Hello, I’m Mr. General. It's good to see you here!

Homemade Cooking - My Picks and Tips for Pasta and other Made-From-Scratch-Meals


There’s just something about a fresh, home-cooked meal. It’s an intangible thing, but spending some time in the kitchen or at the grill preparing (and then enjoying) a home-cooked dish is something special.

pastaI personally love preparing fresh, homemade pasta dishes. There’s nothing out of the box or jar that can compare to whole-grain, hearty pasta noodles with a rich spiced-tomato sauce. Plus, the whole experience (at least for me), has the power to take you back to a simpler time and instill thoughts of how-things-used-to-be.

I typically do not get fancy when making my pasta dough. I generally stick to the old rule of thumb: two eggs per one cup of flour. The real subtlety is in achieving the right texture, and that’s simply something that comes with experience. Kneading, pounding, and rolling flour can really be an art form, I know that for sure.

As far as a pasta machine, I go with the classic and popular Atlas. It’s simple, no-frills, easy-to-use, and it gets the job done. What more could you ask for?

homemade pasta

Now, I understand there are plenty of different options out there when it comes to pasta makers or even automatic pasta machines. I’m sure there is plenty of excellent products available. My only bit of advice I would give is, like with anything, really take your time and do your research before you purchase something.

The best pasta maker is 100% metal – preferably stainless steel. If you’re considering the common, hand-crank style maker, make sure the cranking arm that fits into the body fits firmly and snugly. You’ll be able to tell what’s quality and what is not.

I hate to use price as a sole gauge of the quality of a product, but you will be hard-pressed to come across a decent pasta maker for less than about $60 (unless you’re buying used). That being said, simply do your homework and buy from a reputable distributor like Williams Sonoma, and you won’t be disappointed.

General homemade cooking tips

If I could choose two skills one needs in order to enjoy making home-cooked meals, they would be patience and organization.

In this day and age we’ve all gotten so accustomed to the bang-bang-bang lickety-split lifestyle. So, if you plan on getting into real, true, home-style from-scratch cooking, be well aware that you’ll need to add patience to your list of personality traits, if it’s not already one.

Organization is also key. Know what you’re doing before you start doing it. Have a plan. Of course, this means having a full recipe before you start cooking or even preparing your dish.

cookingWhen you do have the recipe, get all of the ingredients set out, washed, cut and prepared as your first step. You don’t not want to get to a critical timing part in baking a chicken pot pie, and realize you still need to dice up the carrots.

With everything organized, prepared, and ready to go - and with the right amount of patience of course - you’ll be well on your way to discovering the joys and soothing powers of home cooking.

~ Mr. General

Date: September 21st at 11:37am
Author: Mr. General

How to Choose a Good Survival Knife (and never regret it)


A first-rate, high-quality survival knife is arguably the single most important tool a serious outdoorsman could have in his or her collection.

Survival knife That being said, not all survival knives are the same. (Hopefully that’s not the most obvious statement of the century). In fact, in considering your options for a good, quality survival knife. It’s important of course to understand what actually distinguishes a survival knife from, well, other knives.

A survival knife is a non-folding, rigid, one-piece knife with a blade typically between 4 and 10 inches long. It’s difficult to label exactly what survival knives can (and should) do, because that’s their whole point: they’re made to be able to do just about anything.

They should be able to dig, splinter and chop wood, carve tools, skin game or clean fish, and just about anything else you might have to do out in the woods.

For these reasons, a folding knife – even the highest quality ones – are not generally recognized as survival knives.

There is plenty of competition out there amongst knife manufacturers, and plenty of excellent options to choose from. Personally, I have always been an advocate of Spyderco.

Spyderco has some of the best range of models and their design, durability, functionality and craftsmanship are second to none. Here are some of the major things to consider when choosing a good, high-quality survival knife.

