Thursday, December 21, 2017

Scrumptious Banana Pudding

This is a family favorite, and people would ask my mother-i-law for the recipe only to be told “my next-door neighbor made it.” So here it is, Judy Weathersbee’s recipe, by way of Bobbie Boone Craig.

  • 1 box vanilla wafers
  • 3 small boxes instant vanilla pudding (French vanilla preferred)
  • 5 cups milk
  • 8 oz. carton sour cream
  • 12 ox. carton Cool Whip
  • ~5 bananas
1. Mix pudding with milk & whip until thick.
2. Fold in sour cream.
3. Fold in 1/2 the Cool Whip.
4. Start layering in a serving dish: pudding, wafers, bananas. Be sure to start & end with the pudding, but reserve some wafers for the top.
5. Spread the rest of the Cool Whip over the later of wafers.
6. Refrigerate until time to serve.

 I will doubtless be making this for some family event, but will not be using Cool Whip. Instead, I will be whipping some actual cream with confectioners sugar and vanilla.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Baked Home Fries

I’ve been chasing ways of cooking potatoes that end with a crispy crust around a fluffy interior for a while. Combining a couple of tricks from different cooking shows, I think I have found a relatively easy method, and last night Dr. SWMBO said that this was it. Instead of cubes, I made dinner fries this time, so my prep time was even less than it might have been. The basic innovations are:
  1. use an apple wedger/corer to cut the potatoes,
  2. parboil the wedges in water with baking soda, and
  3. bake at high heat.
Beyond that, you will want to think about flavor profiles and adjust as needed. But here’s what I did last night to make a side dish for two adults and one teenager:
  • Preheat an oven to 400º F.
  • Cut two medium-large Yukon gold potatoes in half across the short axis in order to make stable bases so you can
  • use an apple wedger/corer to cut the potatoes into wedges with a few tubes (I used a tool that cuts 12 wedges; the thickness of the wedges (a function of the number of wedges) will obviously affect cooking time).
  • Bring a pot full of water up to a boil; you will want a pot with a whole lot of head room as there will be quite a bit of foam.
  • Toss a good bit of baking soda into the water; I probably used a couple of tablespoons, but I was just eyeballing it. The water will foam and then settle.
  • Add the potato wedges (and tubes) to the water and wait for the water to come back up to a boil.
  • In the meanwhile, grab a large mixing bowl, pour in
    • some EVOO
    • some kosher salt, and 
    • some paprika
    (you know about how much seasoning you want on your taters; but do try to use kosher salt or something else with large grains so that it will be more abrasive on the surface of the parboiled potatoes).
  • When the water comes back up to a boil, let the potatoes dance around for one minute. (There will be a lot of foam at this point. A lot.)
  • Get the potatoes out of the water and into the bowl with the oil & salt. (Use a colander, or a spider, or whatever you feel like washing later.)
  • Stir vigorously. Notice how this develops a kind of creamy coating on the surface of the potatoes. This coating will turn crispy in the oven, and this is the magic that the baking-soda-induced pH change in the water does to the potatoes. And the coarser the salt, the more little crispy furrows you will get.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment or with oiled foil.
  • Arrange the potatoes on the baking sheet in a single layer with room between the pieces. (I just dump them out of the bowl and give the sheet a few shakes in a couple of different directions, then do any final arranging with whatever tongs, spatula, spoonula or other thingy I happen to have been using.)
  • Bake for 20 minutes.
  • Flip the pieces. (Now aren’t you glad you sprayed the foil with non-stick oil?)
  • Bake for 20 more minutes.
  • Plate & let cool a bit before biting into those bad boys.
With Yukon golds, this produced a crisp exterior with a creamy interior. I’m willing to bet that russets would produce a fluffier interior rather than creamy, and I might try that some day. For neither type of potato will I be peeling first. I love the skins. But a Yukon gold’s skin is much thinner and more delicate than a russet’s, so some adjustment or other will be needed to keep the skin of a russet from getting too tough.

