Sep 03 2014

Kara’s Vegan Minestrone Recipe

Published by under Food,Recipes

I’m surprised this recipe hasn’t made it onto the blog yet, since it’s one of my originals and I make it pretty often (often twice a month). I should clarify that I’m not entirely certain whether this soup can be classified as a minestrone since I chose not to add pasta to it. I like to freeze half the soup because we’re only two people and the pasta gets gummy and broken up and just not very pleasant when it’s been frozen and reheated.




Olive oil – I probably use 1/3 cup. The only fat you’ll get from this dish is this oil – so I tend to go heavier rather than lighter.

One large Onion

4 cloves garlic

3 stalks Celery

2 Carrots

2 cups Vegetable Stock

1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

1 15-ounce can of Cannelini beans

1 15-ounce can of Pink beans (or small kidney beans)

2 medium Zucchini (or one large)

1 bunch Kale (or 3-4 cups). This is a great application for curly kale, but I have used lacinato as well.

1/2 teaspoon of Marjoram

Salt and Pepper, to Taste


Before you begin your vegetable prep – get a pot that’s big enough for soup (my soup pot holds 6 quarts and gets quite full). Add your olive oil – you’ll want enough oil to saute your aromatics. Place the pan it on the stove on medium or medium-high heat, so your oil will be heated by the time the vegetable prep is done. If you’re slow at chopping (like I am) keep an eye on your pot to make sure it doesn’t get too hot (your oil should be shimmering, but not smoking or splattering or writing poetry).

Chop your onion, chop your garlic, chop your celery and peel and chop your carrots. You can chop your vegetables as big and thick as you’d like, but keep in mind that you’ll want your vegetables to fit in a soup spoon comfortably (and while the onion will cook down, the celery and carrots won’t). Add the onion, garlic, carrots and celery to the pot with the heated oil. You’ll cook the vegetables on medium or medium-high heat until the onions start getting translucent. Make sure to stir the pan often enough that nothing sticks (but if you add enough oil at the beginning, that shouldn’t be a concern).

While those aromatics are cooking away, take the opportunity to chop your zucchini (peel any spots that look rough, but otherwise I like to keep the peel on the zucchini). For small to medium sized zucchini, I generally halve my zucchini lengthwise and then slice them (maybe 1/4 inch thick). While the aromatics cook, I also drain my canned beans and make my stock (since I use better than bouillon- I boil 2 cups of water and add the better than bouillon concentrate).

Once the onions and junk are cooked to your desired level, add the stock, canned tomatoes, canned beans and zucchini. Bring the soup to a boil. Once the soup is at a boil – I like to season it. I add marjoram (1/2 tsp dried) and salt and pepper to taste. You could also add basil – but I didn’t since my crushed tomatoes had basil in them.  At this point, lower the heat to bring the soup to a simmer and cover your pot. I generally stir every ten minutes or so while the soup is simmering.

While the soup is happily simmering, I wash and chop my kale. I wait to add my kale until ten minutes before I’ll serve the soup because I like the kale to maintain some tooth-some texture, but you can add it at any point. The soup is ready to eat once the zucchini and kale have cooked through. You can drizzle the soup with more oil upon serving (or add a small amount of earth balance) or top with fresh basil if you have that on hand. If you’re not vegan, you could add a bit of butter or Parmesan to the soup upon serving.


Minestrone with Bread

It’s great on its own but I’ve served this soup with homemade caraway seed and onion bread (pictured above), rosemary foccacia and even with rosemary-seasoned oven-roasted potatoes. It’s a super easy soup, generally takes only about 30 minutes on the stove to cook through (though I usually let it go longer). This recipe makes six servings.

Moo-tritionals (per 1.5 cup serving):

Calories: 304 kcal
Fat: 14 g
Sodium: 513 mg
Potassium: 1127 mg
Total Carbs: 38 g
Fiber: 11 g
Sugar: 10 g
Protein: 11 g

One serving alone also exceeds the recommended daily allowance for both Vitamin A and Vitamin C.

