Miscellany & Poetry - On food, wine, film, lit & then some.

Come Get! Mush Biscuits

Last Xmas at the Director’s grandma’s abode in Des Moines, I finally got me some of them mush biscuits about which he’d raved time & again.

Below is the dough.

Mushbix2

And Mrs. Willard Brittin cutting circles in the dough using the same tin can she’s used for years.

Mushbix1

And the wonderful, light-as-light-gets biscuits that arise from said circles.

Mushbix

Upon receiving a comment on a recent post featuring the Military Meals at Home COOK BOOK from Todd of Broomfield Restaurant Reviews, who pondered the wonder of fried mush, it occurred to me to post the recipe the Director copied from his grandmother’s dictation—only semi-meticulously, granted. Having clarified a few details, this edited version sounds plausible to me, & I do know a thing or two about recipe writing. Then again, I haven’t made any serious effort to bake in years, so proceed at something of your own risk—& don’t hesitate to fill me in on the results.

Mush Biscuits

Serves ??

1 c. cornmeal

1 c. cold water

3 c. boiling water

2 t. salt, divided

1 scant c. lard (yes, lard)

1/2 c. + 1 t. sugar

1/4 c. warm water

1 pkg. dry yeast

8 c. flour

Mix cornmeal & cold water in heavy saucepan. Add boiling water & 1t. salt, stirring constantly. At the boiling point, cover & cook over low heat for 10 min.

Combine the cornmeal mixture with lard, 1/2 c. sugar & remaining t. salt. Let cool to lukewarm.

Meanwile, in a large bowl, add warm water & remaining t. sugar to dry yeast. Combine & let stand 20 min.

Add to bowl 8 c. flour, 2 at a time, & combine. Let rise until dough has doubled in size. Pound down, roll out & cut to form 3-in. circles of dough. Let rise again while preheating oven to 400°.

Bake 20 min. or until they look as pretty as the biscuits in the photo above.

***

As for fried mush, my best guess would be that once the cornmeal mixture has been combined with the lard, sugar & salt, you form patties therefrom, return ’em to the pan & cook ’em up at med-high heat until well browned? Then you probably serve ’em with gravy, syrup, a side of sausage & a round of red eyes. That’s what I’d do, anyway, & I bet Country-Fried Jesus would too.

Because I like to have seconds of everything: second thoughts (+ a slice of walnut-pear-Roquefort cake)

A day later, I already miss this crazy blog—& though I am starting other blogs & though there will be major changes around here, I don’t suspect I’m leaving Denveater for good, at least not yet. We need to see a marriage counselor before we see a divorce lawyer.

Sometimes I just have to say something out loud in order to decide if it’s true.

Bear with me for a few weeks; I’ll check in from time to time until I figure it out.

Meanwhile, please enjoy my pal Vanessa’s Cake aux Noix, Poires et Roquefort. Not sure why it’s not Gateau aux Noix, Poires et Roquefort, but she’s got a French mom & a French director-husband with whom she’s making this sure-to-be-awesome documentary about Star Wars, plus she translated the recipe just for me, so far be it from me to nitpick. At any rate, it’s rich in every direction—heavy & heavenly.

Vanessa's bread

Cake with Walnuts, Pears and Roquefort

Ingredients

Scant 1/2 lb. Roquefort, cubed
2 large pears
Scant 4 oz. walnuts
4 eggs
1.5 c. flour
2 heaping t. baking powder
scant 1/2 c. white wine***
2 heaping T. butter
4 T olive oil
S & P

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Peel the pears and cut them into slices, removing seeds and rind.

Heat half of the butter in a pan and slowly brown the slices.

Butter a loaf pan and put it in the fridge (this makes removing the cake easier).

Break the walnuts into slightly smaller pieces and toast them for 2 minutes in a dry pan.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, & a pinch of salt and pepper. Make a hole in the mixture and add the eggs. With a wooden spoon or spatula, combine the mixture and slowly add the wine and olive oil. Keep stirring until the batter becomes smooth. Then add the nuts, pears and Roquefort. Stir to combine.

Pour into the pan and cook for 40 minutes. Let it cool, then remove it from the dish. Serve  cold.

***Opt for a light white wine (banyuls, maury), which will go well with the fat from the Roquefort. Sauternes works too. [For everything. Denved.]

The Scoop Series: spotlight on Rebecca Ballenger, a community garden–founding, backyard chicken–raising, solar oven–using baker of onion casseroles, with recipe & a cameo appearance by Rachael Ray

Back in the 1980s when the word alternative as applied to youth culture still meant something, man, before it became doublespeak for blatantly commercial, my high school pals & I were its embodiment—

Kung fu hard sole -wearing, Sexton-Summer1974-reading,

Siouxsie_and_the_banshees-listening, A Touch of Clove-smoking,

self-styled insurgents against the stultifying god-guns-&-goat-roping conformism of Reagan-era Oklahoma. We were all, we knew, destined for artistic greatness &, more important, cute as hell.

