Food & Politics   2 comments

A recent article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker explains the French movement known as Le Fooding, which is concerned with wresting French cuisine from its traditional home on the political right and relocating it to a more politically neutral locale. Basically, the movement seeks to de-snobbify French cuisine. Typical of Gopnik, it is an excellent piece of work, the kind of thing that makes me wonder why I’ve let my subscription to the New Yorker lapse. Crazy…

Everything Gopnik writes is ridiculously well-researched, well-written, and insightful, but for me one of the most salient points that he makes in this piece is not about the French, but something he says about Americans (and Brits). To make the point about how difficult it is to draw parallels between French eating habits and political orientation, Gopnik contrasts the French with Americans and Brits. He writes:

In America and England, you are what you think about eating. Tell me where you stand on Michelle Obama’s organic White House garden and (with the exception of a handful of “Crunchy Cons” and another handful of grumpy left-wing nostalgists for whiskey and cigarettes) I can tell what the rest of your politics are. People who are in favor of a new approach to food—even if that approach involves a return to heritage breeds and discarded farming methods—are in favor of a new approach to social life.

When I first read this, I thought he was spot on, but then I started to think of really quite a few people that I know who are exceptions to Gopnik’s generalization: that is, conservatives who are in favor of progressive farming methods and liberals who just don’t care. Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms comes to mind as an example of the former. Perhaps he’s one of the “crunchy cons” that Gopnik cites as exceptions to his rule, but I’ve encountered enough folks like Salatin around here to seriously question the assumption that those who are agriculturally progressive are also socially progressive. I’ve made embarrassingly wrong assumptions about enough people based on how they think about food that I’ve learned not to do it anymore. Not all organic farmers love Barack Obama as much as I do.

It’s true that I live in one of the reddest states in the nation — Alabama — so I encounter more than my fair share of conservatives. However, it seems to me that food might be an area of discourse that cuts across political divisions. Or, possibly, this “new approach to food” has become so trendy that is now divorced from its ideological origins. Both liberals and conservatives shop at Whole Foods, don’t they?

The American food movement has done something more than to unearth traditional farming methods and to educate Americans on the dangers of pesticides. It has also introduced us to heritage breeds of turkeys, pigs, and cattle. It has presented us with lacinato kale, bright-lights chard, and broccoli rabe. In short, it has unearthed new (and sometimes old) products and new markets. Now that we know they’re there, we want to eat these delicious, nutritious greens and succulent pork bellies. And we don’t want to be bothered by harmful chemicals or rumors about the unsavory goings-on on the “kill floor.”

It’s worth remembering that stories are powerful marketing tools. They sell products. The American food movement has given us, along with heirloom tomatoes, stories of little old ladies carefully saving their seeds from year to year and passing them down from generation to generation. It’s given us tales of bachelor organic farmers carrying contraband San Marzano tomato seeds back from Sicily in the waistbands of their underwear. Such narratives are compelling, so compelling that we literally buy them.

Of course, that’s not a bad thing … not at all. I just think it’s imporant to understand what’s going on. And, as much as I admire Gopnik, I think he’s wrong — or at least not quite right — to claim that we Americans “are what we think about food.” Maybe we were nine years or so ago, but we aren’t any more. Our eating habits are not necessarily aligned with political orientation. In that way, maybe we’re just a little bit like the French, not something you can often say about Americans.

One claim that does seem to be true, however, is that “we are what we can afford to spend on food.” That is, folks with a bit of discretionary income can afford to eat well — however you want to define that — and they do. Folks who live from hand-to-mouth eat that way. Some Americans simply cannot afford to be interested in “good” food.

Environmentally responsible and nutritionally sensible foods should not be financially prohibitive. They should not be exclusive. However, American agricultural policy does nothing to correct this imbalance. Even under a president who is socially progressive (and married to a person who is passionate about organic food), the farm subsidies that structure food prices still do not go to small-scale farmers. They go large-scale, industrial farmers, farmers who produce large volume crops that wind up being processed into mostly unhealthy products. Until that changes, organic produce — like the produce grown in Mrs. Obama’s much-lauded White House garden — and ethically raised livestock wil be purchased mostly by the privileged few. And there is something seriously wrong with that.