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Aug 27 2014

Coal Has the Power

Published by under Music

Kara and I were digging through a stack of used records at a store last weekend, and we found something genuinely weird. It’s not often anymore that you can hold something in your hand that the Internet has absolutely no information about. I thought I’d throw this out there to see if anyone can help me find out more about this thing.

The thing in question is a worn-out 45, labeled “Amax Coal Company” and containing an awesome, smarmy country rock anthem called “Coal Has the Power” which (surprise!) extols the virtues of coal and strip mining. I have this perverse fascination with corporate anthems, because hey, aren’t they pretty much the exact opposite of music as art? So I was really taken with this lavishly produced commercial for coal. It’s especially interesting to me because the production and vocals are both extremely high quality for this type of song.

Image of "Coal Has the Power" 45 RPM single vinyl record

The record in question.

Anyway, here’s an MP3 of the awesome song the record contains. I’ve done my best to clean up the audio.

After the research I’ve been able to do, here’s what I know about this song:

  1. Amax Coal was a midwestern coal producer, once the country’s third largest. They threw elaborate Christmas parties and generally seem like the kind of company that would have spent a bunch of money on a big-budget corporate anthem. They pretty much ceased to exist via merger in 1992-1993.
  2. “Tree Pub., BMI” is probably Tree Publishing Company, founded in Nashville in 1951 by Jack Stapp and Lew Cowan. It grew up in a big way — to become Sony/ATV Music Nashville, the largest country music publisher in the world.
  3. Between the “Produced at The Sound Shop” credit, and the song credit to “Rogers & Deitschmann”, it’s probably reasonable to assume that “Deitschmann” is Craig Deitschmann, who was at one time president of the Sound Shop studio in Nashville.
  4. Based on #2 and #3, and the timing of Tree Publishing’s transition from advertising jingle producer to big-time music producer, the song was probably recorded in Nashville some time between 1973 and 1982, and more likely in the first half of that range.
  5. This song is not in BMI’s catalogue at all. Craig Deitschmann is listed as a songwriter for a dozen or so other songs.
  6. The Library of Congress’s online copyright catalog has no record of this song, which could mean it was never registered, but probably means that it was registered before 1978.

Does anyone feel like trying to crack a mystery? When and why was this song written and recorded? How was it used? Who performed it? I’ll update this post with anything I learn.

In case anyone wants them, here are the lyrics:

The winds of change are blowing
All across the U.S.A.
You can feel the feeling growing now
To find a better way
To keep a good thing going
Growing stronger every day

We’ve got the power
To show the world the way
We’re the promise for tomorrow
And we’ll build it from today

Don’t you know the world
Has got a problem on its mind?
Where’s tomorrow’s energy
The close, abundant kind?
And what is to become
Of the land that’s left behind?

Can we guarantee our children a place to grow and play?
Can we raise a future forest from a soil of rock and clay?
Will the cattle find a pasture when all the coal is mined?
Can we do it by tomorrow?
Do you think we have the time?

You know we have the power
To supply the human race
We can make a meadow flower
Where once land went to waste
We have it in our power
To create a garden place

Coal has the power
Coal can show the way
It’s the promise for tomorrow
That makes more of today

The way to build tomorrow
Is to learn from yesterday
And the promises and people
Who can find a better way
To use what we’ve been given
And make more of today

Coal has the power
Coal can show the way
It’s the promise for tomorrow
That makes more of today

Coal has the power
Coal can show the way
It’s the promise for tomorrow
That makes more of today

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May 02 2014

À la recherche du convivialité perdu

Published by under Personal,Philosophy,Technology

This month, our blog turns nine years old. In blogger terms, that’s an eternity. I credit the blog’s longevity to the fact that I’ve never stressed about writing anything here (I mean, when was the last time I wrote a post?) and to the fact that I would continue writing things occasionally even if no one read them. (Some would argue that this is already the case.)

In reality, the blog started earlier than that, as a collection of static HTML pages that I put up at my newly-registered domain back in 2002. At that time, the word “blog” existed, but no one had really started using it yet. WordPress 1.0 was still two years away. I would write the occasional technical article and post it to the site. The focus was pretty much on retrocomputing and the origins of the universe, which I guess are recurring themes for me. I had no way of knowing whether anyone was reading what I wrote, and I didn’t really care. I guess writing on this blog has been similarly motivated.

