Friday, September 30, 2011

Tortilla Espanola (Spanish Omelette)

Hi all, we're only a few days away from our new internet connection now (hopefully...), which means I should have the patience to post more often after that (and upload pictures).  I get home from work and I'm too tired to put up with the little rotating flower symbol.  At the moment, I'm writing in a notepad file because it's taking so long to load the post editor.  But no matter, I have some time to spare.

Mum has been on a course in the city to do with cataloguing that she says is reteaching her things she's been doing for years.  But it means she gets home late enough that I can get dinner almost ready before she invades the kitchen.  Last night, we had a Spanish Omelette, something neither of us had tried before, but both loved.

There's a recipe for Spanish Omelette in the Edmond's Cook Book, but I don't think it's the same as this one from Tapas by Marie MacDonald, that I based our's on:

Tortilla Espanola (Spanish Omelette)

1kg potatoes (Maris Piper are suggested)
6 large eggs
salt to taste
olive oil for frying

Slice the potatoes and put into a medium heat frying pan with a substantial amount of oil (the book says 250ml, but there was no way I'd use that much).  Once the potatoes are softened (the book suggests 15-20 minutes but it didn't take ours that long), drain the excess oil (and keep it) and add the potatoes to the eggs that you have whisked together thoroughly with the salt.  Leave the mixture to stand for a few minutes to firm up.  Then pour a little of the oil back into the pan and then the omelette mixture.  If you think it will be too difficult to flip the omelette, pop it into the oven under the grill to finish off (make sure your frying pan handle wont melt if you do this!).

For a sauce, I cut up some onions, cooked them in a little oil until transparent, added a t or so of sugar and a pinch of salt and then some cut up tomatoes and a small splash of balsamic vinegar and let it sit on a very low heat while the omelette cooked.  Tapas suggests taking 500 ml chicken stock and 50 ml dry sherry and reducing by half, and roasting some garlic to serve with the omelette.

This book is very cool, I would love to try most of the recipes because they look delicious, not too complicated, fresh, and pretty healthy.  For example jamon croquetas, broad beans with garlic and chilli, and sweet apple tart (I'm planning to make this on Sunday).  I will have to give the book its own post I think!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Because It's My Brithday...

Because it's my birthday, I am going to post something I assume not many people will be interested in (I seem to be the only person who loves birds - everyone I know other than my Mum either likes cats or dogs), just because I think it's cool.  So here are three videos of parrots talking and/or being cute. The last one has swearing, so don't watch it if you think you might be offended!

Again, this video is of a parrot swearing. You have been warned.

Supernatural Season 4

I just finished Supernatural season four, which features the biggest story arc so far.  At the beginning of the season we are introduced to angels and the entire season focuses on the brothers trying to stop Lilith (who we met last season).  I really enjoy episodes that stand alone (or at least mostly stand alone with some reference to the ongoing arc), so this season wasn't my favourite.  But there is a tribute to the great black-and-white monster movies, a cameo from the Ghostfacers, an episode where Dean is scared of EVERYTHING (including a very small, very cute doggie with a bow - hilarious!), and a life-sized talking teddy bear with a death wish.  And there's this:

If that's not enough to make you want to watch this season, I don't know what is, and frankly, I don't know what's wrong with you. :-)

You can get Supernatural Season 4 at Mighty Ape on special right now, saving $47.  Click on the picture!

PS:  The picture for the cover of this season does not make Sam look good, am I right?  Dean, however, looks as awesome as always!

Edit:  I notice that the video isn't working, but that you can click through to youtube to watch it.  I suggest you do, it's hilarious, and this video was the only one I could find that's just as it is in the episode - most have added clips and things.

Monday, September 19, 2011

German Onion Cake

I have been delaying posting this recipe because I stole it from a friend, and didn't receive a reply when I asked if I could put it on here.  But he's had plenty of time to say no, so I assume he means yes.  :-)  Logic, I likes it.
Despite its name, it's not really cake.  It's a pie.  And its delicious.  Really delicious.  Instead of using pastry for the base, however, you use a bread dough.  This makes it a whole lot less greasy than it could be (greasiness is what puts me off quiche).  Put aside quite a bit of time to let the dough rise properly, but if it doesn't, it's not a huge problem - I have had to give up when it had only increased in size by about 50% rather than 100%, and it is still delicious.

