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.

So, I confess, I haven’t met my goals (ANY of my goals, from time in the gym to this challenge to things-crossed-off-my-to-do-list), this December. On one hand, I’ve done more cooking than I do in a normal month, but on the other, I have also eaten fewer home-cooked meals than was my goal. Lots fewer.

We baked cookies and made treats to send to family, this year. Pics:

Needless to say, that took a lot of time, and I had no desire to be in the kitchen outside of that effort, for a while.

But I did get in some cooking. I made chili and curry-coconut-carrot-squash/pumpkin soup. And mchicha. As a special treat, one night, we had buffalo steak, which I’m proud to say I cooked really nicely. And I’ve been working my way through a box of sweet potatoes, which we’re enjoying as “oven fries,” or mashed, or cut up in chili—which I was unsure about, but it was pretty excellent, actually.

Maybe more interestingly, I experimented with Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, whose “light wheat bread” is very easy and very versatile, but contains an awful lot of all-purpose flour (5 and a half cups) and not much whole wheat (1 cup). The versatility is as compared to their tasty multigrain bread (from Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, but this one recipe was posted online), which has more ingredients, takes longer to make, seems a little fiddlier on baking day, and isn’t necessarily going to be useful for things like pizza crust. I kind of wanted to find a middle line–a bread I could feel good about eating, but could also keep using for all of the things I like to do—mostly boules and pizza, but sometimes something fancy like pecan rolls. So I swapped out one of the cups of all-purpose flour with a cup of oat flour, which is higher in fiber, instead. Very little change to the bread—still good, still “custardy” inside, still made great pizza dough. Next, I swapped out a quarter cup of the all-purpose flour for a quarter cup of milled flax seeds, which are high in fiber and omega-3s. Again: great bread. So, I combined both changes, ending up with 1 cup of whole wheat (the standard amount), 1 cup of oat flour, 1/4 cup of ground flax seeds, and 4ish cups of all-purpose flour. The bread still came out great, and I felt a little better about its general healthiness. I might swap another cup of all-purpose for oat, to see if it still works out–that’ll put me at half-healthy, half-not. (I’m only hesitant because I will be sad if 4 loaves worth of dough are spoiled by my experimentation.)

In the short term, I’ve also mixed up a batch of the whole wheat sandwich bread recipe—the one without milk—and have the dough sitting in the fridge overnight, to bake up tomorrow—and possibly to freeze the rest. I’m hoping that works out nicely; I’d love to be able to make sandwiches with bread I’ve made myself. (And I’ll probably try a cup of oat flour swapped for a cup of all-purpose flour, if the current batch works nicely.)

Honestly, I probably just need to bite the bullet and pick up Healthy Bread in 5, to see if they have something as versatile, but healthier, in there. They might! And we got a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas!

Maybe it seems dumb that I’m focusing on how much all-purpose flour my bread has in it: it’s got SOME whole wheat, right, so it must be all right to eat? Well, probably. But I have noticed that I feel better when I am avoiding very simple starches like white flour, white rice, and granulated sugar. (NOT potatoes. Those are actually kind of good for you.) As an extension of this project, I’m going to try avoiding processed sugars altogether for a couple of months (except for my birthday), to see if that improves my energy levels at all. I’ll still use honey, agave syrup, cane juice, and fruit juices, in moderation, but I’d like to avoid that stuff that goes in the sugar jar, which has a high glycemic index and no nutritional value. (I haven’t looked up the index for all of the other sweeteners available. I still need to look into this a bit harder, do it with a bit better understanding of what line I need to be drawing. I know to skip “sugar,” “sucrose,” “cane sugar,” and, of course, “high fructose corn syrup,” but I’ll have to see what other nutrition label buzzwords are to be avoided.

One other piece of news: my uncle got me a really nice cast iron skillet. It was antique (or at least very old :)), and he stripped it and re-seasoned it himself, before sending it in a flat rate box. I’m so excited about using it! I inaugurated it with bacon and eggs. Southerner that I am, I felt compelled to keep the bacon grease, but, after attempting to use a small amount in something else, I realized I can’t actually stomach using it later, so I threw it out. (Look, I’m sure that sounds disgusting to a bunch of you—on a level, I was with you, even as the compulsion hit—but I swear, it’s a totally normal thing where I come from. Lots of stoves have cans of bacon grease on them. Still, after all this time cooking healthy (or at least healthyish) foods, I was surprised by the strength of the compulsion to keep it—I nearly always use heart-healthy fats like grapeseed oil, and I know there’s nothing good in bacon fat. But I guess the experience—keeping it, then having to throw it out because it was too gross—was worthwhile, because I learned that my newer, healthier habits are replacing some of the less healthy ones from my upbringing. So, you know, yay.)

