Archive for April, 2007

Super Simple Seared Scallops (and Salmon update)

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

Pat had beautiful fresh scallops at the farmer’s market on Saturday. I have never cooked scallops and figured I would give them a try. End result is something that I need to make sure ‘bbum scallops’ in Google will find.

  • Start with 1 pound of fresh scallops; the big kind.
  • Toss some olive oil and butter into a pan. Start it heating.
  • Throw some bread crumbs, salt, and pepper into a dish. Add a bit of spice, if you want. I added a bit of dried ginger and a dried orange peels.
  • Make sure the pan is good and hot, nearly smoking.
  • Dredge scallops in bread crumbs and drop in the pan.
  • Sear for about 2 to 3 minutes per side.
  • Take off the heat and sprinkle with lemon juice and parmesan cheese.
  • Let sit in the pan for a couple of minutes.

I served them over fresh field greens with a light vinegar/oil/salt/pepper/sugar dressing (thanks, Mom!). Delicious. Slight bready crisp on the outside surrounding delectable little clouds of white meat.

(This recipe is derived from many of the results from searching for “pan seared scallops” in Google.)

Muddled Strawberry Cocktail

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

It is strawberry season. Woot! As such, I make a habit of getting big flats of strawberries at the farmer’s market; sample until you find the tastiest berries at the market, then buy too damned many for your family to consume!

Fresh and crisp, they make an excellent addition to pancake batter, milkshakes, salads, and a bunch of other kitchen creations.

Update: Got a better, more precise recipe. And I found a really excellent stainless steel muddler (see picture at right).

  • Grab yourself a handful of berries or other soft sweet fruit; strawberry, blueberries or mangoes.
  • Throw ’em in a glass and muddle the heck out of ’em!
  • Squeeze in the juice of one fresh meyer’s lemon or drop in one whole meyer’s lemon ice cube (if you have them — I always have ’em on hand)
  • Add about a shot and a half to two of a good tequila (100% blue agave tequila, of course)
  • Add several ice cubes
  • Top with some unfiltered apple cider and a splash of cranberry or cran-raspberry juice

Delicious. Fruity. Refreshing.

As long as they aren’t moldy, I take whatever isn’t eaten by the next weekend and purée them with apples and a bit of lemon juice. Take the purée and dry it in a dehydrator or oven on the lowest settings to produce delicious fruit leather (I dry it to “crispy” so it doesn’t rip my crown out).

iTunes Album Sale!

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

In one of my random RSS feeds was a notice that the iTunes store is having an album sale. Cool. $7.99 or less for some random assortment of albums. Sounds like a perfect opportunity to spend some of the $90 or so in gift credits I had on account.

Wow. Score! There are some really awesome albums in the lot. Yeah, yeah, still 128kbit/sec DRM’d, but I’m happy to optimistically assume that an upgrade option will be made available if and when any of the albums are available in an upgraded form.

With a six year old in the house, 2 dogs, and way too much crap, it isn’t like I have a listening environment where I can truly hear the difference anyway. Someday…

I ended up picking up 6 albums.

