December 26, 2017

Eggnog Milkshake

Desolate winter snowscapes: the cause of adding booze to
things for roughly 1000 years.
Eggnog, it's commonly believed, was derived from a British drink popular in the middle ages called Posset. It is a classic British recipe consisting of taking stuff that doesn't have alcohol in it, and throwing some alcohol in it because it was Britain and the middle ages, and life wasn't especially worth living unless you were drunk enough to forget those things. Some people have theorized that alcohol was added in to preserve the drink and prevent people from getting sick. This is technically possible, but seems to be crediting a fair amount of scientific and medical knowledge to a group of people who literally used to bore holes in to each other's skulls to try and cure migraines. A more likely scenario is that alcohol was added to proto-eggnog in order to give people something to look forward to during the year so that they could better cope with the constant ridiculous insanity of their daily lives. It's used for pretty much the same purpose today. Adding ice cream and making it into a milkshake helps too.

Ingredients:

1 Cup Eggnog
1 Cup Vanilla Ice Cream (You want to get a decent vanilla ice cream here. The sort of vanilla that makes you think "delicious" instead of "boring.")
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
1.5 TBSP Sugar
1/4 tsp Allspice
Cinnamon
Nutmeg
Whiskey!

So the first thing you're gonna need to do is find some eggnog. You can make it yourself, steal it, or buy it from a store. Homemade stuff will probably have a somewhat richer flavor and consistency, but we're mixing this with spices and ice cream, so it doesn't make that much of a difference. Though I've heard that eggnog won is twice as sweet as eggnog earned, so if you see any contests with an eggnog prize they might be worth entering. In any case, take your eggnog and toss in your allspice and cinnamon. If you want the best cinnamon flavor you can get, take some cinnamon sticks and throw them in a saucepan with your nog while heating it (Gently heating it. It's got dairy and eggs in it, neither of which you want curdling) for 20-30 minutes, and then let the mixture cool completely. If you have better things to do than spend upwards of an hour teasing out the the best flavor from your cinnamon, just add in half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and call it a day. Sure, it won't taste quite as deliciously cinnamon-y, but again: we're mixing this with ice cream and whiskey. Take your spiced nog and throw it in your fridge while you whip up your cream. 

Alcohol, ice cream, and eggnog. That'll hold you over until
it's warm outside again.
Take your cream, sugar, and a small sprinkling of nutmeg, and whip that nonsense together until it forms a thick and delicious cream. This should take about 5 minutes, or roughly until your arm has wanted to fall of for a minute and a half. Now it's time to talk about whiskey. Traditionally (at least in the USA), bourbon is added to eggnog. Personally, I think that Irish Whiskey has a much better flavor for a drink like this, but feel free to experiment. There are no wrong answers with whiskey (there are so many wrong answers with whiskey. Evan Williams happens to be one.) As for how much of it to use, you can really add in as much or as little as you'd like. It's just about personal taste and your specific level of alcoholism and depression. Personally, I like it when the whiskey is one flavor that melds with the other flavors in the eggnog to make something new and awesome. That's about 2 TBSP of whiskey in this recipe. But if you drink eggnog more to forget the pains of all the times that Santa wronged you than to drink delicious drinks, feel free to up that to 2 liters, or whatever amount of whiskey soothes the violent raging storm in your soul. Then add your whipped cream on top and maybe some sprinkles because sprinkles are fun, especially when alcohol is involved, and maybe I've already had a few. Enjoy! 

December 19, 2017

Spiced Hot Chocolate

There's nothing like a pyramid for some good old-fashioned
religious ceremony, sacrifice, and chocolate
Chocolate is pretty ubiquitous. You pretty much can't go to any store without finding enough of the stuff to choke an oompa-loompa to death. This wasn't always the case. The Aztecs used to use cocoa beans as a currency, and would drink a bitter hot chocolate mixed with chiles, spices, and vanilla for religious events which, since they were Aztecs, meant weddings and human sacrifices. Fun times. Then the Spanish came "liberated" Mesoamerica from its owners and "civilized" the inhabitants by introducing modern inventions like steel and gunpowder, often at very rapid rates. They brought chocolate back with them to Spain where it slowly gained popularity despite tasting like hot garbage because nobody had thought to add milk or sugar to it yet. The Spanish did make some changes to the recipe though. They added whale vomit. Seriously, they totally did. Sure, the Aztecs had just lost an empire, but watching the Spanish choke that down had to have brought some smiles to their faces.

Ingredients:

2 cups Whole Milk
1.25 cups Heavy Cream
1/2 cup Sugar
6 oz. Dark Chocolate (I used chocolate chips, but bars or whatever are fine. Just break them up into small chunks before using them)
5 Cardamom Pods
2 Star Anise Pods
2 Cinnamon Sticks
1 Serrano Pepper
1/4 tsp Allspice
1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/8 tsp Ground Ginger
Nutmeg
Salt

So this is kind of a blending of some modern hot chocolate sensibilities combined with some flavors reminiscent of the original, more human-sacrificy version. Spices and flavor galore, but also creaminess and some sweetness, and probably no whale vomit. So get started by slicing your serrano pepper in half and removing the seeds. Then throw it in a pot along with your milk and 1/4 cup of your cream. Add in your cardamom, anise, vanilla, cinnamon, half your allspice, and half of your sugar and crank that sucker up to medium. Now it's times to deal with the nutmeg. Nutmeg is one of those things that tastes awesome as long as you don't use enough of it for anybody to be able to tell that it's in there. Otherwise it just kind of tries to overpower everything else and ruins the whole party, kind of like you when you're drunk. So add a tiny little sprinkling of nutmeg to your milk. Just enough that you can see it floating there before you stir it together. Once your sugar is dissolved, turn the heat off and let that sucker sit for about 20 minutes or so. We in the "sitting around and doing nothing for 20 minutes" game call this "steeping." While you're steeping, feel free to start making your whipped cream. Take a bowl and toss in your remaining cream, sugar, and allspice, along with your ginger. Then take a whisk and stir it around until if forms whipped cream and your arm hurts bad enough that you wish you could just take it out on somebody by sacrificing them to the gods. Careful though. If you whip your cream too much it will turn in to butter, which totally sounds like a punishment from the gods for insufficient sacrifices to me. 

Sure, you don't have to put in so much whipped cream that
it starts to drip down the side. Joy isn't mandatory.
Once your whipped cream is made and you're good and steeped, turn your heat back up to medium and add your chocolate in to the milk and spice mixture along with an oompa-loompa sized pinch of salt. Stir that sucker pretty continuously until your chocolate melts and the whole thing looks and smells incredible. Turn off the heat and strain out the various peppers and pods from the liquid. Or don't bother with any straining, and just be careful when you drink it. Either way. Just don't blame me if a small liquorice-flavored starfish gets lodged in your esophagus. Anyhow, put your chocolatey goodness into a cup, top it off with your whipped cream, and enjoy! It's sweet, but not too sweet, and just kind of awesome in every way. You're welcome. This recipe should make two good sized cups of hot chocolate, which is perfect because it's totally a drink that you should share with a friend or loved one. And if you don't have a friend or loved one, now you have an extra cup of hot chocolate to drown your lonely lonely sorrows in. Happy Holidays!

