A classic!

This is a recipe that I’ve been eating for, well, as long as I can remember – I’m not even sure where the recipe came from, so I’m just going to type it out for you here. I have to say, though, this is one of those recipes that will depend on a lot of things – if your pan is smaller, I’d add some sugar to the pancake batter part of it and bake it for a bit longer; if the pan’s bigger, I’d leave it as is; I bet it’d work with a different fruit, too.

It’s not photogenic, but here it is:

Apple/Large Skillet Pancake

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 apples (Granny Smith), peeled and sliced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix the first three ingredients together with a whisk. Set aside. Melt the butter in a large oven-safe pan. Add the cinnamon, sugar, and apples and saute approximately 5 minutes in a large skillet or until the apples are softened. Pour the pancake batter over the apple mixture and bake in the 425 degree oven for 15 minutes (the top of the pancake should look dry). Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Dust powdered sugar and cut into wedges to serve.

Serves approximately 4.

In which I am a terrible vegetarian, Or, fish guilt ahoy!

So, even though I advertise myself as a vegetarian, a few times a year, I get an unavoidable craving for seafood. And because I am weak, I give in and then am saddled with fish guilt for a few months…until the next craving settles in. Today’s slip was caused by the enabler that is Ina Garten and her lobster pot pie. Because in addition to not eating meat, I also don’t eat pot pies. Because I don’t like them (I think it’s the unnatural orange of the carrots and also maybe the sludgy sort of texture). But for some reason, when Ina made her lobster pot pie, my immediate reaction was ‘MUST HAVE.’

But because I live in central Illinois, the only lobster to be had in the market is the live ones in the tank which make me sad and almost put me off my seafood craving. There was frozen, cooked shrimp in the freezer section – and the organic ones, which I like to think means that they had a very nice little castle in their roomy tank to look at before they were humanely and quickly…well, you know – and that put me back on track.

However, I think I’m going to have to chalk this up to a waste of fish guilt because it turns out I really don’t like pot pies. Too rich, too…creamy, too smoodgy. Blech! Which is a first for an Ina recipe, but I don’t think it’s her fault, really. I mean, aesthetically, I could appreciate the flavors (and the pearl onions were a nice touch), it’s just the whole pot pie-ness of the pot pie.

At the last minute, I also ended up making her dill fingerling potatoes (but with cilantro because I didn’t have any dill) and even though some of them ended up a bit undercooked, they were really, really tasty – I’ll definitely be making these again. And now I’m going to go have a piece of the lime coconut cake and try not to think about the pot pie and the poor shrimps who died for it.

So…vegetarian friends, can you forgive me?

Tropical yumminess!

Even though it is well into March and is also technically spring, the weather here is being typical Illinois spring weather (i.e., it’s snowing today). So I thought I’d take a page from Smitten Kitchen‘s blog and make a tropical dessert to try and dispel the spring winter blues. Despite its use of a Controversial Ingredient, I decided to go with her Key Lime Coconut Cake. And it is definitely a good use of the CI. I don’t know if it’s because it’s toasted, eliminating its cuticle texture, or what, but it’s a very nice addition to the sweet tanginess of the lime – sort of sweet and toasty and crunchy. And I think it helps keep the cake very nice and moist, too, which is always a welcome side effect.

I had a couple of substitutions to make as there were no key limes to be had around here and I also did a combination of cream (which I had on hand for another recipe which should hopefully be making an appearance here later today) and 1% milk to try and make whole milk. And everything seemed to come together just fine! So, yes, definitely a success – yum!

Fiction

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

After reading and enjoying The Maltese Falcon and discovering that Dashiell Hammett was the creator of the fabulous Nick and Nora Charles, I decided to move on to The Thin Man. And I liked it! I think I found it a little more confusing than The Maltese Falcon – there were lots of characters who ended up being important but who only appeared on the page maybe once or twice, though the explanation at the end was good (except for the parenthetical asides about how things turned out which I found kind of odd). There were lots of suspects, though, and I, like Nick and Nora Charles, kept going back and forth between who I thought had dunnit only to be taken completely by surprise by the actual solution. I wish there had been a bit more of Nora Charles, though – she sort of fades into the background for the second half of the novel or so, but when she’s there with Nick, she’s very likable – and clever, too, which is nice to see, especially in a hard-boiled detective novel.

