Wednesday, February 28, 2007

No, this is not a foodie blog, but still

As is my atavistic wont, sometimes I look to both sides of my gene pool for things to prepare for dinner. There is some overlap in the Caribbean-Italo-Iberic spectrum and it's fun to play therein.

So!

I give you:

Chorizo Tortelloni Ravioli with Corn/Tomato
(OK, so we have ripe summer ingredients in winter, sue me)

I could have made ravioli, but NOS was here and eager to help (and avoid showering, truth be told) so I made him earn his keep. I'm giving the recipe as for ravioli, even though the pix are tortellini. Stay with me, don't get confused.

The chorizo, corn and cheese are a glorious, synergistic combination. Even better, if you make a huge batch, they freeze beautifully for a month.

(This serves four people.)

2 large cloves garlic
1 lemon
1 ear corn (frozen corn, duly thawed, will work OK)
1 small wedge manchego cheese
2 tbsp butter (optional)
1/2 lb. fresh pasta rolled out into sheets at the 2nd thinnest setting
2 sprigs basil OR fresh oregano
2-3 plum (San Marzano or Roma) tomatoes, seeded and cored. Diced canned tomatoes, such as Muir Glen or Pomi will also work toleraby well
1/2 lb chorizo (the Spanish, not the Mexican stuff)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut sausage into small bite sized pieces. (You'll chop further, later.)
Bring a nonstick skillet to medium high heat. Place the sausage in the pan and cook about 2-3 minutes.


When the sausage has rendered out its fat (it'll be a lot!) take it out of the pan and cut again to make the pieces a lot finer. (The food processor is ideal, here.) Toss the rendered fat (just leave a trickle behind for the sauce).

Take out your fresh pasta sheets and lay them out. Mentally draw an equator (longways!) across each sheet. Every 2" or so plop a teaspoon or so of the sausage.
Add too much and you won't be able to close the pasta without breaking. Dip your finger or a pastry brush into the water and "paint the edges" and in between the blobs of filling. Fold the sheet over and seal. Cut with a squiggly pastry cutter thingy (or a knife, followed by a swift, fork-derived crimp).

(If you want to do the tortellini thing, you have to cut the pasta into squares, fold diagonally--doing the water thing also--into a triangle and then join the folded corners together, and then maybe flip back the UNfolded corners. See? Really not worth it unless you have a 9 y.o. eager to do something or you simply MUST have the pasta in a shape that will maximize sauce retention.)

Keep going until the filling is gone. Put the pasta for immediate consumption in the refrigerator for 10-15 min. (crucial!), everything else gets freezered. Refrigerating it allows the pasta to set up properly before boiling. Place the remainder in a zip lock bag and freeze for a future whene impressive foodiness is available to you in a flash.

Now.

Cut off all the kernels from the cob. Core and seed and roughly chop the tomatoes. Finely grate about ½ cup of the cheese and mince the garlic. Finely mince whatever fresh herb you got. You want a tablespoon.

Put the naked corn cob in a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, fish out the spent corncob and add salt to the water.

Take the skillet where you sauteed the sausage (all but 2 Tbsp of fat drained) and place on medium heat. Add the garlic. The nanosecond the garlic gets fragrant, add corn and tomato. Season with salt and pepper. Cook (about 2 minutes) on medium. You want it to just come together. Leave it on low heat as you finish up. Once the water is boiling, turn it medium. You DO NOT want it at a violent boil. This will tear up the delicate fresh pasta. Immediately before you drop the pasta in the water, raise the sauce to medium-low heat. Add a teeny squeeze of lemon juice. Add half of the cheese. Mix to incorporate. (If it gets too thick, add some of the pasta water, 1 tbsp at a time...)

Drop the pasta in the water in 2-3 batches. count off half a minute and fish them out and put them (gently, now!) in the sauce. Season with the salt and pepper, then add the more cheese to taste, as well as the herb in question. The butter, if your arteries can take it and your palate demands.

Gently toss the pan, carefully covering the pasta with the sauce.Be gentle! Adjust seasoning if needed. Plate artistically. Serve right away.

Drink some of that snazzy Yecla I mentioned last time.

-J.


PS Variations: Use crabmeat (or even leftover--!--lobster) instead of chorizo and crumbled bacon instead of basil. Use BOTH Mexican chorizo and cotija cheese (it'll be spicier). Use ground lamb with "gyro spices" and aged feta cheese.

Posted by Joke at 10:36 PM 12 comments

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

And sometimes, the news from Australia are just plain puzzling.

No news on how they liked the Oscars.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 10:16 PM 2 comments

Oh, frabjous day!

Not all recent news from Australia are bleak. Today I received, from the lovely and gracious Suse, not one, but TWO Australian foodie magazines: Gourmet Traveller and Donna Hay Magazine.

Suse: You know that if it were allowable (and feasible) I'd send you the complete crop of bananas from my very own yard. You are a princess.

I am inexpressively thrilled and grateful.

MWAH!

-J.

Posted by Joke at 2:59 PM 5 comments

Things I miss some more.

As all sentient beings are doubtlessly aware, Bec will be debloggified until further notice. Which makes me sad. But, believe it or else, one's real-life takes priority over writing stuff that I find entertaining and/or admirable. Sure, I realize that seems like "crazy-talk" but it's true. So bon voyage et bonne chance Madame Bex. Thou shalt be missed.

