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Jeffy and I don't usually revisit the Thanksgiving leftovers in any big way. Post-dinner on Thanksgiving night, we send as much stuff home with his Mom as possible and then I stand in the kitchen doing a triage, putting away what little we probably will use again, consigning scraps to the trash and then asking Jeff questions like: "Any chance at all that we would ever look at this again?" holding half a turkey wing or a giant spoon of cold mashed potatoes. Or, "Does this item have a future?" And he says, "Maybe in a week when I throw it away!" Et cetera. But this year, I carefully reserved more stuff than normal because I had a Friday night plan already in the works before the Thanksgiving cooking had even begun.

We made a sandwich using some turkey leftovers, stuffing leftovers and the batch of "Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish" that we never ended up using last night.

First, I mixed some stuffing in a bowl with some chopped scallion, a bit of Louisiana hot sauce, and an egg:


The scallions and hot sauce added some freshness and punch while the egg supplied some structural adhesion for the next stage: making this into patties for pan frying!


And after forming patties, I coated them with bread crumbs, which may seem odd for a product that is principally made of bread already. And which will later be placed between slices of bread. But the crumbs afford a bit of help for achieving a nice crispy finish...


Which afforded us a second chance to have some of those crispy top and edge bits of the stuffing that are generally a thing of the past after the initial T-giving night serving. I heated some olive oil in an iron skillet and browned the patties for several minutes on one side, carefully flipped them, and then moved them into the 400F oven for about 15 minutes. In the oven, they hung out next to some turkey leftovers which I put in a small skillet along with a scant amount of the leftover gravy, just to give it back some moisture. 


I wrapped the turkey pan in aluminum foil and heated it while the stuffing patties finished. Also, I placed four slices of wheat bread right on a rack in the oven and toasted them. When everything was hot and ready to go, I slathered all four slices of bread with the cranberry relish (more on that below), added a slice of cheese to each stuffing patty and built two of these sandwiches:


That relish is the famous recipe that Susan Stamberg works into NPR's Morning Edition broadcast somewhere every year before Thanksgiving, and it is unlike most any other cranberry sauce recipe in that it is a totally raw preparation of cranberries, sour cream, sugar, onion and horseradish. This makes it uniquely suited as a condiment for this sandwich, the perfect foil to the richness of the rest of the dish. It has a sharpness, acidity and pungency that cuts right through the leftover-breadiness and makes a sandwich that would otherwise be a Total Abomination into something just right for a lazy post-TG Friday night.
This was the menu...


We liked it a lot. As usual, I had a lot of fun with cooking all of it. But I am never all that excited about the actual eating of it all by the time we actually sit for dinner. Because then it's over. But we had a very nice time.

I actually have a leftovers plan in process for tomorrow night's dinner. As it turned it out we never used the Stamberg cranberry relish today because it didn't seem to fit in anywhere. But it's going to make the awesome sauce for some turkey/stuffing panini. 

melonThis is some real first-draft unedited business here, just a segment from my NaNoWriMo project that I came up with to tie into Thanksgiving. I submit it here in honor of the holiday, not because I think it was worth writing for any other reason. It is from the middle section of a trio of interconnected novellas, and so will make little to no sense to anyone in this stand-alone way. But it's got to do with dinner.

from The Curve and the Cairn

Lastain claimed never to have had in her entire life an actual Thanksgiving dinner. Her expression soured after she said this. She pursed her lips over the rim of her glass and sipped her drink. A-R told her that this was an absurd assertion: “Everybody in this country has at one time or another had a Thanksgiving dinner—even if it was a really shitty one. It’s embedded in our cultural DNA.”

            But Lastain persisted that her family had never honored the holiday properly, instead doing things like going to movies and eating popcorn, or running through fast food drive-thrus and eating in the car. A-R wondered if, during these times, she had been thankful for anything. Because, if so, then this too could have been a form of Thanksgiving dinner, albeit a shabby one. She said nothing at first, but peered at him darkly, sipping her drink. Then: “You have always been so snobbish about stuff like this, Arthur. Not everybody’s dad was a celebrity chef, you know. Hardly anyone has a kitchen this nice in their house!”

            “I’m not talking about the food.” A-R reddened, felt his ears get hot, and he looked inside the refrigerator. “I am talking about an unavoidable, deeply encoded cultural norm in America.”

            As if to defuse further clashes between A-R and Lastain, Haider interrupted with his assessment of the holiday and its fare: “Turkey, mashed potatoes, Stove Top Stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole and sweet potatoes with marshmallows on them.”

            “Barbarism,” muttered A-R, still examining the contents of the refrigerator. Lastain sighed loudly behind him.

            “And you watch football on TV.” Haider leaned back, ass on the countertop, satisfied. Case closed, he seemed to say.

            “Whatever.” A-R sighed and reached for a bottle of white wine. “You two are missing the point. Tomorrow night we will have Thanksgiving dinner together and I will show you how it’s properly done.” He looked at Lastain. “No snobbery, I promise!”

            “Arthur. It’s January.” Lastain pushed her glass forward, hopeful of a refill.

            “It doesn’t matter. Thanksgiving can happen any day of the year.”


            A-R wrote the menu with a chisel-tipped Sharpie on a sheet-pan sized piece of parchment:

TURKEY IN TWO STYLES w/natural pan gray





PUMPKIN PIE w/whipped sour cream

            Beneath this list, with a fine-point Sharpie, and in much smaller letters, he wrote his grocery list, checking the pantry as he went for items he might already have. When the list was finished, Hurricane jumped atop the steel island and examined it. “Coeurl,” he said. And, “Mew.”

            “Did I remember everything, kiddo?” A-R bent low to accept a nose-kiss from the cat. Hurricane emitted a loud purr, gazed at his human for a moment, and then leapt away, back about his day’s business. A-R added one more item to the list: cat food. Then he took a picture of the list with his iPhone, grabbed keys and left for the store.

            He decided to try the new supermarket that had recently opened on the former site of a desolated strip mall. It was called Circus of Foods, and rainbow flags flew gaudily, gleefully from its concrete ramparts. Having been raised by two dads, A-R could not see a rainbow-anything without thinking GAAAAYYY. But he doubted that this was likely the store’s proprietor’s intent.

            He passed through the broad entrance, grabbed a cart and turned left into the large produce section. Assessing it’s vastness and variety, he made a mental note to send Chris here—if Chris ever returned from Wisconsin. Celery, carrots, celeriac, garlic, parsley, chives, A-R said to himself, trying to tick off as much of the vegetal section of his list as possible before resorting to looking at his phone image of it.

            A big bin caught his eye. It was heaped with a large red-purple fruit with bright green and yellow fibers growing wildly from its skin. He had never seen anything like it. He picked one up. It was heavy for its size, fist-sized and cool. “It’s fantastic, isn’t it?” said someone. He looked to his right. A boy in the store’s uniform stood there, moving more of the fruits from a big box into the bin. The kid’s blue shirt collar splayed open to expose a necklace: steel charms in the shape of curvy tentacles hung from a knotted leather strap. Cult Cthulhu, A-R thought. But said, “What are they?”

