Sunday, June 9, 2013

Short Ramble and Almost Literate Cooking

Just as a heads up, this piece is brief reflection followed by dinner. No programming information, except perhaps metaphorically.

Short Ramble

I'm sitting at home alone, sipping tea and listening to the almost-silence of the city with light cello overtones. My wife went to the cottage for a couple of weeks and took our kid with her, so the apartment is relatively peaceful for the first time in, oh, about a year. Now that I think about it, this is the first time in about seven or eight years that I'm spending any serious alone-time.

There's a story in that too. It's really bizarre, but everyone I tell the situation to has a reaction resembling "Wow. You must be feeling pretty lonely". And to set that straight, no I don't. I enjoy solitude. It's not a dirty word to me. Oddly, everyone who has this reaction really ought to know better given what I am, but it's still pretty consistent. Enough that I'm beginning to wonder if there isn't some social undertow I hadn't noticed before. Anyway, not important right now.

Man, life has been crazy as fuck lately; I've been rolling with the punches long enough that "rolling" began to feel like the natural state. And that's probably not a good thing. From huge deployment pushes at work, to the disruptive experience of looking for a new place, to the massively disruptive experience of having a child, there hasn't really been anywhere near enough time for me to sit down and reflect on much. So I'm taking the opportunity, while I've got my tea in hand and the clock and cello to keep me company.

Or rather, I started, then discovered that it was too hard to take myself seriously. Boo hoo, Inaimathi, the professional Canadian Lisper, with a happy son and wife, diminishing mortgage and steadily improving physical fitness is feeling sorry for himself. Why is that? Could it be because the software he's writing at his tiny-but-profitable company is getting enough clients attention that maintenance is non-trivial? Because he's only got time to devote about an hour a day to artistic endeavors and hobby blog?

And having run smack into my own snarky sense of self-doubt, it became clear that it would be more fun to be doing something other than sitting here. I was going to head over to the local Pho place for food, but lets put these hands to good use.

Almost Literate Cooking

I've got a tag on this blog called almost-literate-programming. It's not what I write most because it takes quite a bit of effort to slice a program thinly and accurately enough to label its insides for others' consumption, but it's up in the top five[1]. I'm going to try something similar here.

Before I begin, a note on general strategies. The North American approach almost universally seems to be recipe-driven. That is

  1. decide what you're going to make
  2. consult a recipe
  3. collect the ingredients you need to make it
  4. portion those out in precise quantities through a learned ritual
  5. construct food

This contrasts pretty severely to the traditional eastern European way of doing things, which from what I've observed is usually ingredient driven.

  1. see what you've got around
  2. construct food
  3. if the result is good, record recipe

No real judgment call here by the way; both are valid ways of constructing a meal, the former gets more consistent results while the latter is a lot more fun assuming you have the habit of keeping a stocked kitchen. I'm going to mix and match today; consulting my inventory, I've found that my potatoes are coming up on their best-before date, so I'll make those. I also kind of want some fried chicken, so I'll make that too.

I probably should have defrosted the chicken first, but did the potato peeling instead. Most people, including everyone who's ever cooked for me, throws the skins away, but I'm trying to use the whole buffalo today, so.

This is one of the problems you run into with the ingredient-driven approach; it doesn't lend itself to long-term planning. This'll have to go in the microwave for defrosting, rather than doing it the natural way. If I was having people over, I'd have second thoughts at this point, but I'm not fussy when it comes to chicken.

Right, I want the potatoes sliced into even chunklets. They don't have to be a particular size, they just need to be similar enough to each other that they'll boil at about the same time.

The chicken's still not defrosted, and I just put the pot on, so I prepare the breading stages for that chicken. We've got breadcrumbs[2], flour and eggs. My wife always skips the flour for some reason, but it never makes the chicken taste any worse, so whatever works for you. The two mandatory parts here are eggs and breadcrumbs. I've always found it mildly odd that making a fried chicken meal involves marinating the flesh of an animal in the juices of its unborn offspring. Not really sure who came up with that one, or how, but it lends credence to some theories I've heard.

