Procrastination, the Internet and YOU

Recently, I had the good fortune to be included in a meeting of Leland Feinman’s “Immodest Proposals”  discussion group. This regular event brings together people from diverse backgrounds to share their points of view on a pre-determined topic. In this case the provocative topic under examination was  “Procrastination, The Internet and The Future.” As a gesture of gratitude, I brought along some healthy snacks and a variety of  savory and sweet breads.

Of course, if you spend any significant amount of time online the title of Lee’s seminar will likely lead to a number of guilty personal  admissions about squandered time and lost productivity. While that was certainly the case for all participants at the session, we also entertained larger questions about the restless nature of human consciousness and whether we have created technologies that match the peripatetic function of our minds or if our brains themselves are evolving in tandem with the information delivery system that they interface with on a daily basis. Despite the presence of members who are trained in medicine, psychology, neuromarketing and biological research science, the group is discussion-based, so all evidence was presented in a purely anecdotal form, making it impossible to draw solid conclusions. Rather the conversation provided an embarcation point for each participant to further their own analysis about the relationship between the internet and their own attention styles.

The Articles

When this topic was announced, the moderator circulated links to two articles that contained ideas that were central to the theme. The first, “Later”  written by James Surowicki for the New Yorker, is both an examination of the mechanics of delay and a review of a book: “Procrastination, the Thief of Time” which is itself an anthology of essays on this topic by philosophers and psychologists.  It’s an entertaining read and helps to pin down some of the reasons why immediate gratification pretty much always trumps long-term good intentions in the human animal. The second article, “Google’s Boss Envisions a Utopian Future”, is sourced from MIT’s Technology Review blog and provides insight into the next stages of development that the ubiquitous internet giant currently has underway. Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, reveals plans to automate the flow of data to previously unwired venues such as automobiles, home appliances, and civic infrastructure. The nature of this development is open to multiple interpretations, depending on whether one chooses to view it as the benevolent hand of information guiding happy consumers, or the continued infantilization of a dependant populace increasingly unable to manage simple human tasks like navigation using a map, balancing a checkbook or moderating one’s own attention span over time.

The points of view within the group were expectedly diverse, enlightening and occasionally fractious, all of which provided for an entertaining experience. For those of you who are interested in learning more about this topic and in discovering the work of  Lee Feinman, it is my pleasure to point you to the audio podcast of this discussion as well as to Lee’s blog “Better Worlds”  Stop by, check it out and be sure to tell him The Hungry Librarian sent you!

The Food

The menu I chose to contribute to the gathering was an assortment of farmers market crudités, accompanied by roasted garlic hummus,

A Kalamata olive focaccia scented with fresh rosemary was an enticing crispy, salty nibble to pair with wines brought by the other participants



A second focaccia, topped with oven-roasted tomatoes and oregano had a contrasting pillowy texture reminiscent of Sicilian-style pizza

Finally, a fat wedge of brie provided a rich closing note slathered on slices of rustic cranberry-walnut rye.

Most people associate items such as home-cooked dried beans and yeast-raised breads with well-planned industriousness and hard work in the kitchen. However, I am here to tell you that not only can these dishes be easy to make, they also allow for a very flexible prep schedule. Yeasted doughs can be kneaded in the food processor or stand mixer then set in the refrigerator to prolong the rising time. This allows the baker to make the dough in the morning or the night before then simply bring the risen dough to room temperature before shaping, adding toppings or additions and baking. This “now-or-later” trick makes these breads a culinary procrastinator’s dream!

The Recipes

Roasted Garlic Hummus:

  • 4 cups cooked chickpeas (canned or home cooked) with 1/2 cup liquid reserved
  • 1 head garlic roasted (to roast: slice of top of head, drizzle with olive oil wrap in foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until very soft.)
  • 2 Tbsp dark sesame oil
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Put roughly ½ of the peeled roasted garlic cloves in the workbowl of a food processor. Pulse the processor to break up the cloves into bits.

Add chickpeas, reserving a few to sprinkle on top of the finished hummus for decoration. Add the oils, lemon juice and cumin then blend, occasionally stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the paste is smooth, but very thick.

You may need to add a bit of the reserved cooking liquid to get a workable consistency. Just keep adding a drizzle at a time until the mixture has the right texture. Taste the hummus and pulse in more garlic or lemon, plus salt and pepper to suit your own taste.  

Scrape the hummus into a serving bowl, sprinkle with a bit of additional cumin and scatter reserved chick peas and any remaining garlic cloves over the top, drizzle with more olive oil. Serve at room temperature with pita chips, crusty bread or raw veggies to dip and enjoy!

Basic Focaccia Dough

  • 3 ½ cups bread or all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 tsp kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 7/8 cup tepid water
  • 1 cup ice cubes – for creating steam in the oven while baking

Put the flour, salt and yeast in the workbowl of a food processor – pulse several times to blend dry ingredients.

With the motor running, drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube then very slowly add the water in a thin stream. Add ONLY enough water to make a soft dough ball that rolls around the workbowl with the blade. You may need less than the full amount or you may need more – it depends upon the moisture content of your flour, so proceed slowly and adjust as needed.

Once the dough has formed, continue to run the processor for another 15-30 seconds, then turn the dough out onto a clean surface that has been LIGHTLY dusted with flour. Knead the dough for a moment or two – folding it over itself and pushing down gently – you will feel the dough become slightly and elastic under your hands. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it over to coat with the oil – cover loosely and allow to rise.

If you are making the bread sooner – allow the dough to rise at warm room temperature for about 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

If you want to delay baking, place the covered dough in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours – really, it can sit there overnight or while you are away for the day there is no harm in putting the baking off for a while! When you are ready to bake remove the dough from the fridge, allow it to come to room temperature,  then proceed with the steps below.

Preheat your oven to 475. Put a rack in the middle of the oven – this is where you will bake the bread.

Punch the dough down – pushing down firmly with your hands to deflate the swollen dough. You may now shape the dough – turn it into a 9×13” pan that has been greased and sprinkled with cornmeal or any combination of smaller pans that you desire.  Gently stretch the dough to the edges of the pan and allow to rise, covered, for about 30 minutes.

At this point, you may also top the dough with any combination of vegetables and herbs that seem appealing. Some nice choices are olives (which must be pushed firmly into the dough so they don’t pop out during baking!) sundried or oven roasted tomatoes, artichoke hearts, rings of sweet onion or even  potatoes which have been sliced paper thin. Any of these may be paired with the fresh or dried herbs of your choosing. Keep in mind that the more toppings you put on the bread, the softer the top crust will be, so adjust your toppings-to crunch ratio according to your preference!

If you prefer your focaccia unadorned, simply press the dough with your fingertips to create an even pattern of dimpling, drizzle the loaf with good quality olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Let the dough rise for another 20-30 minutes and place in the heated oven. When you add the loaf, toss a cupful of ice cubes on the floor of the oven to create steam. This steam will help gelatinize the starch in the crust and create a bread with a crunchy, crispy exterior incasing a fluffy interior.

Bake the loaves for 20 – 35 minutes or until they are deeply browned and sound hollow when tapped.

Remove from the pan as soon as you can – no longer than 3-5 minutes – so that the bottom and side crusts remain crisp. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack and slice into individual squares to serve.

Published in: on November 9, 2010 at 1:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Turning Gray into Gold:Hillary Mantel’s “Giving Up the Ghost” and “Fludd”

humble foods

 The works of British Author Dame Hillary Mantel are among many other things a catalogue of dietary discomforts. Mantel, a British author of Irish descent detailed her tumultuous family life as well as its lasting impact on her world-view and literary voice in her memoir  “Giving Up the Ghost.”  In the subsequent novel “Fludd”, she revisits the setting of her childhood: a depressed Northern mill town, populated by poverty-stricken Irish Catholics and the English Protestant neighbors amongst whom they live in a strained cultural détente. One of the noteworthy features of both books is the picture they paint of a world where the fabric of life itself, to say nothing of the meals, seems to be rendered entirely in shades of gray. Dark oak church interiors, cold bleak dawns over the moor and the washed out colors of thread-bare women’s clothing all vie with mealy brown potatoes, beige boiled-out cabbage and the listless tan of overcooked meat to dominate the sensory scheme. The inhabitants of these landscapes, both observed and imagined, have become resigned to lives devoid of sensual pleasure. This is partly due to the influence of a stringent Catholicism that seeks to mortify the flesh and purify the faithful.

The Books

Both “Giving Up The Ghost” and “Fludd” ask the important question, “What room can there be in a bleakly literal world for those souls with a rebellious intellect and a hunger for experience?” The answer arrived at by Mantel on her own behalf and that of her characters is that a rigid social system is not designed to accommodate expansive personalities. A chilling example of the overwhelming push toward orthodoxy in everything is the account of dinner time at the Mantel family table where her stepfather enforced his draconian and arbitrary rules. “Potatoes should be chips or plain boiled in big chunks. It was forbidden to squash your potato surreptitiously with the side of your fork.”  Faced with such a stifling authoritarian existence, is it any wonder that the author chose to follow the traditional path of an artist through escape, adventure, and finally with understanding and emotional distance, acceptance. Dame Hilary, left Cheshire to read law at university, married young, followed her geologist husband overseas first to Africa, then eventually to Saudi Arabia. She returned to England, where an extended battle with the disease endometriosis left her wiser, sadder and unable to bear children. The visceral experience of this loss is an emotion that informs much of her writing. During this time she and her husband separated, divorced and eventually, remarried. Only after years of physical distance and hard-won emotional perspective had done their work, did she return to live in the Northern England of her childhood and embrace the experiences of her forbears as meaningful to her own.

Fiction, however offers so many more immediate and satisfying means of change than real life. In fact the art of alchemy with its promise of turning ordinary materials into items of extreme rarity and value is a central theme of “Fludd.”  The book details life in Featherhoughton and tracks four principle characters through the plot.  We encounter Father Angwin, pastor of the Roman Catholic church of St. Thomas Aquinas, has lost his belief in God’s existence, but determinedly continues to serve his flock while suffering the oversight of his idiot diocesan bishop. Miss Dempsey, his spinster housekeeper, lives in terror of a small wart above her upper lip, thinking it a portent of cancer. Sister Philomena, a nun teaching in the parish school, is an Irish girl forced by her family into the convent, where she endures the petty tyranny of its Mother Superior. Then there’s Fludd, a curate ostensibly sent by the obnoxious bishop to help Angwin modernize his pastoral approach. Or is he? Once Fludd is in residence, people begin to … transform. He makes references to his “past profession” which sounds a great deal like alchemy, reads palms and recognizes the semi-veiled occult practices of villagers from a neighboring town – strange abilities for a Catholic priest. By the end of the story we are left with only the transformations in his wake to use as evidence in determining if Fludd is an angelic visitor, or  possiblyeven the devil himself.

In keeping with theme of transformation, whether self-created or supernaturally assisted, in both of these books, I have chosen to highlight the typical ingredients of an Irish diaspora pantry and frequently featured in Mantel’s books. These are root vegetables such as potatoes and onions, cabbage and salted meat. Through small flourishes of seasoning and careful attention to cooking method, what might have been a bland, gray boiled dinner becomes a brightly flavored dish that showcase the unique flavor and textures of each item. This is kitchen alchemy at its most surprising.

The Food

taters

Redjacket Potatoes with Garlic-Lemon Butter and Dill:

  • 4 large red potatoes
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 4tbsp butter
  • ½ lemon
  • 1 tbsp dill fronds minced (more if you like)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place the cleaned whole potatoes in a saucepan and add a fat pinch of salt and enough water to cover them. Bring to a low, steady boil and cook until the potatoes offer no resistance to the tip of a knife.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and cut each into quarters. Set them aside while you prepare the garlic-lemon butter.

In the same saucepan sauté the garlic in butter just until it becomes fragrant. Remove from the heat. Add the juice and zest of ½ lemon and stir.

Spoon the seasoned butter over the potato quarters, tossing gently to coat without breaking the pieces. Sprinkle potatoes with dill, salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste.

To serve, arrange potato quarters atop a mound of Cabbage sauté and drizzle with a bit of garlic butter from the bottom of the bowl.

Serves 4.

pork and cabbage

Saute of Savoy Cabbage and Smoked Pork Loin:

  • 1 small head savoy cabbage – cut in half, cored and shredded finely
  • 1lb smoked pork loin, back bacon or ham – cut into rough dice
  • 1 small onion – diced
  • 2 cloves garlic – crushed or chopped
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, stemmed and chopped
  • 2 tbsp butter

In a deep covered pan, brown the pork in the butter over medium heat.

Add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are golden and fragrant, but not browned.

Add the cabbage, toss to evenly distribute the pork and onions mixture throughout.

Cover and cook until the cabbage has wilted and is bright green.

Serves 4 as a main course with potatoes, or 6 as a vegetable side dish with pork omitted.

lovely veg and pork

Published in: on October 29, 2010 at 1:49 am  Leave a Comment  

It’s about more than the ribbon: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

                    

By now you may have noticed that The Hungry Librarian is most emphatically a woman, and that she happens to be extremely proud of her girly curves. However, taking pleasure in one’s appearance is not nearly the same as taking proper responsibility for one’s body. Earlier this week, a very good friend of mine noted on her Facebook page that while October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, far too many of us have become content with merely making the gesture of wearing pink or buying pink-ribbon-branded products as a show of approval and solidarity with the cause. However, as Alexandra sagely pointed out “It’s not just about wearing the ribbon! It’s about checking for lumps in the shower!” So with a nod to her excellent example, today’s selected books are “Promise Me” by Nancy G Brinker  and “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book” by Susan Love, MD. These two radically different non-fiction volumes respectively address both the public and private faces of our ongoing struggle with this devastating disease.

The Books

 “Promise me” is the story of Brinker’s sister Susan G. Komen, her fatal battle with breast cancer 30 years ago and how Nancy’s promise to change the experience of this disease from a story of suffering and death into one of survival and hope spawned the creation of the world’s most powerful health-care advocacy foundation. Sales of this inspiring and well-written memoir benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® foundation.  I urge you to check it out and to buy a copy if you can.

“Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book” has been widely regarded as the definitive guide to all issues pertaining to breast health. First published in 1990 by physician, Dr. Susan M. Love, the recently revised “Breast Book” covers the spectrum of well-care topics from sexuality to pregnancy and breastfeeding, while also providing comprehensive and current information about the prevention, diagnosis, treatment types/options and after-care of all breast cancers. If you are a woman, this is absolutely a book you should own!

The Food

So what do these books and the topic of breast cancer awareness in general, have to do with tasty recipes and good food? Since they’re not particularly focused on culinary issues, what exactly do these books or their authors inspire us to eat? It turns out that while there is no one established diet that has been proved to entirely eliminate the risk of breast cancer, the majority of public health experts believe that following  the American Cancer Association’s nutritional guidelines can help to decrease your risk factors for developing  cancers  of all kinds.

So, just what ARE these guidelines? They can be summed up as follows:  Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant sources. Specifically, that means:

Choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Pay attention to standard serving sizes and read food labels to become more aware of the number of actual servings you eat.
  • Eat smaller portions of high-calorie foods. Be aware that “low-fat” or “nonfat” does not mean “low-calorie” and that low-fat cakes, low-fat cookies, and other low-fat foods are often high in calories.
  • Switch to vegetables, fruits, and other low-calorie foods and beverages to replace calorie-dense foods and beverages such as French fries, cheeseburgers, pizza, ice cream, doughnuts and other sweets, and regular sodas.
  • When you eat away from home, choose food low in calories, fat, and sugar, and avoid large portion sizes.

Eat 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day.

  • Include vegetables and fruits at every meal and for snacks.
  • Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Limit French fries, snack chips, and other fried vegetable products.
  • Choose 100% juice if you drink vegetable or fruit juices.

Choose whole grains over processed grains and sugars.

  • Choose whole grain rice, bread, pasta, and cereals.
  • Limit intake of refined carbohydrates, such as pastries, sweetened cereals, and other high-sugar foods.

Limit intake of processed meats and red meats.

  • Choose fish, poultry, or beans instead of beef, pork, and lamb.
  • When you eat meat, choose lean cuts and eat smaller portions.
  • Prepare meat by baking, broiling, or poaching, rather than by frying or charbroiling.

With these guidlines in mind I elected to make a vegetable-based meal that features a healthy assortment of complex carbohydrates, cancer-fighting anti-oxidants, whole grains and lean protein. But being as fond of delicious food as I am of healthy ingredients, I knew it had to be scrumptious as well as nutritious!

It turns out that the ancient cultures surrounding the Mediterranean Sea are an excellent source of inspiration for this type of dining.  The kitchen traditions of Spain, Greece, Turkey, Southern France and Italy have developed over millennia to showcase native foods like brightly colored garden vegetables, rich beans, toasty whole grains, fragrant herbs, pungent garlic and luxurious, silky olive oil, to their most delectable advantage.

pasta with greens and beans

From this palette (or should I say palate?), I created an Italian-inflected menu with an antipasto of herb-roasted farmers market vegetables in sunny citrus vinaigrette, and an entrée of whole grain rigatoni tossed with garlic-sauteed broccoli rabe and  cannellini beans. A glass of anti-oxidant rich Nero D’avola wine and a multi-grain ciabatta studded with tart kalamata olives and perfumed with fresh rosemary round out the offering.

Roasted veggie salad

 This enticing meal helps to abolish the myth that healthy eating requires a diner to choose righteousness over pleasure. Additionally I urge my readers to consider eating one meal a week that depends upon vegetable protein instead of meat and donating the resulting monetary savings to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. This small change in habit is not only a good preventative measure for you and the ones you feed, but it helps to fund  the ongoing fight for a cure. So, this October remember to do more than just show your support. Take matters into your own hands to help put an end to this disease.

The Recipes

Herb Roasted Vegetable Salad:

  • 1 large zucchini – cut into lengthwise strips
  • 1 large yellow squash – cut into lengthwise strips
  • 1 large red bell pepper – cut into strips
  • 1 large green bell pepper – cut into strips
  • 1 large sweet onion – cut into thick slices
  • 2 cups fresh string beans
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic – crushed and minced
  • 1/3 cup – plus 2 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tsp dry herbs de Provence or Italian herbs mix
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary – stemmed and minced
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Set oven to high broil and preheat 2 cookie sheets until a drop of water sizzles on contact.

Put the vegetables in a large bowl and sprinkle them with 1 tsp of dry herbs and a fat pinch of salt.

Drizzle them with the 2 Tbsps of olive oil and toss to coat.

Arrange them in a single even layer on the hot cookie sheets and broil for about 6-8 minutes or until they are cooked through and have become very browned in spots. The timing will vary according to the heat of your broiler and the thickness of your vegetable slices – watch them carefully to avoid burning.

While the vegetables are cooking – prepare a dressing by whisking together the remaining olive oil with the minced garlic, fresh and dry herbs, the juice and grated zest of the lemon, plus black pepper and salt to taste. Whisk the dressing until the juice and oil are emulsified and the dressing looks a bit thickened.

When the vegetables are cooked, cut the long strips of squash and peppers into bite-sized chunks and separate the onion slices into rings but leave the string beans whole for contrast.

Toss the hot vegetables with the dressing and let sit for 30 minutes to meld the flavors.

Mound the vegetables on a platter and serve slightly warm or at room temperature with crusty peasant bread.

Serves 6 as an antipasto

Washed broccoli rabe

Garlic Sautéed Broccoli Rabe with White Beans and Wholegrain Rigatoni:

2 bunches of Broccoli Raabe – ends trimmed, stalks cut into approx 2” pieces

6 cloves of garlic – roughly chopped

1 red chile – seeded and diced  (Feed free to substitute 1 tsp – or more – of dried red pepper flakes)

2 cups cooked or canned white beans – drained and rinsed well.

1 pound of wholegrain rigatoni, penne or farfalle style pasta

1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta

Rinse and drain the greens. Any water clinging to the leaves will help to steam it, so don’t be fussy about drying them.

Meanwhile heat oil with garlic and chiles in a deep sauté pan – cook on high until the garlic is golden and fragrant.

Add the damp greens to this pan and toss to coat evenly with hot oil – sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and drop the heat to medium-high and cover while pasta cooks. Greens should wilt and soften dramatically.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, until it is just short of al dente. Drain and reserve 1 cup of hot water.

Add pasta along with ½ cup of its cooking water to the sauté pan and toss until the greens garlic and oil are evenly mixed through the rigatoni. Pour the beans over the top of this mixture and cover.

Cook for about 2-3 minutes, until the pasta is cooked through and beans are hot. GENTLY stir to toss the beans into the pasta, without breaking them up. If mixture seems very dry – add a bit of the remaining pasta water to moisten it.

Serve in deep bowls with a drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.

Serves 4-6 as a main course

Published in: on October 17, 2010 at 6:44 pm  Comments (1)  

Dinner in 1491: An Appreciation of the Americas’ Bounty

Pretty much everyone has an opinion about Columbus Day. Some folks use it as an occasion to celebrate their Italian heritage, others as a day to mark the “discovery” of the New World by Europeans. Still others feel that the day is in bad taste and insulting to the indigenous peoples who were already living in this hemisphere long before those three Spanish ships stumbled upon them. I’m going to recuse myself from the political debate and simply say that the celebration of Columbus Day is lasting proof that in the long run it really is better to be lucky than good.

However, one fact is indisputable. The American continents were rich in an astonishing variety of native foodstuffs that changed the palate of not merely the Europeans who settled here, but of the entire world. Imagine Italian food without rich tomato sauces or golden corn-based polenta. What would the diet of Britain be like in the absence of staples like potatoes and pumpkins or Spanish cuisine without piquillo peppers and other palate-tickling capiscums? Therefore, I decided to use the day to do a little research into these foods, the people who ate them and the cultures that gave us so much delicious bounty.

The Book

1491: New Revelations of the Native Americans Before Columbus is a 2005 non-fiction book by American author and science writer Charles C. Mann about the pre-Columbian Americas. Mann’s central argument is that the native people of the Americas were far more numerous, possessed more advanced cultures and controlled their natural environment to a degree that has previously been underestimated by scholars.  Using a variety of new studies and referencing recent advances in research technology, Mann asserts that the general trend among scientists is to acknowledge:

That population levels in the Native Americans were probably higher than traditionally believed among scientists and that humans probably arrived in the Americas earlier than thought, over the course of multiple waves of migration to the New World (not solely by the Bering land bridge over a relatively short period of time);

The level of cultural advancement and the settlement range of humans was higher and broader than previously imagined, encompassing vast urban centers and technologies that were uniquely adapted to the specific requirements of their inhabitants and inventors.

The New World was not a wilderness at the time of European contact, but rather that it was a cultivated environment which the indigenous peoples had altered over many generations, mostly through the use of fire. This technique allowed for the selective growth of edible plants which required more sunlight and the tasty herbivores that flocked to nibble on them.

Although there is no consensus about these issues, and Mann acknowledges controversies, his book paints a vivid picture of continents teeming with human life and bearing the mark of mankind’s presence in their flora and fauna. According to his contention, as the Europeans spread slowly across the continent, they encountered the only vestigial remenant of recently collapsed societies, the flourishing indigenous populations having succumbed to a combination of infections spread by the colonists and associated privations stemming from these plagues.

In honor of this image of a land overflowing with an abundance of carefully cultivated plants and animals, I decided to create a meal fashioned from the native foodstuffs of this continent.

The Food

Entrée

I chose to create a stew of giant corn flavored with mixed chile peppers, onions, tomatoes and pork (which is standing in for the more likely rabbit – as domesticated swine arrived only with the Europeans.) A meal like this relies upon dried kernels of  Giant White Corn otherwise known as Cuzco Corn. This varietal is exclusively grown high in the Andes Mountains of Peru called the Sacred Valley of the Inkas. hybrid of corn grows into large kernels- roughly 15cm and is common in Mexican cooking.  Giant White Corn is referred to as Maiz Mote Pelado for Spanish foods or Hominy for southern U.S. foods and is often used in many recipes to be cooked and served in the same manner as dried beans.  So really? HOW giant is this corn?

OMG! GIANT corn!!

This is a piece of soaked Giant Corn next to a kernel of the more recognizable sweet corn. As you can see, the Giant Corn is roughly 4 times the size of the sweet corn. That’s pretty darn big! What actually made this corn the nutritional backbone of an indigenous diet was a revolutionary process called nixtimalization – where the dried kernels were soaked in an alkaline solution of lime and ash and the skins removed. Nixtimalized corn was crucial in the early Mesoamerican diet, as unprocessed maize is deficient in free niacin and essential amino acids, which can result in nutritional diseases like Pellagra and Kwarshiakor. However, Maize cooked with lime provided niacin in this diet. Beans, when consumed with the maize, provided the amino acids required to balance the diet for protein. Ironically, in the United States, European settlers failed to adopt the nixtamalization process, despite the fact that corn became a staple among the poor of the southern states. This led to endemic pellagra in poor populations throughout the southern US which only ended with the fortification of wheat flour and other staple foods in the early 20th century.

four kinds of capiscums

I was initially a bit dubious about the unknown flavor profile and possibly starchy texture of the corn, (unjustly it turns out!) Fearing that it would be bland, rubbery and unpalatable I opted to season the stew with a variety of strongly flavored native American vegetables such as chiles, sweet peppers, onions, garlic and tomato. It turns out that the results were outstanding. This rich braise was served with accompaniments of raw diced onion, diced red chile, and a chiffonade of cilantro to bring freshness, heat and crunch to the dish. A squeeze of lime provided a bright acid counterbalance to the unctuous rich broth and meltingly soft pork. Corn tortillas were useful to sop up the juices and are another native food that may well have appeared on ancient American tables.  

table setting

Ultimately, my exploration of unusual indigenous foodstuffs was more than satisfying . It was an enlightening experience that served to underscore the richness of flavor and ingredients provided by our native larder. Furthemore, I’ll argue in favor of Giant Corn and urge you to give this odd, and somewhat ungainly grain a fair try. After all, it is part of the lovely and varied food heritage we have all inherited as the very newest Americans.

Recipe

Giant corn and pork stew with mixed capiscums

  • 2 Cups dried Giant white Corn
  • 1.5 lbs (one package) bone-in pork such as ribs, neckbones, or shanks
  • 1  large onion – diced
  • 3 plump cloves garlic- minced
  • 2 fresh cubanelle peppers – diced
  • 2 fresh red chiles (or more to taste) – diced
  • 1 fresh poblano pepper (or more to taste) – diced
  • 1 small can of diced tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp olive or canola oil
  • 1 tbsp Goya Adobo seasoning
  • 1 tbsp Mexican Oregano
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The night before cooking bring enough water to cover corn by 3 inches to a boil – pour in corn and remove from heat. Soak, covered until 3 hours before desired serving time.

Drain and rinse corn. Fill pot with enough water to cover corn by three inches and bring to a boil.

In a sautee pan – heat oil until shimmering, add pork pieces and brown well on all sides. Add pork pieces to boiling corn and reduce heat to strong simmer.

To the oil in the sautee pan, add onions, garlic and diced peppers.  Cook until onions are transparent and vegetables are tender. Add Adobo, cumin, chili powder and oregano. Cook for 5 more minutes.

Pour vegetable mixture into pot with corn and pork. Add tomatoes, bay leaves plus ample salt and black pepper.  Simmer this mixture for 2.5 hours or until corn is very soft and pork is falling from the bones.

Serve in deep bowls accompanied by warm corn tortillas and garnished with fresh radishes, diced onions, Red chiles and cilantro.

Published in: on October 12, 2010 at 2:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Binary Day Cupcakes: “Oh, I’ll just have a byte…”

bday cupcakes with geek accessories

There’s something special about today, and if you’re geeky enough, you might just know what. It turns out that today’s date, October 10, 2010 can be expressed as a binary number by using the DD/MM/YY format. This gives us the text string 10/10/10. In honor of this calendar quirk, I would like to offer some reading suggestions that celebrate the history of the computer and the radical ways in which it has altered human society.

The Books

“Engines of the Mind” by Joel Shurkin, is an exhaustively well-researched look at the early development of computers and contains particularly fascinating portraits of  visionaries such as Charles Babbage, Herman Hollerith, Eckert and Mauchly, and John von Neumann. It is the definitive history of computers from Babbage’s Victorian era concept of a steam-driven “Difference Engine” to the vast, room-filling mainframes of the late 1960s. Shurkin’s book was not intended to cover the development of pc’s nor does it address the rise of the internet and the global paradigm shift that the wide-spread adoption of these technologies has fueled. For more on these topics, I recommend Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine’s Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer” which covers the growth of personal computing from the domain of quirky hobbyists like the members of “The Homebrew Computer Club” (including Bob Marsh, George Morrow, Adam Osborne, and Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak)to  the multi-billion dollar industry it is today. Also of note is “Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World” by Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu.  This book, by two legal scholars traces the evolution of legal and social power on the web. As the saying goes: information wants to be free, but this startling analysis proves that it is subject to many of the same controls online as it is in more traditional formats. Red-tape, censorship and litigiousness abound in cyberspace as governments and corporations attempt to lock-down the generative, collaborative and somewhat anarchistic nature of the internet.

The Food

perfect 10 cupckes

Black and White Binary Cupcakes:

Any celebration of Binary Day should include a clear reference to the dualistic nature of the notational form.  The binary number system (otherwise known as base 2) represents values using two symbols, typically 0 and 1. Computers call these bits. A bit is either off (0) or on (1). When arranged in sets of 8 bits (1 byte) 256 values can be represented (0-255).Using an ASCII chart, these values can be mapped to characters and text can be stored. It’s not magic, it’s just math!

Thus inspired, I created a set of chocolate and vanilla frosted cupcakes emblazoned with today’s date. In this case I have chosen to represent those mutually exclusive states as being either “Black or White.”

Finally, for those of you who are REALLY geeky, I offer the following tidbit: if one calculates the base-10 value of the binary number 101010, it turns out to be “42”, which is, of course the much-beloved punch-line to the question “What is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything?” put forth in Douglas Adams’ cult classic book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe.”

The Answer

 And that, dear readers, is worthy of a celebration all it’s own!

The Recipes

Buttermilk Cake Layers: from Nick Malgieri’s “Perfect Cakes”
makes two 9-inch round layers OR  two 6-inch layers and six cupcakes

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Lightly grease and flour pans. Position rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350F.

Stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, mixing well.

Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until very soft and light.  Beat in the vanilla, then beat in the eggs one at a atime, beating well after each addition.

 Reduce the speed to low and beat in one-third of the flour mixture, then half the uttermilk, stopping and scraping down the bowl and beater after each addition. Beat in another third of the flour, then the remaining buttermilk, stopping and scraping again. Finally, beat in the remaining flour mixture.

 Scrape the bowl well with a spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the tops.

 Bake the layer for about 30 to 35 minutes, until they are well risen and firm and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean.  Cool cake in the pans on racks for 5 minutes, then unmold onto racks to finish cooling.

Binary Buttercreams

  • ¼ cup softened butter
  • ¼ shortening
  • 1  1lb box confectioners sugar
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate pieces
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Place chocolate chips and cream in microwave safe container and warm on high until chips are melted, 1 to 1 ½ minutes. Stir to blend until mixture is smooth and shiny – refrigerate until thoroughly cooled – the mixture (now called a ganache) will stiffen as it rests.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, cream together butter and shortening. Add the confectioners sugar and mix on medium, adding the vanilla extract and up to 3 Tbsp water to achieve a spreadable consistency.

Separate the buttercream – reserving 2/3 of the batch to use as the vanilla portion. Into the remaining 1/3 of the frosting, mix the cooled ganache – blending well until the consistency and color is even.

Use to frost 2 9-inch cake layers, or up to 2 dozen cupcakes in contrasting patterns.

Published in: on October 11, 2010 at 12:43 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

Make Lunch, Not War: A Farewell to Arms

The Book

The summer that I turned thirteen, something truly exciting happened in my reading life. I discovered Ernest Hemingway. What began as a weekend family trip to the mall and progressed through my usual round of begging my mother to buy me an armload of assorted novels from Waldenbooks ended with me spending endless weeks locked in my sweltering room poring over the major works of Hemingway and in particular losing myself in “A Farewell to Arms.” This masterpiece about the ravages of war chronicles the sweeping and ill-fated romance between wounded American ambulance driver Fred and Catherine the British nurse with whom he eventually attempts to flee the senseless carnage of WWI for a peaceful life in neutral Switzerland. When I finally emerged I found myself plagued by two nagging questions:”Can any substantial good can come of individual acts of morality or nobility in a world that is so profoundly corrupt?”  And, perhaps more importantly: “What the heck is choucroute, anyway?”

The first question fueled a decade long fascination with nihilism and influenced me to adopt a grandly depressive, ruminant and frankly insufferable public persona throughout my teens and early twenties. My second big Hemingway question, the one about choucroute, took nearly as long to resolve in that pre-Google era as my existential crisis of the soul.  A quick perusal of the French-English dictionary had told me that the dish served to Fred in a Swiss café where he goes to wait out Catharine’s lengthy and ultimately fatal childbirth had something to do with cabbage (chou in French) and was probably a sauerkraut-type preparation.  However, since Swiss and Northern French cooking was very far afield from my family’s usual dinner routine of pastas, roasts, chops and stews, the specifics remained a tantalizing mystery to me. It was not until I was about seventeen that I stumbled upon a recipe for “Choucroute Royale” in Julia Child’s classic, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and I finally understood that this dish was a rich braise of various cured pork products cooked in a wine-scented bed of kraut, onions, apples, juniper and caraway.

Hemingway is renowned for his economy of description and this minimalist detail is the perfect example of “show me, don’t tell me writing.” The warm and comforting nature of a peasant meal turns heartbreaking when contrasted with the backdrop of a raging, senseless global war and Fred’s more personal trauma, the imminent deaths of both Catherine and his infant son. Sitting by himself in a strange tavern, Fred dines alone on what should be a festive feast dish shared by his absent family and friends. Despite his efforts to resist its madness, the war has ultimately consumed everything in his life.  

Since a platter of choucroute garni is best shared with a hungry group – I decided to invite some friends to join me for a meal influenced by the Swiss setting of the final chapters of A Farewell to Arms.

  

The Food

Appetizers

Double-smoked sausages

Assorted Cheeses and Charcuterie, Buttermilk Rye Loaf:

A small dish of double smoked sausage with assorted mustards pairs beautifully with firm, sweet Appenzaller and earthy German Champignon, a soft brie-like cheese studded with wild mushrooms. A plump homemade loaf of buttermilk rye is the perfect base for do-it-yourself canapés.

Tarte Flambee:

Often associated with Alsace-Lorraine, this rustic onion and bacon tart is also exemplary of the savory quiches and pies found in Romandy, the French-speaking portion of Switzerland. As the name indicates, the pie is cooked in a very hot oven, directly in the flames, as it were. This burst of intense heat gives the crust its characteristic crunch and helps to set and caramelize the toppings . Most of the comments from my tasters focused on contrasts: the lightness of the finished dough against the of rich, sweet sautéed onions, salty chewy bacon lardons and the thin layer of tart yogurt/Gruyere standing in for hard-to find fromage blanc. 

Tarte Flambee slices

But the alternate Germanic name of this dish, Flammekuche, also garnered some notes.  As one of my friends observed: “Flammekuche? That sounds like something an unfortunate WWI soldier might have picked up at the local brothel while on weekend leave!”  I’ll leave it to your discretion what to call this crispy treat, but I will suggest pairing it with a glass of dry Riesling or a frothy Alsatian ale.

Entrée

Chocroute platter

Choucroute Garni:

There are a number of variations on the classic choucroute garni, but at its most elemental, this is a dish of aromatic cabbage, onions and apples used as the base to showcase a groaning assortment of smoked, salted and fresh pork products.  Typically served during the long, winters choucroute was a way of making something warming, rich and tasty from preserved and long-keeping ingredients. There are two major component parts of the dish and each requires a small degree of preparation before they are combined and set in the oven for a long, slow braise.

Sauteed onions and apples

Preparing the sauerkraut base is arguably the most time-consuming and important part of making a choucroute. The process begins with the rinsing and draining of good-quality purchased sauerkraut. I strongly prefer the type that comes in refrigerated 1lb bags as it has none of the metallic taste of canned varieties. Dump the kraut into a colander and sluice plenty of cold running water over it – then leave to drain for about 30 minutes. This removes most of the sour brine and leaves the cabbage tart, but not overpowering. While the kraut is draining, sliced onions are sautéed in butter or bacon drippings until they are golden fragrant. Thin pieces of peeled apples are added along with seasonings. These aromatics are tossed with drained kraut and layered into a casserole or deep roasting pan that is large enough to accommodate both the cabbage and assorted meats without crowding

Meet the meats!

A great choucroute may start with tasty sauerkraut, but is equally dependent upon a broad mix of high-quality meats to provide savor and variety to the plate. Traditionally German –style sausages like knockwurst or bauernwurst might be used, along with slab bacon, smoked ham hocks and other charcuterie. I opted for a selection of slab bacon, smoked pork chops, plump ham hocks, kielbasa from a local Polish deli and fresh pork neckbones. The neckbones typically have lots of attached fatty meat that becomes rich and unctuous with extended cooking – another good option would be country-style pork ribs. The bacon is cut in large chunks and cooked in a deep frying pan to render its fat. The now-crispy bacon is removed and the neckbones are added to the hot pan – browning them and flavoring them with the rich bacon drippings. These pre-cooked meats and their drippings are added to the pan of kraut along with chunks of the sausage, ham hocks and the smoked chops. The pan is doused with Riesling wine and a bit of gin – to provide a subtle juniper flavor – and then snugly covered and placed in a hot oven for several hours.

Once browned and bubbling, the choucroute is arranged on a large warmed platter. Traditionally this centerpiece is accompanied by boiled potatoes, slices of rye bread and spicy mustards. A crisp, fruity Gewürztraminer is the ideal wine pairing to balance the mix of rich pork and tart cabbage. Or, one could follow Hemingway’s original menu suggestion and like Fred, simply have a glass of beer – letting the bitter hops and malt add yet another layer of flavors to the dish.

My original menu called for the meal to close with a traditional Swiss chocolate fondue. But after the main course, one of my tasters succumbed in dramatic fashion to the effects of extended overeating. Groaning heavily, he lay down on the sofa, from where he did not rise until he was fortified with a medicinal glass of icy gin as a digestif. I took this and the vast quantity of leftovers as a sign that nothing more complex than an after-dinner drink was required to sate the exhausted palates of my tasting panelists!

I hope that you will take the opportunity to share these dishes which are inspired by the Swiss setting of A Farewell to Arms with a table full of your friends and family. With a table full of beautiful foods and the faces of your loved ones surrounding you, raise a glass to the long-hoped-for triumph of love over war and to the sincere hope for peace in our time.

 Taters and a smile

The Recipes

Tarte Flambee (Flammekuche)

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 packet active yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup strained or Greek-style plain yogurt
  • 1 cup finely grated Gruyere or Emmenthal cheese
  • 3 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions
  • 1/3 lb of thick cut bacon – cut crosswise into lardons
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, removed from stems
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil for greasing pans/bowls

To make dough – combine the first three ingredients in the work-bowl of a food processor and pulse to mix dry ingredients. Turn the motor on, and add the water in a thin stream until the dough comes together and rolls around the inside of the work-bowl in a ball you may not need all the water, or perhaps you will need a tiny bit more – this varies. Remove from the processor and place in a greased bowl, turning the dough over to coat its surface very lightly with oil.  Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 60 to 90 minutes. Remove dough from bowl and place it on a greased cookie sheet, stretching and patting the dough, use it to line the pan completely. If it offers too much resistance, simply cover it and walk away for 10 minutes. This gives the dough time to relax. Then resume stretching until the pan is filled with dough. Cover and let rise for about 30-60 minutes, while you prep the toppings.

Preheat the oven to 475F and place a rack two rungs up from the oven bottom

In a deep frying pan, cook the bacon lardons over medium heat until they are crunchy and golden-brown. Remove the meaty pieces from the hot fat and drain on paper towels. To the hot bacon fat, add the sliced onions along with thyme, salt and pepper. Cook them gently until they are translucent, and very slightly caramelized. Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, mix the thick yogurt (you MUST use strained or greek yogurt) with the grated cheese until a heavy, curdy paste is formed.

Using a spatula, or the back of a tablespoon, spread a thin layer of the cheese mixture over the crust, leaving a clear, one inch border on all sides. Top the cheese with an even layer of sautéed onions and finally sprinkle the bacon lardons over the other toppings. The topping layer should be quite thin.

Slide the pan into the thoroughly pre-heated oven and bake for 30 -40 minutes, or until the edges of the crust are deep golden brown and the toppings are sizzling. Immediately, check to see if the crust is stuck to the pan anywhere – if so, slide a metal spatula under the tart to loosen it. Remove tart from pan and place on a wire rack to cool slightly. Slice into squares and serve. The tart is delicious either hot or at room temperature.

Serves 6-8

Choucroute Garni:

  • 2 1lb bags of sauerkraut
  • 2 large onions – about 4 cups sliced
  • 2 medium tart apples peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 4 smoked pork chops
  • 2 slices of slab bacon (about 1 inch thick) rind removed, each slice cut in half
  • 1 large or 2 smaller links of kielbasa – cut into 4 pieces total
  • 2 meaty smoked hamhocks
  • 1 package of pork neckbones or country-style pork ribs (about 4-6 pieces)
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, removed from stems
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 ½ cups of chicken stock or Riesling wine
  • ¼ cup of good gin (Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray are best)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • Sal and black pepper to taste

Empty the kraut into a colander and sluice plenty of cold running water over it –  leave to drain for about 30 minutes. This removes most of the sour brine and leaves the cabbage tart, but not overpowering.

While the kraut is draining, heat the butter in a sauté pan until it is foaming and the solids have just begun to brown. Put the sliced onions in the pan and sauté over medium-high until they have turned golden are very soft. Add the sliced apples and continue to cook until they have softened a bit and give up some of their juice. Add the thyme, brown sugar and bay leaves plus a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste.

Toss this mixture thoroughly with the drained cabbage – making certain that the apples and onions are evenly distributed in the kraut. Now is the time to taste the vegetables for seasoning. Should you find the flavor to be too sour, add a bit more sugar, if it seems too sweet, try a bit more salt and in the unlikely case that it lacks bite this can be corrected by stirring in a drizzle of cider vinegar. Transfer the kraut to a deep casserole or roasting pan and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Cook the bacon slices in a deep frying pan over medium heat until most of their fat has rendered and the slices are crisp-tender. Remove the bacon and set it aside. To the hot bacon fat, add the raw pork neck bones or ribs and fry until they are browned, turning to cook all surfaces evenly. Reserve both meat and drippings to add to the braise.

To the pan of sauerkraut, add all your meats, nestle them snugly into the cabbage but leave some surfaces peeking out so they brown and become crispy in the oven. Sprinkle the wine or stock and gin evenly over the top of the braise – cover with a lid or foil and place in the oven for 2 hours. After 2 hours have passed, remove the cover and cook for about another hour, or until the kraut and meats are well-browned and the braising liquid has thickened a bit.

Pile the sauerkraut on a large warm platter and arrange the various meats over the top in an attractive fashion. Bring to the table along with a steaming bowl of boiled new potatoes tossed with herb butter, a loaf of sour rye or pumpernickel bread and an assortment of mustards.

Serves 6

Published in: on October 8, 2010 at 11:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Upcoming Family Event: Dr. Seuss Brunch

The Hungry Librarian’s obsession with literary food can easily be traced back to when she was a very small girl. An avid consumer of children’s books even now, it occurred to her that the first big, formal tasting event should reach out to these newest readers and eaters. So she asked herself: “What’s the very first book food that most of us can recall?” the answer was “Why Green Eggs and Ham, of course!” She politely declined a friend’s alternate Seuss menu suggestion from  “I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today” as being too hard to source the ingredients, too arduous to prepare, and likely too challenging for young palates!

So, readers, if you have children between the ages of roughly 2-7 years and are interested in bringing them to a Dr. Suess-themed brunch in Northern NJ, featuring green eggs and ham, along with other fanciful kid-friendly foods, please comment, or send me an email. After I have a few interested participants, we can set up a date between October 23 and November 21  that’s convenient for all attendees. This is a reminder that ABSOLUTELY no payment is expected . Please just bring your family’s copy of the book as there will be a read-along and some silly Seussical games. Also, if you’re uncomfortable with having your child’s photo published online, please just let me know – it’s no problem to accomodate that wish.

I sincerely hope to see you and your children there!

Published in: on October 6, 2010 at 4:43 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Books

THE BOOKS

Since the aim of this blog is to get people thinking about good food from great books and to encourage them to get more engaged with both, I thought that a first post was the perfect time to bring attention to the fact that September 25  – October 2, 2010 is the American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week.” Every year in this country, there are hundreds of cases of books being “challenged” in school curricula or simply removed from suggested reading lists and even public libraries. Often this controversy is begun at the behest of a small, but well-organized and vocal minority. Sometimes, the reason for the challenge is that the book in question contains mature subject matter, such as frank talk about sex or drugs that is considered to be age-inappropriate by those seeking its removal. However, more frequently the reason behind the attempted censorship is that it contains themes that are considered to be irreligious or politically offensive.

The purpose of ALA’s Banned Books Week is to call attention to all these attempts to suppress written ideas and to promote the free availability of books, even ones that contain controversial ideas or unpopular viewpoints.  That all seems reasonable, but what should we do when these texts contain something darker? What about books that involve macabre tales of secret orders outside the realm of normal society, terroristic wars fought in the name of promoting the dark arts, rebellious young protagonists on the wrong side of the law who claim to embrace virtues, but do so in the name of no particular God or religion? It’s an important question; one that’s been vexing concerned US citizens for over ten years: What to DO about the Harry Potter books?

That’s right. According to The ALA , the seven books of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are collectively the most frequently challenged books of the past decade – usually based on allegations of promoting Godlessness and witchcraft, though I would also add the encouragement of gluttony! With this unsettling fact in mind and prompted by the mouth-watering, brain-tingling and highly imaginative descriptions of foods both magical and Muggle in origin, I took my wooden spoon and magic wand in hand to summon up a typical wizarding world dinner. 

I find the keeping of House Elves to be morally reprehensible behavior. Beside which, they’re always getting into the butterbeer and denting the silver candlesticks during frequent bouts of self-chastisement traits that tend to make them FAR more trouble than help. In light of this lack of domestic help, a grand multi-course Hogwarts Holiday Feast was a bit beyond my reach. Instead, I opted for the sort of homey meal that Mrs. Weasley might offer her brood for a leisurely Sunday lunch at The Burrow. Think of it as classic British food with an enticing smattering of somewhat more exotic ingredients.

THE FOOD

Appetizer:

 

Toadstool Surprise – Fungi have long been associated with magic in many cultures, which makes them a natural for inclusion in the Potter books. In fact, Medieval Flemish painters vividly associated them with the underworld. However you have nothing to fear from these plump bacon and breadcrumb stuffed mushrooms served on a bright salad of bitter dandelions. All ingredients are fresh from the Hogwarts Herbology Department greenhouse. Recipe attribution to Professor Pomona Sprout, who swears that a few bites of Amanita Muscaria never hurt anyone.

Entrée:

 

Roast of Beef with Gravy and Individual Yorkshire Puddings, Gringott’s Green & Gold Vegetables – While some of the foods in Harry Potter’s world are the purely product of JK Rowling’s imaginary pantry, many are drawn from traditional British cookery In fact the tables so frequently feature solid, meat and potatoes type dishes that visiting French witch Fleur Delacourt is led to complain about “Ze ‘eavy, ‘ogwarts food…” While I’ll agree with Fleur that it’s not the sort of thing one wants to eat at every meal, this old-fashioned slow-roasted joint of beef is a lovely change of pace from lighter more modern fare. A slice of the herb-scented roast is best enjoyed with its accompanying rich gravy spooned over a crispy, fluffy Yorkshire pudding and paired on the plate with some seasonal vegetables. 

Vegetables are often mentioned as a sidelight to Wizard meals, so I chose a duo of garlic sautéed Brussels sprouts and ginger glazed carrots. The bright green and gold colors recall the glittering contents of the vaults at Gringott’s goblin bank.   

Dessert:

Pumpkin Pasties

In Muggle cuisine a pasty typically refers to a type of hand-held baked pie made with lard or shortening crust and containing a savory filling of ground or cubed meat and/or vegetables. These pies are English street food at its most basic and echo recipes that have been in circulation since the late Middle Ages.

