Foodie Tuesday: Make Believe Meals

I’m generally in favor of good nutrition, in theory at least. But let’s be honest: I’m neither an actual nutritionist nor so dedicated to good health and sensible behavior that I will go to any particular lengths to insure that what I’m eating is always appropriate. You may, just possibly, have noticed that even before I stated it so shamelessly. Yeah, I’m a little kid.*

So if I can make entrees and side dishes that have any value as sustenance and taste enough like dessert so as to make myself feel I’m misbehaving a bit, so much the better. The particular good news in this is that with a whole lot of tasty ingredients, it’s not all that tough to accomplish the task. I mean, if you can take advantage of the Maillard reaction and make sweet caramelization happen to cruciferous vegetables and, yes, even meat, that’s proof enough for me that we are meant to enjoy dessert as any course of a meal. Sexy seared chops and steaks and fish filets, here I come! Succulent Brussels sprouts? But of course! Life is good.photoAnd why limit myself to drawing out the sugars in seemingly non-sugary foods when I can embrace the vitamins in vegetables and, what the heck, throw more sugar and spice on top just because I can. Rather delightful, if you ask me, to occasionally set aside the usual mashed potatoes in favor of what is essentially pie filling. So with those juicy sweet chops, I might give in to the urge to treat them and myself to a scoop of deconstructed dessert thus:

Sweet Potato Pie Mash

Take one peeled sweet potato or yam and an equal amount of carrots, and put both raw vegetables into a food processor or heavy-duty blender with a few friends and blend the whole concatenation into fluffy oneness. My choice last time of company for the two cups’ worth of aforementioned sweet spud and carrots: 2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil, half a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, a splash of vanilla, one egg and, for added sugar, half a cup of ‘natural’ (handmade) small marshmallows. Because I had them around. Because I have a slight sweets addiction. Because, and I may have mentioned this before*, I’m a little kid. Last move with this mash is to heat it up–just bake or microwave it in a greased heat-proof dish long enough to heat it through fully, and it makes a delightful pie-like accompaniment to practically anything, including, well, a plain old spoon. Candy, I tell you. But chock full of vitamins. Or close enough to encourage me to absolve myself of any misdeeds until the next over-the-top meal.

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Yes indeedy, I *did* pour a little cream on the mash, too, because it tasted so much like pie. But then again, I have been known to put crisped bacon or (as here) chicken cracklings on top for a savory finish. Am I a dietary lost cause? Perhaps. But a happy one.

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

Dangerous Desires

My little retelling of the story of Hansel and GretelYes, I prefer a slightly less virulent interpretation of the tale than the early versions focusing on the stereotype of the ‘Wicked Stepmother’ and a father cruel enough to go along with her determination to abandon the children. After all, there’s still plenty of blame to go around when ordinary and seemingly decent people do thoughtless and stupid and even horrible things without considering the ultimate consequences, and even a fairly charitable interpretation of the story seems to me to illustrate that quite handily. And, lest I be accused of excessive softening of what is, after all, a pretty grim [!] tale, I left off the traditional cozy ending, to keep the pointy parts more firmly entrenched in any conscience that will allow them. Wink, wink.

graphite drawingLaw of Unforeseen Consequences

Late, when the children want to play, When chores are a burden at end of day, Why, what harm can come of it, anyway?

Who would begrudge their choice, this chance To lay down the work and pick up a dance? Who would look on this sweet play askance?

What if their Schottische, when lightning flashed, Upset the pitcher and milk was splashed? Ah, suddenly, their mother’s lashed

At them with her anger in surprise At such wild waste of the poor folk’s prize, And tears are smarting in all their eyes!

The rich folk scarcely would give a fig At spilling milk over one swift jig, But their consequence never did loom so big.

No innocent children ever guess That a tiny slip and a modest mess Will afford their mother such deep distress,

Nor mother foresee that her sorrowed scold Will send, heavy-hearted, into the cold Her little ones, lost to the family fold.

And how could their father know what would fall If they failed to answer his panicked call And foraged instead far from safety’s wall?

