Monday, January 7, 2013

that reminds me

Happy new year!

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Monday, December 3, 2012

raisin relocation

A Raisin & A Porpoise can now be found at

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Friday, November 30, 2012

a moving account

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

squash court


I came into possession of some gorgeous poblano peppers, which have been looking mighty fine in the market even as all the produce around them begins to show signs of jet lag.  So I set out to make my friend Julie's "Three Sisters and One Spicy Brother" squash soup, which is some mighty soup, but when I unearthed the recipe in my bin of scraps and magazines, I found I lacked a few of the things required to produce it.  The principle missing ingredient was time: one of the sisters is white beans, and I did not have time to soak and cook them.  There was no big, looming deadline, really--I just wanted this soup for dinner. 

Right behind her recipe in the bin was an old squash soup of mine that was pretty tasty, as I recall.  But sitting there on the counter next to Julie's recipe and the peppers, it started to take notions into its head.  A hybrid version resulted.

I've made it a couple of times now, because the poblanos continue to wink and sparkle at me as I troll the store wishing it were still summertime (only from a produce standpoint), and each time I forget how I did it the time before and still end up with something that makes the consumers pretty happy, so my net opinion is that you cannot go very far wrong combining these ingredients. If you are curious, the main difference is that sometimes I leave the bulb end of the squash whole and roast it, and then mash it, and sometimes I dice the whole squash and cook half of it with the aromatics in the soup pot, and then puree it all together with my trusty stick blender.  No obvious difference is apparent.  I gave you the half and half method below, because it spares you peeling and chopping the peskier bulb end while it is raw, but it's your call.

There's some grunt work involved.  Can't lie about that.  

Butchering a butternut squash is aerobic work, and you have to get a pan and the oven involved.

And there are the peppers to roast, and otherwise attend to.

Plus some mincing around, and further chances to practice your knife skills.

But once all the prep work is done, the soup itself comes together in a snap. 

And then you get to eat it.

two sisters and one spicy brother soup

2 or 3 poblano peppers
1 large butternut squash
3T olive oil, divided
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1" of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (not too fine)
2-3t ground cumin
3/4 t salt
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (see note), finely minced
10 oz frozen corn kernels
1 c chopped fresh cilantro, or basil as an alternative

Roast the poblano peppers over a gas burner flame or under the broiler until well charred all over.  Plop them into a small bowl and cover it, so the trapped steam can loosen the skin for you.  Once they are cool enough to handle, do the messy work of slipping their peels off, seeding them, and chopping them up into a quarter-inch dice.  Try to resist the urge to rinse them, as they lose roastiness when you do. Stray bits of charred peel won't harm the end result. You can do this a day or two in advance if you like.

Heat the oven to 425.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and also grab a medium baking dish. Hack the bulb end of the squash off the neck end.  Stand the bulb end on its cut side, halve it, and scrape out the seeds. Place the bulb ends, cut side down, into the baking dish with a little water and slide it into the oven while you continue to wrestle the rest of the squash into submission.

Slice off the stem end and stand the neck section up on the cutting board.  Slice vertically from stem to stern, into half-inch slices, and then go about peeling those and chopping them into cubes that will fit nicely in your soup spoon.  Toss them with a tablespoon of oil, and spread on the baking sheet. Roast the cubes about 25 minutes, until just golden and tender.  Keep the bulb ends in there all this while, and when they slump a bit, they are ready to come out, too.  Set all of this aside to cool.

Heat the remaining oil in a large, heavy pot.  Saute the onion until it begins to soften and lightly brown, then add the garlic, ginger, salt, cumin and chipotle and keep cooking until it is all nicely fragrant, about another minute.

Now scrape the cooked flesh from the bulby parts of the squash into the pot, and thoroughly mash it around with your spoon until it is pretty smooth.  Add about 6 cups of water, the roasted squash cubes and the corn, and mix everything very well. Bring it to a simmer, and let it cook for about ten minutes.  Stir in the cilantro, and taste for salt and heat.

The promised NOTE on the chipotle peppers: little cans of these are sold in the Latin or Spanish section of most every grocery store.  I buy a can about every six months, dump the contents of the can into a small tub, jar or freezer bag, and use it as I need it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday morning: I am a quarter back

It's come and gone, and here we all are in recovery mode, with plenty to digest on all levels.  I read lots of articles and blog posts in this last week about the murky and shameful historical origins of the holiday, and I think good citizenship demands being aware of those.  I also think the opportunity to gather and be grateful is one worth hanging on to.  I'm all ears if you want to weigh in on this one.

