the other theo

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

Category: Food

habeas verum corpus

Though I am sometimes rather insecure about it, having lost over 30 pounds and mostly kept it off means that I am someone who has done a somewhat rare thing: I transformed by body and made the changes stick.

I have an online friend who has transformed herself in the last few years too.   She got in shape and just ran her first marathon earlier this year after a long period of dealing with health problems that made fitness difficult.

So when she mentioned that a book named Body Of Truth by Harriet Brown was one of the most important books about nutrition and weight that she’d read in 2015, I thought I should give it a look.    Looking at the dust jacket, the book purports to be about “How Science, History, and Culture Drive OUR OBSESSION WITH WEIGHT — and What We Can Do About It”.    That certainly sounded interesting… an exploration of how modern food production in the 20th century, cultural concepts of beauty, and ideas of food science interacted to produce a society forever striving to be thinner seemed like fertile ground for important discussion.

The book is all that to some degree or another, but with a much more immediate and personal focus from the author.  She’s a woman who battled with food most of her life, and watched her daughter battle with serious anorexia as a teen.   This is a woman for whom simple scolding about weight and talk of the latest fad diets will not produce any kind of sympathetic reaction.   She’s fairly up front about this, which is good, because her personal experiences and attitudes very much drive the content and tone of the book.

The thesis of her book can be boiled down to a few sentences:  social and medical attitudes about weight loss are causing real hurt in America today.   Calling someone fat is considered to be a horrible insult by many people, possibly the worst insult that can be made, but the insult is spoken everywhere.  It is synonymous with physical and moral weakness, laziness, and turpitude.   It is as if, after the Sexual Revolution, society took all the prudery once reserved for sex and transferred it to food.    It also says that science and medicine jumped into this morass and offered little in the way of effective solutions.   Diets, at least in the popular sense, do not work long term.  Shame is causing harm, even to the point that some doctors appear to attribute their patient’s maladies simply to being “fat” or “overweight” without looking further.  Drugs and operations are drastic solutions whose long term outcomes are not well understood.    There needs to be another way.

If all this sounds provocative, it is also well-documented.   Within a book of just less than 250 pages; aside from footnotes, there are 36 pages reserved for additional end notes and a selected bibliography.  Ms. Brown has done her homework, collected research, done primary source interviews, and notated pretty much everything.

Yet for all that, I do take some issue with her approach:

