New URL

That’s right… I went and did it.  I bought http://www.blogwelldone.com.  Please keep visiting me there!

New Vegan Blog

Hi everyone, I have decided to go Vegan for 90 days and working out at least 5 times per week during that 90 day period.

I am journeling my missteps, trials, tribulations, and hopefully successes at http://iamtheanimal.blogspot.com

I will still be posting to this here blog, at least as much as I have done recently.

Musings On Meat

So I was talking with my wife the other day about being vegetarian and whether we should attempt being vegan.  I surprised myself.

I have been really pondering why I don’t eat meat.  At first, it was a health thing.  Not so much that a meat free diet is healthier (it is, by the way) but because part of my ability to lose weight depends on being able to control food. Vegetarianism = controlling food.  Hence I became vegetarian.

But the more I think about it, the more I find that I don’t really need to kill things to eat well.  I’m not sure if its the murdering that I am really finding distateful or the fact that commercial meat is full of fun things like mad cow and salmonella, not to mention cholesterol, triglycerides, and other things which cause a host of diseases.  But there is something about killing to eat that I find unnecessary.

Citizens of developed nations do not need meat to survive.  As a species, all humans once needed meat to have enough food to live.  Even after agriculture came along, we still needed meat.  The problem is industrialized countries (and non-industrial countries if the Developed Nations spent less time blowing up their neighbors and siding with dictators and more time building infrastructure and rooting out corruption) have enough technology and understanding of food science that if they so chose, they could live without meat. 

And frankly all we are doing by eating meat is killing ourselves.  People die of contaminated food (and yes, people died from bacteria in spinach, but that was traced to a pig farm next door…) and people die of the diseases that meat cause.  At the same time, the American Cancer Association is pushing people to eat vegetarian diets because they are healthy and they extend life.

Ultimately, I feel that not eating meat is the logical next step in cultural evolution.  I think it makes us more human and humane to stop killing the “lesser” creatures that live on it.  Yes, God made us dominion over all the land and all the animals on it.  However, the way we use that dominion is akin to me giving you dominion of my bank account and you losing it on slot machines or thousand dollar trinkets.  Yes, you had dominion over it, but wasted it.

So, to my mind: we don’t NEED meat.  We probably SHOULDN’T eat it and there are BETTER alternatives.  To me, it just makes sense that we find a new direction.

I expect a deluge of feedback for anyone who reads this.  I don’t consider myself a militaristic vegetarian, but I do wonder what would happen if we looked past our epicurean ways and tried to live a little healthier.

Donnor Party Special

As befitting this special day, here’s a recipe I invented for special occasions.

You will need:

  • 4 tablespoons grapeseed oil 
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced 
  • 2 pounds of meat, deboned, dark meat preferred
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cover the meat liberally with salt and pepper. 
  2. Over a medium fire, add the butter and half of the oil.
  3. When the butter is foamy, add the onions, carrots, celery, and a pinch of salt.  Cook until soft.
  4. Remove vegetables, increase to medium high heat, and add the rest of the oil.
  5. When the oil is piping hot, add the meat and cook four minutes per side.  If the meat is particularly fatty, as some victims…er… carcasses may be, the heat can be kept at medium and the fat rendered out.
  6. Finish the meat in a 350 degree oven.   Meat should cook 5 minutes per pound for medium rare.
  7. Serve atop the sauted vegetables.

Happy April 1!

Howto: Buy a Knife

A good knife is the most important tool in a cook’s arsenal.  Other than proper use of salt and heat, nothing is more essential than the cook’s ability to break food down.   If food is not trimmed of excess fat, it becomes a stringy mess; if it is not cut down to regular sized pieces, some of it will be burnt and some of it raw; and if it is not cut well, it will not look nearly so nice.

For home cooks who are serious about preparing gourmet food, buying a set of knives is an important purchasing decision that should not be taken lightly.  This one tool can make a world of difference, but buying a nice chef’s knife can easily cost over one hundred dollars.  However, keeping the following advice will ensure it will be money well spent.

When knife shopping, there are three things to remember.  First, most home cooks only need three knives: a chef’s knife or a santoku knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife.  Cooks should do most of the cutting work with the chef’s knife, peeling and precision cutting with the paring knife, and cutting foods like bread and tomatoes which have hard outsides and very soft insides with the serrated knife.   There are other types of knives that can be purchased (boning knives, cleavers, etc.); however, they are certainly not mandatory and can be purchased at a later time.  

Secondly, a good chef’s knife has a lifetime warranty against most types of damage.  The manufacturer will replace for any reason short of deliberate acts of destruction on the blade.  This makes spending a great deal of money on a single knife more palatable as the cook will only need to shop for her knife once.

Lastly, be prepared to spend time purchasing the knife.  Knives come from different companies in different shapes, sizes, handles, and weights which make the knife feel differently.  There is no such thing as a better or worse knife, merely knives that fit the cook’s individual hand better.  While looking for a knife that “feels right” may be unscientific, it is the proper way to find the best knife.  To go about finding that perfect fit, the cook should go to a store with many knives for sale and ask to hold each one.  Any good kitchen store will be more than happy to take knives from their display case and let the cook feel the weight of blade and check its balance.  Many stores will also have a cutting board that the cook can use to test her cutting motion.

If the knife does not feel too heavy or too light and if it does not slip, then the knife is a good candidate for purchase.  However, the cook should test several more knives to find the proper one.  Only once the cook is sure, should the knife be purchased.

Using Salt

Using salt is one of the three most important skills in cooking, the other two being good knife skills and the proper use of heat.  For many, hearing that salt is a basic cooking skill will come as a surprise.  Given the linkage been salt and high blood pressure and other heart diseases, many home cooks have started to limit the amount of salt in their food.  These same cooks wonder why food at restaurants tastes better.

 

Salt does a number of very important things in cooking and baking.  First, salt helps to draw the juices out of meat and vegetables.  For proteins, this promotes crust formation when they are and it is why so many recipes state that meat should be liberally sprinkled with salt several minutes before cooking.

 

For vegetables, drawing out the juice does several things.  First, in sautés, it causes them to cook faster and more completely.  When adding them to a sauce, the salt will cause the vegetables to release their juice and add it to the surrounding liquid.  This will make the resulting food have a richer flavor.

 

In baking, salt has a number of useful functions.  It provides structure to baked goods by strengthening gluten (wheat proteins) and it helps to brown crusts.  Salt also prevents staleness by inhibiting or killing yeasts that are present in the finished product.

 

While all of this is crucial to preparing good food, the most important thing that salt does is fire the taste buds.  The tongue has different sets of taste buds, each of which are specifically designed for one type of taste: sweet, bitter, umami (savory), sour, and salty.  Without salt, one entire category of taste bud is underutilized or not utilized at all.

 

The common saying is that salt makes things taste more like themselves.  In a roundabout way, this is accurate.  Because the salt causes an additional set of taste buds to fire, the taste signals to the brain will be both clearer and stronger.

  

It bears repeating that the primary skills of a home cook are the use of heat, good knife skills, and the [i]proper[/i] use of salt.  Seasoning food is a balancing act.  The cook should strive to find enough salt so that the food tastes good without it tasting salty.  There is not a great margin of error when using salt in food: a little too much tastes as bad as far too much.  Still, in most cases, food can take more salt than the cook might think.

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