Saturday, November 07, 2009

Tofousse of Confusion

Being more GI aware, I made the tofu mousse with a limited amount of sugars. It went very much like this, but with the following changes:

Instead of a store-bought crust, do the following: blend 2 cups almonds, 5 tblsp virgin coconut oil, and 5 tblsp splenda in the food processor. Press into a pie pan until it's the right size for the filling.

Substitute semisweet chocolate chips with sugar-free (SF) choco chips. Also, if the SF is a brand as crappy as hershey, throw in a couple of tablespoons cocoa powder. Those people apparently don't know how to dose chocolate to low carb people.

Be aware that the mix will set up IMMEDIATELY. Like, when you blend the SF chocolate into the tofu. Something to do with the maltidol, I guess.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Flax, Salmon, Whey, Pain

There has been a painful gap in the culinary tour this blog has become, and that is because my wife and I test-drove the so-called "Velocity Diet" for a couple weeks. It's basically 1400-1800 kCals worth of protein shakes, fish oil, flax seeds, multivitamins, and spectacularly artificial flavorings per day. I had some pretty good results with it, nothing like what a real weightlifter would, but still good, and my sweetie did pretty darn well herself.

The diet meshed well with a generalized feeling I've had since the Virginia hike that the ol' body is not really a body of a thirty-something. It needs to be a lot lighter, for one. I'm beginning to understand that it's not so important how much I can bench/squat/deadlift, but rather the weight in proportion to body weight. Also, if I can't do five pullups it's an obvious sign that I'm not truly fit, I'm just large. The way past that is macronutrient management, along with general caloric management. Don't do carbs last thing in the day. Hold back on the bad oils, like those in corn-fed beef, pork, cheese . . oh hell, everything is corn fed. Broccoli is your God. Choke down twenty five grams of protein at a sitting and little else. Except for good oils and fiber, naturally.

The fun part of this is it's like learning to cook all over again. Like adjusting this flax bread recipe for example. How to make bread without carbohydrates . . hmm. Definitely a challenge. I think it's OK but my wife thinks it's a little foul, until it's toasted, anyway. Might make some fine bruschetta, actually.It seems to rise, but not so much. Maybe next time I should beat the egg whites until they're fluffy, to bring a little more air in and make a better rise.

For me, though, pasting this stuff with chevre and nova salmon (the sort of sashimi kind) is pure joy. Goaty love and fish butter, on a bread like substance? Sign me up!

This particular recipe is going to get the hell modified out of it (staying within health guidelines, of course), because I'm not sure the writer of it is a foodie or has spent any measurable amount of time within thirty kilometers of a foodie. Ha! I can make this delicious.

Belated Mt. Rogers Hike Pictures

Section hiking from Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area headquarters to Damascus

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Easy Spanish Pot Roast

Serves about 6

You'll need a dutch oven, a cutting board, a sharp knife, some tongs, and a long spoon for stirring.

2.5 lbs chuck roast (chuck blade roast is better, seven-bone chuck roast is best)
1 onion, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper
8 oz tomato puree
1 cup beef stock
2 tsp cumin
1/4 cup red sofrito (found in the latino ethnic section)
2 tbsp+1/4 cup Olive oil
Salt and pepper
12 oz or so frozen peas
1 cup green olives, drained

Yellow rice mix
Loaf of bread

If necessary, cut up the chuck roast so it can fit in the dutch oven.

Put 1 tbsp of olive oil in the dutch oven and put it on high heat until the oil shimmers. Working in batches, brown the meat chunk(s) on all sides. Use tongs to manipulate the meat. Remove the meat as you go and put on a platter. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 300.

Add the onion and green pepper and fry until soft. Add everything else EXCEPT the peas and olives, starting with the beef stock. Stir. Make sure you get the beef crusties off the bottom of the pot and into the liquid. Put the beef back in the pot. Put the cover on the dutch oven and slide into the oven.

Set an alarm to go off in three hours. Turn off the oven and, USING OVEN MITTS, carefully pull the roast and put on the stovetop. Stir in the frozen peas and the olives. Lid and let it sit.

While it's sitting, make up the yellow rice mix according to the directions. Put out the bowl of yellow rice with the pot roast and the bread.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Here I Go Again

For some reason or other- aka scheduling nonsense- I blue blazed a great deal of the Mt. Rogers section of the Appalachian Trail during my through hike in 2006. I had therefore managed to bypass the most scenic terrain for the next five hundred miles, and one of high points of the entire trail. How clever of me. For the next week or so, I'm going back to correct that mistake, taking the real A.T. from Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area HQ to Damascus, VA.

A refresher on trail terminology. The various kinds of blazing are used by Appalachian Trail Purists and others who maintain that the trial is only properly through hiked if you follow the white blazes every inch of the way from Springer to Katahdin.

Veterans of the Pacific Crest Trail find purists amusing. Gigantic sections of the western trail are regularly closed due to fire, earthquake, John Birch, Gojiro, the Red Chinese, or some combination. All of these hazards require that the through hiker bypass the "official" route.

No such luxury for the AT Purist, though it must be noted that John Birch is loath to enter Vermont for any reason and Gojiro avoids the south because it is very hard to keep kosher there. No, true purists circle trees in the middle of the trail to make sure every inch of the trail is indeed walked. By temperament, I do not agree with these folks, but I respect their opinion while being compassionate of mental illness. Non-purists, meanwhile, do things like blue blazing and yellow blazing. Blue blazing is taking an alternate footpath. Yellow blazing is hitchhiking right past sections of the godforsaken trail, a practice known as Pennsylvania.

I am a little nervous about hiking. I always am. This section has no big climbs-these are not the Whites- but it has a lot of thousand foot humps and bumps, many of which look pretty steep. I only train a thousand feet of vertical climb in the gym, but I'm lucky if I do it several times in a week let alone several times in a day, and I have pretty much completed my transformation from twentysomething slacker to obese fortyish desk troll. The blood pressure is medicated, medical exams have started for random crap, shooting pains when I am especially wrapped up in work, hell, shooting pains pretty much whenever. It looks like the beginning of the path to early death that my father enjoyed, or, if I'm really lucky, Krakauering myself somewhere in the hills of southern Virginia. It doesn't seem like the head is big enough to hold this much anxiety.

And you know what? All that garbage goes right out the window when I have the pack on my back and the poles in my hands. Just plant the tips in the ground and smile, and remember that there is no trouble in the world that does not go away in the first thousand yards.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Coq Talk

If you let them, hard core French recipe sites will boss you around. Coq au vin, for example, is pronounced imperfect if it is not made with salt pork, old rooster, Chambertin, and thickened with rooster blood. Zut alors! You are usink ze BACON! I've run into the same thing multiplied like a zillion times when I was researching bouillabaisse (different topic, different topic).

The truth is, all those details with the blood and stuff are options. They're power windows on a great car. If you take a piece of meat, salt it, brown it on all sides, remove meat, deglaze the brown stuff with a flavorful liquid, replace the meat in the vessel, lid and braise for a reasonable period of time in a slow oven, it's going to be delicious. This is the Honda Accord of cooking methods, at least for cheaper cuts (you wouldn't cook a beef tenderloin this way). Everything else is optional.

Coq au vin, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) is pretty option-heavy. It is, however, very cheap and quite good. You are also considered an apt kitchen hand when you get it down, although for my money it's harder to make good mayonnaise consistently than it is to make coq au vin.

2 cups pearl onions (Publix has these little guys frozen, peeled, skinned and ready to roll)
4 chicken leg quarters, cut into thigh and drumstick portions
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons water
12 ounces salt pork or slab bacon
12 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 750 ml bottles wine, red flavor, something without a lot of tannins
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons chicken base or bullion
1 packet unflavored gelatin

A word about the wine. Anything with a lot of tannins is going to taste anywhere from astringent to downright nasty. Beaujolais, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir (red), Burgundy should be safe choices. Stay away from Zinfandel, Cabernet, Rhone, Syrah, Shiraz, and the like. Some Chiantis can work- one of the best coq au vins I ever made was with a giant bottle of cheap Chianti. Not all Chiantis, though. Keep in mind that cheaper wines are often lower in tannins than their more dollarific counterparts.

Salt the chicken pieces on all sides with some kosher salt. Let them sit and watch you cook. They get lonely otherwise.

Thaw out your tiny little onions if you followed my advice and got the bag of prepped frozen onions. If you didn't, peel the fresh ones you bought and try not to slash your wrists out of tedium while I laugh at you from my internet kitchen sanctum. Sure sure, fresh tiny onions are way better than frozen convenient onions, blah blah blah, I know.

Get a big heavy pan out and put it on medium heat. Dice the salt pork/bacon into, eh, .5" cubes. Put the cubes into the pan with a couple tablespoons water, cover. After a few minutes the water should be gone and the cubes should be starting to give up some of their fat. Cook uncovered until the cubes are crispity brown and have covered the bottom of the pan with a nice layer of the pork fat. Remove, let them cool a bit then put them in a giant ziplock bag.

Put those teensy onions in the pan and saute until somewhat brown on most of their surfaces. They won't be an even brown, that's OK. If they're not terribly soft add some water, cover, and steam until they get at least knife tender. Then let the water evaporate and brown them again. These go into the giant ziplock.

Put the chicken, skin side down, into the goopy pan. Sizzle until brown, then flip. Depending on the diameter of your big heavy pan, this will take anywhere from two to four batches. Remember not to crowd the pan.

There's something sort of counterintuitive about browning unfloured chicken in the pan like this. When it comes time to flip, if the chicken skin is sort of clinging to the bottom of the pan, just let it sit a bit longer. Seriously. Don't try and scrape it off, that only ends in despair and shreds of meat and skin clinging to the pan. But by letting it sit and browning a bit longer, the proteins in the skin will change their structure and loosen their grip on the pan. If this technique doesn't quite work, put a bit of water in the pan. The steam will get between the meat and the metal and pop that chicken off, no problem. Well, maybe not pop exactly, but how about not stick quite so tenaciously. You want to avoid leaving big pieces of skin on the bottom of the pan, because the skin is happier on the chicken.

