Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cheesy, yummy potato goodness (this blog's first foray into food)

Can you believe that my boyfriend has never had the pleasure of such comfort foods as Mushroom Soup Chicken Bake or Potatoes Au Gratin? I can remember a time when we could expect a variation of mushroom soup bake once a week. Just plop some meat in a pan (my mom was fond of chicken or cube steak), pour a family-size can of condensed mushroom soup over it, add some water and pop it into the oven until the meat is cooked through. So simple, but so freaking good it's unbelievable. We usually serve it over rice.

Potatoes Au Gratin are a little bit more of a treat. My mom wasn't big on potatoes, but my grandmother loved making this dish. After an impulse buy at the store left me with way too many potatoes (and I had tired of several batches of homemade french fries) I came across this recipe in my adventures through food blog land (a rich and addictive world that I recommend). The original recipe can be found
here. I'm not really in the habit of taking pictures of my food so I recommend checking out the mouth-watering photos found on that blog as well.

The most wonderful thing, I think, about Potatoes au Gratin is that they are (almost) a blank canvas. I mean, they're basically potatoes and cheese. I didn't deviate from this recipe much, but I did tweak it based on what I had on hand and my preferences (as all people should feel free to do with any recipe). As I will do with any recipe I put here, I'll list my tweaks after the original recipe:

Potatoes au Gratin

*4-5 large Idaho russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 th inch thick
1/4 cup butter
1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
1 tbsp flour
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
**2 cups of non fat milk
***2 cups of extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (divided)
1/4 dry Italian bread crumbs

~Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray. Scrub potatoes and peel. Cut into 1/8-inch slices to measure about 4 cups. If you have a mandolin slicer, use it.
~Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion in butter about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. ~Stir in flour, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until bubbly; remove from heat.
~Slowly stir in milk and 1 1/2 cups of the cheese. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute until the cheese is completely melted.
~Spread potatoes in casserole dish. Pour cheese sauce over potatoes.
Bake uncovered for 1 hour.
Mix remaining cheese and the bread crumbs; sprinkle over potatoes; add a bit more salt and pepper. Bake uncovered 15 to 20 minutes longer or until top is brown and bubbly.

My tweaks:
* I used up the rest of my 5-lb. bag of Yukon Gold potatoes (the before-mentioned impulse buy). Pick a potato variety you like since really the potatoes are the main ingredient. The awesome thing about Yukons is they already have this buttery taste to them but they also stay together rather well and don't turn into potatoes au mush.
** If you know me, you know my aversion to milk. I substituted 2 cups of plain Silk Soymilk. It turned out quite well and gave the dish a rich counterpart to the potatoes.
*** Finally, I put around 2 cups of cheese into the dish (you're supposed to reserve a half cup for on top). Then I put another cup on top mixed in with the Italian breadcrumbs. YUM. Next time I might even shred some more (I just bought a block of extra sharp cheddar and shredded most of it) and layer some with the potatoes.

And to wrap this post up, you might think about changing this dish in any way you want. I can see it becoming Italian by substituting mozerella, parmesan or even ricotta and add oregano and basil. Add some different spices than just salt and pepper. Add some cooked meat or other vegetables for a heartier main dish. Like I said, you can't go wrong with cheese and potatoes, even if they no longer resemble 'classic' potatoes au gratin.


Sometimes I wish I was a dog. Mostly because I would love to just do this all day:
(My mom's puppy, Lucia)

As a dog I wouldn't feel restless because I have nothing else to do. Happiness would come every five minutes with a new scent, a new person petting me or the discovery of some new, comfortable place to snooze....In short, all my current worries would be solved.

Monday, September 15, 2008

That magic moment...

I understand now that being a student actually defines me, and not in a bad way. Well, I guess it doesn't really 'define' me so much as make me happy. I prefer to define myself by the things that make me happy than the things that make me depressed. Why do I think being a student (learning and researching and writing and debating) makes me happy?

Well, it's that magic moment, at least that's what I call it. If you've ever spent time researching and researching and researching for what seems like forever, you may be questioning my sanity in saying that I enjoy that. While research is interesting, what I truly enjoy, what makes me happy and feel as though all my cares have fallen away is that moment when everything clicks, when I suddenly discover what I've been searching for. It's that electrifying feeling of eureka. It's that moment that makes all of it worth it. After that moment, I'm on my way to having a solid thesis and paper that explores something that I am interested in or passionate about. But that first moment of understanding, that's magic.

I miss it. Terribly. Which is why I am so unhappy and find myself wishing for grad school. It's why I feel unfulfilled and sometimes refer to my job as 'dead-end.' It may even be why I prefer to sleep in all day rather than face a world bereft of that moment. It's also the reason I'm setting myself a list of goals meant to bring that moment back. From researching a topic in the hopes of coming up with a good paper, to (re)teaching myself a few newspaper-industry softwares (like Illustrator and Dreamweaver).

Here's to reaching those goals and feeling the magic once again.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

(Un)Biased journalism...

One of things that I often edit at my newspaper is the "Feedback" section. We receive comments from readers in the form of phone calls, letters and e-mail. Either our Editor (who oversees everything) or out Managing Editor (who just oversees reporters and the like) responds to them. One of the things that I've noticed that oftens comes up is how biased journalists are. The simple truth is that no one can be unbiased (without opinion). It is just the way it works. Because of this, no news article can be unbiased because people are asked for their opinions in interviews; their answers make the story.

What a journalist strives to do is show as many opinions of a single subject as he/she can, being careful not to give any one side too much weight. The ways stories often become biased is if a source doesn't want to speak to reporters. Also, people tend to see what they want to see. Everything we do or believe in life is shaped by an opinion. In the same way, when we read a story that talks about something that we believe in, we will either be happy because it agrees with us, or pissed off because it lets the 'wrong' people have their opinion too.

Finally, what few people realize (and some journalists don't realize) is that journalists must sacrifice something that most hold dear to remain 'unbiased' to their readers. This, of course, is thier own opinion.

When I took a job at my paper, it was implicit that I can't allow my opinions to create biased work, or even to create the illusion of a bias. This means I can have nothing to do with politics, unless I am reporting on it or privately voting. It also means I cannot outwardly express my opinion. I cannot have bumber stickers that show strong support for a specific view, especially because I have my parking permit (which has my paper's name on it) displayed at all times. I also have to be careful if I volunteer for something. I currently work with the SPCA. I have done so since I was in college because, first I missed my family pets and secondly because the SPCA needed help. But if my post with the SPCA were to ever cause my work to become biased, or be perceived as biased by a reader, I could conceivably get fired. That's it. The readers expectation that the news remain unbiased at all times requires this sacrifice of reporters and editors (disregarding the Editors who are charged with writing editorials; ironically enough, editorials are the real origin of the news in this country).

I have a politically-active friend who, upon hearing this, said she would never work for people who would require such a thing. I responded by saying that it is a necessary sacrifice to make sure people, including her, can be informed citizens and have a right to be politically active.

So my whole point is this: Before you say a paper (or the news) has become biased, first ask yourself if it is you who are really holding that bias and don't want to admit such a thing. Because I know damn well that every reporter/editor I know works harder to remain unbiased than most people do at being 'good' at their own jobs.