Though they are a featured favorite on the Hogwarts Express and in the magical town of Hogsmeade, it’s never specified if pumpkin pasties are actually savory in taste. Therefore as an acknowledgement to the wizard tendency toward wordplay, trickery and surprises, I’ve decided that these little pies are a trick for the eye and a treat for the tongue. The replicate the look of a meaty Muggle pasty, but one bite tells the diner that they are full of sweetly spiced autumn fruits like apples, raisins and of course, pumpkin.

Assorted Magical Sweets

 Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans are strictly an “eat at your own risk” food.

 

I strongly suspect that the one on the left in this photo is vomit flavored and the one on the right may be booger – caution in consumption is clearly warranted! 

Crunchy Cockroach Clusters are more harmless than they seem. With irregular looking chunks of crumbled pretzels standing in for wiggly legs and antennae, they get their crisp salty and sugary flavor from relatively wholesome ingredients. And finally a dish of sweet Licorice Wands work their magic only on your taste buds.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip through weirdly delectable world of Wizard cuisine as brought vividly to life in Ms. Rowling’s books. The Harry Potter series challenges readers of all ages to envision lush combinations of existing and hypothetical flavors while encouraging them to open their minds and mouths to try something new.  If the worlds of the library or kitchen are turned over to the small minds and narrow palates of those who would suppress flights of fantasy in favor of any cultural agenda there would soon be little left to tantalize thinkers or tasters. I encourage you to visit the ALA Banned Books Week site, to learn more and join the fight to keep access to information free in America.

THE RECIPES

Toadstool Surprise:

  • 1 package jumbo “Stuffing” mushrooms
  • 2 stalks celery – diced
  • 1 small onion or two shallots – diced
  • 1 clove garlic (or more to taste) –  minced
  • 5 slices of thick cut bacon
  • 2 cups fresh or unseasoned purchased breadcrumbs (more may be needed)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme, stemmed and miced
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, stemmed and minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup white wine or stock
  • Olive oil to drizzle

Preheat oven to 375F

Select the 6- 8  biggest, most attractive mushrooms in the package. Remove stems, and using a teaspoon or paring knife, gently scrape out the dark brown gills to create a deep cup. Discard gills, dice the stems and remaining mushrooms finely and set aside for use in stuffing.

Cut the bacon into lardons by cutting each piece across the short side into narrow strips, then slicing those strips into rough cubes or chunks – the pieces should be large enough to provide some chew, but small enough to blend into the stuffing mixture. Sautee the bacon in a deep frying pan over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the lardons are golden and crispy.

To the pan of bacon add the onions, garlic and celery, stirring frequently until the vegetables are aromatic and softened. Stir in the reserved diced mushrooms, add thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until the mushrooms become soft. add wine or stock and cook and additional 5-7 minutes. Remove mixture from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, toss breadcrumbs with Parmesan and stir in the cooked bacon/vegetable mixture, mixing well to form a slightly damp stuffing. The stuffing should NOT be wet or sticky, rather it should easily hold together in clumps when pressed. If it is dry and crumbly sprinkle with additional liquid. If it is very soggy, add more breadcrumbs or cheese.

Rub mushroom cups with a bit of olive oil inside and out. Stuff the cups, using clean hands works best, pressing the filling firmly into each cup and mounding it up over the edge. Drizzle the stuffed cups with a tiny bit of additional olive oil to aid in crisping.

Place in a baking pan large enough to hold all mushrooms without crowding and bake in the oven for 15-25 minutes – this depends upon the size of your mushrooms. The filling is already cooked through, so when the mushrooms cups appear cooked and the stuffing looks browned and crunchy – remove them.

Serve atop a simple salad of your favorite greens that have been lightly tossed with a tart vinaigrette.

Makes 6-8 mushrooms.

Individual Yorkshire Puddings

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp melted butter or drippings from a roast

Pre-heat oven to 375F

Grease muffin pan by pouring melted fat into the bottom of each cup. If you are using a regular muffin pan with 12 cups, use 1/3 Tbsp in each cup. However, if you are using a jumbo muffin pan like I did, pour 1/2 Tbsp into each of the 8 cups.  Place the pan in the hot over for 5 minutes to warm the metal.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk and salt until well-blended. Whisk in the flour, stirring vigorously until the batter is smooth and lump free. It should be VERY thin.

Pour batter into hot muffin cups, dividing evenly and not filling more than 2/3 of the cup.

Place in hot oven to bake for 15-25 minutes. The smaller puddings will require less time to puff and set than the larger ones. The puddings are done when they are golden, puffy and firm to the touch. 

Note that these will puff dramatically, so be sure to provide enough overhead space for them to cook without hitting the top of the oven or another rack. Figure on leaving about 3 inches or so of headroom.  They will be very fluffy around the edges, but appear fallen in the middle. The puddings will also shrink a bit as they cool, so be sure to serve piping hot from the oven.

Yorkshire puddings are traditionally served alongside a roast with some of its gravy ladled over their tops.

Makes 8 jumbo or 12 smaller puddings.

Pumpkin Pasties:

  • 1 large can pureed pumpkin or 2 cups homemade puree
  • 2 large tart apples -I used Ginger Golds
  • 1 box raisins – soaked in 2 tbsp rum or hot water
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cans condensed milk
  • 1 cup sugar (more or less to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • pinch salt
  • pinch black pepper
  • 1 recipe your favorite pie crust (purchased or homemade) – enough for a double crust 9 inch pie.
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water
  • sugar for sprinkling

Filling:

Preheat oven to 425F

Peel, core and chop apples into small cubes. Sautee in butter over medium heat until they soften and give off their juices. Add raisins with their soaking liquid, walnuts, spices, salt, pepper and brown sugar. Cook for 5 minutes stirring until the mixture is warmed through and the brown sugar has melted and is bubbling.  Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

In a  large mixing bowl, beat eggs with sugar and condensed milk until thoroughly blended. Stir in pumpkin puree, and apple mixture. Blend to distribute solid ingredients.

Pour the filling into a baking dish and bake for 15 minutes, then drop the oven temperature to 350F and continue baking for 45-50 minutes or until the custard is firm and set all the way through. Remove from oven and chill for at least 2 hours. THE FILLING MUST BE COOLER THAN ROOM TEMPERATURE WHEN STUFFING PASTIES.

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 350F

Roll out pie crust to 1/8 in think – standard thickness for a pie’s top crust. Using a drinking glass or biscuit cutter, punch out circles approximately 3 inches in diameter. You should be able to get 24  crusts – perhaps a few more if you’re thrifty with the scraps. You will have filling left over. This can be frozen and thawed to make a future batch of pasties, or you can double the yield, by using a second batch of pie crust. Additionally, the custard is delicious served warm on its own with a bit of  vanilla ice cream.

On each crust, place a mounded tablespoon of filling  just off-center and pinch the edges of the round crust together to form a half-moon shape. Use a fork to crimp the edge tightly to seal in the filling and for decoration.  Lay pasties on 2 baking sheets, brush each one with the egg glaze and sprinkle with sugar. Using a sharp paring knife, cut three small slits into the plump belly of each pasty.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the crusts are crunchy and golden. Serve warm or a room temperature.

Published in: on September 27, 2010 at 10:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: