27 November 2009

25 November 2009

Step by Step

The kitchen is, as always, a hive of activity. Mind you, it’s for a different reason than usual, but it’s still a little crazed in there, with regards to the prep work. Of course, we’ve got people ordering the regular food today, as well as deliveries. Enter Boss Man and Laura Lady. Chef Laura Dardi came in to help us with the masses of food that we’ll be cooking today. You don’t realise what /scale/ means until your boss casually asks you to weigh out twelve pounds of pumpkin to make pie.

And that’s just for the gluten free pumpkin pies.

What I’ve noticed is that during all this prep work frenzy, things tend to work really well when you have a system. Either you tag-team, or solo it. If you solo it, it works really well to go assembly line fashion. For instance, if you’re going to boil some pumpkins to make pumpkin pie, you first peel all your pumpkins. Then you scoop out all the seeds from all the pumpkins. Then you chop them up into pieces. Then you tip it all into hot boiling water, to boil. Then you rinse and drain the seeds, and dry them off lightly. Then you toast the seeds in the oven. It’s not because you need to use the seeds for the pie, but why let perfectly good pumpkin seeds go to waste? The chef needs a snack too, right? Then, you do all the other steps, one at a time, to everything.

The reason? When you’re cooking in large scale, you want to be able to stop at a certain point, and put it off till later, if the need should arise. For example, when I’m preparing for a large quantity of people coming over, I tend to freeze the process in the middle for those things that take multiple steps. With mixed rice (lemon rice, coconut rice, etc.), I’ll cook the rice, then put it into gallon sized zip top baggies, and put them in the fridge, to get cold cold cold. Then, the next day, all I have to do is make the spice blend, and toss the rice through on top of the stove. This ensures that my rice is perfectly separate, while still heating through at the last minute, when I need it to be heated through. It avoids the aggravation of having the rice dry out in the oven, and it saves me a significant headache on the day of, because if the rice is mushy, I can make something else (VENN PONGAL WUT WUT!) and salvage it, rather than looking foolish on the day of.

Try it out at home. When you have a large amount of stuff to do, complete it in steps, a day or two in advance. Then, on the day of, just wrap up all the loose ends, and look like a superstar.

10 November 2009

Good Website, Good software

There's been a couple of computer based things that have been making me twitch with annoyance, and they stem from both web and off-line software. I may not get time to go into everything, but I'll hit the big boys.

Don't reside in systray (PC) or menubar (OSX). I put things in my menubar, because I want them there. I have very specific tools that I use on a daily basis, and want to have residing there. Else, it lives on the dock, and I ignore it until I need it. If you're going to take up space on my menubar (or in a PC, my systray), there had better be a damned good reason for it that makes it show up there, or else I'll be turning it off. I don't have to be reminded of software. When I want something done, I'll go to it, because I know exactly where I placed it.

If you make software that has to reside in my menu bar while it runs, chances are that I'm going to find reasons not to use it, and eventually uninstall it. I'm looking at you, Twitterific. I'm looking at you, every piece of software from Intego. In fact, I even get annoyed when software places itself in my menubar without asking, like Adium. Fortunately for Adium, it lets you remove it from the menubar, so I still use it.

You may think that you're being "clever" by forcing your presence in my menubar, but you're not. You're being a fucking twat. So enjoy your obscurity while I uninstall you, and never turn back. I'll either find a way to use another piece of software that'll do the same thing, and NOT shove itself in my face, or I'll decide that the task isn't important enough for me to be arsed about, and I'll continue doing it by hand.

NO PDFs EVER, unless you have text to back it up. This one's a big one. It used to be that you'd only get a PDF when the formatting mattered so much that having the raw text would outright make the content useless. Think of situations like instruction manuals with images, bookmarks, and all sorts of other useful features. If you're reading an instruction manual, you more or less expect a PDF, because without one there, everything jumps thither and yon, and you can't really do much about it, can you?

I even (to a lesser extent) understand the need for a PDF when you're doing something legally binding, like a form or other such thing, so that the content isn't easily altered. Few people have the software necessary to edit a PDF. So far, so good.

In the case of a menu, or catalogue, or any other such thing when you're simply browsing, and don't want to make too much of a commitment that comes with downloading the PDF, and viewing it, or waiting for it to try to load in your browser, and watching the browser crash and burn. Don't pretend like it's never happened to you! I know it has. I have a very nice machine, and even my browser crashes at PDFs. So when you're presenting data, like what's on the menu, or what's in a catalogue, have the bulk of the contents presented in plain text. If someone really does give a shit about your formatting, they can download the PDF at their discretion.

When I browse to a website, especially for a restaurant, and it takes me the better part of five minutes to wrangle through the PDF to figure out what you have, I'm going to just skip it all together, and try somewhere else. If I order from the place a lot, I'll actually download the PDF and print out the menu. However, it'll never get to that point if accessing the menu is damn near impossible.

