Sunday, September 30, 2012

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake:  I went to my niece's birthday party today and it got me thinking about Birthday Cake.  This is the dessert that is supposed to be the piece d'resistance of the birthday celebration.  The culmination of a party full of activities.  The final capstone of the event.  And yet generally speaking birthday cakes are, simply put, bad.

Here are the usual suspects in the birthday cake line-up of offenders:

Sheet Cake of Doom: This was usually bought from a grocery store bakery.  The cake itself is totally unremarkable and forgettable.  In fact, if you stop right now and try to think about what the last giant sheet cake you ate tasted like, I suspect the answer you'll come up with is "????" [1]  It has a thin layer of icing on it that also tastes like nothing.  Of course this monstrosity has two big upsides.  The first is that it is large enough to play a decent game of football on and will feed 900.  The second is that the store will gladly air brushed your tot's favorite TV or movie character on it. [2]

Mount Icing: The cake part of this one could taste fine, it could be great or it could be horrible.  You will never know because it is buried under enough sugar icing to send Paula Deen into a coma.  The cake to frosting ratio is roughly: 1 to infinity.  Unfortunately the icing doesn't taste like anything except sugar.  And because there wasn't enough on it already, it is adorned with letters made of clear colored icing with the textural consistency of snot and the flavor of more sugar. [3]

Ridiculously Expensive Boutique Cake: Whoever paid for this one will be sure to mention where they got it about 60 times.  Of course, you've never heard of the place so even if you are paying attention it won't matter.  It's covered in fondant that is probably adorned with icing flowers, edible beads [4] and other overly fancy decorations.  However while it may be beautiful and look like the cover of a magazine, it has the flavor of the inside of that same magazine.  Also it is as dry as the Sahara.  People will line up for cake, but will rapidly disappear like a David Copperfield  trick [5] once they see the faces of the lucky people who were first in line. [6]

Ridiculously Expensive Boutique Cake That is Overcompensating for the Mistakes of the Previous Cake:  This cake looks exactly like the previous cake except that the cook evidently soaked the inside in a flavorless liquid.  Taking a forkful is akin to biting down on a damp sponge. [7]

The Ice Cream Cake: This cake attempts to wow you by taking out of your hands the presumably tricky game day decision of "do you want cake, ice cream or both?"  Hopefully the purchaser of this delight picked flavors you can at least stand. [8]  But you actually don't have to worry, because regardless of what flavors they say it is, the end result is relatively flavorless ice cream on completely flavorless cake.  If your lucky there are some Oreos crumbled between to two layers so you can discern the difference.  As an added bonus, the cake starts out extra dense so the ice cream doesn't melt straight into it and then the whole thing was put in the freezer for the last 48 hours.  Result?  It's all hard as a brick and requires a chain saw to cut.

The Tasty Cake: This is a myth and doesn't exist.  You may think you remember once having a delicious cake at your cousin Lucy's 14th birthday, but it's really a fantasy you keep in the corner of your mind to keep hope alive.

There are other cake miscreants out there that I haven't mentioned [9] but I believe I've covered the main offenders.  And you can get cakes that aren't bad, but they aren't the great birthday finale that you want either.  For the record when my birthday comes around and the Pook asks what dessert I want, I usually go with non-cake choices.  To me there's something more special about a Cannoli or Seven Layer Dessert than yet another entry in the faceless parade of bad birthday cakes.

Birthday Cake: C-

[1] - Meaning, "I can't remember."
[2] - So you are trading off flavor for being able to argue over who gets to eat Superman's face.
[3] - Later all anyone will remember of this cake is the spelling errors.  "Hapy Birtday. Dog."
[4] - That are "not food".
[5] - But with less smoke and scantily dressed women.
[6] - If you are serving this one, expect to end the party with a lot of uneaten cake or a lot of full dessert plates hidden around your house.
[7] - Depending on what you used the sponge to wipe up, the sponge probably has more flavor.
[8] - What?  Everyone loves Pistachio Ice Cream with German Chocolate cake.
[9] - Like the one with the strawberries or cherries on top that are covered in a syrup evidently made out of Vicks 44D.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Book & Movie)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Book & Movie):  Stieg Larsson is the Swedish author who wrote the novel and its two sequels.  If you are anxiously awaiting his next novel, you're going to have a long wait. [1]  Hopefully something that you did know is that in 2012 they made a movie out of the novel.  The movie starred Daniel Craig. [2]  The novel starred whoever you pictured in your mind as the lead character.  Since I saw the movie before I read the book, Daniel Craig got the spot by default.