Among us kimono-clad or skateboard-toting or white-facepainted mildly defiant ones was Rebecca Long, Reb-L for short. She was dark like me & witty like I fancied myself & shared my taste for comically huge costume jewelry.

Reconnecting 20 years later, we find we have more in common than ever. Except insofar as she does myriad fascinating things with her life & I just sit around eating & getting drunk or thinking about eating & getting drunk. (See artistic greatness.)

Above all, out in Arizona, she pretty much walks the walk of a green activist—but humbly, without talking the fucking annoying talk. Thus was I determined to break her silence; in so doing, I discovered that the way in which her brain processes information & shapes it into narrative is delightfully strange & worth revealing in detail & at length.

Tell the people who you are in a nutshell, without referencing Austin Powers.

Clearly, I have no clue who I am or I wouldn’t continue to seek the newest sparkly objects to capture my attention. My blog domain, Rebel with a Blog, is a vestige from high school. My junk mail account is a variant on Glamour Girl. I’m neither glamorous nor a rebel, so I obviously like to point out the obvious by pretending to be the opposite.

No, you do shit like teach kids out in the desert about sustainable agriculture. How? Is that your job?

The short answer is that I’m interacting with my children & their friends at their schools. It’s not my job, not my training, not my education, not my background, not my anything. But I love it. It’s the most fun pain in the ass ever.

A billion years ago, I found myself in the bird sanctuary—a 2.5-acre cultivated desert area at my children’s school—discussing the food harvests of pre-Columbian Sonoran Desert locals with kindergarteners:

073-PricklyPearFruits Images-1 Dirt15

prickly pears, mesquite beanpod flour, dirt—all the usual stuff.

My son’s teacher at the time was interested in all variety of sustainable-living issues. She knew I was in the desert discussing food with kids & that the primary source of my beef & produce was, & still is, local, through Tucson Community Supported Agriculture. I’m sure locavorism is listed somewhere among the Stuff White People Like but, being white, I just have to suck that up. The teacher asked if I would support a grant to establish a communal edible garden at the school. Being also a fool, I agreed.

My daughter’s school has a natural space on the premises, which was purchased with a Heritage Grant. After landscaping it, we were able to host educational events in what we then called the bird sanctuary. As we brought in more classes & had more events, we renamed it Borton Environmental Learning Lab, or BELL. Here’s me on Earth Day, the one in the goofy hat, discussing ground-hole identification: “Who lives down there?”

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This year we added a community garden. First we put in the coop, then we planted veggies & started composting. We are currently making a farm stand. So here I am, deep into backyard chickens, soil enrichment & onion festivals.

So the coop at school inspired you to build a coop at home? What’s it like to raise chickens? Party all the time?

My chickens came first. I advise my fellow gardeners at Borton on all things chicken, but I don’t know any more about chickens than I know about dogs or cats. I wanted chickens for, oh, YEARS, but I was hesitant in case they were dirty, expensive, trouble, illegal, whatever.

We started out with a male

Guinea-fowl-info0

guinea fowl.

His name was Guinea & boy, was he loud. But he loved me. I think that made my husband Jesse just the slightest bit jealous; he didn’t care for Guinea all that much. Of course, that could have because he roosted on the neighbor’s house & crowed like all get out—the bird, that is. He was handsome though.

One day Guinea disappeared. For my birthday Jesse got me a replacement guinea. Segunda wasn’t as pretty, but she was quieter. She went home to Jesus the night of my son’s 8th-birthday sleepover. She was eaten by an owl right outside my bedroom window. I heard the whole thing go down. I had pneumonia & was subsequently hospitalized.

Guinea & Segunda prepped us for chickens. Some friends who were leaving town offered us their flock, which was already laying, so we had to build a coop quick. The guineas’ home had been an old dog crate we pimped out with a perch & mirrors (they like to look at themselves). Chicken coops are coolest when made from salvaged materials, though you can buy premade ones. Ours is recently remodeled with the children’s old playset. It used to be decorated with

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tin flowers (more photos & info hereherehere),

but now it’s insulated with that stuff used to cover a water heater & Jesse’s old Jeep windows.

The schedule is easy; we let them out to range in the morning & feed them at some point. They roost themselves & we lock out the predators. In the day time, the dog &

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cat keep them company & keep potential problems at bay.

We like to sit & watch them. Sometimes we feed them raisins by hand. They are soft and fluffy, so can be nice to hold, but I am always waiting to be pooped on, & I don’t care to be pooped on.

