Archive for August, 2007

How to fry a potato – Revised

30 August 07

I had a reader send in a comment. Fella’s web name is johnpaulstevenson. He has his own food blog and is well worth the reading. After trying his method I have come up with the following revision, sort of a combo between my first method and his. Good readers are a niceness, and this one was a real jewel.

This will give your food Nazi fits. Tough. They’re good.

OK, what us American types call French Fries probably came from Belgium somewhere in the 18th century; give a take a decade or two. Everybody in the world has had a fry, just about. Most of the ones you get from the fast food joints are just gross. Properly prepared, they a culinary delight.

To properly prepare these little delights takes a bit more effort than is apparent on the surface. So, get your best cooking cap on and let’s go get ‘em. For starters, use good grade potatoes. My suggestions are Idahos, Russets, or Yukon Golds. Whack them up into 1/4” strips. You can skin them or not as your taste dictates. I like the skins on. Tradition in this country is peeled. You can also make them a bit thinner for shoestring style, or thicker for “home fries” style. To my taste thin is better than thick. Your mileage may vary.

Once you’ve got them chopped up you need to move fairly quickly or plunge them into an ice bath. Potatoes left exposed to air deteriorate rapidly. If you do the ice water soak, dry them well on a paper towel just before cooling. Water and hot oil is a no good combo.

You can use a cast iron deep fryer or an electric skillet. The electric skillet is a bit easier to control temperature. If you use a fryer then use a thermometer. Temperature is critical. Put enough oil to make a deep fry possible, but leave lots of room at the top, it will foam up when the spuds are added. Now – what kind of oil is up to you, you just need a smoke point less than 400°. Peanut oil is good, or any other tasteless, healthy oil. Now if you are ready to shoot the food Nazi and want just glorious taste, use lard or beef fat, which was what was originally used. These will be the most wonderful taste that you ever had. Your cholesterol doesn’t go up quite as far as you may think if you cook them right.

Now get that oil to a steady 240° and ease small batches in. Don’t load so much that they stick together or lower the temperature of the oil. Move them around every now and then so they don’t stick together. Never mind the time, just fry until they float and then pull them out – just make sure they don’t brown. When they float they should still be white and have gotten nice and limp. What we are doing is just boiling the water out of the innards without cooking the outards. If the outside gets browned we cannot move any more water out of the inside and it will get soggy. Pull them out with a slotted spoon or kitchen spider and lay them on paper towels or paper sacks or a rack to drain. Do this 10 minutes to 2 hours ahead of time.

When you are ready to finish, jack the temp up to 350°. Once again cook in small batches. This time you are aiming for a golden brown. Add salt, pepper, dill, or whatever spices you like the second you take them from the pan to the draining paper or rack. If you’ve done everything right they will be light, non-greasy, crisp outside and airy inside with a wonderful taste.

A really good go-with is to melt a stick of butter, a couple of cloves of smashed and chopped garlic, with whatever herbs you like. Dill or parsley comes to mind. Just combine and heat until the flavors come together. Don’t fry the stuff. Anyway, drizzle this over the fries just before serving. No, it doesn’t make them too greasy if you got them cooked right to start with.

Herself sez: Gee these go well with one of his good steaks! Thanks to johnpaulstevenson for the modification of the temp. Really makes a difference!!


Saints and other interesting critters –

30 August 07

English is an interesting and polyglot language derived from many sources. People don’t seem to realize just how much the language used affects the thought process. But, the fact is, we cannot conceptualize without words. Words wind up carrying overtones and flavorings which go beyond the mere dictionary definitions.

The word saint derives from the Latin sanctus, which does mean holy. The early church did not write in Latin, but in Greek. Now, in Greek the word is άγιος (hagios), which also means holy. The difference is that that hagios carries the additional overtones of “holy one”.

In the Western Roman church the term saint carries a whole concept involving the whole canonization process. Emphasis on the legal proceedings, canonical court, devil’s advocate and all that stuff. Emphasis is put on outward and visible miracles and all that. Saint’s wind up being almost a different category from most humans.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church the whole understanding is different, not “saint” like a military title, but “holy one” as in participates in the Kingdom of Heaven. The sense is that, as in the New Testament, the saints are among us. Indeed, anyone who is or will be in Heaven is holy. There is no particular formal mechanism for canonization. A saint is declared as such when the people of some area decide that they are. No courts, no investigations, no formal legal proceedings. There are thousands of local saints that are not on any official list. A given saint may be placed on a national church’s calendar when enough people in that area decide to honor that person. This can result in otherwise unsavory people being venerated as “holy ones”.

