Apple Cranberry Currant Pie 11/24/15

My annual contrib to the meal is apple cranberry currant pie.

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 1 1/2 hours, plus at least 1 hour to cool
MAKES: 8 [adult male or teenager] servings
1/4 cup Gran Marnier [or brandy, if you are short on the good stuff]
1/4 cup currants [look like tiny raisins – you could use raisins in a pinch but they are not the same]
1 cup fresh [or thawed frozen] cranberries [I find fresh make a tarter pie – I am OK with tart]
About 1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup tapioca flour [I never use cornstarch in a fruit pie]
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 oz 1/2+1/2
6 cups sliced/chopped Granny Smith apples [about 2 1/4 lb].  I like the skin on for this pie – it’s more “rustic”.
2×9-inch pie pastry shells  – I either make my own or buy really great shells at Central Market.  When I make my own it is in no way unusual.
1. In a small bowl, combine Gran Marnier and currants. Cover and let stand until currants are plump, at least 1 hour.  [Sometimes I cheat and do not soak this long.  No biggie.  The plumpness of currants is mainly a texture deal.  Also, pre-warming the Gran Marnier quickens the plumping]
2.  Chop/slice apples, skin on, using a mix of techniques for slices and chunks.  If there will be a delay between prep and oven, put the 6 cups of apples in a big bowl and add a little OJ to keep them from browning.  LATER YOU MUST THOROUGHLY DRAIN AND PAT DRY THE APPLES!  My grandmother taught me the OJ instead of lemon juice trick about 56 years ago. 
3. Sort cranberries and discard any that are bruised or decayed. Rinse and drain berries.
4. In a large bowl, mix sugar, tapioca flour, nutmeg, and salt. With a slotted spoon, lift currants from Gran Marnier ; reserve Gran Marnier. Add currants, cranberries, and chopped apples to fructose mixture and mix well. Taste and add more fructose if desired. Pour filling into unbaked pie pastry in pan.  Cut hole pattern in top crust.  Mix 1/2+1/2 with reserved Gran Marnier and cinnamon and brush liberally on pie crust.  Carefully braid foil around pie’s edge to keep pie from from crisping-burning on crust edge that overlaps the pan during baking.  [Later, pass off the tiny pieces of foil that some guest finds in the crust edge as “healthy mineral”. :-)]
5. Bake on the bottom rack of a 375° oven until juices bubble around edges and through top holes, 55 to 65 minutes. If pie browns too quickly – check after 30 minutes – cover loosely with foil.
6. Set pie, uncovered, on a rack until cool to touch, at least 1 hour.

Bites & Pieces: The Goose Got Loose (Mexican Birria)

Hi all,

The Goose got loose on Friday and came down here for dinner. I decided to ask her for her favorite protein (beef or lamb), starch (rice), and veg (tomato or cuke this time of year). The selections seemed to cry out for a curry. Rogan Josh with basmati rice, a masala tomato salad and a nice raita would do the trick. Then I got to researching an upcoming trip to San Diego. I had this great dish and watned to try it again, but couldn’t remember what it was called. I wound up using Urban spoon and searching on Mexican restaurants in Chula Vista. Bingo! I saw a place called Birrieria Don Rafa, checked out its address and knew I had found it.

What is Birria? It’s a stew (thank you, Hank Azaria). It’s related to molé in that one makes a paste from rehydrated chiles. Instead of ladling a bit of molé sauce onto the meat, one braises the meat in the sauce until it breaks down. Beef, goat or lamb are all traditional. So I shifted the menu to south of the border. Cook some black beans, some nice yellow rice, and prepare a cucumber/tomato salsa. And, of course, birria.

So, now that I knew what I wanted to make, the question was how to do it. After looking through various recipes, I combined a couple. There’s a cooking and life blog called the Almost Fearless Kitchen. I liked her method and explanation. I also checked out recipes from a favorite source, Pati Jinich. She used to have a show on WETA called Pati’s Mexican kitchen. Turns out that she doesn’t have a recipe for birria, but her barbacoa recipe appealed to me. So, I combined aspects of the two recipes. I promised Goose to get her my “recipe” (hah!), so I thought I’d post it here as well. I want to make this again, so writing it down is useful to me as well.