I think the most impressive thing about the novel, even moreso than Nick’s detective skills, is the couple’s ability to drink! Honestly, I wasn’t sure how anyone was still on their feet, let alone solving a murder mystery! But I guess it was another time full of speakeasys and glittery cocktail parties.

My rating: B+

An intersting side note: Toward the end there, I was trying to read very quickly so I could move onto my next book (I’m not telling you what it is until I’ve read it, but I fully expect that it will be made entirely of win and awesome) only to be thwarted by this:

What’s that, you ask? That is the remains of pages 139-140 and 141-142. Missing from my copy of the book! Fortunately I was able to find another copy here at my parents’ house and finish the book, but it was still a little confusing there for a few minutes. Weird! I’ll definitely be heading back to B&N to get a complete copy tomorrow…

Help me make a decision!

So. I have decided that I want to learn an instrument. A stringed instrument. I was sat behind the double bass at the BACH concert last weekend and it was…AWESOME! So I really want to learn the double bass. But signs are pointing me toward the cello…quite strongly. So I decided to make pro/con lists – one for the cello and one for the double bass – and share them with you.

Cello Double Bass
Pro Con Pro Con
1. Costs $25/mo. to rent 1. Lots of people play it 1. Has an air of the absurd about it 1. Cannot be rented within a 30-mile radius
2. Sexy – like librarian sexy 2. Is snooty (don’t ask me why) 2. Carny chic (apparently) 2. Cannot take lessons within a 30-mile radius
3. Will fit in my car 3. Can play in orchestra 3. Will not fit in my car
4. Lessons are conveniently located near where I work 4. Fewer people play it so it will matter less if I suck 4. Can play in jazz combo
5. Can play in orchestra 5. Really just 1-4-5-1 5. Really just 1-4-5-1
6. Can play in string quartet 6. I will look slightly less ridiculously huge next to it
7. Lots of good solo music 7. I REALLY WANT TO!

So…fill out my poll and help me choose!

March Daring Bakers Challenge!

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

I have to admit that I wasn’t too sure about this challenge – savoury baking? What?! But I was intrigued by attempting to make my own noodles and it actually turned out to be a fairly relaxed challenge. Mostly because lasagna is a fairly forgiving product – it doesn’t matter if your noodles tear or if things are lumpy, there’s really not much you can do that makes it taste bad and it’s not really a high-design product (though I’m sure if you click through the other Daring Baker blogs, you’ll find some gorgeous representations – Tartelette, I’m looking at you!). I totally cheated and waited until the next day when we were eating it as leftovers and it was cold from the fridge to photograph it, allowing me to show the layers – otherwise, it was exactly as the recipe warned us – very slippery and unsturdy.

It was not nearly as tricky as I thought it would be – I was particularly intimidated by the rolling/stretching instructions. I knew that the noodles had to be very, very thin and I wasn’t sure if, without a noodle machine, I had the ability (or the patience) to pull it off. But I did! The ragu turned out very tasty – we weren’t provided with a veggie version, so I just Googled and used this one instead (no, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do with the other 4T of butter or the 4T of olive oil…). My bechamel worked, too – in fact, all of the elements came together very nicely.

But I’m not sure I liked it. I think it was just a bit too rich for me – and there’s something in there that’s sort of sweet as an afterthought and I’m not sure what it is, but I find it a little unsettling. But that may just be me – my mom particularly liked it (my dad doesn’t like mushrooms, so his opinion doesn’t really count). So, yes, a successful, though probably not to be repeated challenge.

I think our blogroll isn’t up quite yet, but click on our new logo and head over to our brand new, sparkly website and have a look around!

p.s. – Hopefully the next Daring Bakers challenge will be completed in my newly remodeled kitchen – cross your fingers for me!

