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True story: I hate cornbread.  Really.  I know that merely hearing the word “cornbread” has scores of other people fainting in ecstasy.

Do people faint in ecstasy?

Anyway.  I’ve NEVER liked cornbread.  It’s always so dry and crumbly and seems to require an entire glass and a half of water to choke it down.  I’ve tried to like it, really.  But anything that immediately sucks up my mouth juices and asphyxiates me with its corniness is generally not my thing.  In fact, even hearing the word cornbread makes me want to cough and gag.

COOORNbread ::cough::cough::

COOOOOOOORNbread  ::gag::gag::

See?  You misfits always make Bad Mama Genny prove these things to you.

Anyway.  When I saw this recipe for Custard-Filled Cornbread, I immediately dismissed it, after coughing and gagging for a little while.  No way is the cornbread ::cough cough:: gonna trick me, I said to myself.  No way is this tarted up little cornbread ::gag gag:: going to fool me into trying it so it can suck out my mouth juices and kill me with its corniness.  Soooo not falling for that one.

And then I thought some more about custard, and how delicious it is.  Custard doesn’t make me cough OR gag.  In fact, custard makes me sit up and listen.  Custard makes BMG go, “wow.”

And then I was all, what if this cornbread ::cough gag:: is different because of the custard ::wow!::?  What if custard ::wow:: is enough to make me like cornbread ::gag gag::?  Could I become a cornbread gag fan because of some simple custard wow?

I mean, wow.

Then I got a headache.  All the coughing and gagging and wowing.

Then I decided to try the damn thing.  And friends, it is fabulous.

And easy–the batter took all of five minutes to whip together, and the custard forms from a layer of cream that you pour on top right before baking.

Don’t get me wrong–I still hate cornbread :cough:.  But this is not cornbread ::gag::.  This is an effing cornCAKE, my friends.  A cake that you drizzle maple syrup over and eat for four meals a day, as I’m proceeding to do.  A cake that’s just as good with chili and cheese as it is with honey and cream as it is with maple syrup and banana slices.  A cake that’s good hot or cold.

A cake that would never suck out your mouth juices.

Friends, I would never allow your mouth juices to be sucked out.  I just don’t work that way.

Here is the recipe I used, which appears on the fab food blog, “First Look, Then Cook”.  By the way, thanks to my distracted state while I was baking, we now know that this recipe is extremely forgiving, because I accidentally threw in an extra egg, used whole milk yogurt instead of cream, and clumsily splooshed in a little extra vinegar.

So go ahead and enjoy your regular old dry, mouth-juice sucking cornbread ::cough cough  GAG GAG::.  But then eat this custard WOW.  And remember me, friends.

Eat this custard in memory of me.

<lightning bolt striking Bad Mama Genny, Bad Mama Genny smacking the shit out of the lightning bolt, lightning bolt running away with tail betwixt its legs while whining>

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I’m not gonna lie–it is hard to serve most men salad for dinner.

Bad Mama Genny’s inner Gloria Steinem is recoiling at the generalization, but there it is. I think it’s part connotation, part social expectations (a la “real men don’t eat quiche,” which is such bull because I swear I could get Chuck Norris to eat quiche if HE WOULD ONLY RETURN MY PHONE CALLS WHERE ARE YOU CHUCK I’VE BEEN SITTING OUTSIDE YOUR BEDROOM WINDOW FOR LIKE EVER) and part vivid memories of poor salad execution. So when you endeavor to serve your man, or any other skeptic for that matter, a dinner salad, you must remember…

THE ALMIGHTY RULES FOR SERVING SALAD TO MEN:

*Top it with meat. Lots.
*Top it with cheese. Lots.
*Include crunchy bits.  Nuts are good, crumbled tortilla chips and chow mein noodles are better.  I did not invent this logic, I just know it to be true.
*Include a delicious, warm hunk of bread. A low-carb salad just adds insult to injury, and we don’t want to hurt anyone’s big, strong man feelings here.
*Borrow the “sandwich method” from business management school. By that, I mean, flank a salad meal on either side with two extremely beef-a-riffic, man-friendly meals. Examples include: a steak sandwich, chicken wings, a whole side of buffalo, a double cheeseburger with steak fries, a T-bone served to him by you clad in a leopard-print loincloth, a beheaded buffalo passed briefly over an open flame.  Eaten off a stick.  Amidst ambient grunting.
*Act like he’s doing you a huuuuge favor for condescending to eat your salad, and my, isn’t he just the most wonderful, most handsome, most long-suffering The Boy ever? (What you really mean is, you should eat this salad, be grateful for this salad, think this salad is the best salad you have ever eaten in your life, and remember to tell me all of these things while looking at me the way you did the first time we ever met.)

