Saturday, January 23, 2010

Basic Vegetarian Chili Recipe

I made Vegetarian Chili the other night that turned out great. I don't use a recipe, but I'm guessing some folks looking at this blog might not know how to make killer chili, so here. This is super basic, and can be souped up by adding other veggies (corn is good or hominy or whatever you like), or veggie crumbles. Meat version is pretty much the same, I guess, but you'd brown the meat at the beginning, while you're sauteing the onions.

The key to making good chili, or any food really, is to taste it as much as possible as you're going along. It's a great habit to get into. Learn to cook to your tastes. Also, keep in mind, this recipe is just intended as a frame-work. If you want a milder chili, change the peppers. If you hate kidney beans, try some other kind of bean. Try pouring it over rice, pasta, baked potatoes, french fries or some other starch. If you're feeling fancy, throw some raw onions, shredded cheese, cilantro, and/or sour cream on top.

Honestly, Chili is pretty hard to screw-up so give it a shot.

2 TB oil
2 small or 1 large onion.
4-6 (or more if you're hardcore) cloves of garlic
3 habenero peppers
3 serano or jalepeno or some other hot peppers
1 bell pepper
1 bottle/can of beer (could use water or veg stock)
1 6oz can of tomato paste
1 16oz can of diced tomatoes
1 28oz can of tomato puree
3 cans of beans, drained (i used black, red, and dark kidney)
A few TB of Chili powder to taste
1 tsp of cumin

The number of peppers can be increased or decreased to adjust the heat...this was pretty hot, but not brutal. You can also remove seeds (i did for the habenero but not the others) to reduce the heat a little.

Dice the onion, peppers, garlic.
Heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven.
Sautee the onions until they start to go translucent.
Throw in all the peppers and garlic and a little salt.
Once the veggies start to give off some liquid, throw in the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes.
Add the can of beer, diced tomatoes, and tomato puree
Dump in enough chili powder and cumin to make it brownish/red. Start tasting it here. Make sure it's starting to taste like chili. Be careful when adding salt, remembering that the salt taste with intensify as the chili simmers and flavors concentrate.
Dump in the beans and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to a simmer. Taste again.
Cover the pot partially, and simmer for as long as you can stand to wait.
Keep tasting and stirring occasionally.
If you think your chili is too thick, you can add some water and/or fully cover with the lid. If it is too thin, simmer with the lid off the pan.
Taste and adjust the spices before serving.

Werewolves, Bikers, and 'bots

Just another update to the 2010 movie list...

4. Werewolves on Wheels
Surprisingly, I didn't have anything to do on a Friday night [ahem], so Tim came over for some movies. Brad would be showing up for the second half of the double feature. After watching CM Punk shave a nice young lady's head, to induct her into his straight edge lifestyle and ordering the pizzas, we popped 70s cult favorite, Werewolves on Wheels into the DVD player. Clearly cashing in on the popularity of Easy Rider, W.O.W. throws our unlovable gang of bikers (The Devil's Advocates), into the world of Satanic cults. Not realizing they've been cursed, and unwilling to listen to the mystical compatriot, Tarot, they continue on their way, overlooking the mysterious deaths amongst their ranks. Although kind of light on the werewolves and kind of heavy on the wheels, it's a fun little "trip" (Get it? Bikers use drugs...uh...) of bad editing, weird camera angles, and bad special effects. At points, it comes off like a ham-fisted art house flick meets the midnight movie, but it works. It entertains, and that's all it's supposed to do, right?

While killing time, waiting on Brad, we checked out the trailers on the disk and found one for The Losers, a Vietnam-era biker flick meets rescue mission, but more on that below. We decided we needed to track down the film, based solely on the trailer.