  • Miles Davis – Kind of Blue I picked up a couple of live set of Davis in Europe from the 1960 and 1961 tours. Damn. Smoking hot non-electronic jazz. Kind of Blue is the album that preceded that tour and it has all the energy of the live set, but with the precision only afforded in a studio session. If there is only one jazz album to own, this is an easy choice.
  • Cream – Disraeli Gears If you ever listened to classic rock radio stations, you have heard a song or two from this album. In passing. Maybe in the background. But listen more closely and you will hear the beginnings of what already were great musicians on the cusp of becoming legends. Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton. Beyond the obvious successes of Clapton, the Bruce and Baker have contributed to an unbelievable selection of music across many genres. As a bassist and pianist, Bruce worked with or toured with Ringo Starr, Bernie Worrel, Zappa, and Frampton. Baker’s drum work is flat out amazing on this album and throughout his career that spanned work in everything from pop to blues to techno to punk. The musicians work well together and their future potential is highly evident throughout this recording from the late ’60s.
  • Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet Many people don’t realize the acoustic blues roots of the Stones. Beyond being a kickass rock and roll band, the Stones were brought up on a steady diet of blues and the entire band is composed of world class musicians that don’t need electronics or amplification to play one hell of a set. Beggars Banquet has the Stones returning to their acoustic blues roots while maintaining a bit of that psychedelic sound they had mastered in the previous years. Rich, raw, and intimate.
  • Queen – A Night at the Opera Yes, this is the album containing Bohemian Rhapsody. Listen closely, lose the Wayne’s World association, and you’ll discover an incredibly rich song with production values (and production budget) that had been unmatched prior to its recording. All of A Night at the Opera is in the same vein; it is complex, layered, and contains beautiful harmonies and compositions. Best of all, it is largely one big joke presented in that dry witty and serious way that only british humorists can pull off. Not only is this a brilliant album, but it is also a milestone in rock and roll. While the prog-rock crowd’s albums were frequently compared to A Night at the Opera, the Punk movement rebelled against everything this album stood for.
  • Curtis Mayfield – Superfly Who would have thought that the soundtrack to a forgettable early ’70s blaxploitation film would yield such a brilliant bit of Funk/Jazz/R&B that also managed to convey the harsh realities of inner city life? Because that is exactly what Mayfield did. Maybe because the musicianship is brilliant and the vocals generally sits on top of a thick bass groove and layers of hand drums and wah-wah guitars. And then you realize the stories that Mayfield is telling are so much deeper than the pap on the screen. This one album launched the blaxploitation movie soundtrack genre and went on to become a very widely sampled and covered album. Hell, the iTunes source has over a dozen covers of Pusherman alone. Kinda fun to throw this album on at a party and watch as the guests, one by one, go from “casual groove” to listening carefully to the stories being told…
  • Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP Raw. Offensive. Violent. Homophobic. Whatever — all of those words have been thrown at Eminem and many, many, more accusations. This album has been a prime target. It is also an absolutely brilliant work of art. As A Night at the Opera is an astounding prog-rock production, this album is hip-hop at its most refined. The production work on this album is unbelievably tight– the use of ambient sounds, multiple voices, and the instrumentation all work together to amplify the verbal punch of Mather’s poetry. The result flawlessly paints an extremely vivid, often disturbing, portrait of whatever mish-mosh of reality and imagination that is the man known as Slim Shady, Eminem and Marshall Mathers.

There are a slew of other brilliant albums in the iTunes “discount bin” that I already own. I have no idea how long said sale will exist, but I definitely encourage folks to go have a poke around if purchasing through iTunes is compatible with your listening habits.

Tieing Knots

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

The rather long point of this is to point people to this flat out incredible site. Animated knot tying instructions with historical information, application notes, and words of warning about failure modes.

Another excellent knot site.

Did a bit of gardening today. Beyond the typical weeding and planting, I had to make some vertically oriented growing structures for beans and grapes. That is, I needed trellises.

In the past, I have used concrete netting (i.e. wire mesh with 6″ openings) and, when feeling extra lazy, I have used pre-boat trellises (jasmine in our atrium, for example).

Expensive, that. A far less expensive solution which also has the added benefit of being fully customizable is to build trellises myself using posts and twine, rope or wire, depending on how long the trellis needs to last.

You’ll need two critical tools to make this easy. First, you’ll need a post driver. Why the Amazon product link doesn’t show the driver, I don’t know.

Anyway, a post driver is simply a steel tube hollow one one end and weighted on the other with a couple of handles. You slide the post driver over the post you want to drive, lift up, and let it drop (or pull down if you want to drive faster). The post driver does the work of driving the post without the risk of smashing the crap out of your feet.

So, grab your post driver and some posts. I use both wooden and metal posts, depending on what is available. Sometimes, I’ll drive a metal post really deep, then a wooden post a couple of inches deep next to it, and tie the two together with my wire clamp tool to make an extra tall post (as I did for the grape trellis).

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Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Daring Fireball mentions an interview with Chevy Chase where he mentions that Fletch is his favorite of the movie’s he has made.

I remember it as being one of my favorites, too, but it has been so long that it may be suffering from Gilligan’s Island syndrome (loved the show as a kid, realize now that I simply wasn’t yet smart enough to realize how truly lacking the show was).

I tried adding Fletch to my netflix queue but, oddly, it isn’t available . It is listed, but just not available.

For whatever reason, it went out of print as a DVD. But it appears that it will be re-released on May 1st. Neat!

Apple TV thoughts

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

I picked up an Apple TV on they day they were made available.

In short, my family loves it. For me — the “technically proficient” one in the family — I understand the limitations and still totally enjoy the Apple TV. Since the addition of the Apple TV, the Mac Mini — connected to the same TV — has gone unused for media playback.

