Foodie Tuesday: Pizza & Beer

photoOurs is a household that both embodies and defies sex stereotypes. I am a female homemaker whose male partner is the sole income producer for us both. I wear dresses at least come of the time, and aside from academic gowns I’ve never known him to wear one. Though he has great legs and would look pretty cute in any old frock he threw on, I’m quite sure. It’s really not his style, all the same. He can get all misty over a sad movie just as well as I can, but he’s a pants-wearing guy. In food terms, we’re generally fairly well set into the expected tastes of our respective sexes. I like a frou-frou salad with baby lettuces, goat cheese in an almond crumb crust, fresh figs and mint-basil mandarin vinaigrette. My guy is mighty fond of meat and potatoes.

On the other hand, the second time this man who tends to avoid onions and garlic, sour cream and frou-frou salads–whose supertaster status leads to overwhelming visitations from sour or bitter hints in foods that to most others are relatively benign–asked me out to eat, it was for delicately crafted, raw fish and wasabi and pickled ginger filled sushi. And though hops make ‘manly’ beer unpalatable to my beloved, another loved one of mine taught me to appreciate a good beer, and I learned that it was a dandy companion to another famously male-craved food, pizza, and that together they could make this female pretty happy.

So when the opportunity for a really fine piece of pizza is not just sustenance but a great treat, I’m happy to dig in and eat. Especially if the pizza is one that doesn’t have a bunch of bitter or sour or Weird toppings, but rather the much-loved supreme deliciousness of good pepperoni and cheese and a slick of only a well-balanced ripe tomato sauce, the way my excellent spouse likes it best, so I can share it with him. And if I can wash down my tasty pizza with a good beer, then I will happily raise my glass in memory of Granny, who taught me to appreciate that the old-time stereotypical American image of men enjoying their beer and pizza in estrogen-free splendor was far from exclusive. And in memory of Gramps, whose sole-wage-earner retirement money paid for the beer and pizza Granny the homemaker bought for us while I was out with Gramps’s sons and grandsons, my uncles and cousins, practicing the ‘manly’ arts of working in construction as he had done for years before us. Keeping tradition and breaking with tradition. There’s always room in a good family, or a good stomach, for both.photoAll of this being said, with the help of my perspicacious, pizza-loving spouse and some research he’d read, I’ve recently discovered that avoiding wheat, of all things, seems to greatly reduce the hot flashes that have been the bane of my middle-aged existence since well before I was middle-aged. What to do? Wheat is the basis of the traditional pizza crust. Not to mention a key ingredient in lots of tasty beers. What!!! Is the universe spinning out of control???

Fear not, my good friends. I am finding that where there’s a hankering, there’s a way. Besides the existence of a number of flour mixes and recipes for them that substitute quite neatly and directly–and generally must more tastefully than in gluten-free days of yore–for wheat flour, I am also learning that there is an ever-expanding universe of alternatives for those who are forbidden wheat, whether by choice as in my case or perforce as in the lives and kitchens of celiacs, allergy sufferers and others who must avoid the offending grain. Stay tuned for the experiments that are sure to follow: rice and potato and nut crusts, vegetable stand-ins and stunt doubles, and more. Meanwhile, I will not shy away from a cold beer, just check to be sure that it’s a wheat-free variety. And of course there’s always a nice cold cider or lemonade or iced tea, or perhaps a fresh and icy strawberry-cucumber mojito, as they also make quite the dandy accompaniments to a slice of pizza, gluten-free or not, don’t you know. I’m quite certain Granny would approve.photo

Foodie Tuesday: The Daily Grind Need Not Grind Us Down

When I did a bit of checking on it, the name of my variant of Shepherd’s Pie seemed to be, by rights, ‘Pastel de Carne y Patatas’–but you know me, I can’t stick to proprieties very well. So I named it the more mellifluous sounding ‘Pastel al Pastor’, thinking as I do that shepherds get very short shrift in this day and age and can use a little flattering attention. What the dish is calls for it anyway, for it’s a rustic Mexican-tinged take on the comfort-food standard Shepherd’s Pie. In any event, like many longtime popular recipes, it got its start partly by using ground or minced meat, a hallmark of well-fed poor people’s diets since the cheaper cuts of most meats can become tenderer and allow much more expansive fillers and the disguise of plenteous seasonings in order to be palatable while still being relatively affordable.

