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Say Cheese

For years I have stuck to the idea that for the most part that cheap cheese was just as good as the expensive cheese. To me, the cheap cheese was the Kraft cheese or the packaged blocks of cheese while the “good” cheese was the type that I would buy at a few dairies or the big hunks you find in the grocery store. The really expensive cheese that I saw was just overpriced.

As my tastes expanded on other foods, cheese remained a forgotten element, then Feta exploded onto my life. This cheese was always the crumbled kind that was as generic as could be found until the day I wanted to try a recipe where crumbled wouldn’t do. I encountered the blocks of Feta and spent time studying the types of cheese that were there. There were American Feta and Greek Feta with some softer than the others. The prices between these two differed by a few bucks at most but were more expensive than the crumbled dust I was used to. Knowing the Feta was to play a major part in this dish in terms of flavor, I went for a Greek type. It was soft and seemed to be packed in a briny type liquid. It was time to take it home and experience it.

Upon cutting this cheese, it didn’t crumble like I was expecting. Tasting it, I noticed an explosion of flavors that was more complex than the blah version I was used to. When adding to the dish, it complimented the other ingredients to make a wonderful dish. Even my oldest son found it to be worth eating plain. Feta is great with olives, too.

What I have discovered with ingredients are that quality matters. If the ingredient such as cheese is going to play a major role in your dish, then splurge and make it a memorable dish. If the ingredient is a mixture of a bunch of other ingredients, you may be able to use lesser quality cheese.

My lesson: the more expensive cheese is expensive for a reason. Just don’t go buying it all of the time.

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The Search for Kansas City BBQ Sauce

For years I have purchased Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce. Of all the sauces I have tried, this one is the one I absolutely enjoy. Kraft, Heinze, KC Masterpiece, and Stubbs are not up to par. In fact, I found that Stubb’s was my least favorite. The search for a sauce has had me making different versions from time to time without a great love for the sauce. Most are horrible while a few are just okay. Carolina sauce, Eastern style, isn’t my favorite, either, but it has a unique flavor that I don’t mind from time to time. My introduction to it was in North Carolina a few years back. The locals led me to a place and told me what to get.  My favorite has to be the Kansas City style and I wondered if I could make my own.

Barbecue sauces are not only regional but personal. I find that each region’s sauce has a unique flavor and style is enjoyable. The personality of the sauce reflects the individual that made the sauce. In my attempt to understand the Kansas City sauce, I selected twelve recipes from online and broke them down to find what the base is and what unique ingredients people use. I discovered there was much variety in ingredients as there was in the base. Some of the recipes may not even be considered KC style even though they are labeled as such.

My first surprise was the variety of ingredients between the twelve as there were 42 different ingredients used between the 12 recipes. Some of the ingredients were surprising to me as butter, vegetable oil, mace, allspice, and especially steak sauce was used. One recipe had bourbon. Of the twelve recipes, two did not have ketchup while one used water. The most common ingredient was black pepper. Molasses had a heavy showing with it being found in 8 of the recipes. The top five ingredients (7 as the last 3 were in 8 of the recipes) are black pepper, ketchup, chili powder, brown sugar, molasses, and salt. The next 3 ingredients were apple cider vinegar, garlic powder, and liquid smoke.

One interesting note is the ketchup versus the tomatoes ingredient. In two of the 3 recipes, the tomatoes replaced the ketchup while the third had equal amounts of each at two cups. Also, the mace, allspice, and curry powder were found in one recipe only. As for the ingredient list, these ranged from eleven items to eight items. If it really matters, the mean and median are 13.5 items with 11 and 14 being the mode with 3 recipes each. That is enough statistics for now.

What I found within these main ingredients was the personality of the designer of the sauce where a specific type of ingredient was required. There were dark molasses and “unsulfured” molasses. The brown sugar had special meaning as did the chili powder. The black pepper was both coarse and fine. Even with the lesser ingredients, the type of hot sauce, paprika, and red pepper were specified. When you are adding a teaspoon or less of an ingredient, do you actually notice that the ingredient is something special?

I did break down the vinegar into apple cider, white, and red wine vinegar. Even the tomatoes from paste to the sauce to crushed tomatoes were broken down as these are enough of a difference to make it necessary. A few recipes used garlic and onion while the bulk of the recipes used the powder form with one recipe requiring onion salt.

There is definitely a primary ingredient list for the Kansas City style sauce and I would say that the top 12 ingredients are part of this style. These are black pepper, ketchup, chili powder, brown sugar, dark molasses, salt, apple cider vinegar, garlic powder, and liquid smoke. Onion powder, paprika, and ground red pepper were in 6 of the recipes, but it is not conclusive enough to say they are mainstays. I do believe if I search for more recipes these three will be primary ingredients, too.

