Archive | September, 2011

Northeast Culinary Tour

28 Sep

We took Thursday and Friday off last week to go on a little culinary adventure. That, and an extremely busy week at work, are the reason for the scarce updates of late. But, I’m about to make up for it…

The trip started off with a visit and tour of the Culinary Institute of America (or the CIA, for short). The CIA is in Hyde Park, NY and is situated in an old monastery right on the Hudson River. The campus is very nice and it is somewhat of a promised land for food knowledge. Many famous chefs have come through the CIA and it is one of the most highly regarded institutions of its type in the world. Corinne and I have both been reading “The Making of a Chef” by Michael Ruhlman, so we have been looking forward to this eagerly.

There are two aspects to the CIA- the Culinary Arts side and the Pastry side. Despite Corinne’s reputation as a cupcake master, we are both actually more interested in Culinary Arts (cooking, not baking). This brings me to the student guided tour, which was about an hour and a half long.

Roth Hall

We started out by heading into Roth hall and into the Pastry area. We saw everything from cake decorating, to cake baking, to cookies, candies, and even bread. We then headed past a few of the on campus restaurants to sneak a peak and learn a bit about them. After that we headed to a student dorm, the athletic complex and a few other places. I was sure we were now going to head over to the main event: flaming pans, sweating cooks running around, shouting, meat, vegetables and of course, the Holy Grail… stocks!

But no, our tour had ended and we were back where we started. I was confused, even upset, did I miss it? Had we seen all that wonderful stuff we had come to see and I happened to be checking the Kitty Cam? Nope. We skipped it. It’s not on the tour. Our tour guide was not to blame of course because she has a well-scripted path to take, but I feel we were cheated out of what we really came to see. It would be like if you were a golfer and you went to Pebble Beach and they showed you a hockey rink.

My only hope was that the cooking demonstration we were about to see would make up for it. There was a small cooking auditorium with a nice commercial kitchen setup, perfect to… slice up some cold salmon and wrap it up with some cream cheese. To say I was disappointed in the CIA open house is an understatement.

L' Escoffier

After the open house was over, we had about a half hour to peruse the campus and get fancied up a bit for our 7:30 reservation at L’Escoffier restaurant. This is the fanciest restaurant of the four on campus, and is completely staffed by students both in the kitchen (back of house) and in the dining room (front of house). We were greeted by a formally dressed maitre d’ and seated promptly. We even caught a glimpse of the Front of House instructor we had read about in the book, Philip Papineau. We were given menus with a few specials, and our choice of fresh baked bread from the bakery.

I ordered a soup on a whim and I am still dreaming of having it again. It was so simple, but so incredible in its flavor I couldn’t get over it. All those chapters about stocks and consommés finally made sense, and I knew that I needed to get back to work trying to perfect our own stock at home so we can someday recreate this soup to serve to our guests and eventually have them blog about it! This was life changing soup.

This au pistou soup is a very basic chicken stock-based vegetable soup. The version we had was even simpler than the classic version and I think that really doesn’t give them any chance to hide any mistakes in a pile of ingredients. The bowl came out with a tiny pile of small diced vegetables and no liquid. The broth was then ladled on, dispersing the vegetables. I think I’ve gone on enough about how good it was, but it was just something that only fresh-made ingredients and proper techniques all the way through can derive. In a spoonful, it kind of summed up what it is that students at the CIA learn as they go through the intense program of becoming a classically trained cook. Oh yeah, we ate some other stuff too, but that’s neither here nor there.

That’s just Thursday! Details on Friday will follow.

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Chicken Tonight

20 Sep

I got a fun little birthday present as a response to my previous failed attempt at carving a chicken, a very nice carving/boning knife (and a Boos cutting board and carving fork to go with it)
Oh, and there was one more thing to go with it… A whole chicken! So tonight after a very long day at work I got to work making some chicken.

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Of course, before those beauties came out of the oven, or went in, the whole chicken had to be broken down. Due to my poor showing last time carving a chicken, I watched a few videos on YouTube including a few I really liked by Andrew Zimmern.

Watching and reading all these culinary related things recently has really gotten us interested in stocks. So it was a great opportunity to make good use of all the bones and stuff to try and make chicken stock. I made use of several books including one by Robert Irvine (another birthday present) and one by Julia Child to get me going in the right direction.

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The chicken bones and leftovers simmer so the fat floats up and can be skimmed off.

