Festive Cranberry & Cinnamon Bagels

Noticing that our bagel supply was running low and with two kids who’d happily fight to the death for the last one if it came down to it, I decided this weekend to dust off an old recipe and restock using the ingredients in our cupboard. For a festive spin, I opted to make cranberry and cinnamon bagels, and served a few at my family’s regular Sunday brunch. Little did I know that they would turn out to be such a hit that not one from the resupply would survive to the end of the day, and I’ve been pressed into making them again in time for breakfast on Christmas Day (or, as Ruth suggested as she and Robin fought for the last one in a manner more-childish than the children ever would, I could “make them any time I feel like it; every week maybe?”).

Cooling rack full of rustic bagels.
Even the slightly-charred one turned out to be flipping delicious.

If you’d like to make your own, and you totally should, the recipe’s below. I prefer volumetric measurements to weight for bread-making: if you’re not used to doing so, be sure to give your dry ingredients a stir/shake to help them settle when measuring.

Festive Cranberry & Cinnamon Bagels

Yield: 8 bagels
Duration:

Bagels ready to go into the oven.
When my dough is unevenly shaped I call it “rustic”. These are rustic bagels, ready to go into the oven.

Ingredients

  • 360ml warm water
  • 5ml (1tsp) vanilla extract
  • 60ml clear honey
  • white of 1 egg
  • sunflower/vegetable oil for greasing
  • 10g instant yeast
  • 950ml strong white bread flour
  • extra flour for kneading
  • 40ml golden caster sugar
  • generous pinch salt
  • 240ml dried fruit, half cranberries (sweetened), half raisins
  • heaped teaspoon ground cinnamon
Bagel
Eyes on the prize: this is what you’re ultimately aiming for. You might even make a less-“rustic” one.

Directions

  1. Whisk the yeast into the water and set aside for a few minutes to activate.
  2. Combine the flour, one quarter of the sugar, and salt.
  3. Make a well, and gradually introduce the water/yeast, mixing thoroughly to integrate all the flour into a sticky wet dough.
  4. Add the vanilla extract and mix through.
  5. Knead thoroughly: I used a mixer with a dough hook, but you could do it by hand if you prefer. After 5-10 minutes, when the dough becomes stretchy, introduce the dried fruit and continue to knead until well integrated. The dough will be very wet.
  6. Mix the cinnamon into the remaining sugar and scatter over a clean surface. Using well-floured fingers, form the dough into a ball and press into the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Fold and knead against the mixture until it’s all picked-up by the dough: this approach forms attractive pockets and rivulets of cinnamon throughout the dough.
  7. Rub a large bowl with oil. Ball the dough and put it into the bowl, cover tightly, and leave at room temperature for up to two hours until doubled in size.
  8. When it’s ready, fill a large pan about 6cm deep with water, add the honey, and bring to a simmer. Pre-heat a hot oven (gas mark 7, 220°)
  9. On a lightly-floured surface and with well-floured fingertips, extract the ball of dough and divide into eight (halve, halve, halve again). Shape each ball into a bagel by pushing-through the middle with your thumb and stretching out the hole as you rotate it.
  10. Submerge each bagel into the hot water for about a minute on each side, then transfer to baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper.
  11. Thin the egg white with a few drops of water, stir, then brush each bagel with the egg mix.
  12. Bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Buttered bagel.
Most bagel recipes I’ve seen claim that they freeze well. I can make no such claim, because ours barely cool before they’re eaten.

Mostly this recipe’s here for my own reference, but if you make some then let me know how they turn out for you. (Oh, and for those of you who prefer when my blog posts are technical, this page is marked up in h-recipe.)

The 17 Blog Posts That Weren’t

It may come as a surprise to you that the stuff I write about on my blog – whether about technology, dreams, food, film, games, relationships, or my life in general – isn’t actually always written off-the-cuff. To the contrary, sometimes a post is edited and re-edited over the course of weeks or months before it finally makes it onto the web. When I wrote late last year about some of my controversial ideas about the ethics (or lack thereof) associated with telling children about Santa Claus, I’m sure that it looked like it had been inspired by the run-up to Christmas. In actual fact, I’d begun writing it six months earlier, as summer began, and had routinely visited and revisited it from time to time until I was happy with it, which luckily coincided with the Christmas season.

As an inevitable result of this process, it’s sometimes the case that a blog post is written or partially-written and then waits forever to be finished. These forever-unready, never-published articles are destined to sit forever in my drafts folder, gathering virtual dust. These aren’t the posts which were completed but left unpublished – the ones where it’s only upon finishing writing that it became self-evident that this was not for general consumption – no, the posts I’m talking about are those which honestly had a chance but just didn’t quite make it to completion.

Well, today is their day! I’ve decided to call an amnesty on my incomplete blog posts, at long last giving them a chance to see the light of day. If you’ve heard mention of declaring inbox bankruptcy, this is a similar concept: I’m sick of seeing some of these blog articles which will never be ready cluttering up my drafts folder: it’s time to make some space! Let the spring cleaning begin:


Title: Typically Busy
Unpublished since: March 2004
Unpublished because:
Better-expressed by another post, abandoned

In this post, I talk about how busy my life is feeling, and how this is pretty much par for the course. It’s understandable that I was feeling so pressured: at the time we were having one of our particularly frenetic periods at SmartData, I was fighting to finish my dissertation, and I was trying to find time to train for my upcoming cycle tour of Malawi. The ideas I was trying to express later appeared in a post entitled I’m Still In Aber. Yay, in a much more-optimistic form.


