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:

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.

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.