Both recipes had aspects that I liked. Almost Fearless had a nice explanation for using several different peppers. Building layers of flavor and all that. I liked the additional liquid in Pati’s approach and didn’t feel a need to strain the paste. Just add additional liquid and let it all rock. I wound up over-salting the dish a bit, but the Goose likes her salt. As I couldn’t take the day off, I got up early to prep the sauce, brown the meat and toss everything in the slow cooker.

http://kitchen.almostfearless.com/birria-the-mexican-stew-that-cures-anything/

http://www.patismexicantable.com/2012/02/lamb_barbacoa_in_adobo/

Almost Patti’s Birria

Ingredients

Carne: 4 pounds of meat (see notes)
Chiles: 6 guajillo chiles, 6 ancho or mulato chiles, 12 cascabel chiles (see notes)

Spice blend:
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground all spice
1 teaspoon salt

Paste additions:
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 medium tomato, cut into quarters (or eighths if you’re ambitious)
10 garlic cloves

3 bay leaves
1 onion
Salt to taste (I used 4 tbsp of coarse sea salt)

Notes:

I used two pounds of bone in lamb shanks and two pounds of goats meat. Both are traditional in birria, though I doubt using both is. A good chuck roast would work pretty well too. You’ll want an inexpensive cut that breaks down while braising.

I couldn’t find cascabel chiles at the local market (Global Foods, which finally came in to replace a departed Giant). So, I picked up some mulatos and pasillos. Something I like about this dish is that you can adjust the heat level pretty easily by changing your selection of chiles. Just be sure to use a combination.

Method

1. Toast the chiles

Remove the seeds from the chiles (you’ll want gloves for this if you want to touch anything sensitive later in the day) and toast them in a pan. I tossed them into the toaster oven at 350 for about 10 minutes.

2. Rehydrate the chiles

Add 2 cups of boiling water to the chiles and let sit for 20 minutes. Pati called for adding 5 cups of water to the toasted chiles and putting on a burner for 15 minutes. 2 cups of this water are used to make the paste. Fearless called for adding a cup of boiling water to the chiles. I liked the simplicity of adding boiling water to the chiles and have a nice electric kettle. I was going for more liquid and liked Fearless’s approach, so I just added 2 cups of boiling water to the chiles to rehydrate them.

3. Make the paste

Throw the chiles and their water along with the spices into a blender. I used some whole spices, so ground everything up in a retired coffee grinder. Add the vinegar, onion, tomato, and garlic gloves. Blend everything until you get a smooth puree.

4. Brown the meat.

Oven braise method: Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Put a heavy bottomed pot or dtuch oven over medium heat. Meanwhile, cut the meat into 1” – 2” chunks. Add a tablespoon or so of oil to the pan. Once it’s shimmering (not smoking!), add the meat in a single level. You might need to do this in batches. Cook the meat until browned on several sides and remove to a bowl. Once all the meat is browned, return any meat set aside to the pot. Cover with water or low sodium stock, add the paste and bring to a light boil. Cover and put in the oven. Cook until the meat is tender and breaking down.

Slow cooker method: Put a pan suitable for browning meat (luv luv luv my cast iron pan for this) over heat. Meanwhile, cut the meat into 1” – 2” chunks. Add a tablespoon or so of oil to the pan. Once it’s shimmering (not smoking!), add the meat in a single level. You might need to do this in batches. Cook the meat until browned on several sides and put in the slow cooker. Once all the meat is browned, cover with water or low sodium stock, add the paste and put the slow cooker on high. Once the dish is up to a boil, turn the slow cooker to low and go do something useful. Come back in about 8 – 10 hours. If the meat isn’t falling off the bone tender, turn the heat back up to high and cook until ready.

Once this puppy is ready, serve over rice and have sides available. Rice, black beans, minced white onion, cilantro, salsa, and tortillas. They’re all good baby.

