  4. Shake pot to keep kernels on the bottom.
  5. Pour into bowl and Enjoy.
 Let me know how this works out for you!

*Alternatives to Flavacol
If you prefer to use real butter I recommend that you make clarified butter. Use the clarified butter to pop the corn and use the leftover milk solids to flavor it. (The milk solids are the flavor, but are also what cause the butter to burn.) You will need a lot more milk solids than butter fat so make a whole stick (or two) and save the extra butterfat for something else. Here [link] is a great method for making clarified butter fast.

**Full Size Recipe for 8oz Popcorn Machines
  •  1 cup Popcorn
  • 1/3 cup Coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp Flavacol

How to peel an Orange

Just over a decade ago, a co-worker of mine showed me the art of peeling an orange. Peeling oranges tends to be tricky due to the way the pith adheres the peel to the flesh. When peeling an orange, most people wind up with a pile of orange peel fragments and segments with a layer of pith left on them. With a little prep work oranges can be easy to peel. Here is how:
  1. Roll the each end of the orange around the like you are rolling a ball of dough. Be firm.
  2. Roll the orange around the equator.
  3. Feel for any spots that are still firm. Rock the orange back and forth with these spots against the table.
  4. Using the tip of a knife, cut around the center of the orange. You want to cut through the peel, but not into the flesh of the orange.
  5. Pull the peel back a little bit and use your finger to loosen the peel form the orange. Start with the stem end and twist it off for show after you loosten it.
  6. Loosten the peel on the navel half then, as you pull it off, pinch the navel with your index finger inside the orange and you thumb on the peel.
  7. Align the two peel halves and place back in fruit bowl as a joke for the next person.