Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Lazy Coder Cuisine: Balsamic Sausage Chunks (aka Venetian Sausage Bites)

(note: I decided to use title prefix "Lazy Coder Cuisine" to make it easier to find food/drink recipes from the Blog -- who knows, maybe it could even lead to a virtual cook book over time!)

On my quest to find recipes with exceptionally high value/effort ratio, I came across this gem. It is basically a very simple snack, offering good taste (if non-stellar looks) with modest effort. To give credit where it is due I found the source recipe (Venetian Sausage Bites) at Food Network web site.

Basic idea is very simple:

  1. Take sausage -- uncooked sweet italian sasusage suggested (whatever is convenient package; 6 sausages recommended)
  2. Poach (cook in boiling water) for a bit (6 - 7 minutes); slice into bite-sized pieces
  3. Fry slightly on skillet, using as much olive oil as necessary (like 2 table spoons) to get bit of color, firm texture
  4. Add balsamic vinegar (1 cup; more if you want more sauce), simmer to reduce into syrupy sauce (15 - 20 minutes or s)

And the result is a very tasty cocktail snack, in about half an hour (and probably less if you are in a hurry). Results have interesting looks, charcoal black, which is bit acquired taste; but taste itself has broader appeal I think.

But wait! There is room for further simplification (as well as for variation) here. For one, you can just use cooked sausage (and obviously vary different kinds), which gets rid of the second step. And if you like bit of additional fat and salt, feel free not to discard melted fat after step 3.

It is actually kind of cool how flexible balsamic vinegar is; considering how different resulting reduction tastes compared to source material. Plus it is probably easy to further pimp the recipe -- I bet adding bit of cream could not hurt the sauce... maybe even add something like apple sauce for added hint of sweetness (best sauce for ham, for example, adds mustard, cream and apple sauce on fat melted from ham... and maybe dash of pepper).

The main consideration here is just what to serve these with, if anything. As cocktail snacks, can definitely serve them stand-alone. But other typical companions of sausages should work well too (serve with scrambled eggs?).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lazy Coder Cuisine: Making Ciabatta -- lots of work, tasty rewards

Here is something different within culinary domain. I love good bread, and at times it has been challenging to find good stuff in this continent. But while I have not located all kinds of good breads that exist in northern parts of the old continent, I have found new good things over here. One of those things is ciabatta, which is actually a fairly recent invention, despite coming from established culinary superpower of Italy.

Anyway: while it is possible to find good ciabatta here in Seattle area, it can be bit pricey. And beside economy, freshness is still a challenge. So I figured that perhaps it might not be beyond my capabilities (or rather, team Saloranta's capabilities -- my wife is a superior chef these days) to bake a decent load of ciabatta.

Ok: we settled for about the first Google hit, and specifically on this recipe. Reading through it, it became clear that this is not one of Lazy Coder's recipes; process is surprisingly lengthy for bread making (granted, variance for kinds of breads is huge), if nothing extra-ordinary. Specifically it's actually possible to get it all done within a day.

Long story short: following recipe closely, and using a 20$ pizza stone from Bed Bath & Beyond (pre-heating for bit over suggested 45 minutes) produced 2 rather tasty instances. Even 2 steps that felt tricky (kneading by hand -- I suspect that time mentioned is way overestimate, 2 minutes is probably fine -- maybe machines have less torque or something; and getting the thing on pizza stone from parchment paper, should have added flour on parchment) failed to ruin the results. So two thumbs up for the recipe and the idea, as long as you have time and energy to do it.

One thing I would suggest for anyone who tries this is to just double the dose and make 4 Ciabattas: effort is not doubled, and so if you go through the trouble, might as well get enough to eat for a while, or to offer for good friends.

And lastly: one nice thing about Ciabatta is that it is delicious with very little else: for example, with melted butter. Yum.

ps. On somewhat related note; another late pleasant finding was that US "genoa salami" is close enough to old world "metwurst" (almost as close as "gypsy salami" which is the best US match so far). Couple this with good cheese (sharp cheddar, emmentaler [aka "swiss cheese"], gouda), and you get pretty close to perfect "default topping" for all kinds of breads -- not just dark sourdough ryebread (finnish specialty), but all kinds of white wheat-based breads too.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lazy Coder Cuisine, simple snacks, drinks: (fake) Key Lime Pancakes, Chunky Monkey (drink)

It has been a while since I have written about food or drinks. That does not mean I hadn't been experimenting with simple to make delicious food and drinks. Rather it is just an indication that one driving force in these experiments has been one of 3 cornerstones of good programmer productivity, laziness. And while that approach can lead to good discoveries, it does not lead to writing of those discoveries.

