Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #2: Spicy Moroccan Stewed Fish with Couscous

I do not like fish. This is a universal law, much like "every action has an equal and opposite reaction", "energy cannot be created or destroyed", or "in Scotland, it rains". But Jamie said today's meal was fish, and who was I to argue with Jamie?

So, yesterday I spoke with Tesco's fishmonger, yesterday I bought some fish, today I cooked the fish, and then, at great risk to life and limb, I ate the fish.

So, how was it?

Well, as with last week, it was rather fiddly to put together. Lots and lots of steps, that were individually simple, but had a cumulative weight to them. However, it was significantly cheaper than last week - fish is much less expensive than good quality steak.

And in terms of taste?

Well, I'm not a fan. It was okay, and amongst the nicer fish meals I've had (better than sushi, not as good as calamari). But, still, very far from being the best thing ever.

I don't think I'll be having this one again.

Sadly, next week is another fish dish: Quick Salmon Tikka with Cucumber Yoghurt.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Steph/ven Goes Continental

The clocks went back yesterday. However, due to having an early flight next Monday (actually, a very early flight), I have elected not to change, but have instead shifted to Central European Time.

This has the key advantage that the traffic is noticably lighter at 7:10 in the morning than it is at 8:10, and therefore has the advantage that I've already done three-and-a-half hours out of my week.

It has the key disadvantages that I had to get up at 6 this morning, and also that I'm completely out-of-sync with the whole of the rest of the universe. Except France.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #1: Butterflied Steak Sarnie

A few weeks ago, on a whim, I purchased Jamie's latest book, "Jamie's Ministry of Food", the companion piece to his latest TV venture.

Now, as we all know, the rule with cookery books is that you're supposed to flick through them, rule out all the things you just know you won't like, all the things that look like being too much hassle, and anything with a vowel in the name, until you're left with a handful of things that you probably cook anyway. Whereupon you put the book on a shelf, never to be referenced again. (It's a well-known fact that cookery books don't work. I know people who have dozens of them, and their cooking isn't any better...)

Based on this, and with a reputation as a maverick to uphold (in case I ever want to run for President), I decided that I would buck the trend, and would instead try my hand at every single one of Jamie's recipes, one per week, until I hit something that I just couldn't do, got food poisoning, or got bored.

And, as an added bonus, you get to read about it. Don't blame me; Captain Ric was complaining at the weekend that I hadn't blogged in too long, and so I have had to adopt the first subject to spring to mind. Can't let him go get bored, now can we?

Anyway, the very first offering in the book is "Butterflied Steak Sarnie", made with fillet steaks coated in herbs (note to any crazy American readers: that's pronounced 'herbs'), and cooked on a high heat for a short period of time. Then served with ciabatta bread and a shifty mushroom. (Never trust a mushroom.)

So, how was it?

Well, the first answer to that question is: pricy. Good quality beef is expensive, and anything less than good quality beef isn't worth the money. Then there's all the various bits and pieces, which added up something fierce, and some of which were simply wasted, because I don't generally have a use for half a packet of rosemary.

The second answer to that is: fiddly. Although this took about fifteen minutes to prepare, which is far from unreasonable, it did involve sawing steaks in half, chopping rosemary 'finely', and a bunch of other steps. Frankly, about the time I was ready to actually cook the steak, I was getting sick of the whole process. Oh, and I burnt the ciabatta, but that's probably my fault rather than Jamie's.

But the third answer is: delicious. Oh yes, it was very nice indeed. The instructions he gave for cooking the beef, in particular, were absolutely spot on. That was a winner.

Would I have it again? Well, I kind of have to, since I now have half a ciabatta that needs eaten up. But the real answer is, "yes, but..." When I have it again, I think I'm going to ditch the fresh rosemary in favour of some from a jar, and ditch the cress altogether - it was just much more hassle than it was worth.

Otherwise, that was a bit of a winner.

Next week is "Spicy Moroccan Stewed Fish with Couscous". Not one I'm really looking forward to, since I hate fish, but rules are rules. Next time, though, I think I'll check that the book doesn't have three fish dishes in a row before I set up the rules. Silly Steph/ven!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Busy, busy, busy

This month's theme, it seems, is busyness. I'm going to be extremely busy on every front, and things don't look like they're going to let up any time before the 1st of November. At which time they'll probably still be quite busy, but maybe not as busy as my current busy state. Work's busy, the band is busy, my life is busy... busy, busy, busy.

As I said, it's something of a theme.

As per usual, I'm not going to talk about why work is busy, or any of the marvellous plans I have to complete the assigned tasks on time. Let me just say: it's very busy, and I'm planning. Oh, I have such lovely, grand plans...

The band are playing at events in Falkirk on both Friday and Saturday, both this week and next. Saturday of this week is particularly notable as I'm going to be the guy in charge. A chance to flex my PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER, I think. Additionally, this may well be an opportunity to shmooze some local dignitaries, and perhaps arrange some fundraising gigs over the winter. While all this is going on, we also have our first committee meeting of the year on Tuesday, at which I once again will have to make use of PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER in the chairing of the meeting. It will be important that what I said about "not just talking about all the fundraising we could do, but actually getting on and doing it" actually gets put into action. And we're also learning lots of new tunes for next year, both for regular use and for competition purposes.