I have met many living “holy ones”. There is one abiding characteristic among all – the overwhelming love that pours from them. You do not have any doubt that these people love God with all their might. You also do not have and doubt that you are loved. It can be rather overwhelming to be in the presence of these people. It draws like a magnet. It can also be frightening. Other than this holy and heavenly love, there is very little else that these people have in common. They may be genius, they may not have a full deck. They may be highly educated, they may be quite ignorant. They may be urbane and charming, they may have the manners of a pig. They may not even be housebroken. They are real people. They can even be people you wouldn’t want in your home.

Some of the Orthodox saints are rather unsavory, at best. St. Moses the Black comes to mind. One of the many African Saints. Oh yes, many people do not seem to realize that Africa had a ton of early church activity and that many of the early Saints were black. Anyway, Moses was a bad boy. He was an escaped slave, gangster, robber, and murderer. He was a huge, powerful and terrifying man. He and his gang attacked a monastery to pillage. Moses was so impressed by the abbot that he repented. Long, agonizing story short, he became a monk, a priest, and an abbot himself. He was martyred in 405 by the Berbers, at 75 years of age.

There are a whole series of “transvestite nuns”, a remarkable group, mostly women, who dressed as men and lived as monks in the Eastern church. Most of these are recorded from the 5th to the 9th centuries. Of course, in the current culture, we would assume that anyone who cross-dresses is also sexually active. This was not the case. These were people whose bodies did not match their genders, and in a celibate monastic life the gender of the body is somewhat irrelevant. There were also men dressed as women in the female convents. Somewhat less frequent. Not only did this not really bother the Orthodox, but note that several of these people are now recognized and loved as holy ones.

There is also the intriguing group known as “fools for Christ”. Юродивый is Russian for Holy Fool. The original inspiration is 1st Corinthians 4:10 – “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honorable, but we are despised.” There are all kinds of theology and discussion to go along with the whole concept. The fact is that a lot of these people did not play with a full deck, yet were nevertheless recognized as “holy ones” by the people around them. Contrary to the delusions of some, Harvard or Yale are not like Heaven. An IQ test is not required for entrance into Heaven.

The man known as St. John of San Francisco was John Maximovitch. He was quite recent and current, he only died in 1966. In the Roman way he would not even be eligible for consideration much before 2066. In the Orthodox Church he is a saint on the calendar of the Russian Church Abroad and has been for several years. His veneration began almost on the day of his death, his holiness was recognized during his life. He was Bishop of San Francisco and would frequently scandalize some of the more staid parishioners. He had no patience with social convention and would often interrupt social occasion to declare that there had been enough frivolity, it was time to pray. The children of his cathedral once made him a paper mache miter (fancy bishops hat). It looked pretty dreadful. He stopped the service, removed his golden brocade and jeweled miter, set it aside and placed the paper mache miter on his head. He did the rest of the very formal and beautiful service with this garish thing. He said that the children’s loving gift was far more beautiful and pleasing to God. Some of the stuffier parishioners were totally horrified. He would give his shoes to someone homeless and then wander into some important meeting in the Cathedral barefoot. In Shanghai when his church was closed by the communists he celebrated the services in the middle of the street using a card table. At considerable risk to his life, the communists had already martyred several of his people. He was loved all across the globe for his direct and loving (and tactless) approach to the Christian life. He served as priest or bishop on every continent of the world except Antarctica.

The Kingdom of God does not follow social convention. Neither do all the holy ones. Some very peculiar and surprising people have been models of faith and love. Maybe we need to rearrange some of our American notions of what is “proper”?

Military –

28 August 07

My country, right or wrong!
My country, love it or leave it!

We’ll come back to these in a minute. First – let’s get some qualifications out of the way. I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1966 and had to get my mother’s signature. I was too young. I didn’t have a draft card, not old enough. I didn’t get a draft card until after discharge. My kid brother was in the Air Force. My oldest son was 12 years in the Army. My daughter was 3 years in the Army – Tank Corps. Cutest little combat boots you ever saw. My youngest was 6 years in the Navy as a Marine Corps Medic. My Godson was 6 years Navy on the Nimitz. My father was Navy WWII. My uncle was Army Air Corp WWII, my grandfather was bird colonel, Army, WWII and 1st Lt. WWI. To my knowledge there has never been a member of my family that was drafted. Ever. We always volunteered. (My wife’s family has just as much service).