  • Strength, durability, and rigidity

    This is dependent on the knife’s tang – how far the blade extends below the handle. A good survival knife should have a ‘full tang’, where the tang goes all the way to the bottom of the handle.
    One of the recent marketing gimmicks has been ‘hidden’ storage within the knife handle, to keep matches, fishing line, etc. Although this is a decent idea, it greatly reduces the durability and overall quality of the knife as it greatly reduces the tang. Not to mention, if you were to lose the knife, you also lose whatever you’ve got stored inside the handle.

  • Blade

    There are dozens of different grades of steel out there, but a quality survival knife blade will generally either be stainless or carbon-steel. Stainless steel blades typically are less prone to rust and the effects of the elements, but they have a reputation for not holding as sharp an edge as a carbon-steel blade. On the other hand, carbon-steel blades will hold a razor edge for a long time, but are generally more prone to rust.
    Blade length is another thing to consider. As I mentioned earlier, a survival knife typically has a blade between 4 and 10 inches long. I have always preferred the shorter end of this spectrum, and prefer to go with a 6-inch blade. A shorter blade will do most, if not all, of the same things a longer blade will, but naturally is easier to carry, transport, and handle.
    Blade design is another consideration. Serrated blades have their obvious uses, and can be more effective in cutting or sawing through thick materials, but are much more difficult to sharpen and maintain than a straight-edge blade.
    The thickness of the blade is also a major factor to consider. To really be able to do the things that a good survival knife should do, the blade should be no less than about .12” thick. Anything less and you run the risk of breaking it when you really put it to the test.

  • Sheath

    You’ve got to carry your knife, so a good quality sheath is must in minimizing damage and un-needed wear and tear. Not to mention, protecting yourself.

Survival

Taking this all into consideration, I’ll go over a few of my favorite Spyderco knife models and compare them based on all the different factors. It serves to realize, though, that differences in design don’t necessarily mean ‘better’ or ‘worse’. As I mentioned in the article on YETI versus Orca coolers, when you’re dealing with excellent, high-quality products like these, you really can’t go wrong, no matter what you end up choosing.

Spyderco Schempp Rock VG-10

Spyderco Schempp Rock VG-10This is a classic, and is probably my personal favorite. It’s got a 6.75-inch (.14” thick) straight-edge stainless steel blade. It’s a pretty bare-bones, no frills product, but it’s a reliable workhorse with a quality sheath, and will get everything done that a good survival knife should do.

Spyderco Bushcraft G-10

Spyderco Bushcraft G-10This is another great choice, and another pure classic. It’s a little more expensive and ‘luxurious’ (with its elegant handle and leather sheath) than the Schempp Rock, but it will do all of the same things with equal gusto. It’s got a smaller (4-inch) carbon-steel blade, but the same 0.14” blade thickness as the Schempp, giving it a bit more overall rigidity.

Spyderco Aqua Salt

Spyderco Aqua SaltThis is an exceptionally durable knife made specifically to be able to withstand super harsh elements with minimal rust or corrosion. It’s actually marketed to be 100% rust-proof, so would be a great option for people who plan on being in marine environments. It has a 4.7” steel blade, in either a straight or serrated-edge option.

~ Mr. General

Date: August 30th at 1:37pm
Author: Mr. General
Tags: survival, knife

5 Reasons why I Love my Brand-New Orca Cooler


I mentioned in an earlier post about the absolute necessity of owning a quality camping cooler, for anyone who is serious about spending time in the outdoors.

I’ve thought to myself before, “wow, these cooler companies who are able to charge hundreds and hundreds of dollars for their coolers, are really marketing geniuses.”

I was a part of the clan who figured that surely there was no need to spend that sort of money on… a cooler!

Orca

But, lo and behold, once I broke down and decided to purchase one, I became a convert - like the thousands of others – and an advocate that every outdoorsman should own a high-quality ice chest.

But why? Are they really that much different than your run-of-the-mill Coleman cooler, or even a foam cooler?