            “They’re called kudzu fruit,” said the kid. He grinned. “They’re delicious!”

            Not on the menu: A-R took two anyway.

            Chopping an onion:

            Arthur-Rimbaud did it first, shedding its skin, halving it from root to stem, sweeping its ends to the side. He laid one half on its flat cut surface and quickly sliced through it in many close cuts perpendicular to where the root had been. Then he turned the thing slightly widdershins and sliced again, rendering the half to tiny dice. “Like this,” he said to Haider.

            Haider had just asked how properly to dice an onion, professing that he’d attempted it and occasionally seen it on a TV show, but had fallen short in accomplishing the task himself. “I’ll teach you,” A-R said, “by making you do it yourself.”

            Lastain sighed. “Oh Jesus Christ,” she muttered.

            A-R glanced at her, said, “We need a ton of onions anyway.” He pulled from the basket another onion “Here,” he said, setting it upon the board, handing Haider from across the steel prep island the ceramic knife, handle-first. “I will talk you through it.”

            “You did that so fast,” said Haider.

            A-R wondered, “Are you left-handed or right-handed?”

            Haider pursed his lips, nodded slowly. “It kind of depends. I’m kind of bi.”

            Lastain snorted behind A-R.

            “OK,” A-R said, “let’s say you were hacking to death a zombie during combat in Ruhrapenthe, in which hand would you be holding your war ax or machete?”

            “The right,” said Haider, no hesitation. He grabbed the onion.

            “Hold it against the board,” A-R said, “on its side. Yes, like that.” He watched Haider position the knife for the first cut. “Now, cut. One slice. Take off that end.”

            “And again. The other end. As close as you can to that root.”

            Haider did as he was told. Next, A-R showed him how to make a shallow cut through the skin from end to end and then peel away the papery layer.

            “I know how to do that, dude,” Haider said, gazing at his peeled onion. “But what I don’t get is how you get it diced without chopping it all to fuck.”

            “You’re making a big mistake,” Lastain said, rather dryly. “Letting Arthur think that he knows something that you don’t.”

            “Ignore her. Listen to me.” A-R grinned at Haider and was surprised that he smiled back. “Now do what I am doing.” A-R grabbed the remaining intact half from his onion and pretended that he had a knife in his hand. He positioned the end of its imaginary blade against the onion’s white flesh. “You put the tip roughly here, just short of the end of the onion, and make one straight slice downward. And then again, as close as you can to the first cut. And so on, et cetera.”

            Haider paused for a second, considered what he had seen, and then botched it entirely by making his first cut in exactly the wrong direction, making half-rings fall from his onion half.

            “OK. Stop.” A-R stepped around the end of the island to Haider’s side. “Don’t freak out. Because I am going to touch you, bro. Don’t go all PTSD cyborg killer on my ass.”

            Haider gazed down at A-R for a moment, as if deciding how to answer that. He laughed. “It’s cool, dude.”

            “It’s like trying to tie someone else’s tie,” A-R explained. “You pretty much have to be standing behind him.”

            Haider frowned.

            “But,” A-R said, “you are enormous, like a furless Chewbacca. So I can’t reach around you from behind and still see what I’m doing. But I can kind of get beside you.” A-R sidled close to Haider, extended an arm in front on him and grasped his knife hand. He took Haider’s other hand with his own left and moved it into place, fingertips against the onion. “Here is where you make the first cut,” he said, carefully positioning Haider’s right hand with his own. “And now. Slice.” Slowly, they did it together.

            Lastain leaned forward, opposite them. “You boys are so fuckin’ sexy right now,” she said. “If you accidentally start making out, I may just wet myself.”

            “Silence, Satan!” A-R hissed. He and Haider made four more cuts together and then A-R released his grip. “Continue, just like that. Try to make each cut as close as you can to the last.”

            Once the final slice was complete, A-R told him to turn the onion half so that he could slice it again, this time perpendicular to the previous set of cuts. “As if you had sliced a zombie from head to toe and then needed to do it again from shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, just to make sure it was good and really dead.”

            Suddenly confident, Haider did as directed and laid the onion out in fine dice.


            The turkey:

            “Doesn’t that turkey,” said Lastain, “take like a thousand hours to bake?”

            “Don't you just stick it in the oven and wait forever?” said Haider.

            “No,” said A-R to Lastain. “Because we’re going to spatchcock it. And no,” he said to Haider, “because we're going to spatchcock it.”

            That’s a preparation, A-R explained, where you cut the bird from throat to ass along its backbone and then pull out the backbone completely, and then flatten the beast for roasting. “But I take it a step further,” he said, tearing through that backbone with a great crunching, once and then again. He cast the long chunk of bony carcass into a steel bowl next to his cutting board. “Because I am also going to completely detach the leg quarters from the breast section.”

            Haider gazed at the bird. Lastain refilled her wine glass.

            “That’s the dark meat,” A-R clarified. “The part that Americans have been conditioned to despise but which is actually the best part, as soon you will learn.” He flipped the breast chunk over, cavity up. “I am also going to knock off these wing tips—” more crunching—“and very carefully take out the rib cage and the entire keel bone.” Haider leaned in closer, more interested.

            “It's like busting down a zombie, isn’t it?”

            “Actually,” Haider said, “it kind of is!” He looked more closely, watching A-R carefully pare the breast meat loose from its bony superstructure. “Except I’d just take that knife and whack the fucker straight through the middle of that sternum or whatever it is.”

            “Perhaps, but in this case I am trying to keep the whole breast-slash-wing section in one piece, just minus most if its skeleton.”

            Lastain wondered why.

            “So that we can still have a brief Norman Rockwell moment,” said A-R, “with something that vaguely looks like a classic intact Thanksgiving turkey out of a vintage Good Housekeeping mag. Before we eat the fuck out of it.”

            This explanation struck everyone as very funny for some reason, and they paused in the food prep for a bout of laughing, followed by a cigarette break. After a few minutes, after Lastain had stubbed out her smoke, she grasped A-R’s shoulder and said, “Though I have been giving you a hard time ever since you suggested this, I think I actually get what you are doing. What you really mean with your cornball spirit of Thanksgiving nonsense.” She leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. “So, really, thank you for doing this with us today. It is actually, somehow, fun.”

            Gently stunned, Arthur-Rimbaud stepped back. “But we have barely started cooking. And we have not eaten yet.”

            “But that’s not really the point, is it?” she said.

            A-R gazed at Lastain, not sure how to answer.

            Behind him, Haider examined the dissected turkey. “So what’s next?” he said.

Typically I don't like to do too much food prep in advance of Thanksgiving Day itself, preferring to save the fun of it for that day, my favorite holiday and the one day of the year that I can consistently rely upon for being free of day-jobbery. But this evening, Jeffy and I took care of a few things best done ahead, a couple of the more tedious projects that are less fun to do tomorrow. He made a pie this afternoon, a task we are both glad is done already.

