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Monday, July 6, 2015

Recipe: Mark's Marinara Sauce For Pizza And Pasta

About 10 years ago I set out on a quest to learn to make the dishes that I loved to eat the most. As I learned to make basic Italian food like baked ziti and pizza dough, the sauce I was making evolved along side these dishes.

Below is the sauce I use for most of the Italian dishes I make. I always put some kind of meat in the sauce, but it would do just fine without meat.

Baked penne with Italian sausage


Mark's Marinara Sauce


1 large can or jar random spaghetti sauce or 2 cans plain tomato sauce
1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage or ground beef, browned
1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
1 small can mushrooms (optional)
1 small can tomato paste to thicken only if needed


Directions


Sauce: Mix everything but the meat and onions and put on low heat or in a slow cooker.

Meat: Brown whatever meat you are using with the onions at the same time. I always start out with a dash of olive oil in the pan and throw a little fresh minced garlic in there to roast a bit before I throw the meat in. For ground beef I add a dash of salt and pepper while browning the meat, but for the sausage I only do a dash of pepper.

Make sure to stop when the meat is slightly under-cooked as it will finish cooking in the sauce. Drain the grease but make sure to leave a little bit.

Add the slightly-undercooked meat to the sauce and let the sauce simmer for about 45 on low, or in a slow cooker on low for 8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.

Using The Sauce


What I usually do with a batch of this sauce is use about 3/4 of it for baked pasta, and save the leftover to make a pizza the next day. At first glance this recipe looks like you're putting too much meat and not enough sauce, but trust me, it makes a very rich sauce that everyone will rave about.

Sometimes the sauce for whatever reason isn't thick enough. Some brands of tomato sauce seem better and even batches among the same brand are thicker or thinner. So to thicken it up, I sometimes add the small can of tomato paste if needed.



Notes:

  • This recipe works fine with or without the small can of mushrooms.
  • I usually make this with Italian sausage but it's probably a little better with 50/50 ground beef and sausage.
  • This is one recipe where having a little body to the onions is bad. Ideally the onions just stew into the sauce and nobody notices they are there specifically. 
  • You can substitute minced garlic from a jar or even garlic powder, but it's not the same.
  • It doesn't really work without the sugar. It's everyone's grandmas' secret ingredient, though I use more and try to use high quality cane or brown sugar. You can reduce it to 1 tablespoon if you must.
  • This sauce is noticeably better if you stew it in a slow cooker on low for most of a day, still browning the meat first of course. When I do it in a slow cooker then I don't cook the onions with the meat. It all goes in the slow cooker separately. So it's a matter of deciding if it's worth waiting most of a day to eat it for having it be X amount better. Certainly not when it's 100 degrees outside as I type this!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Box Of Knives In For Review

Ganzo and SanRenMu have great reputations for making quality pocket knives, so I was very happy to receive a couple of each from Gearbest.com which I didn't realize had started carrying pocket knives.

But even a bigger site is no guarantee of getting a legit product, so I'm putting these 4 through their paces. Ordering direct from China can reward you with a gem like some of the ones I have, or a knockoff of a knockoff if you are unlucky. So far these look good, and I have a friend who is a martial artist trained in knife combat helping me carry and test them.

Instead of having a Facebook page for The Outdoor Nerd, what I am going to do is just post more to the blog.

Below, just in for review:

- Ganzo G720
- Ganzo G704
- SanRenMu 7010
- SanRenMu 4077



Friday, July 3, 2015

No More Facebook

The Facebook page for The Outdoor Nerd had some loyal fans, and I apologize for deleting it. There was no way to keep the blog's page and delete my own personal page. I did a gut-check and I just wasn't into social media. I used to tell people who felt the same "don't throw the baby out with the bath water" but in the end for me it came down to too much dirty bath water and not enough baby photos.

Thanks to the people who liked my Facebook posts, and feel free to drop me an email at markwing at theoutdoornerd dot com if you have any suggestions or feedback about what I'm doing with the blog. I love to hear from readers!