I might also experiment with flavoring the potatoes. I have in the past made cubed potatoes for a large crowd by cooking them on a large griddle. For those, I cut the potatoes the night before and tossed them with oil & spices like salt, pepper, crushed garlic, and rosemary before leaving them to marinate overnight. Great flavor, but very labor intensive to get the browning right.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Thin Pizza Crust

Thin Pizza Crust from Tori Avey

This recipe makes one thin, 11-13" pizza crust.
  • Put into a bowl and whisk:
    • ⅓ cup warm water (~95℉);
    • 1 tsp sugar, honey, vel sim.; and
    • 1 tsp active dry yeast.
  •  Cover and let stand to proof the yeast. If it’s not nice and foamy within 10 minutes, you need fresher yeast (although when I did this two days ago, our nearly-empty jar of Fleischmann’s that had a 2015 expiration date on it produced yeast that was still quite active).
  • In the meanwhile, put into another, larger bowl
    • 1 cup all purpose flour and
    • 1 tsp kosher salt
  •  and whisk to combine.
  • Add the clearly active yeast mixture and 1 Tbsp olive oil to the dry ingredients.
  • Mix to combine thoroughly and then
  • knead for five minutes. (I did this in the bowl and needed (ha!) no more flour for the kneading).
  • Form into a ball and
  • transfer to a smaller, oiled bowl.
  • Turn to completely coat the ball with oil.
  • Cover and let rise in a room that is ~76-80℉ for about 2 hrs (until double in size).
[Insert two hours worth of music & other chores here.]
  • Place a pizza stone, cast iron bistro pan, or some other such item into an oven and preheat to 450℉.
  • Punch down the dough.
  • Get out some parchment, sprinkle with corn meal, and start rolling out the dough from the center, shifting 90° with each stroke.
  • When the dough is ~13", sprinkle with a bit more corn meal,
  • prick all over with a fork,
  • flip,
  • brush with olive oil, and
  • top with desired toppings.
  • Transfer to heated stone or iron in the oven (if it doesn’t want to slide cleanly off the parchment, just set the parchment with the pizza down on the hot tool).
  • Bake for ~12 minutes
  • check for desired browning of the crust, and either leave in for a bit longer or
  • take out, cut, and serve.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Skillet Mac-n-Cheese

This is completely experimental for the time being. I’m recording things here to keep track of my changes as I work on the recipe. When it’s done, I’ll delete this header.

Update, July 2017: I made my first attempt at smoked Gouda mac-n-cheese. Because there would be the two of us and a very hungry Chinese teenager (the one who made it 40 days), I worked off of the proportions from the original recipe. For a creamy cheese, I used cream Havarti. The smoked Gouda was the hard cheese. And of course, I used Locatelli instead of Parmesan. I did the whole thing with one heavy skillet, toasting the creole panko first, then putting it into a bowl, then pan roasting some coarsely  cut tomato ends (which added nothing to the conversation) and putting them in a bowl before finally staring in on the pasta.

  1. Dr. Nurse doesn’t like mac-n-cheese done with gnocchi. Too heavy. This time, I made it with Barilla Rotini, and that seems to be the way to go in the future for us.
  2. The flavors were almost where I want them to be, but the dish was not creamy enough. So pump up the smoked Gouda flavor, but make it smoother. Possibilities include switching back from the Havarti to the American or finding a way to make smoked Gouda work all on its lonesome. (Added Oct 2017: switching back to American didn’t do it. So, I’m going to try cream Havarti and increase the amount of milk in the pasta water.)
  3. I prefer the panko & cheese toasted in a pan before stirring it in, so in keeping with the one-pan idea, toast them first, reserve them into a bowl, and then stir them in at the end, just before putting some of the whole mixture back into the same bowl to eat out of.

I think that the flavor & texture I want here could be achieved with cream Havarti and smoked Gouda. Tonight, I did this for two people:
  • Bring
    • ½ c. water
    • ½ c. milk
  • to a boil in a small skillet.
    • Add 8 oz. Rio Bertolini gnocchi.
  • Reduce heat to medium & cook with frequent stirring until the gnocchi is floating (~10 min.).
  • Add 
    • 2 oz. shredded American cheese (block, not singles) 
    • ¼ tsp Dijon mustard
    • pinch cayenne pepper
  • and stir constantly until the cheese is melted (~1 min).
  • Off heat, stir in 
    • 2 oz shredded sharp cheddar.
  • Cover & let stand 5 minutes.
  • Stir until smooth.
  • Sprinkle with
    • Cajun panko crumbs
    • S&P
    • Locatelli Romano
  • Enjoy!