And perhaps the most important rule of all:

*Don’t make it a habit. He will become immediately distrustful of your intentions, and will began to entertain nightmarish fears that you are secretly trying to go vegetarian. Even if your salads are doused in meat. Suffocated by meat. Shrouded by warm, still breathing piles of meaty meat.

You don’t have to take my word for it, either. When he starts breaking out into cold sweats at the grocery store when you pass the tofu, you’ll KNOW Bad Mama Genny was right.

Hey, don’t blame me. I don’t WANT to be right, here, I just am.  It’s my cross to bear.

In any case, this isn’t even the most man-friendly salad dinner I’ve ever made. I believe that one involved copious amounts of barbecued chicken, thick shreds of cheddar cheese, a creamy dressing, and a paper thin layer of lettuce. But really, now. We needed veggies.

The Boy will be just fine. Nobody feel bad for The Boy.

Especially because I split some lovely french rolls to accompany, stuffed them to the gills with double-cream brie, and baked them at 425 until they were oozy and delicious and melt in your mouth oh my god I need a cigarette.

This recipe is so simple and haphazard, which is what makes it great. It’s also what makes it painful to commit to words. Improvise, use what you’ve got on hand, and adjust proportions to your liking.

Then enjoy. Both the salad, and his lame attempts to convince you he’s excited by it.

I know I did.

Strawberry Salad with Baby Greens, Almonds, and Scallops
(I meant to include crumbled goat cheese in this salad, but then discovered that I didn’t have any. Sad, I know. That’s how I settled on the brie-stuffed French rolls…hardly a disappointing switch. Feel free to use whichever you like.)

Makes 2 Servings

Go Get:
2 Romaine hearts, torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup mixed baby greens (mine were from my garden’s thinning. Not that I’m bragging or anything. Except I totally am.)
1/4 cup sliced, dry-roasted almonds
10 strawberries, sliced
20 smallish wild bay scallops, rinsed and patted dry (if I could have, though, I would have opted for just a few giant scallops. They weren’t available.)
garlic powder
pepper
salt
apple cider vinegar
olive oil
fresh basil, or high quality dry (Spice House!)
poppy seeds
mayonnaise

Go Do:
In a shaker bottle or dressing pitcher, mix 1 part apple cider vinegar and 2 parts olive oil. Add poppy seeds, shredded fresh basil, salt, pepper, and enough mayo to make it slightly creamy (but not heavy). Whisk it or shake it, and set aside.

On 2 large plates, arrange the Romaine pieces. Then layer on the baby greens. Next lay on the strawberries and almonds. (Told you this was easy.) Lightly drizzle dressing over both plates.

Sprinkle both sides of the scallops with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. In a skillet, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil over medium heat until it’s hot. Gently lay the scallops in the pan and cook them (without moving them around too much–they’ll form a nicer crust that way) for 2 to 3 minutes per side. When they’re opaque, they’re done. Don’t make anybody cry by overcooking them. If you think they’re done, they’re probably done.

Lay the scallops on top of the salads, and serve.

If you were planning to include brie-stuffed rolls, as I did, put them in the oven at 425 before you do everything else. They should be ready to go when you are.

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Hey, love ain’t always pretty.

Baguette love you long time.

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The ricotta–done, and lookin’ pretty stylish.

Besides giving you lots of delicious, creamy cheese that’s just begging to be showcased in a homemade lasagna or some fancy-pants cannoli, providing a nice way to use up milk that’s about to turn on you, and making the kitchen smell so warm and earthy and, well, cheesy, this process gives you BRAGGING RIGHTS.  Which, as we all know, is the best reason to make anything at all from scratch–it makes people think you’re special.  Which you were to begin with, misfits.  Mostly.  But if you make this cheese, you will be even more special-er.  Hey, I made this cheese and I’m special.

You know what I mean.

Ricotta is one of those low-maintenance cheeses–no aging, enzymes, rennet, cheese presses, or fancy tools that vaguely resemble either instruments of torture or sex toys.

Or both, if you’re into that kind of thing.

