French Fry Crawl!

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They* tell you that when you have kids everything changes. The most notable change, in my opinion, is that all the money you didn’t have before to spend on things like food and rent and going out with friends from time to time is spent instead on diapers and a fully new wardrobe every four months as the little spud grows out of everything they own. Another thing that changes is going out. When they’re super little, like within a week or two, you can still go out with your partner, but it’s going to be a restaurant . The whole pub thing is out and was the minute somebody peed a little blue line on the stick. As your kids get older, the amount of going out gets better, then as they approach teenager, you can take ’em out, but it becomes just totally unaffordable. On the bright side, fast-food is usually ‘cheap’, so when you’re pre-teen with a cracking voice asks if he can have two #1 meals instead of the happy meal he was perfectly content with not, how long ago was that a year, two? holy crap, a kids meal, there’s an outside chance you can say yes.

As ‘going out,’ for a meal varies by age, there is one thing remains fixed. You will NOT be organizing a pub crawl with your friends**. Really though, if you’ve ever done a pub crawl, you know that hanging out with friends and jumping from place to place to order a single shot or beer or whatever only to crawl onto the next place until you run out of legs for the night, is an amazingly good time that will result in selfies that never die on the Internet, in spite of their seriously questionable content. While this sucks, I have a solution for you (sort of), that the kiddos will appreciate, provided you only do it once a year.

The Great American French-Fry Crawl!

*Insert crickets*

Okay, okay, it sounds dubious, but it’s a fun and relatively inexpensive night with the kiddos that is memorable, doesn’t involve any sort of real food, and forces the lot of you to sit in the car all night and talk. It’s like being at a restaurant only cheaper, someone is driving, someone is tweeting, and all of us are being as raucous as is possible in a confined space. We started our annual french-fry crawl after a heated kitchen-table debate over the bestest french-frys. Usually, the debate involves star wars or history, but not that day, and it was a great day. Anyhow, here is how to have your own french-fry crawl:

Date:

Last day of school, wherever you are.

Rules:

  • Get a pile of cash
  • Everyone gets in the tactical family transportation unit
  • Go from fast-food joint to fast food joint drive-thru and order 1 (yes just 1) small french-fry.
  • You may order other things – drinks, burgers etc… but save room for fries.
  • Each family member will rate each place according to ‘better than’ ‘worse than’ ratings, so at the end you have a ranking
  • Each stop will be tweeted/facebooked/instagramed (whatever) by the non-driver with the #frenchfrycrawl tag
  • When you have exhausted all of the nearby fast-food places, go for ice-cream. It is acceptable to take-home ice-cream in the event that you’ve got allergies.

If you DO go out for your french-fry crawl. Tag me early in the night @daveskoster, I want to check out your progress and I’d love to know what everyone’s favorite was.

Cheers!

-Dave


* They being everyone who’s ever had children before and some who haven’t, but think they’re providing sage advice.

** In the interest of being honest this is not strictly true, but it’s something you’re going to need to plan for weeks and will cost you 10x what it would have when you were 23.

 

Whisky review – Kilbeggan

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I picked up a bottle of Kilbeggan in honor of last week’s budget-meeting eve, which is sort of like Christmas eve, except on budget day, the only present I’m likely to get is enough funding to carry on through the end of the fiscal year, and if I’ve been a very good boy, a bit of carry-over that will not only help next year’s budget picture, but also give me a bit of breathing room in the deadline department. This budget-eve, I’m looking at tomorrow as a likely exercise in begging for more project work to keep everyone employed. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m writing this, before the meeting, but you’re not seeing it until later. My hope is that by having a dram of the stuff, and writing about it, I’ll be able to sleep and not keep myself up worrying about how to pay for things.

I know I promised to not get all snobby and shit about whisky, but Kilbeggan is an interesting one and deserves a bit of snobbery. At some point, I’ll wax poetic on the merits of pot-stills and stuff, but not today, what I will say right now though is that a good triple-run pot-stilled Irish Whisky is the way to go. Killbeggan boasts the oldest licensed pot still in Ireland and traditional methods, and I think that the product speaks well to the use of pot stills.

As you can probably tell from the photo, it has a pale gold color. The Nose is heavy with something like apricot accompanied by a hint of almond. There’s also a definite note of heavily toasted oak. The flavor continues that strong apricot-like fruitiness, with oak but adding a very long cinnamon-spice and honey finish. It’s got a really full mouth feel too, giving it a distinctly heavy quality compared to the last couple of whiskys I’ve tried. I think my first reaction to tasting was ‘holy crap, I just got punched in the mouth with flavor’. It’s smooth up front, but there is a distinct burn as you near the finish.