Which brings up the matter of Australians. I have noted, elsewhere in my published works, that Australians represent -- by a very wide margin -- the least lurking contingent of my vast readership. For that they are to be commended. However, I have also noticed that they likewise lead the race in deblogging. First it was the lovely and gracious Bec & Kim who divorced and took up separate blog residences, leaving all and sundry feeling like Hollywood Offspring come divorce season. Then the lovely and gracious LC who pared her bloggy output to her "book blog" (and in the place of her "regular" blog, an interesting, er, "adults only" [click that at your own risk you disbelieving bastids] site appeared amid a furious hailstorm of popups involving Naughty Bits...which caused a fair bit of friction ovah at Chez Joke) and now the lovely and gracious Bec.

I am not counting the lovely and gracious DIH because, while her blog disappears with alarming regularity, there is usually some other reason behind that...such as it had been "slammed" by professional pornographers or her profile had been hijacked. It's a rotten thing to happen to anyone, but at least makes for interesting reading upon return.

This is not to say the reasons why the blogheaval takes place are not noble, pure, warranted or proper. It's just that I don't like it. A monumentally selfish thought, but there you have it. They're gone, I miss 'em, and I don't care for that.

However, this problem is far vaster than Australia or Oceania or even the whole Southern Hemisphere. Or even both hemispheres.

Sometimes people go away. Sometimes they just do.

For example, I had a pal, "Seaserif" for over 10 years just "up 'n' leave" one day. That one I still miss, even though it's been almost 3 years. Usually we just exchanged long emails, sometimes we talked on the phone and even threatened to have a meet-up a couple of times, even though we lived as far apart as was possible in the continental USA.

And yet! Because reveille will eventually sound after the playing of taps, sometimes people come trickling back into your life. Just yesterday two of my long-lost Usenet pals chimed (The Perky One and CiSF) in with email out of the blue and, I believe one of them -- maybe both? -- actually lurk here.

So that is good.

But I'll still miss what I miss.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 8:31 AM 8 comments

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Cooking without a recipe.

A few days ago, I had to skip across the state to look in on a client. So, I took the opportunity to pass by the best butcher shop in the state. The first time I went, I went nuts. They had/have excellent Kobe beef and I practically brought home half a cow. These days I'm more moderate in my outlook. I brought some "flat iron" steaks and a "London Broil." Since we'd be dining en famille, I decided to cook the London Broil with Balsamic-caramelized Onions and Aged Gorgonzola.

Yes, I need to work on my photography skills.

First, mince a fat clove of garlic (or two small ones)
Then you chop a 1/4 onion.Get a pat of butter (not the cultured stuff, which lends an off-flavor when cooked)Melt said pat.Add the onion/garlic and cook on low until translucent. Add a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar (nothing super aged or too artisanal...however, if all you have is the stuff that's barely aged or too industrial, you may cut this with a splash of orange juice)Your onion/Balsamic thing ought look, at the halfway point, like this: Take out your London Broil (this also works with flank or large-ish sirloins, etc.)Pat it dry. This is crucial. Rub LIGHTLY with oil (I used EVOO, you do whatev.) and season with salt and pepper. The oil layer is key because it a) provides a barrier between the salt and the beef (so the salt doesn't draw out moisture) and b) helps the seasonings adhere thereto.Take a roasting thermometer.Put the sensor parallel to the flat of the beef, to the furthest extent it can go. Like so.
Start cooking over VERY high heat. The moment you have proper sear marks, flip. Once the other side is equally seared, turn the heat as low as possible and cover. Once the temperature sensor reads 130F, turn the heat off completely. The temperature will have thermal momentum and continue to rise. If you did this right AND you want your beef medium-rare (and you do), the temperature will reach 140F and go no further.Take out some sort of green leafy thing. Normally, I'd opt for something a bit sharper (arugula, etc.) but this is what I had.Plate it up.Beef is good to go!Cut beef into approximately 1/2" (1cm) slices. Note how the pink extends almost to the crust, without a layer of ruined overdone well-done between the surface and the medium-rare bits. This is exactly what you want. The heat from the beef will begin to wilt the leaves. You want that also.Take +/- 3 oz. of aged Gorgonzola. ("Stravecchio") If you can only get the young, creamy kind you'll probably need more. The old stuff is much sharper and so less is needed.Place a generous spoonful of the balsamic onion thing atop the beef. Cut t-h-i-n slices of the Gorgonzola and plop them on the onion thing. Like so:
(This is the kid plate)
We opted for a medium-aged (this was a well-rested 2000) Rioja. ...and this is TFBIM's plate. Yes, that dainty little slip of a girl demolished the whole thing.
There you have it.

-J.

EPILOGUE: The leftover beef when cold, and spinach make a lovely Asian-ish salad.

Posted by Joke at 8:21 PM 7 comments

Thursday, February 22, 2007

For the lovely and gracious Blackbird

Many of you will recall what bb had posted a couple of days back. (See Exhibit A) She asked the musical question of what these things were and how they ought be used.

So!

Being a tropical foodie, I figured I'd lend a hand. This way the suspense level in Tuvalu may be brought down a peg or two.