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Some veggie bits ready to go in the pot.

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The stock simmers away…
Smells really good!!

Cold and Sticky

17 Sep

All summer we’ve dealt with a cold and sticky bedroom when it’s hot and humid out. All along we’ve blamed it on the air conditioner being worn out or maybe the house was too humid for the air conditioner to keep up, or any number of other things. It was odd to be in a cool room but still have one of the worst parts of the hot weather, the humidity.
We never really looked into it or anything because we’ve always felt we were destined for central air some time in the near future so we didn’t want to invest in yet another window air conditioner.
I was doing some research towards that end and came upon a realization of what was wrong this whole time… Our air conditioner is TOO BIG!!

It turns out that bigger is NOT better, it is very important for an air conditioner to be the RIGHT SIZE. The unit we have is 8,000 BTU.
The chart on this page says that an 8,000 BTU window unit is suitable for a 300 to 350 square foot room. The room we currently call our bedroom is about 120 square feet, eleven by eleven, so about a third of the size this unit is intended to cool.
So, what’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t it cool off 3 times faster? Yes. And that’s exactly why we were suffering from a cold and sticky room. The unit cools the room so quickly that the compressor doesn’t run long enough to dehumidify the room. It turns on, the temperature decreases quickly and then it shuts off. A properly sized unit would run for a longer time giving time for moisture to condense on the cold coils and be drawn from the room.

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The proper size unit for this room according to the chart would actually be 5,000 BTU, which would be smaller, lighter and cheaper, while being more effective. I must say this was quite surprising to realize after all this time.

So, the next time you think your air conditioner is broken, get out the tape measure and figure out the square footage of your room, the size of your AC and see if they match up, you might be surprised too. I believe 8,000 BTU is a very common size but I don’t think 350 square feet is a very common size for a bedroom so this is probably not an unusual problem. And, obviously, if you’re in the market for a new window unit don’t just buy the best or the cheapest, buy the one that really fits the room it’s going to wind up in.

Rim Joist

16 Sep

Last weekend we did squeeze a little deck work in. It’s not done yet but I did get the majority of the rim joist done on the far end of the deck. As discussed earlier this is another board that ties in the end of all the joists together and caps off the end of the deck as well, you may recall pictures of us cutting all the joists to an even length.
Since the deck is about 28 feet wide this needs to be made of more than one board. I got the one long board, a 20 footer, mostly all attached except for a few pesky boards that are a little stubborn to line up. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to finish that up this weekend.

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Meter Reader

15 Sep

Just got a little package in the mail today. (Which is a bit odd, since I believe I paid for UPS shipping. I got an email saying my item was shipped, but the tracking info didn’t actually activate for another 2 days, sounds more like the kind of service you could expect from FREE shipping!)
Anyway this is the item we received…

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It’s an hour meter for our new Honda EU2000i generator. (flanked by my Apple Wireless keyboard and Magic Trackpad, more on that in a future post)
The hour meter will allow us to keep track of the time the engine runs to make sure we maintain it on schedule.

On a car you would refer to the odometer but since a generator doesn’t move, you measure the use in hours. If you want to protect your investment with proper maintenance, adding an hour meter like this is easy and inexpensive and takes the guesswork out of scheduling maintenance such as oil and filter changes.

In the next few days I should get a chance to install this and I’ll
Cover it right here.

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Happy Birthday Jeremy!!!!

13 Sep

It’s Jer’s birthday today and he’s hard at work building a set today.

We cooked a bunch of fun food together Sunday because we knew the coming week at work was going to be crazy… He made his famous ribs and I baked him cupcakes!

 

Belt Adjustment

11 Sep

I was mowing the lawn yesterday when I suddenly realized I was no longer mowing, but instead, simply driving around the lawn tractor. I drove around front and pulled in to the garage to investigate, this was also a good opportunity to try out the new floor jack again.

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A bit unnecessary, perhaps, but fun nonetheless. This did allow me to get a good clean look under the cutting deck and inspect for obstructions and damage. Nothing significant but the blade could use a sharpening for sure. When I was down there it became clear that the belt had come off one of the pulleys that drive the blades. Unfortunately it was not as simple as I thought it might be to just slip it back on. I was able to find the source of the dislocation which was a little piece of a stick that got lodged in the pulley and derailed the belt. I needed to use a screw driver to get it out.

