Food Friday: Living High Off the Hog

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There will probably be a little tone of desperation running through my columns for the next year. The Tall One is to be married next April, so I have got a year to pull myself together. I always say that I would love to be taller, blonder and thinner; maybe discovering I was switched at birth, and I will find out that my long-lost aristocratic British parents left me their small estate in Sussex with a generous annual stipend and a wine cellar and a housekeeper.

Ah, the price I pay for working alone. I can have some pretty outlandish flights of fancy. Indeed,Luke, the wonder dog, would like you to know that he tries to entertain me the best he can with walks outside and treats and hunting snakes. All normal stuff. But the fact is that I want to look good in the wedding photos, and not echo Emma Thompson’s character in Love Actually, and lament that I am wearing Pavarotti’s cast offs. I think can manage blonder. And I am hoping for thinner.

So I am going to try to forgo carbs, at least during the week, and step out more often with Luke. We have been walking 3 and 4 miles a day for the past month. But now I will leave the biscuits behind. Sadly. I do love a nice, hot biscuit, with a bit of dripped butter glossing my chin. Sigh.

The only thing good about going carb-free is that I can ramp up my bacon intake. Everything is better with bacon, as the saying goes. Even without those invitingly warm, crumbly biscuits. Which is a good thing – I almost always have bacon in the house because one never knows when The Tall One will descend and bring his enormous appetite. Like catsup and mayonnaise, and Lipton chicken soup and Saltine crackers, I reliably have bacon on hand. Capers? Not that often.

And I will be taking you, Gentle Readers, on this carb-free year long adventure. Prepare to eat bacon. But keep your frying pans and skillets stashed in the cabinet. Get out a cookie sheet and bake your bacon. An ever-so-wise friend schooled me in this technique, and it has saved me from hours of scouring pans, and wiping the grease splatters off the tricky bits on the stove. I do go back and forth – whether to cook on a rack, or use parchment paper or aluminum foil to line the cookie sheet. Our current thinking is to bake the thick bacon on the rack – which despite being bought because the package was labeled “Non-Stick” – the thinner bacon does indeed stick. It is a sad and unholy mess pulling the stubborn bacon bits off, though Luke is happy, because then he gets a little smackeral of bacon.

The baking time bacon takes a little practice, because it can vary depending on the thickness of the bacon, and if your oven is like mine and is a little wonky. Generally we heat the oven to 375°F and bake for about half an hour, turning it halfway through, just when the odor gets irresistible. That being said, I burned bacon using this method a couple of weeks ago, for the very woman who advised me to adopt this otherwise reliable technique. I was yammering away and forgot to check every few minutes. Let that be a lesson to you. Pay attention! Don’t burn the bacon!

This next recipe for weaving bacon is sheer genius. You will never again have to endure a BLT that does not have B covering every square inch. I cannot believe how many years I have gone through life without this approach to bacon preparation. Thanks, Mimi for finding this!

Bacon weave recipe: http://myfridgefood.com/recipes/salads-and-sides/bacon-sheet/

I know some of you Gentle Readers will want to know about the dangers of sodium and cured meats, so I am thoughtfully adding a link to an NPR story about such incidentals. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/10/25/240556687/does-bacon-really-make-everything-better-here-s-the-math

Here are some of the truly bizarre recipes I found while doing my very scientific fieldwork:

Bacon Infused Vodka naturally leads to a Bacon Bloody Mary…
http://whatscookingamerica.net/Beverage/Bacon-BloodyMary.htm

Bacon Cheesecake. Honest.
http://kfgo.com/podcasts/it-takes-2/939/chef-scott-talks-bacon-who-doesnt-love-that/

Bacon Peanut Butter Cups. Really?
http://www.baconfreak.com/recipe-bacon-peanut-butter-cups.html

And one last glimpse at bacon excess, although I never thought that I would type those words in the same sentence: http://www.npr.org/blogs/waitwait/2010/08/16/129232792/sandwich-monday-the-lady-s-brunch-burger

Sadly, most of those recipes involve lots of carbs. But that’s OK. I am happy with just plain, crunchy delicious bacon. Bon appétit!

“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.”
-Thomas Jefferson

Food Friday: Boston Cream Pie – Better than Jelly Beans

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This is a big food weekend; Passover Seders and Easter extravaganzas will abound. As always, I encourage you to simplify your life, and bake a pie that is really a cake: Boston cream pie.

We had neighbors who did not celebrate family birthdays with cakes – instead they always had pie – and sometimes store-bought pie, to boot. Somehow blowing the candles out on a dowdy, brown, deep-dish apple pie was never appealing to me. I always thought their behavior was edging deep into the grasses of the lunatic fringe, but now I realize that we have been baking Boston Cream Pies for birthdays and major family celebrations for YEARS! We probably haven’t baked a proper birthday cake since the year I pieced together Thomas the Tank Engine and some of his friends, for the five-year old birthday boy, who is now out of college and is engaged to be married. Once again my hypocrisy and quick moral high road are being questioned.