My rating on this one is: Drink neat. I’ve had it before and remember liking it, I still like it.

Lime Shrimp

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Today I’d rather planned on writing a lengthy treatise on  baked beans. Instead, I went to the Science march and then lunch and then we visited a friend for a bit. It was good, but I didn’t get the thing about baked beans done up, which is probably fine because 95% of that article was going to involve how important it is to make them in a smoker, while smoking something.

As it is, I do happen to have another recipe in my back pocket to use for just such a failure. Lime Shrimp. Not only is this easy, but it’s perfect for when you have to bring something to a get-together. Since it’s apparently, in some parts of the world not Alaska, spring, I feel like this one is pretty timely. So far as I can tell, this particular dish goes with basically everything, unless you’re going to a vegetarian BBQ. In that case, this isn’t going to do you a lot of good. Anyhow, enough blathering on, here’s the dish:

What you need:

  • 3 Tbsp Coconut oil (the stuff that tastes coconutty)
  • 1 Lb uncooked & peeled shrimp
  • 2-3 small limes, cubed. You can leave the skin on or remove it. I do a bit of both
  • A bit of cajun seasoning, like 1/2 Tsp.
  • 1/2 Tsp Garlic powder
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, and happen to have it to hand, 1/2 tsp mint leaves (chopped)

Just mix it all up and cook it in a wok or iron skillet. Easy Peasy, Right?

 

Porcupine Meatballs

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This article appeared in the September 14, 2016 edition of the Seward Journal Newspaper, and has been heavily edited.

In Alaska, hunting and fishing permeates our various cultures, whether you’re an Anchorage dwelling vegan or a whaling captain out of Utqiaġvik. This becomes profoundly obvious during the summer and fall months, even in the most concrete urban corner of Anchorage, when folks are heading out to fill their freezer. Over the past two weeks, Moose hunting season launched, and as is usually the case during hunting season, the only Moose I’ve caught sight of are limited to the antlers from a successful hunt tied to a camouflage four-wheeler, strapped to a trailer, hitched to a truck driven by someone who hasn’t showered in a week.

Earlier this week, I was having a conversation with a co-worker about our respective dinner menus and she mentioned she was having porcupine meatballs. As you might imagine, my first question was not, in fact, “What’s a porcupine meatball.” Rather, my inclination was to ask her what porcupine tasted like and where she got it. Instead, I decided to act as though I already knew everything there was to know about meatballs, porcupines and where to get them, and what they taste like, and every which way porcupines might be rendered into meatballs and cooked. I went with the very safe “Oh, that sounds good,” before she went on to describe the recipe in some fuzzy detail. The key ingredient was not, as I’d assumed, porcupine. It was hamburger.

The lack of porcupine meat in the meatballs should have been obvious, but I just figured that I had a skewed opinion after so many years working for Fish and Game. One of the things you learn working for an outfit like that is that anything containing fat or protein is a possible menu-item. Around the point where we’d gotten around to the merits of using wild rice, another one of our coworkers approached. Now, it’s important to note that this particular coworker is from somewhere in the deep south and is not a hunter. His response, in tones suggesting he had never been one of these folks, was “Oh, sounds like when folks would cook opossum back home.”

At this point, my coworker having porcupine meatballs had to clarify that they are porcupine meatballs not porcupine-meat balls. We all had a good chuckle and went home and I spent my commute wondering what porcupine-meat balls would taste like. I don’t know if I’ll ever find out, but on the bright side, I can always have porcupine meatballs, and if you’re one of the lucky un-showered hunters or spouse of said un-showered hunter, you can use ground-moose -After you’ve had your shower.

Update April 14th, 2017

I returned to my post at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in late November, 2016. Shortly after my return, we had a luncheon pot-luck, and I decided to make porcupine meatballs. As with my initial reaction, everyone expected it was made of porcupine and was extremely disappointed when they found out I’d used boring old ground turkey.

