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I was going to make Chai mix, because I like it, and I wanted to know how to make it, and hey, if it’s easy and cheaper than buying it premade, and I get to screw around with flavor combinations, that’s great!

Little did I know doing so would consume way more of my food budget for the week than I was prepared for. I found a recipe I liked here.  Scroll down; it’s in the comments.

Mystic Chai Tea Mix Recipe
Post By Susan (Guest Post) (01/07/2005)
Instant Chai Tea Mix
1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 cup powdered non-dairy creamer
1 cup French vanilla flavored
powdered non-dairy creamer
2 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened instant tea
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Directions
1 In a large bowl, combine milk powder, non-dairy creamer, vanilla flavored creamer, sugar and instant tea. Stir in ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. In a blender or food processor, blend 1 cup at a time, until mixture is the consistency of fine powder.
2 To serve: Stir 2 heaping tablespoons Chai tea mixture into a mug of hot water.

I had everything but dry milk, non-dairy creamer, vanilla-flavored non-dairy creamer, and instant tea.

Nonfat dry milk powder:  $10.99
Powdered non-dairy creamer: $2.79
Vanilla-flavored powdered non-dairy creamer: $2.79
Instant tea: $2.40

Generic prices given where available.

Almost $20 to make chai mix.

And most of it non-dairy creamer.

Right. Screw it.

I bought a box of Stash double-spice Chai.  90% whole milk, 10% cream, and 1 t honey, nuked until very hot.  Added teabag.  When I pulled the teabag out, it took the skin with it.  Not as spicy as I’d like; I’ll have to try more patience next time.  I wish I could keep patience in my spice rack, but it goes bad too fast.

More calories, but they’re real ones.  More money, but I should be getting more real dairy anyway.

I pulled the original recipe out of Fine Cooking 102, Dec 2009/Jan 2010.

I think I first tried a parsnip last year.  I made a chicken pot pie with it, carefully concealing it as a humble potato.*

Who am I kidding?  It’s not like parsnips are exotic.  Unless you’ve never had one.  And then you’re staring at it like it’s a carrot that’s been attacked by Bunnicula.  AUUUUUUGGGGHHH!  Where did all the carrot juice go?!?

Parsnips, the albino carrot.  Elric carrots.

But I got all romantic over that parsnip in the chicken pot pie.  The creaminess!  The sweetness!  The not-quite-babyfood mushiness!  I realize I’m not winning any converts here, but why should I hide the truth?

Per the Fine Cooking instructions, I peeled the parsnip and then cored it, that is, cut out most of the core, because, hypothetically, it’s too woody to eat.  (You do this by cutting the parsnip in quarters, then running a paring knife down the tan line between the core and the whatever else parship is, the flesh.)  However, in retrospect, the core wasn’t all that woody and I could have left it well enough alone AND THEN I WOULD HAVE HAD MORE PARSNIP!

Right.

This turned out great.  I was having a right shit of a day, and this was the A#1 comfort food that I could have come up with.  Perfect.

Also, I made it with sushi rice, because a have about five pounds of the stuff. I eat a lot of it in the springtime with a mock-crab sushi bowl, which isn’t as good in the winter. Too cold. So! Instead of spending money on arborio, head over to your local asian market and get some sushi rice; it’s probably cheaper.

My version, now that I check the magazine, has 1/4 cup less oil. Take that, Bainbridge scholars!

Parsnip Risotto

1 large parsnip, peeled, cored (if you think it necessary), and diced into 1/4-inch chunks (2 would have been better, right?)
A few slices of some kind of pork product (prosciutto, ham, bacon, pancetta), diced
A few sprigs of fresh sage, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
2 c arborio (or sushi!) rice
6 c chicken broth
Parmesan or other hard cheese
Salt and freshly-ground pepper

Heat the broth to a simmer while covered. Heat a small pot of salted water to a boil and add the parsnips. Boil until the parsnips are tender but not mashed-potato mushy. Drain and put on a paper towel to dry.

Saute ham until crisp. If necessary, add butter, then saute the garlic, sage, and parsnips until the parsnips are a little brown. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In another pan, saute the onion in a couple of tablespoons of butter until translucent, then add the rice. Add 1/2 c of hot chicken broth at a time to the rice. Stir and cook until the liquid is almost absorbed, then add more. If your rice is aging (that is, drying out), you may need more fluid. As it looks like you’re getting to the end of your broth supply, add more broth or water to the pan heating up the broth. Don’t add cold broth or water directly to your risotto, I haven’t figured out why yet, but it isn’t good and leads to al dente risotto, which is the opposite of what you want. Anyway, continue adding broth and stirring until the rice is as mushy as the rice in rice pudding. Don’t stop before then; it’ll only lead to heartache.

It took me 25 minutes to soften up that rice, and about another two cups of hot water. But it’s over a year old, and I live at a high elevation, which affects things.

When your rice is sufficiently mushy, add the parsnip mix and as much grated Parmesan as you can get away with. So much for one-upping the Fine Cooking recipe.

*From my family or from myself? Who knows?

Reubens:  the reason God invented sauerkraut.  Brats need not apply.

Don’t bother buying thousand island dressing.  It’s too easy to make to need to keep around the house.  The general principle is ketchup + mayo + tart + sweet.  Yes, it’s a teensy bit more complicated than mixing ketchup and mayo to dunk fish fingers in.

I found more complicated recipes, but what it boils down to is, take your favorite ingredients to put on a hamburger and throw them in the blender with a little sugar.  You could probably add lettuce and it would still come out okay.

Anyway, my version.

Thousand Island Dressing

1/4 c. ketchup
1/4 c. mayo
2 T dill pickle relish and 2 T pickle juice
1 t sugar
1 t dried dill

Some grated onion would probably not go amiss.  Also, more than likely you could trade the pickle relish and sugar for sweet pickle relish, but I can’t stand the stuff.  Except here.

A long time ago, I got a request to make sauerkraut.  Not to actually pickle the stuff, but to turn the condiment into a side dish, Eastern European-style.

I decided to adapt that for the sauerkraut. I picked up ground dill seed from the Savory Spice Shop in town. It tastes very earthy, Hungarian/Polish/Russian. I bet ground dill seed is awesome in Borscht.

Sauerkraut for Reubens

1 bag sauerkraut, drained (don’t used canned – nassssty)
1 cup mushrooms, sliced in 1/4-in slices
butter
1 t dill leaves
1 t ground dill seeds (if you can get them)
1 t smoked paprika (optional)
2 T good sherry vinegar
Salt

Saute the mushrooms in butter. Add the spices and saute for a moment more.

Add the sauerkraut to the mushrooms and saute until mostly dry. Add sherry vinegar and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Saute until almost dry again and remove from heat. Salt to taste.

And to assemble…

Triple Dill Reubens

Toasted rye bread
Pastrami, thinly sliced
White cheddar, havarti, swiss, what have you, thinly sliced
Sauerkraut, warm (above)
Thousand Island Dressing (above)

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pastrami to the pan; carefully place a couple of cheese slices on top. When the cheese has melted to taste, put the pastrami on a slice of toast and top with sauerkraut. Spread the other piece of toast with dressing and add. Serve immediately.

One of the more interesting ideas that I’ve come across, for cooking, is the idea that a particular set of ingredients can be transformed from one dish to another, using different techniques. Which, now that I type it out, sounds inane.

I’ll give you an example, though, and you’ll see what I mean. Both the idea (at least, where I was exposed to it) and the example come from John Thorne in Outlaw Cook.

A ploughman’s lunch is a raw onion, some cheddar cheese, and some bread. Some beer or cider.

Take the same ingredients with some broth, and…French onion soup.

A neat little puzzle, there.

One of the things that I like about recipes from Alinea (which, haha, is also the symbol for the paragraph marking, a.k.a. the pilcrow, that I see all the time while I’m doing tech writing) is that they use familiar combinations in unfamiliar ways. Now, I think the chef likes to keep people more than a bit discombobulated, but that’s another story.

So.  I ran across a recipe for a lemon chicken sandwich.  Easy peasy:  Take some chicken, flatten it, fry it in butter, dump some lemon on top, add to sandwich.

But it got me thinking – it reminded me of something.  After a few minutes, I had it – chicken piccata.    Granted, chicken piccata usually involves breading, but it’s the same dish.

I like capers, but I’m the only one in the house who does. I made mine last.

Lemon Chicken Sandwich

1 chicken breast
butter
salt
lemon juice
bread
tomato
spinach or lettuce leaves
mayo (optional)
capers (optional)

Put the chicken breast in a freezer bag and seal it, pressing out the air.  Use a rolling pin, wine bottle, or tin can to roll the breast to 1/2-inch thickness.  Make the breast as consistently flat as possible in order to let it cook 1) fast and 2) evenly.  Sprinkle salt and lemon juice on both sides of the breast and let stand for at least ten minutes.

Toast the bread.

Put a pat of butter in a skillet over medium-high to high heat and add the chicken breast.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until a brown coat forms, then flip the breast to the other side. Remove the breast from heat as soon as it’s almost cooked through and cover it; the heat will finish the breast.

Add more lemon juice – a couple of tablespoons – to the pan and raise to high heat. (Optionally, add a tablespoon or two of capers.) Use a spatula to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. As soon as the bits have come loose, remove the pan from heat and add a little butter. Swirl the butter into the lemon juice.

Assemble the sandwich. I put it together like this: bread-mayo-tomato-spinach vs. chicken-lemon pan sauce-bread. Cold side, hot side, eat.

I guess you could call it a resolution, but resolutions are big things, like “being a more adventurous cook.”  These are little things, doable things, that I want to do, which, incidentally, will result in my being a more adventurous cook.

Tricky, aren’t I?

  • Be able to make profiteroles and cream puffs.

  • Cook with a truffle.
  • Make Peking duck.
  • In general, learn to cook with duck.
  • Make at least a lousy batch of hard apple cider.
  • Learn how to get knives sharper than Oscar Wilde’s wit.
  • Have people over more often to cook and eat and travel to their houses to do the same.
  • Seek out unusual ingredients. And make a recipe with them before they go bad. The first time.
  • Actually cook the difficult recipes I see in cookbooks, the ones I label in my mind for “someday.” I suspect they won’t be as difficult as I think they are.
  • Spend most of my time cooking easy, satisfying (and for me, that includes stimulating), homemade food – and wallow in all-day cookfests on weekends, instead of trying to cram in two-hour recipes after work.

I think I can do it.

Why does sharpening a knife seem so hard?

It does.

Let’s say you’re like me and don’t come from a family with a lot of money or a tradition of superior home cooking.  Not to say there wasn’t any; there just wasn’t this tradition.  We were making it all up as we went along.  Anyway, my first knife set had serrated edges, so it would stay sharp longer.

I got tired of those and bought a chef’s knife from Chicago Cutlery.  Which was nicer than flip-floppy serrated knives.  I didn’t sharpen that thing for like, four years.  I thought it was great.  Then I moved one time too many, and my “good” knife disappeared.

So I bought another knife.  Having more money and spending more time around Margie and Jackie, I bought a low-end Henckel’s.  Wow!  Talk about impressed.  I was thrilled with that knife…for six months.  And then it got dull before I’d forgotten how much I’d liked it when I bought it.

So I bought a cheap knife sharpener, with two steel washers and two ceramic washers and a plastic guide.  And I sharpened the Henckel’s with it.  Zowie!

Later, I begged a Kershaw Shun (left-handed) for Christmas from Lee.

Oh, my GOD.  The first thing I did with that knife was draw my own blood with the tip of the knife, and not on purpose, either.  The habit of curling my fingers under that I’d been playing around with in order to dice under became a necessity the first few weeks, because I could loose fingernails a lot less painfully than I could lose my skin.  Potatoes slid apart without crunching.  Tomato skins fled from that edge.

And then the knife started to get dull.

And the cheap knife sharpener just wasn’t doing it, not the way I wanted.

So I bought a sharpening steel and started using it.  I like it, but the Shun still isn’t as sharp as it was when I took it out of the box.

I sharpened all of Margie’s knifes on her ceramic V-shaped sharpener one Thanksgiving (and have been doing it ever since), but the knives at their sharpest aren’t as sharp as the Shun, out of the box.

So here I am, trying to figure out how to sharpen the knife the way I want it.  I’m afraid of ruining my knives.  I’m afraid I won’t understand unless I have someone show me.  I’m afraid of…I don’t know, taking responsibility for sharpening my own knives, I guess.  Changing from someone who doesn’t do a lot of maintenance to someone who does.

Here’s a good article on how to sharpen your knives.  I’m going to pick up a sharpening stone and a half-dozen cheap knifes at Goodwill and practice on them until I feel safe enough to work my way up my knife chain.  I’m also considering taking a class from Picnic Basket, so I can feel what it should feel like, but there’s a hundred bucks I could spend on a new knife or a good waterstone.

But I will be brave.  After all, after I learn how to do it, I can sharpen everyone’s knives.  It’ll be a conspiracy of sharpness.

What useful trades do you have for the coming apocalypse?  If you live, you’ll no longer be working in an office and reading memos, you’ll be doing basic survival skills against zombies, etc.  This is kind of the opposite of the “what-if” question, “What would you do if you won the lottery.”

Come the apocalypse, I’ll be a cook.  I’ll need to beef up on my slaughtering skills (and how, pray tell, do you prepare zombie?), but I think I’ll do okay combining the few ingredients we have at hand to ensure people eat well.

I write, too, but that’s not really a survival skill.

Zombie Stew

Note: Do not serve to anyone who has not proved immune to the zombie virus. While the long cooking time will destroy most viruses, one simply cannot make guarantees in such a case.

5 lbs zombie thigh, cubed
1/4 c zombie lard
1/4 c dried chili powder, preferably chipotle
1 head of garlic, minced
1/4 c salt
1 quart of water, zombie broth, or a mix

Melt the zombie lard in a Dutch oven over a hot flame and add the zombie thighs in batches, searing them until all sides are dark brown. Add the chili powder, salt, and garlic and cook for a few minutes more, stirring constantly, until the garlic begins to turn translucent. Add the broth and move the Dutch oven away from the coals until it reaches a low simmer. Cover and simmer for 2 hours, or until the zombie meat is falling apart and infused with the chili pepper and garlic. Remove the meat from the Dutch oven and cover. If the remaining broth has not thickened, place the Dutch oven over the coals and reduce the broth until it becomes a thick sauce. Serve over long-simmered grains, soda bread, or potatoes.

This was either a big fail or a big success.

Failure:  I started out intending to make chicken curry.  But the yogurt was bad and the sour cream was gone.

How the hell do you make chicken curry without yogurt or sour cream?  Don’t answer that.  I’m not a big curry girl, so anyway, I didn’t know, and I wasn’t in the mood to do any research, so there.

Instead, I looked through the fridge and determined I had the following ingredients:

  • Chicken breasts
  • Bacon
  • Onions
  • Rogan Josh spice blend (which I was going to use as curry powder, because Lee’s not fond of tumeric)
  • Couscous
  • Dried mushrooms
  • A pomegranate
  • Pine nuts
  • Spinach
  • Golden Raisins

Well, okay then.

Here’s what I ended up with:

Pomegranate-Mushroom Couscous

Pomegranate-Mushroom Couscous

Hey, it looks pretty good, right?  Those pomegranates are very pretty.  But how did it taste?  Ray liked it.  Lee said it wasn’t as bad as the curry probably would have been, or something like that.  He said it was okay.  I liked it, but if it hadn’t been for the pomegranates, I would have tossed it out, because it was so…bland.

With the pomegranates, it was pretty good, though.

Pomegranate-Mushroom Couscous

1 quart of chicken broth
1/2 c dried mushrooms
1 package (about 1 1/2 c) of couscous

Crumble or crush the mushrooms into 1/2-in chunks. Rinse them in water to remove lose sediment; if you expect a lot of sediment or grit, you can soak them in warm water for five minutes, then toss out the water. Bring the chicken broth to a simmer with the mushrooms, keep covered.

1 medium yellow onion, minced
1 lb of chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/2 lb bacon
2t rogan josh or other Moroccan or Indian spice mix (to taste)
1/2 c pine nuts
A handful of spinach, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 c golden raisins

Cut the bacon into 1/2-in dice and cook over medium heat, until crisp. Remove from heat, reserving the bacon grease in the pan. Raise the heat to high and saute the chicken. Just before it’s cooked through, add the garlic, nuts, and spice mix. Cover and leave over low heat.

1 pomegranate, pips removed (click here for an easy method)

Add the broth to a dish with the couscous in it, using the amount called for on the package. Let it sit for a few minutes, then fluff it with a fork. Add more broth if you like; I did. Meanwhile, make sure the chicken mix is still more or less hot, turning on low heat if necessary. Add the spinach and the raisins. Remove from heat as soon as the spinach is slightly wilted.

Serve with the mushroom couscous on the bottom, the chicken mixture in the middle, and the beautiful, beautiful pomegranates on top. Don’t skip the pomegranate.

Stop!  This is only half a review, really.  Check out the Indy’s review, if you want a full one.

I stopped by the restaurant on Saturday after going to the Sand Creek Library to pick up some books; it was three in the afternoon.

The first thing I noticed was that nobody was there.

The second thing I noticed was the karaoke setup.  Holy moly, are they serious about their karaoke.  What I assumed was some kind of soap opera was playing; women with heads the size of tractor tires were sobbing in a foreign language, anyway.  Did I mention their karaoke setup?

A woman greeted me after a few seconds.  I can only assume that she’s the owner.  She’s about two inches taller than Ray.  Shorter than my mother-in-law, bless her heart.  By a LOT.

I said, “I would like a snack.”

She proceeded to try to turn me to the dark side, with everything from banana fritters to adobo chicken to “just listening” to karaoke, later that night.

I left with three orders of banana fritters, which I took home to Lee and Ray.  We heated them up in the microwave, and they were still viciously crisp, soaked  in honey, with bananas firm to the tooth.

I’ll be back.

Just not on Friday or Saturday night.  I don’t want her to make me sing.

Incidentally, the Hand of Buddha went bad almost immediately.  Goes to show you that a rose is a rose is no Hand of Buddha.  I decided not to take a picture of the moldy webbing between the “fingers” because it squicked me out.  I’ll look for it next time I go shopping and do something with it right away next time.

But on to the actual crash and burn I wanted to talk about.

I’ve been craving grapefruit lately.  Luckily, they were on sale, and I was able to pick up six of them for a fifth of what I paid for the Hand of Budda (6/$1 versus $4.99, for those of you who don’t like to futz around with story problems).  But I had a secret.  I didn’t just want the fruit, I wanted to try to candy the peel.  I’d never had candied grapefruit peel, and for some reason that didn’t tip me off.  Why hadn’t I ever had candied graprefruit peel?  With as sharp as I look out for candied [fill in the blank here] peel, you’d think I would have.

So, following a handy, super-easy recipe from Mark Bittman, I first cut the peel into strips.

13 Dec 09 103

Sill Life with Strips Three Grapefruit

Then I blanched them, which means, “dunked them in hot water for about two minutes.”  This was supposed to remove the bitterness.  Notice how I said, “supposed to.”  This is an indication that all did not go as planned.

13 Dec 09 104

Blanche DuBois Got Nuttin’ on Me

Then I drained the stips and boiled them for five minutes in a mixture of 1/2 water and 1/2 white sugar, until they were like orange-pinkish gelatin.

13 Dec 09 110

Tasty-Looking, Eh?

Then I drained them and rolled them in sugar and put them out to dry.

13 Dec 09 116

I Tired Rapidly of All That Sugar

Some of them I sugared, some I didn’t.

Then I ate one.

