Thursday, April 30, 2009

100 Days Press Conference

I watched it live, but thought it was relatively unremarkable... though it's a constant revelation how much different it is to see our current President take questions than our last one. No cringing, but the occasional wish for him to "Just. Spit. It. Out." though for the most part I appreciate how clearly thoughtful and deliberate he is.

The only noteworthy exchange was the "Wait, let me write this down" when the New York Times reporter asked him a fairly stupid People-esque question with multiple parts... and then actually wrote it down an then proceeded to answer each part. Pretty funny and kind of cool. Except for that question, I thought the press did a fairly decent job for a change.

Here's the video if you want to check it out:

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Whitehouse Photostream

BREAKING: Economy still terrible

The gross domestic product shrank at an annual rate of 6.1 percent from January through March, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported. It was the third straight quarter of declines and capped the worst six months of economic activity since the late 1950’s.

Economists had predicted a drop of 4.7 percent, and the steep dip could dampen hopes that the pace of economic declines had begun to ebb. The decline was almost as sharp as in the previous quarter, when the economy shrank at a pace of 6.3 percent, its worst drop in a generation.

Though this might not be as bad as it seems, according Justin Fox, as these numbers are necessarily backward looking... and we already knew the last few months have been terrible, so it's not giving us much in the way of new information to help determine whether there is any light at the end of the tunnel.

The silver lining is that almost half of the decline was due to companies reducing inventory, which may mean that companies have adjusted for the downturn and are poised for a rebound. Maybe.

100 Days

That's it?

Honestly, with all the insanity emanating from certain corners of the internet, it's seemed a lot longer. The sobering thought, as Reihan notes, is that we'll likely look back on these days as the sane ones... that wonderfully pleasant time when there were only modestly ridiculous conspiracy theories showing up in your inbox daily.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

FES Rowing Update

A random post I had about work a few months back generated some substantial interest from the adaptive rowing community, and I wanted to post a follow-up. I apologize for not commenting immediately, but I was honestly surprised by the enthusiasm and didn't want to say anything about a project I'm not heavily involved in. However, it seems like things are snowballing pretty quickly and I wanted to let anyone know who is interested in the program that my boss said to send everyone with questions his way... so use my profile to shoot me an e-mail and I'll put you in touch with him.

Hopefully we'll get a website setup soon so interested parties don't have to sort through my cooking and politics posts, but for now I'll put up anything FES related under this topic label. So if you want, you can just bookmark that and avoid my other meanderings.

Arlen Specter to become Democrat

"I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary," the Pennsylvania senator said in a statement.

"I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans," Specter said, adding that the "change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans."

Personally, I'd rather he went ahead and lost the GOP primary in 2010, so we could get a real progressive in there, instead of another conservative Dem to meaninglessly water down Obama's agenda, a la Ben Nelson... but it'll be nice to have his help immediately.

UPDATE: Jon Cole:
It is also worth noting that however much fun this is, and believe me, it is a good bit of fun, that Specter is kind of an asshole. We even have a category for him here- Spectering, for all of his waffling. Having said that, anyone who brings the fringe lunatics that remain in the GOP pain is alright by me, and I’m petty and shallow enough to admit it.

He luuuuuurves the NIH, so I like him more than most of my fellow Dems, but yeah I am also petty and shallow. Though I guess this means that poor Al Franken is going to be in court for the rest of his life if the GOP has anything to say about it.

Pozole Rojo

I'm trying something a little different with my food blogging today. I've received some comments that more photos = better, so I decided to do this recipe in photo log (phlog?) form... complete with full descriptions and notes on the photos. You can either click on the above photo, or right here to go to the set on flickr.

I liked doing the photo set, so I'll probably keep it up no matter what, but what I haven't decided on how to complement that effort here. Just duplicating my descriptions from there, in a single post here, doesn't seem that exciting or useful... but then what? You obviously can't print out the recipe very easily in that format, so that's an option for my posts... but I could also just put it on the set page instead of here. I could also put a more narrative form description here and leave the nuts and bolts at flickr. I'm quite undecided.

Comments are welcome.

Nobody beats the Biz

Matthew Yglesias, you are on notice. Dutch beer? Please. Biz Markie doesn't need beer commercials to pwn iTunes. Such a vast underestimation of his awesomeness. For example, even now, he's teaching your children to beat box:

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Dry Martini

Some pretty interesting martini recipes from The Atlantic... and no, not interesting because they're "Chocolatinis" or whatever abominations your local hipster lounge serves in a cocktail glass and has the audacity to call a "martini"... but interesting because they use orange bitters and are vermouth heavy by today's standards.

