Foodie Tuesday: To Quell Your Fears

I suppose it’s only natural that if one is expecting a visitation from anyone scary or spooky, one might require a good drink to calm the nerves. After all, one of the most predictable symptoms of fear and trepidation is a dry mouth and that tends to heighten the other signs of nervousness in turn. One can quickly devolve into a quivering heap of ghostly dust at the mere thought of being stalked by ghouls and goons. And of course, the arrival of  the Halloween crowd is a virtual guarantee that such terrors will appear on the doorstep.Photo: Keep Your Glassware Handy

So I recommend that you keep your shelves of glassware well lighted for the occasion, and have a dram or two of life-saving elixirs handy as well. The thirty-first is nearer than you think, and close on its heels, a horrible horde of wandering souls planning to maraud your home and demand a ransom from your candy-related treasury in exchange for safety from their pranks.

For the dedicated defender of the home barricades, it might be apropos to do up one’s home like that belonging to the landlady of Hänsel and Gretel‘s nightmares, the formidable cannibal who lured them in with the decorative delights of her gingerbread cottage. One could sit on the porch of such a candy-dandy place and leer meaningfully at passers-by over the lip of a neat little glass of Hexenblut. While that might be a counterintuitive choice for threatening them, it could also be seen as a warning that you’re so tough you slurp up your own wicked witchy sisters’ veins just as readily as any flimsy little trick-or-treaters’.Photo: Hexenblut

Me, I tend to be content to assuage my fears far more moderately and without putting up such a frightful front. I’m more inclined to turn off the front porch light and hole up in the back room to watch a nice double feature of, say, The Innocents and Gaslight or perhaps Bunny Lake is Missing and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, all while drinking a nice soothing glass of dry white wine or Scotch. The family label of “dry Riesling” from the Hungarian Count and Countess Károlyi’s estate that we visited this summer is not a bad choice for a light counterpoint to some delightfully creepy movies, or if I want something to warm my chilled heart better, I can opt for a short medicinal snifter of Bushmills 1608 or the Macallan 12 year old single malt.Photo: Karolyi Trocken

Naturally, there are times and places and people not requiring the nerve tonic of alcohol. In that case, there’s nothing more quenching and comforting than the old standby of spiced cider. Nothing warms the cockles of the heart better while simultaneously moistening the dry and gibbering lips of a scaredy cat like me than a nice steaming mug of that stuff. I like mine very well when I get some beautifully unfiltered apple cider (happily, I’ve some on hand right now) and mull it well with stick cinnamon, whole cloves, and pieces of ginger root, but this too can be made more festive if one wants to get a little more playful with it or, when necessary, make it a more potent potion for warding off baleful beasts and cryptozoological creeps. One could, for example, add some black peppercorns to the spice blend for a little more bite. (Take that, ye murky monsters!)

Still, there are so many delicious directions to go with a mulled cider it can be hard to choose: add sliced whole [seedless] oranges, especially of course beautiful blood oranges if you can get them in late October; melt in a dollop of dark molasses before adding the spices to create a little liquid gingerbread effect; serve simple hot cider with hard caramel lollipops as stirrers, if you’d like to drink a caramel apple; and of course, you could go for all-out reassurance and flavor the apple brew, instead of with spicy flavors, with dashes of rose-water and almond essence and a steeping quantity of green tea leaves for something much gentler to soothe your quaking spirits. For spirits will, one way or another, abound on this night.

Foodie Tuesday: More Sugary Bits

Sweets needn’t be hard to prepare. They’re so easy to eat, it’s only fair that they should also be easy to fix or you’ll undoubtedly end up feeling a little desperate between times. Why risk it?

Especially nice if the treats can require no baking or be super-simple to mix and prep before popping into the oven–like these two:photoChocolate Handy Candy

Combine an assortment of the following ingredients into a dense dough, roll into golf ball shapes or squeeze into similar sized blobs, and chill. Before serving, coat in powdered sugar or cocoa powder; mix in some ground spice if you like.

Melted chocolate (I like to use dark chocolate that I buy in bars)

Coconut oil and/or butter, melted

Pinch of salt (crunchy is usually my favorite)

Flavorings (try ginger with black pepper, mint and dried apple pieces, toasted coconut and rosewater, or toasted sesame seeds and almond bits and a pinch of cloves)

Chopped candied peel or crushed freeze-dried fruit

Crushed potato chips or pretzels or chopped nuts (toasted and salted or spiced/candied)

Once you’ve formed these, refrigerate them, and serve them cold. Easy to make and just as easy to like.