We have three standards: a Cochin, Sailor Moon or Big Mamma as I like to call her; an Americana, Persephone; & a Barred Rock, Daisy. We have three bantams (smaller in size than standards). One is a Buff Orpington (not to be confused with, say,

Palmer
Dynasty2

Palmer Cortlandt from All My Children or Blake Carrington from Dynasty—Denved.),

Buttercup, & the other two are two of those (as my great aunt calls plants she can’t name)—Firefly & Flower. Some people do not feel that chickens should be named, but ours are docile, friendly & members of the family.

Chickens should be on appropriate feed. Are they pullets? They need to be on grow feed. Are they laying? They need to be on lay feed. Are they boilers? Let’s not think on boilers for this love fest. To be a good egg producer, hens need calcium for the shell, protein for the yolk & grit for digestion. They also need lots of water; the egg white is 90% water. They will eat any kitchen scraps, but not rotten food or potato skins (so you won’t see them at the bar at Chili’s). The best part about that is that you get to feed your hens & use their poop to heat up your compost. No waste!

I’d like to branch out into ducks. Apparently duck eggs are the bomb for baking. Plus they swim around in kiddie pools. How sweet is that?

What do you do with the eggs?

For one thing, we measure them. We were afraid my son wasn’t getting enough math and science iat school. Our daughter is still a bit young, but is it ever too early to introduce empirical methods? We measure the frequency of egg production by hen (the banties lay small white eggs, the Americana lays green eggs & the other standards lay brown eggs) & by flock. We measure the width—which is based on pelvis size & which is practically the same by hen— & the length, which has more variance, & which some say can indicate whether the chicks will be male or female. When the hens are molting, or losing their feathers, they do not lay.

At the height of their production, we got six eggs per day (one from each hen). That was enough for us to share & to establish a regular gift to our neighbors. Now only our Americana is laying and the Barred Rock has just started back after molting. Unfortunately, the cat loves to sleep in their nest & and the hens aren’t that keen on laying around her. We are getting maybe six eggs per week.

A word about the flavor of backyard eggs—heaven. I’m not even kidding. Fresh eggs can’t be beat. People are knocking down my door to be my friend thinking they’ll get eggs out of me. From my hens, I mean. The difference for me is really in the texture: smooth, fluffy, light & not at all rubbery. Older eggs are better for boiling, so use store-bought for that.

You have been known to cook said eggs in your solar oven. What’s that all about?

My solar oven is soon to be on loan to Rachael Ray. I mean, not directly to her but to her producers, who are visiting the school. RR is interested in the garden & in the kids selling their goods at market. But technically, it’s not my oven; rather, it’s on loan from one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met in life. She used to be in charge of the bird sanctuary, but she moved to Mexico with her family. As a salve for my shredded heart [at her departure], she loaned me her solar oven. I immediately baked potatoes. Then I made brownies. In general I’ve had success with solar cooking, but dressing on Thanksgiving Day—not so much. It was overcast. I recommend sunny Thanksgivings where possible.

What is it exactly?

Get in your

3408

WABAC machine

& head to Miami in the 1970s, where middle-aged women in knitted swimwear fry themselves with reflective panels poolside at the resort. Like all great inventions (e.g. kites that attract lightning), it wasn’t long before a dual purpose was discovered for those panels: cook skin, cook stuff. Unfortunately early solar oven models didn’t live up to their potential because the panels could only generate heat enough to bake flesh. Often they left soft gooey middles in casseroles, much to the consternation of the few June Cleavers who hadn’t turned to prepackaged foods.

Misty Rainbow Cloverleaf was also way grossed out, but she was dedicated to pinko liberal causes like earth loving. One day she watched horrified as her son, perched on the concrete roof of the commune’s underground bunker, burned ants by directing the sun’s rays through a magnifying glass. Voila! The answer to her prayers. The reflective beach panels could capture a maximum amount of the sun’s rays & direct them through a glass oven door. The glass door would have the additional benefit of allowing her children to see their

Alieninvasion

in action.

Okay, really, I know NOTHING about solar ovens except that they are an entertaining diversion, economical & environmentally sound. They cost around $250, which is ridiculous because the basic model is a wooden box painted black inside, with a self-leveling shelf, a glass door & metal wings. Solar ovens have been around forever & Peace Corps alums can often make them using tinfoil & a pizza box.

RLoven2

Recently I made onion pudding. I like it because it sounds disgusting, but also because wow, YUM. One of the things I appreciate about Denveater is the standard disclaimer about measurements. That’s also the way I roll. The disclaimer should apply to recipe titles. If you are really anti-onion pudding, call it a casserole. Throw peppers into it & call it a frittata. Pour it in a crust & have yourself some refrigerator pie—or quiche, if you insist, though that totally goes against the whole vibe I’m working toward.

Without further ado:


Onion Pudding

(brashly stolen from Southern Living, served by my ‘Bama Mama & adapted by me)

RLonion2

Ingredients

6 large eggs (I used 7 because two were from our bantam hens, so were smallish)
2 c. heavy cream
3 oz. shredded parmesan
3 T. all-purpose flour (Why don’t I have any of this? I use a combo of wheat pastry flour and bread flour)

1 T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1/2 c. butter  (but pul-LEEZE. Less will suffice)
6 medium-size onions (I used my CSA yellow onions)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Stir together first 3 ingredients.
Combine flour & next three ingredients.
Add dry to wet.