But then, today's standards include the Jame's Bond shaken martini... which is absolutely disgusting. I don't understand why anybody wants a drink coated in ice chips with their gin all bruised up... but then, nobody really has a choice, as that's the only way I've ever been able to order one, even in a city most would consider fairly cosmopolitan. Making them at home is thus the only way to go... sadly, I'm generally much too lazy(which is incidentally why there should be bartenders who know how to make a martini - so I don't have to go out and buy a bottle of orange bitters)... but maybe I'll give these guys a go.

I've never had much luck finding vermouth other than Martini & Rossi though.

Almost no-knead: Total Fail

UPDATE: After making the regular white bread version of this recipe, I feel I was a little harsh on the density of the bread... that just appears to be the way the bread is supposed to be. Not what I was expecting, but I can't really blame the recipe for my expectations.

UPDATE 2: Also, my oven is running hot, so that probably explains the burning and quick cooking...  do yourself a favor, and get a $10 oven thermometer before you do any serious baking (especially at high temperatures). 

So my first attempt at baking didn't come off so well. As I mentioned last week, I have been meaning to learn how to make bread for ages. I love me some bread... love the taste, love the smell of it baking... I love everything about it. (Except for rye bread, that is, but that's because of the demon seed caraway)

However, bread isn't an easy thing to make. Measurements are hard to make exactly since things like humidity change the amount of flour that fits in a cup(we have a kitchen scale which handles this)... while temperature can greatly effect how a bread rises... and commercial bakeries have steam injection ovens that your average home chef doesn't. Not to mention that kneading is hard work and hard to get right, while being essential to the quality of the finished product. Hence no-knead bread, which has two characteristics that help mitigate some of the issues of a home bread baker. By using a long slow rise with very little yeast, it creates almost a "chemical kneading" as all the gluten molecules get lined up in the wet dough over time. In addition, when you are ready to bake it, you put the dough in an already preheated dutch oven with a lid... this keeps the moisture of the dough in as it bakes, mimicking steam injection, and aiding in the formation of a crisp crust.

I decided to try Cook's Illustrated's version ($)... specifically their olives, rosemary, and Parmesan variant because... well, it sounded tasty.

Everything went off without a hitch until the second, brief rise, after the "almost no-kneading" and shaping. It was supposed to double in size, but after even 3 hours (recipe called for 2) it was maybe 50% bigger at best... and still seemed pretty springy to the touch (Cook's said wasn't supposed to spring back much). But what do you do at that point, but go ahead and put it in the oven? I guess I could have given it some more time, but I didn't... and I still don't really know what happened... I gave it 12 hours for the initial slow rise, which should have been plenty. Did I buy ineffective yeast?

The dutch oven aspect worked well... a little too well in fact:
It browned very well, and the crust was fantastic. However, my beautiful Le Crueset pan is a bit less beautiful because it has all these black marks on it from the high temp (500 degrees)... there must have been some residue or it or something, but the marks are impossible to get off. Kind of depressing... oh, I should also mention that the plastic knobs on the Le Crueset pots are NOT safe up to 500 degrees... you have to replace them with metal ones.  They're a little odd looking at first, but they've grown on me.  Of course they get a LOT hotter than the plastic ones, so keep your pot holders handy.  I digress...

In addition to the marks on my pot, about 10 minutes after I took the lid off to finish the bread, I could already smell burning:

It's supposed to take 20-30 minutes to finish the bread, but not in my oven apparently. Is our temperature way off? Was my pan too close to the heat? We used to have an oven thermometer that indicated our oven was pretty spot on, but I think it broke... maybe we need a new one... regardless, I'll definitely going to move the oven rack up one notch for my next attempt and pay better attention.

A burnt bottom wouldn't have been the end of the world, but the lack of a second rise or perhaps the nature of the bread itself was just too dense to really enjoy:

It was quite cheesy, and fairly tasty... but way too dense for me... it sadly went into the trash. I can't really tell how much of that was the recipe's intent or not, but it wasn't what I was expecting at all... I'm just going to try the basic white bread next week and see how the texture comes out.

If I can't get it better than this, then I guess I need to learn to knead.

Friday, April 24, 2009

How can it be torture if we do it to our own servicemen at SERE?

The above is the outline of an argument making the rounds on the Right. For those not in the know, SERE, is the acronym for "Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape" and it's a school where U.S. service peeps who are considered at high risk for capture (air crews and special forces) learn how to survive in enemy territory. Part of that is learning to resist torture, and thus students in the school get waterboarded and the like. So this line of thinking goes on to wonder how it can be torture to use these same techniques (from the torture resistance manual!) on detainees?