Bites and Pieces: The Celery Edition

Hi all,

My better half recently celebrated her 13th 29th birthday. As per usual, I make a dinner in her honor and we have a friend or two over. This night, it was just the fabulous Ms. Cox. The request was for something on the lighter side, including a chilled soup. So, I went with the idea of soup, salad, a light entree and dessert. I was supposed to make a fabulous caramel corn from Bluestem (our favorite KC restaurant), but ran out of gas. I abbreviated it by making spiced nuts and serving them with a wedge of blue cheese (Rogue is fantastic for those who haven’t tried their cheeses).

Soup was easy. I planned on asparagus, but didn’t see anything I liked, so shifted to a cucumber, mint and yogurt version (Epicurious has the link). The main was easy too. Scallops have become a favorite of ours. Just get some hot oil (clarified butter is amazing), sear them, and add to a base. I planned on a mango sauce as we had a couple that were sitting around. Too long as it happens as they’d gone rotten under the skins. A roasted tomato sauce subbed nicely.

The salad is my reason for writing this post. Etto is an Italian restaurant in DC with a starter they call Celery, Celery, Celery and Walnut. The Post recently, umm, posted their recipe. This is one that takes you to $100 per person dining at a $5 per plate cost. The ingredient list is deceptively simple: celery, Chinese celery, walnuts, cheese and dressing. The Chinese variant is typically cooked, but has a great flavor. It takes a surprising amount of time to prepare, mainly as peeling celery takes awhile. It kept clogging my Oxo peeler, but was worth the wait.

Ingredients

6 – 8 celery ribs, outer side peeled and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

1 cup chopped celery leaves from inside of the bunch (use the rest to make stock)

1 cup chopped Chinese celery

1 ½ cups chopped Chinese celery leaves

½ cup toasted and chopped walnuts

 

1/3 cup olive oil (use the good stuff)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. black pepper

2 oz. pecorino Romano cheese, shaved into curls

 

Method

Toss it all together and have fun. I tossed the celery and leaves, whisked together the olive oiive oil, juices, salt and pepper and tossed that all together, put onto plates and topped with cheese. It can’t hurt to reserve a few of the leaves as a garnish.

Bites & Pieces: A Postcard from Costa Rica

I arrived in Costa Rica on Monday night after far too long an absence from my favorite home away from home. We started taking our sons their for a month in the summertime a few years ago. I was going to be away at a conference and my better half (Keen) was offered work out of town that overlapped my conference. Rather than give up on work at a slow time and lacking a kennel in which to put the boys, we worked out something else. I flew down to Costa Rica with them, dropped them off with their grandmother, and flew back to DC before going on to my conference. Keen flew down after finishing her assignment and spent the rest of August. It worked out so well, that they’ve spent 4 – 6 weeks in Costa Rica every summer since then. In honor of our annual trip, I thought I’d post a few of my favorites that I associate with Costa Rica, one way or another.

Breakfast – Gallo Pinto

Every country in Central America claims to have invented Gallo Pinto, but the Ticos do it best. I say this with absolute confidence, never having visited Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, or Panama (and let’s not forget Belize). My confidence in Costa Rican Gallo Pinto is that I can’t imagine having it without Salsa Lizano. It’s the same general class of condiment as steak sauce in the US and relish in the UK (Worcestershire sauce is one of many). It’s rice and beans with a twist.

Ingredients

1/4 cup of vegetable oil
2 cups of white rice, cooked
2 cups, black beans, cooked (or 1 can, drained)
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, (you guessed it) minced
1 bell pepper, (and wait for it) minced
Salsa Lizano or other seasoning, to taste

optional: cilantro leaves or diced tomato for garnish

Method

Heat oil in a heavy frying pan and add the minced veggies. Cook until soft and then add the rice. Stir for a bit until warmed and mixed with the veggies, then add the black beans. Season well with Salsa Lizano. I like to let it cooked unstirred for a bit to build up a crust on the bottom or just cook and stir until hot. This is a staple of Costa Rican kitchens, usually served at breakfast with tortillas, queso duro (hard cheese) and scrambled eggs. Garnish with cilantro leaves or some diced tomato if you like. It’s great with some mango or papaya on the side.