Wuahhalaalgh.

Then I had to eat another one, because I couldn’t stop.

My mouth did funny things, I’m telling you.

Unfortunately, the rind never did dry out.  I’m going to have to experiment with a higher sugar ratio next time, I think.

I boiled down the sugar syrup a bit and put it in the fridge, because I had an idea:  I would make a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.  No, actually I wanted to make a lavender martini with grapefruit syrup.  Which was easy, because Ann had given me lavender oil for Christmas, and I’d just bought a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin.

I mixed it up and said, “Probably not on a worknight,” and put it in the freezer.  I used about 1 oz gin, 1 oz grapefruit syrup, and 1/2 t lavender oil, if that.

The next night was a worknight too, but I decided to drink it anyway.

I ran myself a hot bath, picked out a good book, and leaned back in the tub, my martini glass of frozen lavender-grapefruit gin by my side.

WhuAhhhalaaaAAaaagh.

My mouth felt like I was in Kung Fu Hustle or something:  Kung Fu Hustle Lips (skip to 7:30 or so).

Yeah.  I couldn’t finish it.  I tossed the grapefruit peels a few days later.  Wicked, wicked candied grapefruit peel.  I can still taste you on my rubbery, somewhat-numbed lips.

Chuao’s Spicy Maya Dark Chocolate (pasilla, cinnamon, and cayenne) is about the perfect balance of chili-flavored chocolate I’ve ever had, neither so brutal that only a tiny piece might be eaten at a time (I’m looking at you, Dagoba Xocolatl) nor so mild that it’s overpowered by a measly sprinkle of cinnamon with both hands tied behind its back.

And what did they do with the cinnamon in this?  Oh, it’s perfect.  It smells and tastes just like Abuelita drinking chocolate!  I’ve eaten all the chocolate, and I still want to sit with my nose in the wrapper.

Various people I have met have different ideas about how to make bacon. I recently discovered that my ideas weren’t even the same as Lee’s – so I’m going to document them here.

First, bacon is not meant to be sticklike, that is, flat and dry.
Second, bacon is not meant to be rubberized fat with meat decorations.

Bacon is supposed to be somewhat rippled in shape, with just enough unrendered fat to keep it moist, and as many crunchy bits as you can get without being dry.

How to make bacon, De-style:
Take up to one pound of bacon per pan, peel it apart. Heat the pan to medium heat. Add the bacon and cover for about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the meat looks cooked but the fat is still white (not translucent or browned). Take the cover off the pan and raise the heat slightly. Cook until the bacon fat is mostly rendered and the bacon is just turning a deep, overall brown. Remove each piece of bacon onto a paper towel as it is ready; do not wait for the whole pan!

For preference, serve on toast with mayo, lettuce, sliced red red red tomato, and soft avocado.

Amen.

I’m posting this so I can find it! From the Bon Appetit Dec 09 issue.

Crab and Celery Remoulade
1/3 c mayo
1/4 c sour cream
1 T drained capers
8 oz crab meat (I used mock)
1/2 c finely chopped celery
3 T chopped fresh chives, addl for garnish
1 T lemon juice

Nom nom nom.

Steph Fisher gave me some rum raisins for Christmas, and they almost knocked me out when I smelled them.

She says she made them by taking raisins and covering them with spiced rum.  She says you can add more spices, if you like.  I’ll have to take her word for it, the ones she gave me are perfect as they are.

So I had this idea.  Ray loves eggnog.  I had some recently and said, “You know what eggnog tastes like?  Ice cream soup.”  Which is what you get when you let your ice cream melt in a dish.  Then I said, “You know, I have this ice cream maker…”

Let me tell you, the eggnog makes a champion ice cream, devilishly easy to make, as in you dump it in the ice cream maker and watch the beater go around and around and then, by the magic of science, you have ice cream! I have to wonder how hard it is to find eggnog in the summertime, though.

Do not give the rum raisins to small children if you don’t go in for the humor of springing unpleasant surprises on innocent bystanders.

I mixed in the rum raisins after the ice cream had frozen, because alcohol doesn’t freeze well.  They then proceeded to defrost the ice cream faster than I could have imagined.  I should probably have let the ice cream set up in the freezer before adding them, but I’m not that patient.

Rum Raisin Ice Cream
2 c eggnog
1/4 c raisins soaked in spiced rum

Freeze the eggnog in an ice cream maker, then place in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm. Swirl in the rum raisins and serve immediately.

The idea for this recipe came out of my mom’s mom’s family cookbook.  (It came with a recipe for cajun meatloaf, too, which I used to make all the time.  I should make that again…)  I forget just whose recipe it was, and I’m probably not doing it the same way now anyway.

To mash the potatoes, I use a potato ricer, which mashes the potatoes smooth without making them gummy.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best $5 I’ve ever spent on a kitchen gadget.

In my opinion, yukon golds are the best potatoes for mashing; they aren’t as starchy-dry as regular potatoes, and don’t get as gummy as red potatoes. Plus they have pretty skins.

Warning:  This stuff will kill you.  It’s also one of Rachael’s favorite foods ever.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

7-8 big yukon gold potatoes, chopped (don’t bother peeling them)
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 stick butter (1/2 c)
1/2 c cream
1/2 c grated freshly-grated parmesan or similar cheese (smoked cheddar is good)
lots of salt

Boil the potatoes and galic until the potatoes are soft. Do NOT heat the water before adding the potatoes; this will make the outside of the potato cook faster than the inside and can only lead to tragedy. Drain the veg and mush them through the potato ricer, discarding the peels. Keep in mind that a few peels never killed anybody and add a little color.

Stir in the butter, cream, and cheese. Salt to taste, wait a few minutes, stir, and taste/salt again.

Don’t worry about making any gravy. If you have to have gravy to be able to enjoy the taste of your mashed potatoes, you tried to skimp on the calories and fat, didn’t you?

You can always add more butter, cream, and cheese.  And salt.

Another Geek Christmas recipe.

I first made the mushroom sauce a month ago.  I’d just sent off my first novel to find an agent, and I was burnt out on writing.  I decided to cook Something New Every Day for a Week!

One of the reasons I started this blog (as separate from my regular blog) was so I’d know whether I was making new food and trying new things on a regular basis – to taunt myself into reaching the next level, as it were.  Right now, I’m at the point where I make new things maybe once a week.  So trying to do it for a whole week was a bit of a challenge – but it worked.  I think I made five days out of seven, due to time constraints, but it was fun.

Anyway, the first time I made this recipe, it almost killed me.

First, I sauteed the mushrooms, baby bellas, in butter.  Doo da doo, doot da doo.

Then, I added minced garlic and chiptole peppers in their sauce.

Whoosh!  My eyes, my eyes!  I ran around the kitchen, cursing myself for bending directly over the pan when I added the peppers.

After a few minutes, I added some sherry vinegar.  And tasted the sauce.  And almost killed myself out of grief, it was so bad, so awfully, bitterly, stomach-turningly bad.  So I added some cream, because casein (a protein in milk) tones down capsaicinoids, or the chemicals that make chilis spicy.  Still awful.  I added some more cream, covered the pan, and went to complain to Lee.  Fortunately, I was distracted, and by the time I made it back to the kitchen, the sauce had mellowed into a lip-tingling, mouth-loving bitch of a pork topping.

Pork Loin with Spicy Mushroom Sauce
2 lbs pork loin at room temperature
olive oil
1/2 c total salt rub:
-2 T cumin seeds
-1 t coriander seeds
-2 T black pepper
-1 t chipotle powder
-salt

2 lbs sliced baby bella mushrooms (button mushrooms should be okay)
2 T butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 chipotle peppers from a can, seeds scraped out and minced
3 T sherry vinegar
3/4 c heavy cream
salt to taste

Make the rub: grind the seeds and spices together with a little salt. When ground, add more salt to make about 1/2 to 3/4 c. rub.

Rub the pork loin with olive oil and then the rub and the let it sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. Roast in a 400F oven for 20-30 minutes, or until barely barely pink in the center. Cover with foil and let rest for at least 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute the mushrooms in butter until the sides become brown. Add the garlic and chipotles, standing back from the pan. Saute until the garlic turns slightly translucent but not brown. Add the sherry vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan. Add the cream, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for approximately 20 minutes, or until the flavor mellows from bitterness to creamy spiciness. Add salt to taste. Serve beside the pork loin.

Ann, Larry, and I had Shrimp Bisque at Nosh a few weeks ago.  I like Nosh – they have challenging food combinations, and you can never really be sure what you’re going to get.  (For example, they have an item called “Stuff & Things” that’s whatever the chef feels like giving you.  Ann and I both ordered it that day, and got two different plates.*)

I’d never made bisque before, and Nosh’s bisque didn’t taste like the bisques I’d had before, so I was doubly screwed.

I started out with Mark Bittman’s shrimp bisque recipe from Kitchen Express, which is something like, “Cook some shrimp and garlic, puree them, and add some broth and tomato paste.” The bisque had tasted almost like something a cajun cook would make, so I decided to consider some spice/char options, too.

I took about a pound and a half of medium shrimp, thawed and drained them, pulled the shells off, and sauteed the shells in olive oil until they started to get black flecks on them.  Then I crushed a few garlic cloves and threw them in for a few minutes.  I added a tablespoon of smoked Hungarian paprika and let that brown.  When everything was starting almost to smoke, I poured in some good sherry vinegar, deglazed the pan, then added a quart of chicken broth.  I simmered that for about an hour while I did something else.

I strained the solids out and reserved the broth.

I sauteed the shrimp and a medium yellow onion, then pureed them with the broth in a blender.

I returned the broth and puree to the pot, added a small can of tomato puree, and let it simmer over low heat for a half hour, again while I scarpered off.

The flavor wasn’t what I wanted, so I added about a tablespoon of salt, another tablespoon of smoked paprika, and some leftover sprigs of thyme.  Then it was just what I wanted – fishy, smoky, and wild-tasting.  Very rich and dark.

Just before serving, I stirred in a couple of tablespoons of cream.  Not much.

Smoky Shrimp Bisque:
1 1/2 lbs medium shrimp with their shells on, thawed and peeled, shells reserved.
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 T smoked Hungarian paprika (chipotles would probably work)
olive oil
Optional: bay leaf
2 T good sherry vinegar (or other mild vinegar, like balsamic or cider)
1 quart chicken broth
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 small can of tomato paste
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, or about 1 t dried
salt
2 T cream

Sautee the shells over med-high heat in a little olive oil until they turn pink with black spots (i.e., starting to burn), about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and paprika and saute until the paprika starts to smoke or turn dark brown.

Add the sherry vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken broth and simmer, covered, over low heat for at least 10 minutes. (Optionally, add a bay leaf.) Strain the solids out and discard. Reserve the broth.

Saute the shrimp and onion until the shrimp is barely cooked through. Puree the shrimp and onion in the blender, adding broth to help liquefy the paste. Return the mixture and broth to the pot and add the tomato paste and thyme. Simmer, covered, over low heat for at least ten minutes. Add salt and additional smoked paprika to taste.

Just before serving, stir in the cream.

*I wouldn’t order the Fat Joe Platter again. The bacon fluff sandwich was Too Sweet.

Every year, we have a Geek Christmas, in which I cook a lot of food and we play video games.

This year, I decided I was tired of the normal selection of main dishes, e.g., turkey or ham.  But I’ve made pork for GC before, and I don’t like to repeat myself.  After a great deal more thought than was really healthy for me, I decided to make pork anyway, but with The Spicy Mushroom Sauce (that Almost Killed Me the First Time I Made It).

Which cried out for Garlic Mashed Potatoes.  I’ve made those before, but I like them so much that I didn’t mind.

After that, I ran aground.

Surely, it would be foolish to attempt the Shrimp Bisque we had at Nosh a few weeks ago.  I’ve never made bisque before!  And to make it on Christmas while I was making so many other things would be foolish!  But I tend to leap where angels fear to tread anyway, and it turned out to be pretty easy.

Then I started flipping through magazines for ideas.

I’d been eying several things from the Dec 09 Bon Appetit, so I selected green beans with pepitas and rosemary and the grapefruit-fennel salad, because I needed something sour.  I pulled out the crab remoulade recipe, too. The green beans with rosemary turned out to be excellent, even though the pepitas didn’t stand out.

For dessert – a dessert bread braid that Lee bought from a school fundraiser and Eggnog Rum Raisin Ice Cream.

As a strategy, I decided to cook in spurts, that is, working on a few dishes for a half hour, then playing games with everyone else for an hour or so.  I set out the crab remoulade and some french onion dip with crackers for snacks, and served the food about 5 p.m., which worked out pretty well.  The guys needed a break by then.

I live for the praise of my cooking, and I wasn’t stinted.  Lee often wonders how I can spend so much time cooking and have it eaten so quickly; he thinks it isn’t fair.  I beg to differ.  I get to eat good food that I made myself, and cooking takes me out of my head, inside which I spend altogether too much time.  And on top of that, I make people be happy.  I have so much power over them that they will hurt themselves through overeating!  MUAHAHAHA!

Ahem.  You should perhaps think twice before eating at my house.  I may discover a mind-control spice at some point and somehow be able to keep myself from announcing it over the Internets.  Ha!

The final menu:

  • Pork loin with spicy mushroom sauce (recipe later)

  • Green beans with rosemary and pepitas (recipe in Bon Appetit Dec 09)
  • Garlic mashed potatoes (recipe later)
  • Fennel-grapefruit salad (recipe in Bon Appetit Dec 09)
  • Crab remoulade (recipe later, for my own archives)
  • Shrimp bisque (recipe later)
  • Dessert bread
  • Eggnog rum raisin ice cream (recipe later)

I didn’t serve wine – I’m not much good at picking it out, and I was tired of shopping by the time I planned to pick some up. Rob brought some Glenfiddich and some brown ale, but I forget what kind of ale it was. I was getting pretty comatose by the end there.

Once again, I have more post ideas than I have time to write.  But I have to get this down so I don’t lose it!

Picnic Basket Catering in Colorado Springs does cooking classes (I had no idea but saw an ad in the Indy).  The owner confirmed the “Tools of the Trade” class, not yet scheduled, will include knife sharpening.

I wanted to let you know that our tools of the trade class does include knife sharpening, we also have a unique opportunity for our customers to get to know the professional business that sharpens all of our knives. The person that runs the business (rolling stone) comes to the class also with his mobile sharpening van and teaches a segment.

I think this is the Rolling Sharpening Stone website.

Deep fried sweet potatoes cry out for something creamy to dip them in.

I almost always order the sweet potato fries at Nosh. But I almost never get to eat most of them.  Someone always steals most of them off my plate.

I decided I had to make them.  So they would be mine.

And that tonight would be the only night this week I would have the time to make them.

So I sliced them about a half-inch wide and a quarter-inch thick.

And then I deep-fried them, in oil a little lower than I usually use.

And then I drained them and sprinkled fleur de sel over them and rolled them around and around.

And then…I made the sauce:

1 T honey

1 t sriracha/rooster sauce

1/4 c mayonnaise

Well, and then after that I made a batch of beer batter (recipe here) and dipped chicken in it, then thinned that out with milk and dipped yellow onion rings and pickle slices in it (you want the onion rings and pickles to dry out a little, to get crisp; you want the chicken to be heavily insulated, to stay moist).  I was too busy to take pictures.

Lee ate most of the sweet potato fries and most of the sauce, damn him.

This is the fruit known as the Hand of Buddha.
Hand of Budda

Hand of Budda

This is the fruit known as Hand of Buddha, bent on world domination.

Hand of Buddha eating a gingerbread house.

Hand of Buddha eating a gingerbread house.

The nice lady at Whole Foods said it was much like a lemon, only about twice as sour, with a lot of rind.  I asked her if I could candy the peel, and she confirmed this was the case.

Run, little gingerbread men!  Run!

I got I Am Almost Always Hungry, a cookbook by Laura Zarubin, in the mail the other day.  It’s a collection of seasonal menus, about 7-8 per season, some menus easier, some harder, some with ingredients that make me wince.

Like truffles.

All you need is one truffle for to do the truffle menu, which is five or six dishes with truffles in them.

Just oooone little truffle (or a half-pound of fresh winter white Italian truffles, for $2,296 (you save $918.40!).

Google, you’re going to kill me.  I literally winced.

Or I could get 3 oz of fresh black winter truffles from Oregon for $60.

I’m planning a Julie/Julia party at my house in February*.  I miiiiiiiiiiight do the truffle thing.  Then again, I might not.  So many possibilities.

Update: Whole Foods will not order me a truffle.

*That is, cook something hard/unusual, then watch the Julia & Julia movie and laugh about What Went Wrong.

The Broadmoor hosted the Holiday Chocolate Festival.  I was literally drooling to go.  For over a month I waited…and waited…the night before, it snowed, but no matter…

I expected something like the space symposium that I’d gone to at the Broadmoor a year and a half ago, a gigantic convention center filled with booths.  And robots!  Chocolate robots!  Or maybe like the farm & home shows of my youth at the state fair,  room after room of chocolate, with free yardsticks.

I was both disappointed and surprised.  Also, I forgot my camera, for which I am still kicking myself.

The festival was held in one of the smaller conference areas, all the way around the side and the back and annoying to get to.  I paid for my ticket, but most people coming in at the same time just walked in.  I hung up my coat, expecting rows and rows of…yeah.  It was more like a couple of dozen vendors, about a third of whom had nothing to do with food.

It turns out that some of the more northern verndors had been snowed in the night before.

And the whole chocolate festival-thing was just getting started, so hadn’t picked up much steam yet.

And the vendors weren’t multinational corporations with big bucks to throw around, but local sellers, for the most part.

And there weren’t all that many people.

So I made off like a bandit with the free samples.  Only ethics and my blood sugar kept me walking away with more chocolate than I could stuff in my mouth with both hands.  I stopped first at the Broadmoor table, where the chocolatiers were making chocolate roses and pulling out tray after tray of fantastical truffles.  I had one that contained maybe half an ounce of Grand Marnier.  And chocolate-covered strawberries.  I think I ate three times my admission fee at that table alone.  They had a beautiful sculpture of a dragon made out of slabs (thicker than paving stones and nearly as big) of colored chocolate, and a three-tier cake they were decorating with chocolate swags and roses.

The vendors, like I said, were mostly local.  I talked to the owner of The Gourmet Soap Company, from Peyton, and bought a bar of lavender soap and some grapefruit sugar scrub, both of which I wanted to eat.  I bought a mocha-colored silk scarf from the owner of Morgania of Colorado Springs, who insisted on calling the colors of her scarves “yummy.”  I cracked up at the kilt and bad puns of the owners of BTS Chocolate Honey (Better-than-Sex) and walked off with a jar of “Sex-A-Peel,” although I almost got “RazzGasm” instead.

The Chocolate Therapist, from Littleton, let me sample roasted cocoa beans, which tasted like chocolate, only not.  After I had one, another woman asked me what it tasted like, but I couldn’t explain it.  so she took a nibble.  I said, “What does it taste like?” and she said, “Kind of like chocolate.  But not really.”  I bought some Choffy, which is finely-pulverized roasted cocoa beans, hoping to recreate the taste – but once you brew the choffy (you make it exactly like coffee), it tastes like almost like cocoa.  Delicious with sugar and cream, or chai mix.  The owner strictly cautioned me that in order to get the full health benefits of drinking choffy, I would have to skip the dairy, since the lactose strips out some of the nutrients.  I have yet to break down and get soy milk to drink with my choffy, health benefits be damned.  The website includes a bunch of choffy recipes, but I just can’t get that far.  Choffy + chai + me = love.

