Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Beef Bourguignon Derby: Results

No question about it, Tony Bourdain's version is much tastier, richer, than Julia Child's.

Perhaps Child's is more authentic, maybe Bourdain's is a version tweaked for maximum taste and easier preparation. I dunno.

I've been looking at the recipes, side by side, trying to discover the reason for the difference. (See my previous post for links to the two recipes).

In terms of ingredients, Bourdain bases his broth on 1 cu wine + water. Child uses 3 cu wine + beef broth. For the broth, I purchased Stock Options, an expensive frozen beef broth which I found to be somewhat watery. But even so, watery beef broth should be richer-tasting than water, n'est-ce pas? 

Wine-wise, for Bourdain I used a Burgundy as suggested. For Child, a Cotes-du-Rhone, also as suggested. There's a difference, sure, but I don't know how much influence that would have on the final dish.

 Bourdain uses four onions, six carrots; Child uses one of each.

Child cooks, separately, some small white onions to add at the end, they do not influence the taste of the broth, as she has us dumping the onion-cooking broth.

Bourdain calls for "neck or shoulder" of beef, cut into 1'' cubes (chuck seems to fill the bill), and cooked 2 hours or until tender; Child asks for "stew meat" cut into 2'' cubes, cooked 3 to 4 hours until tender. The latter was stringier and tougher than the former. Same meat counter used for both.

I'm guessing that the additional richness of the Bourdain recipe must be mainly due to the larger amount of onion and carrot. There's little else I can see that could account for it. Unless, in my amateur chef ignorance, I am overlooking an important but subtle cooking chemistry detail as it might be a matter of preparation, rather than ingredients.

I tasted both dishes when they were fresh, and also let them sleep overnight in the refrigerator, then re-heated them for a second tasting. In both cases, this improved the flavor, but Child's was still a distant second.

As it stands, the Bourdain recipe, being easier and tastier, will become my standard basic one and based on the outcome of these two version, I have ordered his cookbook. Need to find something challenging, sublime -- and delicious! to prepare for Christmas eve meal w/ my kids.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Beef Bourguignon Derby

We went down to San Diego for Thanksgiving. Got home last night at midnight.

After a great Thanksgiving feast, what does a boy's heart turn to?

Why, Beef Bourguignon, of course!

Last week I cooked Tony Bourdain's recipe.

Today I am cooking Julia Child's. Hers is more complicated.

But is it better? Bourdain is no slouch in the kitchen.

Our judges (Mrs Elliott and I) are standing by.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Problem with Salad as We Know It

I had an epiphany last night. I finally sussed out the basic problem with salad.

There's too much damn lettuce.

On a volumetric basis, the ratio of lettuce to the other (tasty) stuff is about 20:1.

But it gets worse: On the Piltdown Standardized Taste Scale (revised, 1994), the ratio of stuff you just have to plow through* (lettuce) to the stuff that has flavor is closer to 1000:1.

The goddamn lettuce is the problem. Lettuce is promoted by the Benevolent Loyal Protective Order of Lettuce and Other Filler Leaves Grower's Association and Marching Band, and their powerful Washington lobby. They have influenced the FDA, the USDA, the FDIC, and both patriotic hard-working and thoughtless lazy-ass Americans alike (I'll let you guess which category I belong to) that the basis of a salad is always a buttload of crap lettuce topped off with just a paltry, meager handful of anything genuinely interesting.

This is plain wrong. And I have three reasons why:

First, lettuce provides nothing worthwhile nutritionally.

Second, after mowing through a pile of lettuce the size of a toss pillow in search of something -- anything -- worth eating exhausts my jaw muscles and brings on a bout of TMJ.

Finally, I'm regular. I don't need a mass of watery, fibrous rubbish queasily gurgling about my lower gut to accomplish what I normally do. Two or three times a day (photos available upon request).

Jack won't stand for it any more. Jack is going to put down his high heel, put his fist on his hip, and declare a "low lettuce" lifestyle. The stuff is not worth eating.  It performs no function and gets between me and the things I care to eat.

Someone puts a bowl of lettuce in front of me with a meager few interesting things hidden away like some goddamn Easter eggs peppered about a 20-acre meadow, and I'm handing it back with a "what the f*** is this crap? I ordered a chicken salad, not a goddamn lettuce salad."