Anyway, one of the things that strikes me about this blog, re-reading my posts over time, is how much my posts suck. I tend to write when I get riled up about something, and as a result I tend to come off as some kind of angry, misanthropic egomaniac. To be sure, I am all of these things, but not usually all at the same time.

The posts of mine that have attracted the most readers and comments have always been the practical and technical ones: how to hack the MSL out of a Treo 700p, posts about the Commodore 64, and so on. I think I’ve shied away from this kind of writing because I feel it doesn’t hold up well against Kara’s writing. In one corner is me ranting about something that 300 people in the world care about, and in the other is Kara with her gorgeous writing, beautiful photographs and excellent recipes.

So anyway, over this past week Kara and I have bought and set up an Amiga 3000 — yes, that’s where this was going; did you expect something else? I find myself struck by the beauty, simplicity and usability of this ancient system. Unlike the C64, which I adore for all kinds of irrational reasons, the Amiga 3000 at 23 years old is still quite practical. Its support for things like DMA SCSI and PostScript mean that I don’t have to surround it with an ecosystem of ancient, fragile peripherals. But most importantly, AmigaOS is astonishingly usable. You push the button and the computer turns on. The workbench metaphor makes sense, buttons do what they intuitively should, and tasks that peg the CPU at 100% don’t freeze the user interface. It’s beautiful.

Photograph of monitor showing Amiga Workbench 3.1 running on an Amiga 3000

Surprisingly, this is what this post is about.

And it reminded me of how jaded I’ve become about computers. I work in IT and I see us repeating the follies of history over and over again — and in an industry where “history” consists of anything more than 5 years old this is particularly depressing. I hate most enterprise software; I hate Windows 8; I hate Mac OS; I’ve fled to Slackware to try to keep from hating Linux. I guess I’ve assumed that I’m just becoming miserable and unpleasant or something.

But if Kara and I can both turn on an Amiga, the last gasp of a company that’s been dead for 20 years, a device that we have basically no experience with, and recognize immediately that it’s a beautiful and usable thing, then maybe there’s nothing wrong with me after all. IT in general now seems determined to be the victim of its own excesses, and our collective memory span is getting shorter by the day, so who’s to say that current computer technology doesn’t just plain suck?

Like it or not, I realized, this is what I care about. I need to keep writing in defense of computers as well-designed, usable content creation systems for the home, even if I’m the only person on the planet not using an iPhone for all his computing tasks. It may not be as interesting as cookie recipes, but it’s what I do.

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Nov 30 2013

Holiday Recipe: Sugar Cookies with Glaze

Published by under Food,Recipes

I’m a sugar fiend, and one of my most favorite treats is a sugar cookie with some icing. I like ‘em all – flaky cookies with glaze; cakey cookies with buttercream icing and everything in between, especially with colorful sprinkles on top. Because I’m also a color fiend.

When I was a kid, my mom made two kinds of sugar cookies: some were lemon flavored which we cut out in shapes and then topped with sanding sugar before baking. One year, mom also made some nifty ones once with food color paint – but the paint didn’t taste as nice as the sugar tasted.

This year, I feel like doing holiday baking. I usually do a batch or two of *something* to take to cookie exchanges with friends or coworkers. But I am planning to mail out some cookies to family and friends far and wide, so this year I’m taking the opportunity to try out some new recipes and do some fun baking just for the sake of fun. And also for the sake of heating up the house – so far this Fall has been a lot colder than last year was.


Hedgehog Cookies



Butter Cookies
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 1/4 cups Powdered Sugar

1 cup and 2 Tb Butter

1 egg yolk

1/2 tsp Salt

2 tsp vanilla extract

Zest from one lemon

2 3/4 cup All Purpose Flour

It comes together super simply – mix sugar, butter, egg yolk, salt, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Add flour a bit at a time. I found the dough was extremely dry – so I added 1 Tb lemon juice and 1 Tb water to get a better consistency. It’s a buttery dough, so expect it to be a little crumbly but the crumbs should be able to be pressed into rounds. Split the dough in two rounds, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate at least two hours (I refrigerated overnight).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set dough out to come to room temperature. Once dough is at room temperature (about 30 minutes), roll it out. I rolled my dough to about 1/8 inch thickness on my enormous plastic cutting board. After I roll out the dough in one direction, I pick up the dough up and spin it 90 degrees so it doesn’t stick to the cutting board – no flour or powdered sugar necessary for the bottom and no wax paper needed to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin.

Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and then place cookies on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. The cookies can be placed really close together because they don’t spread much. Bake for about ten minutes – I baked until they were just browning on the edges. Let them cool on the pan for two to three minutes and then place them on cooling racks.

The cookies themselves are good – not very sweet but very rich. They’re not crunchy, but they are crisp and flaky. The bit of lemon zest and juice is a really subtle flavor which just lightens the cookies a bit.


Cookie Glaze
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

2 1/4 cup Powdered Sugar

2 Tb light corn syrup

1 – 3 Tb Milk

1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

Food Coloring (as desired)

Whisk sugar, corn syrup and milk together. I needed a lot more milk than was called for in the original recipe to get a reasonable consistency – I probably used 3 Tb or so. Since I was going to dye the icing, I had no issue using vanilla extract but if you want a white icing, you probably shouldn’t.  The icing was actually really easy to use – it did spread out evenly on the cookies, but you do have to guide it to little spots if you use a cookie cutter with a lot of detail.

Top the iced cookies with sprinkles or other decorations you’d like while the glaze is still wet. Once it’s completely set, you could also pipe decorative icing.


Fox Cookie

What do I say?

Voilà! Now you have pretty cookies which are tasty and not too sweet. I also imagine they will ship well, although only time will tell.

PS. These adorable cookie cutters came from Ikea – the set includes an elk, a hedgehog, a snail, a fox, a bear and a squirrel. You can find it here. I think the elk shape might be awesome to use on our anniversary next year since we got so close to so many elks during our marriage ceremony/ hike.

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Aug 27 2013

Recipe: Vegan Zucchini Bread

Published by under Food,Recipes

A few weeks ago, Michael and I picked up 3 pretty large zucchinis. My thought was to roast them in the oven and also to use them in my veggie pasta. But it stayed in the 95 degree range all that week and was humid on top of it. I couldn’t bother to turn on the oven and heat the house up. This weekend it cooled down a bit and I remembered that my mom used to make a chocolate zucchini bread, which I remembered liking a lot. Hers was actually chocolate bread with zucchini. This recipe is essentially a vanilla quickbread with cinnamon and zucchini.

Her bread was better than these turned out. I found a few recipes that looked similar but couldn’t be arsed to veganize them as I’ve had mixed luck using ener-g egg replacer in baked goods. Project for another day, maybe? In any case, these are not particularly healthy.

Vegan Zucchini Muffin
Tasty Cake-like Substance!

Vegan Zucchini Bread

3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used peanut)
1/4 cup almond milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
3.5 cups zucchini
1 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

2 Regular Loaf Pans or 4 Mini Loaf Pans or 2 Muffin/Cupcake Pans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease pans to be used.
Grate zucchini. Some people recommend peeling – I am lazy and I happen to like the bright green skin peeking through the finished product.
Mix flour, salt, leavening and cinnamon. Set aside.
Mix sugar, oil, almond milk, vanilla extract until combined. Add zucchini. Add flour mixture in batches. Finally, add chocolate chips and nuts.

I used one loaf pan and one muffin pan. The muffins were cooked in about 35 minutes. The loaf was done in about 50-60 minutes.
The recipe turned out pretty sweet – I had already cut the sugar in this recipe by half a cup, I’d be inclined to cut it further.

Moo-tritionals (24 servings)

Calories: 233 kcal
Total Fat: 13.2 g
Saturated Fat: 2.3
Sodium: 5.1 mg
Carbohydrate: 25.6 g
Fiber: 1.5 g
Sugar: 16.1 g
Protein: 3.1 g

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Aug 06 2013

On Nostalgia, Newspapers

I was watching Gone With the Wind yesterday, and it’s a truly awful movie. I mean, I can’t at this moment think of anything enjoyable or redeeming about it unless I missed Rhett slapping Scarlett. Did I miss that? I stopped watching when poor old Scarlet sees her mother dead. In the meantime, Melanie  is deathly ill in the wagon with a newborn, and the horse is dead on the ground. Terrible, cruel, self-absorbed Scarlet.