My personal favorite was Theobroma, from Colorado Springs.  I bought a plate full of truffles from them – everything from Praline Cream to Coconut with Malibu Rum.  I brought them in to work, because I am a @#$%^& saint.  If only they would let me order online (hint hint).

I stopped to watch the former Miss Violet Beauregard, Denise Nickerson, talk about acting in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, what her kid costars are up to these days (they lead surprisingly normal, successful lives, for the most part – accountant, investment banker, and veterinarian, if I remember right).  Her voice sounds almost exactly, annoyingly the same, and I don’t think she got any taller.  (Apparently it took a long time for the purple to stop coming back.  I noticed she didn’t wear anything purple.)  But I could tell she loved talking to kids.  We adults were an obligatory afterthought.

I loved that I had time to talk to the owners, locals who were running their own companies, making incredible creations on the extremely-reasonable-if-not-outright-cheap.  I loved that I could taste everything.  I was surprised by people’s generosity, with how excited they were with what they were doing.

The best-truffle contest results were as follows:

Grand Champion was the Thai Truffle by the Broadmoor’s Chef Randy
Best Traditional Filling: Caramel Apple with Cinnamon Truffnie by Chocolate Avenue USA
Best Non-Traditional Filling: Chipotle Truffle by the Braodmoor’s Chef Pamela

To which I say, WOW.  I didn’t try any of those.  Samples were rotated so fast that those must have passed me by.  (By the way, the truffnies were a cross between truffles and brownies.  I had…I don’t remember what kind I had.  They were creamy like fudge, only they held together better,and had lots of toppings, instead of fillings.)

By the time I left, I was high with chocolate.  I made it out to my car and then had to wait half an hour because I knew it would be stupid to try to drive, even if it wasn’t illegal.

Safely home, I defended my plate of truffles from my daughter and collapsed.  All told, the organizer said about 1200 people attended the festival.  A friend of mine who went later, during the wine tasting, said it was more crowded later on.

I would go again.  I would drag people along bodily next time.  I would take a camera and drink plenty of fluids and damn the inevitable acne, full speed ahead.

73% Cocoa.

There’s a warning statement on the back of the package:  “NewTree chocolates should be enjoyed as part of a varied, balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.”

Yes, this chocolate is so dangerous, you must eat it in moderation.  Lee picked this up from Walmart, which appears to be the only place you can get pink peppercorn – not even from the website.  Sad.

At first, I was a little disappointed.  The pepper wasn’t as sharp as I wanted.  However, with peppercorn-flavored chocolate, a little goes a long way, and I usually end up leaving most of the bar for later.  Not so here.  I finished half of the bar one night and half the next – the (relative) mildness was addictive.  Also, I suspect pink peppercorns are not inherently as sharp as black ones.

The chocolate was a good, dark Belgian chocolate, very rich and almost chalky-textured, just enough cocoa butter to hold everything together.  It left behind an excess of crumbles, which I am using my finger to pull out of the wrapper as I type.  Very good.

I just finished reading the Colorado Collage cookbook, which contains lots of good recipes, based around local cooks and food that uses more fruits/veggies. Okay. Decent cookbook, but not what I’m looking for.

I’m not going to keep the book.  I recently weeded out my cookbooks and got rid of the ones that just provided ideas for recipes; if I’m in the kind of situation where I need a specific recipe, the Internet can amply, quickly, and deliciously provide about a million examples.  (I particularly like the Epicurious site, because most of the recipes come from Bon Appetit/Gourmet, and have been tested.  And often have good pictures.)

The cookbooks (and cooking magazines) that I kept have something in common – they all have a perspective on food that I find interesting.  James Peterson wants to educate you, to gently nudge you toward more sophisticated recipes, gradually enticing you to leave your comfort zone.  Mark Bittman wants you to trust yourself, to stop taking recipes as miniature Bibles, not to be questioned.  The Bon Appetit cookbook is excited about taking dishes we understand and screwing around with them.  Why NOT add chervil?  Just because you’ve never had it before?  Pfft.  Eat What You Love

I love ancient church cookbooks.  Ancient Southern cookbooks.  Cookbooks on how other cultures have translated their recipes into our languages.  Invitations to try new foods, to understand why I love familiar foods.  And Cook What You Love:  Simple, Flavorful Recipes to Make Again and Again.  Doesn’t that say it all?

Recipes.  I know how to cook.  I can find ideas for what to cook.  But the why, why to cook a particular thing on a particular day, for particular people, that’s the fascinating thing.  Why figs in the fall.  Why simple vs. complex dishes.  Why we crave such-and-such a dish.  How memory – how childhood – is stronger than the taste buds.  That’s the breath of life I’m looking for in a cookbook.

And Colorado Collage, despite its pretty pictures, tasty-sounding recipes, and attractive menus, doesn’t have it.

I don’t like squash. It’s mushy. It’s baby food. It’s bland. And sometimes it’s spaghetti squash, which for some reason I find absolutely disgusting even to look at.

Bleah.

But someone was talking about making butternut squash soup, and it sounded good, so I made some.
Lee: Are you planning to make anything for supper tonight?
De: Butternut coconut soup. But I don’t think you’ll like it…whatever you make, make some for Rachael, okay? I don’t think she’ll like it either. I may not like it either. But I need to experimente.
Lee: Okay.

They had peanut butter marshmallow grilled sandwiches, which I think might be the perfect accompaniment to the soup.

Being generally against the idea of squash and the eating thereof, I have no idea what to do with them. I look up a butternut squash soup recipe on the internet. Step 1: Roast at 350F for 1.5 hours. Hm. I don’t hate squash enough to spend that much time torturing it. I decide to peel the squash and saute it.

With my good, sharp, trusty knife, I cut the squash in half lengthwise, which is like cutting a 2-by-4 with a wet noodle. Wow, that was tough, I think. Maybe peeling it will be easier.

After jamming my fingernails several times into the peel and getting painful Chinese-under-the-fingernail torture, I realize peeling the butternut squash is a bad plan.

I turn on the oven. I turn off the oven. I’m NOT roasting something for 1.5 hours just to get the damned peel off. I turn toward the microwave, which whimpers.

Which was not nearly as amusing as the sound of the butternut squash screaming after 3 minutes nuked on high. HAHAHA! I should have pricked the flesh with a fork, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. However, the squash is still not coming out of its peel, so I nuke it some more…about ten or eleven minutes total. I’m not sure how long; as soon as I could scrape each piece off its peel, I pulled it off the plate. Also, I kept opening the microwave door as Lee and Ray walk by, so they can hear the squash screaming too.

Meanwhile, I chopped half a red onion and a couple of tablespoons of ginger and sauteed them in a few Tbs of butter. I added a teaspoon of Rogan Josh seasoning, which I got from Penzey’s last year. A year! It’s a shame; I really don’t know how to handle Indian spices, and all I’m using the RJ for is seasoning food that turns out to be too bland, while I’m at work.

Then, knife in hand…


Hassan Chop!

…I spy the McIntosh apple sitting on the counter.

Now, the McIntosh apples I find at the grocery store are nowhere near as good as the apples we used to have on the farm, at least as far as I can remember. The flesh is too mushy, not crisp enough (my perfect apples, in non-memoryland, are Pink Lady, so far). But the McIntoshes still smell right, the one true apple breed as far as I’m concerned. If I ever get around to making cider, I’ll have to start with McIntosh.

Goodbye, apple.

Then I add one container of coconut milk. Coconut milk is one of those things that, if you’re going to buy it, get a reasonably pricy brand. Cheapass coconut milk is AWFUL. I got the Sunflower house brand this time, and it was just fine.

Things are starting to come together in the soup pot. It smells good, anyway. But I can’t resist screwing around, so I add a tablespoon of peanut butter.

I’m more used to the Thai flavor profile than the Indian, so I’m thinking in Thai, coconut + peanuts = good. And it’s tasty. Not spectacular or anything, but tasty.

After I got the kitchen cleaned up and simmered the stuff for about 10 minutes, I pureed it all in the blender. [Insert blender sound effects here.]

I make Lee and Ray taste it:

Lee: It’s okay…it tastes like squash.

Ray: It’s missing the main thing.
Me: What’s that?
Ray: Well, coconut.
Me: I put a whole can of coconut in it and I’m not going to do anymore.
Ray: [Walks away. Probably the safest option at that point.]

I thought it was too bland.

So I added another teaspoon of RJ. And a teaspoon of true cinnamon. And a teaspoon of thyme, because it sounded good. And a teaspoon of salt.

Hm…suddenly I can taste the peanut butter, in a good way. Not enough onion; red was probably a poor choice, and half an onion not nearly enough. And spicier = better. Not enough to make my nose run, though, so I’ll probably add some more when I reheat the leftovers.

Conclusion: DEATH TO SQUASH!

I would eat butternut squash again, if in a spicy dish for sure, and I would consider using pumpkin instead of butternut squash here. I really don’t eat pumpkin, either. Could be interesting…

Suggested recipe:

1 butternut squash, heated to mushiness via microwave (about 10 minutes) and peeled
2T butter (or more)
1 yellow onion, diced
2 T ginger, minced
1 McIntosh apple, or anything but a Red Delicious, diced (didn’t bother peeling, no issues)
1 small can of coconut milk, and an equal amount of water (or 2x the amount; the soup was really thick)
2t Rogan Josh seasoning (cardamom, bay, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, paprika, cayenne according to one recipe)
1t cinnamon
1t thyme
1t salt (or to taste)

Saute the onion, ginger, Rogan Josh, and apple in butter. When the onion is translucent and soft, add the coconut milk and water and bring to a simmer. Add the squash as you remove it from its skin, chopping the squash roughly if necessary. Simmer about ten minutes, then puree. Add cinnamon, thyme, and salt to taste, and serve.

This turned out to be delicious, so I better write it down. I intend to try the croissant crust on a fruit pie – quite tasty, and very convenient.

1 can refrigerated croissant rolls
1 bunch of spinach (or 1 10-oz package of frozen spinach), rinsed and chopped
4 green onions, chopped
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 eggs
1/3 c cream
1/2 pkg (4 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
about 3/4 c finely grated cheese, pressed (that is, not completely fluffed up. about like brown sugar, if you know what I mean) – I used about 1/3 smoked cheddar and 2/3 parmesan
salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a 9-inch pie pan with the croissant dough, squishing to seal the seams. The dough will get pretty dark around the edges; you may want to cover with foil. Don’t cover the middle of the quiche with foil, regardless, or you’ll prevent tasty browning.

Saute the garlic, green onions, and spinach in olive oil for a few minutes over medium-high heat, until the spinach has turned dark green and has released some of its water. Remove from heat.

Beat the cream cheese in a blender, adding the eggs and cream, until all the cream cheese is blended in. Be sure to scrape the sides of the beating bowl.

Mix the spinach mixture, cheese, and salt and pepper into the egg mixture. Pour into the pie pan, set on a cookie sheet, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the center of the quiche is just set, plus about 2-3 minutes. Let the quiche cool for 10 minutes to finish setting. The center should be thick but just a bit moist.

Among other things, summertime is about eating yourself stupid on fresh vegetables and fruit from the farmer’s market.

And basil.

Pesto

1 large bunch basil
4 cloves garlic
1/3 c (pre-grating) freshly-grated, extra-good Parmesan or Romano
1/3-1/2 c. pine nuts
High-quality extra-virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar (optional)

I like rougher pesto; the smooth stuff just doesn’t do it for me.

So here’s what you do: go to Sam’s Club, Costco, or what have you, and buy a block of Parmegiano-Reggiano and a package of pine nuts. Don’t bother buying this stuff at a grocery store; you’d be stingy with it, and that would be sad.

(Do you really need the pine nuts or cheese? Well, no, you could make pesto without them, but it wouldn’t be sublimely yummy; it would be chopped basil – you would be better off just snipping basil leaves into your dish at the last second, to save time and sparkly basil freshness. Pesto is greater than the sum of its parts.)

Then go to the farmer’s market and buy a bunch of basil, a big one that masses about as much as a bunch of leaf lettuce. Or two or three bunches of basil, if you want to freeze some pesto for winter (this works very well; see below). Get some fresh garlic, while you’re at it. It should go without saying that if you can’t use fresh garlic or basil, don’t bother; get pre-made pesto in a jar instead.

Strip the basil leaves off the larger stems and wash the leaves thoroughly. Drain and drip dry.

Pull out your trusty nut chopper, the one with the springs and the W-shaped blade. Or a food processor, I guess. A blender is right out. Chop the leaves into largish flecks without pureeing them – standard crossword-puzzle box size or so. If you care whether your basil turns dark, I suppose you could chop it by hand – I’m too lazy.

Crush about 4 cloves of garlic through a garlic press and stir into the basil.

Grate (use a Microplane-style fine grater, if you have it) about 1/3 cup of Parmesan into the basil mixture.

Put about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of pine nuts in a dry saute pan, and toast the nuts over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they are brown. Chop the nuts and add.

Start adding the best extra-virgin olive oil you can find. Add enough oil so the basil clings together smoothly in a paste (think tomato paste, only not as stiff), about 1/4 cup. If you like, add a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar (I know, I know, it’s not standard).

The flavor should be fairly mellow, except for the garlic. That’s okay. The best way to bring out the full flavor of the pesto is with a gentle heat – add the pesto to hot dishes AFTER you pull them off the heat.

To freeze: fill an ice cube tray with pesto and freeze, then pop the block out and put them in a freezer bag, removing as much air as possible (to prevent freezer burn).

Angel hair with pesto and tomatoes

1 recipe of pesto (see above)
3-4 good-quality ugly tomatoes, chopped to bite-size and seeded
1 lb. angel-hair pasta
feta cheese
capers (optional)

Cook pasta al dente in WELL salted water and drain, reserving a little pasta water. While still hot, toss with pesto and tomatoes, adding a little pasta water if it’s too dry. Top with feta and capers, if desired.

Sheer gluttony.

I took a floating holiday on Wednesday. That morning, I tried to do edits, but realized I still didn’t have a plan on how exactly to fix something, so I used the morning working that out. I hate rebuilding plans during editing time – it works much better to brainstorm during meetings. But I couldn’t move ahead without it, so there you go.

Ray and I left for Nosh about eleven.

On the one hand, eating at restaurants really isn’t important. It’s all calories. On the other hand, it’s vital – humans aren’t built to eat the same thing, day after day. And we are what we eat, both in our choices of what to eat and how our choices affect us, physically and otherwise.

Nosh is a good place. High-quality ingredients prepared simply but well, in reasonable portions and proportions. Good ambiance, with the far side of the main dining room lit by skylight, the walls covered with giant koi, and the floors made of bamboo.

Friendly, foodie staff. Reasonable prices. An eye for world cuisine and twists on familiar flavors. Not the best food I’ve ever had – but that was a conjunction of excellent good, ambiance, and company not to be often recreated or surpassed.

We arrived early, so we got a little carton of sweet potato fries, dressed with salt and pepper and served with a sweet sauce with red peppers, maybe.

The waitress asked how the fries were and got a thumb’s up.

Ray scanned the menu. I said, “You should have the calamari.”

“What’s that?”

“Squid.”

“That’s what I’m having.”

And she did. She wandered the restaurant and decided the giant goldfish wallpaper was a good thing. She chatted up the waitresses and figured out our table number.

I ordered the tomato bisque and crabcakes with mango-cilantro salsa.

It all arrived quickly, perfectly prepared.

I don’t like going to restaurants that serve food that I can cook better than they can. I’m pretty sure I can make everything on the Nosh menu without too much hassle. I just can’t pull it off as well.

So we sat, and talked, and ate, and laughed, and it was good. And that’s something I would like to have be a part of my daughter’s life.

Then we went to Fernando Botero at the Fine Arts Center. And after that, the park: everybody looked weird: too thin

The Curry Leaf restaurant in Colorado Springs is tiny, but it’s good. Sri Lankan comfort food turns out to be a cross between Indian and some colonial European influences, and it was comfort-food yummy. A lot of curries with rice – and pastries and flan for desert. The coconut sambol (a salad) was too spicy to gulp down, but I wanted to. Otherwise, the dishes weren’t terribly spicy.

It’s hard to imagine the tens of thousands of people supposedly killed in the class between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers – in a country a quarter the size of Colorado, but there you go.

I can’t recommend going to Pueblo, although I had a good time, which says more about me and my capability for amusement than it does about Pueblo. And more about how much more easily Ray and Lee get along, how they cope with changes in the routine. The trip was a belated birthday present: there’s a limit to how much I can cope with being spoiled, okay?

The Sangre de Cristo Art Museum is an odd construct – an arts complex in which more enjoyment and attention is devoted to the kids’ museum than the one for adults. The kids’ museum wasn’t as fun as the one in Santa Fe, but the one in Pueblo was still very nice.

The Pueblo kids’ museum focuses on art, naturally enough; the focus both defines and limits the place. For example, there was a free kids’ pottery class over in the adults’ building, an area filled with blocks to make mazes out of, little tables with exercises in color, shading, etc. – but no ‘what ifs.’ What if you take a square frame and try to blow a giant bubble with it? Will it be round or square? What if you have a pendulum with a marker on it, and you shake the paper underneath it? Art without some science always comes across as a little dry. Frivolous. (The reverse seems tragic.)

My favorite part of the museums was a kinetic sculpture with heavy balls (like pool balls), a heavy-gauge wire track, a motor to pull the balls back to the top, and various doodads to spin and dance when the balls hit them.

The museum for adults was well-built but small, and the art inside not really compelling. (Something I’ve had to learn lately in writing is the difference between “interesting” and “compelling.” The art in the adult side was “interesting.”) The art tended to modern art of the stuff-hanging-on-a-wall or sitting-on-a-pedestal type. Being modern art, this was no excuse – the best modern art pieces are stuff-you-might-play-with, not overbred dalmatians waiting to have their pictures taken. Modern (and following) art should have a quality of eliciting, much the way fluffy clouds on a sunny day do, but with more emotional and intellectual impact.

All of which is to say, I found some things I liked, but nothing I loved.

Afterward, we drove around, looking for the Pueblo Riverwalk (we must have passed it four times before we found it). The river itself sits past the railroad tracks and is quite restrained and unlovely, although I squealed with delight when I first saw it, because the cement embankment that separates the railyards from the river was painted with gigantic murals, graffiti higher than a house, and all of it a bit mad. Pictures of saints, pictures of weird cosmologies. Across the river was some kind of historical district filled with the most depressingly derelict houses – good houses gone multi-unit, unmown, unloved.

We recrossed the river after being harassed by a number of one-way streets and stopped at a reassuring shop filled with Southwestern-style furniture, tin-framed mirrors, ceramic crosses and lizards, and wall tiles with the motto “Mi casa es su casa.” The owner revealed the riverwalk was only a block away – and that, due to the thickness, in the fifteen years he’d owned the store, there had never been a problems with any of the sandstone tables.

The riverwalk is a tame section of stream (a rivulet of the river) along which one may promenade. Part of the walk was blocked off for a wedding, but otherwise we walked the whole damned thing. I was hoping for rain – it was perfect weather for it, warm and still.

The riverwalk was almost, but not quite: not enough people for a gorgeous Saturday night, not enough boutiques (i.e., none), not enough goofy art, not enough vendors with irresistibly greasy street food, not enough length: tame.

Downtown was odd. For one, it’s a huge area, all filled with brick buildings. And no section has been “fixed” or set up as a place for people to wander about and spend money and see things that are nice to look at while one eats snacks and drinks coffee. I don’t remember seeing a single Starbucks downtown – and a downtown without a Starbucks, nowadays, is a remarkable thing. The only coffee shop we passed was closed, on a Saturday afternoon.

