Thursday, March 27, 2008

Magnificient disaster

i love fish. never met a fish i didn't want to eat, cooked or sushi-like.

that said, i haven't a clue how to prepare fish at home. witness this steaming disaster that happened, oh, about an hour ago.

i had dreams. . . perfectly steamed tuna steaks with capers and tomatoes, served atop buttery linguine. sigh. . . it was not to be.

came home from work to perfectly thawed tuna steaks. mixed up the following in a small bowl: about a half cup diced tomato (out of a can), one clove of garlic minced, maybe a tablespoon of minced onion, a few tablespoons of capers, splash of olive oil, salt, pepper,done.

made some adorable little aluminum foil packets, each with a peice of tuna and some of the tomato mixture. now, how to steam these darn things? i don't have a steamer, and "the joy of cooking" was rather useless in it's description of steaming. but i went to engineering school! i can improvise! 2 quart sauce pan half filled with simmering water - check. metal grating )you know, one of those curly cue things?) hotplate set on top - check. tin foil packets set on top grating hotplate - check. turn packets every 5 minutes for equal cooking.

when the packets began dripping all over the place, husband suggested we put an old metal baking sheet under the sauce pan, to catch drips. done. it worked. good thing i hate that baking sheet, because it's now going in the trash. it can withstand 500 degrees in the oven, but not direct stove heat.

20 minutes later, the tuna was cooked to death on the outside, raw in the center, the baking dish was obviously warping (and turning a lovely rose color) under the heat and strain, and husband was asking if we were still going to have linquine studded with veggies, and i was starving. and suddenly everything began to smell of tuna.

frustrated, i turned the stove off, popped the tuna into the oven, and sent husband off to taco bell.

10 minutes later, i enjoyed my cooked to death tuna steaks. i hope he brings me back something from taco bell.

folks, this is why i only get fish at restaurants. i know i'll be happy.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

a miss, two hits, and another miss

I thought i loved Charles Stross. Then i read his Halting State. Accerando and Glasshouse were two of the best scifi books i've ever read. Charlie, what happened? The concept of Halting State is just short of brilliant, but the execution just didn't work for me.

I thought i loved Jeff Vandermeer (who i do still, dearly adore), then i started reading Michael Moorcock's Elric Saga. the grace of his prose, the poetic romantisicm of Elric's exquisite pain. Not sure if i've ever run into this depth of intelligence in fiction before. i don't mean smart like tons of 50 cent words, i mean smart like the perfect elegance of a golden mean. and yes, smart can still have plenty of plot holes. it happens. i finished this book a few days ago, and keep staring at it. . . i'm going to read it again cover to cover before it goes back to te library, aren't i? and my review was so. . surface.

Mr Vandermeer, you'll have to deal with being my new second most loved, rather than first. m'kay? (and no, i still haven't taken City of Saints and Madmen back to the library, but the novelty hasn't worn off yet)

After much nagging from a friend, i picked up Catch 22. i'm laughing, i'm crying, i'm avoiding watching the news even more. this really is better than Slaughterhouse Five (not V's best by a long shot, but his most famous, and a very accessible anti-war novel). these days, i could probably be arrested for reading the Catch.

i decided to try cous cous. trying to experiment with grains other than wheat (holy crap, have you seen the bread prices??), and i remembered having a cous cous salad thing a number of years ago and liking it. so in an effort to make my cooking adventure a little easier, i bought one of those prepackaged cous cous dinner things in the ethnic aisle of the grocery store. Note to self: cous cous is good, but don't ever ever, EVER buy those prepackaged cous cous things in the ethnic aisle of the grocery store. those things taste of nothing but salt, so just march your butt back to the bulk section and buy a 1/2 pound of straight cous cous. you'll be much happier.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hamentaschen make me happy

i don't have a lot of luck with pastries, but Hamentashen make me happy.

Hamen-what-shah? Hamentashen, those triangular shaped pastries eating during the Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates how Esther saved the Jewish people from certain destruction (she saved the tribe, and married outside the faith! go Esther!).

