Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Liberal Heathen Cranberry Sauce

Milo’s class had a harvest celebration yesterday. The kids contributed cylindrical construction paper turkey hats, leaving the culinary hoop jumping to the big monkeys, many of whom were already stressed to the max with impending guests. One woman got roped into cooking a 9-pound turkey!

Not me. I’m too wily and semi-vegetarian for that. I signed up for cranberry sauce– it’s fast, easy, cheap, and repulsive to the juvenile palate, which meant that I didn’t have to take it personally if the kids turned their noses up at it. Not having a recipe, I sought the advice of my friend, Mrs. X, who allowed as how she usually just throww cranberries in the blender with orange juice and honey. I dunno, that sounds kind of nasty (unless that’s what she’s planning to serve tomorrow, in which case it sounds grrrrrrrrrrrrreat!)

Having grown up with canned cranberry sauce, I'm no expert, but it did seem to me that the homemade variety would require some time atop on the stove before it could be considered edible, a theory my internet research supports.

I also learned that cranberry sauce is a great favorite of fundamentalist Christian homemakers. Good thing it’s so goddamn easy to make because I got totally sucked in by the blog of this one woman,a mother of 12 who regrets the way the recent elections went and strongly suggests involving the kids in the cranberry-sauce making process. I must've spent more than an hour poking around in that alien land! I was like, “Oh my god, I bet this is where Todd Solondz got the idea for Mama Sunshine in Palindromes, a movie I loved even more than I love cranberry sauce. None of the first grade parents I (selectively) polled had seen it. Have you?

Liberal Heathen Cranberry Sauce

Rinse two bags of cranberries, which, if you’re working with loose models picked from your backyard bog, is about six cups' worth. Empty them into your wok. This alone will reassure the cranberries that they’re not in the hands of a red state evangelical. Freakallujah!

1 & 1/2 cups of apple cider
1 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice
and a teaspoon or two of zest from one of the seemingly innumerable Clementines colonizing the apartment. The kiddies won't eat it no matter what you do, but just in case, mince that zest up fine so the finicky young can’t detect it visually.

Bring it to a low boil over medium heat. Let it pop and fart for twenty minutes or so, then eat some, and put the rest in the fridge for later. Screw holiday tradition! This one begs year-round eatin'!

Please note the total absence of cranberry sauce from these youngsters' plates.


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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ravioli with Chestnuts and Sage

I’ve built up this persona whereby I’m obliged to hate on pasta, but sometimes, like when I need to get something out of the back of the freezer and accidentally forget to retrieve the half box of ravioli I’d temporarily set on the toaster oven, not noticing until morning that it had sat out overnight, my old obligation is supplanted by a new, and more powerful urge to waste not, want not. Greg, who loves pasta, was a characteristic mixture of suspicious and resigned when I served this dish, but it tasted better than any pasta-based product I’ve ever had in my mouth, and more than 24 hours later, we’re both still alive, with all our internals functioning normally, so what's not to love?

(Mr. Suspicious ---->)

Ravioli with Chestnuts and Sage

Okay, Bing, quit singing and roast yourself up nine or ten chestnuts. Feel free to go with that open fire, but I used the oven because, even though our late cat confirmed that the chimney in our bedroom does lead to open sky, one renegade spark on that hearth-less, splinter-y wooden floor and the whole family would be roasted along with them, as would our landlady, her daughter, our downstairs neighbor, a dog, a rabbit, and who knows how many mice and roaches. (I hear that’s a delicacy in some boroughs, roasted roaches…) The best way to prepare chestnuts for oven roasting (without losing a finger) is to make an X-shaped incision with a serrated knife, just like the Red Cross advises in the event of snakebite. No need to suck the poison out, just put them in the spring form pan that’s allegedly reserved for the sole purpose of cranberry upside down cake, and subject them to 20 minutes at 400º. Give them a chance to cool down, then peel them like buck eyes! They’ll be kind of mealy and anemic, but that's nothing to get excited over.

Boil enough fresh ravioli to (kill botulism and) serve two, as per the instructions on the package. I wasn’t kidding about accidentally leaving it on the toaster oven overnight, but keep that on the down low. If word got out, there’d be a long line of elderly Italian ladies from neighboring Carroll Gardens lining up to box my ears. Save the funny stuff for a real culinary emergency. Oh, and speaking of funny, be sure to drain the ravioli over a receptacle of some sort (Pyrex measuring cup, mayhaps) because you’ll be eating it later. The thought of which would have made me (I can't say what I was going to's so gross you'd never eat again) had I no prior knowledge of how toothsome the final dish.