We ate at Fifteen twenty-one, a small restaurant built into what looked like the only consecutive row of open shops in the entire downtown area. The ambiance was simple and unobtrusive. The food was superb. How to crust a leg of lamb in herbs and salt without the salt becoming overwhelming – the crust wasn’t removed – I will have to consider. Lee had escargot. “Gorgonzola was the right way to go,” he said. But the place was almost abandoned – us and one other couple. The owners should have picked a different location – or else they should be getting free rent.

Afterward, we went to Tinseltown and saw Star Trek. I cheered at the end.

The next morning I sat in the breakfast area of a chain motel, watching people in t-shirts request omelets from the complementary chef. A chef. In a motel. But only for breakfast.

From a steel town of no attraction for years and years (or so I’ve heard) to some half-assed effort to acquire a predictable type of appeal, failing in its lack of (like wine) terroir. If only I could pick up that restaurant and bring it back to the Springs with me.

Hooray! It is raining and too wet to do anything with the front yard!
Hooray! I’m eating the last of the cereal!
Hooray! I’m going to Pueblo today with Lee and Ray and there will be pretty food and tasty pictures!
Hooray! Yoga will be over soon!
Hooray! I have an extra day to get caught up on edits this weekend, especially if it keeps raining!
Hooray! No rejections in my inbox this morning!
Hooray! I put down a book yesterday that I don’t want to finish, because life is too short to read books that are no fun! Even when I paid for them!
Hooray! I didn’t pick up Ray’s clothes and stuff all over the house! So she’s going to have to!
Hooray! I have an artichoke in the fridge the size of my daughter’s head! It’s going down, baby!
Hooray! I’m almost done with my book! In the larger scope of things anyway!
Hooray! What a good song!
Hooray! I had a great time with my family back in South Dakota! Thank you for letting me screw up on Rock Band! I sing in the car more now!
Hooray! Doyce told me I had to watch My First Mister, and it was good! The girl reminds me of me (chewing the fingernails) and my sister Betsy (who is even more sarcastic than I). Hey stupid girl! Carol Kane is your mother! Get over it!
Hooray! I’m going to stop avoiding my edits now! Later!

Behold! The wonderful power of something good to do with the leftover bunch of cilantro before it goes bad! This is a South American-type condiment.

Aji Verde (Green Garlic Sauce)

1 c chopped washed cilantro, with stems
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1/4 c sour cream
2 T lime juice
1/2 anaheim pepper
1 T chimayo chili powder or similar (not a spice mix so much as a ground-up, dried chili)
Salt to taste

Smoosh the whole bit in the blender and whirl everything into the consistency of a dip (i.e., more or less smooth). However, this is more of a condiment than a dip, unless you really like cilantro.

If you find the flavor is just not quiiiiite lovely, add more sour cream before you add more salt or lime juice. If using jalapenos, skip the chili powder. If using chili powder, allow the sauce to sit for a few hours before adding a significant amount of additional powder, as it takes a while to come to full potency.

6:45 a.m. Made cup of tea, grabbed two muffins and a slather of butter. Disappeared into office (!!!) to write.

7:30 a.m. Made second cup of tea. Snagged some Sun Chips that Lee had purchased yesterday to go with the raspberry-chipotle ribs, because I mentioned that I really like them a few weeks ago. Checked on daughter, who had stayed up late playing Plants versus Zombies game (very cute). She was curled up on the couch with the cat sitting on her hip. Kissed daughter on cheek, which was cold, so I brought her another blanket. She complained about cat, which I removed. And removed again.

7:45 a.m. Ray got up. Had to quiet her several times so she didn’t wake Lee up as she played in her room. I kept catching brief bits of the story she’s telling as she plays with her toys. 1) Princess. 2) Some guy. 3) In danger. 4) Kissing. Briefly think about how mothers are supposed to get breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. Laugh out loud.

9:00 a.m. Done editing for the morning. Rewrites going well. Lee’s up. Take shower. Ray interrupts shower to announce that she’s much taller today; she’s standing on a kitchen chair and waving her hand over the top of the shower curtain. Lee interrupts shower to ask what I want to do today. I tell him I already told him what I wanted to do today so don’t even pretend to forget. He says gaming won’t take all day. I acknowledge this and say I need to get some shopping done before the trip to South Dakota for my youngest sister’s graduation. He needs to pick up some things, too. He wants to go clothes shopping. Ross’s is the approved clothing-shopping place, which is good, because I need to replace the mattress pad. I mindlessly stuffed it in the dryer on full heat and the cheapass piece of crap melted. We leave the house, agreeing that eating out is not in the plan today, because Mother’s Day is the worst of all possible easting-out days per Waiter Rant, etc.

10:00 a.m. or so. Actually leave house. Head to World Market to look for part of youngest sister’s graduation gift. End up with 1) smartass graduation card, 2) chipotle chocolate bar for Lee, and 3) required gift component.

11:00 or so. SuperTarget. Pick up groceries unable (or impractical) to obtain at Whole Foods yesterday after brutal, “strength-building” yoga class. Lee is in charge of redecorating the bathroom, because he has a wild hair to do so. The shower curtain currently en route to El Casa KK is blood red with clear silhouettes (if you can imagine such a thing) depicting a man with a knife aimed towards to disembodied hands that appear to be sliding down the curtain. Our current towels, mainly light purple, obviously aren’t going to match. We consider mattress pads, sheets, and dark gray towels, as well as an ice cream maker, but do not purchase any of these items. Ray picks out a movie, because I owe her allowance money. It’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, which she’s seen before.

12:00 p.m. or so. Decide we’ll risk a restaurant: whiny and irritable and annoying, all around. Strangely, Lee, who becomes green (HULK SMASH) when afflicted with low blood sugar, is the most stable of us all. Unfortunately, even the late churches have let out by now. Drive by Mimi’s, our usual choice on the Powers strip. Mimi’s is packed. Switch to backup plan, Rock Bottom Brewery. We’ve never been there before, but people at Lee’s work keep recommending it. Rock Bottom is not packed. Aha! I knew living in a religious-image town would have its benefits: you can’t take your mother to a brewery for Mother’s Day, it’s sacrilegious! Lee’s driving, so I have a cherry wheat (okay, but filtered and smooth, and I like the chewy wheats) and we both have this gorgonzola-bourbon sauce burger concoction, which is excellent. The beef isn’t as good as King’s Chef Diner, but is still okay.

1 p.m. Remember the whole point of the shopping expedition was to go to Ross’s. Find mattress pad (better quality this time) and some excellent sheets. No towels selected. Lee buys a dress shirt and two pairs of pants, neither of which is black. I try on three bras and two swimsuits while Ray ogles herself in the mirror and manages to try on 1 dress and 1 pair of capris in a different changing room; for Ray, remarkable efficiency. None of the bras fit: big surprise there. The suits fit, but I’d be happier with something with back support to help with the boobs, so I decide to order the same brand online. Ray eventually picks out a dress.

2:30 p.m. Home. Nap. My feet still hurt from yoga class.

4:30 p.m. Wake up. Ray tells me my naps take too long. Eat some chocolate and drink a cup of tea. I’ve been drinking “Get a Grip” PMS tea from the Republic of Tea. I don’t know if it’s actually helping, but I feel like I’m enjoying my bitchiness more.

5:00 p.m. Awake and ready to game!

5:30 p.m. We finally get our butts in gear and roll dice on another episode of Faery’s Tale from Firefly Games. I cannot recommend this RPG enough. Our characters ally with two goblins to save the forest from crystal spiders…or to doom it to a goblin spell. Well, that’s a problem for another week. Pooh gets cow milk squirted in her eye and Homa does this:

Homa: I grab the web.
GM: It’s stretchy. [Makes boinging noises.] But you can’t pull your hand off.
Pooh: I grab around her tummy and pull.
GM: It takes both of you, but you manage to get Homa unstuck.
Pooh: Homa, don’t grab that stuff with your hands again!
Homa: Okay, I use my foot.
[Laughter ensues.]

Guess who’s who.

6:30 p.m. Break for leftover mini-pizza (Ray), ribs (Lee), and cheesecake (De). I never do eat any “real food” for supper.

7:45 p.m. Done gaming. Ray scrambles to get a few more levels of Plants versus Zombies in, so she can stay ahead of her dad. I get to see the almost-final version of the playhouse Lee’s going to work on this summer. It’s very cool. You will like it.

8:00 p.m. Bedtime. I get a footrub from Lee while Ray reads us stories out of Harold and the Purple Crayon.

8:30 p.m. I announce that I’m going to take a bath. I proceed to accidentally fill the bath with bubbles and cold water, then attempt to make the water warm without letting out some of the cold water first. The water heater laughs at me, and I am floating in tepid water when Lee comes in with more tea. I drink a lot of @#$%^&* tea. Lee and I talk. Soon, the tub becomes too cold to be even remotely enjoyable. I get out, shivering, and Lee makes fun of me because I’m too cold to put my robe on, because to do so requires drying off, which requires unwrapping the towel, i.e., the only thing that’s keeping me warm. I realize later I could have just put the robe over the towel and then dropped the towel: it’s a terrycloth robe. You know what towels are made of? Terrycloth.

9:30 p.m. This has been my best Mother’s Day ever, so I blogged about it. I think we’re finally starting to get the hang of this, but I’m probably wrong. Time for bed in bed with new sheets and the usual husband. Hugs and kisses to all the mothers out there. Keep this in mind for the bad days: if Dads get kudos just for showing up, you do too. Good night.

What do you want in a diner?

A place to eat, and decent (if heavy) food to eat. Hm…decent service?

Pfft. I didn’t ask, “What’s reasonable in a diner?” What do you really want?

Fine. I want basic comfort food so good it puts most restaurants to shame. Plus some weird stuff. I want to laugh when I read the menu. I want atmo that ain’t flair, flair, flair. I want service that takes one look at me and finds exactly what I want on the menu, orders it for me, and brings it out just as my ass hits the chair. I want good coffee, dammit, and keep it coming. I want a diner run by @#$%^& geeks, man. I WANT COMIC BOOKS.

Okay.

Tip: Just order the side of green chili. The waitress saved my life and didn’t let me order a whole bowl of the stuff. I have a burn on the side of my mouth from where it touched the outside of my lips. OMFG it was so worth it, though.

We went to the diner on Bijou. The service wasn’t quite that fast, but it was pretty close. If I love you, I will take you here next time you’re in town.

Another iteration of celebrating a holiday for something you don’t believe in, but you do, but you don’t, but who wants to miss out on everything, you know? Is it just for the kids or not?

I got the existential; I just ain’t got the angst.

We cheerfully dyed eggs on Friday night. I like getting new kinds of egg dye as they come out; we invested in egg-dye stamps this year. I liked them, but they were a little tricky. The stamps were very spongy, and you had to roll them around a bit to get the whole stamp to show up. Honestly, I think Lee and Ray had more fun just painting dye on the eggs with the little brush.

On Saturday, I went shopping for food stuff. There was this cake at Rancho Liborio that I have been eyeing for quite some time, so I picked one up. The cake had chocolate icing and was shaped like a torte, with glazed strawberries and whatnot on top. Just…pretty. I asked the lady at the counter for one, and suddenly she goes, “You want that in a box, right?” with a panicked look on her face. The ensuing 10 minutes of looking for a box, not finding a box, sawing a big box in half, taping it together, retaping it together, figuring out that closing the box will squash the stuff on top…it gave me time to watch one of the pastry chefs assembling another cake. He had big squares of what looked like sponge cake, which he shook before dipping in some kind of liquid and slapping onto a cake board. A good half-inch of icing, then another layer of cake, and the whole mess was carried, just pouring liquid onto the floor, onto a cart to drip dry or something. Wow.

Lee and I stayed up late the night before to sow eggs (sow the egg…reap the deviled egg!) and candy. I fluffed up a pile of shredded colored paper (which, sadly, I had to buy, since the shredder at work is approved for classified documents, and the pieces end up looking like really ugly snow) and put out treats. To bed by midnight.

Awake by seven; Ray was searching our room for eggs. I asked her to wait until we’re awake; she had trouble but managed to limit her search to our room while she waited.

Later, we did the treasure hunt, which was five riddles long. When she solved one, Lee presented her with a kids’ movie. We spent most of the rest of the day watching movies, because Ray was sick with a cold (still from last week) and was pretty pooped. The movies were: Igor (meh), Barbie’s Thumbelina (shoot me), the Tinker Bell Movie (surprisingly, a movie to inspire girls to be engineers), Bolt (pretty good), and Treasure Planet. We didn’t get to Treasure Planet. I hadn’t seen this many movies in one day since never or maybe-college-but-I-doubt-it.

Breakfast was peeps and hardboiled eggs. I’ve never seen anyone so enthusiastic for oversalted hardboiled eggs. I cooked the last of the baby artichokes, because that’s what I like to eat with salt (and butter and lemon). And then I had cereal.

Lunch was Kraft macaroni and cheese.Ray’s seven. So sue me; it’s what she wanted.

Ray took a nap with me, which meant she really wasn’t feeling well. She’s had this cold since last week. This cold’s a doozy. Personally, it’s settled into my ears, which for some reason means I have to cough all night.

The cake was good but not more-than-normally moist; the frosting tasted, as Ray noted, “like chocolate ice cream.”

Supper was potstickers and salt-and-pepper shrimp and mangoes and pineapple. I did not make the potstickers by hand; I knew she’d rather have me snuggle and eat popcorn than eat homemade. Which may be some kind of lesson about motherhood. A lesson for me, anyway–do less work; have more fun.

We wrapped her up and Made Her Brush Her TEETH and go to bed.

She was still sick today, so sick she stayed home from swimming lessons. But not so sick she couldn’t eat little lemon cakelets and drink tea and watch Treasure Planet, apparently.

A gluttonous day: laying around all day, watching movies, eating what she liked, and being petted over to her heart’s content. She’s a good kid who probably enjoyed the last, best.

I perfected the beer batter recipe tonight.

Batter:
1 c all-purpose flour
2 T cornstarch
1 t baking powder
1 T salt
1 egg
1c beer

–I just adjusted the salt. Make sure to dredge the stuff in flour first; the batter seems to stick better.

Fried: Button mushrooms, tilapia, white onions (sliced very thin to offset their stronger flavor), pickle slices. I love the pickle slices.

Dipping sauce: 1/4c mayo, 2 T capers, 1 t ground chipotle powder.

I deep-fried some capers, too; the flavors in the admittedly-overused oil overwhelmed it. Not recommended.

Lavender Gin

1 oz. good gin
2 T raw sugar (stir the first two)
6 oz dry lavender soda, if you find it

I wanted some fresh rosemary to muddle up with it, but I didn’t have any. Mint would also have been nice. I like “dry” flavors, but the soda was too dry. I could have made some simple syrup, but this did just as well.

I ordered some tea from Stash tea.

Of all days, it arrived today, when I cannot truly appreciate anything other than the taste of salt and vitamins. (I had a six-fruits-in-every-bottle! white people juice with vitamins in it and all I could taste was the vitamins.)

I had ordered pu-erh tea and some other stuff.

I was very excited about this pu-erh tea.

I’d had some at World Market. It was delicious.

I opened the vacuum package, knowing I wouldn’t be able to smell anything.

But I did smell something. Dirt.

Lee said, “That smells like marijuana.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”

I brewed some.

Tasted it.

Dirt.

But…tasty dirt.

Having been subjected to many of Lee’s taste experiments, I ran over to him and shoved the mug in his face. Classic Lee face. That Look he gets when Y.T. does something completely goofy and expects praise for it, like a two-year-old proudly presenting her first poop art in the bathroom.

“I think it tastes like dirt,” I said. “But I think I like it.”

“I know how you could save a lot of money on tea. Just send Rachael outside for it…”

“But it would have dog poop in it. Or cat poop, probably,” I said.

He gave me That Look again.

“Does it taste like marijuana tea?”

He stopped giving me That Look to think about it for a few seconds. “I don’t know,” he said, finally. “I’ve never had marijuana tea.”

So, if there’s anyone who’s ever had marijuana tea, let me know if it tastes like dirt, because if this package just has marijuana with dirt on it, I’m going to send it back, damn it, for the sheer principal of the thing.

We have a hard time remembering how to say “fruiteria” (“fruitereria? fruitorama? fruitarena?”) so we ended up calling the place “Fruitopia.” Which turned out to be exactly the case.

So last Saturday it’s bad out, the kind of gray snowishness that promises to work its way between the cracks of your house and freeze you in your sleep. Also, I’m sick, green-bullet sick.* In fact, these two items are probably not unrelated. Lee says, “Make sure you take it easy today, okay?”

Perfect day to go grocery shopping!

We all bundle up and get in the car and go to…Sam’s Club (looking for trash cans and eating pass-out snacks). And then Home Depot. And then, after a couple of hours of wandering around and using up what little strength and/or patience I had, we go to Fruiteria Guadalajara.

Perfect plan for going grocery shopping!

Hey, I’m not blaming anybody but myself. I always think I can fit more into any given hour than 60 paltry minutes would indicate, doubly so when I’m sick.

Also, we left at 10 a.m., didn’t really eat anything first, and figured we’d get home before we were really hungry.

Trifecta of good planning!

The result was that I didn’t keep track of as much as I had planned.

The F.G. is a tiny orange store on South Academy and Airport Street. The most delicious smell comes from outside the building, where a man is doing something with a grill that makes me want to cry. Did I pick anything up to eat? Pfft. No. Next to him is a little, sheltered, year-round kiosk that sells Mexican polka music, which is probably called something else, but it has accordions and sounds very oom-pah, so that’s what I’ve called it since we moved here, almost 10 years ago.

The first thing inside the door is an international phone card dispenser and a freezer case filled with what looks like limes stuffed with ice cream. The glass is fogged up, so I’m not sure. Also did not get any, because I’m an idiot.

Unless you were looking for fruit, the selection was sadly limited (say, mostly convenience-store level). However, fruit was almost all top-notch and the selection pretty much overwhelmed anyplace else I’ve been:

  • limes – two types
  • papayas
  • melons – two types
  • mangoes – two types
  • oranges
  • clementines
  • coconuts
  • papaya
  • guavas
  • bananas – five types
  • peaches
  • nectarines
  • plums
  • grapes – three types
  • pears – four types
  • apples – seven types
  • no lemons (unusual)
  • grapefruit – poor quality
  • kiwis
  • pluots
  • chirimoya [sic]
  • avocados – two types, all perfectly ripe
  • and a bunch of stuff whose label had not been dilligently applied and I have no freaking clue what they were.

Oddly, no berries that I can remember. And no apricots, which I had thought were ubiquitous to any Mexican grocery store worth the name. Also of note: 15 types of fresh peppers, 11 types of beans, 12 types of dried chilis (bulk), and a cast of thousands of small-package dried chilis.

I didn’t have much on my shopping list, but I was unable to obtain most of it. For example, prepared salsa (as in chunky) was unavailable, although multiple types of hot sauce were. No matches, toothpaste, leeks, whole chicken, tomato soup, ramen, or Velveeta (for bjork, a.k.a queso dip). There were 9 types of cheese available, of which only one was not a traditional Mexican style (i.e., fresh mozzarella). None of the cheeses appeared to be aged.

There was a meat counter, but it didn’t have much (although it did have tripe, which is fascinating but personally intimidating). There was an eating area with 4-5 small tables. With the grill outside, the indoor area seemed to sell only fruit cups the size of a large soda (with or without chili pepper, looked like), juice, and ice cream (including birthday cake flavor).

The fruits and vegetables were indeed stacked above my eye level on displays, or chest level in crates. Open bulk containers had dry items: rainbow-colored jimmies, dried shrimp (complete with pitch-black eyeballs), flaked coconut.