Onion Cake

250g flour
10g yeast
125g milk
40g butter
pinch salt

Mix all ingredients and place in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size.  Meanwhile, make the filling.

750g onion, sliced into rings
40g butter
20g cooking oil
60g bacon, diced (optional)
250g sour cream
50g flour
3 eggs
1 tablespoon of caraway (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter with oil in a large frying pan or pot, and add onions (and bacon).  Cook until transparent.  Allow to cool slightly, then mix in sour cream, eggs, spices, and flour.

Roll out the dough to cover the bottom and sides of a 28-35cm spring form tin, pour in the filling, and bake in a preheated oven for ~ an hour at 200°C.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

seaQuest 2032

Hi all, we're still having problems with our phone and internet, so it'll be a few days before I can get on to post much.  Which coincides nicely with almost double the number of working hours I've been offered this week than I thought I was going to have.

But I had to spread the joy and share with you the excitement I felt when I saw this on the seaQuest facebook fan page (and the JB HI FI link [click the picture]):

Looks like Australia is the testing ground for the viability of releasing seaQuest 2032 on dvd.  It's due out next month, and as I'll be in Australia in December, I am SO excited!  I can't wait to see this!  I remembered most of the episodes from the first and second seasons from when it was on in the 90s, but I don't think I remember season 3.  I didn't like it as much as the first two seasons, but was still heartbroken when the show was cancelled.  I AM SO EXCITED, you'd not believe it, it's like all my Christmases...  Anyway, if you're in Australia and love this show, please preorder it and show Universal that it's worth sharing with the rest of the world :-)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why do technical things have to be so tricky?

We have changed internet providers, or will do at the end of the month anyway.  Out new ISP offers a deal where you sign up for phone and internet from them and it's $10 cheaper than we've been paying.  Plus, instead of 2gb a month, we go up to 30gb.  I don't know what I will do with all that speeeeed!!  Anyway, I signed us up, then realised that the date we'd sign up would be only six days into our new bill with the old provider, so called the new provider and they recommended changing our sign up date.  So we did.

A few days later we got our modem, so we were all ready to go for the 3rd of October.  Then on Thursday I missed a courier delivery for Mum, and we guessed "oh no, they've sent us another modem".  Yesterday the package was redelivered and lo and behold, another modem.

Mum picked up the phone to let them know...  and our phone has been disconnected.  So I've been signed in to Mum's email account (meaning I can't post here) waiting for an email back from the new provider to explain why they've cut us off almost a month early from our old telephone provider.  I don't want to hook up the new modem (which is where you plug the phone in with this new deal), because I don't know if our old internet will work through it.

It's all very complicated and technical for someone like me who has advanced beginner-intermediate understanding of computery things.  So, I think you can expect some catch up posts when it's all sorted.  I have half written one about trilobites (which are awesome!) and have some book reviews that have to be finished too.  Meanwhile, Mum and I are off to watch a dvd that I'll also tell you about later.  It's perfect weather for dvds, dark and rainy.  Hope everyone out there is well.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book Review: Girl Genius (Vol 6) - Agatha Heterodyne and the Golden Trilobite by Kaja and Phil Foglio

I've talked about Girl Genius before when I lamented the end of Freakangels, because it's an awesome webcomic published three times a week (here). Because I'm so far behind and our internet is often annoyingly slow, I was delighted to find that our library has certain volumes in brand new shiny hard copy. If you read Girl Genius online, I suggest getting your hands on a printed volume, they are so beautiful - the colours are more vibrant, lush, and everything is sharper. That's not to say that if you don't have access to hard copies, you shouldn't read the online version, because either way, the story and the graphics rock. As usual, there are spoilers behind the picture, so don't click on it if you haven't read Volume 5 or if you don't want to know the gist of Volume 6 (and it really is only the gist, it's only one paragraph and I don't think the spoilers for Volume 6 are too major).

