Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce, Social Lubricant Par Excellance

The ice cream is really just for show.

It’s somewhat ironic that I love to cook and entertain the way I do, because my mother has a string of embarrassing-yet-humorous stories centered around food and dining. There was the time that she was chatting with Lee Iacocca at a cocktail party and helped herself to a coconut shrimp on a toothpick from a passing waiter; en route to her mouth, the shrimp fell off the toothpick onto the floor (the upshot of this story is that Iacocca, without missing a beat or calling attention to it, kicked the slipped shrimp under a nearby table). Another time, she and my father hosted a fondue party in which the cheese fondue separated into a layer of stringy swiss covered by four inches of white wine, making for a less than stellar presentation–“although it tasted fine,” Mom is quick to add whenever she tells the story. And once, while they were having dinner with my father’s boss and his wife at a rather exclusive restaurant, my dad mortified my mom by pulling a Bounce dryer sheet out of the sleeve of his dress shirt.

My mom did have one foolproof culinary trick up her–uh, well, in her repertoire, however. Hot fudge sundaes. Whether they were hosting friends for dinner, or had been invited to another couple’s home, or were attending a potluck, my mom could always count on wowing the crowd when she brought a gallon of French vanilla ice cream, a container of Spanish peanuts, and this all-American hot fudge sauce. It’s easy, impressive, unbelievably delicious and guaranteed to absolve you of any food-related faux pas.

<insert PMS joke here>

Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce

Combine 1 cup sugar and 4 tablespoons cocoa powder in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir until mixture is warm, but not melted.

Add 3 tablespoons butter and stir until combined. Add 7/8 cup* evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed, unless you want the diabeetus) and stir until blended. Stirring constantly and scraping bottom of pan with a heatproof spatula, bring sauce to a boil; boil hard for one minute.

Remove from heat. Serve immediately or chill–sauce will be thin at first (“although it tastes fine”) and will thicken as it stands, and especially if it is chilled.

*Yes, I know 7/8 cup is a bizarre measurement, and chances are good that if you use an entire cup, the sauce will turn out just fine. But this is the way my mother handed down the recipe to me, and how her mother handed it down to her, so I’m sticking with 7/8 for the sake of matrilineal tradition.

This Is Not (Exclusively) What I’ve Been Doing

 

It's not as strong as it looks. I (hic!) promise.

 

I know it doesn’t look too good–I take an extended absence from blogging and my first post upon returning is a cocktail. But I haven’t been on a week-long bender, honest (at least not lately). I have two valid and related reasons to explain my recent disappearance: I was going out for the local roller derby league, and then I broke my wrist. Yeah, I know–you don’t have to say it.

So between the obsessive practicing of my T-stops and, now, the pain, both cooking and blogging about cooking have gotten pushed down my priority list. Luckily for y’all, I had this little number tucked away in reserve. I only hope that I’m not too late for you to make such delicious and alcoholic use of the last-of-season tomatoes.

I love bloody Marys, but sometimes they can be a little–well, thick. Gloppy, even. This lovely version solves that problem, while saving all of the flavor and essence of a good tomato-based cocktail. Tomato water is not only sophisticated and impressive, but astonishingly easy to make; in fact, “make” implies rather more active work than tomato water requires.

Tomato-Water Bloody Mary

Take a good quantity of good-quality tomatoes. Stem them and chop them roughly. Place in a colander set over a large mixing bowl, and let stand for several hours. Remove tomato pulp from colander and set aside for another use (I like to freeze this, and add it to stews, soups, chilis and tomato sauces later).  If desired, strain tomato water with a fine-mesh strainer.

In a tall glass, mix 1 oz. vodka, a few shakes Worcestershire, the juice of half a lime, a tsp. of horseradish and hot sauce or Sriracha to taste. Add tomato water and ice cubes. Stir. Garnish with green olives, pickle spears, Slim Jims, cherry tomatoes, cocktail shrimp, lime slice or all of the above. Enjoy!

How to Make A Dull Fish Less So

It's so golden! It makes me think of that Brady Bunch song, "Sunshiny Day." You're welcome.

Admit it–tilapia is kind of a boring fish, taste-wise. Maybe in reality, too–maybe it just swims around paging through USA Today and talking about the humidity. Nevertheless, I like tilapia. It’s affordable, it’s sustainable, it’s mild and easy to cook. It’s just that it needs jazzing up.

