the other theo

There is no dark side of the moon really… as a matter of fact, it's all dark.

Month: November, 2014

21 Days Later… How It All Came Out

I wrote a post just over three weeks ago describing the trepidation I felt about Thanksgiving this year, and what I planned to make.   That post prompted Auntie M. (sorority sister of the Missus) to offer to host at her place.  After some dithering and miscommunication for which I am very much at fault, we accepted her kind offer and agreed to bring the turkey and some Brussels sprouts to dinner.   I was rather tired rolling into 27-Nov, and preparing those two dishes was about all I could handle.   It was a tremendous relief to share the holiday load with others.

The turkey was a 9 pound Diestel Heidi’s Hens Organic Turkey, along with an extra leg I got in case there was additional demand for dark meat.   I removed the legs from the bird and braised them in red wine with sage, thyme, and rosemary.    I de-boned the breast, stuffed it with a mixture of ground turkey, ground pork, mild pork sausage, thyme, sage, parsley, and pistachio nuts to make a turkey roulade, cooked the roulade sous vide at 145 degrees F for about five hours, and finished it with a quick deep fry to give it some nice color.

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Cooked roulade loaded in a Dutch oven for transport.

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The braising liquid from the legs was strained and mixed with a butter and flour roux to make the gravy for both.

 

Both recipes turned out quite well.   Frying the roulade was the one slightly scary moment in the process.  We were about half an inch of away from a grease fire at one point.  Otherwise, it had a gorgeous color on the outside, and looked great in cross section:

IMG_1568At 145 degrees, the meat had a slightly pink color and was firm without being dry.    The legs were fall apart tender, and the gravy made from the braising liquid was complex and herbal, which made it debatable about whether to serve red or white wine with the turkey this year.

Here is how the white and dark meat were presented to guests:

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The Brussels sprouts were tossed in melted bacon fat, roasted, mixed with roasted pecans and bacon pieces, and then tossed with maple syrup and balsamic vinegar.  They were lovely:

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The Brussels sprouts were served mid-20th century Pyrex casserole dish with metal stand. Gotta love that retro kitsch!

Transporting the various bits posed a small problem until I remembered that our mid-sized SUV had anchor points in the back.   A couple bungee cords run through the side handles of a cooler created stable container that held everything securely and also kept everything warm.

Auntie M. set a lovely table:

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She also contributed some traditional (and not so traditional) Thanksgiving side dishes: tater tots, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole with fried onions, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and mashed potatoes.   Here is all the food loaded up on her sideboard (with me helping myself to some turkey):

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Auntie M., her  sister H., the Peanut, the Missus, the Missus’ Dad, and myself were in attendance.  In the end, a good time was had by all.   Thanks Auntie M.!

And now… the television works again.

One of the many wrinkles that required smoothing in the last few weeks involved our television.   The Missus and I are both admitted TV junkies of one sort or another.   She likes to watch DWTS and the TGIT line up on ABC (with some Real Housewives of The Garden State on another network for good measure.)  I’m more of a PBS man: Antiques Roadshow on Monday, Finding Your Roots on Tuesday, and the This Old House hour on the weekends.

We pay dearly for the privilege as well.   Our service includes a DVR and a ton of HDTV channels.  Our cable bill is high enough I’m tempted to about once a week to “cut the cord” and go completely to Internet streaming services (we are subscribed to a few,) but I never quite do it.   The Peacock Cable Company must love me for this.

The DVR began to malfunction a few weeks ago.   Sometimes it would be there, and others it… wouldn’t.  After calling the Peacock Cable Company on the phone, giving my name, address, and the last four of my social three separate times, and being assured that a visit to the house might cost us money but wait no it won’t, I arranged for a company employee to investigate.   His prognosis was fairly quick: after seven years, we needed a new cable box.

