Saturday, February 28, 2009

My compliments to Robert Silverberg

No updates in a while, been busy. More quicky throwing some food together than actual recipes, but thrown together stuff is tasty too. i cringe to call thrown together stuff a "recipe", as there really isn't a list of stuff I used, a specific order in which it was used, or specific quantities. but this creation was mighty tasty, and i'm as my chickpea addiction knows no bounds, I'm craving some of this stuff right now.

Not a recipe for quick chickpeas
One can chickpeas, drained.
one green onion, sliced thin
good splash of olive oil
small splash balsamic vinegar
little squirt dijon mustard

mix all in bowl, let sit a few minutes, eat. is great in a pita.

doesn't get much simpler, quicker, or pantry-easy than that.

bookswise, i have discovered the university library. If Serious Eats is food pr0n, then the university library is info pr0n. and get this: they have "designated food and drink area", and they don't kick you out till 2am! how awesome is that? yes, I'm lame I know, but being surrounded by so much knowledge is just very comforting for me. and parking is free after 8pm. I been lurking around the Law and Political Theory areas, yes, yes, very boring, but surprisingy readable. if they would just have comfier chairs, or maybe some bean bag chairs, that woudl totally rock.

In non boring book news, I've finally discovered Robert Silverberg, Sure, I see his books all over the place, but i never picked one up. My husband thrust Lord Valentine's Castle, along with all it's aweful 70's style high fantasy cover art into my hands, and told me "If you like Michael Moorcock, you'll probably like this", and he was right. Story is pretty simple, Valentine wakes up knowing his name and where he his, other than that, his memory is gone. Needing work, he ends up with a travelling troupe of jugglers while he tries to figure out who he is and what is going on. Revealed through dreams, he learns that he is the Lord Valentine, who rules on high from the Castle Mount. Through trickery and magic, Valentine has been ousted from his body, and the son of the King of Dreams rules in his stead. Silverberg could have easily gone with high fantasy, high drama, high stakes, and more melodrama than you can shake a hobbit at. But he didn't. This book asks for nothing from the reader. That can sound like an insult, so let me explain. High fantasy requires the reader to remember lineages, worldly histories, lots of drama etc, things that for me can get in the way of enjoying myself. Hard scifi requires the reader to put up with and generally enjoy infodumps, interstellar empires of who knows what, and technobabble and the like. I am not knocking any of these things, but they are requirements that an author makes with a reader. I often enjoy the requirements. Sometimes however, I want nothing more than to sit back, relax, and enjoy myself. Lord Valentine's Castle gives me enjoyment. it gives me relaxation. Reading it is like sitting on the beach on a perfect day, listening to the waves lap on the shore, feeling the warm sun on my face. I have not finished the book yet, but so far it has been pure enjoyment. Maybe i'm misjudging it. Maybe there is plenty of melodrama that i'm missing or skipping over. Maybe Silverberg and his fans will be offended by my saying that the book requires nothing of me. Silverbergs prose is elegant, natural, and witty. If I were to have a son one day, i'd bet good money that the name "Valentine" would be on the boy's birth certificate. Mr Silverberg and fans, if that isn't the highest compliment an author could be paid, I don't know what is.

side note: also started reading S.M. Stirlings The Protector's War, the sequel to Dies the Fire. Either I'm just not in the mood for this right now, or this second book is no where near as good as the first.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pita: It's all about the pockets.

I've always wanted to try making pita bread, but it always looks so daunting! How do you get that perfect bubble inside? Does it puff up into a big ginormous ball in the oven? it looks scary! and the pita I buy at the grocery store doesn't taste so good that I'd want to make a batch of that stuff at home. Grocery store pita tastes like wet cardboard.

But I had a recipe. and my husband pestered me until I psyched myself up. boys and girls, this was so frightfully easy, so wonderfully fun, and so amazingly deliciously perfect, i think I might make a batch again next week. I will never fear the pita again.

note: this recipe called for 100% whole wheat flour. I used 100% unbleached flour, and the results were lovely.

Pita Bread, from The Breadwinner's Cookbook, which sadly, is no longer in print. I have modified only slightly.

Pita Bread
1 pack yeast
1 cup warm water
small dollup of honey
1/8 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
2-3 cups flour, plus a bit more, just in case

Mix yeast in a bowl with 1/4 cup water and the honey. mix well, and let sit 10 minutes. if it doesn't foam up like the head of a beer, your yeast is bad, do the whole thing over again.

in a large mixing bowl, put the remaining water, oil, salt, and foamy yeast mixture. stir in the flour, a half cup at a time, blending each addition in before adding more. When you have a light dough that holds together, flour your hands and knead the dough for abotu 10 minutes, adding more flour if it gets too sticky. after kneading, shape into a ball and roll in a greased bowl. cover, and let sit in a warm place for 2 hours.

punch down, and let rest for 10 minutes. divide the dough into 5 or 6 peices of as equal as possible size. shape each peice in to a ball, knead for a minute or two, and set to rise for 30 minutes. after 30 minutes. place each ball between two sheets of floured wax paper, and carefully roll with a rolling pin (this is where i decided to cheat, and smush the balls down with my fingers. bad idea. The magic pocket of air had already formed, and i killed it. use the wax or parchement paper. use a rolling pin. be gentle) into an 8-10" round that is 1/4" thick.

Dust 2 baking sheets with cornmeal, and put two rounds of dough on each baking sheet. let rest fo 30 minutes. change the oven racks in your oven to have one as close to the bottom as possible, and one about half way up.