Mince half a medium-sized red onion and fry it in one tablespoon of olive oil for about three minutes. Use a deep soup-making pot to save on dishes later.

Scut work’s not done yet, matey! Three cloves of garlic and a sprig or two of fresh sage await mincing . Add them to the oily onion and fry for a minute more.

Crumble those crumbly, anemic chestnuts into the pot, and take it off the burner while you get all your ducks in a row, with regard to the pasta, the picky children’s alternate meal, the table setting and most importantly, the wine.

When ready, add a cup of freshly grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons of butter
and the reserved pasta-cooking water (be strong!).
Bring it to a boil and add the ravioli, stirring it gently, so that the damn things maintain their integrity as they reheat. Don’t fret if the broth appears to be the consistency of dish water. It’ll taste good and keep the pasta hot, which makes it more palatable.

Sprinkle with more sage before serving. Charge the digital camera. Take a picture. Swear that you still hate pasta. Anxiously interview your spouse to see if he thinks it’s a keeper too.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Many many moons ago, my school put out a cookbook called Park Tudor Treasures. It was all very exciting, though it pained me to see recipes with cringe-inducing names (B.J.’s Kid Pleazin’ Cookies!) supplied by the subject of my Seventeen fantasy-boyfriend’s mother. My mother took a dim view of deliberate misspellings and dropped g's. (Superlatives ending in a babyish ee-sound ("crispy", "crunchy","velvety") also brought out the culinary mean girl in her.) She was part of the panel who tested recipes for this volume and several of the items she deemed fit for publication entered heavy rotation chez nous, most notably a buttery, sorry, dense brick of bread made with self-rising flour and a can of Bud, and this attractive cake, which tastes kind of cobbler-esque and will gunk your oven up but good if you don’t lay down a protective flooring of cookie sheet. Given Ocean Spray’s strangle hold on the produce aisle this week, it could be a cheap, fast, compliment-garnering addition to your holiday table.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Melt a stick and a half of butter, and use the wrappers to grease a 9” spring form pan. This is the only action my spring form sees, though sometimes I enlist the bottom as an impromptu pot lid … my own bottom is much too heat sensitive.) Now sprinkle a little flour over Panny's lubricated bottom. Pretend you’re a beautiful Thanksgiving fairy pollinating a spring form pan with your dust. Whatever gets you through holidaze, babe.

Wash two cups of cranberries, pat them dry, and pour them into the pan. This part makes me think of Madonna, who also started out on bottom, but wound up on top. I feel for the woman, what with everybody taking pot shots at her expedited adoption of a not-entirely-orphaned African baby, but that doesn't mean I want her in my cd collection. The cranberries will have to content themselves with The Ramones.

Sprinkle a half cup of sugar over those you-know-who-berries. Gabba Gabba Hey!

Measure out a 1/4 cup of pecans, and break them up with your fingers as you sprinkle them over too. (the pecans, not your fingers)

Bust 2 eggs over a medium sized bowl and beat’em up! It’s not like they didn’t have it coming. At this time of year, those little twerps should be giving thanks they’re not turkeys.
Add 1 cup of sugar
1 cup of flour
and the melted butter.

Scrape the batter out over the cranberries. Use a rubber spatula to distribute it equitably.

Bake in a 350º oven for 50 minutes or until the crust is golden.

Quick! Is that the top crust, or the bottom!? That’s right, bottom.

Quick! Is the bottom of your oven covered in molten black goo that will start smoking like Bette Davis in Now Voyager next time you try to broil a piece of fish? No? Good, you must have read between the lines and laid down a cookie sheet to catch the napalm-like cranberry juice oozing out the seams of the springform. Those things need them some damn O-rings!

When the timer goes off, set the springform on the counter, or more picturesquely, window sill. Give that cake 10 minutes to recover from the punishment of the oven then undo the latch, remove the springform collar and put a plate upside down over the crust. Slip your hand under what little pan remains and flip it so that it’s facing the ceiling while the plate is holding up the works. Insert a knife between the cranberries and the circular metal floor-cum-lid and gently prize the cake free. Ooh, so purty! Purtier still when you top it with powdered sugar, I mean, Thanksgiving fairy dust, and also some fairy sour cream.

No matter what your opinion of the upcoming holiday, you have my permission to print out and affix to your door a copy of young Milo’s festive original decoration which he calls DEFEND OF THE TURKEYS!


Monday, November 13, 2006

Secular Hallelujah Muffins!

