Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tear-inducing meatballs.

A few years ago, the spousal unit informed me she wanted meatballs for dinner and supplied me with this recipe from For the Love of Cooking blog.

I don't exactly remember why, but I glanced at it and somehow randomly decided that I would add panko and Italian sausage to the recipe and substituted Parmesan cheese with the more economical Pecorino.

The spousal unit declared that the meatballs were tear-inducing good, and then proceeded to ration them. So I think they must be pretty good. Over the years I sort of simplified the recipe, and the recipe can be thrown together in about 30 minutes + about 60 minutes of unsupervised cooking time.

Meatball Ingredients:

  • 1 & 1/2 pounds of ground beef.
  • 1 & 1/2 pounds of Spicy Italian Sausage.
  • 1 large sweet onion (finely diced).
  • 1/2 cup of panko.
  • 1/4 cup of grated Pecorino.
  • 2 cloves of garlic.
  • 2 eggs.
  • 1 tablespoons of dried basil.
  • 2 tsp of fennel seeds.
  • salt and pepper to your personal preference.

    Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1 large sweet onion (chopped).
  • 2 jars of your generic budget Mariana sauce (if you don't do budget Mariana sauce - why are you even reading this? Sod off. I only cook food for the proletariat).
  • salt and pepper to your personal preference.

    Meatball Making Protocol:
    1. Remove the Spicy Italian Sausage from their casings, and mix the sausage meat with the ground beef. Throw in all the ingredients and literally hand mix the mixture until all the ingredients are well integrated. If you have sensitive hands or suffer from mysophobia, I suppose you could put on a pair of gloves (although if you suffer from mysophobia, you probably shouldn't eat or breathe, so I recommend sticking your head in a plastic bag).

    Punch it as if it were your worst enemy! 
    2. Shape the balls. I don't put too much effort into this, because no one should care about the shape of your balls (with the exception of maybe your PCP).

    3. Place meatballs in baking tray. I use a roasting pan with a rack so that the underside of the balls get an opportunity to experience convection and the meatballs don't sit in a puddle of fat. I sort of help them brown a little by spraying the meatballs with a butter based baking spray. Put them in an oven preheated to 350°F for 30 minutes.
    This time I rough chopped my onions because I was lazy.
    No adverse impact  to the texture or flavor of the meatballs.

    4. While the meatballs are in the oven, chop the other onion, toss it in a large pot and saute in olive oil with some salt & pepper. When the onions begin to soften and yellow, pour in your two jars of Mariana sauce.

    5. After the meatballs have been in the oven for 30 minutes, dump them into the sauce for another 30 minutes. Thereafter, serve on your carbohydrate of choice. I ate them on linguini. Leftovers were consumed on yummy sour-dough rolls.

    Misshapen but yummy. 

    Tuesday, September 25, 2012

    Props to JanSport!

    A little over decade ago - I arrived in rural Illinois with a 60 liter backpack (~15.85 gallons) and two suitcases (Ed. Note: this was back in the days when airlines didn't charge for the first or second checked in luggage - sigh). I quickly realized that lugging the 60 liter backpack around one's college campus was not really practical proposition and accepted the sad reality that I needed to spend US dollars (USD) to buy a backpack in America.

    I wasn't accustomed to spending American dollars, and back then, the exchange rate was around one USD to thirty three New Taiwan dollar (NT). When one considers that the minimum wage in Taiwan at the time was about NT$65... one can easily see why a fresh off the boat kid from Taiwan would shy from spending $45 USD to buy a backpack.

    Fast forward ten years...the bag began to show its age and contracted the dreaded zipper disease. The sling was also slowly separating at the seams and one of the water bottle elastic retainers had snapped. I remembered that JanSport had a lifetime warranty and sent my backpack off to its maker with a note describing the necessary repairs.