As you cook the chicken, put the browned pieces in a casserole big enough to hold all the chicken in a single layer, plus your 2 750 ml bottles of wine. Put the chicken down in a single layer in such a casserole as you go.

Take your sliced mushrooms and throw them in the pan so they are laying there in a single layer. Saute. Let them take some color from the pan. If you need to do them in more than batch, shove the ones that are done from the center to the peripery of the pan, then dump the newcomers right in the center of the pan. Mushrooms have a ton of water in them, it takes some real determined incompetence to burn them, especially on medium heat, which is what we're still on, if you recall. When suitably browned, put the shrooms in the giant ziplock.

It is now time to be very careful and deglaze. Grab a bottle of wine and put in a cup or so of the red stuff, right into the pan. Lots of steam, it will burn you. Be careful. With the wine in the pan, scrape the brown stuff off the bottom of the pan and into the wine. As we've mentioned previously, the brown stuff is called fond and without it and the process of deglazing French cuisine would probably not exist. It's a great contribution, deglazing, useful no matter if you're making French or Thai. Deglazing also greatly simplifies dishwashing, which I am pretty sure is why it was invented.

Once the fond is completely dissolved in the wine, add the tomato paste, garlic, and chicken base/bullion. Stir until these are dissolved, then pour this over the chicken in the casserole. Then add the rest of the wine to the casserole with the thyme and bay leaf. Chop up your vegetables and add them too, the onion, carrots, and celery. Lid the vessel and in it goes into the refrigerator, at least overnight and supposedly for as long as three days.

Before you forget, seal the giant zip lock full of goodies and put that in the fridge too. You might have to eat some leftovers to make room for all this stuff. Go to bed.

Next day, or whenever you decide to cook the thing, heat the oven to 325 and put the casserole- chicken, marinade, and all- right into the oven. Cook for 2 hours at 325.

When the chicken is done there is a bit of confusing pot juggling. Carefully take your chicken out of the braising vessel. The pieces will want to come to bits, try and keep that from happening. Use tongs. With a colander, strain the braising liquid into a big pot. Discard the sorry remains of the vegetables and herbs. Return the chicken pieces to the braising vessel and lid to keep the heat in. Put the big pot with its braising liquid on high heat. Put the packet of gelatin in 1/4 cup of cold water.

Reduce the braising liquid in the big pot until you have, eh, about 2 cups left. Or so. This depends on your wine choice and a lot of other things. The liquid will be thickened and glossy, and when you stir it you will hear a little sizzle as the sauce pulls a bit from the bottom of the pot. Towards the end you will have to stir constantly to keep it from burning, because wine has a lot of sugar in it and there's not a hell of a lot of water left in there. Once it has thickened to your satisfaction, turn the heat to low and add the bloomed gelatin to the liquid, stir to dissolve the gelatin blob into the sauce. Get the big ziplock full of goodies from yesterday- the one with the pork bits, the onions, and the mushrooms. Add this to the sauce and stir until the goodies are heated through. Take the sauce with the goodies incorporated and just pour that over the chicken in the casserole. See? It's pretty. And you thought it'd never be done.

Serve with lots of good crusty bread. As far as I'm concerned, the chicken is just chicken, but the sauce. Huh, yeah. The bread gives you a good media to smear it in. Try and restrain yourself from smearing it all over your body. Sounds gross? You haven't made this yet.

For this reason, it is customary to serve this with broad egg noodles, again to get more of the sauce into your mouth. I prefer more bread, but whatever works. Little boiled potatoes, or mashed, would work here as well.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Yellow Vindaloo

Vindaloo started as a portugese phrase before becoming an Indian restaurant staple, but in English vindaloo usually means "pain". The deep red color of the dish has nothing to do with tomatoes or paprika. No sir, the red color is all chili peppers, the tiny varieties, eighteen of them for a pound and a half of meat. Yowza. Not stuff to feed your friends, at least, not if you like them.

I had one guest that was a chili head but the rest were somewhat heat sensitive, and one guest didn't like heat of any kind, so I decompiled my vindaloo recipe and made a vindaloo without chili. The dish turned out to be stoplight yellow from all the tumeric. I also streamlined the recipe for speed. The end result wasn't quite vindaloo, but it sure in hell wasn't bad either.

1.5 lbs chuck or other stew meat, cut in 1-2" cubes
2 tbsp black pepper
1/2 cup malt vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp red pepper flakes (OK, so there is some heat)
8 green cardamom pods (omit if you hate cardamom)
2 tsp ground clove
2 tbsp beef base or beef bullion

10 cloves garlic
2" ginger root
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander seed
1 tbsp tumeric
2 onions

2 tbsp ghee or butter
Fine dice potatoes (I used cubed potatoes from the freezer section, aka "southern style hash browns")
Handful cilantro

Handful mint
2 cups plain yogurt
1 tbsp salt

Basmati rice

Combine the marinade ingredients in a big zip lock bag and let sit for at least 24 hours. It can sit for longer if you like. Vindaloo is a dish designed around meat preserved in vinegar, so sour is OK.

Make a paste out of the "paste" ingredients using your food processor. Start with the wet stuff, then add the spices and pulse just to combine. Don't run the food processor on the spices too long, it will burn them.

Take the meat out of the marinade, pat dry and brown in your dutch oven or pressure cooker. Remove and reserve. Melt the butter in the cooking chamber, then fry the paste in the butter until very aromatic. You'll be sneezing cumin for a few days, that's okay. It's good.

Add the beef back to the paste, stir stir stir, then clamp the lid on the pressure cooker and set to high pressure for 45 minutes. If using a dutch oven, lid tightly and put in a 300 degree oven for anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, until the meat is spoon tender. When using the dutch oven you might want to add a little extra fluid, as the seal isn't near as good as it is with the pressure cooker. The reserved marinade would probably work well here.

Pulse the cilantro in the food processor until chopped.

When the meat is done, add the potatoes and cook until potatoes are done. Stir in the cilantro.

Make some raita. Seed the cucumber and chunk it so it fits in the food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Not pureed. We're not making tsatsiki here. Put in bowl. Put handful mint in food processor, pulse until chopped. Put in bowl. Fold in plain yogurt and salt, stir.

Serve the stew with raita and basmati rice. I like mint chutney and punjabi mixed pickle with it as well, but the mixed pickle is pretty strange. I might be the only one at the table that likes the stuff.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Bean burritos are one of my wife's staple foods, but it was way too hot for that stuff and I wanted something a bit heavier hitting on the nutrition side: a bit more fiber, more protein and healthy fats replacing the not-terribly-healthy fats in the cheddar. So was born the summerito, something like this:

Handful mint leaves, chopped
1 tbsp lime juice
1 avocado, chopped, or 1.5 cup guacamole
1 12 oz chicken breast, grilled and chopped
1 can black beans, drained.
4 low-carb tortillas

Combine first five ingredients, divide in four parts, and wrap each part tightly in the sixth ingredient. Some notes:

When chopping avocado, toss lightly in lime juice. This will prevent the sliced avocados from turning brown.

Grilled chicken breasts can be tricky. Set the grate so the fire will be about five inches from the meat. Start your fire and pile it on one side of the grill. Put chicken breasts on indirect heat (the side the fire isn't) with the thick ends toward the fire. Cover with a loose foil tent. Cook about five minutes, enough for the surface to turn white, depending on your breasts. Flip the breasts onto the hot side of the grill for direct heat. Grill for two minutes until you get grill marks, then flip and cook for another two minutes until an internal temperature of 160 degrees is reached.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mac and Brocc

5 tbsp butter
5 tbsp flour
1 tbsp dry mustard
1 tsp paprika
.5 onion, chopped
1 egg, beaten
10 oz cheddar, shredded
2 cups milk
2 cups penne
3 cups broccoli florets
3 tbsp salt
More shredded cheddar

If someone you know has had a stressful day, or if you want to feel a bit better, there is no better medicine than macaroni and cheese. It's high time I wrote my recipe down, an amalgamation of Good Eats and Betty Crocker, with a dose of knowledge from America's Test Kitchen.

Elbow macaroni is preferable to penne, but I have a huge vat of penne from Sam's so that's what I use. Broccoli was added for token nutrient value and because it tastes good.

Melt the butter on low heat in a middlin sized pot. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until the flour takes on a blondish color. Add the mustard, paprika, and onion, and cook for a minute or so. There's our roux. Dribble in the milk, stirring, until you get a gloopy tasty mess. This is sort of bechamel, and it is the basis for our cheese sauce, but we have one little detail to take care of before we start adding the cheese.

Take your little bowl or cup in which you have beaten your egg. Tablespoon by tablespoon, add the hot sort-of-bechamel to the egg, stirring vigorously while you're doing this. Sometime after four or five tablespoons, the egg should start thickening. When it does so, you can add the egg mixture to the sort-of-bechamel. This is called tempering the egg, and it allows you to use egg as a thickener without ending up with scrambled or poached eggs, which is what you'd get if you added the egg straight up.

Add the 10 oz of shredded cheddar by the handful, incorporating each new addition before adding another. You should end up with a light orange gloop that is your cheese sauce. Take it off the heat.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cook up the pasta as directed in a big pot, for penne, about ten minutes on a rolling boil. Drain, put back into the big pot. Fold the sauce into the pasta in the big pot. Rinse out the little saucepan you used to make the sort-of-bechamel, fill it with water, 3 tbsp salt, and the broccoli. Cook the broccoli until moderately tender and brilliant green. Drain and chop broccoli, add to pasta and sauce in the big pot. Stir stir stir. Put the whole mess into an ovenproof casserole, top with some more shredded cheese, and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Broiler Rediscovery

Most of us live in a world devoid of broilers. Even if the top element in your oven has a decent output, unless you work in a professional kitchen or live in a house far beyond your means you do not have a ventilation system that can clear out the voluminous and inevitable smoke that comes with cooking on direct heat. However, with a cool little trick from Cook's Illustrated you can turn it up to 11 with next to no smoke. For this example, I'll use a 1-1.25" thick strip steak, which I always seem to have on hand for some reason.

