Musing on food and cooking ...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Harvest Fete Follow-Up

My harvest fete was on Saturday and what an interesting Saturday it was! It actually started on Friday, when the plumber came to see why my tub was draining slowly. He water rammed to no avail, and then had to take pipes apart and auger. But eventually he managed to get the problem solved. While he was heading out the door, I noticed my kitchen had started to drain slowly and asked him if that could have been caused by the work on the bathroom, and he said there was no possible way it could be. So, I ran to the store and bought Draino and poured it down to no avail. Still, a slow drain is not a plugged drain and I had other things to worry about.

I woke up early Saturday morning as the dish guys were supposed to be there. I started doing some housework while waiting for them and noticed that my kitchen sink was not draining at all. In fact, it was backing up the most interesting sludge, a bit like the ooze one finds in the saltwater swamps of Maine. So, I actually took the pipes apart and used my baby auger to see if I could fix the problem myself (see, I watched the guy while he was working so I could do it myself in the future!). No beans. Still backed up. I called the plumber, and he happened to be nearby and ran over and had to auger the kitchen line. But, all my draining problems seem to be solved now, although I am $210 broker than I was on Friday.

Of course, while I was on the phone to the plumber, the dish guys showed up - an hour late but finally there and fixed my problem in five minutes, for which I paid them a disgusting amount of money. Bastards.

All in all, my fete went very fine. I had to do some last minute changes on the food, due to ingredient unavailability (what I thought was a venison roast in the freezer turned out to be a freezer burned hunk o salmon - gack!), but everything really came together in the end. About 15 or so folks came out and we all had a good time chatting and eating. We actually ran out of almost everything, which is great, as I don't have enough plastic containers to do leftovers anymore (GladWare, here I come). I did not get to mingle as much as I would have wanted to, as I was behind due to the plumbing disaster, and I can't figure out what happened to all the cds in my cd player and therefore, forgot about the music. My pumpkin turnovers did not work, and so the recipe here is what I would have done instead of what I did.

The food stars of the evening were the wild mushroom French onion dip (to quote one guest, "I can't stop eating this!"), the salad dressing, the potatoes, and what one person called the "vast crock of meat." The pilau was tasty good, and some folks like the turnovers and other folks did not. I stole my bread pudding recipe from the Mennonite cookbook, but forgot to add the sweetener. The texture was great, but my brain went, "Huh?" on the first taste. For the recipe listed here, I actually put in the sweetness I left out. I also made whipped cream from scratch for the first time, adding vanilla and cinnamon to the heavy cream and using my in-kitchen outboard motor to whizbang it all together.

Pele and Leo were incredibly well-behaved, much to my shock and outrage. Leo didn't try to crawl into anyone's plate, which is quite likely a miracle. And Pele had to sit on everyone's lap to be patted and adored.

Anyway, on to recipes!

Herbed Honey

Take 1/2 cup honey and a large handful of fresh herbs of your choice. I used golden sage, thyme, and one spring of rosemary. Wash and then dry herbs. Add herbs and honey to a small pot. Add 1 t lemon juice. Put the heat to the lowest possible flame and let the honey get bubbly good. Turn off heat and let herbs step for at least 1 hour. Heat the honey again to make for easier removal of the herbs. If you are worried about herb flecks in your honey, strain through a fine mesh sieve. Drizzle over brie or other pungent cheese.

Wild Mushroom French Onion Dip

3 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4.5 ounces dried mushrooms
2 T red wine
2 T olive oil
1 package of low-fat cream cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Rehydrate the mushrooms according to the package directions. Once pliable, chop the mushrooms into small pieces. Reserve the soaking liquid for later use.

Put the olive oil in a pan and add shallots and onions. Cook until the shallots are soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and the wine as well as about half of the reserved soaking liquid. Cook until most of the liquid is evaporated. Add in the cream cheese and stir. The mixture should be thin enough to dip a chip or cracker into it but not so thin that is runs off the spoon. If it is too thick, add in a bit more of the reserved liquid. Put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill overnight.

