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Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

silly putty

Figure drawing, college. We had to draw a hand grasping something. This is a Silly Putty egg. I spared you the one with the Lady Speed Stick.

I used to have this problem with talking. It wasn’t a larynx thing, mind you—it was a chicken thing. But while the universe gives us locusts and Ann Coulter and Ebola, it also gives us many ways to express ourselves besides talking. This is a plus.

Here are the ways that worked for me. Feel free to swipe any or all.

1) Art

If you have a good teacher, and I had a lot of them, you can learn a lot more than art in art class. Miss Lieneck, for example, used to say, ‘draw with your eraser.’ In other words, get comfortable with taking away as well as with adding.

Lesson: Editing is crucial to quality.

I was used to drawing my still-lifes small, in the center of the paper. In another class, Katy made me draw to the edges—to cover every inch of the 18×24″ paper.

Lesson: Think big. Force your brain out of that tiny space.

Katy also had us set up our own still-lifes, and we were told to draw them from unorthodox vantage points. She was an ex-hippie who let her two-year-old daughter stretch masking tape all over one side of the room while we drew on the other side. In other words, she was exactly what I needed. I drew the below sitting cross-legged from the top of a three-drawer file cabinet, perched on a paper cutter.

At one point Katy suggested I go with the plant’s curved stem and make something new out of it. Blew my mind, honest to God, that I could actually choose to do that. Wait, I’m in charge of what I create?

Lesson: Make yourself look at the world from a new perspective. If you’ve never tried your own, give that a whirl.

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Be kind. I was 17.

2) Writing

It can be fun, not to mention ferociously lucrative, to BS around with writing, but my teachers giggled at that prospect. In high school we were constantly nabbed with the red pen when we weren’t clear with our assertions. Probably the most common school-wide margin scrawl on our essays was ‘Proof??’ This is why I’m not writing for Philip Morris.

Lesson: You can say anything you want as long as you back it up. Death to ambiguity.

3) Cooking

Then the spoken word finally burst forth! Like Bruce Banner’s biceps out of his shirt sleeves when he was served a grande instead of a venti!* Right? Nope. Not yet, anyway.

That took time and piles of therapy. But the reason why I didn’t implode and make a disaster all over one portion of the Jersey Shore is because I was nevertheless talking—through my drawing, through my writing. And through cooking.

Cooking is something I’ve done since I was a wee child, working my way up from cookies and muffins to being the go-to Easter bread dough kneader. I don’t draw every day (not even close, considering for the first half of my life I drew as often as I brushed my teeth, or more). I don’t write every day. But I cook every day. It’s helpful when one wants to eat. But it’s also valuable and powerful expression. I’m untrained, but I picked up a few things on my own.

I cook when I want to sort through a dilemma, or when I need to step away from a problem. I cook when I want to celebrate, or when I want to connect with someone. I cook when I’m upset, and also when I’m feeling all nesty and cozy. I cook when I want to speak but it’s not the right time, or it’s just not appropriate. I cook when there seem to be too many loose ends in my life that I can’t control, and I need to do something that has a concrete start and finish so I can sleep. This generates an awful lot of food, but darned if it doesn’t work.

These days I don’t usually have a problem with talking. But I’m saluting the universe for giving me options in speaking, and for the teachers who insisted that every expression be strong and clear. And I can’t forget the people around me who help share the spoils. My freezer’s only so big.

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*I’m clear, but I didn’t say I was good.

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My black bottom pumpkin pie.

It’s happened twice in the past couple of weeks and I’m grinning like Christmas morning just thinking about it. The first time: a pair of college-aged girls was standing rapt at the display of pumpkins in my local health food store. The pumpkins were pinkish and large and squat like cheese pumpkins, so I knew they’d make great pies.

Girl 1: ‘Oh, LOOK at them! We have to get one!’

Girl 2: ‘But…what do we do with it?’

This is when I swooped in like a miniature superhero in Simple brand sneakers. ‘They’re baking pumpkins. You slice them in half, put them cut side down on a cookie sheet, put them in the oven at 375 or 400 for a half hour or 45 minutes until you can pierce them easily with a knife. Then you take them out, let them cool, scoop out the goo, puree it and drain it in a sieve over a bowl, and then you bake with it. Makes AWESOME pies.’

They squealed. College girls do this.

Girl 1: ‘Omigod we HAVE to make one!’

Girl 2: ‘Thank you so much for your advice!’

This made my day…not even kidding. Then it happened again today at an apple orchard.