December 12, 2017

Mulled Wine

Any work of fiction that has castles and horses
counts as medieval Europe. That's the law.
Well, it's official. There's snow on the ground in Chicago. I know that's not much of a shocker. It's kind of like saying that water is wet, or that a Oscar winning movie is disappointing, but it's still pretty momentous for me. I spent six years living in LA, where they think that snow is a myth believed only by credulous savages who haven't even done a juice cleanse this month. Seeing snowfall again has been calming, good for my soul, and cold. Like, really cold. Literally freezing. So now it's time to come up with ways to warm myself up and pretend like I'm somewhere else, anywhere else, where I don't have to shovel anything and my face doesn't hurt from being outside. Medieval Europe sounds about right. Nothing says "comfort and tranquility" like a drink popularized when people regularly died from getting run over by a horse.

Ingredients:

1 bottle Red Wine (I used a cabernet sauvignon that has a fair amount of sweetness in it, but follow your alcoholic heart and/or liver! If you're using something aggressively dry though, add in a tablespoon of honey to the rest of the ingredients)
12 Cloves
6 Cardamom Pods
4 Cinnamon Sticks
1/2 an Orange
Ginger

So mulled wine, as far as I can tell, was developed by the Romans back when they were conquering all the parts of the world that they were aware of. They liked wine, and brought it with them to the north because what sober person is going to go to war in the snow while wearing sandals? It seems like every European country has their own fiercely exclusive version of mulled wine, most of which are almost exactly the same. This is an amalgamation of what seemed best from all of those versions. So the first thing to do is open your bottle of wine and carelessly dump it in a pot. Then peel some ginger and slice off 2 1/2 inch thick wedges. If you like things more or less gingery I won't stop you from messing with this amount, just remember that this is about a balance of flavors, and that you've ruined it all and made an inferior version for yourself. Next slice the peel off of your orange half. Try to get as little of the white pith in with your peel as possible, because it (the pith) is bitter, and who needs that in their life? Toss your peel into the wine along with your ginger. Now for the rest of your ingredients you've got some options. You can just throw them in, but then you'll have to deal with the annoyance of straining them out later. Another way to go is to toss them in a spice bag or some cheesecloth, tie it off, and then just toss the resulting spice sack in your wine. Either way, crank your heat all the way up to a gentleman's...low.

Seriously, if I didn't have work I'd just sit home and sip
this all day. I considered calling in sick.
So here's the thing about alcohol. It evaporates pretty easily, which is exactly what it's going to do if you heat up your mulled wine too much. But you need the heat to extract flavor our of your spices and whatnot. It's a fine balancing act that's kind of a pain for a couple minutes, but totally worth it in the end. Let your wine stew for about 20 minutes, being careful not to let it boil. If you've got to take it off of the fire for a couple minutes here and there to achieve that, then so be it. Sure, you probably have other things you could be doing, but let's be honest: you weren't going to use that time productively anyway, and it's totally worth 20 minutes of your time to make a warm, delicious, alcoholic drink that kind of effervesces on your tongue with a crazy and awesome balance of spices. After that it's pretty simple. Pour it in to a cup, with optional garnishes like a cinnamon stick or a twist of orange peel, and then sip it slowly while brooding in your castle and contemplating the state of your fiefdom. Enjoy, and tune in next week when we continue Drinkcember with even more beverage goodness!



December 5, 2017

Cinnamon Schnapps

Trained actor depicted. Don't actually buy
store-bought schnapps
Well, it's official. The weather is finally starting to get colder. As of today that is, because it was 60 stupid degrees in Chicago yesterday. In December. And don't get me wrong, 60 degrees feels nice. But one of the main reasons I left LA, aside from getting away from the unnecessary levels of cilantro on everything and the overpowering stench of palm trees, was to maybe see snow again at some point in my life. You know, in person and not just added into a movie with CGI. So far that plan hasn't really worked out. Last year's winter in Chicago was pretty tame, and the only real snowfall came when I was out of town (because apparently I wronged the god of irony), but I've got high hopes for this year. Of course I've also been enduring an endless stream of possibly well-meaning acquaintances and doom-sayers taunting me about how this will be my first real winter in years, and how I'm obviously going to freeze to death because I'm no longer acclimated to the cold. Fortunately some delicious cinnamon schnapps really helps me make it through the long nights of dealing with those idiots.

Ingredients:

1 bottle Vodka
at least 10 Cinnamon Sticks
Water
Sugar

The first thing you're gonna need to do is buy some vodka. Now some of you may have discerned my personal feelings on things like vodka in general, but we're flavoring this sucker. I wasn't about to waste some good whisky on this, and anyway we need alcohol without any strong flavor of its own. So now we need to actually choose which vodka to buy, and there are a dauntingly high number of vodka brands at astonishingly different price points. From what I've been able to gather, Vodka is the main export of pretty much every eastern european nation, which explains a lot really. Again, we're flavoring this, so don't go crazy expensive with it. Just avoid any obvious garbage brands with names like "Alex's Upscale and Legitimate Vodka Product." You should be paying roughly 12-18 dollars for a bottle, so let that be your guide. Once you've picked out your vodka, pour out a shot of it and either consume it or throw it down the drain to try and get your drain-goblins good and drunk. Either way, fill up that empty space in your bottle with about 7 cinnamon sticks. Close the bottle back up and let it sit for a week, shaking it up every day or two. 

Seriously, which of these would you rather drink? I rest my
case. Regular vodka is for suckers. 
Now you've got cinnamon vodka, which is already better than regular vodka in pretty much every perceivable way, but we're not quite done yet. Take equal amounts of sugar and water and bring them to a boil along with some cinnamon sticks. About 3 sticks should do it for every cup of sugar you've got going. Let that sucker boil for about 5 minutes, and then let it cool completely. Now it's time to emulate our favorite mad scientists, and just mix together the various liquids we have lying around the house. Mix together a solution of about 2/3 cinnamon vodka and 1/3 cinnamon sugar syrup. The result is going to be super cinnamon-y, a little sweet, and a whole lot of deliciously awesome. Bring it to parties, drink it with friends on cold nights, or use it as a libation during your saturnalia celebration. Or all of the above. Happy alcoholism!

November 29, 2017

Whole Wheat French Bread

Artist's depiction: The French Revolution
The French have given us a great many things over the years. Canning, the guillotine, cartoon skunks that borderline sexually assault cats. The list goes on and on. But as much as we in our modern society enjoy of all of these French wonders (like eating snails, and defending the eating of snails), none of them are quite as iconic and delicious as french bread. Which makes sense. What's not to love? It's a stick of delicious crusty bread that you can choose to eat immediately, save for later, or brandish as a weapon. That's pretty much the American dream right there. Which makes this the second time that the French have helped facilitate it, and this time Benjamin Franklin didn't even need to get syphilis.

