Thursday, November 1, 2012

Moonbelly Archive: C6H12O6

Cooking with Moonbelly: Futuristic Cuisine for Real Americans

Back before the Christ affair or any of that, when they pulled it out the ground in such quantity they knowed not what to do, it tasted bitter and they burnt it in clay dishes and mixed it with blood and fed it to virgins just afore they kilt 'em. With corn it might do, or with spice or little ground seeds or dripped over locusts, but best was with the sugar, dried out and crystals, where you keep it with you in a bag on your belt and lick your finger and dip it and lick it off: this was the thing to do, and too much made you sick. Came where they melted it down and made sticks, then came where they come up with this "milk" (good, they said, for you too), and you could mix it up and wipe your hands in it and near enough get to feeling like you want to spread it all over your chest. Now in every parlor, sealed and sanitized against smudgy fingers and acid-droppers and cyanide, too small for pins and razors, familiar qualities, infinite shelf life: the Fun Size. Amen.

In the eves after All Souls', the wise cook will go to the bins passed over, and will buy at a discount. This is the pure stuff, the minimal food, stripped to its most basic function for aerobic respirers--the provision of glucose, the cheapest fuel to keep us breathing while we go about our evolution. Luckily for us higher types, this supply is available flavored with a variety of contaminants like mint and peanuts and chocolate (with whom we began today), or deftly burnt into caramel, or blown into amazing weird forms like the nougat, the cotton, the marsh-mallow, and the Skittle (from the Aztec xklitl, or "obsidian rainbow").

Halloween is the greatest of harvest festivals because it leaves us with so much that can last so long. Thanksgiving, with its sad old birdflesh and root vegetables, hardly lasts a week before the rot starts creeping in. Hell, you can hardly call that "leftovers" at all. But Halloween, you can keep what's left all the way till next year, or the next, assuming you don't get hungry in the meanwhile. You've plenty of time, so first set some out to dry:

Choc Jerky

These little numbers are handy for when you want chocolate experience without chocolate mess. Good for stirring coffee, crumbling over cereal, or putting in pockets.

Ingredients:

  • Several Fun Size chocolate bars, race unimportant, sliced lengthwise into long strips.

Procedure:

  1. Place the strips on a rack or screen, and place this in turn onto a plate. Loosely cover the plate with a bowl or glass bell.
  2. Place the whole arrangement in a cool, dry, insect-free environment.
  3. Wait several months, periodically checking on the progress of the drying.
  4. When strips are well desiccated, the chocolate should look powdery, and the strips should snap rather than bend under pressure. 
(Note--you can speed up the process by first rubbing the strips with coarse Kosher salt, but you may in this case sacrifice flavor for convenience.)

Smarty Loaf

Smarties are hard to figure. They're always left in great quantity at the bottom of the trick-or-treat bowl, and their rigid crystalline structure makes them a hassle to cook with. This recipe forces them into submission while preserving their "fruity" essence.

Ingredients:

  • 150-200 Smarties
  • 2 Tbsp. light vegetable oil
  • 2 c. uncooked white rice
  • 4 c. water
  • 1/2 c. syrup (corn, maple, molasses, etc.)
  • 6 breakfast sausage links

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Toss the smarties with the oil until they're thoroughly coated, and set them aside.
  2. Slice the breakfast links into roughly Smarty-sized pieces.
  3. In a 2-qt. casserole, combine the rice, water, syrup, and link bits. Add the Smarties and oil, and stir the mixture.
  4. Bake for 40-50 minutes. When the water's gone and the rice is done, the loaf is ready. Serve in slices.

GeoTwix-n-Snickers Milanesa

This delicious series of flavor layers looks like something made of rock.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag Fun Size Twix bars, unwrapped
  • 1 bag Fun Size Snickers bars, unwrapped
  • 1 box lasagna noodles
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 bag mini-marshmallows

Procedure:

  1. Set a pot of water aboil. Preheat oven to 350° F. Cook the lasagna noodles as directed on the box.
  2. Grease a 9"x 12" baking pan with butter. Lay out a layer of lasagna noodles. Next place a layer of one type of bar, then another of the other bar, then another or noodles, and so on, so that you end with a noodle layer.
  3. Spread a layer of marshmallows on top of everything. Fill any gaps you see between container and content with the remaining marshmallows.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes or until the marshmallows liquefy and bubble. Remove from oven and chill in refrigerator. Display elegantly upon service.

Friday, May 4, 2012

brussels sprouts and zucchini with porchetta

I don't have a photo, but this was super tasty and easy. I made it in a pan on the grill while the meat sat on the other side.

A bag of brussels sprouts, stemmed and halved
Two zucchini, rough dice
A small white onion, rough dice
1-2 oz porchetta or other cured swine, chopped (Pancetta! Guanciale!)

Put all of this in a big bowl, toss with olive oil, s&p, and red pepper flakes. Cook on high heat in a covered saute pan for about 10 minutes, tossing every now and then. Uncover and cook a little more, for color. Yum.

