I’m still cooking, though.  Since I started working so much, and still volunteering with kids, I’ve seen a drastic reduction in the amount of time I have to play in the kitchen.  I’ve even bought pasta and bread!  The slow-cooker has been my trusty friend.  I made a nice batch of rich stock with turkey bones that have been in my freezer since December, and made a few pots of vegetable and bean soup with it, kicked up with dandicut peppers.  Each pot gives us dinners for a week.  We add a little cheese and eat it with corn chips.  It’s been tasty, and we’ve been feeling good and losing weight.  We’re also eating lots of nuts, whole grains, and fruit.  I’ve always got my yogurt in the fridge (I added some DanActive to some Oikos for a nice array of bacteria), and I am the hummus-bringer for parties.

I found some discounted ground beef, and experimented a little with burgers.  Those were fantastic, but not something I will make regularly.  I also made my first ever quiche, and that was really good, even without a pastry crust.  Last week I made a Pad Thai, which is always tasty.  I experimented about a month back with coconut beer-battered shrimp, and I’m not happy with the deep-fry process.  I made onion rings with the same batter (but no coconut).  Just using a pot and a deep-fry thermometer was a pain.  It took a lot of time, the oil temperature fluctuated a lot, and it was very messy.  My only other deep-fry experience (same pot, no thermometer) making ricotta fritters was much easier and cleaner.

It is finally Spring again, so I got my annual sourdough starter up and running.  Tomorrow I will make the first batch of my famous banana chocolate chip sourdough pancakes for the year.  I am excited about that.  I may also have time this weekend to try a loaf of bread.  I think it will work out much better this year than last year, since I am able to measure things more accurately now with my new food scale.  My starter has been thriving better this time than in previous years.

I made a bowl of pizza dough last weekend (3 pies worth), and tried 50/50 whole wheat and bread flour.  It is not working for me.  My crusts were way better with 100% whole wheat flour.  These have been too gooey and bready instead of thin and crispy.  Mushrooms were on sale, so I’m making sauteed mushroom jalepeno pizzas, and we have salads on the side.

I am looking forward to the warmer months and piles of cheap fresh veggies!  I could go for a pasta primavera and more variety in my soups.

I went on a vacation for a week, so I mostly ate out and other people’s cooking, but I did get to help make ice cream and a dinner.  After the vacation I was sick for a week, and didn’t do much cooking.  I’m better now and back on my game.

I made the best chili ever.  Just a pound of ground beef, cooked in a big pot, then drained most of the fat into my fat jar, and put the meat aside.  I sauted onions and fresh garlic in the beef residue, then added six arbol chilis and four dandicuts (60,000 SU peppers from Pakistan, hot and delicious!, from Penzy’s Spices), a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, a can of rinsed black beans and a can of rinsed kidney beans (organic from Trader Joe’s).  I added the meat back in and let it all simmer at 150 F for a few hours.  This was about 6 bowls for $5 (the beef was way on sale).  I served it hot topped with Cabot’s habanero cheddar cheese and some tortilla chips.  I should have entered this in the chili contest.

My wife cooked last night: habanero cheese on scrambled eggs with a side of asparagus.  Simple, but good.

I got a package of chicken thighs, took off the skin, browned them in my skillet (I should have patted them dry with paper towels first, but I forgot, and they didn’t brown as well as I wanted), then put them in my slow cooker.  I deglazed the skillet with some chardonnay and a little tomato juice, and added that to the slow cooker with a big can of crushed tomatoes.  That’s running right now, and in a bit I’ll add sauted onions and carrots.

I’m also baking whole wheat bread today, and I’m still making lots of yogurt out of organic nonfat milk.  I’m about to whip up another batch of garlic and yogurt mashed potatoes, too.   We are eating more beans than we used to, but we could still do more.  We also are inconsistent with salads, but carrots and onions make it into a lot of meals.  Broccoli is the most green that we eat regularly, and spinach, but we’re not close to the recommended quantity of veggies.

