Crafting: New/old recipe

Long time no hear!

Sorry to be out of the loop for so long, however, those things happen.  Just a quick update, I’m working again, and B* is in daycare, and loving it!

He gets all the girls, I don’t know where he gets it from.  (No really, he’s got more game at 2 1/2 than I have ever had.)

K* brought home a bunch of grits from work, (she had to work over the weekend.)  Last night I cut the “block” of grits into strips and patties, covered them in brown rice flour and egg wash, and fried them up.  They were actually very delicious.  (Especially with syrup…)

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Fitness: Strep Throat sucks!

The last few days I have been sick as a dog… today was the first day I could swallow something other than Ramen noodles that were finely crunched up prior to cooking.  I just couldn’t swallow anything other than that or just plain broth.  This morning I had Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and two slices of bread.  (Dipped in the soup… god knows I probably would have choked if it weren’t… but still, it’s progress.)

I’ve also quarantined myself away from Blaze, only touching him through latex gloves, holding him with fresh, clean clothes, and wearing a mask at all times around him.  Consciously, I know that I was actually more contagious before I was symptomatic, but that still doesn’t mean I want to take the chance of making him feel as bad as I do.

Well, I’m going to cut this short and take a nap…

-D

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Crafting: How to make Toddy Kahlua

I got this request off of Facebook -

Zoe wrote: “oh, dsavage.. you might be my new bff. I lost my aunt’s kahlua recipe, would you be willing to share? my inbox would love that sort of treat!!! :) ♥”

Well, for a new bff?  Sure, anything.

Believe it or not, I couldn’t find my original recipe, however, I know it’s the same as the one that came with the coffee toddy when I bought it, so I was able to look it up on the web with relative ease.

Toddy Cold Brewed Coffee Method

1 1/8    cups sugar
1 1/8    cups water
1 1/4    cups Toddy Cold Brewed Coffee Extract
1 3/4    cups 100-proof vodka
1           whole vanilla bean

Boil the sugar and water together for 10 minutes. Add the coffee extract and allow it to cool until lukewarm. Add the vodka. Pour the mixture into a sterilized bottle and insert the vanilla bean. Seal the bottle and allow to age for one month before serving.

Ok, that’s the basics.  Here’s a few tricks that I use to make it turn out better more consistently:

  1. Start to boil the water first, then add the sugar slowly, stirring the whole time to make sure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom and caramelize on you.
  2. The cheaper the vodka, the better.  Believe me, I don’t understand this one as well, but every time I use top shelf it turns out worse than if I use Popov or McCormick’s Vodka.
  3. I cut the vanilla bean and kind of pulverize it.  It seems to loosen up the flavors better.
  4. For the first week or so, I like to shake the bottle once or twice a day.
  5. I’ve been told that you can use brandy instead of vodka, however, I haven’t actually done it, though I bet a nice orange-flavored brandy would be nice.
  6. I’ve also been told that you should add the vanilla beans to the sugar water after boiling, but before adding the toddy coffee extract.

Well, those are my thoughts on how to make Kahlua… post any improvements/recipes of your own.

Until next time,

-D

 

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Well, it looks like I’m unemployed again…

Word to the wise… when you realize you’re in a argument with a crazy person, stop. When you realize that person is your CIO, try to become invisible.

Talk about a career limiting move.  Suffice it to say, after the Jan 6th meeting didn’t go well, and the CIO has been seething ever since… and today he got rid of the persistent Sox PM that had been plaguing him. (Me.)

Like King Henry II, “Will no one rid me of this pestilential PM?” <paraphrased>  And my bosses boss was more than ready to sell me up the river.

(I just wished that I didn’t like the place and people I worked with so much! Other than him, it was pretty peachy there. I could definitely see myself staying there quite awhile… I had a manager that I liked and could learn from, I had great coworkers, and free coffee… Dang!)

Well, intrepid travellers, all is not lost, it’s always darkest before the dawn.  Like in “Oh the Places You’ll Go”  I’m in a slump.  Unslumping yourself isn’t easy, but I’m the brainiest and footiest person around.  :-)

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Crafting: Buying an espresso maker: Part Three – Looks and Features.

