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Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Quick Update: The Week In Review

I'm working this weekend, so I'm just posting this for when things slow down a bit and I can expand on some of the topics listed.

This week has been quite full and exciting. Everything kicked off with a job interview that (if I am the lucky winner) would allow me to focus on the tech side of things, apart from simply keeping up to date by reading the latest news articles. I made it to round two, so we'll see what next week yields. This would add to my current portfolio of freelance writer, editor, culinary alchemist, eBay entrepreneur, and...whatever the heck else I do keep money coming in and have fun in the process.

The next thing really took me by surprise. I've been a staff member and occasional writer for VFXG.org for a few months now, and since my experience is more on the writing/editing/directing side of things when it comes to movies, I was asked to interview Scott Ross about the Digital Domain debacle that's been in the news as of late. The interview was very insightful, the readership increased because of it, and I got to be a journalist for once. The whole thing can be found here.

I'm doing a thing I've wanted to do, but since the concept of journalism collapsed as I was exiting college, it never seemed like a reality. Sort of like turning on your faucet and daydreaming about how you wish you could fetch water from the well. The good thing is that in this day and age (if one chooses not to be ignorant), there are enough sources to check your facts. Because he was the founder of Digital Domain, Scott Ross decided to give me a number of facts that were overlooked by a number of the "major" news outlets (WSJ, I'm looking at you) - and you can't really get more authentic than information that comes from the source, before it gets filtered a million different ways. I like writing things that people can see. Most of my time is spent writing very dry manuals and info guides that are used within organizations. It's good to have an audience.

On the entertainment side of things, MechWarrior Online Closed Beta was announced this week, and I was sent an invitation. The game is gorgeous, and no matter what 'mech I pilot, it walks and moves with all the grace I do in real life - like a goose trying to land on ice, only armed with nuclear warheads. Anyone who likes explosions or the MechWarrior franchise should definitely get this game. My only complaint is not being able to take things for a spin before joining a game. I like to know how to use each 'mech before I start spinning in circles and launching everything at once.

In other news, Torchlight 2 was released last Thursday. With a team consisting of developers from Blizzard North, this is the way the sequel to Diablo II should have been. I'm not just saying that because everything's not brown and red like some late-90s metal album. Torchlight 2 has refined mechanics (I like not having to click on every little gold piece to collect treasure); a single-player mode that doesn't require a constant collection; enough story to justify exploring the game and killing clicking on things; and crafting that isn't too extensive to the point of detracting from the fun. Oh, and skill trees make sense, and allow for a lot of customization. And pets! (Yes, I am aware there were pets in the first Torchlight game, but it's less awkward than your Amazon companion in Diablo II - and you were using that NPC like a mule.) If you don't have Torchlight 2, or you found your Diablo III game gathering dust after the first week, you need to get this game.
More game, less server delay.
Cooking's been rather low-key (or take out) simply because of how busy things have been here, so I have no recipes to share. 

I think that's pretty much it. I did receive everything for my week-long Halloween vacation to Disney World next month, but unless you get excited by looking at plane tickets, I'm going to save the details about that until after I return (and have some caffeine in me).






Sunday, September 16, 2012

Early Autumn Soup

Today was rainy, and there's been a bit of a chill in the air (says the man in the middle of Texas), so we decided to make soup. Once again, in order to show that I'm a little more sensitive to the dietary habits of those who try to avoid animal products, I will offer substitutions throughout this recipe (mostly at the beginning in order to spare you the horrors of cooking meat caught on camera). Those substitutions will be typed in italics, so you can pick them out of the line-up.