Lunch – Ceviche

Peruvians hold claim to this sushi from the south and you can usually get the best ceviche at a restaurant run by Peruvians. I had my first taste of ceviche at a little joint near Manuel Antonio, a national park on the Pacific coast. The basic concept is simplicity itself. Cut up fresh fish into rough dice–dorado (mahi-mahi) and corvina (sea bass) and cover with lime juice. The juice “cooks” the fish, firming it up as if it had been cooked with heat. The acid should also kill off various beasties, but this is not the same as cooking, so you need to use high quality fish. Make sure it’s sushi grade for salmon unless you want to risk a tapeworm. After a period varying from a few minutes to hours (depending upon the fish and how you like it), drain and toss with minced onion, tomato, possibly some chiles, and cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips and, if you’re Costa Rican, salsa rosada. This “rose sauce” is a mixture of ketchup and mayo, but we like to use plain yogurt instead. Tangy and tasty.

I’ll add a pair of recipes from a book on ceviche that was given to me by a friend. Guillermo Pernot, the author, was the chef-owner of ¡Pasion! in Philadelphia (since closed) and now is the concept chef of the Cuba Libre restaurants. The first of these combines whole bay scallops with a blackened tomatillo salsa and truffel oil. Indulgent and a favorite of mine for parties. The second recipe combines sea scallops with grapefruit for a colorful presentation. Make sure to use high quality scallops; wet pack won’t do.

Bay Scallop Ceviche with Truffle Tomatillo Salsa

1 pound fresh, untreated bay scallops or sea scallops, trimmed and quartered
1 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons finely diced red
2 tablespoons finely diced serrano chilies (specialty Latin
1 tablespoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed
1/2 pound ripe plum tomatoes
1 red onion, quartered and unpeeled
1 jalapeno chili
4 cachucha chilies
1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons truffle oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons crushed platano chips (recipe follows)
12 whole platano chips

1. Combine the lime juice, orange juice, onion, serrano chilies and salt. Add the bay scallops and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

2. In a large saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over moderately high heat. Add the tomatillos, tomatoes, onion, and chiles. Cachucha chiles look like habañeros, but without so much heat. You can use a couple more jalapeños instead. I often toss all the ingredients with oil and broil them in the toaster oven. Works about the same. Let the blackened veggies cool and stir in the cilantro. Pulse in a food processor until chopped, but chunky. Pernot likes to use a meat grinder for a different texture. Combine the vegetable mixture with the lime juice, truffle oil, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

3. Put it all together. Drain and discard the liquid marinade. In a medium bowl, combine the marinated scallops with most of the blackened tomatillo-truffle sauce. Cover and refrigerate 20 minutes to marinate. When ready to serve, drain the scallops of excess liquid, and toss with the remaining blackened tomatillo-truffle sauce. Adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper if necessary. Divide the ceviche among soup spoons laid on a platter. Sprinkle with crushed plantain chips just before serving, accompanied by bowls of plantain chips.

You can make plantain chips on your own by frying planks of green plantains in oil and draining on paper towels. Or just buy a bag of them.

Sea Scallop Ceviche with Grapefruit and Radishes

1/2 pound of sea scallops, cut into two rounds each
3/4 cup of ceviche marinade
2 ruby grapefruit
6 red radishes
1 lime, juiced (about 2 tablespoons(
pinch hot pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tablespoon chiffonade of basil (regular or Thai)
1 tablespoon chiffonade of mint

Combine the scallops with the marinade and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Slice away the skin and membranes from the grapefruit and set aside. Combine the lime juice, pepper flakes (if using), salt, and herbs. Thinly slice the radishes and add half the juice/herb mixture. Drain the scallops of the marinade and add the remaining juice & herbs. Divide the scallop rounds into four plates. Place the grapefruit segments around the outside and a pile of radish juliennes in the center.

