Tuesday, January 27, 2009

end of winter eats, two book reviews, and one book that scared me.

it's been a long winter, and it's not over yet. I've done plenty of stews, plenty of hot pots, plenty of meat / potatoes / barley / comfort food. know what? i could really use some green stuff and some fruit. you know, stave off that scurvy?

Here is a simple winter fruit bread and salad that use some of the same ingredients, which makes it really easy to make both dishes on the same day. The bread also goes great dipped in the salad dressing or used for french toast.

What I call winter bread, your Mom or Grandma might make for Christmas. To me, it's just a tasty, fruity, invigorating winter bread - Stollen! This is a german version that I found in The Breadwinners Cookbook, with slight modifications, since I couldn't find any candied orange or lemon peel.


you'll need:
1 cup raisins
1 orange
1 lemon
1/4 cup rum
1 pkg dry yeast
1/4 warm water
1 cup milk
2/3 cup butter
1/4 honey
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 eggs
approx 4 cups flour
3/4 cups slivered almonds
another tbsp butter

with a very sharp, serrated knife, peel the top later of the peel off the lemon and the orange. this is a little like zesting, but you want a thicker layer of skin than just the zest. It will probably come off in chunks, so be prepared to slice the chunks very thinly. Soak the fruit peels and raisins in rum for an hour, stirring occasionally. drain and reserve rum.

sprinkle yeast into warm water and add a little bit of the honey. let stand about 10 minutes. heat the milk and butter on the stove over medium low heat just until the butter melts, then set aside. when cooled, pour into a large bowl. add honey, salt, drained rum (keep fruits aside for now), and almost extract. then mix in the eggs and the yeast. Add the flour one cup at a time, to make a soft dough. you may need more or less flour, and the dough will appear stickier than it really is because of all the butter. dredge the fruits in a few tbsp flour, and add to the mixture along with the almonds. mix well, and knead for about 10 minutes. place in a greased bowl, and put it in a warm place to rise for about an hour.

punch down, and divide into two peices. roll each peice out into a large oval. brush the top of the each oval with melted butter, then roll up tightly, and brush the top with a little more melted butter. place on a greased cookie sheet to rise for another hour. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes. let cool on racks before slicing or ripping apart and eating. Mom always said don't eat bread right out of the oven, it will give you a stomach ache!

That lemon and orange you just destroyed by semi peeling? don't throw 'em away, you'll need them for this easy and addictive salad.

adapted from one of my many Mediterranean Cookbooks:

Morrocan Date and Orange Salad
1 small romaine, bib, gem, or other interesting lettuce
about 3/4 cup carrots, very thinly sliced
2 oranges (one of them being the one from Stollen)
about 1/3 cup dried dates, chopped (look for these near the raisins at the grocery store)
about 1/3 cup dried figs (also near the raisins at the store)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
the juice of 1 lemon (remember the lemon from the Stollen? use that)
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt

clean lettuce, and tear into bite sized peices. put in a big bowl. put the carrot on top of the lettuce. peel and segment the oranges, and place the segments around the lettuce on the edges of the bowl. sprinkle the dates, figs and almonds on top. to make the dressing, combine the lemon juice, salt and sugar, and mix well. Sprinkle the dressing over the salad, and serve immediately.

I've made the salad twice in two weeks. that's how good it is.

Onto book news! I know it's been ages, but i've got some new book reviews up:

China Mieville's The Scar, my hands down favorite Mieville book

Tim Powers' Three Days to Never, not a bad book by any means, but not his best work.

I'm working on a review for S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire, and this better be part of a series, because it kind of doesn't end. I can't believe it took me this long to discover Stirling, he (she?) is the real deal. Dies the Fire starts at the end of the world. Some kind of EMP goes off, and everything electronic poops out, and some stuff that isn't electronic poops out too. the story follows a few family groups, and their survival strategy. Luckly, each group has a few people trained in wilderness survival, old school weaponry (can you say bows and arrows?), and medical knowledge. the scenes of fighting off the cannibals gave me enough nightmares, and that was before I realizes that in this kind of future, i would be beyond useless. my expensive formal education and fancy resume would make me a prime candidate to be left by the roadside. that's what scared the shit out of me. Longer book review coming.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Not so much a recipe as . . .

Sometimes i just want to through a bunch of stuff together and hope that it tastes good. about half the time I win. means next week i'm going to have two experiments that don't taste real good.

Berry Cobbler (very similar to Peach cobbler
1 bag frozen sweet cherries
1 bag frozen raspberries
thaw frozen fruit at room temperature for about an hour, or all day in the fridge.

