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Monday, April 30, 2007

Recipe Review 4/29/07

It is with some surprise that I have come to realize I have not posted any recipe reviews in nearly a month! Granted, with all my weekend runs to the Cities during April I haven’t been making as much, but I simply overlooked the few dishes I have made. I will correct that error now:

Roasted Cauliflower (Cooks Illustrated, Jan/Feb 07, pg 20) 8
This dish was so...simply delicious! It’s a snap to pull together and can complement just about any main dish. Preheat the oven to something like 450*. Yes! That hot! Coat wedges of cauliflower in olive oil and if you like a dash of heat, add some chili powder. Bake, turning once to prevent burning on the sheet. And serve! I made one of the recommended side sauces: curry yogurt sauce and really enjoyed it. I’ll be making this dish again - probably as a main coarse with some rice.

Indian Style Vegetable Curry (Cooks Illustrated, May/June 07, pg 15) 8
Oh. My. Goodness. LOVED THIS! This dish was super good and fairly simple to assemble. I highly recommend mise en place as it comes together much like a Chinese stir-fry. The veggies were cauliflower, potatoes, onion, peas, garlic, ginger, garam masala, and curry powder. I did cut back on my curry powder as I have "hot" and the recipe called for "sweet". It makes an nice thick, saucy dish that is perfect over basmati rice (which I flavored with some saffron). One warning - it does make a potful. I think this would freeze well so a batch could be made ahead of time and individual servings frozen for later meals.

New York Style Crumb Cake (Cooks Illustrated, May/June 07, pg 23) 7
I made this for Secretaries Day for the office and I think it was well received. I had to drop it off then head down to our downtown office so I didn’t get to hang around and watch peoples reactions. Amanda e-mailed me later and said she thought it was really good. This was easy to make: you start with the crumb topping by mixing melted butter, cinnamon, flour and sugar then set that aside to solidify. Then make the cake itself. It doesn’t make a lot (like fill up the pan a lot), which surprised me, but it bakes up really nice and when the crumb topping is added it makes a beautiful coffee-cake style cake. One note - I only had a glass 8x8 pan, and the cake did over bake somewhat. Next time I would put it in a metal pan.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (KAF Bakers Companion - Culinary in the Desert Blog) 8
Again, this was for Secretaries Day. What attracted me to this recipe was it’s use of whole wheat flour, otherwise it was a pretty basic banana chocolate chip muffin recipe. This made twelve, nicely moist and lightly crumbly muffins. I did get one phone call from a co-worker (yes, he actually called!) to thank me for the treats and relay that he liked the muffins. That was nice. I’ll be making these again.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tender to the Bone by Ruth Richl

Tender at the Bone comes before Comfort me with Apples, which I actually read first. Oops...oh well. I enjoyed Comfort Me quite a bit and so I was delighted when I found Tender at Half Price Books earlier this year.

In Tender at the Bone, Reichl examines at her formulative years and follows her growing love of food as a small child and later an adolescent. She starts off the book with a very witty tale of how she would save people from her mothers cooking and very questionable food safety habits. She felt it her duty to protect these unassuming guests from a gastronomic mishap.

Later we follow Ruth to Canada, where she is dumped unceremoniously in a French boarding school because her mother thought she wanted to learn French. Here she befriends a rather wealthy schoolmate, whose Father discovers Ruth loves to eat. This girls parents only eat together rarely, but now Ruth finds herself there nearly every weekend and holiday dining with the parents. She does learn French in the meantime...

...and so the chapters go. We follow her through her first job, college, marriage, a trip to Europe, and home again. We follow her through food markets, her mother's social events, restaurants, and those people Ruth makes food for.

Tender is just a delight to read. Ruth's family is rather dysfunctional and her interactions with her mother and father are witty, wry, sad, and humorous all at the same time. And through it all winds the foods she eats, the food she makes and those people in all sorts of food industries. I recommend this book if you like reading about people and food.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Winzer Stube, Hudson, WI

My travels to the Cities over Easter Weekend also brought me to the Winzer Stube in Hudson. This is a German restaurant that has been receiving acclaim in the Twin Cities and metro areas as being very good and authentic. My folks were very kind to my request to go here for dinner when I came down to visit.

We had reservations but they weren't necessary for a Thursday evening. I think on a Friday or Saturday these would be a must. The space the restaurant occupies used to be a couple of other restaurants who have since faded from memory, but the inside was much as I remembered it but with German accents. In fact, we were seated in the same booth I had sat in the last time I visited the space (different restaurant) umpity years ago. The low ceilings and wooden beams really contributed to a Old World feel and I could almost imagine myself back in Tubingen.

