Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Wednesday Night in Brooklyn

Chad: You should check out this dystopian teen lit trilogy about [blah, blah, blah...]
Hollis: You had me at dystopian teen lit trilogy.

And so, may I present the first installment of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Audible, my audiobook service, happened to be having a "first in the series" sale so I got it cheap. The audio version is narrated by Carolyn McCormick.

The book takes place in a post America future in the fictional country of Panem. I'm actually not sure how its spelled because I listened to this, rather than read it. Chad, correct me if that's wrong. There is an all powerful and rich Capitol with 12 oppressed districts who make and grow things for the Capitol's enrichment. There is massive inequality and injustice between and within the Capitol and the districts. Our heroine, Katniss, lives in the coal mining District 12, which is what used to be Appalachia.

Many years ago the districts rebelled against the Capitol and were subsequently crushed back into submission. To remind the people of the Capitol's absolute power, every year the Capitol holds the Hunger Games. I won't reveal what it is, but if you have seen Battle Royale, you know what's coming.

Why you will like this book: It's pretty short and moves very fast. The main character is a self-reliant, smart teenage girl. The Hunger Games talks openly about class oppression. It's part of a dystopian teen lit trilogy.

Why you won't like it: It's short. It's violent. Really violent. It leaves many questions unanswered (but presumably at least some of them will be answered in the next two books).

A word about the audio version: I generally liked the narrator, but at times I found her voice to be too mature for a sixteen year old, no matter how responsible and resourceful she is supposed to be.

The Hunger Games
By Suzanne Collins
4.5 ipods

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Your Stock is Rising

How awesome was your chicken?

If you made some chicken and have some bones, now you can make chicken stock! Chicken stock is incredibly nutritious, providing minerals, electrolytes, collagen, and gelatin, which aids in digestion. According to Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, gelatin in bone stocks has been shown to aid digestive issues significantly both in clinical studies and in thousands of years of culinary evolution.

Chicken stock is also delicious. It provides a superb base for soups, sauces, and countless other dishes. If you want to make good soup, use homemade stock. Not to fear, vegetarians, vegetable stock is a snap to make, as well.

The third awesome thing about chicken stock is you are connecting with countless generations of cooks before you who turned to stock as way to use every part of an animal. Instead of throwing bones away, you can use them to make some delicious and nutritious that will save you money.

Making chicken stock is easy but it takes an afternoon. It's really only about 15 minutes of active work, but you need to check on it about once and hour or so. It is the perfect thing to do on cold Sunday afternoon when you are cozy inside doing a project or watching a movie. Chicken bones can easily be stored in the freezer until you have time to make it.

Now that you are convinced, here's how you do it:

Put your chicken bones in the bottom of big pot. Fill the pot with enough cold water to cover the bones by an inch or two. Add a glug of vinegar (I use usually use cider vinegar). The vinegar helps pull out the minerals into your stock. Turn the heat on and keep an eye on your stock at first. You do not want the stock to reach a boil. Once you start to see a few bubbles, adjust the heat so your stock is simmering gently, not boiling. At this point you can add some whole peppercorns and a bay leaf, if you want. As your stock simmers you may notice some scum building on the surface. Periodically skim this stuff off. Like in capitalism, scum rises to the top.

After a few hours of simmering (3-4) It's time to add the vegetables. If you are making vegetable stock, start here. I used to add the vegetables at the beginning with the chicken bones, but vegetables give all they can give to a stock in about an hour and start to fall apart after that, so I switched to the vegetables in later method. You can save scraps from your veggies like carrot peels and celery tops or you can use whole vegetables. Cut up about the equivalent of 2 medium carrots and 4-6 stalks of celery. Quarter 1-2 onions. Add your vegetables. The reason I am giving approximate measures is you obviously need more vegetables if you are using more bones and more water. You can also use more of one or less of another vegetable based on your preference. Some other veggies that are lovely in stock include parsnips and fennel. At this point you can add several sprigs of parsley as well.

Let your stock simmer gently for another hour. At the end, strain your stock another bowl and let it cool. As the fat starts to separate, skim it off and either save it for future cooking or toss it. Once the stock is cool, you can put it freezer bags to put in the freezer or in tupperwares to save for later. If you refrigerate your stock it should thicken considerably and kind of look like chicken jello. This tells you it is full of the good stuff.

