And Now for Something Completely Different

 

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A David Ewing Creation

Happy 2018 from The Raggedys!  In Andy’s Corner Andy has been busy ranking the great articles we posted during 2017 on Food for Thought – and I’ve been busy…..well, tidying up after entertaining family and friends for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

To start the new year Andy and I are delighted to have a guest blogger from “The Land of Enchantment.”  David Ewing is enchanting in-oh-so-many ways, only one of them being that he’s from New Mexico.  Frankie, David’s wife and my junior-year roommate at CC, introduced us to David probably 45+ years ago.  I might add that because David’s professional practice focused on geriatric psychiatry, it can be more-than-a-little intimidating dealing with him! 🙂

When Frankie and David’s holiday letter arrived the other day, we knew it would be filled with just enough of David’s droll sense of humor – and witticisms about life with the Ewing family – to entertain us thoroughly.  And it did.

David is the perfect counter-balance to what I write and think about in regards to food and cooking.  While I fill up notebooks before the Christmas holidays with grocery-shopping lists, details of every day’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner plans, daily chores in the kitchen, etc., etc., etc.,  David punts.

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Ann’s holiday cooking lists

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David’s holiday cooking list

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Frankie and David

Asked to respond to “Who Am I?” David answered:

David Ewing is the husband of Frankie Keller Ewing, Ann’s Colorado College sorority sister from one hundred years ago. He is much younger than those old people, but he has used himself hard through the years and is pretty well worn out, so does not seem too out of place when he tags along to their geriatric gatherings, at least not until he opens his mouth. Frankie allows as how he does this too early and too often, but she has become more tolerant through the years. He is as rude as ever, but his outrageous suggestions have mostly become idle threats and rarely result in actual misbehavior, at least not in an organized way. It is hard to get into too much trouble when bedtime is at 9:00 PM.

Two of his surviving passions are puttering and eating. When these find expression concurrently, he cooks. Some describe him as a “creative” cook. He suspects that “creative” in this context means approximately the same thing as “interesting” when it is used to describe a dish that one actually doesn’t care for at all. The sort of “creativity” David indulges actually grows out of a disability: his incapacity for sustained attention. Ann has asked him to write something about what effect this has on his cooking.

Here is David’s blog. Read it and smile.  Read it and get a whole different perspective on shopping and cooking.  And then enjoy his recipes (though David warns you should not adhere to them too closely): a menu featuring Costillas de Puerco (pork ribs) in a Guajillo Sauce,  Calabacitos (a New Mexico-style dish with summer squash) and a Watermelon and Tomatillo Salad (which appeared in an earlier post).  Our Brooklyn kiddos received an Instant Pot for Christmas, so the Costillas recipe should get instant family interest.

Cooking for me is almost never about deciding what to cook and then going shopping. I hate looking for stuff because usually I can’t find things I look for. This is understandable in a grocery store, which is large and might not in fact have what one thinks he needs. But I sometimes even have trouble finding a spoon in the spoon drawer. I suffer from desk drawer dyslexia. This means that if I look for something in a drawer containing three or more objects, I can’t find any of them. Furthermore (though one wonders whether this may be rationalization), I have a philosophical aversion to preconceptions and expectations of whatever kind, because they tend to distort our perceptions.

I love to go exploring with no particular object or destination in mind.   I can spend happy hours wandering up and down the aisles of Ta Lin, Albuquerque’s Asian supermarket, sniffing at seaweed and dried mushrooms of a hundred kinds and marveling at the pickled lizards and mysterious vegetables of exotic provenance. (Note from Ann:  Andy wrote about our ethnic-markets-shopping here.)

On my way home from swimming on Wednesday mornings, I often stop by Sprouts or El Mezquite (a Mexican grocery and carnicería) to stock up on fresh meat and vegetables, because that’s when the best sales are on. Saturday mornings in summer we go to the Farmers’ Market downtown. It galls me to pay $4 a pound for anything, but it is often terrific and I figure what I spend counts as a combination of civic duty and Locavorian tithing. Every couple of weeks I make a run to Costco to buy mass quantities of stuff (including adult beverages) when they’re on sale.

