Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Moving again?

Maybe, maybe not.

Trying out WordPress instead of Blogger.

Definitely like the Blogger interface better.

But WordPress is already formatted for mobile devices, which is way cool. If you ever need to grab a quick recipe in the kitchen when you have all four burners going and smoke's coming out of the oven, it's nice to have the pages load super-quick on your phone rather than dragging the laptop into the kitchen.

Anyone have any pros / cons about either format?

Check out this page on your cell phone. What do you think? Worth changing?

This to me seems more like a summer salad, except that oranges are best in the winter months. Summer, winter, whatever ... it's a good change of pace for this time of the year.

Orange + Fennel + Watercress Salad mit Citrus Vinaigrette


2 large oranges
3 Tbs fresh orange juice (will get at least that much when you segment the oranges)
1 fennel bulb (maybe 12-14 ounces)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 + 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
2-3 cups watercress (about two bunches)
salt and pepper to taste

Segment the oranges. (Easy to follow video here from FineCooking.)

Squeeze the rest of the juice from the membranes into a measuring cup. You'll use 1-2 Tbs in the vinaigrette, so drink the rest to help fight the common cold.

Trim the fennel of stems and fronds, then slice the white bulb into thin slices. (You can save some of the fronds for garnish when you're done if you want.)

Mix the orange slices and fennel in a bowl. Then combine the olive oil, orange juice, and salt and pepper into a vinaigrette, and pour about a quarter of it over the oranges and fennel. Stir gently to coat.

De-stem, wash and dry the watercress, and add it to your serving bowl. Layer the orange and fennel mixture over the watercress, and lightly drizzle with about another quarter of the vinaigrette. Serve with the rest of the vinaigrette on the side.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas songs that aren't on a Christmas album

Here Come the Geese, Barenaked Ladies Snacktime!
25th December Everything But The Girl Amplified Heart
A Long December, Counting Crows Across A Wire: Live In New York (Disc 2)
Flowers In December, Mazzy Star Among My Swan
Winter, Tori Amos Little Earthquakes
Christmas Morning Lyle Lovett The Road To Ensenada
Christmas in Washington Steve Earle El Corazon
River, Joni Mitchell Blue
Air Of December Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars
Winter Lady Leonard Cohen
Winter In the Hamptons Josh Rouse Nashville
Winter White A Fine Frenzy
Christmas in Paradise Mary Gauthier Filth & Fire

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Coffee Cache Fruity Gobbler

My favorite T-day leftover sammich. Perfect for watching Rivalry Weekend college football games.

Adapted from Kerlin's Coffee Cache's lunch menu, circa 1997.

Cream cheese
Cranberry chutney
Sunflower seeds
Left-over turkey, roughly chopped
Greens of any sort
Optional: a wee bit of stuffing

Safe travels and happy holidays.

PS. Since lots of folks are already putting up their holiday lights, here's a reminder how to really do your lights.

Goethe's final words: "More light." Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that's been our unifying cry: "More light." Sunlight. Torchlight. Candlight. Neon. Incandescent. Lights that banish the darkness from our caves, to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier's field. Little tiny flashlight for those books we read under the covers when we're supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and footcandles. Light is metaphor. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom Lead Thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home- Lead Thou me on! Arise, shine, for thy light has come. Light is knowledge. Light is life. Light is light.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Thanksgiving Poll + Cranberry Chutney

What makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving at your home?

I've been thinking about this for a while, and I love Thanksgiving for one primary reason: cranberry jelly. Cranberry chutney, actually.

I can't even remember if we even had cranberry jelly on the table when I was growing up. I think maybe if someone remembered to get it, we might have had a can of the stuff on the table, with those distinctive ripples from the can revealing that it wasn't homemade, as if anyone could have entertained that thought.

And if we had it on the table, I'd eat it as an afterthought, maybe spreading a thin schmear over a particularly dried-out piece of breast meat to give it some life. So, no, I wasn't a fan of it, and it doesn't have any Jungian deep-seated emotional resonance with me.

But cranberry chutney was one of the first recipes I ever tried, holiday or not, where the results so greatly exceeded the expectations. Here it was, something I wasn't crazy about in the first place, and something incredibly simple, and somehow the tiniest bit of this and that transformed it into something I didn't see coming.