* Fine, Howard & Howard, 2006, Lettuce: WTF Is This Tasteless Crap In My Salad!,  Journal of the American Dietary Association, 09;302(10):1107-1109. doi:10.1001/jada.2006.1301

Friday, November 18, 2011

Yet Another Household Improvement Project: Kitchen Hardware edition

Meanwhile, in the ranch house kitchen, Mrs Elliott announced that it was high time I got around to replacing the stainless steel hardware on the kitchen cabinets and drawers with the desired rubbed bronze birdcage type. Such as this:
I had to go online to find pulls, knobs, and hinges that fit the existing cabinets. The local stores don't carry the sizes we need. This because the previous owner fabricated his own drawer pulls and didn't use standard hole spacing, and since I'm not interested in modifying all 15 drawers with new holes (which would necessitate repainting all of them).

After searching through a number of surprisingly disorganized online stores, I found suitable pulls--I think.

One site has the desired design in 160mm spacing, which is very close to the right size and it will work. But that mfgr doesn't make one for the oddball 4-3/4'' pull that I need for one skinny drawer, but another mfgr's line has one 120mm, which is very close, and it may match well enough with the other pulls to blend.

These are not common sizes, common sizes have the holes either far wider or far narrower than what we need here, so fingers crossed the parts will fit and look good.

Hinges are also a mystery, there being dozens of hinge types and me not interested in re-engineering the cabinet doors, but Mike and I have determined that what we got here are probably "3/8" Inset Self-Closing Face Mount Hinges" most likely made by Amerock.

For the cabinet knobs, we will use these:
It all should look nice. Here's our inspiration:

Of course, that kitchen is much larger than ours. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Another Household Project: Living Room Improvements

The living room is getting a facelift here at Chez Elliott. The basic idea is to put new tiles in front of the fireplace hearth along with new carpeting. This, like many ambitious projects, has to be done in stages:

  • Stage 1: Prep the room so there is power for a new floor-heating system (electrician, drywall work, painting). 
  • Stage 2: Lay down new tiles in front of the fireplace (mason/tile guy).
  • Stage 3: Install the carpet pad (carpet installers)
  • Stage 4: Lay in the floor-heating mats, route the wiring to the wall (me).
  • Stage 5: Connect the heating mats to the wall wiring (electrician, again).
  • Stage 6: Lay down the new carpeting (them carpet installer dudes, again) 

(Background): The carpet in the living room does not suit Mrs Elliott. The previous owners picked a color that is colder than she likes. She longs for a warmer color and is drawn to wheat-colored carpet.

A few months ago she took home a number of carpet samples in marginally differing shades of wheat and has since then been vacillating over them and has narrowed down the selection to two or three samples.

She is coming close to making up her mind.

Thinking about the project, I had this brainstorm: The living room is sunken and cold air pools on the floor making it chilly (unless the woodstove downstairs is cooking). It seems to me that that heating the floor would be helpful.

I poked about on the Internet and found that the usual way to heat a floor is to pour a thin layer of concrete with a grid of heating wires embedded into it. That's expensive.

Then I came across a product in the form of a thin electrically-heated mat designed for under-carpet applications. These Environ II mats come in a number of sizes, are UL approved, and installation is simple: simply tape the mat down to the carpet pad, route the wires to a wall-mount thermostat, and put your carpet over it.

A pair of 6 foot by 10 foot mats would cover 70% of the room, and keep Mrs Elliott's feetsies warm.

AND (here's the lucky part),  because there is a Cadet wall heater in the room (put in when the room's electrically-heated ceiling system failed) we have 240 volts right where we need it. Which is what the mats like.


We hired Joe Hawkins (a great electrician here in Bend) to pull the old wall heater, drill the needed wire-routing holes into the wall and floor, put in conduit, and install a new junction box for the new thermostat -- all the wiring needed to light up the mats.

With that done, master carpenter and handyman Mike Accardo patched the big hole in the wall where the heater had come out, mudded around the new thermostat junction box, then sprayed texture so the work would blend into the surrounding wall.

Using a weenie roller, I did the final priming and painting. You can't tell that the wall had surgery.

