11.15.06

Wilted Spinach, Watercress, and Orange Salad (with Pan-Seared Scallops)

Posted in food, home cooking at 11:41 pm by wingerz

scallop

This recipe holds a special place in my heart because it was on the very first ATK episode that I ever watched. I finally got around to making it Sunday evening.

Salad
4 ounces baby spinach (about 5 1/3 cups lightly packed)
4 ounces watercress (or arugula), washed, dried, and stemmed (about 4 cups lightly packed)
3/4 cup sliced almonds

Scallops
1 1/2 pounds large sea scallops , (16 – 24 scallops) (see note), tendons removed
Table salt and ground black pepper
4 tablespoons vegetable oil

Dressing
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium red onion , sliced thin
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves , minced
Table salt
2 large oranges , cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1. For the Salad: Toss the spinach and watercress together in a large bowl; set aside.

2. Toast the almonds in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 3 minutes; transfer them to the bowl with the greens. Wipe out the skillet using a wad of paper towels.

3.For the Scallops: Place the scallops on a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet; season the scallops with salt and pepper. Lay a single layer of paper towels over the scallops; set aside.

4. Add 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil to the empty skillet and return to high heat until just smoking. Meanwhile, press the paper towel flush to the scallops to dry. Add half of the scallops, dry-side facing down, and cook until evenly golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the scallops, browned side facing up, to a large plate; set aside. Wipe out the skillet using a wad of paper towels. Repeat with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the remaining scallops. Once the first side is golden, turn the heat to mediium, turn the scallops over with tongs, and return the first batch of scallops to the pan, golden side facing up. Cook until the sides on all the scallops have firmed up and all but the middle third of each scallop is opaque, 30 to 60 seconds longer. Transfer all the scallops to a large plate; set aside.

5. For the Dressing: Wipe the skillet clean with a wad of paper towels. Add the olive oil, onion, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the skillet and return to medium-high heat; cook until the onions are slightly softened, about 1 minute. Add the oranges and vinegar to the pan and swirl to incorporate. Remove from the heat.

6. To Finish the Salad: Pour the warm dressing over the salad mixture and gently toss to wilt. Divide the spinach salad among four plates and arrange the scallops on top. Serve immediately.

The dressing was delicious – very light and flavorful, and similar to (but better than) dressing I once made for a shrimp and avocado salad. The olive oil, sherry vinegar, orange, and red onion combination is wonderful – every element is quite distinct and they blend nicely. Unfortunately, the scallops were my least favorite part of the salad. They browned well and tasted fine, but I felt like they got in the way of the rest of the flavors.

I made the salad again tonight with spinach and romaine lettuce, leaving out the scallops. I added a bit of sesame oil to add a slightly Asian touch to it (I bet some scallions would have been nice too). Tonight’s oranges were not as juicy and sweet and I think that detracted a bit from the flavor. But cutting the scallops out makes this an extremely simple dish that can be prepared quickly.

11.12.06

The Feeling of Immersion

Posted in games at 11:49 pm by wingerz

immerse

Back when the DS was released, one of the first games I got was Feel the Magic (from Phil), a collection of stylus-based mini-games connected by a love story. One of the mini-games involves tracing a narrow path on the screen for the main character to follow. It sounds simple enough, but at first I had some trouble with it. Then I realized it was because I had inserted an artificial layer of abstraction between the controls in my head and the action on the screen. Instead of interpreting the task as tracing a line, I interpreted it as guiding the character via a series of commands (like go up, down, left, right), leading me to turn at the wrong time. Once I was able to reinterpret line-drawing as line-drawing (as any normal person would), it became much easier.

Today’s games force us to work with this abstraction layer. There’s a mapping between what you have to do on the controller and what happens on the screen. One of the guiltiest offenders is the control scheme of pre-RE4 Resident Evil games (pressing left turns your character to the left instead of making him walk to the left), which is at best incredibly awkward (supposedly it’s supposed to make you more scared since you’ll inevitably walk directly into a zombie when it attacks you). The better you are at calculating that mapping in real-time, the better you will be at the game. Unfortunately, this is one of the things that scares non-gamers away from the current generation of games: the mappings are usually too complicated. There are too many buttons to go along with three directional controllers (1 digital, 2 analog).

Both the Wii and the DS address this by allowing developers to simplify the mapping between controlling and doing, sometimes removing it altogether. In Kirby, the player draws paths directly on the screen, tapping Kirby to give him a little speed boost. In Brain Age, the player writes the answer. The interface lets you point directly at what you want instead of having to navigate to it using up/down/left/right or, worse yet, use an analog stick as a mouse (like in all console FPS’s). And gesture-based controls, though goofy, have a lot of potential to liven things up. The Wii is all about innovation in the name of removing barriers to immersion, so non-gamers can focus less on remembering what combination of buttons to press and more on enjoying the experience. Of course, we gamers will still be able to school them by remembering the buttons and gestures for advanced techniques.

