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.

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!

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.

A Tale of Two Chickens

Their names are Bobby and Cissy, after the dancers on the Lawrence Welk show. Cissy is the one with the white patch on her head.

Technically, it’s four chickens–two live ones, and two chicken dishes. But “A Tale of Four Chickens” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, now, does it?

We got new chickens–chicks, really–last week. They are darling. When they cheep they sound like songbirds. They are palm-sized, so small that we don’t have anything to hold them except for a cardboard box.  At night we take them up to the attic (the only place they will be safe from the cats, one of whom has been eyeing them with obvious relish); during the day they get to roam around the backyard and eat bugs. Mmm, bugs.

It’s a little strange eating chicken dishes when we keep chickens as pets–pets with eggy benefits, as my friend Fernanda says–but we all love to eat chicken, especially when it’s coated in panko, fried, and dipped in ranch or blue cheese dressing. So we compartmentalize the meals and the backyard egg machines, and it all seems to work out fine.

We had just gotten a lovely bunch of Thai basil from the CSA (they also had purple basil, lemon basil and–get this–lime basil. Lime basil! What’s next, pomegranate basil? Chipotle basil? Cheddar basil?), so I decided to make some Thai Basil Chicken for the grownups. Of course, the grownups partook of the nuggets, too.

That place mat looks like it belongs in an ice cream parlor, doesn't it?

I make my children’s nuggets from scratch, because I find the packaged, processed ones only slightly less terrifying than the Michelin Man (who, obviously, terrifies me for reasons that I suspect have to do with my father, but that could be pure conjecture). Years ago the kids and I went to a playdate and were served a lunch of microwaved, dinosaur-shaped nuggets. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut, let me tell you. Yes, homemade nuggets are a lot of work compared to ripping open a plastic bag, but they’re worth it. And I usually make a large batch and freeze some.

I mean, it’s not like I make my own hot dogs, for crying out loud.

Anyway, here’s how I make my nuggets:

  1. cut chicken breast into pieces
  2. coat in flour
  3. dip in egg wash–this is my one exception to my ironclad rule to never pair chicken and eggs in the same meal, which is just creepy
  4. coat in panko, which are special Japanese breadcrumbs that make things especially crispy. I don’t know how they do it, but from what I know of the Japanese, I imagine robots are involved
  5. Fry in vegetable oil until golden brown
  6. Enjoy.

I can wrap shit in lettuce just like P.F. Chang (who I suspect is fictional anyway). Where's my restaurant chain?

Thai Basil Chicken

½ pound ground chicken (I made my own, using my Vitamix. Not to brag or anything)
1 shallot or small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T fish sauce
1 T soy sauce
1 T brown or raw sugar
minced Thai chilies*, Sriracha or hot pepper flakes, to taste
1 bunch Thai basil
cooked jasmine rice
large, wrap-like lettuce leaves

Heat coconut or olive oil in a large skillet or (preferably; ask me how I know) wok. Stir fry the onion and garlic until fragrant; add the chicken. Cook, breaking up the chicken into pieces, until the chicken is no longer pink. Add the sauces, sugar and source of hotness and stir-fry for a minute. Add the basil; stir and fry until the basil is wilted.

Serve with rice or in lettuce wraps.

*be careful with those little buggers. I mean it.

Food on Sticks

Skewered food FTW.

Sometimes–just to keep myself entertained–I like to plan meals around arbitrary themes. Today was just such a time, and today’s theme was “Food On A Stick.” I marinated some shrimp in lemon, a little EVOO, and some herbs from the CSA (garlic scapes, oregano, rosemary, chives). Stuck ’em on a stick. Et voila, les crevettes delicieaux.

Thing #2 loooooves shrimp, much in the same way that a kitten I once had loved shrimp, in that she doesn’t really distinguish between where the shrimp ends and where your fingers begin. She just bites. Thing #1, not so much. So I pulled a long-lost package of L’il Smokies (and, incidentally, can I just say that I hate when people or companies write “l’il” instead of “little,” but apparently not enough to cause me to boycott L’il Smokies) out of the freezer and stuck those on sticks, too.