1 1/3 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
5 tbsp cold butter, cut into peices
1/2 cup milk

2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp butter

preheat oven to 375 and grease a 8x8 baking dish pour fruit in. in a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, and baking powder together. blend butter in with a pastry knife. when well blended, add milk and stir well, adding more milk if needed to make a soft dough. put dough by the heaping tablespoon on top of fruit. sprinkle brown sugar on top and dot with butter. bake at 375 for 45-55 minutes.

and this is what comes of craving beans, lentils and rice, and really not wanting to go out to the store on a snowy winter day:
Sort of Southwestern Rice
Small onion, chopped
1 cup diced carrots
olive oil
1 can chicken broth (or veggie broth, or water)
1/4 cup green or brown lentils (dry)
1 can kidney beans
1 cup salsa
1 cup uncooked rice
1 cup frozen corn
1 tsp chili powder
good pinch hot pepper flakes

saute onion and carrots in oil till soft. add broth and lentils and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 15 minutes. still in all remaining ingredients, and again bring to a boil. cover and simmer another 25 minutes until rice and lentils are tender. If it starts to burn, add some water.

Book news is also on the tasty side, but probably won't clear your sinuses like that rice dish is bound to.

I'm still deciding how I feel about Tim Power's Three Days to Never. from page 10 on, i couldn't put the book down, and it's got the usual Powers paranormal time travelling relic hunters. I think i finished the book in 2 or 3 days, because it's one cliff hanger after another, after car chase, after near death experience, after real death experience. Quite the ride. But thinking back, there were bits and peices that were muddled, and just didn't resonate with me. Powers is till on my fave authors list, but i think he's done better work that this.

I gave up about 100 pages into Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. It had the typicall cyberpunk flavors - a virtual reality world (think Second Life) where people go with their avatars to hang out with other people, do business deals, etc. and you know what? Cyberpunk really isn't all that and a bag of chips. watching Hiro Protaganist (is that sarcasm or lazyness?) fart around his virtual world having all his dreams come true got old fast. In a world where you can have anything you want with a snap of the fingers, nothing is special, and nothing is worth anything. SO that one went back to the library unfinished. and of course, i can't take something back to the library without bringing something home.

I was hearing about Ai Yazawa's Paradise Kiss manga a few years ago, but i never saw it at any bookstore. It looked cute, but i couldn't find it anywhere!! Now it's everywhere, and I got volumes 1 and 2. First off, I hate super cute super saccharine super lovey dovey manga. give me some comedy, some drama, anything other than the two forlorn lovers who could never tell each other how they feel staring forlornly into each others eyes across the courtyard. Boring! that said, Paradise Kiss is the cutest, most romantic manga I've ever read, without ever crossing over into the boring/barf arena. Highly suggested.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Girl Genius vs Games i don't suck at

It's been a snowy week. Usually, that would mean i'm cooking and reading like mad, but the evilness known as Guitar Hero has entered my home, and is sucking my time like you wouldn't believe. i finally found a video game i don't suck at. On New years I played Settlers of Catan for the first time, and won by a long shot. maybe i should rename this blog "games i don't suck at". what i really hate about guitar hero is that it's so fun, i don't want to practice my real guitar.

been making some oddly mediocre stuff lately. either rehashing old recipes, or trying new ones that aren't the best. Note to self: raw onions and carrots don't work well in a hot pasta dish, and pork is not the best chili meat.

I did have one success, and this one is so simple as to be rediculous.

Kidney Beans w/Tomatoes

olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp dried cilantro
good pinch or two of hot pepper flakes
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
salt & pepper

saute onion in oil over medium heat. cook until onions are soft, but not browned. stir in tomatoes, cilantro and hot pepper flakes. simmer for about 5 minutes so it can thicken a little. stir in kidney beans and season with salt & pepper. simmer another few minutes to heat beans through. Enjoy.

The comic shop will be my doom. We lent out our Girl Genius volumes 1-3 and got it back over new years. After re-reading the entire thing (and realizing the quality of the binding was utter crap), we realized we had volumes 1,2,3,4 and six. no five? off to the comic shop to rectify the situation. all six volumes in hand, i got to reading the entire series. and realizing the binding was still utter crap. Someone should really tell the Foglio's that steampunk/gaslight wasn't designed for comedy. Agatha is the bomb and gets all the boys, the Jagermonsters are rocking my world even more, and damnit, i want to know who Agatha's father is! and it would help to know who Gilgamesh's mother is as well. Regardless of my terrible superquick summary, if you like steampunk, or you like romance, or you like comedy, check this series out. the binding might be shit, but the story is worth it. So get to writing more Phil & Kaja!! or us fans are going to start rioting in your front yard to find out what happens!!

I also looted the library right before New Years, but haven't been plowing through the books at my usual speed. damn video games eating my time.

Brian Vaughan's The Escapists is a psuedo sequel to Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and it's a blast. Written mostly in comic book form, it takes places right now, where a young man spends his inheritance to purchase the rights to the original Escapist character. trouble, adventure, and romance ensues. The artwork is beautiful, the story line is nice, and I couldn't ask for a better homage to Michael Chabon's Amazing Adventures novel.

Walking the Dog, by Charles Davis. This is one odd book. but it's full of dry satire, one of my favorite flavors. If Kurt Vonnegut was friendlier, and had a more varied sense of humor, he and Charles Davis would be bosom brothers. because of the odd style, i think readers will either love this book or hate it.