Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cubano... crêpe!?

So I have a bit of a fascination with the Cubano sandwich and variations... the complexities of cooking eggs also entice me... and my mom gave me a crepe pan for Christmas (not exactly my first choice for a new pan, but still nice)... so the combination seems obvious, no? Well actually, it was an episode of Throwdown where the challenger (and eventual winner) made a Cuban Crepe that made it all click.

I know absolutely nothing about making crêpes, and don't think I've even had them more than once or twice... so maybe I should visit a local crêperie and see what this is all about.

I admit to being intrigued.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Boston burrito fun facts

In pondering a Matt Yglesias post regarding DC Burritos(or lack thereof) I learned that my two favorite local burrito chains(Anna's Taqueria and Boca Grande) are owned by siblings... Michael and Mariko Kamio... and they both modeled their shops after their cousin's in San Fransico. Huh. I guess neither can really be that bitter, since they're both presumably making money hand over fist and have been for some time... but you'd think you might wonder if the other couldn't have opened up a burger joint instead. But then, is there really such a thing as burrito saturation? I say no.

The Joys of Holiday Travel

I'm flying down to Baltimore tomorrow morning and, predictably, it will be in the midst of some icy wintery mix thing. Doesn't sound too bad really... but it would be nice to not be stuck in the airport for any extended periods. The good news is that my flight is early enough (8:30 am) that the plane should already be there, so the fact that the weather will be even worse in the Midwest should have minimal impact (I hope). The bad news is that since it's Christmas Eve, and the roads might be a mess, I'll have to leave so early (even taking a cab) that's its unlikely that any delays will have been announced by the time I have to leave "just in case". Oh well, I have books and a DS so I should be fine... and I have the personality type that would rather sit in the airport than risk missing a flight by cutting it too close... so it's really much better for my sanity this way.

Anyway, I have to pack, there isn't anything I find interesting enough to blog about right now, and I'm strangely tired even though I had an easy night with an early bedtime... so that's probably it for me for a while. My schedule is relatively action packed, so I doubt I'll have much time to update the blog. I'm back in Boston Monday night (weather permitting). Happy Holidays/Merry Chirstmas/Whatever!

Monday, December 22, 2008

1 more minute of sunshine today

Soak it up. Hooray for the Solstice!

Omelette Blogging

I don't really have any problems making your standard American style folded omelette... there's not really all that much to it. The only technique is getting it from the pan to the plate, and that's something even a beginner like me can master pretty quickly. However, the latest Cooking Illustrated has a recipe for a French style rolled omelette that looked pretty intriguing. It was supposed to be a foolproof method that took most of the skill out of the equation, though obviously they weren't planning on me... as my attempt did not turn out so well(pan was too hot methinks). Even though I couldn't even make the "easy" version, I decided to check out my Julia Child's and see how the experts do it... after 11 pages(!) and several snazzy illustrations I'm still pretty confused... but luckily there's YouTube:

That's actually her n00b omelette[UPDATE: I'm not entirely sure about that in retrospect since the n00b recipe involves a fork... hmmm]... not the rolled version, which she still claims you can make with only the flicks of your wrist... which is somewhat hard to believe. See:


I think I need to try and track down some more footage.

UPDATE: I missed this at first on my initial read through of the recipe, but apparently there is a training regimen for the "Look Ma No Hands!" Technique.
The rolled omelette is the most fun of any method, but requires more practice. Here the pan is jerked over high heat at an angle so that the egg mass is continually hurled against the far lip of the pan until the eggs thicken. Finally, as the pan is tilted further while it is being jerked, the eggs roll over at the far lip of the pan, forming an omelette shape. A simple-minded but perfect way to master the movement is to practice outdoors with half a cupful of dried beans. As soon as you are able to make them flip over themselves in a group, you have the right feeling; but the actual omelette-making gesture is sharper and rougher.
OK, I'll be back in 6 months with a Rocky style montage and perfect omeletts.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Warren Redux

Joe Klein lays it down:
I have no problem with Barack Obama asking Reverend Rick to deliver a prayer at the Inauguration. It will have zero--repeat, zero--impact on the policies of the Obama Administration. And it may do some good, especially if it gives pause to all those people who think that I--and the crypto-Muslim Barack Obama--are going to hell...If it causes those folks to give the new President just the slightest credit for appreciating their worldview, if it causes them to give him the benefit of the doubt on controversial stuff like talking to the Iranians or universal health insurance, then it's worth it. If it causes evangelicals to say, "Well, he's not demonizing us, maybe we shouldn't demonize him," it's worth it. If it makes Rush Limbaugh's toxic blather about our next President seem even the slightest bit ridiculous and over-the-top to his idiot legion of ditto heads, it's worth it.

The thing is, Obama is trying to change the nature of public discourse from the raw blast it has been for the past 20 years to something more civil and tolerable. You sense that every time he opens his mouth. He's all for opening doors. I don't know how many of ultra-conservative evangelicals will walk through the door he is opening by having one of their most popular leaders join the inaugural celebration, but I appreciate his inclusive intent. Even if I think there is an insurmountable roadblock to heaven--I'd guess it's about like the relationship between a camel and the eye of a needle--for those who make blanket judgments about which of us is going to hell.

You can see this is both Obama's record on Gay Rights, and his statements yesterday in regards to the OUTRAGE:
I think it is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something I have been consistent on and something I intend to continue to be consistent on during my presidency.
There's never been a President who would even dream of of saying something like that... and I'm supposed to get upset because Obama invited a prominent voice of Christianity to the table? Does Warren equate homosexuality with pedophilia? Yes. Does he think Pro-Choice advocates are the equivalent of Nazis? Yes. But so do a lot of Americans. Americans that voted for Obama at double the percentage Kerry got. Now, their views of homosexuality are, by and large, patently offensive and and their statements are often repugnant... but I've got news for you... we're going to have to peel off the moderates if we want to get anything done before the bigots get old and die. National support for gay marriage is quite weak, and even civil unions barely break 50%:

That's just too big a percentage of the population to keep from the table.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Onion wins the Internet (again)

A slap in the face!

Like Jon Cole, I think this is getting to be a bit much. I'm sorry, I just can't muster much outrage about Rick Warren doing the invocation for the inauguration. Who did you think he was going to pick? Are there a lot of high profile religious leaders who support gay marriage and/or are cool with abortion? Not that I've heard of... and even if there were, is his inauguration the right time to lay down the gauntlet for that/those fight(s)? Right off the bat he's going to tell everyone that Culture War is (back) ON? Why doesn't he just have Chis Hitchens come up and drunkenly urinate on the Bible? I mean, really... what did you expect?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Size doesn't matter

Ahem, kitchen size that is.

Apparently, a Mark Bittman blog post featuring a picture of himself preparing his braised turkey recipe in his own New York City apartment generated quite the furor... how could a man who's written so many lovely cookbooks not have a gigantic kitchen with industrial strength burners and granite countertops?!

Because none of that matters. Bittman's rebuttal:
Interestingly, none of the queries, condolences and commiserations came from women born before World War II, women (whom I often describe loosely if unfairly as “grandmothers”) who grew up learning how to cook from their grandmothers. They know that it’s fully possible to cook just about anything just about anywhere, with just about any equipment at hand. I have lovely memories of my grandmother using a beat-up paring knife — which, for all I know, came over with her on the boat — for hacking garlic (she did not mince), peeling potatoes and cutting up chicken. She did not own a cutting board, and would probably be as dazzled by a food processor as by an iPhone.