My only criticism of Girl Genius overall is that there is a LOT of backstory that we are learning along with Agatha and her friends. While, with characters as ignorant of the story as the readers, this would be okay, but Agatha is finding out what is true and what is false in the legendary stories of the Heterodyne Gang that she already knows, and filling in gaps of her own life. At times it feels like we are being asked to to bridge a gap between one fact and a part of the legend we don't know, or have only been introduced to once in passing. This may be my problem, as I do tend to avoid epic stories in written format (preferring them in television show format [Star Trek, for example]) because I get a bit lost, so I'd love to hear from anyone else reading Girl Genius!  If you're not reading it already, get to!  You have quite a bit to catch up on before we can talk about it together.

You can get the first omnibus of Girl Genius (Volumes 1-3) here, Volume 6 here, and the latest volume (Volume 10) here or here.  You can also buy all sorts of neat Girl Genius things here (can someone please get me the Heterodyne pin?  Kthanxbai)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chocolate and Zucchini Cake

According to a number of cookbooks I've read recently, it used to be far more common to put vegetables in sweet cakes.  It makes a lot of sense, not only because this was one way to sweeten batters before sugar was widely available and affordable in Europe, but also because the moisture in the raw vegetables leaks out as the cake bakes, and makes a very moist texture.  Carrot cake seems to be the only cake of this type to have survived, except for this recipe we have been making for a few years now.  When I first heard of it, I thought it would taste terrible, but you can't taste the zucchini, and believe me, once you try it, you'll be pondering other ways to include vegetables in your cakes!

Chocolate and Zucchini Cake

125 g butter
1 c brown sugar

½ c white sugar
3 eggs
2½ c flour
1 t vanilla
½ c plain yoghurt
¼ c cocoa
2 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
½ t mixed spice
½ t salt (if using unsalted butter)
3 c grated zucchini

Beat butter and sugars, and then add eggs, one at a time, with a spoonful of the measured flour (this stops the eggs curdling).  Add the vanilla and yoghurt and mix well to combine.  Sift in dry ingredients, add the zucchini, and mix well until thoroughly combined.  Bake at 170°C for ~45 minutes in a 25 cm tin.

Variations:  Omit the cinnamon and mixed spice if desired.  Add ½-1 c of chocolate chips before you add the dry ingredients, to make it even more chocolatey.  Swap the yoghurt for about half as much sour cream for a lovely tang (if the mixture becomes too dry, just add a small amount of milk to make up for the yoghurt).

I did have a photo of this cake, but it came out terribly and the cake didn't survive long enough to take another.  I will pop one in next time we make it!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Velvet Chicken

Rather than a recipe, this is a technique for preparing the most deliciously moist chicken for your next stir fry.  Have you ever wondered why the chicken in the stir fry you make at home is slightly dry in comparison to takeaways, even though it's not overcooked?  According the BBC Good Food magazine, and tested by yours truly, restaurants 'velvet' their chicken, before cooking it.

Simply combine 1T of corn flour, 1T of rice wine or dry sherry (we had neither, so used a little splash of water), and an egg white, and then toss chicken pieces in the gooey mess to coat.  It's just the same as battering.  Then leave the chicken to stand on the bench for 20-30 minutes while you chop up all of your veges (we had 7 different veges tonight and it was glorious!).  The magazine suggested poaching or deep frying the chicken, so we popped it on the stove in a pan full of almost boiling water (eww deep frying!).  Then I emptied the water and popped the chicken back in the pan with a little oil to brown up a little, before stirring it into the veges and sauce, and serving.

This was really simple, and turned out wonderfully!  I hope you'll try it, let me know what you think if you do!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Short Note: Studio Ghibli

Today I have accomplished many things, but it's already 9:41pm and I haven't published a blog post.  Because one of the things I accomplished today was finishing volume five of Girl Genius online, I will keep this post short so I can go and read volume six (which I was pleasantly surprised was in the library).