Also, he made the doughs for the blue cheese-almond and parmesan-rosemary crackers that we will bake tomorrow. Over the last few years, we have had a habit of making these crackers to support crab dip--a snack for the early afternoon while the main bulk of cooking and socializing is going on. We have made the blue cheese item several times before, but the other one is new. Jeff used some of our fresh rosemary which is still flourishing out on the deck in the autumnal remains of our summer garden. The crackers now rest in the forms of logs of dough, chilling next to the chocolate black-bottom pie until tomorrow morning when we will slice and bake them.

And I went ahead did the bird butchery, spatchcocking the turkey to ready it for a preparation that I will detail tomorrow. Here it is whole:


And here it is again:


What I have done is removed the back bone, separated the leg quarters from the body, and completely boned the breast (but leaving the wings attached), by cutting out the ribs and wish bone and carefully removing the entire breast bone. In this way, the breast pieces will roast in an almost flat posture. And the leg quarters will get an entirely separate preparation, almost as if the two halves of the bird are different dishes entirely (which they really are, because the two colors of meat call for different sorts of attention to be at their best). That container on the counter behind the turkey contains the bones that I removed along with the neck and the giblets. Tomorrow morning all of this, along with some chunky pieces of onion, carrot and celery and some whole cloves of garlic, will be seasoned liberally with salt, pepper and thyme, glossed with olive oil and roasted in the oven until browned. Then it all gets moved to the stock pot where it will simmer for several hours. The resulting stock later is then used in several places: gravy, moisture for the dressing, and sometimes in the braising of vegetables if we are making something like Brussels sprouts.

Tomorrow I will, as usual, tweet and Facebook our progress, and return here with an assessment of the whole affair. HTG2012 all y'all.
relish-58af5b7e704393e874969428d994a6a2ce4b196e-s2Since the founding of NPR in the early 1970s, correspondent and occasional Weekend Edition host Susan Stamberg traditionally inserts somewhere into the programming just prior to Thanksgiving the recipe for her mother-in-law's cranberry relish, the one famous for its punch of horseradish, its bright pink color and the odd step of making it the day before and freezing it. As the holiday nears, listeners of Morning Edition can expect at any time this recipe to appear. This year, it was inserted into a little skit with Lynne Rosetto Kasper (The Splendid Table) based on her show's "Stump the Cook" segment. 

But just as surely as NPR listeners can expect the cranberry relish to appear annually somewhere during Morning Edition, so too can readers of the NPR website expect to see sour comments about it from crabby people who can't abide a long-running joke. Such as Bruce Boyd, who said: "Yeah, my wife made the cranberry recipe a few years ago and took it to work for their annual pre-Thanksgiving feast... nobody touched it and she had to throw it all out. Enough of this annual running gag already."  And Cesar Zalamero who said, "Ms. Stamberg never lists the most important ingredients of all: Ham and self-indulgence."

This is why I need to remember to never read comments on stuff. But I could hardly help myself because I could feel it in my bones that there must, of trollish necessity, be someone who just can't refrain from bagging on a harmless, amusing thing. Well I got some news for you, dudes: the cranberry relish is actually totally delicious (though I don't think the freezing step is necessary) and if no one was willing to taste it at your house, then you got a houseful of childishly picky people with no manners who haven't heard that it is customary to graciously sample what has been prepared by your host for dinner. This custom generally causes people to discover--even against their will--that they actually like more kinds of food that they thought they did. 

But if you just don't like Mama Stamberg's recipe, how about you just ignore it next year? Because it will re-appear and it will be, for me, the annual reminder that my favorite holiday is just a few days away and it's time to plan the menu.

[I will be posting here later in the week our Thanksgiving dishes, and live-Tweeting and Facebooking our preparations on Thursday morning.]
My partner and I very, very seldom ever visit the cases of pre-made frozen meal items in the grocery store. We cook dinner from scratch nearly every evening. We are both competent cooks (and I do it professionally), and the time we spend together cooking and eating is a hugely important part of our whole quality "together" time. But occasionally, especially when I have a stretch of evenings where I won't be home for dinner due to work, we will lay in some pre-fab products so that there is something quickly on hand for one person to eat. Jeff likes the Alessi-brand risotto kits that our local stores stock in the rice/pasta aisle. I bring him some chicken and mushrooms to enhance it with, and a decent dinner for him comes together readily. A couple months ago, he needed a quick dinner option and suggested I just grab some kind of "disgusting" (his word) frozen dinner and he'd suffer through it. But, as I assessed the options in the freezer case, I was discouraged because I knew exactly what it would all be like and that it would all be crap. But then I noticed something that I had not seen before, these Tai Pei Chinese-style meals in the form of a frozen take-out box-shaped brick.

I didn't expect it would be totally great, but I also didn't expect to hear from Jeff that it was just about the worst thing he had ever eaten. He had the General Tso's Chicken version. But since that day, hiding in our freezer, has been another one of these that I bought at the same time: Broccoli Beef. Jeff is out of town and I got home early from work today. I have a dinner planned for later, but decided to eat this Tai Pei food for a quick lunch to hold me over. The box describes it as a totally delicious and restaurant-quality food item, and even boasts of a "new and improved recipe." Years ago, it was almost standard for product labeling to boast of being new and improved. But it's always seemed to me that implicit in the claim of newness and improvedness is a tacit admission that the original product had deficiencies and needed some work. And if that's the case with Tai Pei Broccoli Beef, then, damn, I am sure glad I never experienced its earlier non-improved version. Because this is not a good product. 

Of course I knew it wasn't really going to be "restaurant quality," but I'd hoped it would at least approach the quality of the really bad food at a certain Chinese take-out joint near my home. Their stuff isn't restaurant quality either despite it being from an actual restaurant, but it's actually pretty good compared to what I found in this box. The box is filled principally with cooked rice and a small amount of the broccoli beef dish itself (not actually very much of either broccoli or beef), including a weak sauce. The method of prep is to microwave the thing wrapped in all its packaging for five minutes and then let it sit for a couple minutes. I suppose one could eat it out of the box, but I dumped mine into a bowl and found that what I had was a mass of very wet and insipid rice studded with a few bits of other ingredients. After a taste, I went ahead and did what I knew I was going to do anyway: add a huge dollop of Sambal Oelek to it in order to give it enough agreeable flavor for me to eat it and be done with it. 

Whenever I experience a product like this, I wonder why it must be so and why things of this quality are so generally accepted that they continue to be about all that's available in non-specialty food shops. I get it that these Tai Pei boxes are inexpensive. I don't think I paid more than two bucks for it. To sell a product of this kind that cheaply and still make a profit on it, the manufacturer probably can't put anymore beef or broccoli into it than they do. If I were to make this dish from scratch, I'd spend more than two bucks per serving, so I get that part of it. Even an upgrade to the rice might be cost-prohibitive, but I know enough about food production to know that they can certainly come up with a better flavor profile for that sauce without adding cost. Generally it costs about the same to make a really bad sauce as it does to make a good one. Also, if the product actually tasted good, people might like it a lot more, and then they might be able to actually raise the price a bit and still sell even more of it. 

