Chicken and Leek Pot Pie

Last night I made this pie from Delia’s online collection for my Mum, Step-Dad and Nan:

http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/chicken-and-leek-pot-pie,1920,RC.html

I didn’t make it in a pot, I made it in a big oven proof dish, but otherwise I followed the recipe pretty much exactly.  I have to say that it was really nice and was well recieved by all with my Nan even pinching the recipe to take home.  However, it did take me rather longer than expected, by which I mean about 45 mins longer.  I couldn’t get the white sauce to mix properly at first and then when I got to the bit where I had to reduce the cider to 4 table spoons worth (I doubled all the measures) I found myself with about a pint of liquid so ended up having to give up after a while and throw a bit away.

For what it’s worth, I did it with some chive mash, carrots, sugar snap peas and those weird mini-corn things

Posted by Si

Published in: on 29/05/2009 at 8:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pokemon Platinum – Review (Part 1)

One thing i noticed when reading reviews for Pokemon Platinum was that for almost every reviewer it was just another installment.  Of course, many added “if you’re new to the series this is a good one to start with”, but for none of them was that the case.  Everyone had played it before.

I suppose even i’ve played it before.  I had Pokemon Stadium on the N64.  I still don’t know why i bought it.  I had only a minor interest in Pokemon, as i do now, and found the gameplay to be really uninspiring.  But if you’ve read my other article on this site (why i’m buying pokemon platinum) you’ll know that an overwhelming desire for quality JRPGs made me go for Pokemon Platinum.

I got it on Friday – thank you Game pre-order – and have played only about 10 hours so far.  I know in terms of hardcore gaming this is pretty poor, but i’m not a kid, a student, unemployed, a bus/train commuter nor a full-time games reviewer, so it’s not that bad really.

So far, it’s actually pretty good.  The visuals are basic but bright, colourful and appealing.  It sounds pretty good with a soundtrack i don’t mind listening to.  In terms of gameplay, well, it is pretty addictive so far.  I get why you might want to “catch ’em all”, because that’s what i find myself doing.  I’m happy doing some grinding to get levels up and it’s pretty cool when your pokemon gains new abilities.  Most fun i’m having though is in naming them, in my collection i have Pokemon called Cheese, Trousers, Moped, and Devastator.

What you’ve got to understand is, i find giving things stupid names, a LOT of fun.  So i’m finding Pokemon Platinum a lot of fun.  It’s not without flaws.  I cannot help but feel that the game expects you to know your way around a Pokemon.  To understand the merits of not evolving or evolving your pokemon and from what i’ve read, without having a Pokemon playing friend, there are somethings in the game that i just won’t be able to do.  (Like evolving my Abra that i spent a lot of time levelling up.)

Other than this minor gripe, it’s got an immense amount of depth and a nice feeling of making the game your own.  The question is, and the reason this is just part 1, is how long will this last?  When i’ve covered another 10 hours of gameplay, i’ll let you know.  In part 2.

Published in: on 28/05/2009 at 7:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Is Paintball Dangerous?

As someone who has been organising paintballing trips for the last 15 years I was interested to read this article on the BBC:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8067908.stm

Going paintballing has certainly never made me want to take part in a real gun battle.  After all:
(a) You realise just how easy is to get shot.
(b) If getting hit by a couple of paintballs hurts that much then what is a real bullet going to feel like!

Still, I was impressed with Spaced analogy and it’s nice to hear that Jim from Campaign Paintball is still doing it, even if his site did go really downhill once it got more popular.

Posted by Si

Published in: on 26/05/2009 at 4:44 pm  Comments (3)  
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I don’t know about the kids…

Last night I went to Makro for the first time in 10 years.  I’d forgotten just how awesome that place is.  I walked all the way down the sweet aisle,  got to the end, turned round, then walked back up it again. Eventually I decided that if I told myself I was buying some sweets for everyone at work then I could justify the extravagance.  So, because both kids AND grown-ups love it so, I plumped for a 1250 gram tub of Haribo Star Mix which I opened and stuck on my desk at 9am this morning.  It’s now almost 3pm and it’s almost half empty already!  There’s not a kid to be seen so one can only assume that the advertising slogan is true.  I should have bought a couple more.

Posted by Si

Published in: on 22/05/2009 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Best Cast Ever?

I caught a bit of Open Water 2: Adrift the other day and whilst it was quite interesting couldn’t be bothered to watch all of it. I did, however, want to know what happens. So in true lazy research style I looked it up on wikipedia. Unfortunately I couldn’t remember the correct name of the film (although I knew it wasn’t Deep Blue Sea!) so remembering that the guy from those IBM ads (Richard Speight Jnr) was in it I went to IMDB. Speight Jnr was also in Band of Brothers the tv serial, so I looked him up under that (I couldn’t remember his name). Whilst doing so I noticed that Michael Fassbender was in Band of Brothers. For those not in the know Fassbender is considered by some to the next big thing in British acting, he’s already gained alot of plaudits as an IRA terrorist on hunger strike in “Hunger” and we’ll all know him after his role in Taratino’s upcoming “Inglourious Basterds” (spelling mistakes are deliberate). I’d be amazed if there was ever a show that had so many stars before they were famous and it seems that there are those that are only just starting to make a name for themselves.