I’ve done a pretty good job over the last two weeks.  Here are some of the meals I made:

  • Baked salmon (wild caught Pacific) with capers and rice.
  • Pineapple chicken stir-fry (same as my great pork recipe, just with chicken)
  • Slow-cooked chicken with rice (I make a lot of rice, brown with homemade chicken stock)
  • Panfried catfish ($2.59/lb for the fish was an irresistible price)
  • Chili with ground bison and ancho pepper (this was a practice batch for an upcoming church contest, lasted five days)
  • Chicken and pineapple pizza
  • Squash curry with spinach, mushrooms, and onion, on rice

Half of those lasted a few days.  We did get Chinese food one night, and were taken out to dinner one night by relatives, but we generally hold well to 6/7.  We still make lunches from homemade bread, have oatmeal for breakfast each day, and a perpetual pot of yogurt for snacks and desserts.

I’ve been looking at more food books from the library, and nutritionists really seem to push beans heavily.  I don’t mind them, and I usually put them in my soups and chili, but the gas can be a problem.  Is it true that the body adapts to a high-bean diet and stops farting so much?  I’m going to make a big pot of lentil soup this week with a hambone my mom gave me.

 

My massive turkey leftovers lasted a long time.  We had turkey and veggie soups, and turkey with rice and hot sauce, for many days.  My bread rocks for PB&J lunches.  I’ve also been eating a lot of sardines and fruit for lunch.  This last week was spent with my mother for the holidays.  I my home, I rule the kitchen, but my mom rules hers and we got well spoiled.  We managed to only eat at restaurants twice during the whole vacation.  Here are some of the home cooked foods we enjoyed (very much!):  Lentil and kale soup with pesto, Apricot chicken curry, banana bread, spiced apple raisin cake, waffles (this is our family’s traditional Xmas breakfast, and my mom folds beaten egg whites into the batter to make them super fluffy), ham and cheese omelets, French toast, and a sweet chutney with raisins and orange peel that rocked on a veggie burger.  The pesto was made with basil my mom grows, and we came home with a basil-garbanzo paste and a jar of her chutney.  I am going to gank her pesto recipe and recreate that lentil soup.

On vacation we visited Penzey’s Spices and I got some anchos, annatto, lemongrass, allspice berries, dandicuts, and brown mustard seeds.  That place has some neat stuff at reasonable prices.  I also got a microplane, an immersion blender, and a mandolin.  I am excited to make some curry fries and other new dishes.  My mom has cable and I was glued to the cooking channel!  I plan to have some people over for goat cheese crostini with lentils and spinach in a thickened wine sauce and a side of jalepeno poppers.

I’m thawing a chicken, and we’ve got some fish for this week, and I also think I’ll make my squash curry.  It is good to be home, and I am excited to use my new toys and spices.

I’ve been reading nerdy books lately like What Einstein Told His Cook, Cooking for Geeks, and On Food and Cooking.  I felt like trying to hard cook some eggs differently than usual using knowledge of the physical process.

I put four eggs from the fridge into a small pot of cold water, slipped in a dial thermometer, and put a lid on (not closed all the way because of the thermometer).  I set the burner to low (#2 out of 9 settings) and let the temperature of the water come up to about 158 F.  I tried to hold the temperature there by checking periodically and adjusting the heat; it fluctuated between 156 and 161 F.  The goal was to perfectly congeal the yolk without it turning into a crumbly, dry ball.  After the water had held at about 158 F for 30 minutes, I removed one egg and opened it up.

 

As I started to peel the egg, I found the white quite liquidy, so I poured the contents into a glass.  The reason this happened is that, although the yolk become firm at 158 F and much of the white becomes firm at 144-149 F (the ovotransferrin proteins), some of the white (the ovalbumin proteins) do not become firm until 176-180 F.  It is hard to see in the pictures, but the yolk was a firm gel, and the white looked like shreds of cooked white floating in water (mostly what it was).  The ovalbumin has not yet clumped together enough to reflect light.  I took a bite out of the yolk before the third picture so that its interior is visible.  I was asked if it was safe to eat such an “uncooked” egg, and I explained that the egg is cooked, just not boiled.  Salmonella dies in just about a minute at 158 F, and the eggs are pasteurized by this heating process even if they weren’t before.  The yolk was moist and tender, but solid, preferable to a dry ball or runny liquid.