I'm not such a snob that I don't see some value in the concept of heat-and-serve meals, especially for people who are eating alone or quickly. Having been alone for the last few days, I have been a lot less motivated to cook since I don't have anyone to share it with, but I have done it anyway because I just can't settle for this kind of stuff very often, and I don't understand why it needs to be so mediocre all the time. 
While I have always abhorred committee-designed food products aimed at dumbing down cooking (in part by convincing home cooks that they are too dumb to cook without fucked-up, weird-ass "convenience" products), I find myself pushed right near to the edge of hatred WITH THE INTENSITY OF A THOUSAND NOVA SUNS!!! by the very existence of this new abomination product, this "Philadelphia Cooking Creme."

Here, before I go off like a lunatic, read this item by a more reasonable person, from whose site I snagged that pic.

The TV commercial itself, part of what they say is a pull-out-all-the-stops binge of ad-o-malia about "creme," is disgusting. It is in its every detail cynically aimed at its target customer. Watch as a not-too-young and yet not-too-old Woman With a Family smiles she prepares a delicious dinner by dumping a package of "Cooking Creme" into a pan of chicken bits and veggies, (which themselves look like they came pre-prepared from a package), stirs for a moment and declares dinner accomplished. The product, the "creme," is cream cheese thinned out with various additives and enhanced with "flavor profiles." It is Abomination.

OK. Deep breath. But I need to say at least this: "creme" is not pronounced the same way as "cream." Also, it is not an English word at all. Kraft would have pissed me off only maybe 60% as much with this dumb product if they had called it "cooking CREAM" instead of "cooking CREME." But remember smiling Woman With a Family from the TV ad? She's so dumb that she thinks it's all fancy and French when it's spelled "creme." Or so Kraft wants you to believe. 

Anyone who craves chicken with some creamy goo on it may say so in comments here, and I will happily post a recipe matching that description but using better and less expensive ingredients.
I had a remarkable dream early yesterday morning, a vivid and bizarre farrago of images and events, connected by a very strong and coherent narrative thread. I am away from home this weekend, visiting family in Wisconsin, and I wasn't able to pull away to write this post right away like I normally like to do with a dream post. But it was so vivid that most of the important elements are still strong in memory. 

I was at work, in a place that was a complex mixture of some of my current work locations with my current job and some past ones, including the little restaurant that J and I used to own. Co-workers present and past were there, and we were engaged in a number of busy activities such as preparing a restaurant to open, prepping food for an off-premise catered event, and prepping food to supply another restaurant. I was in the role of executive chef, directing all this food activity, while one of my co-workers was in the role of a dining room manager, supervising front-of-the-house operations. I cannot name this person, but we'll call him "Seth," just to have something to call him.

A situation arose where we needed to supply a bunch of quiche to one of our other locations, and I was trying to organize the prep on it and make sure we had the ingredients we needed (and that a gigantic steampunkish kitchen contraption called a "quiche engine" was ready for use) but Seth approached me and placed an arm around my shoulders, leaned in and kissed me on my cheeks and then lightly on my lips. I wasn't sure if this was some kind of mistake and was afraid to respond. As far as I knew, the guy was straight, and even if he weren't, I doubted that he would want to display such attention toward me in front of our co-workers. I considered that his judgment might be impaired or that he had intended to kiss someone else. But then he kissed me full-on (tongue) and I was pretty sure that he intended to do this, but I was still nervous about all this going in front of everyone in the middle of my kitchen. I was worried that he was creating an embarrassment more for himself than for me, and I didn't want to see him put himself in such a situation. But no one seemed to notice. Another co-worker (let's call her Elspeth) told me that we didn't need to make the crusts for the quiche because she had brought in a bunch "Libyan quiche crusts." With Seth still semi-hanging on me, biting at my neck and ears, I followed her to a loading dock where sat a huge heap of clear plastic take-out boxes each containing a pre-made quiche crust. These were a "Product of Libya." As Seth continued to try to make out with me, I told Elspeth that we probably couldn't use those crusts because of economic and political reasons.

Elspeth assured me that Libyan crusts were perfectly legal nowadays "after normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and the People's Jamahiriya." Seth kissed me more, getting me intensely, crazily aroused despite my determination to conduct professional business. I wanted to just take him away somewhere private and have at it, but the quiche crust situation could not be left alone. I told Elspeth that I didn't think that Libyan quiche crusts were legal even after normalization of relations. "Also," I said, "we absolutely cannot use a pre-fabricated crust for our quiche. If we are going to send quiches over there, then it needs to be the exact same quiche we serve here." Elspeth seemed to not get this very important point. Seth didn't care either. I told Elspeth that if she used the Libyan crusts and our boss found out about it, "he would freak right the fuck out."  This threat got her attention and she said, "OK, OK, I hear you," and she scurried away to make our normal quiches. "Now," Seth said, mouth more or less against mine, "can you forget about the fucking quiche for a minute and pay attention to me?"

From that point on, the dream became more or less pornographic, so I won't recount its details here except to say that we did some of our getting-it-on in a space underneath the massive "quiche engine," which was kind of like a combination of a steam locomotive and ferris wheel.

Sometimes I wonder what, if anything, a dream might "mean." Sometimes, as weird as they are, they make a kind of sense as a sort of subconscious organizational scheme. Sometimes they seem to "file" stuff into their proper folders and tidy up some kind of clutter that's been lying loose in the back of the mind. Aside from the weird elements--the jumbled physical space of the dream, Seth wanting to make out with me, the quiche engine, Libya--much of it was a fairly mundane and realistic work dream. The issue of the quiche crust being right is an expression of a real issue at real work--not quiche in particular, but food quality and consistency in general. How I interact with these coworkers is a real-world consideration, too. The wildly implausible dream rendition of Seth asking me to forget about the quiche for a minute rings true even though it would never play out like that in reality. The total message of the dream, if there was one, was that I needed to relax a bit about some work-related concerns and see a clearer picture of some small things that had been nagging at me. It worked pretty well, and the fact that my subconscious sorted through these things in the mode of an erotic dream rather than a nightmare seems like a bonus. If I rated my dreams with a star scale, I'd give this one four out of five stars.
I really enjoyed spending the day with Jeff cooking a Thanksgiving dinner. It's been a few years since I've been able to be home all day on the holiday. With this particular tradition, I see basically two kinds of people: ones who look forward to eating the feast, and ones who thrive on preparing it. I am of the latter. Inevitably I find with these larger scaler special occasion dinners that the actual eating of the food doesn't offer anywhere near the satisfaction that I get from making it. When we actually sit down and eat, as we did this evening, it seems a bit of an anti-climax; not because the food was not wonderful but just because the fun of its preparation is at an end. But there is still the gratification of seeing one's dinner guests enjoy the product of that labor, and we had plenty of that tonight.

The menu was...

Hors d'oeuvre
"Creole" crab dip served with homemade blue cheese-rosemary crackers and cheddar-cornmeal crackers

Herb-roasted whole turkey stuffed with vegetables
Gravy made from the turkey broth and drippings
J's family-traditional mushroom-water chestnut sage dressing
Roasted garlic smashed potatoes and parsnips
Creamed spinach with shallots and white wine reduction

Bourbon-flavored chocolate-pecan pie with vanilla ice cream

Below are a few pics of the preparation of these items. Personally, I think the triumph of the whole thing was Jeff's pie. He made the crust last night and then filled and baked it this morning. Generally neither of us are huge dessert-lovers but the process of making it was a lot of fun and the result was spectacularly delicious.