Caramelize onions in butter until they reach

RLonion

this state.

Stir onions into egg mixture & transfer to a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish.
Bake for 30 minutes or until set.

And what’s this about Rachael Ray borrowing your oven?

I hope her producers are gentle with “my” solar oven while they have her. I hope they remember that she works best when her panels & window are clean. Will they remember to flip up the nylon closure so that it doesn’t melt from the manufactured heat? Oh! And she likes to be tilted 30° west of the direct rays of the sun. That way she doesn’t have to be shifted while cooking.

Dear oven, I’m so sorry I pimped you out like this. My explanation, because it’s no excuse, is that it’s for the betterment of the world. People all across America might think twice about passive energy. Children will be amazed by the sun’s power. You will shine brightly. And I will be there to pick you up & dust you off. Then, we will resume our experiments with casseroles. Also I’ve got the best granola bar recipe…

In that case, to be continued at some point in some way, shape or form…

The Hell-Yeah Recipe Files: Denveater’s mashed potato casserole

***Don’t you worry your lovely little heads as to whether I’ll ever get back out of the kitchen & up against a bar where I belong. As soon as the financianal—oh, sorry, is that a typo?—bleeding slows to something more like a trickle than a geyser, & since there ain’t much left to spew that’s imminent, I’ll belly forth.***

Most publications devoted to healthy cooking host a column, e.g. Cooking Light’s Lighten Up, that revises a fattening recipe, say, chicken-fried foie gras Alfredo en croute, to yield a lighter dish—cornflake-crusted chicken liver I Can’t Believe It’s Alfredo en crispbread or something.

Not running most publications, & for that matter not being devoted to much of anything except culinary mayhem, I’d just as soon transform light recipes into rippling, dripping invitations to wallow in your own flab.

But no such luck with this baby; cranked all the way, it still doesn’t go to 11. The original, clipped from Weight Watchers, is that staunchly light—not to mention synthetic, what with nonfat processed cream cheese product, nonfat yogurt & reduced calorie margarine. Oh, & abominable garlic powder. My version, cutting some of the crap & adding extra-extra flavAH, manages to seem less like a pile of light gray slop a corpse would be slumped over in a grainy photo Morgan Freeman’s eyeballing in Se7en. Plus it’s eeeeeeasy.

Mashedpotatocasserole

Mashed Potato Casserole***

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

Prep time: about 10 min.

Cooking time: about 45 min.

2 lbs. baking potatoes, cut into 1/2 in. dice

8 oz. cream cheese or Neufatchel

1 c. plain yogurt (you can use the nonfat stuff if you’d like, but spring for a dandy brand, like Fage)

3 cloves garlic, minced

cumin

curry powder

S & P

paprika

vegetable oil or cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a saucepot, cover the potatoes with water & bring to a boil; reduce heat & simmer until tender & easily pierced with a fork, about 15 min. Drain.

In a bowl, combine all remaining ingredients but oil. With a potato masher or even a large spoon or fork,** mash the ingredients until completely mixed & fairly smooth.

Grease or spray either a 9-in. pie plate or a 10-in. loaf pan & spoon in mixture. If desired, sprinkle the top with a little extra paprika & bake uncovered for 30 min.

***Standard disclaimer: On reasoned principle, I’m not inclined to indicate amounts for cooking fats and seasonings except where absolutely necessary since, in my own fairly extensive experience, adjustments to taste are all but inevitable. Just as you might automatically—& hilariously, I might add!—append the phrase “between the sheets” to the end of every cookie fortune, so you can, to every ingredient for which quantity isn’t listed, tack on the qualification “within reason.” (If by some astronomical odd you happened to arrive at this blog looking for the very 1st recipe you’re ever going to attempt & really truly need estimates, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.)

**The original recipe calls for an electric mixer for a super-smooth texture, but A, I like a little chunk, & B, I start with smaller pieces of potato to make mixing unnecessary. Still, if you like it smooooooth, mix away.

The Awkward Recipe Files: Denveater’s roasted eggplant-zucchini soup with herbed sour cream

You may be wondering why I file some recipes under “Awkward” & others under “Half-Baked.”

Good luck with that.

Or you may be wondering what kind of potassium scurvy I’ve got that I crave so much eggplant. All I can tell you is it started in college with the discovery of a ding-dong snack that was low-calorie enough I could consume it in bulk sans guilt, as I am wont to do even now that I don’t have a paper on assonance as its own form of memory in Lolita due in the morning.

I myself am wondering why 1 of the most mournful couplets in postmodern American poetry just popped into my head, by James Tate:

It’s midnight.