Rustic and comforting it may be, but the simplicity of the end result in this recipe belies the multifaceted process by which it’s made. Don’t let that put you off, though, because it can be made in large quantities and frozen in smaller batches between times, so it can easily become a quick-fix dish after the first preparation. Shepherd’s Pie, in the vernacular, derives from the longtime concept of Cottage Pie, which in turn originated when cooks began more widely using potatoes to stretch those more expensive ingredients of the meal, the meats. Typically, these pies (and there are versions of them in an enormous number of countries, cultures and cuisines) are simply meat dishes, often made with the ‘lesser’ cuts or a mixture of leftover meats, with a potato crust. Probably the most familiar of them here in the US is the minced meat (and often, vegetable) mixture topped with mashed potatoes that is served in many a British pub and home kitchen and that we co-opted in our own American ways.

Mine, on this occasion, was to veer as I often do toward Mexican seasonings and enjoy my own little twist on the dish.photoPastel al Pastor

Seasoned minced or ground meats, topped with vegetables and mushrooms and gravy and served over smashed potatoes make altogether a hearty and countrified dish, not at all difficult to make but taking a little bit of time because of its individual parts. I make this in a generously buttered baking dish both because it’s easier to clean afterward and because–you guessed it–I love butter.

The bottom layer of the dish is made by frying a mixture of equal parts ground beef, pork and lamb, seasoned freely with salt, black and cayenne peppers, chili powder, smoked paprika and lots of cumin. Those without supertaster spouses will likely want to add some garlic powder as well, though it’s not essential. A splash of rich chicken broth or a spoonful of good chicken bouillon adds a nice layer of flavor, if you have it. Next, add a heaping spoonful of tomato paste and enough good salsa to make the meat mixture very slightly saucy, and just as the meats begin to caramelize, you’re done. [My go-to, if I’m not making my salsa by hand, is Pace’s mild Chunky Salsa with a prepared chipotle en adobo blended in thoroughly–I see on their web page that they’re reintroducing their chipotle salsa, so that’s probably fine too.] Drain the fat from the meat mixture and spread it in the bottom of your baking dish.

While the meat’s cooking, you can be preparing the vegetable-mushroom layer. I mixed about equal amounts of small cut carrots, sliced celery and sliced brown mushrooms, covered them with some of my ubiquitous chicken broth and cooked them until tender. Then I pureed half of them with a stick blender, adding a heaping tablespoon each of chipotle en adobo (that’s about a half a pepper), unflavored gelatin and potato flour for flavor and texture, mixed that with the remaining vegetables, and poured it all over the meat. I topped this with a cup or so of frozen sweet kernel corn and got ready for Potato Happiness.

Today’s version of this meal, Ladies and Gentlemen, was potato-fied with leftovers. I had half a baked potato and about a cupful of good french fries in the fridge, and they worked wonderfully when warmed with some cream and a touch of salt and smashed roughly. It would have been just fine to do the typical Shepherd’s Pie treatment of spreading the potatoes over the meat-and-veg before heating the dish through in the oven, but since this was all concocted of things I had around (taco meat I’d made and frozen, salad vegetables and leftover potatoes), on this occasion we just put nice heaps of mash on our plates and spooned the rest over them like meat-and-vegetable gravy.

For the more normal approach, I’d roast, boil or bake potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and combine with cream for the mash and then top the casserole, possibly adding some nice cheese either on top before browning it in the oven (a mix of shredded cheddar and Monterey jack, for example) or as a fine garnish, a serving-time crumble (cotija on top, anyone?). But ‘normal’ is overrated, and the dish was mighty, mighty tasty even deconstructed in this way. And it’s still flexible–yes, even a dish concocted of multiple leftovers has variety left in it, my friends. Add some peas (so many tasty cottage pies have peas in them), cauliflower, green beans, or any number of other vegetables. Make it spicier. Soup it up into a stew, with potato pieces incorporated. Change the seasonings to Indian and make it a post-Colonial curried version. You get the drift.

Thing is, of course, that this is precisely how the dish was conceived: as a loose general structure into which any number of variables could successfully be introduced, depending upon what was on hand. Save time, save labor, save money. Eat delicious potatoes and whatever flavorful wonders you can afford and imagine to combine under them.

Well, get along with you now, you know how it works. And you can be pretty sure that it’s going to taste good. That’s how folklore ‘recipes’ survive–on flexibility and reliability. Oh, yeah, and great fillers.

Even chicken, which sometimes gets short shrift when it comes to minced meat dishes because it’s left too unseasoned or cooked in ways that make it too dry, can make lovely ground meat dishes with a little effort. In the latest instance, I chose to precook mine in a sort of meat loaf sous vide, keeping the juices and additions in and on it until it was fully plate-safe, but this could easily be chilled in its loaf form, sliced and pan-fried without the intervening hot bath, I’m sure. And a food processor makes the loaf prep a snap, but it can be done with a knife and a pair of hands for mixing, too. In any event, I veered more toward Italy this time with my glorified chicken meatloaf concoction.photoCotolette di Pollo e Pancetta

[About 6 servings.] Mince and mix together the following and shape into a compact loaf: 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (dark meat stays moister), 3 ounces pancetta, 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon powdered lemon peel, 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons cold butter and 1/2 teaspoon minced dried shallot. Wrap and chill the loaf until ready to fry it, or do as I did: vacuum pack it, cook it sous vide like a confit (low and slow–I let it go overnight), and then refrigerate until ready to use.

When it’s time to fix the meal, cut the loaf into slices about 1/4 inch thick and fry them over medium heat until lightly browned. With a well seasoned iron skillet or a nonstick pan, the butter in the loaf is quite sufficient to keep the slices from sticking, and they get a nice little lightly crispy crust outside their tender middles. I served mine with slices of fried cheese (any slow-melting mild cheese would do for this after-the-fact application, or you can top the meat slices with faster-melting sorts like mozzarella or provolone as the meat cooks) and a simple sauce cooked down from jarred passata (simple tomato puree–I like the Mutti brand passata I used, pure tomatoes with a little salt) mixed with the loaf’s excess juices, salt and pepper and oregano to taste. On the side, little ramekins of rice and buttered green beans are plenty, though of course there’s always room for invention on the plate. The whole assembly, since I’d put up both cooked rice and the confited loaf in the refrigerator beforehand, took not more than fifteen or twenty minutes to prepare.

¡Buen provecho! Buon appetito! Now, stop mincing around and get eating!

Foodie Tuesday: Some Assembly Required

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The way to maintain my vegetative state of bliss is to keep dissimilar food parts from dangerous intermingling . . .

My dinner table usually resembles an early automobile factory, or at least the aftermath of an IKEA shopping spree. I’ve gotten in the habit, over years of feeding guests with allergies and dietary needs that are unpredictable and widely varied across the board, as well as supertasters like my husband, of presenting the various parts of a meal as separately as possible. In many cases, the segregation extends to dividing the ingredients of a single dish into many serving containers so that salad becomes a salad bar and entrees become DIY designer projects to be customized on every plate. I don’t mind helping people put their food together or serving it to them to order, but I have long since learned that one dish does not suit all eaters and it’s silly and wasteful to force the issue. It may seem like a foolish extreme, but it’s become comfortable for me. Two year olds should, in fact, also like dining chez moi. And since I’m often prone to thinking rather like a two year old, I suspect any such event could be quite the adventure all ’round.

Thus, whether we all work our way through a buffet line and create our culinary variations on our own plates as we go, or we sit at table with an assemblage of small containers sprinkled around like so many car or furniture parts in every available spot, everybody had better be hungry enough to fend for themselves, or get a helping hand from someone else who’s able to build them their ideal dishes from the bits provided there. It makes for a whole lot more dishing-and-passing of a whole lot more little bowls, plates, platters and jars, but then–well, being at table with me is bound to be something of a project, anyway.

Last night’s dinner was somewhat typical in that way. Small parts of the meal like side dishes and condiments are so easily omitted when one is serving oneself that I never fear to go ahead and serve them as-is. So we have haricots vert already slathered in beurre noisette, a relish of ground cranberries and mandarins in maple syrup, bakery croissants and butter all ready for the taking. Or yes, for the ignoring. I made up last evening’s main dish as a whole before putting it out to serve, because it has so few ingredients the removal of any of them would amount quite nearly to asking the diners to make the whole meal themselves. Which I am not in the least averse to doing, in principle, but didn’t feel was necessary in this case.