And not long ago I came across another ridiculously simple sweet fix. Nutella cookies. If you don’t already know what Nutella is, you need more help than just an easy recipe to make with the stuff. Possibly a term of Nutella Therapy hospitalization. Ooh, can I have that? I have, thankfully, found some pretty good no-name generic copycat versions of it, so if the real stuff isn’t available in an emergency I needn’t panic. But really, it’d be hard to go wrong with the classic combination of chocolate and hazelnuts.

The recipe in question is so uncomplicated as to be hard to classify as a recipe at all, but I proved it does require a tad of technical specificity, so it’s not quite the throw-and-go ease of the first item here. Still, easy. And oh so sweet. And once again, tweak-worthy. The general gist of this combination is popular, if not prevalent, online, to the degree that it’d be a serious magic trick to track down the original author. If any of you know who developed this I’d be delighted to know!photoImpossibly Possible Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

1 cup flour (I used gluten-free flour mix) + 1 cup Nutella (or substitute) + 1 egg = dough. Makes a dense dough that’s not hard to mix quickly with your bare hands. Form the dough into a log (about 2″ or 5 cm in diameter) with flattened ends and slice it into 24 pieces. Arrange on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350°F (177ºC) for approximately 6 minutes. My usual issue of owning an overactive oven made my first attempt bake too quickly, scorching them slightly.

That, however, gave me the excuse to play with spice and start thinking of a number of other ways I might happily vary the treat. Version 2 was also easy; all I did was make the cookies as prescribed (while lowering the oven temp significantly, thankyouverymuch) and as I placed the slices on the baking sheet, I sprinkled over them a mixture of copper-colored edible glitter for visual interest and sweet-hot curry powder for additional flavor. Went over nicely with guests, and I found it quite enjoyable.photoFor future versions, I’m thinking of a number of possible enhancements to this delightfully easy cookie dream. I know that it’s also possible to substitute peanut butter and sugar for the Nutella and flour, and I assume one could just as easily use other nut butters. But there are a zillion ways I might play with the existing combination too. Roll the log of dough in finely chopped toasted hazelnuts before slicing into cookies. Add a splash of rum or rum flavoring. Add the finely grated zest of a large orange or a couple of small mandarins; add minced candied peel or ginger to the zested dough. Ice the cookies with a glaze made of pure cherry juice and powdered sugar. Skip the flour and egg and stick the big spoon loaded with Nutella directly in your mouth. Okay, that last one’s not exactly a recipe either, unless you want to call it a recipe for disastrous health, but it’s still probably worth a try. Because it’s sweet, and it’s simple. And when I have a crazy hankering for a bit of dessert in a big hurry, that’s a very fine thing.

Foodie Tuesday: The Fruits of My Labors

photoWhile my labors will always be limited by my well-known lack of desire to actually work, there are certain things I am very willing to get up off of my well padded posterior and Do, not least of all those food-related efforts which will undoubtedly further contribute to my padding. That’s a fancy way of saying that if there’s food involved and I get to eat some of it, I’m more likely to get up and work.

One of the things I’ve found more inspirational in that sense as I get older is my taste for and appreciation of fruits has both deepened and broadened (hence, in part, my own broadening, if that wasn’t obvious enough already). I like a whole lot of them, in fact, and in a wide number of ways. Probably no coincidence that I keep making accidental puns about size, for if I could really get my hands on all of the fruit I craved, every time I craved it, I would probably be as big as houses even though many fruits are dangerous to weight less by virtue of high calories than by the sugary kind of them. All of this being said, however, I am in no way planning to cut down drastically on my consumption of tasty fruit and fruit-filled foods voluntarily. When they’re ripe and juicy, they’re just so irresistible. To wit, one could make, with little effort, a:

Fruity MoussephotoIngredients (this time): pureed fresh strawberries, ripe banana, and pears (peeled ripe or canned in fruit juice); a pinch of salt, a splash each of rosewater, lemon juice, and vanilla, and whipped heavy cream, all to taste. Combine and blend them thoroughly. Thicken a bit more if/as needed by adding a little bloomed unflavored gelatin or agar agar, or a spoonful of minute tapioca, and chill thoroughly until the mousse sets up. I garnished mine with a pinch of pink peppercorns and a few slices of fresh pear.

