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Archive for June, 2011

3D Pic

At my ultrasound the other day, the tech surprised us with a 3D shot of the baby.  Usually the 3D ultrasounds are an elective procedure and can cost up to a few hundred bucks a session if you are scheduling it for funsies.  Phil and I didnt have any plans to ever get a 3D ultrasound, but since the machine was already fired-up, she snuck in a shot for us!

 

Im soooo glad she did.  And will seriously consider forking over the dough the next time around.  I cant stop staring at this photo! I feel so lucky that I get a sneak-peak of his little face before he arrives – like it will help me recognize him when he decides to come out or something. Not that there will be much confusion to which one is my baby, but its just so surreal to be looking at a face that no one has ever seen before!

 

OOooooh baby.  I cant wait to meet you.

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37 weeks gestation

Full term, baby!!

And we finally got that family picture I have been wanting. My little family of 4 on the ocean.  I love it.

My last day of work is this coming Tuesday and then I plan to spend the next week or two preparing for the move and taking care of some last few things – switching over insurance, change of address, cleaning the apartment, getting barney a haircut, getting an oil change, etc, etc, etc.  Once the ‘to-do’ list is done, Ill be trying every old wives tale for inducing labor!  But given that most first babies come late, Im still looking at 3-4 more weeks!

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Chicken Dumpling Soup

This is another one of those recipes that I never made the same way twice and it resulted in dumplings that were ‘hit or miss.’  Well guess what – this recipe?  Naaaaaaaailed it!!!

The soup starts off much like many of my other soup recipes:

I round-up the usual suspects – carrot, celery, onion, garlic, and stock.  I’m also going to throw in some frozen corn and frozen peas, but that’ll come later.  I dice up and saute about a cup each of the carrot, celery and onion. In this case, it was about half an onion, 4 carrots, and 4 ribs of celery.

I let those soften with a little salt and pepper for probably 6- 7 minutes.  Then I mince up a shit-load of garlic and throw that in for another few minutes.  Shit-load, in this case, would classify as 4 large garlic cloves? 3 tablespoons? About this much:

I dunno.  Use however much garlic you like.   After those have married together awhile, I add my stock.  About 8 cups.

Bring that up to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer for maybe 15 – 20 minutes until your veggies are just about as soft as you want them.  Also give everything a taste periodically and make sure it has enough salt and pepper to your liking. I also find it kind of funny that the food post immediately following my chicken stock post uses store-bought stock.  But whaddyagonnado?  Sometimes a girl is fresh out of home-made chicken stock.  Sad, too.  Because this is the kind of recipe in which home-made stock really shines through.  Oh well.  Carrying on…

Finally.  We are to the dumplings!  These suckers are quite delicious.  Here is what you will need:

All-purpose flour, milk, butter, salt, and baking powder.

Now these dumplings are the thick, dense, chewy, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth kind of dumplings; not the light, airy dumplings touted in other recipes.  I believe this is due to the low amount of baking powder and the fact that I boil instead of steam the dumplings.  If you like an airier dumpling then…well… I cant help you.  It took me a very long time to determine how NOT to make an airy dumpling, people. Just go consult any other recipe.  Because those are the ones I have already dismissed.  Anyway.  Back to chewy dumplings.  I use 2 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp of salt, 2 tablespoons of melted butter and 1.25 cups of milk.

Yep. Now stir it all together. It will be a very wet mixture but will still hold together fairly well.

So now you can take the lid off your simmering soup and raise the heat so its at a steady simmer or low boil without the lid on.  This is where you will want to grab 2 spoons.  You only see one below because i had to use my other hand for the camera, but the best way to do this is take a teaspoon of the mixture in one spoon and scrape it off with another.  The dumplings will sink to the bottom and slowly rise to the top as they finish cooking.

I try to work quickly so they have approximately the same cooking time.  I also try to work my way around the pot to give each dumpling a bit of room as they cook in the stock and not all stick together.  Soon the top will be completely covered with the cooked dumplings.  I would say this process take 5 minutes? (Ill time it next time and add it to the comments).

Lastly, I throw in about a half cup each of the frozen corn and frozen peas.  Oh and now is also the time I would add the CHICKEN part of this chicken dumpling soup, but this was also the time I realized I had no ‘snacking chicken’ left in the fridge. But I would have added around 3/4 cups of shredded cooked chicken, so lets pretend that I did.