Yes. They are. And I’ll get to the exact reasons why here very shortly.

First, however, I’ll make it known that I’m under no obligation to say anything – good or bad – about any of the following companies. All of my recommendations and advice are strictly based on personal decisions and opinions.

OK, so what initially sparked the thought of actually going out and buying one of these things? Well, it got to the point that I had heard from far too many friends about how great they were, and how well-worth the price they were, that I eventually figured even the best marketing scam couldn’t dupe that many people. They had to be good products.

So I started to do my research. Now, I admit that I get excited about buying new outdoor gear and looking into new products, but I will never spend money on something before thoroughly doing my homework.

Of course, the YETI name was the one that I had heard the most and was what I was most familiar with. I’d talked with plenty of hardcore hunter and fishermen friends that would just rant and rave about how great they were.

I also knew of a few buddies that had used Grizzly coolers, so I decided I would consider those as well.

Lastly, I had talked with a co-worker who had recently been in the same exact scenario as I was in now, and had settled on the Orca brand. So I decided it would be between those three: YETI, Grizzly, or Orca.

YETI is the most expensive of the three, but not by a huge margin. And if I’m considering investing in a quality product, I won’t disregard an option based on price alone. That being said, YETI would have to prove to be hands-down the best of the best, if I was going to go with them.

Size-wise, I had decided that a 40qt. cooler was going to be my best all-around option. (YETI offers a 35 and 45qt. option in its Tundra models).

Doing some general online searching and reading reviews, I seemed to come across noticeably more negative reviews for Grizzly than YETI or Orca. Not a ton of negative reviews, just a consistent amount about quality of materials, and about how they didn’t compete with the other top brands.

So based off of the online reviews like this one, I had narrowed it down to YETI or Orca.

Orca 40 qt

Price-wise, they are actually very similar. The 35qt. YETI Tundra has a retail price of $299.99 (+ shipping on the YETI site), the 45qt. Tundra at $349.99, and the Orca 40qt. at $339.99 with free shipping.

From there, it essentially came down to personal preference. In all of my online review research and word-of-mouth stories I’d heard, I had yet to really hear a bad thing about either YETI or Orca.

I decided on the Orca 40qt, based on the fractionally lower price and the fact that I had read several reviews saying their design made them slightly easier to transport and carry than the YETI Tundra models.

So without further ado, here is a list of 5 reasons why I love my new Orca cooler, and why I have become an advocate for the high-quality cooler craze.

1. They keep ice insanely long!

Hopefully, this is the #1 reason why anyone would consider spending hundreds of dollars on a cooler – that’s what coolers are for after all, isn’t it? In all seriousness, I have kept ice in my new Orca for over a week. And with the drain plugs, keeping water out is simple and you avoid getting what’s inside soggy.

2. Animal-proof

Bear proofThis is actually a pretty serious aspect to consider. Any real camper or outdoors person will be able to tell you a story about how a bear or raccoon put a damper on their trip by getting into their food. With the Orca, whatever you have inside is safe – from a baby raccoon to an adult Grizzly bear. (This being said, I still do not leave the cooler out in the campsite when we’re not around).

3. Durability

These suckers are bomb-proof. Not that I would ever do so intentionally, but the Orca could survive a fall of the boat, pickup truck or camper onto solid rock and hardly suffer a scratch. If you’re going to be strapping it on an ATV as I am, and hauling it deep into the backcountry, durability is an absolute must.

4. Multi-Functionality

Of course the #1 reason to have a cooler is to keep ice in it. But it’s nice for an expensive product to have a bit of range-of-use. I’ve used the Orca for a seat, a fishing platform, a ladder, a garage storage shelf, and surely many other things that I can’t recall.

5. Lifespan I plan on having my Orca for a long, long time. With its superbly durable build and replaceable parts (main seals, gaskets, and handles), there is no reason why it shouldn’t last for 10, 15, 20, 30+ years.

