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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chicken Quesidillas

There has been a minor mishap in the world of food photography that is Freshly Ground (when it's not a speculative fiction review site). That mishap involved a two-and-a-half year old, the camera, and a short sudden trip for said camera to the floor. Since that day, I can't quite seem to get anything in focus.

Not a great state of affairs for the art of macro photography. Luckily, I still have a good reserve of drafts to publish, so I'll use them for now while I figure out if the camera can be fixed or if this is a good excuse to finally upgrade to a digital SLR.

I'm also wondering if the split between food and fiction is maybe not really working for this blog. I've put a poll on the side here, to gather your opinions on whether or not I should create a new site dedicated to my podcast reviews and suchlike. Please take a minute to cast your vote, and feel free to leave a comment if you have an opinion one way or another.

And while you're mulling over that, here's a lovely, IN FOCUS photoessay on how to make great chicken quesidillas.

Chicken Quesidillas
Tortilla wraps
1 Carrot, grated
2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
1/4 Cup grated cheese
handful of mushrooms, sliced
2 Cooked Chicken Breasts, slicedPlace the filling over one half of the wrap, leaving about 1cm clear at the edge. Moisten the clear edge, fold over, and press down.
Heat oil in a pan and fry the quesidillas rapidly to brown and heat through.
Serve with chopped salad and sour cream.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sound Bytes

I've been inundated with stuff to listen to and read lately, so here's a quick summary with my recommendations.

Firstly, I was very excited to get an advance review of Jack Kincaid's latest release, a short story called The Church Grim. This is a dark yet comedic horror story, masterfully crafted for both wit and chills. Kincaid uses the same stylistic techniques that worked so well for Hoad's Grim, including his creepy, dissociated narrator's voice and the voice talents of James Keller and Julie Hoverson. Once again, a fantastic piece of speculative fiction and an impressive audio production. Highly recommended, and at 40 minutes or so, a good way to get a feel for Kincaid if you haven't listened to Hoad's Grim already.

Another short podcast that I recently completed - and which also throughly entertained my staff, who have no choice but to listen to whatever I choose to play in the workshop - was The Takeover, by veteran podcaster Mur Lafferty. This zombie comedy clocks in at a little over 2 hours, and features a star-studded cast including Christiana Ellis and JC Hutchins. I can't say much about this without spoiling the story, but suffice to say that if you like zombies or just like to laugh at zombies, or just like to laugh, this is brilliant.

I've finished up several complete podcast novels in the past couple of weeks, and I'm not sure that I'll get to review all of them, so here's my quick star rating on those I've made it through:

The Call of the Herald, by Brian Rathbone: 4 Stars. Fantasy, first in a trilogy. Meticuloulsy constructed world, takes a little bit to get into the story but is satisfying for its buildup. Full review will follow.
Earthcore, by Scott Sigler: 4 1/2 Stars. Action/Sc-Fi. This is one of the world's very first exclusive podcast novels, now available as a print edition as well, and it set the standard for podcasts to follow. Excellent story and production values.
Nina Kimberley the Merciless, by Christiana Ellis: 4 Stars. Fantasy Comedy. NKTM is hilarious, it really is. Featuring an imbecilic king who thinks he's Don Juan, a pacifist dragon, and our eponymous hero who would rather be off questing than leading her people back to their former glory, NKTM is good, solid entertainment. My favourite line, as the bumbling King Francis tried to squeeze into his armour: "I must be light and uncucumbered!"

I'm currently listening to two more podcast novels, including the second book in JC Hutchins' Seventh Son trilogy, and the Failed Cities Monologues by Matt Wallace. I'm also hooked on JC Hutchins' new podcast novella, Personal Effects: Sword of Blood.

And I must throw a big shout of thanks out to all these authors, and to the crew at for all the hard work they put into bringing these books to greedy little me.

In terms of reading, I've been getting into the work of bizzaro fiction author Jeremy C Shipp over the past couple of weeks. You can check out some of his short stories online: Camp, Trout, and Dog. Not for the squeamish, however. You have been warned. I'm also reading his rather twisted but intriguing novel, Vacation, and I'll be posting a review of that shortly.

That's all for now. If you have a podcast or an audiobook that you'd like to direct me towards, please feel free to leave a note in the comments. Thanks.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Chicken Hash

This will be quick post, because I have to be on a ferry very shortly. We'll be away down south for a couple of days, attending a funeral. Accordingly, here's a quick recipe for using up those leftovers after you've cooked a roast chicken with vegetables.