In terms of less weighty lingering questions, I rank at the top of the list "what to do with the leftover consequences of a crucial miscommunication regarding mashed potatoes?"  See below for the answer.

My breezy Thanksgiving report: I am glad I brined the turkey, but sad I overcooked it (not before undercooking it first!  I am nothing if not thorough).  I am woefully sad about the gluten-free gingerbread recipe that snookered me into buying a $9 bag of weird flour that will languish in my freezer for eons.  I am happy about my gravy, and about that ginger-carrot sauce I told you about (thank you, Marisa!).

The gingerbread misstep aside, in general the meal's successes belonged to the sweet table.  I made some whoopie pies (more on those later) that were a hit.  And my kiddos batted their contributions right out of the park.

First, the ever-popular and vastly underrated Zebra Cake, once the province of our oldest child and now bequeathed to her sister. I am sure there is a way to replicate it without buying a box of cookies and supporting Nabisco, and thanks to my mad Google skills, I have been led to what was under my nose all along.  Next year!  Meanwhile, she made it the standard way, to grand applause as usual (it is a staple of our holiday table):

The oldest and the youngest collaborated on some hedgehog cookies that will definitely make an appearance from here on out.  Said one early adopter, "these are definitely in the top five of all desserts I have eaten in my life." 

If you would like to make these yourself, and I urge you to consider it, head right over here for the recipe.  We used toasted pecans in place of the walnuts, because pecans are vastly superior to walnuts in every way in our unhumble and unsolicited opinion, especially inasmuch as they are way more woodlandy in appearance than walnuts are.  A chopstick with a pointy end makes a fine tool for painting facial features, if you plan to take action on this information.

The other culinary home run of the weekend comes courtesy of my sister, who pointed out, correctly, that the highest and best use of the leftover mashed potato is unquestionably what we have come to call the potato burger. 

It's hard to give you something that resembles a recipe.  The essentials are: re-mash the potatoes with an egg (per two cups of potato, say); a few tablespoons of finely grated parmesan or other dry, aged cheese; some minced aromatic (thyme was lingering around here, after making the turkey brine, but a case could be made for any other fresh herb, or a scallion, e.g.--whatever it is, about a tablespoon of it); and a tablespoon or two of something savory and pungent and exotic, like (in our case) capers, or (in our imaginations) ham or bacon, or preserved lemons or olives, or so forth.  Depending on how seasoned your potatoes were to start with and how flavorful your additions have been, add a little fresh pepper and perhaps a little salt.  Boost your holiday recovery with a quarter cup of flax meal, or don't--we made one batch each way, with no obvious differences.

Form patties, and fry them up in a well-seasoned skillet using a good amount of butter or butter and oil mixed, until nicely browned on each side.

I hope you all had a peaceful and plentiful holiday.  

Finally, if you are Amanda or Melissa, please send me an email!

Monday, November 19, 2012

reasonable FAQ simile

Sometimes the best defense against looniness is a fertile imagination.  Of course, sometimes looniness and a fertile imagination look a lot alike, so you have to be careful.  

When I was single and living in New York City and kind of tired and perhaps it's fair to say a little bit lonely, I took a page out of my preschool pupils' book and conjured up an imaginary friend for myself.  Unlike the little girl in my class who spent a good portion of the morning sitting in her coat cubby having an animated conversation with her pal, I kept it kind of discreet.  What works when you are three begins to look a little silly when you are in your mid-20's (this rule of thumb applies to more than just social skills).  But I got full mileage out of my mental companion.  Though companionable, he was really more of an imaginary valet or personal assistant--more Jeeves than Pooka.  Racing from teaching to graduate school, I would think of all the little tasks I could slough off to Gustavo (he looked kind of like Raul Julia), like picking up my laundry or ironing my clothes or shopping for groceries or getting me a plane ticket to Paris (double imaginary points).  I took the time to imagine he would always pick up fresh flowers while he ran these errands, but let the record reflect my assertion that I never once actually spoke out loud to him or left him a note.  I swear.

No more graduate school in my life now (there are days I wish I was in school, but far more of them when I thank my stars that I am not).  No more lonely.  So Gustavo has retired.  As I move from roasting to chopping to whipping, from the holiday parent assembly to the holiday floor-mopping, my defense against any encroaching looseness on the grip of the sanity controls takes the form of the imaginary mailbag.

Dear Raisin,

What are you making for Thanksgiving?

Dear Raisin,

Thanksgiving this, Thanksgiving that.  What do I feed everyone between now and Thursday, and still have time to make Thursday happen?

Dear Raisin,

Congee is nice, but do you ever wonder about all that whiteness being good for you as you eat bowl after bowl of it?