Fruit and sugar ... that makes jelly, yeah? Then add some onion. What? A vegetable in jelly? And then a pinch of cayenne ... whoa, did not see that coming.

On top of all of that, it was also trés simple and bombproof, impossible to mess up.

Cranberry chutney may have been the gateway drug that led to finally getting a decent set of pots and knives.

And even though I was probably 35 years old the first time I ever made it, now I can't imagine Thanksgiving without it. And I dare you not to like it, no matter how much you either loved or hated the canned jiggly stuff.

The Indians and English use them much, boyling
them with Sugar for Sauce to eat with their Meat,
and it is a delicate sauce.

—John Josselyn, while visiting New England 1663

Cranberry Chutney

12 ounces fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons red onion,
finely chopped
⅔ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp grated ginger
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup finely chopped pecans, lightly toasted

In a heavy saucepan, combine the cranberries, onion, sugar, ginger, spices and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until cranberries begin to pop—about 5–6 minutes.
Remove from heat and cool. Stir in pecans. Chutney is best if made two days ahead. Refrigerate.

Up next: the world's greatest Thanksgiving left-over sammich, the Fruity Gobbler.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Another Fall Salad

Oops! Forgot this one on this list.

Pomaceous Salad with Dried Cherries and Walnuts, with Maple Dressing

Maple Dressing
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup pure maple syrup
3 Tbs Champagne vinegar (white wine vinegar works fine)
2 tsp sugar, or 1.5 tsp of agave nectar
½ cup olive or vegetable oil

8-10 cups mixed baby greens
2 Honeycrisp apples, cut into matchstick-size strips
½ cup dried cherries
½ cup toasted, chopped walnuts

Dressing: Whisk mayonnaise, maple syrup, vinegar, and sugar in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in oil until mixture thickens slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Dressing can be prepared 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewhisk before using.)

Salad: Toss greens, apples, cherries, and 1/4 cup walnuts in large bowl to combine. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Divide salad equally among plates. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup walnuts and serve.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Two Trees

A couple of stories I've been meaning to write down.

The Avocado Tree

Major Phelps came in to work laughing, and said, well, I never thought I'd see the day ...

See, his quarters at Schofield Barracks were one street down from the Deputy Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division. One street down, so their back yards shared a fence. He could look out the kitchen window of his 900 sf duplex and se the DCG's 3,000 sf fully staffed quarters. And while the DCG had staff for a lot of his personal errands, such as picking up his dry cleaning or driving him to work, like most leaders he didn't want to look like he really needed any help, that he was only accepting the help because it was more efficient to let his staff do it. So he did those certain jobs that he needed to do so that he wouldn't look like he felt he was different than the rest of the troops, jobs like changing the oil in his car and mowing his own yard. And it was while both men were mowing their yards that Major Phelps and the DCG became aquaintenances, the kind of aquaintenances who know a little something but nothing really significant about each other, like whether they mowed the lawn on Saturdays or Sundays, but not how many brothers the other one had or if he was on his first marriage.

One day Phelps and the DCG were both out back doing yard work, and Phelps was picking up something from the back corner, by the fence that separated their yards. The DCG could see Phelps bending over, picking up armfulls of something, and pitching them into a bag. From his manor, he could tell Phelps was not collecting but was hauling off, from the way he was roughing tossing the yard scraps into a plastic trash can. So he ran over there before he could haul off the first load.

You see, Phelps didn't care for avocados. Nor did anyone in his family. But that was an avocado tree in his back yard, and the tree was dropping its fruit, and one can't exactly just run over a few dozen green baseball-sized fruits with the push mower, so Phelps was bagging them up before he mowed. That's what the DCG saw, and without even having to do the math of $1.50 per avocado times a couple of dozen, he knew he couldn't let Phelps just throw them away. No, he ran over to their shared fence and offered to take care of Phelps' little problem.

But what neither of the men knew was that an avocado tree will produce several hundred if not a thousand avocados each season. So when the DCG offered to scoop up Phelps' avocados, he didn't realize what he was getting himself into.

And that's why Major Phelps was laughing. Because over the next couple of weekends, he would invite friends over to barbecue and to hang out in his backyard, and he would point and his back yard and say, "Life is good. How many people can say they have a two-star general as their personal landscaper?"

The Mango Tree
(You can probably guess where this one is going.)