I was going to tell you all about the dvds I (FINALLY) received from Amazon UK on Friday, but I haven't finished all three of the Sinbad movies I was going to talk about, only two of them.  So instead I will give you this link, and hope that you are as excited about anything Studio Ghibli as I am.  I love their movies, there's something in them that (even though Ghibli movies seem a lot more grown up) Disney almost had when I was a kid, but is totally lost now.  Don't get me started on Disney and their focus on graphics and merchandise over story...  Anyway, as the author of the post says, it makes me sad to think that we could have had another mystical adventure movie from Studio Ghibli, but perhaps if this one were finished, we would have missed out on Nausicaa instead.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Red-Does-Not-Go-Faster Scarf

Photo courtesy of Kris

I made another crochet scarf!  I promise, one day soon I'll be brave and move past scarves (though I still have one in progress), but this was a gift.  It was only two..  or three weeks late.  But it finally got to its new home.

The body of the scarf is a simple ribbed treble crochet (ie, a row of back loop treble [rs], then a row of front loop treble [ws]), and the ends are a funky stitch, the name of which I don't remember, but I think it looks and feels like a really really lush carpet, so for now I'll call it carpet stitch.  It sounds complicated (though it's not, I mean, seriously, I can even do it!), and I have no idea how to draw it, so I'll just explain it:
First Row:  tr in each stitch to end, do not turn
Second Row: ch 7, sl st into front loop of last tr, *ch 7, sl st into front loop of next tr, repeat from * to end, including top of turning chain of first row, do not turn
Third Row:  ch 3, *tr into back loop of next tr, repeat from * to end
You can vary the length of the chain for a different look, but because a treble stitch is three chain high, it will extend below the row you're stitching into.

I used an 8 ply wool because it came in a big enough ball that I knew I'd easily finish the scarf without having to buy more, but it was really really fine.  To make a thicker fabric I used two strands of wool at once.  For the first few rows, that was tricky, but I soon got the hang of it.

To finish, I did a border in crab stitch, one of the coolest simple edging stitch I know of.  Starting from the right hand side (yup, another r-l stitch) simply dc into each st.  Because you're working right to left, the wool from the ball is caught in the stitch and makes it look woven.  Really cool, especially if you have limited wool left, and once I worked out how to do it right (instructions are no substitute for experimentation), it worked pretty quickly.

So that's another project done!  Soon, I may start feeling accomplished!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Kumara and Lentil Soup

Hi there folks, I promised I would post every day in September (except my birthday), but already that attempt has been foiled!  I wrote the review of Journey to the Centre of the Earth on Thursday afternoon, and scheduled it for Friday morning, but when I decided to change something in the post and clicked 'update', blogger decided to publish it then and there.  This is what I get for trying out this new interface, I suck at figuring out new things.  So please count Thursday's second post as Friday's post, and we'll all get along just fine.

I absolutely love this recipe, it's flavourful and really good for you.  For anyone not from New Zealand, kumara is a variety of sweet potato brought to New Zealand with the Maori a few hundred years ago.  It has a different flavour to the sweet potato I had while in Australia, quite a bit sweeter.  It also has a texture that's softer than a regular potato when cooked, and is a little stringy.  In New Zealand, you can buy purple (see below), golden, and orange (depending on season) in every supermarket in the country.  I'm sure sweet potato will work just as well in this recipe, though it will taste a little different.  Please do include the apple, though, as it adds another type of sweetness and a subtle flavour that really makes the soup.

Picture from Wikipedia

Kumara and Lentil Soup

A drizzle of oil
2 tsp curry powder
2 onions, grated or chopped finely
3 cloves of garlic
1 apple, grated or chopped finely
20 g coriander
Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
Salt to taste
800 g kumera (sweet potato), grated or chopped finely
1.2 L stock
100 g red lentils
300 ml milk
Juice of 1 lime (optional)

Drizzle a large saucepan with oil and add the curry powder and heat, stirring, until fragrant.  Add the onions, garlic, apple, coriander, and ginger.  Season to taste, and cook slowly for 5 minutes.  Add the kumera, lentils, stock, and milk, and simmer covered for 20 minutes or until everything is cooked.  Blend until smooth and stir in lime juice if using.

