Thoughts About Muesli

I don’t know why it took me so long to try muesli. I like granola and oatmeal, both of which are twigs on the same branch of the breakfast family tree. Yet, every time I saw muesli on the shelf, I’d think “Looks interesting. Maybe one of these days” and then buy something else.

So I finally decided that one of these days had arrived and bought a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Muesli. They’re my go-to for oatmeal, so it seemed like a safe bet for the experiment.

I’ll admit to being both intrigued and bemused by the notation on the package that it can be eaten hot or cold. I don’t think there are any other breakfast foods designed for eating both ways. Granted, in my somewhat misspent youth, I’d occasionally eat English Muffins without toasting them, but that’s hardly what the makers intend. And, as Maggie pointed out, while there are people who eat Grape Nuts hot and Pop-Tarts cold, neither is standard behavior*.

* Yes, Pop-Tarts’ packaging pays lip service to eating them straight out of the box, but really, that’s not what anyone expects. Remember, the “Pop” refers to them popping up out of the toaster.

So, anyway, I expected cooking instructions for the “hot” option. And they’re there. I didn’t expect instructions for eating the cereal cold. I mean, do you really need to go beyond the standard “Pour into bowl, add milk to taste, eat”? Actually, yes. Those rolled oats need to soak up some liquid or they’re going to taste like cardboard.

I followed the instructions. I won’t make that mistake twice.

Served hot, it was an uncomfortable combination of sweet, hot sludge and weirdly warm nuts. The sunflower seeds were especially peculiar: their mouthfeel was different from anything else in the bowl–and not in a good way–and when heated, their flavor didn’t harmonize with the oats. Maybe if I’d used milk instead of water, per the alternate instructions, it would have turned out better, but I’m dubious enough that I’m not going to risk it.

The cold preparation was much better. But I found the recipe incorrect. Using the recommended quantity of milk, even after somewhat more than the recommended soaking time, I wound up with something that closely resembled soup. Maybe that’s the tradition, but when I finish the solid contents of my cereal bowl, I don’t want to have enough milk left to require a drinking glass.

Fine-tuning ensued. I find that about 2/3 the recommended quantity of milk and about 50% more soaking time results in something quite tasty.

In the final analysis, I’m not sure whether the experiment was a success.

I’ve still got about half the bag of muesli left. I plan to finish it, mostly on days when I’m not working and don’t have to balance soaking time with commuting. But will I buy it again? Not Bob’s; I’m quite sure of that. But I might try someone else’s interpretation.

Cold.

What To Do?

People like leftovers. If they didn’t, why would there be so many websites about them?

Nearly nine years on, my infamous leftover sauerkraut post still pulls in views–as I write this, so far this year, that post has been seen six times more often than anything I’ve written in 2022*.

* Granted, the numbers are somewhat skewed, because most of the readers see new posts on the blog’s home page, so they don’t get counted as views for the individual post. But the point stands: leftover sauerkraut gets looked for hugely more often than anything else on the blog.

And it’s great that so many people are willing to help their fellows repurpose the stuff in those half-empty containers in the back of the fridge. But unused ingredients are one thing; complete dishes are another.

Turkey can go into sandwiches, soup, tacos, and a dozen other things. Extra cheese has roughly ten thousand uses (beer and cheddar soup, anyone?) But what are you going to do with the last of the turkey soup after you’ve had it for three days straight? Freezing it just kicks the decision down the road. And the example of Chopped notwithstanding, most of us aren’t prepared to repurpose a complete main course into something totally new.

We ran into a double dilemma of this sort recently.

The chili was bad enough. As has been noted previously, our chili tends toward a souplike nature. That makes it impractical to do chili burgers (or dogs) or put it on baked potatoes. I suppose we could make ice cream, but (a) there’s significant cognitive dissonance there and (b) we don’t have an ice cream maker.

But the Mac and Cheese? It’s really a monolithic dish, not amenable to breaking down into its components.

When in doubt, go with the classics: “embrace the power of ‘and'”. Pour chili over the mac’n’cheese.

The train of logic went something like this: tomato and pasta is a classic combination; cheddar cheese goes well in chili; and, hey, in Cincinnati they put chili on spaghetti. Okay, maybe that last isn’t a good precedent: can we really trust the judgement of an area that thinks cinnamon is a mandatory spice in chili?

But, we mixed our cinnamon-free, bean-laden chili with our vegetable-free m&c. And it worked. Got two large pots out of the fridge.

Somehow it had escaped both of our notices that chili mac and cheese is a thing. I won’t tell you how long it took us to figure that one out.

So we recreated the wheel.

But this “throw two meals together” notion has possibilities. Clearly we need to experiment further.

Fauxtisserie Chicken and potato soup? Could work.

But rest assured we will not be adding sauerkraut to mac and cheese.

A Waterfall Memory

Once upon a time, there was a restaurant in Seattle called The Windjammer.

For many, including my family, it was an “occasion” restaurant. Not necessarily huge occasions like weddings and family reunions–although it did host such events–but the smaller occasions: graduations, birthdays, and hosting out-of-town guests.

The Windjammer’s signature bit–or perhaps one of them; certainly the one that made the biggest impression on me*–was the way the servers filled water glasses. The pour started with the pitcher just above the rim of the glass. As the glass filled, the server would lift the pitcher higher–leaving the glass on the table, untouched–until it reached his shoulder height. The waterfall effect was eye-catching, especially at the end, when a twist of the server’s wrist bent the stream slightly.

* At the time, I was what we now call a tween. If there were similar rituals in the presentation of alcoholic beverages, I was and am blissfully unaware of them.

If you think about it, it’s a perfect gimmick for a restaurant. It’s not as showy as lighting something on fire, granted, but there’s less risk of igniting a customer’s clothing or hair. And it doesn’t require your customers to pay attention: no chance of a flying shrimp bouncing off someone’s chin.

It’s not as easy as The Windjammer’s staff made it look, either. Believe me, I spent a lot of time trying to do it myself. The basic pour-and-lift isn’t difficult, but stopping is tough. You want the glass to be full enough that you won’t have to come back around immediately, but not so full that it overflows. Once you let the water out of the pitcher three feet above the table, you can’t put it back. Don’t forget about the wrist twist, either. It changes the flow so the last part of the pour hits the inside of the glass and flows smoothly down, instead of splatting down and spraying water on the paying customers.

By now you’re probably wondering why I even bring up this bit of little-known nostalgia.

Blame it on muscle memory.

I hadn’t thought about The Windjammer in decades until our recent hot spells came along. At one point, I raided the pitcher of water in the fridge and found myself doing a Windjammer Pour. It didn’t go well. I bobbled the wrist twist and splashed myself and the countertop with a significant amount of water. While it felt nice, it wasn’t quite the cooldown I’d been planning on.

So now I’ve got a problem.

I’d like to practice up and get my pouring skills back up to standard, but California is in drought conditions. Can I really indulge myself, knowing each practice pour will waste precious milliliters of water?

Hungry?

I really wanted to write something cheerful today.

(Disclosure: I’m writing this Tuesday evening so it’ll be ready for you all in the morning.)

But then I made the mistake of looking at the news.

Yeah, I know, I know.

I presume you’ve heard by now that our government has declared meat processing plants to be critical infrastructure.

I’m an unrepentant omnivore, and I was not looking at the predictions that meat could follow toilet paper* into virtual non-existence on store shelves.

* Our TP supply dropped low enough last week that we went in search of a few rolls. As it turned out, we found some in the first store we checked. It’s a 30 roll package, which should be enough to stave off the total fall of civilization for at least a month, and quite probably several times that. Mind you, it’s a Korean brand–not the one everyone knows–and of totally unknown quality, but it’s almost certainly better than, say, last week’s newspapers. We haven’t tried it yet, but in the spirit of helping one another, I’ll issue a report once we’ve put it to the ultimate test.

So, on one paw, it’s good to know that meat will remain available. On another paw, though, the fact that our gracious president highlighted the fact that his declaration will “solve any liability problems” does lead one to wonder (a) just how sweeping that immunity from liability is and (b) just how safe that meat will be. On a third paw, one also has to wonder what effect the presidential order will have on the cost of meat. And, on the fourth paw, will that shield remain in place indefinitely?

Let’s face it. The current administration is fond of rolling back laws and regulations that improve the health of most individuals. And, as we all know, the meat packing industry’s favorite recreation is dancing back and forth across the red line of legality.

Without more details than we have right now, I can only assume that the price of meat is going to go up in lockstep with the health risks of eating that meat. And there is, of course, no upper limit to either cost.

I see only one solution for those of us who aren’t going to go vegetarian.

Anyone got a good recipe for coyote?

Errata

I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong. I’m not eager to do it, and I’m certainly not going to go out of my way to announce every little misstatement. But some errors are so egregious that they can’t be allowed to stand.

On July 4, 2017, I said “It’s also probably the simplest recipe I’ll ever post here.”

What was I thinking? That recipe has three ingredients and five steps! A simpler one was inevitable.

You ready for a really simple recipe? I’m not going to claim this one can’t be beat–I’ve learned that lesson–but I can’t think how.

Normally, at this point I’d give credit to the originator of the recipe and explain how we’ve modified it. But in this case, variations are all over the Internet and very few of them are credited. If you want to trace the history, please let me know what you learn.

Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs – Don’t use breast meat: it gets dry and doesn’t soak up flavor well.
  • One jar, bottle, or other container of salsa – Whatever variety appeals. Chunky and smooth both work well. Just check the ingredient list before you buy: an unexpectedly high bell pepper concentration can ruin an otherwise delightful salsa.

Steps

  1. Dump the chicken in your slow cooker.
  2. Slop the salsa on top of the chicken.
  3. Cook on Low for 8-9 hours.

The salsa cooks down and combines with the chicken juices to produce a rich liquid that tastes great over rice, and leftovers work well as a chili base. Be aware, however, that the mingling and cooking does reduce the spiciness. If you prefer some kick in your chicken, a mild salsa is not your friend.

The chicken itself can go into the rice along with the salsa liquid, or anchor a burrito. It makes great sandwiches–try it with some pickled carrots or onions–and stuffs into baked potatoes well (don’t forget to add some bacon as well).

This is, by the way, one of those recipes that reheats well in an Instant Pot: pressure cook on low for zero minutes, shut off the cooker, and vent the pressure manually.

There you go: a mindless recipe for taxing times.

And, rest assured that if I find a two-ingredient, two-step recipe, I’ll let you all know.

Worst Good Eats

Or should that be “Good Eats, Bad Cooks”?

I am thrilled and intrigued.

Which is just what They want, of course. But that’s fair enough. It’s nice to see some evidence of competence from time to time.

What I’m talking about is the upcoming season of Worst Cooks in America.

There are no major changes in the offing. Still sixteen bad cooks competing to improve their skills. Anne Burrell is still the face of the show. And a few minor variations to keep the whole thing from devolving into an unwatchable photocopy of the last half dozen seasons.

But, oh, those minor variations.

Foremost among them: Anne’s competition in training up the contestants this time around is Alton Brown.

This is going to be fascinating to watch.

Alton’s on-screen persona isn’t competitive. Despite the years hosting Cutthroat Kitchen, he still comes across primarily as an educator.

Which is, naturally, what the Worst Cooks participants need.

But will there be room for a few patented Alton historical and scientific digressions? There must be a lot that never makes it to the screen. I’m sure the competitors get plenty of one-on-one coaching from the instructors, and Alton’s methodical approach should be very helpful for whatever subset of the group who are capable of following directions.

But still. Entertaining as it might be to see how the gang takes a discourse on the chemical properties of gluten or the history of saffron, will it help their cooking?

And, given that entertainment is the name of the game here and the overall story arc of the competition between Anne’s and Alton’s cooks, are we going to see a few well-placed items from the Cutthroat Kitchen archives show up? How would Anne’s cooks manage with a corkscrew-shaped skillet?

Even if Alton plays it straight, though, his sense of humor may be the only thing that gets him through the season. And, if this season’s selection of cooks are truly as horrible as in years past, we may all need to play the Alton Drinking Game to survive.

Here’s hoping for a season of golden Brown deliciousness. We’ll find out on Sunday.

Not Quite Instant

Maggie and I have succumbed.

Not to the lure of another cat. Please don’t tempt us with the thought.

No, what we’ve given in to is the latest kitchen fad. Maybe not the latest-latest, but at least the latest long-lived.

We held out against the sous vide apocalypse, but we’ve accepted the Instant Pot into our lives (and our kitchen).

Seriously, given how often we use our slow cooker, the Instant Pot was a no brainer. A six quart IP takes up about the same amount of counter space as our three quart crockpot–maybe even a bit less–and that’s important in our one-and-a-half-butt kitchen.

Is it going to revolutionize our existence? Not likely. But that extra elbow room from the doubled capacity will be very nice when we do a fauxtisserie chicken. Might even be able to do it faster. Must experiment one of these days.

