Monday, December 3, 2012

This Isn't A Party

Your weekly recipe, plus so much more. But not a squash review.  I got burned out on squashes, so that will come next week sometime when I try the last 3 varieties.

The Mrs and I attempted to host a cookie party this weekend, on December 1.  As a Saturday, that seemed like the perfect day to invite all our many few friends over to get Christmas cookies out of the way and ready to give away.  We thought his was an inspired idea, but apparently not because out of 12 invites, I had 0 come, and only 3 tell me no in a timely fashion.  Teresa invited about 400 people indirectly through Facebook after getting 5 direct no answers, and wound up with 5 friends coming.  One was a 9 year old who seized control of the apartment, and especially the kitchen, all cookie cutters and dough and would not even let me roll it out for him.  But the enthusiasm was welcome, actually.  Then he got bored, and was ready to go before anyone else had even touched a cutter, and sneered in that cute 9 year old way, "this isn't a party, no one is here."  I think he meant there were no kids, and no clowns, and no inflatable bounce castle, but I knew what he meant.  We gave people 2 weeks notice and still it was like we were suggesting to people that they come for a free dental inspection.  Does Utah hate cookies?  Perhaps, because I have yet to see a box of "Jingles" on sale here, and it took 3 years of living here before I ever crossed paths with a pack of molasses cookies.

Well, at least I got practice making cookie dough from scratch.  Whipped up 2 large batches of gingerbread and one double batch of spiced "sugar" cookies, which actually I would personally call "Dutch butter" cookies, because I put a BOX of butter into them following the recipe.  I was pretty sure this was written down wrong.  I'd personally have to say that this is a waste of money.  Sure butter is delicious, but a box of butter is like eating a whole pizza at once.  This does not in any way enhance the flavor of the first slice.  They are good, but so are regular sugar cookies and they don't destroy your heart while also working over your teeth.  I think one or the other sort of damage should be enough.

This all produced approximately 200 cookies of palm size.  And I will tell you from refusing to use a provided electric mixer (I don't own one) that there is no better forearm and abdominal workout than baking gingerbread.  Any kind of kneading and rolling is nice exercise, but gingerbread is a hearty dough, and I woke up Sunday morning with a shredded stomach and no memory of working out.  Then I realized it was the full body pressing and rolling that did it.  I had to roll everyone's because they thought they would break the table or hurt the dough or something by leaning into it.  Plus 9 year olds are not as staunch and buff as you and I were, to be sure.  I had the dough ready for guests who by some accident of rudeness came early (who does that?) and not fashionably late, and also, The Mrs showed up 11 seconds before her friends, so all the grunt work was mine. 

So it was fun anyway.  And yes people could eat cookies before electricity.  I have proved this, which even a few several 60+ year olds were trying to argue with me when I suggested I would just stir the dough by hand and knead it instead of mixing.  The Mrs suggested this would somehow break the whole baking process and the cookies would not work.  Not true.  Carpal tunnel syndrome knows no better cure than a good kneading either.  And yes, in those pictures above you do see a gingerbread Eiffel Tower, a gingerbread hand-cut teapot, a gingerbread Batman symbol, an authentically frosted Poke-ball (there was a 9 year old here remember), the Liberty Bell with 2 pigment frosted crack, Mario's face, and Salvador Dali as a purple-mustached toddler hippo in overalls.  I think Dali would approve of that particular rendition of his person.  And all from scratch, except for the frosting.  Though we did color it ourselves from white.

I am sure you have recipes for cookies, so I am not offering them, but I do suggest adding nutmeg and extra ginger to your gingerbread.  I made mine extra strong and have received no end of compliments on it.  The best compliment is watching people pig on it.  And for original cookie shapes, I suggest a Viennese, or teardrop spatula, which I have to find a task it is ill-suited to.  They are surprisingly hard to find though.

Teresa and I made burgers that evening, with some organic grass-fed beef I found on super clearance.  They were tremendous.  Here are 2 recipes for burgers, one of which I offered before:

1. My favorite
1 lb ground beef
1/8 cup raisins
1/8 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 tsp Onion powder
1 tbsp Urban Accents Mongolian Ginger BBQ mix (mustard powder, sugar, sea salt, minced garlic, orange peel, ginger, spinach powder, pepper, wasabi powder- if you can't find it, you may be able to simulate it off that with a pinch of everything.  Or get lazy and just use mustard and ginger.  Probably close.)

