Baking some Raspberry Pi; or Robots!

Wow! I see I’ve narrowly avoided going an entire year without posting — by 3 days. There’s been things to blog about, too. It’s just my nature to start projects and not finish them. Which leads us, in an ironic way, to this post. It’s time to throw myself the gauntlet again in an attempt to self-motivate by posting this article so that all my friends can mock me when I don’t finish.

The Raspberry Pi is a fascinating thing. It’s a tiny computer, the size of a credit card, for around $25 bucks. It’s British, and was started by some fellows from Cambridge in the hopes that it would encourage kids to pick up programming, and even electronics, because it could be bought cheaply enough to give to them with no thought of how they might destroy it while playing. A bicycle, rather than the family car. If a kid wrecks his bicycle, they’ve only inconvenienced themselves; when they wreck the family car (read: computer) then everyone is hobbled while it’s out of commission — with the result that no kid is encouraged to muck about with said car/computer. With the RasPi, all you get is the computer iteself — it has no case, no peripherals, it’s just a tiny little motherboard with chips and ports. And it’s got a General I/O port, for wiring it up to all sorts of things. It’s ideal for mucking about with robotics.

I was reading up on it last weekend, and musing about robotics. Because, let’s face it, robots are infinitely cool. Who hasn’t dreamed about making robots? Or at least owning them? Movies and the SF books of the 50s and 60s all prepared us for the notion that the odd fellow living at the end of the block could very well have a house full of robots he’d built himself, in total defiance of the accepted wisdom that robotics is hard and expensive. Really, this has been going on since Ms. Wollstonecraft-Shelley gave us the good Doctor Frankenstein. One solitary genius leaps ahead of the world. That sort of thing can and does happens in mathematics, since all that really requires is your brain and it many ways math theorems stand alone. But in the other sciences? Sadly for our megalomaniacal daydreams, it really is true that most science comes from standing on the shoulders of giants. Robots, it turns out, are hard. And expensive. Japan spent millions of dollars and the time of industry and universities to make a humanoid robot that could walk up stairs. That’s all it does, by the way — walk up stairs.

Here’s where my wandering brain started last week: what if I could make a little toy robot that could climb up my bookshelves and pull out a book to barcode scan it, then put it back? That would be something to show off! And not too ambitious (said my lying and foolish brain at this point). The Raspberry Pi certainly has the processing power to do it, and webcams are cheap. We could even tether it to a power supply at first, meaning it wouldn’t have to carry the weight of batteries. Well, I want it to access my bookshelves, so wheels are out. It has to be able to climb. Which looks cooler anyway. More legs is better, since it can brace itself more easily. In fact, with the cheapness of the Pi board, one could design a robot leg that had its own controller, so they were modular. Let’s scale it back — I just want to make a robot leg, something that can move as ordered, has its own computer brain, and a cell phone battery (self-powered, and distributed weight for the overall robot should it ever happen). Trouble is, robotic legs are slow-moving. Things that can topple over, or fall, or need to navigate uneven terrain (like my couch) need fast reflexes.

Well, what about solenoids? A solenoid is basically a magnetic bolt surrounded by an electromagnet. Put on the current and it shoots out about an inch. Turn off the current and a spring pulls it back. The magnetic force makes them strong, and fast. What if you used a solenoid as a single muscle fibre, in say some sort of robot tentacle like you’d see on Kevin O’Neill’s conception of the Nautilus?  Multiple solenoids strung together would allow more than an inch of travel; also a tentacle doesn’t need a lot of motion per-segment because it adds up over the length of the arm. Would that work? Frankly I have no idea. It may be impossible, or unworkable, or impractical, but it would have been fun to find out. But what it certainly would be is expensive. Solenoids tend to start around the $10 mark, and this project would need literally hundreds of them to be even vaguely practical. So it will have to be Bill Gates’s kids who do that little experiment. Even if I was willing to try it, no guarantee that it would work. Also, it would be heavy, since those (hundreds of!) magnetic solenoid bolts are solid metal and by no means lightweight as a consequence.

Now let’s be clear: at this point I’m just daydreaming while reading up on the Raspberry Pi on their website. None of these needed to be particularly practical or achievable. But I was reaching the point where these were obviously dead ends even for the purposes of daydreaming. Now for the coincidence: this discovery of the Raspberry Pi coincided with a friend coming over to pick up my Lego Robotics kit, which I bought a decade ago and never used. So I was happy to send it off to a good home, where kids could get some use out of it (plus, it was exchanged for beer, which is always a good investment). But I’d looked at it opened up again and was reminded why I wanted it in the first place. Robotics are cool! But I knew from that decade-old experience that just building a robot that can roll around the floor and avoid obstacles for the sake of having a robot that can roll around was uninteresting to me. Had it, never used it. A tension, then, between what is interesting to me and what actually happens in my life.

So now that I’d finished imagining movie-style crawling robots in my home (no doubt to eventually turn on their creator in a bloodbath of Brobdingnagian proportions), I was still intrigued by these tiny, absurdly cheap (yet quite powerful) computers. What if I could think of a practical project that would have some sort of use to me when it was completed? That might be the carrot that could carry me through to the end of a project. Well, the thing in my life that I’ve taken up and actually carried through on with some success is cooking. Conveniently enough, there are a couple of possibilities there.

My friend Doug, a masterful amateur chef, has taken up the Modernist sous-vide cooking method with dedication. This is the method of cooking vacuum-sealed food in a bath of hot water of constant temperature over a long period of time. There needs to be electronics to control the temperature and flow of the water. Doug’s got a nice rig made out of a cooler and some third-party hardware, but one could build one’s own pretty simply. Also, I’ve been looking at a temperature sensor for my Big Green Egg barbecue to have a digital thermometer that you could read via a wireless network, that could potentially also control a forced-air rig that could adjust the temperature, for unattended cooking over long periods of time. Truthfully, the Raspberry Pi is pretty overpowered for such an application. Not only could it control the hardware, but it could also serve up a pretty website for displaying and controlling it, while allowing someone to play Quake III in HD at the same time. (Quite literally; Quake III has been ported to the Pi and it has HDMI out.) But again, the cost is not extreme.

Well, this is something that I’ve never tried before. I’ve never been a hardware geek; not once in my life have I touched a soldering iron with intent to use. But the deal is done! I have ordered a Raspberry Pi, a controller expansion board, some digital thermometers (including a high-temperature glass one for the Egg), and a power supply. Now I shall poll my electronically-savvy friends to see if anyone has a soldering iron I can borrow. Further posts shall explore my foray into physical computing and electronics. Oh, and cooking — I have 2012′s Vernal and Autumnal Geekquinox parties to document as well. Onward into the unknown!


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A Feast of Thrones, Part the Ninth: Let the Feast Begin!