Ingredients:

3 cups Whole Wheat Flour
1.25 cups Warm Water (Most internet sources say your warm water should be about 110 degrees. That's great if you want to set up a candy thermometer in a pot of water and cook it while meticulously watching it to make sure you reach your ideal temperature. Or you could use hot water from the faucet, which on average is between 105 and 115 degrees. Your call)
1 TBSP Honey
1/4 oz. Active Dry Yeast (That's one packet. Or about 2.25 teaspoons for the packetless among you)
Salt
Oil
Corn Meal
More flour. All the flour.
An optional Egg White

So, at this point we're going to have to come to terms with the fact that this is indeed a whole wheat recipe. *Gasp. I know. Sure, the name of the post could have warned you about this and saved you some shock, but let's not get bogged down on who should have read what and when. The fact is that while modern french bread is probably rooted in Napoleon's regulation of the baking industry, the reason that he did that was to prevent the dissatisfaction the lower classes previously had about being not being allowed white flour. Also I have a giant bag of whole wheat flour I need to use up. So shut it. Anyway, stir together your yeast, water, and honey, and let them sit together for about 10 minutes. When you come back to check on them, they should be kind of frothy. It's actually pretty cool to watch this happen, but I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you have better things to do for 10 minutes than watch a bunch of yeast belching. Most (Seemingly all) online recipes use the exact same phrase for the next part. "In a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment..." Yeah, we're not doing that. You know what they had before stand mixers? Hands. That's what. You know what they had before "dough hook attachments?" Big wooden spoons that they also used to hit slackers with. It was a magical time. Once you're done fantasizing about all of the people you'd hit with a wooden spoon if it was socially acceptable, stir two big pinches of salt into your gassy yeast, followed by your 3 cups of flour. Stir the crap out of it until it forms into a dough that doesn't cling to the sides of your bowl. If you need to, add more flour to achieve this.

Best served as far away from people eating snails as possible
Now you need to knead your dough (That sentence was even more ridiculous before revisions). Flour some flat surface in your home that you don't mind getting covered in flour, and plop your dough ball down on it. Press it down, stretch it, and fold it in half. Repeat, adding more flour as necessary, for about 8 minutes, or until your hand starts to hurt and your brain goes numb. Throw it in a greased up bowl and store it in a warm place so the dough can rise. Give it at least an hour for this, then punch it down so that it doesn't get snooty from all of the gas it created (a lot of the issues that people have with the French comes from them having not been properly punched down) and form it into a log. Throw some corn meal down on a baking pan and plop your dough log onto it. If you want to get fancy, take a sharp knife and slice the top of it diagonally 3 or four times (evenly spaced out). Let it sit for about 10 more minutes to puff up a little bit more before throwing it in the oven. If you want to get even fancier, brush some egg white over the top of the dough. In any case, after your 10 minutes, throw that sucker in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes. If you want to get your bread extra crusty, throw a couple ice cubes in the oven right before you close it. They say that when french bread is done it should sound hollow. I don't know if that's true, but I do know that if you grab bread out of a 375 degree oven to see how it "sounds," you'll probably burn your hands and/or ears. Happy baking!


November 21, 2017

Stuffing Muffins

It doesn't matter if you know the muffin man. It matters
that he knows himself.
Thanksgiving times are upon us, which means that it's time to break out the most treasured of all holiday traditions: lying to each other about how good the food is. Because let's be honest here. A lot of classic Thanksgiving food is somewhere between unimpressive and super gross. You've got marshmallows melted on to overcooked yams, green bean casserole that pretty much comes out of a can, and usually some stuffing that amounts to dried out crusty bits of bread loosely held together by a mass of onions and disappointment. Which is a shame, because it really isn't that hard to make some delicious stuffing. And I should know, because I made some this morning. The whole process took about 45 minutes from start to finish, and at no point did I feel like my mouth had turned into a desert fortress from which escape is impossible, which isn't always the case with stuffing. Making it into individual muffins is a fun twist that makes everything self-contained and helps ensure that everybody actually gets some. Also it'll help you deceive your friends and family into thinking that you're creative and whimsical.

Ingredients:

Approx. 8 Cups of Bread (You've got some decent leeway here. Use something hearty, but really whatever bread makes you happy. Tear it into chunks, throw 8 cups of them in there, and be merry)
2 Eggs 
4 Crimini Mushrooms
3 ribs Celery
1 standard-issue Onion
1.5 TBSP chopped Parsley
2 tsp rubbed Sage
1 tsp dried Thyme
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
Salt 
Oil
Water

The first thing you're gonna need to do is learn to ignore people. Because undoubtedly there are already people constructing angrily worded letters about how stuffing is only "real" if it's stuffed into a turkey, and that otherwise you should call it "dressing." It's easy to get angry or annoyed with these people, but remember that they serve an important role in the evolution of our species. Without having obviously terrible people to be a focus for our communal rage and disgust, those feelings would fester and eventually turn into something negative, like dysentery or a world war. Once you've blocked out the voices, it's time to grab your bread. A lot of stuffing recipes start off by having you toast the bread to dry it out. We're not doing that. We're doing the opposite of that. Moisten your bread with a little bit of water until it starts sticking together just a little bit, and set it aside. You don't want it to be soaked and gloppy, so be careful with it.

Just look at those things. I can practically hear a drunk uncle
ruining a pleasant family moment already.
Now dice your onion and sauté it over medium heat along with an average sized human's pinch of salt. Let it cook down for about a minute. You can use that minute to chop up your celery, because now it's time to add it in with the onions and cook them for another 2-3 minutes. Then choppity chop up your mushrooms and add them in along with your thyme, black pepper, and another pinch of salt. It should take about 2 minutes for some of the moisture to cook out of the mushrooms and for the whole thing to start smelling crazy good. Take your vegetable mixture and stir it into your bread along with your parsley, eggs, and one final pinch of salt. Buy or steal a standard muffin pan and grease up the cups before filling them with your bread and vegetable mixture. Pack it in there and try to overstuff them a little bit if you can (you can). Throw those suckers into a 375 degree oven and let them cook for 15-20 minutes, until they start to get a little crispy on top and your entire home smells like condensed holiday awesomeness. Then take them out of the oven, take them out of the pan, and serve them. Or make them ahead of time in which case wait until your actual meal, heat them up, and then serve them. Bonus points if you don't make up an obnoxious cutesy name for them like "stuffins." Happy holidays!

November 14, 2017

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Rosemary, taking a selfie with some potatoes
So it's official. It's getting dark early, the air is getting colder, and people have begun to talk about "the holiday season." It's truly the end of times. All that we can do now is wait it out until the sun stops ignoring us and starts being cool again. You know, for about a week until the unbearable heat and humidity of summer. But that's a problem for future us, and those jerks probably have it coming, so let's focus on what's important: making a good all-purpose side dish that's tasty and hearty enough to satisfy us while we're huddling for protection from the cold and darkness outside. Which means delicious potatoes, at least to me. A lot of historians believe that if this technology had fallen into the hands of Ivan The Terrible, we'd all be speaking Russian right now. Or whatever proto-Russian they spoke back in the 16th century. So use with caution.

