Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Recipes

My favorite exercise in holiday cooking is to make brined turkey. Use any clean, water-proof storage container and a cold environment (such as a refrigerator or Boston) and soak the turkey in the brine for an hour per pound of bird. The recipe for the brine I use is roughly 1 gal cold water to 1 cup of the following: kosher salt; raw sugar (or 1/2 white sugar and 1/4 molasses); rough whiskey. I like to use Wild Turkey. It makes a man mean and meat delicious. (Hi Mom, meet Delicious. Mmm.) You can add any combination of aromatics or other flavors to the brine. After soaking: remove the bird; dry it; rub with spices and stuff if desired; roast according to size and stuffing.

Now, you can stuff a brined turkey with anything, or nothing at all - it comes out delicious either way. This year, we decided to experiment with some mild aromatics: we applied a salt-and pepper rub and stuffed the bird with a mix of Gala apples; red onion; garlic; rosemary; thyme and celery salt.

My method of roasting a turkey is to cover it with a clean dish towel and roast it at 325F for 3-3.5 hours. I soak the towel with low-salt chicken stock every half hour.

Once the time is up, I uncover the turkey, turn it around (breast to the front) and baste while roasting at 350 for another hour to crisp the skin. It usually comes out looking delicious.

For the side-dish, we cut up a single enormous butternut squash to roast with sweet potatoes, carrots, apples and Morrocan spices.

Delicious Spice Mix (we upgraded to tablespoons):
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. chile powder
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
and a pinch ground cloves

To prep, just toss the chopped squash and sundry with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a few teaspoons of the spice mix (enough to provide reasonable coverage). Now the recipe I cribbed said to roast the squash uncovered at 450 for 45 minutes; but we were roasting the turkey simultaneously, so we roasted the squash covered at 325 for 1.5 hours. Good thing, too! It was delicious.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Babies for Obama

In line with Yes We Can (Hold Babies), I made this hand-stenciled Obama onesie for my nephew.

Because it turns out a) the Obama onesie you can buy that gives money to the Obama campaign is lame, and b) any and every home craft project should involve bacon. Which is to say, I forgot that we needed butcher's paper to make the iron-on stencil (I substituted in 'waxed paper' in the Ye Olde and Decrepit Mental Archives). Luckily, we'd had bacon with dinner - delicious bacon wrapped in bacony and not so delicious... butchers paper.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Delicious Pesto

There was a mad rush this week to get basil from the farm share before the frost hit and all the plants turned brown and unfortunate. I'm not entirely sure of the basil variety they plant, but the leaves are smaller than grocery-store basil, and it smells spicier. I will update this post with the varietal information at a later date. What's more important is that making pesto was a moral imperative, but whenever I use raw garlic (as most recipes call for) the pesto always turns out much too strong and sharp.

The solution: Roasted Garlic Pesto

Step 1. Roast a whole head of garlic ala Warren Ellis (He writes like my Papa, which is disturbing. Even more so, he seems to follow the same hard road in cooking -- so ignore him about scraping yourself bloody trying to peel sweet potatoes. One day, someone brave will tell him that the right way to make sweet-potato mash is to boil the potatoes first, quench them in ice water, and then rub the skins off). I used Otter Creek Copper Ale as my beer of choice. Nice and sweet. I wanted my garlic in between sweet and sharp, so I only roasted it for 30min on 400F.

Step 2. Clean and pack 2c fresh basil into a food processor.

Step 3. Add 1/2c of EVOO - use a tasty variety. I like to use Trader Joe's California Estates Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, in the black bottle. Ask for it by name.

Step 4. Add 1/2c+ of grated Parmesan.

Step 5. Add a double-handful (1/3c) of pine nuts.

Step 6. Add salt and pepper (a pinch of each), or forget to add the salt and pepper like I did, and add it as a garnish later on. If nothing else, it gives you an excuse to summon Heavy Metal Guy.

Step 7. Add the roasted garlic.

Step 8. Q: Will it blend? A: Yes it will.

