April 11, 2010

Blueberry Lime Sorbet and a Love Letter

Dear Blueberry,

You, my darling, are the wild side of nobility, the King's second son--the edgy one who smokes cigarettes under bridges because he's "got time, nothing but time." You are not the delicate blackberry prince whose life is always on the verge of ruin and rupture. You live hard into old age, remain intact.

You and your flared crown, your deep blue ink that stains my fingers, your tight skin. I once saw your color in a near-night sky in Arizona.

I imagine sea creatures in undiscovered coral reefs that blossom like bouquets of you.

"Blueberries," she remembers him saying over and over again with a smile. "Blueberries, blueberries." She was his student. All of us thought they secretly loved each other--kept it secret, maybe even to each other. One week before he died, she brought him a bowlful of freshly picked blueberries, and he, whose vocabulary was never lacking, even after several drinks, could only say "blueberries, blueberries" at the sight of them. You, my blueberry love, might have been his last happy thing.

Your genus, Vaccinium, derives from the Latin for cow (vacca). It was noted by Captain James Cook that cows loved you. Your name was born from this observed desire. When cows daydream, they imagine your juice dripping down their furry chins.


Barbara Blue, Licensed Poet and Berry Sensualist

Blueberry Lime Sorbet
(serves 2)

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
zest of 1/2 a lime
juice of 1 lime
2 cups blueberries
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Bring water, salt, and sugar to a boil. Sustain boil for 1 minute, and then remove from heat. As sugar syrup cools, add lime zest and juice. Stir, and allow to cool.

2. Once syrup has cooled, blend with the blueberries and vanilla extract in a food processor. Once mixture is thoroughly blended, strain through a metal sieve, making sure to squeeze as much juice through the sieve as possible.

3. Pour into a glass bowl or casserole dish. Freeze for 2 hours. At 30-minute intervals, whisk the mixture. Frequent whisking ensures that the sorbet will remain smooth (vs. icy & crystallized).

March 28, 2010

High Art for Those with Low Standards

True artists refuse to be bound by the rules of society. In the face of Standardization, they spit fluorescent saliva. In the ear of Tradition, they whisper, "Thanks, but no thanks."

When it comes to vision, a true artist views his world not through the eyes of mainstream culture, but through the gaze of his own pulsating pupils--pupils that perpetually widen and constrict like the mouths of glow-in-the-dark sea anemone. Yes, a true artist stands alone, inventing and inventing and inventing with a brush that gives birth to the past, present, and future--all at once. And if a canvas does not exist upon which he can initiate that fantastic rupture in space and time, then he makes a canvas of his world.

Take, for example, Duchamp's famous urinal, aptly titled "Fountain"; or Frida Kahlo's self-decorated body cast; or even the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX. My friends, the work of true artists cannot be imprisoned by standard media.

Since I consider myself to be one of the truest, brilliantest, bohemianest bohemians of them all, I knew I had to think outside the box for artistic inspiration. So, I stepped outside of my box (literally--I'm so quirky and eccentric and artistic that I actually live inside a 4'x4' glass box; it represents the ideological boundaries created by society, culture, government, the media, and other, uh, stupid things), drove my homemade unicycle to the grocery store, and THERE found the unique canvas I had been craving: corn tortillas.

Two things stood out about corn tortillas in my mind, both of which assured me that this new artistic medium would make my work seem at once rebellious, playful, and, of course, deeply philosophical. 1.) Corn tortillas are circles, not boxes--of which I am trying to think outside, remember? 2.) Corn tortillas are edible! I will literally eat my art! This will really draw a new fan base for my work: the Buddhist, "art-is-impermanent" crowd. Like a god, I will give birth to, and then destroy, that which I create. Born-again Buddhists love that kind of stuff.

So, without further adieu, here is the high art you've been waiting for. If you wish to witness the great life cycle my great artistic hands have the great power to unleash, feel free to drop by my place/box any night for dinner. However, please be reminded that cameras are not allowed. Nor are cell phones, joyful attitudes, or personalities.

Jalapeno, Egg & Roasted Sweet Potato

Red Pepper Hummus and Horseradish Cheddar

Hummus, Red Pepper, Cashew & Olive Oil

Cinnamon, Sugar, Ground Ginger & Olive Oil

March 8, 2010

The Art of Persuasion

Red Curry Rhetorically Dominating the Shitake Masses

When a friend emails you a recipe, sometimes you pay attention, and sometimes you don't. After all, life is short; if a recipe presents itself to us wearing anything but a tight red dress and stilleto heels, what's to keep us from looking for newer, sexier, more scantily clad recipes? Answer: Nothing.