My folks ordered a pilsner and an ale, I stuck with hot lemon water as I was feeling a bit tired from my travels. Then the ordering began: I chose the rolladen with spatzle and cabbage, the Mother ordered the tenderloin in spatzle with mushroom gravy and the Father had a sausage plate. While waiting for the food, I sampled the ales my folks ordered and found them to be cold and delicious. It was a shame I was tired otherwise I would have gotten one. A small loaf of warm homemade bread with whipped unsalted butter was brought to the table to tide us over. Very good.

The food came after an acceptable wait and was piping hot. My plate was full with spatzle. red and white cabbage, and two substantial rolls of "rolladen" - thinly sliced and pounded meat wrapped around a pickle spear and a slice of bacon and poached and baked. Delicious. Now the Mothers dish came in it's own little pot and was absolutely fantastic. I kept stealing some of her gravy to put over my spatzle. I didn't sample any of the Fathers as I had plenty of my own, but he consumed it all so I can only figure it was good. Nobody left hungry and the leftover spatzle and rolladen went home with the parents for later.

Approximate prices:
Rolladen plate: $16.00
Tenderloin in Gravy: $22.00
Sausage plate: $15.00 (I think)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Recursion by Tony Ballantyne

This is the book groups selection for April. I'm not entirely certain how or why it passed the convoluted and rather involved voting process, but it did. So I read it (how could I not?)

The story begins with Herb, who is re-visiting a planet where he planted a Von Neumann Machine (a self replicating AI) programmed to convert the planet into a city without anybody knowing. Unfortunately for him, his grand plan failed and he has destroyed the planet. Double unfortunate for him, the Environmental Agency (EA) does know about it and Herb becomes acquainted with Robert Johnston who gives him the option of spending the rest of his life floating in liquid gel as computer constructs of his mind work in the Oort Cloud or to follow Robert and save the universe.

The story then moves over to Eva. Eva lives in a world where everything she does is watched. She desires escape. She plans a vacation to Marseilles that ends...somewhat differently than what she planned. There she meets Katie Kirkham, child genius. Nicholas and Allison who convince her they must all escape the Watcher.

And last we have Constantine. Constantine is carrying around three personalities in his head and is on a two year secret mission. He finds out that he is actually a computer simulation caught by a rival company and that his own company wishes to destroy this version of him very, very badly.

The three story lines do come together at the conclusion of the book, where the reader finds out some moderately interesting little twists. I didn't find this book to be wholly gripping or a "must read" (mind you, I just finished Cyteen and that is coloring my opinion). The three story lines had their problems, especially when they came together, and the plot needed a bit of work, but overall it was a satisfactory story that moved along and kept my interest.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sajiya, Grand Ave, St. Paul

In my quest to try different sushi restaurants in the Twin Cities Metro area, there has been one I have been wanting to go to for quite some time, and circumstance, until now, denied my request.

Sajiya is located on Grand Ave in St. Paul, right across the street from my favorite spice store, Penzey's. It is my understanding that they recently remodeled, but since I hadn't been there before it made little difference to me. In fact, my first impression of the place was that it looked a bit on the worn side.

On this occasion I was on my own and had a hour to fill before a hair cut appointment. I took advantage of the opportunity and decided to try the sushi. I was greeted promptly and asked if I would prefer a table or the sushi bar. The place was not too busy for a Thursday lunch and the sushi bar was empty. I chose the bar.

The sushi chef was very pleasant and recommended the Chef's Special: 6 California rolls, 6 nigiri, salad, soup and "dessert" for $10.00. I thought that sounded delightful and ordered a green tea to accompany it. The soup and salad came very quickly and I skipped the salad in part because I didn't want to fill up on lettuce and in part because it was iceberg lettuce and I didn't want to fill up on iceberg lettuce. Soup was good - a basic miso soup with tofu in nice small cubes.

Service was quick, presentation was very nice and the taste was excellent. The California rolls were artfully arranged in a lovely flower pattern - like a daisy. The nigiri was shrimp, yellowfin, salmon, egg, bluefin and one more that I have forgotten. Everything was bite sized. One of my biggest complaints with sushi places is making the pieces too big to fit in my mouth in one bite. I don't like messy sushi.

The desert piece I couldn't even describe other than it was delicious. It was various pieces of fish all wrapped up with rice, topped with roe and seasoned with a bit of oyster sauce and sesame seeds. I would go back for that alone.