5. The Losers aka Nam's Angels
After telling Brad all about The Losers and how "WE NEED TO SEE IT", he informs us that it was sitting mere inches away from us the whole evening. As a strange coincidence, he had borrowed if from a coworker a few weeks ago and hadn't gotten around to watching the damn thing. He produces the VHS tape from a pile on the coffee table and we pop it in the VCR. The tape had seen better days, but it was watchable. The film on the other hand was a As is often the case, the trailer showed almost all the good parts, and those parts all happened about 85 minutes into the 90 minute film. A rag tag gang of bikers/soldiers are brought in on a mission to rescue an American POW. Released at the peak of the Vietnam conflict (1970), the film didn't pull any punches, even alluding to America's illegal bombings in Cambodia. Unfortunately, the band of bikers (again, the Devil's Advocates, weird), aren't really that likable, so it's kind of hard to care when they are getting screwed over. Unfortunately, I think we were victims of the trailer, this time. If I had watched this cold, I probably would have been all over it, but I over-hyped myself. Not that I disliked the flick, it just wasn't the over-the-top chaos I was expecting.

6. Futureworld
Impact OnDemand might be my favorite thing about having cable. It's one of the Free Movie channels from the OnDemand menu and features dozens of grimy action flicks every month. Sci-fi, sexploitation, blaxploitation, trash, grindhouse, sleazy comedy. Good stuff, and much more likely to have something interesting than FearNet it seems. Anyway, they must have purchased the rights to all of the American International Films, because they've always got tons of them listed. Today, I decided to check out Future World. I'm familiar with he franchise, remembering the Westworld box from visiting the video store as a kid. Somehow, I'd never seen either movie, which is a shame. From what I can tell (what they told me in the movie), one of the robots in futuristic amusement park Westworld went crazy, killed some people, and got the whole place shut down. They spent billions to get everything back on track and are reopening, but there is a sinister plot to take over the world by replacing high ranking international politicians. Pretty wild. Gotta track down a copy of Westworld now...hmm.

Up next, I'm gonna do a car chase block, I think. It will probably be Death Proof, Two-Lane Blacktop, and Dirty Mary and  Crazy Larry, because I have them lying around. I'll have to see if I can track down Vanishing Point, White Line Fever or Gone in 60 Seconds.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Supertrash January 15th, 2010

A couple more movie updates.

The Warhol Museum, is showing exploitation film double features in conjunction with the Supertrash poster show. The show runs until the end of the month, so if you're a fan of exploitation, horror, action, or 70s porn, I highly recommend checking out the show.

This past Friday was the next to last double feature, with William Friedkin's "Cruising" and "Can't Stop the Music" starring the Village People (?!?!?).

2. Cruising
Directed by William Friedkin (most know for the Exorcist) and starring post-Godfather, pre-Scarface Al Pacino, Cruising tells the story of an under cover New York Cop (Pacino as Steve Burns) trying to catch a serial killer terrorizing the late 70s New York leather bar scene. I'd seen the trailer a few times, but never the whole film. It is a very gritty (and most likely, exaggerated) depiction of a small subset of the gay culture in a very specific time period, and for that alone, it was interesting. It's rumored that nearly 40 minutes of the film was cut to get an R rating. Friedkin claims it had no direct effect on the plot, but I sort of find that hard to believe. Many strings are left untied, and in the end, it's still quite unclear exactly what the film is trying to tell the viewer. Was Burns correct? Or was he the killer? Or did this lifestyle lead to violence, and there were multiple killers? Has Burns been changed by this whole event, or will he be able to leave it in his past? Overall, an "enjoyable" experience, especially for those interested in very grimy New York exploitation films, even if this is really the intended audience.