Ingredients:

2 lb. Potatoes (I don't know if you've noticed, but there are a lot of different kinds of potatoes, with more mutant varieties popping up in stores every week. Potato farmers need to just stop and get a life. Anyhow, any potato with a thin skin like red or white potatoes should be fine)
4 Cloves Garlic
3 TBSP Olive Oil
1.5 TBSP Chopped Rosemary (Don't buy chopped Rosemary. That's not even a thing. Buy Rosemary, chop it, and once it's chopped measure out one and a half tablespoons)
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
Salt

So full disclosure: this recipe is going to take almost an hour and a half to make from start to finish. If you don't have that kind of time, just get a store-bought can of potatoes and eat them cold while thinking about how incredibly important the things you've chosen to spend your time on are. Everybody else is gonna start by choppity-chop-chopping their garlic and rosemary down to size, which seriously represents like 50% of the work involved in this recipe. Throw your tiny bits of garlic and rosemary into a ziploc bag (Sorry, I forgot to act like Chopped and pretend that brand-names don't exist. Put them into a resealable zip-top storage bag) along with your oil, pepper, and salt. How much salt? Well, potatoes tend to need a lot of salt to taste like anything at all, so don't be stingy. I'd say throw in two large person's pinches of salt. For the frantic measurers out there, about 1.5 teaspoons. Chop your potatoes into wedges (Pro-tip: if they're all about the same size, they'll all cook in the same amount of time. If they're not, your life will be full of regret and sadness), and throw them in there as well.

If you're snowed in, just make these potatoes. Neighbors will
smell them, and dig through the snow to get to deliciousness.
Tradition says that you mix all these things together in a bowl, not a bag. But one of the oldest traditions is to not eat if your food can outrun you, so maybe let's use our brains instead of blindly following what people tell us to do. Seal up your bag and shake around the contents until everything's mixed together and the potatoes are thoroughly coated. Then spread them out onto a sheet pan in as close to a single layer as you can manage, and throw that sucker in a 400 degree oven for about an hour. Check on your potatoes every 20 minutes or so to stir, mix, and otherwise wangjangle them, which will help them brown evenly. Once they start looking crisp and golden and just kind of awesome, take them out. Serve them immediately, by which I mean eat them in your home while taunting the wild bears that are now roaming through your snow-encrusted neighborhood. Good luck out there, and remember that in no way by suggesting that you taunt bears am I trying to ensure that there are more scarce resources left for me. See you next week, possibly!

Artist's Rendition: January

October 31, 2017

Sugar Cookies

Anything can happen on Halloween. From London to Idaho.
It's Halloween time again, full of festivity, cheer, and little kids dressed up in costumes that cost more than the price of all of the candy they'll get from trick or treating. Also angsty teenagers who vandalize people's houses because they're angry that society has deemed them too old to trick or treat. It's a fun time! So make sure to start partaking in the traditional Halloween activities, such as extortion, alcoholism, and protesting Halloween because it was originally a pagan holiday (So was pretty much every other holiday, but let's pretend we don't know about that to help fuel our outrage). And nothing's quite as in the spirit of the holiday as parents freaking out over the contents of the homemade treats that some creepy neighbor gave out, despite the fact that pretty much nobody has ever tampered with Halloween candy. Who are you to deny them this holiday tradition?

Ingredients:

2.75 Cups Flour
1 Chicken Egg (Raw, by preference)
1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Butter (For some reason, there seems to be some sort of holy war concerning butter among people who write recipes. Some people measure it in sticks. Others in cups. Neither of them are willing to admit that the other side exists, never mind how much of one equals the other. Our nation needs some unity and healing. One cup equals two sticks of butter.)
1.5 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 small human's pinch of Salt

Optional Frosting!

The first thing you're gonna need to do is get in the holiday spirit. If you're a strict originalist, you can accomplish this by harvesting your crops, dancing around a bonfire, and carving a turnip. If you're not that odd mix weirdly fascinating and incredibly boring, just drink too much at a party and confess romantic feelings to someone who doesn't reciprocate them. Now you're ready to make some cookies. Start by creaming your sugar and butter (mixing the crap out of them so that the sugar crystals tear into the butter and make little air pockets, for those of you who haven't made my chocolate chip cookies before) in a bowl. Then mix in your egg and vanilla and set it aside. In another bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder, and salt. Then take your dry ingredients and slowly mix them into your wet ingredients. It's best to work in batches so that you can incorporate all of the dry stuff into the wet, and so that flour doesn't fly out of the bowl dousing everything in your kitchen in a fine white powder. This is a pretty thick cookie batter, so for those of you mixing this manually, by the last batch you might need to abandon your whisks and just mix it with your hands despite the very real risk that you may need to lick batter off of your fingers.

Pumpkin sprinkles added to remind you that pumpkins exist.
Once your dough is formed, roll it into balls and put them on a greased up cookie sheet. You should get about 24 out of this recipe. If you're off on that number by one or two it's no big deal. If you're off by 5 or more then re-roll your cookies. If you're off by 10 or more, re-think some major things about how you live your life. Now, personally, I like a big fluffy cookie, so I leave mine as balls. If you prefer a thinner, crispier cookie, flatten them down with a weird gadget you can buy for about 30 bucks. Or, you know, with your thumb which is usually free. In any case, throw those suckers in a 375 degree oven for 10-18 minutes, depending on the thickness of your cookies. Pretty much, about 5 minutes after your house starts to smell delicious, take them out. Make sure to neurotically check on them every couple of minutes to really give them that homemade touch. When they're done, they should just be starting to brown around the edges. Now you've got some delicious homemade cookies to freak out the neighbors! They (the cookies) have got a mild sweetness going that's super awesome for other days, but this is a holiday predicated on threatening your neighbors into giving you sugary treats. So, once your cookies are cool, feel free to douse them in chocolate frosting. And since we've talked a lot about giving these cookies to kids, I'm not going to tell you to add a little bit of bourbon into the frosting. So don't even think about adding in specifically two tablespoons of bourbon into one standard sized can of frosting. See you next week, assuming you haven't been egged into oblivion!


October 26, 2017

Vegetable Stew

Actual stew may or may not disco
Stew evokes strong emotions. Curling up on the couch with a blanket and a good movie. Cold winter nights with warm family gatherings. Hunting people and animals for sport in the woods in Maryland during the winter of '07. You know, hallmark stuff. The point is, that as the life cycle of our planet continues and everything around us dies, nothing beats a good stew to warm our hearts and bellies. And since the cold can make us lethargic which makes it harder to chase after animals, why not make it out of vegetables? I can count on one hand the number of times that a vegetable outran me when I was sober.

Ingredients:

6 Red Potatoes
4 ribs of Celery
3 Carrots
2 Chipotle Peppers
1 Onion
1 Sweet Potato
8 oz. Crimini Mushrooms
28 oz. Marinara
2 cups Vegetable Stock
1 cup chopped Malanga Root (This is a big, dense, starchy root vegetable. It looks weird, but it's got a nice earthy flavor, and is available in most produce stores so stop complaining)
1 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
Salt 
Oil

The first thing you're gonna need to do is channel the spirit of primitive people who tried to stave off the dark and cold of winter by preparing hearty stews in their shabby huts. So, pretty much you last February. Channel the spirit of you. Now that you've got the proper zen going on, chop up your onions, carrots, and celery, and get them sautéing in a pot with some oil and a standard human's pinch of salt. This is a stew, so you're going to want decent sized chunks of everything you're dumping in the pot so that they don't just fall apart. Vegetables, like people, hold up better when there's more of them there, pulling together and building community centers and whatnot. Let that mess cook down for about 4 minutes before adding in your mushrooms along with your chipotles and another pinch of salt. Let it cook for another couple minutes before you peel and chop your sweet potato and malanga and toss them in along with your cumin and black pepper. Your potatoes you can either peel or not depending on your preference, but if you're gonna have the peels stick around you should probably wash them at some point. The same is true for the rest of your vegetables. And, you know, everything else in life.