I wish it were 11:59.

At any rate, my Flaccid Eggplant Chips—no? maybe Eggplant Flaps?—are easy as pie (for which, yes, I do have a recipe featuring eggplant): all you do is preheat the oven to 400°; slice a roughly 1 lb. eggplant* crosswise into fairly thin disks—1/4-1/2 in. tops; halve or quarter each disk, depending on your preference sizewise; coat a baking sheet with cooking spray (or lightly with vegetable oil if you’re feeling sassy); pour some soy sauce into a small dish; & either use a pastry brush to coat both sides of the eggplant flaps or, if you’re down with a little waste—& obviously, who isn’t?—just dip them in directly to the dish, shaking afterward to avoid excess. Arrange on sheet & bake for 20 min., at which point they should be almost gooey in that marvelous way eggplant has of practically deliquescing. Even so, most will peel cleanly off the sheet, though a few will stick. Eat ’em plain or toss ’em into a salad, so long as you’re not aiming for presentation points.

Or do what I did recently—turn them into an accidentally awesome soup

Eggplantsoup

which shouldn’t foam like that unless you’ve just poured it straight from an especially powerful blender.

Roasted Eggplant & Zucchini Soup with Herbed Sour Cream***

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter

Prep time: 15 min.
Cooking time: 20-25 min.

For the soup:
1 eggplant, roughly 1 lb.

2 large zucchini

cooking spray or vegetable oil

soy sauce

4-5 c. beef or vegetable stock or broth**

S if needed & P

For the sour cream:
ca. 1/2 c. packed fresh basil

ca. 1/2 c. packed fresh cilantro

ca. 1/2 c. packed fresh mint

3 cloves garlic

1-2 T red wine vinegar

juice of 1/2 lemon

cumin

allspice

S & P

dash of cayenne or Tabasco

ca. 1-1 1/2 c. sour cream, regular or light

1-2 T olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400° & follow the directions for Eggplant Flaps. As soon as the baking sheet is in the oven, spray or lightly oil a second baking sheet. Slice zucchini into disks about 1/2–3/ 4 in. in thickness, arrange on sheet, & brush or spray the tops with more oil (do not dunk the zucchini in soy sauce as well, as you’re guaranteeing a sodium overload); add pan to oven. This may or may not increase the cooking time from 20 to 25 min.; the important thing is that the veggies are soft.

While they’re cooking, heat the stock/broth in a soup pot & prepare the sour cream: Coarsely chop the herbs & chop the garlic. Add to a food processor with all remaining ingredients but the olive oil; when blended until smooth, add the oil & pulse to incorporate. Set aside.

When the veggies are done, place in blender with stock or broth & puree to a mostly smooth, only slightly chunky consistency; season with S & P to taste (& do taste, keeping in mind that between the soy sauce & the broth there’s already plenty of salt in there). Serve with generous dollops or swirls of the sour cream—enough to insure that it fully infuses rather than merely garnishes the soup.

*All this bother about salting eggplant & letting stand to release the bitter juices—I don’t buy it. The only really bitter eggplants I’ve ever encountered were severely underripe or overripe, so I’ll go out on a limb & advise you just get a ripe one.

***Standard disclaimer: On reasoned principle, I’m not inclined to indicate amounts for cooking fats and seasonings except where absolutely necessary since, in my own fairly extensive experience, adjustments to taste are all but inevitable. Just as you might automatically—& hilariously, I might add!—append the phrase “between the sheets” to the end of every cookie fortune, so you can, to every ingredient for which quantity isn’t listed, tack on the qualification “within reason.” (If by some astronomical odd you happened to arrive at this blog looking for the very 1st recipe you’re ever going to attempt & really truly need estimates, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.)

**Look, if you’ve got the time & energy to make stock from scratch, you’ve got the time & energy to figure out how. Sheesh, do I have to do everything around here?

The Half-Baked Recipe Files: Denveater’s crumb-coated pasta with chestnuts & brie

As bloodhound owner Harlan Pepper in Best in Show, Christopher Guest has that great addled gem of a Southern-drawled monologue—

I used to be able to name every nut that there was. And it used to drive my mother crazy, because she used to say, “Harlan Pepper, if you don’t stop naming nuts,” and the joke was that we lived in Pine Nut, and I think that’s what put it in my mind at that point. So she would hear me in the other room, and she’d just start yelling. I’d say, “Peanut. Hazelnut. Cashew nut. Macadamia nut.” That was the one that would send her into going crazy. She’d say, “Would you stop naming nuts!” And Hubert used to be able to make the sound, he couldn’t talk, but he’d go “rrrawr rrawr” and that sounded like “macadamia nut.” Pine nut, which is a nut, but it’s also the name of a town. Pistachio nut. Red pistachio nut. Natural, all natural white pistachio nut…

—which resonates every holiday season as I turn into a cross-eyed echolalic going “chestnuts, chestnuts, chestnuts” all the live-long day. They’re chewy, they’re fruity, they’re low in fat—what’s not to love?