One week to go.

11.11.06

Biking through Winchester

Posted in personal, photos at 5:36 pm by wingerz

winchester

On my way back from the Fells last week, I rode through Winchester to get a look at some of the ponds I saw on the map. I watched the sunset and darkness quickly fell around me as I biked home along Route 38.

11.10.06

Wii Meet At Last: First Impressions

Posted in games at 9:19 pm by wingerz

wii

One unfortunately thing about the blogosphere is that it can make you feel pathetically behind the times. Sometimes I feel like I’m one of the last people to get their hands on a Wii controller. Tonight that all changed at the Electronics Boutique in Watertown, where I spotted a demo unit with Excite Truck in the corner.

I traded in my license for a controller (to prevent me from running off with it). It felt quite comfortable and a bit smaller than I imagined (my expectations were probably set by the size of our remotes at home and seeing full-page spreads of the controller in magazines). I held it like a remote, clicking the bottom button a few times. It fit in my hand quite nicely.

In Excite Truck, an off-road racing game, the player holds the controller horizontally (like a normal gamepad) and steers by rotating it like a steering wheel. The 2 button controls the gas and the 1 button the brake. Hitting the D-pad results in a speed boost. Driving through exclamation points on the track changes the terrain for getting massive air, and once you’re in the air the orientation of the car corresponds to the orientation of the controller – line up all four wheels to land on the ground for an extra burst of speed.

The controls took some getting used to. At first I oversteered and snaked back and forth across the track. Once I got over that and used more subtle movements it felt pretty natural, though occasionally I’d wipe out in the woods. I felt myself moving my whole upper body as I played, a la James Coleman. I doubt that I’d purchase the game, but it definitely left me wanting to play more. Of course, the graphics were nothing to write home about, but it was also being shown on a pretty terrible display.

I ended up playing against two kids, and we were all pretty engrossed. They seemed jealous of me (“both of our paychecks combined equals zero dollars”) and were surprised to find out how old I was (they guessed 18).

11.09.06

My Sister’s Cooking Class on CNN

Posted in food at 2:17 pm by wingerz

nimes

Some of you may have noticed the ridiculously-delicious-looking food on my sister’s blog. Today CNN has an article about the cooking class at Caltech that she’s taking. Looking forward to some good meals when I go home for the holidays.

Go nerds!

Pundit’s Monitor: Afterthoughts

Posted in semantic web, technology at 12:09 am by wingerz

arnold

The elections have come and gone (I voted), and the Pundit’s Monitor has left me thinking about how much better it could have been had the content sources been marked up with simple, barebones eRDF or RDFa. Elias was searching for full names (like “Arnold Schwarzenegger“) in the text of blog posts, so he would have missed references to informal names (like “Ahhhnold” or “the Governator“); clearly these would have been the most amusing entries to read. There were a also few false positives lurking in the results for the candidates with more common names. And the world probably would have come crashing down around us had their been two candidates with the same name.

It would have been great to have entries marked up with URIs of people, states, and races. Text analysis can take you pretty far, but it sounds like a lot of work to extract very specific, valuable information that was very clearly in the minds of the bloggers. Starting small by tagging proper nouns with URIs seems like a good way to get the ball rolling for more widespread SW adoption.

11.07.06

November 2006: A Gaming Month to Remember

Posted in games at 8:19 pm by wingerz

eba

Video game news is pretty overwhelming right now. Guitar Hero 2 is better than the original. Gears of War is being tagged as the 360’s killer app as it collects incredible reviews. FFXII came out a few weeks ago, and I’ve been keeping tabs on Lee and Ben‘s progress. Zelda is coming out later this month, along with the PS3 and the Wii. Amidst it all I find myself with very little time to play games outside of our office’s Mario Kart sessions. But it’s still fun to follow the news and dreamily anticipate new hardware despite the stack of unplayed games in my living room.

My next purchase may be Elite Beat Agents, the sequel to a Japanese game. It’s a music/rhythm game featuring male cheerleaders wearing suits. Basically every screenshot of it looks absolutely ridiculous, and I enjoyed the demo of it that’s been floating around for the past few months (most DS retailers have stations where you can wirelessly download DS demos by picking ‘Download Play’ from the boot menu).

In any case, I’m looking forward to some quality gaming hours this winter when the weather is terrible and Jen is busy studying.

11.06.06

Biking to Long Pond

Posted in personal, photos at 2:04 am by wingerz

longpond

Last Saturday I biked on S. Border Road in Medford, which runs along the southwest border of Middlesex Fells. It was a beautiful ride along a curvy forest road, a bit more challenging than the Minuteman due to moderately hilly terrain. The trees were filled with yellow leaves, but my camera was in Chicago along with the wife. I spotted some trails into the woods along the way, but skipped past them.