Posted April 3, 2010 by Admin in Politics

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Meatless Monday~Rigatoni with Pistachio Pesto & Artichokes   Leave a comment

Spring is here! Or, rather, it’s supposed to be — the time changed a few weeks ago, meaning longer days, the equinox occurred last week, and the stores are all full of flowery frocks and open-toed sandals. The only thing missing is actual warmth, which has been elusive, and sun.

Folks around here have a bit of Spring fever. I suppose they’re entitled. For the first time in recent memory, we had a real winter here in Alabama, complete with several cold weeks in a row, a bit of snowfall, and lots of rain. Having hit its stride back in January, winter seems disinclined to leave. My fellow citizens are generally grumpy about it, being used to mild winters, but I’ve been pretty happy about it. I like the cold and rain. Still, as much as I enjoy cold weather, I’ll be happy to see it leave this year. I’m tired of my winter clothes and shoes and, surprisingly, I’m even becoming weary of grapefruit and fennel, my two favorite wintertime foods. It’s time to move on, I say.

So, seeking out a little bit of cheery Spring, I decided to make pesto. It’s not basil season (not even close), so I went with another green wonder: pistachios. For a bit of tang, I threw in a jar of marinated artichokes;we can pretend that it’s really spring and that they are in season. Lemon juice beckons to the sun, which will hopefully join us in the coming days. It will be most welcome.

Rigatoni with Pistachio Pesto & Artichokes

1/2 cup of shelled pistachios that are unsalted and roasted**

4 cloves garlic, minced and divided

1/2 cup & 2 tbs. of olive oil, divided

1 lb. hot, cooked rigatoni with 1/2 cup of the boiling water reserved

1 8 oz. jar of marinated artichokes, drained

2 tbs. fresh basil, chopped or 1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. lemon zest

The juice of one lemon

1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chopped pistachios for garnishing

Salt and Pepper to taste

Pistachio Pesto:

Blitz pistachios and 2 cloves of garlic in a food processor. You want the nuts to resemble coarse sand. Add salt and pepper. Turn on motor and add olive oil in a steady drizzle until a smooth paste forms. Adjust seasonings. You will wind up with about 1 cup’s worth of pesto, enough for 2 recipes. Set aside 1/2 cup — you won’t need that much — and refrigerate or freeze the rest.

Pasta & Artichokes:

Sauté the remaining garlic, Aleppo pepper, and artichokes in 2tbs. oil over medium-high heat for 3 minutes, or until garlic is fragrant. Be careful not to burn it. Add the drained pasta and dried basil, if using and lemon zest. Gently toss around in the pan to coat. Remove pan from heat. Add pesto in 2 tbs. increments until the pesto sufficiently coats the pasta along with a bit of the reserved pasta water and the lemon juice. Coat pasta and artichokes thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a bit of olive oil if the mixture seems dry. Spoon into bowls and top with parmesan, fresh basil, if using, and chopped pistachios. Serve immediately.

**Pistachios are crazily expensive in the grocery store — about $6 per cup — but they’re much more reasonably priced on-line, even if you account for shipping costs. Even better, they’re fresher– much fresher. Nutsonline is a great source for pistachios and other nuts. If you’re feeling flush, you could purchase some Bronte pistachios online from Kalyustan’s but that will set you back $65 per pound (without shipping). Finally, Zingerman’s carries some prepared pistachio pesto made with Sicilian pistachios from Agrigento, but it’s also bit pricey at $30 per 8 oz. jar.

Posted March 27, 2010 by Admin in Main Dishes, Meatless Monday, pistachios

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Say, Cheese!   1 comment

Say Cheese!

Recently, a well-intentioned person offered me a piece of “vegan cheesecake.” I politely declined, but the experience rankled. I’m not opposed to vegan food by any means; however, I don’t care to eat any food that is passed off as something that it is not. What the hell is a “vegan cheesecake?” Isn’t it more rightly “tofu cake?” “Tofutti cake”? “Cheese Substitute Cake?” What? I was disturbed the inaccuracy of it all, but then I realized that I was being a purist for a cake that is itself a bit of a cipher.

Broadly speaking, cheesecake is a cake made with soft, unripened cheese. Usually, it has some kind of crust, typically made with cookies or a thin layer of cake. Versions of cheesecake are found in cultures throughout world, including, unexpectedly, Asia, a fact that might challenge my aversion to the tofu cake that began this whole odyssey. In the West, humans have eaten cheesecake since around the time that Hippocrates was thinking about humors and formulating oaths. The Romans were fond of them, too, but then they stole everything from the Greeks. Of course, Italians nearly always improve what they steal, so Italian cheesecake is completely wonderful. In contemporary Italy, cheesecakes are usually made with either ricotta or mascarpone cheese, which makes them less sweet than other versions.

