Steakhouse Burgers

Continuing my summer of learning to cook new dishes, I decided to tackle steakhouse burgers. I’d already mastered diner burgers, so I wanted to work on these. I didn’t follow Meathead’s directions 100% in that I didn’t create ground beef out of a nice cut of meat. But I did follow his recipe for using 2 zone cooking to make good-tasting, thick burgers.

Steakhouse burgers on indirect heat
Steakhouse burgers on indirect heat (with some on direct heat)

Now, it’s possible that it’s because I crowded my burgers (18″ kettle, not much of a choice), but it took WAY too long to come up to temp. After 20 minutes it was not anywhere near 155. Since it was getting late, I just moved them to the sear side to speed up the cooking.

Finishing up the steakhouse burgers
Finishing up the steakhouse burgers

So, in the end it was more of a char than a sear (which is what I was trying to avoid). I’d like to give it another chance, but it’s tough when everyone in the house prefers the diner burgers. I think even if I got the steakhouse burgers perfected, that would still be the case, but I still want to try. We’ll see when I get another shot.

Alabama Birds with White Sauce

Part of the fun of being into BBQ has been trying new things. As I’ve mentioned before, when I was growing up “BBQ” was what we called grilling and it MOSTLY consisted of burgers and hot dogs. Very occasionally it would be something else. Lots of lighter fluid and mediocre results. But now I know about low and slow and smoking and 2-zone grilling. And once I mastered ribs, chicken, and brisket it was time to experiment. So I tried Meathead’s recipe for Alabama Birds with White Sauce.

smoking the chicken quarters
smoking the chicken quarters

I threw the chicken on the smoker as he recommended. Then I using some direct grilling (I had some corn grilling on the Weber Kettle), I crisped up the skin.

Finished chicken
Finished chicken

Finally I added the sauce:

smoked white sauce chicken
smoked white sauce chicken

The sauce had a nice piquancy to it. It was milky and spicy – I’d say if you like to mix your cole slaw with your chicken while eating BBQ, you’ll likely enjoy this sauce. In fact, I had some leftover cabbage from another meal and I poured the leftover sauce from the chicken meal onto the cabbage for a makeshift coleslaw.

Also, surprisingly, my mother-in-law was really into the sauce and took the recipe home.

Baking Bread for the First Time

I’d never made bread before (not counting pizza dough), but I recently got a dutch oven on sale on Woot.com and was looking for some things to make in the device. Then I came across this recipe for No-Knead Dutch Oven Bread. It seemed really simple, so I figured it’d be a great activity to do with Scarlett. She did in fact love working on it.

Started off with this small amount of dough
Started off with this small amount of dough
Which inflated to this much dough!
Which inflated to this much dough!
After 45 minutes with the lid on
After 45 minutes with the lid on
Cutting into the bread
Cutting into the bread

Lessons learned – the crust looked fine after 45 minutes and I already cut the time with the lid off to 10 minutes. Next time I might just take it out after the 45 minutes if the crust looks good. Other than that, it’s very delicious and tastes amazing with butter.

Pizza on the Weber Kettle

In the past few years I’ve been moving away from seeing pizza as junk food towards seeing it as another food that is sometimes made with care, skill, and love and sometimes make in a hurry for a buck. I can’t remember the exact timeline and can’t be bothered to search for photo evidence, but the two restaurants that changed my mind on pizza were Two Amys in Maryland and Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn. Two very different styles of pizza, but Grimaldi’s cooked in a fire-based pizza oven and authentic Neopolitan at Two Amys. So now there was a new measurement against which to measure all pizzas: the wood-fired pizza.

Naturally, when I found out that a wood-fired pizza oven could be approximated on a Weber Kettle, I was intrigued. As usual, Meathead was my first stop for anything grilled or BBQ’d. I got myself a pizza paddle and a pizza stone.

pizza paddle
pizza paddle
pizza stone
pizza stone

For my first outing I didn’t want to do my own dough in case it turned out badly. I didn’t want to have also wasted time making dough. So I bought a couple pounds of dough from Wegmans. Then I set up the coals in a rough U shape around where the pizza stone would go.

coal setup for pizza on Weber Kettle
coal setup for pizza on Weber Kettle

I left the dough out for the amount of time recommended on the package, but it was not fully defrosted. That made working with it very challenging.

First pizza for the Weber Kettle
First pizza for the Weber Kettle

Here’s how the first one came out:

First pizza cooked on Weber Kettle
First pizza cooked on Weber Kettle

Not the prettiest, but when it’s not a perfect circle we call it rustic. I got the comment that it wasn’t quick as cooked on the top of the dough as would be preferred. So I went from 10 minutes to 15 minutes – rotating every five minutes.

Second Pizza from Weber Kettle
Second Pizza from Weber Kettle

Better crust and better cheese distribution. By this time, though, the temp in the kettle was getting low. I started with one chimney of coals. So I added some more coals above the already lit coals. This was a huge mistake as it ended up WAAAAY too smokey:

For some reason, it seems that having unlit coals underneath (or in a snake or fuse method) doesn’t cause a noticeable amount of white, acrid smoke. But adding coals on top does have the smoke issue.

