Why My Husband Is an Evil Man

We got a very nice coupon for 20% off cookbooks at Davis Kidd. Yes. I know. We have plenty of cookbooks. But it’s a coupon. It needs to be used or it will expire feeling incomplete and uncared for with a whole lot of existential angst. I would hate for that to happen to such a nice coupon. And besides, like my mother taught me, it’s not how much you spend, it’s how much you save, especially when shoes are involved. QED, the more I spend with a coupon like this, the more I save, and that’s good. Right? Ain’t logic grand?

So, we went to Davis Kidd. We went specifically to get a book to go with our Christmas toy that Paul told you about. They didn’t have that book, though, and we still had the coupon. So we came home with Mimi Sheraton’s The German Cookbook, The I Hate to Cook Book: 50th Anniversary Edition, Joe Dabney’s The Food, Folklore, and Art of Lowcountry Cooking, and, oh yeah, the Le Creuset Mini-Cocotte cookbook.

You may ask, “Why, Angela, how many Le Creuset Mini Cocottes do you have?” I have none. Zilch. Nada. Zero. Have I wanted them? Yes. Have I positively lusted over them to an unhealthy and less-than-sane level? Yes. Have I hinted subliminally (as in “Those Le Creuset cocottes would be the best present ever in the whole world, and if I had them I would never want anything ever again so-help-me-God-I-promise-really-mean-it-this-time-probably-I-think-maybe.”)? Yes again.

And so my husband, out of his undying love for me, has bought me this little book. I am both thrilled and charmed and seething all at the same time. Is he being sweet? Or is he mocking me for my well-known desire for these little babies? I would like to think he’s tempting me. After all, even if I can’t sneak over to Williams-Sonoma for them, Amazon sells them, even the cherry red ones that would go with my other things. Of course, he could be testing me, seeing how much impulse control I really have (not much).

And besides, they’re only $19.99 on Amazon instead of the $20 list price. So that’s a whole 8 cents if we buy 8 of them. 8 cents! That can buy, well, not much I can think of but there has to be something. Stick of gum, maybe? Couple of Tic-Tacs? A Pez or two? See. all that with just 8 cents.

Besides, maybe he won’t even notice that I put them in our cart until it ships. Right?

Husband’s update: Yeah, like I wasn’t going to notice that there were eight additional items in our Amazon cart. At least she makes good mac & cheese.

A Sous Vide Christmas

We have a book advance coming up before too long (It thrills and humbles me to say that.) so I thought that we should do something extra for Christmas. I made two suggestions. The first was an iPad, which Angela turned down. She decided instead to get this…

Immersion circulator breakfast

Well, more specifically, she chose this…

Our new toy

We now own a new Polyscience immersion circulator. If you haven’t been watching Iron Chef America, I might need to explain sous vide. Sous vide — French for “under vacuum” — involves vacuum sealing food in a plastic bag, usually along with seasonings, then immersing it in a hot water bath for a certain length of time.

The idea is that the temperature of the food will rise to that of the water and no higher. Steaks can be cooked to a perfect medium rare then seared off before serving. Because the steak never gets hotter than medium rare, it cooks exactly the same throughout in about an hour. A brisket can go in for 48 hours while all its connective tissue breaks down. Vegetables cook without losing any of their nutrients. But it was eggs that got us interested.

We’ve really been wanting a circulator ever since we had the “breakfast” dish at Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. For Christmas breakfast, we made the dish pictured above — the first thing we cooked sous vide, our approximation of Andy and Michael’s dish.

Instead of the polenta they use, I made Bill Neal’s cheese grits. For the pork I used country ham, but I didn’t have any fresh pork rinds. Oh well. The big difference was that I cooked the egg at 64 degrees Celsius instead of the 63 degrees that Michael recommended. The egg was still excellent — a medium boiled yolk with a soft poached white. The only problem was that the yolk was too firm to properly stir into the grits.

Later in the afternoon, after our Christmas lunch at New Asia, we demoed the circulator for Angela’s folks and my mom. This time we cooked an egg at 63 degrees and got a beautiful, perfectly poached egg, exactly like Andy and Michael serve. That is one of the most interesting things about sous vide. With this equipment, you can cook very much like a restaurant cook. You don’t have the limitations of an underpowered stove. All you need is quality ingredients and imagination. Of course once we sous vide meat and want to finish it off on our pitiful little stove, we’ll see how things go.

For now, we are mainly playing with eggs. It’s not exactly uncharted territory. Hell, our circulator even came with a laminated card that shows the effect of different temperatures on eggs. Still, like every new learning experience, it’s exciting. Baking soda volcanoes may be lame, but it’s our volcano.

