Archive | April, 2011

Thanksgiving in April: Brined Turkey Breast with E-Z Gravy & Sage Sausage and Mushroom Stuffing

25 Apr

This past month has felt more like a particularly grim Fall than the dawning of Spring: torrential downpours and whipping winds have swept away all of my grand weekend hiking and strolling plans, not to mention most of the little budding goodies that have managed to peek through the frost.

Morning walks at this time of the year should be sun-dappled and filled with visions of saffron daffodils, violet pansies, chirping cardinals and rolling fields of sprouting grass populated by hopping bunnies. Instead, they’re gray, cloudy affairs on muddy, sodden fields full of green goose poop. I spend most of my time outside blowing hot air on red, chapped fingers and fretting about how dirty Penelope is getting frolicking about in the muck.

It’s hard to get excited about asparagus, green peas and radishes while it’s still in the 40s and 50s. So this week, instead of whipping out an Easter-friendly honey ham or a hearty leg of lamb, I cranked out a Thanksgiving Feast. Consider it my offering to Helius, Anemi, Harpyiae and Zeus. May my Brined Turkey with E-Z Gravy and Sage Sausage and Mushroom Stuffing quell their righteous anger, and may they finally allow Spring out of the damp cold basement they’ve cast her in! Click on for my edible (and quite delicious) sacrifice.

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Road Food: Baked Macaroni and Cheese & Rice and Lentil Salad with Cherries

18 Apr

Home is where the mac & cheese is

I recently met Lisa, Ben and Tom at Sik Gaek in Queens, one of Anthony Bourdain’s faves. Long a hidden refuge from the foodie hoi palloi, Sik Gaek was finally outed as an outer-borough destination on “No Reservations” and it has been on every white-person-who’s-obsessed-with-ethnic-cuisine’s hit list ever since. Including mine.

I relished the idea of a little DIY gogi gui fun and my armchair anthropologist curiosity was piqued at the prospect of being forced to watch my snacks roast alive — I’ve always been a carnivore who tussles with the unquestionably morbid, quite possibly morally debased implications of my eating habits. I reason that if I eat fish and meat, I should be prepared to kill it, gut it, clean it, dress it and cook it — something I’ve never shied away from doing.

When I fish, and when I’ve been on hunting outings (I’ve never successfully shot anything), we don’t light incense, hold a seance or chant for the departing, honored spirits that feed us, but we do treat the fish and animals with dignity, even solemnity, and certainly a heartfelt thankfulness. We don’t casually toss them, live, onto a little fire and calmly sip fruity mixed drinks until they stop moving.

To prepare, Ben and I met at his local watering hole, right around the corner from Sik Gaek. As usual, he ordered whiskey, on the rocks, with a bit of water, which he sipped quietly. I loudly slurped my way through two vats of lemon water and a pint of Guinness.

Generally, we are hands-down the most obstreperous characters in the room, too busy curating a scene of inhospitable grumpiness with our unified stink eye to make much time for jibber-jabber. But even we couldn’t hold a candle to the middle aged pile of crazy perched rather haphazardly on a stool by the bar. Apropos of nothing, she began shrilly regaling the room with her theory on the subtle difference between empathy and sympathy — a scholarly soliloquy that rivaled Aeschines’ sober assessment of Philip II of Macedonia.

We couldn’t stay for long — we had abalones and razor clams to butcher, watermelon soju to imbibe, mussels to crack and pop — but her speech froze everyone in silence, and as we left, she was still carrying on. I was riveted by her tirade, not just because it was juvenile and obvious, and clearly the product of an addled mind, which let’s face it, is always kind of impossible to turn away from, but also because she was so taken with the notion of empathy.

The food at Sik Gaek was novel and fun, the experience definitively lacking in sympathy, or empathy.

Our meal tasted of the briney sea from which it was recently plucked, our experience felt like a gleeful, drunken spree as harmless as it is naughty. The conch was plump and vibrant, the abalone delicate and strangely buttery, the mussels as slick as pebbles and as soft as edible silk. And it was surprisingly zen to BBQ the shellfish alive; it seemed like a fitting, convivial end for a fun-loving mollusk. The one sticking point was doneness: the BBQ was small, the flame high, the ability to control the heat negligible.