It only takes two seconds of thought to dismiss this argument as nonsense, but I'm going to outsource the rhetorical beatdown to Anonymous Liberal:
Can we please dispense with this ridiculous argument? First, SERE was created to help U.S. servicemen withstand torture by our enemies. That's the whole point. Second, and more importantly, there is all the difference in the world between consensual training and forced interrogation. It's the difference between sex and rape, suicide and murder. Thousands of people consent to having others whip them. Does that mean that we can whip detainees? Does it mean that whipping people isn't torture? Please stop with this nonsense.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fluoride in drinking water presumably responsible for American people's acceptance of country's march towards Socialism and/or Fascism


G.I. Joe: Resolute

via Penny Arcade

Warren Ellis's PG-13 reboot of the G.I. Joe franchise:
The point was to write an hour-long story that really put the property and the characters through some shit changes: as if this were the GI JOE film (at the time of my writing RESOLUTE, there still wasn’t a locked script on the live-action film) and I was rebooting and re-grounding the property on my own. These sort of gigs are immense technical challenges, and really sharpen up some skills I wouldn’t ordinarily use.
Haven't seen any of it yet since I'm at work, but it looks a damn sight better than the live-action movie. Ten 5 minute episodes with a 10 minute finale... they're up to episode 8 now, and you can watch it online.

The Chinese Wall

There's a really great Op-Ed at the New York Times by an FBI interrogator, Ali Soufan, who was there at the beginning of "enhanced interrogation". It's well worth checking out in its entirety as it makes some good and obviously authoritative points about how ineffective the methods were, but this paragraph jumped out at me as being a point I hadn't seen mentioned before:
One of the worst consequences of the use of these harsh techniques was that it reintroduced the so-called Chinese wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I., similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks. Because the bureau would not employ these problematic techniques, our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An F.B.I. colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him.

The FBI completely pulled out of any interrogations of suspected terrorists once the torture started... despite the fact that they were the terrorist experts prior to 9/11... and despite the fact that a lack of inter agency cooperation was one of the big things we were supposed to fix in the wake of said tragedy.

Personally, I'd go with Shepherd

Here's Shep Smith losing it (in a good way) on Fox News over torture (NSFW F-bombs included). It's nice to see somebody over there not making excuses for the inexcusable.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Go Mainers!

"Standing ovation greets Maine gay marriage bill at crowded legislative hearing."

New England rocking the equality. If we get Maine, it's only New Hampshire and Rhode Island left to complete the set. I bet New Hampshire screws it up though.

Greatest TV Edit of All Time?

UPDATE: Here's the current champion... judge for yourself...


via John Cole

“There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used,” the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

“The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.”

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubeida at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Mohammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.

Torture them until they tell you what you want to hear. It's a classic methodology.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Weekend Cooking Project: Pozole (Rojo or Verde?)

Pozole (along with cassoulet) is one of the first dishes I made as I started to learn to cook a few years ago. Now, I'm a pretty big fan of Mexican food (there was a period of my mid twenties where I probably averaged a burrito a day), but I had never had pozole before I made it. Never even heard of it.  So obviously, I didn't know what it was "supposed" to taste like, but I found it to be a woderfully spicy and hearty pork dish...  with the garnishes adding a nice crunch and freshness to the long simmered stew.  I thought it came out really well, and have been semi-obsessed ever since. Now, I look for it whenever we go to a Mexican resteraunt and have had it served everywhere from the pretty fancy Olé to one of our local burrito shops... and thus while not having a long tradition of pozole tasting, I still think I have some idea of how it's supposed to work. However, let's start with the Wikipedia definition:
It is made from hominy, with pork (or other meat), chili pepper, and other seasonings and garnish, such as cabbagelettuce,oreganocilantroradishavocadolime juice, etc. There are a number of variations on pozole, including blanco (white or clear), verde (green), rojo (red),de frijol (with beans), and elopozole (sweet corn, squash, and chicken or pork meat).
I've made both verde and rojo versions of pozole, and hadn't heard of either de frijol or elopozole until I just looked it up. As I don't think I'm particularly ready to embark out into uncharted territory, I'm going to stick to what I (barely)know. Rojo and verde are polar opposites as you might expect... while you stew the pork in a fairly identical fashion in both, the former is tomatoes and dried chili based while the latter is all about tomatillos, cilantro, and fresh peppers. Rojo has the potential for deeper flavors and more complexity, I think... but it's Spring (even if it doesn't feel like it here in Boston) so I'm sort of drawn towards the verde. What may ultimately decide it is whether tomatillos are available at my local Shaws, since last time I checked, Whole Foods didn't mess with bone in picnic pork shoulders.

