July 10th, 2003


dinner for the drowsy

Kirsten and I had the pleasure of cooking dinner for ldyicefire, spiderdust, nexushoratio, and the munchkin tonight. They flew in today from the midwest, exhausted and somewhat poorer, but with familial obligations all wrapped up for awhile, thankfully... and the last thing they probably wanted to do after the trip was to cook a meal, so I felt particularly hospitable.

I made roasted chicken, artichokes, mushrooms, red potatoes, zucchini, and cauliflower. (I normally wouldn't make zucchini and cauliflower, but half of them are on Atkins, so potatoes were right out...) Kirsten got to play the part of my prep cook for the night, which gave me a chance to teach her how to remove the choke from the artichokes.

Really, when it comes to the artichokes potatoes, mushrooms, and the chicken, I cook them in essentially the same way, which is pretty much how I roast anything I cook.

1>Warm the oven to about 425 degrees.

2> Get a medium bowl and fill it with oil... usually good olive oil for the consistancy and flavor, though I often mix in canola or corn oil just to make the process more affordable. You'll be dipping everything you're roasting into this oil, so you want just enough oil to comfortably coat all your food. More oil can be added later, if needed.

3> Add salt, pepper, and your favorite blend of seasoning. (I *strongly* recommend Joe's Stuff from the New Orleans School of Cooking. You won't find it in the store, but it's very affordable and as good as gold in the kitchen.) You may feel like you've added enough spices at some point, but what matters is the taste. Think of how you want your food to taste when it is finished, and keep adding seasonings until your oil/spice mixture tastes wonderful.

4> I like to add fresh herbs when roasting... especially rosemary. When you add in fresh herbs, you want to see to it that the oils within the herbs are released so that the flavor goes into your dish. There are a few ways to do this... you can chop the herb, you can bruise it with something like a mortar & pestle, or you can heat the herbs in oil until the oils in the herbs are released. It doesn't matter too much which choice you make -- you can even do a combination of choices -- but do *something* to make your herb's flavors come out in the dish.

5> Line a roasting pan or cookie sheet with aluminum foil, shiny side up. I usually use two pieces overlapping each other, rather than try to make do with one. You want it to overhang the edge of your cookie sheet on all sides, if possible.

6> Liberally dip what you are roasting in the stirred up oil/spice mix. Be sure to get down in the oil and get those spices in/on your food. If your food isn't coated in both oil and spices after dipping, you probably need more spices.
7> Lay the food out on the cookie sheet or roasting pan, and mix things up. Cook various types of meat or veggies in the same pan. Usually, you want the flavors of what you are cooking to blend together, as it makes the other things you are cooking taste even better. Feel free to add whatever you want to roast. Some people like onions or even cloves of garlic, some like steaks (whole or in large cubes), some like fish or seafood. Same theory... you can add practically any kind of food that doesn't turn to mush, really.

8> Cover the top of the roasting pan or cookie sheet with two sheets of aluminum foil, folded together or over each other to be ultra wide, and then fold them together with the two sheets underneath. You want to fold the lower and upper pieces of aluminum foil together to make a fairly airtight "pocket" for your food to cook in. The idea is you want some space over your food so that the aluminum foil isn't touching it, and so steam can build up and help cook your meal and make it nice and tender.

9> Let your food cook for about at 425 degrees. If you're cooking something bigger (like a big piece of meat or even something as big as a turkey) cook at lower temperatures (between 350 and 400 degrees) and cook for longer. The bigger what your cooking is, the lower the temperature you want to roast it at, because you are both roasting *AND* steaming your food at the same time. If you like tender meats, do it right and take your time. Roasting time varies, so be prepared to check your progress. Mushrooms can take you 15 minutes. Artichokes or pieces of chicken can take you 30-45 minutes. A turkey can take you three hours. Look and learn what's right for you... A well-prepared meal is meant to please your senses -- no recipe can do it all for you -- so look, feel, taste.

10> At a certain point, your food will look cooked and tender, if a bit steamed. Potatoes will easily allow a fork to pass through it. Artichokes will easily allow you to pluck their leaves... meats will be cooked through to the center. At this point, turn the heat up to around 450, remove the outer layer of aluminum foil, baste with drippings, if available... and cook for another 5-20 minutes to brown. This is also an excellent time to add other fresh flavors that you want to come out in the cooking. Make sure you can taste your flavors, and add more seasoning, if needed. If you have fish, chicken, or veggies, it is also nice to thinly slice up a lemon, and put the slices in amongst your food. The browning time depends upon what you are cooking... Check on it regularly and make sure that it browns nicely, but doesn't burn too heavily. A bit of searing is nice, but too much is a meal of carbon.

11> Serve the food. Big platters are usually a nice touch. Watch people devour it. Everything is perfect when it is both crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Artichokes shouldn't require any additional flavoring. Meat should practically fall off the bone. Don't expect a lot of leftovers...

I can't say how exactly I first learned to cook like this -- my parents never did -- but it probably made sense at the time.

The new law of Iraq...

The US military has been talking a lot lately about how they have been training Iraqi policemen to build a new Iraq... so it must be a bit surprising to them when the first thing that the Iraqi policemen want to do is kick the US military out of town... after all, why should they risk death by collaborating with the enemy?

A policeman's salary is pretty good in Iraq right now, but apparently the retirement benefits suck...

Revenge of the evil, addictive, time wasting game from outer space!

So, why do I use a PDA? More often than not, it is to play Space Trader, a nifty little game of exploration and trading that allows you to trade legal goods, become a drug or gun runner, combat pirates, or become a pirate yourself and pick on merchants... Fun.

Well, now the creator of Space Trader is creating something entirely too big and addictive. Picoverse... a 30,000 to 50,000 star galaxy with enhanced graphics and effects, more trade goods, more quests, more career choices, more features, more, more, more.

Eeeevil. It's due out later this year..

Return of the minders...

One of the pretexts for the war on Iraq was a lack of openness on the part of the Iraqi government to allow people related to it's weapons industry to be interviewed without minders -- Iraqi government representitives whose presence would presumably put pressure on the interviewees to not let anything leak and to stick to the official story.

So, it's kinda ironic that Tom Dean, the Republican chairman for the commission investigating 9/11, is criticizing the Bush administration for refusing to allow witnesses to be interviewed by the commission without minders, and telltale signs of Bush administration pressure on potential witnesses.

Of course, the Iraqis eventually agreed to interviews without minders. Guess they really didn't have much to hide after all. So, do you think the Bush administration will do the same thing...?