But since I just made another nice discovery, and since I am in semi-active blog-writing mood (due to having forced myself to write previous tech-heavy article last night!), let's review 2 simple pieces of good stuff: simple "fake" dessert (or just sweet complement to breakfast), and a simple alcoholic drink. And I am hoping this act of documentation might lead to my remembering more of document-worthy results I have had... if not, I will just need to write some more about blackberry beer or something. But I digress.

1. Key Lime Pancakes

Ok. First a disclaimer: this is not really Key Lime anything -- no limes are involved, nor anything from the Key west. Name is just inspired due to similarity of taste to Key Lime Pie. So consider this a "fake" recipe, something simple to make that imitates a better known dish. :-)

Making Key Lime Pancakes is rather simple -- very lazy-friendly -- and goes like this:

  1. Make basic pancakes (laziest way: use Walmart's pancake mix, only add water; more refined is to google for buttermilk pancake recipe, use that), make sure to fry them in butter (my preference is salted butter, I assume unsalted is ok for lower sodium intake)
  2. Spread thin (or, if you prefer, thick) layer of Lemon Curd (ready-made one works fine; I used Trader Joe's affordable yet good variant) on pancakes
  3. Add whipped cream -- use canned version for additional lazy points (as usual, Trader Joe's has good price/quality ratio), that is, spray some whipped cream on top of lemon curd
  4. Enjoy!

And there you have it! Actually I wish I had taken a snapshot of the result, but either way that would not convey the taste. Sweet taste of food coupled with irresistable satisfaction from making it happen with very low effort AND with limited budget. Good stuff, will be one of desserts included in Tatu's Fenno-American Cookbook, should one get written one day.

Since this is rather sweet stuff (albeit with nice acidic overtones), it's best to cleanse one's palate with something... which leads us to the second recipe.

2. Chunky Monkey, the Drink (aka Banana Jack)

One experiment I did over a year ago was to figure out if I could think of a new whiskey based drink. Specifically, a bourbon-based one -- there is no need to commit cardinal sin of spoiling malt whiskys with alien substances.

Of different combinations, only one deserves mention, with recipe like:

  1. Pour some Bourbon (like Jack Daniel's), say 5cl
  2. Add some banana liqueur; ratio to use depends on how strong banana taste one likes; 2-to-1 seems like a reasonable ratio, so 2.5 cl

This drink can be served cold (if so, pour on ice cubes; not shaved ice), but I actually prefer it warm: whisk(e)ys are sensitive to cold in my opinion.
The reason this is a nice drink is that sweetness nicely mellows whiskey taste, similar to how Manhattan cocktail works. And when choosing component ratios properly, drink should not be overly sweet or artificial (one risk with banana liquers)

I hope name I chose has not already been taken. I guess I could alternatively also call it "Banana Jack".

3. Send me patches!

One of best things that ever happened to me and my open source projects was that others started using things I wrote. And sent bug reports, improvements ideas and comments.

In same spirit, if you think of improvement ideas, please do send patches! :-D

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Good News, 2009/Jan: Farming Cool Again, Urban-Agro saving Detroit?

Color me goofy, but I believe I have written something relevant to this latest interesting article in Fortune, "Can Farming Save Detroit?"... lessee.

