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There’s been some dangerous experimentation happening in our house.

For a week, all food prepared within the confines of our apartment has been… vegetarian.

I’ve been hoping to find a couple new, healthy recipes to incorporate into our regular repertoire, and figured a week of just veggie cuisine was a good way to push our borders. The experiment had mixed results, but one definite new favorite that came out of it is a chickpea and kale minestrone. Unfortunately, it’s also been a week of head-cold-and-umlaut-inducingly BRÜTAL winter weather. Seriously, a couple days ago I was digging out our cars from 14″ of snow, and at this moment there is thunder and lightning. But then, this weekend is supposed to be Ragnarök, so I guess that makes sense. Anyway, I’ve got a nasty sore throat and sinus situation emerging, and decided to make another batch! It’s fairly fast, easy, and mad packed with nutramites to fortify your X-zone!

Image

Ingredients:

1 onion, small diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 c. vegetable broth
14 oz can of red kidney beans, drained
14 oz can of chickpeas, drained
14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 c. sliced zucchini
1/2 c. carrot, shredded
4 c. kale, chopped and stemmed
1-1/2 tsp. oregano
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. basil
1/4 tsp. thyme
2-1/2 c. water
6 oz small shell pasta

  • In a large pot, sweat onions and garlic in oil until translucent.
  • Add in vegetable broth, beans, chickpeas, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, kale, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then drop heat to simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Add pasta, and cook 10 more minutes, or until shells are cooked through.

Stay warm and safe, folks!

Nights in Red Velvet

This year, my wife specifically requested a red velvet cake for her birthday party.

That was when I realised that I had never baked a cake from scratch before.

I’ve completed the first semester baking class, which was pretty much everything EXCEPT cake. But I looked up the recipe in my textbook, and found an insane amount of red food colouring. I’ll eat a lot of processed foodstuffs, but after what I’ll describe as an awkward consequence of Lucky Charms, artificial food colouring and I are on the outs. I read up on the olden-timey recipes, natural processed chocolate vs. Dutch processed, the chemistry of buttermilk and anthocyanins. Then I tried an experimental round of cupcakes using beet juice instead of food colouring. It didn’t make a significant difference in the colour, but we sure did eat all of them before I could take a picture.

And that, I think is the most important lesson to take away from this experience:
ALWAYS TAKE PROCESS PHOTOS.

Otherwise, your birthdaydrunk wife will brutally stab and hack the handcrafted symbol of your love, and you will cry a little bit, and be stuck posting what looks like a crime scene photo.

From “mortared brick” to “Bates Motel guest” in 4 seconds.

Aaaaaanyway, the cake you see above was based on sophistimom’s Red Velvet Cupcake recipe, which calls for pureeing roasted beet, so that it also includes all the fibrous, pulpy, nutritive goodness. It came out VERY red, and a bit more dense than traditional red velvet, but moist and delicious! I made an 8″x12″ sheet, which I then cut into thirds, stacked, and frosted. Unfortunately, I got a little outside my comfort zone with the cream cheese variant of LeelaBean’s cooked-flour frosting. It’s sweet and creamy, not grainy at all, but definitely better suited to individual cupcakes than a cake that needs to be sliced and served.

TL;DR – HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WIFE!!!  I love you, even though you murdered your cake!  29 is going to be awesome!

For enduring my ramblings, I will bestow unto you two baking projects bound by a shared frosting.  So you get two and a half recipes for the price of one!  You can’t afford NOT to read this!

I love Christmas.  It is essential to note, however, that I use “Christmas” as a lump term meaning “celebration on or near the winter solstice involving lights, singing, feasts, and acts of generosity and kindness.”  It is a socially expedient shorthand, though I understand if other non-Christians choose to call their particular celebrations by other, more precise names.

What is hard for me to understand is people who hate the holidays in their entirety: the Grinches, Scrooges, and Burgermeister Meisterburgers of the world.  A lot of people are disappointed as they grow up and find that a cold, aphotic December can come and go without Christmas magically sweeping them up in merriment and joy.  In this regard, I come from a place of privilege.  My parents also love Christmas immensely, and by way of teaching my brother and I to love Christmas, they also showed us how to MAKE Christmas, because the making is the most important part.  It’s the point.

The universe is much like a northern winter.  It is overwhelmingly vast, dark, hard, and uncaring.  Life is an act of audacity.  Abstractions like hope, joy, and love are even more so.  They do not exist on their own.  They exist because we make them.  The most perfect encapsulation I’ve found of this idea is in Terry Pratchett’s “The Hogfather”, in a conversation between Death and his grand-daughter, Susan.

Saturnalia/Yule/Christmas/etc. are about magic: the amazing act of making light in the longest night.  The joy of Christmas is not a thing that happens to us.  It is a thing we bring into being, an attempt to be the best of all of our ideals, in spite of everything.

Be the spark in the darkness.

Anyway, for less abstract values of “making”, this post I bring you a cake, some cookies, and a wonderful frosting for both that also stands on its own as an insanely buttery fudge.

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Chicken Fried Steak, Cluckers

Once upon a time, I left the cozy embrace of my parents’ home and went to college, and on the very first day I met this girl who was crazy hot and all the awesome.  I’ve never been a soppy romantic, and I’m still skeptical about the idea of love at first sight, but I can safely say that the instant I saw her from across that crowded LGBT Alliance meeting, I was smitten.  After a few casual path crossings on campus and subsequent Alliance meetings, we walked back to her dorm one night, and spent hours in the lounge talking about webcomics, tabletop RP, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the wackiness of being a queer teen in the Bible belt, and other points of commonality.

10 years later, I have the privilege of being married to that crazy hot awesome girl.  And one day, a few months ago, she made me a dinner that I had grown to love during my stint in the midwest.  In the vein of long overdue and not quite seasonally appropriate posts, I give unto you: “Chicken Fried Steak”.

I love starch. Starchy, starch, starch. Here it goes down, down into my belly...

I love starch. Starchy, starch, starch. Here it goes down, down into my belly…

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I was recently directed to Rachel Laudan’s “A Plea For Culinary Modernism“, by my friend and fellow culinary arts student, feminismbot.  I was a history major long before I started thinking about cooking for a living, and the intersection of the two fields always makes my heart tingle with joy.

I definitely recommend this article for anyone interested in the politics of food.  Which should be everybody.

Laudan does an admirable job of dismantling the romantic illusions about old food-ways, many of which are currently base-belief among large sections of the population, particularly among those who consider themselves foodies.  She addresses the myth that our ancestors ate a more balanced/healthy diet, the overwhelming social power imbalances and oppressions that were fundamental to the pre-industrial food and agriculture industries, and several other points.

This is what a strictly local, plant based diet gets you.

This is what a strictly local, plant based diet gets you. A family in Carraroe, Ireland starves during the potato famine, 1845-1850.

I’m not going to go out and pick up a Big Mac anytime in the near future, and I still intend to buy locally produced food when practical, simply out of a desire to support local farmers, but the overwhelming message of her essay is something I can get behind, and something that I feel meshes well with the ethos of this blog:  frozen, canned, and preserved ingredients can be good, and good food should be available to everybody.

Coming soon: an actual food post!

A Mover’s Moveable Feast

NUTELLA.

Got your attention?  Good.  I’ll get back to that soon, but first, some necessary exposition.

So, sorry about the extended absence.  Life and stuff.  One of the biggest things to happen during this extended hiatus is that the Wife and I are once again in a place of our own.  Our new apartment is in the crime-iest part of our adorably sketchy little city, but the space itself is lovely.  High ceilings, dark wood trim, lots of natural light.  But old charm comes with some downsides.

This is my kitchen:

A little messy at the moment.

In fairness, this little ol’ galley runs off a much larger room which has a refrigerator and stove from 1978.  After some power-scrubbing, I can safely say that they are now cleaner than they have been in the last 15 years.

The Problem:

The oven does not work.

20130826-131547.jpg

Fun Fact: Montgomery Ward has been out of business for over a decade.

The range burners are just fine, but apparently the glow rod in the oven gave up the good fight a few years ago.  We’ve got a call in to get it repaired, and in the meantime, I’ve been making casseroles in our toaster-oven, and thanking past-me for having researched and invested in one big and reliable enough to handle whatever shenanigans we might try to make.

And so, today’s breakfast while I wait for the repairman to arrive.

Every time I make this sandwich, Wife shudders and makes these “choking on saturated fat” sounds at me.  Today’s example is compromised by my pantry not having fully recovered from the pre-move purge, so we don’t have certain staples on hand, but the written recipe has the recommended ingredients.  Hooray, flexibility!

NUTELLA AND CREAM CHEESE SANDWICH

We almost have the technology.

We almost have the technology.

INGREDIENTS:
2 slices cinnamon raisin bread
cream cheese
Nutella or other chocolate hazelnut spread

  1. in a toaster, or toaster oven, or on a stick over open flame, toast the bread to crispy
  2. schmear one piece with cream cheese
  3. schmear the other piece with Nutella
  4. put the pieces together, and call it a sandwich

This with a cup of tea, and your day’s off to a chocolatey cheesy gooey gluttonous start.

Did I mention that we don't have sugar, either?

Did I mention that we don’t have sugar, either?

The Cake of Despair

Necessary parts of any survival gear kit.

Necessary parts of any survival gear kit.

Some days, you have to pick up your cat and drop a few hundred bucks at the vet, because your cat has a bladder infection and will now need to be on prescription food for the rest of her life.

The vet appointment runs long, so you miss your last class of the night, which only meets once a week.

You get home, and get a call from your mother saying that your grandfather has stopped breathing, is in the hospital, and probably won’t make it through the night, but you shouldn’t bother to drive up, because the hospital staff wouldn’t let you in anyway.

And you’re due for a full blown Communist invasion at any minute.  (“Red Menace”, get it?  Ha.)

original source unknown

“It’s like there’s a crime scene in my pants.”

At times like this, you make Despair Cake.

INGREDIENTS:
1 box Devil’s Food or Dark Chocolate cake mix
whatever the recipe on the back of the box says
Optional
– substitute 1 snack-size chocolate pudding for one of the eggs
– your choice of liquor (ex. Kahlua, schnapps or cordials)

  • do what the back of the box says.  Seriously, just follow the freaking directions, in the order given.
  • after cake is out of the pan but still hot, brush it with liquor and let sit.
  • don’t you DARE frost it.
  • go to the living room and put whatever you damn well feel like watching on the TV
Or say "f* it" and just pour on the juice.

Or say “f* it” and just pour on the juice.

One it’s cooled enough to hold in your bare hand, get a paper towel, or a plate, if you’re feeling fancy.  Haul the cake out to the living room in as large a piece as you can carry.  I usually do two 8″ rounds, and carry out one of those.  Eat it straight to your face like a piece of pizza.

If you absolutely MUST have frosting, you can carry one of those little tubs of it out as well and eat it directly with a spoon in between bites of chocolatey consolation.  Emotions and cramps are for all those poor sad bastards who don’t have cake.

Announcement for a New Year

For years, friends and family have told me I should go to cooking school.  Food is something that has consistently provided me with great delight.  I always rebutted that food was something fun for me, and that if I had to make a living off it, it would suck the joy out of cooking.  And I was probably even right; until recently, I doubt I would have had the ability to compartmentalise cooking as work from cooking for self and loved ones.

But as of a couple weeks ago, I am transferring into my school’s Culinary Arts program.