pozole rojo picture by flickr user edseloh, and pozole verde picture by flickr user antilo0p
used under a Creative Commons license

Fighter Pilots of Capitalism

You've probably seen this article from New York Magazine titled "The Wail of the 1%"(if not, get reading!), but since everything about it is so jaw-dropping, I still wanted to comment on it. In brief, it's an in depth look at the Wall Street bailouts and the Populist FURY, from Wall Street's perspective. As you may imagine, their complaints and justifications come across as a tad... out of touch.
“Without exception, Wall Street guys have gotten accustomed to not being stuck in the city in August. So it becomes a right to have a summer home within an hour or two commute from Manhattan,” says the Goldman vet. “There’s a cost structure of going with your family on summer vacation that’s not optional. There’s a cost structure of spending $40,000 to send your kids to private school that is not optional. There’s a sense of entitlement, that you need that amount of money just to live, that’s not optional.”

“You can’t live in New York and have kids and send them to school on $75,000,” he continues. “And you have the Obama administration suggesting that. That was a very populist thing that Obama said. He’s being disingenuous. He knows that you can’t live in New York on $75,000.”

That was an argument I heard over and over: that the high cost of living like a wealthy person in New York necessitates high salaries. It was loopy logic, but expressed sincerely. “You could make the argument that $250,000 is a fair amount to make,” says the laid-off JPMorgan vice-president. “Well, what about the $125,000 that staffers on Capitol Hill make? They’re making high salaries for where they live, maybe we should cut their salary, too.”

I was home in Baltimore this past weekend, helping my mom get settled at home after a 2+ week stint in the hospital (she's doing pretty well now), and my dad picked me up from the airport and on the way to my mom's we talked about how the economy was effecting his business. They do environmental chemistry, so a lot of their work comes from construction where you have to test soil or water for contamination or whatever... so naturally their business had fallen quite a bit. He and his partner were paying themselves 6 dollars an hour so they didn't have to lay anyone off.

It seems to me that every anecdote I hear from every industry except Wall Street involves employers and employees making sacrifices i.e. no bonuses or raises for execs... people being forced to take their vacation or take unpaid furloughs... and yet Wall Street guys think a house in the Hamptons is a Constitutional Right? It's hard to wrap your head around... but of course, I knew some of those guys/gals when they were in college, and they were entitled assholes then too, so I guess it's not surprising... but it does help illustrate why populism is so appealing.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A guide on how not to troubleshoot a computer problem

So I was getting this weird and infuriating feedback noise through my speakers of the computer I built a couple of months ago... whenever I'd turn the volume up I'd hear noise almost like you were hearing the processor work. It was high pitched and irregular/random... not the typical whine of your standard feedback. Strangely though, the noise would disappear under a heavy processor load... like opening a program... and it wasn't noticeable when when I played WoW or any other computer game, but it was pretty terrible whenever we watched a movie (fairly common, especially for Anna). It's somewhat embarrassing to recount the steps I went through to finally solve it(I hope), since I'm an engineer and it's sort of our job to be able to troubleshoot technical issues... but well... I've heard of people having this same or similar problem and not seen much in the way of solutions posted on teh intertubes, so it seems important to share... and if you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at? Anyway, this is one of the problems with building your own rig... nobody to turn to to solve something that doesn't work or is acting weird... gotta figure it out yourself.

So what did I do first? Well, the wiring going from my sub woofer/amp is unshielded... so maybe my downstairs neighbors got a new wireless router (or something) and it's getting thrown out my speakers. Possible. So I ordered some knock off Monster speaker wire for $25. This, of course, did absolutely nothing, and if I would have stopped to think for a second I would have realized that the sound was coming from all my speakers... which is strongly suggestive that the problem was before(or including) the sub woofer in the whole chain of connections. Now here, after just spending $25 bucks to no effect, you'd think I would have worked a little harder to narrow down where the problem was... but if you thought that, you'd be wrong. Instead of doing some honest-to-goodness troubleshooting, I just ordered more cables... because obviously money solves all problems. Next up, 3 new cables to go from the computer to the sub woofer for about $40 bucks after shipping. I think you can probably guess how effective that was... they are some damn pretty cables though.

