Sunday, January 8, 2017

Diet? We don't need no stinkin diet. Resistors don't diet: pumpkin mac and cheese





Well, a belated Happy New Year to all!  Annalena did in fact give you all a recipe earlier this new year, but she's been in hibernation mode, thinking through many things, with few conclusions as of now.

Have you made resolutions for the year?  Annalena thinks of them as "goals" rather than resolutions, for many reasons.  Her kitchen goals are (i) to waste less food (ii) to use more vegetable protein as compared to animal (iii) to get vegetables into dishes wherever she can and (iv) in February, she will be doing a "no added sugar" fast.  She will give you more details on that as the time approaches.  She is excited about it.

Comfort food:  it's what we crave this time of year.  And given the political situation, we will be craving it more.  But there is a simple fact about what most of us consider "comfort food" ragazzi:  it takes time to make.  Think about your comfort food favorites.  They are probably all slow cooked, long time in the oven or on the stovetop dishes.  Comfort can't be rushed.  So if you are making the comfort dish for yourself, make some to share.   It can be therapeutic.  And if someone tries to comfort you, don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

"Mac and cheese."  Yes, that's one of them, isn't it? For sure, you can buy boxed products that are disgusting and will not comfort you.  OR, you can make up your mind to make it.  It's not that hard, and there are many recipes out there.  The one Annalena is focusing on today, she found on the blog  Leitesculinaria, an excellent blog, which you should consult.  But as she always does, Annalena went through the recipe, and changed it.  She will tell you how she changed it as we proceed, and she urges you to consider changing it too.

Pumpkin.  Something about the word warms us, doesn't it?  Ultimately, pumpkin is just a big winter squash.  Or a small one.  Indeed, in cooking pumpkin, Annalena suggests you stick to smaller ones.  The larger the pumpkin, the more liquid in it, and working with it can be really tricky and sometimes dangerous, because squash are filled with sugar, and hot sugar will burn the Beejeezus out of you.  When Annalena cooks pumpkin, she never uses one more than 2-3 pounds.  For this recipe, she used two small sugar pumpkins the first time.  And since you can substitute winter squashes freely, she used a butternut squash the second time around.

If you're going to cook a winter squash,  cut it in half lengthwise, put the cut sides down on a piece of parchment, and bake at 400 until the thing is so soft that it yields when you press it:


Remember that Annalena said this was hot?  It is.  So wait until it cools down, and scoop out that wonderful orange flesh:

Examine  the pulp critically.  If it seems very stringy (a good possibility with pumpkin, not so much with butternut squash), then puree it in the food processor.  You're going to want 2 cups, and the extra freezes well. 

Of course, you could avoid all of this and buy a 1 lb can of pumpkin (NOT pie filling.  Just pumpkin.  It's probably butternut squash, because the law allows them to be called the same,  but just get a can.  You know what they look like.). 

At this point, you have to start assembling your ingredients and making choices.  The recipe Annalena consulted called for bacon, onions,  heavy cream.  She deleted the bacon, added onions (one time) and changed the heavy cream to milk.  You will not find instructions for the bacon variation (sounds like a Bach piece, doesn't it:  "the Bacon variations".  Or maybe a chess move), but you will for the onion.  Leave it out if you see fit. 

Ok, so now we're going to cook.  If you decide to use onion, get a large one, cut it in half lengthwise, and then cut it into half moons.  Get those into 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, and cook them slowly.  About 20 minutes.  At the end, add three cloves of finely chopped garlic.  You can chop it while the onions are cooking. Cook the garlic until it's fragrant.  Then push all the onion and garlic mix into a bowl.  Add another tablespoon of butter, and add a half cup of "Panko"  breadcrumbs (did you know that "panko" is Japanese for "little bread"  - or bread crumbs.  See what you learn?).  Just toss all of this together for 1-2 minutes, and then put that in a separate bowl.

Ok, now we're going to start cooking.  Yes,  more butter:  two more tablespoons, into that big pan you've been using, together with 1/4 cup of flour.  You want to just stir that together, and then start adding 3.5 cups of dairy.  Annalena used all milk.  You can combine milk and cream, or use all cream, or use half and half, but PLEASE do not use skim milk.  Seriously, ragazzi, if you're using skimmed milk to make mac and cheese, make something else.  NO ONE has ever felt comforted by skim milk. 

Keep stirring this milk until it begins to thicken:

Now add two cups of grated cheese.  What kind?  Cheddar is traditional, though far from necessary.  Annalena used fontina and gruyere the first time,  cheddar and an alpine swiss plus gouda the second time.  8 ounces of cheese will give you a substantial two cups:
Do not worry if the cheese is not grated evenly, my sparrows.  You're going to melt it into the milk mixture like so: 

Now, you are going to add the two cups of pumpkin or squash, the onions, some sage leaves if you like, some thyme leaves, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.  IF you are trying to add some veggies, this is not a bad time to add about a cup or more of cooked, chopped broccoli , or spinach, or peas, or "something green."  If you use spinach, or some other leaf green, please squeeze the moisture out.  You can pour all of this into a buttered (yes, it's there again) 9x13 inch glass or ceramic pan. 