Anyway, my point is this. They say, over and over again, in this terrible movie that the grand old South is passing away (In fact, they say it is gone with the wind… multiple, hideous times). I’m not a nostalgic person, generally. I can pretty easily dismiss societies which stagnate, rituals which lack personal meaning, thoughts or beliefs unsupported by evidence.

But then The Washington Post was sold yesterday and I realized that I am nostalgic, that I yearn for the newspaper of my childhood. That I am watching newspapers chopped up and burned in front of my eyes. That it makes me feel like a whiny, helpless, slave girl-slapping Scarlett.

I read the Washington Post as a kid, before they even had a KidsPost. I read every comic strip, even the ones which I couldn’t make sense out of (*cough* Zippy the Pinhead *cough*). I read the Business section, mostly to stare at the charts of stock figures like an aspie. As I grew up, my father would read headlines to me in the morning. I started reading the Sunday paper in its entirety when I was in junior high, devouring the Post Magazine, which was probably my favorite section each week for the feature writing and Dave Barry’s column.

The feel of the newspaper was special – the thin but resilient pages, the way the printed word actually felt smudgey on your fingers. The smell of the paper and the ink, the crisp sound of the pages bending and shifting. I miss those things – I miss the smell of coffee mixing with the smell of ink.

But mostly what I miss about newspapers was the surprise. When I picked up a paper, my eyes scanned each page. I read the headline, maybe the first paragraph of everything. Then I came back through to read the entirety of articles on the topics or in the writing styles that interested me. Newspapers are about accessing *all* news and then determining what effects you – practically and emotionally. But the end result is you see the total picture. You have the whole paper – almost a wingspan across, in your field of vision. It’s a different world view.

Nowadays, I read the “paper” online mostly. It ruins the experience. I click on the articles that concern me and I generally don’t learn very much new. I don’t learn anything that changes my worldview. And that’s the actual paper I pay for online access to. So the writing is good, the coverage generally in depth.
Worse is when I go on, and just see what the headlines are for the day. Click on 90% of those articles and you’ll get a summation of something that happened. Most of the time you won’t even get an idea of how this news fits into a larger picture, what the impact is, how it could affect you. And that’s the best case scenario for that 90% of articles. Because all too often the article I read is exaggerated, inaccurate, fear-mongering nonsense. And that’s on all ends of the political spectrum. News without newspapers has lost its inherent value to society – it has lost its sense of time, it has lost its responsibility to the people it serves, its ability to extend our worlds and our views with one well-written article or one well-designed spread at a time.

And what can I do? I have a proper paper delivered to my home — Michael and I have generally subscribed to a real newspaper for as long as we’ve been living together. So every morning I get a paper, and most mornings I don’t even read it. It’s not that I don’t have time, I do. I make a bowl of oatmeal and linger over a cup of coffee, usually with the novel I’m in the middle of or a literary magazine (some mornings I even turn on NPR while I’m making lunches). It takes energy to read a paper, and a clean table and the ability to give a crap about the world, the whole world. I know the news, still. But I’m missing all the fleshy connections.

I use my kindle when I travel, but when I go to bed to read I grab a book off one of our many book shelves. I use Amazon MP3 almost exclusively to listen to music on my phone but when I’m home, I grab a record and drop the needle. I stream video, but I still own hundreds of movies. I can see that I am outdated, perhaps dangerously so. I know that real-live newspapers are probably well on their way to extinction. Unlike vinyl, which is essentially a luxury item that has found a new market with luddites like me, newspapers are seen as a commodity – and it is likely too expensive and difficult to distribute a real-live paper for very much longer. I do believe that we, consumers, should expect to pay for news: that good writing and good newspaper design are not cheap, and not unimportant.