Here’s what: their harvest season is stupidly short, about 2 mos. in autumn—which is why recipes for holiday stuffing with fresh chestnuts are legion & recipes for, say, potato salad with fresh chestnuts sadly aren’t. Luckily, you can store them in the fridge for several weeks; year-round, you can order dried chestnuts online or buy them jarred—for instance, as I just discovered, at Urban Pantry on S. Broadway (about which I have much news, to be shared over the course of the next few days; that’s some cool new shit owner Alex Failmezger has been stocking up on over there).

Chestnuts

Here’s what else: like fava beans & pomegranates, they require the kind of mind-numbing prep work that only literally nitpicky obsessos like me who get high off pulling the lint from the dryer & tearing hangails free & tweezing hairs at the root &, full disclosure, peeling dead skin & popping zits get a kick out of (not, rest semiassured, simultaneously).

But of all the methods I’ve encountered, I came across one this year that required half as much time & trouble—no soaking, no scoring, no peeling problem. I’m baffled, but I’m sold. Try it with that last fresh batch you just haven’t been able to face yet, or substitute the dried or jarred stuff & keep it in your files for next fall.

Roasting Chestnuts the Less-Likely-to-Commit-Harikiri-Before-You’re-Through Way

(courtesy of one “Cook from Allentown, PA”)

Prep time: about 1 hr.

Cooking time: 20-30 min.

Preheat broiler.

Trim nuts: On one end of the chestnut is a little oval, differently colored than the rest; chop it off. It doesn’t slice clean with your average chef’s knife; you have to poke a hole with the tip & then bear down.

Chestnutcutting

(Watch for internal discolorations like so as you go;

Chestnutrot

that’s rot.)

Broil nuts: Reserve 10-18 min. for each side, depending on how hot your broiler gets, until shell has darkened noticeably.

Peel nuts: Fresh from the oven, they’re hard to handle without a dishtowel, but as they cool you can use your bare hands. Start from the chopped-off end & basically fumble until the shell & skin slip off. While it’s always the case that they adhere more the more they cool, with this method I didn’t lose a single nut to impatience. They all came clean sooner rather than later.

Chestnutpeeling

Now you’re good to go on to a little concoction I like to call, because it’s what it is,


Denveater’s Crumb-Coated Pasta with Chestnuts & Brie***

Chestnutpasta

Prep time (minus chestnut prep time): 30 min.

Cooking time: under 10 min.


Serves 2-4, depending on capacity


olive oil, both for cooking & for dressing

1 small onion, chopped

3-4 garlic cloves, minced

30-35 roasted chestnuts (yield from about 1 lb. unshelled), chopped

about 1 lb. pasta (your best bets are smooth: noodles no thinner than spaghetti, shells, or tubes)**

6-8 oz. brie, cubed (I prefer more rather than less, but my tastes are monstrous)

breadcrumbs to taste (start with 1/2 cup & increase as necessary)

S & P


While heating water in pot for pasta, heat cooking oil in a skillet over med.-high heat; saute onions & garlic until soft and colored.


Cook pasta until al dente; while it’s cooking, toss chestnuts into skillet with onions & garlic. Continue to cook for a minute or 2, then set aside until the pasta is done.


Drain pasta & return to pot. Add chestnut-onion mixture & cubed brie to pot; toss until thoroughly mixed. Add bread crumbs & more than a drizzle but less than a deluge of finishing oil; toss again until pasta is well coated with both crumbs & oil.

Chestnutpasta2

Not, admittedly, the best tossing job ever.

***Standard disclaimer: On reasoned principle, I’m not inclined to indicate amounts for cooking fats and seasonings except where absolutely necessary since, in my own fairly extensive experience, adjustments to taste are all but inevitable. Just as you might automatically—& hilariously, I might add!—append the phrase “between the sheets” to the end of every cookie fortune, so you can, to every ingredient for which quantity isn’t listed, tack on the qualification “within reason.” (If by some astronomical odd you happened to arrive at this blog looking for the very 1st recipe you’re ever going to attempt & really truly need estimates, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.)


**Generally, I follow the Italian rule about matching the shape to the sauce, but since this is a relatively dry dish, it’s pretty versatile; I’d exclude only the more delicate or intricate shapes from your options—your bowties, your angel hair, your basic Escher knots.

The Half-Baked Recipe Files: Denveater’s faux risotto with lentils & mushrooms

Translated from the French-Italian, “faux risotto” means “not even close, you lazy, stupid American.” As it happens, I can make un vero risotto with, if not the best of them, at least better than the worst of them when I feel like it. But by some cruel twist of physiological fate—& I suspect I’m not alone in this—my cravings for especially moist carbohydrates run almost directly counter to my spunk; when one’s weary bones most need soaking in a hot bubbling bath of starch & fat, it’s all one can do to draw it.