20-something-or close-enough guy reading the sign: ‘Whaaaaaaat the hell is a CHEESE pumpkin?’

I swooped in again, this time rocking Eastern Mountain Sports hiking boots.* ‘It’s named that because it looks like a cheese wheel. Have you ever seen a big wheel of cheese, like Parmigiano-Reggiano? Someone thought these looked like a whole cheese.’ ‘Wow…!’

Then I gave him the same instructions, ending with the requisite, ‘…And they’re AWESOME for pie.’ He grinned and said thanks. I saw him a few minutes later with a cheese pumpkin teetering on one shoulder, heading for the checkout.

All of which got me thinking about the chronology of cooking.

Here in the U.S., from the mid-century back, people (usually women) were in the kitchen every day making three squares for their families. Some enjoyed it and some didn’t, but it had be done either way. Prepared foods and restaurants weren’t commonplace, so if you wanted to eat, you cooked.

War-time brought many women out of the kitchen and into the workforce; someone had to take over the jobs the boys serving overseas had left behind. Convenience foods saved working women time, and was a boon to those who’d never liked cooking. I think of a friend’s grandmother who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania in the 1920s, which translates to limited or no plumbing or electricity, a gaggle of animals to take care of, a similar gaggle of siblings to take care of, and oh right, cooking 100% from scratch every single day, all year.** She became a mother in the early 1940s, moved to the suburbs, and worked as a beautician while her husband served in World War II. I looked through her recipe file and let me tell you—once convenience foods became available, she jumped on them and never looked back.

Then the women’s movement happened in the ’60s and ’70s. And for all its virtues and heaps of blessings, it had a bastard child: some mothers who associated cooking with being chained to the stove deliberately didn’t teach their daughters how to cook. They didn’t want their daughters to suffer the same lot they had, and instead told them to go to work and never again to give a glance back into the kitchen.

I am not blaming those mothers; they thought they were protecting their children. But they threw the baby out with the bathwater, because many, many girls in that generation don’t know a peach from a nectarine. So while those girls may have been spared one fate, they suffered another. For what is more basic than real food, and what is more grievous than being distanced from it, and thus crippled? We’re talking about what we live on here.

Things are changing in the food industry; we read about new developments every day in the world of organics, GMOs, farm to fork and more. But the most rewarding, for my money, is what’s changing in kitchens. People are beginning to occupy them again, and not just to twirl a bowl of Spaghetti-Os in the nuker. They are becoming curious again. In some families, daughters are teaching their mothers how to cook, those same women who were chased out of the kitchen and told to go to work. Usually the learning goes one way, forward. But lovely, isn’t it, the learning going the other way?

I’d fallen for the young ‘un stereotype, that they subsist entirely on Ramen noodles and Taco Bell. I’m wrong. They want to learn. They want to farm—I’m reading and seeing more of this every day. They want to cook. Maybe they’ll be the generation that can find balance between work and proper cooking. They were fascinated, and I was fascinated right back.

(I’d also like a 30% kickback from the health food store and apple orchard. After all, it was my sweet talking that sold two pumpkins for them.)

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*I vary the shoes during my superhero workday. Kind of a calling-card thing. Crap, now I’m giving away all my secrets.

**And remember that in those days and in that time, if you wanted chicken for supper, you started on it at noon. With a hatchet.

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For a change, here’s a tale of redemption preceded by really breathtaking incompetence. I had one All-Clad pan, a quart of olive oil, and a dream. And the result was I chased a good 97% of the oxygen out of my house. Man, I wish I were kidding.

I’ve never written about deep-frying because I’ve never done it before Wednesday night, when I made fried zucchini blossoms. I’ve always wanted to try them, and I was so excited when one of my readers submitted her recipe for my cooking project. When a native Roman offers you a recipe for this, you take it. Here it is, lightly edited.

Fried Zucchini Flowers with Mozzarella and Anchovy

3 or 4 squash flowers per person, very fresh and without the pistils. Flowers are extremely delicate so open them carefully and stuff with a little cube of mozzarella cheese and a piece of anchovy. Then prepare a thick batter with flour, sparkly cold water (or beer). Dip the stuffed flower into the batter and fry in lots of oil, very hot. Remove them when light-brown colored and dry the excess oil with a paper towel. It comes out like a cloud, with inside….the surprise!

