Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving AAR part II: Barbara Kingsolver

I got this super easy Corn Pudding recipe from Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal Vegetable Miracle. Made a few changes based on what I had in the house and flavors I like, and it was scrumptiously delicious, and as I mentioned, crazy easy.

Holiday Corn Pudding, adapted from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle.
3 cups corn kernals (frozen is fine)
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup shredded cheese (anything that melts is fine)
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp dried herbs de provence
salt & pepper

combine all ingredients in a big bowl, then pour into a greased, shallow baking dish. bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes until top is puffy and golden.

This was so tasty I think i might make more in a few days.

If Barbara Kingsolver isn't careful, she's going to have quite the cult following. oh wait, she already does. For anyone who enjoys eating, living, being outside, breathing, and generally being satisfied with their life, I can not recommend her book Animal Vegetable Miracle enough.

the book, simply enough, is about her and her family moving to some property her husband owns in Virginia. the property had been a farm at one time, but the Kingsolver family had only used it as a vacation cabin for many years.They sell their home in the American southwest, and move out to the farm permenantly, with the family promise they will subsist on what they can grow, or get locally. Luckily, they have experience with chickens and vegetable gardens, and both parents agree quickly that coffee and olive oil will be exceptions to the rule. For those of us with minimal vegetable gardening experience (me), and no animal experience (me too), this could be a little harrowing.

non-fiction books aren't supposed to be this good. they aren't supposed to be this inspiring, they aren't supposed to make you want to change your life and start next years lettuce seedlings even though it's only November.

This book never tells you to start your own farm. it never tells you you need to buy some chicks and do an acre of potatoes and onions to feed your family through the winter. it's just one family's farming adventures. it asks one question: don't you want to know where your food comes from? and it gives an answer: buy local whenever possible. it supports your local economy, doesn't require as much energy to get to you, and usually supports varieites and breeds of food that are dying out.

I really didn't expect to have a religious experience reading a book about a farm. and the turkey sex chapter? priceless. the biggest problem with the book is the same problem I've had with every Kingsolver book i've read: that it had to end.

Friday, November 28, 2008

thanksgiving after action report, part I: The Turkey

i love thanksgiving. I get to hang out in my happy kitchen and play with food, all day long. I'm sure plenty of people would see that as drudgery, boring, dumb, waste of time, etc, but I see it as therapy.

What I'm so proud of this year is that a)nearly everything I cooked was a new recipe for me, and b)dude, I pulled a raw turkey apart! my late grandfather the butcher would be proud.

the menu:
Bacon wrapped Turkey roulade with figs, cranberries, feta and apricots, adapted from Bitchincamero
Barbara Kingsolver's Corn Pudding
Scalloped Potatoes
Zucchini sauteed with greenbeans

as there were only two of us, this was plenty of food.

Can I please tell you about my raw turkey adventures? How i wish i had photos, because this was totally cool, and totally gross. Ok, so the recipe called for a butterflied turkey breast. I had a whole turkey breast, with breast bone, ribs, and all (no wings or legs). where in my little kitchen was I going to rip this thing apart? a ha! in the sink! nice and big, and easy to clean.

First, the skin came off. pretty easy, actually. while flipping the bird over, I heard a few audible crunches. that would be the itty bitty ribs. ick. back to the top of the bird. There were some breaks in the breast meat, and slipping my fingertips in there, the top layer came clean away on a seam, (breast meat, slipping my fingertips in? sounds dirty) leaving the tenderloins underneath and still attached to the breastbone. keep in mind, i haven't even touched the knife yet. this is all finger tearing. so I've got the rib cage with tenderloins still attached, and big hunks of breastmeat attached at one seam, almost looking like overly heavy wings. ripping gently with the knife (finally!), the breast meat came away from the breastbone/rib area. breasts in hand (still sounds dirty), the carcass went into the freezer for future soup making use.

while "debreasting" the poor tasty bird, i'd seperated the tenderloin from the breast, so not so much butterflying was going to be happening (it should really be attached if you're going to butterfly), so I just pounded the things between some saran wrap a few times. now it's time to make it pretty!