Monday, November 21, 2011

fresh spinach casserole with goat cheese and mushroom cream

The casserole is the Eisenhower era's most persistent contribution to our culinary technology. If it involves more than a little bit of family--at births, deaths, Thanksgivings, Xmases--it involves casserole. But just because the casserole is traditionally built around the kinds of ingredients you'd find in the backyard fallout shelter doesn't mean it is a genre without merit, a point Faith Durand makes convincingly in her cookbook Not Your Mother's Casseroles, and over at Apartment Therapy's cooking unit, The Kitchn. I definitely lifted some ideas here from her way of doing things, but I thought the lack of spinach casserole was a glaring omission from that book. 


Anyway, inspired by this season of bland foods and Pyrex, and in possession of several cubic feet of baby spinach, I set out to make a spinach casserole that would get grandma's version banished from the holiday table. (A metaphorical grandma, since I never met either of mine, and in any case neither one probably got much fancier than a dash of salt for the potatoes and a Yorkshire pud on holidays.) The traditional fallout shelter way to do things is to thaw some blocks of frozen spinach, mix in canned condensed cream of mushroom soup and a block of cream cheese, season it if you're lucky, glop the whole thing in a 9x13" baking dish, and top it with canned fried onions for textural contrast and a last, desperate, ultimately futile bid for flavor. Bake 45 mins at 350.


Okay, so the bones of the recipe are there: spinach, mushroomy salty creamy stuff, cheesy creamy stuff, crispiness on top, and flavor hopefully somewhere in the middle. This was my vow: for my version, everything must be fresh. I would open no can, I would thaw no vegetable, nothing would crunch that I hadn't crunchified myself. And god would smile upon it, and it would fucking rule.


First, the spinach 
I don't know exactly how much I started with. It was a big bag from Stanley's, like 18" square and four inches thick. Took up a whole shelf in the fridge, which is really why I decided to make this. Two pounds, maybe? I diced and sweated a couple of small onions in butter, then a shallot, then a bunch of garlic and some vermouth. While that reduced to almost nothing, I coarsely chopped the spinach and added it in shifts until the whole mess cooked down to about two quarts, then drained it. (I probably should have drained it a little better than I did, but I was excited.)


Most nights this would have been a fine place to stop. But this wasn't just any night. I put it aside while this next business happened.


Chanterelle cream 
Next thing was to figure out some analogue to the vegetable casserole's essential precursor, Campbell's canned condensed Cream of Mushroom soup. I had some beautiful chanterelles on hand, so I started there. This is what two ounces or so looks like.


Chopped them, sauteed them with some coarse chopped garlic over fairly low heat in butter and olive oil until I got a nice fragrance going. Then I added 10 oz of buttermilk (for tangy jab) and 2 oz of heavy cream (for butterfat bodyblow) and let it cook down a bit. Then all of this went into the spinach mix, now over low heat again, along with 5-6 oz--half of one of the big logs--of room temperature chèvre (for cheesy goatiness and accent-gravitude), and was stirred till it all combined. Hard to keep the passive voice going for so long but it seems to have to have been done. 


I think chanterelles might actually have been a little milder than what I had in mind. The pieces tasted delicious when you got one, but didn't let out as much mushroomy flavor into the cream as I'd hoped. Something a little darker and more robust, like porcini or shiitake, possibly reconstituted dried ones, might have worked a little better. Here's how things looked in the pan, post mushroom cream, pre chèvre. 



(Wow these photos suck. That's creaminess, not glare.) Next, of course, glop it into Pyrex and bake it at 350 for 30 mins or so. While that's happening, process ye some bread crumbs out of a couple of stale slices of bread you thought to cut up and leave sitting out for a few hours. Toast about 1/2c of them in a pan with a little butter and some salt and pepper, and then when the casserole is done with its first 30 minutes, sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and cook it for about 15 more. I gauged ultimate doneness based on how the liquid looked from the side. When the spinach seemed to be wading in a tidal zone, rather than drowning in cream up to its neck, I called it ready.

With a nice pork chop, it was grand, and technically this is a vegetarian dish that you can feel just fine about. I really should learn to take some pictures that make things look as good as they taste, because this was one of the best things I've made in a long time.


11/29/11 update: Made it again, using 6 oz of portabellas and a couple of tablespoons of flour in the cream, and a little better draining of the spinach, and sourdough for the breadcrumbs, and that fixed what little was wrong with it first time around. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

potatoes de cheddar de beer

[This is Phil's recipe and boner commentary, but he was too lazy to post it himself. He seems to have a thing for potatoes.]


5-6 potatoes, better to have waxy but I used small russet, peeled and cut into 1- or 2-inch chunks
small onion or big shallot, minced

3 tbs olive oil in a deep skillet, then potatoes over med-high for about 10 mins until they start to brown and stick, then onion/shallot for another couple of minutes, then enough beer to barely cover.


Boil, then set to simmer. Don't let it dry out; add beer as necessary. (I used Mama's Little Yella Pils, about 1.5 cans after all was said and did.)

