Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Sunday, August 28, 2005
I've been reading Shirley Corriher's CookWise: The Hows & Whys of Successful Cooking with over 230 Great-Tasting Recipes. It's similar to Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, but in addition to the science and chemistry of foods, it includes a number of very interesting recipes.
For example: Juicy Pork Tenderloins with Spicy Chinese Sauce. This recipe is really simple, and quite easy. Start with a freezer bag filled with 1/4 cup hoisin sauce, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 3 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 cup soy sauce. Put two tenderloins in the bag and seal it. Place in the refrigerator at least an hour or overnight. I did overnight. Making the marinade takes around five minutes.
The next day, line a tray with foil, spray a cooking rack with vegetable oil spray, and put the marinated tenderloins on it. Roast in a preheated oven (500 degrees!) for nine or ten minutes, turn over, and repeat. The internal temperature should reach 148 degrees if done.
In the meantime, take the marinade, put it into a saucepan with 1/2 cup of water, bring to a boil. Boil gently for a few minutes, then add 4 tablespoons of butter. Bring back to a boil. I boiled until it had reduced a bit. I also tented the pork tenderloins for a few minutes after they were out of the oven.
Slice the tenderloins into medallions, cover with the sauce, and sprinkle with sliced scallions.
We had this for lunch today, and it was very tasty. This is the second marinade recipe I've tried (the other was a lime chicken marinade) and I'm becoming a believer.
Another item that makes Shirley Corriher's book so neat (in addition to the food science sections -- read her treatment on making caramel to learn about the breakdown of sucrose in high heat into 124 other sugars!) is her tips on ingredients. Here is what she says about hoisin sauce:
"This dish is highly dependent on the taste of a good hoisin sauce (Chinese barbecue sauce). Unfortunately, hoisin sauces vary greatly, and some are not that good. It is well worth a trip to an Asian market to get Koon Chun, an outstanding brand. It comes in jars or cans with a blue and yellow label."
We had to make do with Sun Luck brand (I foresee a trip to Uwajimaya in Beaverton soon...) but the dish turned out great. I asked Jean if she thought that Sun Luck was one of those 'good hoisin sauce(s)' or if the dish would have been even better with Koon Chun. "Definitely it would have been better!" Of course, she was humoring me.
We practiced for around a half hour with just the tiniest halting starts. She's now too grown for me to support her when her balance falters, and I wrenched my right knee trying. So we kept working on the 'jump start' of getting that foot on the pedal, then the butt on the seat. On the whole, she was not very satisfied with the progress. I had to pull the dad card: "you will learn to ride this bike, no matter how long it takes." Of course, the plan is a half an hour to an hour each Saturday and Sunday.
Jean accompanied us down today. With her help, we were able to steady Renee until she had enough forward momentum to balance (more or less). Eventually, it was more a matter of me being brave enough to let go of the seat and let her pedal or fall. When I did, she managed to cover 45 yards unassisted! The very next try, she hit the brakes in a panic after fifteen feet. But by fits and starts, she kept trying, until she was able to bike the length of the soccer field.
I haven't done any kind of running for several years, since wrecking my ankle pretty good. So I was huffing and puffing to keep up with her. At the end, I was soaking wet, but I felt really proud of Renee. Now my plantar fascitis is bothering me, and my ankle is burning, but I'm thinking it was worth it.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
How about triangulating with different recipes?
Like this one: Creme Brulee
Oven temp: 325
Cooking time: 35 minutes
In fact, Pascale, I have looked at other recipes, and considered trying them. Your recipe reminds me somewhat of this recipe, for instance, though as engineers, they are satisfied with vanilla extract. Shirley Corriher's Cookwise has a nice recipe, with the added twist of a crumb crust shell!
The reasons why I find myself doggedly pursuing this recipe from Best Recipe are manifold. Firstly, I've suffered all my life from completism. I've gotten better over the years--for instance I don't slog through a book to the finish if I am not enjoying it. But I still have tinges of the disease. Secondly, I've had a lot of success with recipes from the America's Test Kitchen crowd over the years, and I'm hoping that the hiccups here are just a fluke. To be clear, the unflavored custard of this recipe to my palate tastes great. It's just the texture that I'm working on.
Finally, and this is one Jean will appreciate, I can only make so much creme brulee. My first experiment was unsettling enough that Renee will have nothing to do with it. And Jean just plain don't like custards, as I've mentioned before. So this experiment is just for me, and I have to eat all my results (no, I won't throw out perfectly good food). Since I feel I'm so close to getting this right, I don't want to hare off on another tangent, introducing a whole new pack of variables that need nailing down. If this next experiment is still off, I'm confident I can get it right by the fourth try.
