September 9th, 2007


Adventures in cooking

In my usual way of making my opening paragraph have nothing to do with my subject line: I switched hard drives on my computer today. Office Depot had a sale on 500GB hard drives, and I was running out of space, so in three steps involving the included copying utilities, cable swapping, pinched fingers, and cursing, I moved my system drive (the lower-spec of my two previous drives) onto the new drive. I've only got two SATA slots and both EIDE slots are taken up by peripherals (CD, floppy drive); all three hard drives are SATA anyway. I took out a 100GB drive, but put in a new 500GB drive; a net gain of 400GB, and I plan to get one of those mounting kits to retrofit my old 100GB drive into an external USB drive (like my current backup drive, although that one was intended as an external drive) so it still has some use. I've moved things around, and now my secondary drive is entirely reserved for media (mostly MP3s), and the new drive has a partition for GameTap and a partition for everything else. (It's easier to just preallocate the space for GameTap and not worry about it later. The new system drive partition is still three and a half times the size of the entire old drive, so I don't think I'm constraining myself for space too much. The new system partition on that drive actually has more space than both old drives put together.)

This is partially because I wanted a 160GB music partition, to go with plans to get a 160GB music player. Y'know everything good I said about Creative MP3 players based on user-replaceable batteries? Please ignore that. I am now betrayed and angry at Creative. I was planning on just disassembling my MP3 player, swapping drives (in favor of a much larger drive than its current, nearly-full 30GB), and putting it back together, but they've discontinued its spare batteries- the battery I have isn't going to hold out even through a 100GB drive, and then I'd have nothing left but even more wasted money. They're actually clearancing the batteries now, so my alternative is to prebuy the batteries and hope they age (unused) well. It's an option I'm considering.

The other option is one of the new 160GB iPods. Yes, I'm considering a brand switch to Apple. I'd just as soon be loyal to Microsoft, but they've announced an 80GB Zune and haven't made one yet. My MP3 player switch is on the grounds of being out of space. So a 30GB player just won't cut it. As space is my second-most-important criterion, and most important with regard to "nothing under 60GB is worth considering", Zune is out. My most important criterion, however, is audio quality- and Creative Labs sure knows how to get that right. Reviews I've read state that the iPod, unlike the Zen Vision, is no Sound Blaster. (The Zen is.) I just wish I knew how severe the hit was. Fortunately, the senior dev on my team has an iPod, and I can probably ask to listen to his for a bit to make an informed decision. I wish iTunes could be configured to automatically scan more than one directory- I want it to keep iTunes purchases in D:\AAC, but watch D:\MP3 for my new eMusic purchases- but, so far, I haven't found a way to do that. iPod people, advice?

No hurry on this. I'm budgeting my pointless expenditures quite strictly, and at $5 a day, it'll be at least another two months before my pointless expenditure budget will allow for an iPod. That's good timing, because my current MP3 player has about three months' worth of space left relative to my eMusic download rate.

But more on-topic, I've been getting more courageous with regard to cooking. I've had some experience before, but for anything complex, always with someone's help; things I've done on my own have never been what I'd call complicated. ($VERB ingredients in $CONTAINER; place in oven for $TIME at $INTEGER degrees; serve.) Cooking something that actually requires a significant number of multiple steps poses a more novel experience. Fortunately, one of my recent purchases has been a beginner-level cookbook, and it allowed me to produce a nontrivial (although also noncomplex) but edible dinner last night. (Admittedly, "golden-brown" came out more like "brownish-black", but I followed directions and I don't think the meat would have been done without scorched breading. It's what I get for not having canned breadcrumbs, and having to use the alternative involving drying bread in the oven and using a rolling pin on it.)

A couple days before that, I decided to take a nontrivial cooking method for a prepackaged food. My office is about a block away from a good Asian grocery store, and it provides a great deal of variety in Rakeela's and my diet; it's the source of most of my fresh produce, as their quality is better than Safeway (either in-store or online) and the prices are better. And, unlike Safeway Online, I can choose which produce I want and which is in too bad a condition to even consider eating.

Among what they sell is frozen gyoza (also known as potstickers). Normally, I'd walk by those without a second thought, but puropis gave me a recommendation for them a few days prior. Not that particular brand; hers was twice as expensive for an only slightly larger package. (It's also the one QFC- another grocery store, a variant on Kroeger's- sold. I suspect Uwajimaya has higher standards.) She recommended a few variations on the microwave directions. The package I bought had microwave directions (quite similar to hers, actually- although a step more complex than what was offered at QFC), but it also had instructions for deep frying, pan frying, and boiling. I've had both deep-fried and boiled gyoza before; I like both, but I prefer fried. Lacking a deep fryer or the intestinal fortitude to get one, that wasn't an option; I decided to try pan-frying.

Pan-frying is an intimidating process. It involves deceptively small amounts of cooking oil that hiss angrily and splatter all over the stove (and are difficult to clean up; they tend to just have to be burned off with whatever is cooked next), very careful timing, and a good bit of courage. This is especially true given that pan-fried potstickers are actually steam fried- after a minute in just oil, I'm to add two tablespoons of water and slam a lid over it before too much steam escapes. This is athletic and hazardous, given that the addition of water results in an immediate eruption of greasy steam that poses something of a hazard without long sleeves, gloves, long pants, a face mask, and long underwear. Lacking most of those, holding the measuring spoon at arm's length with my fingertips is the best I can do, and moving quickly with the lid is a close second. (The steam finishes the job of cooking, but I have to keep the steam in!) Somewhere in all this, I need to mix up a dipping sauce involving rice vinegar, soy sauce, and hot sesame oil. (For gyoza fans: Proper ratio is about 1:2:two drops.) Room-temperature hot sesame oil, that is; it's the chili-based stuff, not anything I have to figure out how to heat. (It's quite hot enough. The gyoza package specifies "a couple drops", and that turns out just about right- at least with as little sauce as I tend to make; the sauce is strong.)

They came out quite well, and that's part of why I'm deciding to be more culinarily adventurous. If I don't start trying, when will I ever learn? I want to get good at cooking- it's just a skill I want to have, and one I'm quite confident I can develop.

The next set of gyoza came out even better- I fixed the ratios on the dipping sauce, and I added a small amount of hot sesame oil as part of the cooking oil (vegetable oil) I used during the pan-frying. A little goes a long way- it made it smell a lot more Asian, at least, and it subtly affected the flavor in a distinctly positive way. Experimentation pays off.

Now I have to figure out what I'll try to cook next...
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