You may be tempted to eat this now, and honestly, Annalena would not blame you.  But you're making MAC and cheese, ragazzi, not cheese sauce.  So, now we need a pound or so of pasta Shape is important here, but not as much as some would have it.  Classically, one uses a shape like a wagon wheel, an elbow, fusilli, etc, to hold onto the rich sauce.  You can use spaghetti if you like, bambini.  You can use whatever you like.  Annalena used shells of different sizes, and also :

Do you know what strozzapreti means?  It means  "priest stranglers."  The shape gets its name, allegedly, because the priests were so greedy when they ate this pasta, they choked on it.  
Now, no one knows a greedy religious figure do they?  Annalena thought not, so we'll move on. 

Whatever pasta you are going to use, cook it the way you normally would, BUT cook it for 2-3 minutes LESS.  Remember, it's going into the oven.  

When the pasta is just at the point Annalena referred to, drain it, and put it into the 9x13 with the sauce, and stir it all together:

Now grate another half cup of your favorite cheese (Annalena almost wrote half pound.  That sounds good too), and put that over the pasta, together with the panko you made up above:

Put that in the oven, preheated, at 350 for 30 minutes.  You will get something like: 
If you would like a browner, crispier topping, resort to your broiler for a few minutes, but keep an eye on things.  

And there you have it!  Leave out the onions if you don't want the work, buy a can of pumpkin or squash if you don't feel like making the pulp yourself.  Leave out the veggies.  Add the bacon.  Use cream.  But for heaven's sake, SHARE THE RESULT OF YOUR LABOR!  

Seriously, ragazzi, Annalena cries out to you: the next four years will be tough.  And the first few months will be the toughest.  We will need each other.  And if sharing food brings us all together, well, let's share our food.  Remember, there's an old story about a group of 12 men doing that,  but Annalena doesn't have to re-tell that story.  Just remember the wonderful lines of MFK Fisher  "There is more than a communion of bodies when bread is broken  and wine is drunk."    Break some bread, drink some wine. 

And resist.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Of spiritual awakening, vegetables, and artichoke fritters



Well, Happy New Year to all!  Even if this is not your "official" year, we have in fact started 2017, with more uncertainty than Annalena remembers in her span here.  So, we move on, careful, guarded, and hopeful.  Hopeful is important ragazzi.  Don't give it up.
You know, Annalena can recall periods in her life when she really thought that the world was hopeless.  No, she did not fear nuclear annihilation, but with rocks being thrown at her, people spitting at her, being called FAG, seeing the homeless population mount up... things were pretty hopeless - and it wasn't that long ago in the scheme of things.  But it got better. So, for her readers who may be a little younger,  hold onto yourselves, and your friends, and wait it out.  It WILL pass, but do not be passive.

During that time, Annalena's minister gave a sermon, that Annalena will always remember.  It had to do with salvation, faith, and, not to exploit a cliche', "finding your bliss," because we ARE all looking for bliss in some way or another.  Her minister used a wonderful simile  " looking for faith is like preparing vegetables.  ESPECIALLY  artichokes."  She went on to say  "because preparing vegetables, especially artichokes, is a LOT of work, and you have to throw away a LOT.  But then you get to the good stuff. And it's worth it.  ESPECIALLY  with artichokes."

That sermon was over 30 years ago. Annalena still remembers it.  She wonders if her minister does.  But keep that in mind, because we're going to make a dish today that takes a bit of work and creates a lot of trash along the way.  It's worth it.

Artichoke fritters are an interesting, tasty item. Annalena has made them twice. She supposes that there are easier ways to get to the end (like buying frozen artichoke hearts), but do it all the way, at least once.  Get some respect for the cooking process.  This will be fun.  Come on, let's go!

First, get yourself three very nice sized artichokes, with a good bit of stem at the end:
Now, separately, take some good bread.  Don't use the soft white stuff.  If you have a loaf that is getting a bit stale, this is perfect.  Cut yourself a cup and a half of small cubes, and then mix it with either a half cup of stock or water, etc.  Annalena has done it both ways (and however you interpret that, it is true):
We'll come back to that bread, but now, we prepare the artichokes.  First, start pulling off the outer leaves.  You want to get ALL THE WAY DOWN to the soft pale green and white ones.  Err on the side of removing too many rather than too little.  Ultimately, it won't matter much, but further down the road, it makes your life easier:
Now,  while you can't see them in the picture, there are pointy ends to the artichokes.  Cut those off. And peel away the tough stemmy part of the flower buds (that's what artichokes are, loves).  Now, cut them in half, lengthwise:

More cleaning!  See those purple centers?  Gonna get ride of them.  If you have a softer touch, you can rip them out with your fingers, but a big spoon works better:

Wanna see our trash?