This sprightly mash-up makes a decent dessert, to be sure, but if like me you’re not about to limit your fruit intake to avoid the high carb and sugar-calorie quantities therein, it also makes a dandy breakfast. Very refreshing, my dears! Well worth putting a lazybones to the tiny bit of necessary effort indeed.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Orange Foods for Your RDAF*

[* Recommended Daily Allowance of Fun]

I guess you know by now that I have a Thing about orange. Among the many orange-obsessions in my color-hungry psyche, and far from least, is the love of orange foods, whether naturally that way or made that color by virtue of their preparation or combined ingredients. Oranges, tangerines and kumquats, for example, have the advantage of already being that eye-catching hue, as do carrots and cantaloupes, peaches and apricots and a long list of other vegetable and fruit delights. Then there are the lovely delectables tinted with turmeric, annatto, saffron, onion skins and other strong yellow dyes combined with various companion colorings to create all of those edible paints that make cheeses and egg dishes and breads and cakes and so many other desirable comestibles burst out in alluring orange flame. It’s often a bonus attraction of particularly succulent foods that they call to us first with this beacon of color.photoMirepoix, for example, is not only a magnificent contributor of flavor and texture to a vast palette of palate pleasers but brings the come-hither warmth of the carrots’ orange to add visual appeal to those dishes. It takes very little besides to make, for example, a simple omelet or frittata both delicious and pretty, and they can be further customized with many ingredients that will further both the orange coloration and the flavor with a happy boost, as in the case of the one seen here that added only a pinch of dill and a toss of finely diced summer sausage (a.k.a. beef stick), whose fat when heated usually oozes with orange glory.photoMany orange-colored foods are not only intensified in flavor but also in their punch of sunny hue by the concentration of the drying process. Dried apricots benefit in both ways from gentle dehydration. The brand of boxed chocolates I grew up enjoying (See’s), includes in its roster of stellar treats a juicy little bite called Apricot Delight that is so good it actually deserves a place in a box of chocolates–and you know my religious beliefs about chocolate: that’s a massive concession–so recently I bethought myself to attempt a sort of replication of its goodness. I think I did a pretty fair job, but will leave it to you to decide. I think these could be made by hand mincing, crushing and chopping, but by far are best made in a food processor or powerful blender.photoApricot Slice Candies

Equal parts of plump dried apricots, toasted sweetened, shredded coconut and roasted and salted pistachio nut meats–in this instance, about a cup of each–go into the processor with about 2-3 tablespoons of butter (or, if you prefer, solid coconut oil) and a handful of candied citrus peels. Whirled together until the solids become a coarse sandy mixture, they should have enough butter in them to become a tender but malleable dough (add more butter if needed) that can be formed into a log (about 2 inches in diameter), rolled into parchment and refrigerated until serving time. To serve, simply slice the chilled dough into 1/8 inch thick coin slices. I found these addictive enough as they were, but surely there would be no harm in adding candied ginger to the peel or throwing in a pinch of cayenne, a little splash of rose- or orange-blossom water or almond extract, or some sesame seeds, to name a few possibilities. Why, even some dark chocolate mini-chips thrown in after the blending or melted to coat the coins might not be amiss and could conceivably satisfy the diehards who mightn’t be as forgiving as I’ve been about finding these beauties in the box of chocolates, but I’m content to let them shine in all of their orange cheeriness, after all.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Sugar, Spice & Other Things Nice

Garnishes, condiments, flavorings and all the trimmings, oh my!photoIf God–or the devil–is in the details, well, either one might very well explain why I’m so enamored of them that the main ingredient sometimes feels like an afterthought.photoYes, I suppose I would notice if everyone started serving me meals consisting solely of garnishes, condiments, et. al. Can’t promise I would, though. ‘Small plates’ and all that. As it happens, I pretty nearly could live on the frills alone. Wouldn’t choose to, but seriously, what’s not to love about heaps of chopped toasted nuts, a multitude of exotic spices, a grand assortment of syrups and sauces, shavings of fine cheese, curls of chocolate, meringues, leafy herbs enough to furnish a king’s garden, and pretty little haystacks of finely grated citrus zest?photoThe plain and homely, the grand and glamorous, the simple and the subtle: these are all made into memorable foods and unforgettable meals by the company in which they’re enjoyed and the ambience of the location and occasion. But they’re made further into a special sort of magic by the alchemy of wise and clever additions of cardamom or cumin, condensed tomato paste, a tot of brandy or rosewater, candied grapefruit peel, sweet pea shoots, fresh violets, sieved hard boiled egg yolk, or a judicious sprinkling of crisply fried shallot bits. Get me candied, brandied and dandied up and I’m a happy diner!photoYes, I’m simply nuts about all of the lovely trimmings. Now, what shall I fix tomorrow that calls for a bit of edible decor? Maybe something with metallic sugar glitter on top. (And yes, I have that in the cupboard, too. Did I mention I have this little obsession–?) Stay tuned.