Title: Idloes, Where Art Thou?
Unpublished since: June 2004
Unpublished because: Got distracted by rebuilding the web server on which my blog is hosted, after a technical fault

In anticipation of my trip to Malawi, I was prescribed an anti-malarial drug, Lariam, which – in accordance with the directions – I began taking daily doses of several weeks before travelling. It seemed silly in the long run; I never even saw a single mosquito while I was over there, but better safe than sorry I suppose. In any case, common side-effects of Lariam include delusions, paranoia, strange dreams, hallucinations, and other psychological
effects. I had them in spades, and especially the weird trippy dreams.

This blog post described what could have been one of those dreams… or, I suppose, could have just been the regular variety of somewhat-strange dream that isn’t uncommon for me. In the dream I was living back in Idloes, a tall Aberystwyth townhouse where I’d rented a room during 2002/2003. In the dream, the house caught fire one night, and my landlady, Anne, was killed. Apparently the fire was started by her electric blanket.


Title: Are We Alone In The Universe?
Unpublished since: March 2006
Unpublished because: Never finished, beaten to the punchline

Here’s an example of an article that I went back to, refining and improving time and time again over a period of years, but still never finished. I was quite pleased with the direction it was going, but I just wasn’t able to give it as much time as it needed to reach completion.

The Drake Equation

In the article, I examine the infamous Drake Equation, which estimates the likelihood of there being intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy (more specifically, it attempts to estimate the number of intelligent civilizations “out there”). Which is all well and good, but the only way to put the formula into practice is to effectively pull unknowable numbers out of the air and stuff them into the equation to get, in the end, whatever answer you like. The only objective factors in the entire equation are those relating to the number of stars in the galaxy, and everything else is pure conjecture: who honestly thinks that they can estimate the probability of any given species reaching sentience?

The post never got finished, and I’ve since seen other articles, journals, and even stand-up comedians take apart the Drake Equation in a similar way to that which I intended, so I guess I’ve missed the boat, now. If you want to see the kind of thing I was working on, here it is but better-written. I wonder what the probability is that a blog post will never end up being published to the world?


Title: Why Old People Should Be Grumpy
Unpublished since: October 2006
Unpublished because: Never finished, possibly bullshit

In this post, I put forward a theory that grumpy old people are a positive sign that a nation is making just enough change to not be stagnant: something about the value of keeping older people around crossed with the importance of taking what they say with a pinch of salt, because it’s not them that has to live in the world of tomorrow. I can’t even remember what the point was that I was trying to make, and my notes are scanty, but I’m sure it was a little bit of a one-sided argument for social change with an underdeveloped counter-argument for social stability.

In any case, I left it for years and eventually gave up on it.


Title: The Games That Didn’t Make The List
Unpublished since: July 2007
Unpublished because: I could have kept refining it forever and still never finish it

After my immensely popular list of 10 Computer Games That Stole My Life, I received a great deal of feedback – either as direct feedback in the form of comments or indirectly in other people’s blogs. Reading through this feedback got me thinking about computer games that had stolen my life which I hadn’t mentioned. Not wanting to leave them out, I put together a list of “games that didn’t make the list”: i.e. games which could also have been said to steal my life, but which I didn’t think of when I wrote my original top ten. They included:

  • Castles and Castles 2
    The original Castles was one of the first non-free PC computer games I ever owned (after Alley Cat, that golf game, and the space command/exploration game whose name I’ve been perpetually unable to recall). It was a lot of fun; a well-designed game of strategy and conquest. Later, I got a copy of Castles 2 – an early CD-ROM title, back before developers knew quite what to do with all that space – which was even better: the same castle-building awesomeness but with great new diplomacy and resource-management exercises, as well as siege engines and the ability to launch your own offensives. In the end, getting Civilization later in the same year meant that it stole more of my time, but I still sometimes dig out Castles 2 and have a quick game, from time to time.
  • Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates!
    Early during the development of Three Rings, I came across an existing company with the name Three Rings Design, based in the US. Their major product is a game called Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, an MMOG in which players – as pirates – play puzzle games in order to compete at various tasks (you know, piratey tasks: like sailing, drinking, and swordfighting). Claire and I both got quite deeply involved during the beta, and played extensively, even forming our own crew, The Dastardly Dragons, at one point, and met some fascinating folks from around the world. When the beta came to an end we both took advantage of a “tester’s bonus” chance to buy lifetime subscriptions, which we both barely used. Despite the fact that I’ve almost never played the game since then, it still “stole my life” in a quite remarkable way for some time, and my experience with this (as well as with the Ultima Online beta, which I participated in many years earlier) has shown me that I should never get too deeply involved with MMORPGs again, lest they take over my life.
  • Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
    As a Civilization fan, I leapt on the chance to get myself a copy of Alpha Centauri, and it was awesome. I actually pirated my first copy of the game, copying it from a friend who I studied with, and loved it so much that I wrapped up the cash value of the game in an envelope and sent it directly to the development team, asking them to use it as a “beer fund” and have a round on me. Later, when I lost my pirated copy, I bought a legitimate copy, and, later still, when I damaged the disk, bought another copy, including the (spectacular) add-on pack. Alpha Centauri is the only game I’ve ever loved so much that I’ve paid for it three times over, despite having stolen it, and it was worth every penny. Despite its age, I still sometimes dig it out and have a game.
  • Wii Sports Tennis – Target Training
    Perhaps the most recent game in the list, this particular part of the Wii Sports package stole my life for weeks on end while I worked up to achieving a coveted platinum medal at it, over the course of several weeks. I still play it once in a while: it’s good to put on some dance music and leap around the living room swinging a Wiimote to the beat.
  • Rollercoaster Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon 2
    In the comments to my original post, Rory reminded me of these games which stole my life during my first couple of years at University (and his, too!). RCT2, in particular, ate my time for years and still gets an occassional play out of me – but was pipped to the post by OpenTTD, of course.
  • X-COM series
    Another series of games which hooked me while I was young and stayed with me as I grew, the X-COM series (by which – of course – I mean Enemy Unknown, Terror From The Deep, and Apocolypse; not Interceptor and certainly not that modern travesty, Aftermath). Extremely difficult, each of them took me months or years before I completed them, and I’ve still never finished Apocalypse on anything higher that the lowest-two difficulty settings.