Daniela Cassoni

Rome, Italy

gourmetaly.com

First I went to my favorite organic farm to pick some flowers, male ones. Males are just flowers; they won’t have a little tiny zucchini on the stem, or a little tiny pumpkin*. They’re both in the same Curcubit family and so the flowers look very similar. Either will work. Took a peek to make sure there weren’t any bugs inside the flowers, taking a breather from the heat. There were. Shook them out.

Then I went home and got started on this very simple recipe. Daniela doesn’t give amounts, so I winged it, and it still worked fine. That part, anyway. I pulled apart fresh mozzarella into pieces about the size of a grape, but I could have made them bigger. For the batter, I combined 1/2 cup all-purpose flour with 1/2 cup cold filtered water** and stirred it with a fork. The batter wasn’t as thick as she suggested it should be, but this worked for me. I lined a plate with a napkin so the flowers could drain on it as I took them out of the oil.

Don’t I sound so on-the-ball so far? What a superhero!

Now for the smoke part…

1) I should have washed the flowers and removed the pistils before heating up the oil. I’ll rephrase: The oil got way overheated and started puffing smoke. So when I put the flowers in they cooked within three seconds and in the fourth turned black, emitting several uncomfortable-looking bits of charred flour or cheese or anchovy for all I know. Unless oil can solidify and burn? Lord knows it was hot enough, so this is entirely possible.

2) I set the oil on high. Newsflash, Maris: oil will get as hot as Daniela says it needs to be if you have it on medium or medium-low and wait a little. Then it won’t, you know, smoke up the place so much that you expect Bela Lugosi to pop by.

Result: It smoked up the place, Bela Lugosi summarily ran for his life, the fire alarm in my hallway went off, I grabbed a chair to stand on, yanked the contraption apart with one hand and held a battered, cheesed, anchovied flower in the other. Then I opened every single window and my back door.

But I kept going. So the oil sort of shone in a lurid way! So the house was thick as pea soup! I had flowers to fry. One by one I dropped them in, and after every other breath (read: cough) I took them out.

I didn’t expect them to taste good—look at the picture below, they’re not exactly the picture of health—but I was knocked out.  It sounded a lot like this: ‘COUGHCOUGHCOUGHCOUGHcrunchoooooohnotbad! Pretty freaking amazing, actually. Crunch. Oh my…God. WOW!’

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Exhausted.

I ate every single one within 30 seconds and while standing at my counter. It was impossible to stop.

When you make these—and I hope you will, because they are RIDICULOUSLY delicious—do as I say and not as I do: do your prep work in advance, have the oil on medium or medium-low heat and make sure it doesn’t smoke. It will get hot enough soon enough. Olive oil has a high smoke point, too. Use canola for a better shot. Then work quickly and serve immediately.

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Daniela, thank you for the recipe. Next time I’ll do right by it.

And as has become the custom when I foul up, I’m entertaining suggestions on how to remove the burnt oil from the sides of the pan. No, really.

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Pouting.

*I’m sure there’s a more scientific or at the very least educated way of describing this. It will not be found on this blog.

**Didn’t use sparkling because I don’t like it as a drink, and didn’t want to waste it. Same goes for beer. If any of you make the recipe Daniela’s way, please write in and let me know how it tastes. I’m curious.

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I’ve always been fascinated by things that make no sense on paper. Like meeting someone and feeling an immediate and inexplicable connection. Or one day feeling absolutely compelled to go to Mexico.* Or this: A week or so ago I picked corn—off a cornstalk, that is—for the first time. And I loved it, just as much as I loved digging for potatoes.** Which was especially great because I’d been wanting to make a recipe I’d accepted for my year-long cooking project, one from a friend who was raised in Ohio and now lives in Maryland.

I’ve never had corn fritters before, let alone made them, but I figured using local, organic corn I’d picked that afternoon could hardly foul up the recipe.

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Not as high as an elephant’s eye. But maybe a well-fed hippo’s.

I’d read that to test of an ear of corn for ripeness you’re supposed to peel back a little of the husk and pierce an end kernel with a fingernail. If corn juice squirts out, you’re apparently good. Here’s a simpler method: If the ear’s fat, it’s ready.

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Really beautiful, and I didn’t see any children. Bonus.

When I got home I set about the less-than-enjoyable task of stripping the kernels by standing ears upright in a bowl and scraping them down with a chef’s knife. This is a task that at the very least means searching for 92 errant wet kernels that have ricocheted out of the bowl, and at the very worst means assassinating your bowl by impalement. The first happens every single time, the second not yet. I need a better idea. Send ’em if you have ’em.

