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Archive for December, 2008

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The Boy and I consistently and most seriously acknowledge the fact of his Irish heritage having given him a genetic affinity for potatoes.  While we can’t explain his attraction to curry by such convenient AND INCREDIBLY SCIENTIFIC means, we accept it without question as another certainty of our little life together (Do we like curry?  Uh, is the Pope Catholic?  Does the sun rise in the East?  Does Bad Mama Genny like fishnets?  I rest my case).

Thankfully, potatoes are also excellent budget food, and therefore, were to be a staple of our sobering (in many senses) week of post-Christmas meals.  Meals the week after Christmas tend to involve…innovative…combinations.  Take this morning’s scrambled eggs with hot dog wheels (“Mmm, wheeler-ific!”) or noon-time’s handful of leftover spiced pecans with a swig of grape juice (“Goes down so much smoother than Listerine!”).  So while The Boy and I were naturally okay with the idea of a week of potatoes, we were also bored with the same old standby options.  Enter…

THE MAIL!

You guessed it, my dollies: the mailman, unhindered by rain, sleet, or snow (or in the case of our neighborhood, stoned Mexicans, cantankerous elderly Asian men, or the cat-lady’s many savvy, trained-to-kill, unnecessarily aggressive “kitties,” if we may call them that), saved our day–NAY–our LIVES!  That’s because the mail brought us a Christmas present from the Girl and the Girl II–a Curry Lover’s Gift Box.img_4894

from the Spice House!

!!!

!!!!

I mean, great jumping Jehosephat, that kicks all kinds of ass!

For you poor souls who are unfamiliar with the Spice House, suffice it to say that they are a tiny chain of, well, spice houses that exist only in the greater Chicago/Milwaukee area (but by the magic of the Internet, absolutely anyone can enjoy their wares!).  I’ve managed to spend hours perusing their collections, and have never left disappointed (Spiced cider blend anyone?  Corned beef seasoning?  But of course!  I’ll take fifty!).

So after we got over the initial giddiness from huffing the Double-Strength Vanilla Extract and the Saigon Cassia Cinnamon they also sent us, our thoughts turned, naturally, to potato curry.  A quick survey revealed that we also had peas and carrots, and a dinnertime star was born.

The curry that resulted was beyond good.  If you can’t find a good hot curry powder, or if you’d like to try to work out your own blend, the one from Spice House is hand-mixed from “turmeric, Cayenne red pepper, China No. 1 ginger, Indian cumin, white pepper, cinnamon, fenugreek, fennel, nutmeg, arrowroot, cardamon, cloves, and Tellicherry pepper.”

Stick that in your tandoor and smoke it!

The addition of coconut milk in this recipe keeps things smooth, creamy, and, hellooooo, vegan!  What are you waiting for?  A freaking sign?  Here is your sign, people!  Here is your sign!

SIGN

Thank goodness for the Girl and the Girl II.  Thank goodness for the Spice House.  But really, let’s not forget the real hero here–no, not the potato.  It looks kinda like a potato, though.  That’s right–the mailman.

Thank you, Mr. Mailman–this time, you’ve really managed to deliver! (You still receive no credit for last week’s shredded magazine, though I will grant that the mangled perfume samples made our building’s wretchedly stanky hallway somewhat more bearable.)

Potato Curry with Peas and Carrots
Makes 4 generous servings

Go Get:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon hot curry powder, preferably from the Spice House (the Boy and I like it hot, as I’ve heard some do…use discretion, you may want to add it gradually)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large onions, thinly sliced
8 oz. carrots, thinly sliced
1 1/4 cups frozen peas
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. turmeric
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
1 can coconut milk
1 cup water (you may need more)

Go Do:
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. When hot, add the hot curry powder and stir it around for 30 seconds. Add the onions to the pan and saute until they are tender and a bit golden. When you’re there, add the carrots, potatoes, and minced garlic. Give it all a good stir, and then add about a half cup each of water and coconut milk. Stir in the turmetic, salt, and coriander. Reduce the heat to low and cover it. Check every so often to stir the pot and check the moisture level. When the moisture is almost all absorbed, add more coconut milk and water, in equal parts. Continue to cook, stir, and add liquid until the vegetables are very tender and the curry is nice and thick. At this point, taste it to check that the spice levels are where you like them. When you’re there, stir in the peas and the rest of the coconut milk (and water if necessary), and cook it for another 3 minutes or so, until the peas are heated through and the curry thickens up again. Serve over brown rice.

