Monday, November 29, 2004

Banou’s Birthday Carrots
1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled (chopping optional)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp water
10 garlic cloves, skins on
A bunch of fresh thyme

Toss the carrots with the oil. Salt and pepper generously. Add the garlic cloves and several sprigs of thyme. Put everything in an ample pan, add the water, and seal it with foil. Roast in a 400 oven for about 25 minutes, checking every 10 or so to make sure you still have liquid and to give the pan a shake. Once the carrots are near tender, take off the foil and roast until the liquid is mostly gone and the carrots are brown. Garnish with more thyme sprigs.

I doubled the recipe (and chopped them into medium-sized chunks) and had almost enough to feed 11 adults and 5 kids as a side. These are really, really good, and incredibly easy. Make more than you think you want to eat.

This is a Deborah Madison recipe. She calls it something else.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Giving Thanks For My Own Personal Ralph Nader. 

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, mostly because there is so little to say about it. If you cook Thanksgiving dinner, you spend all morning and most of the afternoon in the kitchen, if you don't, you spend it in front of the tv, if you're somebody's 65-year-old dad, you helpfully stick your nose into the kitchen every 20 minutes to ask if the turkey is done yet, thinking, perhaps, that women have some magical flesh-burning power that enables us to instantly elevate organic tissue to 180°F whenever we want, but choose not to because WE WANT MEN TO GO HUNGRY.

Several years ago my friend Toby and I were making Thanksgiving dinner for Toby, her parents, her brothers, Toby's partner Mary, Mary's mother and aunts, and Steve. Everyone was content to sit in the living room with the game on, eating hors d'oeuvres and talking, except for Toby's father who began to nag us like clockwork, three times an hour.

"Is the turkey ready yet?" "Well, when do you think it will be done?" "Is it ready yet?" "I'm really hungry." "I really need to eat." Hey! Old man! Hors d'oeuvres! Canapes! Petit-fours! Whatever French word for "put this in your mouth and shut up" works for you!

Toby was unable to yell at her father, and kept reassuring him that the turkey would be served as soon as it was fully cooked. Small lines formed around the sides of her mouth after about the fifth query, pulling them down into a tight-lipped frown. Sweat began to bead at her temples. She ceased speaking, and ceased making eye contact. We began to speak to each other only about the food, and then only out of necessity.

And the turkey would not cook. And would not cook. And would not cook. The juices were running blood red after 6 hours in the oven. Relations between the cooks and the rest of the party were getting strained. Mary had run out of party tricks and could no longer restrain the natives. Toby was hunched over the stove, doing what can only be described as angry stirring. Finally, Mary poked her head in the kitchen.

"Um, hon? Is there anything I can do to help?"

Toby could not yell at her father. She would not yell at me, her only help for the past two days. But she could kill the shit out of this messenger, no matter how gently and politely the message was delivered.

"Is there anything you can do to help? Hmmm....Yes. Yes there is. You can GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY KITCHEN BEFORE I KILL YOU!!!"

Mary blinked. "Okay...." she murmured, then backed slowly away. The door swung shut. The kitchen was silent except for the whisk whisk whisk of the wooden spoon swirling the green beans.

Ooooh, I thought, somebody's going to need an apology later on.

And Mary did get one for bearing the brunt of Toby's misplaced anger, but only after the turkey finally cooked, Toby's father was pacified by forkfuls of turkey with mushroom gravy, and Toby was sitting down with a beer.

For the past few years, I've only had to cook for my own immediate family, which in the past has not been bad, but is getting worse as the boys have decided that if it ain't peanut butter and jelly, it ain't shit. This year I swore I wasn't going to have Thanksgiving dictated to me by people with such ridiculously limited palates, but after cooking for two days only to be told the food tasted like ass, I'm seriously thinking about ordering Chinese food next year.

But damn it, I thought it was good, at least, and even with two kids and a full time job I managed to cook the entire meal from scratch and got it all on the table by three.

I bought the turkey at Whole Foods, mostly because Eric Schlosser scared the shit out of us. I went shopping Sunday after work and picked up the turkey, along with some other stuff I didn't think I could get at Jewel.

I needed maple extract for the cranberry sauce. I had never heard of maple extract before, but assumed it was similar to vanilla extract. I found "maple flavor", which was probably a good enough substitute, but I asked an employee just to make sure. He was about 20 years old, and was kneeling in front of the spices.