So how did it all turn out? My friends Steve and Earl (not Steve Earle), both bloggers, have written up the night. Steve was live blogging during the dinner, and Earl put together his write-up after the fact, being busy as one of the event photographers. So you can get some different perspectives there.

From my point of view, the event was a huge success. Not everything went exactly as planned, but it still went without a serious hitch and everyone had a good time. Well, everyone who was there. From Jeff and Heather’s point of view, it didn’t go well at all, as Jeff had to go to the hospital that afternoon and they missed the whole thing. Fortunately we heard the next day that it didn’t appear to be anything serious, so we were all relieved. Still, it was too bad we couldn’t have the whole group there. I shall try and impress them again in the spring.

All the people at the table
Sylvia, Scott, Margaret, Steve, Pete, Audrey, Mike, Ellen, Earl

Here’s all the gang at the table, thanks to Earl’s photographic skills. He’s even managed to be in two places at once, behind and in front of the camera!

Steve eating pork
Never give up! Never surrender!

Here’s a shot of Steve loading up his plate with pork. Still game by the sixth course; I as host was suitably impressed! At this point I have to confess I was running out of steam – if no one had eaten any of this, I would not have been surprised or even disappointed. But as Earl pointed out in his blog, it’s just too easy to keep popping one more of those tiny potatoes into your mouth even when you’re full to bursting. Anyway, it doesn’t look as if Steve is just taking a tiny bit out of politeness, and for that I thank him.

Pete with tray of ceviches
Pete cavorts for the paparazzi

Here’s a shot of me with my tray of ceviches, because Mom will want to see some pictures of her son, and also because it showcases the delightful painting of a crystal skull I have from my god-daughter Miranda, who is a formidable artist. Bits of that painting show up in other photos, but everyone should have an opportunity to admire it in its entirety. I’m sporting quite the madcap grin by this time, aren’t I? One could attribute that to the relief of having it turn out successfully after all that preparation, or my delight in my friends’ company, or (if one were feeling churlishly accurate) to the amount of wine and margaritas I’d consumed by this point. Let’s just call it a pleasant mix of all three, shall we?

Steve and Audrey had ordered me a Christmas gift, but since it was so apropos for this particular dinner they gave it to me in September – thanks to HBO’s serialization of Game of Thrones, one can now buy mugs of the Great Houses of Westeros, and they got me the Targaryen mug. Blood and Fire! Here’s a shot of the four lads who have mugs of their own – Mike and Scott sport the Greyjoy kraken, Steve is a furious Baratheon man, and now the Targaryen three-headed dragon burns in my blood. You will have seen the various mugs popping up in various photos, but here they all are associated with their disreputable owners. Mugs with mugs, if you will.

Four lads with Game of Thrones mugs
Mike (Greyjoy), Steve (Baratheon), Pete (Targaryen), Scott (Greyjoy)

There are lots of ways to judge the success of a party, but here’s one way I judge this one – when I went to turn in (exhausted) at 4:00 am, my friends were still up drinking and talking and laughing together. Sure, some had gone home in a reasonable fullness of time, but those who could stay did. I really enjoy throwing these parties, and some of that is because I like to try and be a hubris-worthy host every now and again, but they would be just as enjoyable if I could have the same group over and order up some pizza. Let it be known throughout the lands that they are a good and worthy group of friends!

Pete pours coulis
Pouring blood upon The Wall

I have this daydream that some day George R.R. Martin himself will be scanning the Internet for articles about his series and stumble across this blog. He’s been known to show a good-natured interest in the “foodies” that follow his series and cook food mentioned in it, or (in my case) simply inspired by it. Anyway, George, if you find yourself looking through this, thanks not only for years of good reading but for a great idea for a dinner party! If you ever find yourself in Edmonton, Canada – for a convention or some such – I’d be pleased to re-create the menu for you.

Now I heave a great sigh of relief and look forward to weeks of trouble-free take-out and Ichiban noodles before I even dream of picking up a recipe book again.

Postscript: uh-oh! In the spring a bunch of us got together to buy our friend Doug the biggest and most expensive cookbook in the history of mankind – Modernist Cuisine. It just arrived yesterday, and I took it over to him so he could open it up. There’s some crazy ideas in there I’m already burning to try! I fear that instead of my sensible pizza idea, next Geekquinox may involve some Modernist weirdness. I may have a problem. Heh.

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A Feast of Thrones, Part the Eighth: Ice, Ice, Baby (It’s What the Cool Kids Are Doing)

At long last, we come to the end of the dinner. Dessert! There’s nothing complicated about making this at all, this one is all about presentation. This was one of the first things that occurred to me when planning this dinner. I have these forms for making shot glasses out of ice. But this is northern Canada; we rarely suffer the kind of extended heat wave that would make that a pleasant experience. Most of the time we’re surrounded by quite enough ice already, thank you very much! So I’ve never had an opportunity to use them. Anyway, I decided it would be cool to use those as the centrepiece of dessert. I’m not a huge fan of sweets in general or fruit in particular, but I do quite like raspberries as the exception. So raspberry coulis could go in the ice glass. Then just ice cream. Small portions, obviously, as this was the seventh course. Plus I wanted the ice tower in the middle. So I used a melon baller to get small scoops and gave out seven scoops per plate, because… Game of Thrones. It had to be seven.

Of course, while this was easy I couldn’t simply leave it that way. Since I was going to pre-make these and leave them in the freezer (only adding the coulis at the last minute), I wanted actual stoneware plates that would keep cool and not potentially shatter when frozen. Also, I needed some little tray or container for the shot glass to keep the melting ice from watering the rest of the plate. So what this dish really came down to was stuff. I needed to buy more kitchen stuff!

Ice cream balls and ice shot glass with raspberry coulis
Oh so pretty! A good finish to the night.

First cause for concern was the tower of ice. Very neat looking, but as it melted the water would dilute whatever was on the plate. Also, once that thing was made of wet ice it would be sliding uncontrollably all over. So I wanted some sort of container. I found these strange metal cupcake dishes at Bed Bath & Beyond. What could these possibly be used for? I understand the tinfoil versions of the same thing, that makes sense to me, but these are solid metal and not at all flexible. How would you get your cupcake out of these? Anyway, there they were, and they proved to be the perfect size. Another bit of weirdness from these things – since they’re reusable, they obviously need to be washed. Why would you make anything like that not stainless? I ran them through the dishwasher once, and afterwards they were all coated with large blobs of rust. Rust? Really? Who the hell designed these things? Anyway, after hand washing and immediately drying them, all was returned to rightness.

Next I needed a small plate for this to go on, because my dish set doesn’t come with saucers; just cups. Ikea had a set of espresso cups in their “as-is” cheap bin, so I picked up twelve of those on spec, because they were ridiculously cheap. In fact, if you go back a few posts you can see that I used the cups themselves for the salad dressing tasting. But my original conception was to use the saucers as a plate for the dessert. At any rate, while it was a good idea, it turns out they were just a little too small. Not enough room around the edges.