I have a great recipe for coating the dull little suckers in mayonnaise and cheese (which can make horrid food tolerable and good food delectable, in my book) but when you’re in the mood for something lighter, why not try pan-searing them and topping them with a fresh, delicious, bright orange-parsley salsa?

Pan-Fried Tilapia with Orange-Parsley Salsa

For Tilapia:

You will need one tilapia filet per person, unless you are my four-year-old, in which case you’ll need two per person. We usually buy the kind that are individually wrapped, which is convenient–albeit hell on the planet. Dry the fish filets with paper towels, then dredge them in flour that you’ve seasoned with salt, pepper, maybe a little garlic powder, maybe a smidgen of cayenne if you like that sort of thing. Pan-fry in a few tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil, until the fish is golden brown and flakes when you nudge it with a fork—just a few minutes per side.

For Salsa:

1 orange, supremed (ain’t we classy?)
1 very small red onion, chopped roughly
1 handful parsley, chopped roughly
1 tsp. Olive oil
generous salt and freshly-ground pepper

Mix! Yes, it’s that easy. Oh, and spoon over tilapia when it’s done.

Nick’s No Compromise Pancakes

Look at that perfect freakin' pat of butter

Funny thing about pancakes: I never liked them until I was pregnant with my son, and then suddenly I was having inexplicable cravings for them. My baby daddy (you might know him better as Long Suffering Husband, since I finally roped him into marrying me after two pregnancies) would take me out to Perkins, Denny’s, et. al., and I would order an omelet and hash browns and side of bacon and pancakes. And eat it all.

Ahem.

Anyway, ever since then I have loved pancakes, and my kids love them too. Fortunately, I can stick any old healthy vegetable or fruit into a pancake, and as long as there’s maple syrup, my kids will gobble it down. I’ve experimented a lot with pancakes, and I’m here to tell you that really, as long as you get them roughly the right consistency, you have a lot of pancake leeway. Take today, for example: we are out of whole-wheat flour, so I decided to grind up some oats. We had some leftover sweet potato (sheesh, I initially spelled that the Quayle way: potatoe) so I threw that in. Etc., etc. I’ve even made pancakes with beets, and believe it or not, passed them off as “Pink Princess Pancakes” or some such nonsense.

Motherhood–it’s 90 percent marketing.

Miss Four pronounced these “super good” and two thumbs up. She ate three, Mr. Seven ate two, LSH ate four or five or nine and even said “Mea culpa” because he had pooh-poohed my healthified flapjacks. Oh, and I ate a few too.

Nick’s No Compromise Healthy Delicious Pancakes

1 cup oat flour (pulse rolled oats in food processor or blender till it’s flour)
1 cup whole-wheat or all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
¼ cup wheat germ
¼ cup flaxmeal
½ tsp. cinnamon (optional)

2 cups almond, soy or cow milk
1 cup mashed sweet potato or winter squash
3 eggs
2 tbsp. butter or mild oil
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl or, ideally, one of those nifty batter bowl thingamobs.

Mix together all of the wet ingredients, including squash, in a blender. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Here’s the tricky part: adjust the batter to make it pancakey. Too thick? Add some milk. Too thin? Add some flax meal, wheat germ or flour.

Fry them on a griddle. You know, like pancakes. If you don’t know how to make pancakes, go either to someone else’s blog, or back to 7th grade Home Economics.

Enjoy!

Sea Vegetables: the New Bacon

Does this thing scream "healthful" or what?

If you know anything about me–from this blog, from other social-media sites, or even from real life (whatever that is, anyway)–you know that I love bacon. In fact, I’ve become rather infamous in some circles for my love of bacon, to the point where people think I love bacon more than I actually do. For the record, although I am intrigued by such products as bacon-flavored lip balm, I do also enjoy many things that are neither meat nor meat-flavored. Like dulse.

“But, but, Nick,” I can practically hear you protesting, “dulse is seaweed! I mean, I think it is…I’m not even sure what it is! All I know is that it’s some kind of liberal-commie-pinko-homo-hippie food!”

Yup. It sure is. And it’s also packed with minerals, and vitamins, and vitameatavegamins, and all sorts of good stuff. In other words, dulse is pretty much the anti-bacon. So, for my veg friends who are all baconned out, and anyone else who wants something a little lighter and more nutritious, but every bit as scrumptious, may I present the DLT?