Piggies!

There’s been this thing that I’ve been wanting to do for a while now. I went on a slightly obsessive internet search. I found the perfect thing I needed. I ordered it even though it seemed expensive for what it was. It got here. I decided not to open the box until I was ready to use it to make sure it didn’t get hurt. And that was 6 months ago.

I know. I am so awesome at procrastination that if there were an award for it I could win it if I could get myself to apply for it. Or whatever.

So, Christmas was finally the right time to use my little toy. After all, everybody (well, most people anyway) like gingerbread cookies. I’ve never actually made the cut-out variety. I love making nice cakey loaves of gingerbread and crispy spicy ginger snaps, and I’ve had the cutouts to make a house for so long that it would be a historically significant property if I ever did make one. But somehow, gingerbread men have been outside my repertoire.

Not this year, though. This year there would be gingerbread cookies coming from our kitchen. But not gingerbread men. Oh no, that would be much to simple and normal and sane for us. No, for us there was only one real option. And besides, we had lard.

Gingerbread Piggies

That’s right. Gingerbread Piggies!!!!!

And what’s the point of a pig if you don’t know what to do with it? So we included – Paul would like to point out that it was my idea and that I was the one with the toothpick* (I called it my pig stick. I know.) — a handy butcher’s diagram on our pigs. Paul said that was okay until I made eyes. Then it was disturbing. Still, the piggies happened. A lot of piggies happened.

These were truly a family project, as were all of our Christmas yummies, thanks to the sugar rush from the case of Tahitian Treat we found at Lit. Paul rolled the dough, cut them out, and got them on the Silpat. I drew on them. Patric acted as quality control on both the raw dough and the finished cookies. (I know none of use were supposed to eat raw dough or we would die from salmonella, but I’ve been a batter and dough eater ever since I could reach the edge of the counter, and I’m still very much alive. And we just like living on the edge like that anyway.)

I will admit that I had planned to outline the diagrams with royal icing. I even got the boys to help (i.e. whisk like their lives depended on it) with making a batch. I broke out the piping bag with my tiniest tip and went to work. And it might have worked on bigger piggies, but on these little guys it came out looking like they were wearing little icing saddles. Which pretty much defeated the point. But at least Patric got to see the wonderfully annoying fast drying properties of royal icing. So there was that.

*This may have seemed like an exercise in insanity, but I would like to point out that this was very very sane if you pull my mother into the equation. She once hand-cut sugar cookies into Nativity scene figures and painted them with multiple colors of royal icing. With toothpicks. And she made enough that they decorated our Christmas tree that year and went into gift bags. There are pictures to prove it. I ate the ones I could reach. I’m sure you had already guessed that. So maybe it is insane, but it’s genetic so that’s different.

Crispy Gooey Happiness

Today we started our Christmas treat baking. There will be pictures in a few days of the completed range of goodies we’re making this year, but today was rice crispy treat day. I love rice crispy treats. I’ve always loved rice crispy treats. Other than the vigorous amount of stirring, they’re easy to make and hard to mess up.

But this year, I wanted to do something a little different with them. I wanted them to be the same as the ones I’ve always loved, but a little more, well, grown up. I love reading Smitten Kitchen, and I remembered a recipe that Deb posted there last year, Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats. That seemed like it would fit the bill perfectly.

We followed Deb’s recipe with a single exception. We added a small amount of salt to the marshmallows while they were melting, but then we sprinkled a light dusting of sea salt over the top of the pan once they had been pressed in. Oh, and we doubled it since there are a few people that we like and/or want them to like us.

So how did they turn out? Well, let’s just say that it’s going to hurt to give these away.

And I would also like to say that it is a sad state of affairs when a sixteen year old says that stirring marshmallows, and I quote, “makes my arm hurt.” Just saying.

Morning Food

I am not a breakfast person. Yes, I love pancakes and waffles and grits and bacon and scrambled eggs with cheese, but I really like having it for supper or a late brunch instead. Maybe it’s because when morning comes around, I’d rather be asleep than eating, but I just don’t feel hungry in the morning. Ever.

It’s not something new. I’ve never liked breakfast. My grandfather used to lure me into eating by making me pancakes shaped like animals and squiggles or little silver dollar ones and mostly chocolate gravy to go over them. Of course, since I was a notoriously picky and meager eater, those pancakes always had Cream of Wheat as a secret ingredient to get more nutrition into me.

Later on, at the insistence of my parents during high school, I learned that I could drink a glass of Instant Breakfast and get around having to eat. Of course, I was still picky. I didn’t like it unless it was whipped up in the blender so there weren’t little grains of it in the milk. I know. It was sad.