I think that the above should provide my blue ribbon credentials to the most skeptical and hard-line of right-wingers. Therefore, I will commence to bloviate. BTW – Bill O’Reilly did not invent this handy verb. It shows up in slang dictionaries of the 19th century and was very popular in the early part of the 20th century. (Damn – it’s hard to remember that we’re in the 21st!)

In R.A. Heinlein’s turgid opus (which is still too short) Time Enough for Love, in the Tale of the Lazy Man, or some such, we have a lazy hero who joins the military. I think I remember the character’s name as David. Anyway, to his horror, a war breaks out. Now the sentiment of the character is that an army should be so big and fierce and nasty that no one would think of attacking. This may be the best description that there ever was. It is the proper function of a good military to never have to shed blood. There is no peacenik in the world that hates war any more than a combat soldier who has actually been there. Only a few nutcases actually want war. Most of these nutcases haven’t actually been there before. A rational soldier wants peacetime duty, but is prepared to defend his beloved country with his life, if necessary. But only as a last resort. If the military has to kill and die, the politicians and diplomats have failed. Most would just like to do their duty and go home to their families.

The left likes to view the military as an outmoded and unnecessary expense. Said money would be better spent on the dole. Libs like to look out and see victims that can be helped by the government. Truth is, the dole doesn’t relieve poverty, it creates it. There is no way for any government to solve social problems. They can only make them worse. Anyway, lib congresses and administrations weaken the military and encourage the crazies of the world to poke at us. This, in turn, costs lives and money while we fumble for a response. Sounds a whole lot like Rome in the 6th century.

Now, back to the opening credits. My country, right of wrong! Not exactly. In the Corp (and all services), one of the first things that you are taught is the difference between a legal and an illegal order. You must not obey an illegal order! Ever. Period. There is also a chain of command procedure to protest even legal orders that are against your conscience – in other than combat conditions. If you disobey a legal order in combat you may be shot on the spot. There is no time for debate when the shooting is going on.
Generally, it is not the role of the individual soldier to determine the morality of a war. The President and the Congress have that role. The soldier must simply obey all legal orders. If ordered to torture, murder, rob, what ever, it must not be done, as these would be illegal orders. But, if you do disobey an order you better be right. With witnesses.

Similarly, as citizens, we may make our views known when we think that our country is heading into a morally incorrect position. And, indeed, we not only have the right to voice our views, we have the moral obligation to do so when we see things that are wrong. Now, since none of us is God and can see into another’s heart, the FFs decided that everyone, including the nuts, should have the blessing of free speech. There are some rare exceptions. The old shouting fire in a crowded theater is just the obvious example. Use your mind, you can think of others.

My country, right or wrong! Yes, true. But we must always be vigilant to insure that we stay right.

My country, love it or leave it! OK, this one I pretty much buy. But, as usual, I have to set terms. There is a difference between loving someone and approving of all of their actions. In Church terms, hate the sin; but – love the sinner. Now if you truly love this country and wish nothing but the best for it and all its citizens, feel free to stay and criticize constructively. Your contributions are valuable, even if you are silly enough to disagree with me (What a preposterous notion). But don’t whine, it doesn’t become you.

Contrariwise – it you do not love this country and wish the continuation of its people and existence – leave. Go away. If you hate us, go where we are not. If you wish to piss in your own cereal – do so. But don’t try to piss in mine. I might just react in a way that will be unpleasing to you. If you are anything other than scum, some other country that shares your values will take you gladly. If no other country will have you, perhaps you might want to reevaluate you life and your opinions. If no other country shares your values – is everyone in the world out of step but you?

Post-thought. When I got out of the Corps and back on the street, we were being called baby-killers and spat upon. I never knew any combat soldier that killed babies deliberately. The very nasty lib feminist activists who were willing to crucify us for defending our ally (we had treaties) were the ones who firmly advocated and practiced, after Roe v. Wade, abortion. Who is the baby killer?

Seed Cake –

25 August 07

Seed Cake –

The title is a lie – this is really closer to bread. Seed cake seems to be one of those madly British things. However, unlike cricket and British humor, it can be understood by others. It is mentioned in Chaucer. Miss Marple eats seed cake At Bertram’s Hotel. Bilbo Baggins is thoroughly put out when his tea with seed cake is interrupted. And so on.

There is also seed cake which is a compressed agricultural product for livestock. Humans would not want to eat this, with or without tea.