Yesterday I decided to bike along the road again, but most of the leaves were gone. I took my bike into the woods near the Long Pond trailhead. Half-walking and half-riding (there were too many rocks and tree roots for my bike, which is a hybrid), I made my way to the pond, getting a great view of it from above. It was near dusk, and there was not another person in sight. The solitude was rejuvenating. I headed back a different way and continued on despite getting somewhat lost. Fortunately the trail looped back to the parking lot.

11.03.06

Applications Running on a Local Webserver

Posted in technology, web at 10:04 am by wingerz

lighttpd

A few months ago Lee downloaded and installed Tracks, a task organizer in the Getting Things Done flavor. It runs as as a Ruby on Rails application on Dreamhost. There’s no reason that it has to be running on a server somewhere; I’m the only one who accesses the data and I only access it from one machine (well, besides Lee). It got me thinking more about software that you connect through a web browser that can fake an offline mode by running a local server on your desktop.

Yesterday I read about Parakey, which installs a local webserver that syncs with an online server for sharing when the host machine is connected to the Internet. There’s another article on RWW about the convergence of online and desktop applications. The web approach to this has some interesting possibilities – if the local and remote servers are abstracted into datasources that web clients (HTML/JavaScript/Greasemonkey/FF extensions) consume (rather than HTML providers), savvy web developers can adapt, theme, and share the application client code. Users can choose to expose features that they use commonly. They’ll have more flexibility and they’ll also be able to see the same UI while offline, since those customized files will be hosted locally.

11.02.06

(Shrimp) Curry in a Hurry

Posted in food, home cooking at 9:48 pm by wingerz

curry

My love for ATK and infatuation with Chris Kimball continue to grow. A few nights ago I made the Indian shrimp curry that was on a few weeks ago. I haven’t had much experience cooking Indian food and was under the impression that making something good was a several-hour affair. This recipe only took about 30 minutes on the stove. It’s a flexible recipe (copied straight from the website); I’ve italicized everything that I didn’t do/use.

Indian Curry (Master Recipe)

Gather and prepare all of your ingredients before you begin. If you don’t have a minichopper for pureeing the garlic and ginger, use a micorplane grater.You may substitute a scant half teaspoon of cayenne pepper for the jalapeño, adding it to the skillet with the other ground dried spices. As for choosing combinations of meat or fish with vegetables, we like the following: top sirloin or lamb with potatoes, chicken with zucchini, and shrimp with peas, but fee free to create your own pairings. Serve the curry with basmati rice.

Serves 4 to 6

Whole Spice Blend (Optional)
1 1/2 cinnamon sticks (3-inches)
4 whole cloves
4 green cardamom pods
8 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Curry
1/4 cup vegetable oil ( or canola oil)
1 medium onion , sliced thin
4 large cloves garlic , pureed in a minichopper with 1 tablespoon water (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger , pureed in a minichopper with 1-2 teaspoons water
1 1/2 pounds top sirloin or boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch cubes, or 6 chicken thighs, skinned, or 1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Table salt
3 plum tomatoes (canned), chopped, plus 1 tablespoon juice, or 2/3 cup crushed tomato, or 1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 bunches spinach (1 1/2 pounds), stemmed, thoroughly washed, and chopped coarse (optional)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
2 cups water
1 jalapeño chile , stemmed and cut in half through the stem end
1/2 cup Indian split peas (channa dal), or 4 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes, or 4 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, or 1 cup green peas
2 – 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves (use the lesser amount if you’ve already added the optional cilantro)

1. Heat oil in large deep skillet or soup kettle, preferably nonstick, over medium-high heat until hot, but not smoking. If using whole spice blend, add to oil and cook, stirring with wooden spoon until cinnamon stick unfurls and cloves pop, about 5 seconds. If omitting whole spice blend, simply add onion to skillet; sauté until softened, 3 to 4 minutes, or browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Stir in garlic, ginger, selected meat (except shrimp), ground spices, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and tomatoes or yogurt; cook, stirring almost constantly, until liquid evaporates, oil separates and turns orange, and spices begin to fry, 5 to 7 minutes, depending on skillet or kettle size. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until spices smell cooked, about 30 seconds longer.

3. Stir in optional spinach and/or cilantro. Add the water and jalapeño and season with salt; bring to simmer. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until meat is tender, 20 to 30 minutes for chicken, 30 to 40 minutes for beef or lamb.

4. Add selected vegetable (except green peas); cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in cilantro. Add shrimp and/or peas if using. Simmer 3 minutes longer and serve.

I added less water because of the spinach (since part of my responsibility as Jen’s husband is to sneak vegetables into her food somehow). Also, 1 1/2 pounds of spinach sounds like a ridiculous amount so I cut it to 1/2 pound. The flavor was rich and mildly spicy.

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