Yes, ragazzi, the road to faith and bliss is not easy.  But now we start cooking. Put those halved artichokes into about an inch of boiling salted water, and let them cook for 15 minutes.   After that, pull em out and let them cool:
Not looking promising, huh?  Don't worry, we're going to be ok.  When they've cooled, pick them up, over a sink, and squeeze out the liquid, then do a rough chop.  At this point, you'll know if you went further enough into the artichoke, because if your knife meets resistance, that is a piece of artichoke you do not want.  When you're finished with your rough chop:
Now move all of the artichokes into the bowl with the soaked bread.  Stir this around, add some salt and pepper, maybe a bit of lemon peel, etc.  Season as you like. Add one lage egg.  You are going to get a "moosh" like this: 
What you want to do next, is add half a cup of bread crumbs.  This is going to give you a very soppy mix, not unlike loose oatmeal.  If you are feeling insecure, add some more breadcrumbs, but keep in mind that a looser mix makes a fritter with a stronger artichoke taste.  

You will now need about 1/2 cup of vegetable oil here.  You can combine olive and vegetable if you like.  when it's hot, spoon mounds of this batter into the oil, and lower the heat.  You'll be able to see the things frying up brown on the side in the oil.  Flip them, and fry the other side.  It will take you 3-4 minutes in all for each batch.  Try not to overcrowd your pan: four at a time is plenty.  Move them to paper towels to drain, and then:  
OH BOY are these good!  You may want some lemon flavored mayonnaise to go with them. Annalena just adds salt and swalows them down.  

You know, when Annalena was just a little one, she HATED  artichokes.  Would not eat them. Or eggplant. Or asparagus.  And her Nana looked at her, pointed, and hurled  'ASHPETT" (her dialect for "aspetta:  WAIT"  She continued  "one day, they will be your favorites,  and you won't be able to get enough of them. 

As always, Nana was right. Annalena could eat artichokes, asparagus, and eggplant, every single day. 

So, ragazzi, learn how to make these.  Realize that finding your way to your spiritual center will take work:  maybe more than you bargained for.  But remember the parable of the artichokes. 

And whether you're looking for that center or not, make these fritters. You will NOT regret the effort.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Of Guncles, DILFS and the Ballet


From The Urban Dictionary:  DILF:  A dad you'd like to fuck

Also from The Urban Dictionary:  Guncle: A noun used to identify a non-related gay male who is regarded as an "honorary uncle" by his friends and their children. Often used as a term of endearment.



The difference between a DILF and a guncle is  that a DILF is someone you invite out  to dinner, and a guncle is someone who makes dinner for you."


No recipe or story this time, gang.  A bit of a think piece.  A bit of a rant.  A bit of a cry out loud.

In her alternate role, Annalena is regarded as a Guncle by many.  He hears the phrase  "Guncle, I just  wish I could hug you right now."  Yes, often.  He does not hear himself referred to as as a DILF.    Ever.  Annalena supposes that the comments  about "guncle"  "hugging"  etc, are meant to be endearing, and they are sincere.  Not unlike the comments he gets when mother's day comes along, and the "Happy Mother's Day" messages come in.  Cute.  Adorable.
It  truly does seem to be the lot in life for many of us:  yes , "DILF" is all over the place, and we are all familiar with typical  "DILFs."  Indeed, like Guncles, who do not have to be uncles, "DILFS" don't have to be dads.  You all have your favorite:  is it perhaps Anderson Cooper?  Who could blame you?    There is actually a website that lists the 25 top DILFs  .  Look for something similar, for "guncles."  Find any ?
If any of this sounds bitter, ragazzi, that's because it is.  I will not speak of my own experiences directly here:  in other words, I will not call anyone out, or quote anyone, other than the reference to "I just want to give you a hug."   And really, think about it for a minute:  the emphasis, while not stated, is on "JUST," as in  "that's as far as it goes."
Why is that?  I have been thinking about this at great length, since rewatching my favorite version of "The Nutcracker" (there is a link at the end of this piece).  Now, some background:  I did not see "Nutcracker" until I was in my early 30s.  And I was STUNNED.  I thought it had a happy ending.  Really, it does not:  our heroine does not get her prince.  And in the  version I first saw (American Ballet Theatre with Gelsey Kirkland, and Baryshnikov), I was very, VERY creeped out by the very salacious uncle, who clearly had designs on Clara.
The original "Nutcracker" does not use an "uncle."  The character, "Drosselmeyer" , in the original, is the godfather to Clara and her brother.  Today, we think of "godfather" in a very particular way; however, in the time of E.T.A. Hoffmann, who wrote the story, a "godfather" had a very serious, important place in the family.  I think that when we see the ballet now, we immediately jump to the idea that he's an uncle.  A single uncle.  No one ever meets a wife, or girlfriend of this man.  He's always eccentric.  Frequently ugly, or misformed, in older productions ,in the San Francisco ballet production, and more and more in other modern productions,this changes, and   one could argue that he's hot in a punk kind of way:




In this production, as you'll see, he wears an eyepatch.  Again, this is showing up, more and more in modern productions.  This being ballet, we don't know how he got it.  But what we do know, from the early part of the production, is that he's a kind, generous man.  He makes the nutcracker for Clara (the original has him make it for BOTH she and her brother).  He keeps his store (he's a clockmaker), open late, to sell a toy to a last minute shopping mom.  And on the way to the Christmas party (which he attends alone), he buys flowers from a flower girl, and gives them to a Nanny, and two nuns, who are all out walking.  (While the Nutcracker story seems to be French, transported to Germany, this version clearly takes place in England).  At the party, there is no other word to describe it: he's the star.  He entertains the children.  He does magic tricks.  And he does this all, with almost no reference to the adults:  he's there for the children.

And calling Clara one of the children is misleading, for she is clearly between two worlds.  When the adults dance, she's called upon, by her father, to join them in that dance. Unlike the adults, however, she receives Christmas presents.  She sits with the children during the magic show, and she is intrigued in the same way  by the magic, the nutcracker, and every other "childish" thing as the younger children are. Drosselmeyer, as we can see from the production, understands that she walks between two worlds. Indeed, in a somewhat humorous  "a lesbian looks at "The Nutcracker,"  piece,  one writer talks about how the theme of "Nutcracker" is Clara moving from girl to woman.  I agree with this.  The same writer allegorizes "Nutcracker" as Drosselmeyer's goal as being "Clara's first man."  I do NOT agree with this.  In my view, Drosselmeyer, like Clara, walks between two worlds.  In more than one way. He walks between the magic, and the mundane.  He walks between what he is, and what people have to pretend he is, ignoring that side of him.  He walks between showing his understanding of Clara's situation, and ignoring it.   And in this, he is like all of us who know we will always be "guncles," and never "DILFs."  Read on.

Later we learn that, more than a magician, Drosselmeyer is a sorcerer.  After the party ends, and he leaves, he returns to the sleeping Clara, in a huge puff of smoke.  He transforms the house into the scene that we associate with "Nutcracker:"  the huge tree, the battle with the mice, the Prince, and the journey to the Snow World.  And Clara of course is with him.  A sorcerer.  A magician.  A transformer.  To the guncles reading this, sound familiar?  To those with guncles, how about you?

This does not sound like straight behavior, does it?  Drosselmeyer is protective, and what one sees in his character, at least in the SF production, is a totally chaste relationship with Clara.  He knows his place.  Don't all of us who are guncles  "know our place?"   So, while he introduces her to what she CAN have, she HAS NONE  of it.  At the end of the fantasy sequence of "Nutcracker" - and this is the part that ALWAYS bothered me - her cavalier prince goes back to his realm, she wakes up, and she has... a nutcracker.   It parallels her uncle/godfather.  He too, has nothing at the end.  Indeed, compared to Clara, he has less than nothing: in this production, Clara wakes up to her nutcracker, and her mother's embrace.  Drosselmeyer is gone:  he behaves the way a good guncle should.  He's done his job:  he took care of her, and the children.  He's gone.  Until he gets invited back again. Probably to a big party.  Certainly not to an intimate dinner.  Unless he gives one.

If you fill the role of "guncle"  (and you know who you are), you will recognize much of this.  And you may be shaking your head and wondering "what do I do?"  I wish I knew.  If, on the other hand, you HAVE a guncle - and you know who you are too - maybe you need to ask yourself about that relationship, and how your "guncle" or "guncles" feel.  Surely they love you, and nothing is going to change that.  But if you have "guncles" and you also have "DILFs," ask yourself what puts one man in one column, and the other in the other.  And think how it may impact their knowing how you think of them.  I can't speak for how DILFs feel, for the reasons above, but I'm sure someone out there will react and say  "I wish someone treated me as their guncle."  Maybe not.  But this is a work in progress.    I'm not ready to say  "don't call me "guncle anymore," but do think about it.  It does hurt sometime.  

And here's the ballet. It's worth seeing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9eUYZBo66A


Of Guncles, and Ballet


From The Urban Dictionary:  DILF:  A dad you'd like to fuck

Also from The Urban Dictionary:  Guncle: A noun used to identify a non-related gay male who is regarded as an "honorary uncle" by his friends and their children. Often used as a term of endearment.



The difference between a DILF and a guncle is  that a DILF is someone you invite out  to dinner, and a guncle is someone who makes dinner for you." 
No recipe or story this time, gang.  A bit of a think piece.  A bit of a rant.  A bit of a cry out loud.