There was a little five mile loop I used to run in Hawaii, a loop starting at the office and running out the front gate of Ft Shafter and into the local neighborhood, and the turn around point was this monstrous shade tree. Not particularly tall, but wide enough to cover three or four yards. And I didn't know what kind of tree it was until ...

Paul came into work one morning and placed a paper bag down by the coffee pot in the break room, the spot where folks would leave a box of doughnuts or coffee cake that was for the whole team to share. "Hey, everybody, I brought in a bag of mangoes. This tree in our front yard, turns out it's a mango tree, and it started dropping fruit, so it's my lucky day: free mangoes!"

There were ten or so mangoes in there, and a bunch of us helped ourselves to one.

Next day, same thing, only a slightly bigger bag. "This is too cool," Paul announced. "Going to be living off mangoes for a while. There were twice as many on the ground when I got home yesterday as there were the day before. So help yourself, everyone!"

Third day, Paul came in with another grocery sack in one arm, and a blender in another. "I don't think we can keep up with these mangoes, so I brought in the blender so we can make smoothies. It doesn't get any better than this, living in Hawaii, does it? These things are a buck each at the commissary, and we're getting them for free!"

That's about when I realized, the commissary always has mangoes for about $1.99 a pound, but every now and then there's this kid selling them on the side of the street, a quarter each or ten for a dollar. So there must be something about supple and demand going on there ...

Next day, Paul walks in and says, "Hey, can someone help me get some bags out of the car? I can't carry all of the mangoes myself. Everyone get a bag, and I guess take them home, cut them up, and freeze them." He was all matter of fact now, no longer excited about the prospect of the gift from the tree in his front yard.

Monday came, and no mangoes. "Hey Paul, is that tree out of mangoes?" someone yelled at him. "Oh no, the opposite ... I spent all of Saturday scooping them up from the yard, and then Sunday morning, you couldn't tell I had picked up a one. I didn't have time to spend all weekend out there, so I just let them lay there."

Tuesday, he came in looking a little pissed. "No mangoes, Paul?"
"You know what, I don't care if I never see another freaking mango as long as I live. You know what mangoes do? They fall from the tree. And the ones from the lower branches, they don't fall so far, and they're not quite as ripe, so you can pick them up. But later on, they're falling from higher up, and they're a little bit riper, so they fall and hit real hard and splat everywhere. Turns out, you know who likes mangoes? Birds. Birds like mangoes. And you know what birds do? They eat them up until their about to puke, and then when they're stuffed with mangoes, they see that there are still more down there, so they just keep stuffing their freaking little faces. And you know what happens when you weigh about three ounces and you eat a pound of mangoes? You poop it everywhere. And do you think a bird cares if my car's in the freaking driveway? Noooooo!"

One week. That's how long it took to go from "Ain't it great living in Hawaii" to "My gawd, who planted a freaking mango tree in their front yard?!?!"

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Robert Redford Cupcakes

Over at the Greasy Skillet, Muddy is embracing his inner Paul Giamatti, and thinking about the burden of glamor that the more photogenic Bradley Pitt must bear. I hear where he's coming from. I could watch a movie where Giamatti stands in line at the bank for two hours.

Been making a lot of working class, unglamorous soups lately. Meals that seem intended to be sipped from the cup of a Thermos, sitting on the back of a pickup tailgate or even better, many stories up in the air on an I-beam during your 15 minute lunch break. No fine china or linen table clothes with these meals. Just a sip from the Thermos, and then wipe your mouth with the sleeve of your Carhart jacket.

Form vs function ... can't be all of one with none of the other, but there's no clear mathematical formula to determine how much of one, how little of the other you should have.

What's funny is, it's easy to dismiss things for being "pretty." Like maybe Bradley Pitt. But it's not his fault that ShowBizWeekly puts him on the cover every week, and what exactly do the bio-metrics of his facial features have to do with the construction work he's doing in the 9th Ward? Besides, pretending to not care about fashion and style is one of the lamest conceits out there. After all, Wrangler and Carhart and Cinch all put their logos on their clothes, and no-nonsense working types check each other out for the "right" kind of clothes, tools, pick-ups, you name it.

With that in mind, we present the Robert Redford cupcake. Named after Robert Redford because it might be all pretty on the outside*, like maybe Hubbell Gardiner, but there's still some Jeremiah Johnson in there, with it's whole wheat flour and hearty fruits and nuts.