Anyway, we’re done making Christmas sweets for the year (and we’re going to do something healthier next year), all the presents are shipped and opened and enjoyed, so it’s back to the Challenge and other good habits!

Happy new year!

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.

This was Dale’s and my first Thanksgiving together in Alaska—so, too far away to visit family. We were going to do our own thing, at home, but kind of at the last minute we decided to go to a potluck at “our” church (we haven’t gone a lot, admittedly, but if any church in town is ours, it’s this one). I still had the ingredients for a few things we like and a thing or two I wanted to try, so after the late lunch at the church, we came home, hung out for a while, and I started cooking again when we were no longer quite so full. It worked out well—by the time I was done, we were hungry. 🙂

We had turkey kielbasa—which didn’t technically fit my purchasing rules, but kielbasa is something Dale’s aunt always makes at holidays, and I think that’s a cool tradition—fruit salad (our contribution to the potluck, actually); broccoli cheddar rice casserole; cranberry-orange cornbread; and pumpkin pie.

The cornbread came from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day—and looked like kind of a disaster on the baking stone, as some of the hot sugar escaped. You’re really supposed to make it in a cast iron skillet, so I froze the second half of the dough until I have one. It was still tasty, though, and the sugar scraped/washed off the stone more easily than I expected—there’s still a bit of a stain, but that’s not surprising. People seemed to enjoy it on Friday. (I’m not planning to write about it at length, but pizzas-at-home were a success! The one batch of dough was too wet, but we got through it.)

My family usually does macaroni & cheese for holidays, but Dale and I had had that double batch on our hands not quite a month ago, so I branched out into vegetable-starch-cheese-soup-casserole territory, making this broccoli, rice, and cheese casserole with this “cream of soup” recipe (which is linked from the casserole recipe, conveniently enough). I made cream of celery and used Summit Spice & Tea’s “chicken broth” powder, which is made up of soy lecithin (it can be extracted mechanically, so I think it fits by my rules) and a number of spices—no actual chicken in it. It’s really convenient not to have to use chicken broth by the box, by the can, or by the chicken. I also used brown rice instead of white and halved the casserole recipe, in part because there are just two of us and in part because I don’t own a big enough casserole dish. Except for needing more salt, it came out great. I’d consider throwing chicken or maybe tuna in and making it a one-dish meal. (I didn’t calculate the nutrition information on this one; I’ll have to before I decide whether it’s going into the standard meal rotation or not.) I thought the brown rice might make it “weird,” but it was actually a little hard to tell I hadn’t used white.

I also made Artisan Bread‘s pumpkin oat bread, which was excellent, though I got tired of telling people it didn’t have pumpkin pie spice in it—it was just bread that happened to contain pumpkin. Anyway, I’m probably going to take some of that to the potluck at work this Friday.

So, it was a good Thanksgiving. The only recipe that’s truly my own is the fruit salad. Most people can probably throw fruit together and make something tasty, but, just in case, here’s my take on it…

Fruit Salad:

This recipe is modified from my grandfather’s. He used to always make a huge container of fruit salad for holidays. He hasn’t made it for a couple of years—maybe nobody’s asked him to? Anyway, his always started with fruit cocktail; mine has a lot less canned stuff in it but is generally the same basic composition. He also added marshmallows and shredded coconut, but I left out the former in the interest of sharing with vegetarians and the latter because apparently(?) there are people who don’t like coconut? I don’t know. I’ve heard rumors.