Ah, yes, back in October I did point to a related Sci-Am article ("The Rise of Vertical Farms" in "Good news is news too...") that presented and discussed the concept of ultra-modern urban farming. And now Fortune has something more concrete to write about, regarding planned development in Detroit, of all places. It (Urban agriculture in general and the particular project in specific) actually seems to make lots of sense -- I did not know, for example, that there are no chain super markets in Detroit; and conversely there is lots of vacant land, mostly (formerly) residential (meaning no toxic industrial waste). There's no point in just repeating all potential benefits here: just suffice it to say that if done correctly, it could be a significant win-win-win situation, from environmental as well as quality-of-food aspect. That it would be done by someone rather unexpected is probably a good thing in itself: seems like lately people that are most unexpected to stand up and do something do just that (like mr. Boone with wind mills etc. etc.). Desire to leave positive legacy is a strong driving force, and continues to influence development in US: it's not just Ivy League colleges that get founded by elderly billionaries (and yet some numbskulls are trying to kill inheritance tax -- how freakishly stupid is that? -- but I digress). Saving the world does kind of top the list of things to do, if you want to leave such a legacy.

In addition to being interesting in and of itself, I find it fascinating how ideas enter mainstream gradually. I am pretty sure that Time and Newsweek pick this up in a month or two; then followed by broadcast news (.... sloooowly), and eventually daily print papers (once everyone is about aware of the thing). I guess this is one more thing to read one of these affordable high-quality magazine US market is (still) blessed with, like Scientific American, Fortune and National Geographic Magazine (and there are plenty more -- these just happen to be ones I have time to read): you get to learn about important ideas, concepts and developments slightly ahead of most others. And if you are even more time-constrainted than I am, well, you can just skim Time or Newsweek, and still be well ahead the curve.

Of course, it could also be that in a decade or two we may be reading articles like this one same way we do now for all those "by 2000, everyone has a personal rocket ship and eats food pills for lunch" future visions... we'll see. It's just that there are actual major problems with current agricultural state of the sart; and I am not thinking of left-wings "agri-biz is bad" angle, but rather more concrete problems of us running out of phospates for fertilization (it is a severely limited natural resource, turns out); loss/compaction of top soil (may need no/low-tilling techniques; but current food crops are not optimized for those); and the perennial problem of over-population and continued world-wide population growth. Oh, and also rabid opposition by well-meaning environmentalists against useful gene-manipulation and breeding techniques.

So, we shall see. We live in very interesting times. As always.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Good news is news too: thoughts on and by 3 quality nonline magazines

If I have said it once, I hope I have said it a thousands times. This is a fact: americans are pampered by the big, affordable selection of quality magazines. Or at least they should be spoiled if they do read them -- I am still not yet convinced they do, after living in the states for a decade. This abundance of goodness is in contrast to selection of daily newspapers; which are -- relatively speaking -- not that much to write home about. It's almost immoral how much good stuff you can actually read from refined-tree-based non-daily print products, for a very modest fee. My specific selection of such Great Magazines contains three exemplars -- Scientific American, Fortune and National Geographic -- but I suspect I could easily form many more such triplets and still make similar statements. My choice of three is not limited my economics or supply problems, but by time constraints: I can barely keep up with these three, as things are.

But I digress. After being inspired by one of many outstanding articles (it'll be the last one I mention in this entry, so more on that one later on), I thought it be fair to review one interesting and relevant article from all three. So here's Tatu's October 2009 American Magazine Article review.

1. How American Auto-Industry was Put In Its Proper Place

(aka "The Auto Bailout: How We Did It" by Fortune)

Of articles chosen, this is the most close-to-earth one. It's a condensed story of how GM/Chrysler cleanup project was done by the "Team Auto" of the US government. It's easy reading, and outlines how well difficult tasks can sometimes be managed, with combination of good people, right timing and perhaps bit of luck. If you had asked me to predict how well process could possibly succeed -- I mean, all the facts were there, and odds did not look very good -- I think I would have thought it unlikely that end result could be as good as it seems to be. And this not so much based on the story, which mostly explains what was done and how, but based on my thinking of how these things tend to go (with the level of business acumen that a software engineer can possibly possess, whether that's above or below average banker's talent).

I really like Fortune for articles like this: it's not a dumbed down version (there are weeklies that can dumb it down a notch; and then newspaper that take it to almost imbecil level; and finally TV shows that do the retard-a-versions for actual illiterates), but manages to be very easy reading.

But that's not all: Fortune also manages to be a good magazine due to its contrarian spirit. For a business magazine it has very independent spirit, and viewpoints presented are varied and if possible even something I'd call fair. It also tackles relevant and non-easy issues -- it's not just yet another WSJ (which itself actually may be one of few examples of good newspapers; nonetheless, it's much more predictable and thus less interesting with respect to non-daily news; but I guess that's only fair for a DAILY newspaper).

