Monday, October 28, 2013

Xan: Cheeeeese?

Hello folks,

Do any of you have trouble with your cheeses molding and if so what do you do about it?  For instance, I would like to shred lots of mozzarella all at once and not have to shred it each time I need some.  But then it gets moldy and I can't cut off the outside of every shred.  Can you freeze cheese?  Or how should it be stored?

As far as cooking goes, cheese is an unusual ingredient for me: I use it frequently enough but it is never for my own consumption, and so I never actually taste the results of my cheesings, and so I never know what to do differently next time.  When I started cooking, I used to complain if I had to touch cheese, which seems pretty silly in retrospect.  It was probably just an excuse to complain.  On the other hand, many people are grossed out by the mere sight of meat, even though meat is great while milk products are the devil.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Xan: Weighing the benefits of kitchen scales. Also, cookies.

In the kitchen I prefer work first, reward second.  I go to great lengths to avoid making things dirty because I don't want to have to clean them up later!  When possible, I do manual prep work up front, rather than using a kitchen machine (even if it's much quicker and easier) that I then have to clean.  Even if it takes less total time to clean the machine than it took to do the manual prep work, I prefer to do the work first and get my reward second.

That may seem odd.  But if I do the work first, it's just part of the cooking.  If I do it second, it becomes a chore I have to force myself to do now instead of later.

Sometimes I will fail and procrastinate, making a bad situation worse.  But even when I succeed in forcing myself to clean in a timely fashion, it's still worse than if I didn't have to force myself.  Just as, even if you successfully exert the willpower to abstain from an unhealthy slice of chocolate cake, you are still worse off than if the cake didn't exist to tempt you in the first place.  Exerting willpower is costly.  Making yourself do things now instead of later is draining.  So I avoid it when I reasonably can.

I would rather clean a knife right before I use it than right after, even though it would seem to take the same amount of effort in the naive view of things.  In either case, you have a clean knife while you're using it, which is the only time it really needs to be clean.  Unfortunately, your cohabitant may prefer the knife to be clean the rest of the time as well.

This explains why I often make the seemingly odd decision to do things manually that "should" be done a more modern and efficient way.  My most preferred cleaning method by far is to not make things dirty in the first place!

You can roll your eyes all you want -- and probably would, if you saw the lengths I've gone to in order to avoid the food processor -- but I know how my brain works.  As cooking goes from a hobby to a regular routine, even small differences in costliness start to dominate my decisions of what to make and which pans to use.  I pretty much don't care how much work a dish is the first time I make it, because making new things is exciting.  But by the 10th time, it's just not happening if there's something annoying about its preparation.

And so, to the title of this post.  The kitchen scale has become one of my favorite kitchen tools.  It doesn't get dirty by use; to the contrary, it is a substitute for getting things dirty.  It strictly dominates using measuring cups, because it is faster, more precise, and doesn't get anything dirty.

I make pizza dough maybe once a week.  This involves a bowl, a fork, and a scale.  That's it.  I put the bowl on the scale, pour the ingredients right out of their containers by weight, and mix it up with a fork.  It's 5 ingredients: flour, salt, yeast, water, olive oil.  The mixing takes like 15 seconds.  It's so easy that adding measuring cups and spoons would easily double the amount of prep work involved.  And then I would have to wash them!  Even if it was just a rinse to get the flour or yeast off, the measuring cups just might sit there on the counter to be dealt with later.  Ugh.

In fairness, it's a no-knead dough so then I have to wait till the next day to use it.  But that's not the kind of procrastination problem I have.  Personally, I have no trouble cooking ahead, I only have trouble cleaning ahead (I hate cleaning, but I like making dough, so why would I put it off?).  Your mileage may vary.  My approach in the kitchen is not for everyone, but it works for me.

Every so often I buy a sack of onions from Costco and thoroughly caramelize a whole batch of them.  I freeze them in an ice cube tray and then I can put caramelized onions on every pizza I want by microwaving half an onion ice cube for 10 seconds.  It's a fancy and delicious pizza, and honestly the "hardest" part is grating the cheese!

And I cook it in a cast iron skillet.  It does not stick, and just leaves a little oil behind.  For months now, I've cleaned my cast iron with a soapy sponge, because it's easy and my prior method was definitely not.  They say not to use soap, but what do they know.  There's no sign that I'm ruining the seasoning and every sign that I'm easifying the cleaning.

Catherine's kitchen philosophy is so different from mine.  Today she made Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies using both the Kitchenaid Mixer and the Cuisinart Food Processor.  This simply blows my mind.  Meanwhile, as she was making her cookies, I made a pie crust using this recipe, which is notable because it requires not a food processor, not a pastry blender, but a fork.  Mix flour, salt, and butter by hand, mix in some sour cream with a fork, done. I was so excited!  The recipe does say to "vigorously whisk together the flour and salt"...but ha!  Surely you jest! Like I'm going to dirty a whisk to mix flour and salt.  Wait...would anyone do that?  I mean, that is the most pointless use of a whisk I have ever heard of.  (Technically false).  90% of the time a recipe calls for a whisk, I use a fork anyway.  I know, right?  Forks are the best.

