Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Yak Shaving Razors - Take Two

List five useful things you know that others might find useful, but might not know. #yakshavingrazors

I got waylaid in my attempt to finish the earlier post, which lead Tojosan a bit off the path I'd intended. The idea wasn't to detail our own struggles with unshaven yaks, but rather to share ideas, tips, and tools that make the yak shaving - or any other activity - a little easier.

Think "Hints from Heloise" or the "lifehacks" tag in delicious.

So... My Five Useful Things to Know:

1. A dash or two of Tabasco improves almost any sauce, soup, or stew. It brightens the flavors. This is especially true of rich, creamy sauces such as alfredo.

2. Saliva is a remarkable cleaning solution. In reading about the recovery and resoration of rare artworks, you sometimes see the phrase "a mild, aqueous enzymatic solution," as in, "centuries of grime were carefully removed from the priceless painting with a soft brush and a mild, aqueous enzymatic solution." That's not magical mystery mix, but good old fashioned spit. Saliva is mostly water (aqueous) but contains lots of enzymes that break down and soften all manner of organic compounds (aka "pre-digestion"). So before breaking out the tolulene or MEK, rub a little spit on that spot. (Unless of course, you dip Skoal.)

3. Stretch out your guitar strings when you change them. The pitch of a guitar string depends on its length, unit mass, and tension. When you're tuning up a new string, the length and unit mass (.55 low E vs .10 high E) are constant, so the only variable is tension. Problem is, when you tighten the string up, it stretches. It literally gets longer, which reduces the tension, making it go flat.
Most materials (including guitar strings) stretch when they are under tension. You can graph the stress (tension) versus the amount of stretch (strain). At first, the stretch is like a rubber band - when you let off the pressure the string returns to its original length. But at some point, the "set" becomes permanent. The string will continue to stretch up to a point, then it won't stretch any more. That's the point you need to get to in order for the string to stay in tune.
So here's how to pre-stress your strings. Tune the new string up to pitch, then pick it up at the 12 fret (the midpoint). Pull it out an inch or so so you can feel it "give" a bit. Waggle it back and forth, then tune it back up. The stretched-out strings will stay in tune.

4. Experienced cooks know this, but here's how to make a nice pan gravy by "deglazing" the pan. Say you're browning some chicken, or pan-frying steaks. By the time the meat is cooked you've got some stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan. (We're assuming it's not burned, just browned.) I used to scrub it out with a scrubbing pad - such a waste of effort AND flavor!

Remove the cooked meat - it needs to rest for a couple of minutes before you serve it anyway. The pan probably still has some fat in it; drippings from the meat. If it's really dry, add some butter or oil, about a tablespoon. Heat the pan till it just barely starts to smoke, then pour in about a quarter-cup of liquid - enough to cover the bottom of the pan about 1/4 inch deep. You can use water, broth, wine, whatever. Use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan - the browned bits will come up easily and dissolve in the liquid.

Now you have several options. You can toss the pan in the sink, having saved yourself some elbow grease with a Brillo pad. (Booo! as the CommonCraft folks say) Or you can:
  • Serve the pan sauce as is and call it "au jus"
  • Boil the liquid down to concentrate the flavor (this is called "reducing").
  • Mix a tablespoon of flour with some warm water, then add that and cook until the gravy thickens. You might add more broth for volume or to thin it. (Note - adding dry flour directly to the hot pan tends to form lumps - the hot broth cooks it up into little dumplings before the flour can get dispersed.)

5. Write offline. Whenever you're going to write a lengthy post for an online forum, do it offline in Word or Notepad. Because if you're typing right into Blogger or WP and your network connection crashes, you'll lose everything.


SkyDaddy said...

Thanks to Debbie Schinker for reminding me about the term "deglazing." I know the term, but I forgot to use it! Corrected.

DaveG said...

The easiest way that I've found to get a nice, consistent thickness hamburger patty is to put a meatball shaped portion of meat between a folded sheet of clear Saran wrap and roll the patty out with a rolling pin.

To heat water to boiling faster, put a lid on the pan.