Monday, November 14, 2011

The Buckle Heard Round the World

AKA The Buckle of the Century.

This is a long overdue post. But what other kind would you expect from me anymore? I closed out Buckle Season, formerly and commonly designated "summer" in some backwoods regions, with a buckle to end all buckles. A peach and 2 berry sweet cornbread buckle. Wowie. That one was good. I did 1 cup corn meal (blue and gold mixed) with 1 cup wheat flour, and threw in 1/8 cup of  "Bob's Mill" 8 Grain Cereal Mix (wheatless) too, as I do in much of my baking for some texture. Used the last of the season's peaches- end of October in Utah this year if you believe it, along with raspberries and blackberries. Half stick butter and a mere scant 1/8 cup brown sugar for the whole double buckle recipe. Which makes 2 standard pie trays. I do not personally even notice the absence of sugar, as I keep reducing it in all my baking.  I then compensate with vanilla and cinammon. Usually some nutmeg and allspice too. Works in apple crisps, oat bars, you name it. No one else has complained to me either. Buckles turned out to be the only bread/pie I baked all summer. My favorite combos are pear/blueberry, peach/blackberry, and plum/raspberry. But any 2 or three fruits will make for good eating. 

I quickly transitioned into fall mode. Stocked up on winter melons as they were once called; spaghetti squash, acorn squash, pumpkins, and butternut squashes. And I whipped up one more apple crisp with honeycrisps and asian pears. I will miss apples, and will probably cheat and buy some "fresh" ones before next summer. Apples and potatoes are just too much a part of our lives. Though I did stock on spuds too. I love fall as well. I spent 2 weeks hiking through the best colors I have ever seen thanks to the late and heavy snowfall, and bought jugs of tangy tart cider, and lamented my lack of a food dehydrator. Would like to make preserves next fall. Really store up for winter like in the old days I never knew existed except in fiction until I was grown up.

Last week I cut into the first of my three huge eating pumpkins: note to the prospective buyer of pumpkin flesh- measure your oven first. I don't know quite how I will manage the last one. I cleaned off the seeds and got them roasting in a toaster oven while I roasted the hollowed out gourd in the big oven, with the rack sagging under the weight. Due to the size and thickness of my pumpkin and my own unusual lack of any economy of movement, I baked the pumpkin empty, then moved it to the top of the range before filling it and using it like a slow cooker. Secured the lid tight and walked away for 2 hours. When I came back the whole was still hot and everything inside was baked and blended. So what did I make? A "turkey" mole (moh-lay- I do not have the spanish tilda on my keyboard to go over the e), which must be put into quotations as my sophisticated palet can assure you that: turkey does not taste like turkey anymore, turkey has an odd spongey texture rather than the rough and dry texture turkey should have, and turkey is mostly flavored with sodium and chicken stock. Also turkeys are raised so fat their own legs break and they are miserable. Probably. But I am going to avoid turkey even more thourougly than I was already after this due to the poor quality of the general turkey flesh. More on flesh later. For now, let us say the turkey mole was good. This mole was seasoned with achiote, chiles, pepper, cocoa, cinammon, and other spices. I poured in 6 cans of butter beans, kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, and great northern beans, plus diced anaheim peppers, corn, peas, tomatoes, wild rice, and of course, the sides of the pumpkin scraped and shredded. Quite good, spicey and sweet and aromatic, aside from the disappointing calibre of the bird.

Okay, so, I have tested organic chicken, beef, 3 varieties of buffalo meat, milk, and yogurt, and I will now give you the rundown. Organic chicken tastes like chicken. I do not believe I could pick one out from the other blindfolded, despite my honed and attuned taste buds, and the "air chilled difference"- this organic chicken is not stored in vats of shit-filled water that spreads disease and inflates the weight of the poultry so you get less for your money- though I do appreciate the air chilling on principle. Organic beef on the other hand is spectacular. Great smell, taste, obvious flavor difference. You can recognize it too by differences in cooking: the ground patties I formed cooked more quickly and evenly, the fat clung to the pan less as it cooled and was easier to clean. On the whole, I am an organic beef man from here out. No doubt. It still though does not have as much flavor as bison, my meat of choice forever more. I have tried 2 brands of ground buffalo and one of hot dogs. The hot dogs are superior to standard dogs, smell wonderful, but on the whole, are still just ground up testicles and junk meat. High Plains Bison burgers come individually wrapped and pre-formed. I don't like them much. If you are into convenience and don't mind producing a lot of trash, go for them. The flavor though is very pepper and whatever they preserve these with, dulls the taste. Go instead if a connoisseur in hopes, for Great Range Bison, distributed by Rocky Mountain Natural Foods. My very special recipe is included later. Organic milk is magnificent. Shockingly good if you are not a super taster. I remember loving milk once, and now mainly drink it from habit. Its white water, full of protein. But organic is full of sweet, rolling gentle flavor. Teresa made a face and said it tastes like cheese. She was not a fan. But I am won over. You can taste the happy, and the omega 3s animals pick up when their feed is green (as in grass). It is healthier by far and tastier too. Watch for a sale or a clearance as it is about to expire. All of this leads me to believe birds are called "bird-brained" for a reason. They may not be happy, but even happy, how happy is a chicken exactly? You can't notice its misery in the meat. Now cows, they must be a bit clever. I can tell you from a burger if the animal led a good life or not. Pigs, which I do not mention are natural jerks. They would definitely eat you if they had the chance, and they are known to torture smaller live animals by eating them slowly and leaving them half eaten then coming back for more. I do not care if my pork is happy, though I would buy humane pork if I find it. But the guilt is not there. Cows don't hurt anyone, except with methane- and by the way, the next time someone of a Republican nature says to you that global warming is not man made because all the cow farts still account for more greenhouse gases than all our cars put together, counter by saying that the cow is really one of man's first machines; the feral cattle is not an animal that is social, docile, or which could be packed tightly. Steers were territorial brutes. Much tougher and stronger than even modern bulls. They fought like tigers and males did not meet often and both live after. So there would be few cows in the world to fart had they not happened to taste darn good. In fact much of the evil in history has taken place for beef, and wilderness areas are being mauled by livestock rights. Don't believe me? I can send pictures of a herd of cows that surprised the hell out of me by being in the middle of a mountain valley in August, and which nearly felt the need to stampede me. Didn't know they really did that. I can also send you pics of a herd of cows that stampeded for fear of me in another mountain range that is supposed to be "wild" in Utah's desert. Not eating beef would possibly do more good for the world than many hours volunteering for garbage organizations like United Way and Habitat for Humanity, of which I have insider experience and little faith. And to end my soapbox speech for now: giving money to charity is for chumps. Know your neighbors, and your community. Don't send $50 to Georgia, or Malaysia. Find someone who could use it near you. Give it to them. A kid, a mother, whatever. A loan or a present. You do more good in this world by loving a single person well than by getting involved with these giant organizations that get so big they lose sight of what they are doing and just become machines like every other corporation. Big is bad. (And just how do Republicans say big government is evil but shop at Walmart? If you allow big business, you need big government, otherwise the biggest business, is for all intents and purposes, the government. When I see Walmart as a third party, I will worry. Don't give them the idea. They'll get it on their own soon enough.)