I’ve never cooked with lard, although I’m not afraid to. It has a murky reputation—people have the idea that it’s horrible for you—but it actually has less saturated fat than butter. Finding it isn’t as easy to come by in suburban New Jersey as you’d think. Kidding. But I’ve read that New Jersey was once comparable to Parma when it came to pig production, and specifically fine hams. Would that it were still the case.

Not today. And I found just one variety, but it was so processed that it didn’t need to be refrigerated, which grossed me out considerably. Finally I went with a pat of butter. And it was good, but I’m not giving up on finding decent lard. The flavor’s got to be outrageous.

This recipe does not call for salt. I put a pinch in the batter and liked it, but as we say in publishing, this is purely a style issue. Add it or don’t. On the whole, the recipe is wonderfully Midwestern, reflective of the many Midwesterners I am proud to call friends—straightforward, unfussy, honest and utterly free of pretension. These fritters are not meant to impress. They are simply meant to taste good, which, quite frankly, matters a whole bunch.

And if you get the opportunity to pick your corn off the stalk…please put on your boots and jump at the chance. There’s nothing like it.

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Corn Fritters

6 ears corn kernels, cut fine (I mashed a few with a potato masher and left a few whole because I like texture. Again, a style issue.)

1/2 c all-purpose flour

1/2 c milk

1 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

1 tbsp lard

Mix, drop by half-cupfuls into hot fat, and fry. Flip when browned. Serve hot. (Medium low heat will work to cook the inside; meanwhile the outside will brown up all pretty pretty.)

Jo Grundy

Sykesville, MD

Thanks, Jobo!

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*The first has happened to me. The second happened to my uncle, decades ago. He went down the church steps with his family one Sunday and casually said, ‘I think I’ll go to Mexico today.’ And he WENT. That was the kind of guy he was.

**Silverton Farms in Toms River, NJ allows customers to pick almost anything, which is insanely cool. I asked the young student who works there if any other customers dig for potatoes besides me, and shocker, she barely blinked: ‘No, just you.’

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You know I’m not usually one to make the fancy stuff, but the recipe for the above looked so good that it had to be done. And I just tried a search on Gourmet.com, successor of the late and much lamented magazine, so I could link you to it, but it’s not there.

Crapsky. I hope you like the picture.

Well…it’s choux (the eclair itself), which made my house smell like Christmas because my dad used to make puffs from the same batter every year at the holidays.

I bought the peaches from a local farmer yesterday. They’re peeled and sliced and tossed in a little bit of sugar.

The cream is heavy cream to which I added a little more sugar and a little bit of bourbon and whipped until thick.*

The sauce is completely out of control. It’s homemade caramel to which you add sweet butter and more bourbon. Right now the cold of the fridge has made all of that butter firm up, which is good because I’ve been trying to think of things I could stick in there to sop it up with and I don’t even drink.

Then you stack those puppies up and eat them with a fork. Unless you’re my brother-in-law, in which case you go at them like a meatball parm. Which I wholly respect.

Only one month left of summer…I say let peach juice run down your arms.

*I told my Facebook tribe this morning that I didn’t know until I bought this bottle that liquor can come in plastic bottles as well as glass. Useful when I’m on the lam and don’t want to be weighed down when I’m jumping from boxcar to boxcar. Those boys at Jim Beam are always thinkin.’

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From the Couldn’t-Make-This-Up files: When my college boyfriend and his best buddy were working long hours at the pharmacy downtown, I’d sometimes bake them raisin bran muffins as a treat. One time I dropped off a bag of them to the buddy (Jimmy) while my boyfriend (Frank) was out on a delivery. I called Frank later to ask how he had liked them and he said, ‘What muffins?’ Then, ‘Jim—Marisa brought muffins? Where are they?’ With remarkable shamelessness Jimmy showed him the inside of the empty bag. Then he put Jimmy on the phone. I asked, ‘The bag’s empty? What about the paper muffin cups?’ He said, ‘Muffin cups?’

You know what you’re thinking happened? Yeah. Happened.

These are pretty much that good, though, not that I advise you to be as indiscriminate as Jimmy. There are better ways to get fiber in your diet.

This recipe was given to my mom by a fellow mom from our little town. She jotted it down onto a recipe card—women in the early 80s and prior were wont to recipe-jot—and it has been a favorite of mine ever since.

Bran muffins, in my experience, are either oily, dry as asbestos, or weigh as much as a Hyundai Elantra. These are light and finely textured at 20 minutes in the oven. I like them darker and slightly chewier at 30 minutes (see helpful pic above). If you can find non-GMO cereal, I salute you. Extra raisins are a plus, too.