Variations:  Try pumpkin in the place of sweet potato.  Instead of using curry powder, try using your own favourite mix of spices.  Instead of using milk and stock, try coconut milk/cream (and add water as needed), add minced/finely chopped lemongrass, and limit the spices to tumeric and chilli, and make a Thai-inspired sweet potato/pumpkin soup.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Book Review: Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne

I really enjoyed this book.  I have read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and didn't enjoy that nearly as much.  In fact, I call 20,000 Leagues 'The Fish Directory' because the bulk of the book is descriptions of the various sea life the Professor is privileged to encounter.  At times, Journey to the Centre of the Earth verges on 'The Lithics Directory', but Verne seems to reel himself back, showing great restraint (or perhaps he was simply more enthusiastic about fish?).  This results in detail that adds to the story rather than detracting from it.  I'm sure Verne was a very intelligent person and wanted to share as much information in as great detail as possible, but in 20,000 Leagues, it really weighs the story down.

I think most people know the general gist of this story, whether from hearing about it or seeing one of the movie incarnations, so I won't worry too much about spoiling it*.  Young Axel (very cool name, by the way) is nephew to Professor Otto Liedenbrock, already an esteemed mineralogist at the beginning of the novel.  In a coded message (found in an old book), attributed to a savant by the name of Saknussemm and transcribed in runic symbols, Otto is delighted to find the directions to the access point for the interior of the earth.  In fact, this note claims that the tunnel leads to the earth's very center.  Consumed by a drive to attain even higher esteem, and armed with an admirable ability to ignore the protestations of his young companion, Otto drags Axel to Iceland.  There they find the tunnel at the top of an extinct volcano, and, along with their faithful (to the point of self-sacrificing) guide Hans, they plunge into a great adventure.

At the time of writing, the theory of plate tectonics was over 40 years away, which meant that Verne's contemporaries didn't understand the processes involved in the formation and activity of volcanoes.  The accepted theory of the era was that the earth was hollow, and tunnels and tubes ran underneath the crust of the earth that joined each volcano to one another.  Through these tubes, lava would flow, but after a volcano had become extinct, it was possible to travel through these empty tunnels.  And this is what Verne uses as his starting point.  It is true science fiction, well before the term was coined, in that a scientific theory is the very heart of the story.  Without these tunnels, no access to the centre of the earth could exist, and so there was no adventure to be had.

The fact that Verne wrote adventure fantasy based upon what must have been an amazing amount of scientific understanding and knowledge in the days well before our accustomed ease of access to information, makes his works worth reading on its own.  However, the story told in Journey to the Centre of the Earth is just as compelling.  Come on people, it has dinosaurs!  If you're not sold yet, I don't know what to do with you.

If I have inspired you to buy this book, please consider purchasing it from Mighty Ape (also, it's only $8!).
Using this link doesn't cost you anything and gives me credit to spend on more things to tell you about!

*Though, do see this article about how much more we enjoy a story when we have heard spoilers for it.

Another Graphics Fairy-Inspired Pretty

I mentioned a long time ago now that I had taken a picture from Graphics Fairy, transferred it onto some calico, and stitched it for an engagement present for a friend.  Well, last weekend, I was finally able to give it to her, and so can now show it off.

I am really pleased with how it came out, especially as a few elements caused me some real frustration.  Here's the original picture:

The first thing I did was hand stencil the banner with 'Congratulations'.  Then I used my trusty (and much shorter now!) 2B pencil to colour the back of the paper, then pinned it to the calico.  Then, just as I have done with the canvases I've been doing, I traced over the image with a pen.  Then I just stitched it!

There are a few French knots, and almost-grub roses, but it's mostly backstitch and satin stitch.  I really must learn to vary the stitches I use, hopefully that way I will cut down the amount of time spent on each piece, as there are quicker ways of filling spaces and doing flowers.

I also must start recording the numbers of the threads I use, at least for the projects that are intended as presents.  I hate that I look at this picture now, months after I finished it, and think that a certain colour is lovely, knowing that I took a thread from three different colours to make it.  I'll never be able to recreate it from the photo.  Live and learn!

Have you got any projects that you've been meaning to finish?  I still have heaps and heaps of them.  I have changed my mind about what one of my canvases is going to be since I painted it far too dark for its original purpose.  I'll talk about that more next week.  I also have gnomey to finish.  I have finished project 'red does not go faster' scarf, it simply needs steaming and sending (I promised it'd be in the mail yesterday, but I forgot to ask Mum how to steam it).  So I'm keeping busy!


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