Archive for October, 2006

If They Were Calling it Old-Fashioned THEN…

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

Beauties from the indispensable White House Cookbook

I rarely endorse cookbooks, but this one is a must for any gourmand’s shelf. I know I can trust the book to give me good advice because, as the publishers say in their preface, “Every recipe has been tried and tested, and can be relied upon as one of the best of its kind” (p. iii). This is the book I consult whenever I’m wondering how To Roast Beef Heart (”wash it carefully and open it sufficiently to remove the ventricles, then soak in water until the blood is discharged…”, p. 119) or if I’m in the mood to make Baked Calf’s Head (the secret is to boil it first, then split it in half and bake it. For ideal presentation, bake only the better-looking half; dice the meat from the other half and fry the pieces in lard to present around the edge of the platter, [p. 127]). (more…)

Thoughts on Mars

Monday, October 30th, 2006

Some musings on the candy I’m gonna be giving the little buggers tomorrow.
Very rarely do I buy milk chocolate candy bars. More often if I get chocolate, it’s 70+% cocoa solids and comes in a snooty-looking wrapper. Come Halloween, though, when the kids in costume bypass my house because there are too many stairs to walk up to get to my front door, I usually have a couple of products from the Mars corporation on hand in case any of them actually do decide to make the vertical hike.

I think it’s interesting how Mars candy bars are variations on a theme: nougat and milk chocolate, which, interestingly enough, is sold as a Three Musketeers, not a Mars bar. Depending on how many additions you want, there’s most likely a variation that suits your taste.
Exactly what a Mars bar is, though, is up for debate because it doesn’t have a consistent identity throughout the global marketplace. Anywhere I’ve ever gotten a Mars bar from outside of the U.S. (Canada, U.K., Asia, Europe), it’s been milk chocolate and nougat plus caramel; the equivalent of what in the U.S. market is sold as a Milky Way.

The most popular variation off of the Milky Way/Mars is the Snickers, which takes the chocolate, nougat, and caramel, then adds peanuts. The result? More body and texture, plus a semblance of not being entirely junk calories.
In the States, a Mars does exist, though it’s not all that popular. It’s sort of like a Snickers-sub almonds, and really is pretty good. For some reason, though, even though everybody in the States knows that Mars makes Snickers, very few of us eat the bar that bears the company’s name in the U.S. I’m not even sure why the company does it that way, with an identical bar being named differently in various regions of the world. The only reference to the dichotomy of names on their website acknowledges the disparity but does not explain it,

It all started with Frank Mars back in 1911 when he and his wife Ethel started making and selling a variety of butter-cream candies from the spotless kitchen of their home in Tacoma, Washington. In 1920, after visiting a local drugstore with his son Forrest, he thought what a good idea it would be if they could produce a version of chocolate, malted milk that could be enjoyed anywhere. The result was the MILKY WAY bar - known in Europe as the MARS bar.”

Another thing I’m not sure of is if there’s a global equivalent of the U.S.-style Mars; a bar in Europe that’s a Mars-plus-Almonds. Anybody know? Please post a comment.

How ‘Bout Them Apples?

Friday, October 27th, 2006

Bake your apples for a delicious treat.

baked apple hot and fresh from the oven

One of my favorite autumn desserts is also one of the simplest I know of. A baked apple served fresh from the oven could bring a smile to the grouchiest of faces. If you go downstairs and start one right now, you could be eating it in 45 minutes. (more…)

Hot Apple Cider

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

So easy yet so good

Lately we’ve had at least a gallon and a half of orchard-fresh apple cider in our fridge at all times. It’s a tasty treat straight out of the icebox, but even better when heated.

I’ll pour some into a saucepan and let it heat slowly on the stovetop. To give it that extra bit of flavor, I spice it up with a cinnamon stick, about 4-6 whole allspice, and about 3 whole cloves. Using the whole spices helps keep sediment out of the bottom of your mug, and it also helps control the strength of the flavors imparted (when using ground cloves, for instance, just a shake too much and they take over the flavor of the drink). Because I keep the heat very low under the pot, the spices have a chance to infuse the beverage with flavor; then, I’ll let it simmer for 5-10 minutes or so just to make sure. If I’m feeling saucy, I’ll add a glug of Calvados to it, though i’ve heard it’s also good with brandy or rum if you’d prefer. Then again, why bother adulterating it when it tastes so good as it is?