No obnoxious splash screens (web or software). If it takes more than 15 seconds to load, you'd better be offering so much functionality with that load time that it's worth the wait. Even then, you're going to end up pissing people off. For example, those nightclub websites that have "fancy" flash splash screens that you want to skip anyway. The faster your home page loads, the more likely someone will be to stick around and check it out. If you entire navigation hinges on a single element loading, chances are that you're going to break someone's browser, and piss them off enough that they don't come back. Was that flashy splash screen worth it?

This goes double for splash screens for software. Unless it's a slow-loading software (I'm looking at you, Adobe), the splash screen is really not necessary. Neither are welcome screens. I don't want ANY of it. Just load the bloody thing, and let me plunge in head first. Don't ask me what sort of thing I want to do. Just load a blank page, and let me make changes as necessary. Think about it. Why are you going to invest time and money into a feature that most people will see as a nuisance (at best), may cause crashes (at worst), and be disabled by most of the people who trip past it (at least). When you're on a website, how many splash pages do you actually watch (y'know, instead of hitting "skip intro" if they give that option)?

There are very specific cases where flash is necessary, such as when the functionality of the site hinges on it (I'm looking at you, online games). But if the same thing can be done with simple pages, with a couple of very minor, tiny flash tweaks to make it look smoother, why not do that instead of making the whole entire page a flash environment? It's like those fuckers who ask you to use margarine in baking, and then promptly ask you to melt it.


Don't set obnoxious defaults, like loading up at startup. It's why I refused to run skype for so many years. I knew full well that I could disable this option but (1) it didn't used to be so blatantly simple to do so, and (2) it was the principle of the thing. I find it an insult to my intelligence when software assumes to know what's best for me, and sets obnoxious defaults, thus slowing down my machine. Your antivirus starting up with the operating system is one thing. Anti virus software is critical for a computer running smoothly. Skype and AOL instant messenger, are NOT crucial to my machine functioning. In fact, they will slow me down. For years, I flatly refused to use Skype or have it running on any of the machines I maintained. Even now, I only use it rarely, and that's only because there are specific people I have to contact, and I have no other way of contacting them. All because of that initial (and persistent) insult.

No "tag along" software. Say it with me: "If I downloaded YOUR software, that's the only thing I want to install." Google is pretty capable of running the world, but packaging that toolbar along with every software known to mankind was not only obnoxious, it made me boycott both the software that made it tag along AND the toolbar itself. Let me tell you how annoying it is to have to go through and uninstall that fucking thing again when you work in a computer lab. You have to go through and log out the current user. Then log in as admin. Then uninstall it. Then close the browser window asking you why you uninstalled it. Then scream and throw things. Then lather, rinse, and repeat about 49 more times.

Per. Room.

Don't use audio unless explicitly necessary. Youtube has a reason to access my speakers. I'm there to watch videos, whose content would fall flat without the audio. There's a couple of websites that use audio to enhance your game playing experience, so that you're not listening to the sounds of your crisp packet as you spend hours clicking the same buttons repeatedly. A website for a night club may get away with it if they have a "music player" up top that you can hit stop on. That's the end of it. All other uses for audio in websites need to be banned. No, Mr. Restaurant. You shouldn't be blasting crappy techno music on your home page. No, website for random person who's looking for "acting work". You have no reason for your street musician crap assaulting my ears while I visit your corner of the web. Turn it off, or I'll turn it off for you.

Point is that overall, you want to avoid annoying the people you're looking to reach. This past month has just been a stack of that, so I figured I'd rant, rather than take it out in little passive aggressive ways on the people who surround me.

I swear, it was an accident when I forgot to make more rice yesterday night.

07 November 2009

Creamy Hummus Every Time

Someone from the vegan forums that I'm on wrote in to ask about her hummus. Let's see what she had to say. Vegan K wrote:
Hi Dino!

Let me first say that I love your Podcast! I have been listening to them since you first started and I have really enjoyed them all. Many of your techniques and ideas mirror my own and so at last I don't feel so alone in my in my approach to the kitchen :) -- But believe me, you have touch me much as well.

My question is about canned beans, or tinned beans as you would say, versus dry beans.
I make a mean hummus, but whenever I use dry beans the hummus seems less flavorful and the texture is not as smooth. Mind you my processor is not that great so the texture difference is very noticeable.
I have added more liquid to the dry beans concoctions and have thrown in additional salt but it still doesn't seem to have the same texture and flavor that I get with canned beans.
Any suggestions?
I was thinking maybe it is something that I have to get used to, like when you change from "Skippy" peanut butter to the "Natural". When I eat the Skippy kind at a relative's house I want to gag nowadays.

But still, the questions is Why?!

Thank you for your wonderful shows... sometimes I listen to them if I am just in a crabby mood... your voice and demeanor is very comforting.