We can now move onto the next stage: new tiles in front of the fireplace. These had to wait for the electrical work because they will cover the floor beneath the old heater location: the new conduit had to go in before the tiles go down.

Mrs Elliott has been thinking what tiles to use nearly as long as she's been considering which wheat-colored carpet she wants. But the tiles have been bought and the tile guys are coming tomorrow.

Test Driving Juniper Firewood

Our house goes through about four cords of firewood every winter. The house was built in the '70s and did not come with a furnace. It relied on electrically heated ceilings, most of which have failed and are unrepairable. Little 1500 watt Cadet wall heaters were subsequently installed in some of the rooms, but those are about as useful as hair driers (also 1500 watts) for keeping the downstairs, where Mrs Elliott's employees work, comfortable.

The previous owners put a very efficient wood stove insert into the downstairs fireplace, and I added a blower to it. As long as there is wood burning in the stove, the whole house is suffused with heat.

For our first three winters here I purchased Lodgepole pine, four cords every fall, split and stacked.

But softwoods are not my favorite firewood: not a lot of btu's/cord and the stuff burns up quickly. I used to burn oak in a woodstove down in a '30s-era house in Vista, Calif., and loved it. It packs a lot more btu's per stick and burns more steadily.

But we don't have hardwood here in Central Oregon.

So this year I decided to switch to juniper. Your Western Juniper weighs more and packs more btu's than our Lodgepole pine, about 18% greater in both cases (weight pretty much translates directly into heat).

The woodstove seems to be happy with it. And I really like how it burns in the upstairs fireplace. Where pine burns quickly and needs constant replenishing, juniper, in comparison, burns more slowly and constantly, and I don't need to keep feeding sticks into the fire.

Juniper smells like incense, too.

The guys who brought the wood told me that juniper clogs up a chimney with creosote faster than pine. I'll call my chimneysweep dude and see what he thinks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Household Project: Covering the Deck

My Project: Yesterday morning, Mike Accardo of Quality Interior Works (seriously competent carpenter and nice guy), came in the morning to build a drip cover over the house's lower southeast deck to keep it dry in winter.

Casa Elliott has four decks: two upstairs and two downstairs. Rain and snowmelt drips down from the upper decks to to the lower decks, making them unsuitable places to store bicycles (six of which are presently clogging our garage) or other items which can be damaged by water during winter. An expensive metal toolbox with drawers, filled with the specialized tools used for bicycle maintenance, got totally soaked and trashed by snowmelt last year, despite my best efforts to keep it covered under a tarp; and the composite wood top on my nice workbench is now warped beyond recovery.


I need a covered spot that will stay dry through winter and spring and asked Mike to help come up with a way to protect the lower deck area. Since the wood for the decks is quite nice, we need a waterproof roof above the lower deck which does not look hideous.

Mike suggested transparent corrugated plastic and I thought it was a good idea. After some discussion, we came up with a way to mount the panels above the deck, framed in with 2x2 wood stock, which he ripped from 2x4's for better appearance, stained to match the decks. The result is quite unobtrusive and looks good. 

Now I can move the bikes down to the deck.

My plan is to mount a big ol' 2x6 board on the side of the house with a half-dozen J-hooks on it to hang the bikes from.

Nice to have that finally sorted out.  

Mrs Elliott was out yesterday evening, giving Jack the opportunity to catch up on a back episode of Dexter, something she does not care to watch. I had a nice Napa Cabernet and a grilled ribeye steak w/ A1 sauce (it came out dry on the outside before the inside was cooked, I have to work on my grill-pan-fu) and a decent Gorgonzola. 

Reckon I just need to order the full set of hardware and see if it mounts up.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Taste-testing Canned Diced Tomatoes

Here in the Elliott Test Kitchen, Jack made Chicken Cacciatore for dinner last night. The recipe calls for diced tomatoes and near as I can tell, there are no good fresh tomatoes to be found in Bend this time of year. The supermarkets ones are brought from far away and aren't very tomato-y tasting, so I planned to use canned toms. And I got it into my head to do a taste-test of a few. 

So from our local Safeway, I bought four different canned diced tomatoes. We opened them and tasted them, and wow! what a difference! 

Two were just terrible, tasting thin, metallic, and with a bitter chemical aftertaste. Two were quite delicious. All four brands listed the same exact ingredients on the can label: tomatoes, tomato juice, salt, calcium chloride, and citric acid. 