Take advantage of the treats autumn offers. Find an orchard not too far from your house and take a weekend drive. You’ll thank yourself for taking the time when you get the tree-fresh apples and fresh-pressed cider.

Great Pumpkins!

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Colonel Orange,

I would like to go to a Pittsburgh area farm to pick pumpkins for carving. Do you have any suggestions?

Can carving pumpkins (uncarved, of course) be used for pumpkin pie? Do you have a recipe for pumpkie pie filling?

Ms. Peacock

Dear Ms. Peacock,

I’m awfully busy carving Mr. Body right now, so I don’t really have much time to research pumpkin patches, and since halloween is fast approaching, I figure I’ll just quickly scrawl what I know:

I don’t know the whereabouts of any patches. Last year, I went to Traxx Farms, I think, which is a huge super-farmstore, but they had a wide selection of squashes and pumpkins. I often get produce from Soergel’s in Wexford, but again, large farmstore, not a patch.

Carving pumpkins can make good pies, but it’s not guaranteed as they’re bred for their size and their looks: so while one might taste just fine, another (even if it looks the same) may be unpleasant to the palate. They’ll still do as well for pies even if they’re carved. My mom used to save the scraps from carving and cook them down; then after halloween was over, she’d cut the carbony black stuff from the candles out of the insiodes of our pumpkins and cook what was left. Impressive, but you don’t necessarily have to go to that trouble if you don’t want to.

Better pie materials include smaller pumpkins, uglier pumpkins (like hubbards), and other winter squashes (like acorn and butternut). Cut into 3/4 inch pieces. Roast with spices and olive oil for 20 minutes or so (or until soft). Puree in food processor or, if you’d like a little more texture, with a potato masher. Because you’ll be truly roasting the squash (as opposed to steaming it in a covered container) and because it’s in such small pieces (thereby increasing the exposed surface area), there shouldn’t really be any excess moisture; however, if it’s not a firm mass when you’re done pureeing, let it drain in a collander (in a bowl; the top covered with plastic wrap and a weight set on top) for several hours or overnight; but, like I said, I don’t think excess moisture should be an issue.

2 cups of puree is equivalent to one can of processed pumpkin for recipe purposes.

Making a More Complex Vinaigrette

Friday, October 20th, 2006

Perhaps you want a somewhat moe complex salad dressing than a simple mixture of oil, vinegar, and spices. Something with fruit in it, perhaps? I’ve heard that raspberry vinaigrettes are popular, though I can’t stand the bottled version. On the other hand, if you used a blender and mixed fresh rasberries with balsamic or tarragon vinegar into a puree and then, with the blender on a fairly low setting, drizzled olive oil through the top until the contents of the blender formed a thick emulsification, that would be a raspberry vinaigrette I’d consider eating.

Another nice salad dressing involves using the yolks from a few hard boiled eggs. Mash them in a bowl with some salt, some pepper, and a bit of white wine vinegar. When you’ve formed a paste, add olive oil to the mix, stirring constantly, until you reach your desired consistency. Use the egg whites to garnish the salad over which you pour this freshly prepared and very tasty dressing.

Another example of a more complex vinaigrette is my roasted tomato and balsamic vinegar sauce, which I opted not to label as a vinaigrette because it’s so much more versatile than just being a salad dressing.  However, that’s the case with many such sauces: the raspberry dressing described above would go quite nicely with roast duck, I believe, and the egg-yolk dressing is a nice bacteria-free alternative to hollandaise.

These Jokes Are Really Cheesy!

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

What dance do cheese makers do every halloween?
The muenster mash!

Why is Stilton blue?
His girlfriend broke up with him.

Did you hear that the speedway association is test marketing its own brand of soft cheese?
It’s called Nascar-pone.

The cheese delivery truck got a flat tire during its route today…
…but everything was okay because they had a monterey jack and a gouda wheel in the back.

Making a (Simple) Vinaigrette

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Who needs the brand name bottle when you can do a better job the Corduroy Orange way?

All you really need to have to make your own salad dressing is some decent vinegar and a bottle of olive oil. Mix 1 part vinegar and 3 parts oil in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Close and shake well.

If you’d like to add a little seasoning to your salad dressing, consider toasting some herbs and spices in the olive oil and then letting it cool before mixing with the vinegar. A nice combination is some freshly ground black pepper with a little garlic powder, some basil, and just a hint of allspice; but play around and see what spices you like. Also consider adding a pinch of salt to the dressing when you mix it.