Final Weber Kettle Pizza

It was pretty delicious, but actually, I found  them to be tastier the next day heated up in the toaster oven at work. But that’s generally the way I feel about pizza.

So lessons learned:

  • Pizza may need to cook for 15 minutes
  • Wegmans dough takes longer to defrost than it says on the bag
  • use a rolling pin if it’s cold or the dough will keep trying to bunch back up
  • Do not add more coals on top if the heat is getting low – have more coals already on the bottom or wait until the smoke clears again
  • Overall, it has a good pleasant taste
  • May need to use less cornmeal on the paddle or warn people about the “sandy texture”

To try next time:

Putting a mild wood like post oak or whatever they typically use in pizza ovens and see how that affects the flavor.

Review: Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami

Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun TakamiBattle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic by Koushun Takami by Nick Mamatas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s been over a decade since I read Battle Royale. It was a book that amazed me with its emotional resonance. It was the first book that ever made me tear up with the lighthouse scene. The author did such a great job building up both the stakes and the relationships, that it was devastating to read. I have enjoyed many a book since then, but few in number are the books who have affected me so much.

The deepest proof for the artistic quality of the story is the fact that these essays represent a bunch of different (and also a few similar) interpretations of what we can gain from the story. There are both obvious lessons and ones that make you think, “Oh yeah!”. There are even a few that deal with my original rejection of The Hunger Games as an anglo ripoff and being upset that it was more well-known than BR. Within a context of remakes of Japanese horror rather than just bringing out subtitled or dubbed versions, I think it’s understandable, even if it’s misguided.

Well, as is the case for anthologies, magazines, and essay collections – here are the thoughts I had as I read each one; a collection of my status updates.

“Death for Kids” – A guy who lived through an evil police state in Argentina sees death at 8 years old and realizes how the world is. Sees BR as a lesson kids need to experience.”

“Blood in the Classroom” – Intro essay to the book. Discusses how the subversive books of yesteryear are today’s boring books that kids are forced to read in the classroom. Mentions that Battle Royale probably won’t suffer this fate.

“The Fight the Night Before” – About deliberations on Battle Royale winning a horror prize and why, perhaps, it did not win.

“Happiest Days…” – Showing ways that reality is like BR and comparing other novels, including Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies. Also a great section of how school shootings are nothing new.”

“Innocence Lost and Regained” – Touches on similar themes to the essay before it – innocence of children is a construct, relatively recent, & a false one. A bit more of a scholarly style of writing & so a bit harder to read than the previous essays in that it it has more complex sentence structure that my brain isn’t quite awake enough to parse right now. Also neat exploration of how Bradbury tackled similar topics.”

“From Dangerous to Desirable” – A look at where BR fits in with gender norms in Japan via various media that is its spiritual ancestor. There’s a lot I missed as an American reading the story and applying my ideas of gender to the story. My takeaway after reading this essay is that the author was a bit more adventerous with the male characters.”

“Girl Power” – A great example that with art, each person takes something different out of it. While many have criticized BR as mysoginistic, this author sees strong women in some of the female characters.

“Over the Top” – An exploration of how wrestling in the USA and Japan inspired the author to write Battle Royale.”

“Generational Warfare” – The author of the essay takes a look at the societal issues that drove the zeitgeist as the author of BR composed his book. Also inadvertently taught me the origin of the motorcycle gangs in Akira.”

“Killer Kids in Jeopardy” – the essay explores how we have been OK with kids being in trouble in novels, but not movies. Or rather that it’s been a reluctant march towards acceptance in movies of that which has been happening in novels for hundreds of years.”

“Seeing the Sequel First” – The writer had a bad childhood in school and talks about how BR2 was a spark of inspiration for him.”

“Dead Sexy” – The author essentially posits the same theory that eventually came to guide how I understand sex and violence in art. There is a difference between the gratuitous and the story-rooted acts. Take, for example, The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s key to the story that the sex scenes both in the book and TV are depicted the way they are. That is not gratuitous.”

“The Postwar Child’s Guide to Survival” – An analysis of BR as a criticism of what the post-WWII generation did with the country. I’m not sure it resonates as well as the author posits, but it certainly has merit.”

“Children Playing with Guns” – uses BR as a reason to talk about gun violence in schools in America (with a few world examples). Best case I’ve heard yet as to why all the gun laws we can come up with won’t do a darn thing to stop it from happening again.”

“List, Combination, Recursion” – a strange, stream of consciousness essay I did not enjoy. Perhaps something was lost in translation.”
“Buelller” – The author starts off with the same criticism I had when Hunger Games first got popular – It’s a rip off of Battle Royale. Then used this to go back through the history of teen movies since they’re all riffs off each other. Then ends with an absurdist version of Battle Royale containing characters from nearly every movie he mentioned.”

“Whatever you encounter” – How BR demonstrates Zen teachings.