Going forward, I may look into a few more recipes, but for now, I will develop my own recipe based off of the primary ingredients. I will tweak it some with minor ingredients to determine if they have an effect and if so, improve my sauce. As for the amount, most of the recipes were about the same with one that made about three quarts of the sauce. This is where I will use the other recipes to correct the amount of any “special” item found in the larger recipe. The biggest issue I have going forward is finding the time to do this. My best chance is in late July or early August. As I have brisket in line for cooking during that time frame, I may make a few test batches and if none work, the brisket will have Sweet Baby Ray’s to dip if anyone should choose to do so. I actually like my brisket with only the dry rub.

 

Am I An Adult

Am I an adult? There was a vlog that I was watching where the young man was questioning whether or not he was an adult now that he had moved into a house with his girlfriend. Now, he is about 25, so to me, that is quite young. Technically, he is an adult but is he really? Some of his decisions indicate to me that he has some growing to do.

At eighteen we are generally called adults, but how accurate is that and what defines us as an adult, besides age. Puberty could be considered the point where one becomes an adult. Brain development may be another area where we can determine when a person has become an adult. What about education or the moment we no longer rely on our parents for assistance? What constitutes an adult?

Biology or physiology is one element of adulthood. Structurally, we are adults once we stop developing which is about 18 or so. There is another aspect of adulthood that cannot be pinned down to a specific or narrow range of time. This is the mental aspect of it from knowledge to wisdom. Even today at my age, I am not adult-like all of the time. I do silly and stupid things that are not ascribed to adults. I even make poor decisions, but compared to my adult son and soon to be a younger adult son, I am very much an adult.

Wisdom is a key component of adulthood, thus to be an adult you must have wisdom, and this wisdom is relative. As we gain wisdom, better decisions are made and the choices we make are less harmful or negative. Within this last statement, we find the problem with wisdom and why it is relative. Experience provides wisdom, so we are only as wise as the experience we have encountered which is usually proportional to our age. My oldest child will make poor decisions in comparison to me but will be on par with those in his age range.

Adulthood is primarily dictated by our culture and physiology or independence are attributes used to define adults. If you search the globe you’ll see societal differences concerning who is an adult. These range anywhere from 15 to 21. Society provides freedom upon reaching this arbitrary moment, but it does not necessarily mean you are an adult.

To answer my question, “Am I an adult?”, I recognize that it relative to those observing me. To some, my physique shows that I am an adult as well as the wisdom I have accumulated. To others, including my wife at times, I am still an immature kid who acts like an adult at times. To my sons, I am the adult when they are in a pickle and need my help, a compatriot when I am a partner in their game or “crime”. For some “adults”, I am still a young pup with much to learn. To me, I am still 25 in an older person’s body who has much to learn.

Categories: Humanity, Uncategorized Tags:

Tomato Sauce

Growing with pasta being a side or even the main element of our meals, I am accustomed to eating tomato sauce for every meal. It was spaghetti for meals and rigatoni as a side, though, we did eat rigatoni for meals, too. There was also the other pasta from ziti to gnocchi. The sauce was the biggest element of the pasta.

I have spent years looking for the ideal sauce. At one time, my wife, a non-Italian, was given a recipe for homemade sauce from cans. We all can’t have gardens or fresh tomatoes on hand. It was time-consuming but tasty. As much as I liked it, it lacked the character from my mother’s sauces. To be honest, my mother had different types from those made with pork or other meats to a simple sauce and even on a few occasions, we had the jar sauce when necessity called for it. The emergency sauce was quite rare.

There are plenty of recipes for a sauce all over the internet with people advocating one ingredient over the other. My sister and I have even argued over the idea of sugar. I said my mother didn’t add it while my sister says yes. Truth be told, it depended on the taste of the sauce our mother was making, and you can’t taste sauce without a hunk of Italian bread dipped into the sauce. Oh, how I remember getting a bowl of sauce to eat with bread.

San Marzanos from Italy is the popular selection of tomatoes. Growing up I never heard of these and even more likely were not available. If they were, my family probably couldn’t afford them, so we did without those. Funny how the flavor didn’t change that much.

I never liked onions in my sauce, but my mother most definitely added onions. She would have finely chopped them so I would not have recognized them. Eating a hunk of onion in my sauce ruins the experience for me. Going along with onions is garlic, and there were certain varieties she used in the sauce. These two seemed to go hand in hand.

Olive oil was another ingredient she used. I can recall the huge tin of oil and how my family purchased the olive oil with frequency. The olive oil was never missing in the sauce.

When it comes to herbs, we had basil and oregano. There may have been rosemary, bay leaves, and a few others but this was never mentioned. Red pepper flakes could be an element of the sauce. Of course, she added salt, not an herb. The amount was dependent upon the flavor.

We never had ground beef in the sauce but would often find pork in the sauce and sometimes combined with meatballs. These meatballs were on the small side and were never cooked in the sauce. Sausage was another item that could be found in the sauce. In fact, you could find any combination of meat in the sauce.