Though Boston cream pie is indeed a cake, with two layers and a custard filling, that is covered with chocolate icing. It was created for the Boston Parker House Hotel by Armenian-French chef M. Sanzian. It is the official dessert of Boston! It is a fun fact and good to know in case you are considering moving based on your love of regional foods. Boston is much closer than Aix-en-Provence.

Of course we take every shortcut known to science in the kitchen, and the BCP is an eager co-conspirator. If there isn’t time to bake the cake from scratch, it is easy to substitute a quick mix from Betty Crocker. If you haven’t yet mastered a decent crème pâtissière, then yummy custard filling can be made from Jell-O instant vanilla pudding. And the icing? It is the easiest thing ever, and the shiny patina makes even the most rudimentary baker look as skilled as the Best Amateur Baker in the Great British Bake Off. You will be a rock star. Now bake!

Although baking is a science as we are often admonished, sometimes you have to improvise. I do not use the entire batch of batter for a Boston cream pie. After I make the batter, whether homemade, or as I have suggested whipped up slyly from a cake mix, I only use about 2/3 of the batter. In my mind a BCP should not stand as tall as a two-layer layer-cake. The other third I pour into a couple of cupcake papers and leave out to keep the circling cake samplers at bay.

I line a spring form pan with parchment paper, and pour the cake batter into the pan, which I then place on top of a cookie sheet, and bake according to directions. After the cake has baked, and cooled, I slice it into two rounds, using a long bread knife so I don’t hack the cake to bits. (Martha suggested using dental floss to split cake into layers once. I cannot recommend this method, unless you are a very experienced ceramic artist. I could not achieve a straight line – it wobbled and looked like corrugated tin.)

Crème Pat – as they like to say on the BBC – courtesy of Martha Stewart

1 cup milk
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar together in a small bowl. Add flour, and mix until smooth and free of lumps.

Thin egg-yolk mixture with approximately 1/4 cup of warm milk. When remaining milk begins to boil, add it to egg-yolk mixture, and stir well. Return to saucepan, and place over high heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until pastry cream thickens and boils, about 1 minute. (Turning the pan as you whisk helps to easily reach all areas of pan.)

Reduce heat to medium, and cook, whisking constantly, until cream becomes shiny and easier to stir, about 2 minutes more. Pour into a bowl, and stir in vanilla. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming, and allow to cool.

http://www.marthastewart.com/316410/creme-patissiere

Or you can default to Jell-O Instant Vanilla Pudding. No one will mind. (Not even our houseguest, who works for Bon Appétit magazine!)

Artfully trowel on a good thick layer of the Crème Pat (or the vanilla pudding) on the bottom half of the pie and carefully replace the top half.

You cannot change one speck of this magic chocolate glaze! I have been using this glaze since 1989. The cookbook always falls open to this page, which is also the glaze I use for Flourless Chocolate Cake. It is covered with crumbs and splatters from the festivities from the last 26 years.

3 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon

Melt the chocolate and butter together over a low heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in the brandy. Pour over the top of the cooled cake, smoothing with a spatula, and let it drip down the sides.

(The glaze recipe is from Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts, which I cannot find digitized or linked to any place on.)

Here is the link to the Spring Forth Cake from a couple of weeks ago: http://chestertownspy.org/2015/03/20/food-friday-spring-forth-with-cake/

And here is a short history of BCP: http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/BostonCreamPie.htm

Cover and put in the fridge. Uncover and let the glaze warm up a bit before serving – this will bring the shine back to the chocolate glaze. And sit back and bask in the glory. Hop on down the bunny trail. Yumsters.

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”
― David Mamet

Food Friday: Spring Planting = Summer Delights

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You have been waiting all winter for this – admit it. You have been thumbing through seed catalogues and feverishly imagining your sunny, raised garden bed, fecund and lush and o’er-spilling with cukes, and beans, and sun-warmed tomatoes. Thinking about all those tender, fresh, aromatic herbs that no one else can coax as greenly as you. Picturing the extra little flourish and the modest bow you will take when you humbly present your salad greens (with brio) at the Fourth of July picnic. Visualizing the ribbons you will take home from the Fair. Envisioning how you will please, delight, and amaze your family when you whip out a fresh, homegrown shallot for the salad dressing. Or when you pop open a jar of homemade pickles at Thanksgiving. Considering how you can take revenge on the idiot neighbor who mows his lawn on Sunday mornings – zucchini is the perfect passive/aggressive pay back. All the glory goes to you.

So get hopping!

These
cabbages,
onions,
spinach,
peas,
lettuces,
carrots,
celery,
corn,
summer squash,
tomatoes,
shallots,
pole beans,
lima beans,
watermelon,
pumpkins,
and zucchini
will not plant, water, NOR weed themselves. “Plant a carrot, get a carrot.” Get in a little elbow grease action – which is much more nurturing and healthy than hot yoga. Heavens to Betsy.

I have learned over the years with my sandy back yard, and my short attention span, that I am easily tired and discouraged. I now keep my exposure to a minimum. I am happiest (and most successful) with a little container garden. I have fresh herbs, and a catnip plant to keep the ancient bony cat entertained. I do a couple of tomato plants every year, but this year I bought some trendy heirloom, organic tomato seeds. Let’s see if they do better than my usual cheating, pre-fab seedlings from the hardware store. Although anything is better than those soul-less, soggy, cardboard globes I get at the supermarket.