What a roast chicken dinner has to do with funerals, I don't know. But I do know that dealing with grief and stress often involves keeping the cooking down a minimum, and whipping up something like this fills that gap very nicely.

I'm also hoping that the pictures will do the talking, as I must be off out the door in a few minutes.

Chicken Hash
2 Leftover Chicken Breasts, diced
Leftover Roast Potatoes, Onion, Pumpkin, Kumera, etc, grated
3 Eggs
1 Fresh chopped tomato
Grated Cheese
Freshly Ground Pepper and Salt
1 T Plain Flour, or Potato Flour for Gluten-Free
(Think of this as a blank page - you can add to it as you see fit)
Mix everything together in a bowl... so. (Evidence here that I sometimes forget to add stuff, like the essential flour.) The mixture should hold together in solid balls, but should also be light and fluffy. Whip it up with a fork to get air through it.
Heat some oil in a pan. Only add the balls of hash when the oil is almost spitting. If it's too cold, the hash will just absorb the oil and go mushy. Gross.
Keep moving in the oil to prevent sticking, and turn when brown on the underside.
When the hash is cooked through, serve up with sour cream and a tangy sauce. Catch you all later in the week!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Podcast Novel Review: "Nocturnal" by Scott Sigler

In the brave new world of the podcast novel, it takes something special to be called a classic. Nocturnal by Scott Sigler is just such a rare creature.
Scott Sigler was among a very small group of writers who literally pioneered the Podcast Novel format, releasing his first book, Earthcore, in 2005. At the end of that podcast there is a very interesting Q&A with Mark Jeffrey, which provides a snapshot of both how small the audiobook market was at the time, and how Sigler envisioned it growing into the creature it has become - and that creature continues to grow.

Nocturnal is Sigler's third podcast novel, and it is a masterpiece of action horror. What starts out as a police procedural detective novel with a paranormal element quickly morphs into a gruesome and electrifying monster story, and from there into an action rollercoaster that would put John Woo to shame.

You'll forgive me if I slip, but I tend to recall Nocturnal as a movie rather than a book. The action and the imagery have seared into my skull, all chiascuro shadows and arcing blood lit by guttering streetlights and gunfire.

Sigler's dark alternate San Francisco is a place of fear and tension, haunted by unseen monsters, remorseless gangsters, ruthless vigilantes, corrupt cops, and a psychotic schoolboy with a god complex. Through this morass of murder two cops face the challenge of trying to solve the murders that have started to plague the city, only to find a conspiracy that even the SFPD doesn't want them to uncover.

This stuff is addictive. I personally neglected family, friends and more important things like writing my own novel to listen to this book. Sigler gets his teeth into your soft, tender flesh and shakes, not letting you go until he's wrenched you through the increasingly brutal and bloody story of the Nocturnals. And he pulls no punches whatsoever. Where Hollywood would turn away or save the day, Sigler just continues to rip shreds, and it is fantastic.

Not for the light of heart, I must emphasise. Nocturnal is R18 on every scale, for language, violence, torture, and even on a conceptual level. Yes, I squirmed more than once. But the payoff is so worthwhile, and nothing in this book is wasted. Every act of brutality, every murder, every fight, every explosion serves a valid and crucial purpose to the story. At the same time, Sigler can do subtext and complexity as well as he does action. I do not understand how Dan Brown sells more books than this guy. Brown is nothing next to Sigler.

Sigler's writing is also a pleasure to listen to, his dialogue sharp and his prose as witty as it is tight. He carries a vast cast of characters, voicing each with confidence and consistency. As usual, I cringe a little when a grown man puts on a woman's voice, but if I could do any better, I'd have some grounds to complain. I can't, so good on you Scott for giving it your all.

The audio production is clean and professional, relying almost entirely on Sigler's voice to carry the story. I can only recall one location that was augmented by a creepy harpsichord music track, and that really stood out for its oddity. As I've said, Sigler is a clever writer and a powerful performer, and thus requires little in the way of bells and whistles to bolster his efforts.

Again, for a free work, this is just brilliant. It is said that Sigler doesn't have fans; he has junkies. I just finished Earthcore today, and I still have four podcasts by Sigler to listen to. The future is bright.