But seriously, save yourself the trouble of buying yet another thing you’ll have to hide every time Mom comes over.  Just make ricotta instead.  If you’ve got milk, salt, vinegar, and a pot, you’ve got ricotta.

And for those of you wondering about my status as a lactard…it’s still there.  Thing is, I’ve started drinking kefir and eating plain yogurt, which has helped me to digest milk a little better.

Using whole milk and cream ensures a smooth, creamy consistency and full, milky taste–bonus points if you can find milk that’s super fresh and not ultra-pasteurized.  Don’t be afraid to dump in all the dairy you’re trying to use up (cream, half-and-half, and the like), as I’ve found this to be an incredibly forgiving cheese.  And if you’ve got a forgiving cheese, what more could you ask from life?  It is entirely possible to use 2% milk, with no cream or anything else to “fatten things up.”  I’ve tried this tactic myself–but I don’t recommend it.

Fresh, Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Go Get:
1 gallon whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white vinegar or lemon juice

Go Do:
So take your big ol’ pot, dump the milk and cream into it, and stir the salt in with a wooden spoon.  ‘Cause it feels more authentic to use a wooden spoon.  Leave me alone, this is my cheese recipe, not yours, and if you want to use a metal spoon, you can, just don’t tell me, and also you should probably just write your own food blog if you think you’re so much smarter than I am.  Stick a candy or digital thermometer in there somehow.

That part was a little dicey for me, but I rigged up an ingenious magnet system to suspend my thermometer in there without letting it touch the bottom.  See?


Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if we could get a closer look at that magnet?

You’re welcome.

Now make sure you don’t knock over your ingenious contraption, causing the magnet to fall into your hot milk-cheese stuff.  You might be so upset that you’ll plunge your hand into the steamy stuff to retrieve the magnet, then spill more on yourself, and then obsess over whether or not you can eat the resulting cheese.  And the answer would be, yes you can.  Not that I know from experience or anything.

Now turn the heat to LOW.  You want the milk to come up to temperature slowly, without running the risk of boiling it.  You do not want to taste the cheese that has resulted from boiled milk.  So take things nice and easy, put on a little Barry White, and let your milk know that you’re willing to give it as much time as it needs to make things happen tonight.  Now seriously, go do something else, because I hear somewhere that a watched pot of milk never cheeses.  Or something like that.  Maybe come back to mix once or twice.

When the mixture reaches 180 degrees, dump in your vinegar or lemon juice and stir it in.  Your milk will immediately curdle, but let it continue heating until visible curds separate from the whey (should be within a few minutes).  At that point, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for 20 or so.

In the meantime, line a mesh sieve with several layers of cheesecloth (you really will need several layers…this is a soft cheese) and place the whole thing over a bowl.  When the mix has cooled a bit, pour it all into the sieve and let it drain for an hour or so.

Et voila!  You have cheese!  Pack the stuff into a jar or airtight container and stick it in the fridge.  What’s left in the bowl is the whey (not the probiotic kind, don’t get all excited)–but don’t throw it out!  It’s still super nutritious and high-protein–you can sweeten it with a little honey and enjoy it as a workout drink, use it instead of milk in some recipes, or even water plants with it.  Waste not, want not, that’s what Gen the Cheesemonger always says.

Why, yes, Gen the Cheesemonger IS my stage name, thanks for asking.

 

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Now that I’m outta there, I could fill volumes with thoughts on New York living.  But I won’t.  For now.  Be grateful.  All that matters at the moment is a story about how I came to appreciate sunshine more.

The Boy and I lived in a small studio in New York City for a while.  At first, I didn’t even notice how little sunlight I was getting from the two small windows we had–both of which faced brick walls.  In fact, it probably took about six months for the reality of our dark existence to hit me, when I decided it might be nice to have a few plants to supplement our other unmet need–FUCKING OXYGEN.

Before long I came to realize that I couldn’t support as much plant life as I like to (which, granted, is a METRIC SHIT TON), and then I had to wonder if The Boy and I would one day crumple up  in disappointing heaps just like so many seedlings.  Dramatic, I know, but you’ve come to expect that from me by this point.  I’d hope.

Well anyhow, when we moved into our new place in Chicago–an apartment with real windows and air that doesn’t feel like a biohazard–I just couldn’t wait to get back to growing serious amounts of my own food.  Have a look at this year’s results so far…

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The other day I had to wonder if I was getting out of hand (“Oh, hee hee, haha OH HONEY THAT SHIP HAS SAILED.”) As I was passing by the windows, I spun to face The Boy and oozed, “You’re so cute–I love you!”  He thanked me but then turned pink and said, “Wait…were you talking to me or the plants?”