Posted by Matt

Published in: on 22/05/2009 at 11:55 am  Comments (4)  
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Spicy Sausage! & Cheese Grill

This recipe is from Gary Rhodes’s book “Great Fast Food” which I’ve found to be particularly user friendly and a good way to get into doing slightly more imaginative cooking (although sometimes it’s hard to get the ingredients he suggests).

This is a real “comfort food” recipe and also good for cold weather, so I’ll post it at the beginning of summer…
(btw the ! in the title is because you have to remember that brilliant bit from Blackadder III with Robbie Coltrane as Dr Samuel Johnson, when he realises he forgot to put the word Sausage in his dictionary, oh and aardvark as well)

Serves 4
6 Spicy Sausages
200g (7oz) ricotta cheese (I have used feta instead which works just as well if not better)
55g (2oz) pecorino (parmesan works as well)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 small red onions, chopped
2 red peppers, chopped
1 chorizo sausage, sliced
salt and pepper
150ml (5fl oz) barbecue sauce, home-made or from a jar or packet
200g (7oz) can chopped tomatoes
40g (1 1/2oz) fresh breadcrumbs
2 tbsp fresh chopped basil

1 Grill the spicy sausages for 12 minutes until they are cooked through and browned. Cut into bite-sized pieces.

2 Meanwhile heat the oil in a frying-pan and add the onions and peppers. Fry for 2-3 minutes until softened. Pre-heat the grill to high.

3 Add the chorizo sausage and season. Mix in the barbecue sauce and chopped tomatoes and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the sausages and make sure they are heated through.

4 Place in a dish and scatter the ricotta, pecorino, breadcrumbs and half the basil on top. Grill for 3 minutes (or until cheese has melted to your satisfaction).

Serve – with the rest of the basil sprinkled on top.

Posted by Matt

Published in: on 22/05/2009 at 11:42 am  Comments (7)  
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The Good, The Bad and The Weird

Nope, this isn’t a review of the Korean cowboy film, that isn’t out on DVD until next month, but instead it is a good summation of my last three rentals from Lovefilm. All of them could be classified under the “Horror” banner, at least 2 of them were shown at Frightfest in past years, but they were certainly not similar in tone and the quality was somewhat varied.

First off I watched “Skinwalkers”, a film that promised a modern werewolf story with a western feel but which turned out to have very little of either.  It’s based around a Native American story of two rival werewolf packs, one who embrace the wolfy life and happily chomp down on innocent humans whenever there’s a full moon, and another group who desperately want to be “cured” of their affliction and chain themselves up for a few days a month to avoid giving in to their animal urges. Legend says that a boy will appear who can save them all when he reaches the age of 13 and so when the nasty werewolves discover that the nice werewolves have found the lad they set out to kill the poor little chap before he can reach puberty.  The rest of the film is basically a chase across some lovely Canadian countryside with the 4 evil lycanthropes (good looking leader, evil looking henchman, really weird looking psycho and hot babe) pursuing the 4 friendly ones (wise older guy, brash younger guy, pretty young girl and token black man) with the small boy and his Mum (Lara Croft) in tow.  All in all it was pretty disappointing.  Considering all the creature effects were done by Stan Winston, who says on one of the extras that he was the driving forces behind getting the film made, the werewolves were pretty shoddy.  I applaud any filmmaker who decides to go for prosthetics and make-up over CGI monsters, but Michael Jackson at the beginning of the Thriller video is a much more convincing wolf than these guys.   It’s not just the effects either, when the two werewolf clans finally do face off in the finale they are reminiscent of Michael J. Fox in “Teen Wolf”.  Gluing a bit of fur to your face and affecting a loping gait does not make you a wolf in my book, especially when you’ve got a load of B and C-list actors in the costumes.  I suppose it could be counted as a blessing that they are hardly in the film, but a werewolf film without werewolfs makes for a pretty dull film!  In summary, shoddy acting, poor effects, a daft plot and characters you don’t really care about.  2 out of 5.