Then a different movie comes to mind – women traipse up and down Paris streets, shouting “New York Herald Tribune,” on black and white film. But that was long ago, long before me.

I would hate for the convenience of the technological age to replace the art of the newspaper.

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May 16 2013

Recipe: Zucchini Alfredo with Mushrooms

Published by under Food,Recipes

This is a recipe based off one I found here. I think it’s a good base. Essentially – zucchini becomes your pasta. And honestly, it is not as weird or gross as it sounds. It’s also a great recipe to dust off now, because before you know it, zucchini will be plentiful and cheap.

Here are the ingredients I used:

  • 4 small zucchini (probably a little less than 4 cups)
  • 8 oz fresh mushrooms (pre-sliced and pre-washed — yay!)
  • Oil — I used peanut oil, no more than a teaspoon or two total in the dish
  • 2 cloves garlic (easily could have done 4, but I really like garlic)
  • Jar of Alfredo Sauce (the lowest carb ones I find are 2 carbs per serving)
  • Sundried tomatoes — 3 or 4, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan (optional topping)

I prep my zucchini first, as this is the most time consuming aspect. In my case, I washed four small zucchini and then split them in half lengthwise so I had a big, flat surface. Then I got out my mandoline and my special blade-proof gloves and prayed I didn’t do anything completely stupid and hurt myself, because I’d be driving myself to the hospital.


Don’t be afraid, I have a girly name.

But thanks to the gloves and my cautiousness — the zucchini was sliced (AND I even washed the mandoline without hurting myself!)

Once the zucchini was cut (I try to make fettucine-like zucchini noodles, I set it aside and cooked my mushrooms separately.

I cooked the mushrooms in two batches in a very hot small skillet with a tiny amount of oil (maybe half a teaspoon, if that) and let them get all brown and pretty. Once they were cooked through (and browned on both sides), I chopped them up and set them aside. While I was cooking the mushrooms, I also got a handful of sundried tomatoes and rehydrated them in boiling water. They did not turn out well — note to self, buy sun-dried tomatoes which are canned in delicious oil.

I put about a teaspoon of oil in a big non-stick skillet and threw the zucchini noodles in. After it cooked for about 5 minutes with me stirring it every so often, I threw in the garlic and cooked it another couple minutes. Then I emptied the pan, put a little more than half my jar of alfredo sauce into the pan (about a cup of sauce) and added back the zucchini, the mushrooms and the sun-dried tomatoes (which I had chopped). At this point, you would add a protein if you weren’t as lazy or ill-prepared as me. Then, I added salt and pepper to taste (you gotta have fresh-ground black pepper) and topped with a bit of Parmesan.

Zucchini Alfredo

Zucchini Alfredo with mushrooms

MOO-tritionals per serving (this recipe made 2 hungry Kara servings)

Calories: 260 kcal
Fat: 20.4 g
Saturated Fat: 9 g
Cholesterol: 50 mg
Sodium: 665.8 mg
Carbohydrates: 13 g
Fiber: 2.8 g
Sugar: 6.9 g
Protein: 8.4 g

Perhaps surprisingly, the largest contributor of sugar in this dish is the zucchini. The more you know.

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May 16 2013

Marinated Mushrooms

Published by under Food,Recipes

I admit it, I have an expensive addiction (besides alcohol, which is most costly to my self-respect).

You know those stupid olive bars that every upper or even mid-level grocery store has to have now? Where you pay 6 or 7 bucks a pound for fancy olives and stuffed peppadews and that sort of junk?

I can’t help but wander over to them, my eyes seeking the most dull, plain-looking thing there.

The marinated mushrooms.

I love these things — I love the slight chewiness of the mushrooms, I love the acidity of the vinegar and the mild heat of onions and garlic and red peppers.  I think they’re amazing and I will pay like 5 bucks for a cup of these delightful little treats because heaven knows I can’t make them.

Except I can. And so I did.

Marinated Mushrooms

Marinated Mushrooms

I used a recipe here, from Whole Foods. They were actually really easy. And really good. And totally low-carb and also vegan and also really nice to eat while you drink beer on a super-lazy Saturday afternoon.