He paused and looked at the bottle of maple flavoring for a moment. Then he stood up and morphed into, I swear, Al Pacino at the end of the Godfather when he tells Diane Keaton that he didn't kill Connie's husband Carlo.

"Excuse me, is maple flavor a substitute for maple extract?"

"Ma'am, it is the exact same thing."

"Just this once, Kay, I'll let you ask me about my business."

"Is it true, Michael? Is it true?"


I know this is supposed to be the greatest guy film ever, but I promise you, women have seen it, too! And we know Michael was lying! We know it!

But there was something about that "I will not be argued with" tone the little punk took with me that did, briefly, make me want to shut up and agree. (Oh, Michael! Big hug!) Until it pissed me off, anyway, but being the nonconfrontational wuss that I am, I was about to let it go when an older woman, a grandmotherly type of about 60, appeared at my elbow.

"You're not telling the truth!" she declared. (She must have seen the movie, too.)

"You know, young man, if you don't know the answer to something, it's all right to say you don't know. There's no need to lie to people just to make yourself look better. Maple "flavor" implies artifical additives, while maple "extract" implies a more natural substance extracted from the syrup. And she didn't ask if it was the same thing, she asked if she could substitute it. There's no need to be snotty just because she asked you something you can't answer."

Then she turned to me.

"Dear, it's only an adequate substitute if you're not trying to make an all-natural dish. If you're just going for flavor, it should be fine. Now, you can tell me if I can substitue maple syrup for white sugar."

This woman would have made a lousy mafia wife, but a pretty kick-ass consumer advocate, if you ask me.

The maple flavoring turned out to be just fine.

Cranberry Sauce with Maple Flavoring

2 12-oz bags of fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups maple syrup
1/2 C water
1/2 t cinammon
1 C brown sugar
3/4 t maple flavoring or maple extract. Or just leave it out. I don't think it matters.

Put it all in a medium non-stick saucepan and cook it over medium heat until the berries pop, about 12 minutes. Stir frequently. Transfer to bowl. Cool completely. (Can be made 5 days in advance. Cover, chill.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Midnight applesauce
Not really. It’s actually called “ginger applesauce” but, given the time that I started it tonight, “midnight applesauce” seems more appropriate.

Happy Thanksgiving (well, in my time zone, anyway)!

10 tart, firm apples (Cortland, Granny Smith, etc.), peeled, cored, and chopped
1 c. apple cider
2-3 cinnamon sticks
1 ½ tsp. lemon zest
¼ c. light brown sugar
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 ½ tbsp. finely chopped ginger

Put apples in large saucepan and add cider, cinnamon, and lemon zest. Simmer over medium heat 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cinnamon sticks. Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger and cook until thick, 5-10 minutes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Mama Mia’s Stuffing
In 1992, I spent my first Thanksgiving with someone other than my family of origin. Toad and I traveled to visit her sister and her sister’s partner. We had to drive through a raging blizzard to get there, and a trip that usually takes about 8 hours took us about twice that long. The first time I met this particular sister was when toad and I were standing in the kitchen at 2 a.m., trying to get the microwave to work so we could have some dinner. You don't realize how loud those beeps are until you're wrestling with someone else's microwave oven in the still of the night.

This is the stuffing that they made for that Thanksgiving, and it’s the one that I’ve made ever since then, whenever I have reason to make stuffing. It become veg pretty easily (I just drop the sausage, liver, and heart, and use no-chicken broth). I don’t actually stuff the turkey with it, but only because I’ve never cooked the turkey—the first year we had it, part was stuffed into the bird, part was cooked alongside.

Thanksgiving 2003 was the first that I didn’t spend with toad. I didn’t cook, and I’m not cooking this year, either, so it will be a while before I make this again. Maybe I’ll make it for Christmas dinner.

6 links sweet Italian sausage, out of casings and crumbled
Turkey liver and heart, diced
2 large onions, chopped fine
½ bunch celery with leaves, chopped fine
10-12 parsley sprigs, chopped fine
1 loaf stuffing bread, stale, no crusts
1 pkg stuffing cubes (for 7-pound bird)
¼ lb. pine nuts
1-2 cups chicken stock
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. basil

In large skillet, sauté meats in 1 stick butter, and a little bit of oil. Add vegis and spices, and sauté until soft (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat to add bread and stuffing mix. Keep light and fluffy. Fold in pine nuts.

Add stock gradually, then eggs.