In the end I found these nice small square plates, which left enough room around the ice tower to put my seven melon-ball scoops of ice cream. Plus they’re white, which looks much better with the coulis. While I was doing all this shopping, I also found these delightfully tiny spoons at Superstore that could fit in the mouth of the ice glass. Excellent! Now people didn’t have to pick them up and pour out the coulis. Oh yeah – I also had to buy a melon baller. See? All about the gadgets.

Ice tower filled with raspberry coulisRaspberry coulis is almost not worth calling a recipe, because it’s so simple. Search the internet and most of the recipes you’ll find call for raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice, then blend and strain out the seeds. The most complicated one I could find called for making the sugar into simple syrup first by adding water and boiling. Really, that was the hardest complication. Anyway, I went with that just to avoid potential grittiness, because my raspberries were frozen whole and not in syrup, and they were still frozen. So I ended up stewing them along with the sugar, then just straining that. Later investigation showed me that I’d stumbled across Emeril’s preferred method.

The end results really looked spectacular! I was quite pleased with the results. Very snazzy. Also really easy to prepare, because one of my guests came early and foolishly asked if there was anything he could do, so I put him to work scooping the ice cream. (Thanks to Mike.) When somebody else does most of the fiddly work, this really is easy.

Raspberry coulis

(You can also check out Emeril’s write-up)

2 cups   raspberries, frozen (or fresh and rinsed, but I live in a frozen wasteland)
½ cup   sugar
1½ tbsp.   lemon juice

  1. Add ¼ cup of water to the ½ cup sugar. Boil until sugar is dissolved (this is called simple syrup).
  2. Add raspberries to syrup and simmer until melted (if they were frozen), then add lemon juice. Simmer until berries are very soft and coming apart.
  3. (optional) Emeril suggests adding cornstarch; I’m not convinced it’s necessary. Suit yourself.
  4. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Discard the seeds. Refrigerate and serve when cold. Any leftover coulis can be frozen and stored for up to a month (Emeril again, for that storage time).


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A Feast of Thrones, Part the Seventh: Pork Roast, in excess-io. (Deo!)

Okay, there weren’t any funny stories surrounding the pork roast, nor any noteworthy failures. It’s a tried-and-true recipe of mine. The only funny thing was how little it mattered in my mind by the time we got to it. The sixth course? Madness! I figured everyone to be stuffed like Strasbourg geese at this point. I just didn’t care. Strangely, my friends did – I sent around a platter just for form’s sake, and not only did it come back empty, but my guests took it upon themselves to get up and carve themselves some more!

Let’s take a moment to give thanks for bacon. Is there anything it can’t do? Bacon has the magical property of being able to make even other cuts of itself better. Nothing can’t be improved by the addition of bacon. In this case, pork tenderloin. The recipe calls for an actual pork roast, and the drippings are required to coat the vegetables in a delightful patina of pig fat (which as we’ve established, makes everything better). Knowing what would have come before, though, I settled on some pork tenderloins to get a smaller cross-section of roast for my overfed guests. Plus Costco sells them for an absurdly low price.

Wrapping pork tenderloins in bacon
Pork-stuffed pork, wrapped in... pork.

Trouble was, these tenderloins looked pretty lean. Where was I going to get my beautiful beautiful fat to fall all over my vegetables? Well, since I wanted to do two tenderloins I was going to be tying them together anyway, so while I was at it I wrapped it in a protective bundle of bacon. There’s lots to be said for premium bacon brands like Harvest if you’re actually cooking bacon to eat for breakfast, but for wrapping scallops or tenderloins or anything else, go cheap and fatty. It’s really the fat you’re after anyway.

As you can see from the photo, by this time my guests had started to arrive already. Fortunately it wasn’t going to be race; there’d be plenty of time to get the pork roast cooked while we worked our way through the preceding courses. On the upside, this would have been a tricky photo to take by myself.

You know, I have some friends who are vegetarians, and to me it just seems a lot like wearing a hair shirt. Some people do it, for reasons that must seem compelling to them, and they typically have some sort of ethical justification for it, but in either case it seems like a joyless and uncomfortable way to shuffle through life. I choose to follow the prophet Denis Leary, who uttered the brilliant phrase “Eggplant will always taste like eggplant, but meat tastes like murder, and murder tastes pretty God-damned good, doesn’t it?” Yes it does, Denis, yes it does!

Pork Platter

My new goal is to see how many things I can successfully improve by wrapping them in bacon. My guess is that it will be a long and fruitful project. In this case, however, it improved red potatoes, white potatoes, and baby carrots by light-years. It could even be argued that it improved the pork tenderloin itself. Ahh! Well, let’s just feast our eyes on the results there.

So now it’s time for me to confess my little Big Green Egg heresy. Are any of the faithful still reading, gladdened by its mention in the first two posts? You should avert your eyes. No doubt this will particularly gall my friend Doug. Anyway, this recipe involves cooking the roast and vegetables together, thus soaking the veggies in pig fat (which makes everything better, yes). Now you can do this in the Big Green Egg, and I did give it a try. Put the potatoes and carrots in a drip pan below the rack I was cooking the roast on, and all is well. The veggies burned more than they do in the oven, but not uncontrollably so, and they are supposed to brown a little. No, the trouble is for me that pork is a white meat with a pleasant, subtle flavour. I don’t actually like it done in the Big Green Egg, it’s too smoky. Sure, I could claim convenience and the fact that I was using the Egg for other things in the dinner, but mostly those other things were mere justifications after the fact. I just prefer my pork roast done in the oven. There, I’ve said it. I’m an apostate in the eyes of the church of the Big Green Egg.

This recipe is a combination of two recipes, one for pork roast and one for herbed vegetables, both from different books of Company’s Coming. Once again done right by Madame Jean Paré. I’ve also done a little bit of modification. Still, for the originals check out The Rookie Cook and The Pork Book.