Actual nice bowl and countertop courtesy of cooking at
other people's houses.
Add in your potatoes along with your marinara and vegetable stock and bring that whole mess to a boil. Then reduce it to low heat, cover it, and let it sit for around an hour and a half while you busy yourself with wintery tasks like mowing the lawn probably, because winter was super mild last year. Then again, weather has taken out a large chunk of this and other countries lately, so you never know. After about a hour and a half of cooking, the malanga will pretty much have disintegrated which will thicken your stew. But if you were looking forward to specific chunks of malanga to eat, because who doesn't look forward to things they've probably never heard of, maybe take it off the heat a little earlier. Either way, you've got a hearty stew to take you through the dreary winter months and into the dreary summer months. Enjoy!

October 18, 2017

Mint Julep

This bridge connecting with Indiana is one of Louisville's top
attractions. That's right, their "attraction" is a way to leave
You know how it is. It's some time around midnight and you're driving around with a friend trying to figure out what to do between the hours when normal people go to sleep, and when you go to sleep. And eventually, after some hemming and hawing, you settle on the obvious choice. You drive to Kentucky. At least that's what happened to me earlier this week. In my defense, I wanted to do it and you're not the boss of me. I learned some valuable things along the way. One is that Indiana is boring and goes on forever. Seriously...think about it. One of their main attractions is that you can go hang out with the Amish. I have nothing against the Amish, but if they're your main tourist attraction then you've obviously collectively given up as a State. The main point of all of this is that two days ago I was in Kentucky, the current home of bourbon, horse racing, and apparently not much else. But who says I need anything else? Also, I didn't see any horse races.

Ingredients:

Approximately 10 Mint leaves (Spearmint is traditional, but that's mostly just because it's pretty common in the south. Use whatever mint makes you happy.)
Bourbon
Superfine Sugar (You want the sugar to dissolve as much as possible in the bourbon. Some people use simply syrup or powdered sugar, but you can't really muddle your mint with those. Which is a problem for me. And now for you.)
Ice

The first thing you're going to do is get a weirdly specific history lesson. Because the Mint Julep has a couple weird little traditions around it, most of which I'm ignoring because I don't own silver cups. Oh, one of those traditions is that they're served in silver cups. Or sometimes pewter cups. I also don't have pewter cups. Essentially, a Julep was a kind of medicinal drink back in the day when doctors were like 5 times as fun, but only 1/2 as effective as they are now. It was said to be "restorative," which is late-19th-century-speak for "fun," and people would often start their day with one. It can technically be made with any liquor, but since it became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, bourbon has been the most common base. Why is it the official drink of the Kentucky Derby? Well, Kentucky is crazy hot and humid in the summer, and drinking some icy mint-based drinks had to help with that. And after drinking enough bourbon, maybe it wasn't as boring to watch horses run in a circle. 

Of course the glass isn't full. I had to taste it.
For....quality assurance. Yeah, that holds up.
Anyway, step one is to toss your mint and sugar in the bottom of a cup and muddle them a bit. Muddling, for those of you who don't have mounds of useless knowledge stacked up in your brain next to a carton of commercial jingles from the 90s, is essentially pressing firmly down on fresh ingredients in a glass so that the flavors get released and can seep into the drink better. The sugar will help with this. The tiny sugar crystals will tear into the mint just slightly. Then pack your glass full of crushed ice if you can get it, or regular ice if, like me, crushed ice only happens to you at fancy cocktail parties and dinners that you're only able to attend because you won a raffle (That actually happened to me). Anyhow, add in your bourbon until it's about 3/4 of the way full and stir to combine. Top the rest of it off with ice, and enjoy living the life of a southern gentleman. Except you can't afford things like horses. Maybe you can afford glue. Go drink your bourbon and do some arts and crafts.


October 11, 2017

Apple Parsnip Soup

The apples clutch their purses a little tighter when walking
through parsnip-town. Racist apples. 
If the rain, wind, and gloom outside for the past couple days are any indication, it might not be summer any more. Then again, I live in Chicago, so this is about the third time that I've thought that since August. But this time is different. This time there's also "pumpkin spiced" garbage all throughout every store, and the spiderwebs that I carelessly walk into outside are starting to feel store-bought. So I'm fairly certain that Winter is coming to kill us all, but first we get to ease into it by always being slightly too hot or too cold, and being forced to clean up after dying trees. So it's time to grab all of the root vegetables we can, make some delicious soup, and start waiting for May.

Ingredients:

6 Parsnips
4 Granny Smith Apples
2 Onions
5 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Coriander
Salt
Oil

So there are a lot of different kinds of apples out there, and they all have misleading names. Red delicious apples, for instance, while very red on the outside, are actually garbage on the inside. Granny Smith apples are kind of weird and tart. I didn't know the Smith matriarch myself, but if I had to guess I'd say she probably was super sweet and straight laced, in the sort of apologetically racist way that movies depict protagonists in the 40s and 50s. But I digress. The first thing you're gonna need to do is chop up your onions and sauté them in some oil (In a pot of some kind, for preferencewith a standard-issue-human's pinch of salt. Let them cook down for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally as an excuse to go smell delicious cooking onions. Then add in your parsnips, which you've prudently taken this time to peel and chop. Once you realize you forgot to do this and you haphazardly do it as fast as possible, add in another pinch of salt and let that whole mess cook down for another 5 minutes.

Apple slices added in futile attempt to distract from the
beige-ness of delicious soup.
Now it's time to peel your apples. Why not earlier? Because apples hate the air, and while I'm not usually one to kowtow to whining vegetation, hate-filled apples turn brown and gross. And sure, you could just squeeze lemon juice in their whiny faces and they'd get over it, but then this soup would taste like lemons which wasn't the idea. So we coddle the apples until the last moment, when we strike. Kind of like an evil witch. Once your apples have seen your true nature we don't have a lot of time, so quickly chop the flesh off their cores, and then toss them in the pot along with the rest of your ingredients. Bring that sucker to a boil and then simmer it for 45 minutes. Blend it until it's smooth, and enjoy. It tastes savory, peppery, mildly sweet, and a little tart, which is perfect for pretending the world isn't dying outside. Some of you may be thinking about the colors of parsnips and peeled apples and wondering "is this another aggressively beige soup that you're making?" And to them I say: see you next week!

October 4, 2017

Beer Cheese

Beer. Is there anything it can't do?
The midwest and Germany have a lot in common. A love of food and alcohol, a healthy appreciation for tradition, and a tendency to reschedule those traditions out of concern for the weather, which is constantly threatening to kill us all. And it's no surprise that when you've got a bunch of people who love food and alcohol together, they're gonna start blurring the lines between those two things. Because after you've been drinking for long enough, just about any food idea will start to sound reasonable as long as you can make it in less time than it takes to get a pizza delivered. Occasionally, like with beer cheese, it works out. Occasionally it doesn't, but you never admit that a drunken food idea was bad. You just stubbornly tell all of your friends about how great it was, and how they need to try it. This is why the French started eating snails.