UPDATE: It's actually been more peaceful not being on Facebook, and I've been thinking about it in very nerdy terms. It's like the first Star Trek: The Motion Picture where V'ger melts the radio interface so that Captain Kirk has to go there in person. So what I'm looking for is a simpler, more direct experience, just like V'ger.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Recipe: Garlic & Herb Pizza Dough

For about the last 10 years or so I've been making pizza with a dough recipe from a web site that no longer exists. I don't even remember the exact name of the defunct site, so I can't even give it credit. But I remember the recipe and I can share it!

Most people who try this pizza don't even talk--they just make animal sounds. The dough is only half of it though, and I will give the recipe for my own sauce in another article.



Garlic & Herb Pizza Dough


3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white or brown sugar
2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup milk, heated to 115 degrees
1/2 cup water, heated to 115 degrees
dash of olive oil (my addition)

Mix everything together in a bowl but don't over-mix it. Cover the mixing bowl with a paper towel or cloth and let it rise several hours. Once it rises, roll it fairly thin on a floured cutting board. At this point the original directions just said bake it in a pre-heated oven at 400 for 20 minutes, but doing that never worked for me.

If the dough is sluggish to rise, you can proof it by putting it sun or heating it at 200 for 10 minutes and letting it sit in the oven and come up to room temperature, which should do the trick if your yeast cooperate.

Mama Celeste used the window sill to proof the dough, but whatever works...
What I do is press it into a greased pan or cookie sheet, and then put the pan int with just the dough for 20 minutes. Then I take it out of the oven, add the sauce, cheese and toppings, then I bake it another 10 minutes. Even then sometimes I need to give it another 5. It really depends on the oven.

Note: I know people who let it sit in the pan for a second rising, which will make the crust a little fluffier and less dense.

Above you can see the crust is mostly done when I put the sauce and cheese on
The finished product above. It's as rich as two large pizzas from the local delivery joint, not to mention 100 times better

Garlic & Herb Twisty Bread


Make the dough as above, getting to the point where you roll it flat. Then take a rolling pizza cutter and cut thin strips in the rolled-flat dough. Then take the strips, either folding them in half and twisting them into strips, or taking two strips and twisting them together.

Lay the strips into a greased cookie sheet and let them rise a second time. Once you've done second rising, brush the bread strips with olive oil and then sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top. There's other things you could sprinkle on like fresh garlic as well.

Then bake just like the pizza dough in a pre-heated oven at 400 for 20-30 minutes depending on the oven, until the top is golden brown. You may need to turn the pan halfway through, again depending on how evenly your oven heats.

"We want some pizza!"

Notes:


  • Vary the cooking time depending on how thick you make the crust. It may take a few tries to get the hang of it. If it's thin enough, you won't have to pre-cook the crust.
  • I usually use a half batch of this dough to make a pizza.
  • I use olive oil with my fingers to grease the pan, but you can just as easily use a different kind of oil, spray or even margarine.
  • If you make the pizza from leftover sauce, then make sure to reheat the sauce first. Cold sauce will cause the pizza to be under-cooked. The sauce doesn't have to be piping hot, just as long as it's not cold.
  • As the pizza is close to being done, it starts to pull away from the pan.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Exploring Kress Lake, Washington

People ask me what I think of this area, and I tell them it's breathtakingly beautiful, and they hug me, and I know that I belong in the northwest. I have a fishing license, though I haven't gone fishing yet. As much as I want to go fishing and explore the area, I want to find spots where I can bring some or all of my dogs.

Today I went on a scouting expedition to Kress Lake, there was one other car there, so there was a whopping 3 people at the lake counting me and my friend. I looked it up on the Internet and it looks like I do not need the parks pass if I'm at an area that's primarily used for fishing.

The lake is 15 minutes from where I live, it's stocked by a fish hatchery a few miles away and seems only to be used by locals. How awesome is that? 




I probably won't start with all 4 Chihuahuas, but certainly I can take one or two of the better socialized ones like Ty. But certainly I can pick a spot on the far side of the lake and my dogs won't be a problem. Someone to carry a couple crates or a little cart like I used to have in my previous life, and I'm pretty sure I can sit at the lake with all my doggies.

