Tearing off the Overcooked Cauliflower Bandage

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It may be the fear of clowns,
A reflexive rejection of opera,
The thought of eating cauliflower–
Magnified lacerations of childhood’s vulnerable psyche,
Covered with the protective bandages of rejection,
To become a second skin.

Adulthood offers possibilities–
With recognition and courage,
Hold the breath,
And rip off the bandages one by one,
To reveal these perceived wounds,
And give them new light and fresh air,

What the eyes now see,
Is not the ugly aftermath of injury,
But a beauty that marks,
The pains of the human journey,
A memory of what once was,
But is no longer.

Position the rubber nose,
Slip on those over-sized shoes,
Take in La Traviata,
And try a cauliflower–
Just make sure not to over-cook it.

Sloppy Buddha Cauliflower Chickpea Curry

Adapted from a recipe found at:  http://www.chefdehome.com

What You Need


1 head of cauliflower broken into florets
2 cups chickpeas (16 ounce can, drained and rinsed)
3 cloves of garlic and 1 inch ginger, crushed and grated
1.5 tbsp tomato paste (or ketchup)
1 tbsp curry powder
1/2 tsp chili powder (or medium paprika)
2 cups coconut milk (1 can)
2 tbsp lime juice or more to taste
2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 red onion sliced thinly
Rice (I used Jasmine)
1/3 cup walnuts
3 or 4 tbsps fresh cilantro (or less if using dried, obviously!)

How to Make It

1. Put the rice on to cook.

2. Stir-fry the cauliflower florets on medium high heat until cooked but not mushy. They should be tender but not soft– a delicate but very important balance.  Take the cauliflower out when done and put on a plate.

3.  Stir fry the onion with the garlic and ginger for a few moments until the onions are soft.

4.  Once the onions are soft, add the chickpeas with curry powder, chili powder, and tomato paste and cook for 1 more minute.

5. Add the coconut milk with the lime juice, and salt. Bring it to boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid thickens.

6. Add the cauliflower back into the pan with the chickpea-curry mixture.

7.  Toast or fry the walnuts.

8.  Serve the curry-cauliflower mixture over rice garnished with toasted walnuts and chopped cilantro.  You can also spice it up a bit with some hot sauce if you wish.

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The Sound of One Jaw

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A young monk spent days scaling the mountain, finally reaching a cave near the summit to visit a sage who could impart to him the very meaning of life.  When he finally reached the mouth of the cave and entered, there he saw the old man eating from a large bowl of rice.

“So, I suppose you have come to learn the meaning of life,” the old man said between mouthfuls.

“Yes,” replied the young monk.  “But first, may I have a mouthful of your rice, for a I have a powerful hunger.”

“That you may,” replied the old man.  “But first, you must solve a riddle.”

“I will do my best,” the young monk said.  “Please, give me the riddle before I perish from hunger.”

“Answer me this,” the old man said, speaking slowly.  “What is the sound of one jaw chewing?”

Thai Chicken Buddha Bowls

This recipe serves two generously.  It may seem like a lot of ingredients, but each one has their crucial role to play.

Ingredients

3/4 cup pearl barley or farro
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon samba oelek (less or more for personal taste)
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut in 1 inch cubes
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
2 shallots or green onions minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups shredded kale (de-stem and cut leaves into ribbons)
1 1/2 cups shredded purple cabbage
1 cup bean sprouts
2 carrots medium sized carrots peeled and grated
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup peanuts

Spicy Sauce Ingredients

3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons of lime juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons (or more or less) sambal oelek

What to Do

1.  Put on the pearl barley or farro and cook as instructed on the package or as told to you by an old sage who knows about these matters.

2.  Make the spicy sauce by whisking together in a small bowl: 3 tablespoons of peanut butter, 2 tablespoons of lime juice, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of sambal oelek, 2-3 tablespoons of water.  Set aside.