What you need:

  • 1lb ground meat (not necessarily porcupine)
  • 1/2 C. Raw rice
  • 1/2 C. Milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. Italian seasonings
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped onion
  • 1/2 C. chopped Mushrooms
  • 1 Can condensed tomato soup
  • 1 Can water

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the hamburger, rice, milk, salt, pepper,
Italian seasoning, onion, and mushrooms. Shape into about 9 balls and
place in a 9x9x2” baking dish. In a small bowl, mix soup, water & a
bit more salt. Pour the soup evenly over the meatballs and place in
the oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

Hell-Cat Maggie Irish Whisky Review

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Look! Another whisky review blog – I’ve decided to try and do these about twice a month so that I don’t blow a hundred bucks a month on whisky. Since I don’t make any money at this, I can’t exactly write it off as an expense. In any case, I’m riding at 100% review rate of Irish Whiskys and I feel a bit weird about that given that the blog purports to involve bourbon. That said, this one was on sale and I’d never seen it before, so I thought I’d give it a go.

To start, this isn’t a fancy enough bottle to come in a cardboard tube that waxes poetic on the flavor profile. Rather, this one comes with the borderline alarming story:

Hell-Cat Maggie was a well-known criminal in Manhattan’s five points district and a member of the notorious Dead Rabbits gang. She was a fierce street fighter and actually filed her teeth and nails into points to better shred her opponent’s skin.

Interestingly, not only is this write-up largely accurate, it gives me all I need to know about this whisky at first glance: I will not likely be treated to a smooth, complex, yet delicate drink. It’s more likely to kick the crap out of me.

Since there isn’t any description of what I SHOULD taste, I’ll just give you my impressions. And as my palate isn’t developed much beyond “this is good” to “this is really not that great”, you can take all of this with a grain of salt.

The nose contains pear, cloves and hints of caramel. The first taste that struck me, however, was the oak. It was surprisingly strong, not woody, but certainly the dominant part of the flavor profile, bringing with it notes of caramel, spice and grain. If you put it on the rocks, the pear flavors come out much stronger. The finish is extremely long and spicy, largely owing to the high level of oily conigers that originate from the last part of the distillation process (the tails). It’s also got a healthy burn. Not quite as bad as most bourbons, but generally more than a typical Irish whisky. This one is also not particularly sweet, which is one of my usual complaints about mid-shelf Irish whiskys.

On a scale of mixer to neat, I put this one at rocks or add just the tiniest bit of water to open up the flavor profile. For the cost, probably not a go-to, but this is a good one. I’d consider buying again.

Poppy seed coffee cake

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This past week at work, I had a brown-bag lunch presentation where I spent basically 0 hours preparing, in spite of having about two months to do so. I kept telling myself, ah, I’ll focus on it right beforehand so I have the presentation all fresh in my mind and I don’t stumble. That said, I also realized the weekend before that I was in no way going to be actually prepared. So, I decided the best remedy was to bring some food to share. Everyone likes free food. It wasn’t going to do a lot for those calling in from Fairbanks and Juneau (sorry guys), but I thought it might help a bit on the Anchorage side. I pulled out my go-to sharing dish – poppy seed coffee cakes. It’s a family favorite that comes down from my moms side and it’s possibly my favorite comfort food. If it didn’t take two days to prepare, I’d make it every month until I was 375 pounds and required someone to physically roll me around. As it is, the size of the recipe is such that I only make it about once a year or so. Plus, I’ve been wanting to try it with some adjustments to be allergy friendly.

Needless to say, after blowing my weekend getting it together, I forgot the pies and home on the day. I had to run around the corner and buy some bread. The bread was good, and it turns out I’ve been doing this job long enough (last year not withstanding) that I can literally talk about it for hours off the top of my head, which is what I did for an hour. I think the presentation went okay, though I think I bit off too much to chew.

I did manage to remember the coffee cakes on Friday and they received positive reviews, which is good, because, as I said, I’d have eaten both pies I brought by myself. You can’t really find anything like this in the wild, short of an eastern European bakery, and even then it’s not nearly so good as this one. My favorite way to eat it is just this side of frozen. I did make some adjustments for allergies, which involved using Full-fat coconut milk cut with cashew milk, and goose eggs instead of chicken eggs. The use of the coconut milk made a tasty dough, but the consistency and rise was not what I am accustomed to. If you can, I’d recommend sticking to the ingredients listed below.

A couple warnings: This makes 6 pies and takes 2 days, so be prepared for a weekend effort & plenty left over to share.

Dough:

  • 3 Eggs (1 goose egg or 2 duck eggs)
  • ½ C. sugar
  • 1 C. cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¾ C. Shortening (Lard works too, I do not recommend butter, it will make it too rich)
  • 4 C. all-purpose flower
  • 1 Cake of active dry yeast

Mix the dry ingredients & yeast, and cut in the shortening, like a pie dough except with yeast. Mix up the dough ingredients until you’ve got a nice soft ball of dough. Wrap this in cling-wrap and put it into the fridge overnight.

