{Cookbook Review} Cookin’ With Coolio by Coolio

Dare I Say the Greatest Cookbook of 2009! (By a Rapper)

Okay the last time I checked Coolio was relevant and a pop culture force about 10 years ago.  Since then the only time I think about Coolio is when “Amish Paradise” by Weird Al comes up in my shuffle mix.  Well readers that has changed with the release of his cook book: “Cookin’ with Coolio, 5 star meals at a 1 star price” by Coolio the Ghetto Gourmet.
Right of the bat, this may be the best gag cookbook gift ever.  Not only does the book come from the self-proclaimed King of Kitchen pimps, the ingredients for recipes ask for amounts of seasoning in “Dime Bag” and “Nickel Bag” form (Don’t worry you can covert to regular measurements).  Recipes include “Chicken Lettuce Blunts”, “Kompton Fried Chicken”, “Taco Jones” and “Chili Mac Pimpi”.  And instructions include directions such as “Beat those eggs like a Mother#$%&er who crossed you” or “Spin them around like a stripper on a pole”. 
Suffice to say I enjoyed the writing as much or more than the recipes themselves.
Now for the amazing part; these recipes are pretty good.  The ingredients asked for are easy to find and consist of most spices and ingredients you would have in a regular kitchen.  There are no crazy cooking techniques or anything more difficult than an average home cook could handle.  I cannot attest to how healthy most of the food is, but there is a good section on salads, vegetarian food and even a nice seafood section “It’s Hard Out Here For A Shrimp”. 
So if you can get past the latent silliness of the presentation of the material I think you will find some good fun recipes, and you will probably laugh quite a bit too.

{Book Review} Forgotten God by Francis Chan

Once again Francis Chan makes you think.

I really enjoyed Chan’s first book “Crazy Love”, and this book is just as good. Chan has a great talent for getting you to take a hard look at yourself and see areas in your life where you may not be living according to what the Bible teaches. The great thing is that Francis doesn’t preach hellfire and brimstone, or yell at you, or guilt trip you, or try to make you feel bad about yourself. He instead invites you on a journey to explore what the Bible says with him, and if you read along you tend to find that Chan is not doing much more than just talking about what is already there in the Bible for us to read.

In his new book “Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit” addresses (As you can guess by the title) the fact that today we dismiss the role of the of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. The Holy Spirit has the ability to live in all of Christ’s followers, but how many of us, actually allow the Spirit to do that? In the book, Chan covers: why we need the Spirit in our lives; explores reasons why we may not engage the Holy Spirit or may feel uncomfortable with the idea; surveys the theology of the Holy Spirit; makes sure we want the Holy Spirit in our lives for the right reasons; talks about what a right relationship with the Holy Spirit looks like; dismisses the idea that a relationship with the Spirit will reveal God’s plan for our life; and discusses what the Church could look like if we all lived with a right relationship with the spirit. Also Francis finishes each chapter with a short biography about someone who is or has lived a very Spirit filled life. Suffice to say he covers a lot of ground.

Despite all that is covered, the writing is very accessible, not technical or full of obscure theological terms or jargon. This is a book that can be easily understood by just about anyone, and I am sure it will challenge many, as it did me. This book has made me take a serious inward look at my relationship with the Holy Spirit and my motives relating to the Spirit. I encourage you to pick up a copy and give it a read yourself.

Duck Tails (Woo-Hoo)!

I have wanted to cook a duck for a very, very long time. In fact last holiday season I found one in the frozen poultry section of my local supermarket and I bought one. And I stuck it in the freezer and it sat there…under frozen pizzas…and frozen taquitos…and popsicles until this weekend, when I gathered the gumption and nerve to cook that bad boy..er mallard.

The first thing that surprised me was the nice thick layer of fat that ducks have under their skin. I knew this caused a problem in duck cookery as said fat tended to melt fall and then burn in the cooking process producing much smoke. The suppliers of my duck had been nice enough however to slice the skin open and cut into the duck fat in certain areas enough to allow for fat drainage.

Now I had read of certain applications where you boiled the duck first to rid it of its fat before crisping it in the oven. I thought of this, but then I thought it increased the amount of pans needed and I would hate to lose flavor form boiling my duck. Sounded like an awfully English/Irish way of cooking my fowl. And I thought I could do better.

Due to the outer layer of fat on the duck I knew there wasn’t going to be much need for lubing or basting it also presented limited options for seasoning. I went with a straight forward liberal sprinkling of kosher salt and pepper all other the thing. I decided to keep it simple as this was my first experience.

After prepping, I then placed the duck on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. Set into a preheated 375 degree oven and cook for 20 minutes per pound, in my case two hours.

I was left with a delicious bird with tasty moist meat, and a pan full of drippings.

The fat of the bird literally melted off into the pan, causing some smells of smoke at first, but eventually a lovely pool of fat formed that sizzled away any drips of juice from the bird.

I served the duck with some basmati rice, keeping it simply. A duck is basically all dark meat so the meat from the leg was as tasty as the meat from the breast. And I tried not to overcook as I always heard overcooking duck is bad. The cooking directions on the bag the duck came in said 22 minutes per pound. I shortened it a little bit and just made sure to check with a thermometer before serving. Juices were clear so I was in the clear. After dinner I got as much meat off as I could so that I can make duck tacos later…..should be yummy.

I plant to cook duck again, and hopefully get a little more creative too. Also my big plans a goose, during Christmas!

The Future of Movies at Home

I believe I have seen the future of movies at home and thy name is Netflix streaming.

I have an Xbox 360 at home hooked up to my big television in the family room of the apartment. I also have a Netflix subscription which Amy and I share. A wonderful feature that Netflix offers for free to subscribers, who happen to have an Xbox 360 with an Xbox Live Gold Account, is you can receive free streaming of a pretty good selection of movies.

As long as you have a high speed internet connection you can watch movies for free in quite good resolution right on your TV at no extra cost. Now the picture is not quite as good as regular cable/satellite or DVD but it is pretty darn close. Now I know companies like AT&T and cable companies have been offering on-demand movies for quite a while, but the way Netflix in my opinion has a much better user interface, and a larger selection of movies. What makes me curious is what dictates which movies get to be streamed and which ones don’t? Not all of the biggest movies make it to streaming but some do. But a lot of classic old movies do get out there, which is great.

In particular Amy and I were looking for a move to watch Halloween night. We figured a good Hitchcock thriller would nice. I was going to get one from Netflix, only I come to find out that a good majority of the Hitchcock movies are already available for streaming. So we will have quite a nice selection available come Saturday night.

I guess it all comes down to the fact that digital distribution/streaming is the future of the way we will watch movies at home. I would assume that by 2020, DVD/Blu-Ray may have already become a thing of the past. And everything will be either downloaded or streamed direct to us. The key obstacle will be portability. I have paid for this movie once to download and watch it at home. But now I want to take it with me on a trip, with a DVD that is easy, just take the disc. But with digital content it is not so easy. Supposedly Disney is trying to address this with a system of licenses, but I will believe it when I see it. Till then I have to choose between Marnie, The Trouble with Harry and Frenzy.

{Music Review} Lost At Sea by The Squirrel Nut Zippers

A Great Comeback Album for the Zippers!

It has been over nine years since the Squirrel Nut Zippers (SNZ) have released a new album and seven years since they released their greatest hits compilation. Thankfully I can say that after such a long wait this live album has made the wait worth it.

This CD takes you on a 17 track odyssey of a rollicking live performance by the reformed Zippers in Brooklyn, NY last year (2008). The track list comprises a veritable greatest hits list of the SNZ covering all of the favorites, and the occasional hidden gem.

Jimbo Mathus takes the role of lead vocals and Master of Ceremonies in the majority of the songs. His lead guitar also provides a driving energy for the band. Katharine Whalen also returns with providing her Billie Holiday-esque female vocals to the appropriate songs.

The band sounds just as tight and fun as you would remember them, sadly however former Zipper Tom Maxwell continues to be missing from this iteration of the band and I found his absence noticeable. The lyrics that were originally sung by him just don’t quite seem the same when performed either by Jimbo or Kathleen. I find this my only fault with the album, and it is the one thing that keeps me from giving five stars.

If you have been a fan of the Zippers in the past, and remember them for their fun music and great energy, I am sure this album will not disappoint you.

{Music Review} “Miss Smith To You!’ by Lavay Smith

Lavay Smith is sadly a rarity today. You will be very hard pressed to find another singer of her caliber anywhere. She brings you back to the day of Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald, when clubs and concert halls where filled when a songstress, backed by a big band could take a song and real make it her own and make you feel it, make you want to get up and dance to it, be it slow of fast.

“Miss Smith To You!” is Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet-Lickers third album, and it matches if not surpasses previous the previous efforts with a great selection of songs, superb performances, and quality production. The songs range from slow ballads to medium tempo swings. Through it all Miss Smith is able to show off her voice and personality.

So in conclusion, if this is a style of music you enjoy (Big Band/Vocal Jazz), I do not think this album will disappoint you. It has a great selection of classic songs, the music of a talented group of musicians and the voice of one of the few who can really pull it off. To me this album really is a complete package, and I hope you can enjoy it as much as I have.

{Book Review} Drop Like Stars by Rob Bell

A different book with different ideas

Before getting this book I was really surprised by many of the comments and reviews I had read about it. It seemed like people were completely surprised by what this book was, what it contained and what it was about. It seemed like people didn’t research or read the product description of the book before purchasing it, or that they expected something completely normal from Rob Bell.

For me, this book met my expectations and really presented some ideas that made me think. First, this is not a small little hardback book like Rob’s previous works (Velvet Elvis, Sex God, and Jesus Wants to Save Christians). This is a larger hardback, 12 inch by 10 inch; basically the size of a good coffee table book. True to what others have said the book does not contain a ton of writing but rather is full of colored pages and photos/portraits of objects and scenes. The writing is interspersed in the same parsed style of short sentences and fragments that are Rob Bell’s style. As far as the book and artwork go they are quite nice and do a good job of helping Rob make his points, but everything is in a matte finish, I feel the book could have benefitted from glossy sheets, but I can only guess that would have raised the price of the book significantly. Oh and no, you can’t read through this book in 10 minutes as I have read some people say. If you work your way through this book in ten minutes you miss the point and I recommend you return the book, because you will get nothing more out of it.

As far as content goes, I think Rob came up with the idea of this being an “Art Book” hence the chapter’s titles: “The Art of Disruption”, “The Art of Honesty”, “The Art of the Ache”, “The Art of Solidarity”, “The Art of Elimination” and “The Art of Failure”. And I think by reading those chapter titles you can get an idea of where Rob is taking the reader. And an interesting note the table of contents is at the rear of the book rather than the front, an interesting idea that gets the reader right into the book without any presuppositions.

Overall I found the book to be thought provoking and it made me think about subjects like disruption, ache, and failure in ways I had not before. This book doesn’t delve into deep theology, hermeneutics, or psychology but rather it explores what it means to be human and what we all experience. I benefited from reading this book and I pray you may too.