3.  In a measuring cup or very small bowl, combine the 1/4 cup chicken stock, 1 tablespoon sambal oelek, and 1 tablespoon of lime juice.

4.  In a large bowl, combine the chicken with the corn starch and fish sauce.  Thoroughly coat the chicken and let sit for a bit.

5.  In a skillet over medium heat, cook the chicken for 2 or 3 minutes until golden, then add the garlic, ginger and shallots (or green onions) for about 2 minutes.  Then, add the chicken stock and allow to thicken.  Add salt and pepper.

6.  In another skillet, warm up the peanuts in a bit of oil until fragrant.

7.  Divide the farro or pearl barley into bowls.  Top with chicken, cabbage, kale, sprouts, cilantro and peanuts.  Serve with the spicy peanut sauce.

Beef & Broccoli Buddha Nature Bowls

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The Beef and Broccoli Buddha Nature Bowl Koan

While sampling their latest recipe, the apprentice asked Chef Joshu, “Do beef and broccoli have buddha nature or not?”

Chef Joshu raised his bowl and replied, “Chew.”

 

Beef & Broccoli Buddha Nature Bowls

3 cloves garlic, crushed
2″ piece ginger, peeled and grated
3/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons lime juice
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil
1 lb. flank steak sliced thinly or stir-fry beef
1 head broccoli florets
2 cups cooked brown or Jasmine rice
4 green onions or scallions thinly sliced for garnish
Sesame seeds, for garnish

Directions

1.  Put on the rice. 

2.  Combine the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, lime juice and pepper in a bowl.

3.   Slice the beef into thin strips, then marinate the meat in half the sauce. 

4.  Toast the sesame seeds in a skillet until aromatic.

5.  Over medium heat, add the other half of the sauce to the pan.  Add the broccoli, season generously with salt and pepper, and cook until tender but not mushy.  Place in a bowl and keep warm.

6.  Over medium high heat, put some oil in a skillet.  Add the beef then stir-fry.  When done to satisfaction, remove from the pan.  While doing this, you can boil the left-over marinading sauce to be poured over the bowls.

5.  Divide the rice among the bowls, place beef on one side, broccoli on the other, drizzling any sauce over both.  Garnish with the sesame seeds and onions/scallions.

6.  Devour mindfully.

In Praise of Cooking by the Seat of Your Pants

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While on the hunt for a recipe for scalloped potatoes, I come upon this one for “Long Branch Milk Potatoes.”  No one knows who made it up, but God bless them!  (It was printed in the Fresno Republican in July of 1879, so trying to get in touch with the author and congratulate them would, I feel, be a fruitless endeavour.) 

The endearing quality of the recipe lies in the wonderful vagueness of its directions.  Have a look:

“Take good, sound potatoes, cut them in slices (raw) and put the milk, according to the quantity you wish to make, in a pudding dish; then after you have put the potatoes in the milk, put it in the oven for about 20 minutes; then take out and put potatoes, with the same milk, into a saucepan to boil until done; season before you put them to boil.”

To the anally retentive, lock-step recipe followers, such a recipe may lead them to an intense session of wailing and teeth gnashing.  This would then be followed by a string of profanity-laced questions such as:

(NOTE:  I’ve edited out the profanity.)

How do you define the difference between a sound and unsound potato?

What kind of potato?  Magic Molly?  Purple Majesty?  Yukon Gold?

How thick are the slices?  1/4”?    1”?    3.256”?

“To the quantity you wish to make?”  I wish to make the right amount, so how much is the right amount?

“Season” before you put them to boil?  Season with what?  Smoked Paprika? Red pepper flakes?  Organic Amazonian salt?

To those who ask such questions of this recipe, I say, RELAX!  Instead of relying upon obediently following blow-by-blow instructions, take a deep breath, and let your instincts take over.

I ask you, who wants a recipe to turn out the same way time after time?  Embrace uncertainty! Embrace a little too much salt, not quite enough milk, and just a little over-baked.  Regard each iteration of a recipe as a once-in-a-lifetime gastronomic experience.  Know that each bite you take will never be replicated again for as long as you chew and swallow upon this earth.  Jump off a kitchen counter and attempt to cook by the seat of your pants!

Reading Between the Recipe’s Lines

IMG_1066The Hidden Secrets of Homemade Pasta Making

Homemade pasta.  The taste?  How can I truly explain the difference between store-bought pasta and fresh homemade pasta?  Let me try.

Store-bought pasta is to homemade pasta what freeze-dried instant coffee is to freshly ground French Press coffee; what Tang is to orange juice; what instant scalloped potatoes are to real scalloped potatoes; what powdered milk is to real milk; (what powdered anything is to real anything, for that matter.)

You get the picture.

I will admit that a number of my attempts at homemade pasta have been unmitigated disasters.  Like the time I tried making them with ancient grain flour (I think it was emmer or Khorasan or spelt, but my memory is doing its best to erase the experience.)  The dough had the elasticity of an ancient papyrus scroll, disintegrating into tiny fragments as it passed through the roller.  There were other times when the dough was too sticky, or I didn’t roll it thinly enough, or in the linguini cutter it got all bunched up in a pasta-jam.

My last batch of pasta, I have to confess, was my best.  Possibly, a pure fluke, but I’ll operate under the illusion that I finally know what I’m doing.

Here’s the recipe I used:

A Very Basic Recipe for Pasta

Plenty for 2, a stretch for 3 unless you want to add a salad or something to go along with the pasta.

3 cups of flour (May want to use 1.5 cups of Semolina, the rest all purpose)

1 tsp salt

4 eggs beaten

4 Tablespoons water

4 Tablespoons olive oil

•Combine dry ingredients, and whisk together wet ingredients, then combine.

•Knead for 10 minutes.

•Put in plastic bag and let rest for 20 minutes.

•Roll to a desired thickness and cut with the linguini cutter.

•Boil in large pot with 1/2 tsp of oil.

•Once added, the noodles cook VERY quickly.  Check after 3 minutes, then every minute after.

•Drain and run cold water briefly, then serve.

But hold on!

There’s more to making pasta than following the above instructions.  There are secrets.  Secrets found hidden between the recipe’s lines.  Based upon my recent success and sudden excessive confidence, I’d like to share some of these “invisible secrets found between the recipe’s lines.”

Secret #1

Don’t scrimp on the kneading.  10 minutes is a minimum.  Knead vigorously.  Knead like you were an Italian football fan moments after the Azzurri failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Secret #2

While kneading the dough, a sound track is vital for the dough to respond as it should.  Play something by Italian pop stars Eros Rammazotti, Patty Pravo, or J-Ax.  Do not sing along.

Secret #3

Don’t wear a necktie when running the pasta through the roller.

Secret #4

To determine your pasta’s doneness, do not throw it against a wall.  Throw it, instead, into your mouth, for everyone knows that a burnt tongue is the best judge of pasta doneness.

So, there you have it.  Secrets revealed, mastery of homemade pasta ensured.

Carota Libum Erratum

It was the Hindenburg of cookbooks– a fundraiser for the Leggat Valley Historical Society to replace the arms of the statue of Brigadier Wallace Waterton which disappeared mysteriously sometime during the night of March 31st.  Most agreed that the statue reminded them of a Victorian, male version of the Venus de Milo.  This would not do, according the Historical Society members.

At the Historical Society’s monthly meeting the following April, it was decided to embark upon a fundraising campaign to replace the arms, and enable Brigadier Wallace Waterton to regain his pose of irate authority. 

“Nude calendars are all the rage,” suggested the society’s treasurer, seventy-nine-year- old Rodney Bugsby, who had spent the last sixty-three years imaging what club president, eighty-year-old Martha Winterbottom looked like naked.  It took only seven and a half seconds for his motion to be rejected.

They did agree upon the sale of a Historical Society cookbook containing favourite recipes as contributed by society members. It didn’t take long for an impressive array of recipe cards to flood into the club secretary’s mailbox.  The challenge was now to get all of the recipes typed into a word processing file, then sent to Cookbook Fundraisers Inc., in Madison, Wisconsin for the printing of three hundred copies of the cookbook. 

That’s where Martha Winterbottom’s grandson, Hunter, came in.  “He’s a computer whiz, you know,” she said, easily convincing the executive that Hunter was perfect for the job. “He’ll even do it for free!”  She failed to mention that Hunter still owed his parole officer eight hours of community service following that paintball incident at the all-candidates meeting in the fall.

Hunter was astonishingly efficient, keying in the recipes and sending the file off to Cookbook Fundraisers Inc. in no time at all.  Everyone was tickled pink. . .

. . . until the three hundred copies of the cookbook arrived, ready to be sold by society members.  It did not take long for club secretary, Alice Bland, to notice some striking errors in the cookbook.  She’d always wanted to see something of hers in print, so it was with great anticipation and greater anguish when she looked at her recipe for ground beef and macaroni casserole.  The instructions for the recipe called not for ground beef, but for ground rat. 

Board member Nyla Johnson was mortified when her recipe for rum pudding required twelve cups of rum.  “People will think I’m a lush!” she gasped, bringing the back of her hand to her forehead in a motion that hinted she just might faint.

And member in good standing Elsie Cunningham’s recipe for carrot cake– a recipe which she proudly told everyone had won first prize at the fall fair nine out of the past seventeen years– was mutilated almost beyond recognition.  “What will people think?” she gasped, before disappearing behind her front door and not re-emerging for three weeks.

Feeling responsible for this catastrophic situation, Martha Winterbottom knew there was only one thing she could do– go through each and every copy of the cookbook and correct the errors by hand.  It was a long, tedious process, and on the night she finally finished correcting the three-hundredth copy, Brigadier Wallace Waterton’s head went missing.

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The Sins of Asparagus

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Overcooked asparagus–
Boiled into pulpy strands,
They flop onto the plate
Criss-crossing in unnatural contortions,
Bending in ways that a spear never should.
The scars of childhood become
Commandments of an adult orthodoxy.

Instead of playing with the fire of a pot of water,
Stir-fry.
First remove the woody butt-ends
Only a beaver could apprehend,
Then slice into diagonal lengths
An inch or a half.

The chunks hit the hot frying pan,
Stirred in a slick of oil,
Intermingling with crushed garlic
And a bold sprinkling of red pepper flakes
Bathed in a splash of oyster sauce.
Clouds of vapour remind everyone of the smorgasbord
At Yan’s Famous Kitchen.

Stir frenetically,
The wooden spoon constantly in motion,
The actions of paranoia and anxiety,
Of finding that portal of perfection
With just the right crunch done-ness.
For to overcook, there is no turning back–
No number of Hail Marys
To forgive the sin of overcooked asparagus.

A Blunt Assessment of the Dutch Poffertje

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Just because you find a bow and arrow in your basement doesn’t mean you should become a bow hunter.  Just because you inherit two chainsaws from your long forgotten uncle doesn’t mean you should take up chainsaw juggling.  Having the tools to do something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.

If you find yourself in the possession of a poffertje pan, don’t assume it’s a good idea to make poffertjes.  I have my reasons:

Reason Number One

The poffertje pan is cast iron.  I can’t use it on my glass stove top, so instead I tried it on my barbecue.  It didn’t work so well.  Then, I balanced it precariously upon my backpacking stove.  This worked even less well.  In fact, the experience brought a degree of frustration which I had not experienced since my last attempt at country line-dancing.

Reason Number Two

They’re just basically miniature pancakes.  I like pancakes.  In fact, Shrove Tuesday is the 27th most important day on my calendar each and every year, just behind Robbie Burns Day and just before International Doghouse Repair Day.  How can you not love great wads of batter fried in oil and covered in syrup, whipped cream, fruit, or whatever?  So, if you love pancakes, instead of making three dozen poffertjes to satisfy your pancake pleasures, why not just make adult-sized pancakes?  The cuteness factor of the poffertje doesn’t make up for all of that extra dipping and flipping.  Using a regular frying pan for regular-sized pancakes just makes so much more sense.

Of course, some people have to try things themselves to reach their own conclusions.  So, if you don’t believe me, go ahead and make poffertjes using the recipe below.  Just remember, you’ve been warned.

Traditional Dutch Poffertjes

1.  Dissolve 1 teaspoon of dried yeast in 1 Tablespoon of warm milk.

2.  In another bowl, combine 1 cup of white flour, 1 cup of buckwheat flour, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 5/8ths of a cup of warm milk.  Whisk in the yeast mixture until it is smooth.

3.  Add 5/8ths more of warm milk and beat the mixture.

4.  Cover this bowl and let it rest for 1 hour.

5.  Use your poffertje pan to cook the little devils until they are crisp.

6.  To make them tasty, smother them in whatever you like.

7.  Sell your poffertje pan on Kijiji.

Rhymes with ‘Gone’

IMG_0971If shooting yourself in the foot had been a literal act, Ransford would have, at most, four toes left between both feet.  The ammunition of his self-inflicted social wounds was his rabid defence of the purity of the English language.  His excessively stated opinion had cost him at least three potential romantic relationships, two fledgling friendships, and one job.  He berated his tennis partner for consistently dropping the ‘ly’ from his adverbs.  He declared his supervisor at the insurance office an illiterate for her consistently incorrect use of the apostrophe. 

Just yesterday, he blasted off that seventh proverbial toe by rapidly turning a first date into a last date.  The woman he had met online and known face-to-face for less than three minutes stood at the counter of the coffee shop, ordering a latte and a scone.  Not that Ransford objected to lattes or scones.   

His reaction to her words, however, were reflexive.  Once again, Ransford applied his Ready!  Fire!  Aim! diplomacy.

“It’s pronounced scone!” he blasted.  “It rhymes with gone!  Got it?  Scone rhymes with gone! Not drone! Not clone!  Not bone!  It rhymes with gone!”

Although, in Ransford’s mind, scone did not rhyme with drone, clone or bone, in reality, it most certainly did rhyme with alone.

 

 

Genetic Tasting

The arborio rice just wouldn’t soften up for me with my risotto.  Then there’s my pasta that got all bundled and stuck-together as I rolled it through the pasta roller.  My lasagne was a sloppy, soupy mess of ill-defined layers.  I apparently have no flair for cooking Italian.

And then, I discovered why.  Thanks to the results of a genetic test, I was enlightened to know that I’m only 30% qualified to cook Italian food.  The same goes for French, German, Dutch, and Lichtensteinian dishes.  The undeniable truth is that I am a kilted Scotsman attempting to ride the Tour de France. 

In reality, my culinary focus should really be upon creating steak and kidney pies, Yorkshire puddings, haggis, bangers and mash . . .  You get the idea.  British food.  60% of my DNA knows how to properly put a toad in a hole, spot a dick, or Scotch an egg.  I can pretty much play the pipes, write post-modernist fiction, and bemoan the lack of World Cup success all while throwing together a stout and steak pie.  At least, that’s what the genetic test tells me.

Being 30% western European doesn’t mean I’m completely incapable of cooking western European food.  I can make a mean thin-crust pizza– 70% thinner, in fact.  So, given my genetic make-up, I have to realize my strengths and my limitations when it comes to regional recipes.

Being only 5% Jewish means I shouldn’t even begin to think about making a Gefilte fish.  And when it comes to my 1.2% Neanderthal inheritance, I now have 98.8 reasons for not going on the Paleo diet.

Ah, the insights you get from swabbing your tongue and cheek.