To be fair, I got this idea from the back of the package of my favorite brand of dulse (are you listening, Maine Coast Sea Vegetables? Hint, hint), but it was my idea to make it into a wrap. Dulse is chewy and savory and umami-rich when it’s raw; when it is toasted, however, it turns crisp, salty, indulgent and fleetingly nommable–much like bacon, making it the ideal stand-in as part of the classic BLT when contrasted with sweet tomato, the tang of mayonnaise, and crisp lettuce.

And after all, who doesn't love a wrap?

Don’t get me wrong–you’re never going to bite into a DLT and exclaim, “Damn! That’s the best bacon EVER!” That is to say, dulse will not fool you into thinking it’s bacon, or satisfy you if bacon is what you really want. But it is a fine food in its own right, and the qualities it shares with bacon means that it, too, pairs well with the L and the T.

The DLT (aka the Anti-Bacon Wrap)

1 wheat tortilla
1 generous handful dulse
1 T. mayonnaise
tomato, sliced or chopped
lettuce

Spray a small skillet with olive-oil spray; over medium-high heat, toast the dulse until it turns from a pliable seaweedy color to a rich, dark, crackly brown. If it doesn’t all transform before the rest of it threatens to burn, that’s OK.

Dress the tortilla with mayo (or condiment of your choice), lettuce and tomato. Salt and pepper generously. Add the pile of dulse, roll up, and dig in.

Hot-Plate Carbonara, OR, the Last of the Homemade Bacon

A few weeks ago I had an amazing experience–I got to spend an entire week at a rural country house with friends from college, most of whom I hadn’t seen in mumbledy-mumble years (and when I say “mumbledy-mumble,” I mean, “upwards of 19 but not that many, for chrissakes, how old do you think I am?”). It was remarkable how comfortable we all were with one another, almost instantly, even though many of us had lost touch for eons and only re-connected via the magic of Facebook. There were few, if any, awkward moments. At least until it came to the cooking.

Now, I was perfectly happy to eat out, or to subsist on nibblies like hummus and pita chips and potato chips and brie and fruit and olives and vodka, and to be sure we did plenty of that. Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to not cook–especially when I am trying to relax, because I enjoy cooking. This house, however (which shall remain nameless, except to say that it is the former home of an eccentric couple who make even eccentricker pottery and home furnishings), did not have a functional stove; it had an Aga Cooker.

Aga Cookers are like really, really expensive pioneer stoves. You can’t just flip one on to whip up a quick omelet or cup of tea. No, these tanks take hours to heat up, and provide heat to the entire county. So in August, in upstate New York? They’re pretty much just decorative.

The vacay house did, however, have an electric teakettle, an abnormally large toaster oven, a microwave, a gas grill and a double hot plate. As one of the reunion attendees said, it was like overdecorated camping. But you know what? I love camping. I love the make-do, improvisational challenge of camp cooking. So I took my teeny baggie of leftover homemade bacon, and some parsley from my CSA, and some eggs from my chickens, and I made Hot-Plate Carbonara.

Looks pretty damn good for an impromptu dish made in an unfamiliar kitchen, huh?

Hot-Plate Carbonara

1 lb. Thin spaghetti or other pasta
2 eggs
½ cup white wine, leftover champagne or pasta cooking water
½ to 1 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, finely shredded or grated
small (or large) amount cooked bacon or pancetta
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

After a thorough (and sometimes frightening) search of the cupboards in your vacation home, take the largest pot or pan you can scrounge up. It will be a crappy, lightweight pot that looks like it spent the better part of the 1990s in a thrift store. That’s OK. Fill it with water and set it on the bigger burner of the hot plate. Go away and read in the hammock for 45 minutes, or until the water comes to a boil.

Take down the biggest pottery bowl from the top shelf of a cupboard, standing on a rickety painted chair if necessary. Wash the dust out of it. Crack your two eggs into it and beat. Add a generous glug of last night’s champagne, which some non-drinker or thoughtful inebriated person corked up with a twist of aluminum foil and left on the counter. Marvel at the fact that the foil actually kept the champers kind of bubbly. Drink the rest of the leftover champagne, even though it’s warm. Add the parmigiano-reggiano to the egg-champagne mixture and stir to combine. Plunk a couple of wooden spoons or salad tongs into the bowl.