Though it may be a while. We’re still learning its quirks. Heck, we’ve only used it three times so far.

Braising a hunk of cow big enough for two dinners in ninety minutes–including heat-up time and extra time for the potatoes–was nice. More work involved than in using the oven, but the savings in time and electricity make up for a lot.

The pasta dish turned out well. I’m not certain we’ll do that regularly–for one thing, it actually took longer than the traditional stovetop approach–but I’ll admit that not having to drain the pasta was nice.

The Instant Pot “one dish meal” method is not the way to go if you’re looking for a bowl of sauce with noodles swimming in it. The goal seems to be to balance the ingredients so the liquid from the sauce goes into the pasta, leaving the sauce solids bonded to the outside of the noodles. Tasty (though we’ll definitely tweak the recipe next time–more oregano at the very least) if a bit disconcerting at first.

And it does function well as a crockpot. We did chili as our first slow cook experiment. Yes, there are plenty of quick chili recipes for the Instant Pot out there and we’ll probably try some eventually. But for this test we wanted to see how it handled a known recipe.

It seems as though Low Heat is a bit lower than our crockpot’s “Lo” setting. The onions were a bit crunchier than we expected, and the meat not quite as soft was we’re used to. It’s probably as well that we used thin fajita-cut meat instead of cubes. Next time we’ll set the pot on Medium, and that should improve matters.

Our slow cooker let us set a timer–cook for some amount of time, then either turn off or, if it was on “Hi”, switch to “Lo”. We never used it. The thought of coming home to either room-temperature food or excessively-cooked food didn’t appeal. The Instant Pot, on the other hand, can be set to switch over to a “keep warm” setting after the cooking time runs out. That might just be worth a good chunk of the admission price right there.

Speaking of warming things, I hadn’t realized just how many people believe microwave ovens are tools of the Devil.

Okay, I exaggerate slightly. But only slightly. I started researching how to reheat the chili in the Instant Pot, instead of using the oven as we normally do. Nearly every site I read warned about the unspecified health hazards of microwaves–and especially reheating food in one–though none actually stated what the risks are. I conclude they’re the same risks one runs by not eating “organic” foods.

Several sites said–and I’m not paraphrasing–“Thank God for my Instant Pot!” I’m not sure how much Hephaestus had to do with the creation of the Instant Pot, but I’m sure he appreciates their gratitude. Or maybe they were addressing Hestia–a goddess of the hearth might be a more appropriate vessel for cooking-related thanks.

But I digress.

Are there Instant Pot recipes we’re not going to try? Absolutely.

As a typical example, consider lasagna. I admire the dedication and determination of all the people who’ve created Instant Pot lasagna recipes, there’s no way I’m going to try them. Every one I’ve seen requires even more effort than traditional oven-based recipes do, most of them take longer, and a significant percentage call for finishing the cooking in the oven. Why bother?

But our initial experiments with Instant Potting (Instant Pottery would be something else, I think) have been successful enough to encourage us. I don’t think this will be the sort of kitchen gadget that gets used once or twice, then shoved in a drawer, never to be seen again.

And, as soon as the weather cools off a bit further, I intend to see how the Instant Pot handles our favorite hot spiced cider recipe. I’ll report back if we figure out how to reduce the cooking time without compromising the flavor.

Chicken!

Why didn’t anybody tell me?

Long-time readers know of my love of Alton Brown and his TV shows. Some may even recall my sorrow three years ago when Cutthroat Kitchen went off the air.

At the time, Alton was talking up his plans for a Good Eats successor. It was supposed to be an online-only show and would tackle subjects the original wasn’t allowed to address.

As best I can tell, that show never happened.

And then. A couple of days ago, Maggie and I were watching Kids Baking Challenge and a little blurb popped up in the corner of the screen. This is something Food Network does with great regularity, and it never fails to annoy me. Normally I do my best to ignore such mini-ads, but this one caught my eye. “Up Next: Good Eats Reloaded

Picture my face with exclamation points replacing my eyes.

On second thought, don’t. That’s a rather creepy image. But you get the idea.

It turns out that Food Network has been running these shows for the past year or so, and I completely missed it. They’re not new content either. They’re reworked and updated versions of some of the original Good Eats episodes.

We’ve seen two of them so far (or most of two of them: Sling’s DVR functionality has issues). Updates on broth are well and good, but the updated pasta show may be useful, given the amount of noodles we go through.