Now this setback was large enough to get me off my lazy ass and finally crack open my computer case... only to discover that I could actually hear the noise coming off the motherboard itself... which is unusual to say the least. Faintly, of course, but the on board sound was apparently picking it up, amplifying it, and sending it on down my speakers. So here you'd probably figure it's something with the motherboard... maybe a bad capacitor or something... or perhaps a flaw in the on board sound itself. I could have sent the motherboard back for an RMA, or I could have plugged in my sound card from my old machine to see if getting the sound processing off the MoBo would at least keep the noise out of my speakers, even if the processor itself was strangely noisy... I still want another case fan before summer hits, so maybe that would mask it in white noise. I, of course, did neither of those things. Now, to be fair, an RMA was the absolute last option... while I have a backup computer, it would likely take weeks/months to send it out and get it back and there was no guarantee that they would find a problem (their tech support had never heard of such an issue)... so it's fair to exhaust every conceivable other avenue before going down that road. I really don't have any excuse, however, for why I didn't try the sound card before buying a really really fancy power strip. Well, O.K., I was able to get it for $100 with free shipping because of some apparent glitch in Amazon's posting of it... and it was at least conceivable that line noise from the ancient wiring in my apartment building was causing the issue, but it wasn't very likely. I'm not entirely certain, but I would think the computer's power supply would take care of a lot of the problems coming from the wall.

It does turn out that I don't even get 120V from my wall... more like 110-115... so I guess it's good I bought my fancy power strip.... er "power conditioner" I should say. But obviously, it didn't do anything about the noise... digital and analog filters be damned.

So how did I eventually solve the problem?

Updating my drivers.

I'm such an idiot.

Though in my defense, the drivers that fixed my issue came out after I had already started this nonsense... not that I thought updating drivers would fix it... since I don't really get why they would make my motherboard make funny noises... but well... it worked.

So let that be a lesson to you... before throwing $150+ down a hole to try and fix a problem, it might be worth updating your drivers first.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

No-knead bread sensation sweeping the nation?

In a review of the new cookbook Kneadlessly Simple, Sara Dickerman at Slate talks about recent trend in bread recipes that require no (or almost no) kneading:
Her book emerges on the heels of a wave of no-knead (or barely kneaded) bread enthusiasm that swelled up two and a half years ago, when Mark Bittman of the New York Times introduced New York baker Jim Lahey's method of bread baking: Instead of pushing a sizable dose of yeast in a few hours, a smaller measure of yeast is given a long time (on the order of 24 hours) to act on a rather humid dough, resulting in a lovely loaf without the time-consuming and laborious step of kneading.

The idea behind "no knead" bread recipes boils down to this:
In the modern past, bread recipes had you develop gluten—the springy but strong network of proteins that capture the carbon-dioxide bubbles the yeast creates in the dough—by manhandling the dough by hand or mixer. If you didn't knead efficiently or long enough, you'd end up with tough, unpleasant bread. But if you slow the rising time down—in fact, an older approach to baking—the agitation caused by the bubbling yeast itself can bring together the gluten matrix.
I've been meaning to learn to bake bread for ages now... especially since I got Cookwise for Christmas... and since by the time an article appears in Slate about something "new", it usually means the train has long since left the station, I feel fairly motivated to try it. The theory behind the technique is pretty neat, and it sounds like it's pretty easy for a n00b to make a decent loaf... which makes it perfect for me.

Though since I don't just want to make "easy bread" and leave it at that, I'm not ultimately wedded to the no-knead concept, but I figure I might as well start there. It seems like a good baseline... since as the article states, it's kind of like entry level baking (I think I probably need more of a "Baking for Dummies" but hopefully I'll do O.K.).

So sometime next week I'll give Cook's Illustrated's "Almost No-Knead Bread with Olives, Rosemary, and Parmesan" a shot, and of course, blog the results.

Yes please!

Let me join with Matthew Yglesias and Mike Tomasky in responding to Texas Governor Rick Perry's talk of secession in face of Clinton era taxes on the wealthy with cheers of "Go for it! We'll help you pack!" I wouldn't be sad to see 2 wingnut Senators and 34 electoral votes take a hike. I suggest Sarah Palin as your President so I don't have to think about her anymore.

Though I think we should negotiate some sort of Vatican-esque city state status for Austin since I here that's the one nice part of Texas.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Innuendo Overload

David Schuster on the Wingnuts' Tea Parties:

Jon Stewart better watch his back.

Calvin Coolidge: Soft on Pirates

It's good to see Obama returning to the ways of Thomas Jefferson... he's going to need a few more SEALs making head shots to catch him though.

Our long national nightmare is nearly over...

...clam meat will once again autostack when patch 3.1 for World of Warcraft goes live later today!!!

Well, O.K., sure... it probably wasn't a major concern for many people... even the people who play WoW... but I found it really annoying. Why would anyone nerf poor defenseless (and delicious!) clam meat?