Marinade for Ceviche

1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tsp. kosher salt

Afternoon – Bebidas

I’m sure you’re a bit thirsty from that walk along the beach and could use something refreshing. I would suggest jugo en leche (mango or papaya, blended with milk) or pipa for non-alcoholic drinks. For the latter, grab a green coconut, whack off the top with a machete, and stick a straw in it. Lacking a green coconut or a machete, you can always pick up some coconut water at the market. It also makes a great piña colada. Use the coconut water instead of that stuff in a can, blend with fresh pineapple and rum and enjoy. As long as we’re discussing alcoholic beverages, I might suggest a nice, cold Imperial (which you can sometimes find in the US) or a Cuba Libre (rum and coke with lime juice).

Dinner – Black Bean Risotto

Let’s head over to the other side of Costa Rica, also known as the Mosquito Coast. Many Caribbean workers came to Costa Rica to build the railway between San José and Limón, on the Caribbean coast. Many stayed, giving that coast a distinct cultural and culinary flavor. We spent our honeymoon in Punta Cocles, about two hours south of Limón and just north of the Panamanian border. It was the worst road I’d ever driven. At times, it seemed there were more potholes than highway. Once you get there, it’s worth the drive. We hung out and had a lot of good food. One dish that stood out for me was the Caribbean style rice and beans. It’s made with coconut milk and served with chilero, a spicy vegetable mix of bell pepper, carrot rounds, and hot peppers (habañeros), all steeped in vinegar. Some time later, I had the idea of making a risotto with black beans and used this dish as my inspiration.

Ingredients

Brodo
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup coconut milk (2/3 of a can)
½ cup dry white wine (or more broth)

Soffritto
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/3 cup finely minced onion

Riso
1 ½ cups short grain rice (Arborio or Carnoli, though sushi rice works well)
1 ½ cups cooked black beans or 1 can, drained and rinsed

Condimenti
½ cup coconut milk (1/3 can)
½ bunch cilantro, washed, thick stems removed, chopped to make about ¼ cup
Queso duro or fresco, crumbled for garnish

Method

1. Bring broth to a steady simmer in a saucepan on the stove. Add coconut milk and return to simmer.
2. Heat the butter and oil in a heavy casserole or dutch oven over med. heat. Add the onion and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes until it softens.
3. Add the rice to the soffrito, stir using a wooden spoon until the grains are thoroughly coated. Add the wine and stir until it is completely absorbed. Add the simmering broth, ½ cup at a time. Stir frequently until almost completely absorbed and add the next ½ cup.
4. Add coconut milk and cilantro and remove from heat. Stir completely to combine with the rice. Add the black beans near the end of cooking.
5. Put the risotto on serving dishes. Sprinkle with crumbled queso. Top with chilero or serve on the side. This dish is also good when topped with grilled shrimp or fresh mango.

Serves 4.

Chilero

8 chiles, preferably Scotch bonnet or Habañero
1 large onion, yellow or sweet (Vidalia)
1 large or several small carrots
1 red bell pepper
Cider or white vinegar

Cut the onion and bell pepper into 1/2″ chunks. Peel the carrot(s) and slice into rounds. Wearing gloves, cut the chiles in half and remove the seeds. Toss all vegetables and put in a large mason jar. Fill to the top with vinegar. I like cider vinegar for this recipe, but white vinegar should do as well. White wine vinegar might work, but isn’t really needed. Let sit for at least a week.

Dessert – Alfajores

These cookies are a favorite indulgence of mine. It’s two small sugar cookies with dulce de leche in the center and topped with powdered sugar. The cookies are made with cornstarch instead of flour and so are quite soft. They’re great with coffee, preferably Costa Rican of course.

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks butter (3/4 cup)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups cornstarch
1 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking powder
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Dulce de Leche

Method

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the remaining ingredients except the dulce de leche and coconut and mix well. Turn onto a floured work surface and knead until the dough is smooth. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.

Roll the dough out to a thickness of about 1/4 inch and cut into 2-inch rounds. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 300°F oven for 20 minutes. When cool, spread some dulce de leche on the bottom of half the cookies and make a sandwich with the remaining cookies. Squeeze the sandwiches so that some of the dulce de leche is squeezed out the sides, and roll the sides in the grated coconut. Makes about 12 cookie sandwiches. Dust with powdered sugar.

