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 Gew├╝rztraminer 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 (http://philoculture.blogspot.com/2009/01/pad-thai-and-tempting.html), and the green curry was was more or less the Curry from Story (http://philoculture.blogspot.com/2009/02/curry-of-story.html). 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.