  • She seems to lament the weakness of the scientific results, but she does fully state that those weak results are due to the nature of statistical analyses.   Statistics can point at a “what” but rarely describe a “how”.  The health science behind smoking is an illustrative case.   Statistical studies showed that smokers had much higher incidence of cancer, emphysema, and heart disease than non-smokers.  These conditions killed people.  That showed what was happening, which was an important public health reason to suggest that people don’t smoke.  It said nothing about why smoking caused any of those conditions (which turned out to combination of things — tar clogs the lungs, nicotene and carbon monoxide stress the heart.)  It was also a very strong result and was easy to separate the signal from the noise.  Nutrition is a more subtle problem where it’s much harder to separate signal from noise.  Everyone eats.  It’s impractical to put large numbers of people on controlled diets for a long time.  That makes the “what” harder to detect.  So, it would be useful to know more about the “how” in order to judge how big the “what” is.  Statistics don’t provide that answer.
  • She tends to paint some legitimate science questions as silly.  She spends the first couple of chapters of the book discussing the statistical relationships between weight and life expectancy.   She sets up a hero in Katherine Flegal, whose research shows that there is little in the way of connection between BMI and life expectancy.   She also creates a number of villains, including one of Flegal’s frequent critics, Walter Willet.   Willet’s research produces a result that is opposite to that of Flegal, and Brown faults Willet for deleting “not only anyone who every smoked but also anyone with a history of cancer or heart disease, ultimately eliminating nearly 80 percent of the deaths” in the data sets he uses as a source for his research.   The way that Brown initially puts it, that deletion makes no sense and makes her point.   As someone trained in science, I see it a little differently. If you want to understand the seriousness of the effect of BMI on health, you want to eliminate people who are dying from other obvious causes — causes that have little or nothing to do with BMI — from your study.   If a lot people are dying from heart disease, cancer, or smoking-related health problems by some age (say 40), that could be masking deaths due to BMI-related health problems by a later age (say 50.)   That makes BMI-related health issues something that happens later but possibly not less severe when it hits.  Brown uses other researchers to eventually bring some of that point out, but it also makes Willet sound illogical and arbitrary on a point that is a legitimate scientific question.
  • She also complains more than once that researchers like Willet seem to show a lot of ego and treat all this rather personally.   The bio on the dust jacket says Brown is an associate professor of magazine journalism at Syracuse University.   Does she meet with the faculty of other disciplines on campus at all?   In my personal experience of 13 years as a student in higher education, ego is not a characteristic lacking in university faculty.   Professors and university researchers are paid to have opinions, and (due to tenure) are given lifetime employment in order to insulate them from the consequences of their opinions.  They’re not often paid terrific amounts of money.  The key features of their jobs are the ability to create standing through thorough and reproducible science and their integrity.  Attacks on research can easily be taken personally.   Professors in the same department who work in the same field sometimes don’t talk to each other, if they can help it.   It happens.  It’s the nature of the beast.
  • She seems to expect that science experts live like cloistered religious or as saints.  She berates the scientific establishment for working with industry and taking money for research.   Who else is supposed to advise industry?  How is research supposed to be funded?  Money can have a corrosive influence because profitable solutions are not always the best ones.  Brown’s documentation suggests that the establishment needs to take another approach.  Ships are slow to turn.  Scientific ideas change, sometimes slowly. The first internationally regarded scientist to emigrate from Europe to the United States in the 19th century was an expert in phrenology and scientific racism.   Science does not generally countenance such ideas today.

So what do I think of the book?  It’s  tough read in parts, and though I have weight problems, it opened my eyes to how people with high BMI, especially women, are treated and generally shamed, constantly.  It’s not a book for the faint-hearted.   It’s also not a book with a lot of answers.   That’s not its purpose, and it’s not the state of nutritional science at the moment.   It does represent a good and mostly honest attempt by a non-scientist to understand the science.   The documentation is excellent.

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Don’t think twice, it’s alright

This isn’t a post about breaking up.  It isn’t a post about Bob Dylan.  It isn’t a post about a song.  It’s a post about barbecue.

I wrote the other day about how the best barbecue that I make is the kind that feels worry-free and spontaneous.   I also mentioned that I was fretting a little bit about a pork shoulder roast that I was making for a get together the following day.

My worries were groundless.   I lit the smoker at about 7:30pm and had the meat inside by 8pm.   Aside from checking the temperature and water level a couple times before 10:30pm, I didn’t even look at it again until about 5:30am the following morning.    What I found in the early morning light was a smoker running at about 230 degrees F, or in other words, pretty much perfectly.   I added some fresh charcoal, checked the water level, and left it again.

By around 9am, I checked the meat and found this:

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I took it off the smoker at about 11am, wrapped it in foil, and put it in a cooler to rest and slowly cool down.   I thought it was just great by the time we took it over to share with friends.

My one complaint is that I didn’t get to eat more of it; the host of the get together was feeling sickly and I left it for the host and hostess to have as leftovers.   Crunch on, as they say, we’ll make more.

When I lit the coal for this particular burn in the smoker, I used the Minion Method a hole in the middle of the pile made with a Rubbermaid food container (similar to the Minion Method – Hot Coals In A Coffee Can method here.)  I removed the container, put about 25 lit briquettes in that hole, and closed up the smoker.    After it came to temperature, left the bottom vents about 10-20% open and the top vent wide open.   That worked just fine.

Just like getting to Carnegie Hall, perhaps I need to simply practice, practice, practice.