It is time for my annual bean experiment. I imagine myself living in someplace ancient and beautiful like Sissinghurst Castle, where the gardener’s assistants take care of the weeds, and I am left with my follies and the trés amusement
garden structures I fashion from bamboo poles and woven willow strips. I will train the beans this year in a big terra cotta pot, with three bamboo poles perched like a teepee above the seedlings. Maybe they will do better than last year’s. Maybe if I remember to water every day they will have a shot at making it to the table.

I had a successful little run with lettuce last year. We had some awfully fresh salads for a couple of weeks. I doubt if it was very cost effective to wrangle my own little Bibb-aroos, but it felt so good to wander outside with the kitchen shears, and judiciously snip a leaf here, another leaf there, and know the salad was good and fresh, and I was leaving modest carbon foot print.

They are saying that all those Amazon deliveries, however convenient and fast, are proving problematic – they are increasing traffic and road wear as those UPS trucks come streaming our way with our cheap books and Kindles. So I have to do my bit and think of the environment when I plant my tiny little vegetable garden.

If you do not feel not up to the responsibilities of growing your own vegetable garden this season, now that the snow has melted, and the snow drops are popping up every where, please think about supporting your local farmers at farmers’ markets and farm stands and CSAs. We were cool long before Brooklyn and all its mustachioed, plaid-sporting, artisan, organic, heirloom, microcosmically hip farmers, tanners, butchers, chicken farmers, bakers and baristas. We like homemade and all the virtues associated with it.

It is oh, so very pleasant to wander outside in your jimjams on a summer morning, pausing to watch the sun rise, while munching meditatively on a dewy green bean that you have just twisted off a vine, before you ever have a cup of coffee or read the newspaper. Instagram cannot replicate that real delight. Honest.

https://extension.umd.edu/sites/default/files/_images/uploaded/planting%20chart-spring.pdf

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2015/03/margery_fish_s_we_made_a_garden_is_a_feminist_manifesto_disguised_as_a_gardening.html?wpsrc=fol_fb

http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/classics/onward_and_upward_in_the_garden/

“From December to March,
there are for many of us three gardens:
the garden outdoors,
the garden of pots and bowls in the house,
and the garden of the mind’s eye.”
– Katharine S. White

Food Friday: Spring Forth with Cake!

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One of the perils of working from home is that I don’t get out much. Some days the only conversations I have are with the clerks at the grocery store. My office companion, Luke, the wonder dog, and I take a couple of walks every day. Luke is an enthusiastic and charming fellow, but his conversational skills are minimal. I can’t remember the last book he read, and he never minds that I do the crossword puzzle in ink. He might comment that I will never catch a squirrel, or that I don’t sniff mailboxes with gusto. And he would be right.

When Luke and I go on walkabout I usually have my earbuds firmly planted. I listen to several podcasts, and often feel that the folks on these podcasts are my real office co-workers. Podcasts are the intimates of solitary freelancers, nursing mothers and the sleepless. Every week Julia Turner, Dana Stevens and Stephen Metcalf charm my socks off. Their Slate Culture Gabfest podcast is full of good humor, insight, wit and bon mots. They merrily discuss popular culture with aplomb; dissecting current memes, television, music, and movies. Where else can I go for brilliant water cooler conversation? And one week, a couple of months ago, Julia (Yes, I do call her “Julia” in my cheeky fashion.) rhapsodized poetical about a recipe she had found in the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook for the perfect cake. I looked up the recipe and filed it away for another day.

And today is the day! It’s time to forget about winter, and move on to celebrating Spring! I have had the delightful television baking experience of The Great British Bake Off to fan my enthusiasm for home baking, and what better way to pay homage to Spring than with Smitten Kitchen’s Best Yellow Layer Cake? While you are poking through the brown oak leaves under the side yard hedge, looking for tender green daffodil shoots, you will be much happier knowing that there will be a slice of cake and a tall cold glass of milk waiting for you in the kitchen. The squirrels have retreated, so Luke has to stick with kibble, which always makes him very happy.

Smitten Kitchen’s Best Yellow Layer Cake

“Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers, and, in theory, 22 to 24 cupcakes, two 8-inch squares or a 9×13 single-layer cake
4 cups, plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.”

The Smitten Kitchen goes on to suggest that you use a chocolate icing, but I am feeling too cheerful and full of new spring hope. I am making a light, lemon-y icing instead.

Lemon Buttercream Icing

1 stick butter – room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Salt
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons half and half or milk

Beat the butter in the bowl with and electric mixer until it is fluffy. Add the confectioner’s sugar just a few tablespoons at a time. Add the salt and vanilla extract. Continue adding confectioner’s sugar, alternating with splashes of cream (or milk) and lemon juice Add more cream (or milk) if you like thinner frosting. You will need to double this recipe if you want to have tidy frosted sides to the cake.

Scrumptious! Thank you, Julia Turner!