Take your steak and put a teaspoon of coarse salt on all surfaces of the meat. Put on a roasting rack. This calls forth protein-laden fluids to the surface of the meat, and it is these fluids that are responsible for browning. Let the salted steak sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Take a cookie sheet and line it with foil. Now, here's the trick: cover the bottom of the cookie sheet that the steak will be over with an even layer of coarse salt. Remove the salted meat from the rack and put the rack on the salt bed. Not the meat. We need to preheat the rack first.

Put the top oven rack in a position so that when the meat will be about 1.5 inches from the heat. You might need to put a casserole dish as a shim underneath the cookie sheet for this. Keep in mind- listen sharp here- that all ovens are different. One and a half inches is not so close in my crappy little oven, but if you have a nice gas broiler five inches is probably a much better distance.

Preheat the cooking apparatus under the hot broiler for five minutes. We're heating that rack before we put the meat on it because metal has networks of tiny little cracks that change their configuration as they heat. Put the meat on when the rack is hot and you can pull it off when the rack is hot. Put the meat on when the rack is cold, the rack heats up and grabs ahold of the meat.

Cookie sheet elevator shim, cookie sheet with its bed of salt, and roasting rack on top. Into the oven, heat it up. Keep the oven door open or the interior of the oven will quickly reach a temperature that will make the element turn off. You don't want that.

Now put your salted meat in its designated position on the rack above the salt bed. Cook for 4-5 minutes per side for a 1.25" steak, or until each side is crusty and dark brown. Note that the salt absorbs the fluid dropped by the meat so that it does not dry out and burn. Also note that the salt is not in contact with the meat so that your supper does not turn into a Mormon holy site.

Once crusty brown on all sides, your meat is cooked. Of course, there are those of us who don't particularly care how done it is, or if it is vocalizing and/or actively struggling. Cook it for longer if you like it medium-well or whatever. Or eat a hot dog. Cold. From the package. Crying.

This salt trick works with hamburgers, sausages, mushrooms, all sorts of broiler applications where the target wants a lot of intense dry heat and you are for some reason unable or unwilling to fire up the grill.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

15 Minute Risotto

Cuisinart should probably start sending me money given how often I pimp their pressure cooker and food processors. But here we go again, another pressure cooker recipe.

Risotto is a bit tricky given that I have never actually eaten it. My finished product looked like the picture in the cookbook, and the wife liked it, so as far as I'm concerned that makes it risotto. Note to self: go to high-end Italian restaurant to see what risotto is supposed to taste like.

Melt 2 tbslp butter in the bowl of your handy dandy pressure cooker. Well, yours might be handy dandy. Ours is bulky, black and ominous, like a steam-powered R2D2 commissioned by Albert Speer. It's great.

Chop half an onion, .5 carrot, and .5 stalk celery very fine. Food processors work well here. Saute in the butter until soft-ish. Add 1 clove garlic, chopped very fine. Saute until it starts aromatizing, but do not let anything turn brown.

Add 1 cup arborio rice to this mixture and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until the rice gets a toasty smell and the ends of the rice grains have turned translucent. Risotto scholars assure me this step is critical.

Add .25-.3 cup white wine and .5 tsp salt to this mixture and cook, stirring, until liquid is absorbed.

Add 2 cups chicken broth, lid, and set on high pressure for 6 minutes. Reserve .25 cups of broth.

While that's going on, shred 1 cup Parmesean or similar cheese. Broil or otherwise cook 2 cups mushrooms. I used criminis aka "baby bellas", they're good and cheap. I wished I had some asparagus, 1 cup steamed asparagus would have been nice. I used peas instead and rather wished I didn't. With risotto, always make sure the add-ins are pre-cooked, unless leafy or herbal in nature. Cook mushrooms in with the rice and you'll get rice gruel as the fungi will over-moisturize the risotto. So say the risotto scholars, anyway, and who am I to question them?

De-pressurize the cooker and set it to simmer. Stir. You can tell the risotto is about ready when the liquid pulls completely off the bottom of the pan. If it flows back in, it's still too liquid, and you have some more cooking/stirring to do. If it's too dry use the reserved broth to moisten it, cooking and stirring while you add it in drabs. You can tell it's too dry by tasting: the rice should be just al dente, surrounded with creamy fluid, but not crunchy raw rice. Anyway, if the rice is cooked and you can drag the spoon across the bottom of the pan and see the pan bottom, you're ready for the last additions.

Stir in the cooked veggies/fungus. Keep stirring. Add the cheese in batches, stirring until incorporated. Serve immediately and eat it all. You have to. Risotto does not keep well in the fridge. Take a nap.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lemon Strawberry Whip

The tofu pie phenomenon continues. These things are awfully easy for how good they are. This one isn't as good as the chocolate version, but it's nice in its own way.

1 box lemon jello
1 cup hot water
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Zest from two lemons
10 oz (or so) soft tofu
8 oz non-dairy whipped topping
1 prepared graham cracker crust
1 cup sliced strawberries

Grate the zest from the lemons into the bowl of your food processor.

Juice out 2 tbsp of lemon juice from one of the zested lemons. One lemon should render about that much juice. Put the juice in a small bowl with the jello and the water. Refrigerate until it has the consistency of raw eggs.

Meanwhile, put the tofu in the food processor and whir until smooth. Add whipped topping, whir. Add thickened lemon jello mixture, whir until combined. Pour this stuff into prepared pie crust.

Place strawberry slices all over the lemon stuff. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Spanikopita and Tabouli

1 roll of phyllo (1/2 package)
1 stick (or more) butter
1 pound baby spinach
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or croutons, more or less
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp olive oil
8 oz feta
1/2 tsp nutmeg

If the phyllo is frozen, thaw it precisely according to the box directions (2 hours).

While that's going on, make your filling. Wilt the spinach in the olive oil in a big pan. Try and sizzle out as much moisture as you can. Put in a big mixing bowl with 8 oz diced feta, egg, nutmeg, and mix. Get a feel for the moisture in there. If it's too wet it will bust out of the phyllo during cooking. It should be about the same wetness as Thanksgiving stuffing. Adjust with the breadcrumbs/croutons.

Melt your butter and get your brush ready. Mop down a cookie sheet with some of the butter. Preheat the oven to 375. Now that the phyllo has thawed for two hours, unroll it.

Lay down a sheet of phyllo, brush with melted butter until transparent. Lay down another sheet of phyllo, brush with butter until transparent. Slice the prepared phyllo down the long axis with the point of a very sharp knife, so that you have two strips of prepared phyllo. Put a heaping tablespoon of filling at one end of one of the strips, then fold the corner over. Keep folding it over and over as if you were making a paper football or folding a flag. See crude illustration:
You should end up with a fat triangle. Lay it down on the cookie sheet. Repeat with the other strip.

Repeat the previous paragraph until you are out of either filling or phyllo. You'll probably run out of filling first, depending on how new you are to working with phyllo. If this is your first time working with phyllo you might run out of phyllo first. Remember, the thin sheets of dough become unworkably brittle after being exposed to the air for too long, so be sure to cover with a damp towel if you are pausing for any length of time.

Take your spanikopita-covered cookie sheet and put it in the 375 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, turning once, until golden brown. Serve immediately. It's nice with some tabouli salad. Tabouli too hard, you say? Horsepuckey, I say.

Add 6 tbsp boiling water to 3 tbsp fine bulgar and let sit for thirty minutes.. In your big food processor put 3 bunches flat-leaf parsley, 1 bunch mint leaves, 2 seeded ripe tomatoes, 1/2 red onion, juice of 1 lemon (strain out the seeds, you lazybones), 1 tsp salt, and a couple shakes of cayenne. Pulse a couple of times until everything is chopped. Add 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, pulse a few more times. Has it been thirty minutes since you started the bulgar? Great! Add the hydrated bulgar to the food processor and pulse just to combine. Spooge it out into a serving bowl and there you go. It's preferable to cover and chill this for a few hours to let the flavors combine, but I've gotten no complaints when it's served straight out of the food mongler.

Serves about 4.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

That's No Deer, that's a Soy Mousse!

Cooking for some dairy intolerant friends brings strange recipes to my kitchen, but this tofu-based mousse pie is pretty fricking amazing. My wife, self-described "dessert queen", named this one as a recipe that will soon be memorized. It's quite a bit better for you than mousse, as well, which is to be expected of something that doesn't have a cup or two of heavy cream in it.

1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips
1 (12-ounce) package silken firm tofu
Splash vanilla extract
2 egg whites
Prepared chocolate cookie crust
Rasberries in syrup
Non-dairy whipped topping

Melt chocolate in microwave. Don't burn it! It's astonishingly easy to do. After about a minute and a half on medium power, open up the nuker to stir the chocolate every twenty seconds or so.

Blend tofu in food processor with vanilla until smooth. Blend melted chocolate into tofu mixture. Put back in bowl you melted the chocolate in, scrape sides of bowl to get the chocolate too stubborn to join the tofu in the food processor. Mustn't waste chocolate!

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the choco-tofu mixture. After it's folded in, pour into cookie crust. Refrigerate overnight.

Scoop out slices and top with raspberries and non-dairy topping.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

No Beer Can Chicken

We don't like beer flavors very much so we use cans of Spicy V-8, because I like it a lot better straight up than regular V-8. Cans of lemonade work too, and if you go to the mexican section, you can get canned beverages in just about any flavor you can imagine.

1 broiler-fryer chicken
1 can spicy V-8
1 tsp each cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika
2 sprigs rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
8 leaves sage

For the fresh herbage, I only use fresh in the above cases because I've got it on hand.

Set up the smoker for indirect heat. Start your fire on one side and let it burn down until the coals are almost ash.

While that's happening, drain your chicken and pull out any goodies stuffed in the body cavity. Neck and such. Replace with powdered spices, then stuff the fresh herbage into the cavity. Lube the chicken with some olive oil. Carry out your lubed bird and the can of spicy V-8.