 

My Favorite Barbecue 

I’m on a barbecue quest of sorts.   It’s not an obsessive thing, though I have my moments.   I first caught the bug in the 1990’s when I began to wonder “what is barbecue and how is it different than cooking on a grill?”  I had grad school on my mind in those days, and didn’t actively pursue the answer.   That changed a bit in 2000 with graduation and a full time job.   I lived in a top floor apartment, however, and there was only so much I could really do.   Finally, after living in my own home with a patio for better part of year, I got my first column-type smoker in August 2008.   It was a cheap unit that I modified heavily using ideas from the Internet.   By practicing and making the modifications, I learned a lot from that smoker.   When I changed jobs nearly three years ago, I decided it was time to graduate to a real Weber Smokey Mountain cooker.  It’s the WSM smoking a 3.5-4 pound bone-in pork shoulder overnight for pulled pork for a Fourth of July pre-party (on 3-Jul) tomorrow.

About a year ago, I discovered something slightly odd about my quest.  Of the barbecue I make, the barbecue that I like the best is the stuff I make on the spur of the moment.    The first time this happened was early on a Saturday afternoon.   I believe I decided on the spur of the moment that morning that I would make some ribs, simply because I hadn’t used the smoker in a couple months.    So, they were on the smoker by 9am and done some time around 1:30 or 2pm… somewhat earlier than I expected.   The Missus took a picture of me just as I was finishing a rack, with a big silly grin on my face.

Why is it the best?   It’s probably because I don’t worry about it.   I don’t set expectations.   It’s just there.  It feels easy.  Making good barbecue still feels a bit more like an art than a science at the moment, and still fret about it.  Take this pork shoulder I’m cooking right now, for example.   I’m allowing myself plenty of time for it to finish, and I know enough tricks to get it done for the party.   Yet part of me still worries a little… will the smoker hold temperature until tomorrow morning?     Will it be done too soon?   Barbecue is something that does not happen as much as unfold.

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Then there is this rack of ribs I made a few weeks ago.   Yeah, the smoker ran a little hot and so the meat fell off the bone a little too much.  Yeah, the recipe followed my basic formula but I improvised a couple substitutions using what I had on hand.   But look at that color and the way the bones stick out at the end!   They were in the grocery store meat counter at 1:30pm and spare rib dinner by 6:30pm.  How can you not love it when that happens?

Perhaps I will one day have enough confidence to always feel carefree about my barbecue.   Right now, I can tell myself that I logically have little to worry about… but I don’t feel it in my marrow yet, not yet.

An Accident of Mixology

Flaming cocktails do not have the same appeal for me in my mid-40’s as they did in my early 20’s.   A case in point occurred over the weekend when I got 2nd degree burns on the thumb and forefinger of my left hand and the middle knuckle of my right forefinger.

We got some new neighbors back in January, but we didn’t have much chance to meet them.  They seemed nice enough; both in their late 20’s to early 30’s somewhere, him an engineer of some kind, and her a lawyer.   They seemed relatively quiet, nice, and polite.   We spoke a bit over fences and chance encounters coming and going.   We met their dog.

So, it seemed natural that when they planned to host a barbecue at their place and invited the Peanut, the Missus, and me over that we should go and say hello.

It turned out to be generally pleasant evening with good food and drink, and our hosts were positively genial.  We learned that he is originally from the Ukraine and is working on some stealth tech idea that he wants to turn into a startup.   We also learned that she is in her second trimester and expecting a boy sometime around Halloween.   They are also vegetarians, but nicely asked friends to bring meat to grill — which other friends did, including some lamb chops that were cooked over a very hot fire to crispy meaty perfection.

After the Missus decided to take the Peanut back to our house for bath and bed, I decided to linger a bit to get a little more to eat.  It was at this point that our host asked if I wanted to try this flaming shot that his brother (or brother-in-law) showed him how to make.    He called it a “Gorilla Boob” but the closest thing I can find in the online cocktail guides is the Gorilla Tit. I hadn’t touched any kind of flaming drink in years, but I figured it would be an “adventure”.