Bacon Wrapped Turkey Roulade (adapted from Bitchincamero.

two turkey breasts, pounded, weighing about 2 lbs each. (If you can get one giant one, that's even better, but i had two smallish ones)
6 cups water mixed with 1/4 cup salt

Brine the turkey in the salt water for about an hour. while it's brining, do the next steps:
Into a skillet over medium heat, add
2-3 tbsp butter.
when melted, add
1 onion, sliced finely
2 shallots, sliced finely
Let carmelize for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. you want them to get brown. if they start to stick/burn, add more oil, or lower the temp. when carmelized, add
2-3 tbsp water
3/4 cups chopped dried figs (found in the baking area of the grocery store)
stirring often, carmelize figs for another 10 minutes. Everything will get brown and sticky. This is good.

remove turkey from brine, discard brine, rinse turkey, then wrap in paper towels to absorb remaining water.

preheat the oven to 325. have ready:
greased foil lined rimmed cookie sheet
unrimmed cookie sheet
butcher's twine, cut into 8 peices, each about 8-10 inches long (trust me, don't skip this step!)
salt & pepper
your carmelized onion/fig mixture in a bowl
20 slices bacon (I used turkey bacon, but pork bacon would probably work better)
6-8oz feta cheese
about a 1/2 cup cranberries (I used frozen, worked great)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup apricot jam

on the unrimmed cookie sheet, lie down for pieces of butchers twine. put 8 slices of bacon on top, going the same direction. the bacon slices should over lap slightly. put one turkey breast on top of the bacon, crosswise (you want the bacon to wrap around the breast when you roll it up), and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle, but don't skimp. put half the onion mixture evenly on the breast. now put some cranberries, feta, and pecans down. with the help of a friend, roll the breast over the filling, and pulling the bacon around. use two more slices of bacon to cover the gap over the crease. tie with butchers twine, stuff in any stuffing that fell out. Put stuffed breast on the foiled greased rimmed cookie sheet, seam side down. slather half the apricot jam over the bacon.

now do the same with the other breast. this is the messiest thing i've done in a long time. It was even messier than ripping the turkey apart in the sink.

Once your breasts are prepared, and well slathered in apricot jam (damn, that sounds dirty!) pop into the oven for one and a half hours. remove from oven, and let sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting twine off and slicing.

I would absolutely make this again. the one mistake that I made was neglecting to line my rimmed baking sheet with tin foil. any jam that dripped off the turkey burnt to the pan, and i had to soak the thing 3 times to get the burntness off. next time, I will use foil!!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Seriously, does any part of this animal not taste good?

don't tell my kosher-ish parents, but I have yet to discover any part of a pig that doesn't taste good. Picked up a fantabulous cookbook at the equally fantabulous Kazoo Books last week, called All the recipes Pasta of Italian Cuisine. The front cover notes that this is the "English Edition", with a pretty little British flag. English? yeah. everything is in metric with abbreviations i've never heard of, the entire seafood chapter is a little scary, and there are recipes that call for wild boar. yeah, this book was never supposed to be available in the US! we found something (many things, actually) that looked tasty and do-able, and went to our local fancy pants gourmet meat/cheese/wine shop. converstion went something like this:

us: do you have, um, something called Parma Ham?
shop: yes, it's called Prosciutto. Would you like some?
us: Yes!
shop: don't you want to know how much it costs per pound?
us: No!

I can honestly say I have never seen meat sliced so thin. it was truly a work of art. then we ate it. it tasted even better than it looked. again, is there any part of a piggy that doesn't taste good?

adapted from All the recipes Pasta of Italian Cuisine:

Fettuccini Alla Papalina

1 lb fettuccini
1/4 lb prosciutto, sliced thin, then sliced again crosswise.
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
1/2 large onion, chopped
olive oil
2 eggs
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper

start pasta water boiling on the stove. in a heavy skillet, saute the onion in some olive oil over medium heat. Stir the peas into the onions with some salt & pepper. Don't go nuts with the salt, as the Prosciutto is pretty salty. lower the heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat off, and lay the sliced Prosciutto over the peas and onions, but DON'T stir the ham in!! just let the meat sit there, and watch the fat slowly melt as you cook your fettuccini. in a small bowl, beat eggs, and stir Parmesan Cheese. When Fettuccini is tender but still slightly firm (that's called al dente), drain and put into large serving bowl. Pour the eggs over, and quickly stir. When well blended, stir in the meat and onions mixture.

This is unbelievably good. it's not kosher, it's not Passover friendly. And it is the most incredible home cooked pasta meal I have ever made.

Other than that, made a batch of Olive Chicken the other day, which came out as deliciously yummy as usual, and pot of Mushroom Barley soup, which somehow was not at all improved by the addition of shitake mushrooms. This weekend promises my husband's award winning chili, cornbread, and nefarious culinary plotting for thanksgiving.

Books, books, books galore! had WAY too much fun shopping at the infamous Kazoo Books, and came home with the following:
The Anubis Gates by Tim Power- one of my favorite steampunk/horror/adventure books EVER
Gloriana, by Michael Moorcock - Very much a satire of Queen Elizabeth. Humorously erotic, erotically humorous. I'm highly entertained, as usual.
Brokedown Palace, by Steven Brust - appears to be in the world of Vlad Taltos, but without Vlad. Brust has never led me astray before. No, it's not the Claire Daines Brokedown Palace, or at least I don't think so.