Ingredients:

1 Bottle Of Beer (Some people get very specific about what kind of beer has to be used for this. Those people are fools. Use a beer you like, preferably one with a good amount of flavor, but beware that the flavor will intensify somewhat as it's cooked)
8 oz. Cheddar Cheese
2.5 TBSP Butter
2.5 TBSP Flour
1.5 tsp Dried Oregano
1.5 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tsp Hot Sauce
1/2 tsp Mustard (Any mustard will do in a pinch, but I prefer something with a little bit more texture and flavor like a stone ground mustard)
A standard human's pinch of Salt

So, Beer Cheese as a dip was developed in Kentucky. And since Kentucky has pretty much only ever had one thing to brag about (bourbon), they'll tell this to anybody who'll listen. I'm pretty sure that Beer Cheese is the state bird of Kentucky. But combining beer and cheese is by no means unique to them, and was even a thing in medieval Europe. In the USA soups and dips combining the beer and cheese are commonplace throughout the midwest, most notably in Wisconsin where it's technically illegal to eat a meal that doesn't have cheese in it. Now that you know that Kentucky has no reason to feel a sense of accomplishment, it's time to melt your butter over medium heat and stir in your flour to make a roux. As I've mentioned once or twice before, a roux is commonly used to thicken sauces. So once that's good and done, whisk in your beer slowly. You're gonna be beating this thing a lot more than you think you should have to. You're going to stop, thinking that the sacrifice of your arm and shoulder was surely enough to ensure a smooth sauce. Then you'll see a lump and realize that you're not done. You're never done.

Bonus points if, like me, you get off-brand pretzels that look
like a doughier version of The Scream, by Edvard Munch
Once you're done weeping in the corner and your sauce is smooth, stir in the rest of the ingredients. When you're stirring in the cheese, melt it in in batches so that you end up with a beer-and-cheese sauce and not a beer sauce with a giant lump of somewhat melted cheese at the bottom of it. Let it cook on low, stirring regularly, for about 10 minutes so that all of the flavors can get drunk off of the alcohol, relax, and start getting to know each other. And that's it! It's a little spicy, a little sour, a lot cheesy, and full of some awesome flavor. Now all you have to do it grab some soft pretzels, hard vegetables, or...medium pasta? The point is, if you've got a foodstuff, there's a better-than-average chance that this stuff will taste incredible along with it. Plus, you can totally lie to children and tell them they can't have it because there's beer in it. More for you.

September 27, 2017

Broccoli Kugel

Cartoonists and animators hate broccoli.
Probably because they're dead inside
There's a traditional dish amongst many Jews called Kugel. The word comes from a dialect of German in the middle ages, and roughly translates to "ball." This has absolutely nothing to do with what the dish is. Kugel, at least nowadays, is essentially a casserole or a cooked pudding made out of either noodles or vegetables. It's usually savory, but sweet variants have been known to exist that often involve raisins and other crimes agains humanity. So, you know, totally like a ball? If you talk to historians or linguists they'll tell you something along the lines of the original kugels back in the day probably had a rounded shape which is why they were named that. Being a historian or a linguist sounds like a boring job, so I'll forgive them for obviously being drunk.

Ingredients:

3 lb. Broccoli (You can totally use frozen bags of broccoli for this, but if you want to use fresh just cook the broccoli first. There are instructions, along with a recipe for an insanely good soup, here)
4 Eggs
4 TBSP Potato Starch
3 TBSP Mayo
3 TBSP Onion Soup Mix (If you don't like using mixes like this, you can make your own out of dried onion, onion powder, celery salt, dried parsley, garlic powder, and black pepper. Which is pretty much what's in the mix anyway, so cancel that feeling of accomplishment you had planned)
3 TBSP Vegetable Oil
1 Onion
Salt
Black Pepper

The first thing you're going to want to do is make some friends and invite them over for a meal. Partially because like most traditional recipes with a long history, kugel is best served amongst friends and family at a cheerful meal. And partially because this is going to make 2 pans of kugel, and you don't want to be that weird guy who eats three pounds of broccoli on his own and then has to shamefully avoid making eye contact with the cashier the next day when he has to buy more broccoli from the store (And don't even start about how it's a big store, and you'll probably get a different cashier. You could go shopping in a different time zone and you'd somehow end up with the same cashier). Now it's time to deal with your broccoli. Depending on your level of manliness and/or masochism, use either a food processor, a potato masher, several knives and forks, or your bare hands to reduce your broccoli into tiny pieces or goop. Bonus points if you use a food processor, but only the outside of it which you then smash down on your broccoli like a caveman. Bonus points are redeemable in the form of tiny shards of plastic in your food. Then add in your eggs, potato starch, mayo, soup mix, and oil, and stir until the whole thing is homogenous. Add in salt and pepper to taste (unless you enjoy tiny salmon swimming through your blood to their ancestral spawning grounds, I wouldn't actually swallow the raw eggs here, but follow your heart), then split that goop into two round 9-inch pans and bake it at 350 for about 45 minutes.

Insane amount of food made courtesy of Jewish Holidays
Jewish Holidays: like Thanksgiving, but WAY more often.
While your kugels are in the oven, it's time to make your house smell awesome for the benefit of those largely imaginary friends you invited over who've had nothing to do for a while but stare at you abusing some broccoli. So take your onion and choppity chop chop it into tiny pieces and then sauté it with some oil and kosher salt until it turns a nice deep shade of brown. The key to browning onions is patience. Don't constantly stir them. Let them sit in the hot pan, legitimately longer than you think you should. Like, just on the cusp of so long that you'd be concerned that they're burning. Willingness to burn your house down is also key for browning onions. Anyhow, once your kugels are out of the oven, sprinkle your browned onions over the top of them to add an extra dash of insane deliciousness to a dish that can, even on it's own, be described as "an awful lot of broccoli, even considering its name." And that's all there is to it. You've got a delicious view into food from the middle ages that didn't even end with you getting dysentery. I call that a win.


September 19, 2017

Apple Pomegranate Crumble

One of these things is not like the other, one of
these things is 90% seeds.
So the new year is upon us. Not the fun new year at the end of December that starts full of excessive alcohol consumption and excitement, and ends in hilarious tragedy or boredom. The Jewish new year, which is pretty much a time for merriment, introspective self-evalutation, and eating delicious foods until we can't lift our arms to eat any more, at which point a trained staff of hired help will continue to stuff food down our throats until we (or they) pass out. Also, there's a more recent tradition to eat some specific foods for the symbolism, such as pomegranates for a multitude of blessings, or apples and honey for a sweet year. There are like 100 more of these. I won't bore you or me by listing them. Especially since I've already taken this "Jewish Traditions 101" class to its intended conclusion, which was saying the words "apple" and "pomegranate."

Ingredients:

4 Granny Smith Apples
3 Honey Crisp Apples
3/4 Cup Flour
3/4 Cup Oatmeal
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
6 TBSP Butter
1.5 TBSP Grenadine (Real grenadine. Made out of pomegranates. If you can't make or find it, use Pomegranate Molasses)
1 TBSP Cinnamon
The juice from 1/2 a Lemon (How you convince the lemon to give you its juice is between the two of you, however bribery is the preferred method.)