This entire area is dog friendly. No one looks twice at a pack of Chihuahuas except in amusement. I can't think of one person I've met in this city who doesn't own at least one dog. People I've known for years will say "Hey come visit, but can you leave your barky little dogs at home?" 

It's tough, and hurtful to hear that, but the most amazing thing happened: I met a bunch of people who say "Hey, come visit and bring all the dogs!" Of course around here it's "and be careful around the bigger dogs, and watch for hawks, and be mindful of the heat" and so forth. 

In the next couple days I plan to visit Kress lake again and maybe take Ty for a walk on the trail and take some photos.




Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review: Revant Elite Blue Mirrorshield Lenses for Oakley GasCan Sunglasses

For the last 8 months I've worn the blue regular polarized lenses from Revant on my un-retired
Revant Elite Blue Mirrorshield Product Link
Oakley GasCan sunglasses. During that time I've downsized a huge household into a single guy living in a cabin in the woods with some dogs and a good sound system. I'm abusive towards my shades on a good day, so 8 months of rough days seems a reasonable amount of time before noticing that no, it's not dirt my lenses, the coating is worn out. The stock lenses on my GasCans didn't last half that long with much less abuse, so I think their plain polarized is a good value. They've seen at least 5,000 miles of driving.

It was probably only a week or two between when I started digging through bins for another pair of lenses I reviewed, when Revant Optics emailed me about their second generation of the Elite lenses and asked me if I wanted an upgrade to the blue pair I was wearing. Hell yes I wanted the upgrade.

When I did the review of the original pair of Elite lenses, maybe I missed that they came in colors other than black, or maybe blue is a new color for their top end lenses, but I really like the blue. I won't lie and say I'm not a little vain, because these do look awesome. But mostly I spend a lot of time outdoors and driving and I prefer the blue ones slightly over the dark black ones which I have squirreled away somewhere. The black ones are good for driving, but the blue and green ones I've tested over the last year seem a little clearer. Neither are quite as clear as my Italian-made Ray-Ban Wayfarers, but those have kind of an ugly green tinge that these Revant lenses don't have.


Product Description


These are replacement lenses for my Oakley GasCan frames which have now seen several pair of their lenses. These are blue Elite series lenses which are their high end polarized lenses with the laser-etched "Elite" logo. Revant makes replacement lenses for an increasing number of high end sunglasses.




Official Specs (From Revant.com)


  • HC3® Ice Blue Mirrorshield® (high clarity, comfort, contrast) - 1 pair of lenses
  • Precision polarized for complete glare elimination and vivid contrast
  • Repel Plus™ nano-coating - withstands harsh environments and preserves color
  • 100% infused UV and blue light protection
  • Injection molded and taper corrected to eliminate peripheral distortion, ensuring accurate and comfortable vision
  • 8% light transmission - warm rose view tint
  • Superior clarity and impact resistance (exceeds ANSI Z87.1 high mass, high velocity impact standards)
  • Includes Revant Elite microfiber transport bag with tension bead for a secure closure that cinches tight






Initial Impressions


The laser-etched "Elite" logo is a little cleaner looking than the first generation. I'm not a fan of the logo on this or the Ray-Bans, or any other shades. At least not on the lenses. But I guess I'd rather see a sleeker, cleaner logo that I don't like.

Putting the lenses in on a sunny day rewarded me with very clear eyesight. The last blue polarized I had from Revant had a slightly pinkish tint, which isn't unpleasant. It's hard to describe the tint on these other than saying that these are so clear that it's hard to see a tint.



Fit and Finish


Overall, excellent. The first pair of Elite lenses I reviewed fit perfect, and this pair fits perfect. I've seen a couple of their lower end models have a lens that didn't fit perfect, though still acceptable. The first pair of Elite lenses had a logo that looked like it was etched by a Chinese kid without proper eye protection, and the logo on this pair looks much better.