It's quite busy.

As a consequence of the band being in action over the next two weekends, my weekly RPG has had to be cancelled. This is somewhat unfortunate. However, when we do get back, we should be shortly finishing the Warhammer campaign that has been running these past months, whereupon we will start a test game of D&D 4th Edition. This should be interesting - I have deep misgivings about the new system, but am determined to at least give it a fair assessment.

And then there are my so-called leisure activities. See, in order to fit everything in to my absurdly packed schedule, I have to schedule such things as reading books and watching TV with the same rigour as everything else. So...

In fiction, I have just finished "Krondor: the Betrayal", which was a decent book but definately not the author's best work. The next book on my list is "The Pale Horseman" by Bernard Cornwell, which is a good read thus far (but then, I'm only 14 pages in!). I should get that mostly read by the end of the month, I think, after which it's "Twenty Years After" by Dumas (because I do sometimes read actual literature).

In RPGs, I'm currently reading "Barony of the Damned" for Warhammer, which will be followed by the third book in the "Castle Whiterock" set, followed by the "Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting", and then the fourth book in the "Castle Whiterock" set. This probably doesn't mean much to many people, but this might: that's about 550 pages of reading, of which I'm hoping to complete at least 300 by the end of this month.

In TV, I'm all caught up on "Prison Break" and "Bones", and am only two episodes of "Heroes" behind (the BBC - I believe American TV is slightly further ahead). "South Park" starts this week, and I've decided also to give "Fringe" a go, despite hearing some bad things. So, that fills up a good five hours a week, which is rather more than I can really spare. Additionally, I have five movies on my Sky+ box that are waiting to be cleared (something I really want to get done - I've been too far behind for too long). The plan there is to watch all those movies by the end of the weekend, and then move into a maintenance mode.

The diet proceeds apace. Last week, it looked like I might have hit a plateau, but now it appears that I may have broken through it. The diet has now passed it's 30-day trial, and will proceed onwards. I'm now a little over a quarter of the way towards my target, which is pretty good going, I think.

And not-quite-finally, there is THE BIG ONE. As we know, the last remaining undone item on my (public) annual to-do list is the purchase of a house followed by a move into said house. About six months ago, I decided to wait-and-see what house prices would do in Falkirk over the following six months, which proved to be a wise move. House prices in Falkirk seem to have dropped rather sharply this year, meaning that a property that was sitting right at the limits of what I thought I could afford a year ago has dropped about a third of its value. (It's still right on the edge of what I can afford, but that's due to the credit crunch - previously, I was constrained by the amount I could borrow as a multiple of my income; now I'm constrained by the deposit I could afford to put down.) Add to that today's significant drop in interest rates, and things are really starting to come together nicely.

And that's where things stand at present. Naturally, with everything this tightly organised and scheduled, something is bound to happen any moment to throw my schedule out of alignment. I dread to think what that might be.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

You can have my Frosties when you take them from my cold, dead hands!

Apparently, Which? have declared the likes of Tony the Tiger, Coco Monkey, and similar characters to be 'cartoon villains', and called for them to be banned. They feel that these characters never advocate a healthy option, and blame them for contributing to childhood obesity. Quite what their objection to Snap, Crackle and Pop, and their Rice Krispies is, I do not know.

While I would normally be in favour of anything that would discomfort Captain Ric on principle, I really feel I must object to this. Indeed, the mere notion that it might be done makes me extremely angry.

Firstly, there is history to consider. Tony the Tiger is over fifty years old, the Honey Monster thirty, and Coco Monkey twenty. These characters were fixtures at my breakfast table growing up. I remember with dread the horror of having to eat 1,000,000 boxes of Sugar Puffs in order to get a special stuffed Honey Monster (which turned out to be rubbish!). They are every bit as significant as Fred Flintstone, He-Man, or even Optimus Prime himself. Unless you're Michael Bay, you don't get to mess around with such things lightly.

And what's more, in an age of tarnished celebrities and edgy anti-heroes, these are characters that have never lied to us. You see Tony the Tiger on a box, and you know the contents will be a sweet taste of childhood. Coco Pops really do make the milk turn chocolatey.

Besides, I doubt this is actually going to change anything; it would just make the world that bit less bright and enjoyable. What are kids going to eat for breakfast instead?

Weetabix? Shredded Wheat? 'cos I remember being a child, and when we had these we would heap spoonfuls of sugar on top, just to make them palatable. At which point any dubious benefit of the switch has been undone.

Perhaps instead they'll go for Fruit & Fibre, Special K, or All Bran? No, I didn't think so.

Perhaps they'll just have nothing? Yep, that's an improvement.

Okay then, obviously parents will step into the breach, and cook a hearty and healthy breakfast for their children? Actually, I was barely able to type that, as the effort of suppressing my laughter caused my whole body to shake.

No, what will actually happen is that most of the kids who currently eat Frosties, Coco Pops, Sugar Puffs, Ricicles (or, horrors, Rice Krispies) will continue to eat those cereals because those are the nicest ones. It isn't the characters that have made the cereals popular; it is the cereals that made the characters popular.

Perhaps I'm over-reacting. Being stuck in the midst of the diet, each morning I eat my Shredded Wheat. And each morning, I think to myself, "I'd rather have a bowl of Coco Pops!"