Friday, 28 October 2011 16:02

Microwave Cassoulet brought to you by Betty Crocker

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This is not a joke! Well, it is sort of but I bet Betty Crocker didn't think so. My daughter checked out a Betty Crocker cookbook from the local library. She was showing me some recipes in it as normally I would not have even opened it. About halfway through there was an Easy Cassoulet recipe. Intrigued I looked it over. Seconds later my jaw dropped in disbelief. You, my faithful readers probably remember my Cassoulet article from the past. If not then go there now and read up on it, I'll wait for you. In that recipe (which is quite good) there are no less than 19 ingredients and start to finish it takes about 3 days to prepare spread out over one month. I never thought any meal could be worth that kind of labor and yet I've made it 4 times. Now my least favorite season - Fall, is welcomed open armed just because it gives me an excuse to break out the butcher knife and soak those great northern white beans until they're smooth as butter. Yes, I'm hooked.

I'm sure Betty Crocker they're doing their readers a great service having an Easy Cassoulet recipe because who wouldn't want to partake in this rustic southern French dish? The recipe is as follows.

  • 1 pound of Polish sausage
  • 1 can of great northern beans
  • 1 can of kidney beans
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 1 can of tomato sauce
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 2 small onions
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of dry red wine or beef broth
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic

 

In the interest of their consummate readers they've even included microwave directions *gag cough gag* as follows.

 

To Microwave: Place carrots and red wine in 3 qt microwavable casserole. Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Place sausage on carrots. Mix remaining ingredients. Pour over top. Cover tightly and microwave on high 18 to 22 minutes, stirring after 12 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

 

Can we have a moment of silence to honor the death of our dear old friend? If you don't mind I'd like to say a few words. "Cassoulet, I'm sorry for what has become of you. I'm sorry for how little we've tried to understand your complexity and how we've attempted to make you into something you're not out of our own laziness and for the sake of convenience. But most of all I'm sorry that you had to go out this way, with such a loss of dignity, please forgive us - amen."

Polish sausage and 3 cans of beans? Are you on crack Betty Crocker? Betty Coker is more like it. What can they possibly think to accomplish by putting Polish sausages and 3 types of canned beans in a microwave dish and cooking it for 20 minutes? I'm not saying you have to spend three days cooking Cassoulet but there are some dishes that if you don't plan on cooking them right you should just leave them the hell alone! Or here's another idea, microwave your sausage and beans but call it microwaved sausage and beans - not Cassoulet.

I have other issues with it. I don't believe I'm actually giving it any time at all but dry red wine OR beef broth? Oh you don't have any dry red wine for your wine reduction to pour over that Chateaubriand? Just use beef broth, they taste about the same. Ack! I can't think of an instance where you'd substitute beef broth for red wine. I just can't. Speechless I may not be but flabbergasted I am.

 

Sunday, 23 October 2011 09:02

Livening up Macaroni Salad

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My mother has been bugging me about putting up my Macaroni Salad recipe so she can make it and you know what they say, if your mother tells you to do something you should listen - and share.

This is the first recipe in a series that's a result of my tackling each item of the standard American BBQ feast one at a time. I'm fairly happy with it so now I can move on to other things like BBQ beans or Potato salad. Considering the weather I probably won't finish them until next summer.

I'm not straying too far from the standard base of macaroni, mayonnaise, vinegar and some form of sweetener. In my rendition I swap sweetened condensed milk for some of the mayonnaise and the sweetener. I also add sweet peppers (bell or otherwise), red onion, carrot and celery.

As with a lot of cooking it's not so much the ingredients you choose but the balance they create and I really like this salad. I make it each Sunday and eat it for my lunch. Those of you who know me know that I don't put up recipes unless I'm satisfied and I rarely am so take this one serious. That does not mean however, that I won't still be playing with flavor balances in the future.

Without further ado here is the recipe - Macaroni Salad

 

Monday, 17 October 2011 09:17

Sweet potato pumpkin soup with parmesan croutons

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Google+ has been a very productive use of my time in a lot of ways. I have more intellectual conversations in one day than I've had on Facebook since the beginning. I fear that this will come to an end once everyone is using it but for now it's golden. If you'd like to follow me do so at gplus.to/grant.mcwilliams.

Lately on Google+ I've been trying to boost the number of foodie posts and in turn ended up making a recipe that Elaina Samardzija posted. You can follow her on her Flavour blog where she talks a great deal about food and wine. You can find her Google+ info there and I recommend her for your foodie circles.

The other day she posted a modification of Jamie Oliver's Butternut Squash soup recipe using pumpkin and sweet potatoes flavored with rosemary, red onion, carrots, sage and garlic. All good in my book. Since I had everything but the sweet potatoes I ran down to my local Indian market and picked up a few garnets (garnet yams are not yams, they're sweet potatoes, don't get me started).