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Stollen is one of those classic holiday recipes that is perhaps comparable to a mysterious foreigner named Gregor, or Maurice– just approachable enough so that everyone will try it, but also vaguely ethnic-sounding, naturally rendering it impressive.  Many recipes call for candied peel and candied cherries–that’s right, those day-glo bright fruits that only make themselves known on store shelves for the few weeks preceding Christmas.  My recipe uses homemade candied clementine and lemon peel, because your BMG hates her life and wanted to know what it would feel like to be put to work in a Russian gulag.

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You’ll also find plump, dried bing cherries, among other delicious fruity additions.  Some people like to put a rope of marzipan in the middle of theirs, and I was about to myself, but decided last-minute that I liked the stollen just as it was.  You can go your own way.

Go your own waaaaay.  You can call it anoooother lonely da–

I’m done, I promise!

In other words, this recipe bears absolutely no resemblance to the glue-ey brick of fruit and nuts magically held together by high-fructose corn syrup and marvelously capable of holding down even the peskiest of flyaway papers on your desk.  It will, undoubtedly, change your life, give you newfound confidence, cure male-pattern baldness, and get that cute boy in the next cubicle to notice you.

But if those reasons aren’t enough to convince you, consider the free therapy!  I felt incredibly calm as I violently abused dough the day before we were to make a 14 hour exodus by car out of New York and toward our Chicago homeland.  In fact, I exorcised so much of my inherent rage that The Boy could hardly recognize the blissed-out, bovine-eyed, sloppy-grinned Christmas elf who had replaced The BMG.

Behold the power of dough.  Or, you know, the wine I was sucking down.  Could go either way, really.

I recommend giving stollen-making a try when your holiday dose of Prozac just isn’t cutting it, or perhaps just after you remember that going home for the holidays means actually having to hang out with your family.  Stollen is like that–fits in everywhere.

Merry Christmas, you lovely, stressed-out lil’ misfits!

Holiday Stollen
Makes 2 regular-size loaves or 8 little loaves

Go Get:
1 1/3 cups warm, whole milk yogurt (NOT hot); (you can also use milk or almond milk)
milk (cow, soy, almond, whatever) for brushing the loaves
2 T. active dry yeast
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar, plus some for dusting on top
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter (or Earth Balance for you DF misfits)
5 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten (if you don’t have or don’t want to use this, use bread flour instead of all-purpose; I like it because it gives the bread excellent lift and a beautiful, chewy texture, even with all those fruits weighing it down)
2/3 cup currants
1 cup dried cherries
2/3 cup raisins (can use golden)
1 cup candied lemon and orange peel (I made my own to avoid the junky stuff sold at the grocery store; I used this recipe, using clementines instead of oranges)
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons Jamaican allspice
2 teaspoons Saigon cinnamon

Go Do:
Dissolve the yeast in the yogurt and let it sit until it’s a bit frothy, maybe about ten or fifteen minutes.

Cream the butter, salt, and sugar together, then beat in the eggs and the yeast mixture.  In another bowl, whisk together the flour, vital gluten, ginger, allspice, and cinnamon.  Throw about five cups of that mixture into the yeast mix, and beat it until the flour is incorporated.  Slowly add the rest of the flour mixture in small amounts, beating well after each addition.  Once you’ve got a workable dough, flour a work surface and knead it until it’s smooth.  Spread the dough out into a rough rectangle and fold in one of the fruits.  Fold the dough in half and press to seal the ends and “trap” the fruit in the dough.  Then knead as usual.  Repeat with all the other fruits and peel, and knead thoroughly until everything is well-distributed.

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Place the dough in a lightly-buttered bowl and cover it with a damp kitchen linen.  Set it in a warm place and…you know what to do.  Let it sit there for about two hours or so, until it’s doubled in volume, while you go do something else.

I recommend running into the street while holding your half-consumed bottle of wine and screaming “I’M MAKING STOLLEN, BITCHES!” at the passerby.  But that’s just me.

When the dough is ready, punch it down to deflate it, and plop it onto a lightly floured work surface.  Divide the dough into two halves (or, into 8 mini loaves).  Place the dough pieces onto a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment, and shape them into loaf-like beings.  Cover these guys with another damp cloth and let them sit in a warm place until they double again, probably another 60-90 minutes.