The crank’s verbal diarrhea and our “Lord of the Flies” Korean adventure have stuck with me. I haven’t been able to shake the sense that the woman had more to say, or that I just failed to decode the hidden message behind her jeremiad. Both memories percolate on road trips. Stephen and I have been taking minor little jaunts since we broke down a few months ago and finally bought a Hyundai Elantra — named Lou Ellen Marmaduke Willcox-Repsher. This past weekend, we drove to Philly, to visit an old friend and make a few foodie stops.

The trip could have been a bust; it was certainly a whirlwind, rainy affair, since we could only go for six hours on the one day the skies wept buckets. We envisioned wandering around Independence Hall, Franklin Square, the Italian Market, Fairmont Park, sampling cheese at Reading (pronounced Red-ing) Terminal Market, munching on muffins / sipping lattes at sidewalk cafes, and walking down the sidewalk eating soft Philly pretzels. Or at least that’s what I pictured. Stephen probably pictured stuffing ourselves silly on a Philly cheesesteak tasting tour.

Mother nature decided to give us a giant wet willy and disrupt both of our plans.

Cowering in the wake of her wrath, we attempted to not crash Lou Ellen, shook our fists at the cloudy skies then apologized just in case, watched our umbrellas flip inside out as we dodged sidewalk puddles and other tourists, ran into a going-out-of-business sale at Borders just because, grabbed two puny, sorry cheesesteaks wit’ onions from touristy Pat’s and even more touristy Geno’s (they both lacked good, fatty meat; the bread was sub-par and dry from Pat’s and there was too little cheese at Geno’s; both were under-seasoned) and drank Yards with one of Stephen’s oldest friends at Devon’s on Rittenhouse Square. It was a perfect day.

On the traffic-clogged, rain-soaked road home, we passed beautiful, broken down, most likely on the verge of bankruptcy farms. (Though a movement to protect small New Jersey farms is gathering steam, it still has a long way to go; to date, 33 farms and thousands of acres have been preserved). I wanted to move in to the white one with the blue shutters and the barn with the collapsed roof, have babies, buy goats, make cheese. We also passed countless shabby, gray strip malls; gleaming diners with flashing, neon signs; minivans crammed with laughing children and shiny, animated accouterments; silent, frowning elderly couples; teenagers with sunglasses and cigarettes.

I wondered what the crank’s life outside the bar is like. If she, too, takes road trips to Philly and laughs with her husband. I worried that the teenagers would turn into life-long smokers and that sunglasses weren’t helping their driving skills in the rain; I wondered if Stephen and I would stop having things to talk about; I thought about those farms, and hoped that young families still lived there, and that none of them would turn into strip malls or gleaming diners.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a billboard advertising Kraft’s.

Visions of melty, rich Macaroni and Cheese and all of the childhood, teenage and adult dinners I’ve made of it, almost always with others, danced before me as we entered the home stretch on the parkway — and that’s when it hit me. The woman was craving that intangible link that binds everyone together in a protective little web of invincibility. For some reason, she lost the ability to see it, or never learned its secret rhythms and beats; she never passes ads that make her want to call her dead Grandmother and ask her to come over for dinner.

She was the one missing the code, not me; it leaks out in gruff shoulder squeezes, grins on the street between women with toddlers, little shared eyerolls at work and kind words from strangers on the subway when you spill coffee down your brand new shirt; it’s everywhere, for everyone. It’s home.

Traveling, even for a day or two, always makes me crave home. The virtual home I’ve never wanted to flee, no matter how far I go; the little place where my tumultuous thoughts and the idea of my friends and family, living and dead, live. My virtual home often requires certain treats to keep it quiet and sated. They often come in the form of cheese.

When we got to our actual home, late, tired and zonked from driving in torrential downpours, all I wanted to do was make Macaroni and Cheese, but I had to wait until Sunday, because Penelope needed to be walked, and it was more important to stuff my actual head hole with a wedge of plain ol’ Asiago than fiddle around with pleasing my virtual home with vittles requiring roux and bechamel and dicing and chopping.

Below, find a recipe for my favorite super cheesy not too adult Macaroni and Cheese. It’s classic, bad for your cholesterol, good for your soul. There is also a recipe for Lentil and Rice Salad, a staple I started making in various forms with my friend Beth, when we backpacked around Europe together in our 20’s. Enjoy!

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We Just Need To Veg: Asparagus Fried Rice, General Tso’s Tofu Sammies, Chocolate Shortbread Sandwich Cookies

10 Apr

Stephen and Ben, doing important work

It’s time for a Spring cleaning: after a Winter so cold my absurdly pale skin sloughed off in dry, flakey sheets and turned as red as volcanic lava and my arm hair stood permanently on goose-pimply end, all I wanted to do for months was wrap myself in a cocoon of whale blubber and go about my day, clutching a vat of hot cocoa and cursing Zephyrus and Boreas while bargaining with Horae.