Set up the cooking grill on the side the fire isn't. Open the can of V-8 and put it down on the grate. Here comes the fun part. Spread the rear opening of the chicken and wiggle it down over the open can on the grate. Try to make sure it's level. It helps to whisper reassuringly in Latin to the helpless chicken. Don't ask me why, it just does. With the can firmly inserted into the chicken's cavity, spread its legs so it is sitting patiently on the can and two drumsticks, with its back (the dark meat side) facing the heat.

Load the coals with chunks of hardwood that aren't mesquite, then cover and close vents to 1/8 open or however you maintain a temperature of ~300 degrees for two hours. Put fresh hardwood chunks in every thirty minutes. Take the chicken from the grill and put in a bowl. Be aware that inside the chicken is a metal container full of boiling liquid. I'm not super fastidious about my grill, so I usually pull the cans out of the chicken right there and let it make a mess so I have less mess inside. At the end of a grilling session I usually dowse the smoker in lighter fluid and ignite. Between the accumulated pork fat and other juices that fire burns for a while. Fire cleans anything.

Carve your chicken like so: cut along both sides of the backbone and remove its wee little spine. Spread the breast out cavity side down and push on the sternum to break the keelbone. Chop off the thighs and divide the breast. Arrange and serve.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Butts of Independence

Well, for the longest time I thought the butt was named for where it was on the animal. A pal and Wikipedia set me straight. It is indeed named for its original packaging, salted in "butts" or barrels. While I knew about the salt butts used in food storage, I always thought the less colorful explanation was more likely, i.e., that the butt is on the butt end of the ham leg. Shank and butt. In life the more colorful option is often the more likely and that is wonderful.

This fourth of July I managed the best barbecue I've made yet, and it went something like this:

Go to Sam's and buy one of those big packages of boston butt, 14-18 pounds or two butt's worth. Make a brine with 4 quarts water, 24 ounces salt, 16 ounces molasses, and 1 cup dark brown sugar. Put the butts in the brine. Fill two gallon zip locks with ice and put them on top of the pork. This will keep the pork under the surface of the brine and it will keep the brine cool through the brining period without using up space in the fridge, assuming you're using a cooler to do this in and not your bathtub or a garbage can or some other damn fool thing. I used a disposable foam cooler. If using disposable coolers makes you "foam" at the mouth . . ha ha, I am a wit and reconteur . . use your own damn cooler and bleach out the porkiness later.

Early on the morning of the big day, about seven or eight hours before eating time, start your fire in your smoker/grill set up for indirect heat. Pull the pork from the brine, toss the brine, and rub both butts liberally with a mixture of 2 tsp cumin, 2 tsp coriander, 4 tbsp chili powder, 2 tbsp onion powder, and 2 tbsp paprika. Put them in the smoker on the side the fire isn't. Put a handful of hardwood chunks that aren't mesquite on the coals. Close up the smoker and bring to somewhere between 250 and 300 degrees. Every thirty minutes for the next four hours, go out and put some more wood chunks in there to keep it smoky and make sure the temperature is staying in that 250-300 degree window. Going too cold is better than going too hot. Too hot is very bad. Everyone's smoker is different, but my smoker did pretty well alternating between full closed and having the bottom and top vents about 1/8 open.

Sometime during this period preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

After four hours of smoking, pull the butts and put in a foil roasting pan. Cover very tightly with foil, shiny side facing out. Put in 300 degree oven and cook for another 2-3 hours. Pull from oven, drain off fluid that accumulated during the oven braise. Using two stout forks, pull apart the meat so that it comes to resemble, well, pulled pork, which is what it is. Chop up any bits that don't pull apart.

Serve with sauce (of all the budget sauces, I like Bulls-Eye best), plain white rolls or even white sandwich bread, and coleslaw. Feeds a bunch.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

You Need Baklava

Back when the Econopolypse was still just a suspicion in the mind of the grim, I remember hearing this anecdote on a Serious News Radio program.

"The United States is like a rich man on a desert island. Other countries- China, India, the developing world- are the people on the desert island, bringing the rich man food, drink, other goods. The problem is that the people working for the rich man can't stop working, and the rich man can't stop eating."

I remember when I first heard this analogy, I pounded the roof of my car with my fist and screamed, "ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO YOURSELF!?". Looking at it dispassionately, there is no way a functional human can make that analysis in sound mind and still manage basic potty functions. If China already makes goods it does not need to pay for them. The status quo is functional for China. If the U.S. does not have goods it is stuck. The status quo is not functional for the fat man. You can not actually eat your own debt. I chalked up the lack of analyst consciousness to blackberries and iPhone porn. The economist was probably glued to his internet appliance during the interview, Latvian teenagers dancing in his head.

Do you know what is almost as good as Latvian teenagers? Baklava. In my advancing age I would argue that baklava might actually be better than Latvian teenagers. Baklava does not make 3 A.M. calls to Братва handlers after it walks out on you, nor does it steal all your stuff or invite its violent alcoholic relatives to camp out in your living room for months at a time. Its only job is to be cooked and eaten and to make you happy.

The key to baklava is phyllo dough. I've never made it from scratch and have no desire to. It comes rather cheaply from the freezer section in the local supermarket, from the same area as the frozen fruits and pie doughs. The thing you do need to do is follow the thawing instructions precisely. The stuff is hard to work with in the best of circumstances. If it is thawed too little it will break and shatter as you handle it. If it is thawed too much it will mush apart when handled. Follow the thawing instructions precisely, and if you have to take a break from working with it, cover it as instructed or it will dry out and become brittle in minutes. That said, once you get the groove of the stuff, it's a rewarding tool to have in the freezer; salmon, sausage, and other meats love to get wrapped up in the stuff (who wouldn't?), and with not a lot of extra work spanikopita and even pizza rolls are cheap and easy (although I prefer to make my own shortbread dough for homemade pizza rolls). Anyway, end of phyllo sermon.

In a pot, put 2/3 cup water, 2 cups sugar, the juice from 1 lemon and 1 orange, a teaspoon of cinnamon. Dump in the fruit halves you just juiced, as well. Bring to boil, stirring, until everything dissolves. Stir in 1 cup honey until incorporated. Strain out solids and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of your food processor, put 3.25 cups almonds, 2.25 cups walnuts, 1 cup sugar, 1 tbsp cinnamon, 2 tsp nutmeg, .25 tsp ground clove, and .25 tsp salt. Whir until the nuts are finely chopped, but stop whirring or they'll turn into flour. If you do accidentally get the spiced nut flour, you can still make your baklava, it'll just be incredibly dense. It's a forgiving recipe in some ways. It's just the phyllo that's a tricky bitch. It's the culinary equivalent of the stripper that set your motorcycle on fire with the cops goddamn watching from like a block away.

Melt a stick or two of butter in a little saucepan under low heat. Get out your fine bristled brush, and brush down a 13x9 inch Pyrex or similar baking dish with the butter.

There is a lot of butter in this recipe. You might need more butter, you might not. I always make sure I have a pound on hand before I start baklava; you can melt some more if you need to. Interestingly enough, I've also made baklava with good old fashioned vegetable shortening. It doesn't brown up as much in the oven, but it is a mite bit crispier. I prefer butter.

With the package of phyllo perfectly thawed, as per instructions, gently lift up a single sheet of phyllo and lay it down in the buttered baking dish. Try to achieve coverage. Once it's down, brush it with butter until transparent (or as close as you can get). Lay down another layer of phyllo, brush. Don't get frustrated if a layer or two isn't as pretty as you like. There's a lot of layers, so as long as the average is good, you're doing fine. The corners and edges of the phyllo probably won't fit exactly into the pan, but that's okay. Just sort of wedge them down with the butter brush, soaking them with butter in the process. It results in a somewhat higher phyllo-to-nut ratio around the edges of the dish, but some people seem to like that.

Repeat this process until you've put down ten sheets of phyllo. Put down a third of the nut mixture, then ten more sheets of phyllo, then another third of the nut mixture, then another ten sheets, then the final third of the nuts and the last ten sheets of phyllo. Have a big drink while you chill the baklava a bit to facilitate the cutting.

We cut baklava before it is cooked because it would be a holy mess and a suicidally depressing tragedy to ruin so much careful work if you tried to cut it after it was cooked. Now that it is cooled somewhat, take the sharpest knife you own (a straight razor would be awesome here), and cut into 16 rectangles. The official recipe says to cut these into triangles, but I've only just been able to do the rectangles. If a piece is too big for someone then they can share, dammit. Make sure to cut all the way through to the bottom.

Slide the baklava into the oven and bake until deep golden brown, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Pull it from the oven and allow it to cool, then pour the syrup you made in all the cuts. It might seem like too much, but the nuts will pull that syrup in and sweeten the pastry.

Try not to cover this thing with anything impermeable- it will make the layers not as crisp as they'd be otherwise. Same can be said about chilling. Takes the crunch right out. Same can be said for freezing. It will freeze and be quite good afterwards, you just won't cry after eating it like you did the first time.

A nice slice of baklava is pretty fine with some good vanilla ice cream.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Stories from Galina

“Wouldn’t it be dreadful if some day in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside like the animals here, and still looked like men, so you’d never know which were which?”
Lucy in Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis, 1951
Displaced persons camps after war not always safe. Safer than prison camp where Papa was, putting him in farm work camp where he not know which end of carrot goes in ground, but not safe. You have to watch (Grandma makes shush-ing motion with one finger against her lips). One day, English officer come in, calls all the kadets and so. Reads names, and those who hear names smile and say, hooray, the English come to take us. They step forward and are taken off- but they are given to Communist man who-poo- off to Siberia. My brother, one of these.
We saw many different Germans in Yugoslavia. Many different ones. One in the camp was SS man (Grandma gives a stern, slit-eyed SS officer look), and he was always looking for kollaborator. Others different, one, a German officer, Schafenhammer (sp?) I saved. I tell you. He always watching for us, making sure we had spek and vegetables, same as his men. We and others, all the men over fifty- other men go to front- we work in cartographers. Once we make him little card, has him with his great coat, and all of us huddled underneath. Over the drawing we write papushka, because he always was watching for us. Anyway, one day, we were all there in Belgrade, and we can already hear the Russian boo-boom. Papushka grabs us and then, long way, to Austria, and then we are in displaced persons camp. Papushka they take for trial. Later he writes and asks for any good thing I can say about him, or else they hang him or worse-poo-off to Siberia. I write letter and you know, years later, I get letter, him saying thank you. Papushka got enough good said about him he was safe through trial. I have picture of him, in his big coat with us. His daughter committed suicide, they say.
So many things were changing. The prince, some says is going to overthrow. Some say prince is going to be killed.
Suddenly they say Germans are coming. A great man on horseback comes through the town, waving his sword, his horse in the fountain. We are going against the Germans! We never see him or the soldiers with him again.
The next night we hear big engines and Stuka. Next morning, here, there, some buildings gone. Here, there, big tanks, Germans in them in big coats. Sprecht du Deutsch? Ja, Ja, I say. Here my languages are very handy.
But with Germans is very clear. Partisans shoot the German soldier, they take list of ten names. Who shoots the German soldier? they ask. If no one says, they shoot the ten names.
Talking with Gramma Galina is always interesting. She is a very special lady. She listens and speaks with equal interest, an uncommon quality in people a third her age. It is interesting hearing her first hand accounts of wartime in Yugoslavia and comparing against my far less detailed overview. -Ed.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fallin, Fallin, Falafelin in Love

You can buy the box mix but when you're feeding a bunch of people it is laughably expensive to buy a crapload of falafel mix. This recipe feeds eight people for ten bucks, and is a bit better tasting.