When the pasta is cooked to your liking, drain it in an antique colander that looks like something your grandmother would’ve shucked peas into. Working very quickly, dump the hot pasta into the bowl, then start stirring and tossing with alacrity. Why alacrity? What’s at stake, you ask? A delicious, creamy pasta sauce is at stake. Otherwise you will have a bowl of pasta in scrambled egg sauce, and a long damn wait while the pizza delivery guy finds your rural vacation home and putt-putts up the cobblestone driveway in his 1994 Corolla. Or an opportunity to uncork some more champagne, preferably cold this time around, and begin where you left off, telling stories of escapades past and friends not forgotten.

Oh, P.S.: After tossing the heck out of it, top with the parsley and bacon; season with salt and pepper. Duh, Nick!

My Love Affair with Bacon. Part deux

Here she is, all rubbed down with maple syrup and brown sugar and salt and pepper. Mmmm, sweet and salty rub downs...

So as this year’s Nickmas festivities drew nigh, and my dance card became far too full for me to even think about hosting my own party, let alone another decadent ride on the Crazy Carnival of All Things Bacon, I decide to keep it simple. To go back to the land, as it were. So I went out to the barnyard in my old overalls, my “slaughteralls,” as I like to call ’em, and I said, “Sooooey!” and I butchered me a pig.

No, I didn’t. I just went to the Asian market and bought a nice pork belly, bone-in. I removed the rib section and tucked it in the freezer against the next time Long Suffering Husband has a hankerin’ for something meaty, took the rest of the belly, and plopped her skin-side down in a shallow casserole dish. I slathered her up with salt, brown sugar, pepper and a splash from the maple syrup bottle. (Don’t ask me why I keep calling the pork belly a “she”–I’ve no idea.) I massaged the spices into her tender flesh — OK, this is just wrong. At any rate, you know what to do. Smoosh everything in as best you can. cover it with saran wrap or–as the British say, “clingfilm,” marvelous word, that–and stick it in the fridge. For a couple of days. Each day you should take her out and admire her take it out and drain off any accumulated liquid. Re-clingfilm and return to fridge.

When you are ready to actually make the bacon, then it’s time to realize that you are not, in fact, ready to make bacon. First you have to smoke it, if you have a smoker, which we don’t (yet — hear that, LSH?) or bake it in the oven. Because I knew I’d be baking, I also added a liberal dose of liquid smoke to my pre-baked bacon. Then I wrapped her lovingly in a double layer of foil, put her in heavy, lidded pan, and let her bask away in a relaxing sauna/steam room let it bake, covered, in a slow oven  (about 250° F) for several hours.

Trusty meat thermometer should tell you 160°

When you have removed the bacon from the foil packet, it will look roughly like this. You’ll now want to turn it over and remove the outer layer of fat; this should separate easily from the rest of it (unlike my outer layer of fat, which stays stubbornly attached to the rest of me), and then slice it, as thinly as you can. I suppose if you had access to a meat slicer, that would be the ideal tool. I just used a knife, though, and called it “thick-cut.” It’s alll about the marketing, you know.

Thick-cut bacon -- it's what's for breakfast

And then, like the good little feminist I am, I fried that bacon up in mah pan! Protip: if you start the bacon in a cold pan–and I’m sorry, but you must use a heavy cast-iron pan to fry bacon in (and chicken, but that’s another post). If you are still using that dreadful T-fal nonsense, then I’m going to have to come over to your house with my cast-iron skillet.

And beat you over the head with it.

Behold...BACON!

Voila! Looks like bacon, doesn’t it? Remarkable. It tasted good, too — chewy in some places, crisp in others, the whole offering up just a hint of sweetness from the cure. We gobbled down most of it that day, grabbing a piece or two as we passed through the kitchen, but I did manage to save enough to make Hot-Plate Carbonara on vacation a few days later, but you’ll hear about that soon enough.

In the meantime, go get yourself a $4 pork belly at the Asian market–you can get them boneless, too–and get curin’. Although bacon takes some planning–mine cured for four or five days, I think, although you could get away with three–it’s remarkable easy and mostly hands-off.

I bet it would make a killer BLT, too.

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