But since harvesting a cocoon’s worth of blubber is above my pay grade, I settled for wrapping myself in a cocoon of caveman eats. Generally an omnivore who leans toward vegetarianism, my inner carnivore took control of my appetite this Winter, and ruled with a bloody fist.

Stephen will generally eat what’s put in front of him, but he finally cried “Uncle” a few weeks ago on our meat-heavy fare. After requesting no more beef, I innocently prepared a Baconalia. This week, he clarified: “Please, no more meat. Let’s eat something that didn’t require a trip to the slaughterhouse.”

When I couldn’t talk him into leg of lamb, I relented. And I have to say: it felt (and tasted) good. And after a trip with Ben to the Captain Lawrence brewery and much sampling of their offerings (I highly recommend the Smoked Porter and the Espresso Stout — so much personality and flavor), we also needed a detox.

Deep-fried detox

A Willcox-Repsher detox, by definition, is still indulgent. Click on for our Asparagus Fried Rice, General Tso’s Tofu Sammies and Chocolate Shortbread Sandwich Cookies. NB: The recipes are all a bit daunting-looking, but easy to execute. If you plan ahead, they can be pulled together in about 20 minutes.

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Pork Out: Pork Roast, Baked Beans, Balsamic Glazed Potatoes, Smothered in Bacon

4 Apr

Penny has her doubts about the baconalia.

Stephen and I launched a total baconalia this weekend. I bought two pounds of delicious organic apple-wood smoked pig bellies and decided to smother everything I put in my mouth in the stuff — within reason.

I am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to pig products. Bacon cupcakes a la Robicelli’s, bacon dresses a la Lady Gaga, bacon gumballs, et al will never be part of my oeuvre, though I recognize and appreciate the undistilled chutzpah, imagination and socio-cultural zeitgeisty daring do each of those products represents.

No, I like my bacon with eggs or on the walls of the Metropolitan Museum.

Bacon represents the apotheosis of human achievement: fire, the domestication and humane rearing of animals (happy pigs taste better and I try to buy bacon at farmer’s markets and so should you — get to know your farmers, support local agriculture, do your duty as a member of liberal and civilized society, Alice Waters is the best, at the very least shill out an extra few bucks for organic, humanely raised stuff at Whole Foods, yada, yada, you know the drill), the miracle of curing and preserving meat for long winters, the recognition of the rights of women (seriously! In the twelfth century the phrase “bring home the bacon” was coined after churches in England promised members of their flock an entire side of bacon if they swore that they hadn’t abused or quarreled with their wife for a year and a day; men who “brought home the bacon” were justly praised, fussed over and ballyhooed), the invention of the frying pan and good old-fashioned deliciousness.

And yet, it’s so simple by itself. Why clog it up with buttercream? (Full disclosure: I did once make bacon peanut butter pie. It was delicious and fun and gross and debauched at the same time. Like doing three shots of whiskey in a row on an empty stomach, it’s just bad form and you’ll wake up feeling bad about yourself). A carefully sauteed little rasher tucked into egg sandwich transforms your breakfast experience into a happy land of tweeting cartoon bluebirds, where rendered, oinky fat that tastes like a salty-sweet acorn-scented bit o’ chaw tarts up a bland case of the carb and protein fuel Mondays. Where I’d normally plod, just a lashing of bacon makes me skip, twiddle, grin and gallop toward my day.

I come by my bacon obsession naturally; my dad is a notorious bacon fiend. When I was a kid, my mom would get up at the butt-crack of dawn and start frying up pounds of the stuff before we’d head off for a day of skiing in the winter. She would hastily pile it in the middle of a platter, throw it on the kitchen table and beat a retreat as my father and I descended on it, forks gleaming, eyes flashing and severe and wild remonstrations at the ready should one of us feel we hadn’t gotten our share.

These days, Dad and I swap bacon recipes with the same aura of suppressed hysteria and sacrosanct secrecy that problem gamblers employ when trading tips on horses. I trust his advice implicitly. Below, check out my dad’s recipe (well, really Giada’s recipe) for Bacon-Laced Pork Roast, plus my favorites for Baked Beans and Balsamic Glazed Potatoes. Oh, and Bacon Chutney-Sauce.

Penny doesn't know what she's missing

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