Take a 1 lb bag of garbanzo beans and put in a pot of water overnight. Next morning, drain the garbanzos and put them in a food processor. Whir until it's a mealy paste. Put the mealy paste back into the pot (why dirty another dish?). Trim the stems off a bunch of parsley and a bunch of cilantro (when I say "a bunch" I mean about 9 tbsp minced each, which is about the same as the bunches they sell at the supermarket). Put the greenery in the bowl of the food processor with 1.5 onions, 4 tsp salt, 2 tsp red pepper flakes, 12 cloves garlic, 3 tsp cumin, and 3 tsp baking powder. Whir until pureed. Mix the herbage paste with the garbanzo meal. Thicken with flour until it is able to be formed into small 1" balls (about 1.25 cups flour). Proceed to make lots of little 1" balls. This is going to take some counter space. I recommend putting some saran wrap on some cookie sheets and using those as a falafel-forming-and-staging area.

Take a quart of canola oil and heat in a pot until a drop of water crackles in it. Carefully plop in six or so falafel balls at a time and deep-fry until dark brown. Take them out with a slotted spoon and place in serving receptacle.

A word about frying falafel. These little guys are not so durable when they're first dropped in. They'll sink immediately to the bottom and, if left there, will char on the bottom where they are in contact with the metal. At the same time, if you agitate them right when you put them in they'll fall apart and you'll just have amorphous masses of falafel matter. The trick is to plop them in, let them develop a hardy crust (about 15-30 seconds), then gently pop them off the bottom with a metal slotted spoon. By that time the proteins and starch on the bottom will have begun to loosen its grip on the metal of the pot, and the crust around the balls will be tough enough to take a little prodding. Once so popped, they will then sort of float around in the oil and you can proceed to cook them to dark brown.

Serve with middle eastern style accompaniments, like pseudorissa, sort-of-anchoiade, tsatsiki, and hummus. Some chopped up tomatoes, feta cheese, red onions, and bell peppers are nice too. If you get pita bread for God's sake get it from a middle eastern bakery. The Tofuyan brand pita from the supermarket is horrible and probably deserves a death fatwa from the Foodie Ayatollah, if such a thing were to exist.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Smokin Chipotle Hummus

Until I met middle eastern cuisine, the skills I learned in the restaurant business were enough to get me by in the private kitchen. Searing, grilling, baking, sauces, frying . . no hot line skill would make a bowl of hummus. Thus hummus was the first recipe I researched, and have continued improving and adjusting depending on what I have on hand and the tastes of my guests. I personally believe the tahini-rich recipes yields a tastier, creamier product, while my wife prefers lighter, somewhat grainier hummus with less or no tahini. I'm gun-shy of the low-tahini recipes, I admit. My worst batches of hummus are the ones where I screw with the tahini ratio. I drop the tahini, the lemon flavor leaps to the forefront, then I start feebly compensating with salt, cumin, and sugar, and then I end up with Saladin's Revenge. Which is still good, just not great.

When my wife requested chipotle-flavored hummus I didn't want to take any chances and went with the normal tahini ratio recipe, which is what I show here. I was pretty happy with the results, but for those of you that dislike tahini, feel free to tinker with the recipe as needed, at your peril. The sequence of ingredients is, however, important. If you ignore everything else about this recipe just remember to not thrash the olive oil in the food processor. Add your extra virgin at the end.

Put a can of garbanzo beans, 2 cloves garlic, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp salt, and a whole chipotle in the bowl of your handy dandy food processor. You can do this with the eensy weensy food processor but it's a lot faster and generally better if you haul out the big one for this. Er, I mean, if you live in a house with two food processors.

As previously mentioned in this blog, canned chipotles en adobo are available in the ethnic section and at least one can should live in your pantry at all times. If you want more fire crank it up to two chipotles. I think that would drive this dish around the corner of Cuisine and Sadomasochism, but hey, whatever floats your boat. If you don't have canned chipotles, you poor, poor person, you, toss in a few shakes of cayenne.

Whir the flavorants with the garbanzos until there's no large bits. Add 1/4 cup water and 3 tbsp lemon juice, whir until smooth. Add 6 tbsp tahini, whir until incorporated. Add 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, pulse a couple of times just to get it incorporated. Remember that extra-virgin olive oil has some fragile fruit compounds suspended in the oil that will oxidize heavily if they are hit too hard with the food processor, making nasty bitter oil. So just pulse a couple of times to get the oil in there. If you're really shy of bitter oil (and I know I am), just swirl in the olive oil with a fork after the hummus arrives in its serving container.

Thow a few sprigs worth of chopped cilantro on top, if you have some handy.

Serve with crunchies.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Tapas

A friend asked me to bring some little nibblies to a memorial day celebration, and I suppose I got carried away. My wife is out of town for two weeks and I am having serious kitchen withdrawal, so when the chance came to make something I suppose I lost control of myself.

Eggplant rolls stuffed with a chicken and goat cheese mixture, chorizo in phyllo, tsatsiki and punjabi papadams, and french onion toasts all conspired with other appetizers to completely fill up the party attendees before anything could be barbecued. Next time, when I make tapas, I will concentrate on a single tapa.

The only truly original recipe here is the french onion toast, which is basically french onion soup that you eat with your hands. A friend also requested the recipe for the eggplant rolls. The tsatsiki, the papadams, and the phyllo-wrapped chorizo, well. The tsatsiki you've seen before here:
but instead of using 16 oz of sour cream I used a half cup of Greek yogurt, which surprisingly is available at Publix. Papadams are "Creepy Rabbit Brand" papadams, punjabi flavored, available at your local Indian (dot not feather) grocery.

Supposedly you deep fry them, but a couple of seconds under the broiler do a fine job delivering crisp, delicious papadam. Since they're made from chick pea flour, they're also great for folks watching their insulin sensitivity. When you're doing the broiler trick keep an eye on them. They go from brown to black incredibly fast, and when the Punjabi flavored ones burn they fill your house with pepper fumes.

Sausage in phyllo, well, maybe I'll cover that with a more genteel recipe. This one was pretty slapdash, just cooked chorizo bits in layers of phyllo pastry. When you eat one you can actually feel your gall bladder explode. It's nice.

French Onion Toast

Make your caramelized onions as per the recipe here:
but don't go on to make the soup. Take the caramlized onions, add 2 tsp Tone's beef soup base, and dissolve the beefy goop into the caramelized onions. On to the toasts. The toasts are baguette sliced thin, about .25", brushed with olive oil on both sides, placed on a cookie sheet, then baked in a 400 degree oven for fifteen minutes, until dark brown on the bottom. Top each of the toasts with a tablespoon of caramelized onion placed on the browned side. Why the brown side, you may ask? Well, because the onion mixture still has a lot of moisture, and we want to guarantee that our toasts stay crunchy and delicious even when pre-assembled hours before serving. Shred about 4 oz of Gruyère, sprinkle on onion toasts, and put under a hot broiler until the cheese is melted. I liked these things an awful lot.

Eggplant Rolls with Chicken and Chevre

Heat some olive oil in your handy dandy pressure cooker until almost smoking. Brown 2 14 oz chicken breasts in the oil, then add .25 cup balsamic vinegar and .5 cup white wine. Lid the vessel and cook on high pressure for 45 minutes. What we're doing here is basically turning the chicken into an easily shredded mass that will almost fall apart under its own weight. This texture is important when making a stuffing for something as delicate as eggplant. If the stuffing has chunkies that are too big or too jagged, they will tear right through the eggplant as you're rolling it.

While that chicken is softening, take 8 oz chevre and combine with .25 cups chopped walnuts, 2 heaping tbsp prepared chopped cooked bacon (bagged bacon bits are fine, but not the soya ones), 2 cloves crushed and minced garlic, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, a sprig of rosemary minced fine, a tsp of liquid smoke, and 4 green onions sliced thin on the bias. When the chicken is done, shred it, then add to this mixture. Mix until it is a firm paste. If it does not have enough body, chop up some salad croutons fine and mix them in. They will absorb excess moisture.

Grab an eggplant and slice it lengthwise as thin as you're able to get nice full slices. No partial slices, though. I managed slices between .4 and .25 inches in thickness. Brush these slices with olive oil, place on a cookie sheet, and cook in a 400 degree oven for 4 minutes, until just soft. If they overcook you will have a hell of a time rolling them, but it's still possible. Just make sure to handle any overly soft slices by the flesh at the stem end, where there are fewer seed chambers. Grip a slice by the seedy end and it's good night gracie- the slice will just disintegrate.