There seem to be quite a few tales about the why and wherefore of the name. One tradition says that during the Middle Ages there were spring planting festivals as well as fall harvest festivals. The spring celebration took place after the seeds were in the ground, and this was a traditional cake for the celebration – hence seed cake. I don’t really buy this one. I think it was called seed cake because it had seeds in it. Choose your myths, and stand off at twenty paces. Ready? Present spatulas to the death. Or something like that.

This is kind of original, authentic seed cake, mostly. The modern versions have all sorts of sweet things in them, and a multiplicity of seed types. The original used only caraway seed. This is actually a 15th Century version. The true original didn’t use sugar. I like it with. To do no sugar, double the beer – you’ve got to feed the yeast.

Here goes:
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup wheat flour
¾ cup sugar
1 package yeast
1/8 cup beer – authentically use ale. Who has Brit ale in the US?
Scant ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp. A heavy European butter is good if possible
2 eggs
1 tablespoon caraway seeds

Mix the dry guys together, flours, caraway seeds and salt. Dissolve the yeast in the booze, about 100°. Add a pinch of the dry goods to the yeast mix. Mix up the wet guys, butter, sugar, eggs. Poke a hole in the dry goods, pour in the yeast mix, and mix it up. Mix up the whole mess, adding enough milk to get a nice thick, smooth batter. Bake in an greased 8” pan for around 45 minutes at 350°. Since this is cake form instead of bread, use the toothpick and not the thump method.

The Brits like it with tea. Do as you please. A bit of good, rich butter goes well here. Small slices, this is filling. First bite might be a bit strange, but one grows fonder rapidly. When leftover, butter heavily and toast it in the broiler. Do try it with caraway seeds the first time or two. After that, use the seed of choice. Just about any seed that is good to you should work nicely.

The modern version is often served with a lemon glace. I like mine without. Lemon glace? Mix the juice of one lemon with one cup powdered sugar. Slosh it over the top.

Hamburger in disguise –

23 August 07

Hamburger is ground or fine chopped meat. See the earlier discussion of burger biggies for a bit of a general idea. We have all mixed up a bit of ground beef with this or that and grilled it. Perfectly fine. Particularly with fresh lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, pickle and the condiment(s) of choice. I like mayonnaise and a bit of decent brown mustard. Salt and pepper, of course.

There are better things to do with good ground beef. Quick and dirty, when you’re tired and hungry: Sweat some chopped onions and bell pepper in a light bit of olive oil and butter. (Sweat = low heat for 4-5 minutes). Crank the heat up to about medium and add some ground beef. Lightly browned is about what you want. Lower the heat and stir in some of your favorite barbeque sauce, either bottled or scratch made. See the discussion of Lazy Man’s Ribs for our favorite sauce. Anyway – mix in the sauce until it has coated everything. Not dry at all, kind of juicy sloppy joe consistency. Taste and adjust salt, pepper and whatever else you like. Put about half a canned biscuit in each hole of a muffin tin (ungreased) and work the dough up the side to make a biscuit cup. Spoon in the mix to almost fill the biscuit cups. Put some shredded cheese over the top. Cheddar or something with a robust flavor. Bake in a 400° oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. If you want it fancier for a party, use some store bought puff pastry shells. Nice, light combo. You really don’t want to try scratch making puff pastry – it’s a trial.

A bit of real peasant fusion is the loco moco, invented in Hawaii in the late 1950s and still very popular there. This is rice, meat, brown gravy and an egg. Nice fusion of cultures and tastes. Cook some good Oriental white rice, not instant junk. Make up whatever burger mix you like. Usually there is a seven to one beef to pork ratio. Add chopped onion, panko (Japanese bread crumbs), garlic, salt and pepper. Form into patties and cook to your taste. Try 4 minutes a side, either grilled or pan fried in the oil and/or butter of choice. Make brown gravy in the pan juices. Low heat. Just add in flour about equal to pan juice volume, whisking until smooth and brown. Add water or beef stock until the desired thickness is reached. Usually served in a styrofoam cup in Hawaii – not terribly enviro-friendly. Put some rice on a plate, add a burger. Top with a light to medium fried egg – you do want the yolk soft, teriyaki sauce, and brown gravy. Rather nice. Salt and pepper to taste.