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THE NEXT DAY!

Preheat the oven to 350. Take the ball of dough out of the fridge and split into 6 pieces (or 5 if you want a slightly thicker crust). Roll them out to fit 8” pie-pans. It’s easiest if you do this while it’s still cold, much like a pie-dough. Let these rise in the pans for about 30 minutes after you’ve rolled them out. Make up the filling and topping while you wait:

Filling

  • 1 12oz can poppy seed filling
  • 1 C. applesauce
  • 1 C. raisins (I use golden)
  • 2 eggs (2 small duck eggs)
  • 2 Tbsp. Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. Flour

Beat the eggs, add in the rest of the wet ingredients including the poppyseed filling. Whisk in the flour and sugar. When the pies are done rising, pour a thin layer of filling into each.

Topping:

  • 1 C. Flour
  • 1 C. Sugar
  • ¼ lb. Butter (If you must, butter flavor Crisco works okay too)
  • A sprinkling of cinnamon or nutmeg

Mix the dry ingredients, then cut in the butter. This is a crumble topping and so should be a bit lumpy. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the filling in the pies.

Bake these at 350 for about 20 minutes. The crust should be just golden brown. Let cool and enjoy.

Savory Soda-bread

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I started this article as something boring about Irish soda bread and all that. It was stupid and long and pontificated on the amount of buttermilk. Who the hell would want to actually read that? In any case, I left it alone so I could submit it to the newspaper, but then didn’t because they guy I’ve been sending them to completely ignored a question about whether or not he actually wanted them. He prints them every week, which is cool, but just the courtesy of “oh yeah, this is pretty shitty article, but we’d like to see more,” would be pretty nice. Plus, I don’t get paid for it which I suppose I don’t care much about, but I’d like to see that change. I mean, even a token per week would make me feel like the work is appreciated. Anyhow, here’s a slightly better story. It starts with my irrational and singular dislike of bisquick.

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My wife’s mother used to make these awesome AF sausage and cheese balls. Fastforward a decade or so, and we land with a complete inability to make them. In part it’s because you shred cheese into a bowl, which my wife can’t eat, and then you add some bisquick and sausage, which I refuse to eat and need to avoid (respectively). Anyhow, because goat cheese doesn’t really melt like cow cheese, these generally don’t work without the cheese part anyhow. So, last week my wife got this fabulous idea that she’d make a savory soda-bread, because it sounded like a neat idea and because it sounded like something that could replace the sausage and cheese balls. In the end, she decided not to burn her one free afternoon of the week to the ground by cooking. Instead, she read a book and something else, but I don’t remember what because I was only a little bit listening. What she did do, however, was plant the idea in my head, which resulted, nearly immediately, in the words “I can totally do that” falling from my mouth. So, that’s what I did. I went on-line, poked a few soda bread recipes with a stick, followed one recipe to the letter and promptly regretted that. The next time round, I used a variety of recipes to knock together on my own. Which, I might add, Stacy can eat because I used goat cheese (and butter milk which was substituted from 3/4 C. Cashew milk + 3/4 Tbsp Lemon Juice.

What you need:

  • ¾ C. + 1 Tbsp Buttermilk
  • 10.5 oz flour by weight (2 Cups)
  • ¼ C. flour for kneeding
  • 3 Tbsp shortening (preferably butter-flavor)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3.5oz cubed gouda cheese (I used goat gouda), this is on the order of a 3/4 Cup
  • ¼ C chopped green onions
  • ¼ C prosciutto ham
  • ¼ C chopped kalamata olives
  • 1 ½ tsp rosemary leaves (crush these a bit so they’re not too long)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375F. In a large bowl, mix the powdered ingredients, holding back the ¼ cup flour for kneading with a wire whisk, then cut in the shortening. I like to just chop it up and then get in there with my hands to crumble it in. Once the shortening has been cut in, add the rosemary and mix with your hands. Add the cheese, onion, and ham and mix again. Add the buttermilk and olives and mix with your hands until you have a giant, sticky ball. Drop this onto a flat surface with about half of the flour for kneading. Spread the rest of the flour on top of your dough ball and knead. The dough should get smooth, but still sticky enough to hold it all together. Form into a round roughly 6” across and 1 1/2” deep and place on a well greased pan. Make two perpendicular slices across the top about 1/2” deep. Bake for 30 minutes, remove and place on a cooling rack covered in a cloth to cool. Because this recipe has so much in it, it’s pretty crumbly and barely holds together when sliced, however, it’s still pretty awesome.