Place 2 tbsp of stuffing at the seed end of a cooked eggplant slice. Shape the stuffing into a log shape, then roll it up in the eggplant. Chill in refrigerator for a couple of hours, or put them in the freezer for a bit. Once they're firm from cold, slice into, er, "bite size" pieces. They're still huge, but less embarrassing than trying to eat a whole roll. Serve with napkins.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oven Onions

Caramelized onions are one of the highest forms the noble lily can take, but are generally so tedious we skip recipes that use them. America's Test Kitchen introduced me to a method that, while not trimming any time off the preparation, does spare me the constant stirring. Not unimportantly, the resulting caramelized onions are dark and fully developed, which is something I never have the patience or stamina to pull off on the stovetop. Needless to say, these are spectacular for such things as French onion soup.

6 onions, peeled, sliced into halves, then thinly sliced into half-rounds
3 tbsp butter
some salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the butter into 1 tbsp hunks, put in bottom of largish dutch oven.

Sprinkle the onions over the butter, making sure the half-rounds separate from each other. You can do this by "crumbling" the sliced onions in your fist, as if you were crunching saltines into chowder. Midway through adding the onions, sprinkle them with some kosher salt.

Lid the vessel and put in oven for 1 hour.

Using oven mitts, remove vessel from oven, unlid and stir the onions. They should be very moist but still largely uncolored. Make sure to scrape onions bits off the side of the pot, because they will burn there.

Put vessel back in oven, but with the lid slightly ajar. Cook for another hour.

Using oven mitts, remove vessel from oven, unlid and stir. The onions should be medium brown by now, sort of khaki colored. Put vessel back in oven without any lid, cook for 30-45 minutes. When this step is completed, the onions should be dark brown.

These are caramelized onions in my book, but let's take this just a step further for one of our favorite soups, since we're pretty much there.

For french onion soup, you would stir these onions until they are dark brown or chocolate colored. If they start crusting on the bottom of the pot, add some wine- champagne, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Gewürztraminer work well here- and stir until the crust dissolves in the wine. Keep this up until you have something that looks like thick, dark, chunky porridge. About ten minutes.

You'll want to use at least a cup of wine in this process, or as much as 2 cups, depending on how much you like sweet/tart and what the flavor balance of your wine is. All wines will add sweetness and acidity to the final soup, but the combination will be different with the wine, and some wines will bring unique flavors (champagne adds savory in the form of yeast, for example) so taste as you go.

Now that you have your thick onion porridge, add 6 cups mixed broths of your choice. Half and half beef and chicken is traditional. I love it with beef and lamb, but it's not so often I have lamb broth available. With the onions as dark as they are, a good vegetable broth can also work here if you are serving vegetarians.

Stir the broths into the onions, add a couple of sprigs of thyme, maybe a rosemary sprig, and let simmer for 30 minutes. Stir, remove herbage twigs, and eat.

Since I can hear you hollering for the cheese from here, okay, okay, okay, we'll do the cheese thing.

Preheat your broiler and position the rack so the top of your soup bowls will be about 3 inches from the heat. Ladle the soup into oven proof bowls. I've used normal bowls and gotten away with it since the time under the broiler is so brief, but don't come cryin' to me if your bowl breaks and showers your oven in shards of glass and burning onion goo.

Grab a good heavy baguette, slice some rounds .5" thick. Place baguette rounds on soup in bowls.

A brief cheese discussion. Provolone is tasty and convenient as a topping. They sell it in slices and sometimes by this point you just want to get the dish in peoples' mouths. Shredded Gruyere is my favorite but is pricey, at least in the States. It goes really well if you use the lamb broth. At home I often use a half-and-half mixture of mozzarella and Parmesan, since I always have those cheeses on hand.

Put the shredded cheese of your choice on the slice of bread in the soup, then put the prepped bowls under the broiler. Cook until the cheese is melted, then -carefully!- plate them up and serve.

At some point you should warn your guests that the bowls are burny hot.

Be warned that this is heavy duty stuff. A tiny little bowl satisfies even a hearty appetite, so making it as a starter would probably be a mistake unless you were having, I don't know, cucumbers as the main course.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Board Dinner: After Action Report

I've made basically the same mistake every time I cater the annual board dinner of my wife's non-profit. What I try to do is branch out. I cook some things that I've only made one or two times, or worse, things I've never made. Even if the recipe is followed bang on it often turns out that you just don't like the result. This year, my fifth of catering this event, I resolved to make food that I not only knew mostly by beart but also loved eating.

Appetizers were goi cuon (Vietnamese salad rolls), samosas, and chicken satay.

For the goi cuon, I was warned about the difficulty of working with rice paper, but in actual use the stuff was surprisingly easy to work with: dip a sheet in hot water, put down ingredients, roll tight. I filled the rolls with red leaf lettuce, thin slices of tofu, thai basil, mint leaves, and shrimps sliced in half lengthwise. Goi cuon are one of those rare foods that are both nutritionally perfect and completely delicious. Dip in some chili and some nuoc mam and you've got one of the finer tasting foods on the planet.

Samosas, well, when you're cooking for 24 people you choose your battles. I got some frozen samosas from India Bazaar, the Indian market (dot not feather) in Bradenton. One box of spinach and paneer and another box of potato and pea. This was only the first of many dishes to get deep fried- by the end of the cooking process I had completely fouled 1.5 gallons of peanut oil.

Chicken satay was actually the first thing made, mostly because a) it was marinated, and b) I wanted to get any grilling over with early. The night before, 3 lbs of chicken breast were sliced into thin strips lengthwise, then set into a giant ziplock with .5 cup soy sauce, .5 cup sesame oil, .5 cup rice wine vinegar, 4 tbsp sugar, 4 tbsp minced garlic, 4 tbsp red pepper flakes, and 4 tbsp chopped cilantro. Next morning the marinated strips were then skewered and grilled over a hot hot hot fire for 2 minutes per side. The peanut sauce was a bit of natural peanut butter with sesame, brown sugar, rice vinegar, and some nuoc mam.

Some of the entrees on the menu have appeared in these pages before. The Pad Thai was covered in Pad, Thai, and Tempting (, and the green curry was was more or less the Curry from Story ( Both dishes got a bit of a makeover for the big event, mostly in the form of ingredients I don't usually splurge on when cooking informally. The pad thai sauce got a hit of paprika for more redness and a couple of handfuls of pulverized dried shrimp (AKA tam kho thuong) from the oriental market, as well as the addition of 2 tbsp of rice wine vinegar. The green curry got a handful each of kaffir lime leaves, chopped lemongrass, thai basil, and cilantro. Both additions added an incredibly amount of flavor to the respective dishes. I can finally hold up my pad thai and compare it with the better thai restaurants, which is something I've been trying to do for the better part of a decade.

Both pad thai and the green curry got tofu, but I deep fried the tofu before adding to each dish, adding to the general squalor of the oil pot.

The third main dish was kari kari, a Filipino dish written for chuck but which I modified to use beef short ribs. I love both cuts, but for a formal event I felt short ribs were a bit more exotic and prettier in presentation in two-rib portions. I also learned from my experience cooking this for my friends, and omitted some of the more obnoxious ingredients. Slice 4 lbs of beef short ribs into 2 rib portions. Short ribs were browned in batches in a large Dutch oven and reserved. 4 chopped onions and 4 tbsp minced garlic were sweated in the fat rendered from the meat. Once the onions were sweated, 2 tbsp nuoc mam, 4 tbsp tamarind extract, 4 tsp brown sugar, 2 bay leaves, 4 thyme springs, 2 tbsp tumeric and 2 tbsp paprika were added. Once this mixture is incorporated, insert the ribs, pushing each portion into the onion mixture. Lid the dutch oven and put into a 250 degree oven for five hours. At the end of cooking time, remove the ribs and put on a platter. Skim the fat from the top of the braising liquid, then add 2 tbsp peanut butter and 2 tbsp rice vinegar to the reserved braise liquid. Boil until concentrated and thick. Spoon over the rib portions and scatter some deep fried scallions over each portion. Serve.

Deep fried scallions are basically like those fried onions in a can your Aunt Bessie puts over her string bean casserole at Thanksgiving.

Dessert was pretty simple, coconut ice cream and fried bananas with honey. For coconut ice cream, whisk 2 cans full-fat coconut milk with .75 cup sugar and 1 tbsp vanilla until sugar is dissolved. Put in ice cream maker and run until you get ice cream. The fried bananas were just banana portions wrapped in rice paper and deep fried.

The great thing about this menu is that I hardly needed to consult my recipes for most of it. Even the kari kari is cooked pretty much like any meat braise you might put together. So I was relaxed, which helps a day of cooking go by a lot better. Also, I couldn't keep my hands off the lettuce wraps or the pad thai. I'm pretty sure I only served three quarters of the lettuce wraps I actually made.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Peas in Summer

A variant of potage ambassadeur, this is an easy, cheap dish that tastes way better than it should. This dish is sort of unseasonal right now here in Florida, but I've included a chilled option, which I almost like better than the original. I'm a sucker for cold soups, though.

4 oz split peas
1.5 cups chicken broth
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 slices bacon

.5 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp chopped mint
Croutons or toasts

In the cooking chamber of your pressure cooker or your friendly medium-sized pot, saute the bacon until crisp. Remove and reserve. Sweat the onion and carrot in the bacon grease, then add the chicken broth, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen caramelized baconness. Add the peas. Crumble the cooked bacon back into the pot, then lid and cook on high pressure for thirty minutes. If using a pot, lid tightly and cook on low for an hour, watching the fluid level carefully (the pressure cooker does not allow any moisture to escape, so it uses less water than the stovetop version). The peas should have decompiled and formed a thick porridge. This is your hot split pea soup.

In the summertime, I highly advise pureeing the finished soup, chilling, and finishing it with a bit of heavy cream stirred in and a handful of chopped mint. Top with croutons or toasts or crusty bread product of your choice. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ocala Walkabout Thanksgiving 2008

Many years ago, as a child, I saw a black bear overlooking a picnic site. It was one of my very first bear sightings. I wanted to hide in the car but such cowardice immediately met with paternal scorn. I left the car and observed as safely as I could from inside a bush. It didn't seem to be heading towards me. It seemed to be having some sort of internal argument. The bear went a few steps down towards picnickers, then stopped, tossed its head, returned to the woods. It repeated this for some time. You could almost hear that bear thinking, agonized between the rewards of picnics and the repercussions of tangling with rangers. Hot dogs and Star Crunch are almost as good as getting tranked and hauled across the state isn't.