Dear Raisin,

Am I better off simplifying things as much as possible in order to preserve the time, energy and sanity necessary to have a pleasant, lucid, seated conversation with friends and family, or should I give in to temptation and make all 7 kinds of brussels sprouts that I have bookmarked?

No one outside of my head has actually asked me any of these questions.  But the answers are so easy to provide that the mere act of answering them will give me all the lift I need to sail through the next few days like a float in the Macy's parade (thank goodness for stretch pants).

If you really want to know what I think I may make for Thursday, head over here, where I have a handy list.

If you, like me, face the predictable and unpredictable caloric needs of groups of humans ranging from two to seven (in number) and 7 and three quarters to 88 (in age), then questions two and three, above, have one answer: brown rice congee, which is demystified below.

In answer to question 4, the market is probably out of brussels sprouts anyway (such is the present demand), so you are better off sticking to the one type and safeguarding all your faculties for a confab with your Aunt Matilda.  Heaven help you selecting which recipe, though.  I am still weighing my options.  There is so much I wish to sit still and be grateful for, though, that I will force myself to choose.

brown rice congee

You are going to get a monster headnote here, but the recipe is easy as can be, especially if you have already made the white rice version and consequently do not have to spend any mental energy wondering if this is going to work despite how weird it sounds.

The main differences are, not surprisingly, more water and more time.  Despite the hours of cooking, it basically cooks itself, so can be left to its own devices on a back burner while you make tracks to Turkey Town on the front ones.

Just like its paler cousin, the brown rice version is equally happy made plain, or with tiny slivers of fish or chicken.  It is particularly happy as pictured above: with a tangle of dark greens or broccoli, stir-fried with plenty of garlic and ginger and tamari, and maybe some of this (or whatever equivalent you have handy) on top. Its grainy simplicity is a nice ramp-up to (or recovery from) the digestive olympics on Thursday.

I doubled the batch, which produces a metric ton and will mean that any time anyone is hungry or you are called upon to feed your family in the present despite the peeling and chopping you are doing for their future nourishment, you can just grunt and gesture with your elbow to the pot of congee, from which they are welcome to help themselves.  But you can halve it if you like, in which case you can probably add all the water at once (it wouldn't all fit in my pot; had to cook down for a while first).

2 c short-grain brown rice

24 c water
2t kosher salt

optionally: 1 whole boneless chicken breast, partially frozen (really--makes slicing enormously easy)
2t cornstarch (optional)

Put the rice and water (as much of it as will fit) into a large, heavy pot and bring it to a boil.  Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook and cook and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 4 hours.  While the white rice version requires focused stirring at the outset, to get the grains in good suspension in the water, this one doesn't really demand that until the last hour, when you will want to stir at shorter intervals so you don't scorch the bottom.  This is when I added the last four cups of water, as well, because they would not fit before then and because the increasing thickness demanded it.

When the mixture looks like soupy oatmeal, you are done.  Stir in the salt, and serve it with something delicious on top.

If you'd like to add the chicken, use a very sharp knife to slice the breast very thinly cross-wise, and then stack these slices and cut them into thin ribbons.  Toss the chicken slivers with the cornstarch, and stir them into the hot congee.  They will cook almost instantly.  If there is a reason that you don't want cornstarch, just omit it; no substitution is necessary.

You can also sliver up some fish to add similarly, or get your protein another way by adding some crumbled-up firm tofu to your stir-fried greens.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

in which I roast to the occasion

When I took my son for his riding lesson yesterday, one of the horses at the barn was getting his hair clipped in such a way as to accommodate his snappy winter jacket.  In order to calm this jittery horse for said procedure (buzzing clippers!  touching of personal areas!), he had been fitted with a twitch, which is an item, not a symptom, and is intended to calm the animal by encouraging a release of endorphins.  

Take a look at this picture and let me know how many of your personal endorphins you think would be released if you were outfitted similarly:

Yes, that is a large metal clamp on his nose, or lip, depending on how you view such matters.  Were I to take a tip from the animal kingdom in the management of my own jitters, I think I would lean more towards the Thunder Shirt, a snug vest I have seen in use on several dogs of my acquaintance, which takes them, in one press of the Velcro, from "HOLY GREAT GOOD GOD I THINK THAT MAN HAS A HAT ON AND I AM CERTAIN THAT MEANS HE WANTS TO KILL ME" to "oh, what, is that, like, the doorbell?  Missed it." 

photo by tales & tails
I am not being paid to promote their product, but if as a result of this post, the good people over at ThunderShirt decide to send me a case of same (size Large, please; not fussy about the color) to pass around the holiday table, I am prepared to conduct a human trial.  I think it is the correct season for that.