Next... Oh the things you can do with homemade chicken stock!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Art of Roasting a Chicken

Have you ever roasted a whole chicken? If you haven't, I highly recommend adding this to your repertoire. It's surprisingly easy, yet looks really impressive. Also, whole chickens are cheaper per pound than pre-cut chicken pieces. And best of all, you will end up with a chicken carcass for making stock (how to make stock, tomorrow).
First, preheat the oven to 375. Next, make sure your chicken is totally thawed if it was frozen.
Are you ready to party? And by that of course I mean stick your hand in raw chicken? Alright! First, you need to check to see if there are gizzards and other prizes in the cereal box. Stick your hand inside the cavity and pull out any thing in there. Sometimes there is a white absorbent pad thingy. Don't be alarmed. Just throw it away. If you are up for some culinary adventures, save the liver and giblets. You can put them in a freezer bag and freeze till you have enough to cook with. Otherwise, throw them away.
Many people recommend rinsing your chicken with cold water and patting it dry with paper towels. I rarely do this. Do as you see fit.
Next sprinkle some salt and pepper inside the cavity. I like to grind some pepper and shake out some salt into a little bowl before I start so I don't have to wrassle with the pepper grinder with chicken on my hands. Next, it's time to violate the chicken. Peel a few cloves of garlic and put them inside the cavity along with a small handful of herbs. You can use one or more of any fresh herbs you like, such as rosemary, thyme, or sage.
Once your chicken is good and stuffed, cross the legs and tie them together for modesty and even cooking. Use kitchen twine, which is white cotton string found probably near the tin foil in the grocery store.
The following is totally optional: I like to shove garlic and more fresh herbs under the skin. You need to create a pocket between the skin and the breast with your fingers. I find this keeps the breast moist and adds more flavor.
Now let's get shallow and love our chicken for its outside. You can rub the skin with butter, olive oil or leave it be. Next, salt and pepper. Last, any other spices you like. My personal blend includes garlic, rosemary, savory, oregano and thyme. Sprinkle this mix over the whole chicken.
Time to roast! You can roast a chicken breast side up the whole time, or for crispy goodness all over, roast it breast side down, then switch halfway through. Put your chicken in your roasting pan. If you want, you can twist the wings underneath the bird so the tips don't burn. Now, Roast Away!
How do you know when its done? Cooking times can vary a lot depending on the size of the chicken, the true temp of your oven, the starting temp of your chicken an so on. The most reliable way to check for doneness is to use a thermometer. I highly recommend you invest in one. They are less than 10$ and so useful for cooking meat. When your chicken starts to get golden brown check the temp at the thickest part of the thigh. Be careful not to stick the thermometer into the bone or all the way through. That will give you an inaccurate measurement. You are aiming for 165 degrees, so when it reaches 160 take out your chicken, because the temperature will continue to rise for a few minutes. Another way to determine if your chicken is done, is to poke it with a skewer or fork and when the juices run clear it's done. You need to let your chicken rest for at least 10-15 minutes. Now it's time to carve and eat! I usually take out and discard the garlic and herbs before I serve it. It's usually pretty spent and not so appealing to eat. Don't forget to save the carcass and the bones so you can make stock! Tune in tomorrow to learn how to make the number one item at the top right corner of the easy to awesome scale. If you try this out, let us know how it goes. Also, there are a million variations on roasting a chicken, please share your version or tips in the comments!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Podcast for Inquisitive Minds

Do you listen to podcasts? If you don't, I recommend you try one out. They are (generally) free radio show-like recordings distributed through itunes or direct from the podcast's website. Podcasts are my favorite thing to listen to when cleaning my apartment. They engage your brain and provide the perfect complement to something like cleaning, that engages your body. I listen to a number of podcasts designed for a specific audience, like Joss Whedon fan podcasts and some cooking podcasts (more on these in another post). There are other podcasts that are much more general and can be enjoyed by anybody who likes hearing about interesting topics. I am assuming most of you already listen to the interesting and enjoyable This American Life, so I won't review it here. This post is dedicated to a different beast: WNYC's RadioLab.

RadioLab is an hour long radio show and podcast devoted to one topic explored in different ways. It is similar to This American Life in some ways, but RadioLab is more heavily focused on science topics. Sometimes its pure hard science, sometimes it explores the intersection of science and society. Sometimes the show deals with moral dilemmas or other social issues.

One of the my favorite parts about RadioLab is the hosts. The show is hosted, written, and produced by veteran journalist Robert Kurlwich and the younger, hipper Jad Abumrad. Jad is Scully and Robert is Mulder. They challenge each other and ask questions when things don't make sense. Sometimes they agree to disagree, especially on issues of "something bigger" than our physical world. This format acknowledges potential audience questions, without dumbing down the show.

One of my recent favorites was RadioLabs show on laughter. It goes into the science behind laughter and explores laughter in other animal species. It made me appreciate the most-laughter filled game of Settlers of Catan I recently played in a whole new way.

Want to know what the deal is with that crazy thing that happens when you are falling asleep and you JERK awake? Listen to the episode called "Falling." Want to know how to avoid detection if you want to embezzle money or commit tax fraud? Listen to the episode called "Numbers." Want to know how an intestinal parasite can provide allergy relief? Listen to the episode called "Parasites." Want to know more about the devastation caused by the War of the Worlds broadcast? Listen to the, you guessed it, "War of the Worlds" episode.

RadioLab is a fabulous addition to any digital consumer's repertoire and I give it 5 out of 5 ipods.