No calls came from chefs, either, or from fellow food writers. They, too, know that when it comes to kitchens, size and equipment don’t count nearly as much as devotion, passion, common sense and, of course, experience. To pretend otherwise — to spend tens of thousands of dollars or more on a kitchen before learning how to cook, as is sadly common — is to fall into the same kind of silly consumerism that leads people to believe that an expensive gym membership will get them into shape or the right bed will improve their sex life. As runners run and writers write, cooks cook, under pretty much any circumstance.

I’ve developed material for my column and books when cooking on electric stoves (heat is heat, after all), in unfinished basements using hot plates and microwaves, and in borrowed kitchens all over the world. The equipment can make things more or less difficult, of course, but after all, cooking is cooking.
As an urban apartment liver since I reached adulthood, I am quite familiar with small kitchens that lack modern conveniences... though before I started cooking a few years ago, I mostly used my kitchen as a place to store left over take-out and yet to be drunk beer... our current kitchen is the first one I've had that had a garbage disposal, and I've never had a dishwasher. It does seem that the crucial thing is to have an oven and refrigerator that work and maintain the proper temperatures (and you can buy cheap thermometers for both). I've cooked in a few fancy kitchens and on fancy appliances, as my mother has a love of redoing kitchens (for aesthetic and resale value reasons mainly - though she does cook a fair bit), and certainly not found myself to be a better cook in those environments.

The counter argument, unrelated to any real estate considerations, would be that if you love cooking and are going to spend a lot of time doing it... why not make it as nice an experience as possible? Certainly, while an expert cook could whip up a gourmet meal with a Bunsen burner and a banged up pot from Goodwill, I don't imagine they'd want to do it all the time. In addition, that sort of blurs the line between all kitchen equipment too much for my tastes... while "hot is hot", a really crappy aluminum pan with hot spots is going to make it harder to cook well. Yeah, I'm sure Mario Batali and all them wouldn't care, but it seems to me that nice pots and pans are a justified cooking expense... though maybe I'm just trying to rationalize my Amazon wish list.

I guess the take home message is just to keep it in perspective and realize that a 30K kitchen might make you happy because it's so shiny and it might be a good investment... but it's not going to make you a better cook(and I suppose that goes for $200 Le Creuset pots as well). If you can't afford that new kitchen or new pan because your 401K is in the toilet, it's really just not something that's going to handicap you that much... certainly I did fine on a cheap 10 piece cookware set from Target(and still use to this day) until I realized I wanted to invest in something better.

Google Transit

via Matt Yglesias

I noticed recently that Google Maps was starting to give directions by foot, as well as car, but it appears in participating cities you can also get directions by mass transit. Unfortunately, the MBTA isn't participating... I presume because they already have their own "trip planner" on their website which has similar features. If that is indeed their thinking, it seems a little shortsighted as Google has a much larger ability to mainstream this kind of thing than isolated transit websites... if people get used to getting access to bus and train schedules the same way they get driving directions it seems like it would definitely drive up ridership... especially on the less "newb friendly" types of transit, like buses. It's also hard to overestimate how handy the "street view" of Google Maps can be for identifying where a bus stop or subway station is.

Anyway, here's an example from New York, getting from the Met to see the Mets:

View Larger Map

If you click on the link, you'll see you can select up to 4 different routes taking different trains, or only buses, with ETAs. Pretty cool. I do wonder, in the end, how many people besides tourists and new residents would use it that much... for the most part I know how to get around the city... but then, probably if you asked me how often I'd get driving directions when that was new I'd probably have said "rarely" too, where now I often double check directions even to places we go semi-frequently.

Monday, December 15, 2008

No, you're supposed to throw flowers

Still not greeted as liberators. In case you were wondering whether throwing your shoes was a gesture of respect in the Arab world:
Throwing a shoe at someone is considered the worst possible insult in Iraq and is meant to show extreme disrespect and contempt. When U.S. forces helped topple a statue of Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein after rolling into Baghdad in April 2003, jubilant Iraqis beat the statue's face with their shoes.

I have to agree with Josh Marshall that a) I would have taken that shoe right between the eyes, and b) it's a bit disturbing how long it took for the guy to get tackled.

Heart breaker

The Steelers just have the Ravens number this year, it seems.

Still got the inside track for the wild card, I think, but next up Dallas on Saturday night.

UPDATE: Here's Peter King on the controversial call on the game winning Steelers TD.
Last night at NBC, we watched the same four replays Walt Coleman saw at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore in the final minute of the Steelers-Ravens game. You've seen it by now: With the ball at the Baltimore four-yard line and the Ravens up 9-6, Ben Roethlisberger scrambled and eventually found Santonio Holmes just over the goal line in the end zone. Holmes caught the pass very close to the goal line, with the ball appearing to be outside the goal line at first look and his feet to be in the end zone. The head lineman, Paul Weidner, standing at the goal line on the far sideline, peered around a player as he tried to see the play, and he ruled the ball did not touch the plane of the goal line. All the ball has to in this case is touch the imaginary plane of the goal line while the player has two feet down. It was agonizingly close, but Weidner ruled the ball should be placed at about the three-inch line.

The magnitude of the play can't be overstated. If the play is upheld, it's fourth and three inches, and Mike Tomlin has the biggest call of his coaching career to make -- go for the touchdown to win the game, knowing he might end up turning it over on downs, or kick the gimme field goal and play for overtime. A Pittsburgh win would clinch the division title. A Baltimore win would tie the two mortal enemies with two weeks to go.
For the record, I think it was a touchdown, but I agree with King that there wasn't "indisputable" evidence to overturn the call on the field. But oh well, that's football.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The perfect NFL gift for any Rams fan


(credit to Bill Simmons)

P.S. I know what's on detektor's x-mas list!

Can they do that?

The Illinois AG is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to "temporarily remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office and appoint Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn as acting governor"... apparently because it would be quicker than impeachment, and everyone is afraid Blago's going to appoint somebody to the Senate in the meantime.

Anyway, while I support getting that clown out of power as quickly as possible, it seems a little bit wacky for judges to have to power to change who's running the state... but, of course, I am no lawyer and I have no idea what the Illinois Constitution says, so maybe it makes perfect sense. But according to this, the argument is that he is "unable to serve as governor due to disability and should not rightfully continue to hold that office." Disability? Ehhhh... I guess being in Federal custody does disable your options a bit, but that still seems like a stretch.

Frankly, I think they should impeach him, but still have a special election for Obama's Senate seat... after this mess, and the(while not corrupt) unseemly goings on regarding Biden's seat... it just seems like every state should just go with special elections. Yeah, politically, sometimes you are going to get a Republican from an election when the Governor would have appointed a Democrat, and vice versa... but it seems like that stuff would even out, and it would be leaps and bounds better than inviting corruption and cronyism with appointments.

Detroit Bailout Dead

So, Dems negotiated a deal with Bush and lame-duck GoP Senators killed it.

I have no idea what happens now, since Teh Congress is supposed to go on vacation until January... but the stock market will be fun today! WHEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Trans-gender WoW

Ta-Nehisi on the new Blizzard option to allow people to re-customize their characters(including gender):
Yeah, they really are. I'm actually playing as a belf chick now, and a week ago, I would have gladly welcomed the chance to wear the pants again. But then something happened. The other day I was doing some PvP in Alterac Valley, when I got into it withe a fellow hordie who kept whining about paladins. It got pretty heated, to the point that I told him I wish I was till Alliance so I could come and kill him. Yeesh. He was prolly a 13 year old kid--at least judging by his response, which was "Get back in the kitchen. Hoes don't play Warcraft!"

It then occurred to me that I, for the first time in my life, had been the target of a sexist remark. And then I started seeing the cool thing about playing a girl in an MMO, the chance to experience life through the eyes of someone else. You guys know me--I'm all about seeing the world in other ways. This is, of course, an imperfect experience--half the chicks running around in WoW are kids who want to watch the back-side of a draenei while the farm.


