Review: The Order of the Phoenix

17521812_906085102669_486076334_oThe Order of the Phoenix is the 5th year in the story of Harry Potter and the adventures at Hogwarts.   This book happens to be the thickest of all the novels, as a result it has the most content that doesn’t make it to the movies. It’s weird to me that the films have the last book broken out into two movies but this one with more than 100 pages of extra content over that book is crammed into one short film.

The story begins to take a turn in this book.  You learn of a secret order of witches and wizards who have dedicated them selves to stopping the evil that is Lord Voldemort (yeah, I used his name).

This book involves several key plot twists.  It’s the first book where an important character dies, and you see several power battles play out and how they effect the world at Hogwarts.  We also get to see Harry develop as a leader, though it’s clear he doesn’t want it.  Hermione seems much more suited to it.

In this book I feel Rowling develops the main characters much more that she had in the previous 4 books combined.  But, more importantly she begins, for the first time, to develop the side characters.  They’re no longer just the boys who sleep in Harry’s dorm, they each have wants, fears, and desires.  We begin to see what has made them who they are.  This development is so key to the story and where it is going.  Without that development we might be lead to believe that only Ron, Hermione, and Harry have a personality.

I have one complaint with this book.  In the beginning of the book there’s a comment made about how they didn’t travel by portkey as that would be a lifetime’s work to accomplish.  But we see in the end of the last book that one of the death eater’s made a portkey with no more than a year of lead time.  And then at the end of the book Dumbledore makes a port key in about half a second and sends Harry though it to wait for him.  Are we to believe that Voldemort’s Death Eaters can make a portkey fairly easily, but a normal wizard needs a life time to accomplish it?  I just can’t follow that logic.  This is a fairly big plot hole and present all kinds of other issues.  Why didn’t Voldemort use a port key to enter Hogwarts at any point in the story?  Surely while Dumbledore lived it makes sense that he didn’t, but once he’s dead why do we have the huge battle scene if he could enter silently in the night?  Perhaps this is answered later in the books, but I find that doubtful.

Overall, I give this book five stars.  I’ll review book six next week, but having already read it I can easily say that this is my favorite of the first 6 books.

Next Up: The Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Experiment #2 Making Bouillon

A few years ago, Steph and I were talking as we were making soup with store bought bouillon cubes.  She asked me if I knew what bouillon was first used for and when I expressed ignorance, she told me it was used to make soup in a world without refrigeration.  It allowed them to make soups when the ingredients would normally be out of season and unavailable.  When I heard this I exclaimed “YOU CAN MAKE BOUILLON CUBES?  We should do that!”

We have since learned that modern bouillon is used for many different functions including quick and easy meals while out backpacking.  Now, that’s something to consider!  The next time you’re going hiking… you could be eating gourmet foods while out on the trail, and that will certainly change your outdoors experience!

This February we decided to act on this desire and see what it takes to make bouillon.  We read several blogs on how to make bouillon including the one we based our recipe upon, The Nourished Kitchen.  From all of the reading we learned that bone broth is an essential part of making homemade bouillon.  The gelatin that comes out of bones is what binds the bouillon together and the nutrients in bones come out in the the slow cooking process providing great benefits to the consumer.  In fact, many of the blogs we read posited the idea that chicken soup became a cultural icon of getting healthy when sick due to all the nutrients that came from the bone broth base.  In today’s preparations of chicken soup bone broth is no longer used so chicken soup has lost many of the benefits that made it famous for healing the sick.

The basic process for making bouillon from scratch involves simmering the bones of your chosen animal for 24-72 hours, straining it, refrigerating over night, removing the fat, and then boiling it down again until it becomes jelly like.  The length of time for simmering the bones depends on the kind of bones you use.  Poultry bones, which are hollow, will take less time than mammal bones.  The longer you simmer them the more nutrients will be pulled out of them.  One blogger wrote that she simmers her chicken bones for 48 hours, and when she’s done the bones are so brittle you can eat them.

Ingredients

  • 5 pounds meaty bones, (chicken, beef, lamb, pork, etc.)
  • 1 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoons unrefined sea salt
  • Some recipes call for adding gelatin, this is something to consider if you’re using poultry bones as they have far less gelatin in the hollow bones.