Received my ARC of The Stepsister Scheme, by Jim Hines. Looks cute, looks like lots of grrl power.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mac and Cheese redux, a.k.a. Bacon makes everything better.

I would have sworn by my old Mac and Cheese recipe. Macky, cheesey, vegetably, crumbly crusty, what's not to like? the only thing that could possibly be missing starts with "b", and ends with "acon".


Better Mac and Cheese
4-5 slices bacon (turkey bacon is OK)
olive oil
1 lb shell pasta
6-8oz Muenster cheese, sliced very thin (use that Mandolin!)
1 cup shredded mixed cheese (it's ok, buy the bag of mixed shredded cheese at the grocery store. I did)
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 bunch of green onions, sliced thin
6-8oz mushrooms, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350. Start salted water boiling for pasta. Cook bacon in a skillet with a little oil till crispy. Remove and chop. Cook pasta until just al denta, drain and leave it in the colander in the sink. in a big soup pot, melt 2 tbsp butter over medium-low heat, and toss in chopped bacon. slowly wisk in the flour. keep stiring! don't let it burn! the mixture will start to turn brown. this is good. slowly whisk in the milk, then add the green onions, bay leaf and maybe 1/2 tsp paprika. let this mixture simmer and thicken for about 10 minutes, stirring often, as it will form a skin otherwise. It will thicken, and get a slightly foamy look to it. turn the heat off, and stir in the shredded cheese. Stir in all your cooked pasta. Stir in mushrooms and peas, and season with salt & pepper.

Grease a 9x9 baking dish, or other shallow caserole of similar volume. Spoon in enough of the cheesy pasta mixture to just cover the bottom of the dish. now put down a layer of thinly sliced muenster cheese. Spoon in another thin layer of cheesy pasta, and cover with a layer of sliced muenster cheese. Continue till you are out of cheesy pasta and muenster cheese. Remove the bay leaf when you find it.

Put another tbsp of butter in a microwaveable dish, and melt in the microwave. stir 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs into the bowl until well blended with the melted butter. sprinkle this mixture as evenly as possible on top of the pasta. bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Let sit for about 5 minutes before you eat it.

you will never want baconless Mac & Cheese again. and let's not even talk about that blue box abomination.

If it makes you feel better, just go read that whole passage again. i think i will.

On to some books, that are nearly as yummy, but with less saturated fat. Been getting a lot of reading done lately - blew through volumes II and III of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics. I know he's putting together some epic plot line, but after volume one, it's kind of going down hill for me. Read volume III of Deathnote, and Yup, still morbid and fascinating. Should have been embarassed that I could identify the black and the white shinigami action figures that were on sale with the anime at Best Buy? If i think about it, the best part of this series is the sweet nearly loligoth fashions of the Shinigami. Maybe i should go get Paradise Kiss or Gothic Sports. Same fun fashions, less death.

Picked up my first Robert Sawyer book, Mindscan. I'm about half way through it, and definately enjoying it. Kind of pre-Stross-singularity, when the technology to copy your brain has just been invented, and it marketed to eldery people who don't have much time left. Copy your brain into a younger mechanical body, and let your old body life out any life it might have at the nicest retirement home ever on the far side of the moon. Kind of six million dollar man with a twist. But what happens when your old body doesn't die? which one is the real you? You both have the same memories up until the moment your brain was copied, you have the same fingerprint, the same genetic code. Most of the book deals with the philosophical definitions of personhood, through a legal battle. Double fascinating.

Finished Tony Horwitz's A Journey Long and Strange. Was really good, and I like his spry writing style. If all history books were this sarcastic and humorous, I would have been a history major. I suddenly have the urge to hop in my car to road trip to all the places mentioned in the book. If that's not a sign of a good regional history book, than I don't know what is.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Beef stew that even I'll eat. between comic books, that is!

i better write it all down, so i don't forget something. . .
beef stew
adventures in risotto
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister
A Voyage Long and Strange (non fiction! Can you believe it?)

and i have to introduce a new member of our adventuring kitchen family:

Our lovely Calphalon non stick dutch oven! Recipes that call for a large heavy skillet or dutch oven will no longer daunt me!

Ok, so the beef stew deal. was unlike any beef stew my Mom ever made me when i was a kid. the cookbook, my everpresent Meditteranean cookbooks calls this Corsican Beef Stew. i did alter it some, for ease and convenence.