When I first started playing WoW, the gender of your t00n was actually a fairly big deal. Now, I was in my twenties and pretty confident in my sexuality (I wore nail polish for a while there), so the "R U GHEY!?" arguments against a male having a female character never held much weight for me... but some my nonchalance also probably came from being a little too old for the MySpace Generation, where a high percentage of flirting and hook-ups originates online. I'm playing a game, first and foremost... and utilizing a 3D chat room to make friends and meet people somewhere way down at the bottom... so the idea of having a character that "represents me" doesn't really enter into my skull. It seems though, that over the years, as it's become completely obvious that 9 out of 10 times that smoking hot Night Elf with the physically impossible proportions is a 32 year old male biomedical engineer... any previous stigma has basically disappeared.

But anyway... if you always wished your 73rd level gnome warrior had been born a girl instead of a boy, now is your chance to rectify that for a mere $15.

Essential Cookbooks

Ezra has a post at IFA outlining his 5 essential cookbooks... none of which I own, so I have no real comment on the particulars of his list... though I asked for Bittman's latest revision of How to Cook Everything for Christmas, since I generally enjoy his NYT blog, even though I don't consider myself much of a cooking minimalist.

As someone who only started cooking, for serious, a few years ago, I find most cookbook recipes to be garbage for my needs... as they're generally written for people who already know how to cook. I'm also an engineer who works in a research lab, so I tend to get frustrated by the "la-la-la, dash of this, dab of that"... imprecision... in the attitudes of most cooks and their cookbooks. So, from my perspective, an "essential" cookbook has to include fairly explicit directions... there's a fair bit of difference, to someone who's never made a pot roast before, between "cook until done" and "cook until a fork slides easily into the meat"... and also, I like to get a bit of why with my recipes. It's great to have foolproof recipes, but if I don't know why you put the pie crust into the fridge for 45 minutes, how am I ever going to learn to actually cook? All I'll ever do is follow recipes by rote; afraid to substitute or deviate.

To that end, my two essential cookbooks are (to nobody who's read this blog's surprise) The New Best Recipe by Cook's Illustrated and I'm Just Here For the Food by Alton Brown. As a big fan of Cook's Illustrated, I have quite a few of their cookbooks (even an America's Test Kitchen one) as well as a magazine subscription, but the only cookbook they make that I would call truly essential is The New Best Recipe. For one thing, they repeat recipes a lot, so you might have a Four Cheese Pasta that is in NBR that is also in The Best International Recipe that also reappears in Cook's Illustrated from time to time... so while there are recipes in my Soups and Stews cookbook that I love, I certainly wouldn't call it an essential book. The additional factor is that all Cook's Illustrated recipes aren't created equal. The ones in NBR are superior in writing and testing, and always seem to come out flawlessly, whereas I have found other Cook's recipes to be more hit and miss. So I think, really all you need of their massive assortment of published works is The New Best Recipe, to cover every classic and standard American dish, and maybe a subscription to Cook's Illustrated if you like to try out the new variations and more international options... though, if you're a big fan of French cooking, for example, I imagine you could find a better "bible" than Cook's Illustrated's take.

I should note that the one drawback to The New Best Recipe, and Cook's Illustrated in general, is that Rachael Ray they are not. If you are looking for 30 minute meals you need to look elsewhere, as their idea of compromise is often turning the classic three days of cooking recipe from 1470 into a modern version that "only" takes 7 hours. It's not quite that bad, but their idea of a weeknight meal probably takes two hours from start to table. That's the way I like to cook, so it's great for me, but if you don't have that kind of time you might find the book significantly less useful. Another issue, is that most recipes have fairly... New England-esque "restrained" (I saw a commenter on IFA refer to it as "baked Calvinism" lol)... seasoning. As someone who used to put hot sauce on everything they eat, I was surprised at how quickly I came around to appreciate well cooked dishes with subtle layers of flavoring... but if you're a huge fan of big flavors, be advised some of these recipes might need to be "kicked up a notch" at the least, and possibly, just not your thing.

Alton Brown's book is a fairly different beast, with recipes taking a backseat to the science of cooking. They both endeavor to explain why, but Alton lays his book out explicitly around the idea of teaching you how to cook instead of teaching you to execute recipes. I actually don't cook a lot from his book to be honest... though those slow roasted tomatoes kick booty... but I've found it to be more and more valuable as I've gotten more experience cooking. As I've gotten good results and, sadly, made disastrous mistakes, I've understood a lot more of the underlying principles... which someday, hopefully, will allow me to cook effectively without a recipe. Which reminds me that I actually need to get back to reading my McGee, but that's a bit more advanced and dense... Alton Brown is very effective at making similar material easily understood by a wide range of audiences.

So, for the moment, those are my two "essentials" for a newb cook, with a lean towards left brained types.

The only good cucumber is a dead cucumber

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mmm Goulash?

My cooking project for the week, is Cook's Illustrated's version of Hungarian Beef Stew (aka Goulash). The recipe is here, but you'll need to pay to get it... it's in the November/December issue. I've never had goulash in my life, and have frankly been a little afraid of the name... probably some leftover anti-Communist indoctrination from my youth... but also, Goulash is just an unappetizing word. A little too close to Gulag maybe. However, I'm a big fan of all stew like things, so I figured I'd give this a go... it's essentially just beef, onions, and paprika... so I figure I can handle it.

I picked up my Hungarian Sweet Paprika from Christina's this past weekend, so I'll pick up the rest today or tomorrow and report back with my attempt.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Comically Corrupt"

So the big news this morning is the Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, trying to sell Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder. Now, I don't know much about Illinois politics, but apparently this guy had been under investigation for corruption for the last three years... everyone knew his phones were tapped... and he still had the audacity to try a "pay-to-play" scheme. Unbelievable.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum says he had a 4% approval rating... can that be right?

UPDATE II: It's right. Wow, that's one unpopular dude.

UPDATE III: He was also so out to lunch that he thought, with a 4% approval rating and an ongoing federal investigation, he could appoint himself to Obama's seat and run for president in 2016. The absurdity knows no bounds.


Barack Obama... Zune owner!?

No, it's not just a comic, "ZuneGate" actually happened. I think I liked it better when we were outraged that his cabinet picks weren't progressive enough... not sure I'm comfortable with outrage over his choice of mp3 player... but then I don't buy Ipods, nor do I worship at the altar of Steve Jobs, so I probably don't have the proper perspective.

Car Czar for Detroit?

Well it has some nice assonance, so that's good. Much more lyrical than "drug czar" or whatever.
The measure being discussed in Congress would put a government overseer named by President George W. Bush in charge of setting guidelines for an industrywide overhaul, with the power to revoke the loans if the automakers fail to do what's necessary to become viable. The White House was seeking tougher consequences, including allowing the overseer — being called a car czar — to force the companies into bankruptcy if they weren't doing enough to cut labor costs, restructure their debt and downsize to stay afloat.

Well, oversight is nice, but as in all things political... let's see how it's implemented.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rags to riches, a true American Danish story

It's a fairly banal point that being born into privilege sets you up for a life of success... and while there are many stories of people lifting themselves up from poverty by their bootstraps, for the most part, people from rich families stay rich and people from poor families stay poor. That's just one of the imperfections of capitalism, right? Better than Feudalism anyway. Well Ezra Klein puts up some interesting figures from Brookings that show we in the States may be closer to Feudalism than you think, and it's the damn dirty socialists in Europe who demonstrate the most "rags to riches" (and "boardroom to the poor house").

While Ezra showed the pretty graphs, I wanted to point to a table that seems to tell the tale better:
Sucks to be poor here. Damn.

Everybody in the Army wears berets now?

Apparently. Didn't that make the Green Berets kind of pissed?

