October 24, 2008

Impecunious Person's Recipe Swap

Impecunious: habitually having very little or no money.

My friend Sara is hosting a recipe swap for those with skeletal wallets. The aim of this swap is to prove that good food can still be had on a budget. Cardboard & sawdust may not be our only edible options when the times get tough. (Although, I'm sure some of you out there would be able to whip up some pretty fancy dishes using these two ingredients as your base! Apple Pie with a Buttered Sawdust Crust, anyone?)

Each person who participates in Sara's Impecunious Person's Recipe Swap "will prettily write up the recipes for an entree, dessert, and hot beverage and mail them out to their three other swapmates." Here comes the impecunious part of the game: the ingredients for the entire meal must cost less than $15. (Try not to include such dishes as cardboard stew or sawdust fritters into the menu.) Click here if you are interested in participating or would like more information.

Now, back to my dinner:

October 21, 2008

Ginger, Apple, Tofu and Butternut Squash Soup

I am usually not the type of person to order soup at a restaurant. Ordering soup at a restaurant, in my mind, is equivalent to ordering water at a bar. You just don't do it. In a world where sandwiches and pizzas and stir-fries and pastas exist, why order liquid in a bowl that you have to clumsily eat with a spoon? It just seems so intangible, so un-American. (Hehe). I mean, if you like soup, you might as well move to Europe to live with those other soup lovers on their fancy soup farms. While you're across the pond spilling half of your lunch on your doilies, I'll be atop my horse in the blazing American sun eating something solid (topped with chili and cheese and jalapenos. And mustard. And beer. And America sauce.)

So, when I returned home from work this afternoon, I began questioning my street cred (and my citizenship) when I found myself desiring soup, of all things. The prissy nature of soup defies cool on many levels. But, since I am already very aware of the fallibility of my coolness--after all, my students remind me that I am not cool almost daily--I reluctantly accepted my soupy desire.

Soup! Oh, Soup! I had you all wrong. It's just that most of my encounters with soup have been of the canned variety. Or the watered down restaurant variety. This afternoon's rendezvous, however, has opened my eyes to the possibility of a real, long-term relationship with soup. (If soup shares my feelings, of course. Can you talk to him? Maybe? I mean, don't tell him I asked you to ask him or anything. Play it cool.)

After assessing what my kitchen had in stock, I decided to do an Asian twist on Butternut Squash Soup. I will try to remember how much of each ingredient I threw into the pot, but this recipe is definitely flexible (much like my national identity, I guess).

Ginger, Apple, Tofu and Butternut Squash Soup
1 TBS olive oil
1 tart apple, peeled and chopped (I used Granny Smith)
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs. minced ginger
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup rice milk
3 TBS. soy sauce
1/2 cup water
more olive oil to taste
1 can butternut squash
1/4 cup red wine (optional)
nutritional yeast to taste (optional)
more cumin
more olive oil
1 package extra firm tofu, diced into tiny cubes

1. Heat olive oil in a pot & then toss in the garlic, ginger, apple and red bell pepper. Toss for 3-4 minutes, or until ingredients soften a bit.

2. Add black pepper, salt, red pepper flakes, and cumin. Toss until all ingredients are covered with spices. Add rice milk, water, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil.

3. Add squash, red wine and nutritional yeast. Stir. Keep at medium heat for 15-20 minutes.

4. Pour soup into a blender or food processor, and blend for 2 minutes. Return soup to pot, and continue cooking at a simmer. At this point, you can add the diced tofu (and maybe some powdered ginger, salt to tast, black pepper to taste, and more cumin).

5. Simmer for 5 minutes after adding tofu. This will give the tofu the chance to adopt some of the flavors of the soup.

Once you have poured your soup into a bowl, add a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sesame seeds. Or, you could drizzle a bit of cream on top. Or soy sauce. Or love. (But, beware: this soup is my boyfriend. Don't get too friendly, girl.)


October 20, 2008

Food as a National Security Issue

Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, An Omnivore's Dilemma, and A Botany of Desire, was interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered this evening. While I have much to blog about myself (squash pudding & squash soup--OH MY GOD!), I will instead have to leave you with a link to Pollan's interview with Terry Gross.