When I went to college and was on my own, breakfast just kind of stopped. With no one there to make me eat it, I didn’t. And that probably wasn’t such a good thing since I existed mainly on Sweetarts and diet Sprite at that point. But still, I was okay. I survived.

Later when I was cooking and eating like a normal human being and feeding a child to boot, I tried to do breakfast. Pretty quickly that turned into making breakfast for Patric but still not eating it myself.

But this was a breakfast morning. We actually drove an hour to have breakfast this morning. To some degree that gave me time to wake up. But still, I just don’t like eating before noon. It just seems wrong. This was worth it, though.

We went to Big Bad Breakfast this morning. For those who haven’t been there, it’s a little diner-style cafe in a strip mall in Oxford, MS. But John Currence owns it and makes his own bacon and sausage and many other delicious things from scratch. For me, breakfast turned out to be a bruleed grapefruit half, some cheese grits, and half of a pepper-flecked biscuit. It was good. It was really good.

Am I now a breakfast convert? No. But for an every-once-in-a-while sort of thing, breakfast isn’t all that bad after all.

Cream of Wheat Pancakes with Chocolate Gravy from Dad

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

This recipe quantity serves 2 small appetites or 1 large one. Scale it up to feed more people if you need to.

These were the pancakes that woke me up when I was 5 years old (and older). They work well at any size, but the smaller the pancake, the quicker it will cook. Shapes can be free-form or you can use the molds that I've seen at Williams-Sonoma, but they kind of seem like cheating to me. The easiest free-form shapes are a snake, a teddy bear, or, if you're feeling really adventurous, a seal with a ball on its nose. Make the teddy bear by pouring different sized rounds of batter that connect at the right points. Not only will you get the shape, but the dollops make defined circles that look like teddy bear parts.

You can, of course, leave out the cream of wheat. Just replace it with an equal amount of flour. This is also a place you could sneak in wheat germ without changing the taste or texture enough for a child to notice. You can crumble cooked bacon into your pancake batter or add chocolate chips, blueberries, thin banana slices, or anything else you can think of. You probably will want to have regular pancake or maple syrup or a fruit syrup instead of the chocolate gravy if you decide to add fruit, but it's all up to you. I like the contrast of something salty with the sweetness of syrup, so I'm partial to bacon. If you really like chocolate, add a 1/2 teaspoon of cocoa powder to the batter and increase the sugar by the same amount to make chocolate pancakes.

And because I do like to cook with alcohol, orange, mint, or raspberry liqueur are a great addition to the chocolate gravy. You can also think about decreasing the amount of sugar in the mix if you are adding a sweeter liqueur or just want more of a cocoa taste.

Ingredients

    For the pancakes:
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Cream of Wheat or farina
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • For the chocolate gravy:
  • 1/4 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Instructions

    To make the pancakes:
  1. Heat a skillet over medium heat.
  2. In a medium bowl or 4-cup measuring cup, combine all of the ingredients, stirring until combined and with no lumps. Add more milk or water if necessary to make a pourable batter.
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of butter to the skillet and allow it to melt and begin to brown before adding batter.
  4. Working in batches, dip or pour the pancakes into the skillet in whatever shape or size you desire.
  5. Allow the pancakes to cook for 2 minutes or until bubbles have formed and popped on the top of the batter in the skillet. The edges of the pancake should be dry.
  6. Carefully flip the pancake and allow it to cook for an additional 2 minutes or until both sides are golden brown.
  7. Add fresh butter to the skillet between each batch of pancakes.
  8. To make the chocolate gravy:
  9. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  10. Add the cocoa powder and sugar and stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved.
  11. Add water, stirring constantly, to thin the gravy to your desired thickness.

Notes

2011-11-17 05:06:44

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But I’m Hungry Now

Today we cooked. We made supper that we’ll talk more about tomorrow, but when we started making supper, someone was hungry.

“Mom, how long til dinner’s ready?”
“About 2 hours.”
“2 hours!? But I’m hungry now!”
“Snack on some peanuts. You don’t want to be too full for supper.”
“Peanuts won’t be enough. I’m really hungry.”
“If you eat more than peanuts, you won’t be hungry when the food’s ready.”
“Can I make garlic butter pasta?”
“You won’t be hungry if you eat that.”
“But I’m hungry. Would it be ok if I make the pasta?”
“Fine. But you still need to eat dinner when it’s ready. Here, just use this penne.”
“Can you stay and help me make it?”
“I thought you were making it.”
“But I like how you make it.”

And so, I talked him through making it. And he did eat almost 3 servings of it. And then he ate lots of supper. Just kind of scary if you ask me.

The Infamous Garlic Butter Pasta

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings (or 1 for a 16 year old boy)

This is one of the easiest pasta dishes I've ever made without opening a jar, and it's become a go-to food when anyone here is hungry. I like to salt my water heavily (i.e. to the level of sea water), and the pasta absorbs enough salt that way that I don't need to add any with the garlic butter. We typically make this with spaghetti, but any pasta will work. Fresh homemade pasta would be wonderful if you want to take the time.

Add a little bit of basil or minced onion if you like. You could also add the Parmesan while stirring the pasta to let it melt. The lemon juice can be omitted if you don't have any at hand. Feel free to use more pepper if you like.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried pasta of your choice
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 teaspoon garlic paste or 2 minced cloves
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • Parmesan cheese to taste

Instructions

  1. Prepare the pasta to al dente in heavily salted water according to package directions.
  2. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pasta liquid in the pot.
  3. Return the pot to the burner over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the butter to the pasta water and stir until melted.
  5. Add the garlic, lemon juice, oregano, and black pepper to the melted butter, stirring to distribute.
  6. Return the pasta to the pot and bring the liquid to a boil.
  7. Stir and toss the pasta constantly until most of the water has evaporated and the pasta is coated with buttery sauce.
  8. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
  9. Serve with shredded or grated Parmesan.

Notes

2011-11-17 05:13:18

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Books for Days and Days

We embarked on a major project today. Every year at Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, we go a little nuttier than normal. We buy books. And not just a few of them either.

It’s understandable really. It’s our annual food book splurge, and the authors are there to sign them specially to us (whether they want to or not). Yes, we buy food books at other times, but never in quite that volume.

Today we did something we’d been avoiding for over a month. We decided to fit our latest purchases (along with other books that were just hanging out) into our food bookshelves. Yes, that’s right. The food bookshelves. Three of them. In our dining room. Pushing into needing a fourth one.

The food bookshelves are not to be confused with the magazine shelves (mostly food magazines) in the office or the bookshelves (one shelf of food-based nonfiction) in our sitting room. You may be seeing a trend here. We like books, but we especially like books about food.

Paul and I are both the sort of people who like to have things organized where we can find them. I may be worse than Paul about some things like clothes (You don’t want to know.), but when it comes to books, we agree. Alphabetized by author or by editor with anthologies with no editor given alphabetized at the end. It’s sad really. I know that. But then we can find things. DVDs? By title unless we have a section that can be sorted by title by a single director. CDs? By artist. Do we have more than we need of all of them? Probably (definitely).

But you can see where trying to fit 15 or so books into three almost-full bookshelves in alphabetical order is a chore. And not a small chore, but a really useful one. We found things we forgot we had. We smiled when we ran into old friends that we hadn’t seen in a while. We saw things that we need to make. We decided that we had books we need to read very soon. We found books that we didn’t remember buying but that looked pretty cool.

We did not count the cookbooks. But I have no doubt at all that we could take one recipe from one book each day and never eat the same thing twice in a year. Don’t judge. There are worse things than cookbooks to hoard. Like cats. We have been assured that we’re not hoarding those as long as there are no more than two cats per person in the house. So we’re ok there.

And yes, the M&Ms have to be sorted by color before we can eat them, and you have to save the blue ones for last because you have to start with the brown ones and work your way through the spectrum from there.

Sneezerific

I have a cold. I hate having a cold. My head hurts. My throat hurts. My eyes are all blurry. When I sneeze, it hurts. When I cough, it hurts more. Yes, it is hot toddy time, but what do you eat when you feel this bad?

For me, the answer would be nothing, thanks, just give me my booze and let me sleep. But I don’t live alone and other people do want food. Tonight’s conversation about dinner went something like this:

“What’s for supper, mom?”
“Don’t care.”
“Are you still feeling bad, dear?”
“Yes. Let me die now.”
“What do you feel like eating?”
“Nothing. I don’t care.”
“But what sounds good to you?”
“Bourbon.”
“You need to eat though.”
“Bourbon is acceptable as food. It comes from grain.”
“You have to eat. What do you want?”
“It’s up to you guys.”
“But what sounds good to you?”

At that point, I would glare at both of them except for the fact that my eyes are so puffy that they wouldn’t be able to tell, and that’s just too much effort to waste right now. I can’t complain much, anyway. After all, they did make me a most excellent chicken satay stir-fry for brunch and all I had to do was sit in the comfy chair while they made it. They do try.

