Recipe du Jour: Cornbread Stuffing

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Everyone has their own Thanksgiving traditions. It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving unless it has the same foods that I had in my childhood. But, I’ve had other Thanksgiving dishes that I want to try. But you can’t try new recipes on Thanksgiving, and I don’t have enough friends (or fridge space!) to make doubles of everything to try new recipes.

So, when Andrew came across half-turkeys at our local grocery store, I saw an opportunity. Half a turkey would probably be the perfect size for the two of us, and I would have the chance to try a new recipe. Growing up in the Southern U.S., I’ve often encountered corn bread stuffing and liked it (my mom’s recipe is from the Northeast, so features sausage and bread cubes). It pairs well with turkey, takes gravy pretty well, and, if you’re careful, it can be gluten-free.

I decided to go with a slow-cooker version, partly because I love my slow-cooker, and partly because the oven was already going to be occupied with the turkey. The original recipe can be found HERE at one of my favorite slow-cooker blogs.

This meal is also a great example of how well Andrew and I work together as a team. I emailed him the recipe for the stuffing the night before. He prepped all the ingredients and put them in the slow cooker, prepped the turkey for the oven, and made mashed potatoes. I got home shortly after he had to leave for class, so he left directions for me to turn on the slow cooker and put the turkey in the oven. Everything took about 2 hours. He came back just as things were finishing up, so I just put together a salad, and he carved the turkey and we were good. A meal that might have taken a long time for just one of us to make went a lot faster because we split up the work.

Ingredients:

  •  a pan of baked cornbread (I used a mix to make it)
  • 4 slices of bread
  • 2 cups of celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (plus a little more)

Directions:

Try to let your bread and cornbread go a little stale before making this.  Lightly mix all the ingredients except the broth in a bowl, and then transfer to the slow cooker.  Add the broth, and cook on high for 2 hours.  If you like it a little more moist, add more broth after it’s done.

Notes: We forgot to grease the slow cooker before we made this. >.< Not a huge deal, as we don’t mind letting things soak before we wash them, but if you want instant clean, that might be difficult with this recipe.

As for the flavor, we both liked it. It was moist and very filling. Comfort food flavor, if a little bland. It benefitted a lot from some salt and pepper at the table, or gravy over the top. I also don’t think that it could be only a Thanksgiving dish. It tasted light enough that I could see using it as a starch accompaniment to a different, less heavy meal.

2013 Personal Productivity Method

Sometime before the start of the year, I decided to reevaluate my productivity methods. I was still running on a modified version of GTD when I started my job, and while GTD was great for grad school, at work I use a different method. There’s a task list built into Outlook, and I make other to-do lists by hand. It’s very rare that I’m working on more than one big project at once, and the projects I have had so far are pretty linear in nature. A lot of productivity methods would just be over-thinking it. After all, if I’m already being productive (and I’m happy with how productive I’m being) then I don’t need to change the method, right?

At home is a different situation. I started my new job in May, but a lot of things haven’t gotten done at home the way I’ve wanted them to. I’ve passed off a lot of the home maintenance to Andrew (he’s still a grad student with a flexible schedule), and I haven’t touched my personal projects in months. Andrew started looking for a job earlier this month, so I needed to get my butt in gear and try to be more proactive at home.

Part of my problem is that I often try to juggle too many tasks at once. I guess because they were all side projects, I’d just pick them up and drop them when I couldn’t manage them anymore. And I had a never-ending list of them. To tackle this, I brought the list down a little bit by getting rid of a bunch of things that I’ll never get to. Will I ever take the time to learn how to properly work with watercolors? Probably not. I’d rather focus on my sketching, or Chinese brush painting. So, I can get rid of the supplies I’ve been hoarding for that eventual “someday”.

The second thing I did was start a Kanban, with some modifications. Kanban starts from the very simple idea of having a visualization of where you are in your process, and limiting the number of things that you are working on at any given time. The simplest Kanban has a “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done” columns. It can be more elaborate depending on your process. Here’s a sample from mine.