The interview focuses on Pollan's recently published open letter to the next president, "Farmer In Chief" (New York Times Magazine, 10/9). In that letter he outlines several key food policies he hopes either Obama or McCain will consider once they enter the White House. "There are many moving parts to the new food agenda I’m urging you to adopt," the letter reads, "but the core idea could not be simpler: we need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine." Among other recommendations, the letter calls on the next president to create a new government position: Farmer in Chief. Maybe the losing candidate could be awarded this position. I'd take fresh produce and sunshine over awkward calls to foreign leaders any day of the week! Losing the election on November 3rd might be a blessing in disguise for one of these chaps.

This letter is a lovely read, and like most of Pollan's work it stresses a more intimate (and more local) relationship between people and the delicious stuff that we consume.

I will be back in full-blogging-swing in a few days. For now, I must return to grading (and nibbling on this delicious black bean & egg burrito).

May your Tuesday be packed with minerals, nutrients, and other magical microscopic delights!

October 15, 2008

Some Thoughts on Pumpkin

Sometimes I think I like the idea of pumpkin more than the taste of pumpkin. I mean, pumpkin ain't never good on its own, right? I've never heard of anyone sitting down to a steaming plate of pumpkin--unless it's doused with salts or sugars, spices or creams, broths or chihuahuas. However, there's something earthy and homey and comforting about pumpkins that keeps me coming back to them year after year. (Plus, babies and chihuahuas look just ADORABLE in pumpkin costumes. How can one turn their back on pumpkin when pumpkin gifts us with small mammals decorated with stems?!)

But still...do we really like pumpkin? Does it have to be pumpkin? Couldn't a pumpkin pie just as easily be a sweet potato pie? Or an acorn squash pie? Or a Palin ponytail pie? I'm not saying I don't like pumpkin pie, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin etceteras. Hell no. I am NOT saying that. Toss that canned pumpkin into a bowl full of sugar, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and liquid, and I will suck up the entire bowl with a straw! I love all things pumpkiny...well, except for pumpkin, naked of all adornments.

So, since I would not eat pumpkin on its own, does that mean that I don't like pumpkin? No. Not liking pumpkin does NOT mean that I, uh, don't like pumpkin? Man, this is confusing. I need a metaphor to help me understand this dilemma. Here's (a lame) one: even though we can't look at the sun head-on without blinding ourselves, we still love the image of Sun, right? Think of how many ankle and lower-back tattoos have been inspired by the image of that life-giving orb of hot gases! We can never experience the beauty of the unfiltered sun with our own eyes, yet we are fascinated by it.

This same reasoning applies to pumpkin. (Stick with me here.) Just as we are unable to view the sun without solar filters, we are likewise unable to enjoy the taste of pumpkin without the filters of gentle autumnal spices (ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg). These spices are like those solar eclipse boxes we made in elementary school--they filter out the icky & blinding & bad and leave us with the good. (This logic does not apply to my resurrected Pre-Columbian readers who love eating naked pumpkin, no filter required. Feel free to call me a "silly Post-Columbian" for voicing this culinary fallacy.)

Granted, I don't see many people with pumpkin tattoos, so something about this sun-pumpkin metaphor ain't quite workin'. But, maybe this metaphor will: think of pumpkin as a drunk uncle you cannot enjoy until you've had 3 or 4 drinks. Or more. After tying one on, that annoying uncle becomes your best friend. Before you know it, you two are hugging each other and repeating your "I-love-you-mans" while the rest of your family looks on in disgust. Come midnight, you and your uncle are on a Greyhound to Vegas singing/slurring the lyrics to "Runaway Train." Back to the metaphor: to love your uncle, you need the filter of booze; likewise, to love pumpkin, you need cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Okay. I'll cool it with the bad metaphors. Our pumpkin is not the sun. Nor is it a wasted uncle. It's pumpkin, plain and simple. And we love that simplicity (well, after complicating it with spices and sugars...and baking it...and then topping it with ice cream).

What are your favorite pumpkin recipes? Does anyone out there love pumpkin without the feather boas and purple rouge? This fall, I'm looking your way, America, for some great pumpkin recipes (wink-wink-you-betcha- gosh-darnit-tootin-uh-uh-maverick-education-policy-chihuahua-squash)!

Below you'll find some ideas for how to utilize your pureed pumpkin this fall. Some of these recipes have been tested and approved (*), while others will be experimented upon with probes & tubes in the near future.