However, when a friend emails you a killer recipe, in addition to a stunning photograph of the dish in question, in addition to the rhetorically effective message below, chances are you might pay attention:

"Make this. It is totally a delicious noms."

I received this very message from a friend of mine, Matthew, last fall. This message--in addition to the delicious-sounding recipe & delicious-looking photograph--grabbed my attention by the balls and forced it to listen. I could not resist such artful use of rhetoric--the imperative "make this" followed by the playfulness of "totally a delicious noms." This was not a message I would soon forget. Like a tight red dress at a business meeting, this message/recipe was at once sexy and commanding, with a hint of fun woven into the threads.

If it weren't for my aversion to the idea of soup, I probably would have made Matthew's Curried Coconut Soup with Lemongrass immediately. Instead, I kept it safe in my inbox, knowing that one day--one day soon, when I felt cold and desperate enough to stoop to the prissy level of soup--I would break it out and be made whole again with its spice, its sexiness.

That day came at the end of February when, driven to the igloos of my wintery insanity, I needed to reignite the fire inside. It was there, that space between near-frostbite and frostbite, that I remembered Matthew's words: Make this. Make this. Make this. In moments of icy despair, one submits gladly to dictatorial commands. So, I heeded to Matthew's evangelism, gathered the necessary ingredients, and, with a cold & februaried brain, somehow managed to fumble through the soup-making process.

Prepping the Ingredients

Let me tell you, this soup will knock the icicles off your socks! It is everything at once: rustic, creamy, delicate, manly, spicy, acidic, pillowy, and woodsy. Just when you thought you couldn't handle another flat & icy minute of winter, this soup comes along and complicates the hell out of winter's one dimensional lameness.

Thank you, Matthew, for forcing my taste buds into soupy submission. Your message, albeit two measly sentences, resurrected the tired animal inside of me.

And now, for all of you, I have only one message: MAKE THIS.

A Very Persuasive Bowl of Soup: photo via Matthew

Curried Coconut and Lemongrass Soup
(From Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, with adaptations below. Thanks, Matthew, for the recipe images!)

Since my lemongrass was a little old (and, hence, tough), I decided not to mince & blend. Instead, I opted to infuse the soup with the halved stalks and removed them before serving.

Also, I added Thai rice noodles and 1 lb. of extra firm tofu to this recipe. The tofu was added at the same time as the stock, and the noodles were added with the coconut milk. I'm sure chicken, shrimp, or rice would be just as tasty!

March 3, 2010

Doing Right by Accident

Proof of Happy Accidents

Most accidents don't end happily...which is why we call them accidents. Take these two accident scenarios, for example:

Example 1: You accidentally send your boyfriend an email that was meant for your lover: "Please don't let Steve, your brother and best friend and godfather of your three children, know that you and I are madly in love. Even though I can no longer stand Steve and his ridiculous addiction to Kim Kardashian, he is rich, and that I can stand. After I marry Steve next week, I can empty our then-joint bank account and finally run away with you. I love you." There's a good chance Steve will not see a silver lining on this particular cloud.

Example 2: You accidentally forget (and by "forget" I mean "are too drunk to remember") to feed your sister's cat (the cat she lovingly refers to as her "soulmate") while she's away on a three-week vacation. She returns from the jungles of Cambodia to find that Frederick, her loving feline, is no longer a part of this world. No matter how many times you say, "I'm sorry, it was an accident"--even if tears of holy-Virgin blood pour from your eyes--this is not an accident your sister would soon recall with joyful sentiment.

It's accidents like the ones above that give accidents a bad name. Sometimes the rancid flavor of such accidents can linger on our tongue for weeks, years, or even eternity. (Yes, Steve may still refuse to forgive you even in the afterlife.)

The accident I made a few days ago, however, left a much less rancid taste in my mouth. In fact, the taste was pretty damn cosmic, in a blackberries-and-cream sort of way.

Blackberries, Cinammon, and Sugar Awaiting Transformation

You see, I had plans to make a clafoutis. (Just so you know, "clafoutis" is a fancy-sounding French word that means "to fill up.") Basically, a clafoutis is a custard-like thingy that you "fill up" with fruit, usually fresh cherries, before baking. (Just so you know, "thingy" is not a fancy-sounding French word.)