I do almost exactly the same thing every time I head out to the woods. I used to ascribe my pre-hike pussyfooting to simple alcoholism. No longer. It's more complicated than that, with a more subtle expression of emotions than the simple lust for getting bombed. Subtle emotions involving running water and cushions to sleep on. After doing my hiking shopping I must have cruised past the same fleabag motel five or six times. It sure is late, I said to myself. And there's a Taco Bell. But you have dinner in your food bag, I replied, and it's not like you can't hike at dusk. For God's sake you can put up your tent in pitch black, you know the thing better than you know your own scrotum. The latter voice won with it's ol' 'but you walked to Maine' argument, the same way it wins arguments about going to the gym or getting out of bed in the morning.

I drove into the Ocala National Forest and got my car settled in at Juniper Springs for ten dollars a night, then packed and headed north on the Florida Scenic Trail, exactly opposite the direction I planned to travel the next morning. The reason for this little sidetrip was the general hunting season, in which the Thanksgiving holiday is regarded as the opening bash. Hunting is prohibited in the Juniper Prairie wilderness, but to get into the wilderness you have to leg a mile or so north on the trail from the Juniper Springs entrance. Back in the day I'd hiked farther to get to an AT shelter, so it was no big deal going a mile the wrong way to find a place to sleep. I found a nice campsite just inside the no-fire zone and was chewing and reading inside my faithful tent by dark. Hopefully this year in Ocala would go better than it did last year, a hot, hung-over slog that ended when my food bag was stolen at Hopkin's Prairie, possibly by the enigmatic Rainbow People, whom we'll hear more of later.

Waking up I went south, zapped my cell phone at Juniper, zapped my gut with some microwave food objects at same, and bore down the trail. Using the verb bore here is a bit of a laugh when you see how much mileage you're covering according to the signs in the national forest, which apparently thinks you're barely managing a leisurely stroll. On a memorable hike through this stretch in 1999, my friends Byron and Michelle were similarly perplexed by the apparently random numbers on various signposts. We were all going a little crazy, literally jogging down the trail for hours to see a sign telling us we'd come three miles, which was patent horsepucky, as that mileage would have been covered in half an hour at our pace. We ascribed this problem to the mysterious stations on the map marked "horizontal control". Agents of Horizontal Control included the indefatigueable deerflies tormenting us. Besides drawing blood, we determined that the deerfly were also agents of Horizontal Control and were responsible for manipulating the fabric of space and time. It was hilarious at the time, but then to this date I am amazed at what passes for hilarious to hikers. The adjective "delirious" is all sorts of applicable here.

Years later, I asked a ranger about the horizontal control stations. "Horizontal what?", she asked. I pointed them out on my map. "I have no idea," she said "That's peculiar". Perhaps our theory from 1999 was the correct one. The ranger did give me a phone number of local trail enthusiasts Jan Trail, who give rides to FTA (Florida Trail Association) members, which was fantastic. A lot of the trauma of last year was caused by my inability to find a shuttle back to my car and being subsequently bilked out of eighty bucks for a cab ride.

So I hotfooted it for eight hours, coming- according to the signage- nine fricking miles. Which is preposterous, but they were a good "nine" miles. I like the southern part of the Ocala National Forest a lot better than the northern part, even though it's less pristine. The trail is better maintained, for one. Then there are places where the land goes up and comes down again, a thing I hear are called "hills" by outsiders. There are clear spring-fed ponds, open pine forests, and tunnels through palmetto scrub. I was nearly run over by deer and I saw a dozen little piglets snurfling around on the edges of Geary Pond, ridiculously adorable. Large, smart mammals to have such big litters; I'm not entirely sure how pigs aren't yet running the world. On the down side, this was the free-fire zone, and I was completely dependent on my orange-blaze t-shirt to keep me from experiencing high-speed exploratory surgery at the hands of some half-drunk fatty up from Orlando proving to his Fox News Friends how Republican he is. It probably wouldn't happen far from a road. Most hunters don't walk anywhere, but most hunters don't bring home any fresh meat, either.

Did I mention that most hunters don't walk anywhere? In some places, there were so many two-stroke engines the national forest sounded like a beach popular with jet-skiers. No actual hunting taking place, but a great deal of driving around and shooting. To be the devil's advocate for a moment, I did run into a couple of actual hunters and had a pretty good time talking to them. We seemed to be wired a lot more similarly. I think the difference is between outdoor/non-outdoor people rather than being between hikers/hunters.

Returning to the straight linear narrative, yes, there were a few miles of ATV hell, but the stretch down to Farles Prairie was pleasant. Ran out of water the last two hours and however many miles, then came into the picnic area at Farles. I made a beeline to the water device, cranked out two liters of water and drank almost all of it in one chug. Then I sat down. I had shade, a water source, was moving along pretty well, and had a great book- more on that later- and an afternoon with some real nap possibilities. Deliciously exhausted. This loitering thing is really what hiking is all about.

There was a pleasant little old lady coming out of a Mad Max looking conversion van, coming over in my direction. She looked concerned. I felt great, but I suppose I must have looked pretty ragged. I had a blowdown come down on top of me about three miles previous, so I was a tad bloody from gouges in my legs and head. Clothes torn from same, and there's the normal hiker state of being stinky, dehydrated and tired. So what I thought looked like "cheefully worn out" might look like "terminal collapse" to other people. I remembered looking at my AT pictures from on the trail, and marvelling at how incredibly dirty and tired I looked, even though I remember being ridiculously happy at the time. I got up and was ready to be very polite.

"Hi there. You walkin' the trail?"
"Just from Juniper to wherever in the forest. As far as I can get"
We talked a bit more, about whether or not the water should be treated, whether the site had a spot for me, how safe the forest is. Turned out the little old lady was the Farles camp hostess. The inevitable warning about the Rainbow People came up, and I had to ask:
"I've been hearing about these Rainbow People for the better part of a decade . . what's the deal with them? Are they real?"
She looks a bit horrified. "You don't want to go looking for them," she says.
"No, no, I don't. I was just wondering if they're some sort of urban myth."
"No, they're very bad people. Last year . ." and then enter the murders, rapes, and other sundry crimes of the Rainbow People. Oh boy, here we go again. I've gotten the same stories from every single local since 1995.
I've always taken tales of the Rainbow People with a grain of salt. On the one hand, they're basically freegan hippies, a type I don't generally identify with or like . . much. On the other hand, having known and loved a lot of freegan hippies, I know how cosmically unlikely it is that a roving band of them would go on a rape and murder spree. They just don't have the motivation. Before last year, I've always felt the following scenarios to be far more likely than the Rainbow Rape Holocaust so dramatically spoken of by the Ocala locals:
1) crazy repressed little local girls go out to the forest people to get crazy, high, and drunk, find themselves in flagro delecto with person(s) they would rather not be with, and run into town with lurid tales of molestation at the hands of hairy, unwashed 60s leftovers. Just the thing to get the AM talk radio folks riled, who, in case you couldn't guess, are all armed.
2) crazy repressed little local boys bring girl out to the forest, get her trashed, violate her while she's blacked out, and return to town with vile tales of violent, horny hippies and Democrats. The story matches the consensus reality much better than confronting the possibility that Bubba McSumbitch, high school football hero, is a scheming rapacious f*#$head. Result, see 1), above.
3) crazy little local boys go out into the forest and kill bunches of hikers, return to town with tales of gun-addled hippies mowing down outdoorsmen. This was actually the defense used by some loser kid from Ocala who got nabbed for plugging hikers with an AK-47. "They were comin' straight for me!"

So as she's finishing up with the Rainbow stories I'm beginning to wonder if maybe some genuine criminals are using Rainbow events as cover for other activities. After all, I did have my food bag stolen in the supposedly Rainbow-infested Hopkins Prairie campsite last year, the epitome of uncoolness for a traveller on foot in the wilderness. For God's sake, I can walk two thousand miles up the eastern seaboard and never have a single item missing, yet I can't go ten miles in Ocala without having my food stolen? It made me question, deeply, the state that bore and raised me.
So the jury is out in my book on the Rainbow People and the locals. I do know that *someone* stole my damn food in the middle of a multi-day hiking trip, but I also know the locals, though nice, creep me the hell out, and I've yet to meet a single one of these elusive Rainbow people.
"We've pretty much gotten them out of the southern part of the forest now," said the sweet old lady, "Now we've got ATVers, lots of family people, people that believe in family." Her eyes harden as she takes in my hairy face and stinky body. I nod and try to look very conservative, very stern. She seems reassured. "Good people. We'll go after 'em in the north next year".
I noted to myself, also, that it's impossible to get a place at a campsite in the southern "family" part of the forest. The good family people book everything, even when they're not actually there, and they arrest everyone else, as the sweet old lady was happy to tell me.

I realized that staying too close to Farles campsite would be risky, besides being a violation of the law far too close to where the law drives around. Now, I could always say to a ranger, "hey, you said you had campsites on the phone, and then there were none (because you gave all the reservations to your peckerwood relatives), and I'm on foot, and I've got to sleep somewhere". I'd prefer not to do this, obviously, but I kept rehearsing the sentence in my mind, knowing that it would not come out nearly so well when woken in my tent by big flashlights at 3 AM. I passed the blue blaze to Buck Lake, which I remember as being beautiful in 1999 but was warned against approaching this time. The sweet old lady at Farles had told me a private family event had reserved the entire campground, and that they weren't too keen on hikers. I took the bypass trail around the lake and pushed on. There were two or three ponds between me and the highway, and it turned out that Dora Pond had a great campsite. Sign saying lake named in memory of a Dora. Thank you Dora. It was actually one of the prettiest ponds in the forest. Tent up, stove going, shoes off. Still had 4 liters of water from Farles. Zatarain's Jambalaya and then to bed with my book and to sleep. One thing I got from long distance hiking is the ability to fall asleep almost immediately in a tent. It used to be a lot harder. Now . . home. I'm home. The thought fills my eyes with stinging, silent tears. And then I'm asleep.

