Monday, April 29, 2013

Biodiversity and a common field of grass!

I should say that a wild 'cultivated field' of grass is pretty cool to look at, at least along its edges. At this time of year (early May 2013) there are all sort of bio-diverse stretches of vegetation growing in small strips along a field of mono-cultured (aka made for money) fields that are leased out along the Bull Shoals river here in southwest Missouri. The really neat thing is; little life forms that make up our planet are still surviving in what ever spaces they may find! (Even while we, as a species, are exterminating approximately 100 or so species planet-wide per day)! Go team Man!

On this particular and most glorious day in mid-spring, I watched with fascination as grasshoppers, bumble bees and other interesting little insects went about their business amid a small stretch of ground that boasted a complex assortment of plants and weeds. I noted a plurality of wild garlic grass, purple clover, hog weed, grasses and other plants I have no name for – all growing 'cheek to jowl' in perfect biotic harmony.  Synergistic life, existing in an almost perfect balance with no other real enemy, other than man. A state of affairs that makes me wonder sometimes are we a Godsend to Earth, or, are we a scourge for all those innocent creatures over which we exercise such hard dominion? (At this time, I'm guessing that were it not for the Bible, we would not have very much to recommend us).

Personally, I'm on the side of the animals, the plants and the insects. May they prevail and prosper long after the 'Plague of Man' has long since passed!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Critique: Ballpark Flame grilled hamburger patties!

On a recent visit to my local grocery store, I was in search of some pre-made hamburger patties. You know the ones you don't even have to make yourself! They're ready to go into the microwave or grill of your choice.

The thing was, I didn't have a clue as to where they might be found and so stop the Deli lady to ask for help. Her name was Shelia
Odeela (I think) and right off the bat she wanted to know if I wanted the fresh or the pre-cooked patties. I stared helplessly into space waiting for some form of divine revelation when Shelia suddenly pointed to a package of Ballpark Flame Grilled patties that were on a frozen food shelf just a few feet away! With relief, I grabbed a bag and headed for the checkout counter. As I stood in line waiting my turn, I reflected that at $7.99 for a six (73 gram) burgers, I at least hoped the taste would be impressive! I was due that, right?

Once home, I extracted a frozen burger and elected to go the 'stove top route. I noted that the patty looked for all the world like a rotting piece of cardboard and when I placed it on a hot skillet there was no 'sizzling' sound. Well, after all, the picture did say it was already cooked! So there it set and then, after a few minutes,
Hmmm
it did begin to look vaguely like hamburger meat and I was vastly relieved. Before much time at all had expired, I'd made my self a hamburger that didn't look all that shabby. But, the big question was...how did it taste?

I'll be honest, I've had better burgers! This meat was a bit dry and though I think kids would enjoy it, us grownups would probably not. Money-wise, you can buy a pound of hamburger and make up 5 or six similar patties (the Tupperware hamburger press works wonders), freeze them and you'd have a much better product for just a little bit of extra work.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give this deal a lame score of 5. And, from now on, I'll stick to the homemade variety!

Followup: After nuking a patty in the microwave, I'd raise the score a point or two! For the money and convenience! This was not actually all that bad!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Climate change or what's up with the sun?

'The world is not warming it's cooling'! States one scientist. 'No! It's warming', states another. The questions surrounding who is right or wrong is a current topic for hot debate. Decades earlier, the Serbian mathematician Milutin Milankovitch had explained to a skeptical world audience how our world traditionally warms or cools on a roughly 100K year cycle due to the slowly changing position of the earth relative to the sun (see Milankovitch cycles). In 1970, his theory suggested that we should be just getting ready to enter into another so-called Ice Age and that he had data to support it. This announcement made news all across the globe at the time.

Then, other scientists, like Russian climatologist Mikhail Bud, also came out with their own data that suggested just the opposite was happening. That the world was warming due to man made factors like rising CO2 and other potent greenhouse gases. So, the debate has raged on for quite some time, that is until quite recently.

Today, more and more scientists are taking note that the sun seems to acting rather strangely. While we should be hitting the sunspot maximum in the normal 11 year cycle where the sun should be brighter and hotter...that hasn't been the case and it's worrying to some scientists. Last year, it was expected that it would have been 'hotting up' after a prolonged quiet spell. But instead the sun hit a 50-year low in solar wind pressure, a 55-year low in radio emissions, and a 100-year low in sunspot activity. Now, these same observers are waiting for things to 'return to normal', because if they don't it's possible that we could be entering a pro-longed quiet spell similar to the Maunder Minimum that lasted 70 years in the mid-17th Century. This period of time coincided with the infamous 'mini ice age' that lead to widespread suffering all across the globe.