    A week later I received this email:
    "Thanks for being part of our history. You may not know it, but that pack you sent back for inspection recently is now part of a rich history that started way back in 1967, when our first pack hit the trail. We build our packs to last. So when one doesn't, we want to learn what went wrong. And make it better. For you and all the other people who love the outdoors as much as you do. Your pack should be home soon, better than ever. In the meantime, if you need to check on your bag, please call (800) 426-9227."

    A couple more weeks later - my bag arrived in the mail, good as new with a blue bow tie - awwwwww.

    JanSport really has a nice warranty service... although this makes me wonder how JanSport and its corporate sibling, "The North Face," combine to sell approximately half of all backpacks in the United States. Uh... do people just throw their backpacks away? Why not send it in for repairs and pass it on to the children and teach them how to value longevity and heirlooms?

    And JanSport should consider making holsters and gun bags. The conservative folks will appreciate a good reliable bag and a honest warranty.

    Sunday, February 26, 2012

    Arizona Adventures! (Part I)

    In January, our friends invited us to join them in Gold Canyon, Arizona for a brief respite from winter in Western Pennsylvania during the President's Day weekend. Since Pittsburgh only averages about sixty clear days per annum, and that we had been in the cloudy and grey, formerly-Steel City for quite some time, we were pretty stoked about the opportunity to join our friends for a long-weekend respite from Pittsburgh.

    The trip out west was very new to me. I have never been able to explore continental United States west of the Mississippi river, and I had never been in the desert, so I really didn't know what to expect.

    My mind was filled with random thoughts such as... will I sunburn in the desert sun?

    Would I get to ride a horse with no name?

    What do people eat in the desert?

    Will we encounter any criminals buying pseudoephedrine at CVS and large matches at Home Depot trying to get enough red phosphorous to cook meth in a camper van!?!

    So here is a preliminary photo-essay of my findings from Arizona! 

    In the desert, the sky is very clear. The moon is very beautiful.
    And the evenings are cool and there is very little ambient light pollution.

    This is a "cloudy" day in the Sonoran desert. Daytime temperatures while we were there did not exceed 80 °F. However, due to the low humidity, the temperature difference between standing in the sun vs. in the shade felt like at 10 degrees °F. This cactus was probably 25 feet tall and a few hundred years old.

    Not a bad view to have in your backyard eh?

    Green golf courses in the desert!
    Made possible by dams and irrigation canals - open bodies of water is quite a peculiar sight from the air and on the ground. The air surrounding such larger bodies of water also feels cooler due to evaporative cooling.

    There are some crazy and amazing geological formations. This little oasis of green and beautiful view is made possible by a small creek/river. I'd imagine after a few centuries, the stranded plant and wildlife will be rather unique.

    This is a canyon next to a busy road. Very pretty - but somewhat scary too (I don't think the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a testing protocol for Arizona canyon plunge).

    The road follows the canyon through the mountain range. It was a very scenic drive on another "cloudy" day.

    Crazy rock formations eh? I don't think two-dimensional pictures do the landscape justice, as it is difficult to capture the depth and sudden rise of the rock formations.

    We have many more pictures from our visit, and Part II will focus on all the vegetation and other sights we captured at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

    Sunday, February 5, 2012

    I don't understand fans of Andy Warhol.

    About a month ago we were cordially invited by the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh to the Member Preview of Warhol and Cars: American Icons.

    Being rather ignorant of Andy Warhol, who is apparently one the most iconic American artists and definitely the most recognized one out of Pittsburgh, I decided to go with an open mind.

    This is my brief thesis on Andy Warhol. It is titled "Andy Warhol was a talented manipulative modern self-promoting artist who was fortunate enough to live in an age dominated by tasteless art critics and wealthy professional socialites.".