Now that we have led the conversation about stress around to the dining room, let's talk about soup.  

I think I have nattered before about the cookbook from Greens Restaurant, which I admire, and its tendency to list among the 17 ingredients for a dish "one batch of X, p. 138," which turns out to be a 3 page recipe itself, with numerous ingredients and various stages of preparation.

Generally, I try to avoid preparing (let alone exhorting you to prepare) anything that has a preamble of this nature.  But I am not sure we can go on like this if you don't throw together a batch of vegetable stock concentrate.  It's the backbone of winter soups, and I go on and on about soup once the temperature dips below 64 degrees.  Vegetable stock concentrate has an enormous potential for making you feel like the heir apparent to the Rock Star throne of the universe, given its ease-of-preparation-to-usefulness ratio.  And I am reminding you of it now, when you may be abusing yourself about the need to bake for holiday giving.  Hint: no one will mind not receiving more cookies.  And no one will mind AT ALL being handed a jar of this stuff in place of a cookie basket.  Instead of cursing you as they heave onto the Stairmaster in early January, they will build a little altar to you in their home, and keep it stocked with incense and orchids and tropical fruit at the peak of ripeness.  Maybe.

If you do not have a copy of the River Cottage Preserves cookbook, then thank your lucky stars that Laura posted the recipe for this stuff on her blog.  When I make it I add a couple of stalks of celery as well as celery root, and I use thyme instead of cilantro, because it seems more one-size-fits-all.  But it's hard to go very far wrong, I think.

If you don't make the stuff, you can still live a happy and fulfilling life, because you can leave your comment here and possibly be the person I send a jar to.  Go ahead. It's not a Giveaway exactly, not another excuse for me to go all Ryan Gosling on you.  I've sworn off those, because they are deeply demoralizing.  So this is something entirely different.  You don't even have to say anything.  You can make an empty comment, in the spirit of the political season.  Or a full one, in gratitude for the thin margin by which we avoided certain doom.

So you might receive a windfall jar, if you do that.  

You can also just salt your soup.  You will still have tasty soup, but if you are wondering if it will be that much tastier if you take the (minimal) trouble to make the paste, you will be right.  It will be that much tastier.

Are you not convinced yet? Should I mention that for your (minimal) trouble, you will end up with several jars of the stuff, and it keeps forever (roughly), so if you don't give any away, you will be rolling in the stuff for months to come?  Did that do the trick?

Meanwhile, thanks to historic levels of personal tension, I seem to be stuck on two settings in the kitchen: 'Bake For Comfort and Distraction' is one, and 'Leave It Kind Of Late To Get Dinner Together; Punt and Roast Something' is the other.

So here is some roasted soup.  I made this the other night and my middle child said, "well, thanks a lot.  You have ruined me.  I can't ever eat any other soup than this one."

Enough said, in my view.

forsake all others tomato soup

1 medium bulb of fennel, trimmed of stalks and thickly sliced

2 large carrots, peeled and cut in chunks
1 large or 2 medium leeks, white and light green parts, quartered and cleaned
1 medium onion, peeled and thickly sliced
2T olive oil
coarse salt and fresh pepper

2 T butter, or more olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
28 oz canned tomatoes (whole or ground or puree)
2-3 T vegetable stock concentrate, or salt to taste
1/3 c half and half, optional but worth it

Heat the oven to 400.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment (or live dangerously and go commando), and spread the prepared vegetables on the tray in a single layer.  Drizzle them with oil and sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper over them.  Roast about 15 minutes, until starting to brown, then switch the oven off and leave them in there to soften up a little more in the residual heat.

Heat the butter or olive oil in a large pot, and sauté the garlic in it for about a minute.  DO NOT LET IT BROWN, or you will experience a nasty flashback to the late 80's when everything was flavored with "toasted" (a/k/a 'burned') garlic.  Feh.  Add the tomatoes and heat them through. Now add the roasted vegetables, two tomato containers full of water, and the stock concentrate (or about a teaspoon of salt).  Attack the soup with a stick blender, or process in batches in a regular blender, observing all common sense precautions regarding hot liquid and expansion, until you have a thick, smooth purée.

Stir in the half and half, and taste to correct the seasoning as you like it.  Go all restaurant and garnish with a drizzle of lemon oil or minced fennel fronds or some creme fraiche swirled in pretty patterns or casually rustic crumbles of goat cheese, or just eat it.

And don't forget to leave a comment if you want a shot at a jar of redemption.