Anyhow: that's a good read, enough said.

2. Living On a Razor's Edge (by National Geographic Magazine)

And just so as not to get too well grounded with day-to-day (or year-to-year) living, it's good to mentally teleport into another time and/or place. National Geographic offers multiple articles for doing that; learning about other countries, cultures, flora and fauna, and all combinations thereof. Picking something to showcase is not easy: multiple articles could qualify.

But all things being equal, reading about Madagascar is always a safe bet for learning something new and unusual. But even within those expectations, the story and especially pictures that illustrate it stand far apart. I mean, how would one even imagine natural constructs like these cathedral-spire lookalikes? And things that live and grow on, around and under them. Whoa. Besides, it's somewhat of an uplifting article too, for once human development is unlikely to directly threaten the thing (indirectly climate change can of course affect it, perhaps destory, but that's still better than gone-in-next-five-years odds many other exotic places are given)

3. The Rise of Vertical Farms (by Scientific American)

(see http://www.verticalfarm.com for more)

And finally this is the article that got me inspired to write about stuff others write about. Article itself is sort of mind-blowing: the idea of having skyscrapers used for growing our food sounds decidedly futuristic, somewhat like the old (and for a while now, obsoleted) future predictions of how everyone by 2000 flies around by a jet pack and eats food pills for energy. But when you read the article and think about it, the first questions should be "would it really work?", "why didn't *I* think about it?" and "isn't that obvious now that I read it?"

I like the creativity aspect of the idea; as well as its immense fashionability. One of more surprising current undercurrents of progressive (and I don't mean politically leftist label here) forward-looking thinking is that agriculture is actually not a thing of the past, declining "industry", but something that is both very essential for humankind and also something that is part of the future and current, as well as past. The only thing that has been declining wrt. farming has been amount of population it employs; but its importance hasn't really reduced over time, nor will it significantly be reduced any time soon. So although there has been steady pace of R&D over the years, it is only becoming obvious now that farming is a big thing; there are lots of things wrong with it, but with all the challenges there are also gigantic opportunities. This along with more mundane trends of organic-food-is-cool, bundled with finally-at-last-here american environmentalist awakening is really making farming Cool with a capital C.

And this is where this idea becomes sizzling hot: hey, not only can you produce fresh food locally (where are the consumers? in cities dummy!), it can be both economically beneficial, good for your health (no, not in the "good vibes" sense of organic food but with regards to actual reduction of use of pesticides, less time for spoiling etc. etc. etc.), AND good for environment (less land used, less water, can recycle waste water and perhaps even solids; less energy for transportation). Oh yes, and also good tasting due to freshness -- fresh produce year round.

4. Common Threads (or Exercise in Deep Thinking by an Amateur Philosophist/-logist)

One more interesting thing about the "Big Three" is that they often converge around similar topics, somewhat aligned thinking, same threads; sometimes it might not be trivial to even know which magazine had any given article if you weren't shown it. And I don't mean this in negative way -- it's not that magazines are identical, or lack identity, but rather that they are varied and topic selection thereby overlaps (but is not lemming-like approach of daily news). Of course, some could call such convergence zeitgeist; different entities talking about similar things, threads that connect things that seem unrelated (like environmentalist/naturalist NG vs. business-talk of Fortune vs Geeky SciAm). And cynics would claim I am just missing weekly-paced groupthink. Perhaps this is part of the thing -- there being thoughts floating in time (as much as I hate the word, I guess I better use it... memes).

But I also think there's something related to sort of national way of thinking (what is the word for that again? Volkgaist?). Beyond temporal similarities (wars are more relevant when they are going on, obviously; significance of most events is time-bound), there is this common solution-oriented approach, and choosing of similarly current topics (not just fashionable, as in discussing stupid crap like celebrity gossip or politician's marital prolems) is something these magazines share. And most importantly: there is always this underlying faith in things improving over time. I suspect this is something profoundly american; something more genuine than stomach-revoltingly-plastic flag-waving variety of americana.

