Thanksgiving and Christmas in my family is a small affair. There aren’t many of us in the area. I enjoy entertaining but am used to having between three and five courses for 18 to 30 people. So a family get together is small compared to what I’m used to. Then again, it’s family.
I asked my mother to bring cheese and crackers and she asked not to as she didn’t want people to fill up ahead of time. Ok. She provided cranberry sauce and my brother and his wife brought potatoes.
I arrived about 90 minutes before the target plating time and set to work. Much of it was simply waiting as two dishes needed to finished in the oven, one had to be brought to temperature in a water bath, and two needed to chill. Everyone asked if there was anything they could do to help. Everything went out within about five minutes of one another and I was pleased. Normally my timing isn’t quite so tight.
The first course was the noodle salad which my dad eyed suspiciously. He may not encounter eggplant and mango often nor does he probably like toasted sesame seed. He had a forkful, noted that it wasn’t for him, and went on to the other courses. My heart sank a little but in short order the bread was demolished followed by a healthy portions of everything else.
At the end of the meal my uncle looked at me and said “I’ve never eaten so much”. This wasn’t a casual observation so much as I felt like he was sharing a secret. My brother commented “the food was all good”. There’s two ways to take this phrase, indicating that each food item were good or that the food was sufficient. If the former, that marks the first time my brother has ever complimented my food. Unlike after most holidays, my uncle, father, mother, and brother each volunteered to take something home with them. I hadn’t seen this before.
This wasn’t the first family holiday meal I’d done but it was the first to receive such a positive response. My mother once commented “I can see how people like your baking but it doesn’t really do much for me”. My dad has commented on how entrees “weren’t dry enough for my me”. I don’t know if this marks some progress in my cooking abilities or something else. This was my nephew’s second Thanksgiving, but the first where he had the same food as us. I think that somehow made things tastier.
My apartment is a large single-level dwelling. The kitchen is divided into a sink/range and a prep area, bisected by the egress and ingress to the pantry and from the living room, respectively. When I prepare bacon I use the George Foreman grill and repeated batches can generate a good bit of smoke. If I don’t close the door to the pantry the smoke alarm aka bacon siren will be activated regardless of how much ventilation I have in the kitchen. So I close the door, open the windows, and turn on the range exhaust fan for good measure. I set an alarm on my watch to go off after four or five minutes whereby I rotate the bacon or put a new raster on the grill. Normally I prepare about a lb of bacon in two or three batches but today I was going through a full three pounds in an effort to increase the amount of on-hand bacon in my kitchen. After about the fifth or sixth batch I glanced into the kitchen and saw a thick haze near the ceiling that would have made the fire alarm shit itself. This cloud was about two feet thick and made a nice band going from the grill to the exhaust. It flowed continuously and had periodic breaks when I rotated batches and for a moment there was no bacon to sizzle, punctuating its continuous stream. My mouth watered looking at realizing it was a cloud of bacon. If I could have bottled it I would to infuse other dishes but sadly, I don’t yet have this technology. My kitchen now had food-based weather and today a new phenomenon was witnessed, bacon haze.
French onion soup always looked like a good dish but only recently have I felt confident enough to try preparing it. Well after midnight, I sliced up some onions into strips and put them to reduce on a skillet. The recipe indicated to cook them for about an hour at 300 degrees and not having an electric skillet I assume medium would do.
After about 20 minutes, the bottom layer had burned but the recipe said “don’t worry about burning”. Hazaa! After another 40 minutes I realized this meant “it won’t burn” not “burning is good” and I had a five lb mass of burnt onion to wash down the garbage disposal. I started the dishwasher to clean the rest of the mess and went to bed. Later, I woke up for the day and went down stairs to see that the dishwasher had clogged and forced the contents of the garbage disposal back up through the sink. There, in all its glory was a stinking mass of burnt onion.
Some secrets just won’t stay buried.
When traveling, I set up a command base, here it was in a kitchen and I had the benefit of sun-drenched mornings as I scanned for work. My search pattern had expanded to include New York City and DC and I found a few new options there. I also added internships to my search and spent the day tweaking my resume and trying to look not-quite-too-good-to-be-true.
Dinner that evening had keto “mashed potatoes” which consists of mashed cauliflower and cream cheese. It wasn’t quite there but I could see how the two were related.