Gallo Pinto2

alfajores

Bites & Pieces…Weekend Edition

I learned something this week; Brent enjoys the Bites & Pieces posts.  Well, in that case here we go.

Oooops, he and I don’t have much in common except that he’s a Democrat when it comes to social issues, and I’m pretty sure our food tastes will be as out of sync as our belief in the free market.

I’ve described myself as a grazer and I wasn’t kidding.  I offered up my kale and pine nut salad and he didn’t jump at the offer so I think I’ll offer up my prime rib, Yorkshire pudding and spinach soufflé instead.  I’d throw in my blueberry cheese cake but he’d probably have a heart attack and you guys would blame me for the loss of our Morning Report.

I only serve this meal once a year……… maybe, and I generally make a big salad to go with it so I can keep from starving to death while I watch everyone else inhale their dinner.

Prime Rib

Minimum 3 rib standing roast of quality, we buy prime.  The weight doesn’t matter and I’ve actually purchased a roast of only 2 ribs before and the recipe works.  You can have the butcher cut the bones away and reattach with string if you want.

Generously season the entire surface of roast.  We like a Monterey seasoning but you can use anything you want as long as it includes some salt.  Be creative.

Bring roast to room temperature and pre-heat oven to 375.  Place roast in roasting pan with a rack under it.  Put roast in oven, uncovered, and roast for 1 hour.  Turn oven off.

Leave roast in oven, with door closed until guests arrive or about 45 minutes before you want to serve dinner.  Do Not Open Oven Door and the roast must be in the oven for at least 2 hours after first roasting before you turn the oven on to finish.  It can stay in longer though.

Turn oven on to 375 and continue roasting; 35 minutes for rare, 45 minutes for medium or 55 minutes for well done.

I leave it in for 45 minutes and the outside pieces are medium and inside is medium rare.  Everyone around here says that’s perfect.

Serve with creamed horse radish sauce.  I used packaged au jus mix or brown/onion gravy for the meat and the Yorkshire pudding.  There won’t be enough drippings in the pan to make au jus or gravy generally.

Yorkshire Pudding (makes 12 muffins)

Ingredients:

1 cup milk

1 cup flour

6 eggs

1 tsp salt

Vegetable shortening

Directions:

Mix milk, flour, eggs and salt until well blended.  Refrigerate for at least two hours.

Spray muffin pan with Pam and put ¼ tsp of Crisco into each muffin tin.  Place pan in oven and heat in oven at 400 until Crisco is melted and quite hot.  Ladle cold liquid evenly between 12 muffins, quickly while pan is hot.  Bake at 400 for about 25-30 minutes until the Yorkshire is puffed up and brown.

Let muffins sit in the pan for about 5 minutes before removing as it’s easier to get them out.  Don’t skip the Crisco or spraying the pan.  They will fall as they cool but that’s normal.  There will still be little hollow places inside.

Spinach Souffle

Ingredients:

1 cube butter or margarine

6 eggs

6 tbs flour

2 boxes chopped frozen spinach (defrosted and drained well)

2 lbs. cottage cheese

½ lb. American cheese (cubed)

Combine all ingredients in a round and deep baking dish and bake for one hour at 350.

If you only have one oven (I actually have two) you can cook the spinach with the roast at 375 for a little less time.  While the roast and spinach sit put the Yorkshire in.

As I mentioned, this is not a light or diet friendly dinner so be warned, but our family and friends look forward to it every time I say “that’s what’s for dinner”.  It’s generally a holiday or special occasion meal.  If you want to cut back on the fat content, save the spinach for another meal and have green beans instead….hahaha

Bits & Pieces (Thursday, March 28th, 2013)

The Ukelele Orchestra does Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. A great cover. BTW, it’s my opinion that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is probably the most covered song of the 90s, and if it isn’t yet, it will be.