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Review: Elantris, Part 1 of 3

Elantris, Part 1 of 3Elantris, Part 1 of 3 by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of Sanderson’s earlier books and it’s exploring similar themes as Warbreaker, so while I’m enjoying it, it’s definitely not as good to me so far. What does it share with Warbreaker? The idea of divinity on Earth vs a god you can’t see, humans becoming divine, and an arranged marriage between royals who haven’t met. What’s weaker from Sanderson’s lack of experience – The Prince seems to be a bit of a Marty Stu so far – a little too perfect in every way.

But there are lots of things I like so far:

Sanderson writes some pretty able women – or at least has in these two books. In this book (contrasted to Warbeaker) the marriage is the princess’ idea. Her father’s actually initially against it, but realizes it would be good politically. While in the new court she uses her brain to manipulate others into giving her what she wants or needs. (Manipulate has a bad connotation, but she’s not malicious) She gets into a metaphorical chess game against the priest in which they’re each trying to outdo the other. And the princess gets herself accepted into a group of nobles to formulate a plan to save her new city.

I like the idea of the AIs that allow a fantasy skype in this world. As in the later Discworld books, I think there’s something interesting that comes from modern tech in a medieval or Renaissance world. So while most fantasy stories can count on a slow movement of information as a plot device, a world with these AIs allows for faster communications. It also serves as an information retrieval device.

So far, across these two novels, Sanderson has also proven adept at starting off with a cartoonishly evil antagonist who then becomes more of a person with complicated morals. I’m enjoying the information we’re learning about the high priest and how he’s trying to make this city’s conversion as bloodless as possible. It makes his fanatical acolyte all the more dangerous.

It’s fun to have the 3 chapter structure where you see the same event or aspects of the same time period through each of the three viewpoints.

Finally, I really like the inclusion of the princess’ uncle’s family. I like the comic relief of his kids. I like how it shows just how much her uncle has grown and changed. And I am enjoying the fact that it’s a modern blended family which doesn’t happen too much in fantasy (at least the way it’s been depicted in this first book). He has step children with whom he has a regular relationship (not some fantasy hatred of step-children). Also, the uncle is a great chef from having traveled the world and so he does the cooking. Overall, it’s a continuation of the refreshing modernity in a fantasy novel that isn’t urban fantasy.

So much can go so wrong with three different people planning independently and with their goals seemingly at odds. We also have the 3 month timer before an invasion or destruction or something. I’m looking forward to it and perhaps parts 2 and/or 3 will get a higher rating.

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Review: Uncanny Magazine Issue 1: November/December 2014

Uncanny Magazine Issue 1: November/December 2014Uncanny Magazine Issue 1: November/December 2014 by Lynne M. Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another demonstration of authors who are doing great things with the short story format. I’ll definitely be buying other issues. As usual for magazines and anthologies, a collection of my status updates.

“The Uncanny Valley” – An intro and the the mission statement of the magazine.

“If You Were …. White” – About Jungleland and a premise not unlike Roger Rabbit (the movie, not the book) where all the animal actors in movies were sentient.

“Presence” – Sad tale about caring for a parent in hospice care via a robot

“Late Nights at the Cape and Cane” – A perfect use of the short story form to tell the story of some super villains at a super villain bar.

“Celia and the Conservation of Entropy” – A precocious high school girl goes back in time to visit her grandfather. The story is fun as written, especially Celia’s mindset. But it all comes together in the final page (as is often the case with mysterious short stories)

“Migration” – About a world in which birds carry souls.

“The Boy Who Grew Up” – A teenager meets Peter Pan (who’s now also a teenager) and gains some perspective on his situation. It was sad, but perhaps a bit hopeful at the end.

“Her Fingers like Whips, Her Eyes Like Razors” – what I find annoying about many stories of the fey is that they seem cryptic to a fault. You never quite know WTF is happening and that’s annoying. It’s not a trope I enjoy. That said, the story overall was good and was successful in conveying the emotions it wanted to.

“Mars..Attacks!” – This article, like other similar ones, made me both happy and sad at once. And, considering it was written 3 years ago, almost sunk me into depression. It’s about how geek women are constantly attacked, especially online. (Something I just learned about in the past 2-3 years) It’s also about hope with all the female geek cultures. But to see where we are in 2017….ooh boy.

“Worldcon Roundtable” – a roundtable panel conducted via email about Worldcon. Made me more interested in trying to attend a WorldCon. There’s a lot of drama around it and that was even present in the roundtable. But fan comes from fanatic, so I’m not surprised people are extremely passionate about it. The important thing is everyone remaining respectful and polite.

“Does Sex…Soft?” – Shout out to God’s War,which I read last year! I have a hard time understanding the mindset of the people she’s criticizing. Sex, love, & romance are a part of the human condition.While I understand if a story ignores it because it takes away from the narrative (books don’t mention every character’s bathroom use), don’t think any story is poorer for including.

I skipped over the shorts article.

“Kissing Song” – a poem

“The New Ways” – a poem

“The Whalemaid, Singing” – a poem

“Interview: Headley” – So much of the tiger story is based in reality, it blows my mind. Also great to see her thought process.

“Interview: Beth Meacham” – Neat talk about how she worked with Jay

“Interview: Christopher Barzak” – A discussion about his short story in the magazine as well as his career.

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