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...