When your babies are ready, brush them with some milk and sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar.  If you don’t like this part, you can leave it out, or you can sprinkle them when they’re hot out of the oven.  Alternatively, you can wait until they cool and use powdered sugar.  My family always preferred the crunch of the grainy stuff.  Preheat the oven to 350, and when it’s ready, put the loaves in and bake them for about ten minutes.  Then drop the heat to 300 and bake them for another half hour to forty-five minutes, until they’re golden.  Watch the bottoms on these–they will generally be the best indicator of how done the bread is.  Of course, the bread should also sound hollow when you tap it.  When you’re there, take them out of the oven and remove them to a cooling rack.  Voila!

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It all started with three dollars.

‘Twas the night before payday,
and all through the place,
not a crumb of food lurked,
no way to stuff my misfit face.

So after taking inventory of the kitchen (organic cocoa, Kashi cereal, spices, 8-10 edamame pods…seriously?), Bad Mama Genny and The Boy set off in search of dinner with nothing but hope and three dollars.

That’s right, misfits, we were, how you say, “living on a prayer.”

After considering the familiar options (one and a half tacos from the taco truck, or perhaps a bottle of malt liquor and a package of expired fried plantains from the “grocery/deli” that actually offers zero deli meat), we decided to venture into the unknown, to take a risk and hang our hopes upon a star!

A red star, to be exact.  Chinatown, bitches.

No, no, not the ridiculous, touristy Chinatown in Manhattan, where frightening old Asian ladies lurk around every corner, ready to offer you an imitation Coach bag at half the price of a real one.  I’m talking Flushing–the more authentic, cheaper, and arguably better Chinatown.  There is a bus that will take you back and forth between Chinatowns–I imagine you could ride it all day if you wanted, enjoying loop after endless loop of Chino-trippy overstimulation…but I don’t want, so I won’t, but you misfits should tell me if you ever do it yourselves!

But I digress.

Dinner was found that night, my fellow underpaid, underfed, city lurking misfits…with CHANGE TO MOTHERFUCKING SPARE WHAT WHAT!!

A steamed bun, as big as two fists, stuffed with pork and vegetables, endowed with glutenous joy that is at once both fluffy and chewy, and ONLY SIXTY CENTS!  For those of you who might wish to recreate this experience, try the dumpling shop under the LIRR tracks, on 41st Ave, at the corner of Main St., across from Starbucks.  The Boy and I hurriedly collected several buns from the bun-lady, ran back to the car, and savored every last cent-worth of our dinner in the warm car as we watched screaming feral cats and passerby scurry about in the freezing air.   Then we joined them.

The passerby, not the cats.  Next time.

The hours that followed took us on a journey down Main St., bopping in and out of bakeries, observing, though not purchasing, other items for sale ($0.95 for a chocolate nut pastry?  Who do they think we are, like, people who just got paid?  Chya!), and checking out the booths set up by anti-Communist groups hoping to find converts to their cause.

As we walked by each booth, I took care to wear the face of one who was interested in and approving of the message, but who had coincidentally already been converted by the last guy.

When The Boy and I were finally ready to end our adventure and scurry home (edamame cocoa, anyone?), we were chilled to the bone, rosy-cheeked, and busting with the sense of having discovered some secret place–sort of like The Secret Garden, but with concrete instead of a garden, and you visit a bun-lady instead of a sickly handicapped boy, and to get into the garden–I mean bun shop–you need sixty cents instead of a special key…also, there are  Communists instead of British people.  So not at all like The Secret Garden.  Whatever, clearly, my point is that I was inspired me to make wonton soup.  Clearly.

Wonton Soup
Makes a metric shit-ton

Go Get:
1 lb. ground beef (or pork or chicken or whatnot)
approximately 60 wonton wrappers
1 gallon flavorful stock (I had some homemade lamb stock in the freezer)
4 large carrots
4 stalks celery
6 scallions (green onions)
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage (or bok choy, or brussels sprouts…get crafty)
1 egg
salt and pepper
tamari or soy sauce, to taste

Go Do:
Finely chop 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks, 3 scallions, and the garlic, and mix it with the beef, egg, and some salt and pepper. Combine the mixture thoroughly (your hands work well for this).

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Lay out a wonton wrapper and place a scant tablespoon of filling in the center (be careful not to overfill, or the wontons will explode in the broth). Use your finger to moisten all four sides with water and place another wonton on top, squeezing the edges shut to seal them, and working any air bubbles out, if you can.  Repeat with remaining meat mixture until you run out.