Braised Fall Flavors Venison

4 pounds venison stew meat (or use beef or lamb, if venison is not available)

Marinade/Braising Liquid:

1 bottle maple syrup and fig dressing
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup apple cider
1 cup pomegranate juice
¼ cup maple syrup
3 T each of dried minced garlic and dried minced onion
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients for the marinade and set aside. Place meat in roasting pan and then pour marinade over it, just until the meat is barely covered. Let marinade for at least 2 hours. Place the roasting pan with the meat and the marinade in a 350 degree oven and cook for approximately three hours.

Note: I got my maple syrup and fig dressing at Wal-Mart of all horrible places. You can substitute a good balsamic vinaigrette instead, just increase the amount of maple syrup to at least ½ cup. You could also make this a Moroccan style dish by adding cinnamon, cumin, and coriander to the marinade.

Wild Rice and Barley Pilau with Sweet Potatoes and Golden Raisins

8 ounces wild rice
8 ounces barley

Cook wild rice and barley according to the package directions. Set aside. This step can be done up to three days beforehand.

4 medium sweet potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
3 yellow onions, rough chopped
3 T smoked paprika
2 T ground cumin
3 T cinnamon
3 T olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash, peel, and chop sweet potato into bite sized pieces. Rough chop three yellow onions. Put the sweet potatoes and onions on a flat pan like a cookie sheet (use one with edges). Drizzle with olive oil. Mix the spices together and then sprinkle over the top of the onions and sweet potatoes. Mix with your hands until all pieces are evenly coated. Back in a 350 degree oven for about one hour, or until the sweet potatoes are soft and starting to caramelize.

1 cup golden raisins
2 T olive oil
3 T Balti seasoning (from Penzey’s)

Add the wild rice and barley into a large sauce pan and start to heat the mixture, stirring often to prevent sticking. When the mixture gets close to being hot enough to eat, fold in sweet potato/onion mixture and add in about 1 cup of golden raisins. Stir in olive oil and then add Balti seasoning, making sure to mix thoroughly.

Maple Syrup-Pecan Mustard Vinaigrette

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup olive oil
3 T Terrapin Ridge maple syrup-pecan mustard
1 T maple syrup

Put all ingredients in a container with a tight fighting lid. Mix until emulsified. Serve with a sweet lettuce mix.

Rosemary Roasted Yellow Potatoes

3 pounds baby yellow potatoes
3 T olive oil
3 T dried rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash potatoes and cut into quarters or halves, depending on size. Place in a roasting pan. Mix with olive oil and rosemary. Put into a 350 degree oven for about 1 hour, or until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.

Note: You could also roast these at 400 degrees, which will reduce cooking time and lead to crispy edges.

Curried Pumpkin Dumplings

3 cans solid pack pumpkin
2 large shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. ground coriander
3 T sweet curry mix
3 t of ground chipotle powder

1 package egg roll wrappers

Put pumpkin into a mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Mix well. If you don’t like spicy food, leave out the chipotle or add it a bit at a time, tasting after each addition, until it achieves the heat level you desire.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Take an egg roll wrapper and add about 2 T of the pumpkin mixture in the center. Moisten the edges of the wrapper with water and then pinch the sides together to make a triangular shaped packet. Drop the triangular dumplings into the boiling water. Once the dumpling starts to set up, remove from water. Then coat a large fry pan with oil and pan fry the dumpling. Dumplings are done when they are golden brown and delicious. Makes about 30 dumplings.

Autumn Fruits Bread Pudding

6 large eggs
6 cups 1% milk
4-6 cups French bread, at least day old, in 1” square chunks
2 apples, cored and diced
2 pears, cored and diced
2 T vanilla
3 T grated ginger
¼ cup honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Coat the bottom of a 9x13 cake pan with non-stick spray or butter. Put bread in the bottom of the cake pan. Use less bread if you want a very moist bread pudding; use more bread if you like a drier pudding.