2nd Generation


This is the second generation of their Elite lenses. The pair I reviewed was stealth black-on-black so it's harder to directly compare this second set, which is ice blue. One thing I remember about the first pair was that for being solid black, they had more clarity than most other pair I've own.

So these are much clearer than the regular polarized and maybe even clearer than my Ray-Bans. Revant claims they are improved and it sure seems that way to me. The cleaner etched logo also seems less distracting.

Polarized


The pair of regular blue polarized I just upgraded from had a weird visual artifact. At certain times of the day I would be driving and reflections of the sun would look pure, immaculate blue. It wasn't unpleasant but a little distracting. These lenses don't have the artifacts, and the glare protection seems really good. I won't drive without polarized lenses, though it makes looking at LCD screens harder when I'm at a stop light or stopped.

Either way, the polarization on these lenses seem like a step up from the last ones.

Impact Resistant


These lenses claim to be impact resistant. I haven't had any impacts against this pair, but the last pair probably had a thousand things kicked up from the weedwacker and such. It's always scary to hear a "thwack" on the lenses.

So for now I will have to take them at their word. I spend a lot of time in the outdoors and something will hit me in the face eventually. I have dropped them lots of times so far, but it's hard to tell if the lenses were struck. Just today they bounced on concrete.

Just a matter of time before this thing kicks something into my face

Tint


I had a hard time thinking about how to describe the tint on these lenses so I looked it up on their web site and it says rose color. I would say it leans more toward the brown side, but it's not unpleasant.

Usability


Revant has a slick web site touting all these technological advancements, but honestly I wear their products day to day because lower quality EDC gear like sunglasses just don't last very long.  People tell me "I don't wear nice sunglasses because they won't last me" but the truth is that the cheap ones are lucky to even make it home for me. Not to mention they don't protect your eyes very well, and what are your eyes worth to you?

This pair of lenses has seen about 2 weeks of solid sunny days so far. I almost want to say they let too much light in but I'm not sure. They are so clear that it's hard to tell if it's more light or clearer light.

More brown than rose, but again, not unpleasant


Is Revant Legit?


It sure looks like it to me. I don't test the lenses scientifically, and they load me up with lots of free lenses, so don't take just my word for it. All I can say is that if they sucked, they would come off my face about 10 seconds after the review because I care about my eyes a lot.

I see the search traffic trying to research if the company and its products are legit. They are close to where I am living now and we crossed paths on them giving me a tour of their building in Portland. I know their products are made in China but I still want to point my camera at them someday. They are nice to me and the few people I have talked to seem to feel the same.

Certainly I am easy to find an email if any people who have bought the lenses have anything to say, bad or good, and I welcome any comments. We did a giveaway on the budget light forum and the winner was on the other side of the world and seemed very happy.

But any time I'm a big fanboy of something I got for free, I feel ethically bound to raise my hand. It's so much easier being a Spyderco fan because I've purchased every knife with my own money to the tune of hundreds and hundreds of dollars, and I'm a bigger fan every one I buy. It's very rare for someone to give me something I would buy myself, and even then it's usually friends and family. So I'm in strange territory here.

My not-overly-enthusiastic selfie partner

Conclusions


So far I've had good luck with Revant lenses, and these look like a notch up in quality and especially clarity. As hard as I am on my shades, I'm surprised the GasCan frames have lasted this long, but they are starting to look like I might need new ones. They no longer make the frames in the USA so I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I might try to look for some used frames now that I know how easy it is to replace the lenses.

Two weeks into wearing these lenses, they fit good, they look good, and they are crystal clear without any visual artifacts. 56 bucks does seem a little steep for the lenses, but it seems more reasonable in the context of reviving older frames I paid 200 bucks for and retired because of worn out lenses. A few pair of Oakley frames got thrown away, which I'm kicking myself over.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Review: OLALA 3,000 mAh Power Pack

Our phones and tablets all use lithium polymer batteries which are flat, lightweight and power-dense, so it makes sense that there's a proliferation of chargers using these types of batteries. For the last few years, I've either built or bought power packs based on 18650 lithium-ion cells, which are also used inside laptop batteries, high end flashlights, and now even cars built by Tesla motors.

