Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Retro holiday celebrations starring peanut brittle!

This recipe comes from my sister, Nesya Collings. It's really good. Peanut brittle is an amazing candy from yesteryear that, in terms of enjoyment, is still very yummy in this world of modern taste.

Following in the footsteps of my man, Alton Brown, ...

How does peanut brittle work? Basically, it's a long period of patient vigilance punctuated at the end by frantic mixing and spreading.

You must just about reach the "hard crack" phase (temperature) of the caramel.
This is what gives the brittle.

The baking soda is the key to being able to eat the candy and it being pleasurable. This ingredient reacts with heat to create carbon dioxide which lightens (adds air bubbles to) the candy so that it can be broken down by your teeth.

How can can you help guarantee the result?

Choose the right peanuts by tasting them ahead of time. If they're rancid, don't buy them (uh, well, don't put them into the candy anyway). Make certain you follow the steps carefully, especially the last one of stirring in the butter, baking soda and vanilla.

  2 cups   sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
2¼ cups raw peanuts*

½ tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla

* Note: Nesya says she likes to use 1¼ cups raw Spanish peanuts and 1 cup raw peanuts, or all raw Spanish peanuts, but that it’s important for taste for at least half to be Spanish. The raw peanuts cook in the candy.

1. Grease one or two half-size baking sheets with butter and set aside.

2. In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat combine sugar, corn syrup and water. Cook to 234° (soft ball).

3. Add peanuts and salt. Stir constantly. Cook to 300° (5° under hard crack).

4. Remove from heat and quickly stir in butter, baking soda, then vanilla (all this must be pre-measured and ready at hand). Pour at once onto buttered cookie sheets, spread with spatula and/or tip pan to fill in.

5. Break into pieces when cool.

Other "retro" holiday goodies to check out include divinity, fruit cake, iced sugar cookies and chocolate fudge. Stay away from the "quick" versions that aren't very tasty (especially in fudge recipes) and make the making of holiday treats part of the family holiday schedule itself!

Monday, November 29, 2010

A rare dining success...

It's rare that dinner comes out with no reason to apologize for at least something. Tonight was such an event. We had two other couples over; they've never been here before.

I wanted things to work out, but the afternoon juggling between a project I'm doing and the evening meal were beginning to make me nervous 'cause it's unsettling to spend all day cooking for a simple evening meal, isn't it? So, except for New Year's Eve, I try not to abandon myself completely to the kitchen with no other activity to redeem my mortal soul.

I made a nice, well mouse-holed loaf of bread (no sugar, no milk, no fats) as accompaniment. Here's the menu:
  Tomatoes with minced garlic

Salad with creamy Parmesan dressing

Capellini stuffed with ricotta and parsley in a sage-butter sauce

Flat-iron steaks seasoned and grilled
Macedonia of sautéd vegetables

Pumpkin pie

Our guests were perfect troopers who didn't bat an eye at how rare the steaks were. I think I need more propane for my grill—I was just about to resort to finishing them in a skillet, but in the bright kitchen light they seemed done enough to me (and they were—for me).

Yes, we did bring them back to earth with the pumpkin pie although, as pedestrian as it is, Julene's pumpkin pie is second to none. There was a pile of dishes, but all was perfect including the capellini which, very well, weren't as Venus navel-like every one as they should have been, but for my first time making them and no recipe for the filling, were pretty tasty aided considerably by the delicious sage-butter sauce.

I'll have to get some of these up on russcooks.com, but not tonight.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What's new in Christmas decoration?

These new Christmas tree decorations are becoming all the rage in France where an artist created them. They're now being produced in a factory. They represent clouds, but are prized for their status as objets d'art.

Monday, November 15, 2010

BlackBerry? iPhone? Android? Who cares?

I chuckle whenever I get an e-mail from a friend or colleague ending with the statement

      Sent from BlackBerry

Does anyone care anymore? After nearly a decade, is anyone amazed that someone else has done e-mail from his Smartphone? This is just free, mass advertising. You acquired a Smartphone for the slim advantage that gives you in exchange for money and a promise of free advertising?

So, I've begun signing my e-mailed replies thus

      Sent from my Intel i5 750 Desktop

Do you care? Nor do I. You got back a reply; that's what interested you. You could not possibly care less that I composed the reply on 1980s-era Macintosh, a Timex wrist watch or a XIIth century Chinese abacus.

As long as you get the reply.

If I were a campaign sort of person, I'd say let's get rid of those silly, default signatures from Smartphones.

But I'm not. I don't care. It's only something to blog about on a Monday morning.

Sent from my Intel i5 750 Desktop running Linux

Saturday, November 13, 2010

New websites...

I've got two new domains on tap now, Music for the Christmas Season and the David H. Cannon Family organization, the second such site for that family.

The first one is a convenient place to direct concert-goers (see recent blog entry).

The second started out as a repository for documents that I don't want to keep track of anymore for fear of losing them. However, I've begun to make it a real website.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

No more ¿quando? !