The place was clean but for what people were tracking in, but worn. The place only opened after we moved to our house, so it hasn’t been open for more than 2.5 years, so go figure. The staff offered to help me a couple of times, but only when I ran into them.

Of all things, there was a plastic box full of dried crickets (unmarked, unpriced) next to the cash register.

I picked up a few things, including a chirimoya, which I haven’t eaten yet. It feels like a non-bristly kiwi fruit. Lee picked out a box of chocolate cookies with pink coconut marshmallows on top. Nom nom nom.

There were no organic, whole-grain, or “top-shelf” items (i.e., only one brand was available of almost everything).

After that, we went to Rancho Liborio, which is a supermarket-style store, and failed to find either Velveeta or matches but were otherwise able to obtain the necessaries. I didn’t keep track of R.L. as I was about ready to sit down and not get up again by the time we left.

The next day, I went to Target to stock up on Easter supplies for Ray, because I couldn’t find any at either store. In retrospect, that seems very odd.

All in all, it was what it was: a fruit shop, with extras. I would stop there for good-quality fruit and some vegetables, if that’s what I was looking for. I will also stop there again to try the grilled whatsits and frozen limes. But a pain, as far as checking items off a list of weekly supplies.

Also, if I had any sense, I wouldn’t go out in bleah weather. I was sick all weekend, dragged myself feverishly and giddily in to work on Monday, and had to crash Tuesday and most of today. I finally woke up about 1:30 going, “Okay, I can bend over without endangering myself.” I’m not that graceful at the best of times, and I kept turning around too quickly and running into walls.

*If you have to ask, you’ve never seen a kid with a really bad head cold sneeze.

First of all, I’ve been trying to figure out whether I should call this the “Hispanic” or “Mexican” grocery store project. It would be more PC but less accurate to call it “Hispanic,” as the grocery stores to not appear to cater to wider, pan-Hispanic tastes.

Here’s the deal. During January-February, I worked on getting rid of the excessive stocks in my freezer, pantry, squirreled around the house, etc. I didn’t spend more than $50 a week on food; I didn’t buy chocolate; I didn’t buy tea; I didn’t go to Sam’s or Costco.

The project was a partial success.

Freezer: I didn’t get the freezer entirely free of crap, but I think I’m down to the last few meals and can throw out the freezie pops and frozen egg whites. I DON’T USE EGG WHITES. Lesson learned. Next time I make a custard, I will find a recipe that requires the whole egg…or just dump the whites down the sink. When frugality is counter-productive…I could have used that space, damn it, for something tasty. And I wouldn’t have used so many freezer bags.

Pantry: A flop. Shelves still stuffed with crap I’ve had around for years. I finally threw away a jar of pineapple with a 2006 expiration date. Time to check expy dates and donate, I think.

Chocolate: most of the holiday chocolate is gone. I would have succeeded, but Lee bought an excessive amount of chocolate for Valentine’s Day (yum).

Tea: I’m drinking the next-to-last serving, but for: 1 can iced-tea mix, 1 pint of loose-leaf tai iced tea leaves, and about half a box of Korean barley tea. They’re tasty, but I decided from the get-go that these didn’t count. Mostly because I knew I wouldn’t finish them in time, but also because I didn’t want to commit to getting rid of them just before I’d enjoy them most, i.e., during warm weather.

I took the month of March off from overarching food projects and promptly spent too much money at Costco. But I NEEDED that gallon of green olives, damn it.*

April will be…MEXICAN GROCERY STORE MONTH.

I will purchase groceries from Mexican grocery stores only, unless something insurmountable comes up, like Ray wants something specific for Easter (Ray Day) that I can’t get there. Spoiling a family member should take precedence over hair-brained projects every time.

Why Mexican grocery stores?

  • We have a lot of them in Colorado Springs. Lots of little ones with specific functions. “Fruteria” “Carneceria” etc.
  • I like going to non-normal places to buy food.
  • To try different foods. One sub-goal is to make fresh baby octopus, for Ray.
  • To see what they have, instead of what I expect.
  • To find out differences, in specific items and prices and in patterns.
  • To explore the area.
  • To assure people that non-normal places to buy food are not scary. I know a surprising number of people who are afraid to walk into non-U.S.-standard grocery stores, because it’s too much to handle.

I’ve been to several Mexican grocery stores nearby over the last few years. Here are some things I’ve noticed causally but will take a closer look at:

  • Most starches are refined; I don’t remember ever seeing anything “whole grain.”
  • Plain yogurt is apparently an anathema.
  • The cheese selection is very limited.
  • The fruits and vegetables are plentiful and cheap.
  • The vegetables are more diverse than the fruits, which are mostly apples, citrus, and a few pears.
  • You can always get perfect avocados.
  • You can easily get cheap meat, if you don’t mind cheap cuts of meat.
  • Seafood is almost as important as beef, pork, and chicken combined; it gets slightly more shelf space than any two but not all three.
  • The seafood selection is waaaaaay wider than you’ll see at a standard U.S.-style grocery store.
  • You will almost always see an area with food served to eat and tables at which to eat it. I do know one place that doesn’t (or didn’t; I haven’t been there for a while).
  • The amount of exo-culture foods are limited (the biggest Italian foods area is generally a smaller ratio of shelf space than U.S.-style stores; Italian is usually it).
  • The illusion is of abundance over variety. Shipping crates are often stuffed with false bottoms, then piled above eye level with products – but at the expense of having two kinds of something.

Some other areas to explore:

  • Meat/Protein: What types are available? How much do they cost? How much space do they take up? Frozen vs. fresh? Organic, locally-raised? Vegetarian alternatives? The subject of beans is probably a whole different experiment. Wow.
  • Dairy/Fats: Cheese, milk, yogurt types? Cost? Space? (Add’l research: do Mexican people tend to be lactose intolerant or not?) What other types of fats are available, in what proportions (e.g., lots of shelf space for oil, little shelf space for butter)?
  • Starch: What are the main types of starch? What is there, but less often? What types of primary types (uh…flour? The minimal amount of processing, uncooked, etc. as commonly available?) of starch are available? Cost? Space? Are they located in a central area or dispersed around? Are there any whole grains anywhere? Are there more starch products in a primary state or a prepared state? Are there a lot of breakfast cereals?
  • Fruits/Vegetables: What types are available?
  • Sweets/junk food: What proportion of sweets are mass-produced vs. in-house prep? What are the types of sweets and junk food? How much shelf space do they get?
  • Convenience foods: Are foods interim foods (e.g., tortillas) or final products (e.g., burritos)? Frozen vs. canned?
  • Marketing: How much is directed towards kids? Is “abundance” a typical ploy? Are the stores agressively, assertively, or passively Mexican?
  • Service: Cleanliness, helpfulness, ease of use, ability to communicate with/attitude towards yours truly, etc.

Clearly, biting off more than I can chew.

April 1st: Purchased 2 tamales, #1.94/ea., delicious. 1 gallon whole milk, 2.49, from a rack of at least 50 identical gallons (next to 50 gallons of 2%, etc.). 1 pear, .76, anjou, but marked as “pear.” 1 pint rice pudding, 1.99, delicious, but with a drink lid with a hole on top, pain in the ass. Customer ahead of me in line drops gallon of what looks like pickled pig rinds. Manager at front in under 30 seconds, and cashier has already drafted a helper to guard the spill, and another to replace disgusting-looking jar of bleah. Must be coming down with a cold; doesn’t smell like anything. They all speak in Spanish but switch to clear English when it’s my turn.

April 3rd: Yep. A cold.

*BWAHAHAHAHA! I will RULE the WORLD!

Now I have to wonder if “The Princess and the Pea” is about kids with allergies.

After years of running with a perfect April Fool’s Day record, I have been caught TWICE today. TWICE!

Carol at Alinea at Home GOT HIRED BY GRANT ACHATZ! To work at Alinea!

How cool is that? Food blogger makes good :)

Easter is going to be a Ray Day, which works out pretty well, since it’s right around the half-birthday mark. We will spoil her rotten, favorite foods, treats, an Easter-egg hunt…the works. One day a year to spoil someone you love is not enough, you know? Special request: a silly-string fight.

So we were discussing what she wanted to eat, and I told her I’d be making deviled eggs with the Easter eggs, since I liked deviled eggs so much. She wanted to know what was in them, so I told her: she loves hard-boiled eggs, but doesn’t care for mustard.

“Well, can you make them with no mustard?” she asked.

“How about we make angeled eggs?” I asked.

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know…” I said. “We will have to invent it.”

Ray was more concerned with the visuals. “How will we put a halo on it? And wings?”

“I’m just going to figure out the flavors for now,” I told her.

Here’s what we did:

Slice 4 hardboiled eggs in half lengthwise and pop out the yolks.
Mix with about 1/4c. mayo, 1t lemon juice, and 2t sugar.
Fill the whites with about 1T of filling.
Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

You wouldn’t think they’d be good with the sweetness. But you’d be wrong. We also tried them with sugar sprinkled on top, but it wasn’t quite as good.

Now: how the heck am I going to get halos on those eggs?

The egg or the Smashing Creme Egg accordian band?

This clip has one of the best rube goldberg devices ever. Evah!

So the plan was to make fish tacos. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to pick up beer and cabbage. I decided to walk to the Mexican grocery store and get the cabbage, then stop at the liquor store on the way back.

On the way to the grocery store, which was about a mile away, all told, I started making plans to get all my April groceries from there, walking, as an experiment. Carrying a six pack on the same day one has done all kinds of exhausting things to one’s muscles is not such a good idea, especially when the last block is up a hill, and by the time I had arrived back home I had abandoned my plan, at least the walking part.

The beer was New Belgium’s seasonal pale ale, Mighty Arrow. It’s about as bitter as coffee. I usually don’t like pale ales, but I loved this one. Is there a beer New Belgium can make that I don’t love? Oh, yeah. I wasn’t too fond of Skinny Dip, and I usually can’t cope with IPAs. Well, I shall have to find out.

This is, to date, my favorite frying batter. I am going to leave the oil on the stove until I have a chance to fry up some mushrooms with it. While I had the oil hot, I coated a few pieces of cheddar with flour and batter and fried them, too – total success. The opposite of fail, although they do like to puff up and turn into cheese balloons instead of staying in nice cubes. About a half-inch square seemed about right. Too small, you get balloons. Too big, the inside doesn’t get gooey, just warm.

I also tried frying very thin slices of lime. I had lemon-jalapeno slices at Nosh when I ate there, and they were excellent. I think I cut the slices too thin, and the batter is different. I had better luck just frying the slices in flour than flour-and-batter. I was thinking the batter was just panko, but panko burn so quickly and the slices brown so slowly that I suspect panko is not the answer. Anyway, the slices were incredibly, additively bitter from the whites, but the fruit and peel were chewy and delicious. What to do, what to do.

The thing about fish tacos is that they’re aren’t Mexican. They’re Southern Californian. So don’t think of the cabbage-white sauce combination as crazy, think of it as spicy coleslaw to go with your fancy fish sticks.

I love catsup and mayo with my fish sticks, but I love capers even more, so I was won over by the spicy tartar sauce.

Fish Tacos (adapted from Allrecipes).

1/2 cabbage, shredded
1 quart oil for frying
1 pound mild white fish fillets, cut into finger-sized pieces diagonally across flesh (we used tilapia, cod is traditional)
soft corn tortillas (we used taco shells, which turned out to be inferior!)

White sauce:
1/2 c plain yogurt (used sour cream; it tasted too strongly of sour cream)
1/2 c mayonnaise
1 lime, juiced
about 1/4 of a jalapeno pepper, minced
1 t minced capers
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t dried dill weed
1 t chipotle powder (or cayenne)

Batter:
1 c all-purpose flour
2 T cornstarch
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt (this was not enough salt)
1 egg
1c beer

Mix ingredients and set aside to let the flavors meld.

Chop 1/2 cabbage and fish. Make sure the fish are fully thawed, if frozen, before frying.

Heat 1 quart of oil to frying temperature, which is 375 degrees or the point at which you can drop a droplet of batter in and have it turn golden in about 30 seconds.

Mix the dry ingredients for the batter. Mix the egg and beer and add to the dry ingredients.
Don’t do this ahead of time; you want to keep the baking powder in the batter right at the point where it’s still reacting to the beer, which will make the fried batter more delicate.

Put about 1/2 c. flour in dish one and the batter in dish two. Cover 5-6 fish pieces with flour, shaking off excess, then dip in batter and drop in oil. Fry until golden-brown and drain on paper towels.

Pan-fry the corn tortillas in a couple of tablespoons of oil, a few seconds on each side. Put cabbage, a couple of pieces of fish, and white sauce in tortilla and eat!

It seems like, every season or so, I gravitate to one easy-to-make dish and eat the heck out of it. This winter it was canned tomato soup. Last summer and into fall it was ramen with peanut butter and the kitchen sink. Last spring it was sushi.

Now, it is the SALAD.

I buy a box of pre-washed spring mix or baby spinach, and I’m good to go. I think the important revelation, for me, was buying a bottle of good sherry wine vinegar: it goes with almost everything, if you’re short on ideas. And the second most important revelation was that hot meat + sherry + olive oil + cool salad = bliss.

Here are some of the more successful combinations of late:

  • Premixed Thai peanut sauce, blood oranges, red onions, lime juice
  • Grilled beef, blue cheese, pecans, red onions, grilled asparagus, sherry vinaigrette
  • Pears, pecans, romano, red onion, pomegranate-balsamic vinaigrette
  • Fried vegetarian mushroom ham (the perfect consistency for frying, and o mushroom deliciousness), black sesame seeds, shao xing wine, garlic, thai peanut sauce, lime juice

I am particularly fond of fruit + cheese + red onion salads.

(Pleeeeeeease play this for KK.)

Tally Hall – Banana Man

Ladies and Gentlemen, curl PT Chester with boys are proud to present Bumbo Chumbo and the Zimbabwe Songbirds!

Do you see banana man
Hopping over on the white hot sand
Here he come with some for me
Freshly taken from banana tree
(1,2,3,4)
Banana man me want a tan
Give me double on the bonus one
Give me more for all me friends
Dis banana flow never end

Do you want a banana?
Peel it down and go mm mm mm mm
Do you want a banana?
Dis banana for you

Tonight we dance around the flame
Then we get to play the spirit game
Spirit names we shout out loud
Shake the thunder from the spirit cloud
Morning songbirds in the tree
Chant a tune to let the spirits free
Then we see them in the night
Spirits jumpin by the fire light

Do you want a banana? (Do you want a banana)
Peel it down and go mm mm mm mm
Do you want a banana? (Do you want a banana)
Dis banana for you
( oh ho ho) (ahhh)

Look you you’re too uptight you know
You can laugh and kick it back and go (weee)
But without a rhythm or a rhyme
You do not banana all the time
Fly away from city on the run
Try to make a little fun
(ah huh ah huh ah huh ah huh ah huh ah huh ah huh)

Look you come to the bungalow
Africans you tell me don’t you so
Don’t you love the pumping of the drum
Make you shake until the bum go numb
Let the bongo play you till you drop
Dis banana never stop (never stop, never stop)

Forget all your troubles and go with the flow
Forget about whatever you may never know
Like whether whatever you are doing is whatever you should
And whether anything you do is every really any good
And then Forget about banana when it sticks in your throat
And when they make you wanna bellow but your stuck in a choke
And you forget about the yell from the colorful men that’ll make you take another
And make a mock of your plan

Bungalay Bungalow make up your mind and tell me no ummmm shhh

Well its nine o’clock and its getting dark
and the sun is falling from the sky
I’ve never left so early and you may wonder why
*whistle*

(talking in the background)

Tomorrow morning on the plane
No banana make you go insane
Floating back to busy town
No banana make you want to frown

Do you want a banana? (Do you want a banana)
Peel it down and go mm mm mm mm
Do you want a banana?
Dis banana for you

(via Andy)

You may or may not have heard, but there are five basic tastes (things you can sense with your tongue, not with your nose), not four: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami.*

Umami is a fifth taste, discovered either by Escoffier or Professor Kikunae Ikeda. Escoffier went on to invent French cuisine; Professor Ikeda, MSG. Turns out your tongue has receptors for a family of proteins called “glutimates.” Your body uses these things to help run your brain–but too much of it may cause seizures and other neurotransmitter-related problems.

Now, being a foodie, I knew this. But I didn’t really know this. If you handed me a plate of food and asked me whether it tasted umami or not, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. But the other day I was eating edamame (baby soybeans) with salt and realized…that buttery taste? It’s umami.

In fact, butter is umami. Milk products are all pretty much umami. Tomatoes? Mushrooms? Umami. Filet mignon? Umami. I’m pretty sure avocadoes are umami, but I can’t find any evidence to back it up. Pork is umami–and cured pork has about ten times the glutimates as uncured pork.

But it’s that buttery taste that runs through all of them–not, literally, butter, because tomatoes don’t taste like butter. But if you can imagine the difference between a supermarket roma tomato and perfectly red tomato out of a garden, that’s umami.

I think those of us in the Western world should stop calling this fifth flavor “umami.” I mean, how vague can you get? No. From now on, let’s get to the meat of the matter and start calling it what it really is–bacony goodness.

*Which translates as “yumminess.”

After making the Lee Chili of Doom based on a co-worker’s recipe, I applied the same technique to red (spaghetti) sauce for a batch of lasagna.

Mwah! My best red sauce yet.

For the laziest lasagna method: Day 1: Make red sauce.
Day 2: Assemble, bake, and serve lasagna.

Red Sauce:
Makes about 8 lb. sauce; you’ll need half the batch for lasagna. Freeze the rest.

  • 3 lb. mild italian sausage (do NOT use ground beef)
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. baby portabellos, sliced and allowed to dry off
  • 5 14.5-ounce cans of chopped tomatoes and their juice (the kind with as few ingredients as possible–tomatoes, salt, citric acid) Note: all but one can may be “crushed” tomatoes.
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 c. pesto (or: 1 small bunch basil, chopped; another 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/2 cup, not packed, of fresh-grated hard cheese like parmesan or romano)
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Olive oil (or bacon grease)

You’ll need 2 largish skillets and 1 stock pot, and about five hours (most of which is just sitting around, absorbing calories through your nose every time you lift the lid).

Remove the sausage from its casings, if applicable, and brown in the skillets, breaking into bite-sized chunks. Add the minced garlic and brown for a few more minutes. Scrape the sausage into the stock pot and return the skillets to sizzling temperature. Deglaze the pans with red wine vinegar, adding more as necessary to loosen the crunchy bits off the pan and create 1/4 c. or less of pan sauce. Dump the pan sauce into the stock pot.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil in the skillets and bring to a fairly high heat, hotter than you used for the sausage. Add 1/4 of the mushrooms to each pan. (You want the mushrooms to develop their own crunchy bits, not to sit in a bunch of mushroom juice, so take the extra time to do this.) Saute the mushrooms (the drier they are before you dump them in the pan, the happier you’ll be) until they are shrunken, wrinkly, brown, and smell a bit like meat. Scrape them into the stock pot and repeat with the other half of the mushrooms. Deglaze the pans with the red wine vinegar, as above.

Add 4 cans of the tomatoes, the can of tomato sauce, the pesto, the bay leaves, and 2c. water to the stock pot. Cover and bring to a simmer. Keep at a simmer for about 4 hours, or until the whole thing has turned into a mouth-watering mush and there’s a little oil on the top. Pull out the bay leaves, if possible. I wouldn’t let the thing go overnight unless you were using a crock pot, and even then, leave it on low.