To start off this recipe, you're going to need the following:

1 bottle of red wine
1/2 pound of rice
1 quart of beef or vegetable broth
2 pounds of small roasting potatoes, cut into chunks
2 heads of garlic
3 large fresh poblano peppers (avoid the dried ones for the sake of this recipe)
4-6 spicy chicken sausages (cut into bite-sized pieces) or spiced, firm tofu (sauteed)
1/2 pound of stew meat or squash, peppers, mushrooms, cut into chunks
1 yellow onion
A bunch of your favorite herbs and spices, added to taste (I suggest Worcestershire sauce, onion/garlic powder, a little bit of salt (or seasoned salt)
1 can of salsa ranchero (or you can add chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chile colorado, or anything else to give it a bit more of a kick)

The first step is to pre-heat your broiler. While it's warming up, remove the stem and seeds from the poblano peppers. Scalp the heads of garlic. Place peppers and garlic heads on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Shove the baking sheet in the oven until the peppers begin to blister (about 10 minutes). Remove the baking sheet, turn the peppers over, brush everything with olive oil (again) and place then back under the broiler.

Note: You can take this time to chop the potatoes, sausage and other items, or to saute the tofu. It's a good use of time.

Now lets get the pot going on the stove. I recommend a 3-5 gallon pot. Add the broth and pour in half of the bottle of wine (which leaves the cook with a nice bonus), and bring everything to a boil. Next, add the rice, potatoes, and any other vegetables you're using that will need thorough cooking in order to become soft.
This is what it should look like for the next 30 minutes or so.
After about half an hour, test the rice, potatoes and other things to be sure they are tender and thoroughly cooked, and bring the heat down to a low simmer.

Remember the poblano peppers and garlic? Remove the individual cloves and throw them into your food processor with the peppers and the large onion. you want everything finely chopped, but you don't want to make a puree. 

There is no escape!
Once you've run these once whole ingredients through the food processor, add them to your simmering pot, along with the contents of the can of salsa ranchero/chile colorado/your red Mexican sauce of choice. Now add the sausage (or fried tofu).

Now the vegetarians and vegans can rest their eyes for a bit. As a matter of fact, they can just let the pot cook - stirring it every once in a while until all of the flavors have melded properly, and then enjoy.

For the rest of us, we are going to be using our remaining ingredient: stew meat.

For this, you want to make sure it's seasoned with Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder onion, powder - basically, whatever flavors you think would be a nice addition to the soup. Now pan-fry the meat until it's medium rare (remember it's getting thrown into the pot, where it will cook even more so don't over-do it the first time around).
Can you tell we love using our pans?

Now dump the contents of the pan into the pot, and stir everything together. Check up on it every 10 minutes or so until you see something like this:

Now you're ready to curl up with a movie, book, loved one, or simply steal away with a bowl for yourself so you can enjoy the colder weather in comfort. You could also share with good friends - I guess - but some things are just too good to share. That's why you get pictures and a recipe, while I enjoy the real thing.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Vanilla Orange Cheesecake (With Booze)


Warning: The following is not a vegan-friendly recipe. While it comes nowhere near the atrocities I've committed against the animal kingdom with bacon, lamb, and other things that make life enjoyable, it nevertheless contains ingredients which are prohibitive to the vegan lifestyle. To ameliorate this, I have taken it upon myself to remove all of the offensive materials and offer you an alternative recipe containing only the ingredients which are allowed by herbivorous epicureans:

1 bottle of your favorite orange liqueur
1 bag of mandarin oranges

Preparation:

Put mandarin orange segments in a container. Drown them in the booze. Wait 4-12 hours. Consume.

Now that we're done with that, we can move on to the actual recipe.

Last month, when I made a Bailey's Irish Cream Cheesecake, I decided I would experiment with a new type of cheesecake every month. As this month is my girlfriend's Birthday, she wanted an orange and vanilla cheesecake. Using a wonderfully versatile recipe (thanks to the amazing Judith Tarr), a made some modifications, crossed my fingers a lot, and hoped for the best.

The hardware you will need for this recipe includes:
  • A Food Processor
  • A 9-inch Springform Pan
  • An Oven
  • Measuring Cups/Spoons (optional)

The Crust

Perhaps the easiest part of this experiment, I decided to star off with the following:
One of these things is not just for kids anymore. I'll let you figure out which.
1 Box of Nilla Wafers
2 Tbsp. Butter (softened)
2 Tbsp. Ice Water

Open the box of Nilla Wafers and dump the entire contents into the food processor. Add the butter. Mix on the highest setting until everything is pulverized. Add the ice water as it is mixing to help everything firm up a little bit, so you're not pouring out vanilla sand into your cake pan.


