Friday, February 23, 2007

Popcorn Cauliflower (Tastes Just Like Popcorn!)

A paying market that’s a bit more mainstream than my usual beat asked me to submit some tips on making vegetables palatable to children:

Tip #1: Don’t knock yourself out.

Tip #2: Swap your existing children for some of that mutant strain, the ones who eat everything on their plates without bitching, whining, weeping or entering a manic Robin Williamsesque state.

Tip #3: Take a bite yourself, exclaiming, “Wow! Tastes just like popcorn!”

Having tried this dish (under duress), my nine-year-old daughter wishes to inform you that it tastes nothing like popcorn.

Her younger brother gave it a thumbs up, though, once he'd succumbed, consenting to an exploratory nibble after half an hour's goading, in which the suspect vegetable was compared to broccoli’s albino cousin, an alien being that must be conquered, Popeye’s other favorite food, and, of course, popcorn.

Tip #4: When spawning finicky children, choose a playwright mate with a background in improvisational comedy. Make sure he (or she) sticks around for the rearing part.

Popcorn Cauliflower

Chop up or smash four cloves of garlic, depending on whether or not your kid goes apeshit over unidentifiable brown flecks on his or her food. Smashed cloves can be removed before serving. My nine-year-old daughter wishes to inform you that cauliflower could also be removed before serving.

Core a head of cauliflower and make sure the children see. This is what happens to boys and girls who don’t eat what’s on their plates.

Chop it into florets, cast them into a kettle of boiling water fortified with one tablespoon of salt, give them a couple of minutes to get tender but not mushy, then strain.

Fire up your wok, add two tablespoons of vegetable oil, and fry the garlic for thirty seconds.

Add the florets and spend a couple of minutes stirring them around, pressing them gently against the sides of the wok to sear in that popcorn flavor.

Add half a teaspoon of sea salt. Swear to god, I feel like we’re at the movie theater, that’s how close it is to popcorn.

Eat it if you want dessert.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Commune Cookies

Another thing about a small apartment, when the older kid’s having a flute lesson at one end of it, it’s imperative that the jacked-up younger squirt be creatively corralled, if one’s to get one’s money’s worth. Usually, I spirit the little devil off to the Boerum Hill Food Company for hot chocolate and a cookie, but he’d already observed President’s Day by sending a cup of cocoa flying at Housing Works Used Book Cafe (just missing a fellow patron and a display of brand new hardbacks). Plus, there are a lot of brass monkeys out there today wishing they’d had the sense to stay home where it’s warm. Inky and her flute teacher were in the bow. Figured I stood a chance of keeping Milo in the stern if I let him crack eggs, hork down some chocolate chips and fool with the brand new digital timer I bought to replace the one he dropped to its death.

Like that wasn’t home-fucking-schooly enough, I adapted the recipe from a 1970’s kids’ cookbook, Kids Are Natural Cooks, by a Cambridge, Mass collective known as the Parents’ Nursery School, with illustrations by Lady McCrady. It’s my total hippie fantasy. Three-year-olds making their own cheese, butter and pretzels. What am I saying? That sounds like a total nightmare! Anyhoo, I snuck a little white flour into the original recipe, substituted Triple Sec for vanilla (we’re out) and changed the name from Crunchy Cookies to

Commune Cookies

Preheat the oven to 350˚.
Put a stick of butter on the counter.
Read The Boy Who Looked Like Lincoln twice, The Lorax once, and reinstate martial law with regard to those who seek to create a public disturbance in flute territory,

Place 1/3 cup of the now-softened butter in a bowl with 1/2 cup of honey. Begin the stirring process.

Suspend the stirring process to ask the cabin boy if he has washed his hands since disembarking from the subway. Wait while hands are (allegedly) washed. Resume the stirring process.

Add one egg and one teaspoon of Triple Sec or some other calming substance like the pot juice the Parents Nursery School cooperative no doubt substituted when they ran out of vanilla. Stir that up while waiting for your summons to arrive.

Sift in:
1/2 cup of white flour
3/4 cup of wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
3/4 teaspoon of sea salt
and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.
Continue stirring. You’ll wind up with something resembling the Peanut Butter Playdough on page 25. Always makes me feel a little woozy, thinking of those little cooperatively-run fingers moistly exploring the nether reaches of nostrils and oral cavities before probing that edible playdough, some of which will be eaten, but some of which will be packaged up for another round of playtime fun.

Prissy, my smelling salts!