You can serve it now, or refrigerate overnight. I suggest refrigerating overnight. To serve, add the last can of tomatoes and bring back to a simmer. You don’t need to do this for the lasagna.

Lasagna
Makes one 9 by 11 pan. Preheat to 350F.

1 container of frozen chopped spinach or 2 small bunches of spinach, rinsed and chopped
1 small container of whole-milk ricotta cheese (6 ounces, I think) (Don’t get low-fat for any milk product you intend to cook, other than milk. The product will probably separate.)
1 c. freshly-grated parmesan or other hard cheese, like romano
Salt
1 lb. mozzarella, fresh if you can get it (grate it if it’s firm cheese; slice it if it’s fresh)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 batch of red sauce (about two quarts, I think)
1 9-ounce box of no-bake lasagna noodles (I use Barilla; they’re flat, which is handy if you’re not going to boil the noodles first)

Thaw or heat the spinach on the stovetop or in the microwave. Allow to cool as necessary, then squish the excess water from the spinach, in small handfuls. Mix the spinach, ricotta, egg, and 1/4 t. salt and set aside.

In a 9 by 11 pan–I recommend a clear pyrex pan–spread 1/3 of the red sauce in the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of noodles, about 1/3 of the box, breaking up noodles to fill the empty spaces as necessary. Add another 1/3 of the sauce. Add about half of the mozzarella in a layer. Add another layer of noodles. Spread the entire spinach mixture over the noodles. Add another layer of noodles. Add the rest of the red sauce on top, then cover with the rest of the mozzarella.

Brace yourself. Take a few deep breaths. Now pour about a cup of water down the side of the pan, between the noodles and the pan. This is where the clear pyrex pan becomes useful: if you can’t see about a 1/4-inch of water at the bottom, you need to add more water, but not more than two cups of water, total.

To noodles, water is life. But you don’t want to spend the time cooking the noodles and trying to keep them from oozing out of your tongs as you assemble the lasagna, and you don’t want to make your red sauce so wet you can’t use it for anything else. IT WILL TURN OUT OKAY. Use regular lasagna noodles if you just can’t stand the thought of not having crunchy noodle bits in the final product.

Cover the pan with tinfoil and put in the oven for about 1 hour, or until bubbly. Uncover the lasagna and turn on the broiler. (You can add more parmesan on top at this point, if you like.) Broil the lasagna for about a minute, or until the cheese on top is brown.

Let the lasagna cool for a few minutes (like, five or ten) to firm up before serving, because otherwise you will want to cry when you see that first piece slide around like mush on your plate. Delicious mush, though.

Don’t make this recipe on purpose, that is, don’t fry bacon just so you can have wilted bacon salad. This is a leftover recipe, a dish designed to squeeze the very last possible amount of bacony goodness out of a pan of bacon. Restaurants present this dish as though it were something sophisticated. Nope. It’s a back-of-the-house secret cook treat, meant to be shared only with people you really like. Like burnt cheese.

First, make bacon for another recipe. Save out a few bacon strips, hiding well inside a container of yogurt or other “healthful” container as camouflage.

Pour off the bacon grease and reserve for another purpose. (Do not scoff at using bacon grease instead of fake butter spray or whatever. Do not fake a heart attack. Just use a little bit. After all, if you have leftover bacon grease, it means you ate the bacon in the first place, so don’t have a cow knee-jerk reaction, okay?)

Heat the bacon pan back up to sizzling temperature. Add enough red wine vinegar to produce about 1/4 c. of dressing. If too much evaporates, add more. Deglaze (i.e., scrape the crunchies off) the pan and pour the dressing into a heatproof container. Refrigerate, because you’ve just made a pan of bacon for another reason entirely, and that’s what you’re eating. This is for later.

At salad time, put about four somewhat-packed cups of dry salad greens or spinach in two large serving bowls. Heat the dressing, either on the stovetop or in the microwave, until the bacon grease is entirely melted. Pour it into a small, deep cup or dish. Pour or spoon off whatever bacon grease you don’t want. Note: don’t scrape out the grease before you heat it. The crunchy bits will get away. Again with the knee-jerk reaction.

Pour the dressing over the greens. They will wilt a little but not become mushy. Toss the salad a little bit to ensure maximum dressing coverage.* Warm the reserved bacon strips a little and crumble them over the salad. Add whatever else sounds good. A diced, slightly underripe pear was marvelous when I used it. Serve immediately.

If you do this at work, other people will rush out to buy salads, any salads, from the nearest cafeteria or grocer. But they will be sadly disappointed; feel free to mock them.

*People who dump dressing on top of a salad and just eat it that way are the same people who think salads are bland. Coincidence? I think not.

We had a couple of people over for the 2nd annual Geek Christmas. It went very well; we played Warhammer and stuffed ourselves. Thanks to Rob and Sheena for coming over and to Lee for magnificent grilling :)

Merry Christmas!

I was going to put this on Cornish game hens, but I couldn’t find any in bulk, so it ended up on pork loin.

I received about a cup and a half of raspberry sauce in trade for a big container of weird soup, so I’m guesstimating on the amounts there. I had too much leftover sauce, so I cut it back to a cup.

I’m a convert to the rub-and-sauce school of BBQ. Sauce chars if you leave it on grilling meat for too long, but if you just add the sauce at the last second, the meat isn’t flavored properly. Put the rub on the (thawed!) meat for a few hours so the salt can do its magic. Then grill the meat, adding the sauce for just the last few minutes, so it can carmelize but not burn. Brilliant, I tell you, brilliant!

Rub:

Recipe if you have a mortar and pestle:
4-6 T ground up chilis–not pre-mixed chili powder
2 T cumin seeds
2 T coriander
Salt
1 T ground sage

Stirring more or less constantly, toast the chilis, coriander, and cumin over dry heat until the chili powder is brown but not black. Working with a small amount at a time if you have a small mortar, crush the spices and grind them into powder (adding the sage) with about a third as much salt as you have spices. You should end up with about 1/3-1/2 cup of mixture. Finesse is not really required here.

Recipe if you don’t:
Halve the whole spices. Toast and mix with salt as above.

The mortar and pestle are really easy to use and easier to clean than a coffee grinder. Also, spices keep better when they’re not preground. The cumin seeds were a nose-awakener when I ground them the first time. I’m going to have to try it with whole dried chilis next.

Sauce:

1 c. pureed raspberries (about 1 pt. whole), seeds left in.
1/2 c. honey
1/4 c. soy sauce (caution: don’t add all at once)
4-6 canned chipotle peppers in adobo (one small can)
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 T sage

Wear gloves or wrap a sandwich bag around your non-knife hand–chipotles are smoked jalapenos and will burn your eyes if you touch your face; this effect lasts about a day after you’re done cooking, whether you wash your hands or not.

Pull the chipotles out of the can, discarding onions (if any).* Slice the chipotles in half and scrape out the seeds. Mince the chipotles and add them to a small saucepan with the raspberries, honey, garlic, and sage. Bring to a slow simmer. Add soy sauce to taste. The sauce should be very thick. Simmer longer if you think the sauce is too thin.

If something tastes off, you probably need a little more soy sauce. If you want to finesse the sourness, you can add vinegar – balsamic, good sherry, champagne, or fruit. (Don’t use red wine or distilled.)

When you’re ready to grill, split the sauce into two containers. Use one to mop the meat during the last few minutes of grilling; save the other to serve with the meat.

*Maybe you’d like the onions, but they gross me out.

Chili for Lee.

2 T dried chili pepper (not chili powder)
1 T cumin
1 1/2 lbs chorizo
1/2 lb summer sausage, cubed
1 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Anaheim peppers, seeds removed, diced
4 chipotle chilis in adobo, seeds removed, minced
1 T salt
2 15 oz cans pinto beans
4 15 oz cans tomatoes (2 before the cooking for a deeper flavor and 2 after for a brighter red color)
1 bottle dark beer (brown ale or stout)
2 oz mexican chocolate (for example, Abuelita brand)

Cook chili pepper and cumin over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the chili pepper starts to brown and smell toasty. Add the olive oil, sausages, garlic, Anaheim peppers, and chipotles and cook until the chorizo is cooked through. Add 2 cans of tomatoes, the salt, the beer, and the chocolate and cook over low heat for at least 3 hours (or place in a crock pot and cook overnight), stirring occasionally if on the stove. About 1/2 hour from serving, add the beans and the rest of the tomatoes. Heat through and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Voodoo Doughtnut. No, no, check out the Events, too. That WHAT?!? And their online store, where the motto is, “The magic is in the hole.”

Seriously, the Subgenius of Doughtnut shops.

Careful. I had to watch them all at one sitting.

(via Ann.)

Seriously. This was one of more unappetizing-looking things I’ve ever made…but it’s the kind of comfort food that makes you want to smile on a bad day.

Don’t make this if you find hot dogs offensive; I’m pretty sure the materials that go into a package of Mexican chorizo are similar, if not worse. They don’t call it “offal” for nothing.

Homely Chorizo Dip

1 pkg Mexican chorizo
1 can of refried black beans
1/2 c prepared salsa (or make your own)
chopped fresh cilantro, to taste

Squish (yes, really) the chorizo out of the package and fry over medium heat. You’ll know it’s done when everything has fallen apart into a sludgy, bubbling mess. Add the refried beans and stir over medium-low heat. You may need to add a little water to bring the beans to your desired consistency. Remove from heat and stir in salsa and cilantro.

Serve with chips and wedges of crumbly queso fresco.

You could add jalapenos, but I would think it would then become not-comfort food.

I hate pie crust.

Bleah.

But I like pie.

So I made up a new pie crust, because I was determined to make peach pie. I stripped the baking soda out of a biscuit shortcake recipe and called it good. I left the egg in because pie dough is so hard to work — I think I like it, both for working the dough and in the final texture. I might add another egg next time, too.

–White peaches aren’t firm, but they’re less mushy than yellow peaches. They’re simpler-tasting, less “peachy” but just as sweet. And they turn the pie a delicate shade of pink when cooked.

De’s Pie Crust (for two double-crust pies)
————–
3 c all-purpose flour
3/4 t salt
10 T (or 1/2 c plus 2 T) sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, frozen
1 large egg (cold)
3/4 c half-and-half (cold)

Mis flour, salt, and sugar. Grate the butter into the dry ingredients and mix to coat. Beat egg with half-and-half and pour into mixture. Mix quickly but thoroughly and put in fridge for 20 minutes or so to re-chill.

Roll out the bottom crust into a 9-inch glass pie pan.

Don’t eat all the dough.

White Peach Pie (for 1 9-inch pie — be careful doubling the caramel — use a very large skillet!)
—————-
1/4 c. turbindo sugar (or similar, with large crystals. I have better luck with larger crystals)
1/2 c. cream (more or less)
5-6 white peaches, cut into cubes (don’t bother to peel if skins are thin, helps with texture)
1 t ceylon cinnamon (not cassia, if possible)
2T flour

Preheat the oven to 425F. Put the sugar in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occaisionally. Let the heat melt the sugar; when the sugar is as caramelized as you like it, remove from heat and add the cream (warning: likes to froth up and boil over, very hot), stirring contantly. Stir in the cinnamon, flour, peach pieces enough to coat. Put in the crusted pie pan and top with a second crust.

Cut slits in the top crust and brush with a beaten egg white if you like. Don’t bother sprinkling it with more sugar, though.

Place the pie on a cookie sheet and place in oven. Bake at 425F for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 and bake for another 40 minutes or until a knife poked through a slit just barely meets texture.

Cool at least somewhat before eating.

Here’s my best guess at the drink I made up at Margie and Dave’s house on Saturday* is as follows:

Persephone’s tempation
———————-
1 1/2 shots of tequila
1/2 shot of triple sec
1/4 c pomegranate juice
Two twists of lime
2 t sugar
sugared cranberries (optional)

Add ice and stir. Doing it again, I’d probably peel a lime and add the whole thing, in chunks, so you can pick them out with your fingers later, and some pomegranate jewels would have been nice.

I get to name it, and I can be literary if I want. Neener neener.

–Luckily, Stan drank about half.

*Margie Gras is any party thrown at their house involving more booze than gaming.

via Very Good Taste.

Here’s a chance for a little interactivity for all the bloggers out there. Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food – but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.

Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras (not Pate de.)
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut Hot!
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini (Excess=martini glass full of olives, covered in gin. Eat olives. Discard gin.)
58. Beer above 8% ABV (Maybe? Not for that specific purpose.)
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads (
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

…Adding:

Volcanoes (from the Quad Cities)
Bacon Chocolate
Baby octopi
Homemade mayonnaise

Bad cakes. Bad.

My sibs decorate good cakes. But these are bad cakes.

Why did I not see Cake Wrecks before? Why? Even Lee’s seen it before!

Mo’s Bacon Bar, by Vosges. Applewood smoked bacon, smoked salt, and deep milk chocolate. Unfortunately, the bacon and the chocolate cancel each other out. The bacon had to be de-fatted for the most part (to stand up to the chocolate), so I found my teeth grinding away at the bacon, going, “This should be softer and greasier, not like bacon bits.” And the bacon damped down the chocolatiness of the chocolate, which wasn’t terribly sweet. Mixed with the salt, the difference between salty chocolate and dry bacon…meh.

Meh, meh, meh.

Lee had the same reaction, too. –It didn’t even taste like something that was bad for you. Had to be done, though.

The pickle chips seem to have disappeared.
Buuuuuurp.
What’s that smell?

A growler of beer is 1/2 gallon, or 64 ounces. A bottle of beer is 12 ounces. One growler equals 5 1/3 bottles of beer.

My boss kindly let me take my last floating holiday off after we discovered the current fiscal year cut off four days before the beginning of the next fiscal year. So I took off on Friday, which promised to be the slowest of the days available (everything went to hell regardless).

So, in the interest of research on Alien Blue, which-as-you-know-Bob, is my story about aliens and beer, I dropped in on a local brewery.

Rocky Mountain Brewery is the new brewery side of My Homebrew Shop, run by Dwayne Lujan. I went on a recommendation by a coworker, in fact, the same coworker whose constant ramblings about his adventures in homebrew that were one of the seeds of the story.

You know what? My impression is that homebrewing is a lot like writing, in that a lot of people talk about wanting to do it but don’t actually get around to it; a smaller number of people (but still a fair amount) do get around to doing it, but in a halfassed way; a small number of people dig far enough into the craft to get any good at it; and a very few people have become very fine indeed, with well-chosen failures and surprising successes.

The brewery seems like it’s on its way toward the last group. Granted, I don’t know all that much about beer, but I do know more than most people do. –I know more about rocket science than most people do, but you wouldn’t want me with one hand on the big, red button, either. I can look at a piece of equipment and tell you whether it’s the fermenter or the lauterer.* I know what fresh hops smell like. I know that Irish moss and isinglass**are good for getting rid of unwanted proteins and involve collagen somehow. But I thought it was good, and I’m excited to go back in a week and a half and try the raspberry cider when it comes out.

So anyway. I walked in what looks like the right door but probably wasn’t. The place isn’t pretty. It’s in a big tin-sided warehouse/garage/redneck strip mall building, and the interior hasn’t been finished off yet. They’ve built a bar for tasting, but some of the drywall isn’t painted, and you can walk right into the brewing area if you feel like it.

I didn’t see anyone, so I wandered through the brewery into the homebrew shop. Thirty types of malt, or more. A fridge that looked like it had been stolen from a good florist was filled with drawer after drawer of different types of hops and mad-scientist vials of yeast varieties. Specialty grains. Malt-in-a-can. Powdered corn sugar. Preprinted wine labels. Caps and caps and more caps. I opened up some of the malt barrels, shoved my face in, and sucked up the smell of a field of late-summer grain toasting under the sun. Ahhhh…

One of the guys came over eventually. He looked like he was barely old enough to drink legally, let alone brew beer that was any good, but he was. Later, I met the owner, but he was extremely busy and seemed kind of creeped out by having a female in his space making direct eye contact–an Iowa grandpa type, if you know it.

I told the younger guy what I was doing–I suspect “I’m writing a book” is kind of like a Get Out of Jail Free Card–and said I was considering brewing a batch of beer on premises, which I am. The homebrew shop has this deal where you can brew a five-gallon batch of beer for about $65, using their equipment and advice. You could do wine, too, but I forgot how much that was. Beginners kits for both, too.

Well, that got me a tour. I feel like…I know more about beer than I did before I walked in there. It’s hard to explain; I feel like I’ve always known the things I know now, only I know that I didn’t know them before I walked in there on Friday.*** At any rate, it connected all my carefully-researched bits of information into a whole.

I tried the Rocky Mountain Brunette (a nut-brown ale) but wasn’t impressed; I’ve never had a nut-brown ale before, and I suspect the whole genre isn’t to my taste. My tastebuds said, “Where’s the porter? Where’s the stout?”

The Smoked Hefe Weissen was worth writing home about.**** I took to it immediately, but the guy I talked to warned everyone else who tried it–I was there for a couple of hours–that they might not like the smokiness at first taste, but it would grow on them. It did.

I’m used to unfiltered wheat beers that feel like you can chew on them, refreshing but mighty in the thews, as it were, so I wasn’t expecting theirs. A light, slightly-filtered beer with crispness and a bite on the tongue, it turned out to be the perfect beer-and-pizza beer. Summer food beer. I wish I’d had crab salad and crackers to eat with it, now that I think about it. Happily, it’ll be one of the permanent beers on the brew list, so I can take home a growler whenever I feel like it, which is what I did on Friday.

Unfortunately, they’d almost been drunk out of house and home since their grand opening, and they were out of the porter and amber ale I’d spied on the list, and the raspberry cider.

Aw…

So if you’re in town, I recommend stopping by. If you’re not in town, I recommend finding out whether you have a small brewery nearby. It’s a lot of fun.

*Probably.
**Seaweed and fish bladders.
***If that makes sense, cut back on the Dramamine.
****Hi, Mom!

Yours truly is blogging at the food journals over at Accidental Hedonist. Sometimes yours truly even gets on the front page. But mostly not.

Cookthink has a new feature, “What are you craving?” Click on “my cookthink,” sign up for a free account, and tell them what you want–ingredient, dish, cuisine, mood, or just type it in:

Nutmeg (ingredient) + Grill (dish) + Contrast (mood) =

Chicken in Parchment with Carrots, Tomatoes, and Chickpeas
Grilled Orange-Rosemary Lambchops

…and something completely different than what I asked for:

English Vegetable Soup

Nevertheless, it sounds good. I’d been thinking of how to do just this with an Access database, and now I don’t need to. Good. I don’t like dealing with databases…

Located in Colorado Springs.

Spendy but wonderful. We went there on Friday night to celebrate Ray being out of the house, more or less. A lot of the people I asked about the place hadn’t been there or hadn’t heard of it, which seems like a shame. It’s the painted building just off the east side of the Cimarron bridge.

The place really was a warehouse, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that it was so big inside, but it did. A more-or-less normal dining room is off to the left, with a large, open room on the right for large gatherings. The walls are covered with art, some of it just plan eh, but a lot of good pieces. A few things I’d consider buying if I had the cash–a cubist nude by Stephanie Clair, an impressionist landscape of a factory blowing off steam–Lee liked others. The one we both agreed on, what looked like a Native American buffalo hide, without the hide and not nearly so busy, didn’t have a price or an artist’s name on it. A guy that looked like either the owner or the head chef thanked us for looking at the pictures; apparently most people don’t feel comfortable wandering around and gawking. Or just don’t take the time.