But tonight, well, no one wants to cook. And thanks to someone (John T. Edge) who will go unnamed, there has been a ginormous craving for Tops BBQ at our house for most of the day. Even sick, Tops sounds good. And so the boys ventured out into the world to bring mama home a six pack.

No, Tops isn’t the best BBQ in Memphis. But it’s kind of the comfort food of BBQ in Memphis. It’s the BBQ my grandmother would pick up for supper on her way home from work. It’s the BBQ that’s always close by no matter where in town you are. It’s simple, and good, and not as expensive as fast food. And let’s not even get started about the heavenly bite of happiness that is a Tops burger.

So now there is BBQ with slaw on my sandwich and beans on the side. And a bite of burger and some fries. And the requisite gallon of sweet tea.

It mixes well with bourbon.

Food and Stories

Days like today always get me thinking about the comfort food of my childhood and the people who provided it. I haven’t written much about it for anyone but myself, but my grandmother died in early January almost two years ago. It wasn’t unexpected; she wasn’t in a lot of pain; but that didn’t make it any easier. It’s one of those things that you aren’t prepared for no matter how far in advance you know it’s coming.

After she was gone, I cooked and I wrote. Those were my ways of saying good-bye. And while I was doing both I started thinking about how important food was in her story.

She grew up in a sharecropper shack in north Mississippi in the 1920s. They were one of those families who didn’t feel the effects of the Depression because they were already living on such a thin margin. She always talked about how they ate — the watered down soups that would stretch into two meals for seven people, the excitement over a piece of meat coming home, the lunches she packed for her younger brother and sister instead of for herself.

The first job she had that took her away from the cotton fields was to work with food. She made pies and waited tables in a little cafe when she was 14. She got married at 17 and went straight to Gulfport, Mississippi, with her husband and the Army. Food was important there, too. She was proud that his friends brought her chickens to fry for them because they liked the way she did it. And she did do it even though she couldn’t eat chicken herself without getting sick. She spent $40 back then for a cooking encyclopedia because she wanted to learn more than she knew about food from all over the world that she had never tasted.

When my mother and aunt were growing up, she would get up at 4:00am to make breakfast — fried chicken for my grandfather, a hamburger for my aunt, a perfect fried egg for my mother. She did this every day. And then she went to work.

When I came along, food was something she could give me. Cornbread, soups, cakes, and pies — she made them all something special for me. Yes, I was spoiled. If I asked for anything back then, I got it. But it meant a lot to her to be able to give it to me. I remember her fixing graham crackers and milk for me when I didn’t feel like eating anything else. Hot mugs of Ovaltine (It was more nutritious than cocoa.) during the winter. Coffee milk to make me feel all grown up.

There were foods that I think we all took for granted. Every year for Christmas she made a coconut cake for my grandfather. It was a lot of work – from cracking and draining the coconut and grating the meat to boiling the frosting and putting it all together. It was his favorite, but we all loved it. He died when I was 14, and she never made another coconut cake.

I made the food for her wake. It wasn’t something I had to do. It wasn’t something she would have asked me to do. But it was important to me to give food back to her. I made things she would have loved — pimento cheese, cheese straws, key lime cookies, potted meat. It was a lot of work. I cried a lot while I was making it. But it was what I needed to do for her, for me.

Days like today are the ones I miss her most. These are the days when I would call her and spend an hour on the phone talking about when she was a little girl or when my mother was growing up or when she was herself. And those calls would always end with her asking me what I was making for dinner.

Coffee Milk

Total Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 1 serving

Yes, there is as much sugar as there is coffee in this. Yes, that's not a lot of coffee in relation to the milk. Yes, that's a lot of sugar. But that's the way it's supposed to be. What you're looking for is a barely brown sweet drink with just a hint of actual coffee flavor.

You can serve this hot. When my grandmother gave it to me hot, she always put an ice cube in it to cool it down enough for me to drink it without burning my mouth. You can add cocoa or chocolate syrup to coffee milk if you have a child who wants chocolate. Think of it as a mini mocha.

You can also make it with tea. I prefer a more bitter tea most of the time, but it's also really good with Darjeeling if you can get around doing that to a really great tea. And if you're an adult having a child moment, feel free to splash in some Bailey's or Kahlua or cognac or any other "seasoning" of your choice.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk, divided
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cold coffee

Instructions

  1. Dissolve the sugar in 1/4 cup of the milk.
  2. Stir the coffee and the rest of the cold milk into the mixture until blended.
  3. Serve in a big cup for little hands.

Notes

2011-11-17 05:19:36

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The Work of Paul and Angela Knipple