Dave Winer says:

If you’re technically proficient enough to read this blog, AppleTV is not for you.

For me, the true value of the Apple TV is the sheer simplicity of it. It is Front Row with Client/Server capabilities wedged in a tiny little box whose media output is optimized for home theater devices. The Apple TV has an elegantly simple user interface that anyone in our family can use.

Better yet, by dropping a bunch of photos into a folder and syncing them with the ubiquitous sync UI in iTunes, I have this awesome HD slideshow of photos running on the TV screen during music playback. It blows people away!

Dave also writes:

Most important to me is that it won’t play the AVI files I create when I scan DVDs using Handbrake.

Yeah — that is my one major complaint, too. Not that the Apple TV won’t play files created with Handbrake or Mediafork. It does that just fine, if you set up the settings correctly. Look absolutely gorgeous, too! Tons better than the Mac Mini or the Playstation 2.

No, my complaint is that iTunes doesn’t rip DVDs the same way that it rips CDs; that I can’t simply add my movies to my iTunes media library and simply be done with it. Obviously, this isn’t something Apple controls. The MPAA is to thank for the locked down nature of DVDs. I show my thanks by generally not buying DVDs (we have still amassed a collection anyway — but nothing like the multi-thousand CD collection that we have). If the iTunes store ever supports DVD resolution encodings, I will buy movies through the store.

Instead, the consumer that is willing to bother transcoding their DVDs into something compatible with their media library is an assumed criminal by the MPAA and made to feel like an idiot while trying to use the incredibly crappy user interfaces of the various tools used to transcode DVDs. (VisualHub’s UI is pretty good for everything but DVD).

But I digress…

I don’t find the 40GB hard drive to be a limitation. There has never been an iPod large enough to hold my entire collection (currently north of 200GB, mostly the music ripped from my CD collection). Like the iPod, effective use of the Apple TV is just a matter of setting up some smart playlists to automate content selection. iTunes makes it even easier by having some “sync last N episodes” features.

If you are expecting the Apple TV to be a general purpose media playback device, then you will be disappointed. It isn’t that. Not yet, anyway. The Apple TV is obviously a general purpose computing platform with a network connection and a software update mechanism and, as such and barring SOX stupidity, the Apple TV’s future is quite open.

If you are looking for a way to access your iTunes managed media collection(s) via your home theater capable media playback system(s), then the Apple TV is perfect. Easy to use, manages to navigate tons of media with a simply UI very well, and the images on screen are gorgeous (barring video playback of content purchased through the iTunes Store — still a little bit blocky, but obviously improving over time. I hope that trend continues.)

Awesome device. I’m looking forward to hacking it once I can do so without taking a paint scraper to the box!

Grilling Salmon Heads

Monday, April 9th, 2007
Grilling Salmon heads

Earlier, I lamented that Google had failed to find a decent recipe for Salmon heads. And, after yesterday’s adventures, I had a pile o’ salmon heads that would be sad to waste. Salmon heads are full of all kinds of incredibly tasty meat — little bits of incredibly fatty yummy muscle that isn’t used much for swimming. And, as Rama indicated, the cheeks — the heavenly little salmon cheeks. As the oyster of a chicken is to the rest of chicken meat, the salmon cheek is to the rest of the salmon!

So, given 3 fresh salmon heads of the highest quality and an easter dinner party full of relatively adventurous eaters, I decided to wing it.

The results were so delicious that I only have before pictures. The meat was flavorful and incredibly tender. We used forks to pull out the tasty bits and smeared it on bread like butter (it was that tender) and topped it with various cheeses.

The details:

  • Divide Salmon Into Roasts (keep the head!!)Get some salmon heads. Fresh is key. If you are cleaning your own salmon, simply don’t worry about trying to cut the frontmost roast as close to the head as possible (like this picture).
  • Split the salmon heads. Hold the head upright, stick your thumb in the head’s eye and and grip it solidly. Take your heavy knife and split the head from the top all the way to the bottom. It is surprisingly easy. Except the bottom jaw, for some reason.
  • Toss the halved heads in a heavy freezer bag and add soy sauce, fresh squeezed apple juice, lime juice, fresh ground pepper, dried dill, and dried powdered ginger. Or something like it. The soy sauce I used had a lot of salt in it; add a pinch or two or three of salt if you have a lighter soy sauce. Let it marinate for a couple of hours.
  • Fire up the grill. Build a hot fire on one side of the grill.
  • Toss the heads on the grill, split side down, over the hot side of the fire. Get a good sear on, maybe about a minute or so.
  • Move the heads to the cool side of the grill, skin side down. Close down the vents on the grill to lower the temperature. Cook ’em for upwards of five minutes. As long as you pay attention and don’t let the exposed meat get dry, you can’t go too wrong here.
  • Serve skin side — eye side — down. People seem to deal with it better that way. Can be accompanied by lemon or lime wedges.