So that’s what we got.  Being the gadget geek that I am, I like to immediately look up the specs of such devices online for less than well advertised features.  This box, like many of the cable boxes used by the Peacock Cable Company, had a pretty neat one that I’d never heard of: there’s an eSATA port on the back and you can connect a DVR Expander (an external hard drive) to it that triples the amount of DVR space.  Of course, the Expander the Company approved is made by a hard drive manufacturer that has a “not if it will fail, but when it will fail” reputation with me.   Fortunately, a more reputable maker also produces a unit that seems to fit the bill.  I ordered one.

Problem is, it didn’t work.  The cable box recognized that the Expander was connected, but kept asking that the drive be disconnected and reconnected.  At first, I thought this might be because of the different manufacturer.   So, I got the approved unit as well and no change.   I consulted the online forum that discusses such things.  After about a week, there eventually was a verdict: we needed to swap the cable box.

We did the box swap on Saturday.   Setting up or resetting a cable box effectively takes about an hour because the thing wants to download new schedules, etc…  I hooked it up and had the cable company authorize it.  An hour later, it didn’t think we had a DVR.  After ten minutes on the phone with the Peacock Cable Company, a reset signal was sent.  An hour later, it thought we had a DVR but was really skeptical about this whole DVR Expander business and didn’t want to recognize the drive at all.  Before wading through another ten minute phone call, I figured that I should just power cycle the box because that’s what the company suggests about half the time anyway.    An hour later, that worked because we had a DVR with three times the recording space, even with the non-approved Expander.

Since then, it’s worked without complaint.  I’m sending the approved unit back… with the hope of using the refund for a related project.

 

Culinary Experiments – Early November 2014 Edition

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This happened at the house the other night.    I wrote previously about the abundance of basil I have growing on my back patio.  I decided to do something about it.

This particular batch of Thai Beef with Basil and Chiles was novel in a couple of respects.

First, I used hanger steak instead of the usual flank steak for the dish.   Our neighborhood market has a newly revamped meat department, heading more in the full service direction.   I was hopeful that they’d have flank steak, but they were out.  Instead, I spotted some unlabeled portions of meat and could tell from the central membrane that it was hanger steak.    I recalled reading somewhere that it makes great stir fry, so I though I would give it a try.

Second, I cooked this indoors on the stove.   I’ve done the bulk of my stir fry cooking in recent years on a propane burner that the manufacturer originally said produced 185,000 BTU when I purchased it but the web site now says 55,000 (which is still plenty powerful.)   I got the idea from an episode of Good Eats.    It generally works pretty well, but it has its down sides.   One is that it’s very easy to overcook the food, and I’ve learned that the key to stir frying is to slightly under cook the food and let carryover do the rest.   Another is more pertinent here:  it’s harder during the winter because it’s dark outside.   I’ve also read a number of articles (like this one) that suggest that lower heat stir frying can work just as well if you are willing to be careful and cook in batches.

It came out great, in general.  The steak turned out very tender, with better flavor and (in particular) mouth feel than what I’ve come to expect from flank steak.    The batch cooking also allowed me to flip the meat by moving the wok, creating some wok hei.   The only down side was that, well, I was cooking indoors.   Cooking chiles in hot oil indoors creates a lot of… aroma.   In this particular case, it was aroma that caused all our noses to run a bit until I was able to get the place aired out.

Aspirational Truths

This entry will be political.   With the passing of elections in the United States on Tuesday, it was a political week.  Politics can be a rather poisonous subject to express these days.   If you don’t want to read about politics, you may want to stop here.

My mother grew up in a Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox Church.  There’s a history to what that term means, and I don’t know all of it.  I can recall visiting my grandparents and going to that Church.  Being raised Roman Catholic (my father’s faith) in a post Vatican II world, some of the forms were quite familiar (though with different accents) and others seemed utterly alien.  Communion in particular was something that baffled me.  Very few people went up to get it, and it was fed to the people who did out of a cup with a spoon.   Now, I understand that the pre-Vatican II way to get communion was not so different; the Church encouraged people to get Communion a minimum of once a year because you were supposed to fast and go to Confession before receiving it.  At that time, however, it just seemed odd.