While I was playing with the first egg, the other eggs got another 10 minutes of cooking in at 158 F, but I’m not sure that the extra time had much of an effect.  I removed the three eggs, brought the water in the pot up to a boil, and put the eggs back in for a minute.  This was to set the rest of the white so I could eat the hard cooked eggs by hand.  I opened one of eggs immediately.  Some white was torn by the peeling, and some white in the center of the egg was still a liquid.

I ate a third egg the next day, and it was clear that the residual heat finished cooking the white after I removed the eggs from the water, and had also overcooked the edge of the yolk just a little.  It was easier to peel, too.  So, for my preference, a hard-cooked egg should be cooked at 158 F for a while, then boiled for a minute and quickly chilled.  I will probably experiment more.  Potter recommends a reverse method of putting the eggs in boiling water for 30 seconds first, then putting them in cold water and bringing it up to heat.

Just using boiling water would result in only part of the yolk reaching the desired consistency.  Either the center of the yolk would be too runny, or the outside of the yolk would be too crumby.  The slow cook creates an even consistency.

Since last week’s bacon experience, I decided to read up a bit on nitrates in relation to bacon.  The resources I found converged on a few conclusions.  I used McGee’s 2004 edition of On Food and Cooking, the Junk Food Science blog, a paper from the University of Minnesota, and a Chowhound forum thread.  Here’s the scoop:

  • Nitrates and nitrites are not bad for you, as far as anyone can tell.  They exist in huge proportions in vegetables and our bodies, and very tiny proportions in cured meats.
  • In meat, nitrates gradually turn into nitrites, which is desired because nitrites fight off botulism bacteria.  Botulism is bad.  For meats that are not cured for long, nitrites are added directly instead of nitrates.
  • Nitrites also help our meats taste good.
  • The scary things that damage our DNA are nitrosamines.  Nitrosamines are made when nitrites meet amino acids (meat) at high temperatures, ~400 F and up.  Do not overcook or burn bacon.  Microwaving produces fewer nitrosamines than frying.  McGee mentions two other toxic byproducts: heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which form in any meat at high temperatures (so, even without nitrites), and which can be thwarted in our digestive tracts by fruit, vegetables, and yogurt; and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which form when organic material (but not pure coal or gas) burns.  If you’re worried about these things, go ahead and eat bacon, but avoid meats cooked at high temperatures or smoked.  Adding citrus juice and/or Rosemary to your meats may help.
  • You are more likely to have health problems due to your sodium and saturated fat intake or obesity, or some unclear factor that connects meat-eating to cancer and early death.

In the Chowhound thread, many people mentioned that bacon marketed as “No Nitrates or Nitrites Added” is still full of nitrites from celery juice or powder.  I checked the packages at Trader Joe’s, and every package with the claim had an asterisk about celery and included celery.  What a scam.  Celery has a very high proportion of nitrites, so these bacons may have just as much as the much cheaper bacon from the supermarket that doesn’t try to take advantage of people’s fears.  At least the suckers won’t get botulism.

So, I am comfortable again with my bacon habits.  I almost always use the microwave.  I used my cast iron lately to better collect and use the fat for seasoning, and also on my high-carbon steel skillet.  I don’t eat a lot, and my diet in general is low in sodium and saturated fat, and high in unsaturated fats.  Yay bacon!

I bought “free-range, vegetarian-diet” eggs at Trader Joe’s along with some regular eggs to see if I could detect differences.  So far I’ve cooked one of each sunny-side-up and one of each over-easy.  Both had very strong yolks, especially since they were relatively fresh.  The FRVD eggs had slightly darker yolks, but barely, and had whites that cohered better.  The regular eggs’ whites tore a bit when I moved the cooking eggs in the skillet, and the FRVD eggs did not.  There was no flavor difference that I could notice.  The FRVD eggs are supposed to be higher in Omega-3s, but there are other ways to get Omega-3s, and it’s not clear to me that the FRVD eggs are worth the extra cost.