So it’s this stuff to the rescue.

Lentilsandrice

I adapted the recipe for Creamy Brown Rice with Lentils years ago from—I don’t recall for sure, but I’d swear it was a copy of Weight Watchers magazine in a waiting room in a medical clinic in Brookline, Mass.; how very Elizabeth Bishop–esque of me, minus the revelatory profundity—adding mushrooms, parmesan & more sour cream for extra if less weight-watchful comfort. Not that this need be unhealthy; on the contrary, provided you substitute lowfat for regular sour cream & go easy on the cheese, with its wealth of fiber-rich brown rice & lentils it fully qualifies as wholesome.

Big note: On reasoned principle, I’m not inclined to indicate amounts for cooking fats and seasonings except where absolutely necessary since, in my own fairly extensive experience, adjustments to taste are all but inevitable. Just as you might automatically—& hilariously, I might add!—append the phrase “between the sheets” to the end of every cookie fortune, so you can, to every ingredient for which quantity isn’t listed, tack on the qualification “within reason.” (If by some astronomical odd you happened to arrive at this blog looking for the very 1st recipe you’re ever going to attempt & really truly need estimates, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.)

Denveater’s Faux Risotto with Brown Rice, Lentils & Mushrooms

Serves 2–4, depending on capacity

Prep time: 15 min.

Cooking time: 1 hr. 15 min.–1 hr. 30 min.

olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

8 oz. sliced mushrooms

1 heaping c. uncooked brown rice

curry powder

black mustard seeds (regular seeds are fine too; I happen to like the color contrast)

salt & pepper

4 c. water or broth, any type (except fish, natch), plus extra on reserve

1 c. dried lentils

about 1 c. sour cream, regular or light

grated parmesan

Heat oil in soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion & cook until soft, 5 min. or so, stirring occasionally. Add rice & spices; saute 1 minute, then add water or broth & lentils & bring to a boil.

Reduce heat & simmer roughly 1 hr., until rice & lentils are soft but not mushy, adding additional water or broth if liquid is gone before they’re done. Remove from heat & let sit 5 min.; stir in sour cream. Top with an extra dollop of sour cream & a sprinkling of parmesan.

Lentilsandrice2

The Awkward Recipe Files: Denveater’s eggplant casserole

Berenjena, melanzana, auberginethe world’s names for the eggplant are as gorgeously curvaceous as the veggie itself in all its bruise-hued heft & pulp, rich & soft. Of course, that the American English word constitutes a pun on female fertility only enhances one’s sense of its sensuousness. So to say it’s my favorite veggie doesn’t cut it—it’s the veggie I’ve long been most inspired by, have long aspired most to somehow resemble, embody.

Which is why I’ll try anything it’s in, even this.

EggplantdipB

Of the eggplant spillage I’ve been pillaging the shelves of East Europe Market to slurp up (see here, here), this Bulgarian muck was the least appealing—a little too problematically brown,

EggplantdipA

a little too smooth on top of that, & all too sickly in its sweetness, being heavy on tomatoes & carrots as well as eggplant. I’ll be skipping the ikra henceforth & sticking with the malidjano.

I’ll also be returning, as I always do, to my favorite eggplant dishes from around the globe—Punjabi baigan bharta (plump purple thumbs up to India’s Pearl’s version), Szechuan Yu Hsiang eggplant, Sicilian caponata, also Sicilian chocolate eggplant, Turkish imam bayildiGeorgian eggplant salad with walnuts & pomegranate seeds, Greek moussaka, obviously Middle Eastern baba ghanoush,*** etc. etc., as well as to my favorite eggplant dish from mine own little world: behold the ugly, crap-splattered eggplant casserole.

Eggplantcasserole

It all started with a recipe I came across several years back from, if I recall correctly, Cooking Light, but don’t quote me on that, which I’ll provide here & either get slapped with something legal or other or not:

Horseradish Cheese Bake

Serves 2
Prep time: 15 min.
Cooking time: 30 min.

1 1/2 cups finely chopped zucchini or yellow squash
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
6 oz. flake-style imitation crabmeat, lobster or scallops
4 oz. fat-free or reduced-fat cream cheese
1 T prepared horseradish
2 T shredded parmigiano-reggiano, plus extra for topping
1 1/2 t. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 t. bottled hot pepper sauce

Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly coat 2 1-c. ramekins or 2 10 oz. custard cups & a small skillet with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Heat prepared small skillet over medium heat. Add squash, onion & garlic. Cook & stir for 2-3 min. or until tender. Transfer squash mixture to a bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients, plus 1/4 t. pepper Spoon mixture into prepared cups. Sprinkle each with additional cheese, if desired. Place cups on a baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 min. or until tops are golden & mixture is bubbly.