I’m really excited about this, and now that I’ve made the choice, it seems like it really was the obvious thing to do all along.  There’s certainly a chorus of “I told you so”s coming from friends and family.  But it was a decision I had to be sure of, lest I risk ruining one of my greatest joys.  I have a long and sordid history of throwing myself into the passion of the moment, then burning out on it after a few months.  Frankly, food is too important to me not to take the choice very seriously.  I needed to be sure I loved cooking enough to really commit to doing right by it.

I do intend to keep updating this blog, though I don’t know how frequent the updates will be.  If nothing else, it will be an interesting record for myself of this new phase of learning.  I welcome all of you to keep reading along with me and my journey, and for those of you who knew me before this blog and are among the “I told you so”ers… you were right.  Thank you.

 

Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

You’re not sick of bacon yet, right? Good.

More bacon than meets the eye.

More bacon than meets the eye.

I got a little crazy two years ago around the holidays and decided to take porcine liberties with Nana’s chocolate chip cookie recipe. Then I made the mistake of sharing them with people, and now Wife’s co-worker is holding her annual jar of cranberry-infused vodka hostage until Wife brings in a bag of goodies.

My Nana makes her chocolate chip cookies crispy. Ergo, I like my chocolate chip cookies crispy. It is the law of grandmothers: however yours cooked x dish is the “right” way to do it, and anything else is heresy. If you like fluffy, chewy cookies, there are plenty of other recipes out there that you can make substitutions into. But if you’re like me, and want a cookie that won’t fall apart when you dunk it into a glass of cold milk, you’ve come to the right place.

And I'm not sorry.

And I’m not sorry.

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 c. softened butter
1/3 c. CBG (candied bacon grease)
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
12 oz. chocolate chips
1 lb candied bacon

  • preheat oven to 350°
  • trim and discard excess fat from candied bacon, then mince remainder
  • mix flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl
  • cream butter, CBG, white and brown sugar, and vanilla extract, then mix in eggs
  • gradually mix in dry ingredients, then stir in bacon and chocolate chips
  • drop by rounded tablespoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet
  • bake 10-13 minutes until golden brown
  • remove from oven, let cool

If you’re feeling REALLY ambitious, you may be able to re-bake the excess candied bacon fat trimmings for even more grease drippings.  I did.  And then I ate the crispy, caramelised remnants, probably shaving about a month off my life expectancy.  It was glorious.  The end.

Jalapeño Cranberry Sauce

My family has always skipped the “gel in a can” and made cranberry relish from scratch, with sugar, an orange, and a blender.  But last year, I decided to try making a sauce instead.

Doesn't that look festive?

Doesn’t that look festive?

I am the biggest spice weenie, but everyone else in my family likes things hot.  My parents are on a perpetual quest for sinus-nuking Chinese mustard.  Dad and my grandfather used to have jalapeño-eating contests.  A while back, I gave Dad a bottle of the kind of hot sauce that comes with a disclaimer; he and the Wife each tried a drop, and bonded through their tears.  When I don’t weenie it down, people with normal capsaicin tolerance describe this cranberry sauce as having great flavour with a mild kick.  The only way I can handle it is with the accompaniment of dairy, like on a cracker with feta cheese.

It's also fantastic on vanilla ice cream.

It’s also fantastic on vanilla ice cream.

INGREDIENTS:
12 oz. fresh cranberries
2 jalapeño peppers
1 c. water
1 c. sugar
2 tsp. lemon or lime juice*

  • remove cores and seeds from jalapeños, then mince
  • stir sugar in water in a saucepan to dissolve, bring to a boil
  • add in cranberries, jalapeños, and juice, return to boil
  • drop heat to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally (the less you stir, the more nice, big berry chunks you’ll have)

If you’re into canning, you can absolutely do a large batch of this and save it to give out as gifts (Merry Christmas, Dad!), or for your own personal hoarding.  Otherwise, let it cool to room temperature, then store it in the refrigerator.

* Chemically, there is no reason you couldn’t substitute in orange juice if you wanted to. If somebody wants to try that as a variation, please comment to let me know how it came out!

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