Ok, the “Looks” portion of the guide.  This is going to be short… you know, these days you can find espresso machines in retro, modern, classic looks in every shape and size, if this is really important to ya, well, you just need to wade through all of the espresso machines on amazon or some similar site.  There’s really not that much more to talk about.

Features:

Groups: this is what they call the “heads” or the places that you actually get the espresso from.  Now, this isn’t something that you’re going to need to know for most home models… usually only commercial grade machines have more than one group on a machine, but it seemed like as good a place as any to start.

Single Boiler, Dual Use : Most common sub-1k type of machine.  Like it says, it has one boiler and two thermostats, one for each “use” of the machine… one for making the espresso, the other for steaming.  These machines can’t “steam” while making espresso, and vice versa.  This can be a pain when you’re trying to make espressos for everyone who came on dinner night, but what can you do…

Single Boiler, Heat exchanger: the boiler maintains the water temp for making steam and when it comes to making espresso, it pumps the water through a heating coil to raise the temp to the right temperature for making espresso.  These machines are generally more than 1k, but they can make espresso and steam the milk at the same time.

Dual Boiler: one boiler for making espresso and one for making steam.  It’s top of the line, and only found on the commercial or prosumer units, mainly over 2k.

Brew temperature: optimally, it should be somewhere between 190 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit

“All metal construction” : To me, this is a feature.  I don’t know, maybe there’s something to be said for plastic… but give me cast iron, stainless steel, and copper tubing any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.

“XX Bars of pressure”:  This is something I didn’t know until I started researching this topic for you… 9 bars of pressure is generally considered best for producing espresso, and any machines that say they produce 15 Bars of pressure, actually restrict it to 9 bars at the grouphead.  (There’s always more to learn.)

Mechanical knob or push button for steam:  This is another one that I didn’t know about until I researched this for you.  Go with a mechanical knob unless you are using a super-automatic, because if you’re using a super, then you want as much hands off as possible, and you’re only going to use the steamer to reheat your coffee drink…

Burr Grinder:  If you’re getting a Super, more likely than not, it’s going to have a Burr Grinder built in, this is one fixed disk, and one rotating disk that creates a more even grind than blade grinders, and it doesn’t heat the coffee while it’s grinding it like a blade can with constant use.

Crema Enhancer:  I didn’t know about this one as well… man, I’m learning a lot more about my passion having to explain things to someone else… I guess they’re right, you really don’t know what you don’t know until you try to teach it to someone else… Anywho, some machines now have crema enhancers that are supposed to produce the perfect crema each time.  Unfortunately, the way that it’s done, I’m told that it doesn’t taste the same, so I would either disable the feature, or don’t get a machine with this feature.  But hey, that’s just my opinion…

Cup warmers: This is like butt warmers in the seat of your car… nice, but not essential.

Heat up time: how long it takes the machine to go from “cold” to operating temperature.

line in or “plumbed in” : This is direct source water from your pipes rather than having to fill a water reservoir… it’s a nice feature if you can get it.  However, you need to make sure that it’s properly filtered and good tasting water that you get from your tap… remember, coffee/espresso is 90% water, and the best beans in the world will only go so far with crappy water.

recovery time: how long it’s going to take to go from making one espresso to the next… only matters if you’re serving for a dinner party.

pod adapters: yes, they have espresso pods now, no, I don’t know anything about them, other than they are convenient.  I would say, if you’re using a super, sure, why not.  If you’re using a semi-auto, go the extra mile and grind it as you go…

Ready or “not ready” lights: these lights tell you when you’re able to steam, make espresso, do the hokey-pokey.  The older alternative is pressure guages that will tell you the same thing with a better degree of accuracy.

Pannarello Attachment: this is a plastic sleeve that goes on the outside of the steaming wand.  Never used one personally, but I hear if you can keep them on the wand with constant use, it does help when frothing the milk.

Removable water tank: if you don’t have line in water, you’re going to have to fill a tank, and having a removable one makes it easier to fill.

Lungo: This is basically a long shot.  Less strong, but more bitter shot of espresso.  (Italian for “long”)

Ristretto: This is basically a short shot.  More strong, richer shot of espresso. (Italian for “restricted”)

Built-in Tamper: some of the newer models of automatics have a built in tamper, I’m not sure how I feel about this.  On the one hand, it would make for a more consistent tamping, however, it’s not that difficult, and it’s just one more thing to break down.

Built-in water filtration system: This is a good idea in theory, however, their filters are generally expensive and hard to replace.  I would rather just use a brita filter or have a filtration system on my line in water.

These features should get you started… let me know if you need any other features explained.

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Crafting: Buying an espresso maker: Part 2 Styles

When it comes to making espresso, there are a couple of different styles that you need to choose from: toddy, stovetop, manual, Semi-Automatic, Automatic, and Super-Automatic machines.

Toddy – This is a “brand name” for cold filtering process.  Basically, you have a container with a filter/stopper in the bottom, you add regular, (or “drip”) grind of coffee beans in there, add like 10 cups of water, and let sit for 24-48 hours.  Of course, the longer you let it sit, the more concentrated the end result.  The result is the main ingredient when you ask for a frozen drink at the coffee place named after a Battlestar Galactica character.  (Since it’s already cold or room temp, it doesn’t melt the ice and water down the drink excessively.)

This is what I like to call “coffee concentrate,” since you have to add water to it, (1:1 ratio,) to make espresso.  You can make anything that you can with regular espresso, but it’s generally a different process.  All in all, it allows you to make a iced drink really quickly and conveniently, and works ok on everything else.

Stovetop – These are exactly what they sound like.  To make espresso, you make it on the stovetop.  (In researching some of the prices, you can actually go into the hundreds of dollars with stovetop devices.)  Believe it or not, when I was working, this was one of the more common ways for me to get my espresso fix.  There’s a plastic “coffee maker” by the same people that make the Aerobie… they call it a coffee maker, however, it produces something that’s closer to a weak espresso.  http://www.thinkgeek.com/interests/moms/8e3a/  You make it in the microwave, and it’s ultra convenient.

(In the main description, they say that it’s been compared to the Clover coffee machines, but that’s like comparing me to George Clooney.  Yes, there is a comparison to be made, but it’s not exactly a favorable one…)

Manual - You know what, like I said yesterday, I don’t even suggest this for the first… heck, I have a hard time actually suggesting anything less than an automatic for most beginners, but hey, if you want to read more about manual espresso machines, go here… they have an excellent guide.  And I won’t have to type out an exercise in futility…
http://coffeegeek.com/guides/howtobuyanespressomachine/manualmachines

Semi-Automatic – This is what you would find at a higher-end coffee shop.  These provide a good combination of adaptability and automation.  You do everything except the stuff that nobody wants to do.  (control water temp and actually having to pump the water through the system.)  These make a great second or third machine, but if you want to start off with it, it’s not so bad that you’ll not be able do make a decent latte.  After this point in the style guide, you get into maintenance and complicated systems that break down more often.

Automatic – This is the beginning of pushbutton espresso.  You can grind the beans, dose, tamp, and press a button and boo-yah, shot or two of espresso.  These are nice for a beginner because they have a really short ramp-up time, (the time it takes from purchase to consistently making acceptable espresso,)  and yet, you still get to mess with all of the other variables.  Another nice thing with these is that you can actually get some that have timers so that you can have your morning latte when you get up and steam the milk…

Super-Automatic – These are for the absurdly wealthy and lazy person who really doesn’t care what the espresso tastes like.  (I say this, not because the espresso tastes bad, on the contrary, I have heard great things about some of them, however, it is increasingly difficult to “tweak” the variables to make it “your” coffee… so most people just use the default settings.)  These marvels of technology you put in the whole beans, (and some of them have refrigerated tanks for the milk,) and press a button for cappuccino, and boo-yah, it grinds the beans, tamps, steams the milk, adds the espresso, and disposes of the spent coffee grounds.  www.coffeegeek.com describes them as “about as hands-off as you can get and still have espresso.”  And I have to agree.

In summary, I made up a little chart to easily describe what the differences in styles are in espresso makers.
Espresso Machine style chartWell, See you later in Part Three.  (This is taking longer than I thought it would.)

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Crafting: Buying an espresso maker : Part 1 Price…

A friend of mine asked my opinion on buying an espresso maker for his personal use at home. Here’s the email that I sent back to him.

Well, there are lots of things to consider when buying an espresso machine.

Price – you can literally find espresso machines from ten dollars to ten thousand dollars, and everything in between. You also have to consider if you are going to buy new, refurbished, used or antique.
Style – you have cold filtering, stovetop, manual, semi-automatic, automatic, and super automatic.
Looks – believe it or not, some people actually need to have the espresso machine match the kitchen… I say match the kitchen to the espresso maker…
Features – there is a direct correlation to how much you spend as to how many bells and whistles you are going to get. However, you need to remember that the flavor of the espresso is rarely determined by what features there are on the espresso machine.

Now, normally, I would say that there is another component to the mix, and that would be maintenance. Just like cars, depending on the manufacturer, if something goes wrong with your machine, it could end up costing as much as a new machine. Imagine the cost of a tuneup on a chevy vs a BMW, and you’ll get the picture… I’m not going to go into that because you’ve probably got 3 or 4 espresso machine repair shops within walking distance, so they’re pretty competitively priced. (And that doesn’t include SteamWorks, which does restorations, and they do FABULOUS work… and I happen to own the same make/model of Astoria that they have on their website, http://steamworksespresso.com/ if you’re considering buying an antique machine, they would be the place that I would go to.)

Price: these are all going to be “new” machine prices, you might want to consider finding a “new” machine that is out of your price range but has all of the features, looks, and style of espresso making that you want, and then try to find the same thing in the “refurbished” or “used” market.

Under 30 bucks:
This is going to be limited to basically the stovetop variety. Simple and never break down. (Mainly because there are no moving parts… you put the water in, you put the coffee in the portafilter, and put it on the stove.) This makes half-decent espresso, however you have to steam the milk separately.

Another under thirty option is the cold filter method, or “toddy” method. This makes the coffee concentrate that I take to D*Con every year. On a side note, it makes excellent Kahlua…

Under 100 bucks:
At this price point, you’re looking at basically semi-autos.

A good option is De’Longhi EC155… De’Longhi is a respected name in the espresso world, and you can pick one up on Amazon for 80 bucks. This is their basic “starter” espresso machine. The best thing about this machine is that it is pretty much the lowest end “pump” driven machine. (The difference is pump driven machines get higher pressures than just steam driven machines, and they have a better flavor in the end product.)

100-500 bucks:

Pretty much any of the Saeco, Gaggia, or De’Longhi espresso machines in this price point are worth it. (As long as they are still considered “semi-automatic.” Any automatic or super-automatic at this price point is more than likely going to be a piece of crap and will break down more than you will use it.

I happened to check out amazon and there was a nice De’Longhi EC702 on there for about two hundred bucks.

500-1000 bucks:

As far as semi-autos go, there is a Rancillo Silva that is 700 bucks. I have to say that this is one of the best built machines on the market. It’s about as plain-jane as they come, but they’re bulletproof. This machine will be something that your grandkids will love to use while they are off to college.

At this price point, there are Lever-action espresso makers. Yes, believe it or not, you pay more to get less. In the other machines, the pump is mechanically driven, whereas in Lever actions, you create the pressure by pulling down on a piston. These are for the uber-coffee geek. They can produce the best espresso of any espresso machines, but only in the hands of a maestro. You really have to know what you are doing to use one of these machines. For your first machine, I would recommend pretty much anything else.

For Automatics, I would go for the Saeco Syntia Stainless Steel Automatic, it’s about 880 bucks, and they have pretty good reviews. (And Saeco is pretty easy to get fixed if it ever breaks down on you.)

For Super-automatics, I would recommend the Jura Impressa C5. I have owned a Capresso coffee maker and it was hands down the best machine I have ever gotten. (It was rather expensive though, about 1k for a coffee maker is steep…) Plus, they had a place to ship them in the states if anything ever went wrong, and it would be refurbished for 50 bucks and shipping. (I have a backup that I bought off of ebay that was broken for 25 bucks, then sent it in to them for 50+shipping, and got back a new machine.)

1000+ :

This is the realm of the Super-Automatics and high end lever action machines. Pretty much anything that you pay this much for will give you all of the features you could ever want, and then some. Want to program how much espresso comes out? check. Want to have a line-in for water? check. Want it to make a cup of espresso at five am every weekday? check.

Also, this is the bottom end of the commercial grade espresso machines. The only time that you need to think about these machines is if you plan on pouring yourself 500 espressos a day.

Buying an antique machine is something that I wouldn’t really recommend for your first machine, but it’s kind of like buying an antique car, they look great, they will get the job done, but they can be temperamental, you may have to know more about the individual machine than a new car, and the restoration costs can be more than buying a new one.

Ok, this is going to take longer than anticipated. I’m going to take a break here and let you mull this over, and then I’ll come back to the other things to consider at another time. Maybe I should have started with style or some other category, since right now you don’t know the differences between the semi-autos and the super-autos, but price is the first thing that you need to figure out and then you can make the style choices later.

Talk to you later… (Part 2)
-D

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Crafting: Well, it’s that time of year again…

Last year for Halloween I created a pumpkin with Blaze’s ultrasound with the help of Phototaryn. Unfortunately, she’s more than likely busy with her new baby to deal with fiverr requests.

Well, I think that I did a pretty good job, (third time’s a charm.)

Blaze Jack-o-lantern

Not bad for a pocket knife and a hacksaw blade...

(I’m going to have to do it all over again with a new pumpkin… I did all three attempts on the single pumpkin, so it’s not really presentable. However, I anticipate that the last one will be the best, since they grew progressively better.)

If you didn’t recall last year’s Jack-O-Lantern, here’s the article link:

http://www.thecraftydad.com/?p=148

Well, I have to get to sleep, I lost track of time and I have to go over to Kim’s Parents tomorrow. (Little man had some issues with his tummy tonight, hopefully, seeing daddy will help.)

TTFN!
-D

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Crafting: A few of my past cakes

I was talking with my recruiter today, (she’s trying to get me a job, not get me back in the military… different kind of recruiter,) and I mentioned that the last time I was unemployed, I learned how to decorate cakes. Well, since she asked nicely, I’m going to post some of the pics that I have of my past cakes. (Kim has more… I only have the last couple…)

Here’s a quick PowerPoint that I made years ago for some guys that didn’t believe that I actually made Brian’s wedding cake.

Sir Cakes-a-lot

Here’s what it looked like when I set it up at the reception…

I know you can't see it, but it's a ceramic figuring on the top of the cake.

Here’s the wedding cake for Sarah:

This was a fall-themed wedding... (Actually, I think that it's been two years now...)

Here’s the Groom’s Cake for Sarah:

Groom's cake turned out well...

The little tuxedos on the strawberries were the hardest to cope with, one, because they aren’t in season, and I had to go through literally a bushel of strawberries to get the few that I did use… (we were eating strawberry shortcake for awhile after making these…) And two, because I dropped a whole tray of completed strawberries on the floor, so I had to start over again. It was the morning of the wedding and I swear I almost started crying… And, if I weren’t a man, and had witnesses at the time, I probably would have.

Well, I thought that I had more photos, but it looks like I will have to get Kim to post some later.

I’ll get back to the job search now… Talk to you all later.
-D

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Baby Preparations: The problem with melties…

Well, last time we were in the doctor’s office with the pediatrician, she said that we could start trying to give Blaze “melties” or little cheerio-like things that are made of veggies and fruit. They’re supposed to basically just “melt” in their mouths and they’re used to develop coordination and the pincer grip in babies… blah, blah, blah.

Well, trial run of that didn’t go as we had hoped.

He really didn’t chew it up and let it melt in his mouth. He kind of tried to swallow it whole, choked for a couple of seconds, (giving me and Mom a bit of a heart attack.) So I thought that I would check into seeing how to introduce solid food and where melties come into the whole picture.

So here I am checking into it on the web, and I come across http://wholesomebabyfood.momtastic.com/solids2.htm
and http://www.parenting.com/article/starting-solids-21334847

I’m pretty sure that we have been a bit more cautious than most when it comes to introducing new foods and consistencies.

According to the chart, we’re right at six to seven months. The problem is, he’s right at nine and a half months.

(He might have a little catching up to do.)

Luckily, he’s really liked everything that we’ve given him up to this point, so I’m not too worried… I think we’ll still keep it to new stuff every three days like they say, but I think that we’re going to need to make sure that we don’t take any “day’s off.”

Yikes.

I’ll update it later when we get back to melties. Until then, TTFN!
-D

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