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I have a separate board for my blog posts, and I keep my huge backlog of project ideas in Evernote. My “Ready” column represents things that I could start after getting a little bit of prep done (acquiring supplies, etc.). My “Set” column is for projects that could be started as soon as I finish one of the ones I’m working on. No more prep is necessary. “In Progress” and “Done” should both be obvious. I limit myself to 5 tasks: 2 large multi-step projects, and 3 smaller things that just require a reminder on my part. For example, “Organizing my music collection” would be a big project. I have to sort the music, make sure all the tags are good, find artwork, rip any new CDs I’ve acquired, check for new albums from my favorite artists…you get the idea. However, “Reset iPod for gifting” isn’t a huge project. (I gave a friend my old iPod, as it still worked and she had been complaining about her mp3 player.) When it comes time to work on a project, I set a timer, Pomodoro style, and get to work.

I don’t use the Kanban for everything. I need to remember to take some books back to the library? I put that in my calendar task list on my phone. I have a widget so I see the list almost every time I turn on my phone. Appointments and other time-sensitive things are the same way. They go in the calendar.

The last bit is trying to form daily habits. With Andrew around, I wouldn’t meal plan, or pick up the laundry, or make a real dinner, or…well, a lot really. Once something is a habit, of course it sticks, but it takes a long time to make something a habit, and I’m really bad about change. So I got an app called TASK:LIFE on my Android mp3 player, and it gives me a little reminder and scores me on how well I’m keeping to my habits. It’s quite versatile, as it can handle things like “Exercise 4 times per week” that aren’t quite daily, but would be regular tasks. Maybe I should put “Have a spa day once a week” in there. Hm.

In any case, I still keep some elements of GTD around. I try to empty my inbox every day, and use a trigger list to come up with any to-dos I might have forgotten. I also try to do quick things (e.g. pay rent) right away, and if it’s not quick, I add it to where it belongs in the process above.

What’s your productivity method? Do you do a mix like I do, or are you a one-method only person?

Recipe du Jour: Red Lentil Curry

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In the past year, I discovered a love of Indian food. I’m not an expert at all; I can’t tell you the names of everything I like, let alone what part of India the recipe originally comes from. But the warm spices, a bit of heat, served with rice and naan strikes me as comfort food, even though I didn’t grow up with it. It all started when I got a Groupon to try a local Indian restaurant. We loved it, especially since it’s just around the corner from us. A friend recommended a buffet-style place, which was also delicious. (You know it’s pretty good when all the Indian graduate students eat there.)

However, it’s expensive to eat out all the time, even when it’s good food. So I’ve been collecting recipes, hoping that we can make something at home that comes close to the food at the restaurant. This is the first. I should note that we are fortunate to live in a college town, so we have more options for acquiring international ingredients. We also have access to a spice bar, so getting good spices is not a problem either.

Despite that, we did have a hard time with some of these ingredients, as they are not as straightforward as they might appear at first. For one, curry powder is just a mix of spices. Every possible spice mix they use in Indian food could be considered “curry powder”. You can search the ‘net for a recipe that features the spices you like. We are still trying to use up a generic one from the super market, but after that I’d like to experiment with various combinations.

Similarly, curry paste comes in many varieties as well. Most common is Thai curry paste. We really wanted to try to make this like an Indian curry, so we searched specifically for Indian curry paste. We actually ended up not finding any, and so I just added more curry powder. Again, I’m sure there are many recipes on the ‘net on how to make your own, and I may do that in the future, if it can freeze well.

This whole search for ingredients has prompted me to start adding Indian cookbooks to my reading list so that I can truly understand how everything works. I feel it’s somewhat offensive to love a type of food and yet not know anything about it. Like not knowing that salsa comes in many varieties in Mexican cooking, for example.

In a worst case scenario, you can just get a jar of a simmer sauce like these. We did get a jar to try, but I really want to learn to make my own.

For the original recipe, click here.  Keep an eye on how many servings the recipe you’re making has.  My version below supposedly serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1-2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp curry powder (because I couldn’t find curry paste)
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder (I used Ancho.  I may try a different type next time.)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp mince garlic (about one clove)
  • 1/2 tsp ginger root, minced (about a 1-inch piece)
  • 1 cup tomato puree

Directions:

Wash the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear (this is very important or the lentils will get “scummy”), put the lentils in a pot with water to cover and simmer covered until lentils tender (add more water if necessary).  You may need to stir to make sure they are cooking evenly.