I’m basing this on the Cook’s Illustrated recipe that appears in the March/April 2017 issue. That recipe to serve 4 people is as follows:
  • Bring
    • 1½ c. water
    • 1 c. milk
  • to a boil in a small saucepan.
  • Add 8 oz. Barilla elbow macaroni.
  • Reduce heat to medium & cook with frequent stirring until the mac is al dente (6-8 min).
  • Add 
    • 4 oz. shredded American cheese (block, not singles) 
    • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
    • small pinch cayenne pepper
  • and stir constantly until the cheese is melted (~1 min).
  • Off heat, stir in 
    • 4 oz shredded sharp cheddar.
  • Cover & let stand 5 minutes.
  • Combine
    • ⅓ c. panko crumbs
    • 1 Tbsp. EVOO
    • S&P
  • in a hot skillet &
  • cook over medium heat until browned.
  • Stir in 
    • 2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese.
  • Stir Mac & Cheese until smooth.
  • Season with S&P.
  • Top with panko & Parmesan.
  • Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Soft-boiled eggs

I like my fried eggs over easy—whites set, yummy yolks hot and runny. Occasionally I like that hot, runny yolk without the crispy edges of a thin white. Sometimes, I like the white thick like in a hard-boiled egg, but still want the liquid gold in the center. I even have an egg topper, a couple of egg cups (I used to use footed shot glasses), and some demitasse spoons to fit out the ritual of eating soft-boiled eggs. I know that it’s a little fussy, but I find it fussy in a good way. Like a tea ritual, it slows me down and forces me to savor and appreciate a single egg, eaten in tiny spoonfuls straight out of the shell, lightly salting and peppering as I go.

This procedure I got from America’s Test Kitchen, who developed it so that they could reliably soft-cook a single egg or a dozen. It relies on the temperature of steam to cook the egg(s) and the quick recovery time of a shallow batch of water when a variable number of cold eggs are introduced into the mix. They recommend five and a half minutes, but even with jumbos, I prefer 5:15. They also use a saucepan or somesuch, while I use a skillet with a tight-fitting lid. I think that they want a taller steam area, but I find that the shallow steam bath works just fine for me.

  • Choose a cooking vessel with a flat bottom that is large enough for the number of eggs you want to soft cook to fit lying down with lots of room around them. It doesn’t matter if the sides are straight or sloping, so long as the flat area works and the lid is relatively secure. I normally use a Le Creuset 6" skillet, which has pouring spouts that leak steam, and it works fine so long as I cover it. I can’t think when I have ever cooked more than two eggs this way, so the small size works for me.
  • Put in enough water that it will come about halfway up the eggs you are going to put in later.
  • Cover (so that everything in the equation gets nice and hot).
  • Bring the water to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to a vigorous simmer.
  • Carefully but quickly add the cold eggs.
  • Recover and watch to make sure that the steam starts running out the top again.
  • Set a timer for 5¼ minutes.
  • Carefully drain and run cold water over the eggs.
  • Put the eggs into cups, open the tops, and enjoy!
So that’s my riff on the ATK recipe.

Hard-Bolied, easy peel eggs

Forget the salt, vinegar, and/or baking soda in the water. The key to easy peeling hard-boiled eggs is shocking them in an ice bath. The key to solid yolks without any green around them is the amount of time cooking, which is controlled marvelously well by using retained heat no matter what size eggs you’re cooking. The procedure I learned from my mother-in-law was to put eggs into tap water, bringing the water to a boil, removing the water from heat, and letting it sit covered for eighteen minutes. Even this has now been simplified by the use of an auto-shutoff electric kettle.

  • Put as many eggs as you want to hard-boil into an electric kettle. Mine does 1-6 in a single layer, but I’ve cooked as many as twelve with no difference.
  • Cover with tap water. I like about an inch over the top of the highest shell, but (as with all of this recipe) it’s pretty flexible.
  • Turn on the kettle
  • Wait for it to boil and then click off.
  • Set a timer for 18 minutes.
  • Prepare an ice bath large enough to quickly chill all of the eggs you’re cooking.
  • When the timer goes off, drain the eggs and 
  • dump them into the ice bath.
  • Agitate to thoroughly and quickly chill the surfaces of the eggs.
  • Pull the eggs out of the cold, then smack and roll them on the counter to break up the shell.
  • Slide the completely shattered shell off the egg under running cold water.
That’s it. It has not failed me even one time. I look forward to the entire flock of deviled eggs made to look like chicks this Easter. I’ve always hated all that peeling in the past, but now it’s easy as π.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Object Lessons: Another Oxford Comma

Widely reported. I chose to lift this article from NPR as it has fewer extraneous annoyances. The original article is linked to the title below.