Core and dice apples and pears. Put pieces in with the bread pieces, making certain to distribute evenly.

Mix eggs, milk, vanilla, ginger, and honey in a bowl. Pour mixture over the bread and fruit pieces. If any bread pieces are above the liquid, press down to make certain that each piece is covered. Put in the oven and bake for about one and a half hours, or until a knife pushed into the center of the pudding comes out clean. Serve hot or cold.

Note: Using a higher fat content milk will increase the creaminess and richness of the dish.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cats and TV

Since my dish did not get fixed again this weekend, I read a lot and also watched the movies Netflix sent me. I have had some recent good luck in regards to my Netflix movie - Last King of Scotland and Year of the Dog are two recent notable watches. I was somewhat nervous about this week, as they sent me 28 Weeks Later and The Number 23. 28 Weeks Later definitely wasn't as good as 28 Days Later and I certainly didn't think the political allusions were as great as the critics kept making them out to be, which is sad because zombie movies should always be either political or pure camp. And The Number 23 was just, well, bad. Not even a good plot twist. Still, good time wasters.

Netflix also sent me Apocalypto. Yes, they sent me a Mel Gibson movie. Yes, I watched it. It wasn't as bad as I had feared it would be. It is really a very basic action drama plot. There were certainly some moments of excessive and uneeded violence. I found the insinuation that the Mayans and Aztecs set themselves up to be destroyed by Europeans to be offensive and inaccurate. I actually liked the way he had the entire viewpoint be from the main character's point of view - when he was confused, you were confused; there were no attempts to explain points of view outside the main character's; you felt like a prisoner in an alien world.

The film also highlighted the worst animitronic animals in the history of film as well as the best use of a bee hive as a weapon against one's enemies ever.

What was most interesting, however, is that Pele sat and watched the whole thing.

Now my cats don't often watch tv. They might doze while I am watching tv, but they don't tend to actually look at the screen. They are not even terribly interested by birds on tv. They do enjoy watching elephants on tv for some reason. When the elephants come on, they usually perk right up and pay close attention. Maybe they speak Elephantine or some such.

But for Apocalypto, Pele nestled herself down on the cushion and watched. She was even tracking action and everything. She behaved for a whole two hours. It was a miracle.

On the other hand, Pele is an cat of truly bad taste. Her preference in music runs to Depeche Mode and Conway Twitty. Go figure.....

Monday, October 22, 2007

No Show

So the Directv tech didn't show on Saturday. Customer service won't do anything but reschedule and apologize. I am pissed. I really think they don't want me as a customer....

Friday, October 19, 2007

When I was a youngster ....

I have been bitching a lot this last week. But, really, people are just pissing me off! That or I am just on a short fuse lately.

What am I bitching about? Well, I have having lots of problems with customer service folks being mostly unhelpful and, at worst, aggressively rude.

See, I have seven years experience in customer service. I put myself through college doing service work and, after I left school, I worked in sales for several years before I moved into a writing career track. When I was a service rep, I always felt that it was my job to, you know, provide service and be helpful and solve problems and help customers so that they would continue to do business with my employer. This didn't mean the customer was always right and it didn't mean you had to let them treat you like a slave. I did well. I always felt empowered to do the right thing. I never had to run to my manager to solve problems or get permission for anything. As a result, I actually won several awards and had a $10+ rate of pay, which was incredibly high for the field and the location where I was working, especially considering the fact that this was over ten years ago.

But nowadays, all the reps seem to give you are insincere apologies and red tape. For example, my dish has been off my roof for over three weeks now. One week was for the roof. And the roofer was supposed to come and realign the dish and never did. So I called my provider and scheduled an appointment for last Thursday.