You can find more charming intelligent folks on the Slate Panoply podcast network who discuss sports, finance, politics, the Supreme Court and even our friends from Food 52 with a podcast called Burnt Toast: http://www.panoply.fm/shows

More recipes:
http://smittenkitchen.com/

More of Julia, Dana and Stephen:
http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/culturegabfest.html

“In Britain, a cup of tea is the answer to every problem.
Fallen off your bicycle? Nice cup of tea.
Your house has been destroyed by a meteorite? Nice cup of tea and a biscuit.
Your entire family has been eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex that has travelled through a space/time portal?
Nice cup of tea and a piece of cake.
Possibly a savoury option would be welcome here too, for example a Scotch egg or a sausage roll.”
― David Walliams

Food Friday: Happiness is Chocolate Mousse

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I know; all the other food columns this weekend will be telling you how to prepare the World’s Best Corned Beef and Cabbage, or Yummy Irish Stew prepared with Guinness stout. They are all about St. Patrick’s Day, and green beer, and steak and ale pies.

You won’t find any of that malarkey here at The Spy. I still shudder at the very notion of corned beef. That cooked cabbage odor haunts me lo these many years since I last smelled it, wafting up the stairway from my mother’s kitchen to my lair at the back of the house. I will NEVER cook a cabbage. I can promise you that.

Instead, we are going to share with you a deelish recipe we found in last week’s Wall Street Journal, a newspaper not known for its flights of whimsy. Power up your printers, because this is too good to be true. You will go down in your family’s annals as the sainted chocolate mousse magician. You will never be forgotten. And many thanks to Wall Street Journal writer Gail Monaghan for lighting the way to bliss!

http://www.wsj.com/articles/recipe-for-a-flawless-chocolate-mousse-1425668817

Ingredients:
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (we used Ghiradelli semisweet chips – hooray, no chopping!)
¾ cup water
2 tablespoons instant espresso coffee granules (we used 2 teaspoons, and next time will use 1 teaspoon – I am not a big coffee fan, but the little coffee kick intensified the chocolate flavor)
4 egg yolks
Salt – just a pinch
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Cognac (or Bourbon, use your imagination)

Note: Make some extra whipped cream for topping. You’ll be glad you did. We also splurged and bought some raspberries which are hideously expensive right now, because they probably came from deepest darkest Peru along with Paddington Bear, but they were well worth the extravagance.

Directions:
Heat the chocolate, water, coffee powder and salt in a double boiler – or in a metal bowl over a pot of just simmering water. Be careful not to scorch the chocolate! Stir the mixture frequently until the chocolate melts. Take the bowl off the heat and beat in the egg yolks – one yolk at a time. Cool the chocolate mixture in the fridge. In another bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Be sure to add the Cognac. Fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate. Pour the mousse into cups or small bowls or wine glasses. Top with whipped cream and some raspberries.

The mousse will be very rich, so use small containers. We made the mistake of using large wine glasses, and were overwhelmed by the luxurious richness of the dense chocolate-y mousse halfway through gobbling up our desserts. We had to cover them with Saran Wrap, and store them in the refrigerator overnight. They were even better the next day, I am happy to note. Of course, we added more whipped cream and some more raspberries because we need to get our daily vegetables and fruits…

Forget the corned beef. Make Chocolate Mousse your new St. Patrick’s Day celebratory food. Its charms are so glorious that it will be equally nice for April Fool’s Day, Easter, Passover, Martha Washington’s birthday and Labor Day.

“Happiness. Simple as a glass of chocolate or tortuous as the heart. Bitter. Sweet. Alive.”
― Joanne Harris, Chocolat

Food Friday: National Frozen Food Month, What’s in Your Freezer?

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I suspect there is a dedicated national holiday for everyone and everything. How about a National Clean Out Your Freezer Day? I just did an informal survey of our freezer – and I am leaving out some of the more hideous details here – and what I found was a little daunting. We do not keep a tidy or timely freezer – is it too late to resolve to live a better and cleaner life?

A couple of weeks ago we had a houseful of company, and my daughter was helping me put mountains of groceries away. With great glee she catalogued the number of bags of shredded cheese she found in the deli bin of the refrigerator – ten. Some open, some unopened, and some of each which were way past their sell by dates. Mortification! I had become a cheese hoarder! I can understand collecting New Yorker magazines, or seashells, or snow globes because each has charm and beauty. But if you stopped me on the street, and grabbed me by the lapels, and asked me earnestly what I thought about shredded cheese, I would coolly respond, shaking off your sweaty paws, that I do not believe in buying shredded cheese. It is for lazy damn gits, who don’t mind that their nachos have dry, gritty cheese, or that the freshness of their pizza ingredients is unimportant. Holy smokes – I am such a hypocrite!

And with the arrival of the annual National Frozen Foods Month, I thought it was about time to face up to the circle of hell that must be our freezer. What carbon dated relics clutter it up? What should stay, and what should go? And what should responsible adults have in their freezers? My mind is boggled, Gentle Reader, with the amount of stuff I uncovered. The freezer can tell tales.

Here is the initial list, starting at the top and working my way down. I did not dig past the permafrost.