The Oxford Comma: Great For Listing, Pontificating, And Winning Court Cases

March 16, 20171:24 PM ET

by Colin Dwyer

Surely, Oakhurst Dairy would have done well to heed the immortal words of the ‘80s hair band Cinderella: “Don’t know what you got (till it’s gone).”

The milk and cream company based in Portland, Maine, likely never appreciated the serial comma — also known as an Oxford comma — so much as it did Monday, when the lack of that little curved stroke cost the company an appeals court ruling that centered on overtime rules for drivers.

Specifically, the ruling in favor of Oakhurst delivery drivers came down to Maine state law, which dictates that the following activities are not subject to overtime protections:

    “The canning, processing, preserving,
    freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
    packing for shipment or distribution of:
    (1) Agricultural produce;
    (2) Meat and fish products; and
    (3) Perishable foods.”

The trouble rests with “or.” The presence of that tiny conjunction without a comma as a companion makes for some muddled meanings: Is “packing for shipment or distribution” exempt from overtime regulations? Or are both “packing for shipment” and “distribution” exempt?

These aren’t idle questions for the five delivery drivers who sued Oakhurst, because as Quartz notes, “the drivers do distribute, but do not pack, the perishable food.” In other words, one interpretation of the law’s list would make the drivers eligible for overtime pay; the other would mean they won’t get those extra dollars for extra time on the job.

Enter the appeals court judges. In the opinion, 1st Circuit Judge David Barron writes that the lack of a comma renders the whole phrase too ambiguous to agree with Oakhurst — and the district court that originally ruled in its favor — that the drivers don’t get rights to overtime pay:

    “The District Court concluded that, despite the absent comma, the Maine legislature unambiguously intended for the last term in the exemption’s list of activities to identify an exempt activity in its own right. ... But, we conclude that the exemption’s scope is actually not so clear in this regard.”

Even making allowances for the fact that Maine’s legislative style guidance eschews the Oxford comma, Barron argued that the ambiguity of the sentence “must be construed liberally” — and so adopted “the drivers’ narrower reading of the exemption.”

Case closed ... for now, at least. With the district court ruling in favor of Oakhurst reversed, Quartz reports the case can now be heard in a lower court.

Now, as adherents of the great and terrible AP Stylebook — which also eschews the Oxford comma — we must admit the moral of this story flies in the face of everything (or one thing) NPR’s own sentences stand for.

But we offer the above fable as a reminder that every punctuation mark deserves a fair hearing, a glimpse into the glories of grammar(,) and a quiet rebellion against the tyranny of copy editors everywhere.*

*Just a joke, NPR copy desk! Please don’t break out the red pen.

Note from the copy chief: While NPR does generally follow the AP Stylebook, we on the copy desk take a more liberal approach in deciding when a series is complex enough to warrant the comma’s use.

The final note from the copy chief puts me in mind of the sage advice from the original, non-Burchfield Fowler’s on the split infinitive.

In all fairness, the judge’s ruling does not rely on the ambiguity being entirely caused by the missing comma. As the Quartz article and others note, there is also the fact that all of the other elements in the list are given as gerunds (canning, processing, … packing), while that final action putatively meant to be exempted from overtime pay (distribution) is not. I would say that what won the drivers their appeal is the lack of both the serial comma and the parallel noun form.

Update, 21 March:
Mary Norris’ New Yorker article from half a week ago (St. Paddy’s Day, actually) reports that there is also a third grammatical element at issue in the ambiguity, asyndeton.

Judge David J. Barron’s opinion in the case is a feast of subtle delights for anyone with a taste for grammar and usage. Lawyers for the defense conceded that the statement was ambiguous (the State of Maine specifically instructs drafters of legal statutes not to use the serial comma) but argued that it had “a latent clarity.” The truck drivers, for their part, pointed out that, in addition to the missing comma, the law as written flouts “the parallel usage convention.” “Distribution” is a noun, and syntactically it belongs with “shipment,” also a noun, as an object of the preposition “for.” To make the statute read the way the defendant claims it was intended to be read, the writers would have had to use “distributing,” a gerund—a verb that has been twisted into a noun—which would make it parallel with the other items in the series: “canning, processing,” etc. To the defendant’s contention that the series, in order to support the drivers’ reading, would have to contain a conjunction—“and”—before “packing,” the drivers, citing Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner, said that the missing “and” was an instance of the rhetorical device called “asyndeton,” defined as “the omission or absence of a conjunction between parts of a sentence.”

Read the rest of that article. It’s quite nice. And note that the paragraph quoted above contains a link to the actual opinion.