Books and Food

If you know me, you know that I love books. If you’ve ever met me, you don’t need Aristotelian logic to deduce I love food.

I’ve been modifying my diets, both books and food.  And thinking how the two correlate.  With food and with books, we ingest, digest, and eliminate waste. In some magical way, the stuff we take in becomes part of who we are. Those good bits feed our cells and nourish us. Become part of our DNA. It’s a mystery that last night it was salad, and today it is Carol. And Hey, Boo!, some of the most magnificent words in To Kill a Mockingbird, is also part of who I am.

Hands down, my current favorite food is grapefruit. When I figured out the the best way to eat a grapefruit is to peel it like an orange and eat it section by section, breakfast has become a sensual delight. I like taking my time, peeling back the membrane, removing the seeds, examining the intricate design of one section, soaking in the deep pinkish red, smelling the sweet-sharp citrus, pulling apart a segment, plopping it in my mouth, letting it sit on my tongue, and savoring the flavor before I chew and swallow. There’s the teensiest amount of effort that I willingly expend for the joy of eating the grapefruit. I’m reading less like a fast food meal scarfed in the car and more like a grapefruit, section by beautiful section. Most nourishing reading takes some work, but it rewards the reader with delightful morsels to taste, enjoy, digest.

Since I’ve been ruminating on this topic, one question I ask myself when I pick up a books is, “If this book were a food, which would it be?” This week I finished Barbara Tuchman’s book of essays, Practicing History.  A lot of fiber in that book, a lot to chew. Definitely meat, perhaps a pot roast.  Now I’m smack in the middle of Anthony Trollope’s novel He Knew He Was RightSomething with vinegar, that’s easy to swallow. A kosher dill pickle!  The book about hormones was easy: multivitamin. This morning I sobbed for a half hour while I listened to the final chapter of Eric Metaxus’ Bonhoeffer.  This book is worthy of a yearly re-read. The sweetness of Bonhoeffer’s sacrificial love played with the bitter taste of the Third Reich. It would be impossible to assign one food to this book. It was Babette’s Feast.

I’m reading more slowly, chewing more carefully, gulping less air. La vita è bella

Thanksgiving 101

 

 

We hosted our first Thanksgiving dinner (15+ people) when we were 21…and about every other year since.  I come from a family which regularly gleaned stranded students and set them around a heavy-laden Thanksgiving table.

I’ve had my share of fiascoes. After I made my first pumpkin pie, I couldn’t find space for it in the refrigerator; so I placed it on top of the fridge and walked away. When it was time for dessert, that pie had polka dots of mold from crust to crust.  I’ve spattered mash potatoes on the ceiling, set off the smoke alarm, and discovered unserved salads in the fridge long after the guests had left.

Along my journey, except for the deep-frying gig, I think I’ve tried every new twist on cooking turkey. Breast down, in a bag, on the grill, very low heat overnight, high heat, covered, uncovered.  I am a sucker for three words: New and improved.

I saw good words about Rick Rodger’s Thanksgiving 101 and promptly put it on my Trade Books for Free - PaperBack Swap.  wishlist. A book that focuses on one meal intrigued me. Even though I’m not a novice, I wasn’t satisfied that I had found the best methods. This is the first Thanksgiving where I used Rick Rodgers for my guide. Color me thankful!  There is so much I love about this cookbook.

Rodgers includes many versions of traditional Thanksgiving dishes, with the kind of explanations you would find in Cook’s Illustrated.  He is frank in debunking what he calls Thanksgiving Myths. I followed his Perfect Roast Turkey directions, tightly covering the breast with aluminum foil; it was the very best turkey I’ve ever tasted.  Rick’s stuffing recipe was the best stuffing. Really! 

On Tuesday I made stock from turkey necks and legs (I could not find turkey wings, but I only checked one store). I used the stock instead of canned chicken broth for the stuffing, in roasting the turkey, and in the gravy. What’s left went into the soup.  I highly recommend this extra step. If time is tight the week of Thanksgiving, the stock (and gravy) can be made and frozen three weeks in advance.  Another tip was to heat the milk before adding it to potatoes for mashed potatoes.

I feel confident that I won’t deviate from the turkey and stuffing recipes I used.  But there are so many varieties of side dishes that would be fun to try. The chapter on Leftovers offers great ideas. Menus and timetables give all the practical help you need. I highly recommend this book as a reference for your future Thanksgivings.  Turkey is a budget-friendly protein. You may want to have a practice turkey dinner in March. (← brilliant thought, eh?)

One last thing. Guess what I plan to use a month from today? winky  Christmas 101

The Best Crescent Rolls

 

 

Decades ago my neighbor called me up.
“I have extra rolls, would you like them with your dinner?”
Yep. She’s some kind of wonderful.

They. were. stupendous.

I prayed that this wasn’t a secret family recipe.
I think she dictated directions over the phone.
As you can see, my recipe card has survived a Niagra of spills.

This is a vintage recipe.
Given before the days of KitchenAid mixers in every kitchen.
So half the time you use a hand-mixer,
then you shift to mixing by hand.

The good old days of mixing and kneading by hand.

Rhonda’s Rolls

1/2 cup canned milk
1 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 pkg yeast
1/2 cup sugar
2 t salt
2 eggs
5 1/2 cups flour

In large mixing bowl add yeast to water.
Add canned milk, oil, sugar, salt and eggs.
Mix well.
Add half the flour; using mixer, mix well for 3 minutes.
Add the rest of the flour cup by cup,
mixing with wooden spoon.
Knead dough for 10 minutes.

Wash out bowl and coat bottom with oil.
Place dough in pan and rise until doubled.
Punch down and cut in half.
Roll dough into a circle shape.
Cut like a pizza.
Roll up and place on cookie sheet.
Let rise until double.
Bake 400° for 6-8 minutes.

 

 

Above: Baked in my nifty Demarle Flexipan.
Below: Baked on a pizza stone.

 

Notes:

I always double this recipe. The family demands it.
I use whole milk instead of canned.
I buy yeast in bulk. 1 package = 1 scant Tablespoon
I used to brush melted butter over the tops.
Now I spray olive oil cooking spray.

Oh yes. I make the entire recipe, kneading and all,
in a Kitchen Aid or Bosch mixer.

 

Tortilla Soup and Arrachera

 

This recipe was both my first and last taste of Chicago on my visit in October.
Yum!

It’s Emeril’s recipe.

My niece substitutes tortilla chips for the homemade corn tortillas.

Good with several squirts of lime.

We also had arrachera (grilled skirt steak marinated with onion, cilantro and lime).

 

 

 If only you could smell this photo.
In California, we’ve eaten virtually the same thing, but it was called Carne Asada.

Can anyone explain the difference between Asada and Arrechera?

::  an aside ::
It is on my Bucket List to learn to make refried beans as good as
the Mexican restaurants. I’ve tried, I’ve fiddled, I’ve cooked many
a pinto bean. But, man, it’s never the perfect consistency.
Any suggestions on making the perfect refried beans?
:: close aside ::

I did learn a fun tip. You probably already know it.
But I don’t get the Food Channel.
So new discoveries are still mine to make!
To warm a tortilla, just do this:

 

I took more pictures of cute kids who share bloodlines with me.

A boy absorbed in a book—yeah, we’re related.

This smile makes my heart thump. Those eyes!

Curls! Sweetness!

 

Compare young man (half Mexican, half mostly Dutch) on left
with picture of me (mongrel English/Dutch) on the right.
Isn’t that something?

This girl has the name I chose, but never got to use.
She’s a keeper!

Family and food.
The perfect recipe for a memorable trip.

A Mario Moment

When the wind is fierce and furious after the rain has drenched the earth, root systems give way.  This happened the weekend of my son’s wedding near Seattle. Towering trees toppled like toothpicks. A wide swath of cities lost electricity. At the last minute we changed the venue of the wedding, of the rehearsal, of the lodging…and informed all the guests. Without electricity! Flights were cancelled, motels were dark, fuel was scarce, it was a mess. My siblings and I took refuge at The Moore hotel in downtown Seattle. This photo (my sister Margaret is missing) documents our stay.

The morning of the (evening) wedding, we had a parenthetical block of time to spend together. We strolled down to Pike Place Market. It remains, five years later, one of my favorite memories. After 48 hours of adrenaline overload, we relaxed, laughed at the fishmongers tossing salmon across the way, sampled scrumptious food, admired the amazing produce and flowers. We divided into clusters as we browsed the market.

Suddenly, my sister-in-law Val appeared out of nowhere, grabbed my hand, and yanked. That it was urgent for me to follow her was apparent; why was a mystery. No time for words, but pulsing with excitement, we dodged other shoppers, threaded our way around obstacles, ran up stairs, careened across the promenade and skidded to a stop. I looked around.

Business was slow in this section, nothing obvious met my eye. Simultaneously confused and apologetic, I looked at Valeri for a clue. She discreetly nodded to her left. I followed her gaze. There was nothing to see! Well, there was one customer paying for a purchase, one vendor accepting payment, and a whole lot of counter space. The customer was just an ordinary Joe: orange crocs, baggy pajama pants, red hair in a ponytail, and a down vest which expanded his already expansive chest. Panting for breath, I searched the room, trying to see.

Next thing I know, Valeri is approaching the guy, puts her hand on his arm. He glances at her. “Thank you. Thank you for your work. I appreciate it immensely.” He mumbles a reply, we turn and walk away. As soon as we got out of sight, I turned on Val. “What was that about?” The ordinary Joe we saw was a world famous chef with a TV show of his own and a restaurant in New York. I don’t get the Food Channel, so the magnificence of the meeting was lost on me.

This summer Valeri and I were visiting.

“Oh, Valeri, you won’t believe the mileage I’ve gotten out of the time we were in Pike Place Market and saw Emeril. I’ve told that story to every foodie I know.”

“Mario,” she corrected. “It was Mario. Mario Batali.”

More Conversion Stories

 

From basil…

…to pesto

 

Pesto Recipe

4 -5 garlic cloves

3 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves

1 cup Parmesan cheese *

1/2 cup pine nuts * (when pine nuts cost the equivalent of gold nuggets, I use 1/3 cup)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil *

 

Mince garlic in food processor.

Add basil and process.

Add cheese, nuts and salt.

Add olive oil in a stream.

 

I used to freeze basil in ice cube trays. Now I prefer snack-sized ziplock bags. A friend freezes hers in baby food jars. Unless you have a reason to use this all today, you must freeze pesto. You can keep it in the fridge in a container with a layer of olive oil on top. Air is the bad boyfriend to charming Pesto; she turns dark and ugly after long embraces with that bad boy.

Add pesto to pasta for a perfect side.

Add pesto to pizza sauce for a perfect sauce.

Add pesto to poultry for a savory main course.

Spread on crackers with sun-dried tomatoes and cream cheese.

(From Sheri’s comment, below: Add a dab of pesto to soup to make it amazing.)

Or just Google pesto recipes.

 

[Side bar: I learned the first year of marriage to always have the ingredients of a quick meal handy. Something easy to put together if you had unexpected guests for dinner. Back in the day, I shudder to say, tuna casserole was my go to dish. Maybe that’s why friends often had “other plans.” Pesto and pasta is an elegant dish to make on the spot.]

 * I buy these at Costco or Trader Joe’s. I store the Parm in the freezer, pine nuts in the fridge.

 

::     ::    ::

 

 

from oats (and friends and relations)…

 

 …to granola

 

Granola Recipe

12 cups rolled oats (whole or quick, your preference)

1 cup each, your choice:

Wheat Germ

Sesame Seeds

Sunflower Seeds

Walnuts, chopped

Cashews, chopped

Sliced Almonds

(other grains per your taste. See note on fruit below.)

 

Mix:

1 1/2 cup canola oil

1 1/2 cup honey

a glug of milk

a glug of vanilla

 

Microwave oil/honey mixture for three minutes.

Give it a swirl, and pour it over the oats.

Mix well. Then mix it again. And again.

 

Turn out onto Jelly-roll pan (a cookie sheet with lip) or onto Silpat. I line cookie sheets with parchment paper, but that is optional.

Bake in oven until deeply tanned, stirring every 15 minutes.

 

I buy oats in 25 pound bags; I get nuts at Costco or Trader Joe’s.

I just found a 2 pound bag of sliced almonds at Costco. Nice!

Opt: add dried fruit (raisins, Craisins, dried blueberries) AFTER baking. Trust me—after.

Opt: reduce oil and honey to 1 cup each. Just keep the proportion 1:1.

 

My greatest challenge with granola is baking it to perfection.

My original recipe said Bake 275° for 30 minutes. Eating raw oats does things to you.

Depending on my schedule and my patience, I’ll either bake it at 350° with a close eye or I’ll bake it at 250° until I can smell it, then start stirring in 15 minute intervals. The edges cook faster than the middle, so mix the granola around the cookie sheet. What I’ve found is that you wait and wait and wait…and when it turns perfect you have a 5 minute window. Then it burns. I’m pretty much an expert in how to burn granola. Step 1: Check your Facebook…

 Sheri, in the comments section, makes granola in the crockpot.

DUH!

Of course!

That’s how I’m making it from now on.