Tuesday, January 22, 2008

One Food Hack, One Non-Food Hack

The food hack:

To prevent foods from sticking to the pan when pan frying or sauteing, preheat the pan before adding any oil or butter. Use the heat setting you intend to use when cooking (not high heat), and pre-heat for a few minutes. When is it ready? When the pan is about 180 degrees, or until it passes the "butter test": add a dab of butter on the bottom of the pan. If it bubbles briskly without burning, it's hot enough.

Add your oil and allow the oil to heat. Then throw in your food. No sticking to the pan!

This tip ended a long string of bad pan stickiness I've had lately.

Why it works:

I truly thought I read about this in Harold McGee's The Invisible Ingredient editorial, but re-reading it, I don't see it anywhere, so I'm at a loss as to where I heard it. But here's Foodgoat's best guess as to why it works -

When the metal pan is cold, its surface has actually rough, although it may look and feed quite smooth. Heat will cause this metal to expand, which causes the surface to even out and become smoother. But, if you add the oil when the pan is still cold, the oil gets into those surface hills and crevices, preventing it from smoothing out.

Oil added to a preheated surface, however, sits right on top of that surface, so that it acts as the slick, lubricating layer you need to keep food from sticking to the pan.

The Non-Food Hack

If, by chance, you should suck up the Wii Sensor bar with your vacuum cleaner, thereby mangling it beyond all recognition, you can still play with your Wii by lighting two candles, set about 9 inches apart, in front of your TV. Your Wiimote and all the games will work just as well with this super low tech sensor bar stand in. This is how we spent our Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It's really quite romantic.

Why it works:

The sensor bar doesn't actually sense anything, nor does it send any data to the Wii console. It just has two blue lights, one on each end, that the Wiimote uses to triangulate its position. It's the Wiimote that talks to the console. The sensor bar is just plugged into the console to power the lights. Candles provide the needed lights just as well.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Milk It For All It's Worth

Last Friday was National Milk Day, in honor of the first day, in 1878, that milk was first delivered in bottles.

Foodgoat is a longtime devoted milk drinker who routinely pours a big tall glass to go along with his dinner at home. But now, he has also made milk his drink of choice for lunch at work. While everyone else grabs a soda (or pop, if you must call it that) or a bottled water at the cafeteria, Foodgoat is among the few adults drinking milk along with their meal.

And why not? Maybe because buying milk at the cafeteria is sooo 3rd grade. But for Foodgoat, as in about 36% of those of Southern European descent, milk can continue to be a healthy, delicious option for adults as well as children. Milk, more nutritious and more filling than soda, has calcium and protein and a whole host of other vitamins and minerals. There's surprisingly a lot of controversy around the health benefits of milk, but I attribute it to the agitations and warmongering of vegans.

Me, I do not have dairy herding in my genes. I am among the 90-100% of Asians, who stop producing lactase, the enzyme required to digest milk, in adulthood, and thus can be found curled up and clutching their tummy after having a big a milkshake. Fortunately, there is yogurt.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Minas Tirith during the Battle of Pelennor Fields ... in candy!

Here are the two food-related ones out of the 10 creepiest old ads ...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

My Bologna Has an Ingredient, It's Mechanically Separated Poultry

Foodgoat didn't like bologna before, and he disliked it even more after learning (from the excellent episode of Modern Marvels about cold cuts) that one of the key ingredients was "mechanically separated chicken. "

You can figure out what this means. But maybe you can't, and if that's the case, it is:
... paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue.

Bologna, according to the USDA, is a hot dog (I take issue with that, but that's beside the point). So, according to the USDA, bologna can contain any amount of mechanically separated chicken or turkey but no more than 20% mechanically separated pork.

Fortunately, mechanically separated meat (MSM) must be labeled as such in the ingredients statement.

Not for fortunately, mechanically separated meat probably contains lower-quality protein than that found in meat from muscle tissue, and bone marrow, so it's higher in fat and cholesterol. Not to mention that it's just plain old gross-sounding.

Makes you want to go out and try that bologna bubble gum, doesn't it?

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Reluctant Acknowledgement of Southern Ohio Cuisine

I've been campaigning for Foodgoat to make Cincinnati chili ever since we saw Anthony Bourdain have a unpleasant-looking, probably worse-tasting, chain store plateful of the stuff on the Cleveland episode of No Reservations. But although his particular dish and the restaurant he go it from didn't look all that good, the theory behind Cincinnati chili seemed pretty sound to me. Pasta = good. Chili = good. Cheese = good.

Ergo, we should make our own.

And then it showed up on the Saveur 100! We must have some now!

Of course, Foodgoat's version is slightly different from the traditional version of Cincinnati chili. For one thing, instead of spaghetti, we used rigatoni. And our chili was thicker and spicier, rather than the thinner version laced with Mediterranean spices like cinnamon, cocoa, cumin, and allspice.

We had a pile of cheddar on top (making it a three way chili; with just pasta and chili it's a two-way chili), but we could have also added chopped onions as well (four way chili). Kidney beans would make it a five way chili, but since we had kidney beans already in the chili, I'm not really sure what number assignment to give it.

Despite of, or maybe because of, these deviations, Cincinnati chili turned out to be very filling, and very tasty - an excellent way to use the leftover chili.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

How Foodgoat Rang in the New Year

Foodgoat spent the last day of 2007 cursing and denouncing the name of Tony Dungy.

The only things that made him feel a little better was Slyman's sandwiches (one with Swiss cheese and mustard, by the way, is a "Smurf", which makes it loads of fun to order), a bottle of our favorite J sparkling wine, and hours of Puzzle Quest.

Only a little.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Maybe The Turducken Is Why Santa Has a Belly

On Christmas day, we spent the day with our good friends, their lovely family, and their very, very large turducken.

A turducken, in case you don't know, is a chicken in a duck in a turkey, with layers of yummy-ness in between. It's like those nest Russian dolls, but with meat, so it's better. We had never had it before, but thanks to John Madden, we had been wanting to try for years.

''The first one I ever had I was doing a game in New Orleans,'' Mr. Madden said. ''The P.R. guy for the Saints brought me one. And he brought it to the booth. It smelled and looked so good. I didn't have any plates or silverware or anything, and I just started eating it with my hands."

When you think about it, a turducken sounds like an abomination. Perhaps God did not intend for us to kill, debone, the stuff a bird inside a bird inside a bird, especially on Christmas. But then I learned that the record for a nested bird roast is 17 birds - a RĂ´ti Sans Pareil or Roast Without Equal - at a 19th century royal French feast, starting with a tiny garden warbler and ending with a bustard, with apparently every edible fowl creature, including what are now protected species, in between. The turducken seems positively modest compared to that.

And here is the delicious turducken cross-section! It's like one giant turkey-sized meat roll. Mmm!
As if turducken wasn't enough, we also had piles of other good things to eat.

How did it taste? Very good, surprisingly. I thought it would just be a novelty dish, but I liked it much better than straight up roast turkey, which is usually plain and dryish. The turducken and its various stuffings didn't lack for flavor, and the assortments of meats actually added up quite nicely. We kept on turduckening!

You could guess what happened next: Foodgoat and I realized that we are not cut out for binge eating. Those competitive eaters could probably eat circles around us, because this Christmas turducken took us down.

The turducken seemed to have some kind of expanding-in-your-tummy quality, because "fullness" does not begin to capture the feelings our stomachs felt in the hours after eating. "Stuffed" would be closer. "Overstuffed" would be just about accurate. We were so full we didn't really eat for the whole two days.

And yet, we'd definitely do the turducken again. Well, maybe a little with just a little bit less. Just a little.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Merry Christmas To Us!

Happy New Year!

My New Year's resolution: I will make more of an effort to emerge from the wine-induced haze enough to blog more.

For Christmas, Foodgoat and I got each other something we've been eyeing for long time: the Bodum Santos coffee maker, which is an electric vacuum coffee maker. We first witnessed it in action at a Phoenix coffee tasting, but it always makes me think of that that great scene when Katherine Hepburn tries to make coffee for Spencer Tracy in "Woman of the Year". I thought it all looked very complicated as well, so I was sympathetic.

Too bad she didn't have the Bodum Santos. It's electronic, rather than stovetop, which takes out all the guesswork out of the process and is as easy to use as any automatic drip machine.

How does a vacuum coffee maker, aka vac pot, work? Magic!

Oh, all right.
Vapor pressure and vacuum force.

As water in the lower chamber is heated, the gas pressure rises, pushing hot water up through the tube into the higher chamber. There, the water mixes with the coffee grounds, brewing your delicious coffee. When the heat shuts off on the bottom, a vacuum is created, and pressure, instead of pushing liquid up, pulls the liquid down through the tube in a great coffee whooosh!, into the lower chamber. The grounds are kept in the upper chamber by a filter. It's hugely fun to watch the water travel from one part to the other and then back down again as coffee.

It's an old-fashioned way of brewing coffee, invented in the 1830's, and the predominant method used prior to the 1950's. But one never sees it these days, despite the fact that it makes a delicious cup of coffee (CoffeeKid has some theories on why). We got ours at Phoenix, and all of the employees there got very excited about our buying it.

With a 12 cup capacity, we can brew up a lot more coffee than with the French press, and it seems faster and more consistent. Plus, it's a delight to watch (and to hear the whooosh!). It's been has been going on the road with us to various holiday parties, along with the Aerator, to entertain other people as well, making it quite the conversation piece.

Here, watch it work yourself:

There are some down sides: it's more awkward to clean than the French press, and other reviews have complained of a short lifespan and the company's poor customer service.

But overall, it's made our morning coffee a lot more fun. And I can have whole pots of coffee instead of just the one cup that the French press made, which has been great for the long, cold Cleveland holidays.