I wanted to write more and include more games, but by the time I’d made as much progress as I had, above, the moment felt like it had passed, so I quietly dropped the post. I suppose I’ve now shared what I was thinking, anyway.


Title: Rational Human Interaction
Unpublished since: September 2007
Unpublished because: Too pretentious, even for me; never completed

I had some ideas about how humans behave and how their rationality and their emotions can conflict, and what this can mean. And then I tried to write it down and I couldn’t find a happy medium between being profound and insightful and being obvious and condescending. Later, I realised that I was tending towards the latter and, besides, much of what I was writing was too self-evident to justify a blog post, so I dropped it.


Title: Long Weekend
Unpublished since: April 2008
Unpublished because: Too long, too wordy, and by the time it was nearing completion it was completely out of date

This post was supposed to be just an update about what was going on in my life and in and around Aber at the time. But as anybody who’s neglected their blog for more than a little while before may know, it can be far too easy to write about everything that’s happened in the interim, and as a result end up writing a blog post that’s so long that it’ll never be finished. Or maybe that’s just me.

In any case, the highlights of the post – which is all that it should have consisted of, ultimately – were as follows:

  • It was the Easter weekend on 2008, and town had gone (predictably) quiet, as many of my friends took the opportunity to visit family elsewhere, and there was a particular absence of tourists this year. Between Matt being in Cornwall, Sarah being out-of-town, and Ruth, JTA, Gareth and Penny off skiing (none of them wrote anything about it, so no post links there), it felt a little empty at our Easter Troma Night, which was rebranded a Troma Ultralite as it had only two of the requisite four people present: not even the three needed for a Troma Lite! Similarly, our Geek Night only had four attendees (but that did include Paul, unusually).
  • Claire and I took a dig through her wardrobe about found that of the skirts and dresses that she famously never wears, she owns over two dozen of them. Seriously.
  • I played and reviewed Turning Point: Fall Of Liberty, which turned out to be a second-rate first-person shooter with a reasonably clever alternate history slant. I’m a fan of alternate histories in video games, so this did a good job of keeping me amused over the long bank holiday weekend.
  • Paul and I were arranging for a beach-fire-barbeque with Ruth and JTA when they got back, to which we even anticipated attendence from the often-absent not-gay-Gareth.
  • And finally, I had something to say about Jimmy‘s recent experiences in Thailand, but that’s as far as my draft went and I don’t remember what I had planned to say…

Title: Confused And Disoriented
Unpublished since: April 2008
Unpublished because: Never finished; abandoned

Having received mixed feedback about my more-unusual dreams over the years, I’ve taken to blogging about a great number of them in order to spread the insanity and let others comment on quite how strange my subconscious really is. This was to be one of those posts, and it catalogued two such unusual dreams.

In the first, I was at my grandma’s funeral (my grandma had died about two years earlier). A eulogy was given by both my mum and – confusingly – by Andy R. Afterwards, the crowd present booed them.

In the second, I revisited a place that I’ve dreamed of many times before, and which I think is a reference to some place that I found as a young child, but have never been able to determine the location of since. In this recurring theme I crawl through a tunnel (possibly of rock, as in a ruined castle) to reach a plateau (again, ruined castle-like), from which I am able to shuffle around to a hidden ledge. I have such vivid and strong memories of this place, but my faith in my own memory is shaken by the very “dreamlike” aspects of the event: the tunnel, the “secret place”, as well as the fact that it has appeared in my dreams time and time again for over 15 years. Perhaps it never existed at all: memory is a fragile and malleable thing, and it’s possible that I made it up entirely.

Some parts of it are less dream-like. For example, I’m aware that I’ve visited this place a number of times at different ages, and that I found it harder to fit through the tunnel to re-visit my secret childhood hiding place when I was older and larger.