One item we never had in the sauce was wine. I suspect this comes from my grandfather who did not drink. Funny, he did have a bar in the basement but never drank. This is one item that my mother never mentioned, and I have tried without great success.

When it comes to carrots and celery, well these were never included. I’ve tried both and found them to be sometimes offputting with the texture. I really don’t have an opinion of them one way or the other. There is one ingredient I have tried with mixed results.

Anchovies have imparted interesting flavor in my sauce. My mother didn’t use them in sauce, but I have found several people that have. Too much and you have a fishy sauce. Just right and you get a unique character that isn’t bad. For now, I’ll leave this out. Another item, unrelated to anchovies, is sugar and I detest sugar in my sauce.

As I wind this post down, I recognize that I missed a huge opportunity and that was never asking my mother about her sauce and how she made it. She was always there, so I didn’t have to worry, however, I somehow forgot that once I got married I no longer had access to her sauce. In my search to find a good sauce, I have discovered the many methods of making a sauce but with none that have been worthy of my taste. I will continue to search for the perfect red sauce, but I have learned a few things.

Most ingredients are not needed especially sugar. As much as I don’t care for onions in my sauce, they do add a sweetness that isn’t overpowering. There are three basic ingredients and they are tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic. From there, you can add to your heart’s content or at least until you reach your level of taste. For me, onions, basil, oregano, and salt are four additional items I will add.

 

Relationship

Observing relationships bloom and whither has driven me to introspection about romantic relationships. Even more, my view on what makes a relationship work has become more clear, however, this does not help me much as I have been married for over two decades and do not expect to become single again. I like the position I am in, thank you.

There are typically three points that can kill a relationship you hear about all of the time: finances, religion, and intimacy. I would like to add a fourth to this – children.  These four predict the success of a relationship. It does not mean both couples need to be of the same religion or have the same financial views, but a careful understanding is needed when considering a long-term relationship such as marriage. Afterall, marriage is for the growth of the couple and procreation. The modern culture may say otherwise, but the fact does not change that these are the two reasons.

Another factor I hear now is equality between the couple. I strongly disagree with equality will lead to separation or one will dominate the other and provide an unhappy relationship. Couples cannot have equality in their relationship as this is an impossible expectation. My wife and I are hardly equal at anything. My strengths are her weaknesses and her strengths are my weaknesses. We are equal in some areas, but for the most part, we are different. This is why I believe equality is a relationship killer but compromise is the great bonding agent.

Without compromise, the first four relationship elements I mentioned are difficult hurdles for a long-term relationship. Compromise comes with the understanding that one person in the relationship may do the bulk of the work on a specific task while the other may do the bulk in another area. One point to keep in mind is that it is very likely and realistic that one may do the bulk of the tasks throughout the entire relationship for the life of the relationship. This is perfectly normal and fine especially when coupled with love. You meet your significant other’s weaknesses with your strengths and vice versa.

In my relationship, my wife does the bulk of our laundry, say 85% while I do the ironing 100%. This developed not because we sat down and ironed the duties out, but it was to our mutual benefit that this happened. As for meals, early on she did 95%, but as we have aged, the meal ratio is now more like 60% of her doing the meals. Again, it is to our mutual benefit. Since I get home late and she is home earlier than me, she can prepare the entire meal or start the meal and allow me to assist when I arrive home. Looking at me, I do 100% of the vehicle maintenance. First, she isn’t interested in doing this while I most of the time do not mind. The fact that I do all of the maintenance allows her to work on another task. If I were to write down the percentages between us, it may very well be uneven in my favor. This is where the key to compromise comes in. We are not trying to be equitable. We are trying to continue to grow our relationship, support one another, and maintain a happy environment. Afterall, when she is sick I do the bulk if not all of the work around the house. I will always pick up the slack when needed as will my wife. I do not expect some equitable payback as it

Compromise isn’t all about tasks as it is about pleasure. We prefer different foods but compromise on what we eat for meals. Vacations are a compromise and even the tely is a compromise. Yes, even sex is a compromise but that is one of the four elements from above. Compromising has allowed our values to merge. When we move towards an equality relationship, stress and discourse follow, but with compromise, there is no stress and any discourse is brief and followed by love.

Finances, religion, intimacy, and children require compromise in order to be overcome and equality will not do it. If you cannot find a compromise with these four, it is best to go your separate ways. Compromise requires work as the levels of work and play are dynamic. Compromise also requires love and with this, your partner will be placed first in the relationship thus allowing for a happier relationship between the two.

 

I would like to say that several words have inspired me. These are Charity, Faith, and Hope. Now all we need is a Hug in there.