For various reasons that include but aren’t limited to the facts that 1) summer squash proved, at least IMO, too mild & watery to serve as a base for all that other stuff; 2) nothing has ever been served in a ramekin that I couldn’t polish off a whole baking dish of; & 3) while I don’t mind ingesting krabstick now & again, I stop short at purchasing my own stash, I began altering the recipe until it reached its current, barely recognizable form. It has since become a staple in my weight-watching phases, i.e. every other hungover, bloated, self-incriminating week.

Eggplant Casserole

Serves 1 as a main dish for a shoveler such as myself (come on, the whole thing’s all of 500 calories), 2 as a main dish for normal people, 3-4 as a side dish for normal people
Prep time: 20 min.
Cooking time: 30 min.

1 unpeeled eggplant, roughly 1 lb., cubed small (diced would be even better if you’ve got the patience)
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
cooking spray
few dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 can minced clams, drained
4 oz. fat-free cream cheese, cut into small pieces (brick-type) or spooned in small dollops (tub-type)
1 T. chili sauce
1 T. mustard, any type
1 T. prepared horseradish
ca. 1/4 c. shredded low-fat cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, what have you—they all work, being same product, different artificial coloring)
curry powder, cumin, salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a 9x5x3 loaf pan with cooking spray.

In a cooking-sprayed skillet over med-hi heat, saute the eggplant & garlic about 10 min. until soft & cooked through, stirring occasionally & adding Worcestershire sauce midway, when they may start to stick.

Put remaining ingredients in a medium bowl & add the eggplant-garlic mixture; mix well, until cheeses are evenly distributed throughout.

Bake for 20-30 min., until nicely browned on top.

But here’s the kicker, the sweet spot, the-gift-that-keeps-on-giving part: You can substitute real, regular cream cheese & shredded cheese of any type for an even harder rockin’ weeknight casserole or decadent holiday side dish! In fact, you can mess with the recipe in all kinds of ways, just as I did & still do, 1-pot bakes lending themselves with ease to the old switcheroo; if, for instance, you’re not cool with canned clams, try canned tuna (water- or oil-packed, drained) or chopped ham. I’ve never tried fresh shucked clams, suspecting they’d be a little too juicy, but I could suspect wrong. Knock yourself out if you’re so inclined.

***I’ve yet to find fabulous renditions of either Baba G (to use its rapper name) or the aforementioned Szechuan dish here in Denver & am wide open to suggestions.

Back Hatcha: green chile season in Denver (+ recipe)

Made the annual chile run (something about that phrase makes me snicker) down Federal this weekend. Look at those turtles go, bro:

Chileroasting3

Chileroasting2

With loads more than we needed for The Director’s thrice-yearly green-chile cook-a-thon, I thought I’d take a chance on converting an old recipe I have for poblano cream soup.

I thought wrong, & I suspect the only folks who might think otherwise are the type of freaks who, say, sign release forms before digging (their own graves) into the Pasta from Hell & suchlike that famed flamethrower Chris Schlesinger & co. prepare for every semiannual Hell Night at East Coast Grill in Cambridge, MA.

Mind you, swirled with lots & lots & more of cream (as well as onion, roasted garlic, broth & sausage, plus some lime juice, minus cilantro because I was out), my chile soup wasn’t even fractionally as searing as all that. It just made me cry in my mouth a little bit. As does the Director’s green chile, based on that of our friend Larry, who takes brilliant photos of markets around the world when he’s not drying his own peppered venison jerky & so on.

THE DIRECTOR’S GREEN CHILE (serves 6-8 as a stew, many more as a sauce)

1 lb. of pork, shoulder or loin (per the Director: “Larry would disagree, but I still think better meat tastes better in the end, even if you do boil it”)
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 T vegetable oil
3-4 T flour
1 quart roasted green chiles (ca. 12-15), peeled, seeded & sliced
1/2 of 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes, drained (“I don’t like too much tomato in my chile, but you could add more”)
S & P to taste

Place the pork in a large pot with more than enough water to cover. Simmer on low heat until very tender, about an hour & a half.

Remove pork & set aside to cool. Reserve cooking water in a vessel you can hold with one hand.

In another pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic; brown. Add flour, stirring to create a medium-light roux (“a couple of shades lighter than a penny”). Immediately turn the heat down to medium. While continuing to stir constantly with one hand, slowly add the pork water with the other, until the thickening liquid is the consistency of thin gravy.

Add the chiles and tomatoes; shred the pork directly into the pot. Season with salt & pepper; reduce the heat to low & simmer for at least a half-hour, up to an hour.

While it’s hard to resist a few bites as soon as it’s finished, I personally recommend making it the day before you need it, when the flavors have fully developed & melded. I also recommend—besides eating it plain or atop enchiladas, natch—spooning it over cheesy mashed potatoes or polenta.