In her alternate role, Annalena is regarded as a Guncle by many.  He hears the phrase  "Guncle, I just  wish I could hug you right now."  Yes, often.  He does not hear himself referred to as as a DILF.    Ever.  Annalena supposes that the comments  about "guncle"  "hugging"  etc, are meant to be endearing, and they are sincere.  Not unlike the comments he gets when mother's day comes along, and the "Happy Mother's Day" messages come in.  Cute.  Adorable.  
It  truly does seem to be the lot in life for many of us:  yes , "DILF" is all over the place, and we are all familiar with typical  "DILFs."  Indeed, like Guncles, who do not have to be uncles, "DILFS" don't have to be dads.  You all have your favorite:  is it perhaps Anderson Cooper?  Who could blame you?    There is actually a website that lists the 25 top DILFs  .  Look for something similar, for "guncles."  Find any ?  
If any of this sounds bitter, ragazzi, that's because it is.  I will not speak of my own experiences directly here:  in other words, I will not call anyone out, or quote anyone, other than the reference to "I just want to give you a hug."   And really, think about it for a minute:  the emphasis, while not stated, is on "JUST," as in  "that's as far as it goes." 
Why is that?  I have been thinking about this at great length, since rewatching my favorite version of "The Nutcracker" (there is a link at the end of this piece).  Now, some background:  I did not see "Nutcracker" until I was in my early 30s.  And I was STUNNED.  I thought it had a happy ending.  Really, it does not:  our heroine does not get her prince.  And in the  version I first saw (American Ballet Theatre with Gelsey Kirkland, and Baryshnikov), I was very, VERY creeped out by the very salacious uncle, who clearly had designs on Clara.  
The original "Nutcracker" does not use an "uncle."  The character, "Drosselmeyer" , in the original, is the godfather to Clara and her brother.  Today, we think of "godfather" in a very particular way; however, in the time of E.T.A. Hoffmann, who wrote the story, a "godfather" had a very serious, important place in the family.  I think that when we see the ballet now, we immediately jump to the idea that he's an uncle.  A single uncle.  No one ever meets a wife, or girlfriend of this man.  He's always eccentric.  Frequently ugly, or misformed, in older productions ,in the San Francisco ballet production, and more and more in other modern productions,this changes, and   one could argue that he's hot in a punk kind of way:  

In this production, as you'll see, he wears an eyepatch.  Again, this is showing up, more and more in modern productions.  This being ballet, we don't know how he got it.  But what we do know, from the early part of the production, is that he's a kind, generous man.  He makes the nutcracker for Clara (the original has him make it for BOTH she and her brother).  He keeps his store (he's a clockmaker), open late, to sell a toy to a last minute shopping mom.  And on the way to the Christmas party (which he attends alone), he buys flowers from a flower girl, and gives them to a Nanny, and two nuns, who are all out walking.  (While the Nutcracker story seems to be French, transported to Germany, this version clearly takes place in England).  At the party, there is no other word to describe it: he's the star.  He entertains the children.  He does magic tricks.  And he does this all, with almost no reference to the adults:  he's there for the children. 

And calling Clara one of the children is misleading, for she is clearly between two worlds.  When the adults dance, she's called upon, by her father, to join them in that dance. Unlike the adults, however, she receives Christmas presents.  She sits with the children during the magic show, and she is intrigued in the same way  by the magic, the nutcracker, and every other "childish" thing as the younger children are. Drosselmeyer, as we can see from the production, understands that she walks between two worlds. Indeed, in a somewhat humorous  "a lesbian looks at "The Nutcracker,"  piece,  one writer talks about how the theme of "Nutcracker" is Clara moving from girl to woman.  I agree with this.  The same writer allegorizes "Nutcracker" as Drosselmeyer's goal as being "Clara's first man."  I do NOT agree with this.  In my view, Drosselmeyer, like Clara, walks between two worlds.  In more than one way. He walks between the magic, and the mundane.  He walks between what he is, and what people have to pretend he is, ignoring that side of him.  He walks between showing his understanding of Clara's situation, and ignoring it.   And in this, he is like all of us who know we will always be "guncles," and never "DILFs."  Read on.

Later we learn that, more than a magician, Drosselmeyer is a sorcerer.  After the party ends, and he leaves, he returns to the sleeping Clara, in a huge puff of smoke.  He transforms the house into the scene that we associate with "Nutcracker:"  the huge tree, the battle with the mice, the Prince, and the journey to the Snow World.  And Clara of course is with him.  A sorcerer.  A magician.  A transformer.  To the guncles reading this, sound familiar?  To those with guncles, how about you?

This does not sound like straight behavior, does it?  Drosselmeyer is protective, and what one sees in his character, at least in the SF production, is a totally chaste relationship with Clara.  He knows his place.  Don't all of us who are guncles  "know our place?"   So, while he introduces her to what she CAN have, she HAS NONE  of it.  At the end of the fantasy sequence of "Nutcracker" - and this is the part that ALWAYS bothered me - her cavalier prince goes back to his realm, she wakes up, and she has... a nutcracker.   It parallels her uncle/godfather.  He too, has nothing at the end.  Indeed, compared to Clara, he has less than nothing: in this production, Clara wakes up to her nutcracker, and her mother's embrace.  Drosselmeyer is gone:  he behaves the way a good guncle should.  He's done his job:  he took care of her, and the children.  He's gone.  Until he gets invited back again. Probably to a big party.  Certainly not to an intimate dinner.  Unless he gives one. 