Instructions

  1. If using mammal bones, Lay bones in 9×13 baking pan and roast at 425 F for 45 minutes.  Poultry bones do not need this step.
  2. Transfer bones to stock pot.  Add peppercorns and bay leaves.  Cover with filtered or distilled water and bring to a boil over moderately high heat, reduce to medium low and simmer uncovered for 8-72.  (Beef bones should be simmered for 8-72 hours and Chicken bones from 6-24 hours)
  3. Strain the stock into a large mixing bowl through cheese cloth. Refrigerate in mixing bowl overnight.
  4. The fat will rise to the top and gel in the refrigerator.  Remove and reserve the fat for use in frying vegetables or braising meat.  The fat should keep for a few months if kept refrigerated.
  5. Pour the fat free stock into a shallow pot, stir in salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil until about 1 cup remains.  The size of your pot will cause the reduction time to vary, but typically it’s around 45 minutes.
  6. Pour into a small container and refrigerate overnight, cut into cubes about 1-inch square.
  7. Each cube produces one cup of stock. Simply drop the cube into one cup hot water and stir.  Store in an airtight container.  Bouillon will keep at room temperature for six months and often up to a year in the refrigerator.

Review: Orthodoxy and Heresy

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I ended February with a week left and decided to grab another book to read.  I pulled this one off the shelf and gave it a quick read.  It’s a brief fifty pages long.  Joel Parkinson’s goal in writing this book was to give a quick, clear outline of the most basic things a believer needs to believe in order to be able to call themselves a Christian.

What’s brilliant about this book is how simple it is.  Aside from the basic Gospel message Parkinson identifies seven other beliefs essential to Christianity.  He spends a bit of time developing each point and showing where that point can be found in Scripture.

All in all, this book is a great read for both Christian and non-Christian to grab a quick and easy to understand delve into what makes Christianity what it is.

Next Up: The Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Recipe: Refried Beans

It’s time for another recipe!  This one is a bit different, who makes their own refried beans anymore?  Well, we do!  We were at Costco one day when I expressed that I had read that making your own beans is far cheaper and healthier than buying precooked, canned beans.  Steph being a former chef was up for giving it a try on the condition that I do most of the cooking of the beans.  I agreed and did some research.  I found an amazing article on cooking beans and learned that there’s an old wives tale about presoaking your beans before cooking.  And sure enough as I have looked at recipes, they all say to presoak your beans over night before cooking.  The summary of that article I linked is this:  “… don’t bother soaking your black beans. Un-soaked beans taste better, cook almost as quickly, have great texture, and don’t cause significantly worse problems for the digestive system.”  As a side note, I love his journalistic integrity.  He only tested black beans and his conclusion was only about black beans.  A far cry from modern journalism.  Another article I read did seem to think that presoaking them cut about 45 minutes off the cook time, but added that: “when I sampled them, the extra 45 minutes paid off.”  He continued: “The unsoaked beans had a noticeably deeper flavor; they were firmer to the bite, and they did not break up as much in cooking.”

Armed with a wealth of knowledge from my research, I began crafting my own recipe for refried beans.  I looked at two other recipes in particular one from Serious Eats and one from Simple Recipes.  From this and several delicious experiments, here’s what I’ve come up with:

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Refried Beans

Details

Time – 120 minutes (only around 15 minutes of actual work)

Skill – None

Servings – 6-8 cups

Cost – virtually free

Ingredients

1 lb dried beans (about 3 cups)

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons bacon fat

1/2 onion chopped

Water

Cheese, Salt, and Pepper to taste

 

Directions

 

Wash beans & place in pot.  Add water until beans are covered by 3″.  Add salt.  Important note here, there’s a lot of articles online about how adding acidic foods (example: tomatoes) and/or salt during the cooking process will make the beans shell become impenetrable.  I have made this recipe several times not and not found salt to hinder the process at all.  I think it’s important to flavor the water during the cooking process or you’ll find that the beans need even more salt at the end to become tasty.  Bring water to a boil and reduce to a medium – low simmer.  Simmer for 2 hours checking water level every 1/2 hour.  You may find the beans are cooked as early as 1 hour in.  If this is the case, you do not need to keep cooking.  Make sure beans remain submerged in water the whole time.  When the beans are tender and the shell starts to crack on the beans, remove from heat and strain, saving the bean-water runoff.

In a separate skillet, sauté onion in bacon fat.  Add beans.  While cooking mash with potato masher or puree with a submersion blender.  I recommend the blender, it’s much easier.  As the beans start to dry out, add the bean-water to rehydrate.  This water is what contains all the nutrients from those beans and it adds a really good flavor as well.  Add cheese, salt, and pepper to taste.