A few years ago, I spoke to my mum about this dream, and described the location in great detail and asked where it might be, and she couldn’t think of anywhere. It’s strange to have such a strong and profound memory that I can’t justify through the experience of anybody else, and which consistently acts as if it were always just a dream. Maybe it’s real, and maybe it isn’t… but it’s beginning to sound like I’ll never know for sure.


Title: The Code In The School
Unpublished since:May 2008
Unpublished because: Never finished; abandoned

Another dream, right after Troma Night 219, where it seems that the combination of the beer and the trippy nature of the films we watched inspired my brain to run off on a tangent of it’s own:

In the dream, I was visiting a school as an industrialist (similarly to how I had previously visited Gregynog on behalf of the Computer Science department at Aberystwyth University in 2005, 2006 and 2007). While there, I was given a challenge by one of the other industrialists to decipher a code represented by a number of coloured squares. A basic frequency analysis proved of no value because the data set was too small, but I was given a hint that the squares might represent words (sort of like early maritime signal flags). During mock interviews with the students, I used the challenge as a test, to see if I could get one of them to do it for me, without success. Later in the dream I cracked the message, but I’m afraid I didn’t make a record of how I did so or what the result was.

A particularly famous message represented in maritime signal flags (click for bigger version)

Title: Absence

Unpublished since: May 2008
Unpublished because: Forgotten about; abandoned

At the beginning of the long, hot summer of 2008, I wrote about the immenent exodus of former students (and other hangers-on) from Aberystwyth, paying particular attention to Matt P and to Ele, who left for good at about this time. And then I forgot that I was writing about it. But Matt wrote about leaving and Ele wrote about being away, anyway, so I guess my post rapidly became redundant, anyway.


Title: =o(
Unpublished since: June 2008
Unpublished because: Too negative; unfinished

I don’t even know what I was complaining about, but essentially this post was making an excuse to mope for a little while before I pull myself together and get things fixed. And that’s all that remains. It’s possible that it had something to do with this blog post, but without context I’ve no idea what that one was about, too. Sounds like it was about an argument, and so I’m happier just letting it go, whatever it was, anyway.


Title: Spicy Yellow Split Pea Soup
Unpublished since: November 2008
Unpublished because: Got lazy; unfinished

I came up with a recipe for a delicious spicy yellow split pea soup, and wanted to share it with you, so I made myself the stub of a blog entry to remind myself to do so. And then I didn’t do so. Now I don’t even remember the recipe. Whoops!

In any case, the moral is that pulses make great soup, as well as being cheap and really good for you, and are especially tasty as the days get shorter and winter tightens it’s icy grip. Also that you shouldn’t leave just a title for a blog post for yourself and expect to fill it in afterwards, because you won’t.


Title: (untitled)
Unpublished since: December 2008
Unpublished because: Too busy building, configuring, and working on my new PC, ironically

December is, according to Rory, the season for hardware failures, and given that alongside his troubles, Ruth’s laptop died and Paul’s computer started overheating, all at the same time, perhaps he’s right. So that’s when my long-serving desktop computer, Dualitoo, decided to kick the bucket as well. This was a particularly awkward time, as I was due to spend a weekend working my arse off towards a Three Rings deadline. Thankfully, with the help of friends and family, I was able to pull forward my plans to upgrade anyway and build myself a new box, Nena (which I continue to use to this day).

I began to write a blog post about my experience of building a computer using only local shops (I was too busy to be able to spare the time to do mail order, as I usually would), but I was unfortunately too busy building and then using – in an attempt, ultimately successful, to meet my deadline – my new computer to be able to spare time to blogging.

But I did learn some valuable things about buying components and building a mid-to-high spec computer, in Aberystwyth, all in one afternoon:

  1. Daton Computers are pretty much useless. Actual exchange:
    “Hi, I need to buy [name of component], or another [type of component] with [specification of component].”
    “Well, you’ll need to bring your computer in for us to have a look at.”
    “Umm; no – I’m building a computer right now: I have [other components], but I really need a [name of component] or something compatible – can you help?”
    “Well, not without looking at the PC first.”
    “WTF??? Why do you need to look at my PC before you can sell me a [type of component]?”
    “So we can tell what’s wrong.”
    “But I know what’s wrong! I only took the shrink-wrap off the [other components] this morning: all I need is a [type of component], because I don’t have one! Now can you sell one to me or not?”
    “Well, not without -”
    /Dan exits/
  2. Crosswood Computers are pretty much awesome. Actual exchange:
    “Hi, remember me? I was in here this morning.”
    “Yeah: how’s the rebuild going?”
    “Not bad, but I’ve realised that I’m short by a [type of cable]: do you sell them?”
    “We’re out of stock right now, but I’ve got some left-over ones in the back; you can have one for free.”
    /Dan wins/
  3. It’s possible to do this, but not recommended. The local stores, and in particular Crosswood, are great, but when time allows it’s still preferable to do your component-shopping online.

I later went on to write more about Nena, when I had the time.