The whole coriander/peppercorns are a little weird. I appreciate the canning-aesthetic but they got trapped in the middle of my mushrooms (since I de-stemmed them) and while biting down on whole coriander is a relatively pleasant experience, I cannot say the same of whole peppercorns. I advise that you spend a few minutes while it’s coming up to room temperature to dig those suckers out.

Of course, I probably spent more than 5 bucks making them, but they were so tasty and so plentiful.

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May 16 2013

Chicken Saltimbocca

Published by under Food,Recipes

Sometimes, when I’m eating low-carb, it feels like the only exciting recipes I come across are baking — bread, cakes, cookies or some sort of deliciousness with rice or pasta. It can feel debilitating.

So when the New York Times posted a recipe for Chicken Saltimbocca — I leapt at it. Chicken, cheese, prosciutto and oil? Yeah — that’s definitely low-carb friendly. Of course, this being me and my still-not-fully-unpacked kitchen, I had some troubles.

Chicken Saltimbocca

Chicken Saltimbocca

Trouble 1: Closest grocery store does not sell boneless, skinless chicken breasts except in enormous packages and to be honest — I kind of hate boneless, skinless chicken breasts and have no desire to eat them most of the time. I’ll take chicken thighs any day of the week. So I opted for chicken breast tenderloins because they had them in smaller portions. They’re smaller, but I figured it wouldn’t really matter…

Trouble 2: I know we have a meat tenderizer-y mallet somewhere. I thought I had unpacked it into one of my many surprise drawers (let’s see — candles, cookie cutters, car keys all belong, right?) but I was wrong. I couldn’t find it so I attempted to pound the chicken breast tenderloins with…a potato masher. This did not work.

Trouble 3: Flaw in method of recipe. Recipe is adaptation so this can be quick week-night dinner so chicken breasts “marinate” in olive oil, salt n pep, sage, garlic, red pepper flakes for an hour at room temperature (or refrigerated overnight). Looking online afterwards, saltimbocca is often brined overnight — I wish I had done this because Trouble 2 came to bite me in the ass when the pan-frying chicken part came along.

Trouble 4: Because I hadn’t pounded the meat enough, it took longer to pan-fry on the stove (used mostly peanut oil, some olive oil for the pan-frying). This led to dried out meat, unfortunately.

But we did like this recipe — pan-frying is awesome, and we fried sage leaves which were tasty. Also using the broiler to finish the meat/cheese on top was lovely. I think I’ll try this again sometime soon — but with more pounding and brining the chicken breasts for ultimate tenderness. Also, the recipe called for Fontina cheese which Michael thought was a bit expensive considering the flavor didn’t really come through strongly (but I put a lot more garlic in the marinade than the recipe called for, which may be why).

Also, we really need a mesh fry shield thing — I spent a while cleaning oil off the stove, back splash, counters, floor, etc.

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Mar 06 2013

Recipe: Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani

Published by under Food,Recipes

I love Indian food and recently I’ve been working on Indian cooking quite a bit. There is a different understanding of flavors than I’m used to, so it’s a fun challenge. When I decided to make biryani, I started with a recipe from MySpicyKitchen and made changes to suit my taste and to make it easier to prepare. After 5 or 6 rounds of revisions, I think this recipe is ready to share. It is delicious and I think it’s almost as good as what I can get at local restaurants in our town, which is pretty much an exclave of South India thanks to our high concentration of IT workers. I’ve tested it out on some very accommodating Indian coworkers who say it’s very good.



For people from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, biryani — and lamb, mutton, or chicken biryani in particular — is quintessential party food. It’s not especially healthy or easy to make, but it’s absolutely delicious. The super-traditional method of making biryani (dum biryani) involves layering ingredients in a pot, sealing the pot lid with a flour and water dough, and cooking for exactly the right amount of time over exactly the right heat. When I tried to make it this way, I ruined a pan and our house smelled like burning chicken for several days. So, in my subsequent attempts I made a lot of compromises and worked out a way to make biryani by keeping the rice and chicken separate and mixing the fully-cooked ingredients when ready to serve. It’s a compromise, but I think it’s worth it.