Once I get it right, I'll probably put away the ramekins and not return to them for a long while. I've got lots of other recipes that are a tad more forgiving of deviation that I want to try. Still, I'll probably try Pascale's recipe come the holidays, especially if she has done that recipe herself and vouches for it. Pascale?
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Our oven runs about 20 degrees hotter than the dial indicates, as measured with an oven thermometer. Last time, I set the oven to around 255, as the recipe suggested 275 degrees. What difference would this make, if the bain marie limits the cooking custard to 212 degrees? I theorized that (1) the tops of the custard are still exposed to the full heat of the oven, and (2) the water bath gets pulled toward the boiling point earlier the higher the oven temperature is. So this time, I set the oven to 275 (making the actual temperature around 295 degrees) and put the bain marie into the oven to preheat, rather than pouring hot water into the bain marie when adding the ramekins. This way, when I added the ramekins, the water would already be close to the boiling point, and the custard would be exposed to the full temperature from the start.
I put the ramekins in and started with the specified 45 minutes. When I checked, the centers were very liquid. So I set the timer for another ten minutes. The centers were still liquid, but I wasn't sure if they were too liquid, so I set the timer for another ten minutes. I should have been watching, but I just waited for the timer. When I checked this time, the custards were rock solid, no jelly motion at all. Oops. I took them out, let them reach room temperature and refrigerated them.
The next day I took two out and layered the brown sugar on top. Into the broiler they went. You're supposed to broil them two to three minutes, until the sugar is carmelized. I got distracted and let them run a full three minutes. One turned out okay, the other got carbonized, rather than carmelized. But the custard tasted great! The texture was more akin to cheesecake than custard. But at least it was not runny.
So I have to try one more time (triangulate, triangulate!). This time I used an oven set to 275 (295) and a preheated bain marie, and cooked a total of 1 hour, 5 minutes. Forty-five minutes was way too little, and the latter was a bit too much. Where in the middle to set it this time? I'm really stuck. The difference in cooking time is twenty minutes, so split down the middle I should add ten minutes. But the custard still looked really liquid at 55 minutes. Would it have coooked through on residual heat when I pulled the bain marie out of the oven? Or would I have still had a liquid center, albeit smaller? Maybe I'm gonna try this two more times...
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Set in the late 1870s mining camp of Deadwood (Dakota Territory), we follow Seth Bullock, who has laid down his badge as a sheriff in Montana to pursue a career as a hardware store owner in the wild camp. Deadwood can hardly be called a town, as buildings are being erected and tents serve as store fronts when Seth and his partner arrive. There is a saloon, the Gem, owned by town boss and villain Al Swearengen.
A lot happens in the first episode, and we paused and backed up a couple of times. If you're put off by swearing, then this show is not for you, as these are the colorful characters of the old West, and they swear as frequently as they breathe. This is another dense HBO soap opera, and like Six Feet Under, I think it will rely heavily on character studies unfolding over multiple episodes. For now, at least, I'm looking forward to seeing more.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Watching this movie last night, I was reminded many times of the Kitano movie. The broad strokes of the story, introducing the character of Ichi, the blind masseur, his prowess with the sword, and his friendship and rivalry with an unattached samurai, are the same. Beyond that, what makes this movie is the screen presence of Shintaro Katsu. Shigeru Amachi is also great as Miki Hirate, the former samurai suffering from tuberculosis.
I'll be handing this movie around the same circle of friends who enjoyed Zatoichi.
I found it very fun. It's occasionally a little cheesy, and the special effects are occasionally weak, but the story was quirky and engrossing. I also have the sequel from John, and I'll try to watch it before the next meeting I'm likely to make, which will probably be the second one in September. That should be plenty of time, right? Riiiight....
Saturday afternoon we walked to the Westlake Center Mall, where we ate lunch and then rode the Monorail to Seattle Center, home of the Space Needle and the Experience Music Project. When we got back, we took time to tour Pike Place Market. We ate at a few neat places over the weekend, including Elephant & Castle and the Rock Bottom Brewery. One restaurant we didn't try that I want to hit next summer is the Pike Pub and Brewery, which Jean tells me won some sort of award. More importantly, they brew all their own beer on site.
All in all, while a whirlwind trip, it was quite satisfying. I love Seattle and only wish I could find more excuses to come visit.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Monday, August 15, 2005
Creme brulee is basically an egg custard with a carmelized sugar shell. There are tons of recipes on the web, varying widely in their ingredients and techniques. Here is a decent example recipe. For my first attempt, I decided to try the recipe in our Cook's Illustrated cookbook. This is definitely a 'for me' project, as Jean is clear on her 'no custards' policy.
The recipe calls for cooking the mixture in ramekins bathed in a bain marie, fancy French for 'water bath'. This has the dual effects of creating a uniform cooking temperature, and limiting the temperature to 212 degrees, regardless of oven setting (as the water reaches boiling point, that energy is bled off into the stove). You are supposed to cook at 275 degrees for 45 minutes, then remove the bain marie from the oven and let the ramekins cool in the water to room temperature. Then refrigerate for at least two hours.