Title: Child Porn
Unpublished since: April 2009
Unpublished because: Never finished; too much work in writing this article

I had planned to write an article about the history of child pornography, starting well before Operation Ore and leading up to the present day, and to talk about the vilification of paedophiles (they’re the new terrorists!) – to the point where evidence is no longer as important as the severity of the alleged crime (for particularly awful examples of this kind of thinking, I recommend this article). I’m all in favour of the criminalisation of child abuse, of course, but I think it’s important that people understand the difference between the producers and the consumers of child porn, as far as a demonstrable intent to cause harm is concerned.

Anyway, the more I read around the subject, the more I realised that nothing I could write would do justice to the topic, and that others were already saying better what I was thinking, so I abandoned the post.


Title: 50 Days On An EeePC 1000
Unpublished since: May 2009
Unpublished because: By the time I was making progress, it had been more like 150 days

Earlier in the year, I’d promised that I’d write a review of my new notebook, an Asus EeePC 1000. I thought that a fun and engaging way to do that would be to write about the experience of my first 50 days using it (starting, of course, with reformatting it and installing a better operating system than the one provided with it).

Of course, by the time I’d made any real progress on the article, it was already well-past 50 days (in fact, I’d already changed the title of the post twice, from “30 Days…” to “40 Days…” and then again to “50 Days…”). It’s still a great laptop, although I’ve used it less than I expected over the last nine months or so (part of my original thinking was to allow me to allow Claire to feel like she’d reclaimed the living room, which was being taken over by Three Rings) and in some ways it’s been very-recently superceded by my awesome mobile phone.


Title: El De-arr
Unpublished since: September 2009
Unpublished because: Too waffley; couldn’t be bothered to finish it; somewhat thrown by breaking up with Claire

Over the years I’ve tried a handful of long-distance romantic relationships, and a reasonable number of short-distance ones, and, in general, I’ve been awful at the former and far better at the latter. In this blog post I wrote about my experience so far of having a long-distance relationship with Ruth and what was making it work (and what was challenging).

I’m not sure where I was going with it in the first place, but by the time Claire and I broke up I didn’t have the heart to go back into it and correct all of the references to her and I, so I dropped it.


Title: Knowing What I’m Talking About
Unpublished since: October 2009
Unpublished because: Never finished; got distracted by breaking up with Claire

On the tenth anniversary since I started doing volunteer work for emotional support helplines (starting with a Nightline, and most recently for Samaritans), I wrote about a talk I gave at BiCon 2009 on the subject of “Listening Skills for Supporting Others”. It was a little under-attended but it went well, and there was some great feedback at the end of it. I’d helped out with a workshop entitled “Different Approaches to Polyamory” alongside fire_kitten, but strangely it was this, the workshop whose topic should be that which I have the greater amount of experience in, that made me nervous.

This blog post was supposed to be an exploration of my personal development over the previous decade and an examination of what was different about giving this talk to giving countless presentations at helpline training sessions for years that made me apprehensive. I think it could have been pretty good, actually. Unfortunately a lot of blog posts started around this time never ended up finished as I had other concerns on my plate, but I might come back to this topic if I give a similar presentation at a future conference.


So there we have it: a big cleanse on my perpetually unfinished blog posts. I’ve still got about eight drafts open, so there’s a reasonable chance that I might finish some of them, some day: but failing that, I’ll wait until another decade or so of blogging is up and I’ll “purge” them all again, then.

And if you had the patience to read all of these – these “17 blog posts in one” – well, thanks! This was more about me than about you, so I don’t mind that plenty of you will have just scrolled down to the bottom and read this one sentence, too.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMAC

The Fife Diet from Kamikaze Cookery

I’ve been following Kamikaze Cookery (three geeks doing cookery… with science!) for a while now, and it’s got some real potential, but what really sold me on it was their recent series on the Fife diet (yeah, I know, it’s been out for ages, but I’ve been busy so my RSS reader’s been brim-full and I only just got around to watching it).

If you haven’t come across Kamikaze Cookery before, The Fife Diet videos are a great place to start.

Dan’s Lazy Beef Stroganoff

Another recipe for you all. This experimental stroganoff worked well, so I thought you might enjoy it too. I’ve no doubt it could be multiplied up wonderfully to serve more people.
Dan’s Lazy Beef Stroganoff

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients

  • 2 medium-sized sirloin steaks, thinly sliced (use a very sharp knife and try to cut slices no larger than your little finger)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 100g fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 100g fresh mushrooms, diced
  • Small tub (~225g?) sour cream
  • Butter
  • Black pepper
  • 3/4 level teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • (optional but really tasty) Sherry

Method

  1. Put two tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan over a medium to high heat and allow to melt. Add the beef and gently fry until browned, adding freshly-ground pepper. Transfer the beef to a bowl.
  2. Add the onion to the pan and gently fry in the remaining butter and beef fat until fully softened. Add the onion to the bowl of beef.
  3. Adding more butter if necessary, fry the mushrooms until very soft.
  4. Add the sour cream and stir thoroughly to form a sauce of uniform colour.
  5. Liberally grind pepper into the sauce, and stir in the nutmeg.
  6. Optionally, add a splash (about half a glass) of sherry into the sauce. This’ll add a fantastic fruitiness to the finished dish. Or you could try rubbing the beef with sherry or perhaps even port before cooking – just a thought.
  7. Return the onions and beef to the pan and gently simmer together for about ten minutes, to allow the flavours to be absorbed.
  8. Serve poured over tagliatelle verdi and with an accompanying green salad.

