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McNormal

How to Make Great Refried Beans

It's a great use for the fat trimmings from pork chops or the fat lobes from the tail of a chicken.

I put a bit of ground cumin and a bit of chipotle chili powder in mine. Not too much, I don't want to overwhelm the bean flavor.

I don't have a....

Reminds me of this PBS show I've been watching, "Martha Bakes". It's a really good show, quite informative and to the point. But it's a bit annoying watching Martha Stewart in her fabulous kitchen with all this super high end equipment, whipping out perfect cakes and pastries like la-di-dah. I mean I respect Martha, and people tend to forget what an accomplished cook she is, but good grief, she just assumes we all have $100,000 worth of baking gear lying around and if we don't, well, that's not her problem :)

Stainless steel bowls

Some steel is more stainless than other steel. But I agree there is no reason to spend more as long as they don't rust.

TV cooking shows, food contamination

I would never do that with salt no matter how self-sterilizing it may be. I was taught the one-clean-hand method years ago and now it's automatic. Also, it's not enough to just wipe your chickeny hands on a waist towel like a lot of TV cooks do. The best thing is to have a tub of soapy water nearby that you can immediately go to with your hands, knife, board, etc. without having to grab the faucet handles.

I don't have a....

I don't have a decent non-stick skillet. The old one is worn out and I've been procrastinating about getting a new one.

I don't have gas to cook with. The oven/range is a 60 year old GE that I've learned to live with and it looks cool, but gas sure would be nice. I don't have any capability to cook outdoors over charcoal or smoke either and that sucks.

Things I don't have and don't miss in any way: dishwasher, slow cooker, rice cooker, coffee machine, just to name a few.

Getting high on Cinnabon?

Sounds like another way to market crappy alcohol to underage drinkers.

Pie Place in South Bay/Monterey Bay Area?

Beckmann's Bakery in Santa Cruz specializes in pie. Their pecan pie is outstanding. Full disclosure: my nephew works there.

Kelly's in Santa Cruz is also very good although they lean more towards croissants and french pastry.

Ask a Cicerone: Which is Better, Draft or Bottled Beer?

I stop reading when I get to "consulting clients" and "beer programs".

Taste Test: The Best Frozen Veggie Burgers

I see a lot of people bringing them to tailgate or backyard parties and trying to cook them plain over charcoal or gas. That never works out well. If you're going to grill them you need to paint them with some oil or melted butter or margarine first.

Moving from SoCal to New England

The apples are way better and so are all apple products such as pie, cider, cider donuts, etc.

The clams on the CT shore are unlike anywhere else. There are varieties of steamers and quahogs that can only be found there. You can harvest them yourself (but be sure to understand the rules and get a permit).

Many CT rivers and streams have annual herring and shad runs. Shad roe is delicious.

Grinder shops.

You will quickly learn to keep your screen door closed and keep bug spray handy.

Where can I buy Carl Rossi Wine Burgandy Online

Last year I bought a 4 liter jug for like $7.99 on sale. I was more interested in the glass bottle, which I use for homebrewing projects, than I was in the wine, which I used for cooking. I'm sorry it's not available retail where you live because it's a pretty good value here.

Paleo Diet Craze- Love it or leave it?

Everyone is entitled to pursue whatever diet plan they choose. I think for certain people, who find it difficult to metabolize refined carbohydrates, it is probably a reasonable option at least to try out. Better than "cleansing" or other reward-regret-cycle diets. But I don't like how these fad programs are sold by fitness trainers, yoga instructors, massage therapists, hairdressers, fashion magazines, etc. who are motivated only by profit. No one should ever be taking dietary advice from anyone other than their doctor.

In search of: Popcorn Popper

I grew up with one from the 70's that worked great but I don't think that style is even sold anymore. It was an Oster or Black & Decker or something. They went out of fashion when popcorn became a diet food and everyone switched to air poppers, then eventually to microwave.

These days Oster makes one that is like a mini movie theater popper but it's pretty expensive. I just use a dutch oven.