2. A new great one
1 lb ground beef
1/8 cup craisins
1 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp Herbs de Provence

Herbs de Provence is a delicious aromatic mix similar to Italian seasonings great on pizza, potatoes, and apparently, in hamburgers.  The Mrs is wild for them.  To pick out a good bottle of Herbs de Provence, look for a glass bottle you can see through and count your lavender flowers.  This (and fennel seed) is really what separates the mix from Italian seasoning, and a cheaper mix will have only a few crushed purple bulbs, while a good mix will be rife with them. 

Because I, like Homer Simpson, and early East Coast Native Americans, cannot resist cheap pork, I have a freezer full of meat again.  I digress here but I read one story during the King Philip's War, where some colonists were able to lure many "savage" warriors to their deaths by offering a pork feast.  Not with promises of truce or friendship or under a white flag.  They simply put down their muskets and cooked some pork up.  The Natives all came trooping in, had a good meal, and then calmly went about being stabbed to death, seemingly considering it a good bargain.  Well, we even wound up with some turkey drumsticks, though poultry scares me, as I've mentioned.  These were huge too, and probably genetically enhanced and hopped up on drugs.  I hope the bird had a nice life, and they were semi-local, meaning from within the state, or so I think.  After a raucous Thanksgiving which reminded me what an odd and bastardized celebration it has become, Teresa and I made Jamaican Jerk smoked turkey legs which I thought were great.  She felt they were too smokey, though in my limited experience, smoked anythings are for men, Germans, and especially, German men.  That includes smoked beer, which is interesting, if not inspired.  Along with our turkey we made Patriot Potatoes once again, and I offer the basic ingredients below.

1 red potato, 1 purple potatoes, 1 yukon gold potato
1/4 stick of butter
A little milk
Herbs de Provence or "The Gourmet Collection Roast Vegetable and Fry Mix" (salt, onion powder, paprika, red pepper, sugar, mustard powder, garlic, celery seed, black pepper, coriander, oregano, cumin, sage- again, you may be able to fabricate this if you can't find the real thing or something close, though I expect with this one you can)
1/8 cup Bread Crumbs
Kerry Gold Dubliner Cheese or a well aged cheddar if you can't find that one
Green peas, corn, black beans, or kidney beans (all optional)

Boil your potatoes, then drain some of the water off, mash down, add milk and butter until right consistency is reached.  Then season.  Stop there, or: mix in desired vegetables/legumes, slice a little cheese and throw it on top, and then top with bread crumbs.

I usually eat the potatoes plain the first go around and then to warm leftovers in a toaster oven, I top with some thin cheese and bake the bread crumbs on top.  To each his own.

Now why is Thanksgiving so odd?  Well, like many holiday get togethers with friends or family I end up at, mostly people just sighed about how tired they were and how thankful they were it would all be over soon.  Also, no one needs a feast, vast amounts of food were left over which no one seemed to want, certain people started getting on other certain people's nerves, no one remembers even the phony history we made up to justify the holiday and make our ancestors look good (which is a sweet lie for the children, by the way, and maybe helps them start off as better people), and everyone spent 80 % of the party saying they really had to be somewhere else and that they were going to get their coats and go (I hate long goodbyes.  If you are at my place and say you need to go, you'd better get out faster than I can pull off a band-aid, or I will kick you out, be all here or don't be here at all), and the most resounding thing I heard all day was "we've never been able to shop as a family on Black Friday before, so we're all really excited to spend some time together tomorrow."  Um, can I even add commentary to that?

Your unsolicited musical advice for this week:  Arvo Part's Fratres is a serial composition which is very beautiful.  You can find it on Amazon under just that title by the label Naxos for not very much money, or perhaps your local library.  The story behind the piece is even better: in an occupied/domineered USSR nation, some of Stalin's henchmen were always about meddling and threatening composers, which they masked as compliments and suggestions from the great man, such as "Comrade Stalin advises against getting lost in serial compositions, re-exploring already-completed works.  Just get it right the first time."  Which in Russian translates to, "do you want to end up in a gulag or a dumpster?"  Arvo Part then began serializing his little piece Fratres right after.  So the music is both stirring, and the chamber hall equivalent of a pair of raised middle fingers to a dictator.  Way to go Arvo, who I believe is still composing.

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