Remodeling 2016 – Before

This it the first of several posts I meant to make months ago. We had been procrastinating doing some remodeling for several years and started to plan for it in earnest about a year ago. The pictures below are from May 2 and show a part of our house we called the Annex. It comes off the kitchen and is not on the heating cooling and is semi-finished.  The 

The door on the right led to a small room where we had a washer, a dryer, and a small freezer. After that there was an area it some desks that we used to store misc stuff including gardening supplies. The part with no window was a small workshop and after that was another room, which is where the cats lived when we were first adapting them from their feral lives.

This is the view from the other side.

The whole annex was lower than the rest of the house, and the neighborhood drained toward it. You can just see a culvert that goes below the annex for drainage. The Annex would often flood in a heavy rainstorm. We kept more garden stuff on the covered area on the end, where the roof has been sagging in a threatening way for years. The whole thing had settled over the years after some previous owner put it up so that the doors on the kitchen-proximal end didn’t close properly and there were obvious cracks in the foundation.

The goal of the remodeling was to tear this all down and and replace it with a much smaller but nicer laundry room. At the same time we would do a bunch of upgrades in the kitchen. The project was done with Stearns Design Build in College Station.

Inadvertent lower-fat lemon curd tarts

To use up the leftover antique puff pastry, I decided to make little tarts with sous vide lemon curd. There are lots of sous vide lemon curd recipes out there but I based mine this one, using a ziploc bag instead of a mason jar as the cooking vessel. That way I could just cut a corner off and use it as a piping bag to fill the puff pastry shells I made. I also used 170F, which is lower than the linked recipe, but between the recommended 180R and other recipes that call for 165F

Due to various distractions (like the Dr. Who marathon on BBC America), I left out a key ingredient: butter.The resulting curd was still pretty tasty so I used it anyway. Mix:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 0.5 c sugar
  • juice from 2 lemons
  • Some lemon rind scraped off with a microplane
  • There should have been 0.5 sticks of melted butter. Next time.

Blended in the cup that came with my stick blender. Poured into a bag and cooked for 40 minutes. Piped the resulting stuff into ~ 1.5 inch puff pastry shells and dusted with powdered sugar.

No pictures, because we ate them too quickly. And because my puff pastry shell making technique also needs work.

Modernist pork tenderloin Wellington for Xmas dinner

For Christmas dinner, I decided to do a modernist pork tenderloin Wellington. Two things make it “modernist”

  • Meat glue to form the tenderloin into the desired shape
  • Sous vide precook so the pork won’t be too rare inside the pastry

We bought a 1.5 lb pork tenderloin. Like all tenderloins, this comes in an inconvenient shape for a cylindrical Wellington. My friend John Richardson had sent me some transglutaminase last year to play with. I’d been storing it in the freezer and I thought it might be fun to play with it for Xmas.

IMG_1534Based on this website, I used 1g of Transglutaminase (Activa RM) to make a slurry with 6 ml of water (I was aiming for 4 ml by weight, but overshot). I cut the tenderloin and painted the surface to be glued with the slurry and then wrapped the whole thing in saran wrap, tightened to make a cylinder, and put it back in the fridge at 1PM. I wasn’t actually sure the enzyme was still active, since I had stored it at room temp for a while before thinking to put it in the freezer.

Ideally I would have done this the night before, but we only decided to shop last night and I started reading recipes this morning. This lack of planning is not recommended, but it’s my normal mode of operation.

IMG_15354PM, put the whole wrapped thing in a bag and into a 138F bath. I left the wrappings on to not disturb the joint as the meat cooked. This trapped some air, so I used a spatula to hold it all underwater.

While the meat was in the sous vide, started the mushroom duxelle. I pulsed some mushrooms in the food processor and then cooked them in butter and olive oil with some dried thyme. I added about 100 ml of Chardonnay from the little six-pack bottles we keep around for cooking and then reduced until the liquid was pretty much gone.

IMG_1537 IMG_1538Here’s what it looked like before and after searing after coming out of the sous vide. When I took it out of the bag, the two pieces held together, indicating that the transglutaminase had done its job (but see below). I seared in a hot saute pan with oil and butter using tongs to rotate the meat and get all sides browned. Each face got about 30 seconds of browning.

IMG_1539I laid out some prosciutto on more saran wrap and spread the mushrooms on it. At this point I realized I probably should have started with more than one small package of mushrooms. I spread Dijon mustard on the meat, laid it on  and used the plastic wrap to wrap the loin tightly in the prosciutto and duxelle layers.

IMG_1540Laid this on the puff pastry. I used an old package that we had in the freezer. Best used by … July 2013!