Buffalo Burgers:
1 lb ground buffalo
1/4 cup italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/8 cup raisins
ginger, garlic, salt, paprika, (or ideally "Mongolian Ginger Barbecue" seasoning mix sold at World Market Stores and under the brand name "Urban Accents")

Also you could try lamb burgers, another animal that is not eaten in large enough numbers for it to have lost all flavor yet:

1 lb ground lamb
4 dry mint leaves ground
1/8 cup craisins or raspberries
garlic and other desired seasonings

I prefer buffalo by a lot. Lamb just makes me want stew. Lamb owns stew. Although beef stew is pretty good too.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Whiskey-Banana Oatmeal

What's this, you say? Is this Camila, writing a post on the ostensible food blog? What madness! I must surely be hallucinating.

Well, my friend, you may be hallucinating, but not about me. This is indeed happening. I have been roused from my blogging slumber by a brilliant invention. An almost-Andrew level of brilliance. It is simple: take oatmeal, add whiskey.

Well, not quite that simple. You also need bananas, cinnamon and brown sugar. And it doesn't have to be whiskey - rum, brandy, pick yer poison. But that's it, and it's amazing. You could also, incidentally, call this breakfast Bananas Foster Oatmeal, but I think it's crucial that the description have the alcohol in question in the name. Truth in advertising and all that.

Here are two ways of making this really amazing cold-wintry-day breakfast:

1. Slice some bananas and throw them in a saucepan with a bit of butter, some brown sugar and some cinnamon. Look, if you wanted precise quantities, today just isn't your day.

2. Let those get nice and tasty and mushy and sweet and cinnamony. Meanwhile, make some oatmeal - for the love of mercy, don't use instant or quick oats. Real oatmeal takes like two minutes in the microwave. Sheesh.

3. Do the bananas look great? Awesome. Grab a bottle and add a couple good glugs. I used Virginia Gentleman, which I'm kind of in love with because it's really amazingly cheap... and totally not bad. It's even quite good. Also it's bourbon made in Virginia, so, state pride, whoohoo.

4. Sorry, got distracted. Let your bananas get to know your booze for a moment. Here's where you would set them on fire, except you just got up and your feet are cold and the coffee's still brewing and who are you trying to impress, anyway? It's 11 a.m. and you only just woke up, you haven't done anything with your life this weekend, you're not that cool, set down the barbecue lighter and look at your priorities. Who do you think you are, Emeril?

5. Dump the boozlicious bananas on top of your freshly prepared oatmeal, stir it up, sit down with your hot coffee and enjoy. Dang, Emeril can go BAM by himself; you just won at breakfast. Weekend already a success.

or you can be like camila and do this:

1. put frozen bananas in a pot. set the temperature too high. wonder for a moment at how you can manage to burn things that are frozen. admire your mad skills. turn down the burner.

2. stare at the melting bananas and think that they look totally unappetizing. Wish the coffee were ready. Wonder why you didn't clean the kitchen yesterday, or two days ago, or the day before that. Add brown sugar.

3. Cheer up when the kitchen starts to smell like brown sugar and bananas. Add cinnamon. Poke the bananas with a spoon; still frozen. Think, "you know what this needs? Whiskey." In the moment which you would normally spend pausing to check if that was a terrible idea, add some freaking whiskey.

4. Become much, much happier when the kitchen smells like brown sugar and bananas and whiskey. Start to get very, very hungry. Add a cup of water to the bananas.

5. Realize there was probably a better way to do this. Watch the bananas disintegrate and think that this looks incredibly unappetizing again. Break the bananas up with a spoon to amuse yourself.

6. Once the banana-sugar-whiskey-water mess is boiling - wasting all the whiskey, you think sorrowfully, add half a cup of oatmeal. Get distracted by emptying the dishwasher so you can look yourself in the mirror, you slob. Come back five minutes later to find the unappetizing mess turned into beautiful oatmeal with banana all mixed up throughout.