Cook in buttered casserole for one hour.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Fryers v. Roasters
Chickens. What's the difference? Discuss.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Work That Creativity! 

I love when I cook by smell and feel. It's the best feeling, to make up a recipe from scratch, based on years of experience as both a cook and a consumer. Anyway, this recipe isn't an especially innovative one, it's really just an old standby, but with a couple twists. For it, you'll need:

Collard greens* - 1 bunch
Tofu - 1 block
Udon noodles, fresh - 3 or 4 packs.
Butternut squash - 1 small one (the one I used was about 1.5lbs)
olive oil - some
soy sauce - lots
ginger - 1 shitload
garlic - 1 shitload

Now if, like me, you live in a barren wasteland where collard greens are incredibly hard to find, you can easily substitute another dark green, bitter, leafy vegetable (I would recommend chard, then kale. I don't think spinach would work). I actually came across collard greens this weekend, which is where the inspiration for the recipe came from, so I got to use them. w00t.

Basically, I had my standard stir-fry recipe in mind, but the only vegetable that was going in was the greens. I needed to add something, but I wasn't sure what. As I wandered the aisles of the grocery store, my eyes fell on the squash. "Mmmmm, squash," I thought to myself, "I should make something with that.
"Heeeyy," it suddenly dawned on me. "What if I put some squash in my stirfry?" I didn't have a moment of doubt. Squash it was. So I bought the squash and was on my merry way.

Here's what you do:

Step 1 - Marinade the tofu (nice, but not entirely necessary):
- chop up about an inch cubed of ginger so that it's super small. Fill a small saucepan with water, add the ginger and bring it to a boil. Let it simmer for a while (10 minutes or so, I dunno, until it smells strongly gingery and the water is vaguely coloured).
- dice the tofu. You can even cut it into smaller pieces (1/2 cm on a side).
- put the chopped up tofu into a bowl (preferably one with a lid) , pour a few tablespoons of soy sauce over the tofu and toss (or, if your bowl has a lid, close the lid and shake) until all the pieces are coated.
- pour your ginger water (with the ginger pieces still in there) into the bowl until the tofu is covered. Stir. Let sit anywhere from 30min to 24hrs, but not longer.

Step 2 - Everything else (very necessary):
- peel, core, and dice the squash. Bring a large pot of water to boil and parboil the squash for not more than 5-7 minutes. It should be not-quite done.
- wash the greens and tear them into reasonably-sized pieces.
- mince a shitload of ginger and garlic
- heat some olive oil in a wok or very large frying pan until it's warm but not too hot.
- add your shitloads of ginger and garlic and stir until they start to cook, but try not to let them brown.
- pour the marinading tofu into a strainer to get rid of the water, then add the tofu to the pan. Stir for a bit.
- Drain the squash and add it and the greens. Stir more.
- There should be some liquid in the bottom of the pan. If there isn't, add some water. Now add your noodles. Stir, fold, etc, rather vigorously until the noodles separate. Feel free to add oil, etc, as you see fit.
- Add a whole whack more soy sauce. Keep stirring (they don't call it stir-fry for nothin', folks).
- turn the heat down, cover, let sit for a few minutes.
- TA DA!!

This served three hungry people as the only dish, with enough leftovers for me to have it for lunch today. And it was super-yummy. When I started cooking I had a few doubts about how well squash would fit in. I worried the other ingredients would mock it and exclude it, but they all got along really well.

* I hereby ban the words lard, chitlins, and any other words to do with pig fat, or animal fat, from the comments. Yes, we all know that cooking collard greens without lard is as evil as sucking off GWB himself (or worse, voting for him!). Every single collard greens recipe I've seen has either contained lard, or has been accompanied by 35 indignant comments to the effect that "it would be/is so much better when fried in lard." Well, believe it or not, even us wacky wacky vegetarians know how good lard tastes. No one (well, almost) is vegetarian because they don't know about the wonderful world of meat out there just waiting to be discovered. So please respect my choice not to use it and keep your traps shut about it.

That is all.

For All Your Holiday Needs 

I have a new job. I'm working for Zingerman's Mail Order. It is a good job. The pay isn't great, but I love the people and the food. If you need to buy anything food related for anyone this holiday season, I can help you. Well, actually, whoever answers the phone there is a better resource than I. But I will help pack your box. And you won't be disappointed in the food. Promise. But it won't be cheap. Mail Order is more expensive than the Deli even, but we put a lot of work into each package, so there you go.

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