The Gorilla Tit is composed of Kahlua, Yuckon Jack, and Bacardi 151, and recommended to be served in an Old Fashioned glass.  The Gorilla Boob as I experienced it on Saturday is made from something I didn’t quite catch, Jägermeister, and Bacardi 151 served in a tall shot glass.  Both drinks are to be drunk with straws.  My sense of adventure raised a notch when I saw him pouring the Jägermeister; cocktail culture has become a very adult, serious, almost gourmet kind of thing in the last few years and this was starting to feel more like the kind of thing you do on a dare at a keg party in college.

So drinks were poured and lit.  Someone wanted to take a picture.  A phone was produced and a flash went off.

I picked up my drink.  The glass was HOT.  I could feel my fingers burning.   I put it down on the table.  It spilled and the liquid on the table caught fire.   I put that out with a strawberry margarita someone left nearby.   I picked up the glass and sucked the remaining liquid through the straw.

It was agreed later that taking the time to take picture was a mistake — the glasses got too hot.  I would also suggest that the shot glass was a mistake.   An Old Fashioned glass would give more to hold onto.

In any case, I immediately shoved my fingers in ice water and kept them there for much of the remainder of the evening.   When I was asked if I wanted to try again, I politely declined.

It was an unusual end to an otherwise pleasant evening.  I hope we see our neighbors again.

 

Mischief and Exhaustion

There are two poles on which Father’s Day 2015 was hung: mischief and exhaustion.

To clarify that a bit, let me start by saying that the Peanut may as well be renamed Mischief these days.   If you leave something out sitting out he’ll open it.   If there is somewhere you don’t want him to go, he’ll likely end up there.    If you leave some food out on the counter that he likes, he’ll take it.   If you give him water to drink, he’ll take it a gulp at a time into his mouth, spit it out into potted plants, and then look at you for approval as if to say “well aren’t I so clever?”  Bed time, well bed time, has regressed from a 10-15 minute process of stories and prayers during the school year to a 60-90 minute process of stories, prayers, quiet play, and frequent cries of “will you get back in your room and go to bed?!?”

The Missus and I think the bedtime issues have a number of causes.   The length of the day seems to play a part.  We also think that school was using a lot of his excess energy before it ended about a month ago.   The Missus tries keep him engaged and plan activities for him during the day, but there is only so much she can do.   There is also the possibility that he just may be getting a little older and can go to bed a little later.

With all that in mind, I started Father’s Day weekend with the firm idea that I would try to tire the Peanut out if I could.   The Missus would be out most of the day on Saturday, and it seemed like a good day to take the Peanut to the playground.    My initial plan was supposed to unfold something like this:  start walking down to the playground a little before 10am, get there by 10:30, run around and play together for about 30-40 minutes, get home just before noon, and have lunch.   It’s about a 3.25 mile round trip walk to the park.   He would burn off to some energy and I would get some exercise pushing him there and back in a (soon to be too small) stroller.

Things didn’t exactly play out as planned.   We got started out about an hour late, just before 11am.   Since I knew that this would mean cutting play time close to lunch time, I had the idea that we could pick up a fresh bagel or two on the way to the park and then the Peanut would have something to tide him over.   I thought “Score!”   Once we got to the park by 11:30am or so, the Peanut just wanted to run and play all over the place.  We ended up staying there until after 1pm.   Again, I thought “Score!”  Barring the minor problem that I forgot to get some milk to wash down the bagel, it all seemed to go swimmingly.    We made it home by about 1:45pm.

It only became apparent a couple hours later after the Missus got home that I’d forgotten something: sunscreen.   Going to the park for 30-40 minutes between 10-11:30am is a little different than going to the park for 90+ minutes in noon day sun.   Sunscreen would be nice for the trip I originally planned, but not absolutely necessary.   Consequently, I didn’t put two and two together to realize that the later hour and longer exposure increased the chance that one or both of us would come home looking more like lobsters fresh out of the steam pot.

