Category Archives: Gadgets

Road Snacks – Beef Jerky at home

We’re taking a road trip. A few years ago we had an RV, so I could travel and cook at the same time (not as we were driving, but you know what I mean). Now we have a Prius, so we get five times the mileage, but the kitchen facilities are somewhat more limited.

At my budget, road food tends to be served under a crown or a big yellow M. It’ll keep you alive (for a while) but if there’s a lowest common denominator, this is it.

Road snacks should be tasty, tidy, able to survive without refrigeration, and nutritious- in that order. Since I’m going low carb, cookies and the like are off the list. So, what is a good protein-y road snack?

I picked up dry roasted peanuts during my last stroll through Costco. Costco doesn’t sell small packages- I think it is around a bushel. Should last through any number of road trips. But peanuts, while they are a low carb snack, get a wee bit dull. But beef jerky can have quite a range of flavors.

So yesterday, during the height of the Texas summer heat, we went back to the restaurant supply warehouse and spent quite a long time looking through the beef roasts in their meat walk-in cooler. The fact that it is 45 degrees in there encouraged me to check every roast slowly.

I picked up a six pound roast for $20. Unlike my normal steak guidelines, I looked for one with as little marbling as possible- fat is not your friend in jerky.

Once home, I trimmed the roast into about two inch thick

The fat on the outside should be trimmed off.
The fat on the outside should be trimmed off.

steaks with no visible fat. Then I sliced the steaks into strips about 3/8 of an inch thick. That’s about 1cm, for the civilized folk out there. The actual thickness doesn’t have to be very specific but as much as possible you want all your pieces to be nearly identically thick so that they cook and dry at the same rate.

I made three batches and marinated them overnight- one A1 sauce, one oyster sauce, and one random mix of black soy, worcestershire sauce and sweet chili sauce.

I’m cooking each batch separately in the Nuwave for three hours at power 2, with some soup spoons elegantly jammed under the cover so that moisture can escape.

I’ll post more in a few hours when the first batch (oyster sauce) comes out.

A feast for the senses

The class gathered after lunch and went to the Ellen Noël Art Museum, where Steve and Ann gave a fun class on glazing pottery.

We were each given a huge bowl, big enough for a teenager’s breakfast, and invited to glaze them while we listened to Steve talking about artists and pottery, music and war.

I used my blindfold.

In the darkness, the warm organic curve of the bowl sat, solid, its bisque waiting for the colors that I could only feel.

The glazes, Steve says, change colors in ways that are hard to predict. Pale yellow glaze turns to brilliant green after the fire. Mixing green and blue may give you fuscia.

With my blindfold, it was simply an exploration that was tentative, creative and unselfconscious. I look forward to seeing what I have created.bowl exterior

Update I have the bowl!
bowl interior

The Ellen Noël Art Museum also houses the Sensory Museum.

The Sensory Museum is full of fragrant herbs and fascinating textures. The museum’s walls and the trees mute the city’s sounds. It is quietly profound, sharing its peace freely. I let my fellow students bustle ahead as I enjoyed the peace, the wa of the garden.

One of the displays is a strange granite obelisk, carved into a sort of a vertical marimba.  Running my cane tip along the petals of stone elicits a chiming musical scale, like glass soda bottles from an almost forgotten summer in my childhood.

Benches made of gnarled roots invite. Listening to others discovering can be peaceful, too.

A sinuous pillar of stone beckons. Each thin layer of stone is rough and sharp, in contrast to the dancing shape of the column.

Windchimes and birds debate, languidly. The traffic is respectfully distant.

The Exploratorium in San Francisco is also a touching museum, but it is a place for restless investigation, for insatiable curiosity. The Sensory Museum is a place to catch your breath. To recenter. To relearn that the wonders of the world are not all meant to be seen.

Guest Post- Frogs’ legs!

Frog's legs on a NuWave oven grill
Frog’s legs on a NuWave oven grill

I always like to try new foods. I’m a little more adventurous in my tastes than Matt is, even though he likes spicier food than I do. I ate horsemeat deli slices in the Netherlands; I introduced him to the joys of grilled salmon, and this past week while he was away at blind school, I bought some frog legs.

I ate one once before, deep-fried at a Chinese buffet in New Hampshire, but I’ve never cooked them. The local discount supermarket here in El Paso had packages of frozen frog legs for only a couple of dollars a pound, so I bought a package.

It was highly disturbing how closely they resembled little, miniature human legs. Even the frogs’ backsides looked like little people-bums. It was disturbing and made them hard to cook, but I eventually managed.