In a large skillet or saucepan, start caramelizing the onions in the coconut oil over low heat.  Do not let get brown!  While they are cooking, combine all the spices in a separate mixing bowl.  When the onions are cooked, add the curry mixture and cook over high heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Stir in the tomato puree and simmer over a low heat until the lentils are done.

When the lentils are done, drain the remaining water from them and add to the curry mixture.  Serve with rice or naan.

Notes: This is exactly what I was looking for: warm spices, hearty filling fare, and vegetarian. Andrew really liked it. Mine turned out a little dry, probably because I completely drained the lentils. You might want to keep some of the cooking water from the lentils to help make the dish more sauce-y or perhaps use more tomato puree, as my dry version was hard to eat with rice.

Analysis of Villainy

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while.  There’s been a lot of things going on in my personal life lately (surgeries and other health related concerns).  I do have a backlog of posts to help out, so you’ll be seeing some things soon.  I’m also trying to have more non-recipe posts.  Like the following:

What makes a good villain?

Andrew and I consume a lot of media, mostly from the ‘net. One of the sites that we visit often is TGWTG. We don’t watch everyone on there; everyone has their favorites. But one of the things we really like is the interesting discussions that the site can provoke. This gets us thinking about lots of things in different ways. Like this comic, one of many jokes following the news that Disney bought Lucasarts.

Why is Maleficent considered the baddest bad of Disney villains? Not just in this comic, but in Disney canon! The first Kingdom Hearts game has her as the leader of the villains. What about her makes her the most appealing, above all the others? Let’s focus on Disney villains here, just for an apples to apples comparison.

Now, I’m not saying that the other villains aren’t memorable. Scar from Lion King and Jafar from Aladdin are icons from when I was a kid. And they are very similar in their storylines. They’re not bad villains. So why don’t we hold them the same way that we do Maleficent? What’s the difference?

The conclusion that Andrew and I came to is that Maleficent (and our other examples of this, Sheir Khan from Jungle Book and the poacher from Rescuers Down Under) start on top. They are scary because they already hold all the power in their encounters. The battle is theirs to lose. And in a sense, that makes the victory for our heroes all the great when the villain does lose. As adults, we know the heroes will win, but the result is all the sweeter when it’s not just handed to them. (The original Star Wars movies are similar in this, now that I think about it.)

Villains like Scar and Jafar are trying to get the power. They have to scheme and plan, and they get power in the story, but they don’t start with it. In the end, the story just restores the status quo. (More examples: Ursula from Little Mermaid, Ratagan from Great Mouse Detective, Hades from Hercules) Other villains, like the Queen from Snow White and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, are merely reacting to the actions of the heroes, or the fact that our heroes exist. They’re not actively trying to be villains necessarily, they’re just doing villainous things on the way to their goal. And they are, in a real sense, controlled in their scope of power.

Andrew’s example: The Queen in Snow White theoretically has more power than our hero. She’s a queen after all. But, she doesn’t just have Snow White disinherited, or do a public execution, or contrive to have her beheaded for treason. No, she sends someone else to take her out into the woods, away from the castle, away from the city, away from where anyone can see, and kill her there. Why? Other than the fact that we wouldn’t have a story otherwise, the implication is that the Queen can’t kill Snow White publicly because she is too beloved. The Queen is limited in her actions by Snow White.

Maleficent, on the other hand, has no such limits. You didn’t invite me to your baby’s christening? Well, I’ll curse her. A curse so strong that the three next strongest magical beings in the land can only modify it. Oh, and when it looks like there’s going to be a true love fix, I’m going to capture the prince. And imprison him. Who’s going to stop me?

See the difference? Maleficent is just much more intimidating in her actions, and that’s why she’s awesome as a villain. That’s why Disney keeps bringing her out as a major bad guy in their mashups.

Side note: A villain who holds all the cards but doesn’t use them smartly does not a good villain make. If you have the entire city at your feet, you don’t just stand around doing nothing while the hero gets his act together.

Again, I like a lot of the other Disney villains. Sometimes the inner conflict of Frolo in Hunchback of Notre Dame is compelling. Scheming is great. Relatable villains are also great. (2D villains, not so great. I’m looking at you, Mulan.) But if you want a symbol, someone to hold up as a true villain, you can’t beat Maleficent. Or Darth Vader (before Return of the Jedi, or any of the prequels).

Thoughts? Counter-arguments/examples? Villains from other series that meet this criteria (or bunk it)?