Also the patch will introduce some other (pretty minor relative to clam meat obvi) changes you might be interested in... check the two pages of notes here. The big things are dual specs, Ulduar, and the
Argent Tournament.

None of those things really effect me, since I have a weird WoW OCD ADD where whenever I get a character into the 40's I start leveling somebody else... but on that front they did make secondary professions less of a PITA so people who share my alt addiction won't have to go through as many hoops to get their cooking and fishing skills up.

photo by flicky user su-lin used under a creative commons license

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fricassée de poulet (Chicken Fricassee)

I actually made this old skool French comfort food about a week and a half ago, but only got around to blogging it today. A fricassee is just when you take some meat (usually poultry) and poach or braise it in some stock and then make a sauce/gravy from the cooking liquid. It's not something many American cooks make anymore... since few of us cover anything in gravy except on holidays (which is probably why most of us, myself included, suck so bad at making it)... but making sauces is something that feels like "real" cooking to me, so I was intriuged by the recipe even if it seems straight out of the 70's. I was originally inspired to experiment with this dish after being slightly disappointed with the "soupiness" of the braising liquid in Kay's Braised Chicken. The recipe is straight out of Cook's Illustrated($$$).

Here are the ingredients:
  • 1 whole chicken , 3 to 4 pounds, cut into 2 wings, 2 legs, 2 thighs, and breasts, with breasts then quartered
  • Table salt and ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 10 ounces white mushrooms, washed and left whole if small, halved if medium, quartered if large
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
Nothing exotic there, obviously... so that's a plus, and pretty good evidence that we're looking at recipe that hasn't been popular for a few decades... a dish from the era before Whole Foods dominance and widespread interest in heirloom vegetables. Just chicken and button mushrooms, baby! I wonder if anybody has tried to modernize this dish? Seems to me you could do some interesting things with the basic formula from an ingredient and spicing perspective.
  1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter in both a Dutch oven and medium skillet over medium-high heat. When foam subsides, add chicken pieces skin side down and cook until well browned, 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Spoon off all but 2 tablespoons fat from Dutch oven. Add chicken from skillet, arranging pieces in a single layer as much as possible. Add stock, partially cover, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken is fully cooked, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove Dutch oven from heat, transfer chicken to bowl; cover with foil and set aside.

    So this is the poach/braise step... but first you saute the chicken pieces and get them nice and brown, which has the wonderful side effect of getting you all sorts of lovely brown bits in both the skillet where you will cook your mushrooms and the pot you simmer your chicken. Other recipes I've seen have suggested this step take much longer... like an hour... and I'm not really sure what the significance of that difference is. Presumably you'd cook off more of the broth, so that would impact the sauce at the end, but I'd presume the meat would be incredibly tender. Something to think about.

  2. While chicken is simmering, drain off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the now-empty skillet. Add onion, mushrooms, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; sauté over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until mushroom liquid evaporates and vegetables begin to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add wine; cook until almost all liquid evaporates, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and set aside.

    Nothing special here, but I'm always a fan of deglazing. I think it's partially because you can't do it in a nonstick pan so it makes me feel slightly justified in owning ridiculously expensive pans... but mainly the thought of scraping up all that flavor on the bootom of the pan and wrapping it up in wine is simply mouthwatering.

  3. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in now-empty skillet over medium heat until foaming. Add flour and whisk until golden in color, about 1 minute. Add half and half, whisking vigorously until smooth. Immediately whisk this mixture into hot chicken cooking liquid in Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in mushroom mixture, thyme, lemon juice, and nutmeg; season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer chicken to pot and simmer until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley. Transfer chicken pieces to serving or individual plates, spoon sauce over and sprinkle with remaining parsley.

    Always great fun making a roux(well almost always), and a golden one isn't particularly perilous while still managing to be satisfying to produce.

It was quite delicious, and fun to make... but I can certainly concede that many modern diners would turn their noses up at it. The sauce/gravy was fantastic... really full of chicken flavor... and the meat was deliciously tender. You definitely need some sort of starch to soak up all that wonderful gravy though... so serve it over rice or with big hunks of bread (I did bread, but I suspect rice would have been a superior option).

Greatest college hockey game ever played

So I returned to Boston yesterday afternoon after a pretty action packed weekend at the Frozen Four in D.C. I didn't party as much as I might have, since I traveled up to Baltimore to visit my mother in the hospital on Friday and Saturday, but after seeing my comrades ashen faces at dinner Saturday night... that's probably a good thing.