The results you can achieve are far tastier, much more versatile, less expensive, and come with considerably less packaging as compared to buying bottles of pre-mixed Italian dressing or mix-your-own salad dressing envelopes. So, next time you’re running low on vinaigrette, don’t head for the supermarket! Head for your spice rack instead.

Note: homemade vinaigrettes have a tendency to gel up when refrigerated. If your dressing has no perishable ingredients in it, you can avoid the problem by storing it at room temperature; otherwise, just pull it from the fridge 10-15 minutes before you want to use it.

Also, do not use fresh garlic in any salad dressing you’re not planning on using immediately. Though toasting the garlic in hot oil should kill any microbes that happen to be on the garlic, there is a risk of botulism associated with storing fresh garlic in oil (thus my recommendation above to use garlic powder instead).

In Commemoration of the 940th Anniversary of the Battle of Hastings

Monday, October 16th, 2006

How a skirmish between the Normans and the Saxons affects what you call what you eat today.

Perhaps we don’t always realize the way our lives are influenced by our language and how we refer to things. The relationship in our minds between our words and the objects they represent is so strong that we often forget how malleable thing language is. Even if we don’t realize it in day to day life, our tongue is in a constant state of change. Whether it’s the addition of a word (such as sandwich to describe a simple object that had henceforth been called bread and meat or bread and cheese) or, as is often the case when an invading force takes political control of a region, a shift in the root of the language itself.

The Old English language went into decline 940 years ago today: the day after William the Conqueror of Normandy (France) defeated King Harold of Saxony (England). Previously the English were speaking a guttural, Germanic tongue written with a 28-letter alphabet, as exemplified by the following passage from “Christ III,” a poem attributed to the venerable Bede and written sometime between the years 1000-1050:

Daga egeslicast
weorþeð in worulde, þonne wuldorcyning
þurh þrym þreað þeoda gehwylce,
hateð arisan reordberende
of foldgrafum, folc anra gehwylc,
cuman to gemote moncynnes gehwone.1

Then, the French swept in with their Latin-influenced tongue and changed the entire character of the language. The ruling class spoke French, and they expected that everyone else should speak French, too. But, as one of my French professors once said, “French is but bad Latin in the mouths of Gauls.” Likewise, English is bad French in the mouths of disparate Germanic tribes.

The upper tiers of society adopted French more completely than did the lower tiers, and “the linguistic influence of the Normans tended to focus on matters of court, government, fashion, and high living Meanwhile, the English peasant continued to eat, drink, work, sleep, and play in English.”2 Therefore, many of the more humble aspects of the English language changed little while the more refined aspects adopted new vocabulary.

As a result, when an animal is in the field and attached to its hoof, we still call it by a word derived from its Old English name; but once slaughtered, prepared, and brought to the table, it is known by a French-influenced vocabulary: “English calf, ox, sheep, and swine, but French veal, beef, mutton, and pork.”3 Were it not for the Norman invasion so many years ago, we would be speaking a vastly different language today. I take such evidence to be proof that our actions have a direct and resounding effect on the future of the planet, though I fear our influence in this age of disposability will be less kind to our descendants than a shift in vocabulary.

Our tendency to buy everything in layers of plastic packaging that have been shipped ’round the world with the help of billions of barrels of petroleum is having devastating effects on the health of our planet, as very effectively described in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Therefore, I encourage everyone to do their part to help preserve the planet by recognizing and embracing regional variations on cuisine: cook with what is native to your part of the world, with minimally-processed and packaged ingredients that have traveled as short a distance as possible before arriving on your plate. Though not a total solution to all the world’s ills, it is a meaningful step: each of us eats two or three times a day. That gives us all a chance to act locally over 1000 times a year, which, combined, can add up to a global change. Doing our part will help ensure that 940 years from now, the human race has descendants, whatever language they may speak. (more…)

Pasta Help-Yourself

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

As I described a few weeks ago to Hungry In Ohio, cooking your own meals is usually preferable to heating up some processed food provided to you in a kit. Sometimes, though, it’s just easier to follow the directions on the back of the pasta casserole box.

Corduroy Orange to the rescue! Here’s a very simple, very tasty recipe for a pasta casserole that you can throw together without much hassle at the end of a long and busy day. (more…)