31 December 2010

Recent favorite things

Some recent things I have enjoyed but am not going to write full reviews of:

Toys

Buckyballs are really fun to play with. You wouldn't think that grown men and women could entertain themselves for hours at a time playing with these magnets, but then again, I didn't think so either. I think of it as intelligent play-doh. Woot occasionally has them on sale at a discount of about 50%.

Rock Band 3. Perhaps the only video game I've enjoyed playing this whole year. No major changes to gameplay, but they have really polished up the game dynamics, and the setlist contains a much greater variety of styles. I don't care much for the guitar, but playing the drums and exercising your coordination is just so satisfying in a strange physical way.

Food

I usually am satisfied with plain black tea but Canadian Ice Wine Tea is an interesting variation. Smells like wine, tastes like black tea. It's very fragrant but still subtle compared to most fruity teas (which I am not fond of).

I ordered some Ka-Pow! Coffee Bars from Sahagún. It's like a chocolate bar, but made with coffee beans instead of cocoa beans. I don't even drink coffee, but the taste and texture of these things is incredibly bold, and hauntingly good.

Cooking

I've been cooking, mostly out of the following cookbooks:

  • The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook has recipes for pretty much all the staples of classic American cuisine. Also contains a lot of practical advice and tips (some of them apparently very nonstandard) for avoiding all the common pitfalls for each dish.
  • The New Moosewood Cookbook is the new edition of Mollie Katzen's classic vegetarian cookbook. The whole thing is hand-lettered(!) and whimsically illustrated. This is not a comprehensive reference like ATKFC or JoC, but it fills some of the gaps in the coverage of the ATKFC, particularly with respect to vegetarian dishes and more ethnic foods.
  • The Joy of Cooking is the very extensive classic. I refer to it when I want to make something specific that's not in another book, but its extensive use of indirection ("First, make Hollandaise Sauce as directed on page 355. Then, prepare the toast as directed on page 1180...") makes it a pain to follow.

I'm not much of a hardware geek, or a culinary geek, for that matter, but the author of Cooking for Geeks (review) did talk me into buying a laser thermometer, which is super useful once you have a grasp of the whole how to use temperature thing. Hardware-wise it's an interesting device too. It looks at the blackbody radiation being emitted by an object, so it can give you the surface temperature of an object from a distance and pretty much instantly. Indispensable especially in sautéing and roasting chops and steaks, but also has less exciting uses, like telling you whether soup is too hot to drink.

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