As it was, we escaped without serious damage.   The Peanut was covered in a stroller for nearly half the outing, so he was ok except for some rosiness on his cheeks.  Me, I had a pretty nice farmer tan… or farmer burn.  It wasn’t painful, just a little warm and uncomfortable.  In the end, I hoped that the burn would be worth it.  Though the Peanut spent the rest of the afternoon not far from the television, he got a lot of fresh air and exercise.

It wasn’t to be.  He was still his mischievous self and bed time and got me up when he climbed into our bed at about 3:30am.

This is how I started Father’s Day.

Our plans for the day were fairly simple.   The Missus’ Dad got some frozen Kansas City mail order steaks a gift a while back and I promised to grill them.  I caught the early morning 8am Mass, got some groceries, took an hour+ nap later in the morning, and put together the bill of fare:  grill sous vide bacon-wrapped filet medallions, fresh homemade fettuccine alfredo, and fresh English peas plus olives, cheese, and charcuterie for appetizer and wine to drink.

It call came together fairly easily.   The one hitch during the process was that I decided to sous vide the steaks in the vacuum sealed plastic wrappers used for shipment.  These were not up to the task, and three of them cracked while immersed in the warm water.

Here’s the dinner served on our patio:

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The fettuccine turned out to be real treat.  It turns I didn’t have the recipe I got from my Mom handy in written down form, but I remembered it pretty well.    It’s been several years since I made it, and we used to use Kraft-type processed Parmesan cheese whenever my Mom or I made it before.   That was not the case, this time.   Here, the sauce got a big old block of real Parmigianio Reggiano.  That made a big difference.   The sauce had a nutty, creamy flavor that I never remembered before.

Since it was Father’s Day, I got a couple gifts.  The most interesting one was an old fashioned-type whiskey/cocktail glass that she etched with the family name and initial.

After dinner and some clean up, I faded pretty fast.   The Missus took her Dad home, and I stumbled through bath and bedtime for the Peanut.   After the Missus got home, I handed off to her and collapsed.

A Logo From Another Time

Visiting with my grandparents on my Mom’s side when I was small brought many things.  There were the old toys in her attic.  There were the small 7 oz. bottles of what would now be called craft soda, but then was just a local soda company that just managed to hang on since who knows when.   There were visits to the neighborhood store built onto the back of the house where the owner lived a block up the hill that seemed to inevitably mean walking home with a piece of candy or two, some of which were shiny new brands and some decidedly retro for the time.  There was home baked bread.  There was french toast in the morning served with ridiculously thin bacon.  There were new TV shows, some of them classics; I first saw Speed Racer and Tom Baker-era Doctor Who while visiting my grandparents.

Among these many memories were different things to make chocolate milk.  I never developed a taste for plain milk.   I still like to have something in it, if I can.  At home, we always had either Nestle Quik or Hershey’s syrup.   When I visited my grandparents, it sometimes was one of two other things: Ovaltine (the malted kind, not the malt chocolate flavor) and Bosco syrup.

Ovaltine is something I’ve had other times since, either at my parents or since I moved away.   I still have a glass jar of the malt chocolate stuff in my pantry at home.   Globalization and the desire to provide maximum profit to investors may have resulted in the solid brown glass turning to brown plastic on the store shelves, but I just refill the old jar.

Bosco is more of a unicorn.   We never had it much in my parents house.  Sometimes an opened bottle would come home from my grandparents’ house, but it was either never carried locally or it was available at grocery stores where my Mom didn’t regularly shop.

It’s a memory that’s faded substantially over the years, but it never completely left me.   With the emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web in the 1990’s, it was a name I could track down.   It was easy to see that it was still out there, but living thousands of miles from my parents meant that it wasn’t likely to show up in stores anywhere nearby (at least in those days.)   The makers of Bosco appear to be, by and large, dedicated brink-and-mortar loyalists who cultivate the nostalgia that their product generates.   Looking at their web site, I see that the few sellers near me are listed as seasonal, meaning good luck finding it.  That said, of course Bosco is available on Amazon.  It’s a big mistake to be otherwise, these days.