If you fill the role of "guncle"  (and you know who you are), you will recognize much of this.  And you may be shaking your head and wondering "what do I do?"  I wish I knew.  If, on the other hand, you HAVE a guncle - and you know who you are too - maybe you need to ask yourself about that relationship, and how your "guncle" or "guncles" feel.  Surely they love you, and nothing is going to change that.  But if you have "guncles" and you also have "DILFs," ask yourself what puts one man in one column, and the other in the other.  And think how it may impact their knowing how you think of them.  I can't speak for how DILFs feel, for the reasons above, but I'm sure someone out there will react and say  "I wish someone treated me as their guncle."  Maybe not.  But this is a work in progress.    I'm not ready to say  "don't call me "guncle anymore," but do think about it.  It does hurt sometime.    

And here's the ballet. It's worth seeing. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9eUYZBo66A



Sunday, November 6, 2016

When life gives you cauliflower, make cauliflower parmagiana



 


Some of you may have noticed that Annalena has been a little obsessed with cauliflower as of late.  She confesses to that.  Apparently, her obsession IS shared, as she saw one article that referred to cauliflower as "the new kale."  Well, Annalena could not be happier about that, since kale is not one of her favorites, by any stretch of the imagination.

There have been periods in Annalena's life when she simply COULD NOT STAND cauliflower, to the point where looking at it would make her ill. Well, clearly that has changed.

Recently, Melissa Clark, one of Annalena's favorite food writers, posted this recipe.  She pointed out that cauliflower is with us through the winter (indeed it is), whereas Annalena's beloved eggplant is going to be gone very soon. So, for those of you who are trying to eat closer to the source, here we go.  Annalena will point out, along the way, where she used local products.  She will also announce, at the start , that this recipe presupposes that you have tomato sauce on hand.  If you do not, why not?  And if you do not, MAKE SOME.  Annalena has given you several recipes on this blog, you can look up Marcella's superb and simple recipe, and you can make it from other recipes as well.  You will need at least a quart, a quart and a half is  better.

First, we start with the cauliflower.  Annalena used her favorite golden cauliflower, but you should fee free to use white, or green.  She is not too sure about the purple one.
Use a BIG one - 3 pounds or so.  Cut it into florets, but not dainty ones:


You are going for something the size of  a small meatball.  Also, because you will be frying, and it is harder to fry something round than it is to fry something flat, and you already have to deal with all the crenulations on the cauliflower,  slice the florets in half as best as you can. 

We now set up Annalena's modified fry station.  Here, we are using the classic formula for parmagiana, of flour, egg, and bread crumbs.  If you are cramped for kitchen space (who isn't), you can avoid the full set up, by putting your cauliflower in a bag, with 1/2 cup of well seasoned unbleached flour.  Half a cup is all you need.  It's much more important that the bag be big enough, and not have a hole in it:

You can put that aside while you beat four large eggs with a little salt in a large plate or bowl, and pour 3 cups of bread crumbs into another one.  Put some salt there.  Have a tray  ready to receive all of the cauliflower as you coat it, and preheat your oven to 400. 

Now, here we go. Shake that cauliflower in that bag.  Take out a few pieces at a time, and dip them in the egg.  Dip them completely.  Then, move them to the breadcrumbs, and roll them to coat.  A pair of kitchen tongs is a big help here, but it is not at all necessary:

Because we have coated these guys with breadcrumbs, we can take a break if we want to.  We will continue here, however.  You need to put about 1/2 cup of oil into a big pan, and here, you can and should use olive oil.  The cauliflower is not going to cook for very long, smoke point will not be an issue, and your dish will taste SO  much better. 

You can tell when the oil  is hot enough to fry, via a very simple test.  Take a kitchen implement with a wooden handle, and turn it upside down in the oil.  Watch for bubbles to form around the wood.  Little tiny ones.  When that happens, it's ready. 

As observed, fry these a few at a time:

If your oil is hot enough, they will brown very quickly, and you should turn them over, and on their side, to get them completely brown:


At a distance, it is very hard NOT to think these are pieces of chicken breast.  But they are not.  

We are now going to assemble the dish. Get a 9x13 non reactive (non metallic) pan, and put about a cup of sauce into it.  Then add 1/3 cup of grated parmesan.  Now add half the cauliflower.  Put about half a pound of small pieces of mozzarella on this, and add more parmesan. 


A very quick digression on the mozzarella here.  It can be mind boggling as to the different kinds of mozzarella there are now.  Annalena used a local mozzarella, made by a farm called Riverine Ranch.  It is buffalo, firm, and not too salty. That is what you want.  This will be the least expensive variety of mozzarella you will find: sometimes called "fior di latte."  Save the burrata and other fancier ones, for salad.  