In the US, modern cheesecakes are usually made with cream cheese, often Philadelphia brand, a product that half-heartedly tries to pass itself off as Neufchâtel cheese, something it patently is not (hmmm… see paragraph #1). Specious connections aside, Philly cream cheese is highly adaptable. In fact, the malleability of this type of cheese means that a cheesecake can take a dizzying number of forms. They can be baked or not; contain eggs or not; be flavored or not. Sometimes, they are topped with fruit or jam. Less often, they are savory. I’ve had cheesecakes that were mostly whipped cream and some that were mostly Cream Whip. A beloved St. Louis version even includes butter and yeast.

In short, the cheesecake is a highly variable platform. And, I mostly don’t care for them. So it was a bit of a surprise to me that I became obsessed with the idea of cheesecake after the tofu offer and decided to make my own just as soon as I possibly could.

Given the many and varied reasons I have for not making desserts very often, I had plenty of opportunity to research the history the cheesecake and to seek out a good recipe for one. I was finally able to make my move on Monday, which is how I wound up with this gorgeous thing in my refrigerator.

In spite of my general dislike of cheesecake, I can’t say enough about this one. If you’re thinking of some kind of rubbery Cheesecake Factory version, think again. If you’re imaging a creamy confection that cannot easily be cut into slices, think again. This stellar version is made with a combination of mascarpone cheese and ordinary old Philadelphia brand. It has a graham cracker crust and a thin sour cream topping. It is beautiful and delicious. The filling was just tart enough to play well against the sweet, almost caramelized crust and the texture was creamy without being insubstantial. And, the cake was really fun to make: a bit of serious, but pressure-free baking on a sunny Monday morning. Mimi was an excellent assistant, as these photos will demonstrate. The recipe was minimally adapted from one at epicurious.com.

Mascarpone Cheesecake

Crust:

1 1/4 cup of graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup sugar

8 tbs. butter, melted

Filling:

8 oz. mascarpone cheese, room temperature

2 1/2, 8 oz. containers of cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Topping:

1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. lemon juice

First make the crust. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9 inch springform pan. Combine 1 cup of graham cracker crumbs and sugar large bowl. Reserve the remaining cracker crumbs to sprinkle over the top of the finished cake. Add the butter and stir until crumbs are coated. Press crumbs into the pan, pushing the mixture up the sides of the pan by about 1 1/2 inches. Bake for about 7 minutes, until the crust sets and slightly browned. Remove from oven and cool on a baking rack for about 25 minutes.

Next, get on with the filling. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the cheeses and the sugar. Blend on medium until combined and slightly whipped, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well into the cheese after each addition. Add the vanilla and lemon juice and beat until just blended. Pour the filling into the cooled crust and bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and cool for 25 minutes. When you remove the cake from the oven, don’t be alarmed if the filling wiggles a bit. It will continue to set as it cools. Leave the oven on.

Now, make the topping. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, sugar and lemon juice. Pour onto the cooled cake and spread evenly, leaving 1/4 inch of a gap all around the edges of the cake. Bake for 10 minutes, until the topping is just set.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for 8 hours. This sounds like a long time; indeed it is, but it is in the cooling process that the cake achieves it full potential. Before serving, sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the top of the cake. Sit back, smile, and — you know — say, “Cheese!”

Posted March 10, 2010 by Admin in Dessert

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The Three Dips   2 comments

Expecting something on three of my ex-boyfriends?

Think again. As satisfying as that might be for me, it would not be of much use to you. Instead, I offer something truly valuable: recipes for my three favorite dinner party starters, muhamarra, tapenade, and hummus.

Served alone, any one of the three would be a satisfying way to welcome dinner guests. Serve the three of them together, however, and you will impress your guests with your worldly sophistication, easy generosity, and all around culinary brilliance. At the very least, they will know that you care.

I’m not sure when I started serving all three dips together, but now I feel sort of lazy whenever I make only one or two of them. I wish I could come up with a catchier phase to call them: “the three dips?” Not exactly sophisticated. Fortunately, even if the name doesn’t inspire, the combination does. The dips belong together somehow. Sweet, salty, and earthy; red, black, and beige — however you configure them, they play well together.

Besides, once you haul out the food processor to prepare one, it makes a lot of sense to prepare all three. They share a number of ingredients — garlic, lemon juice, and red pepper — so, you know, while you’re at it.

I’m never able to single out a favorite. Each one tastes wonderful slathered onto triangles of warm pita (especially pita you make yourself–another post). The three distinct flavors also work really well in tandem. Besides this important fact, there are other advantages to serving the triumvirate to guests. They look pretty together on the table and they are just exotic enough to seem special. All three are vegan (or can easily be made so). Best, the dips taste best made the day before, which frees you from some kitchen prep on the day of your event. In fact, even if the dips are all that you serve, your guests will be thrilled.

A word about muhammara, which is a traditional Persian dip. While most of its ingredients are easily found, you will need to look around for the pomegranate molasses since it is an essential component of the dish. Its flavor is both sweet and tart, a common profile in Persian food. I’ve found pomegranate molasses at Zingerman’s and the Spice House, and it keeps forever in the refrigerator. However, don’t despair if you absolutely cannot get some; either reduce 2 cups worth of pomegranate juice (you’ll wind up with about 1/2 cup of molasses) or double the specified amount of lemon juice and add 1 tsp. dark brown sugar.

Finally, I recommend Aleppo pepper in all three recipes, but regular crushed red pepper makes an adequate substitute. If you do use crushed red pepper, reduce the amounts recommended by about half and adjust from there. The muhamarra and tapenade should both be fairly spicy.

Muhamarra

1 7 or 8 oz. jar of roasted red peppers, drained
2/3 cup walnuts
3 cloves of garlic
Juice from 1 lemon
3 tsp. pomegranate molasses
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil

Put the first 8 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process using short pulses. You want everything coarsely chopped. Once you have the texture you like, add the olive oil in a steady stream while the food processor whizzes away. Adjust seasonings. Garnish, if you’d like, with mint leaves. Serve with warm pita.

Tapenade

1 12 oz jar of pitted Kalamata olives, drained and rinsed
2 tbs. capers, drained and rinsed
3-5 garlic cloves
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
Scant 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper
1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil

Place the first 6 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process using short pulses. When all is coarsely chopped, add the olive oil in a steady stream while the food processor whizzes away. Adjust seasonings. Serve with warm pita. Sometimes, I add some crumbled feta cheese to the finished tapenade. If you plan to do this, bear in mind the fact that feta is salty so you’ll want to add less salt to the tapenade.

Hummus

1 8 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed (although you could make your own chick peas for even better results), separated
2 tbs. tahini (roasted sesame paste)
3-5 cloves of garlic
Juice of two lemons
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/4 – 1/2 cup of olive oil

Place half of the chick peas and the next 5 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process using short pulses. When all is coarsely chopped, add the olive oil in a steady stream while the food processor whizzes away. Add the rest of the chick peas to the processor and pulse 3 or 4 times. Adjust seasonings. Serve with warm pita.

The hummus can also be served warm. If you want to go this route, make the hummus as recommend above. Then, preheat the oven to 400 degrees; put the hummus in an oven-proof casserole; melt 1 tbs. butter in a sauce pan. Add 1 tsp. Aleppo pepper, 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds, and 2 tbs. pine nuts. Stir over medium heat until everything is coated with butter. Pour over the hummus and bake for 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Our friends Jeff and Karen and Scott and Laura came for dinner on Saturday and I served the three dips before this lentil soup and this marmalade cake. In our Straw Poll, the hummus and the muhamarra more or less tied. We finished up the hummus on Saturday, but Mimi and I enjoyed the leftovers for lunch today. It was a fabulous way to celebrate Meatless Monday.

Mercenary Muffins and a Harbinger of Spring   3 comments

Muffins are one of those foods that I usually avoid. Like grocery store birthday cakes, they contain too much fat and sugar and not enough flavor. Only rarely are they worth their calorie count. I always feel like a bit of a chump when I have to pay money for one, which occurs from time to time (most often when I visit the local coffee shop and want just a little something to go with my cappuccino).

As with many other baked goods, muffins aren’t really difficult to make and call for ingredients that are usually on hand: flour, butter, milk, eggs. There are, however, a few fairly rigid rules that must be observed when making muffins: mix with a light hand to obtain a tender texture and eat them almost as soon as they come out of the oven to enjoy their fleeting splendor. A muffin turns to stone even an hour out of the oven and tastes about as appetizing.

The fact that most commercial bakers ignore these rules means that you’re really better off making your own at home, which is what I did on Sunday. I followed a recipe from my favorite muffin cookbook, The Joy of Muffins: The International Muffin Cookbook by Genevieve Farrow and Diane Dreher.

I like a lot of things about this cookbook. I like that it has a subtitle; I like that it features all kinds of muffins for all kinds of purposes: sweet, savory, breakfast, main course, dessert, and microwaveable (yikes!). I like that it features recipes that are, as the title implies, internationally inspired. I like that the authors often succumbed to whimsy when naming their muffins: “Johnny Appleseed Fudge Muffins,” “Gilroy Garlic Muffins,” “Yankee Economy Muffins,” and “Hungarian Hussar’s Muffins,” to name a few.

But the thing that I like most about the book is that you can open it to any page at random, choose a recipe, and invariably wind up with delicious muffins. This is exactly what happened on Sunday, when, after a quick flip through the book, I settled on “Hungarian Hussar’s Muffins.”

How could I not make muffins named for Austro-Hungarian mercenaries?

Well, actually, they take their name from a traditional Hungarian cookie called Huszarcsok, or Hussar’s Kisses, which are a bit like the thumprint cookies that I once made in a high school home economics class (is this course still offered as an elective in public high schools?). I like the idea of eating a muffin inspired, however indirectly, by a group of highly efficient mercenary soldiers, so if anyone asks, I’ll just pretend that I don’t know anything about the kisses.

The muffins turned out to be very worthy namesakes, every bit as impressive as their military counterparts. They were light, airy, and only a little bit sweet (the muffins, I mean). They also house a surprise — a bit of jam inside of each muffin. Of course, my jam sunk down to the muffin bottoms, but they were no less delicious for it. I adapted the recipe just a bit and included a new favorite secret ingredient, Fiori di Sicilia, which is a combination of vanilla and citrus oils and smells like the most incredible perfume you’ll ever encounter. It’s available from the King Arthur website, but be forewarned, if you like baking at all you’ll spend entirely too much time and money there.

I served the Hussars with grapefruit sent by my lovely sister-in-law for Jim’s birthday, but hastily and greedily enjoyed by all three of us. Here are all 18 of the grapefruit nestled cozily in our refrigerator on Thursday night:
I’m only a little bit embarrassed to confess that today, Monday, only 4 remain.

They provided just the right counterpart to the Hussars.

Hungarian Hussar Muffins (minimally adapted from The Joy of Muffins)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. grated lemon rind

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 large egg, beaten

4 tbs. butter, melted

1 cup butter milk

2 tsp. lemon juice

1/4 tsp. fiori di sicilia

Cherry jam

1/4 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a standard sized muffin pan. Mix flour, sugar, lemon rind, baking power, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together egg, butter, buttermilk, lemon juice, and fiori di sicilia. Make a well in the dry ingredients and quickly add liquid ingredients. Fill greased muffin tins one-half full, then add 1 tsp. jam to each and cover with batter. Sprinkle tops with almonds and bake until golden, about 15-20 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.

Finally, here’s a very welcome harbinger of Spring, a tiny daffodil picked from our friend Angie’s garden and brought home to me by my daughter. Surely, this sweet gesture deserves the gratitude of a mother as well as the kisses of a Hussar.

Posted February 22, 2010 by Admin in Uncategorized

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Again with the Sickness   1 comment

2010 has not been a healthy month for me: first an ear infection and now a stomach virus…and it’s only February. Perhaps I should adapt the blog to my condition and write about the foods that sustain me through the worst.

All of us have foods that we gravitate toward when sick. Many of these are obvious: saltines, toast, rice, bananas. However, some food preferences make very little sense to others. An old friend of mine swears by a glass of ice-cold pickle brine to combat her hangovers, which strikes me as much less appetizing than menudo, the time-honored Mexican remedy for the ailment.

When I was in my first trimester of pregnancy, the only thing I really wanted to eat were Thai basil rolls from the restaurant down the street and Greek yogurt, which I had to order online at the time and at great expense.

Outside of pregnancy, my own illnesses seem to fall into two distinct categories: respiratory and digestive. The former gets treated with lashings of hot lemon tea while the latter always calls for Campbell’s chicken soup with rice.