For the movie, the screenwriter stuck very close to the source material.  Which isn't always true. [3]  Which means that every scene in the movie is nearly identical to the same scene in the book.  [4]  What it doesn't mean is that everything that happened in the book is portrayed in the movie.  Large swaths of material [5] are left out of the movie.  But the movie doesn't suffer too badly for it as long as you are fine with missing out on a lot of the motivation and inner thoughts of the characters. [6] Also the bulk of the story line surrounding Blomkvist's trial and what happens later is completely missing.  Which is understandable as keeping it in would have made the movie twice as long.

Of course they could have saved some time by not expanding on the scene in which Salander beats up her social worker. [7]  Watching that scene in the movie just made me cringe.  When I started to get close to that part in the book, I was mentally gearing myself up for the worst, but the book was completely tame in comparison.

I must also admit that in the movie there were a couple of times in which several minutes were devoted to showing us all of the pictures that Blomkvist was sorting through.  I had no real problem with the pictures themselves, I just wish it had been a bit clearer what it was we were looking for.  The book does a much better job of that.

I'm looking forward to reading the second book in the trilogy and I believe that they are making a movie out of that as well . . . checking the Interweb . . . confirmed, but no dates mentioned as of yet.  I will probably try to see the movie when it comes out.  [8]

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo [Book] - A
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo [Movie] - B [9]

[1] - He's dead.
[2] - Yes, he's current James Bond.  Yes, he totally did jump out of a helicopter with the Queen of England during the Olympics. That really happened.
[3] - Lawnmower Man and Running Man to name two off of the top of my head.
[4] - Unless of course you have an over active imagination, in which case all bets are off.
[5] - Could make a really big dress.
[6] - Long scenes of people thinking don't make good cinema
[7] - Granted he had it coming.
[8] - I suspect the Pook will not as she found the first to be too off putting.
[9] - Yeah, I didn't need to see all that.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ham Steak

[Full disclosure: This one is by request.  Not sure why the Pook thinks I should grade this, but here you go.]

Ham Steak: In case you aren't sure what a ham steak is, it's a giant slab of ham that typically has a small bone in the shape of an "O" just off center.  If that doesn't bring anything to mind, when you get ham with a breakfast plate, it's typically a smaller piece of the giant ham steak whole.  If that still doesn't clue you in to what we are talking about, look at the bottom of this post at the link to the Amazon page where you can buy one.[1]

Given that much of what comes from a pig is so very, very good (bacon and sausage to name the main two [2]), you would think that ham steaks would be right up there at the top with them.

You would be wrong.

I totally agree that it sounds like a winner.  Large piece of pork, typically fried up in a skillet in the same method that makes the previously mentioned bacon and sausage oh so yummy.  Only there's a disconnect somewhere along the way that leaves ham steak falling well short of the gastronomical Utopia achieved by its culinary cousins.

The taste isn't awful or anything.  It's really just kind of salty.  In fact, the number one adjective you can honestly apply to ham steaks is just that.  Salty.  A drink lots of water and still be ready to realize about an hour after you've eaten that your mouth is a desert kind of salty.

Which would again make you think that I'd really go for ham steak as I am usually all for the salty.  But it's a no-go in this case.

In truth I really think the problem is the lack of fat.  Bacon and sausage are awash in the stuff [3] and while a ham steak does have a few streaks of white goodness running through it, it just doesn't compare.

Some restaurants will attempt to bring a dish up a notch by including an enhancer of some sort.  Typically for ham steak this is 'red eye gravy'.

Red eye gravy?

What kind of name is that?

Further, why is it called that?

It is a little red, but I don't know what it has to do with eyes and the fact of the matter is that if it does actually have something to do with eyes, I don't wanna know.

Also it's the sad type of gravy.  The dark runny type that could just as easily be called au jus and have you dunking a sandwich in it.  Which is probably what you should do because it certainly isn't going to stick to a ham steak in any kind of a satisfactory fashion.

The best part of a ham steak is actually the marrow.  This is the small dollop of stuff that is sitting in the middle of the little circular bone that I mentioned earlier.  It's actually pretty tasty, but I suspect that it's probably really bad for you.  Which really brings it right up to the level of bacon and sausage.

Ham Steak: C

[1] - Or Six as it happens.
[2] - Or really the only two.
[3] - And it's good!