Now steak tartare is a wondrous taste bud tantalizer. When I was a kid and my mother made ground beef anything, she would make a little ball about the size of a quarter and salt and pepper it. Whichever kid was helping with the cooking would get it. Delicious. Notice I didn’t say anything about cooking it. People are scared to death of raw nowadays, I’ve even seen recipes that called for cooking steak tartare??!! Heresy!!! But, same discussion as elsewhere, if you can get some nice filet mignon or at the least a nice top sirloin (trim all fat) and swab the outside well with vodka or brandy and pat off all excess, you are probably pretty safe. Don’t bother with a lesser cut of meat. Mince or grind your own with squeaky clean utensils. Get a nice medium grind. Add a tablespoon of a good brown mustard – Grey Poupon is nice, egg yolk, woostershire, grated or minced onion, capers – rinsed and drained, salt, pepper, dash of brandy. Mix very lightly. Don’t squeeze the meat, we don’t want a paste. Ingredients are variable. Herself does not like capers – I do. Other ingredients sometimes used are Tabasco, wine instead of brandy, hickory salt, parsley or other herbs, cracked bulgur wheat, tomatoes, anchovies – the list is endless. The traditional serving is on thin sliced French bread toast or pumpernickel. Use crackers or whatever you like, just gently mound it up with a spoon. DON’T spread it – this squishes it down. This is not deviled ham or peanut butter.

BTW – The French, Belgians, and Swiss call it American fillet. It is very popular there and in Russia.

I gotta’ talk about peppers here, even if this was about ground beef. So-called bell peppers aren’t really peppers. Chris Columbus was either confused or lying. True peppercorns were a hot trade item. Bell peppers are really cultivars of the Capsicum Annuum species. (I think we’ll still call them peppers). The reason they aren’t as bad as their cousins the jalapeno types is that the capsaicin that makes the burn is genetically eliminated. The green jobbies are actually not a separate color, they are prematurely harvested unripe forms of other colors. They are therefore more bitter, less sweet, and more likely to produce indigestion than the fully ripened colors. In this neck of the woods you are more likely to see the yellow, red, and sometimes orange than any other. There are also supposed to be white, brown, purple, and blue, but I have never seen them. If you’ve only had green peppers and maybe are less than thrilled with them (or they with you), try some of the fully ripe type (vine ripened is best). Your taste buds and digestion will thank you. Oh, you do know that you skin out the seeds and ribs and toss them. You don’t eat them.

Just about any ground beef recipe can be doctored. Try a ground beef and ground pork mix in about a four or five to one ratio. You can also do ground beef, ground lamb and skin out a sweet Italian sausage into the mix. There are a million and one blends that can be made. Herb and spice them differently. I’m partial to basil and parsley. Some like sage. I’m ok with very light sage, but too much smells like the pencil sharpeners in grade school – also tastes like it to me. But, go for it if you like.

Corporations and Morality –

21 August 07

We humans have created the very interesting entity known as the corporation. Among the marks of the business corporation are:

1. Transferable shares (think stock market)
2. Perpetual succession (just because the president dies, the corporation does not)
3. Limited liability

The corporation has several characteristics that legal types like to talk about, among them the ability:

1. To sue and be sued
2. To hold assets in its own name
3. To hire agents
4. To sign contracts
5. Make its own internal laws to govern itself

The corporation provides “limited liability” for the owners of the stock. Basically this is supposed to mean that a stockholder cannot be held liable for more than the value of the stock owned.

Now another characteristic or two that seem to be overlooked in discussion are the fact that no matter what the intentions of the founder(s), the only purpose for existence of the modern business corporation is to make money. This not necessarily a bad thing. Without the modern corporation we would not be able to have the production and economy that we do. Corporations provide a living and retirement for millions. This is a good thing.

However, the second characteristic is a result of the first. Employees can distance themselves emotionally from the consequences of other corporate employees. Like this: a company make a potentially useful product that may have unforeseen long-term consequences. Years later the consequences emerge. The people directly responsible are gone, dead or retired or just move on. The current crop of employees had nothing to do with the development of the original product and feel no need to accept responsibility. Now the lawyers get rich, and frequently the injured parties do not have the resources to fight lengthy and complex court battles. This is a bad thing. The corporation gets by with no penalty for the consequences of the past actions. Individual people may be moral. Groups of people are amoral. I might also point out that the corporation, particularly chemical, may have put out a decent product and that people down the line misapplied it. If we humans have an opportunity to screw up, we will.