My meal:

Chefs Special $10.00, green tea $2.00, tip $2.00. My tummy...happy.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Minicon 42

How to sum up a lovely 4 day mini-vacation to the Twin Cities that involved one haircut, two new restaurants, one three day convention and some shopping in between? That is truly the question. Hmmm...I'll focus on the convention and write restaurant reviews later.

Every Easter weekend since 1994, I meet up with a long time friend and we head over to Bloomington, MN, for Minicon. On our way over we tend to make a run to Penzey's Spices and Garden of Eden on Grand Ave. We also fit in a quick stop to the Kitchen Window because I was on a quest for some small pots. Lunch is someplace along the way and this year I took her to Everest on Grand, a Nepalese restaurant that I have been to before.

Minicon itself is a science fiction convention that is in its 42nd year. My friend and I have been attending for the last 13-14 years and it still remains a delightful weekend get-away. The guest of honor this year was Charles de Lint and I honestly don't think I've read anything by him.

I did get to a handful of panels:
Does SF Have a Sell-by Date?
The Year in SF
Minions and How to Acquire Them
If it's Tuesday, this Must be Doomsday
The City as Character
Why Heinlein?
Hard SF as a Moving Target

I guess that was more than a handful...didn't seem like a lot until I wrote them all down. The panels this year were just okay. A lot seemed to wander drastically off topic, but I had no less than two knitting projects to keep me occupied so I was happy. My only other complaint was they didn't schedule in lunch or dinner breaks so a couple of things I might have gone to were passed over in favor of sustenance.

In between and during panels we worked on our knitting - my friend completing two dishcloths and a small bag for felting while I struggled with learning how to knit in the round on tiny needles - and watched a couple of bicycling documentaries: Hell on Wheels (Team CSC) and Overcoming (Team T-Mobile). Really cool DVD's. My sister and her fiance joined us on Saturday for lunch, delighting us with their witty humor.

Next year Alistar Reynolds is the guest of honor. Maybe I'll try and read something of his before I attend.

And! Just because I am super excited, my friend and I are going to Worldcon in Denver of 2008! I have attended Worldcon in Boston and Chicago and I am looking forward to heading west for another.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Recipe Review 4/9/07

This was going to be my Minicon post, but I just don't have the time today to write up my review. So I'm going to post about Minicon on Thursday and do a recipe review instead to tide folks over. Stay tuned!

This past week was a mixture of success and failures. I don't have many failures, but when I do, yaowza, they are doozies. Only two recipes for review this week.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread (CL Mar 07, pg 142) 1

This bread had good promise and failed to deliver. It wasn't hard to assemble, it rose nicely, it did what bread was supposed to do in the oven...except on the inside. Both loaves of bread "shelled", which means that I had undercooked bread with a huge hole in the middle. Of course you don't know this until you cut into it then suddenly you are in a state of quiet dismay. I'm not sure if it was something I did wrong (yeast was good, rise times were appropriate, oven was preheated by a good hour) or if it was the recipe. Often when a recipe is a failure I am hesitant to make it again because I've already wasted those ingredients once and I'm not keen on doing it again. But the little bit of ends that I did have tasted good so, we'll see.

Sweet Corn Chowder with Salmon (CL Mar 07, pg 154) 6

This recipe was incredibly simple: saute onion, add potato and broth, simmer till potato is done. Add frozen corn, cream of corn, and a package of salmon. Heat through and serve. I found this a titch salty and I dunno, the salmon flavor a bit strong for my taste. On the other hand, the creamy consistency was just perfect and I loved the addition of the cream of corn. It was a good soup to have while it was snowing (we got 12" total) and blowing outside in April, but some flavor aspect of it could use a little tweaking. I had it mostly for lunches with some Frito's and grape tomatoes.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Cyteen by CJ Cherryh

Wow. This was an incredible book. I don't know that my review will even come close to doing the concepts and ideas justice. I had some initial trepidation at picking this one up: it's huge (dictionary huge), Cherryh's works tend to have strange grammatical structure, and the last book I read of hers was a bit of a slog (Downbelow Station). That all being said, this was an awesome book and I was disappointed when it finished.

In the most simplified review, 17 year old Justin Warrick makes a bad judgement call when he sends his friend and companion Grant fleeing to the outskirts of Reseune because the powerful Ariane Emory was going to take him away. This has political, personal and internal ramifications that will last for the next 20 years. Justin is sexually blackmailed by Ari and when his father Jordan finds out, Jordan confronts Ari and somewhere in there Ari is found dead.