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Set the stock over medium heat and cover it.  Slice the remaining carrots, celery, and green onions.  When the stock has begun to boil, add the carrots, celery, and shredded brussels sprouts to the stock and turn the heat down to a simmer.  Then, using a slotted spoon, gently lower the wonton one or two at a time into the broth.

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Let the wontons simmer in the broth over low heat, covered, stirring occasionally (gently) to keep them from sticking together while they cook.  After about 15 minutes, or when the meat mixture appears dark through the wonton, take one out and cut it open.  When done, the meat will have no traces of pink and the vegetables will be crisp-tender.  At this point, turn off the heat and stir in the sliced green onions.  Serve with a splash of tamari or soy sauce stirred into each bowl.  Enjoy!

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Hey, misfits, have I ever told you guys about the time I accidentally got covered, head-to-toe, in fresh risotto?  And then, how I shamefully ate a full cup of it off of myself before trying to clean up?  And after that, how I used to dab myself behind the ears with risotto before going out for dates and special occasions, just to duplicate the scent?!  No?!  I haven’t?!

Well, thanksfully, that never happened.  But I not-so-secretly wish that it had.

I’m a big fan of risotto, especially now that I’ve devised a few shortcuts for when you’re dog-tired, don’t feel like a trip to the store (time that could be spent drinking, people!), and aren’t fussy about making risotto the “real” way.  First, I start with rice that I’ve pre-cooked in seasoned broth.

Calm down, you purists, you!

Second, I do not use arborio rice, as plain old brown rice works just fine.

Oh, relax!

While these two steps are not authentic and will probably not please the risotto authorities that be, you will end up with a damn fine dinner, and if they help you to consume larger quantities of risotto, then by golly, who do these risotto purists think they are?!  Who?!

No, seriously…who are the purists?  And where do they hang out?  I always wanted to meet one.  (Are they different from Puritans?  Do they not dance?  Dance a little?  Dance only by the book?  Is there a dancing book?)

This isn’t to say that recipes and cookbooks and rules and such don’t have a place–of course they do.  I have what the DSM IV would probably call a clinical addiction to cookbooks.  And if you don’t approach a new food with a bit of humility, you won’t learn something new, and it’ll be harder to strike out on your own with confidence.  But if you have a tendency to let perfectionism paralyze you, you’ll have to make a conscious effort to keep your sense of fun and adventure about you as you cook.

After all, no one ever shed serious tears over a cookie that had way more than the recommended dosage of chocolate chips in it.  Or if there are such people…they must be way boring to party with, no?

And remember, you can just forget what the purists say about risotto–it can, and does, make one hell of a perfume!

Shortcut Pumpkin Bacon Risotto
Makes about 4 servings if you don’t ladle it over yourself, substantially fewer if you do

Ingredients:
3 cups cooked rice
3-5 cups seasoned broth (or do as I do and use half broth, half wine)
olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
3 thick slices all-natural, nitrite-free bacon, diced
About 1 cup pureed pumpkin (I roasted and pureed my own pumpkin, but canned will work fine as well)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. Jamaican Allspice (preferably from The Spice House)
1/4 tsp. Saigon Cinnamon (preferably from The Spice House)
1/2 Tablespoon dried parsley
salt
pepper

Directions:
Put the broth in a pot on the stove and keep it at a nice, gentle simmer.  In a large saucepan, heat a small splash of olive oil and the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and bacon, and sautee, stirring occasionally, until the bacon begins to render its fat, but before it’s crispy or dark.
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At this point, stir in the rice and cook it, stirring constantly, until the rice takes on a golden color.  Add two ladles or so of hot stock, and stir constantly until the rice has absorbed almost all the liquid.  Add another ladle-full and repeat the process.  When the rice mixture is just short of creamy (see picture; you may or may not have to add another ladle to get it there, depending on the rice you used), add your pumpkin and another ladleful of stock.

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Stir gently to combine, and add the allspice, cinnamon, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to stir until the risotto has a creamy and tender (though not mushy) consistency.  You’re done!  We actually topped this with a drizzle of black truffle oil, but it’s delicious as is, served along with a bowl of delicate greens.

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Misfits, your Bad Mama Genny is a pretty happy person, generally speaking.  Sometimes, however, there are…dark…things that haunt me.