I ordered a strawberry salad with a balsamic reduction and the roasted cranberry-orange pepperduck. Lee had a salad with feta, cranberries, and cashews and the peppercorn-crusted rib eye. We both had beer. I tried to order a Guinness, but they didn’t have any–didn’t have a beer list, as a matter of fact. I asked them to bring something similar, and the waitress said what it was, but I don’t remember the name, and it wasn’t anything close. Too bad; a Guinness would have been perfect.

Lee’s food was good, but mine was better.

The balsamic reduction was the consistency of blood, only darker. It tasted like pepper and anise* and was so strong I had to stop to eat some bread midway through. I’d never had duck before (Lee doesn’t like it). I ended up at a point where I had to budget the existing space in my stomach and had one hushpuppy like an onion ring without the slippery onion, a few roasted tomatoes, three slices of squash, and a small pile of cranberries left. I chose to suck the meat off the duck legs instead (although I did track down a few of the cranberries before I left off). Whether that means I like duck or I just like really good duck, I’ll leave it to you to decide. I would have rather had pomegranate seeds than cranberries, because of the season, but the cranberries worked almost as well.

The service was somewhat slow, but 1) there was a banquet going on in the next room and 2) we didn’t notice. Our waitress didn’t mess around–polite but not obsequious, over-cheerful, or pushy. My only gripe was the lack of beer list.

Lee said, “We should tell Dave and Margie about this place.” Which, to me, says pretty much the same things.

*I looked it up on the menu. It was Sambuca.

A pot de creme = homemade chocolate pudding. It’s creme brulee, with chocolate, without burnt sugar. It’s richer and more grown-up (but, conversely, less comforting) than regular, cooked chocolate puddings.

I used this recipe on New Year’s Day.* Although it only coughs up eight tiny, miniscule, itsy-bitsy, possibly even fussy (because you really should use separate containers, to prevent 1) overcooking and 2) fights) little puddings, think of it as eight large pieces of cake worth of calories, condensed. And totally low-carb.**

Now, the important element here is the chocolate. I used two bars of Green & Black’s Maya Gold. Dark, dark chocolate, still my biased favorite. The pots de creme were dark. Ray didn’t like it; it was too bitter. I loved it. Everyone else, I think, was too full to care, and, admittedly, they don’t like chocolate as much as I do.

But it almost called out for more bitterness. Coffee bitterness. I’m thinking you could really get down into the primal flavor of coffee + chocolate with this stuff. What’s your favorite espresso drink? (Well, honestly, mine’s a good cappuccino, but that’s almost more about the texture and the way it sinks into the cockles of your heart like a good chicken noodle soup than it is about a particular flavor. Almost.) But anyway, the interplay of chocolate and coffee should be pretty yummy here.

If I live, I will let you know.

*Alterations:

  • I melted the chocolate with the milk and did not quite reach a simmer; did not strain through sieve as the temp never hit high enough to mess with the milk proteins.
  • Didn’t use boiling water, only hot (which may have affected cooking time).
  • I raised the temperature to 350F after 45 minutes of the damned things not setting up. I’m halfway up a mountain; YMMV.
  • I normally throw creme brulees almost immediately in the fridge and end up with small cracks, which the sugar covers. I actually left the pots out on the counter for an hour as directed, no cracks. La! Let the light shine through the crack in my head :)

**Ha! I almost had you there, didn’t I?

by Betty Fussell.

Betty Fussell will never be an M.F.K. Fisher. Nevertheless, I picked up her book today and didn’t put it down until I’d finished it. (In case you don’t know Mary Frances, let me just say My Kitchen Wars is a memoir about Betty’s life, as seen through her experiences with food. She lived through the Depression, WWII, and so on…throughout her memoir, you get a sense of how Americans treated food through the years. Or at least some Americans.)

Her husband was Paul Fussell, a writer. A Writer. Betty Fussell’s Wikipedia entry says, “She is the former wife of Paul Fussell, a literary critic and military historian.” Her ex’s says, “His first wife, Betty Fussell, a food writer and biographer, whom he met at Pomona College, has written a memoir, My Kitchen Wars (1999), that discusses their more than 30 years of marriage in highly negative terms, including allegations that Fussell had adulterous affairs with both men and women.”

I don’t know. Memoirs, autobiographies always puzzle me. Especially when everyone involved is still alive. Is it the truth? If it isn’t the truth, why didn’t you sue for libel? Is it better to just let a bad marriage go at some point? Or was it the truth, and you’re content just to leave a question in people’s minds that it might not be true? Anyway, the book depicts years upon years of two people never talking straight with each other, of two people settling into a set of assumptions because it was more comfortable that way, then acting surprised when their spirits or what have you can’t take it any more, and push away. But it’s told with such a charming voice that you forget how superficial everyone’s been acting, how easily it’s all been justified. He thinks of her as just the wife, someone intelligent enough to talk to and stupid enough to take advantage of. She thinks of him as the provider, the force between her and chaos. She gives in on every point because he throws temper tantrums if she doesn’t. He thinks of her as too passive to be anything other than a wife. At the end, he says he wishes he hadn’t left her, doesn’t want to live without her, but can’t be bothered to talk about her new cookbook for five minutes. She says she had to leave him because she needed room to write where he couldn’t criticize her. But at the beginning of the book she says she still loves him.

Pfft.

Why was it so fascinating?

I’ve seen a lot of people whose marriages have come apart now. (And people like my parents, who got through the roughest parts and kept it together.) I don’t want to be in the same town, let alone the same room with them. Why spend a whole book with people in this situation?

From time to time, you get things like the moment, in the sixties sometime I think, when Betty goes to France with Paul and they have homemade bread and butter. Her reaction was that for the first time, she’d had real bread and real butter. After which, she (and the rest of her set) go nuts over nouvelle cuisine, cooking their way through Julia Child cookbooks, peeling the skin off ducks, in order to make pate en croute inside their sewn skin. Her marriage was like that, too: Paul Fussell was the first non-jock, non-gay guy she’d met after the war. He was witty and intelligent. She loved him, and then she let him run all over her life, making her follow all kinds of odd little rules that upper-middle-class people had to follow, then the rules that professors’ wives had to follow, then…

How does loving something get to be an overly complicated game? What do you do when you can’t play anymore? –I think that’s why I liked the book. The parallels between food and relationships was drawn well and nakedly, if not with an excessive amount of wisdom.

Today was the Great Octopus Expotition* of Rachael C. Kenyon. She’s been asking what octopus tastes like, so I told her I’d take her to the sushi place we like and we’d try some. Seriously? If you’re ever in a situation where your kid likes to try new foods, go to a sushi place and sit at the bar. The chefs had to discuss the order like three times, back and forth, back and forth, Ray ran over to the chef and watched the whole thing. They brought it over, and she waited to eat it for like five minutes, because she wanted to eat some miso soup and wait until my udon came. My lunch finally showed up, and I asked her if she was going to eat the octopus.

“It’s too big,” she said. Well, she was right. The rice was smaller than normal, and the octopus draped over the sides like a frilly dress (the way they cut the octopus means the purple edges look ruffled). So I ripped the excess off, and she dunked a piece in the soy sauce (no wasabi). The whole time, the chefs had been ignoring her. But they both glanced over as she chewed.

“How is it?”

One thumb up.

…but, honestly, I think they were won over when she started slurping udon noodles off a plate. The other chef made her a mocktopus, mock crab tied with seaweed on one end, shredded on the other, and deep fried. That got a “It has a good taste!”

By the time we left, we were both so full that we were ready to explode. When I told Ray that, she leaned over and whispered to me, “Miss Mary [her old preschool teacher] said she used to be skinny but then she ate so much candy that she exploded and that’s how she got to be fat!”

We both had to laugh about that.

*A la Roo, if you’ve seen The Heffalump Movie.

There is the science of cooking…and then there are the cooking metaphors of science.

Half-Life: The time required to convert one half of a reactant to product. The term is commonly applied to radioactive decay, where the reactant is the parent isotope and the product is a daughter isotope. (About.com)

Half-Life of Baked Goods: The periodicity for about half the cookies to be missing. May also be applies to radioactive decay. This is especially short for snickerdoodles.

Schrodinger’s Cat: We place a living cat into a steel chamber, along with a device containing a vial of hydrocyanic acid. There is, in the chamber, a very small amount of a radioactive substance. If even a single atom of the substance decays during the test period, a relay mechanism will trip a hammer, which will, in turn, break the vial and kill the cat. The observer cannot know whether or not an atom of the substance has decayed, and consequently, cannot know whether the vial has been broken, the hydrocyanic acid released, and the cat killed. Since we cannot know, the cat is both dead and alive according to quantum law, in a superposition of states. (WhatIs?com)

Schrodinger’s Cookie: We place a living child into the kitchen, along with a parent capable of handing out punishments. There is, in the kitchen, a batch of cookies intended for a Christmas party. If even a single cookie is missing, the parent will send the child to its room. The first parent’s back is turned. The other parent, in the living room, cannot know whether or not a cookie (see Half-Life of Baked Goods, above) has disappeared, and consequently, whether the child has been sent to its room. Since the parent cannot know, the child is both grounded and not grounded according to parental law, in a superposition of states. (Children grasp this thought experiment instinctively, i.e., “Eventually, Dad’s going to come into the kitchen and steal a cookie, and I’m going to be blamed for it, so I might as well have one, too.”)

Ray and I put together a gingerbread-house kit tonight. It was a good idea — whenever I make gingerbread, some kind of primal instinct says, “KILL KILL KILL.”* In short, it doesn’t last very long. But the gingerbread in the kit was already stale, hard, and didn’t smell like gingerbread at all.

Perfect. For building gingerbread-houses anyway.

I learned a valuable lesson today: with enough icing and candy, anything looks good.

Anyway, that got me thinking. What if, instead of candy and sugary treats, the witch in “Hansel and Gretel” gave the kids stew instead? Well, obviously, she couldn’t; the whole point of the story is that false friendship is no more satisfying in the long run than the starvation of being ignored. (The story isn’t just about the evils of too much sugar.)

From there, my mind started to wander…what if the witch didn’t have a sugar house? What kind of house would she have, now? Probably one made of crack. I was going to write that up as a story, but then I realized people have been telling that story over and over for the last couple of decades. “At home, there was nothing, I wandered into seductive lands, but they were hollow.” For example, Valiant by Holly Black. I loved that book…

*Like that one part in “Alice’s Restaurant.”

…An Optimus Prime Groom’s Cake.

So, in the spirit of the previous post, here are my recommendations for books for cookbook lovers:

The Art of Eating, by MFK Fisher.

This book collects four of Fisher’s essay collections. There are a few recipes, but the book is more about the author’s love of everything and how it ties into food than it is about cooking per se. You won’t learn how to cook from this book. It’s a book for people who already like to cook (and read)–they get to spend time with someone entertaining, warm, and human nattering on about the things they love.

Outlaw Cook, by John Thorne and Matt Lewis Thorne.

How to pull the notion of following recipes apart and actually cook. Again, a collection of short essays. –This is the kind of cooking that Stephen Brust would like, I think. Not the recipes so much as the general approach, that of a kind of witchcraft ritual (in which food has the primary focus) in which one must abandon what one has been told in order to get the job done right.

On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee.

The way food works, down to a chemical level. Awesome. If you’ve ever seen sixteen different recipes for the same thing, all giving different advice, and wondered why nobody could agree on anything, this is the book for you (or your cookbook lover*).

Glorious French Food, by James Peterson.

If every cook has one cookbook they daydream about cooking all the way through, this is mine. All the stuffy French food you see in classical cookbooks? This is not that. He will try to lead you through everything from aioli (“for heaven’s sake, don’t think of the calories”) to crepes suzette (“Crepes suzette…inhabited a celestial realm in which even teachers and parents were vague and inexperienced. Best of all, crepes suzette involved fire.”), but he won’t tell you you’re blaspheming if you switch out salted cod for barbecued chicken, fer gosh sakes. He doesn’t mess around more than he needs to, but he doesn’t play down to you, either. Every recipe I’ve tried from here, I’ve come out from it going, “Ahhhhhh, now I get it.” I also have his sauce, vegetable, and soup books, which are also awesome.

More Cookbooks

These all combine great recipes and entertaining writing…

The Commander’s Kitchen, by Ti Adelaide Martin and Jamie Shannon. Recipes from a New Orleans tradition, with well-told stories.

Cook What You Love, by Robert Blanchard and Melinda Blanchard. The dream of all cooks…start a successful restaurant in the Carribean and make enough money to write cookbooks and spend half the year in the U.S. Great recipes.

The Olive & The Caper, by Susanna Hoffman. My favorite Greek cookbook, it captures the flavors of Greek food without getting staid. I don’t know how, but a lot of Greek cookbooks manage to be BOOOOOORING. Not so here.

*Not that I’m implying you actually sleep with cookbooks.

Barbara Fisher talks about cookbooks and the cooks who love them over at Tigers & Strawberries:

No–I think it is more fun to give the bookish cook a real live book, and see their eyes light up with joy upon unwrapping it. You can just tell that he or she wants to just open the book and dive in nose-first, but they know it is impolite to do so. This means that they have to contain their enthusiasm for a time, and it is fun to watch them squirm.

She also says, “…For the bookish cook, cookbooks are meant to be read as much as they are meant to be cooked from.”

Just so.

…One of the books she recommends is the Veganomicon. Heh.

At my parents’ house, we used to make homemade pizza every Saturday night. (This was before Uncle Howard died of a heart attack in his forties and Dad’s cholesterol was afterwards discovered to be terrifyingly high.) My mom does most of the cooking, but (like grilling in most households), pizza is Dad’s domain.

If I’m remembering it right, he made the dough himself. (I know he did sometimes and he has been lately, I just don’t know when he started.) The thing I remember best about the dough was the sound of the tiny bubbles fizzing as they were punched down. We’d spread the dough out on the pans (South Dakotans, in general, aren’t pizza tossers), load them up with tomato sauce stirred with a bare minimum of oregano and an excess of salt, cover them with meat (pepperoni), and slather them with a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella.

Good stuff, but…I grew out of it.

When I started cooking for myself, I didn’t make homemade pizza. There were other, more exiting things to try. I went through the SPICES phase, where everything has to have at least six spices, and I went through the don’t-follow-the-important-parts-of-the-recipe because-that’s-more-daring phase, in which I ended up with clumps of pasta (not enough water), collapsed bread (old yeast), and lots of other embarrassing dishes that I’ve wiped from my memory the way some people erase childhood abuse. Lately, I’ve been trying the “simple” phase. Honestly, it’s kind of a relief.

I think I can track it back to reading The Outlaw Cook, by Matt Lewis Thorne and John Thorne. One of the essays was about something called a plowman’s lunch–onion, bread, cheese, beer. He talked about how these things could transformed into more sophisticated dishes (for example, onion soup) but still shared the same simple essence, which could be reached most clearly through the basic ingredients. I’m putting this in a much wordier, intellectual way that I should be, but that’s the college education for you.

Anyway, I tried it. Onion, bread, cheese, beer. Good stuff. I didn’t have to screw around with it too much, but I could if I wanted to.

One day, I saw refrigerated cans of pizza dough at the grocery store, and I picked up a couple. It was the second week in November, and I was in “Must Write Novel” phase, which equates to “But of Course I Don’t Have Time to Cook.” Also, I have a six-year-old who likes to help in the kitchen, and you gotta take advantage of that.

So she squished out the pizza and I cut up some peppers and mushrooms. Ray spread out the pre-made spaghetti sauce and put the veggies on. We grated some mozzarella over top (not too much) and threw it in the oven. I broiled it for the last minute or so.

Delicious. It took us half an hour, and I’m talking with-six-year-old time here. Nothing happens in half an hour with a six-year-old, dammit.

So I thought about it.

Pizza doesn’t have to be a big production. At its simplest, it’s bread and cheese that have been cooked together, warm bread, melted cheese. It’s essentially a roasted dish, dry heat. It doesn’t have to be Italian-themed.

So what’s good roasted? is my thought.

We did the next experiment today, and it was fun. Ray was in complete denial of there being any possibility of the pizza being edible. Lee walked around making faces and raising eyebrows.

Ray’s on her second piece, and Lee said, “That’s not bad,” but in that tone of voice that South Dakotans use to say, “You could make that again and I wouldn’t make fun of you next time.” High praise.

Here’s the recipe.

Brussell Sprout Pizza

1 tube refrigerated pizza dough

Spread the dough out on a greased, heavy-bottomed cookie sheet.

Garlic Sauce

Heat about 2T butter in a saucepan over medium high heat. Add two cloves of chopped garlic and saute for a minute. Sprinkle the mixture with about 2T of flour and stir until the floury smell disappears. Add 1t salt. Pour in 1/2c. heavy cream and stir over heat until thickened. Pull the mixture off the heat and spread it on the dough after it’s stopped bubbling.

4 oz. (1/2 box) mushrooms (I used baby bellas), sliced thickly
About the same volume of Brussels sprouts, stem ends trimmed and sliced the same way you did the mushrooms

Sprinkle the vegetables evenly across the sauce and dough. Grate cheese over the pizza–I used Oaxaca, because they had it at the Mexican market I like–but not so much that it covers the veggies totally.

Put the pizza in a 400F oven for about 15 minutes, or until the dough is starting to turn brown around the edges. Finish the pizza by broiling it until the cheese turns brown and the veggies start to turn dark and dry around the edges.

As I sat down to supper, I noticed that Ray had left long, purple marker streaks on the table when she was making elephant pictures last night. This led, naturally enough, to experiments: what takes purple marker off a Southwestern-style table?

Water doesn’t.
Murhy’s oil soap doesn’t.
But magic erasers do.

After seeing exactly what the magic eraser did take off the table top (ewww), it was necessary to wash the whole thing with Murphy’s oil soap. The water turned yellow, then orange, then brown, and finally black, after which I tried the magic eraser again…ewww. I eventually had to stop; the eraser was shredded.

I washed off the table with clean water and took some lemon oil to it. It didn’t look like I was doing much, but when I stepped back, I could tell where I’d oiled and where I hadn’t. I discovered a purple spot that I’d missed, but the magic eraser was too filthy to rinse out anymore. Next time. Lee came in and asked me whether I wanted help: he could work on it this weekend…

I told him no, it was a pretty comforting thing, being able to clean the top of the table. I’ve liked the smell of Murphy’s oil soap ever since we had to use it on the pews and woodwork in the Stephan church, and the lemon oil was much subtler than I thought it would be. Doing something simple, repetetive, with more or less immediate results? I’m selfish that way.

I considered buying a plastic tablecloth, but I don’t think I will. What’s a table? What’s a table for? An investment? An heirloom, to be passed to future generations, without blemish or particular character? When you have a table with wood that beautiful, you’re supposed to be able to see it. You can’t see if it you only take the cover off when company comes. If then.

I think I’ll find a few largish placemats for projects, though. The one we have is being used to put the plants of questionable life span closer to the window, and has a crack down the center that looks like it was cut with an X-acto knife. I’m not sure whose fault that was.

Dagoba Organic Chocolate, New Moon (74%)

Decent. Nicely balanced between fruity (not a specific fruit, just fruity) and loamy/earthy tastes. After the lavender and xocolatl, though, I was expecting to be seriously impressed. Nope. It was good, but I’d rather have the lavender and eat Green & Black’s dark chocolate instead. Better than Godiva by a good bit, though.

3400 Phinney Chocolate Factory, Coconut Curry Milk Chocolate

Um, huh?