3. Can't Stop the Music
Wow! Just wow! What a double feature. Straight from the S&M serial killer to the pseudo-documentary about the Village People and co-starring Olympian Bruce Jenner and Steve Gutenberg. I have to admit, the only thing I know about the Village People is like two songs, so I have no idea if this film even depicts any level of reality. I'm guessing the answer is no, but stranger things have happened. Essentially, this is the gay disco version of the Muppets Take Manhattan or something. Overly long, clocking in at over 2 hours, it's generally entertaining, although they could have cut most of the musical numbers completely to suit my tastes. Generally known as one of the worst movies of 1980, garnering plenty of Golden Raspberry nominations and winning (losing??) for Worst Screenplay and Worst Picture. I'm not sure I could sit through it again, but I'd highly recommend it to any fans of high camp, so bad it's good, garbage cinema.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Inaugural Gaming Post

When I say "gaming", I'm mostly referring to pencil and paper RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, but it could also refer to board games or occasionally video games. Part of my reason for starting this blog was to write more about gaming. The catch is knowing when to post. Writing specifically about your campaign or character may be useful for writer, but it doesn't always hold the interest of the reader. Part of my reason for writing is to share something interesting or useful with said reader. From time to time, I'll be posting about the games I'm playing, and maybe posting a product review occasionally.  If these posts are in anyway successful, eventually I'd like to do a spin off blog dedicated completely to gaming, but that is down the line. If you're at all interested in these types of posts, I highly recommend you check out the RPG Bloggers Network, which compiles dozens of blogs on this very topic. It's a great resource.

A Little Background
I first got interested in RPGs back in the 80s when they were everywhere. Religious groups were concerned that they were tools of the devil. There was a cartoon on Saturday mornings. A friend of mine got the game Dungeon for Xmas one year and we were hooked. We knew it had something to do with D&D (simplified board game version, published by the same company). Eventually, I used some birthday money to get my first D&D books. Like a lot of folks my age, I started out with standard "red box" D&D. Since there was no dedicated gaming store in Butler (at least that we knew about at the time), we'd hit  the Walden Books at the mall to get our gear, mostly. I played a little AD&D at the time, too. As I got a little older, we started playing some of the Palladium games like Palladium Fantasy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (based on the comic, not the TV show), and Rifts. We never really got any long term campaigns off the ground though, which was unfortunate. Eventually that stuff got put aside. I still loosely followed the industry, occasionally bought a product, and was interested in playing, but we could never get the game together. Through the magic of the not-Roboto board, some of us eventually got a game together. We spent about two years or so, running around the the Greyhawk setting, using the D&D 3.5 rule-set, and it was great fun.

After the Greyhawk game wrapped, the DM started up a game set in Ravenloft. I've taken up the reigns for a 4e game and a Dark Heresy Game. I joined a game set in the Forgotten Realms, run by another player from the game. I'm also playing in a Call of Cthulhu game, run by yet another person from that Greyhawk game. Then there was a couple other false starts, two Gygax tribute games, and a couple shorter campaigns. Yeah..."no gaming" to "way too much gaming" in just a couple years. Here's a quick overview of the games I'm currently playing.

Ravenloft is a classic Gothic horror setting for D&D. The game we're playing currently is run by Mark, who was the mastermind behind the Greyhawk game. It is certainly the most ambitious effort I've been involved with in an RPG. The DM is essentially running two games concurrently. The party my character is a member of is made up of evil and neutral characters. The other team is made up of neutral and good characters. Mostly the teams work separately, but the most recent game brought both teams together (about 14 players) which is pretty crazy, using the 3.5 rule-set. The DM has plans for players to switch teams, and sub-groups to form from members of both teams, depending on certain situations. I'm playing a tiefling beguiler (from PHB 2), named Vandyrk, who stumbled through the mists while exploring a dungeon in the Faerun.

3.5 Forgotten Realms
My buddy Tim, who was also a part of the Greyhawk game and plays in the good party in the Ravenloft game, started another 3.5 game that I decided to join. He's planning on it being a fairly short campaign. So far we've been mostly traveling around the Chult Peninsula, trying to sort out some kind of dinosaur cult. Most recently, he dumped us in a giant maze and we're working our way out now. I'm playing a human rogue/fighter with a spiked chain named Ras Sulamal. He's pretty burly. More of a thug than your typical agile rogue.