From worst to best:

  • Hunt's Diced Tomatoes
  • Safeway's Petite Diced Tomatoes
  • Muir Glenn Organic Diced Tomatoes
  • Hunt's Petite Diced Tomatoes

Mrs Elliott and I disagreed about whether the Muir's Glenn or the Hunt's Petite was the best. The MG had a sweet, ripe tomato taste which she preferred, the Hunt's Petites were brighter-tasting, like fresh toms, a taste I prefer. A quibble, they were both quite good.

Next time I make something that needs canned toms, I'm going to re-do the test to see if these rankings still hold. There might be batch-to-batch variations and given how terrible the two worst tasted, one should confirm that the toms taste good before using. They're cheap, anyway, so it's not a big deal to dump a couple cans if they don't make the grade.

Oh -- the cacciatore was delicious. I used my new stainless steel saute pan and it was a pleasure to cook with, and cleaned easily.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

To Fairfield and Back, a Pictorial Extravaganza!

Rather than write a few thousand words, I'll post a few pictures, in no particular order. Most are of Mrs Elliott.

Jack's Halloween costume. Fairfield, Calif. 

Mrs Elliott and granddaughter, working on a jigsaw puzzle. Fairfield, Calif.  

This would be Mrs Elliott and an old school friend, Gary. He and his lovely wife Guia own the Lost Whale Inn, a sweet B&B. Trinidad, Calif., 

I saw how the light caught her face and had to take this shot. Some coffee shop, don't remember where. 
View from our window at Ireland's Rustic Cabins, Gold's Beach, Ore.,

Mrs Elliott, Gold's Beach, Ore.

Mrs Elliott, Gold's Beach, Ore.
The grandkids on Halloween day. Jessie and Buzz Lightyear from "Toy Story," and a princess. Fairfield, Calif.  

Late afternoon at Gold's Beach, looking northward. 

Gold's Beach, view to the south. 

Jack and Mrs Elliott, Lost Whale Inn, Trinidad, Calif. 

Mrs Elliott, Gold's Beach, Ore.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sock-Changin' Day

Last night, Mrs Elliott and I returned from a six-night car trip down to Sacramento area via 97 to Weed, and down I-5, and then back up following a route through the wine country to the coast and up to Florence, where we turned inland and drove directly to Bend.

I may write more about the trip tomorrow or soon, but what I want to write about at this moment is sock changing day.

Yes, sock-changing day; a day which occurs twice a year with the change of the seasons, for Jack has but a small bedside dresser for his folded clothes, his undies and socks; and Jack likes plenty of socks, so poor Jack is unable to keep both the warm season socks (the cotton ones) and the cold season socks (those of wool) in the drawer at the same time. There just isn't room.

Thus sock-changing day, a day where the out-of-season socks are replaced with the in-season ones.

Going back to last weekend, the weather forecast predicted a week of not dangerously low freezing temps, so I saw I didn't need to worry about sprinkler pipes yet. But those of you who live here know the value of the local weather forecasts. So instead of the promised non-sprinkler-pipe-threatening weather, Bend was seeing temperatures predominately below freezing.

Seeing this, I was moved to place a call to our sprinkler winterizing guy to request a prompt blowout. I didn't arrange for it before we left because it just seemed too early to shut off the plant irrigation and it could wait until after we returned; so yes, I played chicken with the weather. And though I won (no frozen pipes or sprinklers), it was a costly victory in terms of energy-sapping worrying while getting the job lined up.

Back to now: We're home, and the house has picked up some chill.

There's this window in the living room where the double-paned glazed window has been removed and replaced with a thin sheet of acrylic with an incredibly heavy air conditioner poking through. That needs to be winterized by re-installing the window for winter. There's the fact that the outside air is much colder now than when we left; and we cannot overlook the importance that Daylight Saving Time is packing its valise for tomorrow morning's departure. Like a dear lifelong friend, DST promises, as always, to return next year.

Jack's no fool and can read the signs. So cotton socks are OUT, woolens are IN. The out of season socks live in a nylon duffle bag in the garage, awaiting the return of the warm season.  I hope DST doesn't also have to live in a nylon duffle bag.
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