Too distant from hearth and garden run, Could the children know that their crimeless fun Would lead to endangering anyone?

So off to the forest’s gloom, replete With wild strawberries, so good to eat, They skip unconcerned, when a wilder sweet

Appears before their young, hungry eyes In the most appealingly false disguise Of a gingerbread palace, whose luring lies

Present irresistibly tempting charms To lead them directly into the arms Of the wicked witch whose most horrid harm’s

The deceptive sweetness her cottage seems To hold in its sugary halls of dreams–What covers in icing the children’s screams!

(How could these tender young cherubs guess That under the sparkling prettiness Was a ravening monster intent to fress On their flesh and bones in a gory mess!)

But the most nefarious in the tale Was also most ignorant that such frail And tender tidbits might possibly fail

To end up feeding her heart’s desire, Instead being fueled by fear and ire To shove her into her own oven’s fire!

The story is old, that in unformed youth We may lack the wisdom to see in truth, That apparent delights may be foul, forsooth

But we still hold on to our foolish ways Of dreaming and hoping in wishful haze And never considering that this daze

Can blind us to sanity–in its mire, Can lead to such unexpected, dire Results–unintentionally, Desire Makes us leap from the frying pan into the fire.

Foodie Tuesday: Creamy & Dreamy

Given my love for dairy, eggs, sauces and the like, it can come as no surprise to anyone that I’m an incorrigible fanatic about puddings, custards, soufflés and their numerous smooth, fluffy, and plush cousins. They are not by any means created equal, of course, and my desired version changes with the weather, the occasion and a whole lot of other variables, so I’m very happy to sample the dish-of-the-day any time I can. Still, I’m very glad to have the best of the best, whatever the treat: great ice cream beats good ice cream, don’t you know. I was reminded of how much impact the slightest differences can have, even when I’m enjoying something I like very well, when I had a cone of soft-serve ice cream the other day and it turned out to be surprisingly thin and lacking the usual dense and creamy mouth-feel of the best stuff. Didn’t stop me from eating an ice cream cone, mind you, only it wasn’t close to the best I’ve slurped.

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Ice milk isn’t my idea of true soft serve, but it can at least cool me and fill me up with a bit of good vanilla flavor . . .

Certain of those creamy, dreamy treats that tickle my fancy are pretty reliable even in the strictly mass-produced and store-bought kinds, once I find the brand or sort I fall most in love with eating. A nice, thick and lightly tart Greek style whole milk yogurt is hard to beat, particularly when I blend in some good cinnamon and strong local honey or perhaps a tot of dark maple syrup and a sprinkle of cardamom. Pure, smooth happiness. It’s a good facsimile, when sweetened a bit, for another grand favorite, pudding or custard that’s softer, not set up quite like the also-lovable flans and baked custards and burnt-creams.

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If yogurt’s made into a low-fat version by adding thickeners, it has neither the same texture *nor* the same lusciousness. Go fat or go home, that’s my motto!

Frankly, that’s where a good mousse, fool, whipped cream or smoothie might wiggle its way into my heart as well. I’ve heard for some time that coconut milk makes a reasonable facsimile for whipped cream when chilled and whipped, so I decided to give it a go today, though I didn’t exactly follow the protocols I’ve seen online either–another unsurprising bit of my kitchen personality if you’ve read any of my other Tuesday posts! To make my own version of Coconut Cardamom Pudding, I mixed about 1 cup of chilled coconut milk, a half cup or so of cream, a tablespoon of plain gelatin (could easily use agar for setting the custard, if you’re vegetarian) that I bloomed on top of the liquids, plus a teaspoon of vanilla, a pinch of salt, a couple of tablespoons of honey and a teaspoon of ground cardamom, and beat them all until creamy, poured the custard into little ramekins, and popped them into the fridge for testing tomorrow after supper. I can’t speak for the texture until then, but as for the taste, it’s quite mild and subtle but a friendly grouping of flavors that I think will be just as tasty even if it doesn’t quite set up to flan texture by dinnertime. Never know until I try, anyway! Which, as you well know, is a pretty fair summary of my attitude toward most things edible.