The pie right out of the oven.

The cheddar crackers just baked.

Behind me is bread and chopped onions, celery, mushrooms and garlic for the dressing. The foil packets contain roasted garlic for the smashed potatoes.

Floating atop the water is chunks of parsnip. Beneath are chunks of red potatoes. They eventually met.

The roasted turkey.

Spinach wilting into a pan of sauteed shallots. Later much more spinach was added, as well as wine and cream.

We had fun with it and are well-stuffed now.

We'll be having a very small gathering Thursday for Thanksgiving--just J and his mom and me--but I am excited about it because it will be the first time in  four years that I have not been at work on the holiday. The last couple years, J cooked totally awesome dinners for us by himself that I was able to enjoy when I got home, but I really missed being able to participate in the cooking. Generally I am rather Scroogey about the holidays, but as a professional cook and an avid home cook, Thanksgiving offers a lot of fun. And I'm all about the food with it. I don't care one whit about any other aspect of the tradition. I don't put up seasonal decor for it. I don't issue greeting cards. I pay no attention to that sport that they show on TV. I ignore the cornball half-myth of the Pilgrim forefathers. Indeed, if I had been in England in the early seventeenth century and had happened to have been on hand as the Mayflower was leaving dock, I probably would have shouted, "Don't let the door slam you in the arse on your way out!" [Note to self: add "insult departing Pilgrims" to "Fun Things to Do With Time Machine" list]. But I love it because it is the one truly food-oriented holiday that most Americans observe.

We've been going back and forth on what to make for the obligatory bird item. Since the gathering is so small, I had ruled out doing a whole turkey, though I knew that would be the most traditional and probably most appealing to J's mom. On the other hand, she is interested only in the lean breast meat. In 2006, we did prepare a turkey breast sans the rest of the bird. But I want those leg and thigh portions, if a bird is on the menu, and I have been pretty determined for weeks that we are going to have some kind of whole bird. Maybe not a turkey, but certainly a whole bird. But options dwindled. A duck or a goose would not have appealed to mom, nor would a pile of miniature winged beasties like quail. While I would have been totally fine with an awesome, perfectly roasted chicken, tradition may not have been sufficiently honored. I considered getting a capon (also essentially a chicken, but actually a castrated rooster that has grown plump and tender from a life of not having all its boy parts). A bit bigger than a normal roasting chicken, a capon can totally pass as a smallish turkey. In fact, nine years ago J and I used a partially de-boned capon as the outer "turkey" layer of a small tur-duck-en that we made for Christmas dinner. Capons are expensive, though. And so are turkey breasts, actually. So we considered it a real coup yesterday at the store when we found a 13-pound whole turkey for about fourteen bucks. At that weight, it's not a totally ridiculous size, and it will afford abundant leftovers to send home with mom. So the turkey tradition is satisfied and I get the whole bird that I desire for both culinary and gustatory pleasure. Thanks to the fact that we still have not had a real freeze here yet, we still have harvestable herbs on the deck outside our kitchen, very lucky for the end of November. While I have not decided on the whole plan for the turkey yet, I know that these herbs and a lot of butter and that turkey's skin are going to meet in glory in the oven.

I may take pictures while we cook on Thursday and post them here.


Jul. 9th, 2010 09:08 pm
mbranesf: (Default)
Last weekend, we invited Jeff's mom over for dinner. The menu was meatloaf, onion casserole and fried green tomatoes. While she always enjoys our meatloaf (we have a house recipe that we have come to consider the standard for the dish), she remembers fondly preparing meatloaf decades ago using a product "Compliment for Meatloaf." Information on this product is hard to come by. Indeed, the only real info or image that I could find online comes from Dave's Cupboard, from where I also lifted this image:

Evidently this can of goop enabled the cook in a hurry to make a meatloaf thus: "Just open a can of Compliment for Meat Loaf and add the ground beef. Shape it. Bake it. That's it! No eggs. No bread crumbs. No fixing. Everything is ready...already in the can."  Hmm. Well, to me, this sounds like an abomination, though Mom seems to remember it with some fondness. I wonder if by now it's rather more the nostalgia for (than the reality of)  those years.

Here's how we make meatloaf (measurements are approximate):

To feed three people (with leftovers for sandwiches the next day), you will need about 2 pounds of ground meat. Use a mixture of ground beef, ground pork and ground veal in equal measures. Or, if veal is to too expensive (as it was for us last week), use half beef and half pork. Do not use all ground beef. This can coarsen and toughen the texture and  compromise nuances of flavor. Have on hand also about a pound of bacon. This should be a thick-cut, good quality bacon, and not the cheapest stuff at the grocery store. 

Dice and sautee a medium/large onion and about half a head of garlic, minced, in your cooking fat of choice, until the onion is softened.  Grind about half a baguette's worth of bread into fine crumbs (two cups or so). In a mixing bowl large enough to hold all your ingredients, combine the onions and breadcrumbs with two eggs, a quarter cup of milk, and about two tablespoons each of Worcestershire sauce and ketchup. Add a generous grinding of black pepper and a pinch of salt (you won't need much, as the condiments will bring some). Add also a generous pinch of dried leaf thyme, crushing the herb between your fingers as you sprinkle it into the bowl. Chop a big handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley and add it as well. Combine all these items completely.

Now add the meat and mix to combine it with the above ingredients. Form the mixture into an oblong loaf and place it on a half-sheet pan or in an iron skillet large enough to hold it, with plenty of room around the sides. Do not use a loaf pan. Why? Because we don't want the loaf to stew in its own grease as it cooks. Also, one can't bacon-wrap it in such a pan. I bet you were wondering what that bacon was for. But before you're ready for that, you need to slather the entire surface of the loaf with a meatloaf sauce consisting of roughly equal parts ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and Louisiana-style hot sauce. Once slathered, the loaf is ready to be wrapped. Apply strips of bacon in a single layer, tucking the ends under the bottom of the loaf. Completely cover the meatloaf, or as much so as you can get it (it's OK to overlap the strips slightly). Grind black pepper over the bacon covering. Place the meatloaf in a 350F degree oven and bake until done. I don't know exactly how long this takes (because I am generally drinking wine and gabbing a lot during this phase and don't pay attention to the clock), but it's generally done when the bacon looks done (and the interior temperature of the loaf will probably be at least 170F). That's why it's important to use nice, thick-cut bacon because the cheap thin-cut stuff will get done and start burning before the meatloaf itself is done in the center.

When done. remove the meatloaf from the oven and let it sit unmolested for at least ten minutes before cutting into it. Depending on how thick you cut your slices, this recipe should yield six to eight generous portions. Then, the next day, you can take leftover pieces, put them back in the oven to reheat (with bacon rind still attached, even), and then place them between slices of toasted garlic bread with cheese, onion, pickle and mustard for a fine meatloaf sandwich. 

Whatever that Compliment stuff was exactly, I am sure it couldn't have been this good.