Now, I’m not seriously going to offer a recipe for Campbell’s chicken soup with rice, nor any other chicken soup recipe today (although I have a great one for the future). When I’m sick, I want the pure Warhol soup experience: the red labeled, condensed formula, sodium bomb.

Anything else is just madness.

The lemon tea recipe comes from my mother, and it’s a soothingly delicious beverage that I should really make more often. Unfortunately, it’s of little use to me today. But in case you are in need, here’s a short recipe for a deliciously comforting beverage to enjoy in sickness and in health.

Hot Lemon Tea

2 lemons

2 tbs. sugar or honey

Water

Juice the lemons. Put the lemon juice, lemon rinds, sugar or honey, and water enough to cover in a small saucepan. Heat the lemon concoction over medium-high heat until it comes to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove the lemon rinds. Sip slowly while hot, taking care to make the odd reassuring slurping sounds. Good additions include strips of ginger (be sure to remove them along with the lemon rinds); rosemary; bourbon or rum.

NEXT MONTH’S ILLNESS: Gallstones!

Posted February 17, 2010 by Admin in Food and Illness, Lemon Tea

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Not Exactly a Mind of Winter   Leave a comment

 

Our Snowy House

 

I always have a backlog of recipes that I want to try, but sometimes a recipe just leap-frogs over all the others and demands to be made immediately, like this one from Deb at Smitten Kitchen: Chocolate Soufflé Cupcakes with Peppermint Cream. I saw it posted on the SK website earlier this week, quickly made a grocery list, and then bid my time–we don’t usually make desserts unless we have a bona fide reason to do so. Fortunately, snow fell on Friday, and snowfall in Alabama absolutely must be celebrated. I believe it’s state law.

Snow Fell on Alabama

 

Falling snow puts me in a contemplative frame of mind. I feel compelled to try to appreciate every aspect of it, to understand its beauty in a meaningful way  — to have a mind of winter, if you will.  Then the rarity of the experience registers — I live in Alabama, after all — and I want to celebrate, to gather my loved ones around me, build a happy little cocoon of domesticity, and keep out the literal and figurative cold. I crave those small, wintery indulgences: a crackling fire in the fireplace, a bowl of warm soup, and something rich for dessert.

I don’t think this is exactly what Wallace Stevens had in mind.

Yesterday, I managed to enjoy all of my indulgences save the soup, which I’ll make tonight. The cupcakes, in particular, were perfect for my mood: a little bit dark with a hit of sweetness. Like Deb, I’m not usually a fan of flourless chocolate cake, but this recipe gets the flavor and texture of a flourless dessert just right. Similar in taste to really good brownies, the cupcakes are light and airy.

The best part of flourless chocolate cake is that there isn’t anything to stand in the way of a powerful hit of chocolate flavor, ingredients like, well, flour. Still, a lot of these desserts resemble nothing more than chocolate sludge with neither taste nor texture to recommend them.This recipe is very different, however. You can see from these photographs that the cakes rise up to lofty heights in the oven.

Then sink down into themselves when taken from the heat.

They wind up with neat little depressions in their centers, wells that simply must be filled up with something luscious. Peppermint cream is just the thing.

It even looks a bit like snow.

The Snow Man

Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Cream of Roasted Tomato Soup & Crostini with Goat Cheese & Onion Marmalade   1 comment

Another Meatless Monday posted after the fact — ah well. This tomato soup is delicious and while it takes a while to roast the vegetables, it requires very little actual effort on the cook’s part. You will need either a stick blender or a food mill. I got one as a holiday gift from my in-laws.

Food mills are impressive devices.

And milling the soup is messy fun.

Strangely enough, I’ve never really cared much for tomato soup, being more familiar with the tinny Campbell’s variety than anything decent. This recipe changed all that, however.

Cream of Roasted Tomato Soup

2 28 oz. cans of whole tomatoes, drained with juices reserved or 2 lbs. of fresh Roma tomatoes
2 red onions, quartered
2 red bell peppers, quartered
4 cloves of garlic
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
4 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. dark brown sugar
4 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
1/4 cup half and half OR 2% milk
1 handful of roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide the vegetables between 2 9×12 inch glass baking pans. In each pan, toss the vegetables with 2 tbs. olive oil and 1 tbs. brown sugar. Roast vegetables for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Remove the vegetables from the oven and transfer to a large Dutch oven. Add the reserved tomato juice, stock, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Purée vegetables and stock with a stick blender or food mill. Add half & half or milk and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to warm soup bowls and top with pepitas.