7. Add more whiskey.

8. Sit down, and enjoy winning at breakfast. Hey, at least we all got to the same place.

The craziest thing is that nobody seems to have thought of this before. No, wait. I did some more googling and guess who did? The Scottish. A great country, Scotland. Of course, they appear to eat oatmeal and brandy as a dessert, but everybody knows the Scottish are crazy.

Now, you might be thinking, "Camila, only a crazy person would have whiskey in the morning." I'm not disagreeing. But you just might be a crazy person, and you should probably try - just to find out.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Farm Stand Fresh Ideas (Buckles, Salsas, Etc)

Mango Peach Salsa and Peach Plum Buckles, plus a little story and a little beer review.

I am in a very productive place with produce right now. I am in a zone, as they say in the sports world. I made a second zucchini and eggplant lasagna better than the last one I mentioned last post. I made some spinach and lemon hummus that is so good it nearly drove me mad, which only one hummus ever did to me- and that was one I forgot to mention in my Pacific Northwest Review, somehow. Comic story, which I will save for later. I have made only one mistake in my cooking recently. Just now while simmering up a batch of peach mango salsa from off the top of my head (as in no recipe or even a glance at similar recipes), I stopped at half a peach, and half of my raspberries and tomatoes. I should have used all the peach, and all my other ingredients on stock. Its that good. Mild, but delicious. Here is the recipe, written down for the first time on this earth (you can't beat that deal) and someday to be top secret property of "Ye King's Nostril", my pub that will be named after the Inn in the background of a scene from one of the greatest Looney Tune shorts ever made: "The Scarlet Pumpernickel", starring Daffy Duck.

For a single jar: 6 small or roma tomatoes, 1/2 peach with skin, 1/2 cup rounded of raspberries, 1 anaheim pepper (for mild) or 1 jalapeno (for strong) (I did the mild), 1 clove garlic, 1/3 of a green bell pepper, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp brown sugar, onion powder, several crushed leaves of dry cilantro, 1/8 cup corn kernals, 1/8 cup black beans, a little corn starch at the end for thickening.

Dice it, mash it a bit, boil then reduce to a simmer and let it go for 30 minutes or so on low. Add the corn and black beans near the end. Tinker as you see fit. Serve in any obvious way, with tortilla chips, or make someone's day by serving it in my newest, latest, genius breakfast, Huevos Rancheros Achille.

Its really not such a secret is it? Pretty obvious once you hear the title. The trick is just thinking a bit outside the norm to come up with rare ideas. Is anyone talentless enough to make a truly bad salsa?

Also made my second buckle: an old-fashioned crust-less fruit pie that is easy to make with fruit and basic batter in a skillet (traditionally; cowboys ate them supposedly over their campfires), or a baking pan. My first buckle was made with Cam and was detailed on an old post from several years ago (oh God, I'm so very old...well, not really), a Peach and Blackberry, which was "traditional" in that we; cooked it in a cast-iron frying pan, and used a 1:1 ratio of flour to sugar, with all bleached flour, and used a whole stick of butter for our 1 cup of flour and sugar, making it, very sweet, very evidently a dessert, and not the least bit healthy. This time I decided to do a fake vintage buckle. I coarsened the batter up with whole wheat flour, changed the flour to sugar ratio to 2:1, added an 8 grain gritty cereal mix, ground flaxseeds, wheat germ, oat flakes, and reduced the butter a little by using one stick for 2 cups of flower and 1 of sugar. I also left the skin on the peaches, which Cam was against when we were sharing a kitchen and chef duties. Here is how to try the Peach Plum Buckle:

2 cups whole wheat flour, 1/8 cup Bob's Mill 8 Grain Hot Cereal Mix (wheat free version; which is delicious for baking, though I tend not to just cook it up as it is meant to be used, not that there is anything wrong with it, but I prefer standard old style oat flakes with crushed walnuts, craisins, milk, brown sugar, spices and a dollop of honey), 1 cup mixed brown and white sugar, 3 peaches, 8-12 plums (if organic and small "real" sized; if grocery store goliath plums the size of apples then try 3-4), 2 tbsp or so wheat germ, 3-4 tbsp ground flaxseed, 1 tbsp baking powder (you don't want much rise), 1 stick butter, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp molasses, cinammon, allspice, and nutmeg, 2 whole eggs, 2 tbsp vegetable oil.

Dice the fruit, mix in with your dry ingredients, add your eggs and oil and the rest. Warm your butter and then add that in. Drip in water as you lightly toss. No need to beat, just get everything homogenized. Grease two standard pie tins or a big fry pan or whatever else you feel like using, pour it all in, bake for 30 minutes or so at 350 degrees. Just use the finger pat test to see when its done. Could a "pie" be simpler. Its really a bread pie, and can be served with dinner as a bread, or after dinner as dessert. Unless you add more sugar it is really going to pass with applause as either. A touch more sugar would push it over the edge into a confectionary. Had three "in-laws" try it and all were adamant not to put it more sugar. And they have a "sweet" tooth like the rest of us. Judge it by your produce; if you have good quality fresh fruit, don't add more sugar. If its out of season, then maybe hide that a bit with an extra 1/8 cup of white refined. Or just double the vanilla or the cinammon.