So the pasta–wide egg noodles–emerged from the kitchen fully dressed in their cream, lemon juice and zest, pepper and smoked salmon. Mom and Dad S having shipped us a succulent Washington Christmas present early, we thought it prudent to dive right into those tender, moist pieces of Sockeye and pink salmon before they tortured and tantalized us for too long. Since our guests brought us a bottle of superb champagne, this was clearly the destined dish to accompany it! Also, as it goes almost without saying, it’s one of the world’s simplest entrees to make, and therefore a favorite in the arsenal of the Kath of Least Resistance at any time when such great smoked salmon is available. I did go so far as to serve the garnish of fried sage leaves separately, knowing my spouse’s disdain for “Green Stuff”; he’d be quite happy if all herbs just disappeared from the face of the earth, or would be at least until he realized that some of his favorite foods actually do rely on them for their distinctive flavors.

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. . . no offense to you Green vegetables and ((shudder!)) Herbs!

It was the salad’s turn, as is often the case, to be divided and conquered by the individual diners last night. In keeping with my fetish for combinations sweet and savory, I chose to accompany a bowl of freshly torn romaine lettuce with the following, from which everyone could pick and choose their proprietary blends: a bowl of cubed red Bartlett pear and super-sweet mandarin oranges–the seediest, by the way, that I’ve chopped up in years, but as fresh and bright and juicy and candy-like as any I’ve ever had, to make up for the inconvenience; toasted pine nuts; diced and candied orange peel; crumbled feta cheese. The dressing, also to be added or bypassed at will, was an easy blend of two parts of blood orange infused olive oil (fabulous stuff from Stonehouse) with one part each of mixed mandarin/lemon juice (leftovers from the salad fruit and pasta sauce), soy sauce and maple syrup, plus a healthy shot of fresh ginger juice. Easy peasy.

Now, lest you imagine that I am some sort of cruel beast that would make all of my guests take care of themselves completely . . . oh, wait, I am. My idea of being in a hospitable environment is someone else’s idea of being left alone.

I am quite happy to spend time with friends and family, as long as they are tolerant of my not being an attentive hostess in the any sort of normal waiting-on-you-hand-and-foot mode and know that I crave large quantities of time to spend not honing my admittedly limited set of social skills. I keep strict private ‘office hours’ between bedtime and late morning so that most people needn’t be exposed to my internal dragon lady, she who rules whenever I should be recharging my emotional batteries in silence. At bedtime, I’ll gladly show y’all where to find any breakfast groceries, pots and pans, clean linens and spare toiletries in the house, have my husband train you how to use the TV remote, hand you the house key and the garage door opener, load up your bookshelf, keep the newspaper out for you on the kitchen table and the coffeemaker stocked on the counter, hunt you up a crossword puzzle collection or a pack of playing cards for solitaire, and give you my spare coat, hat and gloves to borrow for a cool-weather walk, but please wait until I emerge from my cave before attempting any interaction.

And know that I’m just not very good at reading minds when it comes to culinary preferences. Even if I know you’re a vegan or keep Kosher or are deathly allergic to whole grain toast, I don’t necessarily know what you really love or hate to eat or how you like it served. If you can choose your own food and manage assembling your own meal out of the provided parts, we’ll get along swimmingly. Even the Generalissimo, the Duchess and the Dalai Lama would have to fend for themselves at my table. I bet you’ll do well enough too.

Foodie Tuesday: Apple Pie Order

In most places, ‘apple pie order’ refers to perfect tidiness. Around me, not so. It has two meanings for me, each off on its own tangent. The first is very simple: it describes a standard action of my spouse’s–whenever the occasion should arise, he will order apple pie. The second meaning of the phrase in my world is quite the contrary to the idiom. When my husband’s menu request is at home, the pies I am apt to make are anything but orderly.photoAs with all of my kitchen adventures, the making of pie is always and only an approximation of reproducing a Platonic ideal of the pie concept. I am perhaps a touch the cantankerous and childish rebel in the kitchen, constitutionally unable to conform to others’ instructions to the letter. Can’t think of a lot of things as fun as playing with my food, after all. Remarkably, my supertaster spouse, with all of the palatal restrictions this condition inevitably entails, tolerates my machinations and monkeying remarkably well.

I use that phrase advisedly, since despite his uxorious generosity, he still doesn’t hesitate to remark on the results, good or bad. But he doesn’t actually turn up that fine-tuned nose of his very often, as it happens.

The mere physical assembly of a dish is unlikely to come very tidily from my hands, either, given my previously noted propensity for impatience. and slightly anarchic search for visual amusements. Needless to say, anything more pie- or tart-like than a mere crisp or crumble is more often than not going to turn out rustic as can be. Given that I’m a sort of rustic myself, I suppose it’s only fitting.

graphite and colored pencilThanksgiving‘s apple pie was somewhere in between true ‘apple pie order’ and my kind.

My mother is-was-and-ever-shall-be the indisputable nonpareil, the mistress and icon, of pie making. Her crust is legendary with very good reason. I’ve never met a filling she couldn’t make that wasn’t a paragon, the archetype of its genre. Her fresh raspberry pies, loaded with fruit of the canes she nurtured from cuttings off her father’s plants have been known to reduce adults of seemingly endless sophistication to slobbering infants in one bite, a whole slice to cause delirium, fainting spells, reenactments of the Dancing Plague of 1518, and umpteen return pilgrimages to the dessert table.

Needless to say, my pies grovel in obeisance to Mom‘s, though she’s much too modest and generous to require such a thing. So when she’s in our vicinity for any length of time, you can guess what she bakes for my elated husband. Last time, she went the extra mile and left a spare bottom crust and dough scraps in our freezer. So the Thanksgiving pie was even more reason for giving thanks: Mama’s magical piecrust, ready-made, waiting only to be filled for the big finish.

I blind-baked that bottom crust and a sheet of cinnamon-sugared leaves I’d cut out of the dough scraps, made apple pie filling, warmed all of the parts at the last and assembled the concoction just before serving time. The man with the spare tastebuds deemed the result a little too far inclined toward the nutmeg, and I agreed: I’m always a bit unclear on how much volatile oil is still present when I grate a nutmeg–guess this one was more potent than it smelled to me. But, miraculously, the pie still managed to disappear down various gullets with some alacrity. Not to mention with many spoonfuls of homemade vanilla-cinnamon ice cream.

photoThe filling was a little of this and a little of that, as usual. I always prefer a blend of tart and sweet apples, some firmer and some tenderer, so I chose a mix of Granny Smiths, Braeburns and Golden Delicious from among the grocer’s offerings. I cut them in somewhat varied thicknesses of slice and chunks both, because I like the textural variety it brings as well as the emphasis on the distinct tastes of the types. The rest is fairly standard stuff, mostly: sweetening, spices and flavorings, fat and thickener.

My favorite thickener for apple pie filling is a bit of quick-cooking (small grain) tapioca, which again contrasts in texture with the apples to liven things up a little, and keeps the pie from collapsing when sliced. Or almost does. For sweetening apple pies, I love to use brown sugar for part or all (as in this case), because it’s no secret caramel and apples are a divine pairing and that flavor comes through in a pie nicely. A dram of vanilla to smooth out the caramel flavor. A toss of salt. A little lime juice to spark the sweetness and keep the apples’ color. A good dose of browned butter to add a little nutty undertone. And a last boost of both sweetening and zing, a spoonful of ginger preserves.

That leaves the other pie spices, and I’m pretty sure I’m relatively tame and standard with my cinnamon, nutmeg and a dash of cloves and that little bit of sweet-spicy ginger, even if I did accidentally go a little overboard with the nutmeg this time around. After all, I’m not a monster. It is my husband who asked for apple pie. And he does like his in apple pie order.

Foodie Tuesday: She’s Completely Nutbar, but isn’t She Sweet?

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Won't You be My Baby, Oh, Honeycomb . . .

There’s little that can’t be improved by the addition of a sticky slick of raw local honey. I’ll concede that there might be something, but it doesn’t come to mind immediately. I could contentedly eat spoonfuls until comatose if it weren’t for the smidgen of good manners and even smaller atom of good sense preventing it.

Today’s supper was one of the times I restrained my sugar-rush inclinations, since I was making R’s favorite coleslaw and, with him persevering toward complete blood sugar control without the aid of medications, who am I to stand in the way of such valor? So I made the slaw with a natural non-sugar sweetener. But I still slipped just a hint of sugar into the mix, because the salad wouldn’t be entirely his favorite without his favorite add-in. It’s about the easiest ‘dish’ to throw together, if you can actually call something so ridiculously simple a dish. I’m no purist, so if you have strong Feelings about everything being homemade, organic, locally sourced, and so forth, you’ll probably want to squint a little during the next section to avoid unnecessary annoyance and then revise as needed to meet your needs.

Stupid-Easy Sweet Cole Slaw

Throw together everything ‘to taste’: Shredded cabbage (yeah, I’m often wonderfully lazy and use the pre-shredded slaw mix with red and green cabbage and carrots); lime juice, sweetener (honey is, of course, wonderful–or dark agave syrup, or sugar of any kind, whatever floats your cabbage-eating boat); a spoonful of mayonnaise (I’m still fond of good ol’ Hellman’s classic artery-hardener); add-ins.

So: cabbage, lime juice, sweetness, mayo and Fun Stuff.

The add-in of choice in this house is minced pickled sushi ginger.

Other goodies sometimes join the party: sesame seeds, toasted sliced almonds, chopped apple . . . whatever fun yummy junk is on hand, pretty much. It’s the ginger that I think of as the personality of the House Slaw, and anything that complements that is welcome along for the ride. But most of the time, it’s just the basic ingredients chez nous.

It was the other day that I got my honey fix. The day I went Nutbar. When the man of the house is away at any of his various work-related salt mines, I indulge in both foods that Mr Supertaster can’t or won’t eat and also in a bit of sugary madness. I made some chewy granola-style bars that work pretty nicely as a breakfast or brunch munch, especially with a nice spoonful of thick Greek yogurt drizzled with the aforementioned lovely honey and a toss of crispy carrot chips.

You’re going to sense a trend here: I’m all about the lazy approach. I love to eat what tastes delicious to me, but I have to really be in a certain rare mood to get into the groove of fixing super elaborate and labor intensive foods. More often I’m pleased to spend a day or two of heavy lifting in the kitchen in order to ‘put up’ a big, divisible, freeze-able batch of something that we can dig into at will over the next however-long. A slow cooker loaded with broth fixings is a common enough happening, mainly because I can use the resulting broth so many different ways, and also because it takes so little effort in total to throw a batch of prepared bones, roughly chopped mirepoix, herbs and spices and the like into the cooker and let it go for a long, slow simmer. I’ve got the straining thing down to a science, having learned to line a big pasta-strainer pot with a clean flour sack dish towel, spoon the skeletal remains out of the broth with a big sturdy spider, and dump the rest of the crock into the lined pot. Then all I have to do is hoist the pasta strainer high enough to lift out the dish towel by its corners, give that a quick squeeze to get the rest of the soupy goodness to flow through, empty the grisly remains in the trash, and pour up my broth for cooling. Lots of mileage off of a very humble process and the unfussiest of ingredients.

About those Nutbars. Again, easy-peasy. Simple contents, very simply prepared, not difficult to store, and quick-as-a-bunny to grab and nibble.

nutbars, yogurt & honey, carrot chips

. . . and you thought I was referring to my sanity when I said "Nutbar".

Going Nutbar

Ingredients: nuts, seeds, dried fruits, butter, spices, whey protein powder and gelatin, sweetening and salt.

I filled my trusty Tupperware 8-cup measuring pitcher with about 6 cups of mixed almonds (whole, raw), roasted/lightly salted macadamia nuts, dried dates and figs and apricots, and a handful of candied ginger, and filled in the gaps between all of them with about 3 good scoops of vanilla whey protein powder, a handful of raw sesame seeds, and a healthy dose of cinnamon with hints of cardamom, mace and cloves. I pulsed all of that mix in the blender in batches until it was all pretty well reduced to a chunky flour. Then I just mixed in as though for a very dense dough: 3 big tablespoons of gelatin melted in water (you can just leave this out or use agar agar if you’re vegetarian, but I like the chew and the added nutrients available in either of the add-ins), a little sweetener (I used a splash of sugar-free hazelnut syrup that I have around, just for the flavor), about 3 tablespoons of melted butter, and a bit of Maldon sea salt. All almost quicker to do than to record here.

The rest is finishing: line a cake pan (I used my ca. 10×14 Pyrex baking dish) with wax paper or plastic wrap, press the “dough” into it evenly, cover with more of the wrap, and (if you’re a little shaggy on the pat-in like I am) give a quick flattening treatment with a jar or can as your pan-sized rolling pin. Stick the pan in the refrigerator overnight and slice the bars up for storage next day. I cut them in granola bar configuration since that’s what they resemble a little. The bit of butter means they don’t stick together very badly, so I laid the bars on edge right next to each other with wax paper between layers. Some are lying in wait in the freezer, and the rest are being gradually eaten out of the fridge, with or without yogurt, honey, carrots . . . .

Did I mention honey? Guess I’m just a sucker for sweet things. Must be why I love you so.

Foodie Tuesday: Leave No Deliciousness Unloved

almond-crusted grapefruit bars

With a tweak-tweak here and a tweak-tweak there . . .

I rarely make any little edible thing without messing around with the recipe (classic or otherwise). And I married a supertaster. Folks, you know what that means. Endless potential drama–dare I say it, a recipe for disaster?

Happily, it means instead tremendous room for growth and creativity on both our parts. I think after fifteen-plus years of togetherness we’ve managed a lot of dandy discoveries. And you know what? We’ve eaten well along the way.

The gift of massive quantities of papillae–tastebuds, those squiggly little fellas that make the mouth sing with salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami joy–makes one vulnerable in all of the good and bad ways possible to the information glut those gluttonous sensory detectors are zapping through one’s system. As an ordinary non-supertasting superhero, I find it hard to imagine surviving the experience of having extra helpings of sensation when eating divinely delicious stuff. When food and drink are superlative, it’s already so intensely exciting that I can be overwhelmed and left speechless and limp and hardly able to conceive of the prospect of time itself re-starting. All else falls into shade.

That this can happen not only over a masterfully executed and presented breast of pheasant with chanterelles served over handmade pappardelle in champagne cream but just as well and deeply felt over a tasty tuna salad sandwich is part of the beauty of experiencing food as more than mere physical sustenance.

That the great and the humble have equal power over gustatory happiness means that all of you out there who are under the supertaster spell are even less immune to whatever punch is packed by lunch. No surprise, then, that kids born with an extraordinary supply of papillae are quick to respond with particular strength of feeling, and very often of will, to what is put on their plates and in their little rosebud mouths. The bitterness in cruciferous vegetables is more potent to such an eater than to others and may taste downright poisonous. Sour cream? I don’t think so, Grandma! Aromatics alone can drive a poor supertaster around the bend.

So I’ve got me a guy that in his youth wouldn’t eat eggs unless prepared exactly to his specifications, very possibly because only under those ideal circumstances were the sulfurous undertones of the seemingly dainty egg tolerably controlled to bypass his micro-detectors. Like his father before him (also, I suspect, a supertaster), he is averse to the presence–nay, immune to the charms–of raw or strong onions or garlic, vinegar, grapefruit juice, buttermilk, a multitude of herbs, and ripened cheeses. But being a naturally hungry boy and an enthusiastic appreciator of good food, he learned many ways in which those things can be tamed and massaged into behaving in a friendlier, more mellow manner.

Thus I have a so-called picky eater on my hands, but one who despite his aversion to a wide range of strong sensory aspects of food still adores many kinds of highly flavored cuisines and a number of dishes one mightn’t expect: a long list of Mexican and Indian foods are high on the favorites list, sushi a longed-for treat, and Thai curries like mother’s milk to him. Since we live surrounded by equally hungry friends and family and a wealth of dangerously fabulous cooks, there’s no doubt we will continue to discover both the boundaries or limits of our respective foodly tolerance and the wonders of what lies on the other side when we manage to navigate our way across and over those edges.

Around here, asking what’s for dinner is nothing short of an invitation to examine one’s entire existential paradigm–that of the moment, at least. Excuse me, please. I think I hear the kitchen calling me.

PS–The bar cookies above are almond-crusted grapefruit bars, made simply by taking a favorite lemon bar recipe and substituting pink grapefruit juice for the lemon and almond “flour” (ground almonds) for the wheat flour. My spouse had no interest in them, of course. But our guests and neighbors and I all found them quite tolerable!