Maracuya' is "passion fruit" (incidentally, a key ingredient in the Hurricane cocktail) almost never found fresh north of, say, Palm Beach. Invariably it's sold in frozen pulp form and found wherever you have a strong Caribbean population and/or foodies; and here are a couple of ways to use said pulp:

Passion Fruit Marinade/Grilling Sauce

6 oz. Passion fruit pulp (mostly thawed)
4 Tbsp. finely minced scallions (up to the TENDER dark green parts only)
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro (coriander leaf)
6-8 Tbsp. lime juice (depending on your taste)
6 Tbsp. EVOO
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the first 4 ingredients in a bowl and s-l-o-w-l-y whisk in the EVOO. You want to emulsify this as much as you can. Taste and add the S&P to taste. Allow the flavors to develop for a few hours before using, for best effect. This is ideal marinade/grilling glaze/baste/sauce for grilled shellfish or mahi-mahi/swordfish. (Figure on having a cup of sauce) Obviously, do not mix the stuff that touched raw fish with the stuff that didn't. It can also serve, sans oil, as an excellent ceviche base, but you MUST have impeccably fresh fish.

Passion Fruit Cooler

1 package passion fruit pulp, mostly thawed
1 gallon filtered water (sparkling water is a nice touch)
1 cup sugar
8 Meyer Lemons, juiced (or 4 oranges and 4 regular lemons) and peel reserved
White rum/tequila or vodka (figure on a rough 24 oz. for 12-16 people, you may adjust the quantity up or down...and I prefer Cruzan white rum)
Ice

Make a simple syrup with 1 cup boiling water and the sugar. Take off the heat and add the peels to the cooling syrup. Once cooled, combine the syrup with the juice(s) and the pulp; you may add the liquor now or allow people to mix their own later. Divide into the requisite number of highball glasses, over ice and top with (sparkling?) water and a lemon slice.

There, better?

-J.

Posted by Joke at 8:21 PM 8 comments

"Well, who'd you lend it to?"

Yesterday was, of course, Ash Wednesday.


The day prior to that, depending on your cultural baggage was either Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday. We didn't do much for either Tuesday, frankly. I am trying to diligently get back to my days when my abdominal muscles were visible and I was also tired of shriving, which is why we didn't do anything.

Then, of course, for Ash Wednesday there is relatively little to do other than -- quick! -- think of something to give up, so that I may be all down with that penitential thing. If I'm not interpreting my somnolent, midnight reading of her latest blog entry correctly, the very lovely and gracious Poppy (who is but a step away from becoming one of us) gave up spirituous liquors and their fermented cousins for Lent. I think she gave up sweets, also. So, duly inspired by Poppy, I gave up Coca-Cola and snacking. Considering that Passover is nearly here and it's the time when I hoard Kosher-for-Passover Coke (sweetened with proper sugar, not ::spit:: corn syrup ::spit::) this is a pretty huge deal. This is ridiculously penitential stuff. If I were to be crucified and went off to the desert to mind my own business in preparation for passion, death and resurrection, I can assure you Satan would be tempting me not with turning rocks to Parker House rolls, but to 6.5 oz. glass bottles of KFP Coke. So it's a good thing for the salvation of the human race things worked out as they did.
Anyway, while I was at it, I gave up snacking because:

a) I have to be at least as virtuous as my High Church Anglican pal (the aforementioned VL&GP) who gave up a certain class of potables and edibles, and

b) If I snacked, I'd be thirsty and I'd want a Coke and my willpower has several structural deficiencies for which I have (more or less) (finally) learned to compensate. More or less. It's that near occasion of sin/tempt fate thing.

Then of course, I had to get "ashed" and I generally dread it, because one time a couple of years ago the non-priest whom I was unfortunate enough to draw as my ash-guy managed to get som in my left eye and I wound up twitching like Chief Inspector Dreyfus, hardly the ideal model of sober piety. I also don't like it because quite often you get a message, upon the imposition thereof, along the lines of: "Repent and believe in the Gospel."

All perfectly true, no doubt, but that's not what the purpose of the ashes is. The purpose of the ashes is to remind us that we have an expiration date. So, because of this and because I am a hidebound and reactionary traditionalist-type I was secretly tickled when I got the "Remember, man, thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return." Which might make me recreationally theo-morbid, but whatever.

The other thing is there's a fast going on. Not anything as hardcore as a Yom Kippur fast, but what can you expect given the current state of enuresis hitting the US division of the Papist crowd? So we're allowed one meal* and no meat or fowl. Capybaras, for some possibly apocryphal reason, are acceptable. Anyway, as it always happens, all the stuff I was suppose to comprise my abjure du jour paraded in front of me. At the drugstore I saw personnel wheeling PALLETS full of KFP Coke and beginning to put up the display.

To say nothing of the fact that some of my foodie publications arrived yesterday as well. So, we had dinner a full hour early, as we were famished. To keep my mind busy I made some vegetable hosomaki rolls and grilled some ebi kushi with HUGE shrimp (what some people might mistakely refer to as "prawns") and that was that.
I also started going around to the various Lowes' and Home Depots and other home improvement places in search of what to do as re. the boys bathroom. Maybe it's just me, but EVERYTHING seems very much trendy/sophisticated and not at all on the same wavelength as an 8 year old boy.
So, basically, I'm not all that sure of what I'll do. Tuesday we start ripping out stuff and I have to decide. On something.
-J.
* And you may have, ONLY if you need it to "keep up strength" a couple of snacks here and there. But I had given up snacking, see?

Posted by Joke at 8:09 AM 9 comments

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bath time.

OK. As per my penultimate post, here are the pictures of the abysmal kids' bathroom in its untenable condition. Any and all suggestions gleefully accepted. From the door, looking left.
Now looking right.
The sink area.
What passes for the shower.
Another view of the shower.

Kindly note the "ragged" stain on the paint, and the peeling paint on the ceiling and the claustrophobe's nightmare-sized shower.

OK people, go crazy...and remember, I need very specific suggestions (links and/or pictures, please!) so I can raze it and start afresh.

-J.

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Posted by Joke at 9:23 PM 17 comments

The tentative plan.

Having had this discussion with TFBIM, here are the plans for fixing up our house.

Wait.

I'm getting ahead of myself, ain't I?

When we bought this house, we stole it. Part of the reason why we stole it was that the seller was desperate to get out and part of it was that the house had some aesthetic touches which were, um, "daring choices" in 1962 and the last part was that it needed some fixing up. We knew that and we moved in all eager to start bashing and clanging and knocking and putting. Which we did and then we got tired of it and we left it at Two Projects Per Year, because one of us would kill the other one at the pace we were going.

Given that we have very different tastes (e.g. rococo vs. bauhaus) and are not congenitally capable of yielding easily it was better that we proceed carefully. After all, if it took forever (no, really, you have no idea how long it took) to reach an agreement on a dining room table the matter of what to do with the master bedroom takes on an ominous significance.

Anyway, this is what the latest thing is:

1- GUT* and redo the boys' bathroom. I mean we have to knock this damned thing down to the wall studs and do-over.
2- Kitchen. There I have some sway because it is, unarguably, MY domain.
3- Master bathroom
4- Master bedroom (including new furniture)

We also need new family room furniture in there somewhere.

Now, our house has this tropicalized Arts & Crafts thing going on with which I'd like to be congruent. Which makes it hard to find things, and there's the layout. Oy.

Since the 1st bathroom is the subject of a contest and I have little or no idea what I'll end up doing there, let's skip over to the kitchen.

There are only two things I like about the kitchen as it is: The floor and the indoor griddle/grill. The floor stays since it's this extremly cool Saltillo/terracotta tile with handpainted Azulejo tile inlays. Also likely staying is the grill/griddle thing with the downdraft blower. I'm not adamant about this, but I'd surely miss it if it went, especially since I like pretending to cook over live fire but could not manage it as often as I'd like when it's the rainy season.

So, I'm thinking of white beadboard cabinetry (with glass-front cabinets to show off the glassware and plates and things) and butcher block countertops and stainless steel appliances with a REAL hood with Category 5 suction capacity. Oh, and pot racks.

Remind me to tell you about my exo-closet.

That is all.

-J.

P.S. Why is Blogger @#$%ing with my line spacing?

* We have no choice. What used to be plumbing is now a porous mish-mash of ferrous oxide, cheap galvanized steel of midcentury vintage, eroded sheetrock and plumbing detritus the details of which I am blissfully ignorant.

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Posted by Joke at 5:06 PM 14 comments

Monday, February 19, 2007

A(nother) contest! Sort of.

I have been informed by she who decides these things that the boys' bathroom's renovation simply cannot be put off any longer. Since I'm the SAHP, I'll take the lead in this endeavor. So far so good.

While I have excellent and sharply crystallized ideas on what we ought do about the master bathroom, the (eventual) top floor addition, kitchen remodel, etc., I am stumped as re. the bathroom in question.

So, I turn to the collected wisdom of my readership.

In a couple of days I will post pictures of the APPALLING condition of this bathroom. I will entertain any and all suggestions. The only caveat is that the footprint of the room is unalterable. For a number of reasons well afield of this entry, the bathroom cannot be enlarged. Trust me on this. Keep in mind the bathroom will be used by two boys yet to reach the age of 10, to say nothing of their grubby friends with overactive renal systems and poor marksmanship.

I want/need specific suggestions (as in photos/links) for flooring, tiles, cabinets, toilets, sinks, showers/tubs, fixtures, lighting, wall treatment, window treatments, etc.

This is how this'll work: I'll post the pictures and those eager to play along will post on THEIR blogs something like:

This shower: [link] [photo]
This sink: [link] [photo]

etc.

and then in the combox of my post chime in to the effect the post is up.

The winner will receive something REALLY cool, which I'll ship to wherever...even halfway across the globe, diagonally.

Have at it.

-J.

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Posted by Joke at 9:33 PM 15 comments

In case you're also thirsty.

Sometimes you want something yummy but aren't in the mood to chew. Very well. I hereby offer you this wine from a vintner in Spain named Bodegas Castaño, which has gotten my attention.

While this vintner also offers other wines of remarkable quality you may wish to consider, I propose this one because in my considered opinion a wine must, above else, be food-friendly. The others are more oaky and more structured and more tannic and y'know? Good luck cooking something that goes with that kind of wine.

Since it's one of the last three surviving "bodegas" in southeastern Spain's Yecla region (Denominación de Origen), and has managed to stay the course over five generations you might safely assume they know something

Anyway, to my mind, Castaño's most exciting release of the 2005 vintage is their entry-level wine is made from 100% Monastrell grapes. The price seems one geared to drive the vintner deep into bankruptcy, so you have to have faith these guys know what they're doing--counterintuitive as that may be--and enjoy the pricing, which is completely out of line with the quality and food pairability. It has a bright, fresh raspberry/cherry going on, both in the aroma (yummy!) and also the dense flavors on the palate. It has great structure and texture with the whole tannin thing being supple and not obnoxious.

Your average wine reviewer would probably give this wine a "decent" score, after spitting mouthfuls of a squajillion wines into a bucket for hours. Which is fine, only you'd likely overlook it because most publications want to funnel the reader into the 90+ point stuff. But that 90+ point stuff invariably is loaded with tannins and oak and makes for a food pairing as happy as Ann Coulter and Amanda Marcotte stuck together in an elevator.

So...what?

I'll tell you what. So it's a great match to the sort of not-too-hot/medium spiced, not too saucy, updated trattoria/bistro-style stuff. Think of things such as "steak frites" or that killer roast chicken or braised short ribs. But, because it has that great texture and mouthfeel, it can hold up to more frou-frou dishes (think of a lightened, 21st Century Beef Wellington, for example, or herbed leg/rack of lamb) as well.

At US$ 15/bottle, you should run out and get a case. Then you'd serve it the next time you're cooking something vaguely Bourdain-ish or Mediterranean-inspired from the grill* and you'd look like a raving genius.

But it doesn't cost $15...it costs $8**

-J.

* Barbecue to those not conversant with live-fire speak.
** Probably less if you shop around online.

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Posted by Joke at 5:33 PM 6 comments

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Where's the beef?

Just for Caro, how to make Beef Stock.

We're all in agreement that there is no commercial beef stock/broth that can manage to rise above "vile." So how do we get something palatable?

This is what I do, and this also applies to both lamb and veal stock:

Gather up assorted bony cuts of beef with meat attached. Ribs, shanks, oxtails, whatever, etc. Nothing fancy, usually the cuts that you'd never use for much. Get those. Get enough of those to fit in your stockpot, whatever size that may be. Now, put those bones in a roasting pan and season them with salt and pepper. Here is my cheat: rub them lightly with tomato paste and then dust them with flour. Put in an oven at 350F/180C and brown them. (This requires a bit of vigilance, as you want brown, not black. Black means you must do this over.)

Put the bones in the stockpot and then add COLD, filtered water until it reaches about an inch off the brim. Put the heat as low as it goes. You want to see the very barest simmer, y'know, the odd bubble along the edge. That sorta thing. Do not move anything, do not stir anything.

Forget about it.

Once the water has evaporated sufficiently (we're talking hours--I leave mine overnight--but it's all unattended unless you have issues best dealt with by professionals) that some of the bones are above the surface, remove the beefy bits. CAREFULLY. You want as little to cloudify the liquid as possible. Keep liquid over heat and reduce by half. What we're after is a sort of concentrate, almost a demi-glace. Strain over 2-3 layers of cheesecloth. Allow fat to rise; discard. You may now reduce this further if you want to. (Normally I get 2 gallons of "broth" down to a 24 oz. jar...you do whatever.)

Remember, you can always dilute the concentrate back to broth, or stock, or whatever. But sometimes you want to sneak a real blast of beefiness into, say, a sauce...and you can cheat by dropping a spoonful of this, adding flavor and body, which is why you want it so concentrated. Oh, yeah, when it's refrigerated this will be seriously gelatinous.

No, I don't add aromatics or other flavorings. I can do that at the moment of cooking whatever I'm cooking with the stock. Even salt is looked at suspiciously.

HTH!

-J.

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Posted by Joke at 10:41 PM 7 comments

The non-plan Menu Plan

Riffing on something the La Bec Fin* hath posted, I will hereby offer my list of what I have prepared and running around my fridge and/or pantry on a regular basis, from which I can springboard merrily to any number of meals.

These are not "staples" (like EVOO or sea salt, etc.) but rather things which I make in giganticmous batches with some frequency to cut my prep time to near-zero when I make something semi-complicated.

These are:

Balsamic & Onion "confit"
Tomato & Garlic "confit"
Basil "pre-pesto"
Cilantro & garlic puree
Beef stock (THERE IS NO GOOD COMMERCIAL BEEF STOCK. None. Get used to it.)
Chicken stock (there is decent commercial stuff, but since I'm already at this...)
Seafood stock
Ham stock
Asian-ish marinade (good for chicken/pork)
Thai-ish marinade (good for shrimp & seafood)
Spiced yogurt marinade (which could turn Greek/Turkish or Indian depending on further seasoning...good for chicken or lamb)
Ginger syrup
Cinnamon syrup

Spice/herb blends: Greek, "herbes de Provence," Neapolitan, Garam Masala, Thai, Tex-Mex, Caribbean. Good for rubbing on whatever you cook on live fire, or for marinades or vinaigrettes or sauces.

Recipes to follow.

-J.

* This is a little play on words that will be lost on anyone who is not a USA-based foodie.

Posted by Joke at 11:47 AM 11 comments

Friday, February 16, 2007

...is good news.

I have nothing*to report today.

Still basking in the glow of my triumphant plumbery, went shopping to reward myself but nothing leapt at me.

That is all.

-J.

* Last night, though, I went into SoBe to have drinks with an old Usenet pal, the very lovely and gracious Jennyfivetina. (Poppy, Jujube & Badger know her. She says "hi.") Between the traffic, the parking and the tab ($14/drink...ouch!) we didn't get to loiter much, but it's something.

Posted by Joke at 5:57 PM 7 comments

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The End is Nigh!

Much like the lovely and gracious Badger, I had a near-death experience with this blog, having almost been forced to switch to the "new" Blogger. Those unfortunates who know me well enough will attest to how pathologically averse I am to change, especially change I see as unnecessary and arbitrary.

Which is a complete bite, because I was intending to blog on my triumph in plumbing. As a PT SAHD, I often get stuck doing more housework-y stuff like laundering and ironing and cooking. Which is fine, because I do those things exceptionally well and since I eat and wear apparel (quite often simultaneously) I don't mind.

But this morning, upon my return from the gym I went to shower and I discovered the drain wasn't, uh, draining. I was midway through the hygienic procedure and it seemed more like I was in a submarine that had been struck than in the shower. I went for the plunger; plunging was useless because there was this secret little chrome thingy -- a technical term we use in the plumber's guild -- which LOOKS like it's the lever that works the stopper in the drain....but NO! It's also a secret overflow valve. So all my plunging was merely circulating soapy water and not doing anything.

I leapt into action, and damned near brained myself because I was soapy and wet and the floor is slick. I tossed on a robe, sped to the garage and took the toolbox. Assiduous readers will note this is the first time I blog about something as stereotypically manly as tools, but it had to happen at some point. I blew the downy layer of fine dust off the toolbox, peeled off a stray cobweb or two and started in.

The trick was to remove the chrome thingy, which I did with two sorta medium Phil(l)ips head screwdrivers (I know many of you are taking notes, so I wish to be thorough.) Care had to be exercised to keep the screws from falling down the drain, but I managed. Then -- and pay close attention here -- I applied the "auxiliary" plunger to the hole previously covered by the chrome thingy. No plunging needed, just needed to seal the hole. THEN, holding as stated, I took the primary plunger and plunged freely. Something made a sickening gurgle somewhere down the line and flow was restored.

I am now basking in the glow of my manly prowess and wondering about going shopping as a reward.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:27 AM 9 comments

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

St. Valentine's Day

Most readers of this blog have had to endure my rant on the fact the "St." part was dropped from St. Valentine's Day. Ironically, the only time you hear the "St." bit is when someone is talking about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

So, because I'm all about the edifying, here is the scoop on St. Valentine:

Valentine was a priest in Terni, and he was installed as a bishop in Rome. By training he was a physician. Sometimes he is found in the various books and texts as St. Valentine of Terni and other times as St. Valentine of Rome. (Sometimes people get confused with St. Valentinian of Africa, but he was a different martyr.)

One day he was tending his garden when a Centurion named Sabino and a Christian woman named Serapia approached him--he had a general reputation of being kind, and wise and all that--because they were in love but:
a) Christianity was being persecuted and
b) Li'l Miss Christian wouldn't consent to marriage unless Sabino converted, dangerous as that was, especially given his rank and position in the army.

He made them a present of a bouquet of roses (or maybe one rose, accounts differ) which would remain in bloom until one or the other had changed his (or her) mind.

It was Sabino who relented and Valentine married them in secret. The marriage turned out so so happy that many other similar couples followed their example, to such a point that the Church was induced to dedicate one day of the year to a general benediction of the state of matrimony. But Emperor Claudius and his gang weren't so keen on their centurions, legionnaires, soldiers and senators, etc. going off and marrying Christians and converting. After all, Emperor Aurelius had just ordered Christians were to be persecuted and fed to the lions and all that and this stuff, frankly, made them look bad. They found out who was responsible and, catching him in the act of performing a wedding, seized him. They probably beat him up along the process, what with Romans being Romans.

Anyway, the next day he was dragged before the prefect thrown in the dungeon. While he was there he cured the dungeonkeeper's (a guy named Asterius) daughter Julia of blindness. The entire family converted and he secretly baptized them. When the prefect, Placidus Furius (ni-i-i-i-ice, huh?) heard of this miracle and the subsequent conversion of one of the more prominent families in Roman dungeonkeeping circles, he was livid. He sent orders that Valentine was to be beaten with staves in public and then beheaded.

On 14 February, 273 A.D., he was beaten for the prescribed 3 hours and then beheaded in Rome. The morning of the execution, he is said to have sent the dungeonkeeper's family a farewell message signed, "From your Valentine." His body was thrown outside the city walls and buried in the catacombs along the Flaminian Way; his relics were later transferred to the Church of Saint Praxedes, although some relics are found in Ireland, Scotland and Malta, to name a few spots.

In 1644 he was proclaimed Patron Saint of Terni (in Umbria, Italy) and also patron saint of lovers. The Basilica of St. Valentine in Terni was built in 1605 on the ruins of Roman temples, and contains works of art of some interest, particularly in the crypt.

He is the patron of stuff you'd expect, such as affianced couples, betrothed couples, engaged couples, happy marriages, love and lovers; as well my favorite: greeting card manufacturers. However he is also the patron of travelers, young people and for reasons which have yet to be adequately explored, bee keepers. His intercession is invoked against fainting, epilepsy, and the plague. (All of which are element which will be vaguely familiar to happily married couples.)

And now you know.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 8:06 AM 16 comments

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Moms of 2007 and A Proposal

Having done the SAHD thing for a month or so, I now feel free to comment on the new crop of moms that I run across. Obviously, since last years, some moms moved away...others had their kids go to the next educational level, that sort of thing. They were replaced by the new moms.

About half the moms (new or established) simply cannot manage to stick to my memory banks. Many are yet another example of an archetype, many are just dull--regardless of archetype.

Anyway, in addition to the regulars, this year we have the following:

1- Love Is Blind Mom. She is what everyone's definition of a trophy wife ought be. Tall, blonde, dazzling features, and is in amazing shape. All the moms would hate her except her husband, poor bastid, looks like Danny de Vito caught in a permanent pre-sneeze and has Einstein hair. Sadly, the kids took dad's DNA.
2- Kung Fu Mom. Tiny-short, dirty-blonde hair in a pixie cut. Not terribly pretty, but has maximized what she has to work with. Permanent smile. Usually arrives at pickup wearing loose cotton slacks and one of several XYZ Martial Arts center t-shirts. She is TOO fit, and likely can kick anyone's ass. All the other moms like her, or maybe they are too afraid to say otherwise.
3- Chatterbox Mom. Talks to TWO different people at the same time (different conversations) and also usually has a cellphone attached.
4- Bus Mom. Has a van-van, not a minivan which is, apparently, for pansies. 5 kids. A bit chubby, shortish. Talks with her hands a lot, but in a coreographed way, not at all flail-ish. Has a bit of a nervous laugh. All the kids are chubby too, but they don't laugh. Does a lot of crosswords. 5- Bitter mom. Just moved in. Bad, recent divorce. Lots (I mean LOTS) of self-help books. I try to hide my Y chromosome, because one day she's going to go postal.
and
6- Gardening mom. BIG straw hat. HUGE tote bag. Sometimes dirt on knees. Tailgate of minivan is often open with flats of some plants the name of which escape me, or would escape me if I could be bothered to try to learn their names.

**************************

The proposal.

I have just taken an informal inventory as I was organizing (again) my appallingly copious stacks of books, I realized that, while I certainly LIKE all of the books I own, I don't love them all.

In fact, I could stand to part with many. (Two 24''x 24"x24" boxes of cookbooks alone)

So!

I thought of doing a book-exchange type thing. I'd post all the books I'd be willing to give away and people could claim them in the combox PROVIDED THEY WERE ALSO participating by doing a similar giveaway.

Discuss.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 2:03 PM 11 comments

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Ribbed, for your pleasure.

Since the blogosphere, as Jaye aptly noted, has been on a foodie kick; and since we managed to get to the farmers' market on Saturday; and since this has been a relatively cool (for us, anyway) winter, I decided to make one of the very first Real Grown Up edibles I ever made* only I'd try some flavor variations.

So, I bring you

Chipotle Braised Short Ribs of Beef with Tropical Gremolata

(Serves two, but it doubles nicely if you have the hardware and/or patience for this sort of thing. Well worth it.)

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Peanut oil (or whatever you have)
1 lime
4 cups beef stock
7-8 short ribs, bone in, about 1 3/4 lbs (cut into individual ribs, not across)
1 small yellow onion (sweet onions are fine, but avoid the "supersweets")
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (coriander leaf)
2 chipotle chiles (the kind packed in "adobo" which you'll also need)

Preheat oven to 300F/150C.

Dice the onion, three cloves garlic and two chipotle peppers and leave them on standby.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven (or stockpot of equivalent size) over medium-high heat. Pat the ribs dry then season both sides of ribs with salt and pepper. When the oil shimmers (but is NOT smoking!) add half the ribs and brown on all sides until you get a good sear. Repeat this with the other half of the ribs. (You don't want to cover more than 1/2 of the pot's bottom. So, if you end up doing this in 3 batches or only in one, don't panic.)

Once the ribs have seared, add the onions and saute about 1 minute to caramelize lightly. Add garlic and cook until JUST fragrant. Stir in the chipotles, and 4 tbsp of adobo. Add the stock to just cover ribs (figure 4 cups, but use the least amount you can get away with). Make sure to stir along the bottom of the pot to bring up and dissolve the caramelized bits. This is key. Bring to a gentle simmer, then put in the oven for about 3 hours. Check back frequently to make sure the liquid does not boil. You want some moderate bubbling along the edges of the liquid, but no more. Any hotter and your ribs will become too tough.

Mince the remaining clove of garlic as finely as your patience will allow. Grate the zest off the lime. Toss these with the cilantro. That's your gremolata. (The traditional Italian gremolata is garlic/lemon zest/parsley) I just came up with this variation after the whole arugula/rocket thing.

When the ribs are done, c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y take them out (tongs are ideal) and set aside on a warmed platter. Grab a ladle and skim the prodigious amount of fat floating (most of the fat in this dish will render into the liquid) atop the now-sauce. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Puree the remaining braising liquid with (ideally) an immersion blender** and dump into a small pot. Put this saucepan over medium heat and reduce to about the consistency of heavy ("double") cream. Adjust salt and pepper and add a spritz of lime juice. Take your ribs and ladle with sauce. Top the ribs with your gremolata and serve. (Or, do what I used to do, just sprinkle cilantro leaves.)

I suggest serving atop/along some rice with scallions and/or almonds. Polenta (cheeseless) or plain tamales wouldn't be bad, either. Pretty much anything in the corn family would be good, when you think about it.

So there,

-J.

* Astute readers will recall this was the first unqualified praise I'd ever gotten from my dad.
** Or CAREFULLY, in small batches, in a blender. If you do it in large batches you'll end up wearing a lot of it and scrubbing your walls of the rest.

Posted by Joke at 9:11 PM 10 comments

Saturday, February 10, 2007

All hail...

The mighty blackbird! For she hath done something wondrous; she hath given me knowledge of THIS.

This merits the lovely and gracious bb my BlogPal of the Day Award.

MWAH!

-J., stupidly happy

Posted by Joke at 12:06 PM 7 comments

Thursday, February 08, 2007

So this is what's been going on.

A'ight.

I have learned (an no, not the hard way) that a PT SAHD really shouldn't comment on whatever housework he may be called upon to perform if there are moms within earshot. No matter how many loads of laundry I completed, there is always someone who did twice as many and managed to nurse triplets simultaneously.

On the subject of laundry, there is much stress in the household. I cannot abide starch or fabric softener. I hate them jointly and severally and find it the height of irony to use both on the same item. So I don't. Yesterday I started getting hints. "Did we run out of Brand X Fabric Softener?" cooed my beloved softly, to which I replied with a torrent of profanity, abuse and blasphemy that would have made Poppy AND Badger blush, jointly and severally.

Actually, I just mumbled to the effect of "I'll check, dear." with the implication that if, in fact, we hadn't, I'd jettison the whole consignment eftsoons or right speedily, whichever came first.

Yesterday I had a dinner meeting with some out of state clients and coincidentally, TFBIM's something-or-other got cancelled due to a surfeit of adenoids (or something) among those scheduled to attend. So, being the dutiful bastid I am, earlier in the evening I semi-cooked dinner and left everything over the lowest possible heat that, as soon as the offspring were bathed, they may all dine.

But the point of this vignette is actually to go off on a tear about cooking. Often people tell me that it's great that I cook for my family. In reality, I cook for me. I feed my family with the stuff I cook for me, but it's my own palate that is judge, jury and executioner. With the possible exception of NOS sometime after the year 2027, the rest of my immediate and semi-immediate circle only care that food "tastes good." It's a binary thing. It tastes good or it tastes bad. If it tastes good, there bloody well better be a cubic @$$load of it...but that's really as far as it goes.

But I am a foodie, and therefore I sit there and analyze things in mid-chew. If it's someone else's food which I am enjoying, I try to reverse-engineer it. If it's my own, I check for weak points or flaws and seek not to repeat them. (Feeling now like Father William) this has led to a rather sharpened palate, both a blessing and a curse. As a consequence, people like Sandra "Semi Homemade" Lee and the approach of doctoring up stuff from jars, cans, tins, boxes and the like are anathema to me. I like getting all that free-range, organic, Gaia-Earth-Mother, sustainable, fair trade, natural stuff even if I have to pay some tonsorially-challenged eco-terrorist in flannel thrice the going rate.

Not for philosophical reasons, because we have all firmly established what a Goldwaterite I am, but because that stuff tastes much, much better. A case might be made that stuff tasting better is as valid a philosophy as not putting weird-arse chemicals in one's system or being "green" or devoutly hoping the gutters along Wall Street run red with the blood of capitalist plutocrats. I'm not going to make such a case, but maybe someone will.

The problem with this compulsion is that when you see a recipe that calls for some component, say, chocolate wafer crumbs, your first impulse upon realizing all such chocolate wafers generally available to you are unacceptable (being either filled with weird-arse chemicals, not "green," or are helping to keep the blood of Wall Street capitalist plutocrats safely within their circulatory system), is to find a recipe for such wafers that you might have adequate crumbs.

This attitude is what led me from reading Cooking Light magazine. In the previous place where I worked out, there would be a shelf atop your locker where the staff would put notices, flyers, etc. and Cooking Light started showing up there, complimentarily. I took a few home, but after seeing too many recipes that started with canned this or boxed that, I stopped* taking it. Even free was too expensive.

There are people who will claim they purchase all their foodstuffs from the tonsorially-challenged eco-terrorist in flannel (at thrice the going rate) for the previously enumerated noble and good reasons. This is because among certain segments, admitting to being a foodie, even a potential foodie, is tantamount to either treason or declaring yourself in need of some 12-step program. The danger is palpable to them, especially if they are good cooks. Tell one of these excellent cooks the reason they buy Holistic Farms Boddhisvatta Pork is because it is ridiculously yummy and you might wind up with a candy thermometer in a very awkward place.

Anyway, my greater family may not be able to taste the difference between dried supermarket pasta and fresh homemade lasagna, but I can. That's the key thing. So I make sacrifices and abjure, openly and cheerfully, the overwhelming majority of convenience products. But what would you expect from someone who drives 90 miles each way** to get hot dogs?

There. That was my manifesto.

Also, I started packing TFBIM's St. Valentine's Day loot. If you promise not to spill the beans, I'll tell you what I got her.

OK?

Good.

1- An Aquascutum red wool/cashmere/angora trenchcoat-looking coat. (On sale!)
2- An Orrefors (Baccarat?) vase for the flowers she'll get on Feb. 15th after the floral extortion ends.
3- An "everyday" Tourneau watch.


Oh, and I got some killer shoes for me. On--duh--sale!

-J.

* I then subscribed to Eating Well, until I got fed up with the politics of the magazine. I hasten to add I would have gotten fed up with the politics of the magazine even if they had agreed with mine. Color me reactionary, but I failed to see how ranting about WalMart's dairy policy helps me make a better, healthier breakfast strata.

** Note to Julia: I do this sans offspring and over no ice-slicked roads.

Posted by Joke at 11:37 AM 18 comments

Monday, February 05, 2007

I'm ba-a-a-a-ack.

Trip was pretty good, save for the appalling delays getting there (arriving 10pm instead of 7:30pm) and then, the appalling delays getting back (getting home at midnight instead of 10pm).

Also, it got disturbingly cold.

This is not a contest, but guess where we went from these pictures:



Yes, that's a damp newspaper that "done frozed up solid."

-J.

Posted by Joke at 2:17 PM 15 comments

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Me/Not Me, the Meme

SHAMELESSLY swiped from the lovely and gracious Badger.

Me.

...and me.
Not me.
Not me.
Not me.
Not me, thanks.
Me.
Not me.
Very me.

Very not me.
Me.
Not me.

Me.
Not me. Me.
Me again.
Still me.
Me some more.
Me yet again.
Not so much me.
Me.

Not me, and if it ever becomes a "me" please shoot me.
SO me.
Um, no.
Um, HELL no.
Yes, me.
[Shudder] Not me.
Too me.
Not me.
Extremely me.
Not me.
So very me.Not at all me.


Now you know.


-J.


Posted by Joke at 9:51 AM 19 comments