Into a 400F oven at ~7PM CST. Took it out after 20 minutes

Here’s what it looked like after slicing. It was delicious. The approach definitely works with pork. Of course, there are improvements that could be made.

The doneness of the pork was what I wanted, but the two pieces had separated. I suspect that the meat glue bonding worked, but was not uniform enough. Twisting the saran wrap didn’t press the two pieces together tightly enough, especially since I didn’t cut them to make the surfaces really flat first (didn’t want to waste any meat).

I’m thinking that next time I try something like this I should tie the meat with string while the bonding is going on. That’s what is recommended here, if you don’t have a vacuum sealer (I don’t).

Another problem was that while the top puff pastry was crisp, the bottom crust was soggy. This wasn’t surprising, as there was a fair amount of fat that rendered out and leaked onto the pan (note to self: a rimmed pan is probably a better idea instead of the flat one I used). This probably came from the prosciutto. The classic recipe suggests using a crepe.  Kenji suggests using phyllo as a moisture barrier. NIgella Lawson’s team suggests blind baking a puff pastry foundation to be placed underneath the meat. They also comment about making sure the mushrooms are dry enough. That was probably a factor in mine, but the prosciutto would probably still render even if the mushrooms were drier. Others suggest bread. The absorbent carb layers are disliked by the Guardian’s Felicity Cloak.

Not only are the cooled pancakes more difficult to roll than I’d anticipated, causing my sous chef Richard to pause and watch in horrified fascination before I shoo him out of the kitchen, but the finished result is decidedly stodgy. “I just had a chunk of pancake,” my flatmate, on her third sample of wellington of the evening, declares, “and now I feel a bit sick.” They’re not crisp like the pastry (which seems just as moist on the bottom as any of the other recipes), or meaty like the beef – in fact, they’re just an extra layer of carb-laden work. Save that room for more meat.

I’m wondering if it would help to cook the whole thing on a rack, instead of just sitting on parchment.

There are also a bunch of deconstructed beef wellington recipes, which are essentially meat with a puff pastry square or mushroom tart on the side. These solve the crisp pastry problem, but in my view they miss the whole showpiece nature of a Wellington.

Procrastinators Thanksgiving Dinner part 3

I never got around to making the final post of this set. So, here, before doing a Xmas dinner post, is the last part of my procrastinator’s Thanksgiving.

Pie is done. Dressing is done. Cranberry relish is done. Spatchcock cooking time estimates are much faster than traditional, so I was able to take a bit of a break from cooking.

Spatchcocking the turkey

TIMG_1505he first question was what pan to use. I needed something that was big enough to hold the bird after it was butterflied. Usually we use our roasting pan, but that wouldn’t be large enough. We also have rimmed cookie sheets, but I didn’t have a suitable rack. Then I remembered the broiler pan that comes with most ovens.

IMG_1506The bird had been sprinkled with kosher salt the night before. The actual spatchcocking is pretty easy with a pair of poultry shears. Just cut along the spine on both sides and then crack the carcass to spread it out. It did come out slightly crooked, though.

Into the oven.

IMG_1507To be honest, since I forgot to write this in real time and didn’t keep a good lab notebook, I forget what temperature I used, but it was somewhere between 400 and 450 F. Here’s how it came out. This method is really fast; I overshot the time slightly cooking for just over an hour. It was just slightly saltier than I would like; I might skip or adjust the dry brine next time.

Mashed potatoes

While the turkey was cooking, I made mashed potatoes. I decided to try using our food mill. They were fine, but at least with our discs it is not true that the peels will be left behind in the food mill (which is part of why I wanted to try it).

Final notes

Despite not planning ahead, we had a nice Thanksgiving dinner, and overall the multitasking wasn’t too bad. I also had enough leftover pie dough to make an apple tart over the weekend.

On to Xmas dinner!

Procrastinators Thanksgiving Dinner part 2

Fortunately, we’re an evening dinner family, not an afternoon Thanksgiving family.

Apple Pie

As I start this post, I’ve been working on an apple pie. I’ve been using the Kenji easy pie crust recipe. Although experts seem to agree that Granny Smiths are not the best for pie, that’s what I use. Someday we may do an actual experiment to test alternatives. I used to just put the apples in the pie raw, but I’ve started pre-sauteeing them in the hope of reducing the tendency to get an empty dome under the top crust.

Into the oven around noon. Just in time to turn on the Ags vs Gonzaga in basketball from the Bahamas.

Cornbread dressing

This is where googling for recipes should really be done ahead of time. I had decided not to do oysters, but there are some nice sounding recipes that use things like sausage and apples. But I used all the apples in the pie and didn’t have sausage. And the store was completely out of sage. And the last bag of cornbread croutons is preseasoned with who knows what. But I improvised by sauteeing in butter and oil:

  • Mushrooms
  • Cajun trinity: Onion, Celery, and Green Bell Pepper + garlic

I added my own dried parsley, oregano, thyme., and a dash of chili flakes Tossed with the cornbread mix.  Moistened with stock with butter melted into it.