My mouth was confused. Confundicated. Wha? Mild milk chocolate — it could have been the stuff they make cheap Easter rabbits out of, for all I could tell, with the curry that was mixed with it. Unlike the Dagoba Xocolatl (chile powder and nibs) bar, the curry totally overwhelmed the chocolate. I ate it, but my palate felt dizzy. What can I say? I was playing WoW, and you just nibble on anything in reach, if you’re not careful. I guess if you were feeling edgy, you might be all right with this, but I was disappointed. They have a Chai flavor…maybe I’ll try that instead.

Ah, chicken chili. Usually my reaction to it is, “this would be better with pork.” I saw yet another lowfat recipe for chicken chili today…bleah, move on…

Wait!

What if I made a non-lowfat chicken chili recipe? And worked on making it not bland, without covering up on the lack of flavor by upping the spiciness? An interesting challenge. Here’s the result, which is currently in the process of making my stomach growl while I wait for the flavors to meld a bit.

4 chicken thighs (skin on)
5-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and rough ends trimmed
salt
chipotle powder (you could use a very small amount of any powdered chili pepper; use cayenne rather than chili powder, which is full of stuff that doesn’t need to be roasted)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Put the thighs and garlic on a sided, heavy-bottomed pan. Sprinkle the thighs with salt and (lightly) chili powder. Pour just a bit of olive oil over the garlic, to keep it from burning while the chicken releases its juices. Roast until the juices in the center run clear, about 20 minutes. If you roast the chicken significantly ahead of time, pour the juices out of the pan and reserve.

1/2 white onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 anaheim pepper, seeded and chopped
1 T olive oil
2 cans high-quality chopped tomatoes
Thyme (5-6 sprigs or a teaspoon or so of dried)
1 can pinto beans or the bean of your choice

Saute the onion, garlic, and pepper lightly in the olive oil over medium heat. As soon as the onions turn translucent (you’ll be underdoing this a bit), add the tomatoes in their juice and the thyme. As soon as the chili comes to a simmer, reduce the heat to low.

As soon as the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and shred the chicken into small chunks. Chop the garlic into same. Add the chicken, garlic, the pan juices, and as much of the brown gunk as you can scrape out of the pan to the chili.

Add the beans (if you like thinner chili, make sure you rinse them before add them). Make sure the heat is low and let the chili simmer. You could adjust the seasoning with salt or extra chili pepper, but it seems pretty good so far.

Serve the chili with any vegetables you want to add that shouldn’t be mushy — I’m doing cilantro and red pepper. I really wanted an avocado, but I just went shopping today, and the consistently underripe ‘cados at Super Target are always hard as rocks, and I didn’t feel like driving to the Mexican greengrocer today, because it was snowing and I wanted a nap. Oh, and cornchitos, which is apparently De-speak for non-tortilla Frito-style corn chips. And non-lowfat sour cream.

I was trying to figure out a name for this recipe…it’s kind of a fusion between Thai & Chinese versions of hot & sour soup, but what a terrible name for a recipe, right? “Fusion Hot & Sour Thai & Chinese Soup.” So I fused the words “hot” and “sour” together…also reflects approximate prep time, so why not?

I wasn’t brave enough to add eggs; it just sounded wrong when I made it. Maybe it’s because the Thai version doesn’t have eggs and is so much less RICH than the Chinese version. I didn’t have any lemongrass on hand, so I threw in a bag of Thai Chai and a bag of Ginger Lemongrass tea. For more authenticity, you could crush a stalk of lemongrass and throw in three or four kaffir lime leaves instead. But I was winging it.

1 1/2 c. uncooked shrimp (I used tail-on).

Thaw shrimp if necessary; remove tails and reserve.

1 box chicken broth (1 qt; use homemade if you have it*)
1 pt. water
8-10 tiny thai chilis (I have a bag of frozen ones; they keep forever if you can find them) or crushed red pepper to taste (say, 3-4 of the chilis you put in kung pao chicken)
1″ ginger, sliced into chunks
3 green onions (I have problems with them going bad, so I’ve started throwing them in the freezer for soup when they start getting brown)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
2 Thai chai tea bag (or regular chai, or any tea containing lemongrass, or a combination, or 1 lemongrass stalk and 3-4 kaffir lime leaves, which is what you would add to real Thai soup)
Shrimp tails

Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for at least 20 minutes. Strain and discard solids.

1 box mushrooms, sliced into strips
2 carrots, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
2 T. turbindo/natural sugar (I would say use white sugar over regular brown, or maybe mirin instead)
1 T. sesame oil
2 T. soy sauce
1 t. powdered, dried ginger
1 lime, peel grated into soup and juice squeezed into soup through
filter (to catch seeds)

Return to a boil, then simmer until the carrots are nearly done.

1 box silken tofu, diced
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
Shrimp

Add the tofu, cilantro, and shrimp and cook until the shrimp have turned pink all the way through. Remove from heat. Serve with thai hot sauce (or similar) on the side.

*I need to start marking chicken carcasses “Soup Corpse” or something similar, don’t I?

Godiva
So I had my first bar of Godiva chocolate the other day. (I think I’ve had a couple of truffles before, but that’s not the same thing — you taste the filling more than you do the chocolate.) Out of all the different bars of chocolate I’ve eaten, you’d think I would have run across one earlier. As it turns out, department stores and chain bookstores sell Godiva…but World Market and good grocery stores don’t, in general.

Um…it was okay. Rich, but a little waxy-tasting, rather than buttery-tasting. Definitely not “creamy” as was claimed on the shiny gold packaging. No snap when broken. At first I thought I didn’t care for it all that much because it’s so hyped. But if so, why don’t more places carry it? I mean, more places where you might be able to compare it to something really good, like Schaffen Barger?

Choxie: Single Origin Chocolate Thin, 49% Venezuela Cacao
You know where you get Choxie? Target. Their thins were on sale last night, so I picked up a bunch. This was about the same intensity as the Godiva, the same level of richness, but blessed with a friendly buttery texture that made me want to wander around licking the smudges off my hands (so I did). Nothing subtle for taste, just an easy crowd pleaser: this is what Godiva was shooting for, and ended up with “well, it’s better than Hershey’s” instead.

So when you’re in the mood for Godiva, get this instead. It’s better, cheaper, and easier to find. Neither one is the grand heights of chocolate essence, but the Choxie accomplishes what it sets out to do, while the Godiva makes you feel like the packaging is the best part of your purchase.

(a.k.a., Char Siu Bao)

If you want the real recipe for Char Siu Bao (or at least, a “realer” one than the one that follows), click here. But if you want to use up leftovers, and you have no patience with bread dough (or you’re just in a lazy mood), see below.

2 c. cooked pork roast, diced to 1/4″
1/2 c. (or less) char siu sauce (or bbq sauce with a little soy sauce stirred in)
3 pkgs. refrigerated dough for dinner rolls (the little ones, about 30)

Fill a medium-sized sauce pan with 1/4-1/2″ water and insert a vegetable steamer. Spray the steamer with baking/cooking spray, cover, and set to a boil over medium-high heat.

Mix the BBQ sauce into the pork; make sure the pork is relatively dry so the sauce doesn’t explode out of the buns.

Flatten one of the dough rolls in the palm of your hand and put 1T or so of filling in the center. Squish the dough around the ball, leaving a puckering kiss shape behind (I pinched them into half-circles, then squished them into a more rounded shape). Repeat with the rest of the rolls.

Place four of the buns in the steamer insert, leaving lots of space between them. Cover and steam until the dough is cooked, about 3-4 minutes. Spray the steamer with more baking spray and refill water as necessary.

Ray says, “These are the best ever!”

I say, “Death to leftovers. AAAUUUUGGGHHH!”

I have now tried two Dagoba flavors:

Xocolatl and Lavender Blueberry.

The xocolatl, full of chilis and other spices, was almost more than I could take. Intense, bold chocolate that viciously managed to hold up against the powerful chilis. I could eat maybe two bites before I had to call off until next time…but I finished the whole bar, nose running and eyes tearing up at times. Other chili-flavored chocolates I’ve tried haven’t been too terribly remarkable, which is pretty remarkable in and of itself.

The lavender blueberry smells like an attack of bath salts, with fresh lavender that climbs up your nose and creeps around in your nose hairs, which sounds disgusting, but anybody who likes pungent smells like horseradish will tell you that’s exactly where the smell should go. The chocolate is less bold and more creamy, complementing rather than duelling it out with the lavender. The blueberry crops up as a small surprise now and then, and you realize that part of what you’ve been tasting all along is the blueberries, a smooth kind of taste-bridge between the chocolate and the lavender.

The reason I haven’t tasted the “plain” chocolate flavors yet is that I picked up the other two kinds and immediately had my nose vote for me. As good as these two were, I’m sure I’ll work my way around to the regular kind eventually.

A blog post from Accidental Hedonist on what makes a good bar. Personally, I’m looking more for a coffee shop, but I maintain the sentiment is the same. And don’t try to tell me to go to Pike’s Perk. Poor Richard’s, maybe.

The winner of a popular British TV modeling contest signs up as a plus-size model after getting burned by the fashion industry. She’s 5’11″ and weighs “eleven stone,” or 154 pounds.

Here’s a picture of one of the other competitors on the show, Marianne Berglund, who had no problems getting a contract.

(via By The Way…)

So here are the supposed top ten food books (from Epi-blog, the Epicurious blog). I’ve read…two.

Top 10 Food Books (not Cookbooks) That Every Chef Should Own
(in random order)

1) On Food & Cooking — Harold McGee ***Agree. What, a 1000 pages of heavy reading?
2) The Art of Eating — MFK Fisher ***A lovely book.
3) Kitchen Confidential — Anthony Bourdain
4) It Must’ve Been Something I Ate — Jeffrey Steingarten
5) Tender at the Bone — Ruth Reichl
6) The Tummy Trilogy — Calvin Trillin
7) The Omnivore’s Dilemma — Michael Pollan
8) Down and Out in Paris and London — George Orwell
9) Heat — Bill Buford
10) The Physiology of Taste — Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Mmmmm…..chocolate….

Heh. I’ve had this brand of chocolate (Vosges). It was waaaay to expensive. But this, I may actually fork out the $6.00 for, because what have you lived for in life, if you have turned your back on the ability to taste “Mo’s Bacon Bar”?

(Via Accidental Hedonist)

It’s too late to tell Lee, “Happy Birthday.” His birthday was yesterday. However, I was feeling kind of yucky, so he let me take a nap and goof off all day. Today was his birthday supper. I must say, I entirely hold with the tradition of having a birthday supper. Or lunch. Or whatever. I like to cook for people; unfortunately, I mostly hang out with Midwesterners, who think asking for what they really want is grotesque. Which means the only time you get an honest answer of what they really, selfishly want is…their birthday.

When I say, “Let me know if you have any requests,” I mean it. I mean, I really mean it. My cooking imagination can only come up with so many things on its own. Getting requests can be almost like being recommended new music by someone with good taste who listens to stuff I’ve never heard of before. Which I also enjoy.

Anyway…here’s the menu:

Steak (boneless rib-eye — who knew there was such a thing? I got it at Whole Foods.)
Bacon (not wrapped around the steak, which was grilled)
Mushrooms madeira
Roast potatoes

Notice: no real vegetables. Not even a wayward glance in the way of salad.

Steak:
Grilled, medium rare. I flipped mine often and let it sit off the burner (but still in the grill) for a few minutes after I was satisfied with the outside, then let it sit for fully five minutes on a plate before I even thought of cutting it. Juiciest damn steak I’ve ever had.)

Bacon:
Mmm. Bacon appetizers. What could be more appetizing than bacon?

Mushrooms:
Baby portabellas, cut very thick, sauteed in butter with a shallot tossed in near the end, until the sides were browned and dry. Salt, pepper. Pan not overcrowded (which I almost always do). Marsala sloshed in the pan and boiled down until disappeared. Butter added after heat turned off.

Potatoes:
Oven 400 degrees. Farmer’s market baby red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and put onto a stoneware cookie sheet (Jackie turned me on to these). Salt, pepper. Romano cheese grated over top. Garlic cloves tossed in for good measure. About 2/3 of a cup of butter blapped on at the last minute. Roast, stir, roast, stir. I just now read an article about roast potatoes where the cook threw them under the broiler for a few minutes to darken them even further at the end. Chewy, crispy, salty on the outside, creamy on the inside. Bliss.

Wine:
I generally don’t drink wine at home (Lee won’t drink it with me), but I had to open the Blue Monkey 2003 for this. Lovely, buttery, all umami and good. I’m going to try to pick up one of those sealant-pump thingies tomorrow, because otherwise I’m going to kill myself trying to finish this before it goes bad, I’m such a lightweight.

Chocolate:
Sharffen Berger 70% bittersweet, baby. To go with the wine.

Lee skipped the wine and the chocolate, but there you go.

Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention the pecan pie, but we haven’t touched that yet…

I don’t think I’ll ever make this recipe…boggles the mind, no? But I may always wonder.

(This was back in June.)

The Coffee Tree is this combination coffee shop/bookstore in Huntsville, pretty much off the beaten path as far as tourists go, and I had high hopes for it. I went in. It was like an old general store, with wainscotting and turned posts and mint-green paint. I was served by a man whose slowness was part of his charm. All the tables were mismatched; there was a sign advising you to watch your step as you entered the bookstore-half of the place; a black, painted iron bell hung over one table. The man talked me into New Orleans-style iced coffee and a chicken salad sandwhich on a croissant, and I sat under the bell.

One part of the room was set off with a half-wall: about twenty ladies, red-hat-clubbers without the hats, were playing mah-johngg. The sound of dimes crashing against the inside of the wooden boxes punctuated the pickety-clack of the tiles.

After a few minutes, the man came up to me, reached over my head, and rang the bell. The women all stopped their games and sang “Happy Birthday” to one of their number, without hesitation. The man brought out a tiny, yellow cake with a single candle, but I don’t think the woman stopped to eat it. They were all out of the place within two minutes.

After I’d finished eating, I went over to the bookstore side. It was run by a sloppy-looking man in an identical t-shirt, but his slowness was a matter of control manipulation rather than gentility. The bookshelves were half-empty and populated mainly by romances. The paint was old, and everything was covered in dust.

The split personality of the South, n’est-ce pas?

Monte Sano Park is set on top of a hill over Huntsville, high enough over the surrounding area to make my ears pop. To get there, I had to drive past ordinary houses, at least, houses ordinary for Huntsville: brick and wood. How do you make a house in Hunstville? Brick! and Wood! How to you make a different kind of house in Huntsville? Wood! and Brick!

I expected to be driving past the ritzy parts of town, to be honest — it’s been my experience that any kind of state park = nicer houses, or ones that give you the impression of paranoia and inbreeding. Or all of the above. Anyway, I thought I was lost for the longest time, even though I could see the signs, because the houses looked just like every other house I’d seen.

The park was filled with old stone everything. Old stone walls. Old stone buildings. Old stone gates. I drove past a few places until I got to an overlook: and then I had to stop, even though there was nobody around for quite a ways except for a guy in a truck. Not the kind of thing I would worry about, but the air was so hot and heavy and still, and the leaves were so smothering, and the view from the edge was full of quiet hills and still trees and so little else that I felt as if I could scream at the top of my lungs and never be heard, except by the incessantly calling birds. I have no idea what kind of birds they were, but it felt like a Hitchcock movie’s worth of them, just out of sight. So anyway it creeped me out that there was a guy with a truck. The truck was running with the windows up, and he was facing away from the edge. There was a cover on the back of the truck, the kind made of heavy plastic with a lock on it, and I could only think you could hide a body back there…

The trails were all marked with space shuttles, and under the enormous trees was a dense underbrush. As with everywhere in Hunstville off the main drag, there was a sense that nothing had changed since 1950 at the latest. At the very latest.

(Sao Tome) 70% Dark Chocolate

The cover says, “Rich and robust chocolate notes and hints of aromatic coffee.” Hm…it’s chocolate. Might it possibly have chocolate notes? Gosh! It does!

I’m not really picking up on the coffee hints, unless you’re talking about the smell when you roast coffee, which smells mostly like, um, chocolate.

It’s difficult to set aside dorky marketing. Puh-lease.

If anything, I would say there are hints of banana behind it all. Not the sweetness of bananas (it’s 70% chocolate, after all), but the aftertaste of a slightly green banana. If most of the chocolates I’ve been eating lately have “earthy” notes to them, this has more accents of greenery, of growing things. It makes me wonder what cocoa plants smell like, in and of themselves. The texture is bloody awful, it’s like eating something that’s been caked together and dried out rather than melted — that snap! you get from really good chocolate.

This would make a good baking chocolate, but it’s just not decadent. The kind of chocolate you share with an aunt, not a lover. I guess I’m prejudiced — it’s just not what I’m looking for/in the mood for.

1 pie crust
1/2 c. turbindo sugar (plus 1/4 c. or so for the top)*
1/2 t. ground fresh nutmeg (totally worth it for this pie)
1/2 c. cream
3 T. flour
3 1/2 c. fresh peach slices
1/2 c. blueberries

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.

Mix the cream, sugar, nutmeg, and flour together until blended. Slice the peaches, putting them in the cream mixture to keep them from turning brown. Fill the pie crust with the mixture, then top with the blueberries.

Put the pie on top of the cookie sheet. VITALLY IMPORTANT! Pie juice can be harnessed but never fully restrained!

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the peaches “give” but are not mushy. Remove from oven. Heat the broiler. Sprinkle the remaining sugar on top of the pie and slip it under the broiler for a minute or two to brown/crystallize the sugar on top of the pie.

Let the pie cool down.

No, really, let the pie cool down.

Yeah, burned your finger, didn’t you? Just LEAVE IT ALONE!

Serve with real whipped cream.

*Why? Because it gives the pie just a little bit of a caramel taste.

Kate over at Accidental Hedonist has a list of things she wishes she’d known at 20, now that she’s 40:

  • Beer comes in flavors.
  • Hollywood produces hype better than they produce entertainment.
  • Most television news is entertainment disguised as “the public’s right to know.”

That gets me thinking (although I’m not yet 40). So here are five things I wish I’d known.

  • Even as black is made up of all colors, it is possible to wear colors other than black and still carry that little bit of coolio protection around with you.
  • Being angry is usually a waste of time. So is wringing your hands, beating your head against the wall, shyness, writer’s block…
  • “Gentleman” may be a dirty word, but only because people perverted what it means to actually be one — from being fair (and more than fair) to opening doors and expecting sexual flirtation as payback (yes, “Gentlemen” will watch your butt go by as you walk past them). “Lady” pretty much works the same way.
  • Figuring stuff out is hard. People are hypocrites — because it’s so hard. It’s okay to love them anyway. After all, some of them love you.
  • When it comes to boys, there’s a fine line between “jackass” and “dull.” That’s where all the interesting boys are, not out in “I’m too sexy/cool/freaky” land.

So what are five things you wish you’d known? (Or, if you don’t feel like admitting any age past 21 could happen to you, what are five things you wish people would just shut up about?)

I made leftover soup today, which was a couple of chicken carcasses with all the decent-sounding leftovers I could find in the fridge thrown in. I even cut off the rind on a romano-peccarino and threw it in (I’m so smart). My fridge is clean, my house smells wonderful, my cold bows down before the chickeny goodness…

However, the beautiful purple peppers that I picked up (only two) at the farmer’s market last week turned WHITE!

Awwww….

Ooooooooooooh.

Fall is coming! Fall is coming! Pickle chips (a quintessential summer food) and fresh salsa, while still craved, are now being at least partially supplemented by smoky foods: grilled sausages, tacos with chipotle powder, smoked-mozzarella grilled cheese sandwhiches (which will also contain basil, a summertime taste).

A cake shaped like the Tardis.

As gezelling girl says, “My love of food and nerdiness combine at last!”

by Mark Bittman.

…And I do mean simple.

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