So you've layered sauce, cauliflower, mozzarella, and parmesan.  Now put down another couple of cups of sauce, and then the rest of the cauliflower.  What you'll find is that the cauliflower sort of "sorts" itself and fills in the spaces.  That's those crenulations gang.  You finish off with  more mozzarella, more sauce, and finish with parmesan. 

Get this into the oven, for forty minutes.  You are going to get something which looks, at least to Annalena, like meatball parmesan (which is American, not Italian):

This certainly looks like something Annalena wants to eat, and it is. She can't wait.    

So if you have your non vegan vegetarian to feed, who doesn't fear the "warning: this cheese contains dairy," you're in business.  

Make it ragazzi.  You will LOVE it. 

Sweeter than you think: chicken with 40 cloves of garlic


Well, ragazzi, to say this has been a week is to understate things.  Let us have a show of hands:  how many of you, when you saw that you were going to be able to sleep for an extra hour today (as daylight savings time ended), thought it wasn't nearly enough?    This political campaign has pushed us all to our limits and then beyond them.  Annalena has been called names on her beloved facebook that she hasn't been called since a schoolchild.  And she learned, last week, that physicians are prescribing medicines for "pre election stress syndrome."  It seems perfectly justified.  Annalena was stood up on a "date" (not really, but a meeting she should not have planned).  And the finale, at least for Annalena, was to see that cheese now bears the warning  :"caution.  Contains dairy products."

We are now at the point where we have to label cheese to warn the lactose intolerant.  Where have we come to, carini?  Annalena is more than flummoxed.

Fortunately, she has a place to hide:  her kitchen. And food blogs, and recipes.  Recenty, she started reading the blog of David Leite  ("Leitesculinaria.com") from which this recipe comes.  He is a marvelous racconteur my lovelies (that does NOT mean he is a raccoon), and his recipes are nice and solid.

Annalena made this one, and she will tell you in all seriousness:  you can make this in a littlemore than an hour, and your work time, is really, really  short.   You should make this.  You really should.

First, as Annalena is doing lately, your ingredients:

What you see there are three pounds of chicken thighs - 13 of them.  You see a bit of wine, a bit of stock, some butter, thyme - and 40 (that's right, 40 ) cloves of garlic.  

Some comments on these ingredients:  why all thighs, and not chicken parts?  Annalena's regular readers can answer this, but to review: think about what a free range chicken does all day:  she walks.   In that respect, she and Annalena have something in common.  The leg muscles get stronger,  and tougher, and more blood vessels form. And that is why we have "dark meat."

Now think of that same chicken's breast, standing out in front of her proudly:  and doing nothing.  The breasts are tender, and white, and if you try to cook them the same way as you cook legs or thighs, you will overcook them. And if you try to cook the thighs and legs the way you cook the breasts, you will undercook them.  So, for uniformity, stick with one style.  Also, that way no one can complain  "No, my favorite part is gone so I'll go hungry."  (In this age of privilege, we have all heard it).

Now, about those 40 cloves of garlic.  In a bulb of garlic, Annalena gets 5-6 cloves.  Hence, she needed 7-8 bulbs.  It is NOT that hard to peel them.  If you use a garlic cannoli;

It is even easier.  If you do not, press on the cloves of garlic gently, with the blade of a large knife, and you will succeed in breaking skin.  Then pop them out (Of course, you COULD also follow the French model  and not peel them.  Annalena will not recommend that. 

You will have salted and peppered your chicken thighs at least an hour before you cook.  And when you do, set your oven  to 350, and get out a non stick pan if you have one.  If you don't, you'll be fine, but don't go too big.  Why?  Because you are cooking with butter, and butter will burn if you give it a surface. 

You are going to add only ONE tablespoon of butter to your pan.  When it melts, fill the pan with the chicken thighs, but do not crowd them.  Probably, you should be doing no more than 5-6 at a time (less, if they are larger). 

Why so little butter?  Well, under that chicken skin is a fair amount of fat.  And as you cook this chicken, you will get more and more fat in the pan, as we will see.  

Sear those thighs for about five minutes on a side, until the skin gets nice and dark:

Before you put them in this pan, turn them and cook for about two minutes. 

Remember Annalena told you about the fat?  Well:

She hopes you can see the half cup of fat that she recovered at the end of cooking the chicken.  That's all the stuff, drained.  

So now, put a fresh tablespoon of butter in that pan, and add your garlic cloves, stirring and tossing, for 2-3 minutes, so as to put some brown on them.  Then, spread them haphazardly, but evenly, on the chicken:
What you will do now, is add 1/3 cup of white wine to your searing pan, to loosen up the brown bits.  Keep stirring.  The wine will evaporate almost immediately.  Then add half a cup of chicken stock, and yet one more tablespoon of butter.  Let this come to a boil, and reduce by about a third.  Pour it over the chicken, and then add a few sprigs of fresh thyme (you could use another herb if you had it). 