Press the mixture into the cake pan until it evenly covers the bottom. You might want to use the bottom of a sturdy glass to press everything down, or (when diplomacy fails) use your knuckles to make sure the crust is pressed into the edges.

At this point, you can start preheating your over to 325°F

The Cheesecake Part (otherwise you'll just be making a big cookie)

To make the eponymous part of the cheesecake, you will need the following:
Not pictured: 5 large eggs, because the chicken was still in interrogation.
5 (8oz.) Packages of Cream Cheese (softened)
1 and 3/4 C. Sugar
3 Tbsp. Flour
4 Tsp. Vanilla (cruelly extracted) 
1 Tsp. Salt
5 Large Eggs

Put all of the ingredients into the food processor (it truly is a magical machine), and blend everything on the highest setting until you have a smooth, creamy mixture. Now comes the fun part. Into the food processor goes...
About 2 cups of this.
...your favorite orange liqueur! You can use Grand Marnier, Tang mixed with Devil's Springs Vodka, whatever you personally prefer. For the sake of this experiment, however, we bought a nice bottle of Orange X.O.
Always make sure there is enough left over for the chef
Once again, turn up the speed on the food processor until everything is thoroughly blended. When everything is finished, pour everything into the spring-form pan (on top of that cookie crust you made a little while ago). 
Looks...pretty boring, actually. But just wait.
Now that the oven is at the right temperature, you can put the cake in to bake. It takes about one hour and twenty minutes so go off and read, watch something horrible on Netflix, have a drink, or whatever you like doing that fills up this time (I suggest getting half-way through the introduction of your favorite Final Fantasy game).

Now that the time has passed, turn off the oven and peek inside. You should have something that resembles this:
Look! You made a thing!
If your cheesecake looks anything like the above picture, then you did it right! Now leave the cheesecake in the oven to cool as the oven cools. This prevents the cheesecake from splitting and forming giant chasms due to the sudden change in temperature. (Many thanks to my mother for this tip, after I made that very mistake with my first cheesecake.)

Topping

As the cheesecake is cooling (for the next 3-4 hours) it's time to prepare the oranges and the glaze that both go on top. For this you will need:

4 Cans of Mandarin Oranges
The Remaining Orange Liqueur
1 Figurative Ton of Honey (give or take one boatload)

Drain the juice from the cans of oranges into a medium sized sauce pan, and dump the oranges in a bowl. 
This image is here just in case you can't follow simple instructions
To the sauce pan, add the remaining orange-flavored booze, and enough honey so that you begin to contemplated how hard the bees worked, and how good exploitation tastes.
Is a honeybee not entitled to its spit? "No," says the man in the kitchen, "It belongs to me!"
Now it's time to pretend you're making caramel. Bring the contents of the sauce pan to a frothy, roiling boil for about 15 minutes. Keep stirring! You don't want this to burn. Rather, you want it to simply reduce and thicken. Turn off the burner and keep stirring as it cools. When you are done, you should have something that looks like this:
Induction: Reduction. Conclusion: Confection.
Now it's time for the Arts and Crafts portion of this experiment. Take the bowl of mandarin orange segments and spiral them outward from the center of the cake. (If you do this from the outside to the center, you will end up with a small mountain of oranges in the middle.)
Almost finished
Finally, pour the glaze on top, marvel at your own prowess, and then stick the cake in the refrigerator to let everything firm up for a bit.
Yes, you are that damn good!
During this time, you might opt to take a nap, read some more, finish that Final Fantasy tutorial so you can figure out which button to press so that a menu pops up on the screen to let you know what all the buttons do, or contemplate your navel. 

After you realize you may have waited too long, remove the cake from the refrigerator, unshackle it from the ring of the spring-form pan, call over those in proximity, and soak up the adulation. Now size up who might give you the greatest praise, or reciprocate in some way, and select that person to receive the first slice. (If you are making this for your significant other''s Birthday, then your motives should be less utilitarian, or it will come through in the taste.)
You know it's good because it's messy.
And there you have it! Vanilla Orange Boozy Cheesecake!























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