Praise Ganesha, remover of obstacles, the child ate something healthy for breakfast and liked it. Her anxious father has grown increasingly irritable over her refusal to eat eggs, fruit, or bacon in the morning. He’s refuses to share my belief that the cold cereal she prefers is not that un-healthy. It comes in a recycled cardboard box and

I’ve never been too big on muffins. Granted, I rocked me some Jiffy mix as an undergrad, and the title of a muffin-centric cookbook my mother sent me junior year (“Wild About Muffins”) became an in-house cult joke, but from where I sit there are hundreds, nay, thousands of ingestable substances more deserving of obsession. Loving muffins is kind of insipid, no?

Well, too bad. These fuckers saved my ass. I loaded them up with apples, oats, zucchini, and all manner of horse chow and still she ate them. I offered to name them in her honor, but she seemed underwhelmed, so I decided instead to honor the Sunday morning miracle that took place here today.

Secular Hallelujah Muffins!

Type the words “healthy muffin recipe” into a search engine and wind up on a lot of Christian homeschooling sites. Oh wait, I already took care of this for you, so go ahead and skip this step. If only I’d dropped some cyber crumbs along the path, maybe I could find my way back to show those God-fearing muffin lovers what became of their recipes in my filthy, heathen kitchen. Carrots became zucchini, white became brown, baking soda misread as powder, nuts and raisins cast out of the temple entirely … Mercy me, it takes all kinds, don’t it? Amen to that!

Preheat the oven to 350º

Get yourself a big, mother-trucking bowl and prepare it to receive:
1 cup of white flour
2/3 cup of whole wheat flour
2/3 cup of oats
1 cup of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt

Beat 3 eggs in a different bowl. My eggs were exceedingly medium-sized, a designation I failed to notice on my mad dash through an unfamiliar grocery the other day, though this would explain why they were nearly two dollars cheaper than the others of their kind, a fact I most assuredly noticed.

1/2 cup of canola oil
1 teaspoon of vanilla
and a single serving container of that health food store applesauce that neither of the children liked and even a visiting infant refused to eat. I’d been hoarding the survivors to donate the next time the kids’ school holds a food drive to benefit the needy, but after several seasons in various locations around my kitchen have left them looking a little the worse for wear. Even if I were starving, I’m not sure how psyched I’d be to receive a gummy, soy-sauce-stained, individually-apportioned cup of not-particularly-good-tasting apple sauce. Seems like it might be kind of demoralizing, the equivalent of scrabbling for the handful of coins some wealthy benefactor had flung to the cobblestones from the safety of her carriage. (On the other hand, I know plenty of vegan dumpster divers who would consider my rejected applesauce a real score!) If you are so wretched as to live in a household where applesauce tastes good and comes in family-sized jars, scoop out a half cup or so and use that.

Peel & seed a medium sized apple and grate it.

Grate a medium-sized zucchini too. (In deference to regional variations with regard to perceptions of zucchini endowment, I’ll say that it looked to yield about 2 cups.)

Crack open that can of pineapple that’s been hanging around the premises for more than a year. (Trust me, the poor will be relieved). Scoop out 8 ounces worth – in my case, that meant half a can – and chop it into shards if it’s not crushed already.

Figure out some means of obtaining 1/2 cup of flaked coconut. Surprise, surprise, the limitations of my pantry meant I had to take a non-traditional route to securing this ingredient, but unless you’re familiar with the various oddly-shaped dehydrated foodstuffs on offer in an obscure corner of the Hong Kong Supermarket, it really doesn’t bear going into.

Mix the zucchini, apple, pineapple and coconut into the wet ingredients.

Now mix the wet ingredients into dry ingredients but don’t go apeshit with it, okay? Wild About Muffins! was very clear on this. You over-stir the batter, you wind up with gut bombs the consistency of hockey pucks. Perhaps a better title would have been Necessarily Restrained About Muffins.

Wipe the rust out of your muffin tins, baptize 'em with the greasy substance of your choice, spoon the cups about 2/3 full with batter and bake for 20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes away clean. (Believe it or not I actually have toothpicks. My mother left 700 of them here after the reality of spending time with her grandchildren forced her to abandon the elaborate craft project she had envisioned.)

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Alaskan Ratatouille Rolls, the faux-Ulu way

My gentleman friend recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Juneau,
Alaska. In addition to a board game which has taught me more about whales than I ever would have thought possible or desirable, he brought back a cookbook that seems to have been underwritten by the Great Northern Cutlery Company of Anchorage. Every recipe contains at least one reference to your Ulu knife, a crescent-shaped implement “that has been an important tool to native Alaskans for more than 5000 years.”

Um…Is that a typo in the original source material?

At any rate, these babies are apparently sharp enough to skin moose and seal, but all you’d be doing with one is cutting zucchini. I myself do not own an Ulu knife. I guess they’re sold separately, or maybe it came down to a choice between the Ulu knife and the Whale game. My rickety old chef’s knife got the job done just fine, as far as I can tell. But what do I know? I admit I was kind of surprised that zucchini isn’t considered a specialty item up Alaska-way.

Alaskan Ratatouille Rolls, the faux-Ulu way

Get out your (ulu) knife and prepare to cut a medium-sized eggplant, 2 average zucchini, a small onion and a respectable poblano pepper into cubes of roughly the same dimensions the Jolly Green Giant considers standard. If poblano peppers are hard to come by in your area, you can do things the way they do ‘em in Alaska and revert to green peppers, my all-time least favorite vegetable, at least as far as the lower 48 is concerned.

Mince some garlic with your (ulu) knife.

Fire up the burner / home-cured moose dung charcoal to medium to heat the quarter cup of olive oil you’ve poured into a large skillet. Add the vegetables and garlic, and sauté for 5 minutes.

Chop up a couple of tomatoes and toss them in there too. Don’t be ashamed if you’ve only got canned – that’s what the recipe calls for. Native Alaskans have been using canned tomatoes for nearly as long as they’ve been using their ulu knives. I only used fresh because Greg inexplicably brought some home (from Fairway, not Fairbanks) and I’d grown sick of waiting for them to rot.

3 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
& a fistful of basil.
Throw a lid on, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, thaw a pound of frozen, cooked shrimp in a bowl placed under a trickle of cold water. With five minutes remaining ‘til blast off, add the shrimp to the vegetable mix, or the “ratatouille” as it shall henceforth be known.

As the end of simmering time approaches, take your baguette out of your pants and slice the uppermost crust off. This represents one of the few non-ulu-related acts of cutting in the book, perhaps because a serrated knife is one’s undeniable best bet here. Cut into sandwich sized lengths, then use your fingers to hollow out a canoe-like cavity, making sure an unmolested wall remains at either end of the “roll”. Repeat with baguette number two (or live with the idea of squishing as much ratatouille as possible into one baguette’s worth, heaping the rest onto the plate as a sort of duplicate side dish). Put them on a cookie sheet and park it in a 350º oven for 5 minutes.

When the rolls are warm, fill ‘em up with shrimp-fortified ratatouille. Top each with a handful of shredded mozzarella and slide that cookie sheet under the broiler for the minute or two it would take you to clean your (ulu) knife after an average, non-Moose-related job.

Wait, what the hell was he doing in Alaska, other than claiming he didn’t steal the towel the hotel wanted to charge his benefactors 30 bucks to replace? Make a wish upon your (ulu) knife, and if all the stars align, you might just see a production of a certain yeast-based musical in Juneau sometime in the nearish futurer.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Squash Soup That Tastes Like Pears

You know that old saw about necessity being the mother of invention? Well, sometimes, forgetting an ingredient is the best thing that can happen to a recipe. Not that I’d advocate leaving anything out of this recipe, especially not the pears, which are what make it taste like pears. Truth is, I already saved you that step by spacing on some originally-called-for tomatoes. Now, I couldn’t eat it any other way. In fact, I’ve never eaten it any other way and neither should you.

Squash Soup That Tastes Like Pears

Hit the farmers market for a 2-pound butternut squash, a couple of ripe pears, some garlic and a large leek. If you find yourself in Brooklyn Heights, be sure and patronize the skinny, humpbacked farmer’s stand. A recent count revealed that I’ve escorted nine, possibly ten field trips’ worth of crazed children around that market over the last half-decade, and no matter how many tiny, jacked up hands were laying siege to his produce, that guy always had a smile and some Indian corn to lay on the little monsters. He’s earned your business.

Peel and quarter the pears . Make life easier ! Remove the skin with the same utensil you use on carrots (or, alternatively, hire a scullery maid).

Peel the squash, seed it and cut it into chunks. I won’t lie. This is a much bigger bitch than stripping off pear skin, but it’s slightly more manageable if you cut the neck off, peel that like a giant cucumber, then slice the rounded part into crescents so you can pretend it’s a cantaloupe.

Bisect the leek lengthwise, slice it and rinse as thoroughly as you would your fine hand washables, which presumably do not have sand in them. (Woolite is optional, but not recommended unless you’re casting about for a reason to dial that dishy operator at the Poison Control switchboard.)