I liked the literal video phenomenon. A while back, I posted a literal video of Tears for Fears “Head over Heels”, which was hilarious and wonderful, and based on a song and a video that’s like 28 years old and has very little commercial value, especially when it comes to doing takedown notices on parodies . . . yet that’s what EMI did, so that awesome video is no longer available. Which is crazy. I understand copyright law, and, yes, it was using the music and video (set to different lyrics) . . . but it was an awesome parody that, at worst, might make people think about Tears for Fears when they hadn’t for 30 years. But whatever. This video parody of Creed’s much more recent “Arms Wide Open” is still up, for now, a feat accomplished by taking their original posting of the video (which was automatically removed), and flipping it horizontally so it doesn’t trigger YouTube’s automagic copyright violation detector.

Although I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before YouTube starts detecting backwards and reversed video and pulling that stuff down automatically as well.

•••

Massachusetts wants to tax you for having a computer and using it to access stuff. Well, actually, they want to tax the people who make that possible for you. Whether the company makes money on the data processing service they are providing or not. Really? A tax on “the cloud”? That’s just stupid.

Some people blame Wal-Mart’s crappy store management on a shortage of cheap labor. Or the minimum wage. Or whatever. However, I tend to suspect there is less a shortage of cheap labor than there is of people who want to labor cheaply at Wal-Mart. When you don’t pay much, having a crappy work environment or poorly managed stores isn’t going to attract the cheap labor that might find more amenable work environments for the same low price.

Also, some of the issue is likely bare bones staffing: underperforming stores don’t hire folks because the sales aren’t there, and the sales don’t come because no one is checking folks out or restocking the shelves or cleaning the aisles.

Dunno. Seems like the free market has an answer: hire a few more folks, maybe pay a little more, get your shelves stocked and stores cleaned and people in the checkout lines, and the sales come, and the profits follow. Not that Wal-Mart is in any danger of declaring bankruptcy.

•••

Apparently George Lucas intended for Indiana Jones to be a pedophile. That adds a new perspective to the character. Who knew?

•••

When blogs become ghost towns . . .

Now, I’ve done it myself, but I never had a huge following. I will occasionally pop back and announce I’ve moved here or there. Or not. Occasionally nurse ideas of going back to the blog, if it’s still there, and just start posting again. Then don’t.

But sometimes fairly popular blogs just stop, or seem to, without a word. I’m a big fan of Blue Sky Disney, which hasn’t had an update in over a month. Nearly two months now. Long delays have happened, but never quite so long, and never without some sort of post. He hasn’t even stopped by to update the comments, and he blogs anonymously so you have no idea if the dude got arrested, was assassinated by the Mickey Mouse Mafia, or just got hit by a truck or had a sudden heart attack. We may never know, and I find that a little disturbing. Anybody else ever had a blog you followed that disappeared, or just stopped, with no explanation?

•••

I was going to post this yesterday, but got distracted. Turns out, the current plan with the unified school system I’m working in (for those interested) is to basically erase all the old jobs under the already determined assistant superintendent positions, and make everybody apply for the new jobs. I believe the CIO, CFO and other similar positions are also already locked in, but everybody else has to reapply for new jobs that won’t necessarily be their old jobs and will likely pay less. Yay! Who says government can’t work like the private sector? 😉

BTW, they still haven’t come up with a name for the new unified school district. And it will open for business as a unified school system next year.

This is going to be a mess.

Bites and Pieces: Eat Your Sprouts

Brussels sprouts have a well-deserved reputation amongst children for being one of the nastier things they’re forced to choke down. They manage to combine insipid flavor with a mealy texture. You can imagine my surprise when my wife came back from a trip gushing over these amazing Brussels sprouts she’d had. She went to a place in Kansas City called PizzaBella. They roast Brussels sprouts with pancetta, cranberries, almonds, and vinaigrette. Looks a lot more appetizing than cream of Brussels sprouts, no?

Creamed Brussels Sprouts

Creamed Brussels Sprouts

PizzaBella Brussels SProuts

Sprouts from Pizza Bella

Brussels sprouts have been a fixture in our household ever since. You can find plenty of recipes out there for roasted Brussels sprouts. Here’s an example from the good folks at Epicurious (originally published in Gourmet magazine).