You will need a few things that aren’t common in American grocery stores. You will need ghee, since the smoke point of butter is too low to work in this recipe. You will need a few spices that you probably don’t already have, most importantly black cumin or kala jeera. There are 2 spices sold as “black cumin” in English: one is “kala jeera”, also called “shah jeera”, which literally means “black cumin” and looks just like skinny black cumin seeds, and the other is nigella seeds, which are small almost-round black seeds with a completely different flavor. You need to make sure you get kala jeera and not nigella. You’ll need ginger garlic paste, which you can make yourself at great expense of labor, or just buy at the Indian grocery that you’re visiting anyway to buy kala jeera. While you’re there, you can pick up a dozen or so small green chilies, or you can use jalapeños which work just as well in my opinion.

Anyway, here’s the recipe. It’s in multiple parts, which I’ll explain in a minute.

Biryani Masala:

  • 1 – 2 tsp cayenne pepper powder
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 10 cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom seeds, removed from pods
  • 1/2 tsp black cumin (kala jeera) seed
  • 1″ Ceylon cinnamon stick or 1/2 tsp ground cassia cinnamon (don’t put cassia cinnamon in your grinder)

Marinated Chicken:

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless dark meat chicken (e.g. thighs), or 2 pounds bone-in chicken
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp ginger garlic paste (or 3/4 tbsp grated ginger + 3/4 tbsp. grated garlic)
  • 12 small green Indian chilies, split in half and sliced, or 2 large jalapenos, split in half and sliced with midribs removed
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime or 1/2 lemon
  • Biryani Masala, as above
  • 1 tsp salt


  • 3 cups (or 4 180ml rice cooker cups) basmati rice
  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads soaked in 1/4 cup water, or 1/4 cup water plus 3 drops yellow food dye
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cassia cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed
  • 1/2 tsp black cumin (kala jeera) seed
  • 1/2 tsp ginger garlic paste (or 1/4 tsp grated ginger + 1/4 tsp grated garlic)
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 2 tsp salt

Fried Onion:

  • 1 large onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
  • 2 tbsp ghee
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil

Dahi Chutney:

  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp soybean oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp minced onion, or 1 tsp dried minced onion
  • 1 tsp ginger garlic paste (or 1/2 tsp grated ginger + 1/2 tsp grated garlic)
  • 1 plum tomato, diced (optional)

Grind all the ingredients for the biryani masala in a spice grinder. (The amount of cayenne pepper is up to you, but keep in mind this is normally a spicy dish. If you have lame store-brand cayenne pepper powder like I just bought, you will probably want to use closer to 2 teaspoons, but if you tend to think things are unbearably spicy, you probably want to err on the side of caution.) Chop the raw chicken into 1-1/2 inch chunks. If you’re using bone-in chicken, you can leave pieces on the bone or not according to your preference. Mix all marinade ingredients including biryani masala. Combine the chicken chunks with the marinade and mix well. Marinate in a sealed container or plastic bag for 4 to 24 hours. I like to use a gallon size Ziploc bag because it’s easy.

While the chicken is marinating, you can make the dahi chutney. Roast the cumin seed and mustard seed in a dry pan over medium-high heat until the cumin becomes fragrant (1-3 minutes). Beat the yogurt and gradually add oil and water, stirring. Add all remaining ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.

About 90 minutes before you’re ready to eat, add the saffron threads (if using) to hot, not boiling, water. Then wash the rice several times in clean water, finally leaving the rice in water to soak for 30 minutes. Drain the soaking water. Combine all of the rice ingredients in a pot or rice cooker, sprinkling saffron water between layers of dry rice. Add sufficient water and cook the rice according to package directions or rice cooker directions.

About 20 minutes before the rice is done, slice the onion and fry it in the mixture of ghee and soybean oil, in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, until the strands are dark golden brown and caramelized. Remove the fried onion to a separate container but keep the oil in the pan. Pour the marinated chicken into the hot pan. Fry the chicken at medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, turn the chicken pieces over, then cook at medium-low heat, covered, until done (6-10 minutes).

When the rice is done, fold the cooked chicken and fried onions into the cooked rice. Top with dahi chutney to serve.

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