This morning I formally accepted a verbal offer from Hewlett-Packard MarketSplash in American Fork to start 1 December.

The link above (click on the picture) isn't much of a representation of what I'll be doing. That content is descriptive of the original MarketSplash product. The development teams are much broader and do web-based things...

...what I'll be doing: great stuff! This is really what I've wanted to be paid to do: back-end Java work that will include database and various frameworks like Spring, Hibernate, JavaServer Faces (JSF), RESTful servlets and much more. I'm all a-quiver; really!

When you think of Apple, you think of iPhones®, iPods®, Macintoshes, etc. What you don't think of because it's not exactly written all over it is that Apple is also an insanely great software company. Maybe even more so than it is a hardware company.

HP is known for the best printers and scanners anywhere. I myself have never owned any other brand of desktop printer except briefly an early Texas Instruments laser.

On the other hand, I'm going to be one of the guys writing the software. Software is major fun. I'm lucky to be a software guy and lucky to be working as one. It's been a great life; fortunately for me, there's more to come.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dosai, following your own advice, and other imponderables...

Last Sunday dinner, I made dosai (singular: dosa), South Indian crêpes from a package. This isn't the first time I've tried to make them, but it is the first time I've resorted to a package. I bought it from my local Indian market.

Yes! Provo has grown up. After years of boasting two world-class Indian restaurants, Provo finally has an Indian store. No more driving to Salt Lake City. No more running out of spices.

Back to my dosai...

I learned a few things. The owner of the store told me to use a non-stick pan. In fact, this is an understatement: if you don't use a nearly pristine non-stick pan, you'll encounter a great deal of grief.

I have two omelette pans, one of which is brand new and the other still in somewhat good condition.

He also told me to spread a small amount of oil out in the pan using an onion cut in half. Worked for me.

From the package, I learned something even more important that totally explains why my dosai never worked in the couple of years I've attempted off and on to make them: start each crêpe out cold. If the pan is more than lukewarm, that is, so warm that it begins to cook the crêpe as soon as you pour the batter, then you will have a thoroughly miserable experience. The batter will stick, then pull away as you spread it and you'll be left with a mess.

Next, I used the bottom of a stainless steel measuring cup to spread about ¼ cup of batter poured in to the middle of the oiled pan around and around until I pushed it out evenly to cover nearly the entire, level surface. Only then turn on the gas; you can turn it up pretty hot.

Cook only one side until light brown and crisp.

The result? Not really handsome dosai, but very serviceable once I got the hang of it.

What was really yummy, however, was the amazing aloo paliya (or potato masala) I prepared to fill the crêpes with. And, I had bought some Knorr® tamarind sauce (not quite chutney thick) with which I garnished them.

Follow your own advice

When you give a piece of advice, it's well to follow it yourself. In my khurma recipe, I advise against adding any coriander, partly because there's already some in the garam masala. Sunday morning, I ground up a bunch of spices in anticipation of the afternoon culinary activities. With a couple of teaspoons of ground coriander left over, I tossed them into my khurma cringing a little. I didn't have to wait long: once on the table and then in my mouth I remembered why I hated my khurma for so many years. More than anything else I did or didn't do, it was putting coriander into this dish that made it inedible. I had this hard and fast list of "standard" spices I always used in this dish. In one case, I was wrong. I also don't use cardamom although I don't know that it's not good.

Aaargh! Don't do that! In the dizzying world of Indian spices it's easy to lose your head and throw the kitchen sink in. Less is often better.

Do, however, throw cilantro (coriander leaves) into the curry as a garnish just before serving. That is a good thing to do.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Admit nothing!

I committed the all-time faux pas this morning in an interview.

In my defense, the interviewer called one-half hour ahead of scheduled. And I was just sitting down to get my head into it. But, it was set up long enough ago that I was having a hard time remembering the entire context of the interview (and have had numerous dealings with the same recruiter), so I was befuddled at first. So many jobs, so many companies, so many refusals (hehehe). Yesterday afternoon alone, I was better than two hours getting grilled in interviews at a local company.

It's a capital offense not to have researched the product whose development team you are interviewing for. Duh. [Many expletives deleted.] How stupid is that?

So, yeah, I actually knew a lot more than just nothing about it. Checking out what I should have done prior to the interview, I realized that I knew quite a bit at the 64,000-foot level, but I was surprised and inarticulate—a state that I find myself in frequently during interviews. (I guess I'm not getting the hang of this job-seeking thing after all.)

In fact, I could have held my own, but I'm so $*#!! honest that I rush to admit incompetence.

Moral of this sad story: Admit nothing because stupidity might not become apparent in the ensuing interview. And if it does, how is that worse than not having admitted to it in the first place?

Better lesson of this story: As the weeks wear on and the interviews and rejections begin to blur into one giant disappointment, apply due diligence for each since one or two of them in there will be the offer you accept.

On the positive side, the interviewer suggested that I speak with additional engineers on his team. So maybe he correctly perceived that deeper in the awkward cluelessness, there is something useful.