*Pumpkin French Toast (for 2): In a bowl blend together 3 eggs, a dash of rice milk, a few tablespoons of maple syrup, a tablespoon of honey, cinnamon, ginger, crushes cloves, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and 2/3 cup pumpkin puree. Saturate 4 pieces of whole wheat bread, and fry away! Drizzle with maple syrup. Dash of cinnamon. Holy-French-Pumpkin, these are good!

*Vegan Pumpkin Muffins (makes 12, from Vegan with a Vengeance): to save me the time and energy I could better spend doing cool Post-Columbian things (like racquetball or chugging emergen-C), I will not copy this recipe from Isa Chadra Maskowitz's book. Instead, click here. Internet plagiarism just gifted me with more time to up my dosage of Vitamin C!

*Vegan Pumpkin Pancakes (makes however many you want): throw together some flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cumin (very little), ginger, rice milk, maple syrup, sugar, and vanilla. Yum.

Pumpkin Coconut Sorbet (maybe gross, but we'll see...): I will blog about this soon. Hopefully I can experiment with this recipe this weekend. I'm guessing it will include some measurements of the following: pumpkin puree, coconut milk, shredded coconut, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, sugar, and jasmine extract.

Pumpkin Milkshake (hellz yeah!): ice cream or rice dream, milk or rilk (hehe), adequate spices, pumpkin puree, and maple syrup.

*Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing (makes 24): Check out Gourmet Peasant's "Naughty and Nice Pumpkin Cupcake" recipe here. I made these last fall, and they were, by far, the most delicious pumpkiny treats I have ever digested. Coming from a true pumpkin lover (er...), that's saying a lot!

Now, look at this:

October 12, 2008

Navajo Tacos and a Show

Nathaniel Curley is a writer, student, and 'zine editor from Tuba City, Arizona. In the following essay Nathaniel remembers a time when a little team effort and a batch of Navajo Tacos earned him some much-needed cash (and beer). Check out Nathaniel's previous submission to the Moody Kitchen here.

It was the summer after I graduated from high school (which only took me five years to complete instead of the typical four). That was the summer I stayed with my brother’s family in Phoenix, Arizona. During the summer of ‘98,’ I hadn’t a clue what the “real world” was supposed to be like. I was only interested in the important things: girls, beer, pot, girls, and beer, and did I mention beer? I wasn’t 21 yet, so I drank what was offered then, which mostly consisted of a tall, fat, frosty 40 ounce of Mickey’s, or Old English, or maybe a Crooked Eye. I was na├»ve to the fact that money was needed to live in the urban setting that was Phoenix.

I was like most young men back then who graduated from high school with a GPA of 1.7-something. I looked for any type of suitable work. I remember dreading the idea of work because I wanted to live like the songs of the band Primitive Tribes and emulate their ideals of realizing that we are nothing but “Wage Slaves” feeding the rich capitalistic overseers who truly run the world. I was an angry young man with ideas of changing the world by not wanting to do anything except party and complain about stuff. Punk rock was my life then, and punk girls preoccupied my mind because punk girls didn’t care if you had a job or drove a cool car.

The problem was that one of ways to meet these ideal, super-cool girls was to go to a punk show, and that had its own problems. I needed cash to go these shows, even when some were free, the beer usually wasn’t. I think a 40 was roughly about two bucks back then. I can picture it now, me saying to a group of young whipper snappers, “I remember when a 40 ounce of Mickey’s only cost two dollars.” Eventually, though, there was no other way around it; I needed to get a job, which I eventually found as a day laborer at minimum wage.

On one particular weekend, my brother’s wife expressed with a sense of concern that we needed to find a way to pay for the utility bill, which, if I remember correctly, was $119. I don’t know how I remember that number, but I do. Not one of us who lived in that small one-and-a-half bedroom apartment had that kind of money, and even if we pulled together our monetary sum, we would have fallen well short of what was needed. There were seven of us--my brother and his wife and their daughter, his wife’s younger sister and her boyfriend, his wife’s younger brother, and then me.

Finally, one of the others thought up the idea that we should sell Navajo Tacos in order to pay for the utility bill. I am not sure if we would have still called it a “Navajo Taco” if we were some other tribe, but most people from Arizona know what a Navajo Taco is, so as a marketing scheme we made flyers with, “NAVAJO TACO Sale! 5 Dollars Today Only!” printed on them.