Near the end of the rest, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. No, that wasn't a typo, you really want 500 degrees. One baking sheet at a time, put the sheet on the bottom rack for 5 minutes. after five minutes, move it to a top rack, and bake another 3 minutes. it will be all poofy when you take it out, that's the magic air pocket! let breads cool on a rack, they will sink down a little, but it's OK. keep baking, one sheet at a time, 5 minutes on the bottom rack, 3 minutes on a higher rack until you've baked all your pitas, dusting the baking sheets again with cornmeal inbetween breads.

We had these with tuna salad, and I can honestly say i was just ho-hum about pita until I had these. can't wait to make another batch, and i'll use a rolling pin, i promise!

Book news, review of Dies the Fire is up, with a nice little discussion.

Finished reading Tim Powers' On Stranger Tides, what a fun, weird, crazy book! The only Powers book I've come across to completely take place in a historical time, we're in the Caribbean, in the early 1700's. Hey, didn't they just make some movies about this? I'd say Powers ripped someone off, except his book was published in 1988. Blackbeard was trained by escaped slaves in the art of Voodoo, and he uses his powers to find the Fountain of Youth in Florida, but something goes wrong, and now he has ghosts that are, well, attached to him. Innocently involved with pirates and magic and voodoo and love is Jack Shandy, who needs to decide what he wants in live - return to England? approach his uncle who stole an inheritance from his father? rescue a beautiful woman who may have lost her mind before Jack can get to her? A fast paced fun Powers-esque read, On Stranger Tides was recently reprinted, and it's a grand find.

Also reading Lord Valentine's Castle,by Robert Silverberg. THis is my first Silverberg novel, and so far, I'm having a good time. It's got that Michael Moorcock chilled out feeling to it, where the main character, also Valentine, just kind of goes with the flow, and whatever happens, happens. My kinda character.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Recipe catch up

We finally had somewhat of a winter thaw, yay! In the upper midwest, that means you can finally see the parking lots under the snow, and in the early morning hours you can listen for the glacier like cracking sounds of icicles falling off the tops of buildings and plummeting to the ground a few stories below. it his 45 degrees today! heat wave!

so, plenty of hearty easy to make dishes that provide plenty of leftovers to make the rest of the office jealous. (I don't know about you, but i nearly always take dinner leftovers to work for lunch, and i love it when people ask what restaurant my food came from)

Easy Red Beans & Rice
Might not be authentic, but's it's easy, tasty, and healthy.

one onion, diced
olive ol
1 tbsp minced garlic
3/4 cup uncooked rice
can of diced tomatoes
1 1/4 cup water
1 can red beans
1/2 tsp cumin
pinch of hot pepper flakes or chili powder
salt to taste
1/2 tsp cilantro

fry onion in oil till soft. Stir in garlic and rice, and cook, stirring, about a minute, until rice turns translucent. Stir in tomatoes and beans. Add in all other ingredients except the cilantro. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, 20-30 minutes or until rice is tender. Stir occasionally, adding more water if it starts to stick or burn. a few minutes before serving, stir in cilantro.

I make a lot of beany dishes, cuz I loves me some beans. but i know plenty of people who aren't into beans. they're into maybe, pasta. and bacon. so this one's for you.

Chicken Carbonara
(again, might not be all that authentic, but is easy, tasty, and somewhat healthy)
1 pound boneless chicken, diced
1/2 lb bacon
1 lb spaghetti
1/2 cup shredded or grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1/3 cup half and half
salt & pepper
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 heaping cup frozen peas, thawed

in one bowl, mix cheese, eggs, half & half, salt & pepper. In a second bowl, mix wine, broth, and lemon juice. Start boiling some water for the pasta. fry bacon in skillet till crispy, frying in multiple batches if you need to. sautee chicken peices in bacon fat until fully cooked. Deglaze the pan with the wine/broth mixture, and remove from the heat. Is your water boiling yet? toss the spaghetti in. While the pasta is cooking, the chicken can sit in the skillet for a few minutes. Chop the bacon, and that can go in the cooling skillet too. When pasta is done, drain and rinse, and pour into a very large serving dish. pour the egg/cheese mixture on top, and very quickly stir, to cook, but not scramble the eggs. stir in the peas, and all the meat and sauce in the skillet.

although it might get a little hectic while you're cooking, this dish is easily made with affordable pantry items. and the leftovers the next day? divinely awesome!

Not a ton in book news, only one recent review published:
Jim Hines' The Stepsister Scheme, a good book for teenagers, because adults most likely will find the whole thing terribly cliche.

The recent pile of library books includes:
Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma - good read, but more detail than I'm really interested in. I can see why my fellow foodies went nuts over this book, but honestly, for me, it's just OK. i'm about half way through it, and it will probably go back to the library unfinished.

Gordy Slack's The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything - Erin Brockovich meets Church and State. Really, I expected this book to be boring. Who really wants to read 200 pages about a Pennsylvania court case involving a small town school board who wanted to teach intelligent design along side evolution versus a handful of angry parents? seriously, who cares about these peoples backgrounds, where their I.D. textbooks came from, and who paid for the lawyers? I care. and you should too. for a "boring" court case book, Gordy Slack kept it short, witty, educational, and utterly fascinating. I read this book in two days. for non-fiction, that's a record for me.

I've been buying books like crazy lately, plenty of good sales and friends of the library book days. new books to my collection include:
Went to a "Friends of the LIbrary" booksale today, all paperbacks three for a dollar unless otherwise marked. 35 cents a book? I more than that in late fines every month. picked up:

The Davinci Code, by Dan Brown
Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Eighth Day, by John Case
The Broker, by John Grisham
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (a beautiful gold leaf edition!)
The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver
Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver
Titan, by John Varley
Night Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko

that's enough to keep even me busy for a while. Did I mention i got another library card? now i've got 4. is that sad, or cool?