Now, as I said, corporations are necessary to the modern world, but they sure have drawbacks. Congress tends to try band aids for problems that frequently make things worse. After the scandals of the 90s, and early 2000s, Congress tried a band aid in the form of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Now SOX, as it is known, is one horribly complex set of regulations which boil down to making corporate executives personally responsible for the accuracy of financial statements. Now this sounds like a really good thing. However, there are unseen consequences. First major hitch: never again will a technical person ever head a major corporation, or even be in the upper tier of management. Sounds OK until you realize that no financial type ever created or inspired or approved a major technological innovation. OOPS! We will have increasing profits by job cutting, corner cutting, whatever makes a quarterly short term profit. There will be no investment in long term returns, and strong technical people will have less and less say in the future direction of the corporation. More and more jobs will go overseas. The labor is cheaper even if not as good. And the stockholders will fiddle while Rome burns, as long as there is a dividend. Thanks, SOX!

Obviously, the above is a rather quick and dirty description of a tremendously complex problem. Several things are readily evident:

1. We must have corporations unless the population of the world goes back to pre-industrial agrarian support levels and people work long hours just to eat.
2. We have to figure out how to make corporations responsible for the consequences of their actions.
3. We must protect the investors.

These are some tough questions. They will require tough answers that have been thoroughly thought through. We already have bad legislation that is stifling American industry. We don’t need more. We need some far-sighted long-term legislation for a change. And we definitely need to properly regulate corporations because – The title is misleading – Corporations have no morals.

Talk Radio and Other Media –

18 August 07

What on earth are you libs afraid of? Now, first off, you know that free speech is protected and you will lose in a decent court. Second, the freedom of the press is a constitutional fundamental. And you will lose on that count.

The free flow of opinions and ideas is fundamental to this country. Even the KKK and the Nazi party have been deemed to have the constitutional right to blather on as they choose.

The left has tried to fund Air America and other liberal radio. They did not attract enough listeners to be able to draw sponsors and failed miserably even with Soros’ money behind them. Liberals don’t seem to understand that conservative talk radio is also entertaining. You hate Rush, Sean, Neal, and all the rest without understanding them. Neal always states that all his facts should be checked before they are believed. For the most part American Corporations do not have political agendas. They fund things that draw audiences and put money in their pockets. You libs don’t seem to grasp fundamental economics. The corporations that do have political agendas tend to be liberal. You don’t seem to object to George Soros’ funding of liberal stuff. I don’t hear you libs yelling about Ben & Jerry. I don’t hear you telling PBS that they need to be more balanced. PBS is decidedly liberal. You seem to be only objecting to the fact that conservatism has a medium that the people of this country support with their pocketbooks. I don’t hear you slamming the newpapers, 99% of which are so liberal as to be sickening. I don’t hear you slamming the liberal one-sided nature of the major television networks. I don’t hear you wanting CNN, MSNBC, etc. to be more balanced. The only cable news that doesn’t lean left is FOX, and it seems to gripe you libs that they are balanced. Yes they are. I know you libs don’t see it, but FOX cable has just as many lib commentators as conservative. It appears that once again you are jerking the public off with grandstand hearings that are useless at best.

We would appreciate it if the liberal Congress got back to its job and quit wasting our time and money.

Speaking of money. We in the public know that liberals are two-faced liars. If you were serious about using taxes to “make the rich pay their fair share”, then Kennedy, Kerry, Feinstein, Polosi, Edwards, and all the rest of you rich fat-cats would donate your personal income above, say 1 million (which any rational human can live on nicely) to the IRS to help pay off the debt. Instead, you keep trying to tax productivity instead of fat-cat types. How about passing the Fair Tax? Then when the rich boys buy nice rich toys, they will surely pay their fair share. What a concept. Tax consumption, not production. Unless, of course, you guys muck it up with an exemption on yachts or some such. Probably each one of you will have to put in an exemption for the lobbies that own so much of your souls. Wait a minute, there is no tax on corporations, so the lobbyists should have no problem. The only special interests that should be upset is the IRS and the tax specialist companies. So why are you against a fundamentally fair system?

Dictionaries don’t know everything –

16 August 07

Chicken. Now in the South the chicken is ubiquitous. It is known by many different terms, among them cackle and yard bird. Most of the online dictionaries must be done by Yankees or other less educated folks. The online dictionaries define yard bird as:

a. An untrained military recruit.
b. A soldier confined to a restricted area or assigned menial tasks as a punishment.

2. A convict; a prisoner.

Now we must be sure that we understand that real Southern is a language straight out of 18th century English. There are many linguistic relics to be found. Yankee is a polyglot predominantly derived from English, Italian and Polish, with other bits of this and that thrown in.