My brother’s brother-in-law, Dub, and I had been charged with the responsibility of hanging the flyers around the apartment complex. Armed with clear tape, thumb tacks, and a stapler, we roamed to all corners of the complex, but as we did so, we also had a hopeful plan of seeing the Nobody’s and The Queers play at Boston’s Bar and Grill in Tempe, AZ that night. Paying for the utility was, of course, the primary reason for this sale, but we hoped that maybe--just maybe--we could sell enough to pay for the show (and, of course, some beers). This was our added incentive to run around in the 100-degree heat. It was also a given bonus that if you sold Navajo Tacos, it was very likely that you would get to eat one.

There are three basic main ingredients to a well made Navajo Taco: Frybread, chili beans, and grated cheese. However, the toppings may vary depending on the taste of the individual. I like mine with tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and hot salsa. I have been taught the process of blending flour, baking powder, salt, milk, and lukewarm water to make the dough for frybread. Unfortunately, I have not perfected it yet because my dough usually comes out as a clump of plaster clay. When done right, the dough should be soft and airy and stretchy. There’s nothing like the crackling sound of hot grease sizzling in bubbling fashion around the soft texture of well crafted dough. When the dough is gently placed in the hot oil, the sound is like a scattering glass precisely hit with a sharp tipped instrument. The resonations of the flopping flop sounds of dancing sizzles are enough to bring an eager willingness to bite into the soft, hot and often crunchy frybread. I have to admit that my sensory memory is being overwhelmed as I write this.

I remember the excited facial expressions of the others as the phone rang; it was enough to say, “Alright, our first costumers!” As the day wore on, Dub and I operated as the delivery guys and we got to see where all the Navajos lived in the complex. We were greeted with gratitude because some were away from home and a Navajo Taco was welcoming sight. We felt like we weren’t only providing food to people, but a connection back to the Motherland of the Navajo Nation. At one apartment that we delivered to, a group of Navajos were enjoying themselves on a Saturday afternoon, drinking beer and watching TV, when we rung their doorbell. We were greeted with a loud, “Hey the food is here!” when one of them blurrily asked, “What did you order, pizza?” And one of the ladies of the apartment answered, “Pizza! You can get pizza anytime, these are Navajo Tacos! Pizza?” Then, to us, she said, “Hey, you two want a beer?” That last question was tempting, but we were on the job and we had a goal in mind. It seemed like every time we returned from a delivery, we had to head right back out taking with us our hot product. It was madness for about a couple of hours before it was announced that the monetary goal of $119 was met! We cheered and, most importantly, we got to sit down and eat.

I don’t recall when, but I do remember my older brother asking, “Do you guys want to go to the show?”

October 6, 2008

Last Taste of Summer Sorbet

First thing I heard that morning was the sound of her too-tall heels shuffling their way toward the door of my apartment. It must have been, oh, 3 or 4am. Despite my desire to tear out of the sheets and throw my body in front of the door and beg and plead with her to never-ever-ever go, I didn't move a muscle. No, I didn't move. Played dead. Gonna save my pride this time, I thought.

I heard her grab her keys, heavy with the objects dangling from the chain: 2 troll dolls, a beer bottle opener, a picture of the two of us on a roller coaster in a small plastic frame, and a Schnauzer figurine. Hidden in the clink-clink of this kitschy mess was one key, the key to my apartment. Next, I heard her fumbling with the clasp of her bra. Heard the plastic click of her lipstick container. Imagined that lipstick spreading on those Angelina Jolie lips of hers. And then--then, she was gone. Door open, door close.

This is the 27th time Summer has abandoned me. Each year I hope she'll change her mind and stick around. "If you move with me to the Southern Hemisphere, baby, you can have me longer this year," she said a few weeks ago. And I've considered the move--really, I have. I mean, once you get a taste of Summer, sometimes you feel like you'd do anything to make that love stay. However, I had papers to grade...and no money saved...and a late-20s tension headache. Something about the move didn't sit well with either of us, so we didn't talk about it after that.

As the days grew less humid, I could sense that Summer was getting antsy. After knowing this woman for 27 years, I can tell when she's fixin' to leave. September comes around, and all of a sudden she throws a sweater over her tube top, starts losing her tan, and switches from Camel Lights to organic cloves. Nearing the end of the month, she's long gone. Nothing I do or say can make her stay, so I've given up trying. I guess the best I can do is remember the good times, right? That, and hope she'll show up on my doorstep next year with a pack of ice-cold Coronas in her hand, a slice of lime between her pink-pink lips. Because no matter how sour the goodbyes, I don't change the locks.