Call of Cthulhu
Allen, another an alumni of the the Greyhawk game and a co-party member of the Ravenloft campaign, had some experience playing Call of Cthulhu, before moving to Pittsburgh a few years ago. We wanted to get a game going here, and since he had the most experience with the system, we encouraged him to act as Keeper (CoC terminology for GM/DM). We're working our way through the classic world jumping adventure, Masks of Nyarlathotep. I'm playing two characters, a professor of anthropology and archaeology and a professional wrestler.

4e Forgotten Realms
This is one of the two games I'm running. Outside of a couple one-offs, this is the first time I've acted as DM since the late 80s and I'm having a ton of fun. We started shortly after 4th Edition was released and have been playing for a few hours every two weeks, on average. The players just hit 8th level and the individual stories are starting to break out. They are on their way to Waterdeep right now, to follow up on some information they've received from an oracle. Plans to send them deep into the Underdark and the Elemental Chaos are on the table.

Dark Heresy
Dark Heresy is the other game I'm running. In the game, players take the role of acolytes of the Imperium, essentially fascist space cops tracking down heretics, aliens, and demons in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Fun! I got my first taste of Dark Heresy earlier this year at the Geekadrome in Brookline. Our GM was intimately familiar with the 40k universe and ran a pretty cool campaign. I'm not too familiar with the universe and I'm going to be relying heavily on published materials. We've gotten two games in and I've already killed one of the PCs. Oops! Well, they said it's a deadly game, so we'll see how it goes at the next session.

Other Stuff 
There are a couple other games that I'm really interested in playing, but don't have the time right now. As soon as one of these games wraps, I'd like to try Rogue Trader, Savage Worlds (I picked up the Rippers Source book, too), Mutants & Masterminds, Dragon Age RPG or All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Both the 3.5 Forgotten Realms game and the Ravenloft game are supposed to be relatively short campaigns, and Mark has already expressed interest in running  a superheroes game. I loaned him my copy of Mutants & Masterminds and I'm keeping my fingers crossed he picks it for the system. Chris, from the Ravenloft good party has volunteered to run a Dragon Age game at some point in the future, too. I have no long term plans for the Dark Heresy game, so maybe after a few more months, I might recommend the same group try out some other system.

Well, I don't really have any conclusions to speak of. We'll see where this goes. Right now, I need to start planning out some possibilities for the 4e game, get my secondary character rolled up for Ravenloft, and reread the adventure path for the next leg of Dark Heresy, so there's plenty of my plate. Look for more posts related directly to the games I'm playing in the coming weeks, as well as some product reviews if I pick up anything totally cool.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Cooking and TV.

My name is Mike, and I have a problem. [Hi Mike!]

I'm a cooking/food show addict. It started early in life. I've enjoyed cooking since I was old enough to work the stove, and for some reason that transferred over food programming on television. When I was a kid, it wasn't a really serious issue. See, back in those olden days (the 80s) there was no Food Network. I was stuck trying to catch stuff on PBS. Most food programming was on in the early afternoon, so I would maybe catch the Frugal Gourmet when I got home from school, maybe Graham Kerr if I was home sick (or more often when I was on summer break), or Martin Yan, Paul Prudhomme, Julia Child or Cooking Secrets of the CIA on Saturday afternoons. Seriously, there couldn't have been too many metal head kids watching this crap, but I was hooked early and would watch fairly often.

Then the Food Network entered my life. After moving out of my parents house, I never lived anywhere with cable (until now), but when I was at their house, I'd spend hours watching Iron Chef Japan, The Naked Chef, Boy Meets Grill, East Meets West, Good Eats, Molto Mario, Emeril (before Emeril became a celeb with Emeril Live). One year, my mom taped about 24 hours worth of Food Network programming and gave it to me as an Xmas gift. Back at home, I'd still try to catch the weekend programming on PBS. More Martin Yan, Lidia Bastianich, Jacques Pepin. Whatever was on, I'd watch.