Okay, so occasionally we talk.  I mean, I talk to them.

When they’ve done something cool, I fluff their leaves like I’m ruffling up the messy head of a mischievous five-year-old.  When one of them looks worse for the wear, I drop everything, apply organic fertilizer, and organize a pagan vigil.  And when I feed them, I’ve been known to ask, “Which of my wittle misfit plant babies wants some bat guano and earthworm castings todaaaay?  Hmmmmm?”

But really, it’s not the plants that I love so much–it’s what gardening represents.  Self-sufficiency.  Diligence.  Give-and-take.  Efforts that actually pay off.  Working with nature for spectacular results.  When I garden, I feel like I’m privy to a special form of mysticism.  Exotic knowledge.  I feel powerful.  But more often than not, I feel humbled.

When I stand before something I’ve planted that’s approaching my height (and which will probably eclipse me entirely in one sunny week’s time), I have a sense of smallness that makes me feel, of all things, safe.  We think we have so much control–and we do, to an extent.  But really, we just help things along, manipulate them a bit to our liking–the potential for greatness has always been there.  It will show itself whether or not we make a move.  And even if we act against it, cut it down, it will come back.  Not to defy us–just to be itself, as we all should be.  Its only purpose is life.

Except maybe for the tomato plant–its other purpose might be destruction.  But that’s another post.

So I guess we would’ve been okay even if we’d stayed in that New York apartment.  Significantly paler, more cramped, and perhaps a little worse for the wear, but we would’ve made it.  Still, I’m glad to be here.  Glad to be able to stretch out.  Glad to be able to take a deep, clean breath.  And glad to look over at the windowsill with pride and say,

“OMFG THE BOY RUN FOR YOUR LIFE THE TOMATO’S BECOME SENTIENT AArggHH-GAAAAA!”

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Your Bad Mama Genny is now on Twitter, misfits!  @genevievecharet

Follow me for some ill-advised fun!

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Sometimes you’re in the mood to impress everyone with a big show.  You’re willing to caramelize the onions, braise the roast, thinly slice the prosciutto, neatly fan the tomato slices, massage the chicken until it feels good and ready, sweet-talk the turnips until they’re almost there, and commit other forms of foodie foreplay, all in the name of a meal that makes a name for you.

But sometimes, you want to throw some stuff in a pot, heat it ’til it’s done, slosh it in a bowl, swig straight from the bottle, chuck a roll at your loved one’s face, and call it dinner.  You don’t care if it doesn’t make a name for you.  Hell, it could give you a reputation for all you care.

This recipe falls into that second category, and it deserves to be posted here because it will, despite your lack of emotional attachment and the damage inflicted by a day-old roll, earn you praise and adulation.  Or something.

Which naturally makes me think about the concept of “good enough.”  Naturally.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”  Something about that phrase always bothered Bad Mama Genny, even when she was WBMG (Wee Bad Mama Genny).  There I sat with my BMGC’s (Bad Mama Genny Crayons) wondering if the BMGF (Bad Mama Genny Flower) I had drawn was “well” enough to please the proverbial taskmasters.

Oh, how many pursuits I would have dropped, how much fun I would have lost out on, if I’d waited alongside the well-behaved girls for everything to be perfect (risotto, for one).

The Boy and I ate this soup, enjoyed it thoroughly, and then, because we weren’t trying to be all exact about things, ended up with an extra hour to sit on the couch and cuddle while I massaged the dent that roll made in his head.  I wouldn’t have traded that extra hour for anything–not even a soup that would make my good name.

An interesting reputation is good enough for me.

Spinach Lentil Soup
Makes 4 main-dish servings

Go Get:
16 oz. package frozen, chopped spinach
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. sage
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 cups broth or stock (any kind)
2 1/2 cups cooked lentils (Trader Joe’s has a great vacuum-sealed lentils pack that provides just that amount; canned beans will work, too)
2 generous pinches nutmeg
1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil

Go Do:
In a Dutch Oven, heat the stock over medium-high heat until it’s about to boil. Add in all the other ingredients and stir well to incorporate. Turn the heat to medium-low and cover the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is cooked through and translucent. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.
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