5 Stars.

Nocturnal is an instant classic. Available as a free podcast download through iTunes and Podiobooks. Swing by Sigler's site for more info on this modern literary maestro, one of the true pioneers and energetic advocates of this great artform.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Orange Cinnamon Chicken

A wee while back, I ran into the Alligator at the Market.

We waxed poetic about getting together and cooking dinner or something, but alas, circumstances conspired against us, and the deed was never done. Now we are separated by an ocean, but I'm sure that day will come.

Meanwhile, it's important to point out one thing: The Alligator is a real, bonafide chef, as opposed to me who is just a weekend foodie with a macro lens. I was therefore at serious risk of being shown up as a sad charlatan in the kitchen. Accordingly, I decided I had to do something drastic:


I thought that if I was going to make something to feed to a real chef, it had better be delicious and original, and I wasn't going to take any chances. I made up a recipe and gave it a trial run.

Turns out I would've been OK just going with the flow like I always do. And as it was, the Alligator never got to chomp my chicken anyway.

So here it is, Alligator. I offer up my Orange Cinnamon Chicken for you to take away and make better, to make...professional.

Then send me a drumstick.
Orange Cinnamon Chicken

(Serves 3)

3 Chicken Thighs, Skinned & Seasoned
2 Oranges
12 Cloves
Freshly Ground Pepper and Salt
Olive Oil
Semolina flour for Dusting
1 Cinnamon Quill
1 Whole Nutmeg
2 Bay Leaves
1 Onion, wedged
1 Carrot, peeled and sliced
1/3 Cup Red Wine
1/3 Cup Boiling Water
Juice 1 orange. Grate the zest from the other orange. Reserve the wedges of orange flesh, broken in half.

To the juice, add 6 cloves, salt and pepper, the orange rind and 2T olive oil. Stir it all up and sit for a few minutes to extract the flavour from the cloves. Strain the juice, reserving, and press the wet orange rind into the chicken thighs.
Sprinkle with semolina flour and drizzle with olive oil.
In a large pan, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom to a depth of 1mm. When the oil is hot, add the cinnamon quill, halved, the nutmeg, 6 cloves, and the bay leaves. Fry until fragrant and smoking.
Push the spices to the edge of the pan and add the chicken. Shake constantly, browning both sides to seal the meat.
Layer the onion and carrot in an oven dish that will fit the chicken snugly. Place the seared chicken on top of the veges.
Press the orange wedges around the chicken and drizzle the juice over top.

Cover and bake at 220C for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, add the red wine and water to the dish, pouring around the bottom of the chicken, not over top of it. Reduce heat to 200C and cook for a further 1/2 hour.
Dish up with couscous and fresh veges, layering the chicken on top of the cooked carrots, onions and oranges.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Add One Year, Freshly Ground

They call it a Blogiversary.


Crazy, I know.

Nonetheless, whatever it might be termed, I have reached my first ... Blogiversary. (Officially it's tomorrow, the 18th, but I feel it's going to be a busy one so I'm posting this right now!)

I started this blog not because I thought anyone would have any interest in anything I had to say, but because I needed somewhere to keep my recipes. I have a habit of making stuff up as I go along in the kitchen, and then people would ask me how I made it, and I'd say "well..."

So thanks to the generosity of Google Blogger, Freshly Ground was born.

Apparently, some people have even gone on to cook the recipes I've posted. That's cool.

So, without any more inane chatter (which seems to make up the bulk of this blog, despite its pretenses to being about food) I'm going to rattle off a few statistics and high points.

After writing about legendary fantasy cult author Hugh Cook and his struggle with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, I had the honour of being asked by his family to write an obituary for him. I did this, and the obituary was published in the New Zealand Herald. Were it not for Freshly Ground, I would never have had the opportunity to do homage to this writer whom I greatly admired. To Hugh's family, my eternal gratitude and love.

Running a blog also introduced me to the whole world of the internet, which up until then had always been a blurry and occasionally useful thing, usually for looking up odd words or researching obscure points of history or science. Apart from everything I learned about the publishing world thanks to this post (kindly supplied by my good friend Morgue), I also discovered audiobooks and podcasts. The addition of posting audiobook/podcast reviews came pretty naturally. I was also rewarded with the buzz of making the acquaintance of the writers I had reviewed when they came and left comments, and of trading tweets with those writers on Twitter.

Yes, it led me to Twitter too. Now, I don't know how I survived without it before (I know, it's sad and desperate, but it's an addiction I simply must feed).