Hope it turns out as delicious for you as it did for me.

A Challenge For My Programmer Friends

So you think you’re a dab hand at learning new and unusual programming languages: even the most bizarre of them. You can get your head around Perl, and you might have even looked at LISP. Well, let’s see who’s first to correctly tell me what the output of the following computer program is. It’s unique (I’ve just written it, and you won’t find it elsewhere on the ‘net), so you’ll have to first work out what the programming language is. At that point, you’ll need to either find a platform on which you can run it, or “whitebox” decipher it by hand.

A pint, and my respect, to the first person to solve it. If nobody solves it, the pint’ll go to whoever seemed to be most on the right track.

Scatman Dans Pasta Bake.

A quick and tasty meal for programmers everywhere: baked pasta with a spicy
kick. Cook and drain the pasta first, and pre-heat oven to 175 degrees Celcius
(gas mark 4).

Ingredients.
76 g penne pasta
75 g fusilli pasta
65 g grated cheddar cheese
64 ml vegetable stock
21 g courgette
17 g fresh ginger
11 g crushed garlic
8 teaspoons olive oil
7 g parsley
5 level teaspoons cinnamon
3 eggs
2 sliced new potatoes
1 birds eye chilli
1 pinch hot chilli powder

Cooking time: 30 minutes.

Method.
Put penne pasta into the mixing bowl. Add birds eye chilli. Add hot chilli
powder. Put crushed garlic into the mixing bowl. Combine parsley. Put fresh
ginger into the mixing bowl. Combine cinnamon. Remove birds eye chilli. Put eggs
into the mixing bowl. Combine courgette into the mixing bowl. Add sliced new
potatoes. Put vegetable stock into the mixing bowl. Add eggs. Put fusilli pasta
into the mixing bowl. Add olive oil. Put grated cheddar cheese into the mixing
bowl. Stir for 5 minutes. Liquify contents of the mixing bowl. Pour contents of
the mixing bowl into the baking dish.

Serves 1.

Warning: do not try to cook this dish as if it were a genuine recipe!

Thai, Catan, And Gantz

Claire and I cooked thai food for Ruth, JTA, and Bryn last night. Paul, too, but owing to a communications breakdown he didn’t know about it, so he missed out. Unable to decide between making a sweet red Thai chilli and a black bean dish, I decided to make both, which immediately compounded into a problem when I realised that I was cooking both meat (for us normal people) and a vegetarian dish (for Ruth) of each.

So, hot-desking (hot-hobbing?) six pans later on, we all got fed – about 40 minutes late. Got to steam some pak choi over the noodles: I’m not sure that I’ve ever knowingly tried pak choy before – Claire pointed it out in Morrisons and said, “what’s this?” and I had to confess that I didn’t know, save from what it said on the packet (“ideal for stir-fry”). A quick scout around the web revealed what to do with the thing. Anyway; it turns out to be a fab-tasting vegetable.

After this, Bryn left, and the remainder of us had a game of Settlers of Catan, which Ruth won. Again.

Gantz episodes 1-13 torrent window

My torrent of the entire first series of Gantz, a wonderfully destructive anime series we’ve been watching at Naruto Night, has been making good progress over the weekend. The numbers keep fluctuating, but we could have a copy of it within as little as the next 30 hours or so. It feels a bit of a waste having to download the entire series just to collect the two episodes I’m missing, but this was the only working torrent I could find that included these episodes at all.

A frame from Gantz 2, the comic

I’m kinda impressed how tightly the TV series hugs the comic books (I’ve gotten hold of them, too). Dialog, framing, everything. Not so impressed as I was, though, by the stunning Sin City I had the joy of seeing last week, which didn’t even have the benefit of being animated to help the director to get the feel of the hand-drawn work from which it stems. See Sin City.

Meandering now, but should be working.

Face-Burning Chilli

Many of you reading this will have eaten one of my chilli con carnes before, where I’ve used my Da Bomb: The Final Answer hot sauce in the recipe before (original recipe). For those not in-the-know, when cooking chilli to feed four or so, I tend to use the following system to measure the hot sauce:

1. Dip last centimetre or two of a strand of spaghetti into sauce bottle.
2. Wipe excess sauce off back into bottle.
3. Dip spaghetti strand into chilli pan, then dispose of.

And this makes a nice, weighty, fruity (it’s not all about heat, y’know), strong chilli. It’s a powerful little sauce.

Anyway, while cooking this evening, I noticed that my upper lip was starting to go numb. This is normally a bad sign, indicative of having spilt an untraceable quantity of The Final Answer (dubbed who dares burns) on my fingers and then accidently having touched my face. I recall the time I hadn’t washed my hands quite well enough before going to bed with Claire, and you should have heard her scream…

A pan of chilli and a pan of rice

…I digress. The stinging spread to my cheeks and got worse, and it took me some time to realise that what was causing this pain was, in fact, merely the habanero-infused steam ascending from my pans. Yes; the capsaicin quantity of this steam alone was enough to cause pain. This was where I became a little alarmed, and opened the window.