On Thursday, we decided to watch the Miami/Bemidji game from a bar so I don't really have much to say about it... except that Miami continued to scare me with their play, just as they did all tournament(even though Bemidji wrecked Notre Dame I never felt they were as legit as the 12 loss Redhawks for whatever reason).

As far as the Vermont game... while Coach Parker and his players might have been "loose" when the Terriers fell behind 4-3 in the third period... I certainly wasn't. The team looked pretty flat and Vermont seemed to be in complete control of the neutral zone... and thoughts turned to "What the hell are we going to do on Saturday night?" Two goals in a 1:13 with 7 minutes to go changed all that... and I managed to write off the nail biter as a result of how well Vermont matches up against BU and how their neutral zone trap and counterattacking style frustrates BU's offense. BU had played Vermont 3 times this year already (losing twice!), so surely the closeness of the game was an artifact... there wasn't much reason to suspect a #4 seed was going to bring it like Vermont did.

Of course, I didn't really count on the fact that Miami could play the exact same game plan (why wouldn't you?) and had an even better defensive team than Vermont.

I'll admit it... BU got totally outplayed and outworked for most of the Championship game... and based on that didn't "deserve" to win. If I was a Miami fan, I'd be royally pissed at the outcome. But... what can you say? When they pulled Millan with 3 1/2 minutes left, I don't think any of my friends thought BU had a chance... the older couple next to us (Miami fans) cut out at the stoppage... but based on the crazy way the tournament had played out to that point, I really felt BU still had a chance... if only a slim one. I did, in fact, turn to my buddy, and say half-jokingly "Two goals in 1:19 here we go." Less than twenty seconds later Zach Cohen used some sort of voodoo to sneak it by Reichard(I've watched the replay a couple of times and still can't see how it sneaks through) and BU fans finalyl had something to cheer about... and that slim chance seemed a little more probable. But still... down 1 goal with a minute left is a near impossible hill to climb. It's hard to describe how exciting it was when Hobey Baker winner Matt Gilroy took a hard pass from Chris Higgins, deked a defenseman and then put a perfect pass on the stick of Nick Bonino who put home the tying goal. After that, while I just couldn't believe that BU would blow it... I was still pretty nervous... and so Colby Cohen's fluky game winner in OT was both exhilarating and a big relief. It was an awesome experience, and it was great to share it with a bunch of guys with whom I had season tickets back in Walter Brown.

I'm not enough of a historian of college hockey to say whether the title of this post is accurate... though that's what Dan Shaughnessy and Jack Packer seem to think... but I know it was the best hockey game I've ever seen (certainly in person)... and I think that's probably all that matters.

screen capture by flickr user arianravan used under a Creative Commons license

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Off to the Frozen Four

I'm flying out tomorrow morning to meet up with some buddies from college to, hopefully, cheer the Boston University Terriers on to their 5th Hockey National Championship. They're the only #1 seed left standing, so it's hard to think they could have a better set up for winning it all then they have right now... but Vermont is the only team to beat BU twice (on consecutive nights on BU's home ice - ouch) and they've got good karma working for the Gay Marriage thing... though I'm hoping the fact that my adopted state has been rocking that right since 2004 cancels those benefits out. Anyway, I'm not bringing a computer with me, so no blogging until Sunday at the earliest and more likely Monday. The weather looks to be warmer than here anyway... though there is rain in the forecast... so that's good. I don't think we've even seen the mid 60's yet.

Here's the schedule of games if you want to follow along at home and look for me in the crowd:

Thursday, April 9
5 p.m. Semifinal Game 1 (ESPN2 HD Live, ESPN 360)
Miami(Ohio) vs. Bemidji State
INCH Breakdown

8:30 p.m. Semifinal Game 2 (ESPN2 HD Live, ESPN 360)
Boston University vs. Vermont
INCH Breakdown

Saturday, April 11
7 p.m. Championship final (ESPN HD Live, ESPN 360)

For anyone local, I think we're going to go here before Thursday's the games.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

First legislative victory for Gay Marriage

Vermont's legislature overturned Governor Jim Douglas’ veto of a bill allowing gays and lesbians to marry. First state to (successfully) tackle the issue without the courts forcing their hands, which is good news... and it's nice to see Vermonters do the right thing. But don't think that their decision to enact equal marriage rights gives me any sympathy for their hockey team come Thursday.

Change I Can Believe In - Department of Defense Edition

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates took a hatchet to procurement with the F-22, C-17, VH-71 helicopter, the DDG-1000 Destroyer, Airborne Laser Missile Defense, and the Army's Future Combat Systems all facing major modifications or elimination.