* or would be, if someone with a steadier hand than mine did the icing.

Banana-Pecan Cupcakes, aka the Robert Redford Cupcake.
adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour, preferably King Arthur White Whole Wheat
1½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
6 bananas, very ripe and mashed
¾ cup buttermilk
½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup unsalted butter at room temp
1 ½ cups brown sugar
3 large eggs (room temp)
1 cup pecans, toasted and coursely chopped

Heat the oven to 350º. Line muffin tins with paper liners. In one bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a second bowl, mix the bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla.

In a third bowl, mix the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer on med-high until creamed. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat until completely incorporated.

Turn down the mixer to low and add the flour mixture and banana mixture in alternating batches, about a cup of each at a time. Mix until just combined, then add the pecans and gently stir until uniformly distributed.

Fill the lined cups about three-quarters full and bake for about 20 minutes. You can test with a toothpick. Cook before removing from the pans.

Makes about a billion, or at least two dozen.

Icing: Standard vanilla buttercream from Mark Bittman's iPhone app.

4 Tbs butter
2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 Tbs cream or milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream butter, work in sugar, drip in the milk, keep beating, stir in the vanilla.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fall Salads

Basic apple / spinach

1 Honey-crisp apples, cored, cut into large dice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 package (8 cups) baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup dried cranberries or cherries

Toss apples with 1 Tbs of the lemon juice. Place spinach in a large bowl; remove long stems and bruised leaves. Whisk together remaining juice, olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt, and ground pepper to taste. Toss spinach with apples and dressing. . Top with cheese and walnuts.

Fennel and Apple Salad with Cider Vinaigrette

1/2 cup unfiltered apple cider or apple juice
3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1 tsp honey or agave nectar
1 large honey-crisp apple, cored, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, thinly sliced
2 cups arugula
1/4 cup pecans, toasted
Optional: dried cranberries or cherries

Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend; season dressing with salt and pepper. Combine apple, fennel and arugula in large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Mound salad on 4 plates; sprinkle with pecans.

On the right: Kitchen Sink Frittata

Potato Chowdah and Cheddar Biscuits

Falls here ... so you know what that means ...

Potato Chowder with lots of Root Veggies and (of course) Bacon
from Bon Appétit, Oct 2003

2 bacon slices, chopped
1 Tbs olive oil
3 medium leeks, thinly sliced (white parts and up to about an inch past where it starts to turn green)
1 pound parsnips, peeled, ¼ inch dice
2-3 medium carrots, peeled, ¼ inch dice
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ tsp dried thyme
1 ½ pounds potatoes, 1/2-inch dice
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
3 cups milk (some whole, some half-n-half, whatever you got)
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth, plus or minus enough to get the consistency you want

2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley

Cook bacon in large pot (or my personal fave, the Dutch oven) over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels. If you have a lot of burnt bits stuck to the pan, deglaze with a few Tbs of broth.

Add oil to drippings in same pot; warm up for a minute or so. Add leeks; sauté until tender but not brown, about 7 minutes. Add parsnips, carrots, garlic, and thyme; sauté 5 minutes. Again, deglaze if necessary with a few Tbs of broth.

Stir in potatoes, then flour; stir 1 minute to coat.

Gradually add milk and 3 cups broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender and soup thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made a day ahead. Cover and chill bacon. Cool chowder slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before continuing, thinning with more broth, if desired.)

Stir bacon into chowder. Ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with parsley; serve.

Cheddar Biscuits

Bowl #1:
2.5 cups flour (either all all-purpose, or a mix of white and whole wheat)
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
6 Tbs unsalted butter, cubed as small as possible
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

(Hint: freeze the butter while you're getting everything else ready. Cold, cold, cold butter cuts into the flour more easily.)

Whisk all of the dry together and cut in the butter with a fork, pastry blender, or food processor. Add the cheese.

Bowl #2
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg

Beat the egg, mix in the buttermilk.
(Optional, for extra-rich biscuits, add 1-2 Tbs of melted butter.)

Head the oven to 450º. Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat or parchment paper.

Slowly stir the dry into the wet, just until incorporated. Scoop about ¼ cup balls of dough and space two inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for about 13-15 minutes, until the tops start to brown.