The morning she left, I concocted a sorbet using some of Summer's favorite flavors. With each bite, the memories of her flood in like a giant monsoon--takes all I've got to put the spoon down and walk away.

Last Taste of Summer Sorbet

The recipe below is not super-specific. With these ingredients, however, you can't really go wrong!

3 handfuls of Concord Grapes (or other inky grape)
2 handfuls of strawberries
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
a few lavender buds
a touch of vanilla extract
a drizzle of honey
1 drop jasmine extract (optional)

1. Bring a bit of water to a boil, and then drop in your handfuls of grapes. Let boil for 2 minutes. Once you see the skin peeling back a bit, take off the burner and let sit for a few minutes. Strain grapes through a wire sieve. Hopefully this will yield close to a cup of fresh juice. Set juice aside.

2. Bring to boil the cup of water with the 2/3 cup of sugar. Maintain boil until sugar has dissolved, and then remove from burner. At this point you can toss the loose buds right into the sugar mixture to infuse the syrup with a flowery flavor. This smells fabulous!

3. In a food processor or blender, blend the strawberries, vanilla extract, honey, and jasmine extract. Blend for close to 1 minute, making sure no pieces of strawberry remain. Add the fresh grape juice, and blend until combined.

4. Once the lavender syrup is at room temperature, strain out the buds and blend together with the fruit. Pour mixture into an 11X13'' casserole dish.

5. Every 30 minutes for 2 hours, you should remove the sorbet and whisk. This ensures that your sorbet will not crystallize.

6. Eat. Remember. Cry.

October 3, 2008

Chocolate Stout Brownies

With the economy quickly melting into a giant puddle of Velveeta, one must learn to cut corners. One must begin tightening one's belt for the difficult times that lie ahead. One must acquire the skills to kill two birds with one stone. Or four squirrels with one stick. Or 7 hot dogs with one gag. One must gather in the fine leathery reins of exorbitant spending and eat said reins, diamond studs and all. If one is not careful, one will be forced to eat oneself. One does not like the sound of that one bit.

Okay, it's time to get real with oneself--er, myself. When it comes to buying food, I find it hard to cut corners. I find it hard to sink my teeth into leathery reins when such things like dark chocolate, chocolate stout, and white chocolate exist in this world. Oh--and Dutch-processed cocoa. And semi-sweet chocolate chips. And butter. Oh my...

Call me crazy. Call me naive. But since I only have one life to live, I make it a point to indulge from time to time in my favorite treats. On any given Sunday morning, for example, you can find me munching on truffles, caviar, and saffron-infused creme brulee in my baroque-inspired gazebo.

Well, maybe my indulgences are not that extreme. I do, however, enjoy a good dark beer from time to time. And I find it hard to shy away from purchasing a good bar (or 10) of dark chocolate.

Could my obsession with chocolate and beer--an obsession made possible, as of late, by a plastic card--be the cause of this current economic crisis? Maybe, and for that, America, I am sorry. However, will a chocolate stout brownie suffice as a bailout? Run it by those guys in the House, and then let me know. In the meantime, I'll put my oven on preheat.

Below is my recipe for Chocolate Stout Brownies, stolen/adapted from the blog A Mingling of Tastes. The only change made to the original recipe (which was adapted from various online recipes) was this: Mingling's recipe calls for Guinness, and my version calls for Young's Luxury Double Chocolate Stout. Any stout beer will work...but why refuse to add another layer of chocolate to this chocolately dessert?!

Chocolate Stout Brownies:

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
8 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces high quality white chocolate, chopped
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup Chocolate Stout beer, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with nonstick foil (or regular foil coated with nonstick spray); or, use a nonstick pan coated well with nonstick spray.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa and salt; set aside.

3. Melt the chocolate in a medium saucepan. Combine the dark chocolate, white chocolate and butter. Over low heat, stir until chocolate and butter is melted and combined. Set aside.

4. Combine the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and mix on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add melted chocolate in two additions, beating on medium speed until combined. Add flour mixture in two additions, beating on medium speed until combined. Add one-third of the beer and whisk until combined. Repeat two more times with remaining beer.

5. Pour brownie batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over top. Bake for 23 to 27 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (mine took exactly 25 minutes). Cool completely in pan, cut into 24 squares and serve. These are excellent eaten within 24 hours (possibly longer; I’m not sure), and they freeze very well.

(Pictures to come!)