Surprisingly, this chilli is really quite mild… but I think I’ve come up with a recipe that makes toxic chilli-fied steam while it cooks, which is in it self remarkable. Now if only I can find a way to condense the steam and collect it into gas grenades…

Thai-Style Turkey & Rice

I’ve always been drawn to trying to prepare a fried-rice dish, but I’ve always been put off by the risk of burning it (I’d have imagined that it would be difficult to prevent rice from over-cooking and sticking to the pan, which would make for far-from delightful cleaning, later). But having watched Ken Hom preparing some egg-fried rice on a TV show earlier this week (he made it look so easy), I thought I’d have a go at concocting a Thai-style fried rice dish.

It was absolutely wonderful, by the way – if you only ever follow one of the recipes I’ve put on my blog, make it this one.

Thai-Style Turkey & Rice
Serves 2/3
Ingredients
3 portions boiled rice (can be ‘leftovers’, or whatever – sorry I can’t give you a real measurement; I always measure rice by guesswork)
300g turkey breast, cut into bite-size chunks (or any other white meat)
~10 medium-sized closed-cup mushrooms, quartered
3 eggs, beaten
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper (I used a ramiro pepper, ‘cos they taste great), diced
1 medium-sized red chilli pepper, thinly sliced and de-seeded
2 tablespoons nam pla (or substitute: soy sauce will do)
Hot red chilli powder
Dried ginger
Dried garlic (would have loved to have used fresh garlic and ginger, but couldn’t be bothered)
Dried lemongrass and kaffir (lime leaves) or generic Thai 7-Spice (or similar pre-mixed spice)

Method
Liberally oil a wok or frying pan and fry the turkey pieces, mushroom, and onion (and garlic and ginger, if using fresh rather than dried) and fry until the turkey is cooked (white all over). Add the pepper and chilli pepper and stir rapidly, while adding dried ingredients (chilli powder, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, kaffir) and nam pla to taste. Don’t be afraid to add more oil if you need to (as the rice will gobble it up when you add it, in a moment).

Reduce the heat and add the rice to the pan, covering all of the other ingredients. Push down firmly upon the rice with the back of a wooden spoon, to force it in among the meat and vegetables. After a few minutes, when the rice has begun to re-heat, pour the eggs over the entire mixture and increase the temperature. As the egg begins to cook (looks like scrambled egg), break it apart with the spoon and stir into the rest of the mixture, mixing all of the ingredients together.

Heat through, and serve.

Flipping marvellous.

Recipe Of The Evening

Got a recipe suggestion for you all, again: Bryn’s Challenge is at least allowing me to be a little bit more imaginative and try making things that “come to mind” (the bad ideas don’t make it here). So, today’s meal – which Claire assures me is “really, really good”, is presented below:

Chicken And Bacon In A Mushroom & Leek Sauce, With Stuffed Potatoes
Easier than it sounds; make it and show off. Serves 2, but will scale well.

Ingredients
6 chicken goujons
6 rashers rindless bacon
1 medium-sized leek, thickly sliced
200g mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 slices cooked ham, finely cut
2 medium potatoes
50g tomato paste
50g grated extra mature cheddar cheese
Half pint milk
Plain flour
1 tablespoon dried onion/chive mix
Pinch of salt

Method
Microwave or bake the potatoes until softened, as baked potatoes. Wrap each chicken goujon in a slice of bacon and place into a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees celsuis. Meanwhile, boil the sliced leeks, stirring occassionally, until soft and seperated. Warm the milk in a saucepan, slowly stirring in the flour to make a moderately thick white sauce. Add the mushrooms to the milk, then add the cooked leeks and the ham and keep warm. Cut each potato in half and carefully hollow out the insides, leaving the skin and a thin layer of flesh intact. Mix the potato with the tomato paste, dried onion/chive mix and salt, and mash with a fork. Spoon this mixture back into the potatoes, sprinkle with a little cheese, and return to the heat until cheese melts. Serve alongside the chicken and bacon, drenched in the sauce mixture.

That doesn’t read very well; if I can be arsed, I’ll re-write it. Anyway: it’s really, really well-worth doing, and looks more impressive than it is, so it’s great to show off with.

Bryn’s Challenge – Update

Here’s the update on Claire and my progress with Bryn’s Challenge – his happy little Un-Supersize-Me goal of avoiding fast food for a month:

All’s good. We’re also taking advantage of the oppertunity to explore with cooking things we wouldn’t normally, and I’ll be sharing, here, some of the things we’ve tried. Starting with last night’s dinner, a large frittata. As I understand it, this is Italian for – pretty much – ‘omlette’; but I suppose to be fairer it’s actually an upside-down, grilled omelette with stacks of vegetables or pasta in it. The Italians apparently – traditionally – use yesterday’s pasta in it, but we didn’t eat pasta yesterday, so I used heaps of different vegetables instead. In any case, here’s how I made it, in case any of you want to copy:

Pig And Potato Frittata
Serves: 3 portions; probably 5ish if served as part of a larger meal

Ingredients:
~450g new potatoes, microwaved and sliced
8 rashers lean smoked bacon, diced
2 medium courgettes, diced
1 large red pepper, thinly sliced
5-6 large free range eggs, beaten
~250g extra mature cheddar cheese, grated
Italian seasoning (generic), 2 tablespoons
Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Method
Microwave (about 4 minutes, in the bag) or boil the new potatoes until they are softened, but not quite cooked. Thoroughly beat the eggs in a jug, adding the italian seasoning and a pinch of salt, and leave to stand. Slice the potatoes and put them, the courgettes, the pepper and the bacon into a lightly-oiled frying pan at a medium heat until the bacon is cooked.