I let the custards sit in the refrigerator overnight, and I'm afraid the centers were still more of an eggnog than a custard. I'll have to try the recipe again, with a longer cooking time (one hour?). In the meantime, the periphery is somewhat custardy, suggesting that the recipe will be quite satisfying when I get the cooking time down pat. And there are always those hundreds of variations online, as well as the recipe I found in Cookwise, a cookbook recommended in On Food and Cooking.
On the bright side, the brulee part, the carmelized layer of brown sugar on the top, turned out very nicely. It's pleasing to get at least one component of the recipe right the first time.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
The tomatoes are diced, the olives chopped, the mint leaves chopped and mixed in with the olive oil. The pasta is cooked al dente and drained. Stir in the ingredients, then add the feta last and stir some more. Sound like a traditional American spaghetti and meatballs dish? No, of course not. But almost all the dishes on the ATK pasta show were like this one. Cook pasta, prepare a bowl of ingredients, mix 'em together. I was intrigued by this approach, which I'd seen a few other places in the past, so I determined to try it myself. This particular dish was one of the simplest.
How did it work? It worked great. It's easy to prepare, and very tasty. Given the high starch content, I don't imagine I'll be making it all that often, but for a change of palate, it's pretty neat.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
Then recently I was reading Engadget, a geeks gadget weblog, and what did they have, but a tutorial on using Synergy on Macs. So tonight I downloaded Synergy, and after a few false starts, got it working with my iLamp and my iBook. I can now sweep my mouse cursor off the right edge of my iLamp's desktop, and it shows up on the left edge of my iBook's desktop. Then I am able to type things on my laptop using my desktop keyboard. It's pretty cool.
The documentation seems to indicate that this functionality is platform independent, using the network and a client-server communications model to let one computer be the server and the other the slave, so I'm gonna try compiling Synergy for my Solaris box at work and see if I can't use my work keyboard and mouse with my laptop. There are times when I want to use my laptop at work, such as when I need to read Windows .doc files, and this would make things so much simpler!
More evidence of my geekishness. Stay tuned...
Today's banner is my scan of the 3"X5" snapshot they took of Renee's cabin mates. Counting the councilor, that comes to twelve warm bodies. Bet it got uncomfortable in those bunk beds. Still, better than a sleeping bag on the ground, which is what we had to do in my day! [queue old geezer music...]
And yes, they are wearing face paint. And I'm told there was a pony...
Friday, August 12, 2005
Readers of this site know that I'm a long time fan of Brian Eno, especially his 'pop rock period'. These cards come from around that same timeframe, and remind me of gentler days. Will I really run out and buy Tiger so I can run this widget? Nah. But the next time I'm weighing the usefulness of Tiger, this will put a thumb on the scale.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Jean was telling me that her hairdresser was surprised that I was willing to go to a tea house. She apparently knows some guys who think it is 'unmanly'. Sorry dudes, I'm too secure in my masculinity to miss out on a neat nosh just 'cause it seems 'girly'. It was a lot of fun, and I'm really pleased that Jean and I got to do it!
But the item that really intrigued me was the collection of lantern slides from the Wulsin expedition to Tibet in 1923. This collection is from the Peabody Essex Museum. "As the young American couple Janet E. and Frederick R. Wulsin, Jr. traveled in China, Inner Mongolia and the borderlands of Tibet between 1921 and 1925, they joined the ranks of explorers drawn to the people, cultures, and geography of unfamiliar and distant places."
About 80 of the photographs they took were mounted on glass plates, then hand tinted by artists in Beijing familiar with the culture, using tiny sable brushes. They then mounted the painted glass plates between two protective plates and sealed them, to be used as lantern slides. Until I got to the plaque explaining this, I was trying to figure out what the tinting process was, since of course there was no color film at that time. This article contains some sample photos to give you an idea. These photos made my trip to the museum, and if you're in the area and into photography, you should really make the trip.
Tuesday, August 9, 2005
Which brings me to the interesting feature of this program. The ads are supposed to be appropriate for the content on the site. The first batch all seem to center around food (recipes, restaurants) which is appropriate given how much I've been writing about it lately. I'll be interested to see if they ever offer ads for anime or Hong Kong movies, or maybe DVDs for Firefly or Dr. No.
Monday, August 8, 2005
Jean started cracking up right away, and it took me a moment to figure out over what. "You just walked in, and it was literally two seconds! He's alone in a room, no villains, no window view, and you name the movie!" My inner geek is showing. Really, I just got lucky. But we both found the unconscious remark pretty funny, in a pathetic sort of way.