This has also led to my latest piece of cool news, which is that emuse-zine have invited me to submit reviews for publication in their quarterly ezine. That's pretty cool too, and I'm looking forward to making the most of the opportunity.

Last year also saw, at long last, the publication of a collaborative work of poetry and short stories that had been on the back burner for nine years. Its final, harrowing birth was brought about, in large part, by my getting into the online world and finding a long-lost friend. If you haven't checked out Urban Driftwood yet, head over to Lulu and take a look.

Now for the stats:

Total Unique Visitors: 5,838 (Average 16/Day)

Total Page Loads: 8,351 (Average 23/Day)

Busiest Month: April 2009 (804 Unique Visitors; Average 27/Day)

Busiest Day: April 5th 2009 - 65 Unique Visitors. This was the day I posted my review of the Audiobook Drama Hoad's Grim. Thanks to Jack Kincaid for putting it out there on Twitter and driving the visitors to me.

Most visited page: The Ultimate Homemade Beef Burger Recipe. Somehow, this page seems to have made its way onto just about every food search engine in the world, because I get visitors from all sorts of random places, making a beeline to FG to learn how they can make the Ultimate Beef Burger. Eat up, I say.

At time of publishing this post, I had 8 Followers (Hi, Followers!) and 15 Subscribers in Google Reader.

Freshly Ground is rated 814,775 on Technorati. Awesome. If you're a Technorati member and think I deserve some love there, please swing by and throw me a bone. I'll give you back all the love I can, I promise.

So thanks everyone, for taking the time to come by and validate my existence here. I hope I've been entertaining.

And that's about it. Throughout the year we've laughed, we've cried, I've ranted, I've raved, and here's to another of the same, only bigger and better. Hopefully you'll all join me on the way.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Podcast Novel Review: "The Zombie Chronicles" by James Melzer

Here's a podcast you can really get your teeth into.

James Melzer
is one of a new breed of writers who are finding success by eschewing the traditional methods of shopping a manuscript to agents and editors, and are instead puffing out their lungs, warming up their vocal chords, and releasing their works into the wild - in the form of free podcast downloads.

As you know, I've been going on about this for a while now. As anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I'm pretty much obsessed with podcast novels at the moment.The Zombie Chronicles - Book 1: Escape has continued to feed this addiction. This is storytelling with bite.

I had my reservations, as I greatly fear all the cliches that are associated with zombies. Zombies have gone so far into the laughable in the past twenty-odd years that it's a he!! of a job trying to make them scary again. Somehow, Melzer has written a zombie book that at once encapsulates all those worn-out tropes and injects the zombie genre with a new lease on life.

(Ah, will the puns never end?)

From the first chapter, I was grabbed by the freshness of Melzer's writing, his wry wit and the way he pulls a middle finger at all the stale baggage that zombies bring with them. Despite the title, this is no 28 Days Later. Without wanting to bring any spoilers to the table, I think it's safe to say that Melzer has single-handedly reinvented the zombie genre, while never abandoning everything we love about zombie stories - decaying flesh, the lust for human meat, brains exploding under well-aimed headshots.

TZC brings unexpected twist after twist, none of which have any place in the story you think you're listening to. But Melzer pulls it off with style, wit and lots of disintegrating sinew. I almost panicked when iTunes wouldn't give me the last chapter. Desperate measures were taken to hear the last part of this book, I guarantee you.

If you're into zombies even a little bit, you must listen to this podcast - or buy the book, when it comes out later this year (full disclosure - I get nothing from promoting any of the podcasts I review. I just dig that these guys and girls are so cool about it). If you like a good action story, or anything with a twist, this is also brilliant.

The audio quality is faultless. Melzer pulls off his voices without any problem, and has chosen not to clutter up the soundscape with effects. I think that if a podcaster/audio producer has the means and the ear to do good music and effects, and it doesn't cut drastically into their available timeframes, and that if adding M&E really fleshes out the world, then they ought to do so. But if a writer embarking on the huge task of recording a podcast feels they don't have the means or the skills to do this well, I thank them for not ruining an otherwise good production with a subpar effects track. It's nice to just appreciate the writing and the performance for what they are.

(To those podcasters who do put in the effort and do it well, keep up the good work. I love it all!)

I highly enjoyed this podcast. What it may have lacked in substance, it made up for in plot twists, gunfights, and exploding heads. Having said that, I felt close enough to all the characters to really want to root for them, although I was never really sure if I could trust anyone at all. Fantastic stuff.