At this point, Annalena's recipe caled for slicing up potatoes and cooking them with the chicken.  You could do that, but Annalena preferred not too. Rather, she had a tomato sort of like herself: large, overripe, and giving dirty looks to anyone who passed.  She simply cut that up, and put it over the chicken and garlic, before putting it all in the oven for 45 minutes

You are supposed to eat this garlic, which is very soft and sweet.  Usually, people serve toasted bread and smear the cloves on it.  And if you want to do that, go ahead.  Annalena just picked them up and ate them as they were, but as the adorable deplorables have been telling her all week, she is perverse. 

So, ragazzi, there is our first recipe of the week. There will be more.  Enjoy this one. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Is it caponata? NO. Is it ratatouille? NO. What is it then? Let's call it a good vegetable dish



Ragazzi, Annalena does not think of herself as a stickler for terminology, although maybe she is.  she does like to know what to expect when she's eating, or reading a recipe.  You know this drill, Annalena has written of it before:  if the recipe says "florentine," there is going to be spinach. WHY?  No one knows.  If it says  "au gratin," there's cheese. And it goes on:  if it says "Chinese style," (oh, what a horrible description), there's soy sauce in it.  You know the type of recipes.

But there ARE specific foods which have specific names.  Ratatouille, for example, means eggplant, squash, and tomatoes to Annalena.  PERIOD.  Caponata means eggplant,  capers, tomatoes,  and sweet and sour.  PERIOD.  Yes, there are other things that could be added, but this is it.  "Cacio e pepe," that wonderful simple yet complex  Italian dish, is fresh ground pepper, and (because no one can find true "cacio" anymore), parmesan.  Nothing else. NO, no butter.  NO, not a mixture of pecorino and parmesan.  NO NO NO.

So, this recipe - which is ridiculously simple and wonderfully rewarding,  was advertised as "caponata ratatouille."

HUH????   Now that is a new one on Annalena.    She had no idea what it meant.  In reading through the recipe, it appears that the author, because of the presence of eggplant/tomatoes and zucchini, (in the original recipe), couldn't make up his mind as to what to call it; however, there is no basil in it (always there in ratatouille), and  there are no capers in it (always there in caponata),  so he just made up a name.

Bad, bad bad.  So we are not going to call it either one , ragazzi, we are just going to call it good, and easy.  And now, we're going to make it. And wait until you see the liberties you have with this one.

First, ANNALENA's ingredients:
She writes "Annalena's ingredients," because these are not exactly what the recipe called for.  Indeed, the recipe called for larger tomatoes, so you could cut them in half, and for summer squash, which Annalena did not have.  She did have a small "honey nut" winter squash (about 1/4 the size of butternut squash), and she had "heirloom cherry" tomatoes, which included 2 large tomatoes and a bunch of small ones.  

Look at those ingredients.  You see fennel, yes?  And red peppers.  and chickpeas.  None of these are seen in either ratouille or caponata.  Peppers are seen in Turkish dishes with eggplant, but  Annalena is unaware of the use of fennel or of chickpeas in any of these dishes.  

NO MATTER CARISSIMI.  Let's make this simple dish.  The quantities are flexible:  a pound of eggplant (Annalena used more), two red peppers, an onion,  two medium sized bulbs of fennel, a pound of tomatoes, a pound of zucchini (Annalena used her winter squash), and five cloves of garlic. You should peel the garlic, but you don't have to, as Annalena will explain beow.  

You also see a couple of cups of cooked chickpeas on the side.  If you must, use canned, but do put these in.  

In the original recipe, there was call for peeling small Japanese eggplants. 

As Annalena's former assistant would say  "Get Bent."   If you peel Japanese eggplants, especially small ones,  as with Oakland  "when you get there there's no there there."      Annalena sees no need for doing this.    Do cut large tomatoes up, but don't feel required to do so with small ones.  And if you don't have fresh, drain the juice of a can of plum tomatoes (28 ounces, 32 ounces, WOTEVER), and use these.  

So, preheat  your oven, to 425, while you're cutting all these guys up:


Toss them on a baking sheet with olive oil, and salt, and put them in the oven. Go away for 45 minutes to an hour .  Hold off on the chickpeas.  If you are so inclined, stir them once or twice. 

With this many vegetables, you are not going to get browning, and that's ok.  This is not a dish caling for browning. 

After the baking, dump the vegetables in a bowl, and stir in the chickpeas:

Now we have some fun: WE PICK THE ACCESSORIES.  First,  taste this to see if it needs salt, and add it if it does.  You can finish here and now, but.... Annalena suggests you add some red wine vinegar.  And after that, some honey.  If you do not have honey, use sugar, but BUY SOME HONEY!!!!    And taste again.  If you have them, add some golden raisins.  Annalena did.  If you want to, add some green olives. Annalena did not.  And if you want, squeeze the garlic out of the skin if you were too lazy to peel them. Annalena was, so she did. 

It will be wonderful.  And you're done: