Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Man's Cave Is His Castle

What's up party people? Been a while since I rapped atcha but here I am, back in full effect. Well, maybe not full effect. Maybe partial effect. I dunno, 1/8 effect?

Any way, so I got home from work on Friday and what was awaiting me on my doorstep but yet another badass Batman sketch from my main man Bonesy. I immediately squirreled it away to the movie room where I could give it the proper place of prominence among my various geek chic treasures. I then took a picture of its placement so that I could show Bones that I revere his sketches. It's important to keep these things coming. Then I thought, what the hell, I haven't posted in a bit and my sister, mom and wife did a hella nice job putting up all of the pictures, so why not show it all off? Why not indeed. Sit back kids, you're about to get your minds blown.

Ok, so here's the movie screen, where all of the big screen gaming takes place. It's a 92 inch Dalite Cinema something or other screen. It is, in short, the shit. Below it is my Salamandar AV cabinet which houses all of my goodies. On top of the speakers are Lego Ultimate Collector's Edition replicas of an X-Wing and a Tie Interceptor. On top of the cabinet are various figures from the first live action Transformers movie. It's hard to see, but there's also an Alternators Ravage which combines the awesomeness of everyone's favorite Decepticon jaguar with the ability to transform into an actual Jaguar motor vehicle. If you look hard enough at the back corner you can spot my Fallout 3 lunch box and bobblehead. Best parts of that game if you ask me.

Here's the new DVD cabinet. Oddly enough, due to a shipping error, I have this exact same cabinet in the unfinished area of my basement awaiting assembly. Not sure where we're going to put it as we didn't order it, but I'm sure we'll find someplace for it. Atop the DVD cabinet are some Legends class figures from the first live action Transformers movie as well as some framed Superman cards I've had for forever now.

So this is, essentially, the back wall of the movie room. If you're looking at this, the screen is to your left, projector to your right. On my big ol' subwoofer is a Lego Ultimate Collector's Edition AT-ST. Next to the cube is my various Rock Band instruments including my badass Hot Rod Red wireless bass. On top of the shelf is the rest of the figures from the first live action Transformers movie. That white mess on the chair is the univeral remote, the projector remote and the spreadsheets I use for boosting Red Faction: Guerrilla multiplayer achievements. Oh yeah, we all organized up in this bitch.

Ok, so on the left is my first back wall speaker. Under it is a reprint of what is probably my favorite Achewood strip, the Ray Smuckles Decision Making Flow Chart. When I ordered a print of the strip I could have had Ray's name replaced with my own, however I have never turned this, or any other mother out. Any relative for that matter. Plus, the joy of the strip is how well it encapsulates Ray's character and Raymond Q. Smuckles is one of my favorite comic strip characters so to take away his thunder seemed wrong. Next to the strip is the shadow box I made with goodies from E3 including my badge, a postcard of some concept art from "The Conduit", a picture of all of the GameShark writers and the copy of Drum King I won when we all crashed a PR event. Good times.

Ok, so here we have the Bugs Bunny - Charlie Chaplin drawing done by my good friend Dennis. I'm not sure how it is that I keep becoming friends with people of advanced artistic abilities but I'm glad that I do as it keeps me in quality wall hangings. Next to this is my Earth X poster signed by the man himself, Alex Ross. The series ended up being just ok, but when one can get a signed Alex Ross, even if it's just a print, well one does it.

On the left is a poster from the MC Frontalot, MC Lars, YT Cracker triple bill from December of '08. A careful examination of the poster shows that it was signed by the Front himself. Lars and YT Cracker both signed shirts which are hard to put on the wall, especially considering that I wear both shirts regularly. Next to this poster is a poster for "The Magnificent Seven" one of the greatest westerns of all time, if only because in it, Charles Bronson whips a little kid's ass for being ungrateful. The world would be a much better place if children lived in constant fear that a young Charle Bronson could show up and spank them at any moment for being ungrateful.

Following the excellent trend of classic movie posters and webcomic art here we have a poster for "The Great Escape" featuring an oh-so-dreamy Steve McQueen. Next to it is the original artwork from this strip of Shortpacked in which Batman tells the "no fatalities" rule to Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe to go screw itself. Finally we have a poster from the original "Ocean's 11". I'm pretty sure it's a law that if you have classic movie posters in your basement, at least one of them has to have Frank Sinatra on it.

Ok so something like a half dozen pictures into this post we get to why I took pictures in the first place. Top middle is the new Batman sketch that Bones did for me, bottom middle is one he had done for me before. Marvel at their awesomeness! The sketches are sandwiched in between the superhero stamps the Post Office commissioned a couple of years ago.