Now for my story: In Oregon one reason I did not try all the food I wanted at "The Mark" was that there were several appetizing restaurants around, and I talked Teresa into "Mediterranean food", which I had to describe to her- a good enough reason right there to make her eat some. This place seemed authentic, so we thought we could not go wrong. Well, one cannot expect the unexpected- that is what makes it the unexpected. Little did I consider when entering a restaurant that the food might, rather than being good, bad, or okay, that it might be, instead, non-existent. We found a table. Going good. We placed an order. And things were fine thus far. We sat and waited. And waited some more. And then a little more. 45 minutes pass. No food. There are other people sitting around. No food for them. People who came in before us did not have food. No one was eating at all. Things began to get awkward. After all, this WAS a restaurant.  I think someone was about to walk out. I think it might have been everyone had one person done it first, but the patience of the crowd cowed us. I was about to start the exodus however. I only stayed out of pure impotent incredulity; a kind of morbid scientific curiosity. That is, I just could not take my eyes off the clock. Here was a complainer's fantasy! Here was a once in a lifetime chance to find out how long people would go with a gag! So we stayed, but at last, I had had enough. After all, "The Mark" was attached to our charming hotel down the street. The wait staff was excellent. The food was unrivaled, at least to my knowledge, in Oregon. The waitress, a cute, but groundhog-like creature hiding in her hole somewhere, must have sensed the danger I represented as a potential leader, and brought T and I some kind of lemon and chicken cream soup, gratis. Very well, we stayed. The soup was excellent. Then came some free hummus, which was, upon the first bite, so good it nearly drove me mad. Teresa had to dip a pita chip at her own risk, because a large platter was half gone and I was in Olympic Diver stance, ready to bathe in the stuff. No one else got these freebies. The descendants of the Romans know a docile mob without a head when they see one...finally after well over an hour, our food came. And we were both full by then. I actually overtipped the adorable little Esmeralda who had avoided eye contact all night. I do not know where the food was. Perhaps they were slaughtering a lamb in the back parking lot, or perhaps their lead cook just sat down, folded his arms, stuck four cigarrettes in his mouth and said, (in a garble) "not tonight: You don't pay me enough, you yell at me, now this is happening." And he had to be replaced or worked around or co-erced with some gypsy potion or tambourine dance. I do not know. This nearly dinner-less dinner ate up our whole evening, but that hummus has had me tinkering like an alchemist over my blender all summer long to try to rediscover it like a culinary Shangri La.

Had one interesting beers recently. Dubbhe is a local to Utah, a beer that should not exist: a black IPA made with hemp, which should not work. I will explain. An IPA is an India Pale Ale, a kind of pale ale made British style, that is to say, bitter. Really it is akin to an English Bitter dulled or made milder with the pale ale. It is a summer drink refreshing in hot weather, that was sent to India during the colonial days. How one can make a black pale ale, I do not know, nor why one would try. As to why one would then adulterate an adulterated IPA further with hemp, well its like starting with an apple pie, but making it an apple crisp instead, and then using peaches instead of apples. I bought this beer out of pre-annoyance, a condition only very advanced individuals like myself can achieve, where one is already annoyed by using powers of prescience. It is a kind of sentiment on credit. One can only verify pre-annoyance, or prenoyance, as it is called in the academic literature. There is only an anti-climactic confirmation, a kind of satisfied, smug, "I knew I would be annoyed by this," when the normal mortal person would just begin to feel their annoyance. However, a strange thing happened. The beer is good. Really good. That is a first for a hemp beer for me, and it disappointed me, in that it did not allow me to superior and annoyed, which is a habit of mine. I can only conclude that the letters IPA were put on the bottle as a sales point. Few beer drinkers know what IPA stands for, and fewer care. They buy an IPA because an IPA tastes good without having too much flavor to offend anybody. It is now merely a buzz word that means nothing at all, except that in this case, it means, "please buy this weird beer we made. Its really good, and you'll see that if you just try it. P.S.: I!P!A!!!!!" Good for them, I think. And who knew a good beer could or would ever be brewed in Utah. Put on your best suit, the judgement day may be on the way.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

EZ Parmesagna Lasagna and GTGB

Acronyms Aplenty. Fresh Produce Galore. Hummina-hummina-hummus!

I love summer. And also every other season. But summer is a time when I can watch a dry lightning storm while roasting local potatoes, steaming exquisite fresh green beans, and dip them all into a home-mix hummus. I have only ever made one bad hummus, and by bad, I mean, it is only about as good as what you find in a store. This poor hummus was an experiment I tried: honey and three kinds of ground pepper. Honey and chickpeas are not a clever mix. Probably why no one has ever tried it, and lived to tell the tale. Hummus is something you should try though. Its hard to fail at, and it takes a mere five minutes to make if you use canned chickpeas. Don't even drain them. Just dump the whole can in. Add a little olive oil, some lemon juice, and either some toasted sesame seeds or some tahini, which is sesame seed oil. The variations are plentiful. I like mixing in some black beans- you could also use pinto- and sometimes, tomato bisque. You can also do the juice from a whole lemon for a very fresh variation. Try bell pepper and olive. Try arugala (I have no idea how to spell that but it goes good in pesto too) and sundried tomatoes. Garlic and pistachio. Try anything, and then let me know about it! Hummus is healthy, delicious, and goes with everything- toast, crackers, raw veggies, cooked veggies, use it to dip a gyro. And people at parties will think you are a genius. And all for much less work than home-made mayonnaise, which if you serve at a party, will make people think you are a deranged hippie- believe me, I know. And here in Utah, we only have dry storms lately: lots of flash, no rain to cool things off. I've never felt so hot as I have this past week. At least in Arizona there are pools everwhere. You drive to work, you jump in the office pool, you do a little work, you go home. Not so bad. Here, its almost as hot, but people try to pretend it is not- me chief among them.