  • a can of pears in light syrup (I don’t think pears are often canned in juice alone, sadly), drained and then diced into the bowl (I actually always use canned pears, for some reason, even when fresh ones are available; it might just be that I still have a bunch of cans in my CostCo flat. 🙂 Or maybe I’m afraid of there being too many “crunchy” fruits and throwing off the balance.)
  • a can of peaches, drained and then diced into the bowl (I prefer to use a couple of fresh peaches or nectarines, but there aren’t any in Alaska right now)
  • 7ish(?) strawberries (I had frozen ones—if you go that route, they cut and store more nicely if you don’t thaw them first, but man are they cold), diced and put in the bowl
  • 6-8 ounces (I only know a measurement because I put them in a mug :)) of blueberries (I used frozen, but thawed and drained them first; if you don’t mind the salad turning a little purple, you can just throw them in frozen), dumped in the bowl—this is inconsistent with my grandfather’s fruit salad recipe but works nicely
  • a bunch of grapes, washed—if you have the patience, the flavors mix better if you’ve cut the grapes in half before putting them in
  • you’ll want to pour some lemon juice into a bowl or one of your empty cans—NOT in the fruit salad itself
  • peel and dice an apple into that can or bowl, and make sure the pieces are all coated in lemon juice; then strain them (keep the lemon juice in that bowl or can; it never goes in the salad directly) and put them into the fruit salad—this keeps the apple nicer
  • peel and dice a banana into the lemon juice—and give it plenty of time to soak it up, trust me
  • peel a mandarin orange/clementine/tangerine or two, clean the bitter part off the sections, and cut each section in half before you throw it into the bowl
  • maraschino cherries—look, it would be healthier to use real cherries, but the maraschino ones are sweet and make kids happy—drained, cut in half, and put into the fruit salad (fruit cocktail has maraschino-like cherries, but my granddad knows I like them, so he adds extra :)); I think these might help offset the sour traces of lemon juice, too
  • Extemporize! You can add some other kinds of berries, more of some fruit you like, less of some fruit you don’t like (I wouldn’t leave out the pears or peaches, though); big-flaked coconut is good; celery might be tolerable; pineapple is good (and only got left out because I forgot it).

And give it at least a few hours for the flavors to mix, before you eat it. Overnight is better (though you may want to hold off throwing in the bananas until the day of).

Instead of giving away free turkeys to shoppers who spend $300 in November, my local supermarket is just selling turkeys for $0.39/lb.  I bought a decent 21.5 lb turkey and popped it in my oven.

This is not a turkey

It's resting

I did a weird job on it, but it turned out better than my previous attempts.  I had some chicken fat left from my last chicken, and I rubbed it on the breasts underneath the skin, then all over the whole top of the bird with some rosemary and pepper.  I threw some celery tops into the cavity, but not many.  I watched Alton Brown’s tutorial after putting the turkey in the oven, then quickly tried to implement his techniques late, such as the 500 degree intro.  I was unable to tuck the wings under the body, but they still came out okay.  I did make the foil hat to protect the white meat, and I used my own thermometer deep in the breast that told me to take out the bird at 161 degrees.  I let it rest for a long time because the meat was still really hot inside and I didn’t want to let all the juice out.  I eventually carved it up.  I made gravy from the turkey fat (1 Tbsp), flour (1 Tbsp), and a cup of stock made from the neck and organs.  It went well with some mashed potatoes, but the turkey was so moist and tasty that the gravy was unnecessary for it.

That was over a week ago.  We’ve had turkey for dinner every day since.  I made some potatoes Anna that lasted a few days, mashed potatoes, and jasmine rice using turkey jelly.  I made some pasta with diced turkey and the best sauce so far: 1 Tbsp butter, 2 Tbsp flour (into a roux), 1/3 cup yogurt, 2/3 cup milk, 1 sauteed chopped shallot, 2 chopped bacon slices, 1/3 lb Gorgonzola.  That was delicious.  I also made a turkey-onion-bacon pizza and topped it with BBQ sauce, and that might be on the menu tonight too.  Tomorrow I’ll make a crock of turkey soup with beans and veggies.

I’m still baking bread with whey and using it for PB&Js.  I also finally used the bananas in my freezer to make two fantastic loaves of banana bread.  I made some corn bread (old box of Jiffy in my pantry) in my cast iron skillet greased with bacon fat, and it turned out like a big pancake.  It would take a few boxes to fill the 12″ skillet.  Lately I’ve been eating pomegranates, and they’re cheap at an Amish market near one of my clients.  The market sells whole rabbits and ducks, so that might be on the menu in the future, and I also got a 5 lb jar of Tupelo honey and some spices at good prices.

I’m making scallop cerviche right now.  I’m using the recipe from Cooking for Geeks.  I hope it works out.