Vanilla ice cream (half a tub)
Raspberry gelato (5 teaspoons left)
French fries, Tater Tots and Sweet Potato Tots (half bags, all from before Christmas)
Hot Dogs (2 weeks old)
Hamburger (meat and patties, uncooked, vague recollection of purchasing in January)
Pork chops (boneless)
Jimmy Dean sausage (recent purchase)
Italian sausages (1 pound, sweet and hot, fennel free, from the butcher last week)
Chicken cutlets (8 in the packet – forgot to separate them before freezing – too much for one meal for two people)
Shrimp (5, from Christmas?)

Leftovers: taco meat, chicken pot stickers, pizza, good steak from last Sunday night

Tomato sauce (plain)
Spaghetti sauce (from a jar)
Spaghetti sauce (homemade, from Christmas?)
Chili
Chicken stock
Broccoli florets
Peas
Corn
Suffering succotash

French bread
Italian bread
Hamburger rolls
Hot dog rolls

Ancient, drying up popsicles
Vodka (enough for 2 martinis because you never know how the day will go)

So, I suppose if the revolution comes, we can eat for a couple of days. But doing a little research has led me to believe that I can straighten up the mess in the freezer, and learn how to label proper containers (I tend to toss leftovers into Baggies, and trust that I will remember what the blasted thing is when I next encounter it. I am sorry to say that my days as a girl detective are long over, and I cannot tell the difference between a Baggie of tomato sauce and a Baggie of spaghetti sauce, and which might be homemade or Paul Newman’s, at least not without some reliable DNA testing.)

Here is a more helpful list of suggestions of what you should have on hand in your freezer. It will make life easier for you when, like me, you are surprised when dinner time rolls around yet again, and that you need to get something hot on the table without running out into the snow to the grocery store. Take notes:

Breads
Butter
Chicken stock/beef stock/vegetable stock (inevitably there is a vegetarian coming to call)
Sausage, bacon
Shrimp
Peas (helpful for livening up an impromptu Fettucine Alfredo, or for icing down an unexpected bump or scrape)
Cooked rice (What a time saver! Next time, make some extra to have on hand!)
Soups, stews, chilis, sauces
Broccoli, spinach, fresh herbs
Frozen fruit – for smoothies or dessert
Small containers of ice cream – portion control!
Meatballs
Tortillas
Cooked chicken slices, cooked ground beef
Ground turkey
Chicken breasts
Nuts
Vodka!

Here are three more helpful freezing hints:
1. Spread meatballs, cookie dough or pigs-in-blankets on a cookie sheet and freeze them before moving them to a container. Keep the recipe handy for the cookies so you remember baking time and temperature.
2. Freeze liquids flat in Baggies, then stand them up sideways for storage. They’ll take up less space. Get out a Sharpie and label the Baggies before you fill with the nice sauce that will be your dinner in a couple of weeks.
3. Keep a list handy of what is in the freezer – put it on your iPhone – or take a photo so you have a visual record of what is on hand. Life is fraught with peril – make it easy for yourself. There might even be an Instagram group that peers into each others’ freezers…

So if Kate and William happen to stop by, you can throw together a decent spread to have with cocktails. Much better than the stale Doritos and cheap white wine they would get here! But now that I am going to be grown up and organized, I’ll be able to whip up some nachos with the tortillas and the taco meat – if only we hadn’t gotten rid of all the shredded cheese bags!

And seriously, food waste is sinful, and it is also hard on the landfill. Here’s a timely piece from The New York Times, with even more ideas of how to avoid waste. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/04/dining/efficiency-in-the-kitchen-to-reduce-food-waste.html?ref=dining&_r=0

“Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.”
~Benjamin Franklin

Food Friday: Saving Your Bacon Valentine Granola Bars

FF_Granola

If you have been snowbound in New England or if you have somehow managed to forget about Valentine’s Day which has been crammed down our throats since December 24, here is the life-saving answer for you: you can make a nice homemade batch of granola bars with ingredients I hope you have on hand already, and wrap them up in brown parchment paper and colorful twine, and look wonderfully whole earthy and romantic AND kindhearted.

We all know that homemade gifts are the best, even if we also know in our heart of hearts that they were probably assembled in haste, with clumsy fingers, but all the best intentions by people we love, who do not want to slide down that slippery slope to Valentine’s Day purdah. Homemade granola says loving better than the hurried purchase of the last sad, droopy bunch of red and white carnations from the grocery store. Plus, there is chocolate. But no preservatives. And no plastic wrapping! What an intuitive, environmentally sensitive person you are!

Go rummage around in the kitchen cabinets and pull out the rolled oats, the cashews, some raisins, dried cherries, honey, peanuts, almonds and cinnamon, and hope that you have chocolate chips tucked away under the rafters someplace. You are about to make a sweet Valentine’s Day present, and you are also solving snack and breakfast issues. You are practically noble for your efforts and concerns! Look at the cute snacks! Look at those little hearts! And won’t the crumbly bits be great stirred into breakfast yogurt? Amazing. I bet the executives from The Great British Baking Show are going to get in touch with you any minute now! Granola is much more complex than Rice Krispies Treats…

We are also attaching a Valentine card image at the end of the article today that you can print, so you look like the authentically kind, considerate, caring and loving person that you really are if you could just remember that Christmas AND Valentine’s Day roll around every year. Unlike the political cycle, Valentine’s Day is dependable and returns every February, just like the groundhog. But it can be a day rife with romantic neediness and it can be an emotional minefield.