Step 9. Sever over pasta with fresh tomatoes.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


There has been some recent deliciousness occurring in my kitchen. The cause: This summer, I am participating in a local farm share, a privileged activity of the socially-conscious green (and maybe, young and urban) professional, which was recently featured in the NYTimes. You pay in advance for produce. Every week, one person picks up that week's allocation of vegetables harvested from the farm. We then struggle to consume the fresh produce without having any of it rot. It is wonderful.

If you are lacking the time (or more importantly, RoHS-compliant soil) to grow your own food, a farm share is the next best thing. You pay (in my case $150) in advance for what turns out to be about 4 months worth of vegetables. That's $10/week for enough vegetables to stuff yourself silly on. Onions. Beets. Turnips. Carrots. Chinese cabbage. Lettuce. Spinach. Tomatoes. Kale. Garlic (and skates). Squash. Zucchini. Cucumbers. You get all of the joys of the earth without any of the labor, birds,
cutworms, deer, mites, droughts, storms, winds or thieving neighbors. It's then an exercise (in my case, a serious learning exercise) to learn how to cook what you have, make it tasty, and most importantly, just eat or preserve all of it. We've had good luck with all our recipes this week... so far.

Saag/Korma Hybrid (a.k.a. I disavow any knowledge of regional Indian cuisine):
  1. Saute finely chopped onions with pressed garlic in a fair amount of rapeseed/canola oil and butter (as a substitution for clarified butter or ghee).
  2. Once the onions are translucent, fold in about a pound of washed, finely chopped spinach.
  3. Add delicious spices, such as coriander, ginger, cumin, fennel, cinnamon and chili powder. Saute. Do not steam.
  4. Separately, wash and dice up summer squash (we had a variety that half-hybridized with zucchini and was quite sweet).
  5. Fry the summer squash in hot canola oil, and as they start to cook spice them with mace, paprika, salt and cinnamon.
  6. Add yogurt to the spinach-onion-spice mix. Reduce.
  7. Fold in the spiced fried squash. Reduce until creamy.
  8. Serve over rice.
Beet and Cucumber Soup (a.k.a. I love cold cucumber bisque):
  1. Start out peeling the beets (save the greens). Dice a cup's worth of them and cook in boiling water.
  2. Juice half a lemon into a blender. Add some salt, some pepper and a handful of chopped onion.
  3. Peel a large cucumber, and cut into medium-sized pieces. Add this to the blender.
  4. Add the cooked beets (drain the water).
  5. Blend!
  6. Add a cup of sour cream to the mixture. Blend!
  7. Add milk and blend until the texture is appropriate.
  8. Serve chilled with sour cream.
Vegetable Ragout (a.k.a. One eats what there is to eat.):
  1. Saute chopped onions with pressed garlic in a fair amount of olive oil.
  2. As the onions are partially cooked, add vegetables in the order of most flavorful/slowest-to-cook (mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, celery, peas, corn, peppers, whatever you have on hand). We added broccoli, beet greens and lemon juice. Saute.
  3. Add tomato sauce and spices (thyme, rosemary, oregano, salt, pepper) (and optional things like tomatoes and meat). Stir, then cover and let steam. If you need more liquid, add vegetable stock or bullion and water.
  4. Fold in chopped cabbage and cover.
  5. Serve as is, with rice, or over pasta.
To make some excellent Eastern European peasant food, start with the ragout, skip steps 2 and 3, go straight to 4 (folding cabbage into sauteed onions and steaming) and then add a pile of cooked lentils. It doesn't look like much, but it is very simple, tasty and filling.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Approximately 13,000 Stitches of Love

In January, as a belated Christmas/birthday present for my mother, I finished my first knitting project. It's a scarf made from slightly less than 3 skeins of Manos del Uruguay wool (Granite, #108), worked on Size 9 bamboo needles in a basket stitch with a cross motif in reverse-stockinette on the middle section. The pattern grid size is 6x6 stitches, and each section is 7x17 squares (and the middle section is 7x19). Prime numbers... you know, for luck.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Reverse Engineering

The industrial design of a TV is really interesting.

I got a chance to disassemble and reassemble an HDTV at work the other day (with some reason). It was a fun afternoon. Disassembly time: unclocked; Reassembly time: 38mins. No screws lost, no extra parts leftover.