We'll see how the pie turns out tomorrow.  Meanwhile, the cookies were really good.  But I must warn you, there were a lot of them.  I should not use the past tense because there are still a lot of them.  I've never seen so many freshly baked cookies in my entire life.  We filled the cookie jar, and two whole plates, and another bag, and our stomachs!

"How many cookies did you eat?" "I don't know..."
That's not even all of them.  She's still in the middle of cooking them.

Let's check out another angle, just to drive the magnitude home:


These are pretty much the best cookies ever, for the record.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Xan and Grandma: Pork!

Grandma says it has been raining a lot in Thailand, but the water will be gone by the time we get there.  She also sends along some pictures of her pork ribs!  Sadly, they will also be gone by the time we get there.

Made with Dad's BBQ sauce.

Source: Makro!

And here is her Kanglian:

A healthier option!  This cancels out pork, right?

I mean, look at all those vegetables!

As it happens, we have been eating up some delicious pork ourselves.  Pork shoulder, specifically.  Mark Bittman's Roast Pork Shoulder, Puerto Rican Style, from How to Cook Everything.

This turned out to be a very yellow and brown meal. Or as we say in the crossword business, ochre!  We have pork, bread, corn with pan drippings, and microwaved honeycrisp apples of deliciousness!


Three little pigs!

That's plate #1.  It was so delicious that I pigged out (!) and ate a double meal.


Mark Bittman's Roast Pork Shoulder, Puerto Rican Style
(paraphrased and modified by Xan)


  • One 4-7 lb pork shoulder, trimmed of excess but not all fat
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 1 TBS dried oregano
  • 1 TBS table salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 TBS peanut or other oil
  • 2 TBS white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, or other vinegar


  1. If you have a food processor or hand blender, blend together all the marinade ingredients.  Otherwise, just finely chop the onion and garlic, and mix everything together.
  2. Place the pork and marinade in a gallon ziploc bag or other container.  Coat the pork all over with the marinade and place in the fridge for 1-24 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Remove pork from the marinade and roast for 2-3 hours until done.  The internal temperature should be 150-160, and the meat should be fairly tender.
  4. Rest for at least 15 minutes, slice and serve.


  • This is not pulled pork.  We are not cooking it for hours and hours so it won't get to that falling-apart level.  When I do a 4 lb shoulder, it takes about 2.5 hours to get to 155, and it's still sliceable, as you can see from the pictures.
  • I crisped the roast up in a skillet right before serving, which is why it is so browned.  Alternatively, if it is not browned to your liking, you could always let the meat rest for a bit, crank the oven up to 450, and put the roast back in for a few minutes.
  • In any case, what you should really take from this recipe is the delicious marinade.  You can apply it to the pork and cook it any way you like.  
  • I actually poured the entire contents of the marinade over the pork before sticking it in the oven.  The marinade has a paste-like consistency (at least if you use a food processor or hand blender), so it will stay on top.  This obviously hinders browning so if you have troubles with that, don't do it -- maybe pat your roast dry with paper towels instead!  But since I was going to use the skillet afterwards, it wasn't a problem.  The marinade paste forms a really nice, substantive crust.

Oink oink!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Xan: Chicken, and family! (allegedly)

We had Melanie, Kelvin, Chelsea and Nick over this summer, and I did chicken on the grill with my rotisserie-style rub.  It was a hit!  I thoroughly regret that we did not take a single picture for Vongsafood, given that it was a family food occasion, but I guess we were too distracted by our hosting duties.  It happened, I promise!  

Maybe we can all just pretend this is a picture of the chicken we ate?  Wait, let me try that again.   

Maybe we can all just pretend this is a picture of the chicken that Nick ate?  There was a second chicken too, for those of us who don't play football, but I'm sure it's just out of the frame...

Did I post this recipe before?

  • For the rub, mix together 1 TBS brown sugar, 1 TBS paprika, 1 TBS chili powder, 1 TBS kosher salt (or 2 tsp table salt), and some ground pepper.
  • Coat the surface of the chicken with a little oil, and sprinkle the rub on all surfaces. 
  • Roast chicken in the oven at 400 degrees until done. (I use a thermometer and take it out when the breast reaches 147 degrees and the thigh reaches 165).

    Tuesday, October 1, 2013

    Xan: Ribeye Cap!

    Catherine's grandpa gave us a gift certificate to Publican Quality Meats.  So we put it to good use!  Here is a ribeye cap steak, spinach with slab bacon, and olive bread:

    Oh, ribeye cap, how I love you.

    Actually the beef, bacon and bread are all from Publican.  The lamb in the last post was also Quality Meat.  We really enjoyed all our meats.

    Also, the butcher at Publican had a tattoo of a cow on his forearm, with the different cuts of beef.  If a customer wants to know where a cut is from, he can just point at his handy diagram.  That's dedication!