But the really good news is the reason Food Network moved Good Eats Reloaded to a better time slot: Good Eats: The Return is coming. Three weeks from today, in fact. Not quite close enough to set the DVR, but near enough to smell the garlic.

The blurb on Food Network’s website sounds a lot like what Alton was talking about for the never-happened online-only show.

I can’t wait. Well, I can–I have too–but I can’t wait patiently.

To celebrate, I’m going to do something I haven’t done for a while: post a recipe.

As with most recipes I post, it’s not a family recipe or something original. Credit where credit is due: this is stolen and modified from Sara Welch’s Slow Cooker Whole Chicken as posted on “Dinner at the Zoo”.

We’re suckers for crockpot cookery, especially recipes that require very little actual effort. If we can throw some stuff together, turn on the pot, and go to work, we’re in. When we saw this one claimed a five minute prep time, we had to try it.

And, of course, we had to tweak it a bit to our tastes.

Ingredients

  • One five pound whole chicken. Note: a bird this size fits almost perfectly into a three quart slow cooker.
  • Your favorite spice rub. Sara’s suggested mix is tasty, and does largely replicate the flavor of a store-bought rotisserie chicken. But it does require a minute–maybe even ninety seconds–to assemble. We’ve had good results with commercial BBQ rubs. Laziness FTW!
  • 4-6 small potatoes, washed. Keep ’em whole; you don’t want them to cook too quickly.

Steps

  1. Spray the inside of the cooker with cooking spray.
  2. Place the potatoes on the bottom of the cooker. They’re going to serve as your rack so the chicken doesn’t get submerged in its own juices. Soggy chicken is no fun.
  3. Rub your spice mix all over the bird. Be generous. And don’t forget to rub some inside the body cavity.
  4. Put the chicken into the pot on top of the potatoes, put on the lid, and turn the cooker on on High.
  5. After one hour, turn the cooker down to Low.
  6. Ignore it for at least five hours. We’ve gone as long as ten without harm to the result. Be safe: if you’re not letting it cook all day, use a meat thermometer to confirm the thickest part of the thigh has hit at least 165.
  7. Crispy skin is a must. Put the chicken in a baking dish and shove it under your broiler for five minutes.

Yes, you do serve the potatoes too. Why wouldn’t you? They’ve soaked up plenty of chickeny goodness. And save the liquid that’s accumulated at the bottom of the cooker. It freezes well and makes a great base for soups and stews.

Out, Out, Damned…You Know

Since we were talking about commercials…

Unlike last week’s example, this is not a good one. Quite the contrary. But it is instructive. Warning: once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it.

I can’t embed it, so you’ll have to go here to see it. And, of course, once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it.

I feel a little odd about complaining about this commercial, since it dates from 2013 and hasn’t aired since. But criticism knows no statute of limitations. And I really don’t know how this commercial got made.

Consider what goes on here. We’ve got the mother who’s totally incapable of managing her family. We’ve got the large family (and, let it be noted, the large minority family at that) of uncivilized brats, intent on the total destruction of the house. We’ve got the tired father who has to call in help to fulfill the basic function of his role (literally bringing home the bacon–or equivalent. What did you think I meant?)

Am I reading too much into the commercial?

At least the Jimmy John’s delivery man isn’t white. On the other hand, there is that wink. Because we all know that [insert minority of choice] are wildly promiscuous, right? (I could go on in this vein–consider the shape of a submarine sandwich, for example–but I’ll spare you the rest of it.)

What make the spot so vexing is that it has many of the attributes of a good commercial. It gets its message across. It’s not gratuitously insulting–the insults are there, yes, but as part of the message, not a separate attention-getter. There’s even a story there. A clean, simple story, much easier to follow than Casper’s tale about goat hooves.

And yet.

I can’t help but wonder if the current occupant of the White House has seen this commercial, and how he feels about Jimmy John’s food. Probably not greasy enough, given his apparent preference for burgers.

But I digress.

To the company’s credit, they have stopped running the commercial. They make a decent sandwich, too.

But the ad does too good a job of getting its hopefully unintended message across. I haven’t willingly eaten Jimmy John’s since I saw the commercial, nor do I plan to change that policy. I’m not militant about it. I don’t shame anyone for eating there. I don’t urge anyone to boycott them. I’ll quietly eat the food if it’s served to me. I just won’t willingly spend my money on any company tone deaf enough to have approved this ad.