So GTGB: sounds like some bad TV channel, but really stands for green tea green beans. I tried this on a whim as I was snapping green beans and tossing them in the collander and waiting for my green tea to cool on a hot day while swallowing whole jalapeno peppers (don't ask: well okay, I heard you silently ask: I had to detox my blood due to a minor infection and fever relating in some degree possibly with something stupid I might have done involving, perhaps- not saying for sure- hundreds of cuts I got while bushwacking down through a steep narrow canyon full of wet cliffs, loose rock, dangerous slopes, spider webs, an overgrown creek, stinging nettles, waterfalls, hollow melting snow and ice bridges, and overhanging cliffs that were unclimbable- unless you are a genius at getting yourself out of trouble you yourself created on the level of brilliant torreadors- and which I circumvented by climbing down a dead pine tree that was lodged upside down between some big rocks and which came apart in my hands and I wound up surfing down and landing in a two foot pile of dry needles which I found everywhere for a week- possibly, all because I thought the trail looked pretty indirect and would bi-sect this canyon anyway and it would make an interesting and exciting shortcut even though I nearly got my friend (who is not a genius at getting himself out of trouble he shouldn't be in in the first place) killed making this exact same kind of decision two weeks previously while looking down into the exact same kind of scenic-seeming waterfall-cut canyon- who can say?). I really think you will like them, it creates a mystique no one will put their finger on. A subtle smokey, background complimentary flavor. I think it would work for any kind of vegetable, and any kind of tea. Just steam a half and half mix of water and tea, and keep an eye on it, because sister, you don't want to see what the pan will look like if you forget about it and let it go on steaming dry. Trust me.

Another way to seem like a genius is to try EZ Pamesagna Lasagna, which stands for Eggplant Zucchini Parmesagna Lasagna, an acronym I adore, as it is completely misleading. Eggplant Parmesagna is notoriously one of the hardest things to cook- or at least, time consuming. Anyone with several hours can do it well. There are just many steps. So because I like to make myself extra crabby while rushing to get to a party on time, I decided to complicate things needlessly, by making a hybrid with a lasagna, and also putting in zucchini, the greatest breaded food there is. Here are the steps if you want to attempt this beast: (2 people could whip it off pretty easily with division of labor)

1. chop up a lot of things: one zucchini and one eggplant into discs (leave the skin on), one roma tomato diced, tear by hand 4-5 basil leaves or crumple some dried basil leaves (basil can be easily dried at home: simply buy or pluck some basil leaves, put them on a paper towel, and walk away. Bag them up one to two days later, and also, you may have to flip them once. That's it.), dice a handful of olives, and maybe one quarter of a red bell pepper. Shred some mozzerella and parmesan cheese: 6 oz of each should do nicely. Set aside.

2. Pull out a glass casserole. Lay down a decent layer of tomato sauce, then a layer of lasagna noodles (no bakes are a good choice for this dish). A little more sauce on top.

3. Dip each zucchini and eggplant disc into egg and then Italian-seasoned bread crumbs. Now comes a choice: either fry in oil or lay down unfried in a nice layer in your casserole. Up to you. Fried zucchini is spectacular and will give you a spectacular lasagna. But your lasagna will be very good skipping that extra work. Do you want to be spectacular and very tired or very good and a little tired?

4. Atop your layer of vegetable discs, put a mix of your shredded cheese: 3 oz of each.

5. Repeat and make a double decker lasagna, only this time, in your tomato sauce layer, add your roma tomatoes, olives, bell peppers, and basil.

6. Bake. 400 degrees and for 30 minutes.

Now that is a vegetarian dish anyone will feel full on. And its one of the only ways to get almost anybody to eat eggplant. Dice any leftover eggplant and zucchini you have left and throw it in your next marinara sauce. Or hummus.


Friday, May 20, 2011

You Mean You're A Vege-Traitor!

Andrew describes the hateful hijinks of Meatriots who love their country, its flag, its boys in arms, and juicy Armor Hot Dogs.

The first thing the Dutch and English ever agreed upon in America was that the Natives were not using the land properly and should be divided from it. They did not improve the land, "improve" being defined by charter law as "to keep livestock on it." Thus, in a nutshell, or perhaps, in a collarbone would be more appropriate, the red men and their pudgy long-haired babies were gunned down first for not eating hamburgers. Don't snicker that I am exaggerating. You can be lynched for the same reason today in Texas and no jury will convict. This is a beef-loving country, strangely, since the more beef people eat, the worse its quality. And since, all non-organic hamburger meat in this nation now contains ash for thickening and fake coloring, and beef is no longer marbled or flavorful. More like tough and stringy and bland. The other day I went to a Mongolian grill with friends and the only difference in the lamb, beef, chicken, and pork, was a slight dye job. None had any flavor. I closed my eyes and did a taste test. My lady slipped in a piece of cardboard and a piece of plastic and a piece of leather, and the only one I thought was actually meat was the cardboard. They were really more like slivers of texture replacement, to appease the teeth. But who can complain when all the vegetables and fruits were refilled before our eyes from huge cans? At least the food was not expensive. I guessed after the first time through the line why the "house" recommended six ladels of sauce per bowl. When people say they like good food or strong flavors or this or that dish, what they really mean to say is: I like the texture and shape of my homogenous salt and sugar to be...