At this point the Ags and Zags are playing a very close second half.

Into a 350 F oven for about half an hour.

Ags upset #10 Zags!!! Whoop!

Cranberry Orange Relish

This is one of the easiest recipes ever. Checking the internet, there are lots of variations.

  • I bag cranberries
  • 1 or 2 unpeeled oranges, cut into segments. You want the peel.
  • 0.5 c sucrose. Many recipes use more than that, but we like it tart.
  • ~0.5 c pecans


Leftover relish is good on vanilla ice cream, btw.

More coming…

Procrastinator’s Thanksgiving Dinner part 1

Decided very late to do a semi-traditional Thanksgiving dinner, i.e. Turkey and sides instead of Spaghetti Carbonara. Starting to plan and shop on a Tuesday night before Thanksgiving is not ideal, but what the heck (I bought some pancetta just in case).

We’ve been meaning to try the spatchcock (butterflied) method. Kenji at Serious Eats seems to have mixed advice on brining between the website and the book he consistently is opposed to wet brining, but after that, the choices are:

  • Don’t bother. There’s also a question of whether Butterball brand (which is what I found in an appropriate size late Tues night) is pre-brined. Since Butterball provides instructions on brining, I’m thinking that’s not really the case.
  • Dry brine under the skin. That’s described in the book.
  • Dry brine over the skin – the salt will penetrate. This is easier and similar to what I’ve done before when roasting chickens, and the famous Zuni cafe recipe doesn’t bother to go under the skin. The current website dry brine method recommends doping the salt with baking powder to raise the pH for improved browning of the skin.

The plan is to dry brine overnight before spatchcocking because the spread out bird would take up too much room in the fridge. I’m hoping my pans and racks are big enough come tomorrow. I thawed the bird still in the bag submerged in cold water using the Cambro container I bought for sous vide. Then I mixed a 1/2x recipe of the dry brine (since it’s a ~10 lb small bird). 3 T Kosher salt + 1 T baking powder. I’m surprised the recipe doesn’t give this by weight.

Sprinkle all over except the back where the backbone will be excised. Leave overnight uncovered in the fridge.

The baking powder makes it kind of weird to sprinkle on, and even 0.5 x is way too much. I’m also wondering if there is a typo and this is too much baking powder. We shall see…

Also, Debby found this for one of the sides!

to be continued.

My one thought on the Hugo Awards

There’s been a bunch of news about turmoil among SciFi authors and fans the past couple of years. See:

I like SciFi but don’t read enough to have an opinion about the relative merits of the nominees proposed by various feuding groups. But I did read Ann Leckie’s first two Ancillary books, and I was surprised to read both Hoyt and Wired focus on Leckie’s pronoun usage.


Ann Leckie’s debut novel Ancillary Justice, whose protagonists do not see gender. Leckie conveys this by using female pronouns throughout.


But quite beyond that the block voting for the clumsy Ancillary “but pronouns” would have won first place if it weren’t Australian Rules) is a blot on the face of our genre and makes me sigh and roll my eyes.

Warning: Spoilers in what follows:

Yes, the Hugo is one reason I bought Ancillary Justice on iBooks. But I enjoyed it enough to finish it and buy the sequel… and finish that too. I’ve also bought and finished one of Hoyt’s books, but it wasn’t one of her Hugo nominees, so it’s probably unfair to compare the failure to grip of a free teaser book with Leckie’s work. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in Leckie’s Ancillary series, and while I noticed the pronouns they struck my as a very minor aspect of the imaginative universe Leckie has constructed. The distributed consciousness of the Ancillaries was much more interesting than the pronouns. So was the fact that the distributed consciousness of the protagonist was an AI implanted in slaves taken from conquered cultures. So was the hierarchical and formal society the characers moved in. So were the mysterious aliens beyond the edge of the empire (or whatever it was called).  Ancillary Justice did not strike me as particularly political or moralizing, unless you think its “social justice warrior” political correctness to construct a universe that includes a particularly horrible form of body-snatching cyborg colonialism along with a decadent and corrupt social structure.

If Ancillary is political at all, it’s tame compared to some of my favorite Heinlein novels: Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Or HG Wells. As Peter Suderman’s Reason piece points out, alternative societies have always been part of SciFi

Political disagreements have been with science fiction for practically as long as there has been science fiction. Seen through a longer lens, what becomes clear is that they are an inherent part of the culture—which is, after all, built around detailed speculation about how society and technology will evolve—and arguably even what has helped it thrive for so long.