I’ve included the links to a couple of cutting edge granola theories. The folks at Slate Magazine had a granola competition a couple of years ago – it must have been a slow news week – and four varieties of granola were blind taste-tested. Stephen Metcalf’s did not win. But you can judge for yourself.

Get cracking! Romance is in the air. Or is it the roasting nuts?

http://www.rippedrecipes.com/recipe/homemade-granola-honey-nuts-and-zante-currants-2467.htmlF

http://www.mybakingaddiction.com/homemade-granola-bars-recipe/

Homemade Granola Bars
YIELD: 24 servings

INGREDIENTS:
2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup wheat germ
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup honey
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup dried sour cherries, chopped
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
3/4 cup slivered almonds

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Mix together the oats, brown sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, flour, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, and pour in the honey, egg, oil and vanilla.
3. Mix well using your hands, add in cherries, chocolate chips and almonds. Pat the mixture evenly into the prepared pan.
4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the bars begin to turn golden around the edges. Cool on wire rack for about 30 minutes before cutting. Do not allow the bars to cool completely before cutting because they will crumble.

http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/culturegabfest/2012/02/downton_abbey_moneyball_and_great_granola_on_this_week_s_culture_gabfest_podcast_.html

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/01/25/homemade_granola_that_s_easy_to_do_right.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgrUkUko5mc

“Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.”

― Zelda Fitzgerald

Food Friday for Valentine’s Day Card 2015

Food Friday: Weekend Pancakes

FF_Pancakes

It is almost time for the weekend! And weekends mean real breakfasts. Eggs, bacon, pancakes…Traditionally, eggs and fats were forbidden during Lent. On Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent starts, pancakes were rustled up to make good use of any of the tempting sinful ingredients that were cluttering up the larder. Pancakes are the last indulgence before the forty days of slim pickings during Lent. We don’t often eschew pancakes. We tend to err on the side of pleasure – ascetics are not us. So in the scant time before Lent, let the pancake flipping begin!

Pancakes are weekend food. Unless you happen to be a Walton, and have Ma and Granny downstairs puttering around in the kitchen every morning, whipping up biscuits and oatmeal and rashers of yummy bacon. We tend to be grouchy crunchy cereal people during the week, barely looking up from the newspaper to make civilized chatter. Peeling a banana is about as fancy as we get in food prep on a workday morning.

Weekends are different. And glorious. It seems as if there is an abundance of leisure time; when it is pleasurable and we feel unrushed and we can actually talk and laugh and plan how many trips to the hardware store we think we are going to need to make. And will we be able to pencil in a nap? Or a movie? The endless possibilities that present themselves at the beginning of a weekend!

We have noticed that the meals over which the most time is devoted are the meals that get eaten in the shortest amount of time imaginable. Thanksgiving takes at least a day to prepare, and the meal’s temporal length is about 20 minutes. Pancakes practically disappear in a snap as they are transported from the griddle to the plate. A nanosecond is spent pouring the maple syrup and cutting a little square of salty butter. Then the pancakes vaporize as quickly as the dog’s kibble is scarfed up. Ten minutes to mix, 20 minutes to let the batter rest, 20 minutes to cook, equals about three minutes to devour.

There is a nice rhythm and tempo preparing the pancakes, though. (Assuming you square away the bacon before you start pouring pancake batter.) Measuring and stirring, testing the griddle with a drop of water, tasting the bacon, wasting the first batch, pouring out the second, third and fourth servings, watching the pancakes bubble, dropping one for the dog, flipping pancakes one-handed with Merrie Melody aplomb. Whoops. Another pancake for the dog. Maybe it is just the good Saturday-morning-cartoon vibe. It is time to enjoy. I remember watching my brother make pancakes when I was a tot, and thinking how wise he was in the ways of the kitchen, because he knew to wait for the bursting bubbles to slow down before turning the pancake. What a brilliant guy!

We are getting a little fancier these days. We remember fondly the Maine vacation where we picked our own Sal-like blueberries for the breakfast pancakes. Another summer trip is remembered mostly for the friend who added peaches to the pancakes– amazingly deelish. The Tall One likes chocolate chip pancakes. The Pouting Princess likes bacon “infused” pancakes. I spent a summer during college waitressing at an iHop, which, amazingly, didn’t cause any sort of lifelong aversion to the humble flapjack. This is a good thing, Martha.

Buttermilk Pancakes

3 eggs, separated
1 2/3 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Beat the yolks until pale and smooth.
Beat in the buttermilk and then the baking soda and mix well.
Sift in the dry ingredients mixing as you add; make sure the batter is smooth.
Add in the melted butter and mix well.
Beat the egg whites in another bowl until stiff.