The smell from the kitchen was very nice and the soup was easy to make.  I'd post the recipe here but it makes more sense to just send you to her blog at Flavour. Besides you might find other things interesting to read.

The gist of the soup is a melody of sweet potatoes, pumpkin, red onions, carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary and stock plus a touch of heat from cayenne. Topped with a sliced baguette sporting olive oil drizzles and shaved Parmesan toasted under the broiler.

I've tasted Butternut squash soup before that I've really liked and have attempted all the famous versions of it and it's been OK but not great. This one is better than OK but still not "hit it out of the park good". The heat is nice, the overall flavor is nice and it sort of grows on you. I think I'll be spending some time on it in the future to see if I get it creamy smooth and more depth.

The croûtons though I liked a lot and if you just cut them up and eat them with the soup it's a nice mixture of flavors. However, a change that I'll make the next time I do this is to fry them in olive oil in my non-stick pan like I do for my Fried baguette and truffle chèvre hors d'oeuvres. I think that will be an improvement.

Overall very nice and perfect timing for winter

Sunday, 16 October 2011 12:56

Making food more fun

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My daughter like a lot of kids, loves Macaroni and Cheese. However, there isn't a more boring food so today I thought I'd try to liven it up a bit. A lot of people eat hot dogs in Mac and Cheese so I started there. With some innovative ideas and changing out the standard elbow macaroni things get interesting. I found the larger tube macaroni (but not as large as penne) at my local Asian market even though they're still an Italian style noodle. Combine that with some spaghetti noodles and it gets fun.

The rest of the recipe is largely the Cooks Illustrated Macaroni and Cheese recipe with 8 oz of cheddar, 8 oz of Monterey jack, a blonde roux turned Béchamel sauce turned Mornay, a little dried mustard and cayenne for zip.

 

 

Enjoy!

 

Thursday, 13 October 2011 17:47

Create an iSCSI target on a Control Domain

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Prerequisites

 

  • XCP/Xenserver
  • Access to Internet

 

 

Creating an iSCSI target on Xen Cloud Platform 1.1

Premise: I have two pools – The first has one host in it that acts as a router, firewall and Host for a couple of special VMs for (DNS, DHCP, NFS, Web) the hosts in a second pool. I've added iSCSI SAN to it's lists of jobs using a software iSCSI target in the 8 steps below.

 

1. Install tgt from CentOS repos

yum --enablerepo=base install scsi-target-utils

2. Start the tgt service

service tgtd start

chkconfig tgtd on

3. Preparing for LVM

 

I'm using a separate hard drive - /dev/sdb and creating one partition which will be used as my LVM Physical Volume. We'll then add it to the Volume Group and carve it up into Logical Volumes. This way I can just add another hard drive to the Volume Group when we want more capacity and the rest of the tutorial stays the same. The bold letters are what I input, I accepted the defaults everywhere else.

Sunday, 09 October 2011 09:27

Amtrak provides less Agony for half the cost of flying

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I've done articles before comparing the Seattle to Portland travel options of driving vs. flying vs. the train. Although my initial impression was that driving would win on cost and flying would win on speed I was wrong. All three methods take the same amount of time from downtown to downtown if being fair (ie. you need to put gas in the car, get through security, wait in line to board the train etc..). The train ended up being cheapest for up to 3 people and by far the most enjoyable. Flying lost every comparison. When you fly you have less usable time, more interruptions  (light rail, security gates, boarding, wireless disconnect, de-boarding, light rail) and more discomfort (small seat, TSA) so it lost in every aspect. The Amtrak Cascades won in most aspects outside of freedom once arriving at the destination and frequency.

The reason I'm writing about this again is that Hipmunk a travel search engine has added Amtrak to it's search results. What's also interesting about Hipmunk is that it includes an Agony filter. You can sort by least Agonizing trip. I'm not sure what criteria Hipmunk uses but I'll show the results for Seattle to Portland trips. Also keep an eye on the prices for a round trip ticket. The trip with the least agony is also the cheapest.

 

Friday, 07 October 2011 19:54

Easy flatbread for 4 cents each

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We just had a discussion on Google+ about eating on a budget. Seems I need to write that book afterall. One of the strategies I've always employed is food subsidies. That just means that a cheap food subsidizes an expensive one. Restaurants do this all the time, that's why you have starches (potatoes, rice, bread) with your meats. The price of a starch is a fraction of the price of herbs, spices, aged cheese, wine and meats. Next on the ladder is most vegetables. It's a rare occasion for vegetables to cost more than $1 per lb. When was the last time you bought meat for $1/lb?