Sunday, August 7, 2005
I'll excerpt just the marinade here to whet your appetite:
- 1/3 cup lime juice (from 2 to 3 limes)
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 jalapeño chile, seeds and ribs removed, chile minced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves (left out for Jean)
- Table salt and ground black pepper
- 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts/ (about 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed of fat, tenderloins removed, breasts pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
In medium bowl, whisk together lime juice, 4 tablespoons oil, garlic, Worcestershire, brown sugar, jalapeño, cilantro, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Reserve 1/4 cup marinade in small bowl; set aside. Add another teaspoon salt to remaining marinade. Place chicken in marinade; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 15 minutes.
In the meantime, it's my job to keep Jean occupied so that her motherly concerns don't gnaw at her too much. Of course, that's hard when I'm at work all day. But we are taking a day off this week to go to the Portland Art Museum and the Lavender Tea House. I'm hoping to convince her to make the trek one evening to Cinetopia, but as it's all the way up in Vancouver, Washington, I don't hold out much hope. Then there's the Jazz Bar at the Sweet Brier Inn, where my Dad and Bette were staying last week. Care to dance, Jean?
Bob, who is running our video program, is showing every sign of burn out, but again, finding a responsible individual to take charge of the equipment (i.e. not set it up at their home for a personal theater and run down the expensive bulb) is not looking easy. The crowd of regulars consists of folks who like coming to NOVA twice a month, but are not able to contribute to running it. I know how real life can eat up your commitments, so I'm not accusing folks of being slackers, just guessing that the reality is that not many folk interested in NOVA have the time or energy to run it. Sure, you 'just' have to schedule the room, pick up and drop off the keys, and do some 'minor' paperwork, but if I can't guarantee doing it reliably, I can't expect anyone else to.
After the meeting, we went out for snacks, and had a lengthy conversation on the topic. Alan volunteered to step up to the Presidential nomination, for a year. And Alan is very reliable. But he's once again a person who's doing it out of a sense of duty. I can't speak for his intentions, but I think he's doing it more for the idea of NOVA as it formerly existed. If NOVA can't sustain itself with people willingly stepping in to do the work, then us old warhorses shouldn't feel obligated. Lisa said that she thought without the 'core' members doing the work, NOVA would just collapse, and she didn't want that to happen. But if the only folks doing the work do so out of a sense of obligation, when the loose membership is probably only coming out of habit...
It's obvious to me that I'm not the right choice for President. Lisa wanted to do a follow-up discussion at the next meeting, and I remembered that I'd be out of town (Jean, Kelly and I are doing a research trip to Seattle). I'm probably not going to be able to make the first meeting in September either, so that leaves the second meeting of September, when the elections are supposed to happen. So... If nominated, I'll run, reluctantly. If elected, I'll serve, poorly. Is that what NOVA deserves?
Saturday, August 6, 2005
For example, what spurred this post is that I recently saw a word of recent coinage in digital photography. I don't know how recent; after all, I just saw it used for the first time a few days ago. Now I'm reading Thom Hogan's review of the Nikon D2x and I see it again: chimping:
Still, I can't imagine a situation where I'd need more than two batteries for a day's shoot, though there may be a few prolific photojournalists out there that disagree. Indeed, if you shoot less than 500 images in a session, you'll probably do fine with just one battery, regardless of how much chimping you do.
And yes, while the word in question seems to be derogatory, I have been known to 'chimp'.
Wednesday, August 3, 2005
I can only hope this doesn't last as long as the whole Pokemon thing has...
A funny coincidence: I was on the web this morning looking into resources on British Tea Rooms in the area. Tom is having a get together with several of his friends from up North next weekend (oops, I mean early September!), and wanted to include a trip to a teahouse. Since Jean and I had been to a couple of good British ones, I wanted to recommend them as alternatives to the Chinese one he was thinking of, or the Japanese one Alan mentioned. In the course of researching this, I saw mention of many 'British Culture' establishments, and one was mentioned quite fondly by a reviewer: the Elephant and Castle pub. It's location? Inside the Red Lion on Fifth Avenue! So I know one restaurant we'll be researching!
And just for the record:
British Tea Garden
725 SW 10th Avenue
In the trashy science fiction category, I finished Rogue Berserker by Fred Saberhagen a couple weeks ago. This is another in his universe where machines hunt down all life, following their scrambled program from a war millions of years ago. Lightweight as all get out.
Monday, August 1, 2005
We ate out far too often. I told Jean that I'd like to try more new restaurants that we haven't eaten at before, just not all at once. So other than the occasional post-NOVA foray, it's back to home cooking for awhile!
I think one or two more of the pictures I took may be worth posting. I'll try to get them up on Flickr in the next few days...
I wasn't really happy with most of the indoor shots, so I just put up a couple more from the outdoor series (at Flicker). As usual, I was pretty lazy about taking photographs, so you only get a few, sorry.