May. 16th, 2010 01:37 pm
mbranesf: (Default)
Last night, I completed my first two weeks at my new day job. I like the job a lot, though I have been going through some new-job-adjustment anxiety. As I have mentioned before, I returned to a company for which I worked for almost seven years in a couple of different capacities. The company is a high-end caterer and also has contracts to manage services at a number of locations that include restaurants and other modes of food service. It was in the contract services division in which I spent my first period of employment with them as a chef and later a general manager. Now I work for its catering division, and a lot of what I experience there is both new and familiar at the same time. Honestly, I feel a little rusty with my skills. It's like I am unpacking tools that haven't been used enough in recent years, and I am having to reacquaint myself with their functions. Every day so far, I have had at least one moment where I find myself not understanding something quickly enough or making a dumb mistake, and then I realize just a moment too late that "Oh. Of course! I remember that! I am such a dumbass!" 

Is this irrational? I guess I will get past it, and it's already getting better. I had a realization a couple of days ago that I am really in an orientation/training phase despite my past experience, and that when I feel dumb in the presence of a co-worker it's probably just because they are trying to give me complete information. What prompted this thought was a set of instructions I was given to prep some chicken for a an event that we were doing. I was given verbally a step-by-step list of what I needed to be doing with this chicken and was getting all caught up unnecessarily in the details of it--wanting to get it just right!--without understanding what the end goal of the project was. If my co-worker who had asked me to do this project had not given me the step-by-step and instead just said, "Make ten pounds of teriyaki chicken for a salad," then I would have just done it in a much more relaxed manner. 

It would be like if I decided to train someone how to format and publish M-Brane SF for me. If it was someone who had laid out a magazine or a book before, I might be able to say, "Take all these documents and put together a book in 6x9 format, and slap together a cover and ToC page." But someone who hadn't done that before might prefer that I either give more specific directions, or at least describe the end goal of the project. Someone who had done it before, but perhaps years ago and with different software, might do best knowing the purpose of the project up front and then asking follow-up questions later as they arise. That's how I am in this new job, and understanding that has made the last few days easier than the first few. 
Typical Americans tend to believe that they "don't like Brussels sprouts." Typical Americans also tend to be factually incorrect about nearly everything that has to do with taste, aesthetics and how to incorporate eating into proper living. It's partly because being uninformed is cool nowadays. People my age (at the very youngest) and older will remember an episode of the TV series Leave it to Beaver in which Beaver Cleaver (yeah, that's what they called him) was willing to do anything--literally anything--even missing out on accompanying his family to a football game, just to avoid eating one single goddamned fucking Brussels sprout.

Screw the Beaver. Here's how you make them, recipe can be scaled up as needed:

Buy a pound or so of fresh Brussels sprouts, the ones in the produce section and NOT ever, ever evAR!! the ones from the frozen section.

Have on hand bacon, onion, garlic, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper. Some chicken broth, too.

Cut those Brussels sprouts into quarters.

Cut up that bacon into little bits, and dice that onion and chop that garlic.

Get a pan good and hot and render that bacon. The grease stays. You will not drain it. When the bacon is looking about done, add the onion and garlic and Brussels sprouts.

Stir all that around with lust. Not love, but lust. Throw kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper on it (to taste).

Pour over it enough broth to cover the pan's contents to about halfway. Get it to a simmer and and keep the heat low so it stays at a bare simmer. Splash in a tablespoon or two or three of balsamic vinegar.

Cook until sprouts are tender.

Serve with other Thanksgiving dishes. Love it. Join me in looking down with elitist despair and world-weariness on those who still hate Brussels sprouts.

 Ten observations about our trip to St. Louis (with subjects ranging from televisions to cooking to sex) begun last Thursday and concluded today:

The road was wearisome as ever. We made our customary dinner stop, glad for a break in the drive. The Mexican restaurant in Springfield was laboring under a suspension of its liquor license. As a former owner of such a restaurant, I felt badly for its owner. Ninety days of not being able to sell margaritas or beer would have been lethal for us. As customers at this place, we were a bit disappointed. We didn’t really need a drink at the mid-point of a long road trip, though we certainly would have drunk a beer or two had it been available. We could have instead gone to the Applebee’s across the street, but then that would have been a situation where the living would have envied the dead. Unlike Applebee’s, the Mexican joint had the obvious virtues of not being crowded in general, not being crowded with assholes in particular, not being a douchebag chain restaurant, and not being the worst restaurant on the planet. But neither was it anywhere near the best restaurant on the planet. After we resumed the road, J complained of stomach discomfort. But I suspect this was due more to the quantity of food he consumed than its quality. For him to fully consume a plate of beef enchiladas and all the side dishes is remarkable.

Fuck driving in bad weather. Fuck it all to hell. I’m sick of it.  All my driving life since I left Wisconsin to attend college in Iowa, there has been time after time after bloody fucking time of needing to travel hundreds of miles by road to visit family members in other states, and so many times this has occurred during snow storms, ice storms or, as in the case of this trip, blinding, torrential rain. Night had fallen, the road was slick and black and flooding over. Of course, even though I-44 is continuously under permanent construction, they can’t ever manage to paint or re-paint the lines on the road, so it’s nearly impossible to see where the lane divisions might be. And it always seems that all big-rig truck driving in America needs to happen during the shittiest weather. It’s as if the trucks are monsters sitting in the truck stops waiting for inclemency before firing up their engines and rolling across the blasted and blighted middle regions of the country. I’ve decided that it is ridiculous to risk our lives in this manner of travel, though I do not doubt that we will continue to do it.

Mom’s computer:
            “So what should I set as my homepage?” she wondered. Jeff had no real opinion on the matter, but he pointed out that while this decision was perhaps of no great import in its specifics, she would indeed need something as the homepage. She had considered not even having one. “But what will open when you go to the web?” he wondered. “Since something must open, it may as well be a page that you enjoy.” Eventually she settled upon the Gmail page. Chris located the Windows Live Mail application and configured it in such a way that mail from her new Gmail account would download automatically and be accessible to her by way of a mailbox icon on her desktop. “So now you can have something else other than Gmail as your homepage,” said Jeff. “You don’t even need to go to the website now to get your mail.” She retained the Gmail site as her homepage. She said that there wasn’t really any other one that she needed as her homepage at this time. Perhaps she would join Facebook later and switch to that.

            Mom had been lacking a working computer and home internet service for a number of years. She was delighted that her son Jeff and his boyfriend Chris came to St. Louis and assisted her in purchasing a computer and a number of other items at Best Buy. She got a very inexpensive Toshiba laptop, preloaded with the new Windows 7 operating system. Chris was intrigued to see the new operating system but concluded that it was still very Windowsy and not Mac-like at all, but he refrained from sniffing in disdain at it. He knew that this computer would be perfectly adequate for Mom’s needs, and he conceded that it was a probably a better computer than its very low price would have suggested. She also purchased a wireless router, a 19-inch flat screen TV, a TV antenna, and a DVD player.