Banning cigar bars in Boston

Now, I quit smoking a year ago, but even as a smoker I thought that the cigarette ban for bars was a good thing... however, banning cigar bars? That's just stupid. Adults are allowed to do things that aren't good for them... or at least they should be. The argument about second hand smoke for wait staff in bars and restaurants was persuasive to me; after all, while customers can choose not to go to a smoke filled bar, waiters and waitresses often don't have so many options. In addition, it's clear that it had to be an all out ban, and not optional, or it never would have happened. But I don't see how that applies to our 4 whole cigar bars... or hookah bars, if we even have any.
The restrictions, which face a final vote by the commission's seven-member board on Nov. 13, also would ban smoking on outdoor patios at restaurants and other businesses and prohibit tobacco sales on college campuses and by all drug stores in the city.
That's just nonsense. I mean, what's next? Make it illegal to smoke on your own property?

UPDATE: Whoops, as you can see by the date, that was an older article. Here's a new one in Newsweek. The final vote is supposed to be Thursday... and according to the article, Boston has 6 cigar bars and 5 hookah bars.

It's cold.

And it's not even winter yet.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

NFL on the Intertubes

I was going to go out and watch my beloved Ravens (hopefully) beat down the vile Redskins, but I guess they've been putting the Sunday night games out for free, live on the internet.  I'm going to see how it is...  probably not awesome, but I watched most of the Euro Cup games over the internet, and it was fine...  so we'll see.

UPDATE: Slide show.  Terrible.  Off to the bar.

Friday, December 5, 2008


I'm off shortly to go to some BU Engineering Alumni tailgate thing... before heading off to the game. I've actually never been to an alumni event, despite living here forever... so I'm somewhat apprehensive about it being awkward and forced, but a couple other buddies are meeting me there and I liked all my professors, so I'm sure it will be fine.

I'm looking forward to the actual game quite a bit, though I'm nervous they're going to get their asses kicked.

I saw something on USCHO.com that said that BU was #7 in the country, and #7 in Hockey East... that should give you some indication of how tough their conference is. BC won the national championship last year, and is #2 right now, so... LET'S GO BU.


Yikes. Unemployment higher than it's been in 15 years makes it a wee bit harder to cheer the Big Three on to bankruptcy court... but, man, does that bailout still seem like a terrible idea. It's hard to argue that teaching those guys a lesson is worth a million plus jobs though.

Also, as Jon Cole says, remember this when crazy wingnutters start talking about the "Obama recession" in 4 years.

Barismo coffee

I missed my train this morning because of forgotten workout clothes, so instead of biding my time for the next one at home or at the station, I decided to get a latte at Simon's. I'm not much of a coffee snob... I buy Dunkin Donuts every morning, loaded with cream and sugar... but I do like to have real coffee on the weekends, and even have a burr grinder and weird Scandinavian coffee making device. We used the last of our coffee from our Jamaica trip a couple of weeks ago, but I had yet to restock... Simon's is just across the street, but for whatever reason I haven't made it over there. Besides being close, Simon's also carries coffee that's a cut above meh Starbucks' beans, like George Howell's Terrior coffees, which are delicious, but unfortunately range from $15-20 for a mere 12 ounces (which is why I save them for relaxing weekends). However, today I noticed a new entry in the fancy-pants coffee department called Barismo. They appear to be quite new, but they're based out of Arlington and their packaging is pretty, so what else do you need? Well, probably you want well roasted coffee... so I plan on picking some up this weekend and giving them a try. I'll report back with my completely uneducated opinion, which is what the internet is all about!

I must say that the most fascinating thing about the Barismo website is their "manual brewing" section... now that's hardcore.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Have we hit bottom yet?

via Kevin Drum, Calculated Risk says "look out below":

Using national median income and house prices provides a gross overview of price-to-income (it would be better to do this analysis on a local area). However this does shows that the price-to-income is still too high, and that this ratio needs to fall another 15% or so. The further decline in this ratio could be a combination of falling house prices and/or rising nominal incomes (Note: this uses nominal incomes, and even if real incomes are stagnant or declining, nominal incomes usually are rising).
Of course, the economy could begin to recover before housing prices return to their historical values, and who knows if the current slope of housing price decline is going to stay the same or not?

But, if you think that the housing bubble was the major problem that sent the economy tumbling, and that prices need to stabilize before true recovery can begin... then we still have some ways to go yet... certainly many quarters, and maybe years.

Treasures of the Intertubes: Swedish Dance Bands

Before embarking on a career of intergalactic mayhem, General Zod(two from left) had a successful stint as tambourine player for the Swedish dance sensation Zenits.

More here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Senator Bush

Let's go 60 59!

So Saxby Chambliss won the runoff yesterday between himself and challenger Jim Martin... so no chance at the coveted "60 seats" in the Senate, which, even though everyone acknowledges is kind of a meaningless benchmark because of the way the Senate votes... and was a long shot (I mean Georgia, c'mon!) from the get go... still comes off as a bit of a disappointment.

The bizarre Coleman-Franken recount is still underway... believe it or not.

Give in to your hate

In regards to the scary situation in Mumbai, publius post on how the terrorists win with Jedi mind tricks:
As Daniel Benjamin notes in Slate, igniting tensions between the two countries benefits the terrorists in numerous ways. For one, it destabilizes a relatively hostile Pakistani government. Second, it prevents détente between the countries and thus halts progress on a Kashmir settlement. Third, it keeps the world polarized (the attacks on Westerners were intended to stoke these particular fires).

What’s maddening – and terrifying – is that the strategy might work. It certainly worked on us. And India will have a hard time resisting the urge to do something to avenge the attacks – the political pressure may prove too strong. Iraq was no picnic to be sure, but an outbreak of hostilities between two nuclear-armed states would be a different animal altogether – one that must be avoided at all costs.

Even more maddening though, India’s outrage and desire for revenge are absolutely reasonable. To be sure, revenge will lead to horrible things, but it’s unrealistic to expect a country to stoically endure attacks like these, particularly from groups with loose affiliations with a hostile state. It would have been similarly foolish to expect that Americans would be content to do nothing after terrorists training in Taliban-sheltered camps attacked it.

This whole thing makes me very very nervous. India and Pakistan have been closer to nuclear war than any of us really want to think about, and I'm guessing they're just a hair away now. If India moves troops to the Pakistani border, Pakistan will have to respond by moving troops out of the tribal areas... pushing us to the brink in so many ways. It's a nightmare.

But at the same time, as publius notes, what is India supposed to do? What did we do? You have to respond, don't you? I'm just not sure how Western Countries are supposed to do so effectively, without playing right into their hands.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Evidence" is for damn dirty socialists

via Ezra Klien

I don't find the story Ezra links to in the New York Times surprising anymore... just exasperating.
The surprising news made headlines in December 2002. Generic pills for high blood pressure, which had been in use since the 1950s and cost only pennies a day, worked better than newer drugs that were up to 20 times as expensive.

The findings, from one of the biggest clinical trials ever organized by the federal government, promised to save the nation billions of dollars in treating the tens of millions of Americans with hypertension — even if the conclusions did seem to threaten pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer that were making big money on blockbuster hypertension drugs.

Six years later, though, the use of the inexpensive pills, called diuretics, is far smaller than some of the trial’s organizers had hoped.
Read the whole article, but things like this are a good way to remind ourselves that just doing more studies of comparative effectiveness won't magically make things cheaper. Anywhere where money and policy meet, there is politics, and biomedical research is big money and big politics. This ends up muddying the waters and making it harder for doctors to really know what they right call is... thus they stick with what they've been doing. Fair enough... to some extent.

I know doctors want to maintain independence and be able to prescribe whatever they want, but if they're not going to keep up with the literature in regards to what they're prescribing... or they think they think they know best whatever the so-called "evidence" says... I'm thinking that responsibility needs to be, at least partially, taken out of their hands. Is it possible to avoid taking away the autonomy, but still tilt things, with reimbursements and whatnot, to get it so the most effective drugs are the first option? Maybe "capitation" like Ezra suggests is the way to change the incentives so that doctors make these changes on their own... but obviously you need to balance cost savings with health outcomes, and I'm not convinced that free market principles can really be harnessed to that end.

Maybe we just need to say F-it and make a pill dispensing version of the Robot Surgeons.

Obama's National Security Team

From the latest Obama e-mail asking for money(come on guys!):
Hillary Clinton, U.S. Senator from New York and former First Lady, will serve as Secretary of State.

Secretary Robert Gates, the current Secretary of Defense, will continue to serve in that role.

Eric Holder, former Deputy Attorney General and a former United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, will serve as Attorney General.

Janet Napolitano, Governor and former U.S. Attorney for Arizona, will serve as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Dr. Susan E. Rice, a Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to the Obama for America campaign, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, will serve as Ambassador to the United Nations.

General Jim Jones, USMC (Ret), former Allied Commander, Europe, and Commander of the United States European Command, will serve as National Security Advisor.

I'm fairly happy about all those picks. There are some concerns among Dems about taking Napolitano out of Arizona is going to turn it into some Wingnut Nirvana, but I don't live there, so I have trouble caring about that angle... she seems like she's really competent, and I'd like to see her as a Senator from Arizona after a stint in the Cabinent. Arguably she could accomplish that from the Governor's chair... but an economic downturn is probably the worst time to be a Governor, since it means budget cuts. Get out while the gettin's good!

Gates staying on seems like a smart move, because apparently the military brass really likes him, and he will give bipartisan cover for the imminent withdrawal from Iraq... also, it's probably a good time to have some stability at the Department of Defense. One of the major drawbacks, that Gates might keep all of his deputies and thus lock out Obama people seems not to be a major issue. It looks like a lot of them are leaving, so there should be plenty of room.

Susan Rice is an interesting progressive voice in foreign policy, and a darling of the left, but her resume is somewhat thin, so I'd guess UN Ambassador (elevated to a Cabinet position) is a good spot for the time being.

I haven't given much thought to either Holder or Jones... Holder's involvement in the Marc Rich pardon doesn't really bother me, and they both seem eminently qualified for their posts.

Neither Gates (because he already has the job) nor Jones(nature of the post) need Senate confirmation, but all the others do.

Where Obama wonders why he wanted to be President in the first place...

From the WaPo:
Without greater urgency and decisive action by the world community, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013...
However, from the article at least, it doesn't appear that the report identifies any new threats, it just reiterates that a nuclear armed Iran and North Korea, along with an unstable Pakistan, is really bad news.

Anyway, hoping to avoid the next Depression while fighting several wars while praying nobody blows up my city, sounds like a fun way to spend the next 4 years. At least we'll have an adult in charge. What is it now? 49 days? Can't come soon enough.

Monday, December 1, 2008

In case you were wondering...

...the recession started two years one year (I R SMRT) ago. I think that roughly coincides with everyone, besides economists, agreeing that "Gee, the economy seems pretty sucky." But you can't say recession, because that's a technical term and you need two years to confirm it. Well great. I'm all for precision in language, but if can't use the word until it's blindingly obvious to everybody but Phil Gramm, can we just leave the word out of public discourse?

The fact that everyone spent the last couple years going "Well, technically..." instead of doing something about it is fairly infuriating.

Thanksgiving Postmortem

So The Gameplan(Part I, Part II) worked very well overall, but there were a few bumps in the road (and typos that I'll fix shortly). I'll go over each item in turn, first up:

High Roast Butterflied Turkey
The turkey (left) came out the best it ever has... some of that is probably just the fact that I have much more cooking experience these days, but I also think putting the temperature probe into the breast from the direction of the neck, and close to the bone, helped a lot, as I was much more confident in the turkey's temperature than when I go straight in... but that's a pretty minor point, I'd imagine. I think the dark meat ended up a little under done, though I'm not entirely sure... but the temp readings were more in the low 170's (instead of 175) when I pulled it out. I was more concerned about the best meat being "perfect" than the quality of the dark meat, but in retrospect I should have probably stuck it back in for another 5 to 10 minutes... even though nobody eats the dark meat. The breast meat was perfectly done, however, and super moist so maybe I shouldn't second guess myself too much.

Butterflying the turkey was strangely easy this year... not sure why that was... maybe just because, by now, since butterfly/high roast is my favorite thing to do to poultry, I've cut the backbones out of 6-10 birds? Don't know, but I sliced that bad boy out pretty quickly. I was a little over zealous in trimming down the skin around the neck, which, as you can see from the picture, left part of the breast exposed to high heat... but the meat underneath was perfectly fine.

For the brine, instead of doing two gallons into my 12 quart stockpot, where adding the turkey causes a ton of water to splosh out, I tried starting with a gallon and adding brine one quart at a time... not worth it. It ended up being 1 and 3/4 gallons, and the hassle of measuring out the brine in 4 cup measurements (and doing the math to figure out how many tablespoons of sugar/salt it's supposed to be) was too great to be worth saving a tablespoon of sugar and salt.

Overall, I can't complain about how this turned out... my best effort to date, but still plenty of room for improvement.

Cornbread and Sausage Dressing
My eternal issue with this item is my inability to find an unseasoned plain fresh pork sausage... it seems like all anybody wants is fancy spiced ones. I didn't ask at the butcher counter this year, though I didn't see any on display, and last time I did they looked at me funny. It seems like I should be able to find something like boudin, even up here in New England, but maybe it's out there and I just haven't looked hard enough. Anyway, it's a relatively minor issue, but it bugs me.

My biggest problem was accidentally doubling my finely diced celery... whoops! Honestly, it was so finely diced that I couldn't really detect the effect, but it was still a bit galling when I realized. (Honey, why did I need so much more celery to make 3 cups than they said? Because you only wanted 1 1/2 cups. Doh.)

The only other issue was that it burned a bit on the edges and bottom, which has never happened before. Not a big deal, since there was plenty of stuffing, so I could just leave that in the pan... but I'm not sure why it happened. Did I not spray enough of the cooking spray? Was it the accursed celery? Hmmmm.

Turkey Gravy
My Le Creuset dutch oven was definitely the right call here. I was somewhat worried that things wouldn't brown well with less surface area, but since I was stirring every 10 minutes, it didn't seem to be a problem... it took maybe 50-60 minutes instead of 40-50 to get things well browned, but that's probably not outside the general recipe margin of error. It also seemed to make more sense not to transfer the stock and parts to a separate saucepan after deglazing, when I could just do the deglazing and subsequent simmering in the same pot.

The flavor was fantastic, but I had trouble with the roux for the third straight year. It got clumpy, which I think means I needed more fat, but I wasn't quick enough on the uptake to realize that at the time. I need more study on that one, but I think the fact that I was using turkey fat congealed from the stock, as opposed to butter or something, was the big wild card. It wasn't exactly clear where fat ended and stock began, so the 4 tablespoons I added were probably significantly less than that in actual fat content. I should have kept putting in more until it smoothed out, I guess... or just done it with butter? Something to think on and research.

Another issue was that I kept reheating it, thus causing more thickening... I need to be a little less OCD about that, and wait until the last minute... plus I should reserve some stock to thin it out a bit if I over do it.

At some point I'd like to make some killer gravy.

Pumpkin Pie
This started as a fiasco, but ended in DELICIOUS. You can see my first (partially eaten) attempt to make a "blind bake pie shell" to the left. It actually tasted really good, but had obviously fallen to the point of comical uselessness. To be honest, I have to (partially) blame the author of the Cook's Illustrated pumpkin pie recipe here, as they provided virtually no direction on what you were trying to accomplish and what you were looking for in the various stages of the blind bake. The recipe just calls for putting in some foil with some weights and cooking it for 15 minutes... with no indication that you are trying to get it to set, and should not remove the weights unless that is so. Obviously, the assumption is that you know how to blind bake a pie shell, but I'm not really sure how good of an assumption that is for most cooks. How often do people cook pies? Even Anna, who loves baking, and has blind baked her fair share of shells, was unfamiliar with using pie weights(she pokes holes with a fork), so didn't know what we were supposed to be looking for. Anyway, despite being more than a little despondent at my first attempt, we had already made the filling at this point (which is a pretty huge PITA, but oh so tasty) so Anna suggested refrigerating the filling and retrying the pie shell in the morning, now that we knew we removed the weights way too early (it was almost midnight on Wednesday at this point). Thus I made another batch of dough and let it refrigerate overnight.

One of the advantages of waiting until the next day was that I could look at the New Best Recipe description of blind baked pie shells to fill in the gaps left by the magazine recipe. As a general rule, despite the fact that they're all from the same people, the recipes from the cookbook are almost 100% foolproof while the magazine ones and ancillary books are much more hit and miss... so I should have checked there first and compared the two crusts, but live and learn. Anyway, I ended up doing a combo of the two... basically following the trusted NBR, but going with a vodka/water combo instead of just water. I'll change the recipe I posted to reflect this differing methodology shortly... but in short, after being rolled out and fluted, it spent longer in the 'fridge and a bit in the freezer, and instead of just doing 15 minutes with the weights, I did more like 25, and I made extra super sure the pie was set before I removed the weights.

I had to reheat the filling before baking the pie in toto... but just using a very low heat worked fine, and the crust didn't get mushy at all. Now, after slightly trashing the author of the Cook's recipe for their lack of direction on the pie shell, I do have to say the filling was ridiculously awesome... and using an instant read thermometer to get the pie temperature, before letting residual heat finish the cooking as the pie cooled, resulted in the best pumpkin pie I've ever had. Pushing the simmered filling through a fine mesh strainer took like 30 minutes, but it seriously had a super silky texture... not grainy at all. In addition, having it still "wobbly in the middle" (though not after it cools) made me realize that most of the pumpkin pies I've had have been overdone and curdled.

So in summary, it was really really good, and I learned something about making pies because of the earlier setback... so no harm done... though Anna rolled both shells out, so I still have no skill in that arena (frankly shaping dough intimidates me - even when we do pizzas I make her do it).

So that's it. Another holiday passed... as I mentioned above, I'm going to go back and correct some typos and change the pumpkin pie recipe to reflect the pie shell I ended up making... but for the most part, it's time to go back to terrorists in India and Obama's foreign policy team. *sigh*

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm off to Maine in a few hours and have a bunch of stuff I need to finish up for work, so this will probably be my last blog post before Sunday or Monday.

I'll have a lot of cooking to report back on, and I hope to GPS another hike as well.... but until then, have a good holiday!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Gameplan, Day 2

The results can be found here.

Part I, with the bulk of the cooking lineup is here... so this will be a short post just about getting the turkey, dressing, and gravy all onto the table on Thanksgiving Day, with a pumpkin pie for desert. If you followed Part I, cooking up a storm the day/night before, there isn't a whole lot to do on the actual day... unless of course you have responsibility for other sides like mashed potatoes and whatnot... luckily for me, Anna does all that stuff, though I will most likely be lending a hand.

Thursday November 27th, 2008
Dinner, T-minus 2-2 1/2 hours: High Roasting the Turkey
At 450 degrees, the turkey takes about 80-100 minutes to reach 165 degrees at the thickest part of the breast. Obviously, that time is plus or minus, though much more likely "plus"... but I've found myself in that range both of the other times I've made it. You also need to let the turkey rest at least 20 minutes before carving, so that's where the 2-2 1/2 hour time frame comes from.

Also, you really need an instant read thermometer for this... which you should own for any poultry you cook... those pop up things are rubbish. If you don't mind spending a little more money, I like the ones that have remote probes and sit outside the oven... though I've learned you have to be kind of careful with the probes, as I've had one die on me (though it got pretty heavy use and lasted 2 years) so I'd recommend buying it at a local cooking shop that you know sells replacement probes as well. The main reason I prefer it to the hand held models is that you don't have to open the oven, lowering the temperature, and increasing the cooking time... just stick the probe in the thickest part of the breast and forget about it until it's done... or if you're an OCD cook like me, you can check the readout every 15 minutes instead of peeking in the oven. You'll still need to check a couple of different spots when you take it out, to really be sure it's done, but I find using the remote probe and then poking it a couple of times makes me a more relaxed cook. When you take it out to check for final done-ness, this is what Cook's Illustrated suggests:
The tendency when inserting a thermometer straight down into the meat (which is not even 2 inches thick) is to push it down too far or not far enough. For this reason, we prefer to insert the thermometer horizontally from the top (neck) end down the length of the breast. The idea is to insert the thermometer well into the meat, then slowly withdraw it, looking for the lowest temperature that registers.

If you're taking the temperature of the breast on a whole chicken, aim for the meat just above the bone by inserting the thermometer low into the thickness of the breast. Because the cavity slows the cooking, the coolest spot sits just above the bone (which is a poor conductor of heat).
So that's the plan for me. To start, I'll insert the remote probe from the neck end and keep it near the bone and put it fairly deep in. I'll set the temp alarm for 165. When I take the turkey out, I'll check the temp as I slowly pull the thermometer out... to make sure it's done all along the breast bone. I may check the other breast as well, since I don't particularly want salmonella. I'll check the thighs too, of course, but I'm pretty confident that the butterflying will save me there (though you obviously always want to be sure). The uncertainties with cooking poultry are one of the big reasons to brine, as it gives you a bigger temperature window of moist meat... so I can err on the side of caution and not end up with dried out meat (hopefully).

Anyway, on to the turkey cooking...

You'll need one ingredient for this step (besides the prepped turkey):
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower middle position, and set the oven at 450 degrees. Remove the broiler top with the turkey, and discard the foil covering the roasting pan. Replace the broiler top and turkey.
  2. Brush the turkey with the melted butter, and place the entire assembly in the oven.
  3. Rotate the roasting pan 180 degrees (back to front) 40 minutes in.
  4. The turkey will be done, after anywhere from 80-100 minutes of roasting (total), when an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165 degrees and 175 when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.
  5. Remove the broiler top to a cutting board so the turkey can rest for 20 minutes. Move an oven rack to the upper middle position and return the roasting pan with the stuffing to the oven, and bake until golden brown - 10 minutes. Cool the dressing 5 minutes and serve.

Dinner, T-minus 15-30 minutes: Finish the gravy
Technically, it's not really gravy at this point... despite all the work from the previous night, it's just "stock"... so you'll need the stock with it's congealed turkey fat on top out of the refrigerator plus:
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  1. If you have a fat separator, and were smart enough to refrigerate your stock in it the night before, pour the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a medium saucepan... leaving the congealed fat behind. Otherwise, spoon off the fat with a large soup spoon and reserve it (you'll need it for the roux) before likewise pouring the stock through a fine mesh strainer into the saucepan.
  2. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium high heat.
  3. In a second saucepan heat 4 tablespoons of the reserved turkey fat over medium high heat until bubbling. Whisk in the flour, whisking constantly, until it is combined and turns honey colored. About 2 minutes. Continuing to whisk constantly, gradually pour in the hot stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened... about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve with the turkey.
I'll warn you that if you've never done a roux before, this is probably the trickiest part of the whole meal... you might want a backup jar of gravy, just in case you end up with a clumpy mess... but I've managed to make decent gravy(though admittedly, now that I have more experience it's become much better), so I think that probably means anyone can.


So there you have it. I'll take some pictures and make some notes, if I can, and report back how it went (especially the pie) on Monday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Gameplan - High Roast Butterflied Turkey with Sausage Dressing and a Pumpkin Pie

Day 2 can be seen here. Results here.

As I've mentioned previously, this will be my third time cooking a turkey for the holidays. Since Anna's father will be the only other person who eats meat in attendance, it's not super high pressure, but I take it pretty seriously nonetheless because... why not? Anyway, in the past I've stuck to turkey, dressing and gravy so I've not had the insanity of trying to have twenty different things all ready at the same time. Most of the work with the turkey happens Wednesday night, so I can just stroll into the kitchen on Thursday, pop the turkey in for a couple hours and relax and watch football or whatever while Anna and her mother run around and do all the hard stuff. This holiday, however, I'm mixing up my routine by trying to make a decidedly non vegan pumpkin pie since it's one of my favorites... and I don't think Anna and her family care much for the vegan version, so why not try to make the regular one? The problem being I have to make that on Wednesday as well, and I don't want to be up until 3 in the morning waiting for a pie to finish... that sort of takes away from the gloating aspect if I'm all bleary eyed and yawning the next day.

There are a few non gloating reasons to do most of the work ahead of time. The main one is obvious... less stress. As an inexperienced cook, my biggest problem is freaking out because I have too many things going on at once, which is big part of why I'm writing up a detailed plan ahead of time. I'll print this out and have it near me as I cook, to (hopefully) save me time and frustration from trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do next. In addition, on the culinary side, letting the turkey air dry over night helps you get a super crisp skin... which is one of the big reasons of doing a "high roast". The dressing also benefits from resting several hours so the flavors blend and the dried cornbread absorbs the liquids... or so they tell me.

We'll leave Boston sometime after lunch, with a 4-5 hour drive and a quick bite when we arrive (and using past history to guesstimate) I should be ready to start cooking by 6 pm. The recipes here are all adapted from Cook's Illustrated, the turkey, dressing, and gravy from The New Best Recipe and the pumpkin pie from the November & December 2008 issue. Note that the turkey recipe is sightly different from the one you can get online if you join their website(they do an 8 hour brine and they don't have the associated gravy recipe from what I can tell).

Wednesday November 26th, 2008
6:00 pm - Butterfly the Turkey
The technique is identical to what I did with the High Roast Chicken (and there is a video link in that post to an America's Test Kitchen video with a chicken). The main difference being that a turkey is much much harder to butterfly than a chicken. I use a cleaver, but theoretically you could do it with a chef's knife. There will be hacking and sawing... which reminds me I should get some disposable rubber gloves so I don't cut my hands on turkey bones like I do every year. You also will have to beat on the breastbone a bit... Cook's says to put plastic wrap over it and beat it with a rolling pin... seriously! Just pushing with the palm of your hand isn't going to work like it does with a chicken.

So why go through all this? Mainly it allows you to cook at a higher temperature, and deals with the problem of the turkey's vaulted bone structure which tends to overcook your breast meat and/or under cook the dark meat... other recipes call for flipping the turkey over in the middle and things like that. Butterflying is a lot like just cutting the turkey into pieces, but with a much prettier presentation that you kind of need for a holiday feast. In addition, in a recent article Harold McGee's main argument against brining was that the pan drippings were too salty to make a good gravy. I hadn't heard that before, but since I don't brine the backbone, neck, and tailpiece that are used in the gravy, maybe that's why I've not noticed a problem. But, regardless, if one of your concerns was overly salty gravy that shouldn't be a issue here... though the turkey juices do end up flavoring the dressing/stuffing, so if you are sensitive to the taste of salt, this might not be the methodology for you.

There are two things you need that you won't see on the ingredient list and are not super common in every kitchen... a 16 x 12 inch disposable aluminum roasting pan and a slotted broiler pan top. If you don't have a broiler pan, you can supposedly use a wire rack that's big enough to span the aluminum pan. Cover the rack with heavy duty foil, spray with cooking spray, and cut some slits with a paring knife for fat drainage.

6:30 pm
Put the turkey(12-14 pounds) in a big stockpot with 1 cup table salt and 1 cup sugar dissolved in about 2 gallons of water for 4 hours in the refrigerator. Now time to make the cornbread for the dressing.


  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  1. Oven to 375 degrees, rack to middle. Grease a 13 x 9 baking dish.
  2. Beat eggs(3) in a medium bowl. Whisk in 1 cup buttermilk and 1 cup milk.
  3. In a separate, large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients (cornmeal, flour, et al). Make a well and pour in the egg/milk mixture. Stir together until just combined and add in the melted butter
  4. Put into the oven until top is golden brown and edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan: 30-40 minutes.
  5. Put pan on a wire baking dish to let cool for an hour.
While the cornbread is baking, I will need to start chopping up turkey parts and aromatics to roast for the gravy. All of the chopping here can be pretty rough.

Turkey Gravy
  • giblets, neck, tailpiece, and backbone cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 celery rib, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 small onions, chopped coarse
  • 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Put turkey parts, carrot, celery, onions, and garlic in a large flameproof roasting pan (you're going to have to put it on top of burners, so nice heavy metal one is good). In the past I've used a broiler pan and kept the heat down to medium when I put it on the burner, while only using half the broth to scrape up the browned bits (the rest goes in when you transfer it to a saucepan), but this year I might bring up my Le Creuset dutch oven since I know for sure that can take 450 plus work on a burner. A possible problem with that would be insufficient surface area for browning, but the pot is pretty big and that's not a ton of stuff... but that's something for me to consider between now and Wednesday. Regardless, spray everything in the pan lightly with cooking spray and toss to combine. Now you just wait until the cornbread comes out of the oven.

7:10 pm - Roast the turkey parts and aromatics and start the pie crust
Move the oven temperature up from 375 to 450. Once it's preheated, put your roasting pan in the oven for 40-50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. You want everything to be very well browned. Now we move on to make the pie crust (though I may wimp out of this and buy one of Pillsbury roll out ones).

Pumpkin Pie Crust
  • 1 1/4 cups(6.25 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening cut into 2 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons cold vodka
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  1. Process 3/4 cup flour, salt, and sugar until combined (2 1 second pulses). Add butter and shortening and process for about 10 seconds: homogeneous dough should just start to collect in uneven clumps. According to the magazine it's supposed to look like cottage cheese with small pieces of butter still remaining, but no un-coated flour. Interesting. Scrape the dough down with a spatula so it's evenly around the blade. Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse 4 to 6 times until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  2. Sprinkle water and vodka over mixture. With spatula fold to mix, pressing down on dough until it is "slightly tacky and sticks together". Flatten dough into 4 inch disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days. The pie will be the last thing in the oven, so that should not be a problem.
8:00 PM - Back to the gravy
  • roasted turkey parts and aromatics from above
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 cups water
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  1. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a burner at high heat(see above if you are using a non flameproof broiler pan). Add chicken broth and bring to a boil, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits.
  2. Transfer to large saucepan. Add wine, water, and thyme and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce it to a simmer and take note of how high it comes up in the pan, because you want it to reduce by half... which should take about 1.5 hours. So once you've got that simmering happily, it's on to the cornbread dressing.
8:15 PM - Dry out the cornbread, and finish the sausage dressing
Turn the oven down to 250 (you might want to turn it off and open it up depending on whether your oven tells you when it's at the right temperature) and put racks at the upper middle and lower middle position. While the oven is cooling down, break your cornbread (which should be cool by now) into 1 inch pieces (include the crumbs) and put them onto even layers on two rimmed baking sheets. It'll take 50-60 minutes for the crumbs to dry out.