So with that in mind I'd like to focus on breads. Now if you buy the budget American white bread you may be able to get it for a dollar for a 24 oz loaf. You can make it cheaper but it's really the yeast that costs so you have to commit to buying a block of yeast to make it worth the trouble. Then there's the rising time etc.. Usually these hurdles are too much and people avoid saving money by buying bread and understandably so. However, flatbread can be easy to make and dirt cheap. Pita usually costs about $3 in the store for 10 ounces. That's a starch for the price of a meat. Pita is fairly easy to make too and I have a Wheat Pita recipe that I like a lot here at The Man, The Myth, The Legend.

However, what I'm about to show you will make even homemade Pita look expensive! I can make 8 pita at home for about $1. If I buy large blocks of yeast and 25 lb of flour I can get them down to about 10 cents each and it takes only 2 hrs from start to finish to make it. Following is how to make flatbread in 30 minutes for 1/3 the cost of Wheat Pita. How is this possible you ask? India! If you had to feed 1 Billion people and they had little to no money I bet you'd find a cheap way to do it and they have. The flatbread I'm referring to is Chapati (or Roti). To make Chapati you'll want to look around for an Indian/Pakistani market and pick up a large bag of Atta (Chapati flour). Atta is a blend of wheat flour and malted barley flour and you should be able to get it for about $1/lb if you buy a 20/lb bag. To make 8 Chapati you'll need one cup of Atta and enough water to get it to come together. Since you're paying about 33 cents per cup of Atta and water is free Chapati ends up being one of the cheapest and easiest flatbreads to make.

Directions:

1. Put one cup of Atta in a food processor bowl. Turn it on and add small amounts of water at a time until it comes together in a ball. Unlike how westerners make bread (put in ingredients, then add flour to get it just right) Indians put the flour in the bowl and add water until it's just right. Be careful not to add too much water because adding flour doesn't fix it. If you're kneeding by hand just dip your knuckles in a bowl of water and kneed by punching the dough down. Food processors however do a good job and you'll be done in about 3 minutes.

2. After the dough comes together put it in a bowl and cover for 30 minutes to let it rest. During this time you can make the rest of your dinner.

3. Heat a flat comal or griddle pan to medium tempurature.

4. Roll the doughbull into a long rope then cut it into eight pieces. One at a time roll each piece into a ball then flaten and roll out into a very thin circle about 6-8 inches in diameter.

5. Lay on the griddle for about 30 seconds then flip. It will puff up if your pan is up to temperature. If it doesn't puff up wait a few minutes before cooking the next one.

6. Brush a little clarified butter on them when done. This is optional but it gives them a nice flavor.  See my recipe on how to make clarified butter (Deshi Ghee).

 

Friday, 07 October 2011 18:15

Pumpkin bread loaf number 1 - 2011

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My first Cinderella Pumpkin was very productive and gave me a great deal of pumpkin so naturally I wanted to do something with it so I made bread as I always do. I've always been very reluctant to put up a Pumpkin Bread recipe because there's a LOT of method involved in how I do it. The reason for this is the amount of moisture in the fresh pumpkin I use. Also every loaf has a full 2 cups of pumpkin in it thus compounding the problem. When you have wet recipes it's very easy to end up with a mess. Also my readers pumpkins may be dryer or wetter than mine thus needing modifications to the recipe. So after 10 years I've still not posted the recipe for my bread.

In addition the first loaf of the year may or may not turn out since I'm getting the feel of my pumpkins. I've made the recipe more reliable in the past by putting the pumpkin meat in a pan over low heat and condensing the flavor by steaming out some of the liquid. This also takes some of the moisture out of the bread which I don't want. It's all about weights and balances which only my eyes and fingers know. Recipe or no, I baked a loaf and of course took photos.

I'm sure there will be more later.

Wednesday, 05 October 2011 17:54

Pumpkins are food... eat them. Really!

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It's that time of year again.... The leaves are falling, the grapes are a bit surprised at our 60 degree daytime temps and pumpkins are available from the farms. It's Pumpkin Bread time -  a 20 year tradition at The Man, The Myth, The Legend. It all started two decades ago when we got coupons to spend at the local farmers market. Not knowing what to spend them on I bought a pumpkin and made bread from a recipe out of the 1971 edition of The Joy of Cooking (not to be confused with the 1969 edition of The Joy of Sex, something you only do once for sure). The bread was not bad and we got to use the pumpkin. In the last 20 years I've cooked pumpkin every way possible, changed recipes, tossed out ingredients, added others and about 10 years ago figured I was done. Since then I've played a bit with baking dishes, clay tiles etc. but the ingredients and methods have been locked in and now is just a tradition that we look forward to. Following is a few tips.

  1. Don't use Jack-o-lantern pumpkins for anything. No really, don't. They're not food, they're tasteless mass.
  2. Buy Cinderella Pumpkins no larger than 12 inches in diameter
  3. Buy your pumpkins from a farm. Most farms have them from late September to Halloween. Not all farms have Cinderellas so you might ask first.
  4. Don't get pumpkins from the store unless they're Sugar Pie pumpkins (my second choice)
  5. Do not boil, steam or bake open side up. You actually want to keep the flavor, not disperse with it.
  6. Don't believe Christopher Kimble and the America's Test Kitchen staff when they say fresh pumpkin isn't worth the effort. The next time I see him I'll bring both canned and fresh to see if I can change his mind.

I've cooked many different types of pumpkins many different ways. If you use Jack-o-lanterns from the store you might as well just pick up a can of pumpkin puree because you won't be able to tell the difference. Cinderellas have consistently won my choice as the best pumpkins for the following reasons.

  • Best flavor. Sugar Pie is also good
  • Large enough to be worth the trouble. Sugar Pie don't have a lot of meat so take a great deal more work
  • They last forever. I don't know why but they do. I've had Cinderellas which were picked in October still be cookable in December. This extends my Pumpkin Bread season.
  • They're a flat pumpkin (think Cinderellas Carriage) so you can cook both halves in a standard oven at the same time otherwise it would take 6 hrs which is quite a lot.
  • Good texture. If cooked like I outline below the meat nearly has the consistency of applesauce (no strings).

There is ONE way to cook pumpkin and retain as much of the flavor as possible.  With the longest stiff knife you own cut the pumpkin around the equator (beltline). If you do it right your blade will return back to where you started in the exact latitude. Sometimes I'm off by an eighth of an inch. In this case cut the surface on both pumpkins so it's as flat as possible. Place them face down on a counter to see if there's any air gaps. Scrape out the strings and seeds until the walls of the pumpkin are smooth and lighter orange colored. The strings and goo attached to it have a deeper orange color. Don't dig too much into the meat, it's precious. The texture of the meat changes depending on the season, how much rain, how early you picked the pumpkin and so on. If it's spongy and dry be especially careful of removing meat. If it's firm the go ahead and scrape the walls smooth. The best meat is around the beltline of the pumpkin so try to keep as much as possible while still leaving a smooth surface.. Once they're flat place them cut side down on a half sheet pan and in an oven at 350 degrees. It will take somewhere near 3 hours to cook. You will get to know when they're done by looking at them. The outside of the pumpkin should be charred a bit but it should still be holding it's shape. The reason for this is if you got a good seal the steam inside the pumpkin holds it up. This is very important because if you didn't get a good seal the steam will escape and the meat of the pumpkin will rest on the pan and burn. Cut it right and it will turn out.  If the pumpkin hasn't caved in and you're not sure if it's done leave it in the oven longer. When you think it's done stick a pie server under one edge and lift. A large amount of liquid will come rushing out. Suck this off using a Turkey baster so it doesn't spill when removing the pumpkin from the oven. Remove and let cook.

Once the pumpkins are cool place another half sheet pan on the skin side of the pumpkin sandwiching it between the two half sheet pans. Turn them both over quickly and remove the pan that the pumpkin was cooked on. This will leave the cooked pumpkin facing cut side up which eases the removal of the meat. I've been using a cheese slicer for 20 years to scrape out my pumpkins and sadly this is it's last pumpkin. I've already started looking online to find another. It's the perfect tool because of the round shape of it. You could probably use a large spoon but your goal is to scrape, not scoop because you'll never get the walls smooth and you'll lose too much meat. Perhaps a very shallow spoon would work with a nice defined edge.

As I've said the best pumpkin is around the beltline and I'm a bit picky about the meat near the stem as it's flavor isn't as nice. If your pumpkin is cooked properly you will take the meat around the beltine clear out to the skin. Near the stem go by color. If it's looking a bit dark leave it. It won't hurt you but it's more bitter.

I've experimented with all the liquid that comes out of the pumpkin. It HAS flavor but reducing it with the meat doesn't make enough difference in my opinion to be worth the effort. I'm still looking for a use for it though. I wonder if it could help flavor squash soups etc...

Store the pumpkin in a plastic container with a lid that seals in the refrigerator. I've tried canning and freezing the cooked meat and I lose too much flavor both ways so I've decided that pumpkin bread is seasonal and why not? You have to have something to look forward to in the fall.

Well, that's it. In the next few days I'll be making bread so there will be an article on that.

 

 

Wednesday, 05 October 2011 06:29

What flavors go with what other flavors?

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I've been asked for this many times from budding cooks. How do you know that pears go with walnuts or browned butter goes with sage. Why does honey go with duck so well and how do I know that mint will work well with lamb? Someone made a graphic over at Information is Beautiful that shows this. They don't link up ALL the great connections (the aforementioned lamb and mint aren't on there and they don't pair duck with orange which is classic) but it's a good start. Enjoy.

 

 

http://infobeautiful2.s3.amazonaws.com/taste_buds.png

 

 

Here's a pre-view. To see the entire thing click the link above.