Hammer up a couple of cloves of garlic, and put them in a bowl along with the squash, the pears, and the leek. Salt ‘em up with a quarter teaspoon of the good, fresh-from-the-sea stuff, crack some pepper over them, drizzle with two tablespoons of olive oil and dump the whole greasy lot out onto a cookie sheet, preferably one with some sort of gutter or guard rail. You don’t want all your goodies plunging to the bottom of the oven when you go in for one of your periodic stirrings, do you? Say, when was the last time you cleaned that thing? I did mine yesterday, but only because I nearly set off the building’s sprinkler system when the run-off from a recent cranberry confection filled the entire apartment with smoke in less time than it takes to light a sparkler. And just between you and me, I’m not sure how thoroughly I sponged off that Easy-Off, though there’s no denying it got the job done. (“Hello, Poison Control?”)

At any rate, this perp’s looking at 45 minutes to an hour at 400º. Don’t forget to stir every so often, so it gets an even tan.

Meanwhile, dissolve two cubes of Knorr Vegetarian Vegetable Bouillon in four cups of water. Congratulations, you’ve just saved yourself umpteen hours of labor, boiling and authenticity. Can I have my own show on the Food Network now?

Is your blender still working? Good, that makes one of us. Load the old nag up with half the roasted produce and half the vegetable stock. Give it enough of a whiz to wind up with something the consistency of baby food (the kind you’d feed to a six-month-old, not one of your older, toothier models.) Repeat with the remaining stock n’ veg. You could probably eat it now, but let’s just cross our eyes and dot our T’s by putting it in a sauce pan over medium heat for ten minutes, shall we?

Serve with sliced scallions, crumbled blue cheese, multigrain bread and anything else that helps you feel like hearty peasant stock when you dunk it in your soup.

Wonder what would happen if you tried adding some tomatoes…and recharging the battery camera battery so as to have enough juice to capture the finished product, which was a pretty pureed gold.

The Brooklyn Heights farmers market runs every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in front of Borough Hall. Be sure and tell my favorite farmer that he’s burning up the Internet.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Mexican Hot Pumpkin Seeds

What do you mean you already threw 'em in the trash and put the trash out and the garbage men came? Don't you know you're supposed to reserve them in a carryout container with a little clingy goo still attached and never get around to cleaning them or roasting them and after a couple of weeks when people start asking if that's your kid's science experiment or some sort of DIY terrarium gone horribly wrong, THEN (reluctantly) throw them out? To everything there is a season, turn, turn, turn.

So either carve yourself another jack o lantern (and I mean pronto, Mister) or clip n' save this recipe for Halloween ought-seven.

(dang! I can't get the picture to post and it's in focus too. Until I figure it out, here's a visual aid.

Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

Scoop your pumpkin, adhering to the instructions at the top of this page. Pick and rinse free of stringy goo, then blot dry(ish) with paper towels.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter, combine with one tablespoon of olive oil, and annoint the seeds, to symbolically honor all the labor that has thusfar gone into this quixotic snack quest.

Salt them as mercilessly as you would an avenging slug.

I don't know if you've met my good friend, Pam? My mother always thought she was trashy, but she's helped me out of many a tight spot, so if she wants to get it on with my cookie sheet, I'm like, Pam, honey, you have my blessing.

Spread your seeds across the sheet like some hormone-demented fourteen-year-old boy. (Lucky Pam!)

You have the option to bail out at this point, shove the cookie sheet into a 350 oven, or I suppose, the trash, go to the gas station and get yourself a packet of Uncle Jesse's, but if you've got a sense of adventure, a tendency to fuck things up, and a hankering for Mexican Hot Chocolate, take my hand.

Grate some a bar or tablet of Mexican Chocolate (not the one with the sweet looking old lady on the box - it's owned by Nestle's - and not the whole bar, just enough to sprinkle over the seeds). I used that little plastic doohickey that I bought to grate ginger and it reduced it to a fine powder, suitable for snorting. (Do leave a comment to tell me how that goes.)

Now sprinkle some cayenne over the seeds. A little goes a long way, so this is one not to put up your nose.

Roast them in that 350 oven, stirring every couple of minutes, until they're starting to brown up a bit.

Serve with a beverage or five, but not to my husband 'coz he started hating on 'em after Seed Number Three. I should've married the bunny.

The The visual post-mortem of Halloween '06 continues. I was worried that Inky's costume might offend, but popularity-wise, it rivalled the Recycling Fairy.