I roasted another 22 lb turkey.  I was better with Alton Brown’s directions this time, and it turned out incredibly juicy and flavorful.  I baked more bread for turkey and PB&J sandwiches.  I made a pureed greenbean soup, but I may never make it again.  I use turkey stock to make whole rice.  I had some more yeast waffles (page 234) for breakfast this morning.  I’m really digging the Tupelo honey.

Leading up to Thanksgiving, we were still eating turkey soup with cheese and tortilla chips.  We compared a raw milk, 6+ month aged sharp cheddar from New Zealand to the supermarket brand extra sharp cheddar, and we preferred the supermarket stuff.  We preferred it because we like powerful flavor, and the extra sharp was strong.  The sharp import was more subtle, but still very good.  It just required attention and a lack of distraction, so we ate it alone instead of in the soup.

My contribution to Thanksgiving included homemade whole wheat crackers with flax seeds and hummus.  I used my pasta machine to roll out the cracker dough, which was a huge help, but the edges were still thinner than the rest and darkened quickly.  Nothing burned, though, and everything was great.  I made a plain hummus for my mother-in-law, and jalapeno-garlic hummus for the rest of us.  I used peanut butter instead of tahini and it worked fine!  The combo was such that we got a long, moderate burning finish from the jalepenos without it being overpowering.  I also made  a pumpkin-ricotta pie, but I experimented a bit by replacing most of the ricotta with cream cheese and yogurt.  I thought the cream cheese would improve the flavor, but I did not like the flavor at all.  It also drastically increased the baking time to have the yogurt in.

I made a batch of yeast waffles using the recipe from Cooking for Geeks.  I let the batter rise overnight.  This made for a perfectly textured waffle, light and airy inside with a crisp shell, but the yeasty flavor was a slight turn off.

The cerviche I made was pretty bad.  I followed the Cooking for Geeks recipe (except for cilantro), and the onion and lime were way overpowering.  It was nowhere near as good as what I had in California.  I did some math, and I figure that the recipe called for six times as much acid as necessary to ensure the deaths of all bacteria.
I made my first souffle, which was a neat experience, but I didn’t do very well.  I also made some ricotta fritters using a What Einstein Told His Cook recipe, and served them with Tupelo honey.  Those were a hit.

I had an interesting bacon experience, and I need some help interpreting it.  I cooked some bacon in my cast iron skillet on low heat to get the fat out without overcooking the meat (I supposed).  Normally I microwave bacon because it’s fast and gives me even, flat, crisp strips.  Bacon in a skillet without a meat press wrinkles up.  To help me with this, I sliced the larger fat strips off of the meat.  As the meat finished cooking, I removed it and left all the fat pieces in the skillet to render.  Our experience was that this bacon tasted a lot like ham instead of the bacon we’re used to.  Some pieces of fat were in over an hour, and were a little browned and shrunken, but all were generally translucent.  I was short on time, so I turned up the heat, and at some unknown magic temperature the bacon fat spontaneously made a pfsht sound and turned solid white.  The resulting white crisps were DELICIOUS!  I had trouble stopping myself from eating them all immediately.  I really wish that I knew what happened there and what the temperature was, in no small part because of the increase in nitrosamines in bacon at high temperatures.

I had some leftover T-day mashed potatoes today, and added a little garlic powder and yogurt to make them awesome.

My local produce place had some great seconds yesterday.  I got 12 ripe avocados for $1, and made a really spiffy batch of guacamole.  I just would not use cumin in it again, and I never use cilantro. I used some canned diced tomato, and lime juice from concentrate.  I got a half-peck of Jonagold apples for $4, and they are so crisp and sweet that I don’t understand why they were discounted.  I also got a few pounds of green beans for $1 that will go in a soup, and four squash for $1 that will go in another soup.  My fridge is packed.  I also bought another 22 lb turkey for $8.50 that is thawing and will get roasted on Wednesday.  It’s been a pretty good week.

I did go out to eat for lunch yesterday at Victory Brewing Company.  They have a very scientifically educational tour, which is a nice change from the more historical tours of other places.  We shared a Gorgonzola burger and some sweet potato fries with leek.  The dry-aged beef was delicious, and is local and fed spent grain from the brewery, but the bun was lame and there was not enough Gorgonzola.  The fries were excellent.  As far as the beers go, we recommend the Yakima Glory.