Now we have cable and there is still some pretty great programming: Iron Chef America, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, Good Eats, Tyler's Ultimate, plus a few others. I have to admit, though, my interest in waning. Gone are the days of watching Food Network for hours at a time. It seems that the network is in the process of ditching the concept of giving a great chef a cooking show and letting him work his magic. Most of the the rest of the programming fits into a couple categories. First is a seemingly endless run of bizarre competitions, with none of the dynamics of Iron Chef. Throwdown is a complete waste of Flay's talents. Food Network Challenge seems to usually be just cake decorating competitions, often often based on Disney characters, for some reason. Just how many freaking Shrek cakes does the world really need? Up next is "reality programming", like Ace of Cakes. They don't really show you any technique or anything. They just get a job and make something. They seem like people I'd like to hang out with, but I don't get the appeal of the program. Finally, the rest of the network is filled with bubbly, sort of annoying "cooks", that make simple dishes from mundane products. Rachel Ray, Paula Dean, Guy "Guilty Pleasure" Fieri, and Sandra "So Bad It Is Good TV" Lee, I'm looking in your general direction, although there are plenty of others offenders.  At least it looks like they finally gave "them Dean boys" the axe...yeesh.

Anyway, this is mostly my way of promoting two relatively new programs on the Network: Worst Cooks in America and Chopped. Both are competition shows. Chopped is essentially a spin-off of Iron Chef, with four chefs going head to head to make the best appetizer, entree, and dessert using secret ingredients. After each dish is served, a set of judges eliminates a chef until there is one winner. The secret ingredients are often a little strange and there is a pretty limited time limit for each dish. I really love watching these pros try to throw something together, highlighting the secret ingredients, with absolutely no prep time.

Worst Cooks started by identifying some painfully incompetent folks, then setting them into a competition with some training from some pros. At the end, the two that are left will go head to head against a panel of judges...but the judges are under the impression that it is professional chefs making the meals. I like the show, because the chefs have a very limited time to get these guys ready, and in some sense, their reputation is "on the line". In the end, everyone will know it wasn't them making the dishes for the competition, but it's still interesting. I'm regularly surprised watching, realizing how lucky I am that I learned at least some basic technique when I was younger. After only two episodes, I'm starting to get an idea of who is going to make it through, because of the focus on certain people, but we'll see. I'm still rooting for the punk rocker girl from Philly, but I have a feeling she's gonna get the cut from Ann's team.

Yeah! Food!!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2010 Film List

One thing I hope to regularly blog about is movies I've seen this year. I'll provide brief reviews and recommendations, where appropriate.

I was sick on New Years, so I decided to stay in rather than participate in any public debauchery. Since we were watching Freddie Got Fingered when the ball dropped (how appropriate), that's going to be my first film of the year.

1. Freddy Got Fingered
Sometime around 2001, someone at Regency Enterprises and 20th Century Fox decided it would be a good idea to give MTV favorite Tom Green some money for a feature film. Personally, I applaud the decision. Freddy Got Fingered, tells the story of out-of-work cartoonist Gord Brody (Green), and his misadventures when he has to move back in with the family. Honestly, the plot is not the reason you pop this disk into the DVD. Green goes significantly out of his way to offend, confuse, and disturb the viewer. Every gross-out gag is exploited to the fullest (it was originally pegged with an NC-17, and there are a few moments that I'm a bit surprised made it through in the R cut in 2001). One of my favorite comedies of the 00s, I highly recommend it to anyone who handle it's moronic, low-brow humor. Certainly not for the faint of heart or strong of mind.

Starting Over

I'll admit it. I've had a few blogs fail already, but I've decided that I need to do more writing in 2010. Not sure what direction this will go, but you can expect some game reviews and reports, record reviews, show reports. I'll probably occasionally post about pro-wrestling, game design, cooking, books, libraries, etc. In other words, whatever I'm getting into at the moment.