Who were those horrible killers who put their victims’ heads on pikes? I would’ve been a good one of those.

Mini sausages, on a stick. Does it get any better than this?

I haven’t yet mastered the art of skewering brown rice, so for a side dish I made a quick quinoa salad. Do you know from quinoa? It’s a funny little grain, which blossoms into curlicues when you cook it, and which has a good dose of protein. It’s not unlike couscous, only better for you, and lends itself well to cold salads and pilafs. It’s also lovely as a breakfast porridge, with milk and raisins and cinnamon and so on.

All in all, the dinner was a huge success. I forced the children, upon threat of not getting their Rice Dream Nutty Buddies, to eat some baby carrots along with their tiny processed meats. Long-Suffering Husband made various orgasmic noises while eating his shrimp and veg, but then again he was starving after a day of kayaking and installing our new back door.

All plated and ready to be devoured


Herb-Marinated Grilled Shrimp

1 lb. Raw shrimp, in the shell
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T lemon juice
chopped fresh herbs—oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley
minced garlic
minced scallion or shallot

Mix all ingredients except for shrimp. Add shrimp 30 minutes before grilling.

Simple Summer Quinoa Salad

2 c. quinoa
½ cucumber, peeled and diced
1 tomato, diced
1-2 scallions, diced
1/4 c. parsley
¼ cup slivered almonds
EVOO
lemon juice

Rinse quinoa well in a strainer (this removes the saponin, which is a natural, bitter coating that keeps birds from eating the quinoa in its natural habitat). Cook the quinoa with 4 cups water, stirring occasionally. When the water is all absorbed, fluff with fork and cool. When cool, add to other ingredients in a large bowl. Toss. Season with salt and pepper.

Kale Chips. Sing Hallelujah.

Spreadin' the Gospel Since 2009

Are you like me, kids? Do you sometimes have trouble figuring out what in tarnation to do with yet another one of those ginormous bundles of greens that your CSA unloads on you? If you answered yes, I have two words for you: Make kale chips. Whoops–that’s three words, isn’t it? Math was never my strong suit.

If you answered, “Hahahaha! Yeah, right” (as I know most of you probably did), my message is the same:

Make kale chips.

Seriously. Stop reading right now, put your trusty flip-flops on, go to the store, and buy some kale. Buy two bunches. That’s how confident I am that you will like these chips.

Back so soon, are you? OK. Start by stripping the leaves from the stems, and tearing the leaves into bigger-than-bite size pieces. About the size of, say, your iPhone. They’ll shrink.

Wash your kale by immersing it in a big vessel of water, like a stockpot or bathtub. Lift them out and spin them in a salad spinner or dry them on layers of paper towels.

Next, dash some olive oil into a big bowl. Add kosher salt, pepper, some garlic powder, maybe some red pepper flakes. Keep it simple, snacker. Throw the kale pieces in and toss with your hands. Yes, your hands. Dump the whole mess onto a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Put this into an oven that’s 400°-ish.

Now, and here’s the important part: don’t go far. These babies will burn.

After a few minutes, toss with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. Repeat. When they seem about half crisp, what I do is turn off the oven and let them continue to dehydrate as the oven cools. It’s OK if a few of them get caramelized; you just don’t want to burn the whole lot.

It’s a fine line between caramelized and burned, you know.

When they are cool, dig in! Kale chips are salty and crunchy, and some greens-hating bairn (in my house, that would be Thing 2) have even been known not only to eat and enjoy them. You can do this with other greens, too, like collards. Or spinach, although I would use the crinkly mature spinach, not the delicate baby spinach–that would melt into nothing, I’m afraid. Plus, we have better uses for baby spinach, like smoothies.

Now, go forth and spread the gospel of the green chips, my children. Hallelujah.

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