I remember one occasion during my high school or early college years where we went to my grandparents’ church and the priest denied someone communion.   The person got in line for communion, got to where the priest was standing, and some words were spoken, with the net effect of that person turning around and sitting down.  This was discussed among my family later.  The person was a visitor, a relative from out of town.  But why did the priest deny it?  The priest did not know this person, and s/he could receive communion.  There was some shock that the priest would do this,  in so public a fashion.  I asked my mom about it later.  Being in my teens, I’d already studied enough European history to understand a little of the history of Orthodox Christianity.  I was surprised that they were surprised, I told her. To me, a faith that so explicitly honors the past and counts no new revelation since the 5th Century, it was wonder that rules should be obeyed.  She told me “they are surprised because everything that you hope and believe for the Church we go to, they hope for theirs.”

In sorting through the wreckage of what happened this week, I’ve been trying to listen more to what a few conservative friends and acquaintances are saying about what is happening.  It’s not easy at times because while we seem to use the same vocabulary and syntax, our language means completely different things.  Someone I respect a lot once said that “this President is the most divisive in our history” and this week lamented that divisiveness again, suggesting that “for those who follow history, Mr Clinton did his best work when he was faced with a Republican Congress.”

While I agree with that statement in general, I do not hold out much hope for rapprochement between the President and the incoming Congress.  The Speaker of the House speaking about immigration said this week that

“If the president acts on his own, he will poison the well,” Boehner told reporters at a Thursday press conference. “If you play with matches, you can risk burning yourself. The American people made it clear on Election Day: They want to get things done and they don’t want the president acting on a unilateral basis. “

This echoes language from the Senate Majority Leader-to-be from the day before:

“It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull to say, ‘If you guys don’t do what I want, I’m going to do it on my own,'” McConnell said Wednesday in Louisville, declaring that if Obama follows though, “I think it poisons the well” for legislative action.

Translation: we, the leaders of the Congress, have the mandate from the people; you do not.  You must follow our lead, not the other way around.

This, I feel, is language of demonstration, not reconciliation or even diplomacy.  For some conservatives, this is a show of both the strength of their convictions and the integrity of their cause.  For some liberals, this is yet another example of Congressional Republicans acting like spoiled children who can’t behave but expect everyone else to be grown ups and forgive them.

Part of the problem seems to come from competing sets of truths that seem to brook little in terms of compromise.  The same person I respect said “I would not consider forcing through legislation that did little to increase insurance coverage and which a majority of the country oppose as a great accomplishment. A French or German model would have been more acceptable.” about the Affordable Care Act.  While I might attempt to point out that the root of the unpopularity of that Act appears to be politics more than much of its substance, to hear anyone on the other side of aisle prefer any system for mandatory national health insurance was refreshing.  I’d advocate for a fair French or German system of national coverage over what we have in a heartbeat.

It made me remember something like what my Mom told me those many years ago: conservatives and liberals can have many of the same aspirational goals.  We each can hope for the same things from our respective views of politics, culture, and government.   It is only our methods that differ…. and in some cases differ extremely.

There has to be something in those hopes that let us build a bridge.   Can we find the builders?

Twenty-One Days And Counting

I’m having trouble connecting with Thanksgiving this year.   It is three weeks away, and part of me wishes it was three months from now.

I don’t think it will be an especially big production this year.  It’s likely going to just be me, the Peanut, the Missus, and her Dad.  I’ll likely be working with recipes that I used last time around.   If recipes were poker, I think I’d have a pretty strong hand:

Turkey Roulade courtesy of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin or Turkey Porchetta from Serious Eats

Corn Bread Stuffing from Craig Claiborne (this is not the exact version of the recipe I have, but it’s close)

Cranberry Sauce With Pinot Noir from Epicurious

Mashed Sweet Potatoes from Cook’s Illustrated

A vegetable of some sort — looks like it was Brussels Sprouts last year.

Apple pie — I generally like to use apples from our tree, but drought claimed them all this all this year.

I’m just thinking about how tired I was the day after Thanksgiving last year… no make that 2-3 days.   I keep telling myself that if I start the prep earlier, I can do less on the day.   I need to order a turkey, or at least a turkey breast.   I should make turkey stock.