Gates' recommendations for cuts in programs and changes in priorities for funding will meet a giant wall in Teh Congress... and I have little confidence that most of these boondoggles will get canceled... but it's at least an audacious proposal. Perhaps asking for so many cuts, he will at least get a few, but it also seems likely that the Military Industrial Complex will reject it completely and net us nothing.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Light blogging

I've got a lot of stuff to take care of before I leave on Thursday for the Frozen Four in D.C., including last minute plans to visit my mother (who is recovering from surgery) while I'm down there. So not much(if any) blogging today.

Friday, April 3, 2009


An interesting recipe from Bittman... a chick pea flour pancake that seems kind of like an omelet... but with no eggs. We might need to think up a vegetarian version(his has shrimp) and give it a shot. Can't go wrong with a savory pancake.

This will not end well

Besides giving our future robotic masters inside access to the tools to destroy us, I'm not sure I'm too keen on robot grad students:
Dr. Lipson and Mr. Schmidt have taken their genetic programming approach from classical physics, which Newton solved centuries ago, and are now applying it to biology, where many mysteries remain. Using data on the concentrations of chemicals that take part in metabolic reactions, the computer program has dutifully discovered some new laws that perplex the human scientists.

“It’s as if you go to an oracle and you ask, ‘Tell me what’s going on here,’ and you get this equation, but then it doesn’t come with any explanation,” Dr. Lipson said. “We’re pretty sure they’re correct. But we don’t know where they’re coming from. We don’t know what they’re explaining.”
Beware of mathematic techniques that get compared to divine guidance. Just sayin'.

David Brooks has a good column today

Just wanted to see what that looked like in print since I've never seen it before... but it's true! If you've been following the financial crisis obsessively it won't add much, but it's nice to see Quiet Coup and Felix Salmon's great article on the Gaussian copula function getting mainstream play.

Though he goes to great pains to assure us that he's not a communist or anything... he apparently thinks we need to do some trust busting with the banks... music to my ears.

Three cheers for bipartisanship!

Congress approves budget:
Voting along party lines, the House and Senate approved budget blueprints that would trim Obama's spending proposals for the fiscal year that begins in October and curtail his plans to cut taxes. The blueprints, however, would permit work to begin on the central goals of Obama's presidency: an expansion of health-care coverage for the uninsured, more money for college loans and a cap-and-trade system to reduce gases that contribute to global warming.
Crypto Republican Evan Byah voted against it... not a surprise, but still bizarre. The Senate and House bills are fairly different, so we'll have to see how they reconcile.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The difficulties of farmers' markets

Daniel Duane in Mother Jones on farmers' markets:
If you just like buying vegetables off folding tables on the weekends, and don't care where or how they were grown, you shouldn't trouble your head with any of this. Same if the lure of your local market is mostly the coffee cart and the street performers. But if you shop at the farmers market in part to vote with your food dollars—for a stronger local economy, say, and for better stewardship of the land, and for a food network that lets you know exactly what you're putting in your mouth—and if you'd prefer not to feel like a dupe, it turns out that going to the farmers market isn't enough anymore.
It's a short, but pretty interesting article about some of the problems local farmers face making profits at the market, and how, if you're not careful, you'll end up buying the same asparagus you see at Safeway... just with a big markup.

A little depressing, but probably not surprising. If some of the reason you go to a farmer's market is food politics you probably do need to do some due diligence about the people you're buying from. However, I think that's probably always been true... not some new revelation about commercial outfits stealthily infiltrating our farmers' markets... because one of the arguments in favor of local farmers vs. say giant organic industrial farming is that the local farmer may very well be, in essence, organic and/or sustainable, but not interested in going through the arduous and expensive process of being certified organic. But if you never research them or ask about their farming practices, how would you know that?

Regardless, I pledge to do some research about any of the farms before we head out to our next farmers' market... not until the end of May probably... but then again, maybe we'll do a CSA this year.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Still glad I don't do animal work

Just got back from a talk about a study where they're giving rats some combination of drugs to see if it helps them recover from moderate ischemic stroke. Pretty basic science, and of course its very important to have animal models for stroke. However I just couldn't stomach stroking out a hemisphere of a rat's brain and then put them on balance beams. Couldn't do it.

Has the Internet exploded yet?

Nope, still here. But there's a big scary virus that could destroy the world today... or maybe not. Anyway, now might be a good time to make sure your virus scanner is up to date and to do a full system scan. Yesterday would have been better obviously, but I didn't think of it.

My work computer got wrecked by a particularly nasty virus recently(no I wasn't surfing pr0n at work - it was an ad on Something Awful I think), and I can attest that it is no fun to recover from.