Sunday, November 30, 2008

    Two Thanksgivings

    Thanksgiving came early this year. My in-laws visited the weekend before, and we celebrated a Faux Thanksgiving. Whole Foods provided the turkey; brussels (I fell in love with them years ago thanks to WF due to the way they roast and almost burn them); rolls; sweet and mashed potatoes; gravy, cranberry sauce with citrus; cherry pie with vanilla bean ice cream; red wine; and prosecco that I added pomegranate seeds to for a festive cocktail. I'd never deseeded a pom before, and the kitchen looked like bloody murder afterwards! (Note: check out this video for a slightly less messy but seemingly more complicated way to deseed poms. I think I'll stick with my way!)

    I also made fried green tomatoes with panko for my Northern in-laws; a pumpkin seed pesto cause Jon loves everything pumpkin; and a straight-from-the-cranberry-bag recipe for basic cranberry sauce for my citrus-averse husband.

    As is most's tradition, for the next few days, we ate turkey sandwiches, turkey curry casserole, and turkey salad. Thus, on Thanksgiving proper, Jon and I traveled to Key Largo, where we avoided turkey like the plague and instead gobbled blackened mahi sandwiches, conch fritters, key lime pie, and pina coladas.

    Sunday, November 16, 2008

    Back in the Kitchen

    As I continue to heal, I've begun to regain my "kitchen legs." Less than a year ago, when my fridge only had condiments and take-out, I never imagined I'd say this, but I actually love to cook. It's helping me regain my confidence, creativity, and focus, as well as comforting me.

    Over the last couple of weeks, I was visited by Alesa and Nicky, two of my very best, dear, energetic, kitchen-savvy friends, and we cooked up a storm: juicy whole chicken roasted over parsnips, onions and carrots that were pure flavor explosion; garlicky, rich baba ghanoush; cornmeal fried okra and squash (okra is out of season so we used frozen, and the squash was a lot better than I expected); quinoa salad with shitakes; low-fat pumpkin muffins (from a streusel muffin mix -- we substituted pumpkin puree for the eggs and milk); lasagna; chicken casserole; and turkey chili (recipe below). The last four are freezable, which means that not only did I get to enjoy making the meals with my friends, but I also have a freezer overflowing with individually contained meals for two. Just add salad, wine, husband, and voila!

    Today I'm alone at home resting and enjoying writing while watching the New Orleans rain, but I couldn't resist a little kitchen time. I made the following because I didn't want the last unused squash to go to waste. It turned out very well:

    Jennifer's Fall Leftovers Gratin

    (Ingredients vary, & might include: breadcrumbs, store-bought pumpkin puree, fresh squash, Fuji apples, olive oil, garlic powder, salt, pepper, cinnamon, & nutmeg.)

    -Heat olive oil at medium-warm in saute pan.
    -Chop 1 squash & 1 apple (amount of both are to your taste).
    -Add squash & apple to pan. Stir in your preferred combination of garlic powder, salt, pepper, cinnamon, & nutmeg. Let sit on low for about 10 min.
    -If you're using fresh bread, on a cutting board, tear apart or chop bread into small pieces (to texture preference). I used about 3-4 cups of homemade breadcrumbs, which came from the bread leftover from a takeout dinner at Ignatius the other night, which is essentially French bread. It wasn't actually stale yet, though it would've been A.O.K. if it had been. You could also use pre-bought breadcrumbs, or my favorite, whole wheat Panko).
    -In small bowl, mix crumbs with olive oil, olive oil, garlic powder, salt, pepper, cinnamon, & nutmeg (to taste).
    -Add squash mixture to slightly oiled (I use Pam) small baking dish. Add a layer of breadcrumbs, then smooth out a layer of pumpkin puree, then the rest of the breadcrumbs.
    -Bake at 400 degrees for 30 min, or until top breadcrumbs are the texture/color you like.

    As mentioned above: Turkey Chili Mole With White Beans & Corn

    -1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    -2 medium onions, chopped (I used the food processor as it's so easy, though I still wore onion goggles due to my "smell of raw onions" allergy.)
    -1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (Recipe calls for it, but I didn't have, don't like it much, didn't use.)
    -1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
    -1 1/2 lbs. lean ground turkey (Oops, I misread the recipe before going to the grocery, so mine only has 1 lb. this time: hence, the amounts are in bold here.)
    -1+ tablespoon chili powder (To taste)
    -1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (To taste: I added much more.)
    -1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (Again, to taste. Coupled with the cinnamon, the powder gives it a rich, mole-like flavor, unlike any chili I've eaten.)
    -2 bay leaves
    -1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    -1 28-oz can whole tomatoes; if you want it thicker, add more.
    -3 cups beef stock or broth (1 can or more, to taste, pending on desired thickness.)
    -1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
    -3 15 oz cans small white beans, rinsed & drained (Pending thickness of soup you could add more or less.)
    -1 can unsweetened corn

    -Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions & saute until light brown & tender, about 10 min.
    -Add cumin, stir 1 min (Add oregano here too if you're using it.)
    -Increase heat to medium-high. Add turkey, stir until no longer pink, break with back of spoon.
    -Stir in chili powder, bay leaves, cocoa powder, salt & cinnamon.
    -Add tomatoes with their juices, break with back of spoon. (You can also cut them when it's done cooking, or leave them whole like I did last night.)
    -Mix in stock & tomato sauce. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, simmer 45 min. (top on), stirring occasionally.
    -Add beans & corn. Simmer until flavors blend, about 15-20 minutes. Discard bay leaves.