After you stir it around and defrost the corn and peas, you are done!! Here is the finished product:

Or in our case:

Here is an easy copy/paste version of the recipe:

Ingredients:

1 cup diced carrot

1 cup diced celery

1 cup diced onion

3 tablespoons minced garlic

8 cups chicken stock

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

2 tablespoons melted butter

1.25 cups of milk

1/2 cup frozen corn

1/2 cup frozen peas

3/4 – 1 cup cooked shredded chicken

salt/pepper to taste

Saute diced carrots, celery and onion in some olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper to 6-7 minutes.  Add in minced garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes more.  Add 8 cups of chicken stock and bring mixture to boil, cover, and reduce to simmer.  Simmer for about 15 -20 minutes until soft.  In the mean time, make dumplings.  In bowl combine flour, salt, and baking powder.  Stir in melted butter and milk.  Uncover pot, and bring heat up to a low boil.  Drop in a teaspoon of the dumpling mixture at a time, trying to give each dumpling a little room to cook, working your way around the pot.  Work quickly to give about the same cooking time to each dumpling.  Dumplings will rise to the top of the soup once cooked.  After all have risen, add frozen corn, peas, and cooked chicken to pot.  Stir everything together to defrost the frozen veggies and heat the chicken through.  Then Eat!

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This is the first of many posts outlining specific reasons why our new Jetta TDI is awesome.  One of the main factors in our new car search was gas mileage.  The EPA estimate for the Jetta TDI is 43mpg and on a recent trip from New Jersey to Maryland I averaged 44.43mpg. In this post I am going to explain one of several pieces of technology which contribute to this type of fuel efficiency.

The Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission is distinct from the transmission you have in your car unless you drive a VW or Audi (or Porsche, except they call it a PDK but it is essentially the same design). The DSG is essentially a manual transmission which is shifted automatically. This may seem trivial but there are significant differences between a standard manual and a standard automatic transmission.

I could dedicate pages to explaining, comparing, and contrasting in detail these two general types of transmissions but people MUCH smarter than I have already done so.  I am, however,  going to try to give a quick overview of each in order to highlight how cool our transmission is.

Standard Manual Transmission

For any transmission the goal is to apply the optimal amount of horsepower and torque at a given rpm. In a standard 5 speed manual transmission there are 5 different horsepower/torque combinations which are manually selected by the driver. The picture below illustrates a very simple two-speed transmission.

Simple 2 speed manual transmission

In the above 2 speed manual transmission, the purple gear selector fork can be moved forward or backward to engage the small or the large blue gear. The different diameters of these blue gears (and associated red gears) are what applies the different amounts of torque to the gear shaft. This is easy to visualize for a two-speed manual transmission but slightly harder to visualize for a standard 5 speed manual transmission, see below.

Slightly more complicated 5 speed transmission

As you can tell its more complicated but all the parts are the same. If you look at 1st gear you can see how that would provide significantly more low end torque than 5th gear.

Automatic Transmission

A standard automatic transmission still applies torque but goes about it in a mechanically different way. A typical standard transmission uses whats called a ‘planetary gearset’ to apply different amounts of torque. A simple planetary gearset consists of a sun gear, planet gear, and the ring gear. The following illustration makes the naming convention slightly more obvious. Note, this not exactly how the gears look in an automatic transmission, it is more to get a visual of how this gearing structure works.

Simple Planetary Gearset

Appropriately the  yellow gear is the sun gear, the red gears are the planet gears, and the blue is the ring gear. This is a little harder to visualize but the different amounts of torque come from applying input power on one gear shaft (yes Jared/Akers I said shaft) and taking the output power off another shaft. Another wrinkle is that planetary gearsets have a mechanism to hold one gear stationary while the others continue to rotate.

To make this a little more obvious consider the following two scenarios.

First, consider the input applied to the sun gear and the output taken off the ring gear with the planet gears held stationary. In this scenario the output ring gear would be rotating providing a specific torque.

Next, consider the input attached to the ring gear, sun gear held stationary, and the output taken from the planet gears. This scenario would output a very different torque as compared to the first scenario.

Below is another drawing of this idea. The 3D representation helped me understand a little better. The bright red marks can be used to calculate the gear ratios.

So, if you followed what I was saying above, you understand how a simple planetary gearset works. Unfortunately, in real life the gearset looks like the two figures below and instead of one set of sun, planet, and ring gears, there are two. This is necessary to achieve all the required torque settings. It’s complicated and I’m not sure I understand all of it but the mechanical engineers that came up with these designs are god damn geniuses so I am sure it works.