What I mean is that many articles talk about how things could be improved; it is actually quite rare to read an article where the overall tone is negative, much less something where things are pointed out to be hopeless. One could of course claim that's just good business sense (who would pay to read about bad stuff), but that's easily rebuked: selling social porn and doom-and-gloom is the business of TV networks, and quite a profitable plan at that.

Anyway, enough soap-box philosophizing (is that a word? can make it one if not?). Thank you for time. And please consider subscribing to some of these great affordable american magazines, if you don't already. I'd rather they be around during my lifetime, and maybe even my children. There'll be more time to read when I retire. :-)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

BAM Sandwich (Bacon, Avocado, Mayonnaise)

Many people are familiar with the "BLT Sandwich" -- an acceptable if mediocre bread-based culinary construct that mixes good stuff (Bacon) with acceptable (Tomato) and trivial (Lettuce).

But why settle for such a mediocre concoction? Shouldn't there be a sandwich that focuses on essentials and provides more (ful)filling eating experience? And complements a good drink of beer exquisitely?

1. Wham! BAM!

Yes. There should. And -- more importantly -- there is!

That is why I feel duty-bound to declare the invention of a new sandwich: Bacon-Avocado-Mayonnaise Sandwich, henceworth known as the "BAM Sandwich". It not only tastes awesomer-er than a can of Brawn-do, but also sounds kick-ass.
(... and it's got the elecrolytes your muscles crave!)

2. How?

Here's how you can construct a tasty instance of (Tatu's World-Famous) BAM Sandwich:

  1. Fry the bacon on a frying pan or skillet; move to side once crisp (can rest on a paper towel). NOTE: Do NOT throw away the melted tasty fat! (see step 3).
  2. Make the avocado spread; use ripe avocados, mix with bit of lemon juice, salt, pepper (white or black) or tabasco, and optionally some sour cream. Result is essentially something between mashed avocado and guacamole, depending on your preference.
  3. Fry 2 slices of toast (regular cheap-o sliced bread; or, for bonus points, olive-oil-rosemary or potato bread) using the bacon fat from step 1; preferably use the same frying pan or skillet as you used for frying bacon.
  4. Construct the sandwich:
    1. Start with one fried slice of bread
    2. Spread some Avocado spread on the slice
    3. Stack (as much) bacon (as you want) on top of avocado spread
    4. Spread some mayonnaise on the other slice
    5. Add the other slice on top of bacon, mayonnaise side facing bacon

Once properly constructed, enjoy with a good glass of your favorite beverage; like a frothy pint of Hefeweizen such as Blue Moon (lighter beers seem to go better with somewhat dense food like BAMwich!).

3. Random helpful preparation notes

Here are some additional notes on preparing a Good Solid BAM:

  • Bacon must absolutely be fried fully crisp. Floppy bacon does not a proper BAM sandwich make!
  • You can use as many bacon strips per sandwich as you want, but minimum is 3 strips for an adult male. For ladies, the legal minimum limit is 2. Small kids are not allowed to touch this tasty treat (ours do not even like it! Those ungrateful little...) -- in fact, a rule of thumb is that if you can't drink the accompanying beer, you are not to eat the sandwich.
  • If you absolutely must (by direct doctor's order, for example) reduce your saturated fat intake, you can be given exemption from having to fry the toast: regular toasting can be accepted as a low-fat alternative. But note: if you do this for anything but life-threatening medical reasons, you will totally lose your man-food street cred and run the risk of growing pair of bunny ears.

Feel free to share your additional tips, in form of comments, backtracks or emails (heck, even clicking on an ad you can see near this entry counts as a useful additional tip! Har har, I'll be here all week, thank you very many!)

4. Musings on Food Terminology and Coining of new Phrases

Due to high degree of compatibility between BAM and optimal male diet & taste, I think this soon-to-be classic sandwich can be called a manwich, if there is such a word. And if there is no such word yet, there will be.

5. Unhelpful side note

It has been brought to my attention that someone has previously tried to tie acronym "BAM" with sequence of words "Bacon, Arugula and Mango". Yuck. If there is any justice in the universe, person responsible for such disgrace is forced to eat his or her own dog food, in substantial quantities.
And with no Blue Moon to wash it down with.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Project B3 (BlackBerry Beer) 2009

Some of you may have heard of my last beer-related project, BlackBerryBeer 2008. Due to unfortunate logistical problems (aka my laziness), the project failed. Year changing to 2009, making project name obsolete, did not help either. In fact, the project failed bad enough so that it is one of very very few projects I don't even list on my Monster resume.

Project B3 2008 Post-Mortem

As any good followers of the Cult of Process, we (the "project team") decided to have a retrospective on what went wrong with the project.

Post-mortem findings include following insights:

  • It is necessary to pick the blackberries before snow falls: failure to do so will make succesful completion impractical, perhaps even impossible. (sidenote: this was the fatal blow to B3 2008! Triple Boo for snow!)
  • Figuring out details like who to use for actual manufacturing (and at what cost) is important. Turns out these things don't just magically sort themselves out (Double Boo for things that don't take care of themselves)
  • Concrete plan is needed for storing resulting half a cask of custom-crafted beer -- our fridge can not contain more than maybe a dozen sixpacks, which is less than half a cask. It was pointed out that it is possible to alleviate this problem a little by drinking more beers faster; and that fortunately our home has multiple bathrooms to help with resulting logistics problem of excreting excess urinary liquids
  • Blackbery bushes have nasty thorns; and resulting bruises heal slowly (Boo for thorny plants!)

B3 2008 is Dead, Long Live BlackBerryBeer 2009 Project!

On positive note, it was also determined that these problems will be overcome with this next-generation project. After all, the stakeholders are now exceedingly thirsty; the blackberry season is not yet over in the grand state of Washington; and all the itchy blackberry wounds have been fully healed by now (in fact, some new ones have been gained to further the goal picking the dang berries; further strengthening our resolve for succesful outcome!)

Project Goals

One good thing about having a failed project is that usually you can reuse much of planning material; generally goals are reusable, sometimes even secondary artifacts like resourcing and scheduling.
This is the case here: goals have not changed a bit. We still want to:

  • Produce a batch of unique beer using some local ingredients (this is where Blackberries come into picture: after all, the only other plentiful local resource -- rain -- is not a particularly recognizable ingredient in the end)
  • Without having to handle the brewing part (as students we did this part -- it's fun, but only first couple of times; and we are well beyond that!)

We are confident that these goals will be met by the project; similar to how we were confident last year (turns out that optimism is, too, recycable! Hooray for optimism!)

The Plan

(note: plan hand-translated from our PM's MS Project Diagram)

  1. Pick the berries (use of child labor approved, maybe even encouraged -- kids don't fear thorns that blackberry bushes use for their protection; and are slightly easier to control than the other commonly encountered creature [Ursus Americanus] with known good blackberry picking skills)
  2. Find a micro-brewery that can brew small batches (half a cask?) for reasonable prices
  3. Procure other ingredients if need be
  4. Bring the stuff to the brewmeister
  5. Wait for craftsmen to brew the magic
  6. Bring The Beer Home!
  7. Drink! Smile! Have Fun!

Apologies for not having a flashy Flash version of the plan. If you want to see a flashier plan, try drinking enough vodka to make the list above spin and bounce on your computer screen (hint: wear 3D glasses for extra fun!)

Current State of the Project: Green (with Slight Chance of Yellow?)

So: although total collected blackberry harvest is still somewhat below required level (dang -- we also need to figure out what that level is!), we are confident that the end result will be enjoyable to drink, and going to be such enjoyed during year of 2009.

One more positive lack of development: we still haven't run across a single bottle of blackberry beer (although there are some Wild Internet Rumors that hint at possibility of future sightings). This is different from many other flavors of fruit beer: our project team has already field-tested multiple brands of blueberry beer, at least one tasty brand of strawberry beer (hi there Strawberry Blonde! Call me!); and of course the always-good Pyramid Apricot Ale.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Ok ok ok. That's a so-called rhetorical question. You can stop listing suggestions now ("I find your lack of faith disturbing!").

Post Scriptum

Once a decent batch of B3 is ready (in 2 months? Just in time for Thanksgiving!), volunteer beer drinkers may be needed. Our project team is thirsty, but even our bladders have limits. More info will be forthcoming if and when reinforcements are needed.

Stay Thirsty! And download responsibly!

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