TZC gets a solid 4 1/2 Stars out of 5 from me.

Coming Up:
Reviewing the Classics. I've recently finished Scott Sigler's Nocturnal and Seventh Son: Descent by JC Hutchins. Both will get a review here, as I educate myself on some of the seminal works of this emerging artform.

Past Reviews:
Hoad's Grim by Jack Kincaid - 5 Stars
Eden by Phil Rossi - 5 Stars
Jack Wakes Up by Seth Harwood - 3 1/2 Stars
Crescent by Phil Rossi - 4 Stars
DarkAge by Kirk Warrington - 2 Stars

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Report from the Front Line: The Food Show, Wellington

Since today was Mother's Day, I took Dessert Chef to the fabulous Food Show at the Stadium in Wellington.
OK, it was her idea, and I ate and drank a whole heap more than her, so really, she took me. In fact, since I tasted countless wines and she drove home, it really was her taking me out than the other way around.

Not to worry. Here's the up-to-the-minute review of New Zealand's biggest gastronomic event, as experienced by Yours Truly this very day. Yes, for once, my blog post won't be months out of date. It's good to be on the cutting edge.

Speaking of cutting edges, the highlight of the show for me was not actually any particular food or wine; it was the knives. Not just any knives, but ceramic knives. I have some great knives (a wedding present from my Mum, and still going strong), but these blades just blew me away.

I had just listened to an audiobook in which one of the characters has ceramic knives, which are worlds beyond any steel blade. So sharp that they don't blunt, lighter than steel - and of course never picked up by metal detectors, which is very helpful - I hardly believed it. Then I got to hold one, and cut with one.


They're great. I could slice a tomato literally paper-thin. At $110 on special for a small one, however, they're beyond this humble food critic's reach. but if anyone out there has that sort of money to spend on knives, I'd seriously recommend checking them out.

The other highlight was the Freedom Farms Bacon, purely on the basis of ethics and taste. I've talked often enough about getting more humanely farmed meat products into the mainstream, and as well as tasting delicious, this seems to be a step in that direction.

I learned a lot about different rice bran oils, and olive oils, and avocado oils, and tried probably three dozen or more (*gurgle gurgle* - quiet, tummy!) and disliked as many as I liked. I was surprised to learn that rice bran oil, which we think of as a terribly healthy option, is in fact a hydrolised product that is run through a chemical process before it gets to us. That's a shame, but we'll still use it - for now. I also discovered that avocado oil, which I've never eaten because of its hefty pricetag, tends to taste like overripe avocado. Yuk. I love avocado, but not once it's turned. There were some good ones, but they were really expensive. So hard to strike a balance.

I also tried numerous wines from several different regions and vineyards, and was surprisingly not blown away by any of them. That was also a shame. I wanted to buy wine, it's something I like to do because it means I get to drink wine. Oh well. Thinking about it now, though, I did drink wine, so that's probably OK. I didn't discover my next favourite Pinot Gris, though. Darn.

I've talked before about celebrity chefs, and while I err on the side of appreciating their passion for food even while I dislike the reality TV they have succumbed to, I have to admit a proclivity for snapping up their cookbooks if they cross my path at the right price. Dymocks Booksellers had a stand at the Food Show, and I grabbed a copy of Gordon Ramsay's Cooking for Friends for the bargain price of $20 (NZD). This book is not a "look at this great food that you'll never be able to cook" sort of a book. This is GR's family recipes, the stuff his kids make. And to celebrate this find, I dove straight in and cooked a recipe out of it tonight.

I know, it's unheard of. I'll be posting a meal that I've cooked on the same day as we ate it. I don't think that's happened since Day 1. But there you have it.

So, summing up the Food Show: Good. Yeah, lots of nice free stuff to eat and drink, as you'd hope (barring the $20 entry fee, of course, but I'm pretty sure we both ate and drank more than $20 worth of food). There was plenty of variety, and I even learned a few new things. It seems that nothing has made me sick, although my tum was telling me that I might have had just one too many lugs of olive oil by the time we left. Next year, I'll forgo breakfast to make even more of the delicacies on offer. Gordon Ramsay's Pasta with Baked Pumpkin and Rosemary
(With minor adjustments, just because I can)

Serves 3Pumpkin courtesy of our garden, no less.