Of course, in a real home you are not usually woken up by a giant deer crashing through strings holding the walls up. "SCRAM," I say. The deer snorts and hangs around. Maybe he associates backpackers with safety. This is a terrible behavior to encourage among Ocala deer, because eventually it will get hikers even more shot at than they are already. Eventually he tires of my screaming and yelling. "Huff!", he says, then jumps over the brush towards the next pond over. I start falling asleep again and dream of big dogs. Except I'm not dreaming; there is a big old hound nosing at my bug screen, like he wants in. Hey human, he's saying, I'm done chasing these damn deer. It's cold. Let me in. No, I say. "Go home!" More negotiation. Eventually he wanders off. I hope that poor hound found his way home. I finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road so there nothing left to do but doze til morning.

Speaking of which, what the hell? I go through this tome of misery and I don't ever find out what happened to the goddamn planet? Also, all life is wiped out? How did this miss the humans? It also apparently missed the bacteria, since cans swell when they go bad, and you can still get botulism. A large exchange of nukes would do some of what is described in the book, but would also render a lot of surface water deadly poison, which is not the case in The Road: the characters regularly drink the water and walk unprotected in burned zones without ill effect. Another possibility is some unknown future weapon that shuts down photosynthesis, but in that case the gas exchange in the atmosphere would rapidly change to one that could not support humans. Yep, lots of things could have happened, and guess what? Keep wondering, sucker, because you never get to find out. Also, why in the heck did the characters ever leave the bunker? I turned their decision every which way I could and couldn't come up with any reason except that the novel was called "The Road", not "Huddled in a Survivalist's Cave". The ending is also hilariously pat. You can almost hear his editor telling him to please give a book a not-entirely-depressing ending for once in his life, because this happy ending reads like it was written on pain of torture. So much for the bad. McCarthy does have the most beautiful, poetic prose voice I've ever had the pleasure of reading- I mean *ever* reading- and the language is mixed with a leisurely grim wisdom that couldstand on its own.

The next morning I crossed 19 after dodging past a couple of pretty lakes with houses, then into the pine scrub, then out into the open pine woods I remembered so fondly from ten years ago. Those open woods are very unique, hilly, with almost prairie-like line of sight through the sparse sand pines. I rolled into the Alexander Creek drainage and thicker foliage, then into the visitor center of Alexander Springs and then a call to Jan Trail. I didn't feel like walking in the coming storm, so it was time to go home.

Jan and her friend were the opposite of the taxi ride from last year. We talked AT, Florida Trail, various hiking get-togethers. Sometimes I forget that other people like doing this stuff, so it's always wonderful when I connect with other crazy people that hate cars and houses. I got lots of brochures and am now a happy card carrying member of several hiking organizations, which I suppose I should have been years ago. It made me think of Thanksgiving 2009, and where in Ocala I'd find myself then . .

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Pasta Greco

Conversations about barbecue side dishes- indeed, all "classic" American side dishes- can be troublesome and often violent. I've heard vicious exchanges over mayonnaise versus Miracle Whip (sp?), yellow versus brown mustard in potato salad, and just about anything in tuna salad other than the tuna itself. Potato salad was a perch I dare not tread. So with my pasta salad I abandoned classic for flavors I knew and loved well. Greek pasta salad it is!

The trouble was, I knew what happened from bitter experience when I pre-prepped greek salad. The salt in the feta/olives/anchovies drew out the moisture from the veggies and turned my salad into a cold soup course. I resolved that this would not happen this time. Taking a queue from traditional sauerkraut preparation, I pre-salted the veggies and set them in a colander to draw out excess moisture. As a by-product, this process also:
1) produced a delicious flavorful liquid that I (currently) have no use for
2) enhanced the color of the vegetables
3) lengthened the salad's shelf life. This stuff was quite edible after a week in the fridge.

1 cucumber, seeded and sliced
4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
4 tbsp kosher salt
8 oz sheep milk feta, cubed
1 bunch green onions, chopped on the bias
4 whopping tablespoons pepperoncini rings or banana pepper rings. I can't get enough of these things, so add to taste.
A couple of handfuls pitted Kalamata olives
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp minced fresh garlic
Splash red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
3 cups rotini or penne or some such handy pasta

To slice the first four ingredients, I seriously endorse using the slicer attachment on your food processor. That thing is darn handy.

Toss the first five ingredients together, then put in a colander set over a bowl. Wrap and put in fridge for a few hours. Fluids from the veggies will drip down into the bowl, so try and lay this contraption flat. Every hour or so turn the veggies around to re-distribute the salt and drain the bowl if needed. The orange fluid that collects in the bowl is awfully salty but really tasty; I have yet to figure out a use for it. Perhaps make it into a condiment? This must be akin to how soy sauce was invented. Perhaps I've inadvertently invented Philoculture's Salad Sauce.

As serving time draws near, set a gallon of water to boil. Put pasta in and cook as desired. Drain and refresh with cold water to stop the cooking process.

Combine the remaining ingredients in the serving bowl

Get your salted veggies from the fridge and scoop them into the serving bowl with your hands, squeezing each handful as you go to get any free liquid out. Add the pasta, then toss to combine. Chill until serving.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


I had read about this potato-cheese-bacon type dish and decided to try it and and see if it was as good as it sounded. Unfortunately, I could not find the recipe from America's Test Kitchen that I wanted to try. I was forced to rely on my culinary savvy and managed to come up with a passable tartiflette. When I do this dish again I will try a pastry crust on the bottom, as I think that might sop of some of the grease- I thought the gratin was a little on the heavy side.

12 oz camembert
2 onions, sliced
2 Idaho potatoes, sliced into rounds 1/8" thick.
10 oz bacon
8 oz sour cream
Salt and pepper

Fry the bacon until crisp. Chop it up coarse

Fry potato slices in the bacon fat over medium-high heat until light brown on both sides, reserve.

Fry the onion slices over medium heat until blondeish-brown, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Some darker spots are OK, black is not. Combine with sour cream, reserve.

Slice the camembert wheel in half the long way, so that you have two camembert rounds with a rind on top and cheese on the bottom. Slice the rounds so that they will evenly cover the top of the casserole.

Start building your casserole: lay down a layer of potato, a layer of sour cream/onion mixture, a layer of bacon, repeat. I was able to get two and a half layers out of it, but mileage may vary.

Finish the casserole by covering the top with the camembert slices, rind side up. This will allow the camembert to get obscenely gooey and wander south into the potato/onion/bacon stuff below. The rind will also toast nicely.

Put in a 350 degree oven until bubbly. Turn on the broiler, and put casserole under hot broiler until cheese is lightly browned.

As with most casseroles, tartiflette is better if you let it rest outside the oven for a half hour or so. You certainly don't need to, though.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Ribs of the Proletariat

You know what I'd like? I'd like to see some support for people that are debt-free and work hard at staying employed at their fartsucking day jobs. Yes, we exist, and Merciful Buddha on a Harley do we get pissed when we see that laws are apparently only written for the irresponsible or massively fraudulent. Ooh, if I lose my job the government will pay my mortgage for six months! What if I do not have a schlocky fake mortgage and have instead been saving real money, You Authoritarian Clods? You better start worrying about keeping those people fed while you pay for their suburban scatshacks because eventually their credit cards won't work and you can't skylift Big Macs without having the USMC pilots eat them all. Trust me, I know. You could skylift pigs, I suppose, and even Special Forces Marines would pause before devouring a feisty and very much alive pack of swine, unless they were Muslim Marines, which is probably illegal or at least severely hazed at the Marines Murder Mansion or wherever it is they learn how to kill people.

To this end, I raise up the Ribs of the Proletariat. Not to aid in the hazing or the murdering. That would be just wrong. This is to help feed America with the pork to be dropped from military helicopters. It's like a Berlin Airlift for suburbia, but with less Nazis and more rustic antics!

This recipe could feed America probably all at once, because when I make ribs there's only one quantity to make and that's Too Much. It's the perfect balm for a nation huddled around 60" LCD screens watching American Idol on stolen A/C power. Enough with the proselytizing, I know why you came here, all five of you:

Mix up 1 cup packed dark brown sugar, 6 tbsp kosher salt, 2 tbsp chili powder, 2 tbsp onion powder, 2 tbsp paprika, 1 tsp each of cayenne, and maybe 1 tsp of some thyme, sage, or other resiny spice- just make sure it's nicely powdered. No whole leaves. Whole leaves will char and we'll have enough of a problem with that during cooking.

Go to Sam's club and get one of those packages of spareribs. 3 slabs to a pack. That's a lot of ribs but I am feeding a lot of people. Smear the rub you just mixed up all over those ribs, then wrap them VERY WELL in saran wrap and put in a deep tray. The salt and the sugar will draw some of the moisture out of the meat and exchange it with flavored moisture, but that means porky liquids will be sloshing around, and that means you want some sort of wide bucket-like device to catch anything that escapes the saran wrap. Put in the fridge overnight.

On the morning of the big day, soak a bag of wood chunks in a big bucket right near your smoker. Don't use mesquite, as it is overly bitter (in my opinion) when used for long smoking projects like this.

4.5 hours before scheduled eating time, get the charcoal ready for indirect heat. I use a drum smoker, so I make the fire to one side. Rack up your ribs in a rib rack, making sure there is adequate space between the ribs. DO NOT USE ALL THE RACKS. They are too close together. Instead, space the ribs out to every other slot in the rib rack.

Put some wood chunks on the charcoal, put the ribs on the side of the smoker where the fire isn't, and close the lid. Open all the vents and let the temperature come to 225. Close the vents. Now, for the next four hours, make sure this temp stays between 200 and 225. It's harder than it sounds. Add wood chunks at appropriate times, approximately every 30 minutes.

4 hours at these temperature will cook these ribs. Longer is always better. When you're satisfied, pull the rib rack into your kitchen and hack the slabs into two-rib sections. Serve with bottled BBQ sauce, because some people like the stuff.

Feeds a bunch.

I served this with a greek-style pasta salad, but hey, that sounds like another post.