The one I ate at the Chinese buffet tasted kind of like fish-flavored chicken—but it was hard to taste anything over the oily batter flavor. I wanted to find out what they tasted like, themselves, so with these, I didn’t batter them or add any spices or flavorings.

I didn’t know how to cook them or for how long, so I treated them as if they were chicken legs. I spread them out on the Nu-Wave oven grill and gave them around 12 minutes per side. I started out giving them just 8 after I flipped them, but there was still a little bit of pink in the meat so I gave them an additional 4.

Then I pulled them out, plopped them on a plate with a little salt, and dug in.

Frog's legs close up.
Frog’s legs close up.

The meat still had that faint fishy flavor—very faint—and the texture was similar to chicken. It had subtle differences, though; it was a little denser, a little chewier than chicken. Almost like rabbit.

In retrospect, I think I cooked them too long, because although they were tasty, they were a little dry, like chicken breast. I have texture issues with food, and with plain chicken breast I need to have some sauce or gravy. These had a texture more like the dark meat of a drumstick, only drier.

TC had seen me cook them and was profoundly troubled by how much they looked like people bums and legs. He tried them, but didn’t like them.

I did like them. In fact, I would eat them again… if only I hadn’t broken out into horrid hives that night. The frog legs were the only thing I’d eaten that was different from usual, and I ate quite a few. It seems I may be allergic, alas.

So I picked the meat off the bones and stored it in the fridge, and when TC got home he decided he liked them again. I suspect the fact that they no longer looked like people-from-the-waist-down had something to do with it! He ate half the leftovers and then decided he didn’t like them anymore, so he put them away. This evening I regretfully fed the leftovers to the dog. He liked them. He even crunched up the bones, since they’re not hollow and dangerous like chicken bones.

Nothing like a little froggie for the doggie.

Stufz Burger Press

Recently, a local superstore had a good deal on massive chubs of ground beef.

Chubs, if you don’t know them, are packages of ground beef, shaped like a torpedo, usually starting at one pound and going up to ten pounds. The unit price (how many dollars per pound) is generally pretty good. You just have to be prepared to use up that huge loaf of hamburg before it turns green.

I had an idea of buying the chub, making a boatload of hamburger patties and filling my freezer with them. My NuWave oven cooks frozen hamburgers quite neatly, and TC likes the convenience of tossing a burger or three on the grill when he gets home from school. So I bought ten pounds of ground chuck, 85% lean (which is a family favorite for most recipes- beefy flavour and not greasy like the cheaper mixes).

Bed Bath & Beyond (I think) had burger presses, for about thirty bucks each. I’m just too cheap to drop that much money on a single-use appliance! But I noticed the Stufz Burger Press. Stuffed burgers are a novelty, generally not worth the hassle- but this gadget promises to remove the hassle from the project. A burger with bacon, avocado and cheese built right in…

The press cost five bucks. Impulse purchase firmly in hand, I headed home.

The enclosed instructions were clear but short on details- they did not, for instance, get very specific on how much hamburger to use. It’s not rocket science, though. I found that 1/3 of a cup for the first part (the ‘cup’ into which fillings will go) and 1/4 of a cup of hamburg for the ‘cap’ (which will enclose the filling). This makes a burger that will feed a starving lumberjack. If you have a petite appetite, bring friends.

The press works well, after a short learning curve. I could have prefered beefier construction, since smashing cold ground chuck into the cup shape takes enough force to make the press flex a bit alarmingly, but once you’re used to it, it is quite possible to turn out stuffed burgers quickly and with only modest effIMG_1029ort.

To keep the filling simple, I crisped up some bacon in the NuWave (ten minutes on high, flip, five minutes, drain and crumble) and sliced up some muenster. Each burger took one slice of bacon and about an ounce of cheese. Salt and pepper both sides of the assembled burger after you pop it out of the press.

Cooking in the NuWave took ten minutes on each side. I found that only one of the burgers got a good ‘seal,’ but I’m going to claim that the cheese running out the sides of the burgers is just to let people know they are stuffed burgers. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

The burgers were pretty good. Next time I’ll want to try adding sauteed onions or garlic to the filling. The burgers have about eight ounces of meat (not counting the fillings!) so, again, this is the burger to serve football players, marauding Vikings or hungry soldiers.

Because of the seriously thick burgers, I would advise against using any ground beef more than 15% fat, and less would be better. Even the 85% lean that I used was right at the edge of greasy. 93% lean would probably turn out a better meal.

I would normally write out the recipe, but this is too simple to need one, just follow the story.

If you want a Stufz press of your own, click HERE to buy it from Amazon. This is an affiliate link, which means that you don’t pay anything extra but I get a few pennies per sale.

Photographs are (as always) courtesy of my wife An. Like her work? See more at Driving Reasons!