    Bon Appetit!

    Sunday, November 02, 2008

    More Than Just "Some Pig" With "Cheese in the Eye"

    As I ease back into living in New Orleans, and life itself, I am equally joyful and hopeful; hungry for new experiences; happy for the fall sun that cinematically shines through our kitchen and hall windows; delighted to again be able do simple things like sit on the floor and scrub until the front of the oven is free of grime; and look forward to one day soon, when I can finally unpack my books, including E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and other childhood favorites like Anne of Green Gables; The Girl With the Silver Eyes (a young girl with extraordinary yet misunderstood abilities); Bella Arabella (a young girl turns into a cat and is taken care of by her own pet cat); Little Women; and Where the Red Fern Grows.

    Clearly there's been a theme in my literature taste since a young age: unusual or strong female protagonists, and remarkable animals. (The most moving book I've read as an adult is The Dogs of Babel. Years later, I can't look at the cover without choking back a sob). I recently had a serious medical issue, and lived post-Gustav in Dallas for 2 months to regain my health, hence the extra dose of nostalgia and emotion, excitement while cleaning the toilet today, and thrill of getting dressed up for Halloween, even if I could only stay out for an hour.

    A few years ago I read a story about "Andy" (better known as E.B. White), as written by his stepson, the author of a quintessential piece in The New Yorker. I've never forgotten it. As a kid, I had no idea White worked regularly with William Shawn at The New Yorker -- all I read of my family's subscription was the cartoons. If I'd known, the future Journalism major in me would've been so envious. Shawn, father of the also famous Wallace Shawn of "My Dinner With Andre" and the inconceivable "battle of wits" scene in "The Princess Bride" fame, is a publishing legend.

    Neither did I know that Andy is the "White" of Elements of Style's Strunk & White (again, as a J-schooler, I doff my hat to Mr. White) and that in 1945 he was involved in a ridiculous war of words, upon publication of Stuart Little, with the New York Public Library's Dept. of Work for Children Superintendent, a former fan who believed White's writing the character of Stuart as a mouse was the work of a "sick man" (at least 4 million copies have sold to date).

    The article also talks about how White was a hypochondriac, and it recounts that one evening, "he clapped one hand to his face in horror...'Got anything for cheese in the eye?' he cried indignantly. The crisis passed and the moment was affectionately filed away, joining...the thousand-odd spoonfuls of soup...forkfuls of salad...that were suddenly halted and inspected midway to his mouth, with the same 'Any clams in this?' A clam had poisoned him once...and the cooks and hostesses of the world, including my mother, were out to lay him low again by the same means."

    Finally, and of utmost importance to me, I now know that White lived on a farm. In the article, his stepson writes, "When the war came, he even took on a cow—the first time he leads her out to the pasture, he writes, he feels 'the way I did the first time I ever took a girl to the theatre'—and his production goals for 1942 were four thousand dozen eggs, ten pigs, and nine thousand pounds of milk."

    The story says that Andy waited to write Charlotte's Web (pub. 1952) "until he had the country stuff in it down by heart. He knew how geese sounded when they were upset, and on what day in the fall the squashes and pumpkins needed to be brought in and put on the barn floor—which is to say that he’d still be himself in writing about it, and would not put in a word that might patronize his audience."

    As a fellow animal lover, during my recent health crisis, I often remembered my experiences as a caretaker for my cat Schuyler. Though I eventually made the difficult but humane decision to put her to sleep, she and I worked together for many years to provide her with a normal feline life. The small victories I achieved (like learning to expertly administer allergy shots), but really more so the mistakes I made (the hypo-allergenic food that was better for her, but which she barely touched in the end), helped me to know what to ask for from my own loving caretakers. (Dark chocolate bars; grilled cheese sandwiches with pickles; Special Sprite, aka Diet Sprite poured into a glass with ice by one of the many somebodies who love me; Sprinkles cupcakes [they really are worth the money; the red velvet are the best I've ever had!]; taco salads; and strawberry/chocolate shakes made with Blue Bell ice cream, for starters).

    As I continue to heal (and cut back on the cupcakes and milkshakes), I'm again starting to think about cat adoption. I'm also on the verge of launching a cat and small dog sitting business, Jellicle Pet Sitting. I'd like to think Andy would have appreciated the T.S. Eliot allusion. That bivalve-fearing man really was, "Some Pig."