Now to prep the other ingredients for the dressing, and to cook the sausage.

Sausage Dressing

  • dried out cornbread from above
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken or turkey stock
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 large eggs lightly beate
  • 12 oz pork sausage crumbled
  • 3 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons mince fresh sage leaves
  • 3 medium garlic cloves mined or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  1. While the bread is drying out in the oven, heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot (1 1/2 minutes). Add the sausage and cook stirring occasionally until it loses its raw color (5-7 minutes). Transfer the sausage with a slotted spoon (leaving the fat in the pan hopefully) to a medium bowl. Cook about half of the celery and onions in the sausage fat, stirring occasionally, until softened and then transfer to the bowl with the cooked sausage. Add the butter into the skillet, and once the foaming subsides, add the rest of the onions and celery and saute until softened, another 5 minutes with some occasional stirring. Stir in the thyme, sage, and garlic and cook until fragrant(30 seconds) and then add in the salt and pepper. Add that all into the bowl with the already cooked sausage, celery, and onion and set aside until the bread is dried out.
  2. Once the bread is dried out, put it in a large bowl. Whisk together the stock, half and half, and eggs in separate medium bowl. Poor it over the bread, and toss very gently, trying not break up the bread into smaller pieces. Add in the sausage and onion mixture, and once again stir very gently to combine.
  3. Spray the bottom of your 16 by 12 disposable aluminum pan with cooking spray and pour the dressing mixture into an even layer. Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate it until you're need it again.

9:30 PM - Finish with the gravy for the evening, and back to the pie
The gravy reduction will be the least predictable and variable thing you cook, as it depends quite a bit on how hard you simmer it... but luckily you'll be working near the stove while it's reducing, so it's easy to keep an eye on. For the purposes of this writeup, I'll assume it finishes "on time" in an hour and a half... but even in only two tries I think I've had one take 2 hours and the other take an hour and fifteen minutes to reduce by half... though they were two vastly different stoves, so that might have been a big part of it. Regardless, all you do now is strain it to get the big pieces out and pour it into a measuring cup or container. Let it cool down to room temperature and then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the next day when you cook the turkey. The recipe only calls for an hour to get the fat to congeal, but to me, it makes more sense to refrigerate overnight and finish it with the roux as the turkey rests.

Pumpkin Pie Filling
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 15oz can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup drained candied yams from 15oz can
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  1. Change the oven temp up to 400 after moving a rack to the lowest position. Remove dough from the fridge and lay it out on a "generously floured"(up to 1/4 cup) work surface. Apparently you want to roll it until it's a 12 inch circle that's an 1/8 of an inch think. I think I'll end up being glad Anna with her baking experience is around to guide me on this.
  2. Roll the dough around the rolling pin, loosely, and transfer to a pie plate... leaving at least an inch around each edge. You're supposed to ease it in by lifting the dough edge with one hand and pressing it into the plate with the other. Then refrigerate it for 15 minutes.
  3. Trim overhang to 1/2 an inch beyond lip of plate. Fold overhang under itself so that it's flush with the edge of the plate... then "flute" it with your thumb and forefinger. Then it goes back into the 'fridge for another 15 minutes to firm up some more.
  4. Line crust with foil and then put in a handful of loose change or some weights. Bake on a rimmed backing sheet for 15 minutes, remove weights and foil, rotate 180 degrees, and bake 5-10 minutes more until crust is golden brown and crisp.
  5. While the crust is baking, it's time to work on the filling. Whisk the cream, milk, eggs, yolks, and vanilla in a medium bowl.
  6. Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, 5-7 minutes. (Does that direction mean it should take 5-7 minutes to get it to a simmer? I think so from watching the video on their website, but am not 100%certain). Simmer for another 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly and smashing the yams with a spoon until it is "thick and shiny".
  7. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream/milk mixture until fully incorporated. Strain it through a find mesh strainer into a medium bowl, pressing with a spoon or ladle on the solids. Re-whisk it and pour into the warm pre-baked pie shell. Return the shell to the oven on the cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 and bake for another 20-35 minutes when an instant read thermometer put in the center registers 175 degrees. The video revealed that the center will be jiggly and seem underdone, but that it will finish cooking as it cools to room temperature. Interesting.
The recipe says to let it cool for 2-3 hours, but assuming Anna thinks it will be O.K., I plan on just letting it sit out overnight.

11:15 PM - Prep the turkey for roasting
The only thing left to do for the night's cooking is to take the turkey out of the brine and truss it up. If I do end up taking the turkey out of the brine around this time it will be a slightly longer brine than the recipe suggests... near 5 hours instead of 4, but that's about how long I've left it in before and I've not had a problem with saltiness. As I mentioned in the beginning, the original magazine article had it as an 8 hour brine with the same concentrations... but if you're worried about it getting too salty, just take it out whenever your 4 hours is up (ideally, when the pie crust is in the fridge setting). Anyway, on with the recipe...

  1. Take the foil covered aluminum roasting pan containing the dressing out of the refrigerator, and place your slotted broiler pan top on top. Spray the top with cooking spray and place it all on top of a rimmed cookie sheet. 
  2. Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse thoroughly, inside and out, so there is no salt or sugar residue left. Place on top of the broiler pan top and pat dry with paper towels. Fold the wings back and underneath so it's all pretty like, and tie the legs together to help protect the breast meat. Refrigerate the bird and dressing together until you're ready to cook them (from 8 to 24 hours). 
And that's it for Wednesday night's cooking! Assuming everything goes at about the right speed (not bloody likely) I hope to be ready for bed by midnight. Whew!

I'll follow up tomorrow with a short post about cooking the actual turkey and finishing the gravy up, but this post seems long enough as it is!

See here for Day 2.

Friday, November 21, 2008

So is surgery done by robots better?

Of course not.

But did you miss the part where I said ROBOTS!? I don't care what it costs, give me some of that! Hell, I'll get surgery I don't even need so that I can get the robot.

Ah, the free market... making our health care both sucky and expensive. Wheee!

Clinton at State "on track"

How's that for a "definite maybe" or would it more accurately be categorized as a "surefire probably"?
President-elect Barack Obama is "on track" to name Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as his secretary of state shortly after Thanksgiving, two senior Obama aides said.
Is there some sort of pool where we can bet on how many times the news media will report that she's is or isn't going to accept SoS between now and when she actually does or doesn't accept?

The Dark Tower Series

Anna's always been a big fan of audio books since she does so much driving, but I've been much slower getting into it. It's admittedly nice when we go on trips, but I've generally always preferred the feel of a book in my hand and the ability to easily go back a paragraph or two if I space out. Also, my commute is pretty short, so it seems like it would take me ages to get through a book since I'd never(rarely at least) listen while at home. That's changed since I started to work out on the elliptical here at work instead of running outside as it's gotten colder... I've never been one for headphones when exercising outdoors, but staring at the same wall for 20-30 minutes is pretty hellish without some sort of input... and a book has proven much more effective at distracting me from how much I don't want to be exercising than music. I went through the last two books of The Bartimaeus Trilogy mainly during my commute and while working out, and became so fond of it that I was going through some tough withdrawal this week as I waited for Anna to pick up a new audio book from the library.

So today I start The Dark Tower Series. I've never read it, and have never been a Stephen King fan, though I've been told many times that it's not at all like his other work. We shall see. In my opinion, the best part about it is that it's 7 books so it will keep me busy for a while if I pace myself. Hopefully I'll like it.