I wrangled my way into getting a full technician's tool kit when they hired me, but the project only required a hex wrench and a Philips-head screwdriver.

When you take off the back plastic cover, there's an internal metal chassis. Good TVs have substantial internal shielding because of the FCC's electromagnetic interference (EMI) regulations. EMI happens when there is a voltage transition on a wire (ie, power or data). That transition has a corresponding current pulse, which produces a magnetic pulse that radiates outward. Hence, electro-magnetic radiation. EMI worsens when your voltage swings are large and fast. The larger the voltage transition, the more current you need to make it, the larger the magnetic pulse and the greater the EMI. The faster the voltage transition, the more current you need to make it, the larger the magnetic pulse and the greater the EMI.

The source of the EMI inside a TV is typically from the power supply (if it's a switching supply), unshielded internal cabling and poorly-laid out printed circuit boards (PCBs). Things like proper shielding, short cables, current-balanced signaling (low-voltage differential signaling, like that used in HDMI, or differential current mode logic), and proper terminations improve system EMI performance. However, high-volume manufacturers are cheap and won't use a multi-layer PCB with ground planes when a 1-layer board with jumpers will do. So, they ultimately have to make up for the cheap components with the expensive metal chassis a.k.a. Faraday

Not only do cheap TVs without shielding violate FCC standards, they also tend to have weird artifacts when the EMI from one part of the TV (say, the power supply) couples into another circuit (like the receiver) and introduces noise and offset into the signal path. This TV is build really well, though. The more sensitive high-speed digital circuitry is well-protected.

On the right in the picture way-back is the power supply and the high-voltage circuitry for driving the LCD. That's built on a single-layer board with all through-hole components and pretty huge electrolytic capacitors. That design method's been in play since the 1970s. The receiver board and input circuitry is on the left under a shield that screws to the main chassis - we know that because that's where the HDMI and cable inputs are.

Under the first shield is a second shield with a built-in heat-sink for the main video processor. Please note the secret to high-speed disassembly and reassembly: mark the various screw mountings with flag tape as you remove the screws. This is useful because manufacturers cut every corner possible, so you can't trust the assembly markings. The case (and the board) are over-designed, so the manufacturer will strip the actual number of components down to the bare minimum in order to get better profit margins. Some overseas low-cost, high-volume manufacturers are even known to take a PCB design and start removing components until the design fails -- then they put the last component removed back on. Bam! Instant cost-reduction. For this TV, you can see that all of the cabling is unshielded ribbon cable or unshielded 30AWG stranded cable and they aren't using any ferrite chokes (ie, that lump on your monitor cable that also helps improve EMI). But, like I said earlier, their metal chassis makes up for that, and, hey, the low-profile PCB connectors are nice.

I couldn't remove the heat-sink entirely due to some permanent plastic rivets, but I got it up enough to fully expose the receiver boards. There are two: one for all the digital functionality and another, (only part of it is shown) that handles all of the analog inputs and audio out. The first photo is of the digital inputs with the main processor/scalar. The second photo shows the cable tuner on the digital daughter board (in yet another shielded enclosure). The analog daughter board isn't shown, but it's the darker green board you see connected with the 3 flexible headers.

Then I did what I needed to do inside the TV, put it back together, and it still worked! The. End.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

As Hard As I Can

Well, it's 1-31-2007, the first anniversary of the Ignignokt scare, and once again, I'm spending this time in NC. My prototype demo was completely unscrutinized by Logan security. I have heard (so far), "Wow, that's big!" and, "It's so complex..." It's mostly just a kludge.

Of course, it's got enough parts that it didn't really survive transit all that well. It worked before I packed it up on Tuesday night. Now, after two days, the hardware appears to work, but the FPGA is talking smack to its surrounding circuitry instead of the smooth and rhythmic cadence of jive. Oh, poor broken thing... bless it's heart.

I'll be here working over the weekend.

Also, if you have to change flights on US Airways, and the new flight happens to be cheaper, you will not get a travel voucher for the remaining difference. Which is lame, considering they'll charge you the full $130 change fee, regardless.