This is above the counter by the bar. It's the four prequel comics done for the "Superman Returns" movie. My mom got them for me and they're all signed by the creators and bagged and authenticated and shit. Not only do I love them because I love Superman, but I love the fact that my mom took the time to find a gift that combined so many things that I love. Go mom. You're the best.

Eat and get gas! Get it! You can eat, and fill up your car with petroleum! Ha! Love it! I don't know why I loved the dog one so much but I do. Silly doggies.

So this is above the sink that's by the bar and it's these coffee print, thingies. They're quite shiny as you can tell from the flash. Trust me though, they're about coffee and look, a coffee maker, so it all works out.

Finally, here's my framed print from the cover of the Pearl Jam live set of various performances done at the Gorge in Washington. Next to it is a giant panel door that goes to the furnace. Nice! There was no good way to take this picture by the way. I'm not so bad a photographer that I think you want to see some shitty panel door.

So here's the view as you're coming into the movie room. The majority of the pictures would be on your right. Yes that's the exercise bike. It kind of ruins the look of the room, but seeing how I watch movies and play games while I work out, and I won't work out if I can't watch movies or play games, it's a necessary evil. Well, only necessary if I don't want to weigh 200 pounds.

And here's the view from the back corner of the movie room. That horrid pink towel is around the base of the exercise bike because only my wife seems to be capable of not smacking her toes on it and I'm convinced that with her it was only a matter of time. Once I smack my toe on something so hard that I'm pretty sure I broke my toe, I wrap it up in a towel. I'm crazy like that.

This is my computer desk in the room outside of the movie room, soon to be The Man Lounge. I didn't take a picture of the whole room as it's not looking its best right now. This cabinet has a wealth of crap on it including my Gears of War figures, my Scully picture and action figure, a Willow action figure from the Buffyverse, a plush Pikachu, Blammo the dog, Mooby the cow, some Star Wars Legos and the puppet. Truly it is a mish-mash of pop culture crap. Oh, and there are also a ton of badass Batman Legos on the small file cabinet. Yeah, that's the Batcave and it is awesome.

Finally we have my bookcases in the Man Lounge. Righ now they mostly hold comics as all of my proper books have been moved upstairs to make room for even more toys. There are Star Wars Legos, Indiana Jones legos, Batman Legos, vintage Star Wars figures, Dark Knight figures and other assorted pieces of my past. Looking at these shelves gives you a fairly good idea of who I am. I'll leave it to you to draw your own opinions as I know I'm fucking awesome.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Macaroni and Cheese

Time for another food post. My apologies to anyone trying to diet cause I'm about to wreck your shit.

Ok, so I make a pretty badass macaroni and cheese. It's my mom's recipe however I have tinkered with it over the years and I think I've come up with a version that kicks nine different types of ass. My family loves it and I have brought it into work and been told on multiple occasions that is the the best macaroni and cheese that the person eating it has ever had. Now, I'm sure there's some polite exaggeration going on there, but I can be pretty critical about my own food, more than anyone else, and I'm here to tell you that this stuff is the shit. Given that I have nothing else to write about, I have decided to share this awesome recipe with you. You are truly blessed.

Before we get started, I want to point out that you are, of course, free to make this recipe however you choose, however if you decide to use fat free cheese or low carb multigrain pasta, please don't tell people that you got your recipe from me because I don't want my name associated with your nasty ass cardboad glop. This recipe has a lot of fat and a lot of carbs and it tastes fucking awesome. If you're on a diet, just eat less of it. Share it with your coworkers, freeze it for later, do whatever you need to so that you don't consume half of the batch in one sitting, but don't go messing with the ingredients. This ain't Cooking Light.

Secondly, this recipe uses Velveeta which I'm sure will cause griping among the more high falutin' of my readers, but the truth is that Velveeta melts up smooth as silk and when you're making macaroni and cheese, the last thing you want is some messy combination of half melted cheese and cheddar oil. I know because I've made just that. So bite the bullet, buy the Velveeta and try not to ask too many questions about what the hell is in it.

Finally, this recipe doesn't have an exact amount for some ingredients so you're just going to have to experiment. Honestly, this is how I got mine to be as tasty as it is, so don't sweat the small details too much. As long as you follow the basic template you'll end up with something that will smack the taste from your mouth and have every person you've ever desired longing for a one way trip to your tingly, naughty regions.

Cooking spray
2 cups uncooked macaroni
1 16oz block of Velveeta (remember, no hatin')
1 8 oz bag shredded Colby and Monterey Jack blend
1 8 oz bag finely shredded Mozzarella (if you want to go with an Italian cheese blend here, that would work too, I'll switch between the two depending on mood)
Butter (about half a stick, and notice I said butter and not margarine)
Black pepper

1. Cook the macaroni according to package directions, draining well once done. You want them to be just a hair shy of done so that they're nice and firm when the cook among the cheeses. Do not, I repeat, do not let them get overcooked as the resulting loss of texture makes for a bit of a mess in the final product. It still tastes ok, but it's more of a macroni and cheese pudding at that point.

2. Preheat the oven to 375. If your oven has heating elements at the top and bottom, arrange the rack so that the dish will be lower in the oven. More on that later.

3. Coat a 2 qt (mine is a 2.5 L) casserole dish with cooking spray. Whoever does the dishes will thank you later. Mine is round, not sure if that makes a difference.

4. Divide the Velveeta into three equal sections and then slice the sections up into eight or ten equally sized pieces. I usually slice crosswise and then slice that slice lengthwise.

5. You're going to be layering everything in the casserole dish, making three layers total so when you start sprinkling the shredded cheese and putting down noodles, keep in mind that you'll have three layers of it. It's not absolutely crucial as you will stir the whole thing up half way through the cooking time, but still. Ok, so the basic layering strategy is to do the following:
  • Layer of noodles
  • Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of flour all over the noodles.
  • Sprinkle a generous amount of pepper on the flour
  • Dot the noodles with chunks of butter (about 1 - 2 TBL divided up into five or six total pieces)
  • Put the chunks of Velveeta on top of the noodles whereever there isn't butter. You want things to be relatively even so if you find that you don't have enough pieces, just break up what you have with your fingers and do your thing
  • Sprinkle one type of shredded cheese on top
  • Sprinkle another type of shredded cheese on top
  • Repeat for the next two layers
When you're done you should have a casserole dish that weighs about eighteen pounds.

6. Pour milk into the casserole dish so that it comes up about 1/4 the height of the dish. I usually slide a knife down the inside edge of the dish and push the mixture away from the dish to see how far the milk has come up. The milk will take a second to settle, so if you don't see it immediately, don't go pouring a ton of milk in there. Take it slow as too much milk will turn this thing into soup.

7. Put the dish in the oven for 30 minutes.

8. Once 30 minutes is up, stir the whole thing. If you have heating elements at the top of your oven, move the rack so that your dish is higher up in the oven. This allows the crust to brown up and get nice and crunchy.

9. Put the dish back in oven for 30 more minutes.

10. If your oven only has top heating elements that turn on when the broiler is on, feel free to put the thing under the broiler for a few minutes to brown up the top but it isn't necessary.

11. Take out and let it sit for five minutes while your stomach does backflips over the glorious mounds of pasta and cheese you're about to deposit in it.

12. Serve and enjoy.

That's it. Pretty simple, right? If you want to spread things out over two nights you can either make the whole thing up the night before and then put it in the oven or you can make the noodles up the night before and then assemble and bake the next day. If you make the whole thing up the day before and refrigerate the uncooked dish, you will have to adjust your cooking time to account for the fact that everything is cold. Nothing to do there but just experiment and be flexible with your dinner time. Drinking helps.

When you stir the dish at the halfway mark you'll notice that a lot of the velveeta chunks won't have melted. That's ok. Stirring is very important as otherwise you run the risk of having too much cheese in one layer, and not enough in the other. Also, don't worry if it looks really soupy at this point. Even if you put too much milk in, it will thicken up a bunch as it cooks for the next half an hour. It will also thicken up some as it cools. For those that like a crumb topping, and I don't know why you would, but it's not my place to say, put the topping on after you stir it as you don't want crumbs mixed in with the whole thing, nor do you want them to burn.

Give it a try, let me know how it turns out. Feel free to share it with others. Go forth my cheese loving minions and enjoy!

Monday, July 13, 2009

On Pies and Potter

I made a pie on Saturday and with it, the flames of baking have rekindled in my breast.

For Christmas last year Linda got me a dessert cookbook and I got her a pie cookbook proving yet again, that if ever there were two people meant to be together, they are she and I. Now, the pie cookbook was not for her to bake from, but for her to choose from so that I might make pies. After a year in the cake baking trenches, I felt like I could handle pretty much any cake thrown my way, provided that I had enough time and the right materials. With the addition of my Father's Day gifts, a cake bow and this giant spatula thingy used to move cakes, my arsenal was complete.

Pies on the other hand have always scared me. First of all, I don't know how to make a pie crust, something I was loathe to try this time around. They seem so thin and fragile, capable of tearing and ruining your dessert at a moment's notice. Second, the notion of making a fruit pie seemed fraught with peril. What if you don't buy enough fruit? What if they end up being too soft or too hard or filled with unsightly bruises. What if you pick the wrong type of fruit? Some apples are great for baking, some aren't? Good Lord people, I was raised on the mean streets, not some fucking peach grove, how the hell am I supposed to pick a good peach? I can barely dress myself in the morning.

The simple fact is that I take food, particularly baking very, very seriously. There is nothing so depressing as a failed dessert. Dessert is entirely optional. It exists solely to give joy. A failed dessert is then the absence of joy. Taking on the monumental responsibility of providing dessert, knowing full well that my failure to do so means no dessert, is a scary idea, made even scarier when the attempted dessert is a pie. Oh sure, I've made apple pies before, but nothing other than that. Seeing how this was summer, I felt that apple was too heavy, so, for the first time with real intent, we consulted the pie cookbook.

Now, Linda and I agree on a lot of things, but usually not dessert. She loves lemon meringue pies, I love key lime. I love cheesecake, she does not. I veer towards towering, monumental peanut butter and chocolate constructions, she likes a simple cake from a box. For two people who love dessert, we find ourselves at odds frequently, and don't get me started on her not liking pecan or sweet potato pies. The nerve of that woman.

After narrowing down the choices we eventually agreed on a strawberry rhubarb pie. I had never had such a pie, certainly never made such a pie and was fairly certain that I had never seen rhubarb before. I decided to make things easier on myself and go with a store bought crust as I tend to get upset when things don't go well in the kitchen and I needed this pie to go well. After getting home with all of the ingredients I got to chopping and mixing and rolling the pie crust into the appropriate pie dish.

I was a bit skeptical of the rhubarb what with the cookbook saying that loads of sugar is needed to make it palatable. It seems odd that you would put something in a pie that needs additional flavorings. Plus, it looks like a giant red celery stalk and the notion of putting celery in a pie that didn't have chicken and carrots in it seemed odd. Still, not being an expert, or even a novice about these kinds of things, I pressed onward, mixed everything together, including the crumb topping, and heaved it all into the oven.

After an hour of baking, at which point the juices bubbled out of the edges, thick as jam, I took the pie out of the oven and let it cool. As you can see, it ain't pretty, but sometimes the best baking ain't pretty.

The Pie

A couple of hours later we cut into the thing and had the first slices. I have to say, for a pie with giant, red celery stalks in it, it's pretty fucking good. The strawberries and rhubarb play off of each other, with hints of lemon and sugar mixed in there. I'm not a huge fan of the crumb topping as I'm not a fan of the cornmeal that's in it, but that's easily remedied with using other crumb topping recipes I've amassed since taking on cakes. As first pies go, this one was a hell of a way to start.

The unfortunate thing is now I want to make all of the pies I've seen in the book: the peaches and cream pie, the peanut pie, the peaches and lemonade pie and yes, even the grape and fig pie. I want to make a pumpkin pie and I don't even like pumpkin pie. For two people who are constantly trying to make sure they don't gain any more weight, me learning to make pies is a very bad idea.

My only change to the pie would be that I would bake it, let it cool, refrigerate it and then cut into it the next day. This is a very soft pie and after taking two slices out of it when it was still a little warm, an unfortunate pie collapse took place leading to some very unappetizing pieces on Sunday night. It still tasted great, but the pie would have kept it's shape better had it been first cut into when a little colder.

Last night we enjoyed our pie while watching "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban". We're watching all of the movies again in preparation of "Half Blood Prince" this weekend. "Azkaban" is my favorite Potter movie and was the movie that turned me from someone who would watch them if invited to someone who had to see them the weekend they opened. The movie is on such a higher level than the previous two, and set the bar for all of the ones that followed. I've seen it a number of times now and I still love it. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a Sunday evening than eating strawberry pie and watching Harry Potter.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Reviews and Family Visits

First of all, my brilliance continues unabated as I bring to you the real truth about video games. The truth is that I love Tiger Woods for the Wii and I love The Conduit. Man, my Wii has been getting a lot of play lately. Insert sexual jokes here.

In other news, we had family visiting this week, barely a week after the last group of family left. I love my family, but man, I am really looking forward to having an empty house. I want to be able to watch what I want to watch and play some games and not have to scream everything because someone's hearing aid broke. It certainly didn't help that the roofers came and put on a new roof while family was here so not only was there screaming due to the aforementioned hearing loss but there was also banging and hammering and sounds you would attribute to your house coming down around you.

Then the air conditioning broke. Again.

So yeah, it's been a tough week, but everyone has been shuffled off to the airport, all of the roofing supplied have been picked up and as far as I know both air conditioners are working. All of this is just in time for the holiday weekend when, undoubtedly, my kids will come down with some form of strep that makes them bleed out of their eyeballs. As long as I can still game and watch Burn Notice on DVD, I honestly don't care. We have plenty of tissues and antibiotics.