When the color returns to your cheeks, you may stir in one cup of chocolate chips and one cup of chopped nuts. I used walnuts. Apparently, there were no nut allergies in 1972. I’d love to see the public outcry that would greet the parent who dared bring in a batch of homemade granola, Chris and Jody’s Nut Bread, or, for that matter, Peanut Butter Playdough to snack time today. Make sure you have clearance before unleashing them on the possibly susceptible (and litigious!) young. Eat them all yourself, if that’s what it takes. But first ------> Bake for 9 minutes on an ungreased cookie sheet and cool on racks. I’m all about the racks these days, another sure sign that it’s 2007, and not some mythical, hippie-dippie, Montessori past.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Recovered Chicken Liver and Sage Salad

Once upon a time, I bought this jive ass salad cookbook in a used bookstore. I think my rationale was that increased access to creative salad recipes would induce me to eat more greens, but all it did was up my annual chicken liver consumption by ten pounds or so.

So when, after a three year hiatus, I again started shacking with Matthew Mugg the Cat’s Meat Man*, one of the things I was really looking forward to was a reunion with my beloved sage and chicken liver salad. Only thing was, sometime in the last three years, I must have unloaded that crappy cookbook in a stoop sale. It was nowhere to be found and I know, because I looked, sort of. I could have lost it, could have thrown a tantrum and ordered in thirty bucks’ worth of sub par Thai food, but like hell was I going to waste a pound of chicken livers from Los Paisanos at $1.99 a pound. I unzipped my baggie of fresh sage, huffed deeply, and dusted off my background in improvisation.

What I wound up with wouldn’t win any beauty prizes, but there’s nothing wrong with being Ms. Congeniality, especially if you’re loaded with iron.

Recovered Chicken Liver and Sage Salad

Wash, dry, and tear a head of Bibb lettuce. Boston lettuce? I always. That hydroponic stuff with the root ball dangling off the end like those scary lady-ghosts from Thailand. Oh my god, they’re so freaky. Just this pretty smiling head trailing a mess of internal organs like gnarly sausage links. The stuff one learns reading Giant Robot, I swear.

Slice a shallot.

Chop up some sage. Like a sprig. I don’t know. There were four sprigs in my baggie, one decidedly larger than the rest. I denuded that one of its leaves and chopped them up. Use your discretion, not your measuring spoons.

Melt a tablespoon of olive oil with a tablespoon of butter. Fry the sage and the shallot over medium heat for five to ten minutes.

Remove the goodies, as much as you can. Freshen the pan with another tablespoon of butter and another tablespoon of oil.

Brown the chicken livers. If you’re worried about whatever it is people worry about with undercooked organ meats, think about that scene in Notes on a Scandal where Dame Judi Dench snaps, “Don’t, let’s.” You want them brown on the outside, but not on the inside.

1/4 cup of wine
1/4 cup of orange juice
several big pinches of salt
a big pinch of freshly ground pepper
and restore those goodies.

When everything’s heated through, make like you’re some sort of demented Easter Bunny, tucking chicken livers amongst those tender new greens. So good! Wilt it up a bit by pouring the sauce over everything.

Sprinkle with a bit more fresh sage and a splash or two of sushi vinegar.

It’s a metaphor and a literary allusion!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Adobo Chicken

This dish is “the hotness”, a superlative I picked up from the celebrity gossip blog, D-Listed, where it is most frequently applied to Charlize Theron (and very little else). The only thing that kept it from being entirely perfect was that midway through the cooking procedure, my six-year-old son received a visitation from the Muse of Craft, and in his fervor, could not rest until four paper lunch sacks had been fetched from the cabinet over the stove, dislodging the glass coffee pot, which exploded all over the counter while simultaneously sending a Pyrex measuring cup to its death. Also, about three hours after my second heaping helping, I started blowing chow like a freaking firehose, but the forensics team has determined that it was a case of the stomach flu that ate Brooklyn, not salmonella, listeria, or some other delicious food borne bacteria. So eat up, secure in the knowledge that it wasn’t the hotness’s fault.

Adobo Chicken

Scrounge around in the cabinets until you come across the store-brand white vinegar you use for infrequent cleaning and Easter egg dying. Combine:
1/2 cup of that
1/2 cup of soy sauce
3 bay leaves
5 cloves of garlic, minced up pretty
A dozen or so hand-strengthening grinds of pepper
& 8 chicken thighs. (I foraging at Han Ah Reum Market and ran across a big package of boneless thighs - as opposed to Charlize’s thighless bones. I’m so glad they didn’t give me food poisoning because they were so cheap and convenient, I’ll pick me up a package whenever a frozen eel run sends me to 32nd street.)