Next up was “Feast”.  This was a film I had never heard of until a couple of weeks ago but then I saw a trailer for it on another Frightfest film (“The Signal”).  The promo had such a great “bit” in it that it inspired me to watch the whole film, which I guess is the point of trailers. Anyway, I won’t spoil it for you, but it happens right at the beginning of the film and pretty much sets the tone for the rest of its 80 minute running time. The premise of this one is that a load of mismatched people are trapped in a bar in the middle of nowhere with some crazy monsters desperately trying to get in to eat them.  Like the previous film, they’re all B-list and C-list actors (Henry Rollins, Jason Mewes, Balthazar Getty, some women who was in Baywatch, a couple of TV actors etc.) but the difference here is that they’re not taking themselves seriously and as a result I actually ended up rooting for the characters in this one.  The effects are also pretty good for what is obviously a low budget affair and they manage to successfully switch between early Peter Jackson, completely over-the-top, hilarious, gross-out special effects and a pretty terrifying monster. It’s certainly not high art but it was extremely entertaining and on several occasions managed to take a completely different direction to the one I was expecting, proving that horror films don’t have to be predictable and derivative.  So definitely one to watch if you like that sort of thing, but I think I’ll probably steer clear of the 2 straight-to-DVD sequels.  3.5 out of 5

The final film in my horror triple-bill was “Eden Lake” which Bob has written a review for in-between me starting and finishing this one, but never mind.  It is a very good film and, like Bob said, I think the reason it is so effective is that the situation portrayed in it is one that we’ve all either found ourselves in before, albeit taken to the next level, or at least been scared that we might end up being in.  In this case the plot centers around a youngish couple going camping at a secluded lake only to discover that it’s a popular hangout for a group of local teenagers who, with their abrasive attitudes, scary dog and obtrusive music, would not be out of place in Croydon town centre (how old do I sound?!?).  The male half of the couple, played by soon-to-be-huge Michael Fassbender, makes the mistake of confronting them and before you can say “ASBO” the locals are taking their revenge on the outsiders in a series of increasingly nasty pranks. As events in the film started to spiral out of control I tried telling myself that it was all completely ridiculous and that it would never really go that far, but a nagging voice in my head kept telling me that I was just deluding myself. After all, suicidal terrorists, serial killers and genocidal megalomaniacs all exist in real life, and they were all teenagers once.  Perhaps the scariest thing of all about the film is the spot-on portrayal of the role of parents in moulding their children.  I can’t help wondering how many people might watch this film and actually agree with the actions of the adults, and that terrifies me.  In summary, like Bob says, it’s a pretty hard film to watch and not ideal Saturday night after-dinner entertainment, but it’s a very well made, though-provoking film with some great performances.  4 out of 5.

My next two Lovefilm rentals are the rather more cheery “Foot-Fist Way” and “Burn After Reading” which will make a nice change after that lot.  Look out for my review coming soon.

Posted by Si

Published in: on 21/05/2009 at 6:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Playing with randoms

I reckon my first ever online gaming experiences came playing MUD’s (Multi user dungeons) at university.  Way back in the glory days of 1993/4 the internet was something not many people had really heard about.  You could tell by the type of people who you found playing MUD’s back then.  Mostly helpful and keen to enjoy the shared experience, other players you met within would tend to be there for the game.  Yes, the odd noob would show up and just cluelessly ruin things for a while, but usually an admin would be nearby, and they would swiftly issue a kicking or banning. 

It was a short-lived experience.  I moved away from the gaming to making friends with random people across the globe in IRC, taking full advantage of the social experience offered to a typically shy guy by anonimity.  Then, as time went by at University, i became more likely to be in a pub or club than in the computer room, but that’s another story.  (Which some of you may well feel like you’ve lived through as well.) 😉

The next time i returned to the online experience was playing Socom 3 on my PS2.  Aside from the fact that i did myself no favours, by going in having just about scraped through the first level in single player, playing online was VERY different.  Gone were the helpful others.   Gone were admins regulating the gameplay and looking out for others.  What you got instead was inane chatter, swearing, verbal abuse, glitching and far too many pre-pubescent, self-proclaimed “experts”

I stuck with it and after a while i was rewarded for my perserverance.  It did take a long time.  It did take a lot of hate from fellow players.  Yet, i started to find that just by focusing on the game above all else, i could start to win or at least assume fairly commanding ranks in the games i played.  The strangest form of abuse i found was from people who just plain didn’t like my choice of weapons.  If i was playing a long range game (note : I hate sniping and snipers) i would change to heavy machine guns – hated for their rates of fire, strength of firepower, and large clips – and for the close, something light but with a high rate of fire. 

I knew what it was that drew so much ire.  They were the weapons that were believed to make playing the game easy.  What i didn’t understand was that these weapons were available to everyone.  If you wanted to get revenge, then you could use them yourself.  If you couldn’t beat them, then you just weren’t as good as you thought you were.  Did these people believe that in the proper warfare that was supposed to be simulated, soldiers would hurl abuse at each other if they had an unfair technological advantage?  No.  You just work out how to deal with it.

In the end I think one too many spawn-campers and glitchers made me give up on it, but i’m still glad to have had that particularly lawless right-of-passage to console gaming. 