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David and Frankie’s kitchen:  according to David, the big canisters are two deep and right now contain white, black, red, pinto and peruvano beans, chickpeas, green split peas, all purpose, whole wheat and semolina flours, polenta, cous cous, long grain white  rice, brown rice, arborio rice, barley, rolled oats, homemade granola, sugar, “spiced sugar” that I salvage from the ham glaze mix that comes with Costco spiral sliced ham, walnuts, almonds, pecans, raisins and a good twelve or fifteen smaller bags and containers of other such–turbinado sugar, dried mango powder, faro, soy flour, dried cranberries, red lentils and God knows what other kind of weevil-infested stuff.

We keep a good stock of staples on hand—canisters of several kinds of dried beans, three kinds of rice, assorted pastas, several kinds of dried chiles, nuts, potatoes, onions, garlic and cans of Costco organic chopped tomatoes by the case. We have a supply of dried spices, but I use mainly fresh spices that grow outside the kitchen door: basil, mint, sage, oregano, rosemary, chives, thyme, tarragon, marjoram and spearmint, of all things. It’s a sheltered spot and I can harvest many of these year-around, though it gets to be a chore to pick the sticks and spider webs out of them by February. Sometimes I salvage some sad vegetables from our much-neglected, sunburned garden out back, where (truth be told) produce actually costs more like $40 per pound if I count the cost of labor.

I go shopping not to find what I want but to see what is there. I come home with whatever looked especially interesting or was a terrific bargain with no idea of what I am going to do with it.

Thinking about dinner at home is an exercise of the same kind on a smaller scale. I scan the refrigerator and search the freezer for icebergs begging to be explored. I’ve taken to doing this first thing in the morning so that I can thaw or salt or brine whatever meat it looks like it is time to use, or start some beans in the crock-pot and maybe even get started chopping some onions while my breakfast cooks. I often start chopping the onions while I am still figuring out what to cook—practically everything starts with onions. I once overheard my niece telling a friend, “My God, those people (i.e. us) eat onions like most people eat potatoes.”

Onions and C Pot

Lots of onions

It is all but impossible for me to follow a recipe. I can’t even find the recipe book I’m looking for and if I did, I wouldn’t have all the ingredients called for. So I cook what I find. Once I have found it, if I’m in the mood to learn something I Google the main ingredients just to see what kind of recipes turn up. I don’t follow recipes, but I often read four or five of them to see what folks are doing and may use this as a jumping off place. Then I just putter and watch what unfolds. I find out what I was going to cook only after it is done. (I am reminded that a year ago my daughter gave me Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat. Though there are some recipes, this is not a recipe book. She speaks of techniques, substitutions and tasting, tasting, tasting. I read it like a novel and it really blew my skirt up. I’d quote something from it, but I can’t find it.)

Last Wednesday I stopped by El Mezquite planning to get some vegetables—they have the best selection and prices on fresh and dried chiles, avocados, tomatillos and such—and saw that “costillas de puerco” were on sale. These are pork spare ribs, cut across the ribs into strips about an inch wide. I bought some and Googled “costillas de puerco,” which turned up a delightful instruction in Spanish by Rogelio Lara on YouTube showing how to prepare these in a guajillo sauce (well, almost these—the video used spare ribs cut to the length more familiar to us). You don’t have to understand Spanish to follow Lara because he shows you what to do. I’ll list the link and ingredients below in English. Way cool! I have been experimenting with different kinds of chiles and happened to have some guajillos in the cupboard.

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But his method involved browning the ribs and then simmering them in several cups of water for an hour until all the water cooks off. I had absolutely no doubt that if I tried this, I would wander off somewhere while waiting for them to cook and burn the house down. Besides, the housekeepers were coming that morning and would not want me underfoot. So instead of trying to cook the ribs on the stovetop, I put them into the crock-pot after browning them, made the sauce pretty much as suggested, added that to the crock-pot and cooked them without additional water. The video suggested serving the ribs with rice, but when I tasted them in early afternoon, I discovered that I had over-salted them, so I cut up some potatoes and added those to the crock-pot. (Potatoes are great for taking salt out of the soup—and in this case, the dish ended up perfectly seasoned.) When everything was done, the sauce was still a little too thin to suit me, so I poured it off the solids in the crock-pot into a skillet on the stove and boiled it down some. I whipped up a batch of calabacitas and some watermelon and tomatillo salad for side dishes and made a delightful meal.