Battery packs built on 4x or 6x 3,400 mAh Panasonic cells have a ton of capacity but they are also very heavy. Also, most of the ones sold today don't use name brand cells and don't test anywhere near their capacity. How do you know which ones have Samsung or Panasonic cells in them and which ones have ultra-cheap knockoffs? Build your own I guess...

You can never have too many of these power packs, and I am always happy to accept them for review, with this one being provided courtesy of OLALA Gadgets of Amazon.



Product Description


This is a power pack capable of charging most devices that can use a USB charger. It advertises fairly basic specs of 3,000 mAh and with a charging rate of 1,000 mA. I cannot find anywhere where they state what the device itself recharges at, though I know it to be 500 mA.

Official Specs (From Amazon)


  • 1. Elegant design: This Y1-3000mAh Power Bank has elegant design which will be a good helper in your daily tech life.
  • 2. Ultrathin: As slim as 8.5mm and only weighs 73g, light and portable features enable you to carry it more convenient.
  • 3. Safer Casing Material: Encased in ABS+PC Material Housing.
  • 4. Conversion Rate:Above 85%.
  • 5. Compatibility: Compatible with 99% Digital Devices, widely compatible with Apple, Samsung, HTC Smart Phones and other 5V input devices.





Initial Impressions


Wow, it's light. This power pack uses a lithium-polymer cell, the same as the phones and tablets that it charges, and that's why these devices use "lipo" cells. But a cell about this size and weight isn't normally in the 3,000 mAh range. I'm pessimistically jaded about the way vendors state their capacities, but hey, I'll test it all the same.

Build Quality


The build quality is acceptable. If I press the center of the unit between my thumb and forefinger, then it makes a slight grinding/crunching sound. But other than that, it's sleek and light, and I don't see any areas of concern. 

Testing


Why am I normally pessimistic about testing? Because every power bank I've tested has an overstated capacity. Most of those "lipstick" style power banks advertise 2,000 mAh and are lucky to see half that.


Capacity


This power bank advertises 3,000 mAh and my tests showed it to be just shy of 2,000 mAh, which is acceptable given its size and weight. This should give most of a full charge to most smart phones, and closer to 2/3 of a charge for the power hungry phones. I don't understand why they just don't advertise the actual capacity.

Output


The unit advertises a 1,000 mA charging rate, which looks spot on.

Input

The unit advertises 1,000 mA but it only charges at 500 mA -- half that.

Usability


This model is sleek and light, but not overly rugged. I personally carry it in a tool pouch that use to hold my misc. stuff like a pocket knife, hand sanitizer, etc., that I throw in the truck when I go somewhere. It would also be ideal for a purse, or anything that keeps it from getting crunched.

My little "man purse" tool pouch has a bunch of small and lightweight tools, and this power pack seems to do well even though I treat the pouch roughly, so we'll see. I have another "power pouch" with rugged but heavier chargers and one of those lipstick chargers as a backup, so we'll also see if this one earns a spot in that pouch. 



Conclusions


This is a decent power pack, and it has a good power-to-weight ratio. It's also the perfect form factor. Now if I could get it at double or triple the capacity and with a lightweight aluminum case without making it too bulky or heavy, then it would be the perfect power pack.

I really like the idea of lithium-polymer based power packs if they could get the capacity up. I have a smart phone that with a battery about 2,000 mAh, so this unit does good when I'm out running errands and notice my phone is running low. 

For serious use, I have a DYI Runiovo power pack I built using 4 scavenged 18650 Sony cells I got out of a laptop battery that I never used, and they all test at 2,000 mAh. It's a little bulky though, and at about 4 full charges for my phone, it's totally overkill just for a day or night on the town. 

So if you like to travel light and want to carry most of a spare phone charge, this power pack is decent. And at 9 bucks a piece with free shipping, it's probably worth it having a few in the glove box, luggage, etc.

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