1 c. grated cheddar, or mix of thereof with aged Gouda
2 tbs flour, mixed with cheese

After about 25 minutes of braising, add a little more beer and left it boilubble again, then add cheese/flour mix.


Let the cheese melt, get a boner, add some chopped parsley and continue having massive burnt cheese boner, eat, have sex with pan, die happy. Mix should be pretty saucy, but not quite like a fondue.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

roasted butternut squash poblano soup

Fall for sure, so orange-fleshed squashes. This was the way to ring it all in. Everybody was impressed, so I guess I need to get this one down before I forget it.

1 butternut squash
2-3 small poblano peppers
2 small onions
1 shallot
2 carrots, peeled
2 ribs celery
6c chicken stock
~1c sherry or marsala
buttermilk 
heavy cream
fresh sage leaves
s&p

Preheat oven to 375. Peel, half, and seed the squash and cut to roughly 1" cubes. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and spread it evenly on one or two sheet pans. Roast till you can easily cut it with a fork, about 25 minutes. 

Meanwhile, roast the poblanos over a stove burner until the skin is black and blistering (or else rub them with oil and roast in the oven along with the squash until the skin is blistering). Put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to let it finish the job. When you're partway through doing some of the other stuff below, skin and seed the peppers and chop to roughly 1/2".

Dice the onions and shallot and carrot and celery fairly small. In a heavy pan, get some oil going over medium heat and start with the onions, then the shallots, then the carrot and celery, seasoning as you go. Deglaze with a goodly amount of sherry or marsala, and cook this all down for long enough to let the alcohol burn off. Add the squash, peppers, and stock and bring to a gentle boil. 

Simmer till the carrots are pliable, then use an immersion blender to make it all pretty smooth. Check seasonings, which will probably be fucked by all the new vegetable matter and sugar freed in the last few steps. Add a cup or so of buttermilk, and a glug or so of cream. Chop several tablespoons of sage fairly fine and add to the soup. Wait a few minutes and check seasonings again. 

For a garnish/finish I reduced some port and cream together and made pretty patterns on top, but I have since have thought of a few different ways to go in a fantasy cooking world, many of which I probably couldn't even execute: a salty walnut maple brittle, or diced apple sauteed with smoked bacon, or nuts and apples together in baconfat, or maybe even mushroom something or other, or something using the squash seeds to be all snout-to-tail about it. Smoky, tart, savory, leafy, nutty, forest-floory is the palette I'm thinking of. Lightly salted port cream actually worked pretty well for that, after all. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

ten-minute marinara

Just as Master J's Bari-bought pumpkin gnocchi went into the water tonight, I realized we only had puttanesca, which would be revolting, so I had to scramble. Ten minutes later we had this. Surprisingly good for something pulled out of thin air.

Having generally relied on restaurants or jars for my red sauce needs, I know nothing about the real way to make Italian sauces. But I'd always been under the impression it was supposed to involve at least one person who had little choice in the matter, due to gender, state of imprisonment, or physical handicap, sitting there stirring all day long. But perhaps Scorsese movies provide an incomplete view of Italian cuisine. Since it relies on new world fruits and Portuguese wine and was prepared by an Irish, I have no cause to act like this sauce is remotely Italian anyway. It's just a nice and quick and red sauce that pleases somewhat finicky children and their parents too.

(makes about a quart)
a small onion, finely diced
some garlic, coarsely chopped
two 14 oz cans of some kind of tomatoes, plain as can be
madeira wine
olive oil
s&p
red pepper flakes
dried oregano

In something powerful, puree the tomatoes along with another half cup or so of water. Heat several tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat, add the onions and cook until clear, then throw in the garlic, salting and peppering as you go. When you can smell the garlic, add some pepper flakes and oregano, whatever seems right to you. I went lighter on both in deference to the toddlish palate. Once the oregano is pungent after about a minute, half a cup or so of madeira or port or another wine along those lines. (Don't worry, you're going to cook off the alcohol, but I suppose this ingredient could be optional.) Reduce by half, then add the tomato puree. Keep it moving. Season it. Cook it down for a few minutes, things brighten up, and Bob's your uncle.

Monday, September 26, 2011

pickling is the new knitting

Well, not just pickling, but "putting-by" generally--canning, jellying, jarring, jamming, curing, root-cellaring, all of it. It never really went away, but it's new to us in the urban middle class, and I think it must have to do with CSAs bringing huge masses of fresh and perishable foods to us week after week.

A friend lent me a 1973 hardcover edition of Hertzberg, Vaughan, and Greene's Putting Food By, which seems to be underwritten by the USDA and FDA. The early chapters have instilled in me a great terror of microbial contamination that I feel like I should probably read all of, but I've paged through and there's some good stuff later on about storing carrots and apples under blankets in the yard to keep them good through the winter, and even building your own cold-war era root cellar in a corner of the basement. I'm looking forward to some serious cross-seasonal preservation.

So far all I've done is quick-pickle some onions and radishes under what I'm sure are grievously hazardous conditions, but nothing bad has happened so far, and some damn good cole slaw has resulted. Anyway, that's the planned new direction for this fall and winter.