I have an idea that the reader is beginning to get the drift that planning has little to do with how these meals unfold, as I’m always tying to solve a problem or figure out a use for something that has fallen into my lap. For me to write recipes doesn’t make much sense, but this is a cooking blog, and I will try to do that. Please do not get too attached to following them. Continue reading

It’s Louie Louie Time

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Tired of Christmas music?

If you’re of my generation, you may have fond memories of the Kingsmen and their recording of Louie Louie.  I remember how we desperately tried to figure out what the rumored “dirty words” were in those mostly unintelligible lyrics.  Apparently the FBI tried to figure it out too. (I’ve been thinking about the FBI lately.)  Some say it took them two years to work on it – yet they never interviewed Jack Ely who sang it on that infamous recording.  Snopes.com has a fascinating article about the song.

Of course, as I danced around in my best 60’s dance mode to Louie Louie, I immediately thought of Crab Louie and a blog.  Andy began reminiscing about a crab boil in Louisiana.

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where freshly cooked crabs are available, a Crab Louie – or Louis – dinner is the perfect holiday meal – simple to prepare, beautiful, healthy.  If you can get fresh shrimp, that works too.

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According to Leigh, Louie dressing is all about using homemade horseradish and appraising the color.  This is too pale.  I needed to up the ketchup amount.

Our neighbors and friends, Leigh and Maxine, are my authorities on Crab Louie.  Maxine grew up in San Francisco and shared this bit of her family history with us:

When asked to write something about growing up in San Francisco and eating Dungeness Crab, I had a wonderful flashback from being a 10 year old girl. My parents waited all year for crab season to open in November, and I have a fond memory of going to Fisherman’s Wharf with my Dad when the time came. We would drive to the dock where the fishermen were unloading the crabs. A vendor would pop them in a vat of boiling water for a minute or two, take them out and hand them to his partner who would clean and crack them. Then he would wrap the crab in some newspaper and send us on our way.

On the way home, we always stopped at the Larraburu Bakery and bought a large loaf of fresh, warm sourdough French bread. When we arrived home my mom would have prepared a simple salad with lettuce, celery and lots of avocado. She made a Thousand Island dressing and served it on the side along with some lemon wedges. My parents would shell a big pile of crab on their plate, add the salad and dressing and feast with the sourdough bread, all the while talking and catching up on each others news. Meanwhile, I loved my grilled cheese sandwich.

So get crackin’!  And try Maxine’s approach (to the crab, that is; not the cheese sandwich): have everyone sit and shell the crab while visiting (and enjoying a glass of chilled dry white wine – perhaps Sonoma’s Dry Creek Fumé Blanc).  When all the crab has been shelled and every guest has a plate with a pile of crab, you’re ready to pass the green salad and the dressing and dig in.  Slow-food at its best.  And, this dear readers, is a Best of the Besties!

Best of the Besties Crab Louie

  • Servings: 1 big crab should feed 2 people; 1 pound of shrimp - for Shrimp Louie - will serve 4
  • Print

Ingredients

Homemade Horseradish

  • 8-10″ piece of horseradish root, peeled and chopped
  • 2 T water
  • 1 T white vinegar
  • pinch salt

Put all the ingredients in a food processor (being careful not to rub your eyes after handling the fresh horseradish) and process until well ground.  Transfer the horseradish to a jar and refrigerate.  It will keep 3-4 weeks.

Crab Louie Dressing (enough for 4 hearty eaters)

  • 3/4 c mayonnaise
  • 3/4 c ketchup
  • 3 tsp horseradish (or to taste)

Crab Louie Salad

  • Romaine or Baby Gem lettuce, chopped or torn into bite-size pieces
  • Avocados, cut into bite-size pieces or sliced, and placed on top of the lettuce

Accompaniments: lemon slices and slices of top-notch artisan bread – traditionally sourdough

Serving

  • One beautiful bowl of cracked crab pieces, surrounded by lemon slices
  • One bowl of salad/avocado mix
  • Crab Louie Dressing
  • Bread

Recipe brought to you by Maxine and Lee and BigLittleMeals.com

 

 

Sweet and Saucy

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It seems we must be so cautious in what we write or say these days.  Is “saucy” an okay expression?  I looked it up in the Oxford dictionary:

British: Cheeky or impertinent

North AmericanHaving or expressing a bold, lively, or spirited manner.