Anyhow, after baking my berries, prepping the creamy batter, and whipping up the meringue, I realized that my 8x8 baking dish had gone missing. Not really wanting to mess with ramekins, I instead opted to break out the 8x13 baking dish. It looked like I had enough berries & batter to fill 'er up; plus, I figured that by using a larger dish, I could reduce the baking time and, hence, enjoy my clafoutis even sooner! "Good save," I thought to myself, not knowing that an accident was lurking underneath all that positivity.

These maneuvers did, ultimately, lead me into Accident Territory. The clafoutis didn't puff to its normal 3-4 inch potential; instead, it was as thin as a crepe (which is a fancy-sounding French word that means "curled"). ("Curled" is an English word that sounds fancy enough to be French.)

Don't let this "accident scenario" fool you into thinking the resulting dessert was poor, however. In fact, despite this recipe's lack of flour and butter, this accidental crepe was the most cumulus-like crepe I've ever clafoutied my mouth with! (Get it? Clafoutied? When will this fun French wordplay ever end? "Hopefully soon," you say? Lame answer.)

If you're hankering for a airy, marshmallowy, gluten-free crepe that turns purple overnight with the summer-infused blood of blackberries, then this is the recipe for you! I jazzed the batter up with a little jasmine extract, which you can find at most Asian markets. In place of the jasmine, you could just as well add a teeny bit of almond extract. Both extracts go a long, long way, so be very conservative with your dose.

This dessert stands as proof that our contemporary understanding of "accident" is antiquated. Give this word new life in your own kitchens by making accidents of delicious consequence!

What happy accidents have you created in your own kitchens?

Accidental Blackberry Clafoutis Crepe
(inspired by the Alice Waters recipe for Cherry Clafoutis in the Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook)
-1 lb. blackberries (I used pre-packaged frozen berries, and they tasted GREAT!)
-juice and rind of 1 lemon
-a sprinkling of cinnamon
-1/4 c. sugar
-2 eggs, separated
-5 tbs. sugar
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-1/4 tsp. jasmine extract
-1/3 c. heavy cream
-1/8 tsp. salt
1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease an 8x13 baking dish with olive oil. Arrange the blackberries on the botton of the baking dish. Sprinkle them evenly with the juice, rind, cinnamon, and sugar. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
2. While the berries are baking, beat the egg yolks and sugar in a medium sized bowl until well blended. Whisk in the vanilla, jasmine, and cream.
3. When the berries have softened a bit and are beginning to release their juices, take them out of the oven. Drain the juice into a container, and set aside. Once again, spread the berries out on the bottom of the baking dish, and set aside. Increase the heat to 375.
4. In another medium sized bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form. Fold the meringue into the cream-and-sugar batter very delicately. Stir slightly until blended. Pour this batter evenly over the berries, and bake for about 15 minutes. Check on this dessert every 5 minutes or so; when the top has browned, it is finished.
5. Allow to cool 5 minutes or so, and then dig in! The juicy blackberry cinnamon syrup that you set aside earlier can be used as a sauce. Pour sauce over the clafoutis crepe right before serving. This desserts holds up really nicely overnight if you refigerate it. I ate it chilled for breakfast the next morning. It peels off the bottom of the baking dish with much ease, just like a crepe.

February 24, 2010

How to Cure a Common Cold (and Make a Lion Jealous)

Dear Nose, Head, Throat, Eye Sockets, Neck, Ears, and the People who Have Them:

I have a message that will save you--turn you from broken to whole. This message is like a brick through a window in rewind.

Yes, my darlings, I can cure you of your congestion, your temporal pressure, your seepage, your self-doubt. Your lack of love, your excess of love. The breath you can't catch at night that wakes you. I can take away all of these pains (well, at least the cold-related ones) and transform them into a herd of deer. Or a flock of seagulls. Or a pride of lions peering back in envy at the majestic beast you have become.

Have you ever felt like a sacred animal? No? Well, what the hell are you waiting for?! I have the power to make you FEEL the Holy Spirit made manifest in your mucus membranes. His Light is alive in every sinus passage everywhere. Even in yours? Yes, even in yours. The message I have to bear just might ignite great Virgin-blue fires on the split ends of your nostril furs.

It's that good.

My message is thus: pour hot water over the following earthly ingredients, allow to steep for 10 minutes, and then sip in a divine fashion until your senses are restored.

2-3 lemon slices
1/4 tsp. red chili powder/crushed dried chilis
1/8 tsp. coriander
1 tbs. honey



PS. This tonic is intended to help you fight a common cold. If it does any of the other shit mentioned above, well then, dude--that's crazy. I'm not the most reliable narrator/apothecary/shaman, so your expectations should be limited.