    Here is a brief synopsis of my observations to support my thesis:
    1. Andy Warhol likes to wear sunglasses indoors and while working. I think this affected his ability to see the full spectrum of colors, and therefore much of his works lacked a particular spectrum. If he wore polarized lenses, I'd imagine his work would look like something posted behind venetian blinds.
    2. Andy Warhol aged very poorly. I didn't realized he died at a tender age of 58. He looked like he was 70. I think that's what happens when you take meth.
    3. Andy Warhol's screen prints were pleasant to look at, but he was not much of a painter. The primary "show piece" at the event was Andy Warhol's work on a BMW M1 Art Car. His art car was one of the worst of all the BMW Art Cars.
    4. I think he put about as much effort into that car as I hypothetically would on a notepad doodle during a long meeting (I said hypothetically because I always pay 100% attention during meetings and would never waste ink or paper on doodle).
    5. Andy Warhol liked pictures of himself hanging out with celebs. I think Andy Warhol was more about Andy Warhol than Andy Warhol's art. Sort of like the older Picasso, only without Picasso's portfolio of talent.
    6. I'm a people watcher and I observed there were primarily four types of people at the Member Preview.
      • "The Paris Hilton" - These people were dressed and drinking as if they were clubbing. They stayed on the first floor (where the booze was being served), and never ventured up through to the seven floor of the Museum to see the art exhibition. Fortunately, these people are usually very generous with their unearned monies, and are probably what kept and keeps the artist alive and off the streets.
      • "The Elderly Benefactor" - Older gentleman and gentlewoman holding glasses of wine and quietly amused at the scandalous stuff they help fund curate.
      • "The Art Student" - These people were the ones sipping the complimentary bottled water, subtly but stylishly dressed, and  pleasantly conscientious of other people's sight-lines (it is pretty annoying it is for some drunk to walk in front of you while you're standing 2-3 feet away trying to look at something). Art students stand and stare and observe - for a long time.
      • "The Perplexed Plebeian" - This is people like me. I'm admittedly uneducated in the finer things of life. I tried to keep an open mind, but as it gradually got filled with pompous crap created with little effort or skill, I couldn't help but become perplexed at Andy Warhol fans. I'm sorry - I tried, but I just don't get it.
    In conclusion, I'm not sure I will be venturing back to the Andy Warhol Museum - I'd rather spend my weekend afternoons in the main Carnegie Museum of Art and marvel at realism paintings. Although in the future, I may bring little spawns to show them why they should not take meth.

    Saturday, February 4, 2012

    The Pursuit of Pizza Perfection.

    For half a decade, I have been in the pursuit of and been eluded by the perfect pizza crust.

    After five long years, I'm happy to report my rather long and at times despairing journey has ended. This recipe is adapted from the fine people at Cook's Illustrated.

    • 1/2 cup of warm activated-charcoal filtered dihydrogen monoxide heated to 43 ° C (110° F).
    •  1 and 1/4 cups of activated-charcoal filtered dihydrogen monoxide at room temperature. 
    • 2 and 1/2 tsp of active dry yeast.
    •  2 tsp of olive oil.
    • 4 cups of bread flour.
    • 1 and 1/2 tsp of 97% ~ 99% pure sodium chloride.
    Dough Making Protocol:
    1. In a large bowl, add the yeast in the the warm dihydrogen monoxide and stare at mixture for 5 minutes with intense energy.
    2. After you have directed intense energy at the mixture for 5 minutes, add the  room temperature dihydrogen monoxide and olive oil.
    3. Mix the bread flour and relatively pure sodium chloride and combine gently in the mixer (preferably below 120rpm with a dough hook).
    4. With the mixer slowly rotating, gently add the liquids.
    5. Mix dough for until 5 of the first sexagesimal fraction time units have elapsed (or until the dough is smooth and elastic).
    6. Roll the dough into a ball, and place it in an oiled bowl, seal the bowl and let the dough rise for 1/12 of a median Earth day.
    7. After the rising, the dough is more or less ready, form your pizza, use a fork and gently puncture the interior area of the pizza so the crust rises around the center of your pizza.
    8. Let the dough's protein composites relax for a period of approximately 10 of the first sexagesimal fraction time units.
    9. Top the pizza, bake at 260 ° C (500° F).

    YAY!!! I swear this is the best home-made pizza dough!