Since I’m firmly planted on the North American continent, I’ll run with it.  Maybe I even aspire to be it!

Anyway, back in the good ol’ days of the 16th century, it simply meant “flavoured with sauce” and that’s our definition for today’s lagniappe blog on my favorite sweet sauce….to be drizzled over all kinds of desserts.  Who can resist this ultimate-decadent-yumminess?

AND one more thing: if you’re desperate for a last minute present, this is so quick and easy – and the gifted one will love you forever.

Caramel Dessert Sauce

I’m using the sauce on Sticky Date Pudding as the finale for a holiday dinner tomorrow.  Definitely try it on our Swedish Almond Visiting Cake, our Italian Chocolate Hazelnut Torte, or just put some in your own tiny bowl, delicately dip in your finger, and lick.  Repeat.  It’s that good.  Thanks to dessert-recipe-rock-star David Lebovitz for the inspiration for this recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 T butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 c packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 c whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Melt the butter, brown sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan over low heat, mixing well.  Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir again.  Cool slightly before serving; refrigerate and keep for up to a week. 

David Lebovitz adds 1 1/2 cups of sliced and toasted almonds after cooking. Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann

The Nutcracker Sweet

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Since our last regular blog talked about my childhood pet rooster, Pecker, a post on nutcrackers seemed like a logical follow-up.  But I’m really more interested in the suite sweet part than I am in nutcrackers per se.  Oh, and nuts, too.  In fact, I have a slight nut addiction (I certainly am not insinuating anything about Andy).  Andy, meanwhile, is getting a little squirrelly about this blog idea.

Because of my addiction, I am happy to report that a little on-line research – done while I was sneaking pieces of the delicious “Swedish Almond Visiting Cake” – reveals some great facts about nuts.  Almonds provide Vitamin E and fiber (though the water demands of the almond tree make almonds a mixed bag: health vs environment); “Nut Consumption Reduces Risk of Death;” A Few Walnuts a Day May Help Boost Memory; nuts are one of  “Ten Foods to Boost Your Brain Power.” According to a recent article in U.S. News & World Report, nuts may help us

  • have a healthier heart
  • keep our minds sharp
  • prevent age-related weight gain (I’m on my way out the door to get even more nuts now!)
  • prevent and manage type 2 diabetes
  • ease our aching joints
  • side-step cancer (“side-step” – from the USN&WR writer – is an interesting choice of words)

(FAMILY SPOILER ALERT!!!!) So I’ve given up buying the family fancy presents this year and instead am wrapping little packages of nuts to put under our Christmas tree…of course, with a cautionary note that they are to be consumed gradually and over time.  Brazil nuts, filled with selenium, for the family’s men and boys.  Walnuts for those whose brains fuzz over now and then – which would be pretty much all of us.   Almonds, high in Vitamin E, for those concerned about complexions.  Hazelnuts to hasten healing after one or more of the family has been clawed (or bitten) by our sweet Siamese cats.  Pecans from Louisiana for everyone, just because.

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One of our sweet Siamese cats

A final note before going to the sweet part of this blog.  Researchers say that nuts are helpful in preventing a craving for sweets.  The irony here is great.

Continue reading

A Toast to December

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If you want to feel very cosmopolitan (but don’t want a Cosmopolitan), try a Boulevardier  – especially if you’re tired of Negronis.  The cocktail – pronounced “boo-luh-var-dyay” – dates back to Paris and the 1920s. Its festive color makes the Boulevardier the perfect cocktail for the holiday season (please do note how artfully Andy has found greenery to accompany the red in the drink!) 🙂

The Boulevardier

  • Servings: 1
  • Print
For a slightly-less sweet drink, add a touch more bourbon or reduce the amount of Campari a bit.

Ingredients

  • 1 oz bourbon
  • 1 oz campari
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula is wonderful – and pricey – but it’s versatile; try it as an aperitif or in your Negroni)
  • a cherry (don’t use old-fashioned maraschinos.  Yuck.  Instead, use something like Tillen Farms Bada Bing Cherries)

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled mixing glass, stir well, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; drop in the cherry.  Or serve it over the rocks – 1 big ice cube is best – in an old-fashioned glass.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann
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