This recipe is another example of what Sara Moulton, formerly of Gourmet magazine, would call a dump recipe. You can make it happen from scratch in the morning with no problem, bake just enough for breakfast, and keep the rest of the batter in the fridge for the rest of the week.

1 15 oz. box raisin bran

5 c all-purpose flour

1 c granulated sugar

1 c packed brown sugar

5 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp salt

4 eggs

1 qt. buttermilk or plain yogurt

1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Combine first six ingredients in a really big bowl. Add remaining and mix until moist. Fill greased or paper-muffin-cup-lined muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or longer. Serve warm or at room temperature. Peel off the paper muffin cups and discard. For crying out loud.

Batter can be covered and stored in the fridge for up to a month.

Here’s how much it serves:*

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*If you look closely you’ll see that my mom originally wrote ‘halve the recipe’, then scribbled it out. These are addictive. Don’t half.

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Cheerful reminder: June 27 is the deadline for recipe submissions:

https://mcproco.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/project-you-me-and-the-world/

Totally loved the creative and homey recipes I received this week. Please send more. Feed me, Seymour.

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I learned a lot as I researched this post; mainly, that I need to make the radical decision to do all of my research early—like, say, before shooting. If I had, I would have made sure the lilac blossoms below were shot with the ones above. The way it is now, they look like they threw a Lego in the classroom and I put them in timeout.

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Totally hanging their heads.

Anyway. Part 2 of the edible wild series! The sun’s getting closer, it’s greening everything up, and lots of flowers that are blooming now are edible.

Some cheerful reminders:

1) Be sure that what you think you’re picking is what you are in fact picking.

2) Don’t pick from roadsides because dogs have a singular way of worshiping beauty in nature.

3) Don’t pick off other people’s lawns unless they’re pals who definitely don’t use pesticides, and besides you made them devil’s food cake pops last New Year’s Eve and they never said thank you.

Clockwise from top top:

Cherry (Prunus ‘Kwanzan’ Kanzan)

Cherry trees are in the Rose family. Look closely at a wild cherry blossom and a wild rose blossom; you’ll see the former looks like the latter’s kid sister. Pickled cherry blossoms and leaves are a treat in Japan, where an affinity with cherry trees is a sweet part of their nationalism. Note: Eat cherry leaves sparingly; they’re toxic in high amounts.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_blossom

*

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

I caved and included dandelion blossoms in this post despite the aggravation they gave me a few weeks ago while shooting my first ‘edible wild’ post. Today’s post needed a good blast of yellow, for which they should thank their lucky stars.

Blossoms can be eaten raw (fun in salads), or battered and fried. To me they taste grassy and slightly sweet.

umm.edu/altmed/articles/dandelion-000236.htm
*

Violet (Viola reichenbachiana)

Violets are the cutie patooties of the baking world these days, especially when sugared and arranged on top of cakes. This practice admittedly smacks of Martha, which isn’t always appealing, but in this case it works. A couple of purple or white violets, which have a teeny splash of purple in the middle, look really cool on a cupcake.

I’d heard that violets have a peppery flavor, so I tried one this afternoon to check. It didn’t. Just tasted grassy. Then I thought I tasted a slight, late-in-the-game pepperiness, but it’s just as likely that the garlic I had at lunch was messing with my head. Don’t have garlic for lunch one day, taste a violet and tell me the deal. Their cousins are edible as well—the pansy tastes grassy and the Johnny-Jump-Up tastes like wintergreen. Blossoms and leaves are both edible.

americanvioletsociety.org/Cooking_N_Decorating/ViolaChef_01.htm

*

Crab apple (Malus)

The apple is another member of the Rose family, and their blossoms are similar as well. These blossoms have a light, delicate flavor.

The twig shown was clipped from one of the wild trees that grow around the lake and provide the crab apples for my yummy jam every fall.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malus

*

And in timeout we have:

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

I’ll admit I wouldn’t have known the lilac’s blossoms were edible if I hadn’t browsed around Anthropologie last Thursday and seen a book on recipes for edible flowers. Okay.

Intensely fragrant lilac blossoms can serve as a base for homemade syrups, jellies and infusions. But remember they’re like your great aunt who lives in Boca—she never, ever forgets your birthday, but smells as though she takes morning laps in Givenchy Dahlia Noir. A little goes a very long way.

whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm

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