Problems that seem to multiply when my back is turned, and then I whip around, hoping to catch them in action, thinking that if I’m fast enough, clever enough, I can outwit them, I can halt their progress–but I’m always just a second too late, turning a moment after all evidence is gone, left only with a distinct chill, and the knowledge that things will only continue to creep up behind me…

Naturally, the chill of which I speak is, of course, that of the freezer, and the nagging creep-up is that of bags and bags of leftover almond pulp.

Naturally.

Allow me to backtrack.  I don’t drink cow’s milk since I’m a lactard.  And while I currently just swallow my pride and drink Almond Breeze Unsweetened Almond Milk (a small price to pay for my sanity), there was a time when I would routinely make my own almond milk.  The process, for those of you who are BLISSFULLY FUCKING UNFAMILIAR, involves soaking your almonds for hours, blending them with water, and then straining the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve.

While I do somewhat exaggerate the annoyance of this process, I definitely am not overemphasizing the difficulty of finding uses for the leftover, strained-out almond pulp that remains.  I, like many who make their own almond milk, have spent embarrassing amounts of time Googling potential uses for the stuff, which is still too viable and, let’s be honest, too damn expensive to just chuck into the trash.   Popular ideas found online include making cookies out of it, blending it into a dip, and making pie crusts with it.

I now take a deep sense of pride in being able to say that I’ve added to that illustrious list with my newest recipe–Almond Pulp Marzipan!  Yes, that’s right, folks–I’ve taken a healthy product, utilized most often by vegans and raw food enthusiasts, and CRAMMED IT FULL OF SUGAR just in time for the holidays!

Fly me to the friggin’ moon!

So what to do with your rustic marzipan?  I carefully wrapped and froze mine to use in making holiday stollen breads, but not before ingesting what probably amounted to several hefty spoonfuls (and I got a lot of work done in the eighteen sleepless hours that followed!  HAVE I MENTIONED THAT MARZIPAN IS BASICALLY DAYQUIL IN SOLID FORM?!?!?!

The end result here isn’t the same creamy beige as a traditional marzipan, as it’s studded with little almond skin reminders, but I actually like it just fine this way.  It’s still just perfect for filling cakes and breads, dipping into chocolate, or keeping you up at night, and really, who could ask for anything more from their marzipan?  While this stuff isn’t ideal for making little lifelike fruits, I daresay it would make very lifelike marzipan smallpox victims!

What?

Enjoy, but remember this: use all of your almond pulp in this recipe, or you just might throw open the freezer a second too late one day, feeling so cold, so alone, and so so foolish for trusting the almond pulp not to reproduce behind closed freezer doors.

**Smallpox victims not your style?  Already made enough to recreate France’s last epidemic?  Why not swirl little chunks of this marzipan into the nondairy ice cream of your choice (coconut!) a la this recipe?  I’d add coarsely chopped almonds, too.**

Marzipan (from leftover almond pulp)
Makes more marzipan than any normal person probably needs, or enough for a small army of smallpox victims

Go Get:
About 4, maybe 4 1/2 cups of almond meal (dehydrate your almond pulp or dry it out in a 200 oven, then grind it into a fine flour using a food processor–this is almond meal)
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon almond extract (I like my marzipan really almond-y; you can leave this out if you like)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
Powdered sugar, for kneading

Go Do:
Set up an ice water bath in a large bowl. Set aside. In a large saucepot or Dutch oven, combine the sugar and water–stir it over medium heat until it dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil and throw a cover on it. Let it go for about two minutes, then insert a candy thermometer and let it boil until it reaches 240F degrees, or what candy makers refer to as the “soft-ball” stage. When it hits this temperature, remove the pan from the heat and drop it into the ice water bath. Use a whisk to beat the solution while it cools down–after a few minutes, it will become thick and a bit foggy. When this happens, return the pot to the stove and mix in the almond meal, egg whites, and almond extract. Put a low heat under the pot and stir until all the ingredients are well-combined and have formed a thick dough.

At this point, put a generous amount of powdered sugar on a clean table or countertop. Use the spoon to plop your marzipan mixture onto the sugared surface. Dust your hands with another generous helping of sugar, and when the mixture is cool enough to handle, begin to knead the mixture. You will need to continuously add more sugar to keep the marzipan from sticking to you or the counter. When the dough is thick, firm, and not so ungodly sticky that you can’t touch it without walking away with it attached to you, then you’ve got marzipan! At this point, you can keep it tightly wrapped or in an airtight container in the fridge (it lasts for a while due to the high sugar content).  The marzipan, unlike the almond pulp, will not reproduce while you’re not watching. Unfortunately.

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