The TV:  We experienced much frustration with the new TV. Mom needed a new TV for her bedroom, but she doesn’t have a cable jack in there. The new TV, therefore, needed to simply receive its signals out of the air. None of us had ever seen the new style of TV using the new style of broadcast signal (digital) up close before. Great tedium resulted from trying to scan in the channels and fuss with the antenna to achieve best reception. Eventually it seemed that it was working—at least well enough—but we discovered that we were missing channels 5 and 12. After much more mucking about, Jeff managed to tune in channel 5. Then we discovered that there is no channel 12 at all. Though listed as 12 on the cable system in the living room, it is actually channel 30 when one tries to pull it from the air, and it had been there all along, perfectly tuned. We relaxed and laughed at all this once it was done. Interesting trivia: the new TV retrieved a hazy signal from a hitherto unknown low-power analog channel which was airing reruns of Dragnet. I wondered if there was somewhere nearby a TV rebel, perhaps a radical broadcast pirate testing out his still-secret TV station, an old VCR whirring in a basement or a bedroom, playing tapes of old TV shows, preparing for headier days to come.

Down in the city, our old homeland where we breathed the sweet air of freedom for the first time in over a year, we visited our good friend of many years and her new girlfriend. Because of the sensitive nature of the situation, I will thinly veil their identities by calling our friend “E” and her girlfriend “V.” To begin, I should say that it is quite possible that V is a horrendous bitch. We had some forewarning of this. It was made known to us that V did not wish us to visit E. “Why must they come and ruin your birthday?” it is reported that she said. Also, “Why are they coming at all?” V’s disapproval of our visit was rooted in the crazy belief that the main purpose of our visit was to have sex with E.

Jeff and E have been best friends since they were teenagers, but they have never fucked. Not even once. I don’t believe that J has ever done it with a female at all much less his best friend E. It would be like boning one’s sister. I have known E for about a decade, almost as long as I have known J. I have never fucked her either, nor even considered it. Not even once. Furthermore, E is more or less a lesbian.  She swings both ways, but she is more a lesbian than anything else. This new girlfriend of hers, V, seems to find the basis for her jealousy, mayhem and foolishness in a cultural bias. V is from one of the countries of the Indian subcontinent, specifically one of the Islamic ones. Where she comes from, we are given to understand, it just doesn’t happen that men and women are friends with no sort of sex or romance implied. To her it beggars the imagination that E would have been “just friends” with J and me for this long with no sex going on. I wonder what her more conservative religious brethren have to say about her smoking, drinking and lesbianism.

So we knew to expect some friction coming into the situation, but we ended up feeling quite relieved and delighted when V proved to be sociable and friendly toward us. In fact, she seemed to have dropped her misgivings about us entirely. She was preparing intensely aromatic food when we arrived. She created a huge feast of dishes based on her homeland’s cuisine. It was beautiful and delicious. Indeed, it was restaurant quality and we told her so, and she seemed delighted that we enjoyed it so much. The evening ended in a very amiable fashion, and we left thinking that things were much better than expected with E and V.

As J and I drove away, en route to O’Connell’s for a beer, J’s phone rang. We gleaned through a series of ringings and hangings-up that E and V were going at each other hammer-and-tongs. Evidently E was trying to call J to get some testimony from him about what “really” went on that evening, but V was grabbing away her phone and hanging it up. We learned that as soon as we left, V accused E of having managed to either make out with or fuck both J and me during our visit. She’s out of her goddamned mind and we abandoned our briefly-held good feelings toward V.  But that food was still really good!

At the Zoo with E, we saw: penguins, puffins, sea otters, sea lions, and various primates. The visit was brief, but we were glad that we finally saw the new exhibit with the Antarctic birds as they are quite cute and interesting to see in person. The Saint Louis Zoo is one of the best in the world, and admission is free. Beer, however, costs about sixteen dollars for three servings. Fortunately E was buying.

Libido: From Doctor Drain’s notes regarding the proclivities and behavior of the Subjects C and J: Marked heightening of libido is generally observed in these subjects whenever they travel. This is supported by a large amount of information that we have gleaned from their implants over several observation sessions from the year 2000 to present. The reason for this is not yet understood, though a hypothesis was suggested last year by Doctor Benway and other members of the project  [Lab notes, 2008:0816].   “We did it a lot on the last trip, but not so much this time,” said Subject C, who requested one type of activity this morning, was denied, then requested a variant form of that same activity and was again denied. He made a third request, this time for an entirely different style of activity, and was once again refused. Subject J, as his reason for declining these requests, cited the proximity of his parental unit only a room away. “I can be quiet,” said Subject C. “We did it last time, and I managed to remain silent throughout.” Subject J remained firm in his position on the subject. He left the bedroom and prepared coffee. We next observed the subjects at a breakfast restaurant where Subject C made it known first to us via the implants and then to Subject J verbally that he was experiencing arousal induced by their waiter’s physical attributes. “He knows that you think he’s cute,” said Subject J. “He is responding with predictable and appropriate behaviors and signals. In other words, he’s ‘working’ it.”  Subject J is an expert in restaurant table service and knows the behaviors and signals that servers employ to discreetly “flirt” with their clients. “Too bad,” J said, “that he doesn’t know that Mom is the one who is tipping!” Both subjects found this to be ironically funny. Subject C adhered for the next hour to a fantasy of inducing the waiter into joining Subject J and him in a tripartite adventure of rather elaborate and unlikely specifications, but Subject J was less enthusiastic about this idea, not finding the waiter to be as attractive as Subject C judged him to be. A marked disparity between Subject C’s arousal state and Subject J’s persisted throughout the day. We concluded that that there would likely be no shared activities between these subjects today and shifted our focus to other subjects.

Chores to assist Mom:  I broke down an old computer system and an old desk and hauled all that junk out to the trash. We also threw away an old non-working analog TV and its useless antenna. She didn’t need that stuff anymore, since she bought all that new equipment at Best Buy a couple days earlier. Plus, none of it really worked anymore. I thought it was a shame to get rid of the desk, but I suspect that a neighbor dumpster-dived it right away. Jeff potted a plant for her, one that he had brought as a gift from our garden. He also hauled up from Mom’s basement storage locker an antique radio cabinet. It now sits where the obsolete desk and computer were.  While these tasks were perhaps not a lot of fun, neither were they too onerous; and they were things that she would have had difficulty doing on her own. So we were glad to help.

Jeff prepared hot browns for dinner Sunday night. It was delicious. Here is a recipe for that dish, excerpted from the unfinished draft of my cookbook/restaurant memoir Stackin’ Hogs

            Like some of the lunch items that we discuss in another chapter, the Hot Brown is a regional curiosity.  It’s native to Louisville, Kentucky where it was developed at the Brown Hotel (hence the word “Brown” in the dish’s name). Jeff prepared them at Lynn’s Paradise Café in Louisville years ago when he cooked there, and has been a sort of evangelist for the dish ever since.