Anyway, yard bird is a perfectly good description of a chicken. Anyone who has ever been on a rural Southern farm has seen chickens out scratching in the yard. If it was a bit of an upper crust farm, you would see Guineas instead of plain old cackles. Guineas were a better alarm than any dog that ever lived.

Now, people are funny about meat. Some don’t eat it a’tall, they get queasy about the whole thing. Some are total carnivores and will eat any meat not nailed down. Then there are those who really like red meat, but are a little iffy about chicken (that’s me). A good friend’s mother was the opposite. She would eat a chicken just about any way that you can think of to cook it. She was a little iffy about red meat. She and I never really understood each other’s culinary preferences.

If you are a yard bird lover, you probably know more about cooking them than I ever will. I only recently learned to like the critters, mostly because Herself loves them and I needed to find ways that I could stand. The preceding discussion does not apply to quail. That’s wonderful stuff. More on quail at a later date. Back to yard bird.

My problem with most fowl is that if you get if done enough so it’s not red at the bone, the meat is too dry. (I hate dry meat). If you get the outer meat good, then the innards are raw. You don’t want raw bird. So, flatten it, it will cook more uniformly. There are several recipes which use flat bird. So let’s flatten the thing. You might get your butcher to roll skinless, boneless breasts flat. If so, good, that’s the easiest way. The other way is to sandwich the breast between a couple of pieces of plastic wrap with a sprinkle of water between the meat and the plastic wrap. Now gently pound it flat with a smooth faced meat mallet. You want to get between 1/8” and ¼” uniform thickness. If you go too fast or too hard you will probably tear the meat – not good. The other way we get flat yard bird in the South is off the nearest highway. I don’t particularly recommend this method.

Oh yeah – you know the drill – if it touches chicken it has got to be washed. That means your hands too. A lot.

Chicken Kiev –
This is a French dish, not Russian or Ukrainian as the name implies. Take a stick of room temp butter and add 1 teaspoon each parsley, tarragon, and kosher salt. Add several grinds of fresh black pepper. Mix it up thoroughly and put on waxed paper or plastic wrap and roll up into a tight log shape. Pop into the freezer until it gets solid. This should be enough for 4 breasts. Put each flattened breast on plastic wrap, add salt and pepper and a spread a generous pinch of the bread crumbs of your choice, and put about ¼ of the log on it and roll it up tight. Plop it into the refrigerator for a couple of hours so it will hold the shape. Beat up an egg with a teaspoon of cold water. Roll each breast pack around in the egg mixture and then dredge through a plate of breadcrumbs. You might want to try Japanese Panko for a very nice different taste. You’ll want to use your electric skillet with enough oil, peanut is good, to come halfway up on the breast. Hold the heat steady at 375°. Ease the breasts in seam side down. Make sure not to put so much in the temperature drops. Cook about 5 minutes (or a little less) per side. They should be nicely golden brown. Put them on a rack to drain and set after cooking. About a 10 minute rest is good. Now, you want to make absolutely sure that your seam does not leak out the butter goodness, so be very careful when you wrap them. Make sure you get lots of egg mixture and bread crumbs along the seam. If necessary, use pieces of wooden toothpick to keep it together. If it’s a total mess, you can tie it up with kitchen twine. You should have a nice packet that will have a molten core of butter mix and will squirt the first time you cut it, so be careful. I find this really good with some rice. Try true Oriental rice instead of the instant junk. If you make a bit extra of the herb butter, plop it on the rice. It is a great mix with the cackle and herb butter.

Another nice flat yard bird is kind of Japanese in flavor:
After flattening the breasts to about ¼” cut them into 1” strips the long way. Take some scallions and wrap a strip spirally around 2 or 3 for each bundle as snug and secure as possible. Tie them off with kitchen twine or stab a couple of toothpicks in to hold them. Make a marinade from ½ cup sake, ½ cup mirin, 1/8 cup soy sauce. Smash and mince 3 cloves garlic and equal amount fresh ginger root. Add sugar or honey to taste, mix it up and then soak the chicken/onion bundles in the refrigerator for a few hours. Don’t let it go more than 8 hours.

Mix up a dipping sauce while things soak. ½ cup soy, ½ cup mirin, splash of water, sugar or honey to taste. Add a little sake if you want the taste. Whisk gently while simmering until it thickens.

Heat up a little oil in a good skillet to about medium. I like good olive oil. If you want a bit more Japanese flavor, use some neutral oil like peanut or saffron with some sesame oil for flavoring. Sauté the bundles gently, getting them nice and brown. You could also grill over medium heat for a hibachi-like experience. If they need a little more cooking after they are good and crusty, you can pop them into a hot oven for a few minutes. Let them rest a few minutes and then serve with the dipping sauce.