I used to always use my Mom's crisco based recipe, and Mom, I love you, but crisco left my dough dry, and too crunchy. Thanks for those Jewish cookbooks you bought me a few years ago, I found the best Hamentaschen recipe! Instead of a cookie-ish dough, it's a tricked-out pastry dough (tricked out? can i say that about a pastry dough?)

the filling is also important. i've learned the hard way DON'T OVERFILL YOUR HAMENTASCHEN! the dough expands, and the filling expands, and they will kind of explode in the oven. although yummy to eat, it doesn't look pretty. it's tempting to cram in as much filling as possible, i know, but these are NOT cannoli! and everything expands. I've had best luck with using the SOLO brand of pie filling, or a 1/2 to 3/4 tsp of melted and cooled chocolate chips per Hamentaschen.

This recipe is from Faye Levy's 1,00 Jewish Recipes. it makes about 3 dozen Hamentaschen. I think the trick is the cooling of the dough before baking.

2 3/4 cups flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 sticks cold butter, cut into little peices and chilled until you're ready to use them.
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
3 tbsp milk, or maybe a little more
another egg for later

combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a big bowl. use a pastry blender to cut in the butter until the consistency is course crumbs (like you're making a pie crust). in a small bowl, beat the egg with the vanilla, then add to the flour mixture. cut with a spatula until the dough begins to come together. mix in milk one tablespoon at a time (how much you need depends on the ambient humidity of your kitchen. seriously) until the dough forms small balls which stick together when pressed. Shape dough into a flat disk, and wrap in plastic wrap, and put in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

to make the Hamentaschen: cut your disk of dough into 4 peices. keep unused peices wrapped in plastic wrap. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it's about 1/8" thick. Cut into rounds with a 3" cookie cutter (i found the small can of Dole Pineapple chunks is perfect), and place just less than 1 tsp of filling in the center. pull three sides to the center and pinch, to form a triangular pastry showing a big of filling at the center. roll out all the dough, and use the scraps too. put Hamentaschen on a greased cookie sheet, and refridgerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 350. brush hamentashen with beaten egg, so they get shiny when the cook. Bake 12 at a time for about 15 minutes, or until they start to go brown on top. Cool on wire racks.

this isn't a picture of my hamentaschen, but this is what they look like:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

a quickie.

Got a few new reviews up:

Edward: Dancing on the Edge of Infinity, by Bruce Taylor - a very bizarre, yet readable novella which might be "scifi as self-help", or it might be a nicely written story about figuring out who you are, and what the hell you think you're supposed to be doing here.

City of Saints and Madmen, by Jeff Vandermeer. God, i loved this book. Vandermeer totally rocks my world.

on deck:
The Elric Saga, part One by Michael Moorcock. Why didn't someone bash me over the head with Moorcock (go ahead and read that sentence outloud out of context!) years ago? this is fricken' awesome! I'm barely 100 pages in, and i can't put this book down. Ever seen Anthony Bourdain's show, where he says something along the lines of "a meal prepared simply, with local ingredients, is often the best"? this book is kinda like that. no overdone analogies, no run on sentences, made up words, or unpronounceable character names. not to say that this is simple, it surely isn't. but oh, is it clean and sharp. and i can't put it down, and i want someone to make a beautiful, flowing anime series out of this. I'd say "i want someone to make a movie out of this!", but you know they'd totally muck it up.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

gotta read Stross twice

half way through Stross's Accelerando, and i've put it down. it's an excellent book, but the library had Stross's Halting State, and i just couldn't resist grabbing it off the "new releases" shelves.

the book is written in 2nd person singular (you did this, you did that. . . ), which mixed with a plot about gaming, gives the impression of a first person shooter experience. this is good. taking place in Scotland, most of our main characters blend english with scotish phonetic slang. this isn't so good. a glossary of scottish slang would be nice. plenty of insane plot twists, that in hind sight, make perfect sense, and i'm sure there is some crazy fun violence to be had before the book is done. but i'm so busy figuring out what the slang and the 75-cent cyberpunk words mean that i'm not enjoying myself as much as i'd like. feels a little like my first time reading Accelerando. oh, i get it. read it twice.

i'm also the proud owner of Martin's A Game of Thrones, the first book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, and Robert Heinlien's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. One day i will own every Heinlien book out there! (and probably every Martin book as well, but that's a pretty realistic goal).

might be offline for a while, i have a big family wedding this weekend. Did you ever see "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"? yeah, it's like that.