            Though slight variations may be found, it is built like an open-face sandwich with some sort bread topped with roasted turkey, smothered in a white sauce, topped with tomato slices, bacon strips and some melted cheddar cheese.  The bread may be toasted or not and the white sauce may or may not incorporate cheese into it.  We had it on the menu at the Saint Louis Art Museum for several years when I was chef there, and we used a Mornay-type sauce, which was simply a basic white sauce with shredded Gruyere cheese melted into it.  We also called it by the wrong name, as Jeff has never tired of pointing out.  St. Louis local cuisine also features this dish, but there it is known—incorrectly—as the “Turkey Prosperity.”  Another anomaly is that it sometimes shows up in St. Louis as a conventionally constructed sandwich that has little in common with the Hot Brown (or “Prosperity”) other than containing turkey, bacon and cheese. This approach, as Jeff would tell you, could not be more wrong if they were using a steam-driven, copper-plated wronging engine.

            Most recipes that we have found say nothing about toasting the bread and Jeff confirms that it was not done like that in Louisville.  Authenticity aside, I insisted that for the Jasoom rendition the bread should be prepared in the form of thick chunks of garlic toast. This ended up being a big improvement on the “original” (in my estimation anyway) since it provided an enhanced layer of flavor and texture at the ground floor of the dish.

            So this isn’t really a recipe so much as an assembly.  To make a Hot Brown, have on hand some toasted bread, some sliced roasted turkey, slices of ripe tomato, strips of cooked bacon, shredded cheddar cheese and the white sauce of your choice (ours was made my melting 2 tablespoons of butter and whisking in 2 tablespoons of flour and then adding 2 cups of milk and cooking until thickened; we seasoned with salt, pepper, granulated garlic and a splash of hot sauce).  [Alternatively, start the sauce with finely chopped onion and minced fresh garlic, as Jeff did last night.]

            It works best to assemble the portions on the dish that you plan to eat it off of, though you could assemble them in a skillet or on a baking sheet.  At the restaurant, we used large deep bowls that we then underlined with a flat plate.  Place the bread on the plate, add the turkey, pour the sauce over it all and then arrange beautifully the bacon and tomato slices on top.  Sprinkle cheese all over it and stick it under a broiler or in a hot oven for a few minutes.  In that case, probably don’t use plastic plates.  It is done when the top is melted and luscious looking.             [Since the original drafting of this recipe, J has pointed out a number of times that since one does not use shredded cheddar cheese but rather squarish slices of it, one cannot “sprinkle” cheese on it, as I suggest above.]


We’re back home now. J is sleeping and so are the cats. They missed us, and we missed them.


Though cooking is one of my few skills, I don't really do enough cooking-related blog-posting, and that seems like an unfortunate oversight. Maybe I assume that no one will be interested. On the other hand, everyone needs to eat, and (in my opinion) everyone ought to cook as much as possible rather than eat junk food or buy pre-made foods or dine in chain restaurants (if you wish to eat out, it is always best to patronize a locally-owned independent restaurant). I advocate this both for reasons of nutrition and aesthetics: home cooking done well is inevitably superior to any mass-produced meal, and one will  derive far more emotional satisfaction from it.

[Images of peppers growing in our garden; ingredients for this meal]

Tonight we prepared a simple and budget-conscious version of Thai-style red curry with chicken. To accomplish this I went to the neighborhood Asian market (the fantastic Super Cao Nguyen—which we call “Super Cow”) and purchased boneless chicken thighs, carrots, scallions, coconut milk and red curry paste. I also needed garlic, onion, and rice, which I already had at home. While I would normally wish to prepare the red curry paste from scratch, I ruled this out as an option today because of budget. The can of curry paste, for seventy-nine cents, while not as good as making it from scratch, is a totally passable ingredient and much cheaper than restocking my kitchen with ginger, galangal, lemon grass, fresh turmeric, cilantro, mint and tamarind paste.  But I was able to enhance the canned product thanks to the fact that J and I grow fresh herbs and chile peppers. We also had on hand already some things that we decided to incorporate: cauliflower, cabbage and frozen peas (a totally good way to keep peas around, unlike their canned form, which is an abomination).

[Image of J stirring the pot.]

So I proceeded as follows: 1) I diced the chicken thigh meat and set it aside; 2) diced an onion, about a head of garlic, and a handful of assorted chiles from our garden and put those together and set aside for later; 3) diced a couple of carrots and about a quarter of head of cauliflower; set aside; 4) chopped about a quarter of head of cabbage and the whiter halves of a bunch of scallions and another clove or two of garlic; reserved for later; 5) chopped a hefty handful of basil from the garden along with the green ends of the scallions; 6) readied a cup of basmati rice and two cups of chicken broth in separate containers; 7) had on hand from the pantry: kosher salt, black mustard seed, turmeric powder; 8) had some peas from the freezer.

[The curry in process; the rice composed and ready to simmer.]

It was a two-pot operation:

POT ONE (started first): Heat (high). Some oil. Hot pan. Chicken. Sauté until cooked through. Thigh meat, unlike breast meat, really can’t be overcooked in an application like this, and, in fact, the longer it’s cooked the better. It will retain its chickeny goodness while not drying out or dissolving completely. After a while, add the onion, garlic and chiles. Let them get started for a minute or two and then add the carrot and cauliflower (or NOT: these veggies don’t necessarily need to be there—we just happened to have them and wanted to use them). After a few more minutes of this sautéing and stirring about of the stuff, you can go ahead and add the red curry paste. Let that cook with the other ingredients for a minute or two, and then add some water, about enough to cover everything, a bit more than half-way over the volume of the ingredients. Lower the heat and allow to simmer. Turn your attention to POT TWO…

[Me and the curry pot after addition of the herbs.]

POT TWO: This needs to be a solid, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid, preferably a deep cast iron frying pan, though anything not-too-flimsy can be made into an adequate rice cooker. You can even resort to a loose-fitting lid and some aluminum foil if need be. Here we diverged from the Thai curry concept. Normally one would just have some plain white rice with the curry. But I did this instead: 1) Hot, hot, hot pan. Some oil. Add a teaspoon or so of black mustard seeds. When they start popping and sizzling, add the cabbage/garlic/scallion mixture along with a generous pinch of kosher salt and about a teaspoon of turmeric powder. 2) Sauté until the cabbage has wilted. 3) Add the rice and stir it into the stir-fried mixture to coat completely; 4) Add the chicken broth and peas; 5) Bring to a boil and then immediately lower the heat to as low as it goes (lowest flame on a gas burner; good luck on an electric) and cover it with the tight-fitting lid—lay foil over the pan and then lid it if your lid does not fit tightly; 6) Leave it alone for twenty minutes. 7) Turn off the heat entirely and still leave it alone, covered and unlooked-at, while you go…

[The rice, finished!]

BACK TO POT ONE: Add coconut milk and that pile of chopped basil and scallion greens. We waited until now because that stuff doesn’t need to cook as long. Indeed, we want it to go in toward the end to preserve its bright burst of flavor. Simmer for maybe five more minutes and then shut off the heat. Let it sit until the rice pot is ready. Eat. Well, taste first, season further if desired, and then eat.

[The food served, some rice to one side of the bowl, the curry ladled in around it.]

Is this correct and traditional and proper? No, but it’s economical, easy, and it hews to the integrity and flavor profile of the real cuisine, and it beats the hell out of what you would get from most take-out joints.