EACH IN ITS PLACE ON PLATE AND PALATE

Unlikely Pairing – Bacon and chocolate, caramel and cheddar… Is there an unorthodox food pairing you really enjoy? Share with us the weirdest combo you’re willing to admit that you like — and how you discovered it.


Unorthodox food pairing? What, pray tell, would orthodox be? Is there a dogmatic approach to food consumption of which I am unaware?

spices in the kitchenI don’t put sugar on my eggs, or eat bacon with my ice cream. I don’t eat bacon at all, really. It’s unhealthy, despite it having become terribly (and I said terribly with intentional punniness) trendy.

I’m a food conservative. If you need to put a classification on my relationship to cuisine. I’m in favor of not mixing it all up into a gloppy mess. If I’ve taken the trouble to cook three or four components to create a meal — perhaps chicken limone, garlic mashed potatoes, and fresh asparagus with a hint of butter sauce — I want to be able to taste each part of the meal separately. I want YOU to taste each of them separately, too. If you are one of those people who likes to mix everything into one yucky heap, I will sit across the table and glare malevolently at you until you finally ask me what’s wrong.

I will then tell you. In considerable detail, probably far more detail than you wanted to hear.  If you argue, I will explain the intricacies of the preparation — not to mention the labor I put into producing these gourmet delights.  And how by mixing them, you have nullified my efforts and personally offended me.

Telling me something like “But that’s the way I like it” will win you an invitation to go buy an everything pizza downtown. You are not worthy of my table. If you have, perchance, put ketchup on it, back away from the table and leave quietly before I kill you.

I guess the answer is that I don’t eat weird combinations of foods because I like every dish in its proper place on plate and palate.

Should I apologize for this? I don’t think so.

PERMANENT K. P.

Back on the Chain Gang

Last night I calculated I have been cooking dinners for me and a husband and/or children, other family and friends for just shy of 50 years. Half a century.

I’m a good cook. I like food and since I can’t afford to order in or eat out very often, I have to make it myself. That’s why I learned to prepare Chinese cuisine. I figured if all those Chinese women can do it, I probably can too. As it turns out, while I’m not a fancy Chinese cook, I can produce credible Chinese-style dishes. I can also cook pretty good Caribbean and Italian food, thanks to Garry’s mom and a long list of Italian co-workers armed with grandma’s best recipes.

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I’ve got a “to die for” chili recipe from Grandma Kraus, adapted for current tastes and some traditional Jewish recipes gotten from family, friends and miscellaneous Israeli pals during my sojourn abroad.

So I cook well. If I make an effort, I cook very well. I just don’t want to.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a festival, company coming, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover or Arbor Day. I do not want to cook. As a result? I cook pretty much every day because Garry doesn’t. If I don’t cook, he won’t eat. He’s already too thin (would he care to take a few of my spare pounds? I’m willing and eager to share). Meanwhile, if I don’t come up with tempting dishes, he will fade to nothing.

So I cook. What he is going to do while I’m not kitchen-able is interesting to contemplate. My daughter-in-law has promised to make sure he doesn’t became a wraith. That would be good.

What is it about cooking I don’t like? Mostly, having to do it. It’s late. I’m tired. I want to eat. I don’t feel like peeling, chopping, sautéing, whatever-ing. There’s no specific part of the process I particularly loathe. I’m just done with cooking and if I never have to do it again, that would be fine with me. Something tells me that’s not going to happen.

Morning light in my kitchen as coffee brews ...

My mother was smart. A terrible cook. The food she prepared was tasteless. Dry. At its finest, unimaginative and bland. At its worst, inedible. No one ever begged her to make that special dish of hers. If she said she didn’t care to cook that night (usually because she was involved in some other project, like hooking a rug or glazing a pot or completing an oil painting), we all leapt to our feet and volunteered to find our own lunch or dinner. “Please, Mom, don’t worry. We’ll take care of it.”

Anything to avoid Mom’s home cooking.

I should have followed her example. She was really a very smart lady. I didn’t realize how smart until long after I’d moved away from home. Oh well. Too soon old. Too late smart, eh?

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HOME FRIES

This ultimate comfort food is probably called something different depending on where you live. Originally, the recipe was a way to use leftover potatoes, but it has become a staple of diner breakfasts all across America.

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You can use leftover potatoes if you happen to have some. You could also, in theory, use canned boiled potatoes but I think they taste kind of tinny. I cut up whatever potatoes I have in the house … there are always some potatoes in the bin.

Tonight, I used the remainder of a big bag of Idahos. They were too old to bake. I had to pick out the eyes which were barely this side of becoming a plant. There were a few bad spots to remove, too. Nonetheless, I had more than enough to make home fries that would generously serve four adults.

So here’s the recipe. It’s a seat-of-your-pants recipe, so you need to have kitchen courage in place. Be bold.

  • 4 – 5 large, washed unpeeled potatoes, cut into small pieces
  • 1 or 2 large onions, chopped
  • Optional: 1 – 2 banana peppers (mildly hot Hungarian peppers)
  • Salt
  • Paprika
  • Pepper
  • Garlic (chopped or powder)
  • Cumin or chili powder
  • Oil for frying.

I prefer corn oil because it’s pretty heavy-duty as a lubricant and rarely burns. It tastes okay and won’t kill you with cholesterol. I do not use canola oil because it is made from rape seed which is used for making heavy-duty engine lubricant.

There is no such thing as a canola. Ponder that when you use canola oil or any “canola-based” substance.

You can use potatoes that are past their prime and you don’t have to peel them. I don’t peel potatoes. It’s against my principles. Wash the potatoes, remove eyes and bad spots, then cut them into pieces suitable for frying.

Boil the potatoes until they are fork tender. Don’t abandon them and wander off to the computer or television. If you over-cook them, they’ll be good for mashing, but not frying.  The hardest part of this is getting the potatoes soft enough to eat, but not mushy. After 10 minutes, start checking until you think you’ve got it.

my skillet

You’re going to need a deep-frying pan. I use black cast iron cookware. I have 4 sizes,  from a flat griddle to a 5-quart dutch oven. I love them and the only thing wrong with them is they are very heavy, especially when full of food.

I have had to work out strategies to use them successfully since I’m not as strong as I used to be. Mine are all made by Lodge, bought through Amazon.  It’s less than half the price of good stainless steel cookware. It’s better at controlling heat. Once properly seasoned, cast iron is more non-stick than Teflon and a great deal easier to maintain.

While the potatoes are boiling, fry the garlic, onions and peppers.  When the potatoes are ready, drain them, rinse them with cold water and add them to the onion and pepper mix. Add spices. The paprika is for color. If you like things spicy (I do), you can use hot Hungarian paprika.

home fries 6

It’s done when you think it is, when it tastes the way you want it to taste … and the rest of the meal is ready. As long as you add oil as needed and keep the heat moderate … and don’t walk away and leave it to scorch — this is a dish that will wait for you. Keep moving it around with a spatula.

It’s delicious. If you have leftovers, you can reheat them for another meal or freeze them for one of your “I don’t feel like cooking” days. Great with eggs and bacon … or anything. And definitely comforting.

DAILY PROMPT: PUTTING OUT THE FIRE

A bunch of us had gathered at Sandy’s house. She was a cook, aspiring to be a professional. When she invited us for a meal, it was good. Always a good feeding and delicious. We were her test subjects, never knowing what great idea she’d come up with. Whatever, we were happy to eat it.

On this day, Sandy was dressed — as always — in a floaty Indian blouse and long skirt. The blouse had angel-wing sleeves. Very pretty, if a bit inconvenient in the kitchen. All of us had been smoking a little hashish. We’d have been smoking pot, but it was hard to come by. Hashish was ubiquitous, available everywhere. All it really meant was we were building up a hearty appetite. It was our appetizer.

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“Hey,” I said. “Sandy! You are on fire.” Sure enough, the wings of her blouse passed smoldering — I’d missed that — and were now in flames.

“Oh,” said Sandy, flustered.

All the friends stood there like stuffed dummies, staring at the pretty fire. Morons, I mumbled. Then, I put out the fire. Cotton doesn’t flame up quickly and if one is attentive, it’s easy to douse. Sandy thanked me profusely for a commonplace thing I’d have done for anyone. What was more interesting was how the rest of the gang just stood there with their mouths open, apparently at a loss to know what to do. Not good in a crisis, I surmised.

“No one else tried to put out the fire,” said Sandy.

“Not a big deal,” I said, and it wasn’t. I still don’t understand why I was the only one who realized that “Sandy is on fire” should be followed by putting out the fire.

Sandy stopped wearing loose clothing in the kitchen and stopped inviting those friends for dinner. Shortly thereafter, following a misunderstanding with the local constabulary vis-à-vis the growing of certain plants on her balcony, she moved to San Francisco and opened a chain of take-out restaurants. I visited her there. She’s doing fine and no longer feels obliged to grow her own on the balcony.

In any case, it would be legal.

FOR THE PROMPTLESS – LAPSUS LINGUAE AND BIG MISTER MALAPROP

Once upon a time when me and the whole world were a good deal younger, my father had a business partner. I don’t remember his name, but he was a big, bluff Russian who used to come over the house, visit, and make gallons of cabbage soup. He must have thought there were a lot more of us than there were because my mother couldn’t figure out how to store so much soup, even though we had a full size standing deep freezer in the basement and a huge fridge in the kitchen. He and my father would go into the kitchen and produce these gallons of soup. We all had to eat it for weeks until we were sure we were turning into little cabbages.

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Bob (or whatever his name was) was accident prone and an enthusiastic teller of stories, most of them about his own misadventures.

“So I was at the beach, at Coney Island” he says, almost shouting because he never said anything except very loud. “Very sunny. Blue sky. A nice day to take my mother to the beach, let her relax in the sun by the water. She is just settling down with her chair. And she asks me if I’ll set up the umbrella for her. I mean, she didn’t have to ask. I always do it, but she always asks anyway, like if she doesn’t ask I won’t do it. I took her to Coney Island, what did she think, I’m going to leave her to cook in the sun?”

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We all nodded dutifully. Because he was my father’s partner and we were kids, so what else was there to do?

“It’s a big umbrella. With stripes. Red and yellow. I got it myself, on sale. Umbrellas are expensive and this was a good sturdy one and I paid bupkas for it. If you ever need an umbrella …” and he paused to remember what he was going to say. “Anyway, this was one of the good ones, with a heavy pole so it would stay put.”

We nodded some more. Our job. To nod. Look very interested.

“I opened the umbrella and had to find the right place to put it because, you know, if it’s in the wrong place, the shade isn’t going to be where you want it. So I walked around a bit until I found just the right place. Then I took the pole and a jammed it into the sand as hard as I could and it went pretty deep. Seemed good and solid.”

We were still nodding. I must have been — maybe 10? — and had been taught to be polite, no matter what, to grown-ups. We did not call adults by their first name. I think my teeth would have cracked if I had tried or my tongue would have stuck to the roof of my mouth.

DemocracySM

“What with everything looking okay and my mother settling down in her chair with a book, she looked happy. So I figured it would be a good time to get something to eat and I told her I would go get us some hot dogs — and something to drink. She said that was good, tell them to leave the mustard off because — she’s always reminding me but I know, I know — she doesn’t like mustard.

I walked all the way over to Nathan’s — that’s a pretty long walk, all the way to the end of the boardwalk — because they have the best hot dogs” at which I was nodding with real enthusiasm because Nathan’s really does have the best hot dogs, “And I love those beef fries. I got five, two for her — with no mustard — and the other three for me because I was hungry,” and he paused to pat his large belly, “And I started walking back. I could see where to go because of the umbrella’s stripes. I could see it all the way from the boardwalk.”

Nod, nod, nod.Nathans at Coney Island

“The weather suddenly was changing … some clouds were coming in from the ocean. It was getting a windy — a bit — and this was happening all of a sudden while I had gone to get the dogs. Funny how the weather changes so fast along the water, you know? So now, I’m almost there. Up comes  a big puff of wind and that umbrella pulls right up out of the sand and flies at me and whacks me over the head. Boom. I thought my whole head was going to come off.

I dropped all the food and fell right over. Like a rock I fell and just lay there. My whole brain was like scrambled eggs. They had to come and take me to the hospital. I was completely compost for TWO DAYS! Two days! Completely compost!”

Be careful of flying umbrellas at the beach. They will turn you into compost. That’s not good, especially when your hands are full of hotdogs.

Weekly Writing Challenge: A Fine Recipe for Baked Me

Note: This is a complicated recipe. Full preparation may take decades. Patience is required.

Part I: 

Mix three scant cups of child abuse and sexual molestation. Combine carefully (do not over-beat) with a double handful of art, literature and music. Add a tablespoon each cumin, garlic, salt, pepper. Omit sugar. This recipe does not call for sweetening.

Add thousands of library books, and hundreds of hours deep in the stacks of the New York public library. Add orange juice until a soft batter is formed. Mix gently but thoroughly until you can no longer tell fact from fiction. Cover and refrigerate for a decade or so.

I'm in the middle, Mom and my sister Ann are on the right. Code Red.

I’m in the middle, Mom and my sister Ann are on the right. Code Red.

Part II:

Add a handful of excellent LSD, half a pound of finely ground marijuana to 20 years of education and a bachelor’s degree. Include one Steinway grand piano, an erudite husband, a bunch of wonderful, loving and supportive friends, one crazy college radio station and an old typewriter with glass sides.

NOTE: Keep track of the future husband over there (the quiet, handsome one). You’ll need him later.

Add yeast. Knead several times. Cover, then put aside in a warm place to rise. Add a baby, catastrophic medical bills, a broken spine, a husband with kidney cancer and a heart attack. For spice, use two mortgages, car payments and a career in publishing. Don’t forget a couple of fantastic women friends.

Part III:

Put all the ingredients in a big greased bowl and knead until smooth. Put aside for a separate rising. Pack everything and move it to the city of Jerusalem. That’s pretty far away, so pack carefully.

86 Derech Hevron, Jerusalem, Israel

Now, add one stupid, mean, and abusive husband, a couple of terribly confused stepchildren, the aforementioned son, 60 hour work weeks and a heaping dose of new technology. Put them to cook in a city full of magic and ghosts of ages past. Add a rounded tablespoon of mysticism, a few ancient artifacts discovered along the road.

Part IV:

Remove Mother and aunt, reserving enough cash to get back to the U.S.A. Don’t forget the rest of the recipe! It’s still rising. Check your fridge.

Defrost future husband. Warm to room temperature, then heat up with lots of cuddling, hugs, encouragement and faith. Grab that risen dough from refrigerator. Knead thoroughly. Build a teepee, then separate batter into four pieces.

Braid each loaf and bake at 400 degrees until each loaf is golden, suitable for a feast.

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

Serving Suggestions:

Sprinkle with dog hair and oak pollen, nest in a new career and top with a dollop of joy.

Ignore spinal calcification (it’ll still taste great, but you’ll have to eat sitting down). Be sure to remove two large malignant breasts (they can ruin the feast) while retaining a spicy sense of humor. Serve warm.

Good book, bad title – Skinny Bitch in Love, by Kim Barnouin

Cooking, Food & WineLiterature/Fiction (Adult) 
Publication Date –  June 4 2013

I knew absolutely nothing about this book or the series to which it belongs and so came to it with no expectations other than a mild distaste based entirely on the title. I realize that the world is ever-changing and ways of speaking are among the most changeable aspects of life. Still, I don’t like the word “bitch” applied to women. Especially not me. I’m not sure when it became a sign of approval or approbation, but I don’t care for it.

But I liked the book. Bad title, good book. I liked Clementine, our heroine. She’s stubborn, opinionated, overly quick to jump to conclusions. She independent to the point of almost self-destructive. She’s also smart, determined, talented, and willing to work day and night to achieve her goals.

Clementine Cooper, raised by vegan parents on an organic farm is a vegan chef at one of the city’s top restaurants. Fired due to a colleague’s jealousy and sabotage, she’s left with only a few choices. The debacle that got her dismissed makes it nearly impossible for her to get a job at a good vegan restaurant … which is where she deserves and wants to be. Really, what she wants — as do most chefs — is her own restaurant. She’s got her eye on a great space right across the street from the modest flat she shares with Sharon, her good friend and housemate.

Clementine is having one of those really bad patches. Not merely does she get fired — unfairly — but the place she has been dreaming of is unexpectedly occupied and about to become — gads — a steak house! The new owner is sexy, handsome, smart, funny and very rich. She’s instantly attracted to him, despite his being a more than an occasional jerk. Worse, he’s a billionaire carnivore. The money is difficult for her to deal with. This is a young woman who is not for sale, not on any level or any way. But all that meat? Ew.

As she finds her way from discredited, dismissed, and despairing to a successful entrepreneur on her own terms, she is also navigating the rocky shoals of a treacherous relationship with a guy who is both her equal and opposite. The author is surprisingly perceptive in her handling of relationships. Perceptive, sensitive, witty, and realistic, Kim Barnouin doesn’t use simplistic answers to solve difficult problems.

The book is a fast read. It moves along at a nice, brisk pace.

Since the book is seriously food-centric, I spent all 320 pages drooling. I wanted recipes. It’s not fair to talk about food, cooking, eating, restaurants, cakes and everything else delicious and healthful and not even throw me one single recipe!

I had fun with this. You will too.

The book is available in hardcover, Kindle, and as a download from Audible.com. A good summer read and a surprisingly well-written novel that presents a heroine with good family values, a sensible head on her shoulders, a fantastic work ethic and a backbone. She’s no fool for love or anything else and I wish her the very best of luck. But I still would like a different title and recipes.