February 13, 2010

Keepin' It Real with Peasant Food

Blanched & Ready for Some Offal-free Stuffing

There's nothing like being catapulted into ecstasy by a dish that is cheap and easy to make. Who needs to spend millions on a truffle-stuffed Cornish hen...that's been stuffed into a pig's bladder...that's been stuffed into the slacks President Obama wore to his senior prom...that's been stuffed into a diamond-studded Hummer? As appealingly postmodern as all of those layers sound, I'll stick to something a little less aristocratic.

However, don't turn your back on stuffed food just yet, folks. Even though Obama's stuffed pants might be off limits to those of us forced to survive in a blistery, trust-fundless world, there are still many peasant-friendly possibilities when it comes to stuffed food. In fact, in the world of peasant food, nearly everything is stuffable!

Consider the following stuffed-food examples, all of which have been considered "peasant food" at one point or another by historians & folklorists:

1. Tamales
2. Stuffed Peppers
3. Haggis (Pig stomach stuffed with a number of "treats," including oats, liver, and heart)
4. Sausage (This counts as a "stuffed food," right? I mean, traditional sausage is made by stuffing ground meat into intestines, dude.)
5. Faggots (Don't worry, I'm not using this term in the offensive way. Faggots are a traditional peasant food from the U.K. Midlands. They essentially consist of pig cheeks, livers, and other delights stuffed into caul, the amniotic membrane that remains after a piglet is born.)
6. Cow Brain Ravioli (Argentina & Paraguay)
7. Empanadas
8. Jiaozi/Gyoza/Pot Stickers
9. Korouch (A rice-stuffed pig intestine from Lebanon)
10. Meat Pies
11. Cabbage Rolls

And the list of stuffed peasant food goes on and on. What made these dishes so "peasanty," or economical, wasn't just that the ingredients (oftentimes just leftover scraps of meat and cartilage adorably tucked inside a handy pouch of dough or, uh, stomach lining) were so cheap, but many of them were pretty damn easy to tote around as well. If one had to wake at the break of dawn to erect the walls of the king's new party chateau, one wouldn't want to pack his goatskin lunch bag with a Tupperware-full of lobster bisque, right? Right. Loading the bag with a fistful of meat pies would make much more sense: they'd be both durable and filling. The pies would also have a much longer shelf life (or goatskin-lunch-bag life) than the prissy bisque.

Who says "Peasant" has to be low-brow?!

And even though we've come far from those feudal days of yesteryear, we haven't totally left peasant food in the rabbit skins of our past. In fact, there are many stuffed/wrapped modern-day equivalents. Yesterday's meat pies are today's microwavable burritos, Hot Pockets, white bread sandwiches ("stuffed" into a plastic bag), and veggie wraps. Even though some unidentifiable chunks of meat, or soy-product, might appear in these stuffed goods from time to time, we no longer identify these portable meals as "peasant foods"; instead, we label them as "convenience foods." (And, depending on how longeth be the list of ingredients on the packaging, words like "slightly radioactive" might also come to mind. Yes, chances are the preservability of a Hot Pocket would far exceed that of any peasant's meat pie...or human being. Well done, Science.)

Today's stuffed grab-and-go treats are, in general, pretty cheap, thus linking them even more firmly to their peasanty roots. And regarding the issue of sturdiness, need we even ask? We all know that Hot Pockets can withstand much abuse. Just yesterday I ran over a Hot Pocket with my double-deck Hummer, and the Pocket lived. Case closed.

Though not quite as sturdy as a meat pie, or a Hummer for that matter, my Grandma Ach's Cabbage Balls are as close to stuffed perfection as peasant food gets. Tangy, aromatic, and as multi-textured as a courtesan's wedding dress, these cabbage balls--traditional peasant food of Eastern Europe--will fool any eater into believing they were born into the noble class! However, underneath the surface of all that richness they're the peasantiest of peasant foods: stuffed, sturdy, meaty, filling, portable, and extremely preservable (1 week in the fridge, eternity in the freezer).

I'm curious: What's your favorite stuffed food?

Pre-Sauced, Pre-Cooked Cabbage Balls

Grandma Ach's Cabbage Balls
(Recipe that follows comes directly from granny's recipe index card. I added a couple of additional notes in brackets. Feel free to improvise! I see a lot of room in these rolls for garlic, peppers, and other sturdy-&-aromatic vegetables. Lots of people in the Midwest add sauerkraut to either the filling or the tomato sauce itself. Makes about 12 balls.)