But that is just the usual. What I mean to say is I am not being vegetarian anymore, though I did go nearly two months meat-free at one stretch and I often go a week without meat without noticing. I try to eat organic fowl and meat now, as that is clean (er), more properly treated, and probably ate something it would have eaten 200 years ago and enjoys. It will also taste good and since it costs more, I will eat less of it and savor it more. Thomas Jefferson advised to use meat like a condiment, usually over a dry martini and a suckling pig, if not a dry cocktail of pureed ham and a big meal of ale-soaked tobacco leaves. It was good advice, even if he did not take it himself- well, he had to entertain, and the French would have thought America poor or weak were its president dangling his slippers AND eating mountains of collared greens. "Where's the beef" might have been the slogan the British were sneering as they burned the president's mansion down to its plain white walls. Of course, Jefferson also had the sound policy: there's plenty more where that came from. He believed in riding the land hard and moving west. Hey, if we farmed efficiently, there would be plenty of land for Brits, French, Indians, Canadians, and who knows who else. Can't have that. Torch it and shake a leg. Let's waste our way to the Pacific.

So I eat some meat again. A few problems cropped up when I stopped. One is that I got boring. I just started eating the same things all the time. As I was also avoiding out of season produce, this wound up being rice and beans, pasta with red or green sauce, bread, and oats. That is not a very healthy diet, as it is pretty much pure carbohydrate, with limited nutrient profile, and I have begun to branch out again. The other problem was harder to deal with, and it is that people might be okay with vegetarians, but not with sudden vegetarians. It is like coming out of the closet. People start looking back at old memorized scenes and painting you pink in them. They start to wonder: did he really like my turkey at Thanksgiving? No he must have lied! Now I can't trust him! Or: Ooh he's fickle. He might not love me by next Tuesday! This makes them angry. And too, its like losing a team member. They have some inkling that animals are not treated so well, and probably don't consider our "deal": we take care of you, one day, we'll split your head open with an axe: to be a very good one anymore. They would walk out the gate and not come back, but they don't have many options at this point. Well when someone quits their meat eating team, that makes them feel bad. So they get angry for that too. I got either confused looks, or suspicious ones when I said I was trying out vegetarian eating. Had I just been diagnosed with coronary heart disease, this might have been acceptable- I say might, because many men believe they get their fat trucker virility from a mixture of chaw, naked silhouette mudflaps, contact with the steering wheel of a diesel pickup truck, and steaks. The redder the better! These sort would rather die than eat a stem of brocolli. Of course they also drink bad beer, but what few thoughts they have, they do have loudly, and so pass for our culture around here. Also, even carnivores can tell they are getting lower grade flesh these days, and know it is swimming with bacteria, or maybe more accurately, that they are buying bacteria infested with small quantities of particular animals when they buy meat at the market. It is all the same mess of little amoebic monsters, just with a bit of bird or hog to differentiate it. When I quit eating meat, it makes them feel a bit like a sucker. They want everyone to get conned at the same time. Safety in numbers.

The only person who was positive about my experiment was my little work concubine, a vegetarian convert herself, who was getting hazed by her family, pretending to be supportive. The old: Justina, dinner is ready- oh no, whoops, I forgot you don't like drumsticks anymore, I guess you'll just have to eat a can of corn. No time to make something else now, sorry. And according to several co-workers who labeled themselves as "incapable of reading body language", the two of us screamed silently: you're favorite dimly lit vegan restaurant, or mine? Whatever that means. So she might have approved of any experiment I made, even if it were horrible. I say she was my work concubine because that is how people started looking at her, and she being shy, religious, and you know, caring what people think, this bothered her, despite my appeals and best efforts to have her play along with some scandal-mongering. I for my end of things, tried to look smitten around her (a minor effort) and act possessive, and to dress as "old" as I could around her (she was 18 when we started "work-dating"). One lady really took it too far. She sat down at our table o chat and gave Justina an up and down scan and we could both see the wheels in her head say, "huh I wouldn't have taken you for a whore." Really offended the kid. She quit not too long after, probably out of boredom and because she is young and not dead or dreary enough for government work. If you don't need a job, why keep going? Stay in school, and that sort of thing.

I think vegetarian cooking can be delicious, though I need to learn more meal options before I commit to it fully. And I should try it at peak of summer. I think winter is the time for meat. Eating flesh raises body temperature, puts on "insulation", and used to fill in when plants were not available. People often preferred produce and certainly craved it crossing the great plains and shivering through hard winters without furnaces. For example, Lewis and Clarke and company had to subsist on 9-12 pounds of elk and puppy flesh per day at Fort Clatsop. They dreamt of cabbages. I am going to go to Fort Clatsop in one week's time on vacation with the Missus, to bring this up on the tour. I love social terrorism, and Teresa does not believe me that The West's spiritual and symbolic founders were probably homosexual and puppy eaters to boot. "Where did they get the puppies if they didn't have any food anyway" she asks, naively. "Did they bring them along so they could eat them? Why not just bring jerkey instead then?" Well jerkey does not walk on its own legs and cows scare easy, but they actually bought them from the Indians who wouldn't sell the white men any fish or elk or corn because it was scarce and they needed it for themselves, I explain. And also because they hated the whites secretly and liked to tease them about how only cowards and fools ate dogs and failed to pack real food into the wilderness. They rolled their eyes at those poor starving explorers, and patted their bellies while holding their noses over steaming cauldrons of labrador stew while visiting. We'll see what the tour guides have to say to my quotations from the diaries such as "if there is a more delicious steak than one carved off a fresh young puppy, I haven't found it". I may be thrown out. We'll be visiting on Memorial Day.

But social terrorism and vegetarian inklings do not mean I harbor terrorists, as some of you carnivores were probably muttering under your breath while reading this. No, don't tell me. I like to pretend I have an audience, though when I find out I do, I get squeamish. They say Mark Twain was the same way. He also liked to lie through his teeth as a hobby.