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Once that was clear and the guard removed I had to raise the deck, as this is the position where the belt disengages by removing the tension. I had to push the deck forward with a good deal of force (I should mention that the tractor was back on all four wheels at this point) to make the belt loose enough to get around the pulley again.
Once that was done I lowered the deck, re-attached the guard and was back at work mowing. This really was not too bad, as far as the cause of the non-functioning mower is concerned. It could have been anything from a broken belt to a damaged pulley, or other things that would have been much more difficult and costly to repair.

Buy Quality and Only Cry Once

10 Sep

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It’s our brand new Honda EU2000i Generator! Obviously about 2 weeks late, but we’ll be ready next time and not have to rely on the kindness of family to keep our perishables from perishing.
We picked up this little guy from WiseSales.com and so far I’m quiet pleased! Oh, did I say “quiet”? I guess that’s because it’s extremely quiet, this thing is as quiet as a regular generator that is 100 feet away, if not quieter. It is not silent but it’s really not bad at all. The EU2000i features “Eco-throttle” mode which brings the engine speed way down when less power is needed, thus keeping it very quiet and using less gas when only a small load is applied. People often report getting 9-12 hours on a single gallon of gas.
Another great feature of this generator is that it is LIGHT, it weighs less than 50 pounds and can be carried in one hand. It’s so easy even a caveman could do it, a wimpy caveman!
Yet another thing that sold us on the EU2000i is that “i” in the name, which stands for Inverter, which means the power is created as AC, then converted to DC and then the inverter makes it BACK into AC. This seems redundant and inefficient but it actually results in extremely clean power that is safe for sensitive electronics and computers. This process also allows the previously mentioned variable throttle. Most generators always run at one speed because that is the only speed at which they will produce a proper 120Volt 60Hz current, that’s why they are just as loud when they have no load as when they have a full load.
This generator is on the small side in capacity as well as in size, but if you outgrow it you can get another one and connect them together in parallel to combine forces and function as one larger power source.

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We tested it today with the refrigerator, which is probably the biggest and most important load we will put on this little guy, a fridge does not use tons of power normally but it does take a bit of power to start the compressor motor, the little Honda was able to do it just fine. A brief acceleration while the motor kicked on and then back to a nice quiet idle.

Back to the title of this post, there are many impostors and copy cats for less money than the Honda, but they all come with a non-monetary price tag; reliability, noise level, customer support, parts availability and buyer’s remorse. There are some people who are happy with the lesser known models that cost a bit less, but overwhelmingly, all the reviews say “I should have spent a little more and gotten the Honda”. This generator is possibly the most well regarded in its class, and I feel that it was a good investment…
Is it weird to kind of hope for a black out so you can try out your new toy?

(editor’s note: we got our wish in the form of a week-long power outage due to Hurricane Sandy one year later)

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Rendering an idea

8 Sep

The other day I had a little brainstorm. I had come up with a little concept about a treatment for the front entry of the house. We have in our minds a plan for the front of the house where the front door moves from the side hallway to the living room directly. This is due to our desire to reclaim some of that space for our future “master suite”.
The problem with this idea is that you would enter straight into the living room and there would be no buffer zone, this could be especially problematic if it’s cold out.
The solution I came up with creates a buffer zone that would also make a feature of the entrance. But one of the best things about this concept is what it would do to the exterior of the house, the curb appeal, specifically. It would transform the house, visually, and as an added benefit it would make it look much different from other houses nearby which may be cut from the same cloth, to put it lightly. Our current project of the deck is revitalizing the back of the house and the backyard, and this would do the same for the front.

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Keep in mind that this design is based on what we like to call “fantasy measurements”, meaning that it’s not to scale whatsoever. I had an idea and I needed to portray it somehow and I knew that if I tried to make it true to scale I’d never get it done. I whipped it up using google sketchup, which is a useful, but frustrating program to use.
Again, this is just a rough concept but we’re kind of excited by how different it would make the house look and how much of a nice bright entrance it will be to come home to.

Framing continues

6 Sep

We continued blocking the deck yesterday, which is a tedious task. We’re just about done with that, save for if we need to put an extra block here and there for rogue boards. Our next task was to cut all the joists to length. They were left long and then we measured to square them all to the exterior wall of the kitchen. We then took a sliding square and marked the cuts and then we took the circular saw and cut the ends of all 27 joists.

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The next step will be to attach the rim joist to the end of all the joists, which will tie all the ends together to lock them all square and a fixed distance apart.