-1 medium head of green cabbage
-1 lb. ground hamburger
-1/2 lb. ground sausage
-1 large onion, chopped
-1/2-3/4 cup long grain rice, uncooked
-Enough canned diced tomatoes, with juice, to cover the balls before cooking (Or even better, in my opinion, is straight-up tomato juice. As in V-8. Sounds odd, but I prefer my cabbage ball sauce to be chunk-free!)
-salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut core out of medium head of cabbage. Put upside down in pan of 3-4 inches of water. Simmer until the leaves are soft, then peel them off. Cut large vein out. Count leaves and set aside. [This process took about 30 minutes. Make sure the leaves are pliable before setting them aside on a plate.]

2. Throw the meat, chopped onion, and uncooked rice into a large bowl. Stir until combined. Add a few dashes of salt and black pepper. Make into balls to match the number of leaves. Wrap balls into leaves. Add tomatoes or tomato juice and simmer 2.5-3 hours. [Try to wrap these balls as tightly as possible. When placing into the cooking pot, I arranged them loose-end down to prevent them from splaying open too much while cooking. I added 2 large cans of diced tomatoes, plus juice, but I prefer my grandma's method of using V-8.]

February 8, 2010

An Iron-Fortified Apology Letter

New & Meaty Beginnings

Dear Legions of Moody Kitchen Fans,

For months I have been trembling with confusion and guilt over the dormant state of the Moody Kitchen. (I've also been a wee bit cranked out on iron and animal protein, which has left me with a different brand of trembling altogether, but this is a topic I wish to discuss near the end of this letter--after I have earned back your love, that is.) Allow me to explain.

First of all, I never meant to ignore the Moody Kitchen. I know what you’re thinking: Not another blogger apologizing to his/her (imaginary) readers for being too lazy to blog. I mean, are you really sorry, or are you just lazy? Is it THAT hard to peel your lazy hands away from your lazy bag of plantain chips for, like, two minutes, for Christ’s sake!

Wow, I didn’t know my imaginary readers were so judgmental. And just how did they know about my current relationship with plantain chips?

Anyhow, I’ve really been looking forward to resurrecting this space like a great, pixelated Christ, but the more I planned to re-enter the scene all witty and sophisticated, the more I kept telling myself, “ Jada, for real…you are neither of those things. Just keep eating your lazy plantain chips. Look at it this way: at least you can tell all of your offspring/cats that once, for a brief (plantain) chip of time, you had a blog, and that blog was read by others. Two others, to be exact.”

So, yes…self-doubt kept me away. As did guilt. I mean, it’s not like anyone’s life depended on my clumsy recipes, but I still hate to be all “Baby,-I’ve-returned-from-my-summer-in-Europe,-and,-yeah,-I practiced- my-fair-share-of-physical-anthropology,-but-I’m-back-now-,ready-to-become-remade-in-your-arms.-Oh,-by-the-way,-I’m-pregnant,-and-it’s-not-yours.-I-love-you."

Really, that ain't cool. I am not that type of girl. In fact, I hated being away. And, just for the record, I am not pregnant with a child that is not yours. Nor am I pregnant with a child that is yours.

I am NOT pregnant. (Just for the record.)

What I HAVE become, though, may upset some of you, especially given the fact that my blog was once so vegan (kinda, if you ignore my brief crème brulee and mascarpone whipped cream addictions). No, my new diet is so much worse (and, somehow, so much mo’ better) than guilty spoonfuls of cream and cheese.

Anyhow, I guess I should just come out with it: I now eat meat. Lots of it. And all of it—pork, beef, lamb, buffalo, etc. I guess the image of the infant corned beef brisket at the top of this entry might have been a not-so-subtle signal.

Maybe at a later date I’ll try to explain why I made the choice to shift from veganism/vegetarianism to carnivorous-ism (hehe), but, chances are, I’ll probably just keep that little (plantain) chip of information to myself. I feel like this entry has already been personal enough, and I’d rather play games with weak metaphors than get all Larry-King-interviewee on your ass.

So, there—I said it. I eat meat. Expect some meaty recipes in future entries. That is, if my two readers haven’t fled to Europe to become impregnated by men who are not their official significant others. If they have, I’ll pray they’ll return to me soon!

And, for what it’s worth, and since I feel that this entry has somehow morphed into an emo apology letter, let me say it again: I’m sorry for being gone. (Or maybe I should flip the (plaintain) chip to the other side and apologize, too, for my return!)

At any rate, here is a fake flower to make up for all that absence.And now, as my blunt and impatient brother would say, get over it.