Dump this gloop into your big non-reactive saucepan (or the tattered remains of your big reactive saucepan) , bring it to a boil, then simmer for half an hour, turning those thighs every so often, to ensure that you won’t be having an audience with King Ralph.

Remove the chicken to a plate.

Strain the cooking liquid over a mixing bowl. My condolences on your Pyrex measuring cup. (The forensics team’s latest findings indicate that the four paper bags that started the lethal chain reaction were not needed for a craft project, but rather, for “boxing gloves” for a couple of pre-dinner rounds, father vs. son. No news on whether the champion retained his belt.)

Wipe out the saucepan better than I did, or better yet, break out a new one, fire it up on high, and add 1 tablespoon of peanut oil (vegetable oil, massage oil, whatever).

When the oil is hot, add the chicken, and fry it up on all sides to give it some nice brown polka dots.)

Add the strained cooking liquid and simmer for five minutes. Serve with rice, and don’t blame the chicken if you start feeling barfy. Forget to take a picture. So? It's for eatin', not for show.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Chinese Ginger Beef

A couple of years ago, I was browsing in a remainder store called Non-Imperialist, Unoppressive Books and could not resist blowing a fin on this ridiculous little giftie item, thinking it would be a good thing on hand for one of those last-minute invitations to celebrate the birthday of someone I know insufficiently well to determine if her insistence on “no presents” is sincere. How thoughtful of me! Unfortunately, no one in New York City would have any context for appreciating this gift, a Chinese restaurant experience for two, served up in a carry-out container. Presumably, any New Yorker who craves a pair of fortune cookies, a Chinese menu, and some informative paper placemats, can just toddle to Chinatown, or one of the ill-tempered neighborhood take-aways and TCB with a minimum of fuss. Maybe I should send it to my friend Andrea, who, last I heard, was living in a broken-down school bus in a field in northern Vermont. Or better yet, “the troops”, especially if the care package they’re gunning for would contain foot powder and a subscription to Maxim.

Anyway, even those of us with a healthy folder of active Chinese menus sometimes find the craving to dirty our own pans is nearly as great as the one for some:

Chinese Ginger Beef
Get out your non-reactive bowl , or perhaps a bowl-sized, formerly-anondized Calphalon stockpot whose lifetime warranty has been voided due to flagrant repeat abuse.

1/4 cup of soy sauce
1/4 cup of vermouth (the ill-stocked liquor cabinet’s sherry!)
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
Many healthy grindings of fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of sugar
and 3 cloves worth of finely chopped garlic

Slice1 pound of beef steak across the grain into thin strips, such as you might find in a dish ordered in a Chinese restaurant. Slide them into that boozily aromatic soy bath. Massage them a bit with your fingers. If it helps, pretend that they’re paying you a hundred bucks an hour for this exotic spa treatment. Then excuse yourself, telling them to concentrate on their breathing, and that you’ll check back in 30 minutes. If you’re really digging on this game, you can spend that half hour bitching about your “client” to the delightfully cynical Polish manicurist. You can do this lolling on your back, or you can curry favor by accomplishing some side work you’re going to have to do anyway, specifically:

Peeling and slivering a couple thumbs’ worth of fresh ginger
Slicing six scallions into inch-long sections of pipe. (No scallions? No sweat. Brocolli smells better anyway, at least going in...)

Ding! Time’s up. After a brief squeezing for maximum lymphatic drainage, help the beef up out of its bath and into a terry cloth robe. Give it a magazine to browse while you set up for the next phase of the treatment .

Naturally you will have reserved the marinade, now fortified with your client’s personal juices. To this add:
2 teaspoons of cornstarch
2/3 cup of chicken stock
and 1&1/2 tablespoons of that oyster sauce that’s been hanging out in the back of the cabinet since before the birth of your youngest child, now six.

Retrieve the largest of your battered Calphalon pans, or better yet, your wok, fire up 2 tablespoons of peanut oil to a temperature most infernal, dump in the ginger and the beef and stir like hell.

30 seconds later, add the scallions and the fortified marinade and cook for two minutes, stirring all the while.

Oh mercy, I’m powering down and catching the F train to East Broadway because I can’t wait for the time it’d take to cook me up a batch of this wonderful dish. Or maybe I’ll just stay home and figure out a use for the rest of that vermouth. You, on the other hand, can serve it up over rice, with a twinkling of toasted sesame seeds.