Sunday, January 27, 2008

Beef Turkey

It's not really beef turkey, but that is what the Marvelous Miss Thing calls it.

I love jerky, even though I'm not a big meat eater in general. I remember the first time I tried jerky. I was working in a family-run whole grain bread bakery. The bakers would come in at 2 am to start making the bread. By the time I got to the store after school, all the bread had been baked, and the bakers long gone. The store had this huge oven with shelves that rotated like a ferris wheel to bake the bread evenly. It was amazing, but it never really shut off (kind of like Lizzie, who always stays a little warm).

One of the bakers was also a hunter. When he had a successful season, he would make venison jerky on the off-day when they didn't bake. He would slide the pans into the oven, and it was my job to keep an eye on it while they dried. The whole back of the bakery would be filled with the smell of drying meat. It was fantastic.

I had never had jerky before, let alone venison (you want me to eat bambi?), so I was quite hesitant when he offered me that first slice. The first taste however, was so delicious - gamey, peppery, meaty. I was hooked. I used to sneak extra pieces out from the trays.

Since then, I have tried a lot of jerkies. The ones in the store are only good in moments of dried meat desperation. I have also tried several specialty outlets in the area. After eyeing the signs for Beef Jerky Unlimited we finally stopped for the first time last year (c'mon - a whole store of jerky? it sounded a little sketchy at first). They have a large selection of excellent jerky, including turkey and other game meats (although too expensive for my budget at the time). Also, Mom Wilson Sausage Mart on Rt 23 around Marion had good jerky. It's in the middle of no where, but a fun place to stop.

However, this past summer I purchased a dehydrator, in the hopes of making my own jerky. It isn't one of the fanciest machines, but it does have a top seated fan, and adjustable heat settings. With 5 trays, I can't make a full batch of jerky in one sitting, but I can easily make two batches in a day.

There are many theories about how to make jerky. First, there is the cut of meat. I have tried brisket (too tough) and flank steak (a little too fatty, and more expensive) before settling on our preferred round steak. London broil is also supposed to be a nice cut. Then, there is slicing technique - with or against the grain (or heaven forbid, ground and re-formed)? I choose mostly with the grain - I like the long strips, but still able to tear the stuff apart. Next, the seasoning. I use a marinade, however our friends, also jerky aficionadoes, use a dip method - the dip the meat in seasoning right before drying it.

So in your quest for jerky, you may have to explore some of these options.

I currently make two kinds of jerky - one that the Husband prefers, and one that I prefer. The Husband's preferred flavoring is Alton Brown's recipe (although not dried on the furnace filters). Alton's recipe is a classic jerky, but I also like a more asian flavor that really compliments the meat. This asian jerky is a little sweeter, with ginger and garlic.

Asian Beef Jerky

1 tsp 5 spice powder
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper (or to taste)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons black vinegar (or balsamic or rice wine)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tbls garlic-chili paste
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
One 1-2 pound steak


Partially freeze meat. After removing from freezer, slice meat very thin (1/4 inch) with the grain.

In a medium saucepan, combine the soy sauce with the honey, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and salt and cook over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugars. Stir in the 5 spice, crushed red pepper, garlic, ginger and sesame oil. Transfer to a medium bowl and let cool.

Pour marinade over beef (I use a big plastic bag for all of this). Marinade 6 hours to overnight. Dry meat either in food dehydrator according to directions, or in an oven on the lowest heat setting possible until dry but still pliable (somewhere between 2 and 12 hours, depending on how thick you cut the meat).

I still have jerky fantasies about the elusive venison jerky. I have tried to convince the Husband to go out and shoot me some deer, but up to this point, he has declined, citing some sort of misunderstood moral adversion to killing. I told him that I didn't care, I want venison jerky dammit. We have agreed to disagree, and I am currently still trying to find someone to barter for some venison meat.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

i have two emails now...

in which the greeting reads...

Dear Dr. E

It makes me do a double-take every time. Can't believe they are talking to ME.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Travel-friendly sweets...

This weekend, the family and three other couples packed up cars, and traveled over 4 hours to the snowy north for a long weekend ski trip. We rented a room with a full kitchen, because although we didn't really want to spend time cooking, we did not want to be captive to the hotel restaurants. It ended up working out brilliantly. I brought lasagna, french onion soup (with my handy kitchen torch to melt the cheese), two batches of monkey bread, and much more.

To be honest, I hadn't been skiing in about 10 years, so I was a little concerned about the possible success rate of this adventure. There was a water park for the kids, an outdoor pool that was heated so you could have the snow in your hair and a warm adult beverage in your hand and be perfectly at ease.

One of my extras for the trip were these cookies. I feared going the whole weekend without a sweet-chocolate nibble. Graham crackers or butter crackers are topped with nuts and chocolate and then lacquered in caramel-toffee. I used to make these with graham crackers (and H believes that if we are running low on toffee, the graham crackers are better), but I like the butter-salt contrast with the butter crackers. H thinks the butter crackers are good, as long as they are completely covered in toffee. Graham crackers are better when you are running low on toffee supplies because they have a little sweetness to them.

While these cookies look simple, they are addicting, as noted by my book club who also got some of these cookies.

Now, this is one of those recipes I eyeball, so forgive my vagueness. It all depends on what you like. I like my crackers with about 4-5 chocolate chips and cashews or almonds. I've also used macademia nuts. My husband prefers that every space has a nut and chocolate chip on it (the above was one of my husband's). We frequently spend more time arranging the toppings than anything else.

Toffee Cracker Cookies

Enough graham crackers / buttery rectangle crackers to fill a large cookie sheet. (usually about a 1/2 a box). I make mine on a half sheet pan. While you're at it, preheat the over to about 375.

Put a layer of aluminum foil down in the cookie sheet, and put the crackers down in a single layer (no overlaps, but as tight as you can. Break some into smaller pieces as needed).

Sprinkle the crackers with nuts and chocolate chips.

Next, make the toffee:

equal parts brown sugar and butter (no substitutions - suck it up). For 1 cookie sheet, I use about a 1/2 cup cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup butter.

Slowly, bring the butter and the sugar to a boil. Let the toffee boil for about 3-5 minutes. The sugar should be completely disolved, and it should be a coherent glob of brown stuff.

Pour this over the crackers and nuts.

Bake in the over for about 12-15 minutes. Peak at it about 10 minutes. You want the toffee to be clearly boiling over the crackers, but not burning. Take it out too early, and it may be a bit chewy (but still tasty).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

do not knit while hungover.

When one has spent the previous evening pretending that one is half of one's age, singing karaoke, and making your next 60 best friends, put the needles down. Step away. Especially if one isn't a very experienced knitter in the first place.

Had I known where my camera was, I would have taken a picture of it. The nap blanket I had begun for the Marvelous Miss Thing was, at one end, about 4 inches long. At the other, 6 inches. I'm not quite sure how I got the 2 inch discrepency, but it was clearly there.

Mr. H and I giggled about it. I decided that it was pointless to just rip out the stitches because I'm not even sure where the problem began. I unraveled the whole thing and will start over fresh, and sober.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Vocabulary words

One of the clear dangers of a free-range doctorate is the inclination to correct other people's vocabulary.

back again.

it was about 6 years ago when I started my first blog. Of course, then I was without a child, without a degree, and still just working a regular job at the Big U. I wrote about Deeply Important Things like technology in education and instructional design. It was an exciting time back then - full of hopes and excitement.

That first blog eventually fell by the wayside, out of paranoid fears that still plague the use of blogs in education, mainly how does one excuse immature and undeveloped thought processes when they are so publically displayed? (oh - what was I thinking back then when I wrote that piece on the importance of learning styles? I shudder to think about it now).

Since then, I tried to pick it up again. All efforts failed. Not only did I not have time, but circumstances being what they were, a public journal was just not a good idea. But now, I have no job, and I'm not quite sure what my employment future holds at this point, so what the hell.

However, I find something very theraputic about writing, and writing without an audience seems a little pointless. Of course, writing a blog in this day and age is about the same as writing without an audience, but a girl can hope.