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

1 pound of Brussels sprouts, halved

2 oz. of diced pancetta

1 garlic clove, minced

½ tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Method

Combine everything and spread in a single layer in a baking pan. Roast in 450 degree oven, stirring after about ten minutes, until sprouts are browned on the edges and tender. Add a bit of water to the pan when done to get the brown bits . Serve warm.

Not bad. One could add the cranberries and almonds and get reasonably close to that served up by PizzaBella. I find a bit of sweetness works well in this sort of dish, so some pomegranate juice adds a nice touch. Still, one isn’t going to approach what you get from a good pizza oven at home. I wanted proper caramelization and wasn’t going to get that from the oven alone.

Enter my cast iron pan. If I want a good steak, I sear it on both sides and put it in the oven until it’s medium rare. [If I want a great steak, I’ll put it in a low temperature oven until medium rare and then sear it.] So, I sear the cut sides of the Brussels sprouts, toss in the other goodies, and then finish in the oven. It’s a pain to halve and place the Brussels sprouts, but the center gets pretty mealy by the time whole sprouts are cooked.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Almonds, Cranberries, and Pomegranate

Ingredients

1 pound of Brussels sprouts, halved

¼ cup of olive oil

¼ cup of slivered almonds

¼ cup of sweetened, dried cranberries (Craisins)

½ cup of pomegranate juice

salt and pepper to taste

Method

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put a case iron skillet over med-high heat and add olive oil. When the olive oil is shimmering (not smoking), add the Brussels sprouts, cut side down. Cook until they develop a good brown crust, several minutes. Add the cranberries and almonds (if using) and use a metal spatula to get the Brussels sprouts off the pan and mix briefly. Pour in the pomegranate juice and put into the oven until the sprouts are just cooked through. Serve with a bit of grated Parmesan cheese.

Some variation on this has been my go to dish until recently, when I started playing with unusual ingredients for different cuisines. I tried my braised squid concept, using an Indian recipe for chicken with tomatoes, yogurt, ginger, garlic and the usual spices. We had a big bag of Brussels sprouts in the kitchen and I decided to try cooking them with an Indian flare. And so here we have it.

Curried Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

½ pound of Brussels sprouts, halved

¼ cup of ghee (I used two tablespoons each of clarified butter and canola oil)

½ cup chopped onions

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1 teaspoon minced garlic

¼ teaspoon red chili powder

½ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ginger powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Method

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put a cast iron skillet over med high heat. Add the ghee until shimmering. Add the onions and cook until browned. Add the ginger, garlic and spices and cook until the fat begins to separate. You might need to add a bit of water, a technique known as bhunao.

Place the Brussels sprouts, cut side down, and cook for several minutes. Scrape the Brussels sprouts from the bottom of the pan with a metal spatula and toss slightly. Put the pan in the oven and cook until the sprouts are tender, about ten minutes. I’ll post a separate B&P update for the curried squid with coconut/saffron rice.

Since starting this post, I tried a third variation. The first two are good, but go into the category of anything tastes good if you add enough butter. I wanted to make sprouts that might be a bit healthier. Well, that and I was out of butter. But I did have cheese! I also had some leftover sliced and spiced apples from an apple pie that I’d made. As a slice of cheddar cheese is a classic topping for apple pie, I had my inspiration.

 Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Cheese

Sprouts no cheese Sprouts and Cheese
Ingredients

½ pound of Brussels sprouts, halved

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (I used canola)

1 Granny Smith apple

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon allspice

Optional: ½ cup of grated cheddar cheese

Method

Peel and slice the apple, then toss with sugar and spices. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put a case iron skillet over med-high heat and add vegetable oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the Brussels sprouts, cut side down. Cook until they develop a good brown crust, several minutes. Add the sliced apples and use a metal spatula to toss everything together. Put into the oven for ten minutes.

Optional: After five minutes, sprinkle shredded cheese over the sprouts and apples and return pan to oven for another five minutes.

Note: use whatever combination of spices you prefer for apple pie. I actually used some leftover sliced apples from an apple pie. I had tossed the apples with lime juice to prevent them from darkening until I assembled the pie. You can also toss in some minced ginger and garlic if you like.

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