Planetary Gear Set Transmission Pulled Apart

Planetary Gear Set Internals

Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) Transmission

This brings me to the most interesting thing I have written about to date on this blog (aside from the chicken blood of course). The gear box in our brand new 2011 Jetta TDI is an automatically shifted manual 6 speed dual clutch. So, compared to the first part of this post the physical mechanism which applies different amounts of torque is most like a manual transmission but there is essentially a computer which ‘manually’ shifts the gears based on the engine RPM and gas pedal input. This combination basically gives us the manual gearbox advantages while minimizing the automatic gearbox negatives. Another way in which the DSG transmission behaves like a manual transmission is when you are not engaging the gas or the break. At rest if you take your foot off th break the car will not inch forward like an automatic transmission would. While moving if you take your foot off the gas to coast, you will experience engine breaking, just like a standard manual transmission.

Manual 6 Speed Transmission VS. DSG Transmission: The manual transmission boasts a lighter weight, less parasitic power loss, and slightly better gas mileage (mpg) if used efficiently.  It should be obvious how these first two advantages lead directly to better gas mileage. However, the difference in fuel efficiency is typically on the order of 2-4mpg, not a huge jump but it equates to legitimate fuel savings.  The main advantage of the DSG transmission is ease of use. All shifts are made automatically, just like any standard automatic transmission. One thing that helps the DSG transmission in terms of fuel efficiency is the precision in how it shifts in turbo diesel. Since everything is done by computer power is delivered to the wheels in a much more consistent manner than with a manual transmission.  This is because the computer keeps interruptions in power delivery between shifts to an absolute minimum, thereby keeping the turbo spooled and maximizing fuel efficiency.

My reasons for writing this post were three-fold. I will now explain them in order of importance.

1) I understood the transmission in our car was basically an automatically shifted manual transmission but that is all I knew. Holy crap, I learned a lot about this transmission. Coincidentally, holy crap did we make a good choice on transmission.

2) Initially, I had a surface understanding how manual/automatic transmissions worked. I really wanted to understand at a fundamental level how any engines translate usable power so well and at such a wide variety of speeds/weights/rpms/torques/etc. It honestly still amazes me. Now, when I accelerate from every stop I find myself paying more attention to the transmission progressing through the gears and turbo spooling when I should really be paying attention to the road or other drivers around me.

3) I really wanted to find a way I could legitimately use the word ‘shaft’ over and over.

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Im kind of obsessed with the slideshow feature I discovered for my Barney post the other day.  So Im posting random pictures taken from the last 2 weekends so I can try it out again.  Our last two weekends have consisted of dining al fresco, going to the beach, walking around ocean grove, gay pride parades, and geese.

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After previewing this, I realize that these pictures wont be nearly as exciting for everyone else to look at, but Phil and I enjoyed taking pictures around these parts to commemorate our time in Asbury.  So Im posting them anyway.

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We’ve finally reached part III of woznation chicken – chicken stock! For this post I will go through how to make the stock using the leftover carcass of the woznation chicken from part I and part II. Alternatively, I have also made stock using chicken backs or turkey necks (we have a butcher down the street who practically throws these things away so I can get lots of poultry flavor without all the work of roasting the chicken and carving it up).  Making stock is pretty easy no matter what you use, I’ll talk you through it.

So we have our chicken from woznation chicken part II

I pick as much meat off the bone and then place the bones into a large stock pot.

Oh yeah, I also saved all the juices from the roasting pan and put that in there, too.  Thats what those dark juices are.  Yummmm:

So then I take off all the skin from my cut-up chicken and add it to the pot.  We’re not big skin eaters around here – so we just add that flavor to the stock.

Since we also dont eat the chicken right when its made, I go ahead and peel the chicken meat from the legs/thighs and save all the meat for future meals and/or ‘snacking chicken’  for the week.  And then throw the bones into the stock pot.

Boom.  White meat and dark meat.  All ready for the week.  And now all the bones are in the stock pot.

[Now, if I hadnt roasted a chicken and instead had raw chicken backs or turkey necks instead, I would put a little olive oil in the bottom of the stock pot and brown the backs or necks a bit (Dont worry about them being all the way cooked – they will boil for the next 4 hours).  After they had a bit of color (i.e. flavor)  I would continue with the stock in the following manner.]

So now I get some veggies and seasonings ready to throw in to add extra flavor.

I use about 4 ribs of celery, 4 carrots, an onion, 3 cloves of garlic, salt, whole peppercorns, and bay leaf.  I run a wet towel over the carrots and celery to get off any extra dirt and then rough chop them.

Then I quarter the onion, skin-on and all!  And smash about 3-4 garlic cloves.

Then I throw the veggies in the pot and add about a tablespoon each of salt and peppercorns and then 2-3 bay leaves.

Fill the pot up with water (approximately 3 ‘where else?’ glasses full…96 ounces total?).