They never showed. I called and bitched. They had it scheduled for the wrong date. So I rescheduled for today. I get a call last night saying that the appointment is for Saturday. Um, what? So I explained to her that it was supposed to be Friday and I had already requested vacation time and I basically got the "so sorry. We will be there Saturday." I asked for a refund for the amount of time I have been without service. Refused. I asked her to give me one reason I shouldn't rip the dish off my house and go with cable. No reply. The rep did not one thing to keep me as a customer. I was highly unimpressed.

Of course, I am not likely to go with cable, considering how bad Comcast screwed me over when I moved from MA (so bad I engaged the consumer advocate at the Chicago Tribune and got my problem into the press).

Dammitt! When I am dictator, things will be different!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Mow or Else" Violation

I came home from work on Tuesday night and have a bright green sticker slapped on my door - the dreaded "mow or else" violation from the city of Waukegan. Because, apparently, Waukegan pays several individuals rather high salaries to drive around town and slap noxious weed violations on people's houses. I guess that is where my incredibly high property taxes go (and yes, they are high. My taxes in MA on a house worth twice as much as my current house were actually half of what my taxes are here.)

Anyway, I called the officer up and said, "Dude. What's the deal?" I have no noxious weeds on my property, and while I will certainly admit that my lawn does need to be mowed, it certainly is not ten inches high. Maybe four, if that. He was all, "Well, your yard is usually so nice. I just thought it needed to be mowed."

Um, dude? Work has been crazy the past few weeks - at least 60 hours a week and sometimes more. In those few hours when I have been home before full dark, my lawn has actually been covered with debris from the roof exchange or it has been pouring rain - hence, no mowing!. And, um, since, I am NOT in violation of the noxious weed ordinance, what business do you have slapping that ugly green sticker on my house?

Fecking petty tyrants.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Pick N Save Has Closed

I needed to go shopping this weekend, as I had no milk, bread, or fruit and was too sick to try and make bread, even if I could go without milk or fruit for a while. So I decided to drop in at the nearest grocery store, which is the Pick N Save, located about three miles from my house on Belvidere, only to get there and discover it was shut down with a frightening sign in the window saying that the facility was permanent closed. Now I only go shopping every couple of weeks, so I was a little surprised by this happening, especially as the Pick N Save was always busy, partially because it was right on the local bus route, meaning that people without cars could actually get to the grocery store, rather than spending money at the local bodega, which is high priced and filled with pre-packaged food with nary a fruit nor veggie in sight.

The nearest grocery store to me now, at a 4-5 miles drive, is an Aldi's, which is a crap shoot at best and only takes cash. Just over the tollway from the Aldi's is a WalMart. The only other near options now, all at least five miles or more away, are the super-local super markets on Franklin Street., which are a hell of a lot better than the local bodega but are still dicey, depending on which one you go to and what day of the week it is.

On the one hand, I am lucky. I still have my car, which means I can choose to drive the ten miles to the Garden Fresh Market in Mundelein. I adore this grocery store and have since I moved here. But, still, it is a hike and I will need to rely on the local bodega for milk and whatnot or brave the rude socialites of Lake Forest to drop in at Don's Finest Foods. Still, the closing of the Pick N Save will be disasterous for that part of Waukegan. It is now officially a food desert.

A food desert is a term that is often applied to sections of the inner city that don't have access to anything but 7-11s or local bodegas. Food deserts are associated with high food costs, poor nutrition, high rates of obesity, and poverty. For this section of Waukegan to become a food desert is shocking, to say the least. Especially as the area is being revitalized - lots of new construction. Lots of new businesses. The only reason I can think of for the Pick N Save to have closed is that my neighborhood is more than 75% Latino and, perhaps, they are shopping at one of the super-local super markets, which are almost entirely Latino focused with a small smattering of Indian and Norte Americano thrown in.