So, it was something of a surprise when I went to the hardware store of all places and spotted this:

IMG_1635I went in to get a LED light bulb, a most 21st century invention.  I came out with that, and a flood of memories from the Ford and Carter eras.

I’ll give the chocolate a B grade.   The chocolate is flavored with vanilla for a certain round flavor profile that elicits all kinds of nostalgia.  Those feelings are probably manufactured because my sense memory for taste isn’t that good.   The consistency and mouth feel of the chocolate let the bar down.   The chocolate feels a bit gritty, not smooth, as you eat it.   Still, the memories are priceless.

I guess I’ll have to get a bottle of the syrup online to meet the product again.  It’s been a long time.

Heat And The Home

Alton Brown linked to an article on the F*x News web site on the Blue and White social network today:

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I know that this article was shared with Mr. Brown on his Wall yesterday because he was called out and paraphrased in it.   Perhaps he likes it.  As a culinary school graduate and food show producer, perhaps he agrees with it.

Now, I have zero personal experience in a restaurant kitchen and haven’t been to culinary school.  I watch a lot and I read a fair amount.  I’m a fan of food science.   So what I’m about to say is probably armchair quarterbacking of the highest magnitude:

This article scores kind of high on the “bovine scatology (BS)” meter.

Speaking as someone who is trained as an engineer and a scientist and who loves to cook, I believe focuses too much on ingredients and presentation.  The use of salt, fat, and shallots to increase flavor only applies to home cooks who actively eschew such ingredients.  The implication is that somehow we could all churn out restaurant quality food if we just had better recipes and a little more time.

I think that Bill Buford’s book “Heat” does a much better job of discussing why restaurant food tastes different (or at least a more appealing one, to my mind.)   Mr. Buford’s thesis is that the differences are more driven by the process of commercial cooking.   Simply put, restaurants cook at a larger scale than home cooks ever will, and that has secondary effects.  There is more opportunity for flavorful fond to develop on pans that cook several batches of meat or bones.  Pasta water accumulates starch and lends flavor as the night goes on.   Meat is dry aged in the walk-in.   Sauces (or their components) and other ingredients are made ahead and allowed to age before final assembly.   Restaurants are able to buy better ingredients (USDA prime vs. choice) in different portions (whole steaks or roasts) with greater freshness than home cooks get at the supermarket.  Finally, restaurant cookbooks are at best an approximation that transforms recipes that are notes by professional cooks on a commercial process to feed dozens into a list of ingredients and procedure that feeds 6-8 people.

The use of hot ovens and homemade stocks gets closer to what Buford talks about, but it is not the whole picture.   The overall thrust is not even close.

Resolved

It was a tough Summer and Early Fall for my personal fitness and weight loss regime.   After a key breakthrough in early 2014 that dropped my weight between 15 and 20 lbs between January and May (down to the weight I had in my mid-20s), I fell off the proper diet wagon.   Especially in the evenings, I ate too much, and too much of the wrong stuff.

I almost made it to 47 pounds of weight loss at my lowest weight in 2014.  Within 6 weeks, I added on about 4 pounds and held there for about a month.   Two months later, I’d added another 4-5 pounds.

What I was eating felt so bad and so good at the same time.   I was clearly leaning on food for some kind of comfort or release.  At the same time, the sugar roller coaster was unnerving to ride.    Part of weight loss and better fitness is journey of growing repulsed at such extremes of feeling.

Finally, I had enough about 3 weeks ago.  I found the will to stop.   I’ve dropped a pound or two since then.

I am remembering a blogger friend who transformed her life and ran her first half marathon in 2014.   I need to hold the line through the holiday season.   I’m not sure where I want this to end up, but somewhere close to 45 pounds of weight loss sounds like a worthwhile goal, for now.

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.!

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.