Pork Roast with Oven-Roasted Baby Potatoes

2½ lbs.   Boneless pork shoulder butt roast, rolled and tied, OR
2   pork tenderloins and 6-8 strips of bacon, tied together
1 bag   baby carrots, around 1 lb.
1 bag   unpeeled baby white potatoes, around 1½-2 lbs.
1 bag   unpeeled baby red potatoes, around 1½-2 lbs.
1 bag   boiler onions, or 2 small onions cut into wedges

6   garlic cloves, or 1½ tsp. minced
2 tbsp.   olive oil (or cooking oil)
2 tsp.   seasoned salt
1 tsp.   coarsely ground pepper
1 tsp.   paprika
1 tsp.   parsley flakes
½ tsp.   dried thyme

1 tbsp.   butter
1 tbsp.   olive oil
1 tbsp.   lemon juice
1 tbsp.   Italian no-salt seasoning (such as Mrs. Dash)
½ tbsp.   seasoned salt

  1. Combine the minced garlic, oil, salt, pepper, paprika, parsley, and thyme in a small bowl until consistency of thick paste.
  2. Rub paste over roast until coated. If doing tenderloins, just coat the tenderloins and put the strips of bacon overtop.
  3. Place on wire rack in roasting pan. Cover. Cook in 350°F oven for 45 minutes.
  4. Arrange potatoes and carrots around roast in pan.
  5. Melt butter in small saucepan on medium-low. Combine next four ingredients. Stir.
  6. Pour mixture over vegetables. Stir. Cover. Cook for 45 to 60 minutes more, until roast is done. Ideally, use a meat thermometer to check doneness.
  7. Remove roast. Cover with foil. Let stand for 10-15 minutes.
  8. Stir vegetables in roasting pan. Increase heat to 450°F. Cook uncovered for another 10-15 minutes, until starting to brown. Serve with roast.


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A Feast of Thrones, Part the Sixth: ‘Cold Acid’ – is that a jazz band?

I’d never had ceviche until this summer, sitting on a patio in the blazing hot sun of the Penticton waterfront, drinking Coronas out of a metal bucket full of ice and beer bottles in a Mexican restaurant. Having tasted it, I was in love. There’s something about a cold, lime-tart dish when the temperature is soaring that is truly delightful. The beer doesn’t hurt either.

As an aside, have you noticed that bars that serve these buckets of Coronas serve you five? My girlfriend Ellen has a perceptive theory. It’s that 5 is a rare combination for a table. 2 people? You’ll need a sixth bottle to even things up. 3 people? Somebody’s short one. Same thing applies to 4. It’s a way to force a follow-up order out of people. However it works, they were pleasant enough on the day we first tried ceviche. And we didn’t begrudge them the extra beer we ordered.

It’s usually served like nachos, with tortilla chips to scoop up the food with. That wasn’t going to be happening at a seven course meal, because the last thing I needed was some random carbs to help fill people up. This needed to be a nice light interlude. However, some sort of tortilla bowl would not only improve the presentation but make up for a distinct lack of dishes at this point in the meal.

Forming a tortilla bowl
Nasty Elvish tortilla bowl! It burns us! It burns us!

It turns out you can make your own tortilla bowls with remarkable ease. You just oil up the underside of some cup or dish – a Pyrex 1 cup measuring cup is ideal – and press down a medium sized tortilla over it, then microwave it for a minute, press it down against the glass again, nuke it for a second minute, and set aside to dry. Voilà! Then you repeat the process until you have three tortilla bowls, at which point you will have burned your fingertips enough to take your fingerprints right off, making you an ideal criminal mastermind.

A better method is to use the next largest size of Pyrex cup to do the pressing down, thus protecting your non-fireproof digits from the heat. It’s probably also a good idea to have two different base plates and alternate between them, again for the avoiding of heat-based pain. Anyway, I churned out 11 of these things on the day of the party, the ceviche having been made the night before.

The trick of ceviche is that it’s a cold dish of fish and onions and peppers, but the fish is cooked by the soaking of it in lime juice. The acid cooks the fish, turning it from clear to white. In an attempt to allude to this in the menu without being too verbose, I described it as “cold-cooked”, which really looks like cold-cocked when you print it out. Really? You punch the fish unexpectedly and knock it unconscious? It turns out no.

Once again I had to do some sorting out of the many recipes on the Internet and some comparison tasting. Some recipes call for lime-searing just the fish, and adding all the chopped vegetables after. Some call for all the ingredients in the lime. I decided that the best results were from soaking the fish, onion, and peppers in the lime juice, then adding the other ingredients just before serving. After making several full-sized ceviches during this testing phase I was afraid that I might get sick of it, particularly since that involves a lot of leftovers, but when the day came it was as tasty to me as I could have hoped. It’s really a hot-weather dish – not just cold but with a refreshing lime pucker factor that gives you a little shiver when you’re out in the sun. But that made it nice follower to the deep-fried rellenos we’d just had.

Ceviche servings in tortilla bowls
Grenades for a food fight!

I suppose it’s confession time – yet another corner was cut here. The recipe calls for trout, and one of my tests even used Steelhead trout (that being the only kind I could get my hands on). It tasted fine, but Steelhead is a very red-fleshed fish; it looks almost like salmon. I personally think ceviche is slightly better with a whitefish. Part of that was purely aesthetic. The other downside to actually using trout was that it came skin on, and so we had to remove the skin ourselves. In the end it wasn’t really aesthetics or taste that was the deciding factor, it was laziness. So what my guests ended up with was the Tully Tilapia, which while not canonical was quite tasty. Je ne regrette rien!

Tully Trout Ceviche

1 lb.   fresh trout (or white fish) fillets, cut into ½” pieces
6 limes   juiced (better, a never-ending giant bottle of lime juice)
½ green pepper   seeded and diced
½ red pepper   seeded and diced
1 jalapeño   seeded ribbed and minced
1   small onion, diced
1   small avocado, diced
1 cup    grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
a handful of cilantro, well torn (or chopped)
coarse salt (optional)

  1. Add fish, onion, and peppers to a shallow dish.
  2. Add enough lime juice to cover mixture.
  3. Place in refrigerator. After one hour, stir mixture.
  4. Leave for another 4-6 hours, or overnight.
  5. Drain lime juice.
  6. Add avocado, tomatoes, oregano and cilantro to mixture. Toss.
  7. Add salt to taste. Can be served immediately or refrigerated further.

Homemade tortilla bowls

4-6   six-inch (Old El Paso “medium”) soft tortillas
canola (vegetable) oil
microwave-proof cup (Pyrex 1-cup rounded bottom is ideal)

  1. Place cup upside-down on a plate. Brush bottom with oil.
  2. Press tortilla down and squeeze edges down around cup. Be careful not to tear the tortilla.
  3. Microwave on high for 1 minute.
  4. Press tortilla down again. It will be hot; this is a good opportunity to use another bigger cup to do the pressing.
  5. Microwave a second time on high for 1 minute.
  6. Remove and set aside to cool and harden.


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A Feast of Thrones, Part the Fifth: I Bring You Fire!

In the immortal words of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, “I am the god of hellfire, and I bring youfire!” That was the challenge of my Targaryen course. The words of House Targaryen are “Blood and Fire”, and while I spent a brief moment considering something like blood sausage, it was mercifully very brief. Besides, while you can do a few things cooking with blood, you can do lots of things cooking with fire! In the end I settled on Spicy Chicken Rellenos in Tequila Lime Sauce, a dish which combines a little bit of spicy fire with blackened peppers that require, er, the fiery kind of fire.

This dish comes straight out of the Emeril Legasse playbook, by the way. It’s been made very successfully in the past by my friend Doug, who introduced me to it, and it came to mind as ideal for this occasion. In my original conception I was going to go even farther in pursuit of my theme – I’d found a local exotic meat and game supplier in town who could get me alligator and even python meat! So it was not only going to be “flame-blackened” peppers, but it was going to be stuffed with “dragon” meat.

Thus my plan was to make a baseline version of the original dish in order to remind myself how it worked, and then to test drive the alternatives with alligator and python meat, and then make a taste judgement as to which worked the best. They should both be whitish meats, and the substitution seems like it should work. However, this plan fell by the wayside after we tried the original. It was just so good! Really a centerpiece of the whole experience. In fact my girlfriend, who’s ordinarily not particularly casual about swearing, described her first bite in the immortal phrase “f**k that’s awesome!” At that point I decided not to mess with what is clearly perfection. Also, this is the frozen wastelands of the north where I live; neither python nor alligator are anything like approaching local. Which means that importing the exotic meats was going to be quite expensive. I’m still terribly curious about how it would have turned out – I’m willing to bet that if you live in an alligator or python-friendly part of the world where those things are cheap, this would be a worthwhile experiment.

This is also a dish which desperately cries out to be devoured with a margarita. Even if that’s not normally your tipple, they go together like George R.R. Martin and a pervading cruelty to his favoured characters. So now the CDC lab (that’s Centre for Delectability Creation) had to go to work figuring out a mix for non-alcoholic lime margaritas, for two of my guests are non-drinkers.

I, in a fit of generosity (if I didn’t like margaritas) or selfishness (since I do) bought my girlfriend a (Jimmy Buffet’s) Margaritaville machine. It is a ridiculously overspecialized blender designed for making iced drinks, but oh my! does it do that job quite well. The obvious thing to do is simply to put together a margarita using the normal recipe and just omit the booze, or replace it with water (for the tequila) and orange juice (for the Triple Sec) to keep the liquid volumes the same. Which is what we started with, but that was another fail. It doesn’t work. The experiments continued. Fortunately it was hot weather while this was going on, so Ellen’s kids really scored as her official taste-testers. Eventually the interwebs provided the answer – thumbs down from the kids, but thumbs up from the adult who’d actually tasted a real margarita before. We had our accompanying drink.

By this time the momentum of the event had entirely taken me up, and was steamrollering over anything resembling common sense, so I ran out and bought a set of 12 margarita glasses. While I was at it, I bought some paper plates to use as doilies – the rellenos had to go on a real stoneware plate that could take both the cutting and the lime sauce, but I’d been stacking all the course-specific dishes on the main plates, and putting stoneware on stoneware involved some pretty horrendous scraping noises. So I needed an intervening layer to cut the (almost exact) noise of fingernails on a chalkboard.

Boiling Oil
In case of castle siege, boil oil.

Of course, the final step in the making of rellenos is the deep frying. Which is another way to bring fire into the dish – if your pot is too small to handle the boiling-up overflow when a relleno is dropped into it, and your oil is hot enough, and you have a gas stove with an open flame, then you have all the ingredients for a massive oil fire in the privacy of your own home! During my test run, I chose a pot which ended up being a little too small, and while I avoided it catching fire I do now have a distinct stained-brown cast to my metal burner casings. It’s about time, frankly; now they at least look used. So for the actual dinner, I used a bigger pot, and it was pretty much exactly the right size. I think some of my camera-toting guests were a little disappointed, actually. You can find a video of the actual relleno dipping at my friend’s blog, which he was updating live as the dinner went on. All in all, far less exciting than it could have been.

After the first test drive of this dish, I made the decision to re-order my menu a little bit. I’d originally categorized the ceviche as an hors d’oeuvre and the rellenos as the entrée, but it was so good that I worried about people coming to it too full, or too shell-shocked, to really appreciate it. Also, it seemed like it would be better sandwiched between the (cold) salad and the (cold) ceviche, so it made sense. So I swapped them.

Sylvia and her plate of relleno
My friend Sylvia and the spicy relleno in tequila lime sauce.

Scott and Margaret had lived in New Mexico (or was it Arizona?) for a while, so they were very up on their pepper-based cooking, but they gave it a passing grade. The key is to start preparation enough ahead of time. Roasting and skinning the peppers in time-consuming, chopping is time-consuming, stuffing can be time consuming (and messy), but all these things can happen ahead of time. If you just think about the battering, dredging, and frying, that part can happen right there on the spot quite quickly. Which is how I arranged it. My sous-chef (a.k.a. girlfriend) came over Friday to do some serious chopping for this party, and then on Saturday morning all I had to do was roast and skin the peppers and fry up the stuffing. Then at some point in the afternoon I made up the batter and the dry mix, and stuffed the peppers and threw them in the fridge. Then when guests were here it was quick and painless to fry up the rellenos and serve them fresh and hot. While I was frying, Ellen had plenty of time to make up the tequila lime sauce.

Non-alcoholic lime margarita

6 oz. can   frozen limeaid concentrate
¾ cup   orange juice
2/3 cup   unsweetened grapefruit juice
4 cups   small ice cubes (25 to 30)
coarse salt (optional)
lime wedge (optional)

  1. Combine limeaid concentrate, orange juice, grapefruit juice in blender. Blend until smooth.
  2. Add ice cubes and blend until slushy.
  3.  (optional) salt rim of glass; garnish with lime wedge.

Spicy Chicken Rellenos with Tequila Lime Sauce

A delightful recipe from Emeril, which I made no modifications to.


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A Feast of Thrones, Part the Fourth: I must have been ‘As High As Honour’ to agree to this

I admit it, I was really stuck for what to do about House Arryn, “As High As Honor”. Everything else was in place (although at this point in time I was still grinding myself down on the millstone of the octopus, but at least there I had an idea). It was the last to fall. So it had to be a salad, and to be honest that’s never be a favorite of mine. I mean, you just can’t win friends with salad, can you?

Fortunately my friend Doug, who is an excellent skilled chef himself, has a favourite salad recipe that his mother-in-law makes. Another one right out of Madame Paré’s collection, this time from Company’s Coming: Salads, Jean Paré, p.30. Originally called Japanese Cabbage Salad. Since it involves dried noodles, it seemed like a natural to make into a “bird’s nest” motif and get my connection to House Arryn (however slim). A bit of a stretch, but there you go. This was not going to get the focus of my attention. Or at least so I thought.

I made a test salad, and it was really tasty! For a person who is normally not a big fan, I quite liked this one, so that was definitely happy news. It calls for instant noodles and also chow mein noodles, but they don’t taste markedly different to me. I assume the chow mein was there just to give it some colour and visual difference. But given that I wanted to form the salad into a bird’s nest on the plate, I didn’t need the longer twistier noodles, so I just doubled up on the instant noodles.

Okay, here’s where it goes off the rails a bit. Maybe I just thought that this dish hadn’t caused me enough grief and I was expecting it at this point? I’d become “institutionalized,” like the fellow in The Shawshank Redemption? At any rate, the dressing calls for (among other things) vinegar, soy sauce, and cooking oil. All I had was balsamic vinegar at the time, so I used that, and it worked out okay. But I wondered. There’s a lot of other stuff going on in there, so “vinegar” probably meant just plain white vinegar. And while I used China Lily soy sauce, they could have meant Japanese soy sauce (like Kikkoman), which I find to have a very different taste. And what does “cooking oil” mean exactly? They probably meant vegetable oil, but they might have meant olive oil. Olive oil is more common in salad dressings after all.

Chicken noodle flavour powder separated into eight piles
China White? Peruvian Flake?

I couldn’t take the uncertainty. I determined that I would make up a little tiny sample of all the possible combinations of those ingredients and test drive them all. Since one of the base ingredients is the chicken flavour powder from the instant noodles, I had to dig out my trusty knife and chop that powder into eight equal piles, like any coked-up yuppie from Miami Vice. It turns out that I would have made a very poor drug dealer (or user) in the 80s; even after my painstaking and time-consuming chopping with my knife (not even a razor blade and a mirror, come on!) I’m not sure my piles were even. But eventually I had what you could reasonably call the base for eight different samples of dressing. Happily the oil portion calls for a half cup, so that was easy to divide. Yes, I really went full-on obsessive-compulsive on this one. The final verdict? White vinegar, Japanese soy sauce, and canola oil. Though it was a subtle difference in the end.

Eight mixtures of salad dressing
I even have tiny tasting spoons! You'll see those again later.

So the plan was to form the salad into bird’s nests on each plate, and then to have sculpted a cream cheese egg (mixed with the tiniest bit of blue food colouring to give it a wild bird’s egg’s blue tinge) to be placed into the centre of each salad. That’s my contribution to this recipe, along with the modification of the noodles. But I simply ran out of time on Saturday, and the fancy eggs were the first casualty. After all… it’s just the salad.

‘Bird’s Nest’ Cabbage Salad

Salad in shape of bird's nest
Bird's nest, but no children.

½ cup   sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
2 tbsp.   sesame seeds, toasted
½ head   cabbage of medium size, shredded
12 oz.   bean sprouts
2 cups   fresh mushrooms, sliced
2   green onions, chopped
¼ cup   sunflower seeds
2 x 3 oz.   instant noodle packages, broken up

1 pkg.   (chicken) seasoning from noodle package
½ cup   canola (vegetable) oil
2-4 tbsp.   Japanese soy sauce (Kikkoman)
3 tbsp.   vinegar (white)
1 tbsp.   granulated sugar
1 tsp.   salt
½ tsp.   pepper

4-6 tbsp.   cream cheese
blue food colouring

  1.  Put almonds and sesame seeds in single layer in pan. Toast in 350°F oven for about 5 minutes (watch carefully as they can get too dark in no time) until golden. Remove from oven and set aside.
  2. Put shredded cabbage and bean sprouts into large bowl. Add mushrooms, onions and sunflower seeds. Add toasted almonds and sesame seeds.
  3. Break up instant noodles and set aside.
  4. Empty seasoning packet from box of noodles into a small bowl. Add oil, lesser amount of soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Add more soy sauce to taste, depending on quantity of cabbage. Stir in salt and pepper. Put in container with cover. Can be made ahead.
  5. Mix cream cheese with a few drops of blue food colouring and form into 4-6 eggs, one per plate.
  6. Shake dressing over salad. Form salad into bird’s nest shape on the plate. Sprinkle dry noodles overtop. Place cream cheese egg in centre. Serve.

Other permutations involve turning this into a Japanese Shrimp Salad (add 2 cups canned or fresh cooked shrimp to mixture before tossing; can add sliced cucumber or radish as well) or an Oriental Chicken Salad (add 2 cups cooked chicken, cubed, to mixture before tossing; again you could add the cucumber or radish). Even as a simple self-serve bowl of salad without the bird’s nest, this is darn tasty. For a salad.

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A Feast of Thrones, Part the Third: Unleash the Kraken!

Allow me to quote from my own damn menu, that I’d so cleverly sent out already to all the guests:

“A rich cioppino seafood stew, served in the Ironborn style on a trencher of bread, garnished with grilled kraken.”

Well, it happens that this wasn’t my first or even second idea. My bright idea, you see, which (once I’d had it) was fixed in my brain and no shiftin’ it, was to cook up some octopus. Get some big suckered tentacles on the plate or in the dish. How great would that be for House Greyjoy, whose sigil is the kraken? I mean, there’s not a lot of recipes for Architeuthis Dux out there, but octopus would certainly fit the bill for looks, wouldn’t it? Plus, a local Greek restaurant called Yiannis Taverna has (or at least had, some years ago) a nice octopus stew as an appetizer that I quite liked.

So I dived headlong into it. Out of a book of soups and stews I found a recipe for seafood gumbo, and I’ve always liked gumbo. So in place of one of the seafood ingredients I added some octopus. However, it was what you might call a fail. Octopus has a strong flavour to it, the skin has a tendency to dye the rest of the dish an unappetizing greyish-black, and the texture when cooked like that could most politely be described as rubbery. In the same way that Goodyear products can be described as rubbery. My girlfriend ate some and said that it wasn’t bad, exactly, but I thought it was so bad that I dumped the whole remaining lot down the toilet.

Try again, I cried! So the next time I tried a recipe for polvo, or Portuguese octopus stew. This sounded promising! It called for a little tomato sauce (good), and some sambal oelek chili sauce (also good), and octopus (good, and more or less the point of the exercise). However the end result was disappointing. It billed itself as a stew, but what I got could barely be described as a soup. Maybe a broth? It was pretty watery. Also, despite following the instructions with great fervour, the vegetables were pretty underdone too. And none of these flavours really seemed to go well with octopus. It seemed like they were either trying unsuccessfully to cover it up, or were just not complementary. I have no doubt that I could find a polvo I could love, but it wasn’t coming from this recipe.

Once more into the breach, dear friends! At this point I decided to just cut to the chase and make a seafood stew “by the book”. And indeed, the book had a tasty looking one that had been making come-hither eyes at me ever since I first saw it. So at that point I thought I’d make the octopus just a side, a garnish if you will. Now a sensible person would just give up on the octopus at this stage – it’s been relegated to a garnish now, like a sprig of parsley. How much effort is this really worth, you ask. But sometimes you gotta pick a hill to die on, and my hill was this damnable octopus. I was going to figure out a way to make it tasty if it killed me. And now it was merely a sideline. In the meantime, the stew had turned out quite well, so that was done. And I’m a sucker for bread bowls; just can’t get enough of them. I did a quick flip through the Clash of Kings and made sure that someone in the Ironborn sections of the book mentioned trenchers, and in fact they did, so I was home free. Best of all, the recipe calls for snow crab (Jon Snow crab?), and those come as little claws I could have poking out of the bread bowl. Definitely getting the sea monster vibe going here!

So at this point I began researching octopus recipes in earnest. There are many of them, and they’re all maddeningly contradictory. Slow cooking is essential, or ruinous. Wine/vinegar marinating is critical, or catastrophic. With a cork or without. And so on, and so forth. I did find a good looking recipe for Greek style octopus in my searches, but upon trying it I didn’t like the results very much. The long marinade in the wine provided results that weren’t particularly tasty to me; more overpowering. Also the texture was a bit dodgy. But the oregano and balsamic vinegar right at the end seemed like the way to go, and the serving with a squirt of lemon. After describing my intention to buy a whole whack of octopus and test various permutations at work, my boss found a helpful article on the New York Times in which the author had more or less done exactly that. He suggested that the key was to go “low and slow” – like a roast of lower quality meat, cook it for a long time at a lower temperature. After a few tries I discovered that combining these two gave me an octopus that was tasty, not rubbery at all, and still looked like a kraken. Success!

Grilled octopus, with the Greyjoy Kraken mug
Grilled "kraken"; a.k.a. octopus. You'd better believe I sowed for this!

I got a pretty positive response for this, even from folks who had more or less said this wasn’t up their alley. In the end everyone tried it, despite its relegation to the garnish heap, and it met with great (and surprised) reviews. I grilled it on the Big Green Egg, which I believe added a nice wood-smoked overtone to it. I would recommend a wood burning fire, or some smoking wood chips on your barbecue, if at all possible.

Greek Style Grilled Octopus

olive oil
balsamic vinegar
lemon juice

If you want this as an appetizer (probably for the best), try and find a 4-6 pound octopus for 4-6 people. This will be a ½-lb. uncooked per person, which will amount to probably a ¼-lb. after cooking, but keeps the tentacle size big enough to see, cut, and stab with a fork. Alternatively (for the full-on kraken look), that tentacle in the picture is a little over 1½ pounds just for the one tentacle, which tends to come off one of the big 15-20 lb. beasties. It all depends what you can find.

  1. Sear the thawed octopus in a covered (oven-safe) pan for 5-8 minutes. (I like to think you’re ‘scaring’ some water out.) While this is going on you can pre-heat the oven to 200°F.
  2. Place into the oven at the aforementioned 200°F and bake for 4-5 hours. At the end of this time the octopus should be nearly covered in the liquid that has left the flesh.
  3. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.
  4. Take the tentacles out of the liquid. If you want to continue the cook the next day (which would be my recommendation after 5 hours), place into sealable bags and refrigerate until the next day.
  5. At this point, if you wish, you can reduce the liquid over heat until it thickens to a sauce. Just by itself it’s a flavourful, fishy, salty sauce and can be quite good, but probably only for the die-hard octopus fans. If you’re not ready for that yet, dump the liquid out.
  6. Before grilling, put the tentacles into a bowl and add enough olive oil to coat all the meat. Add about a third as much balsamic vinegar as that, and then cover liberally with oregano.
  7. Grill on the barbecue at around 350°F for 4-8 minutes per side. The key is to crisp up the skin; if it’s still “slimy” then your octopus will be unappealing no matter how good it tastes. Blacken it up a bit.
  8. Remove from heat and squeeze lemon juice over it. It’s now ready to serve.

You could give out lemon wedges with it, for those who wish to anoint their own portion further. Also, if you find you’ve dried it out a little too much, a dash more olive oil before the lemon juice is acceptable.

Rich Seafood Stew (Cioppino)

Seafood stew in sourdough bread bowl
The claw! The claw!

This is right from Company’s Coming: Stews, Chilies & Chowders by Jean Paré (p. 40). Though I added the notion of the sourdough bread bowls, because I really can’t help myself. Love love LOVE the sourdough. Also, purely for presentation purposes I went with snow crab claws, because that way everyone could have a claw sticking out of their bowl.

2 medium leeks (white and tender parts only, thinly sliced)
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup green pepper, chopped
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter

3 cups whole small fresh mushrooms (or medium, halved)
14 oz. can of stewed tomatoes, with juice, mashed
1½ cups dry red wine
5½ oz. can of tomato paste
3 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. dried sweet basil
½ tsp. dried whole oregano
1 bay leaf

8 oz. uncooked lobster tail, cut into 1″ pieces
24 (8 oz.) uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1½ cups small bay scallops (about 10 oz.)
1 lb. king or snow crab, legs or claws, unshelled and broken into chunks
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper

6-8 sourdough bread bowls

  1. Sauté leek, garlic and green pepper in olive oil and butter in large pot or Dutch oven until leek is soft.
  2. Add the next 8 ingredients. Stir. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover. Simmer for 1 hour. Remove and discard bay leaf.
  3. Add remaining 6 ingredients. Stir. Cover. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Hollow out sourdough loaves and serve.


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A Feast of Thrones, Part the Second: Dwarf Yorkshire puddings

The first item on the menu is the amuse bouche, dwarf Yorkshire puddings with beef and horseradish inside. But it was practically the last thing I tested, because I thought it would be a slam dunk. I’d made Yorkshire pudding before, and it worked fine. I was under the (mistaken) impression that it would be easy. But I thought I’d give it a quick dry run early in the week leading up to the dinner.

The first batch I did in my wood-burning barbecue (for those in the know, it’s a Big Green Egg). Partly because I wanted a bit of a smoky flavour, but mostly because when I made these for my parents at Christmas, my mom freaked out when she discovered what a mess it made of the oven. Disaster! They burned, they did it unevenly, and none of the Yorkies actually puffed over the beef – they just sat there like a sickly bean bag chair now devoid of stuffing, with a forlorn lump of grey meat sitting in it. Okay, that’s possibly an overly pejorative description, but that’s how I felt about it when I opened up the top. These were supposed to be easy!

So, second try a couple of days later. This time in the oven, so I can see what’s going on. I theorized a few causes to my problems. Number one, the smaller mini-muffin holes had a much higher surface-area-to-volume ratio than the normal muffin tin ones, and so they required less time to cook. Number two, maybe putting in the pizza stone to force indirect heating would eliminate some of the uneven bottom char. Number three, more batter is needed. The usual recipe suggests filling a third of the container, but with that meat in there it’s taking up a lot of volume. Archimedes knows what I’m talking about. Fourth, I was pouring the batter on right after adding the meat. The cold meat. Happily I stumbled upon a recipe for Toad in the Hole in Tidings magazine (sausages inside a giant Yorkshire pudding, essentially). That recipe calls for you to heat the sausages in the oil for 5 minutes before adding the batter. I think the cold was killing my pastry puffing.

Unfortunately, I discovered a new problem with my recipe. When making full-size muffin sized Yorkshire puddings, you’re supposed to put about a half teaspoon of oil in the bottom. But unless you deploy an eyedropper, it’s not easy to shrink that amount properly. So I ended up with far too much oil per hole. Also, the recipes I’ve seen suggest as hot as possible, but not to exceed 450°F as the oil will burn.

The oil burnt.

There was a colossal amount of choking smoke pouring out of my oven in just a few minutes after adding the batter. After throwing open the patio doors and nearby windows, I grabbed the aforementioned Tidings magazine and took up a position between the kitchen and the smoke detector in the hall, fanning for all I was worth in great ceiling to knee strokes. The extras behind the throne in Cleopatra had nothing on me! After twenty minutes of this grueling upper body workout, the smoke had cleared enough that I felt I could stop long enough to pull the results out of the oven. The oven itself looked like La Brea. Can you imagine how little I felt like spending the next night oven cleaning, in the few days leading up to my big party? Take your guess and lower it a little. However little I felt like it, though, it was non-negotiable at this point.

After all that, the results were edible – the burning was coming from the oil dripping down the walls of the oven, after all, not my baking. But not fabulous. Pre-heating the meat and adding more batter with a careful pour to cover the meat was definitely the way to go. But they were kind of bland. The recipe calls for a pinch of salt, which I’d omitted, and it was definitely necessary. Also, not very spicy. With the cooking of it, the horseradish really gets toned down. If I wanted this to taste like it had horseradish on it, I was going to have to up the dosage considerably.

Lighting the Big Green Egg
Lighting the Big Green Egg. I am your firestarter!

So, skipping ahead to the day itself, I moved the Yorkie making back out to the Big Green Egg.

Since it was daylight this time, it was possible to look through the top smoke hole and see how they were doing. I also added salt and pepper to the batter, and used nearly an entire jar of horseradish to marinate my tenderloin chunks in.

All this together turned them into a success! Nice and savory and spicy, but not too spicy. Also, to prevent this from turning into the Towering Inferno, I took some advice from my friend Erin and went with Pam No-Stick Spray instead of cooking oil. Easier to mete out in an appropriate quantity, and it worked like a charm.


Dwarf Yorkshire Puddings with Horseradish Tenderloin

2 eggs (approximately half a cup)
equal amount milk
equal amount flour, added in doses and whisked in
ground salt, 6-8 turns
ground pepper, 6-8 turns
beef tenderloin, in ½-inch cubes
copious amounts of horseradish (4-6 tablespoons)

  1. Mix milk into the egg, then add the flour in lots, whisking continually. Grind in the salt and pepper. Let this mixture stand for at least 30 minutes; the longer the better. I like to give it a couple of hours.
  2. Chop up your tenderloin into ½-inch cubes, or some size that fits well in the bottom of your muffin holes. Marinate them in a bowl with the horseradish. You should have lots of horseradish compared to the amount of beef.

    Miniature Yorkshire puddings
    Miniature Yorkshire puddings being deployed. Decanted?
  3. Spray Pam (or spread cooking oil) in mini-muffin tin. In a 24-hole tin, consider leaving the two centre holes on one side clean as thumb holes for your oven mitt.
  4. Heat the oiled pan in the oven to around 400ºF or more. Don’t exceed 450ºF unless you are looking to be visited by firemen. So possibly for a stagette?
  5. Add a chunk of tenderloin to each hole. Make sure to scoop some extra horseradish on top of each one. You’ll need more horseradish than you ever thought safe to put in your mouth. Put it back in your oven and give it a few minutes to warm back up (well, to fry back up might be more accurate).
  6. Add a tablespoon or so of cold water to your batter and give it one final whisking.
  7. Pour batter onto each cube of meat. Pour slowly, ensuring that you’re covering the meat with the batter completely. Unlike normal Yorkies you’ll want to fill these nearly to the top. Call it up to the 80% line. Or at least until the meat is entirely covered.
  8. Cook for about 15 minutes, until golden. Time may vary, but if you’re used to making regular Yorkshire puddings with a similar method, these will take less time.


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A Feast of Thrones, Part the First: Preparation

In the times leading up to the dinner, I’ve pre-testing a number of these dishes, sometimes to exhaustion. But it occurred to me at the beginning of this week (the final week leading up to the event) that I’d never actually done them all at once. I don’t actually have a limitless number of pots and pans to cook in, as it turns out! I decided I’d better do a pot inventory.

My pots and pans, laid out
A collection of the pots and pans needed

Good news! Looks like I’ll make it after all. But I would have felt a right prat if I’d come up short on the Saturday.

The Drinks of Ice and Fire

Back in August, when I first conceived of this dinner idea, I was spending a pleasant and warm day on the patio at Brewster’s with a couple of the geeks in question. After an afternoon tasting their assortment of house-brewed beers, Jeff’s wife Heather dropped by to pick him up. She ended up staying for a pint or two as well, and I discovered that she is a big fan of Caesars. So I decided then that I’d have to serve those at my dinner.

For any Americans who stumble onto this blog, I should explain what a Caesar is. You can imagine it like a spicy Bloody Mary, only instead of tomato juice, it uses clamato juice, which is a mixture of tomato juice and clam juice. Right now you have three questions: One, what the hell is “clam juice”; two, why would anyone drink that; and three, seriously, what the hell is wrong with Canadians? I grant you that it sounds disgusting when described, but it honestly is pretty tasty in a drink. In fact, it was invented solely for the Caesar; the invention of clamato juice came when some bartender in Calgary invented the drink to go with his hotel’s new Italian restaurant. Why he felt that clam juice would be particularly Italian is unclear to me, I confess, but there you are. And now you can buy it in job lots at any grocery store in Canada. Obviously, you can find more details about it on Wikipedia.

Some time after that, I settled on Spicy Chicken Rellenos for my Targaryen course, and it cries out for margaritas. Cries out, I say! And really, who doesn’t like margaritas? You in the audience with acid reflux can sit back down; the rest of us like them. So I’d known for weeks that those two drinks were going to be featured. But last Saturday, it suddenly struck me like a bolt from the blue – those are drinks of ice and fire! Seriously, this was starting to come together with almost spooky precision.

I’m still insufferably pleased with myself over the Drinks of Ice and Fire line, and it looks like I have enough pots. So we are good to go! Next up, I shall go through the dishes one at a time.

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