Fold into the batter until no white bits are visible.
Let batter stand about 20 minutes before pouring out pancakes.
Make sure your griddle is really hot – do the water test.
Ladle batter onto griddle; turn when bubbles form across the cakes and allow to lightly brown on the second side.
Serve with lots warm maple syrup and sweet salty butter and lots of bacon. And tall glasses of cold milk. Yumsters!

Impressive vacation-worthy pancakes from our friends at Food52:
https://food52.com/recipes/1843-lemony-cream-cheese-pancakes-with-blueberries

And if all else fails – Bisquick pancakes taste fine, too!

“Hope makes a good breakfast. Eat plenty of it.”
― Ian Fleming

Food Friday: Simply Chicken Potpie

FF_SimplyChickenPotPie_Jan242014

I have been out of town this week, so here is a merry little stroll back in time, in our own Spy Tardis:

On a recent dark and stormy night I was about to go through the motions of whipping up an uninspired stir fry of chicken, peas, onions, carrots and some celery for crunch, but it didn’t seem like a warm, inviting meal for a raw winter day. It’s not that I harbor any illusions that coming home to our house every night is a journey to Martha-in-Wonderland, but sometimes I like to pretend that Mrs. Cleaver lives here. Even though I do not wear the high heels and the starched shirtwaist dress, I am wearing pearls along with the scarf, the sweater and the turtleneck. I bet even Mrs. Cleaver would be wearing woolies this week! And clad in her double-thick black leggings, Mrs. Cleaver would use these same ingredients to bake an amazing chicken potpie.

Here is something to keep in your freezer at all times of the year – a package of puff pastry. This is essential, Home Ec 101 information. Write it down. In cursive! Or tell Siri to remind you the next time you go to the Food Lion: “Buy puff pastry.”

I have used store-bought pie shells in the past because I am hopeless at home made. Everyone would politely shovel the chicken concoctions into their hungry little mouths. But the puff pastry made this pie an occasion! It was spectacular! It was as if Jiffy Pop Pop Corn had waved a magic wand over my chicken pie ordinaire, and puffed it upward and outward with importance and historical significance. Well, it looked very pretty when it came out of the oven, and was warmer and more comforting than that pedestrian chicken stir fry would have been.

I used the same ingredients that would have gone into the stir fry, with the addition of the puff pastry, and some chicken broth. And a little flour. I’ll trot out some other recipes for you later – but you need to keep it simple, for your own sanity. I read one recipe that wanted me to weave strips of pastry into a latticework on top of the pie. That was sheer foolishness. The pastry rises and looms like ocean cliffs – do not diminish that drama by getting all crafty. Use that time you would have been weaving pastry strips (like those long ago potholders) wisely. Dig out the latest Garden & Gun Magazine and plan your Mardi Gras strategy instead.

I boiled a boneless chicken breast, although if you have a leftover roasted chicken, you can pull off enough meat for a pie for two people. After boiling the breast, I chopped it up and shredded it – the howling cat was very grateful that my knife skills need some polishing, as some shreds flew off the cutting board into her KP area. I chopped up a couple of carrots, some celery, and half an onion, and tossed them into a frying pan with some butter for a few minutes. The onion should be translucent and fragrant. Then I added a handful of flour and 2 cups of chicken broth and the chicken. (Sometimes I skip the flour and the broth and just add Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup and a little milk.) After everything heated up and bubbled along nicely, I poured the mixture into my cute little Le Creuset baking dish. But a pie pan works just as well. (Remember, I am waiting for Mr. Cleaver, and want to make a favorable impression. Sometimes Ward has had a rough day down at the insurance office, or wherever it is that he works…)

Roll the thawed dough out on a floured surface, just to take out the creases. Then lay it on top of your pan, and with kitchen sheers, or even your office Fiskars, trim the excess dough, leaving about half an inch hanging over the edge of the pan, for drama.

Whisk an egg with a little water, and then brush it across the pastry. It will add color and a shiny surface to the pastry. Then remember to cut a few slits in the dough to let steam escape during the baking process.

Put the pastry-topped pan on top of a cookie sheet, and pop in a 375°F oven for about 30 to 35 minutes. See – you didn’t need to waste your time basket weaving at all. And now there is a little extra time to read a The Goldfinch, or chill the wine, or to watch last night’s Daily Show. Ward wouldn’t have enjoyed the spectacle of woven pastry as much as he is going to enjoy this huge, flying buttress of a chicken potpie.

I like The Pioneer Woman website. She has a droll sense of humor. I could imagine spending a little quality time with her out on the prairie. Although I do not have turmeric – so I will never know exactly what her pie tastes like: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2013/08/pot-pie/

Here’s Martha’s take, although she spends quality time worrying about the crust. “Pshaw!” I say! Worry about your time with young Theo Decker instead! http://www.marthastewart.com/891257/classic-chicken-potpie

“Promises and pie-crust are made to be broken.”
-Jonathan Swift

Food Friday: National Pizza Week

FF_NationalPizzaWeek

Please accept my deepest apologies for never having recognized (or celebrated) National Pizza Week before this year. What could I have been thinking? The second week of January is a time to revel in hot cheese, good sauce, toppings (or not) and fabulous crust (thin, thick or deep dish). Pizza, like cake, is the perfect food. Long live the pizzaterians!