Corsican Beef Stew
1 lb stewing beef, cubed
4 or 5 sliced bacon (I used turkey bacon)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup dry white wine - we used a Riesling, was excellent.
1 can diced tomatoes, drained over a colander
6-8oz mushrooms, sliced or chopped
pinch cinnamon
1 tsp rosemary
1 bay leaf
1/2 pound penne, or other pasta of similar size
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper

in dutch oven, cook bacon. I used turkey bacon, so i had to add some olive oil. when bacon is cooked but not crispy, remove and chop. season beef with salt & pepper, and add to pan with 2-3 tbsp oil. brown meat on all sides, don't worry about cooking it all the way through. if you need to do the beef in two batches, that's fine. remove the beef to a plate and set aside. add onions to pan, cook till slightly browned. mix in chopped bacon, garlic, wine, tomatoes, mushrooms, cinnamon, rosemary, and bay leaf. cook for about five minutes to soften the mushrooms, then stir the beef back in. cook gently for 20 more minutes, stirring often to keep it from sticking. Now, add enough water to nearly cover, and bring to a boil. Cover, turn heat down to simmer, and simmer for 2-3 hours or until beef is tender.

when it's nearly done, cook your pasta, being careful not to over cook it. To serve, put pasta down on plate. put parmesan cheese on top of your pasta. put beef stew on top of that. is super good.

Adventures in Risotto! thank you cute teeny weeny little Rice and Risotto by Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen! now i just need to find a good bulk source of arborio rice.

again, i adapted this recipe to include veggies i had on hand.

Risotto Primavera
2 tbsp olive oil, you might need more.
1 small zucchini, quartered and sliced
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup frozen peas
small can mushrooms
approx 1 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 cups arborio rice
6 and 1/4 cups simmer chicken stock (i used 4 cups stock, the rest water)
3 scallions, sliced thin
2 tbsp butter
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper
2 tbsp chopped basil

first things first, set up your stove. because once this gets started, you can't stop for anything. on the stove, have your lovely dutch oven, and a sauce pan that can hold all your broth (i learned the hard way my sauce pans hold exactly 6 cups). have handy ALL ingredients you need, a large spoon, a ladle, and another large bowl.

start the broth heating up on the stove. i had the head up to medium, then i turned it down a little. you want it simmering gently, not boiling. saute zucchini, carrots, and peas in dutch oven with some oil. when they are nearly done, add the mushrooms. season with a little salt & pepper. when they are done, remove to a bowl. make sure nothing is left in your dutch oven. put a little more oil in the pan, and add the onion. stir and cook till it's turned a little clear. now stir in the garlic. add the rice, and stir constantly until it is coated with rice and oil, about a minute or two. now, add your first ladle full of broth. it will bubble all over the place in the bottom of the dutch oven. stir that rice and broth baby! this is the point where you can't walk away until the dish is done. when the broth has been absorbed by the rice, add another ladleful. after this, it's pretty easy. stir till absorbed, add more broth, stir, repeat. takes about 30 minutes. when you're about to add the last of the broth, put all the sauted veggies in, the raw scallions, the butter, the parmesan cheese, some salt & pepper, and the basil into the rice. now pour the rest of the broth on top of that, and stir and stir and stir. you've also got to get that butter and cheese melted and mixed through.

i'd make it again. requires some concentration, but easier than it sounds.

Finished Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Greg Maquire. Was surprisingly good. i shouldn't say "surprisingly", but i was happily surprised and satisfied at how nice this book was. good tempo, great characters in intense states of denial, no slow bits. the book is about a lower class Mother who wisks her daughters Iris and Ruth away from England to a loving yet estranged family in Holland. they arrive, no family to be found. Mom manages to marry a very recently and suspiciously widowed local merchant, and moves her family in with his sullen and beautiful daughter Clara.

this book never tries to be something that it isn't, and i can't tell you how much i appreciate it. it isn't Iris's fault she's not beautiful. She does her best to befriend Clara. when Clara and Margarethe fued, Iris is stuck in the middle, and ready to break away from her mother. And Ruth, no one even pays any attention to her, why should they? she's metally retarded, and couldn't possibly have anything to say about anything.

my friends are always askind me for book recomendations, but i read so much SF, that i don't know what to recommend to friends who aren't into SF. now i've got something that no one won't like.

I'm also reading Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. started this a few years ago, couldn't get into it. but now that i'm all into comic books, i'm totally into this. i'm highly entertained that Dream looks just like Gaiman's picture in the back of the book. and Dream's sister is fricken hilarious!! between the two libraries that i frequent, they've got all the issues between them.

Deathnote - ummm, it's about a bored teenaged boy who kills people? morbid, but rather comic. absolutely addictive.

also reading Tony Horwitz's A Journey Long and Strange. my first Non fiction in a while. it's about what happened between (and before!) Columbus screaming "Land Ho!", and the british colonists showing up for the first thanksgiving. fascinating because it's funny. i'd read more history if it was written this way. Horwitz doesn't pull any punches about idiotic explorers and their patrons. the etymology is fun as well.