When in doubt, add whipped cream…

I think this is the first recipe I’ve ever made from 101 Cookbooks – her ingredients are always very exotic and/or organic and very intimidating. But for some reason this one struck a chord with me even though I can’t really explain why. I guess it’s because I’ve never found a good scone recipe – I mean, there are plenty of good recipes for American scones, but I always find that they’re far too sandy. I’m looking for something that’s more somewhere between a biscuit (the American kind) and a piece of cake – sweet, and most, but with that sort of sturdy denseness that a biscuit has.

For an American scone, the maple syrup scone was perfectly good though I wished that he maple flavor had been more prominent – I really couldn’t taste it at all. And I don’t know if it was something I did – and I did have to add even more cream than she called for to get the dough to come together – but they were very crumbly and sandy. Though that’s easily solved by serving it with an immense amount of whipped cream. How can you go wrong?!

IR Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate by Adrienne Kress

This is the sequel to Alex and the Ironic Gentleman and it shows. It has Kress’ charming, chatty language and the real sense of danger and consequences that exists in Alex. The tricky part is Timothy who is a rather unlikable character. And some of you have read my writing and know that I like characters who are questionable, but I do my best to make them likable. Timothy grows on you, but for the first third or so you really just want to roll your eyes and send him to his room. But then Alex and the Ironic Gentleman turn up and things get a whole lot better. There’re lots of exciting things to read about here – a ninja, Shaolin monks, more pirates, a dragon, menacing black cabs, and a very important key.

I am definitely a fan of Kress’ writing – it’s chatty without being cutesy or condescending (a la Lemony Snicket) – and her characters are lively and interesting (even if they’re not always likable). Looking forward to more from her and more from this cast of characters.

My rating: B+

I’m pretending it’s spring!

And it is tomorrow, but it wasn’t when I made this earlier this week. The one good thing about staying at my parents’ house is that they have Food Network (and Sci-Fi, but after tomorrow, that won’t matter!) which means that I am free to watch Ina at my leisure! Last Saturday, she made her primavera risotto (well, Food Network’s website calls it Spring Green Risotto, but I like Primava Risotto better…) and I thought ‘Yum!’ I also thought ‘Huh. I’ve never made risotto before. I ought to give that a try.’

So I did.

And it was very yummy. I don’t think it was as creamy as it was supposed to be, but I’m going to blame that on my mother’s bizarre two-burner stove (which defeated me a few days later when I attempted to make the lemon fusilli again and I desperately needed a third burner – curse you, two-burner stove!). And surprisingly easy! And quick!

So, yes. Very good.

In which my imagination runs away with me…

Since I’m staying at my parents’ house, I have to leave super-early to drive to work. Like, it’s still dark, super-early.

The other thing you need to know for this story to make sense is that the next-door neighbors have two very big dogs.

So the other morning, I’m leaving to get in my car and in the early morning darkness, I hear an odd snuffling sound as I’m about to walk down the stairs. I paused and held my breath, like you do, so I could hear better. Sure enough, a snuffling sound coming from the dark, dark corner behind the neighbor’s garage.

Now, the first thought that went through my head was not ‘Oh, it’s one of the neighbors’ big dogs who often sleep in the garage at night.’

No.

The first thought that went through my head was…

‘Werewolves!’

And I actually ran for my car. Which is silly. What was I thinking?!

Like I could outrun a werewolf…

Well, it’s not summer, but…

…I’m adding this to my ‘blockbuster’ tag anyway. I know it’s not tomorrow (when I said I’d be updating about the film), but I’m still at my parents’ house while the kitchen floor is being sorted out (soon!) and, seriously, I wish they had dial-up. So it’s taken me this long to post about it. I really liked it. So did my movie-going companion (and he hadn’t read the book). Now, of course, I had just finished the book the night before, so I can’t really group myself in with others who have ‘read the book’ (translation: people who have the book memorised and have been psyched to see and/or hate this movie since it was announced they were going to make it), but I will say that they did a good job of including the information that had to be included and alluding to things that make the book what it is, but aren’t necessary to move the plot forward.