Kathleen (katieo - VeganFreak forums)
The thing about tinned beans is that they're consistent. The manufacturers have enormous cooking pots that clean, sort, and cook the beans to perfection. Unfortunately, it's not so easy to have happen at home. So. there's a couple of things you can do to ensure that your dry beans (especially chickpeas, as they take an extraordinary amount of time to cook) will cook all the way through. They're all fairly important, but there's a couple that are more important than others. When you've read through the procedure, you can either tweak your own method, or decide that it's all too much effort, and just stick to tinned beans! I'm kidding. In reality, this whole process is actually extremely simple. I'm just being detailed, so that you have a framework from which to work. Most of the "work" is leaving the beans alone.

Before working with any dried beans, always turn them out onto a cookie sheet, and check for any stones or other foreign material. Then, when you're ready to start the soaking, wash them under cold running water, until the water runs clear. Even if you're buying organic beans, you're still unable to know what's been going on in the processing plant, the storage warehouse, etc. etc. Best not to take any chances, and just get them rinsed clean. It only takes one or two washes anyway. Sorting and washing the beans takes about two minutes, and is well worth it.

1. Soak your beans well, for a minimum of 8 hours, in cold water. The "quick soak" method is fine if you're just using the beans for a chickpea dish, but for hummus, we're doing everything just so, and it's worth spending the extra step of properly soaking them in cold water. When soaked, the beans have a chance to slowly re-hydrate, and expand their volume. It also give a chance for any impurities and the like to leak out into the soaking liquid. It's best to set them in cold water before you wind up the kitchen for the night. Some people start just before they go to bed, but for me, giving it those couple extra hours before I even think of bed helps me to remember to soak them, and it gives the soaking a couple of extra hours.

Another thing to remember is that you're soaking your beans in a lot of water. If you start out with about two cups of beans, you're going to want 6 - 8 cups (or 1 1/2 - 2 litres) of water. There are many reasons for this, principle among them being that you want the beans to have enough water to "drink up". Aside from that, I just feel like my beans turn out better when I give them plenty of water to soak in. In other words, for every cup of beans you start with dry, soak them in 3 - 4 cups of water.

2. The next day, when they've been thoroughly soaked, drain off the soaking liquid completely. Place a pot of water on the stove, and crank the heat onto high. For every cup of beans (dry) that you started with, put in 3 cups of water into the pot to boil. As you wait for the water to come to a boil, rinse the beans off a couple of times. This is especially important if you're not using organic beans. Any of the chemicals or pesticides should be rinsed down the sink, and not go into your food. Anything in the water will inhibit the cooking process. This includes salt, the chemicals on the surface of the beans, or anything else. Keep things clean, and you'll be fine.

3. When the water comes up to a full, rushing, rolling boil, drop the soaked and rinsed chickpeas into the boiling water. Wait for the water to come back up to a full rushing boil. At this point, start timing about 10 minutes. Let them continue to boil at that high heat rushing boil for about 10 minutes. If you go over a minute or two, it's no biggie, but try not to go under 10 minutes. After boiling fiercely for 10 minutes, drop down the heat to as low as it'll go, and cook gently until they're tender (about 2.5 hours or so). Do not let the water come back to the boil after that initial 10 minute boiling. Cooking at too high a temperature will result in cooked but firm beans. You want your chickpeas to be so tender that you can easily mash them with a potato masher.
If you have a pressure cooker, let the beans cook according to the manufacturer's instructions. Exact times will be on the manual that came with the pot.

On mine, chickpeas take about 10 - 12 minutes, but your pot will have its own instructions specific to yours. Follow the instructions exactly, and cook towards the higher minute range listed. If it says 10 - 12 minutes, let it go for 12 minutes. Let the pressure come down by itself (don't do "quick release").

When the chickpeas are boiled completely, let them sit in the hot cooking water until you're ready for them. Because you've cooked them so long, chances are that you won't need to use too terribly much water in the hummus itself.

For the hummus, start with your very well cooked chickpeas. Beat them around a bit with a wooden spoon. If they don't easily mash up this way, the beans aren't cooked enough. They'll need longer on the stove. If they do, however, beat up fairly easily, you're just about where you wanna be. Combine the chickpeas with the olive oil, garlic, salt, tahini, and lemon juice. Toss the chickpeas and the other ingredients until well combined. Then, fill your food processor only half way full with this yummy chickpea mixture (which frankly, I'd be quite happy to eat as-is, because it's quite delicious all on its own). Pulse a few times until the chickpeas are broken down. THEN crank it up to full speed, and let the hummus grind down. Open the top, and scrape down the sides frequently.

The reason for doing this is two-fold. For one thing, you're thoroughly combining the ingredients and flavours together long before it goes into the food process, making it so that the food processor isn't working so hard. For another, when the food processor is only half full, it can really grind your hummus down without very much fat or water. Once the hummus is down to a paste, you add a bit of water, a couple tablespoons or so at a time, until it's the desired smoothness and creaminess.

This would not work if the food processor were full, however. It only works when you do the method I described.

Hope this gives you some ideas as to where to tweak your current procedure! Thanks for writing in.