Jordan is exiled under the strictest security arrangements, while Justin and Grant are held hostage and suspicion for the next 20 years. Justin is a mental basket case and he never quite figures out who wants what from him. Resenue decides to clone a replicate of Ariane Emory and return her to a position of galactic power and Justin's future becomes intertwined with her fate once again. This is a story of psychological proportions, of mental twists and turns and layers and layers of subterfuge and finesse.

The book wasn't with out it's hiccups - initially I had trouble figuring out the nomenclature of the different levels of humans. There are CIT humans: basically full citizens, often referring to "natural born" man (even if they did come out of a tank) and there are the CIT companions, security forces and menial laborers, the azi. Humans, but somehow through "tapes" they are made, not natural. Some azi do reach CIT status, but not all of them are destined to. And then there was all the psychological terminology that accompanied all of this.

I also had trouble with Justin's plot. He was abused at age 17 by a psych master (as they called Ariane), but her death prevented the her work on him from being completed. I can understand a young man's anguish at having his father ripped from him after the trauma, but he never gets over it. For the next 20 years he pines for his father - the people and the story around him grows, but it's like he's stagnant. Ari 2 figures out what wrong with him, but even by the close of the story I still felt like Justin just hadn't gone anywhere.

And the politics in the book lost me on more than one occasion. There were galactic politics and Resenue politics and the two became so entwined I had a bit of trouble following it. I confess that at times when there was exposition I would skip it because it would be discussed again in about 20 pages.

This book won the Hugo in 1989. I have a feeling it blew the competition out of the water.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Recipe Review 4/2/06

I checked the other night to see how my recipe count is coming this year compared to last year at this time - we are on a roll this year! As of this posting I am up to 37 new recipes for the year. Last year I didn't hit 37 until June! Awesome. Doing well so far.

A couple simple light recipes to reflect spring:

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins 7 (Culinary in the Desert)
These were simple to make and tasted just delightful. A bit of Spring for your mouth. Lemon zest is mixed with granulated sugar, than added to AP flour, WW flour, baking powder and baking soda. This is combined with sour cream, lemon juice, eggs and vanilla and poppy seeds. Fill the baking cups 1/2 full, add a dollup of raspberry jelly, then finish and bake. I opted not to add the powdered sugar glaze over the top. These would be perfect for a spring or summer tea.

Kisir (Ckng Lght, Mar 07, pg 208)
This is a Turkish version of tabouleh. Bulger is mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, water and salt in the bottom of a bowl. Then onions are added, followed by cucumbers (I subbed yellow pepper) chopped tomatoes, more bell pepper, mint and parsley, and finally chickpeas. This concoction then needs to sit for 24-48 hours so it's perfect as a make-ahead dish. I will be rolling this in some lettuce leaves for lunches.

Cod Picatta (Ckng Lght, Mar 07, pg 124) 7
A lovely light dish that assembled in mere minutes. Orzo is brought to a boil and cooked according to the package directions. Chopped grape tomatoes, parsley and seasonings are added and this is set aside. Meanwhile, a fillet of white fish (recipe called for tilapia, I used cod) is lightly dusted in flour and then pan fried. A liquid mixture of white wine, lemon juice and capers are added to the pan to de-glaze it and the subsequent sauce is drizzled over the fish. Total time was about 20 minutes from start to finish. The flavors were very bright with a nice tang from the capers. Yummy. I love capers!

Twice Baked Salmon Potatoes (Ckng Lght, Mar 07, pg 152) 7
This was a really easy and tasty dish! However, the baking times are something to take into consideration, but easily accommodated. I qaurted the recipe again, but this dish is very well suited to making the full amount then freezing portions of it. A baking potato(s) is/are cooked for 50 minutes. Meanwhile (you have 50 minutes after all), combine sour cream, milk, pre-packaged salmon (like chunk tuna), green onions, and Dijon mustard. I made this substitution because 1) I'm not wild about horseradish and 2) my two jars of horseradish were rather outdated (by years).

When the potato(s) is/are done, scoop out the insides leaving a shell. Combine the potato guts with the sour cream-salmon mixture and mix well. Replace in the shells, top with Parmesan cheese and bake for another 15 minutes. This gives you just enough time to clean up the dishes and set the table. Serve! I enjoyed these twice baked potatoes - not too fishy, nice tang from the sour cream and just the right level of spice from the mustard. I would make these again.

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