I grew up in a household where going out for pizza was the supreme treat. We were even permitted to have a glass of orange soda! Of course, we only ate plain cheese pizza pie. My parents grew up in New Haven, home of Sally’s Apizza; in their hearts the home of the purest, best American pizza. They were stodgy, no nonsense New Englanders, by gum. Plain and simple pizza only, thank you; unadorned by unnecessary. What more could you possibly want or need? The slices at Pellicci’s (our hometown favorite Italian restaurant) were the size of formal dinner napkins, so my brother and I learned early on how to fold the molten lava slices into airplane shapes which fit nicely in our hungry, gaping maws. But it wasn’t until junior high and experiencing hot lunch in the cafeteria that I found out about pepperoni pizza. Holy smokes! What a revelation, and such beauteous gilding on the pizza lily!

Pizza is so very customizable. There are myriad variations on the pizza topping theme. First there are your basic Mozzarella cheese, meats, and veggies, excellent tomato sauce, a soupçon of garlic and a pinch or oregano. Other toppings may include regional favorites: barbeque, chicken, oysters, crayfish, shrimp, bacon, artichoke hearts and tuna. In Japan the favorite toppings are squid and a mayonnaise mixture of mayo, potato and bacon. A very fancy pizza was once concocted with caviar, lobster and crème fraiche. Hmm. Not up to Sally’s standards I’m afraid.

What do your pizza toppings say about you? Are you quirky, well-traveled, catholic, risk-taking and fearless? Bland, smug, uncurious, timid and hide-bound? Further trolling of the internets reveals that some people add these peculiar toppings (remember now, I am a snobby, unadventuous purist):
• Squash pizza (zucchini, summer squash and zucchini flowers)
• Macaroni and cheese (complete with breadcrumbs)
• Pesto
• BBQ sauce
• Alfredo sauce
• Bacon and egg
• Eggs Florentine
• Spinach and artichoke
• Tex-Mex pizza (pepper Jack cheese, salsa, beans and avocado
• Fig, prosciutto and chili jam
• Sweet potato and Kielbasa
• Lemon and smoke Mozzarella
• Arugula
• Ground lamb with an egg
• Prosciutto, basil and mozzarella
• Ricotta, prosciutto and mint
• Chicken and cranberry relish
• Brussels sprouts, roasted and shaved

A good idea comes from Serious Eats – try par-cooking vegetables to get eliminate some of the moisture and to intensify their flavor. Carmelized onions and peppers go a long way to making pizza a rich tapestry of woven, complimentary flavors, instead of just a slippery bunch of layers.

According to Pizza.com, “eating pizza once a week can reduce the risk of esophageal cancer.” But Elitedaily.com warns that “34% of the average American adult’s body fat comes from pizza.”

We still make pizza most Friday nights. When our kids were little, pizza wasn’t cause for celebration as it was in my distant youth. Their elementary school held pizza parties at the drop of every possible hat. They had it so often that it was de rigueur and not the least bit ritualistically special. They were growing accustomed to cold, cardboard-tasting (literally) Papa John’s and Domino’s pizzas. Heresy! We wanted them to know what real pizza tasted like.

It pushed our little Kenmore oven to the brink, firing it up to 500°F every Friday night for almost 20 years. We couldn’t achieve the blistering hot 600° and 800° temperatures that special wood burning or coal-fired pizza ovens reach, but we did our suburban best. And it was a great time to be spent together. They learned how to measure, how to wait for dough to rise, how to roll out circles (or amoebas) how to grate cheese, how to feed the dog indigestible pepperoni slices, how to draw pictures in flour (highly marketable art) and how to put up with their parents for a couple of hours every week. We also learned to appreciate getting blisters on the roofs of our mouths from gobbling down fresh, hot out-of-the-oven homemade pizza. No cardboard here! We never got good enough to toss the dough in the air, we still roll it out on the floured counter and we have only achieved the thin, crispy perfection of a crust a dozen or so times. Each week we hope. So many lessons learned from one dish.

This Friday we have some leftover Italian sausage, leftover meatballs and a fresh stick of pepperoni for a mélange of a meat topping. There is some basil growing on the windowsill, and we will toss a handful on top of the pizza when it emerges from the furnace of an oven. Our dough is rising in a bowl in the kitchen right this minute, waiting for pizza magic tonight. How about you?

“But magic is like pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s pretty good.”
― Neil Patrick Harris

And your pizza is nothing without good dough. Our friends at Food52 have many suggestions, but we like this recipe: https://food52.com/recipes/28124-homemade-pizza-dough

And if you want to adapt a pizza theme for every meal possible, visit this site:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/mackenziekruvant/pizza-power#.tsbvxZdMJ7

http://www.sallysapizza.com/

http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2011/09/a-pizza-snobs-approach-to-toppings.html

http://www.delish.com/recipes/cooking-recipes/unconventional-pizza-toppings#slide-1

http://www.taste.com.au/gallery/12+perfect+pizza+toppings,454?ref=,