I don’t tend to play with randoms that much any more.  With a group of fellow gamers to go online with, there’s usually someone else who has the same game who’ll be willing to play a friendly versus or co-op game.  Oddly, i do miss the days of struggling against the odds, fighting against those who just take the easiest route or are in it for the griefing or bragging.  The fact is, although the affectionately named “randoms” are often irritating and sometimes just plain offensive, i find struggling against the odds and eventually coming out on top is far more satisfying than any number of achievements.

Posted by Bob

Published in: on 21/05/2009 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review – Eden Lake

Harrowing.  If i had to sum this up in a word, it’s “harrowing”.  I reckon it’s probably because some of it feels close to home.  For me, it raises all sorts of questions about self-defence, peer pressure, uncontrollable youth, bad parenting, and where to go away for a weekend break.  These things made this film feel particularly uncomfortable.

I’m not going to get into a rant about the state of the world today, or tut about kids, because i think it’s more just about general feelings of helplessness.  About people being caught up in the wake of strong spirited bullies.  About the lengths kids can go to just feel like they belong.  About how children can so easily become their parents. 

If this sounds like i had a spiritual experience with this film, don’t worry, i didn’t.  I just felt that inbetween the standard horror fayre of people being stabbed, burnt alive, and generally terrorised, there was something spookily familiar.  Maybe it’s that parts of the woodland settings reminded me of Spring Park woods.  Or maybe it felt like it had leapt straight out of the Daily Mail letters page.  Either way it helped make it quite spooky and horribly compelling.

I liked most of the characters, from the plucky and unlucky female lead, to the easily intimidated hangers-on in the gang.  Some of the non-victim adults seemed a little cliched, and i felt that some of the trauma’s that befell the main character were a little too inconvenient.  Other than that it may leave you feeling a bit traumatised – bit like another equally harrowing English horror, “Dead Man’s Shoes” – but i think if you can stomach it, there’s a lot to take from it.  (I think the word “enjoy” would be just inappropriate, but i would say that i’m glad i saw it.)

Posted by Bob

Published in: on 19/05/2009 at 5:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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More Kim Newman than Barry Norman

I’ve been using Lovefilm for over 2 and a half years now but my usage is somewhat erratic.  It’s not unusual for me to go 2 weeks without watching one of the disks I have at home and a quick look back at my rental history shows that there was even a 2 month period at the end of last year where I didn’t send any films back.  Sometimes this is due to the fact that I have films at home that I’m not hugely bothered about watching, other times it’s because something else takes my attention away from films for a while, such as a new XBox game, a new exercise regime or just a lot of social engagements.

The first situation is occurring less frequently now for 2 main reasons. Firstly, I have learnt to ignore the pleas from Lovefilm to never let my rental list drop below 20 films.  When I started I would go searching for films to add just to ensure my list stayed full but then I realised there were films that had been on the list for a year and a half which I’d never been sent, so what was the point?  I’ve averaged almost exactly 4 disks a month since I started and it would be a pretty poor month for the film industry if there weren’t 4 new releases that I wanted to see, so why keep padding it out with stuff just for the sake of it.  When I looked this morning I was down to 8 films with another 7 pre-ordered which are due out in June.

The other main reason I’m generally getting through my films quicker now is the type of film I’m putting on the list.  Like many others, when I first signed up I saw Lovefilm as a way of watching all those classics movies I’d never got round to seeing and those worthy, Oscar-bothering “masterpieces” which are too heavy going to watch on a Friday night with a few friends.  The trouble with those films is when I did get them I’d really have to force myself to watch them, something that became a lot harder to do after I bought my XBox. This is even more true these days now that every man and his wife has an XBox Live account and I frequently get a “L4D?” or “Zombie Time!” text from someone just as I’m contemplating sticking a DVD in.  So I decided that rather than keep up the pretence of being a serious film connoisseur I’d just admit that I’m much more likely to watch 90 minutes of Asian horror film or silly American comedy than I am to watch 150 minutes of thought-provoking German drama. It’s a shame really because when I have made myself watch those “worthy” films they’ve generally been excellent, but at the end of the day most of my DVD watching happens when I get in from football or the gym on a week night or on a slightly hung-over Sunday morning, so the film that takes the least effort to watch will usually win out.

Anyway, I started writing this as an introduction to a review of the last three films I’ve watched from Lovefilm, all of which fit under the “horror” banner, none of which got nominated for any Oscars and all of which I watched within a couple of days of them turning up.  However, this intro has turned into a post of its own so you’ll just have to wait for the reviews now.

Si

P.S. I recently sent back a film without watching it because I’d had it for so long and I thought that was the first time I had done so.  However, after looking at my early rental list, I’ve either done it several times before or I’ve completely forgotten what some films are about!

Published in: on 18/05/2009 at 10:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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