So which is it to be? What factors are driving the climate to change and which ones are the biggest elephants in the room? While most scientists agree that rising CO2 levels (currently at 398 ppm) will play a role, they still do not often agree what that role will be. There are even those that feel that keeping greenhouse gases relatively high may just save the world from the next ice age by 'toning it down'. Others feel we are all headed for a massive melt down sometime in the next 100 years.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Petite Rotini Goulash recipe!

I call this home recipe my Petite Rotini Goulash because, unlike most other American versions, it utilizes Rotini pasta in place of the more traditional elbow variety. It's also a relatively small batch, made for one or two people, and yields just four to six servings. Like all goulashes, it gets even better the next day!

Ingredients:

½ lb ground beef, browned
¼ yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
8 oz can tomato sauce
8 oz of diced tomatoes
1 tsp oil
1 tbsp Soy sauce
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1 tbsp Seasoned salt
¾ cup water
1 bay leaf
2 cups rotini, cooked and drained

Directions:

Small Le Creuset
In a small frying pan, add the ground beef over medium heat, breaking up the meat and browning it so that no more pink color shows. Meanwhile take a small pot (I used a small Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot), add a tsp of oil and heat to medium high. Next, add the onions and garlic and stir for a moment or two until the onion becomes just translucent. Drain the ground beef and add to the pot.

Stir everything and bring to a brief boil, then reduce to a low simmer, cover and cook for about 40 minutes or until done. About 15 minutes before the end of this cooking cycle, prepare the Rotini according to package directions. Remove the bat leaf from the sauce and drain the pasta. Combine and voila! You have produced one of the best tasting meals ever! Serves 4 to 6.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Blocked world wide (for me) by YouTube, but not forgotten! Valehdellaan - Katri Ylander with Let's Lie

Finnish song writer Katri Ylander - Let's lie - A song about two lovers who tried to lie about 'doing it'.

http://youtu.be/etWiPCCQmgw

Making sure your slow cooker is running properly!


A few days ago I dug out my trusty (and very old) Rival Crock-Pot to run a test on how long it would take to cook three common vegetables; notable a carrot, potato and an onion, all of which were cut up into bit sized chunks!

As a part of the test, I wanted to use the ‘low’ setting with just enough water to cover the items being tested. I allowed the Crock-Pot to come up to temperature and then added the aforementioned pieces to it. Well, after more than eight hours, the potato was barely done while both the onion and carrot pieces still needed more time. What? Obviously something was wrong and a little bit of testing told me what it was. The water was only getting to around 135°F and the power consumed was a measly 75 watts! WTF! That’s like trying to cook a meal using a single light bulb – it just doesn’t work!

So, I then got out a newer (and larger) slow cooker also made by Rival and performed the same operation with the same chunks of onion, potato and carrot. This time the ‘low’ setting read 200 watts and after the unit was on for about an hour, I noticed the liquid inside the pot was at a slow simmer. The internal temperature was also at about 178°F! Now that’s what I’m talking about!

At this new and higher operating temperature, I was able to get all three vegetables done to ‘fork tenderness’ in only about 2 1/2 hours! The moral of the story! Make sure your slow cooker is operating at the correct range of temperatures (170F-200F for low and 275F-300f for high) for whatever setting you plan to use. An easy way to get a clue as to what temperature your slow cooker reached is to watch the liquid after it has been on for at least two hours. A slow simmer would be correct for the low setting while more of a slow boil would be about right for the high setting. (Note that opening the cover can set things back by as much as 15 minutes of added cooking time, so try and avoid the temptation).

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Making a small pot roast stretch!

I'm pretty sure that most everyone I know is in the same economic boat these days. That is, we all have to be careful when it comes to what we buy and consume in terms of food! A thinly stretched budget demands a careful shopper who is getting the most for his or her buck.

This slow cooker menu item contains the following:
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
Making this meal is about as easy as tying ones shoes. You just brown the meat (that was taken out of
the fridge and allowed to come to room temperature) in a small amount of oil, mix up the packet of seasonings in a cup of water, peel and cut up the potatoes and carrots into equal sized pieces and then dump everything into a slow cooker that has been set to low. Cook for about eight hours!

The end result is pure heaven! The meal serves 5. Oh, and don't forget the horseradish!