Old monks and the WCC –

14 August 07

In the 60’s or 70’s, I forget which, there was a convention of the WCC – World Council of Churches – in Atlanta. I vaguely remember it being at the Pascal’s Motor Inn on Hunter Street, now Martin Luther King Boulevard. At that time many of the Orthodox Churches belonged to the WCC, even though it was acknowledged as a very liberal organization not in keeping with Orthodoxy. Why? Well, the Orthodox Churches in the Soviet Union and those countries under their influence had no other way of communicating with the West. Even the KGB had no objection, since they felt that liberal organizations would help weaken Christianity and democracies.

Anyway, the delegates were met in session and one of the members was bemoaning the current state of faith in the West. He plaintively wailed, “What we need is to learn to pray!” One of the Russian delegates, an old, very pious monk, stood up and said in a very calm manner, “This is how to learn to pray. Join the thumb and the first two fingers or the right hand – this represents the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Fold the little finger and the ring finger against the palm – this is for the two natures of our Beloved Savior. We sign ourselves on the forehead, the stomach, the right shoulder and then the left, blessing ourselves with the power of the Cross. We then humbly say “Our Father, Who art in the Heavens, …”

There was complete silence in the meeting. Now that the Soviet Union has collapsed, the Communist country Orthodox Churches no longer belong to liberal organizations.

Wilted Spinach –

11 August 07

We used to have this treat when I was a kid. My father would get all involved with the making and had himself a ball. This wonderful dish was originally cooked in a chafing-dish. You know, the thing that Topper Harley didn’t know about in Hot Shots. What is it? Well, a chafing-dish is a pan held above a heat source on a stand to gently warm the food. Originally from the Old French chauffer. Means to warm. Yes, it’s the same root as the guy who drives your car. The first steam cars had to be warmed up before they could be driven (or so it’s theorized). The early chafing-dishes used a charcoal brazier as the heat source. Most of the modern ones use a Sterno can. These became big-time popular in England around the 16th Century. Ever wonder how they got hot breakfasts up to people in those cold manor houses? They didn’t, they used these gadgets to cook right in the bedroom. Chafing-dishes have been used in the good ole USA since the beginning. There are a zillion recipes for this gizmo. Get yourself one (or use your electric skillet) and start searching for recipes. Your taste buds will like. Fondue’s were originally in chafing-dishes. The fondue pot is just a modified form.

If I remember right, the old chafing-dish we had was copper and made by Gorham. I wouldn’t put money on my memory and my sister has the thing now.

Anyway, this dish was usually prepared at the table in a chafing-dish. Either by the head of the table or by a good, proper butler. I’m afraid that Bunters are a bit beyond my pocketbook, even if they made them anymore. Bunter? Lord Peter Wimsey’s butler/friend/companion in the Dorothy Sayers mysteries. A chafing-dish plays a role in Strong Poison, the first of the Harriet Vane appearances. If you like well-written, literate mysteries, these are for you.

Here’s my take on this summertime delight:

1 pound fresh spinach
½ cup rough chopped green onion (white and green parts)
fresh ground pepper
4 to 6 slices good thick bacon, diced up in medium chunks
2 tablespoons good wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon sugar
rounded ½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 chopped hard boiled egg

Clean the spinach and tear it up (make sure it’s dry), tossing the stems away. Mix the spinach and the green onion in a bowl and add a few grinds of pepper. Stick it in the refrigerator until you are ready for it. You can do this at the table with a chafing-dish or an electric skillet if you are dining formally. Or just knock it out in the kitchen for informal ‘just folks’. Slow fry the bacon at a low temp. When the bacon is crisp, add the vinegar, sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Slowly add in the spinach and keep it moving until it is just slightly wilted. Sprinkle with the egg and serve immediately.

You’ve got to be careful here, there is a lot of spinach, so the pan is going to get full. The spinach will cook down to nothing if you are not very careful and quick. Therefore I use an alternate method. Leave the spinach in the same bowl, mix all the stuff in the pan, then just drizzle the hot grease and goodies mixture over the spinach, add the egg, toss, and serve. The spinach won’t wilt quite as much, but I like it better this way. Try both methods and see which one you like.

For the purist, this is related to the Medieval Black Porray. Simple, just leave out everything except spinach and bacon. Authentic, but not near as good.

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