1 500g Pumpkin, deseeded and sliced into thin wedges
3 Rosemary Sprigs, chopped into 2cm lengths
4 Garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Lots of Olive Oil
50g Grated Parmesan
Drizzle a roasting tray with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and salt. Scatter the rosemary and garlic around, and drizzle with more olive oil and seasoning. Place into a preheated oven at 210C. Turn after 12 mins, then again after another 12 mins, until soft on the inside and lightly caramelised on the outside.
Set aside to cool. Discard the garlic and rosemary but reserve the oil. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin.
Place the pumpkin flesh and oil in a pot. Add a little more olive oil (I think I used a lot less to cook this than GR intended, as I had very little to reserve) and some water or vege stock to loosen it up. Blend with a hand blender or run through a food processor.
The pureed pumpkin should be more of a sauce than a soup, thick enough to coat the pasta but not runny. I think that I'd make mine a bit wetter next time. I wonder if UK pumpkins have more moisture content that the ones I grow out the back.

Keep the sauce warm while you cook a pot of pasta, steam some veges, and cook up your sausages or whatever, if this isn't your main course.
Drain the pasta and mix in the pumpkin sauce and the parmesan. Dish up hot, with freshly ground pepper, a grating of fresh parmesan, and perhaps a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Podcast Novel Review: "Jack Wakes Up" by Seth Harwood

To celebrate Seth Harwood's novel Jack Wakes Up being released into bookstores across the USA this week, I took it upon myself to listen to the entire podcast over the past two days and throw out my thoughts on it.
Jack Wakes Up is a bit of a step away from my usual cup of tea, being a crime novel and not in the slightest bit fantasy, horror, or science fiction. But it stood out to me, as crime fiction goes, in that the protagonist was not a cop or an ex-marine, but rather a washed-up actor.

Jack Palms has been on the wagon after his drug- and alcohol-fueled fall from grace some years earlier, which saw his marriage fall apart under the watching eyes of the public and the media. He's now cleaned himself up but is completely broke. A dodgy character from his past life entices him into doing one last big drug deal to set himself up for a while and make a new start.

As Jack gets drawn deeper into San Francisco's shady underworld, however, things quickly go from bad to worse.

Jack Wakes Up would fall somewhere between Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and 2 Fast 2 Furious, were it to have been a film. There are drug deals, murders, gun fights, car chases, betrayals, and strip bars - everything you expect from a high-octane, fast-paced action story.

This was fun to listen to. In the world of action storytelling, JWU was an invigorating tale, a cracking good yarn with plenty of good laughs thrown in. If my impression is that this was perhaps a bit lighter than Harwood intended, it's only because last night I also finished listening to Scott Sigler's Nocturnal, which completely blew me away (and will be reviewed very shortly, I promise). By comparison, JWU was good relief.

The audio production was clean and uncluttered. Harwood obviously made a choice not to use any sound effects (or if he did, they were so well done that I didn't even notice them), and relied on his own delivery to carry the pace of the story. There is no music or atmos in the soundtrack apart from chapter breaks, but I don't think the production suffered for this at all. The writing itself is tidy and precise, and Harwood's diction is mostly faultless (apart from the occasional stumble which hasn't been edited out), so following the story is never an issue.

I played this podcast through my computer speakers in a busy workshop, and was very rarely either a) unclear as to what was going on, or b) suddenly aware that I had lost the thread. I was kept engaged throughout the reading, even with distractions, and always felt like I knew what was going on and where the characters were. This is a testament to Harwood's writing and delivery, since this podcast is really just the author reading his own story, with all the passion he can muster.

Nice one.

Overall I rate Jack Wakes Up at 3 1/2 Stars.

Recommended to anyone who likes a good gangster or crime story, or a bit of action. Jack Wakes Up is complete at 19 Chapters, plus a Q&A with Seventh Son author JC Hutchins, which is both entertaining and informative.

You can listen to the first chapter here. The rest of the podcast can be found at Harwood's website, totally free. The book is also available in US bookstores and online.

While we're talking about Seth Harwood, he has posted a really helpful video about how to go about recording a podcast, which I also recommend for the three minutes it'll take you, if that sounds like something you might be thinking about.

Jack Wakes Up is available from, and can be found in bookstores across the USA.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Curry Odyssey Episode 6: Roti Bread

Back to the Great Curry Odyssey! It's lucky I'm getting so much mileage out of that big day when I made the Lamb Korma, because I haven't really cooked a proper curry since.

I have plans to try a Chicken Tikka Masala next, so if anyone can direct me to a good recipe to look at I'd appreciate it. A big shout goes out to BamBam for the loan of the Food of India book. It's the ultimate inspiration in print.

Moving onto Roti bread, then. What's great about this is that unlike my disastrous attempt at making Naan breads, this recipe for Rotis came out perfect first time. Seriously, I've never made these before. Following a link on my Key Ingredient: The Back Burner feed, I found this step-by-step photo recipe for making your own rotis from scratch. Lubna at the Yummy Food blog has gone to all the effort, but I didn't want to steal her photos, so I took my own. It's all her recipe, though. And it works, first time.

Before I launch into it, I'll make one quick comment. The roti we get when we order Indian or Malaysian or Thai tend to be a bit greasy, and are generally quite delicious. These ones, on the other hand, are dry and crunchy. However, I'm sure that this comes down to balancing your ingredients to suit your tastes and health needs. Quite simply, add more salt and oil for a more flavoursome, indulgent bread, or leave them as they are for a healthier option than you'll get from the local takeaways.

Roti/Chapati/Indian Flatbread

(Makes about 6, depending on how big you want them)

2 C Hi-Grade Flour
Extra flour for dusting
Water to mix dough, as required
2-3 drops of Oil for kneading
Pinch of salt
More Oil or Ghee if you have it
Combine flour, salt and oil, then add water slowly to form the dough. Knead until this becomes soft and elastic. Cover and leave to rise in a warm place for 15-20 mins.

Divide the dough into 5-6 roughly equal portions. Dust with flour and set aside.
Take one piece of dough and roll out flat on a floured surface.
Brush with a little oil (or a little more, depending on your taste) and fold the corners in...
...and in...
... and in ...
... then flour and roll out again.
Heat a wide heavy pan. Place the rolled roti on the pan. Cook until the top starts to look a bit dry, and turn before it starts to burn.
Press down on the roti with a kitchen tea towel or paper towel as the other side cooks to get a nice even puff.

Now you can brush your roti with more oil or ghee and either put aside in a warm place (ie, in a warming drawer) or serve up straight away with hot curry and cold raita.

More of the Great Curry Odyssey

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Herby Bread

It's the weekend. If it's not the weekend where you are, rest assured that it's probably the weekend somewhere. If that is simply impossible no matter where you are, you can take comfort in the fact that at some point it will be the weekend again.

OK, now that I've put that nonsense to bed, I want to show you something I love to do on the weekend, when I have the chance: Bread.

Don't be scared. I'm a lazy baker. I trust whole-heartedly in the stringent work ethic of the electric breadmaker. What I don't like about breadmakers is their complete and utter failure to present even a semblance of artisanship when they deliver up their final product.

Being inanimate may be somewhat to blame for this, but when you're dealing with a cook as fussy as me, there are certain standards I expect to be met. Let's just ignore that laziness comment for now.

Bread shouldn't just be a sustenance that gets us through the days. It should be a joy. If you think about how much bread you eat (gluten-intolerants are welcome to shake their heads in disgust at this point in time), why not make it yourself, and make it delicious?

With a breadmaker, all the hard work is done for you. Let the machine make the dough, then pull it out, let it rise, dress it up and slide it in the oven. Lovely stuff.

Mediterranean-style Herb and Garlic Bread

(Disclaimer: I've never actually been to the Mediterranean, so this could very well be a false claim. Nonetheless, it has olive oil in the recipe, so I'm sticking with it.)

Dough Ingredients:

300g Strong Flour
200g Semolina Flour
2T Breadmaker Yeast
1T Honey
1/2t Salt
280ml Warm Water
3T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
(Alternatively, you can use Garlic-Infused Olive Oil, and make sure you get some of the chunky stuff in there)

Place all ingredients in the pan of the Breadmaker and turn on to a dough cycle.
When the cycle is finished, pull out the dough and gently shape on a floured bench. Because of the olive oil, this bread will be slightly denser than usual. That's OK. We like that.
Place the dough in a oiled baking tray and put it somewhere warm to rise for one hour. I always use the Hot Water Cupboard. While it's doing its thing in there, chop up some more garlic and some fresh rosemary and thyme.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Take the risen dough and brush gently with more olive oil. Sprinkle with the garlic and herbs and bake for 20 minutes.
It should come out a bit denser than normal bread. Delicious eaten warm with butter melting through it, or for sandwiches or toast or to soak up soup or whatever. Mmmm.