Bring everything up to a boil and then reduce down to a low simmer.  Simmer for 4-5 hours.  If you are losing water too quickly, you can always add more water but you dont want to dilute your stock too much. Just make sure your simmer is very low.  You can stir the pot occasionally if you’re around, but I’ve also let this go while Ive been out running errands.  It doesnt need a babysitter.  After 4-5 hours you will have pretty much sucked out all the flavor from the chicken and vegetables.

And now you have some liquid gold!  All you need to do it strain out the bones and veggies!  I usually use a bit of cheese cloth in my strainer as well to catch as much of the grit as possible, but I was out this time.

Voila.  Chicken Stock!

All the fat in the chicken stock rises to the top and will solidify in the fridge overnight.  You can just take a spoon and scoop off the layer of fat and throw it away the next day.  Now you are all ready to make some homemade souprisotto, shepards pie,  or anything else you want!

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This is a delicious delicious marinade I got from Jared’s mom Lynn. Before we started making jambalaya I think this was my favorite meal. It can be used on any cut of beef but we like to use it with flank steak because it is a cheap, tough cut of meat which magically becomes delicious after we marinade it.

There are really only 4 ingredients to the marinade as you can see above. Scroll down to the end of the post for amounts. Making the  marinade is very complicated, follow these directions explicitly. Combine the soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar and garlic. Done with the marinade portion. We like to use a plastic bag to do the marinating because it makes it easy to redistribute over the  meat. Feel free to use the vessel of your choice to combine the ingredients. See  our bag O marinade below.

One optional ingredient to this marinade is red wine vinegar. You can include this if you only have time to let the meat marinade for an hour or two. For a short marinade time, the vinegar starts to break down the meat and allows the other flavors to infuse. For tastiest results we recommend NOT using the red wine vinegar and marinating for at least 6hrs (the longer the marinating the better). One additional tip, use low sodium soy sauce, it just makes everything more delicioiuser.

Once the marinade is made the next step is to prepare your meat. We like to cube our flank steak so we can make shish Ka bobs but feel free to cut your meat in whatever way makes sense for your cut. As an example; Jared’s mom marinades the full flank steak and then cuts small slices at an angle against the grain of the meat after grilling. For our shish Ka bobs we cut then cube flank steak as shown below.

The next step is to poke holes in each cube. This allows for more marinade to soak into the meat over time. For our cubes I like to put two fork punctures in an X pattern on each face of the cube. This takes some time but it is worth it. Additionally, if you have experience with lawn care you can think of this as aerating the meat.

Speaking of cubes, one of the most famous cubes is the Necker Cube shown below with it’s more interesting cousin the un/impossible cube. The most interesting thing about this cube is that it can be interpreted in at least two ways, I like this from a philosophical standpoint.

Back to the steak. Once you have prepared and aerated the meat put it in the marinade, make sure all the meat has been fully submerged (see below). This is very easy to do with our zip lock bag method, you can pretty much man-handle the meat to make sure everything is sufficiently covered.

As I mentioned earlier Amy and I like to let the steak marinade for at least 4-6 hours before we start grilling. Approximately once every hour I like to mix up the bag to redistribute the marinade and make sure all pieces get a healthy dose.

Once the meat has sufficiently marinaded it is time to build our shish Ka bobs or go directly to grilling if you did not go the shish Ka bob route. Anything you typically put on a Ka bob is fine, for this dinner Amy and I just used meat, green peppers, and onion petals. Amy believes these could have used some nice to cherry tomatoes to really make the colors pop.

We typically grill the meat but these can also be cooked on the stove top. However, if you use the stove top consider taking the batteries out of your smoke detector because the sugar in the marinade will burn (and smoke) when placed directly on the burner. When I say ‘burn’ it is more of the smoking that causes the problem, the meat still tastes amazing. To mitigate this try to get as much marinade off the meat as possible, the flavor is already infused in the meat. That said, we still recommend cooking the meat on the grill for optimum flank steak performance. Feel free to grill the meat to your preferred tenderness.

Now we feast

See Below for Quick Recipe:

The following makes enough marinade for ~3lbs of meat (flank steak is our meat of choice)

1 cup soy (preferably the low sodium soy)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
2 teaspoons minced garlic (to taste)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (only include this if you are marinating for less than 2 hours)

Thoroughly mix all ingredients in the vessel of your choice (1 gallon plastic bag works well)

Prepare meat if necessary (Example: cut into cubes for shish Ka bobs)

Poke lots of holes in meat with fork (aerate)

Immerse in marinade for at least 4 hours (If you include the red wine vinegar marinade for no more than 2 hours)

Grill/Cook

Eat

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