Surviving Vegas

Breakfast at the Peppermill. It's 24 hours so breakfast can be whenever you want it to be. They have all the other classic diner food too.

Good Pizza near Fairmont Hotel SF

Blondie's is a block away and it definitely fills you up.

Chicken for a Crowd

For holidays we do a variation of chicken cordon bleu where we don't bother with rolling or breading. We just take thinly pounded chicken breast portions, dredged in flour and quickly pan seared in butter and olive oil, then arrange on sheet pans topped with slices of prosciutto and emmentaler cheese. A splash of white wine and chicken stock, then bake until melty. We can serve a big crowd easily that way.

To Eat or not to Eat: Duck Breast Skin/Fat

I would have asked for a to-go container and taken the fat home to render out and fry something in.

Squeezing 15lbs of spinach?

Take a clean 5 gal. foodservice bucket and drill a bunch of small holes in the bottom. Place a layer of cloth in it and then the spinach. Use a second bucket to press down on the spinach and squeeze out the liquid.

You can also switch the position of the two buckets and use them to wash and drain fresh spinach, lettuce, etc.

Cheese like brie without the rind?

Making people pay for the weight of the rind on expensive wedges of cheese is one of the greatest ripoffs in the food industry.

Eating Well When You're Broke

If you have the space and money available, buy nonperishable staples in the largest size you can. I buy rice and flour in 20 or 25 lb. bags, once or twice a year, and store them in tight-sealing buckets. The same with dried legumes in 10 lb. bags. I go through a lot of sugar in my home brewing projects so I get the 25 lb. bags. I get russet potatoes in 10 pound bags, then wash and inspect them carefully (one bad potato can ruin the rest). If properly stored they last a long time and are much much cheaper than by-the-pound.

Science and Fruit Cake

Fruitcake got a bad rap when people started putting those weird candied fruits in it. The waxy artificially green and red dyed cherries, the candied orange and lemon peel, etc. Just use good quality natural dried fruit and it's fine.

Where can I get good salted-in-the-shell peanuts?

From my experience they tend to freshest during baseball season (here in San Francisco anyway). The supermarkets sell the same team-branded peanuts as the ballpark. They're from North Carolina. Once the season ends they disappear and are replaced with the stale generic ones.

Cake house?

You could make it solid in the middle with layers of ice cream or nougat or whatever. Like those Baskin Robbins cakes. I guess it would have to be kept chilled though, you couldn't display it at room temperature for very long.

Thankgiving recap

I spent the morning helping my stepmom make pumpkin pies with cheesecake infill. They turned out great but it was way too large a recipe. We ended up with four huge pies, about 10 pounds total, of which only a fraction was eaten. Lesson learned: next time make half of each filling.

dishwasher vs. hand-washing dishes?

We may need to organize a grand wash-off, wherein I can demonstrate that hand washing is faster, more energy efficient, uses less water and actually gets things clean. I'm feeling pretty confident.

How do you clarify a vegetable broth?

I've been working on my technique for homemade vegetable broth. Thanks to Kenji's excellent post from his vegan series earlier this year, and another good one from Carolyn Cope a couple of years ago, I managed to make a broth that has good flavor, color, and even a nice body. I strained it through mesh and again through cloth, but it's still rather murky. The next step is to try and clarify it, the same as you would with a beef or chicken stock. A vegetable consommé if you will.

I don't want to use the egg white method because it would no longer be vegetarian. Is there another way to do it and get a crystal clear broth, so that, as Michael Ruhlman wrote, you could read the date on a dime at the bottom of a gallon?

The American Baking Competition is surprisingly good

I hate reality TV. I hate competition cooking shows. But this one is actually watchable and here's why:

1. No bleepety bleep swearing.

2. Very little cutaway-interview snarking at the other contestants or backstory cry-at-the-camera sentimentalism.

3. No bizzare location changes or product placement devices that ruin any sense of fairness.

4. The challenges are honest and the judging is fair. The contestants seem to generally respect each other.

5. The camerawork and editing of the baking sequences is pretty informative. I'm learning a lot by watching it.

In Praise of the Pyrex 9X13

I like expensive heavy steel roasters and nice ceramic gratin dishes as much as anyone, but I've come to realize my most versatile and most used piece of ovenware is my good old Pyrex 9X13 pan. Dollar for dollar it's about the best thing in my kitchen. I don't have to worry if it gets a couple scratches or some baked-on oil around the rim, I'm not going to baby it. If I take it to a potluck and it gets broken or lost, who cares? They're cheap, I'll get another one. I also like how the width fits a standard roll of foil or plastic wrap.

It's great for lasagna, enchiladas, gratins, any kind of roast vegetables, chicken, ribs, and all kinds of baked goods. I can brine a brisket or cure a salmon in one. What else am I missing?

Mrs Beeton's toast sandwich

I saw this on the BBC website and I'm trying to figure out if it's for real or if they are putting me on:

"For a toast sandwich, take a very thin slice of bread and toast it. Once cold place it between two slices of bread, also sliced very thinly. Butter optional. Salt and pepper to taste."

Apparently this recipe is taken from the Book of Household Management, published in 1861 by the food writer Isabella Beeton. The Royal Society of Chemistry is promoting it as "the UK's cheapest meal."

I Actually Like The Ads on Serious Eats Now

In the past I've made unkind comments about some of the ads that run on Serious Eats, mostly having to do with obtrusive use of Flash and other scripted media. It got to the point where it was significantly slowing down my browser and I had to resort to ad-blocking software, which made my life easier but also caused me concern because I want SE and the other websites I visit frequently to be successful and profitable.

Anyway, I've noticed recently that certain ads are starting to appear again, in a good way. These are tasteful, static jpeg ads without any of the annoying flashiness or rollover pop-up stuff. They are even topically relevant, for example an ad for pasta that appears on a Talk thread about macaroni salad. Best of all, they are not blocked by my no-script software, because there is no script to block.

So I just wanted to say thanks to whoever is responsible for this development (possibly involving a company called AdChoices though I'm not sure about that). And if there's anyone out there from Illy, Safeway, Post or other advertisers who may be reading this, please be aware that I can see your ads and I'm going to make it a point to click through them and do whatever I can to support your products.

Why are onions so expensive?

I've never seen prices so high for regular, yellow storage onions before. $2 to $3 a pound. Usually they are less than a dollar. It may not seem like such a big deal, but I go through a lot of onions. These expensive ones are not very good quality either. I realize we are at the end of last Fall's dry onion crop and the new ones aren't in yet, but what's going on? Is there some sort of shortage we haven't been told about?

I can't buy bottled water anymore. Just can't.

We took a walk down to the ocean this weekend where, following a series of rather strong storm fronts, we found the entire beach to be littered with millions (more like billions?) of bits of plastic. Extraordinary. Most people have heard or read about the North Pacific Gyre and all the plastic debris in the ocean, but to see this in person was shocking. All the other people on the beach were walking around in a similar daze.

I am not an eco-warrior and I don't mean to sound preachy or depressing, especially on a generally upbeat food blog, but I can't get it out of my mind. The worst is the plastic bottle caps which will never decompose. The worst of the worst is the caps that you have to tear off just to get to the caps. Sigh. :(

Time for some cooking, I need to cheer myself up.

America's Test Kitchen frustrates me

I admire their website and magazines, and I watch their TV shows frequently. However, sometimes they do things that make no sense to me at all. On today's episode they were roasting a chicken in a dutch oven. The first thing Julia did was to take out the giblet bag and throw it directly into the trash. Then she grabbed the fat lobe from the cavity and threw it away in disgust, exclaiming "there's no flavor here." Okay, so maybe those parts had no use in their recipe, but to treat them as trash is irresponsible, in my opinion.

I could list other examples, such as, I think they generally use way too many disposable kitchen supplies like aluminum foil.

Does anyone else find their kitchen practices aggravating?

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