Add the egg mixture, pouring it liberally accross the entire pan, turning up the heat to maintain the temperature, and lowering it again when the egg begins to cook. Keep the egg moving to ensure it does not stick – the egg’s job is to hold everything else together, not to stick itself to the pan. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes on a medium heat, then liberally cover with grated cheese and put the entire frying pan under a pre-heated grill (you heard me – under the grill).

Grill for 3-6 minutes, checking ocassionally and (optionally) adding Worcestershire sauce (we didn’t have any, but it would really have worked well, I think, until the cheese has begins to brown (like cheese on toast!). Season to taste, and serve with a side-salad and a nice vinaigrette (tip: world’s easiest vinaigrette – disolve lots of sugar in a dark vinegar). Wonderbra.

Having read some of the comments appearing here, here, and here, for example, I’ve realised that pretty much everybody seems to be taking on Bryn’s Challenge for one of the following reasons:

  • Health
  • Challenge
  • Bullied by partner

Am I the odd one out, here? Am I the only person doing it primarily to save money (Claire and I do eat out too much, to be fair… and it would be nice to wean Claire off her Burger King obsession <lol>)?

More to say. Next post.

Chilli!

As Kit relates, too, we made a fab chilli con carne (and, using Quorn mince, a ‘chilli non carne’ for Paul). Recipe as below (feel free to steal, adapt etc.):

AUGUST CHILLI
serves 8

1 225g tin chopped tomato
1 5-portion bottle “sundried tomato” pasta sauce
4 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 tube double concentrate tomato paste
1 tube chilli paste
1 200g tin kidney beans
6 cloves garlic
12 medium closed-cup mushrooms, sliced
1 tblspn herbes de provence
6 mild green chilli peppers, sliced and de-seeded
1 small drop of “Da Bomb” mother-of-all-chilli-sauces (who dares burns)
2 teaspoons monosodium glutamate
pinch of salt
500g lean beef mince
250g quorn mince
olive oil

Fry the mince, and, in a seperate pan, the quorn – in a little olive oil. Toast the garlic (again, olive oil) in a seperate pan, add the mushrooms, and fry until cooked. Meanwhile, mix together the remaining ingredients in a large pan over a medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the cooked mushrooms and garlic to the tomato/chilli sauce, and heat for a further 5-10 minutes. Pour 2/3 of the sauce over the beef mince, and the remaining 1/3 over the quorn mince, and stir in. Serve with fajitas, tacos, or whatever else you like. Also tastes great re-heated, or with a little Worcester sauce added (not vegetarian, so don’t add it to the quorn pan!).

Without a doubt, Kit and I’s best chilli to date. Not hot enough to injure anybody… Bryn, who considers a medium curry “hot”, went back for seconds… but well-rounded, fruity (if substituting “Da Bomb”, use a good-quality chilli sauce), and warming. Brought my nose-end out in a sweat, and left us all sitting around in a mild chilli-induced euphoria. Fantastic.

Carribean Night

It’s not often you plan an entire evening around one ingredient… which turns out not to have anything to do with the food…

Kit: “What’re we going to do with these coconuts?” (holds up two coconuts)

Two hours later, we’re sipping pina coladas, eating carribean-style curry (soon to be followed by Bounty bars). The curry turned out quite fantastic: I’d recommend it (and, in fact Sainsbury’s Recipe Finder). I’d have liked more banana in it, and perhaps a little pineapple… but hey; I’ve had six pina coladas so far, so I’m not complaining (although typing is becoming challenging).

Claire is playing Tropico, which I recently bought from Amazon Marketplace. It’s pretty good. You get to be dictator of a carribean island.

Hugz;

Chasing The Paycheck

What with unavailable accountants and worse, I’ve not been able to get my paycheque until today – a week later than expected. I have £2.50, half a loaf of bread, a tin of beans, and a packet of super noodles to live on until my cheque is cashed. I don’t think that Sainsbury’s Recipe Finder quite understood me when I explained my situation, on account of it suggesting the following:

Cowboy Baked Beans
Prep and cook time: 30 mins to 1 hour
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients: 25g butter, 1 large onion, chopped finely, 1 clove garlic (optional), crushed, 2.5cm piece fresh root ginger, crushed, 1 each green and red pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped, 2 carrots, diced, 30ml vinegar, 60ml clear honey, 5ml Worcestershire sauce, 900g baked beans (hah! I only have a 450g can of baked beans anyway), 125g streaky bacon, sliced.

If you want the full recipe, go visit Sainsbury’s Recipe Finder.

In the end, Kit and I celebrated my paycheck by buying a heap of interesting looking ingredients from Somerfield, and made ourselves some cheesy garlic bread, a smokey-mince and pork tomato sauce with pasta-thingy, and some cheesecake. Then ate most of it. Fab.

It’s amazing what a little money will do for you. Last night we ate corned beef on toast.