~ Mr. General

Date: August 7th at 10:07pm
Author: Mr. General
Tags: orca, brand, ice

Eco-friendly Dirt Bike or ATV Trail Riding with the Kids


In my experience, as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate more and more the tranquility of hiking, and the exercise benefits it provides. Kids, on the other hand, have much less patience for taking a stroll through the woods: they get tired, they got hot, and they complain. This is only natural.

A great compromise, I’ve discovered - as soon as I had kids that were old enough to participate - is ATV or dirtbike trail riding. (Well, I can’t really call it a compromise, because I love it too).

Regardless, trail riding has become one of our family’s favorite outdoor activities throughout the warmer months, and we’ve traveled to nearly every nook and cranny of Wisconsin checking out different trails.

ATV kidsThe kids love it, and it’s easy to understand why: they’re not walking, so they don’t complain about being bored or getting tired. More importantly, having their own dirtbike or ATV really gives them a sense of freedom and responsibility. This is important when trying to get your kids interested in the outdoors, as you don’t want them to feel as though you’re simply dragging them along on something that you want to do.

A major thing to consider when thinking about getting your kids into ATV riding, is not spoiling them. I know several parents who have gone out and spent thousands on top-of-the-line dirtbikes and quads for their 12, 10, or even 8 year old kids.

In my opinion, there’s no need for that.

Another major concern, at least for folks like myself who attempt to be eco-conscious, is pollution.

Granted, the amount of pollution created by gas-powered ATVs and dirtbikes is negligible when compared to automobiles, but it’s a concern nonetheless. Personally, I see just a little bit of fraud in the sense of riding along an ATV trail, enjoying nature, while burning gasoline and giving off carbon monoxide.

Fortunately, there’s a way to get around the concerns of both cost and pollution: go electric.

Because of their ease-of-use, safety, and limited capacities for speed, electric dirtbikes and ATVs are a great option for younger children, from ages 5 to 14 or so.

Once my oldest son had gotten to the age where he began complaining about hiking (pretty much as soon as he could walk!), I considered the idea of getting him a small ATV or dirtbike as a major Christmas or birthday gift.

I had been into trail riding before having kids, and I figured it might be a good option and generate excitement about wanting to get outdoors and hit the trails with me, without having to hike.

SX500For him, I settled on the Razor SX500 McGrath edition electric dirtbike. Online SX500 reviews will show that it really is a well-made product, and with a top speed of around 15mph, it is a thrill for any kid up to about 14 years old.

The authenticity of this bike is really what will make it special and exciting for your child – its steel frame, front and rear disc brakes, chain-driven motor, and twist throttle really gives the feel of an authentic, fully-powered gas dirtbike.

Not to mention, the frame design and geometry, as well as the large tires and appropriate wheelbase, make the bike a true performer out on real trails: it can climb, hop, and ride over rocks and rough terrain surprisingly well.

Of course, once I made the decision and bought the bike for my oldest boy, I had to consider getting one for his younger brother as well.

After talking with a friend who had bought one for his son, I decided on a Razor Dirt Quad for the younger one. (This is the same Razor company that became so popular in the scooter market).

This four-wheeler is better suited for younger riders, with a top speed of only around 10mph.

It doesn’t perform quite as well as the SX500 dirtbike, but for a small quad made for a young child (ages 6+), I wouldn’t necessarily expect it to. Not to mention, I don’t particularly want my 8 year old flying through the trail at 20mph on a full-performance quad.

With both the dirtbike and the quad at a price of right around $500, they’re a relatively substantial expense in regards to a gift for your kid, but if it gets them excited about hitting the trails and being outdoors, and it means we all get to be out there together, then I’m all for it.

Not to mention, you can have a clear conscious about not polluting or single-handedly destroying the forest while you’re riding through. ;)

~ Mr. General

Date: July 28th at 1:20pm
Author: Mr. General
Tags: dirt bike, ATV, kids