Still, a revitalizing neighborhood will have difficulties sustaining that revitalization without easy access to some flagship supermarket. My hope is that someone will take over the space where the Pick N Save was and open a new store. Perhaps a Garden Fresh! Which would make me incredibly happy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I am having a nervous breakdown. There is too much to do in too little time. Say a little mantra for me: If Heather can just get through Monday, everything will be fine, everything will be fine.

In the meantime, in the words of the great robot philosopher Bender, everyone who isn't already on my help list can just bite my shiny metal ass.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sweet and Sour Ginger Chili Pickled Broccoli

I got two huge heads of Romanesco broccoli in my garden box (one in my box and one I took from the share box) and even though I adore cooked broccoli, I needed to do something with much of it as I certainly can't eat two heads by myself. So I chunked it up into rather large spears, blanched it, and then put it in a jar with some of my sweet chili ginger dipping sauce (from The Ginger People), some vinegar, and water, and stuck it in the frig to turn into refrigerator pickles. The brining ingredients are about 1/3 of the container you are using to pickle the broccoli of dipping sauce, 1/2 of the container of vinegar and fill the rest with water. Stir well to mix. I will let them stew in the frig for about three days but they already smell yummy good.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Keep up with new developments, people

A comment on another blog I read on a regular basis has driven me a just a little bit bonkers. People hear a theory at some point in their lives and it just won't let go of their grey matter. It may have been a really good theory when it was introduced, but as we learn more things - especially about prehistory, our understand of ourselves needs to change as well. Here goes:

Look at how we lived for 90% of our time on this planet. Males, in general, are physically stronger than women (We know testosterone increases muscle mass), and it was men who did most of the "hunting and warring." (If not all).Women did the "gathering," which is a more social behavior, and is not as competitive.In a hunting or war party, (Although I've never been in either) I imagine you don't speak as much, and it's very competitive. In a way, it makes sense because it balances us. Imagine if women were just as aggressive as men. We'd be in even more trouble than we are now. I'm not saying people "have" to be a certain way, but there's little doubt evolution has played a significant part in our "gender roles."

Um, the "man the hunter" theory has actually been pretty well debunked over time. Men, evidence is finding, were probably the primary hunters (or scavengers) of large game, usually in groups (which seems to me to be a pretty, ahem, social, cooperative activity as is going together as a war band to destroy your rivals). Women were the primary getters of food through gathering, fishing, as well as hunting small game and birds. And this idea that women are not as aggressive as men? Said commentor has obviously never been to an after-Thanksgiving sale at Target or the Filene's Basement bridal event.

And, I would argue that evolution has actually has very little to do with modern gender roles, except maybe behaviors related to child bearing, specifically as evolution totally discounts the impact class has on gendered behavior. Poor women have always had differently appropriate gender roles than middle class and upper class women. An example. In our society, there is the assumption that the traditionally appropriate gender role for women is to remain in the home as homemaker and child-rearer. However, this has only ever been a possibility for the middle and upper classes. Poor women have always had to leave the home to do work of some sort, whether that is farming or working as a store clerk. This leads to a particularly difficult conundrum for poor women - they find themselves demonized for having children and yet working and, should they receive some sort of state or federal assistance, they are demonized as lazy, no good, leeches on the system, living off the taxes of others. Yet, if they choose not to have children because they know they can't afford them, they are demonized as being unnatural women.

I guess the main problem I have with the comment is this idea that there must be balance. Dualism bothers me. Men = aggressive. Women = cooperative. Men = bad. Women = good. Men = strong. Women = weak. I've never found a dualism that was ever true. Human skills, behaviors and strengths fall along a huge spectrum, not a black and white filter.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dream Candy

So, last night, after I finally locked Pele out of the room because she was acting insane and driving me crazy, I had the most delicious dream in which I was married to Viggo Mortensen and we were living in a small shack somewhere on an Indian Reservation in the Dakotas. I was working as a short order cook and he was some sort of laborer.


1) It's been a while.
2) I need to change careers.
3) Sometmies a dream is nothing but candy.