Stromboli Baby

I have a new favorite word, and perhaps a new favorite food.

Can you tell it is raining, and hailing? Yes we just as of five minutes ago set a new record for latest snowfall in Utah at valley elevations. Five straight weeks of precipitation, and moping, my usual coping method, got old, and I just don't have the young energy anymore to drink hard as a hobby, so I decided I'd better start cooking. I figure I have a lot of hiking to catch up with in June, so I might as well store a lot of good stuff to eat now. Preferably portable. And also I started to make muffins from scratch (3 kinds), am baking more breads, and invented some recipes to try soon, I hope.

Stromboli is an Italian dish defined on Wikipedia as being a calzone with the sauce inside. This tripped me up as I thought I was making calzones to throw in the freezer, but as I was over-ambitiously trying to put tomato sauce inside them without rupturing their thin skins, I learned I was making stromboli. Stromboli can be made in a swirl log shape too though, and I wanted to try that. The pics are above.

To start, just make a pizza dough as you normally would. Throw down a lot of flour on your counter and roll it into a rectangle. Then put down whatever you want, roll it up as you would a yoga mat or a sleeping bag, coat the edges with egg, seal, sprinkle with something good on top, bake, and carve it like a roast with a big bread knife. It is delicious, artistic, structurally sound, stores well in freezer, and will make you seem like you are an actual Italian in a way pizza will not, even when you make it from scratch.

My first roll stromboli was: tomato paste, black olive, red bell pepper, spinach leaves, whole basil leaves, slices of provolone cheese, roast beef, and salomi, mustard, garlic powder and sprinkled with asiago, romano, and parmesan cheese, and oregano on top. My dough was half whole grains- a mix of rye and whole wheat flours with unbleached standard baking flour. I think this is one sturdy food you could get away with all whole grain flour- it doesn't need to rise much, you are coating it with egg anyway, sprinkling it with good things, and stuffing it with sandwhich fixings and pizza toppings. No one will mind.

Some other ideas:

Vegetarian: tomato paste, bell pepper, olives, whole basil leaves, eggplant, squash, onions, provolone, sprinkled parmesan, romano, and asiago.

Vegetarian 2: tomato paste, eggplant, zucchini, pumpkin strips, crushed red pepper, minced garlic, onions, mozzerella, sprinkled with oregano and parmesan on top

Pink Lady: Ham, mayo, mozzerella, tomato paste, olives, spinach or lettuce, crushed red pepper, a touch of ranch, ground rosemary, sprinkled on top with oregano and parmesan

Hot Italian sausage would be good too. I like parmesan cheese, if you cannot tell.

Now as to calzones, in their crescent shape, they will certainly make better easier to eat stored food, if you are in the habit of keeping tomato sauce around to dip them into, or some other condiment you prefer. They will be dry to travel with though, which for hiking and car trip purposes, is why I wanted them to be complete, with sauce inside, like a Hot Pocket.

I used to consider "Hot Pockets" one of mankind's greatest inventions. Then I got clued in a bit to the way the world used to be, you know, for about 4,000 years until the microwave and massive grocery markets, and realized they were just the corruption of every nation's old lunch pail stand by, the enclosed sandwich, calzone, stuffed na'an, empanada, pasty, etcetera. The coal miners even built a handle into theirs, which they would eat around and then discard, so birds could pick at the filthy black bread stick and die instead of them. Clever. So the original lunch pail was edible, and now it does not decompose for 25,000,000 years- approximately. Now, Hot Pockets are not very good, but I kept buying them in college, on the hopes they would be good, or really, the conviction that they SHOULD be good. I mean they were so convenient and clever and self-contained. Every food good right there, little spillage, eat it hot or just let it thaw as you sleep in class and then eat it coldish.

A better idea: buy a $6 dough press set (mine is by Progressive and can be found at TJ Maxx, Ross stores, and Amish farmers markets) and just make the things yourself, without preservatives and with a lot more flavor and real ingredients. You could make do without the dough press kit. If you can roll dough into a circle then you can fold it over itself. Paint the edges or lips with a little egg yolk, and press them with a fork if you want that artisan's touch. Almost anything can go in them, and you can make empanadas, mini dessert or fruit pastries, calzones, stromboli, and anything else you want to call them with one kit. The largest size my kit makes is about the size of a Hot Pocket, which I know is good to cut down hunger on the run, but not quite fill me. Simple eh? I have not tried empanadas yet, which I think I will fry in corn oil to make them a bit different, or mix in some masa to my dough. But here are some calzone tips, or stromboli tips, depending on how technical you want to be.

Do not overstuff them. That will be the temptation because everything going in them is good, and you like good things. But overstuffing stretches your dough and creates weak spots. They will leak- no big deal, or explode- which may be.

Use tomato paste, rather than tomatoes or tomato sauce. The paste is drier and will not weaken your dough or add to leakage. Then again, the most delicious part of the calzone experience is peeling that crispy patch of mozzerella and tomato goo off your pan after you lift off your calzones.

Type of pan does not seem to matter. I tried pale and dark metals, flat and high walled. What you want is to work your dough as little as possible. My early calzones in each batch were more stable than the ones I formed from the scraps of left-over dough I re-rolled out. Also, don't grease the pan, put down a little corn flour, it will add to your crust and works just as well, and is easier to clean off. Just shake it over the garbage can.