There were quite a few shots that were exactly from the book which I thought was really cool. Rorschach is suitably awesome, the Silk Spectre is even cooler (i.e., more ass-kicking), and I thought the ending was actually better (made more sense, anyway). Somehow they managed to find someone who looked exactly like the Nite Owl (more like Nerd Owl – look, I was as sad about that as you were [and was secretly hoping they’d change that part of the ending], but you don’t see me screaming ‘Noooooo!’ in an overly dramatic fashion, now do you?) in the book. And so did Rorschach, for that matter. Almost creepily so (and speaking of creepy – I loved that they made the blots on his mask shift around)!

Also, the opening credits are outstanding – managing to cram a ton of backstory into a neat two minutes or so and is also a great use of a great song. I can’t find one to embed here, so go see for yourself!

And then read the book. And then go see the movie. Or whichever order appeals to you…

My rating: I think you’ll like it.

ETA: Looks like online clips of the opening credits sequence are being taken down left and right, so if the ones I’ve linked to are gone by the time you get here, give it a Google – I’m sure it’s still up somewhere. I mean, come on, it’s the internet for crying outloud…

Fiction: Graphic Novels

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Holy cow. I’d picked this up numerous times because everyone (i.e., the internet) says that it’s amazing, but always found a reason to put it back. Until I realised on Saturday that the movie was coming out this Friday (i.e., tomorrow!), so I stopped at the bookshop on Monday after work and finally bought a copy.

And it was amazing. I have to say, I was still expecting lots of ‘Blammo!’, ‘Biff!’, and ‘Kapow!’. But instead it’s complicated and interesting and full of plot development and character development and layers and fascinating narrative structure and moral conflict and probably so many other things that I’m missing because I had to read it so fast, but, yes. AMAZING.

Read it, read it, read it.

I’m also looking forward to seeing the movie tomorrow, just to see how in the world the filmmakers could possibly capture everything and put it on the big screen. Probably they can’t, but it’ll be interesting to see them try. Plus I just want to see more Rorschach! He’s seriously awesome. And super-creepy. Like SUPER-creepy. Halfway through, I suddenly sat back and thought ‘Why in the world do I love him so much?’ and it finally occured to me. They’ve dressed him just like Skulduggery Pleasant, who is actually SUPER-AWESOME (I mean, come on, he’s a living skeleton with magical powers who wears a purple pinstripe suit with a white scarf and a fedora-style hat – he tops my fictional crush list, man) and not at all creepy. (Okay, to be fair, they’ve dressed Skulduggery Pleasant like Rorschach, but still…) But it’s too late. To me, Rorschach = best ever.

Without giving too much away, the ending is…unsettling. And not entirely satisfying. And I thought it came along a little too quickly, but still, even though I could see that things were coming together, I kept turning the pages, hoping something different and not inevitable would happen.

My rating: A

p.s. – I’ll report back on the movie tomorrow!

Nonfiction

The World According to Clarkson, Vol. 3: For Crying Out Loud by Jeremy Clarkson

I love Top Gear. I love Jeremy Clarkson and I love Richard ‘Hamster’ Hammond and I love James May. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I love them in a hobbit-y fashion. Yes, you heard me, Claire. Don’t make me say it again. While waiting for my flight at Heathrow to come home from my recent holiday, I made the mistake of foolishly wandering into the Borders store in their waiting lounge area looking for a copy of the Stephen Fry in America book. Alas, they didn’t have it, but to comfort myself, I left with three other books, one of which was Jeremy Clarkson’s latest.

I was a little bit wary. I knew that I probably wouldn’t agree with everything that Clarkson had to say, but I knew I’d probably agree with the way he said it. And I was right. Many of his essays – they’re very short, I’d hardly call them essays, really (actually, this book is a collection of his articles written for The Sunday Times) are laugh out loud funny (particularly the ones about his daughter’s dog, the labradoodle), but even when he’s saying something that I’m not entirely sure I agree with, he’s at least saying it with a fairly logical argument to back it up and in an entirely witty fashion.

So, yes, I’d recommend it, just be aware that you might find yourself unwillingly nodding at much of what he has to say…

My rating: A-