Carbonara

This is a dish that I have purposely avoided for years. They thought of having eggs as part of a sauce pushed me away from even attempting it. This changed when I watched a video of several chefs or cooks make this dish. Listening to a few Italian chefs discuss how they make it provided me with a change of heart.

Carbonara is a simple dish with guanciale, eggs, cheese, pepper, and pasta. Pasta water can be added. As the one Italian chef said, “Italians are poor” so they don’t put many ingredients into the dish. I took his advice and did not add garlic or olive oil as well as no green garnish. Oh, forget the egg-based noodles as you’ll already have eggs in the dish and you don’t want it too heavy.

My ingredients were:

.50 lbs of pancetta (an Italian bacon) Don’t use the cheap American bacon.

4 eggs (I added a fifth once my son said he was starving)

Freshly ground black pepper (Don’t overdo it)

1/3 cup of pecorino Romano (have additional cheese to put on top of each dish once served)

2 oz of Pamesan cheese (I just winged it and likely added more than I should. Same with the Romano)

1 lb of spaghetti (I saved my pasta water)

Now for the steps:

I started the water boiling for the pasta. Next, I whisked the eggs and cheese together. Placing my sauce aside, I began to saute the pancetta in a skillet. Don’t overcook this like I did. You want to cook this until the fat renders and the pancetta isn’t crispy yet. I drained the fat and put the pan to the side until the pasta was ready. Once the pasta was ready, I put the pancetta back on some heat and added my pasta with some of the pasta water. You really don’t need much. I added the pepper and then the sauce. It is here where you do not want high heat but a low heat and you need to constantly stir this sauce until you have covered the pasta and heated it thoroughly. You’re actually cooking the egg in this step.

As I stated earlier, I overcooked the pancetta and added too much cheese. Even with these issues, it was beyond my belief. The Carbonara was delicious and one that I actually crave to try once more. Maybe tonight! You have some saltiness with a unique flavor from the egg. The color was a wonderful yellowish to gold color.

This should be a simple dish with few ingredients. There is no need for garlic or even olive oil. Stay away from the green garnish. The preferred pork is guanciale. I was lucky to find pancetta in my area. We need more Italians here. American bacon is too thin and really isn’t the right type, so I recommend paying more for a better meat. Same with the cheese. Don’t buy the wood shavings Parmesan cheese. Get a good quality cheese and grate it. You will not be disappointed. Quality ingredients make the dish.

Categories: Recipe, Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Teaching Textbooks Scores

I thought I was finished with discussing homeschooling, but I was wrong. As my spouse sells our material, she cannot get rid of Teaching Textbooks, and the reason she is told are the test scores. Apparently, the scores have dropped. This leads me to wonder if it is the parent and child and not the curriculum. Here is why I think this.

My sons switched to Teaching Textbooks (TT) beginning with algebra. Prior to this, my sons used Saxon Math, a very nice curriculum for the lower maths, but not very impressive for the upper level. We tackled Algebra I with Teaching Textbooks and carried on through to Pre-Calculus. How did my sons do?

On the standardized test, my youngest score perfect scores in math. My sons scored very high on the SAT for math and one had the option to test out of math for college. Taking calculus at the major university as an early to college student, the lowest grade was a B, and I blame my oldest for his attitude and not applying himself. In fact, I would say only 2 B+’s were worst grades my sons achieved at the university. This is a total of 6 or 8 math classes. Forgive if I forget how many the oldest had taken as he has just graduated from college. This data does not fit well with the idea of Teaching Textbooks producing poor testing scores.

We had one demand on my sons with TT as well as the other curriculum. They had to complete ALL of the problems for math. Work had to be shown and explained if required. All problems that were incorrect had to be reworked until correct. Any major issue in comprehension meant that WE, parent and child, went over the lesson and problems. This meant 50+ problems had to be done each day and corrected each day. We did this with Saxon math as well.

Going from verifiable data to anecdotal or information provided to me by parents, the child never did all of the problems and few if any corrected what was wrong. The parent may have gone over the problem instead of having the child redo it. I do not think this is the primary issue as I believe parents do the same with other curricula. TT provided an out for the parent whereas other curricula do not. The child doesn’t require the parent as the solutions to the homework and tests can be viewed by the child without the parent being present. THIS is the major flaw and it is on the parent! Parents routinely allow their child freedom to do use the answer keys to check their work without the parent’s supervision. Doing this does not allow for an understanding of the material. It is a common theme amongst homeschooling parents to allow their child to educate themselves whenever possible. TT is viewed as a digital instructor where no parent is needed. That is the flaw.

Of course, this is my opinion based on the limited data I have, but it should be considered as a potential reason for TT’s failure in the test score realm. Parents are limited on time, especially the larger families, and this allows for shortcuts to be taken. These shortcuts hurt the education of a child. TT allowed the parent to believe they could effectively shortcut their parental-educator role. The solution is for the parent to become involved with the education.