Archive for the 'Food / Cooking' Category

Old Tube, New Life

As the final chapter in my starting-a-grill triptych, I will address the starter tube itself. So today’s Object at Hand is a starter tube brought back from the dead.

Grill Starting Supplies

It doesn’t look like much, sitting here with the subjects of my previous two posts. But this starter chimney has had a good life so far, and recently was falling apart. Sure, the tube is rusting badly. But it is not yet rusted through. The failure was that the rivets holding the handle had worked loose, and the ones holding the charcoal tray up had rotted clean off.

So I had to choose between spending a sawbuck or so on a new replacement, making a forever-lasting one out of titanium that MrTitanium happens to have on hand, or resurrecting this old and faithful servant.

Fortunately, I had some heavy duty pop-rivets on hand from recently repairing an aluminum ladder. So I spent an hour of delicate surgery aligning, clamping, re-drilling, and pop-riveting, and tightening other rivets with a hammer and punch. This rusty old wreck now performs as good as new!

One of my peeves is that they don’t only make these from stainless steel. They do exist in stainless, but are harder to find and cost at least triple. I grant that stainless at red hot does in fact stain. But the much slower corrosion of the tube, and the use of stainless rivets, mean these end up in estate sales rather than landfill.


Char Without Coal

As I mentioned in my previous post about an improved way to use newspaper to get a grill going, Today’s Object at Hand is a particular type of charcoal.

Grill Starting Supplies

Notice that the bag says “Lump” instead of “Briquette.” This indicates a significant difference in terms of ingredients. Henry Ford’s invention of the briquette revolutionized home grilling by standardizing the size and behavior of charcoal. It also created a market for his production scraps.

The down side is that the shape is maintained by adding coal tar or oil residue.
Here’s the How It’s Made short on charcoal briquettes:

Anyway, it is possible to find locally sourced non-petrochemical charcoal, as shown in my picture. This bag claims to come from a cabinet shop. But the telltale shapes amuse me. And truth be told, this amusement factor is more important to me than the actual absence of tar and oil in my grill. But both are good reasons to look for it.

Ready to Light

Stand by for a third entry in this series.

Doughnuts to Burn

I was lighting up my grill the other day, and I (as a gestalt) flashed on three different posts that I could hang on that action, using three different objects. To start with, I have been using chimney style charcoal lighters since the 1980’s. Sure, my father lit his hibachi with lighter fluid.

This is he. I am the wean with the camera in hand.

Anyway, I used about one bottle of starter (like I learned from my pop) before I switched to the chimney starter.

But I recently wised up about putting a wad of newspaper in the bottom: The point of the chimney is to let the air flow through, but most people start by plugging the bottom with paper.

Now I wad the two sheets of tabloid-size newsprint into long rumpled cylinders, and then twist them into a torus.

“Bull!” you say?

No a torus, or doughnut shape, is the perfect form for the task. This lets the hot flames flow up the center, rather than out the side holes.

Here’s how it goes:

Step 1, make a ring out of old newspaper (Today’s Object at Hand):


Step 2: Stuff it in the bottom of the chimney:

Step 3: Fill the top with your favorite charcoal (more about this in a later post):

Ready to Light

Step 4: Ignition from below:


Step 4: Wait the usual 20 minutes at the charcoal warms up, hydrocarbon free.


So today’s Object at Hand is a bit of twisted trash used intelligently.

How Does a Microwave Work?

I was sitting with a neighbor one summer afternoon around 1989, when the neighbor asked, “Dan, do you know how a microwave works?”

I told him that I did, and asked him if he’d like me to explain it. He assented. So I considered how to explain how they work to someone with little math. And then launched into what probably was a dizzying description with hand gestures of quantum and molecular degrees of freedom, electromagnetic resonances, and a brief detour into the evolution of and differences between magnetron and Klystron tubes before finally mentioning the history of radar and the serendipitous development of the Radarange. (Now that we have the web, you can find a fit-for-non-geeks  explanation, for example, here.)

When I stopped for air, he said, “That’s all very interesting.  But I asked because I have a dead microwave that I’m throwing out, and wondered if you wanted it to take and fix it.”

Oops. My socially defective self forgets that what people ask is often only obliquely related to the question they mean to imply. When he asked if I knew how one worked, he meant, Did I know how the works fit together, how to fix one?

I told him that I’d give it a try. I had never owned a microwave, but a good rule of thumb on electric gadgets is that total failure implies simple repair. Usually an open circuit or bad switch.

So I went with him and carried it home. I was hopeful because it was a simple older model with no membrane buttons, digital display, nor processor control. Just a mechanical timer and button. I took it apart, and figured out that one of the three safety interlocks — that make sure it won’t run with an open door — was worn out. I bypassed it, leaving only two.

Occasionally one of the remaining safeties blows an internal fuse when someone tries to open the door while it is running. Then I just take it apart and replace the fuse.

This Object at Hand gets daily use, twenty-odd years since it was saved from the landfill. I may yet get another twenty years out of it.

Freezy Boozy Froot

My late mother had gifted me with a Cuisinart about a decade and a half ago. At the time she made a point of including an extra blade for a particular purpose. It is today’s Object at Hand.

4mm Cuisinart SlicerThe original purpose of the 4mm blade was for slicing red cabbage for her family’s old world recipe of Rot Kohl (pronounced rote-coal with rolling ahrs), or spiced red cabbage. But I’ve recently come up with a new use for this odd and rarely used blade.

Back story: I’m not much of a drinker. Typically, a bottle of booze lasts for years in my house. But one hot evening earlier this summer I had a craving for a fruity rum drink. So I dusted off the rum, found cans of tropical fruit cocktail, crushed pineapple, and coconut milk, and blended it together with some ice.

Meh. I’m obviously no bartender.

Donvier Ice Cream Maker (stock photo)But it got me thinking. A week later, I had a similar urge. This time I just poured some rum (151) into tropical fruit cocktail and ice. It was better. But the flavor was too weak, especially for the punch it delivered. So another time, I mixed the rum and fruit, and threw it into our (always waiting in the freezer) Donvier Ice Cream maker to chill it. The rum and syrup blend turned to yummy slush, but the fruit froze into too hard chunks.

But I know a thing or two about chemistry and physics. So here is the successful recipe:

Take 2 cans of Tropical Fruit Cocktail and drain the syrup into a container (you’ll use it later).

Run the fruit through a 4mm slicer to have better distributed, more easily infused fruit that still holds together when stirred. This is the perfect size to re-slice that ready-to-use fruit. I used the Cuisinart, but any slicer, including the tedious manual knife method will do.

Put the fruit into a closed, alcohol-proof container with ½ cup of rum (I prefer dark rum) and marinate it for 1/2 hour or longer in the fridge. This infuses the fruit with the ethanol,  lowering its freezing point so we get softer frozen fruit.

Also chill the syrup separately. Pre-chilling is necessary because alcohol needs more cooling than does custard to freeze it. The Donvier style freezers can only provide so much chill per chilling “charge”. But if you are using ice and rock-salt cooler, you can keep adding ice and salt.

Set up the ice cream freezer (any kind will do), pour the fruit and syrup in, and stir to freeze as with any sorbet recipe. About 45 minutes later, it is done.

Et Voilà: Freezy Boozy Froot! A cool summer adults-only dessert.