Anyway, the chicken's out. And the water's warming up sufficiently to accept my offering of potato, so I put those chunks in along with some salt.

This is where the fillet knife comes out. Yes, we own Chef Tony knives. They were on sale when we were moving in together, and the fillet knife and stake knives aren't half bad. Flouring the chicken is just step one.

Checking on the potatoes. If you can do this to one, it's not ready yet. A boiled potato would have just fallen apart right there.

This is my usual fried chicken routine. Flour, egg, flour, egg, breadcrumbs. Like I said, the flour is entirely optional, you can do this part with just eg, then breadcrumbs. As a note, it's much harder doing this with one hand. Especially if your other hand is holding a phone.

In the meantime, the potatoes are boiled, so I drain them and put them back on low heat to dry out. You can't tell from those pictures, but they're already falling apart by the first one. I probably should have kept them boiling for a little bit longer than I did.

You can see the consequences in that mashing picture. If they were really ready, they wouldn't be crumbling like that, they'd be mashing entirely. There's two things wrong with the creme. First, I didn't have time to heat it, so it's going in almost straight out of the fridge. And second...'s not creme. I'm lactose intolerant, so I can't have the real stuff, and I couldn't find lactose free creme anywhere. I'm reasonably sure it exists, just haven't seen any in real life.

Oil goes in the pan on medium/high heat. It's at 7 on my stove, yours might be different. This is Canola oil. I'm pretty sure you can use vegetable oil too if you like, but don't use olive for frying. You want enough in there that it'll 1/2 to 3/4 submerge your fillets, not just enough to cover the bottom of the pan.

Every part of the fucking buffalo. The leftover breadcrumbs, eggs and flour come together to make a little bread/cake thing. My grandmother called it a "tortica" in Croatian, which literally means something like "cakette" or "small cake", but it's really just the leftovers after the breading process. I always found it mildly entertaining that this is a "bread" made by adding egg and flour to ground up bread. Maybe I should start calling it zombie bread.

The potatoes are coming along nicely. I'm still keeping them on low heat so that they reduce a bit more.

That's the first wave of chicken on the pan. The oil's been heating for a few minutes at this point. If you did it right, it should start sizzling as soon as you put the first piece of chicken in there. The flip happens pretty soon thereafter; only about three minutes or so. You should be looking to get that darker brown color on each side, rather than counting time.

The potatoes are just about ready at this point, and the chicken is ready not long after that. I like to split a thicker piece just to make sure there's no red inside. The rest of the chicken goes on the same way. Once that's done...

The potato skins go in. This takes a bit longer than the chicken, just because I'm basically trying for a chip-like consistency. They need to be salty and crunchy when they come out, which is why I salt and dry them over the pan. Uh, just to clarify, since I realized after the fact that I only have a "before" and "after", but not a "during" pic, I did actually put the skins into the oil. I just took them out and dried them off on the mesh afterwards.

And that's that. I packed some of it away for tomorrow, and truthfully didn't end up finishing what I put on the plate either.

This won't do at all.

Cleanup is just as much a part of the task as setup is

(defmacro with-kitchen (&body body)
  `(progn (get :cutlery :dishes :ingredients)
          (clean :cutlery :oven)
          (wash :dishes)))

(let ((m (with-kitchen (make-instance 'meal))))
  (eat m))

so I need to get this out of the way. It'll also give me the time to get some water boiling for an accompanying tea.

There. Admittedly, another round of dishes is waiting after these finish their soak, but it's better than nothing. Now then



See you next time.


1 - [back] - If you don't count the language-specific tags, anyways.

2 - [back] - Store-bought, as it happens, but nothing's stopping you from making your own[3].

3 - [back] - If you do, add some garlic and oregano[4].

4 - [back] - Unless you don't like garlic, I guess.

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