The evening snack was guacamole served with bits of bacon on top. I had used spinach as the base but found that strips of bacon done crispier than I prefer served as perfectly reasonable chip substitutes. Bacon instead of potato chips. This I could endure.
A friend and I were trying a ketogenic/very low-carb diet and I quickly learned that starting a new diet that tracks uncommon macronutrients is an exercise in container twirling. Barbecue sauce is high sugar as is ketchup. Some light salad dressings are problematic in addition to whole classes of foods.
We purchased deeply of cheese, pepperoni, sour cream, cream cheese, seafood, bacon, and other meats with broccoli and spinach as our greens of choice. It was expensive, or so I thought, until I returned and realized the enormous quantity of food I had purchased. My normal purchasing pattern is “what will I need to stock my kitchen” rather than “what will I need to last me the x days until I go food shopping” which can result in overbuying and spoilage if one doesn’t eat enough.
Dinner that evening was buttered chicken thighs and dessert was a fist full of almonds. Our snack was pepperoni and cream cheese. To dieting.
I gave vacuum steak a second try and this time used a better cut, went with a longer cook time, was more aggressive with salting, and used thicker pieces.
The results were glorious.
Sous vide is a cooking style where one brings the food to the appropriate temperature in a water bath while it is in a vacuum-sealed bag. It allows for ridiculous cooking times like say 32 hours to prepare short ribs allowing even tough meats to become buttery. Sous vide equipment can be quite expensive but if something has a short cooking time (less than six hours) one can get close with a cooler, thermometer, and a vacuum food preserving rig.
Today was my first try with sous vide steak and the cut was an inexpensive chuck steak that were thin and bathed for four hours.
- Igloo cooler lost four degrees an hour. Far too fast for long cook times without a lot of water changes.
- Chuck steak is a tougher cut compared to most steak cuts. It needs either a marinade or longer cooking time.
- Water at 140 degrees was too high, shoot for 125 to get a proper medium rare.
- Cut was too thin to get a proper sear without also overcooking the inside.
- When one consumes edamame, do not eat the pods.
Hobo sous vide has potential. I look forward to trying it again with a slightly better cut.
My family was planning on going to Delaware to visit my aunt for Christmas. She hadn’t been feeling well leading up to today so I had purchased Christmas dinner parts just in case. Then, at 9 AM, word came down that we were staying put.
Dad: Well, we’re not going to your aunt’s. Where do you want to go instead? Everywhere will probably be crowded.
Me: I will make dinner.
Dad: Ok, I guess we should go get a turkey…
Me: No, my terms are as follows. I will pay for, prepare, and clean up after dinner with the understanding that I have full control over the menu and I get the kitchen to myself for four uninterrupted hours.
Dad: What are you planning on making?
Me: Bacon-crusted roast pork, turkey tenderloin, mash potatoes from a box as god intended them, an assortment of cheese and crackers, truffles, a raspberry tart, crescent rolls, and possibly a soup.
Dad: Are you sure we can’t have a whole turk…
Me: Those are my terms, they are non-negotiable.
Dad: You’ve thought about this.
Me: For five years, yes.
Dad: What if I pay for the…
Me: No whole turkey.
Dad: What about drinks?
Me: Christmas will be BYOB.
Me: Lovely to work with you, now get out of my kitchen.
Coworker: You’ve brought in pineapple upside down cake before, aren’t you going to try something new?
Me: People seem to like it, and it’s easy to make. Was there a problem with it?
Me: How many pieces did you have?
Coworker: … two, but the second one wasn’t that big.
I’m going to continue to bring in pineapple upside down cake.
I received a rice maker that needs a bit more babying than I like from my kitchenwares. Rather than consider it a set it and forget it piece I now consider it closer to a potholder, something that does a job for a short time but which isn’t to be relied on forever. Today I tried to make Rice-a-Roni in it and that only reinforced my belief as after 20 minutes I came down to a smear of flavor packet-augmented sauce pouring over the floor as gluttonous rice bumped the top. Something in the mix provided more protein than I wished and, after the dish settled, I got a giant gelatinous mass of rice. While not the texture I wanted, it did have the benefit of being highly sculptible.