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Tomorrow will tell whether the coconut pudding experiment ‘stands firm’ custard style or gets altered one way or another next time, but it’s a spoon-able dainty today . . .

Drizzling just a bit more honey on top is rarely the wrong thing to do with a cloud-like dessert (here, garnished with a pinch of pink peppercorns to bump up the floral spice of the cardamom in the pudding). But I think I’d better stop talking about it now or I might not wait until tomorrow to see if the texture changes. The thought of any kind of yummy, airy, smooth and creamy dessert tends to have that sort of effect on me.

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Update: after refrigeration, the coconut concoction set up as a very light, very fluffy mousse. Just enough heft to sit on the spoon for as long as it took to take a quick photo! The texture remains faintly grainy with the coconut base, but overall mouth-feel is smooth, feather-light and slightly buttery [grins shamelessly], and the flavor is very delicate. So I ate two servings. [Grinning again.]

Foodie Tuesday: There’s No Substitute for a Smart Substitution

Nearly every time I get in the mood to bake something I’m missing one or more of the necessary ingredients. This happens often enough when I’m making non-baked goods, but it’s almost a given with baking, because I simply don’t bake all that often: too much wheat flour and sugar makes this sweets-addict too likely to get tummy aches or just plain to overindulge. And the fact that I don’t bake terribly often means that, in that most scientific of culinary skills, I’m the least a genius about getting the fussy proportions and timings and temperatures correct. But I still do like to bake once in a while.

Though I feel pretty safe making all sorts of substitutions in cooked and raw dishes, simply finding analogous items–ingredients that have plenty of similar qualities and can therefore be expected to fill similar roles in the combination–I know less about what the ingredients used in baking are supposed to do, unless you’re talking about spices and flavorings, and so have always been more timid about fooling around with the recipes for baked goods. But lately, I’ve come to be more of a believer that life’s too short not to have a little kitchen adventure more often, and that if I’m not using outrageously expensive ingredients the worst that can happen is that a batch of something goes so far awry that it’s just plain a failed experiment. That’s what trash bins are made for, no? I’ll bet few scientists ever made their paradigm-shifting discoveries without a few boneheaded false starts and cock-ups and misdirections and outright failures along the way either, and, well, brownies are not exactly rocket science.

So I give you:photo

Texican Brownies

Ingredients: Plain ‘classic’ brownies call for the following ingredients and proportions:

4 squares (4 ounces/113 grams) Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate–I substituted semisweet baking chocolate. It’s what I had in the cupboard.

3/4 cup  butter–while baking recipes almost always specify unsalted butter, I almost always use salted butter anyway unless there’s a lot of additional salt in the recipe; salt heightens sweetness and intensifies other flavors as well. And I love salt.

2 cups sugar–I substituted dark brown sugar for a deeper flavor.
3   eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour–I substituted instant masa flour (a fine corn flour usually used for tortilla- and tamale-making)

Then I added a few ingredients of my own to make a darker-chocolate brownie and give it a slight Mexican twist:

1/2 tsp baking soda–since the masa flour wouldn’t have gluten like the wheat flour to make the brownies rise a little, I figured they should have a boost in leavening. Look at me, being all fake-scientist-like!

1/2 tsp salt plus 1/8-1/4 tsp ground black pepper–again, wanting to intensify the spicy chocolate of the brownies–plus 1 large tablespoon Dutch processed cocoa–yet more chocolate boosting–plus 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Directions:

Heat your oven to 350°F–mine runs hot, so I heated it to 325°.

Line a 13×9-inch pan with an oversized piece of baking parchment, folding it at the corners to fit and cover the sides as well as the bottom. One piece, no leaks.

Microwave the chocolate and butter together in a large microwaveable bowl on high until the butter is melted. Stir until the chocolate is melted and completely combined with the butter. Blend in the eggs and vanilla. In another bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients. Add them gradually to the wet mix, stirring until everything melds, and pour the batter into the prepared pan, pushing it into the folded parchment corners to fill them.

Bake 30 – 35 minutes (again, with my super-hot oven, I baked mine for more like 20-23 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Better to under-bake these than the opposite–fudgy, chewy brownies are good; dry, not.

The parchment will let you easily pop the whole sheet of brownies right out of the pan.

Makes 24 brownies. Mine were still a little too baked, thanks to the hot-hot oven, so I quite happily compensated for the slight dryness by frosting the ones that weren’t immediately devoured. (A number of them were. Clearly, the over-baking didn’t destroy them so badly that the members of this household wouldn’t cheerfully destroy them in another way.)

Thus, we have:photoRustic Red Frosting

No, I’m no fussy decorator. But I loves me some tasty frosting. And I wanted something that was earthy and yet juicy, something that would stand up to the depth of the spiced brownies and still have a little homey heartfelt quality to it, even if it wasn’t very frilly. I chose strawberry frosting; after all, las fresas are a fantastic favorite fruit treat in some of the Latin-American cuisine I’ve had the pleasure of inhaling eating. And this is just an easy take on buttercream icing.

Grind about one cup of freeze-dried strawberries to a coarse powder. I did mine in the blender, but if they’re dry enough you could even crush them with a wooden spoon in a heavy bowl–leaving some bits rough gives a little burst of berry flavor in the finished frosting and reminds us there are real berries involved. Add to the berry powder about a cup of powdered (confectioner’s) sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, a cup of soft butter, and a tablespoon or two of heavy cream. Blend them together well, adding more sugar and/or cream as needed for flavor and texture. Apply liberally to the brownies, cake, cookies, tongue, etc, as needed for improved state of bliss.

I sprinkled them with some edible glitter just for good measure. A little extra pizzazz never really hurt anything. But you could just sprinkle yours with the stardust of your affection and it’d be just as glamorous and grand.

This whole brownie-baking urge of mine was motivated in large part because I felt like making a sort of Valentine’s Day treat; since we’ll be in the car on a work-related jaunt much of the actual Valentine’s Day, I figured today was a reasonable substitution for the occasion. Since both my husband and I love chocolate and baked treats but do better with less wheat flour, I figured substituting corn flour could be a decent and respectable enough Tex-Mex way of dealing with that part of the equation. And since neither of us is a stickler for celebrating only on the official or ‘correct’ dates for anything, we’re both quite willing to celebrate the American holiday of love-and-romance any old time we can. Because for love, there really is no acceptable substitute.

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XOXOXO!

Foodie Tuesday: Last Suppers and Beyond

I Loves Ya, Cupcake!

I kiss your cherry-colored lips

And suddenly, straight over flips

My heart in loping, loopy leaps

As sugared-up as Mallo Peeps

Get kids at Eastertime to fly,

As ice cream piled on apple pie

And candy canes in cocoa make

Our livers strain, gallbladders quake,

Arteries cringe and capillaries

Bloat, collapse, and the Tooth Fairy’s

Rounds expand a hundredfold

When molars instantly grow old.

You get my drift: one little kiss

Of your sweet lips can lead to this

Extreme, near-paralytic dose

Of dearness, loveliness, and close-

Encountered expiration date,

But loving you is surely fate,

My cupcake, my delicious sweet,

And death of it the final treat.

 

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If one’s not careful, trimming one’s waistline can lead to wasting away. There’s an art to eating well, after all. What you eat can kill you, but what you don’t eat can, too. What to do?! Think I’ll just lie down here in this quiet spot in the graveyard . . .

The Great Equalizer

Willowy or wallowing?

Slinky or obese?

Ma likes the taste of salad greens

And Pater thrives on grease.

What’s odd is, their cholesterol

And blood pressure and weight

Don’t seem to correspond at all

With anything they ate.

I can’t quite comprehend how one

Eats lard, the other, toast,

And both don’t change; I guess

Food matters little

To a ghost.