18 October 2004

on Good Eats

There is a show on the Food Network, hosted by Alton Brown, called Good Eats. Alton Brown is a very clever guy, and I have learned a lot from him. In each episode of his show he gives a humorous and detailed treatise on a particular topic. He has sent up Junkyard Wars with his discussion of smoking bacon. He has gone into the chemistry of fats and proteins in his discussion of mayonnaise (ie. why oil and eggs go together in that special way). He has helped me understand why my pie crust was such a struggle (although my real break through required my own perseverance). In addition to the theoretical discussions and practical demonstrations he spends time shopping for food and equipment.

My geeky side gets a kick out of the theory, but Alton and I differ on some key elements of aesthetics. For instance, Sunday morning I made pancakes. I mix from scratch and do a basic pancake from Joy of Cooking (more on Joy later) where Alton works from an an instant mix that is set up for buttermilk.

Putting aside difference in recipes, where we really depart is in the cooking. With just me and my daughter these days, I put the cast iron griddle on the big burner and get it heating with the dial set to what I think I remember worked well last time. When the batter is ready, I start cooking and adjust the heat as I go. Alton cooks his on an electric griddle that keeps the cooking surface at just the right temperature (350 degrees F). He doesn't start cooking until water dances on the griddle (or the red light comes on).

For Brown the cooking aesthetic is in the production of uniformly high quality pancakes time after time. For me the cooking aesthetic is in figuring out how to get and keep a slab of cast iron uniformly heated at the right temperature. Don't get me wrong, I am trying to get a batch of pancakes with high quality and low variance, but the trade off between variance and an electric griddle is too high for me.

15 October 2004

Bake sales

This morning, as with other mornings this week, it has been foggy in my mind. Today there is a bake sale at PS 84 in support of the 5th grade trip. A year or so ago, I was presented with the need to supply a bake sale in the rainy dark of the night before. The miracle of eggs and sugar that become brownies was my standard response to such a situation but at that time my oven wasn't working so I needed a top of the stove solution to the bake sale problem. We came up with pudding and jello cups; a bit of market testing has since shown that jello cups are by far the more popular item. (see the "guidance" below for more details...)

So this morning I packed up the jello cups in the cooler in the fashion that I have worked out over a couple of iterations and was done with it. Not however the end of the story... It seems that packing up the jello had replaced packing Zora's lunch in my fog bound mind's automatic functioning (i.e. the standing order seems to be "pack something while making coffee" rather than "pack Zora's lunch while making coffee"...). So the rush to get out the door comes and Zora announces that she has packed her lunch because I forgot. (There is more to this, but it will turn up in Everything Else eventually.)

My kid is amazing!

Jello Cup Guidance (not a recipie)
  • You get 8, 1/4 cup cups from a box of jello. The little disposable plastic bathroom cups work great.
  • We did 2 boxes, lemon and lime mixed together, to get 16 cups. At $.25 each, that yields $4 to the sale. At $.83 per box plus cups (and spoons, see below), it is about a 100% margin (not sure how that compares to brownies...). Should have done 4 boxes of jello.
  • I pack the cups in a small cooler in layers separated by cardboard. I can get 15 per layer and 2 layers in my cooler (hence the "should have done 4 boxes") (the extras provide quality control tests). My cooler has an ice pack that fastens into the lid. Cover the top layer so that drips don't collect in the jello cups.
  • Don't forget the spoons (although if you do, the kids will figure out how to eat them anyway)

07 October 2004

Good Food

Good food is the food that you like. It might be fancy and it might be plain; it most likely depends on the day and time. This thought was brought up by the dinner that Zora and I enjoyed tonight.

Basically it was ground beef. I browned it in the skillet and then took it out and sauteed some onions and garlic in a little olive oil. I could have started with the onions and garlic, but Zora doesn't like them (or at least claims she doesn't like them) and will spend most of the meal picking them out. After the onions and garlic were going, I put most of the meat back in the pan added a bit more salt and pepper, some paprika and some oregano. And turned off the heat.

I was undecieded on starch and toyed with noodles and pasta, but finally settled on mashed potatoes. So I boiled and mashed some potatoes. While that was going on I added a bit of flour to the meat cooked it a bit more added a bit of milk and brought it all back up to heat and adjusted the liquid so it was sort of thick.

Green stuff was peas - fozen peas into a bowl, covered the peas with water, in the microwave for 2.5 minutes.

Blob of mashed potatoes in the middle of the plate, meat on top, peas around the edge. Looks ok - tastes great. Real comfort food. Z loved it too. A simple good meal that hit the spot.