The first thing you're gonna need to do is skin your apples. This may seem like adding insult to injury after having climbed up into their ancestral homes and kidnapped them by the bushel. But it actually serves the very real purpose of being a warning to the other fruits that you're not to be trifled with. Also something about the skins not softening when the flesh does and creating a tough dish to eat, but that sounds like heathen nonsense to me. Now here's the thing. The second that the flesh of an apple hits the air, it starts to turn into disgusting brown goop. The entire process takes about 3 minutes, so it's time to work fast. As you peel each apple, take a knife and cut it off of the core. Then thinly slice it and toss it in a bowl with a splash of your lemon juice. The lemon juice helps keep the apple from falling completely apart. Sort of like an apple version of a security blanket, a savings account, or functional alcoholism. Repeat until you're out of apples, and then add in your grenadine, cinnamon, and any lemon juice you've got leftover. Stir that sucker up and throw it into a 9x13 pan preferably, but really just any oven-safe containment vessel you have that can hold it. Now the time has come to deal with the crumbly part of this crumble.

Looking at this, all I can think of is that I really need to get
me some of those servants to stuff food down my
throat that I made up in paragraph 1.
Whisk together your flour, oatmeal, and brown sugar. Then chop up your butter (Or butter substitutes, for those intolerant folk who can't abide by dairy) into little bits and add it in. Now it's time to "cut in" the butter, which essentially means to squish it thoroughly into the flour mixture until it incorporates into little crumbs of deliciousness. I've been advised by obvious lunatics to use something called a "pasty cutter" for this task, but I've found that my hands work better and faster. For those of you who don't have access to my hands, use your best judgement. Take your crumbly crumbs and sprinkle them on top of your apple mixture. Then toss that sucker into a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes, once it gets golden and awesome looking. Then just sit there and let it taunt you while you wait for your guests to arrive. Make sure to ask them to bring dessert, because there's no way this thing is lasting until then.


September 13, 2017

Egg Salad

All of my bowls are garbage, so you can thank my parents for
the blue part around the egg salad.
I've seen a lot of people posting articles and recipes lately about how the summer isn't over yet. The main point of these seems to be that it's not too late to capture the spirit of the summer and have a great time, and you should totally make watermelon slushies while you still can, and also while you're at it click on some links and buy stuff. I don't know what these people are talking about, because nothing is more summery than going to a picnic or outdoor even of some kind, looking at the egg salad and doing some very frantic math about things like how hot it is outside and how long the food has probably been sitting out of the fridge. There's a reason for this. It's because egg salad is awesome. Or at least it can be. Think about it: if there was a pile of old gummy bears slathered in grape jelly and mayonnaise sitting out there you wouldn't think twice about just moving on to the pesto pasta salad and calling it a day. But egg salad we linger over, because it has the potential for greatness. The fact that it costs like 5 dollars to make a tub of it doesn't hurt either.

Ingredients:

1 dozen Eggs (Preferably chicken eggs. Definitely not fish eggs)
1/2 a Red Onion
1/3 cup Mayonnaise
1 TBSP Dijon Mustard
Salt 
Black Pepper

So straight off we're going to need to boil our eggs. Overcooked eggs end up with hard and discolored yolks which bring shame upon your dojo, and it can be a fine balance cooking them just enough. If only there was someone who had posted egg-based recipes before that you could read and learn from (For those of you too proud or lazy to follow the link, bring them to a boil then turn off the heat and leave them in the water for about 14 minutes. You want more details, hilarity, and also a recipe for deviled eggs? Then follow the stupid link). Once your eggs are cooked and cooled down to a reasonable temperature, it's time to get peeling. Peeling eggs is an art-form inasmuch as it's confusing, frustrating, and everybody who claims to truly understand it is clearly using cocaine. Allegedly, if your eggs are older then the membrane between the shell and the egg becomes more detached, making peeling easier. But, if like me you don't have the time to be lovingly aging your eggs before use, you're just going to have to power through it, and probably yell and cry a lot in the process. Once you've recovered from this process (Physically, that is. The emotional scars will last a good long while) it's time to slice your eggs. And sure, you can get all hipstery and have your eggs "artisanally sliced according to ancient methods," which we all know just means badly cutting your eggs with a knife. Or you can use egg slicers. You know, those cheap and useful things that have been around for decades that make this process take like 2 minutes instead of 20. Slice your eggs, then turn them 90 degrees and slice them again. 
The sandwich jauntily displays itself on a diagonal
cross-section to try and attract a mate.

Now that your eggs are finally finished, all that's left is to choppity chop your onion into tiny bits, then splorp in your mayo and mustard along with an average sized human's pinch worth of salt and pepper, and stir that sucker. Gently. Because the idea is to have a light and fluffy finished product where you can distinguish between egg whites and yolks, not dense and homogenous egg goop. So gently stir until everything is combined, and you're technically done. For a little added color and flavor you can dust the top with some smoked paprika, but that part's totally optional (as opposed to all the other parts of this recipe which are mandatory, and I can totally verify whether you've done or not). Now go ahead and serve that delicious nonsense up plain, or slather it on to a sandwich, or do whatever other weird things you normally do with egg salad. Although personally I think that it tastes better after having a couple hours in the fridge to relax. But what do I know? I don't even artisanally slice my eggs according to ancient methods.


September 7, 2017

Vegan Chili

Say hello to my sister. This is all her fault. Unless it turns out
great, in which case this is all my fault.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Then again, they also say that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, which is ludicrous because the relative value of a bird doesn't change just because it's in a bush. I mean, sure, maybe if it was in some super hard-to-reach bush on top of a mountain, but that was never specified. And there are pretty much bushes everywhere. But I digress. The point is that I had a great need, and thus needed to invent. Specifically, my sister is in town, and she doesn't eat a lot of the basic foods that make up deliciousness and joy. And sure, she claims that while she's here she'll eat whatever you give her and won't be picky, but she says it with the same look in her eyes that the animals have in those over the top ASPCA commercials with the ridiculous Sarah Mclachlan music. So I needed to make something without red meat, processed sugar, flour, and probably a bunch of other things that I'm forgetting. And somehow I needed to make it taste good. And by coincidence, lately it's been kind of chilly in Chicago. And so, just like every major marketing campaign ever, inspiration was born from a stupid pun.