Of course, Thanksgiving is just the start of a whole month of holiday preparations.   Gifts need to be purchased.   Holiday goodies need to be baked.   A tree must be purchased and decorated.   Somewhere in there, I turn a year older.

This year, I just don’t feel up to it.   Or I can simplify the whole thing somehow.  It’s a delicious meal when I make it right.  It’s would be a shame to skip it, right?

An Uncommon Sight

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Well, will you look at that!  Gas was under $3 a gallon at a Quikstop last night.  According to my trusty MPG iOS app, I haven’t paid that little for fuel since Sep.-Oct. 2010.

Is this the petroleum industry offering election victory prices in celebration of the new Republican majority in Congress?

I think not.  There’s so much petroleum floating around right now that the United States is now an oil exporter for the first time in 35 years.

Fall Finally Arrived… And All Was Well

Halloween 2014 and the weekend that followed went pretty well.

We had to be a little sneaky to do it, but the Peanut dressed in costume and went trick-or-treating on Friday night.   It rained during the day, and the weather still looked threatening as the evening began.   So, the Missus and I told the Peanut that we were going out for a walk after dinner, but that he needed to wear his “rain gear” (which happened to look like a firefighter costume) since it might rain.  He protested a bit at first, but the Peanut loves to ring doorbells; he rings ours every time he comes home from somewhere.  Once he saw that our “walk” involved going to houses,  ringing doorbells, and getting bright colored little objects from people (the Peanut doesn’t eat his candy, he sorts it by color), he forgot about his “rain gear” and had a good time.   The Missus, the Peanut, and I made it up to the end of our block and back.  After that, the Missus’ sorority sister Auntie M. showed up, the Peanut was placed in a red Radio Flyer wagon, and the Missus and Auntie M. headed out to cover the next street over.  I handed out candy from the porch to the few kids that came by, fortified against the chill with some Bruichladdich Port Charlotte.  I’ll need to think of a costume if I repeat that next year, Joy Howie.

Saturday was another cool, damp day.   We spent a good chunk of the day at 4th birthday party for one of the Peanut’s friends from playgroup.  It was at a nearby pumpkin farm/plant nursery where there was a petting zoo, hay rides, train rides, and a bounce house.   The Peanut loved the first three, but the last one not so much.  In the petting zoo, he mostly pointed at the various animals and we all marveled at the basso “baaah” sounds from the sheep.  We took multiple train and hay rides.  The ground was soft, and roof over the party area leaked a bit, but a good time was had by all.

The house felt quite cool on Sunday morning, suggesting that it was time to finally turn on the heat.  Our house has a gas floor furnace, original to the house when it was built in 1953.   It gets pretty dusty during the summer, and the smell of cooking dust and debris is never pleasant.  So, I got to spend an hour our two with a vacuum cleaner and microfiber dusting wand trying to get as much detritus out of the heater as possible.    That was a worthwhile, if somewhat unpleasant pursuit.

Since it was a positively beautiful Autumn day, something warm and hearty seemed to be required for dinner.   I decided to try a new recipe for Ancho-Orange Carnitas.  The recipe took about 30 minutes longer to cook because it took longer than suggested for the pork to reach pull apart consistency.  Consulting a number of other cookbooks, including Diana Kennedy’s Essential Cuisines Of Mexico, it seems that this was the fault of the recipe — others say about hour where this recipe said 40 minutes.   In any case, it looked fine when it got done and was a little bit of heaven on a warm corn tortilla with a little Cotija cheese:

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The coming of Fall leaves me with a bit of a dilemma… well, not a dilemma as much as potentially large amount of basil pesto.   I got some organic basil plants in late August/early September on clearance at Whole Paychecks for $5.  After replanting them in a larger pot, they have taken off admirably during the warm September and October:

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Now I will have to figure out what to do with all this bounty.   It’s either pesto, some thai stir fry, or both, I think.

But in the end, Fall finally arrived and all was well.