Notes: The cost of this meal came in at about $8.00 or $1.60 per serving. The potatoes and carrots are still relatively inexpensive, and so held down the cost. (The meat cost me $6.69 for a 1.7 pound hunk which was all I could afford and so inspired me to add more potatoes and carrots to bring up the total volume. Nutritionally, each serving came to just over 500 calories and the power required to cook it came to ~$0.07. So, all in all, a very affordable meal in 2013 terms. Finally, that packet of seasonings is available locally at the Save A Lot store in Forsyth, MO. It cost about .59 cents! After 8 hours on low - everything was cooked close to perfection with the exception of the carrots that were still a little underdone - my thinking would be to go for a longer time or to pre-boil the carrots for about five minutes before adding them in.

Update: Jan 2015 and the cost of this same cut of meat had risen from $3.89 per pound to $5.08! That's about a 23% increase. Par for the course in an Obama run country. I plan to redo this recipe am am hoping for similar results. I'll post when that happens in a day or so.



Thursday, April 11, 2013

Got Meatloaf?

Asking me if I'd like a meatloaf sandwich would be a lot like asking me if I like money. Yes to both! Making a batch up in the slow cooker can pose some problems, however!

This meatloaf recipe was done, on the fly, as far as the ingredients went. I used what I had on hand, and in the case of bread crumbs, I improvised by using a couple of slices of bread!

First off, here is the ingredient list:

½ cup diced onion
¼ cup diced celery and bell pepper
8 oz can of tomato sauce
¼ cup of milk
2 eggs
1 ½ pounds of ground beef
2 slices of bread, crumbled
2 medium potatoes, cut into pieces
1 slice of bacon
ketchup
salt and pepper to taste

For this meal, I used a small crock pot that had been in the family for almost forever. I placed it on the counter top and set the heat control to high. Next, I peeled the two potatoes and cut them up into
equal pieces so that they would cook at the same rate. These were placed in the bottom of the slow cooker.

On tip of the potatoes was placed two lengths of foil that had been folded into a sort of cross. These were placed over the potatoes, over which another roughly circular piece of foil was also placed. (These make extracting the finished meatloaf from the close confines of the slow cooker a breeze, later on).

I then assembled the ingredients for the meatloaf, itself, in a large glass bowl. Basically, you add everything all at once (less the bacon and ketchup) and then mush it all up! This finished product is pretty wet and is therefore some what of a challenge to get into the slow cooker! I could use less liquid, I guess, but I've found that sometimes the quality of the meat loaf can suffer.

Once you do get the mass of meat into the pot, cover it with a strip of bacon to form a cross and then I like to add a little topping of ketchup to seal the deal.

Cook on high for about four hours or low for six. Voila! Dinner is served! (See the You Tube version at http://youtu.be/v37ye_KQBT0 )!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Weight differences between cooked and dry pasta?




 Oh, the complexities of trying to convince oneself to lose weight while your mind is pitted against the effort 24/7!

One question that has come to my mind just recently, was how to measure the calories in cooked pasta; be it either the spaghetti or shell varieties. Both my diet planner software and the nutritional panel on the a package of medium pasta shells agreed that ¾ of a cup of dry pasta (~56 grams) would equal to about 210 calories. However, there is a big difference in weight between the cooked and dry weights! After I weighed out 56 grams of medium shell pasta and then cooked it,  I found the weights to be
171 grams cooked to 56 grams dry or a ratio of 3:1! That's something that's good to know if you like to make pasta ahead of time as I do quite often.

That such a small amount (~70 medium shells) of pasta contains so many calories was daunting! This stuff is caloric dynamite! Add in a quarter cup of pasta sauce (71 calories), and you’re suddenly up to about 281 calories. And, if you add in a slice of toast (no butter) at 70 calories plus a 1 cup glass of orange juice (113 calories) and a mixed salad (using 1 tbsp of oil and vinegar as a dressing and equaling 166 calories), you'd suddenly discover that what had looked like a modest lunch, actually comes in at slightly over 600 calories! Wow! Don’t worry fellow dieters, I’ll cut way back come dinner time.

FACT or FICTION: One of the big no-no’s, in the past, has been the admonition not to eat foods that are high in starch (pasta, breads, potatoes et al.) when trying to lose weight. And, while that statement is generally true, pasta can still be enjoyed if eaten in moderation. The trick is try and ensure that the pasta portion is overwhelmed by other healthier foods.

You can also offset other unpleasant side effects, such as spiking ones blood sugar, by making sure not to overcook it. Pasta that is al dente and which was cooked or is associated with some form of oil will breakdown much more slowly in the digestive system and thus have a lower overall glycemic impact.