Ingredients:

2 standard issue Onions
3 ribs of Celery
3 largish Carrots
1 lb. Crimini Mushrooms
5 cloves Garlic
32 oz. can of Diced Tomatoes
15 oz. Black Beans (Personally, I used canned beans because I didn't have the time to deal with dried beans and their endless drama this week. But if you do, soak your beans for 6-8 hours, then replace the water and boil them for another 45 minutes in salted water. Same thing you do with communists.)
15 oz. Kidney Beans (Ditto)
1 Green Pepper
1 Poblano Pepper
1 Jalapeño Pepper
6 oz. Tomato Paste
2 cups Vegetable Stock (That you totally had left if you made my empanadas from last week. And it turns out that I made the empanadas that I made last week, so that worked out for me.)
1.5 TBSP Cumin
1.5 TBSP Dried Oregano
2 tsp Smoked Paprika
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper
2 Bay Leaves
Olive Oil
Salt

The first thing you're gonna need to do is prepare yourself. Not in an overly dramatic, "prepare yourself for destruction" sort of way, although that couldn't hurt either. But there are a fair number of ingredients here, and it doesn't hurt to get them ready in advance so that you don't have to worry about preparing your next ingredient in time before the fire burns everything (especially your pride and insurance premiums) to a crisp. So, if you've got the wherewithal, spend some time now cleaning and dicing your vegetables and rinsing your beans. For the rest of you who thrive on the constant thrill of possibly burning your dinner and/or neighborhood, feel free to twiddle your thumbs while you wait for the rest of us to finish prepping. Alright, now coat a pan with oil, and sauté your diced onions and celery over medium-high heat along with a standard pinch of salt. Cook it until the onions start to get some color before adding in your mushrooms and another pinch of salt. When you sauté mushrooms, they release a whole bunch of liquid, shrink, and start smelling kind of nutty and awesome. When this happens, add in your assorted peppers and garlic. Cook for another minute or so before adding in your tomato paste, cumin, oregano, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne.

Pro-tip: For the best results put your reddish chili in a red
bowl, and then photograph it under orangish light.
Pretty much all forms of canned tomatoes that I've encountered suffer from the same problem that diet coke does. Namely, they taste like cans. But cooking them down with the rest of your ingredients helps soften that metallic taste a lot (I haven't checked to see if this also works for diet coke, but I feel like it probably does). So cook your vegetable-tomato sludge down for a couple minutes before adding in your diced tomatoes and another pinch of salt. Let it keep cooking for another minute or two, at which point your entire home should smell delicious [or possibly smoky and ashy, depending on how successful you were at chopping as you go. I didn't burn my house down (this time)]. Throw that whole mess into a slow cooker/crock pot along with your carrots, vegetable stock, beans, and bay leaves. Cook it on the high setting for 2 hours, and then on the low setting for another 2-4 hours. Then remove your bay leaves and eat it. Like, all of it. Because this sucker isn't just "good for being gluten free," or "good for being vegan," both of which are code phrases for "bad, but maybe it could have been worse." It's just good for being food.

August 30, 2017

Empanadas

My level of preparedness here is shockingly out of character
Mankind has, throughout its storied history of expelling gasses with varied effects on the immediate environment, struggled with one all-important goal. Delicious food that you can carry with you and eat on the go without getting your hands full of crap. Many different solutions to this eternal search have been tried. Burgers are too messy. Burritos had promise, but towards the end they can be even worse than burgers. Moms across the world put in a bid for fresh fruit, but most fruit leaves you carrying some form of garbage with you afterwards until you can find the nearest trash can (a problem made even more severe by the fact that throughout most of human history the trash can hadn't been invented yet). Fortunately, the great minds of a generation got together and decided it was a good idea to just stuff delicious meats and vegetables and whatnot inside some flaky pie dough and call it a day. It's in their crumb-littered footsteps that we follow.

Ingredients:

3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
6 oz. Vegetable Shortening
1 Egg
Roughly 1/3 a Cup of Water
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 Green Pepper
1 Red Pepper
1 standard-issue Onion
4 oz. Crimini Mushrooms
4 Cloves Garlic
1 Cup Vegetable Stock (Sure, you could use store-bought stock that tastes like nothing. Or you can make an entire pot of vegetable stock even though you only need a cup of it, and freeze the rest. You know, like a winner)
1 TBSP Balsamic Vinegar
1 TBSP Ground Cumin
2 tsp Dried Oregano
1.5 tsp Smoked Paprika
1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper
Vegetable Oil
Salt

Yes, that's a lot of ingredients. I know that I usually try and make recipes without long and daunting lists of things you need to buy and/or prepare, and that the sight of this may be a bit of a shock to some of you. I can offer you this solemn advice, given to me by my grade school administrator in the aftermath of the debacle that ensued when a teacher tried to physically restrain me from getting an inhaler when I was having an asthma attack in class:

Get over it

And sure, from the mouth of that administrator it may have been criminally negligent, but here it's pretty appropriate. You're making two things, a dough and a filling. It's not like I'm asking you to make a dipping sauce, a side salad, and a vegetable puree to go with it. Now that I've sufficiently asserted my dominance, let's get started. Use a whisk or a fork to mix your flour and a large human's pinch of salt. Add in your vegetable shortening and mix it together with your hands, kind of squishing it as you go, until all the flour is incorporated, and everything is crumbly bits. Kind of like food sand. Mix in your egg and then stir in water slowly until a loose dough forms. Cover your dough with plastic wrap, and throw it in the fridge for 1/2 an hour. After 15 minutes it's traditional to suddenly remember that you forgot to add in an egg and then frantically grab the dough out of the fridge and add it in, hoping that it won't make too much of a difference. But that part is optional.

Told you. Whole damn pot of vegetable stock.
While your dough is relaxing in its chilled isolation chamber, start working on your filling. Start by chopping your onion, peppers, mushrooms, and garlic into tiny little bits. Remember, this is all going inside a handheld pastry, so you don't exactly want giant bits of anything making it hard to eat. Get a pan good and hot, then coat it in oil and throw in your ground beef (Being more Jewish than most people in the world, I use kosher meat, which already has a fair amount of salt in it. If you don't, because you're...you know...normal, add in a pinch of salt).  Brown it as best as you can, and remove it from the pan, preferably with a spoon or other hand-tool, but if need be with your bare hands. You know, like a man. Then add in your onions along with a pinch of salt. Cook the onions until they just start to get some color and then add in your mushrooms, peppers, and garlic, along with another pinch of salt. Cook everything down until the peppers start to soften and the mushrooms shrink down to the point that you wonder if you forgot to add them in the first place, but you check your fridge and there are definitely no mushrooms there so you start to wonder if the entire memory of buying mushrooms was a false memory your brain provided to cover up some trauma. Then add in your vegetable stock, vinegar, cumin, oregano, paprika and cayenne, stir that mess together, making sure to scrape up any brown crusty bits from the bottom of the pan to join the party, and keep cooking it until your meat mixture is nice and saucy, but when you take out a spoonful no liquid runs in to fill the gap. Turn off your fire, and let that whole mixture cool down to room temperature.

The hardest part of this recipe was not eating these long
enough to get a decent picture. 
 Now it's time for the fun part, and by "fun" I mean "mind-shatteringly frustrating." Roll out your dough until it's about 1/8 of an inch thick. It should be thin and easy to work with, but still sturdy. Cut out rounds using a cookie cutter, a drinking glass, or the perfectly round hole in your soul, and start stuffing them with your meat mixture. Add in too little and you'll end up just eating dough, but add into much and they'll break and explode everywhere, and all of your friends will laugh at you. Have fun! Basically, you want to dollop some of your mix into your dough disc, and then bend one end over to form a kind of dumpling with a meat pocket inside. Press down along the edge with a fork to seal it (Fun fact: pressing on it with a fork is also how the US government seals many things, most notably foreign trade agreement), and repeat until you run out of dough, run out of innards, or give up in a cloud of rage and inadequacy. In any case, grease a baking pan and throw your empanadas into a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until they start getting golden brown and look incredible. Then just wait for them to cool, give up, eat them, and burn your mouth. Totally worth it.