Serve with Crostini topped with Goat Cheese, preferably Belle Chevre Brand, and Onion Marmalade.

Ho Hum   Leave a comment

Pear Gingerbread Upside Cake -- a heavy-handed attempt to liven things up a bit

A recent essay published in the NYT Review of Books explores the nature and uses of boredom in advance of the 2011 publication of David Foster Wallace’s final novel, The Pale King, a work that takes boredom as its most prominent theme. In her article, Jennifer Schuessler makes a case for the necessity of boredom, its relevance and importance. She writes:

Researchers have discovered that when people are conscious but doing nothing … the brain is in fact firing away, with greater activity in regions responsible for recalling autobiographical memory, imagining the thoughts and feelings of others, and conjuring hypothetical events: the literary areas of the brain, you might say. When this so-called default mode network is activated, the brain uses only about 5 percent less energy than it does when engaged in basic tasks. But that discrepancy may explain why time seems to pass more slowly at such moments.

If this is the case, then my energy-efficient mind should be whirring away like an EnergyStar-rated dishwasher, cataloging my recent past, considering the needs of others, and imaging worlds unknown.

Can’t you hear it?

Nah, me neither.

I mean, I hope all of that is happening, but right now, I just feel kind of tired of being bored. However, I have started to think about attempting to cook myself right out of boredom, which surely suggests an impending mood shift.

Either that or a lot of hot water and a very big pot.

What do you cook when you’re bored, as I am now? something difficult or easy? strange or familiar? savory or sweet? spicy or mild? hard or soft? crunchy or chewy? Need it involve a lot of special ingredients and equipment? Should it reject or celebrate boredom?

Eugene Ionesco argued that boredom is “a symptom of security.” You can’t experience it when imperiled. Perhaps, then, I should make something difficult, confront the culinary unknown: croissants, soufflés, Pavlovas?

Then again, there are so many recipes that are proven energizers: curry, lemon tart, gazpacho. Maybe I should make one of them.

Oh, but it isn’t tomato season.

Suggestions? Advice?  What do you cook when you’re bored to death? Other than your very own goose?

By the way, the pear cake pictured above was anything but ho hum. I made it for Thanksgiving and will eventually post a version of the recipe.  For now, it’s just a clever ruse.

Posted February 4, 2010 by Admin in Boredom

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Waffling   4 comments

To waffle: v. British informal; to talk incessantly or foolishly; prattle; engage in double talk.

I don’t know what to say about the American Democratic party these days. Apparently, Democratic politicians don’t know what to say either, so they just keep saying a bunch of nonsense, hoping to sound attractive to someone out there. They definitely don’t sound attractive to me. Why is it that everytime there’s some setback somewhere, the party interprets the political message as “head to the center?” The fools are waffling, I think.

And I wish they would stop it.

Instead, maybe they could just make waffles. It’s easy enough to do and much more productive. So, here’s a recipe for all of the Congressional Democrats (and for those of you higher up the food chain as well). You’ll need to start the night before. Plan ahead.

Waffles for Democrats

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 package of yeast

1 tbs. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1.5 sticks of butter, melted

1 cup of whole milk

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

The freshly grated peel of one orange

3 eggs, room temperature — ahem — separated

In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients, save the eggs. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel or plate and keep it overnight in a place full of hot air. Like maybe your briefcases.

In the morning, beat the egg whites in a stand mixer until they hold stiff peaks. Meanwhile, gently mix the yolks into the waffle batter. Next, carefully, fold the egg whites into the batter. Don’t deflate the egg whites as you’ve deflated your own legislative prospects with a year’s worth of incessant waffling.

Cook the batter in a waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s directions. This recipe makes enough waffles for five Democratic members of Congress, assuming 2 per stooge. You don’t really deserve that many, so don’t even think of asking for more. Top with butter and maple syrup. Now, sit down, shut up for a bit, and eat.

When you’ve finished, stop all of your tiresome waffling and go pass meaningful health care reform legislation. Hell, even the Senate version is better than nothing (and I can’t belive you morons have forced me to say that).

And, please, please, please Act Blue. Do try to remember that half of American voters elected you people to do so. Instead of waffling around, pathetically trying to appeal to bankers and nutters, you might actually attempt to do something for us — your justifiably angry supporters.

Posted January 28, 2010 by Admin in Breakfast, Foods for Illness, Politics

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