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.