There you have it. Easy, incredibly tasty, and makes use of a part of the fish that is often — sadly — thrown away.

And, more importantly, this will shortly be in Google’s index, to be found when searching for “Grilled Salmon Heads”, “Cooking Salmon Heads”, and/or “Broiled Salmon Heads” (of which, doing the above while broiling wouldn’t be hard — I would drizzle a little bit of honey on top and broil ’em split side up to add some sweetness and get a little bit of a smoky flavor from the caramelized sugars).

Response: Don’t Forget The ‘C’ in Objective-C!

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

RegDeveloper posted an article entitled Don’t Forget The ‘C’ in Objective-C!.

The premise of the article is reasonable: Remember that Objective-C has C underpinnings and that a number of common operations using, say, NSString can be orders of magnitude slower than a straight C based implementation.

Absolutely true. However, the article leaves out a critical step.

Measure the damned performance before applying error prone optimizations!

In particular, the article indicates that…

inside the internals of a certain Mac OS X utility – as one does. The programmer in question wanted to use OpenGL effects in his application, and in order to do that, he needed to establish the capabilities of the installed OpenGL system.

The article then goes on to call out the grossly inefficient use of NSString to check for certain OpenGL capabilities.

But, wait, so what? If this test is done once as the OpenGL code is initialized, it won’t even remotely register in terms of CPU cycles used or memory consumed. Bringing up the OpenGL stack, the various rendering buffers, and chunks of texture memory will be orders of magnitude more expensive.

Now, if said NSString based operation were sitting in the middle of a calculate-and-render loop then, sure, it could very likely be problematic. Maybe.

Who knows? Until you actually spend the cycles to measure the performance and determine where the bottlenecks lie, then any optimization is just wild-ass guesswork anyway.

Beware of any optimization article that does not start with analyze performance (or admit up front that it is a useless optimization designed to illustrate what might be useful in a real world situation).

Remember: A bubble sort is perfectly acceptable when sorting a dozen items once upon showing the info panel…. writing hand tuned assembly to solve that problem is simply mental masturbation. Nothing wrong with that until the project deadlines eat you alive.

Celebrating the Sprouting of Seeds

Sunday, April 8th, 2007
Easter Basket

We did our family easter egg hunt today, thus celebrating yet another festival of nature co-opted by modern organized religion.

Speaking of growing, Roger seems to gain about 6 inches in height every six months.

Ruby Finds an Egg

Ruby got into the easter egg hunt, too. She clearly has a bit of bird dog and/or pointer in her.

How to turn a whole salmon into fillets.

Sunday, April 8th, 2007
Perfect Fillets

Great salmon is a real treat; delicious tender and juicy meat that is almost difficult to pick up with a fork. It carries flavors well and can be cooked dozens of ways. Poached with citrus and red wine yields a refreshing and light result that couples well with salads or spring vegetables. Hot smoked salmon creates a rich, full bodied, hunk of meat that is almost steak like in its texture and depth of flavor, yet still carrying that wonderful salmon flavor.

The best salmon is wild. No, let me put it more succinctly: Farm raised salmon sucks, bad for you, often laced with tons of food coloring, and just a completely disappointing waste of money.

The one problem is that wild salmon typically carries a premium price. It isn’t uncommon to see wild salmon filets pushing $15 a pound. The more refined the cut, the higher the cost.

However, if you are willing to exercise a bit of knife work, it isn’t hard to breakdown a whole fish into fillets. What cost $15/pound fully processed, can be had — typically much fresher — for well under $10/pound.

In my case, I get my fish from Patrick O’Shea of Mission Fresh Fish. His crew shows up at the Mountain View farmer’s market, but I go to the market on Saturday mornings in Saratoga; no craft vendors, all food.

Patrick was kind enough to show me exactly how to clean a salmon. Whereas I had shredded the meat previously, I can now take a fish apart into perfect fillets in a matter of minutes!

Click on through for a photo tutorial on exactly how to do so…

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