Coat your calzones with egg even if you don't want any herbs or cheese on the outside. It will make the crust less dry and taste better. I put herbs in my dough, which is a fair idea also. And garlic powder will work better than minced garlic. That too can go in your dough for safe keeping.

Bake around 400 degrees, and watch them close. They finish faster than you might expect. I left mine in the oven for 10-12 minutes. They will cook a bit more even after you've removed them, which is true of meat and any enclosed dish or food too.

Ricotta cheese is great in stuffed shells, but I think it is too hard to find good ricotta with the flavor you need to stand up to the crust of a calzone. Stick with mozzerella or provolone. Parmesan and cheddar in little touches will help to enhance either cheese.

Watch out when hot- they spit!

If you are really ambitious, try selling them. Who doesn't love a good portable meal?


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Forty Dollar Lamb

If you have 40 days and 40 nights to spare, try making this meal.

I exaggerate a little. It is mostly done in a slow cooker. And if you can chop even a little, you can make this delicious, perhaps, even, heavenly lamb tagine. Or stew. Or curry. Stewgine. Well, I combined a fruit tagine heavy on curry powder and a classic tomato and pepper stew recipe together because I could not decide between them, so I am not sure what to call it. I was thinking Miracle Manger Tagine, but Forty Dollar Lamb sounds good too, as you could easily charge that in a restaurant if your table cloth is white enough and well starched and you have a maitre-de with the proper upward tilt to his disdainful and superior chin. I left everything big, because that is a more classic slow cooker feel to me. I thought this collision of flavors would jump and jive well, but it could have fallen on its face and not shocked me. You will need:

1.5 lbs lamb stew meat or shoulder roast
4 potatoes (I used red and left skin on)
4 large carrots
1 green tart apple (leave the skin on)
1 unripe green banana
8-12 oz cut green beans
1/2 can coconut milk
1/2 can tomato sauce (plain)
4-6 mint leaves (fresh if possible, or try peppermint extract, or failing even that, anise extract)
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp cardamom
1.5 tsp black pepper
1 clove garlic minced
1 diced tomato, or 1/4 can diced tomato
3-4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
Medium to large slow cooker

Quinoa, cous-cous, rice or barley

Lamb is an excellent meat to work with in today's meat world, because it is not eaten enough to get the full fast-food treatment and have its life streamlined to a short, sad, scary efficiency. The flesh is full of flavor that rolls around all over your tongue, and it melts and still has fat in it. Imagine that: marbling! Beef gets worse all the time. Any slow foodist knows it. Chicken is too disgusting to think about and turkey can be worked with, but only if you hit yourself in the head with a mallet or the bottom half of a bottle of kalua first. You don't want to know what percentage of chicken can be feces legally by weight and volume. Oh wait, I think I told you once already in a blog.

Start by braising or searing your lamb. Use your slow cooker if you have a high setting, by chopping your meat and putting it in along the bottom, alone and dry. Let it brown, but not char. You will want the contrast of well-done lamb in this curry stew. While that starts, chop your vegetables. Use all the fat, it will melt into the body. Don't trim lamb. If a person complains the meat is fatty, they shouldn't be eating lamb. The fat will not be chewy like with some other meats and is part of the delicacy of lamb.

Once your meat is brown and mostly cooked, put in your potatoes and carrots, and coconut milk and tomato sauce. Let go on low for 2 hours or so. Then add your apples, green beans, spices and seasonings, garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, and butter. Let it go another 2 hours or so. Check on the vegetables for desired tenderness with a fork. The butter is optional at any point as a thickener if you need it. Slice half your banana as a last step and put it in for just a half hour at most.

Boil the grain of your choice and put the lamb and vegetables and sauce over it. I used quinoa, and they went very well together. This was one of the best things I have eaten in a long time. One of my favorite dishes. I think a gourmet would have a hard time identifying all the flavors but would approve heartily. It was excellent, delicious, and mouth watering. It would have been perfect had I not put my apples in so early and made them mushy. I corrected that above and suggested to not add them with the potatoes and carrots as I did. Mesmerizing. And if you think I am merely tooting my own horn, try to find other such words in my previous posts. Or ask Camila. Pretty good on my scale is a darn fine compliment. If I tell you your dish is very good, it probably means you should expect me to have diverted a parade route through your bedroom by tomorrow morning.

The above recipe will feed 6 people one full size portion each, unless they are pigs. Though that will leave them wanting more. You could satisfy 4 without a dessert. It does not recapture everything with reheating.

And now for dessert:

Apple Pear Raspberry Granola Crunch

You need:

3 apples (any variety: skin them only if you want to. May I suggest zebra tanning them? That's half skinning)
2 pears (skin them)
1.5 cups apple-raspberry granola or as close to that as you can arrange
1/2 cup whole oats
1.5 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup brown sugar
touch of lemon juice
8X11 casserole dish

You can reduce your sugar usage a lot by substituting vanilla. This almost qualifies as a health dish, but will be sweet enough for any tooth with some vanilla ice cream on top.

Grease your dish, slice your apples and pears, toss them in a big bowl with everything else. Pour it into the cassarole and smooth and flatten it as you can. You could try a bit of corn syrup if you want it to stick together like bars, but it should hold somewhat together after baking. Use the vanilla and spices to smell: if it smells delicious while you are tossing it, then they are probably right. If your mouth is not watering, shake in a bit more of whatever you fancy. Its hard to overdue vanilla, though a little goes a long way. Cinnamon also. Hold your nutmeg as large doses cause a) nausea, and b) peyote-like hallucinations, and c) vomiting after the visions. Or if you want to have a really interesting game of Pictionary after dessert...