Sunday, March 29, 2009

My favorite asparagus recipe...

Can be found over at Simply Recipes. Be sure to go over there and check it out. It's very mojito-esque, minus the rum. Unless you drink it on the side. Or just whenever, like I do. 

Slings and Shot Glasses

"This bar isn't so ba- Oh my God, there's a sling up on the stage!"

It had been my idea to go to a local gay bar, The Bolt, to see what the fuss was about. Living in Sacramento for so many years I had heard about the place many times but had never checked it out for myself. So, with boyfriend in tow, we decided to go exploring.

The Bolt is the local leather daddy and bear club where older gay men and some younger ones come out to drink, shoot the breeze, and play pool. I was the youngest person in there, with the bf running a close second. There were, however, a few people in their early thirties and a small cackles of bull dykes doing whisky shots.

Yet, indeed, there on a raised stage was a leather sling trussed up like a drugged bear in chains (pun intended). As I ordered my beer and nursed it lovingly, the bf kept watch on me. Slim twenty-somethings, I'm to be informed, are rare at The Bolt are those who do show up are often groped and manhandled. 

It was a quiet night but damn, Mr. Sacramento Bear of the Year 97-98 can mix a fine drink. It was strong and smooth (97-98 was fuzzy with a handlebar mustache). Furthermore, the place was pretty relaxed. Honestly, I enjoyed it far more than I expected. I may just go back. Plus, if I don't wear a shirt on Saturday I get my beer half off. Just don't expect to see me anywhere near that stage.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cupcake Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc and White Wine Cake

I don't think I've ever discussed a wine on here before, or at least one specifically per se, but I found this particular wine and figured it was fair game.; based on the name itself I thought that, by fate and consequence, I had to buy a bottle of Cupcake Vineyards. Now apparently it's a product of Marlborough, New Zealand (but bottled in California, which confuses me). The winemaker comments on the back are forcibly nostalgic, pressuring you to imagine a time back when through the most delightfully lame imagery, boasting of a "layers of complexity and a vibrant zing, reminiscent of your grandma's lemon chiffon cake."The flavor admittedly does have zest and zing. The nose is citrusy and slightly grassy, with a bit of kick that made me krinkle my nose a tad out of curiosity for some foreign smell I can't quite describe. The flavor is smooth and does indeed produce those key lime and grapefruit flavors that the label so proudly toted about. Around $9, it's a good wine. Nothing phenomenal, but one I would pick up again.

Of course, it being a cupcake wine, I decided I should use my usual wine cupcake recipe and give it a shot. However, recipes don't always go the way we planned. Due to a lack of cupcake papers, I decided to throw it into a springform and chop some strawberries over the whole thing. Furthermore I was out of olive oil, so sunflower oil was used instead.

Overall, the cake was a huge crowd pleaser. The citrusy notes of the wine stood out and were backed up nicely by the orange zest. The sunflower oil flavor was clean and fragrant giving a good background to the sweet and slightly tart to the tongue strawberries. This cake has a very fine crumb and is surprisingly moist for a cornmeal cake. A real winning, super-easy dessert.

White Wine Cornmeal Cake

What You'll Need...
1/2 cup of olive or sunflower oil
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 cup of sugar, plus 1/4 cup for topping
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of baking powderFinely grated zest of one orange
4 strawberries, sliced thinly

What You'll Do...
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2) In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, sugar, and wine until smooth. Add the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and the zest; whisk together gently.
3) Line a spring-form pan with parchment paper and brush with olive oil. Pour in the cake batter and arrange sliced strawberries on top. Sprinkle with remaining sugar.

4) Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool on wire rack.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Revani Cupcakes (Semolina Sponge Cupcakes with Citrus Syrup and Coconut)

From the Cupcake Archives because I am super crazy busy and/or trying to nap on my Spring Break.

Many years ago I went to Turkey as part of a life changing vacation through the Middle East. I went and saw the Blue Mosque, walked around the capitol city, enjoyed the local air and culture, and had some wonderful meals. One of the more striking desserts that always seemed to show up was a dish called revani. It was a new experience in cake. It was dense, heavy, and syrupy with a heavy citrus profile. It was a cake revelation.

Revani is a traditional sponge cake of Turkey and other countries like Morocco and Lebanon. Like any sponge cake the recipe is simple but getting truly amazing flavor takes patience and practice.

It's supposedly named after a famous Turkish poet who often extolled the beauty of food, but I can't seem to find any of his work on the Internet. If he supposedly did exist or if this is just a story, I'm not sure. Regardless it's a beautiful cake that really would inspire one to put down their soul into prose.

This is a cupcake with forgiving ingredients. I had no semolina so I substituted Cream of Wheat. Nor did I have dry dessicated coconut, so I used sweetened (I have yet to go grocery shopping after I moved, and the only thing nearby is Albertson's, I went with what I could get at the moment). Honestly, go with sweetened, it's just better and not as dry tasting. If you can get freshly grated, then go that route. I also used a tangelo for the zest rather than a basic orange, though the revani I had in Turkey used some very flavorful exotic orange that was incredibly floral and honey-esque, one I could not identify and I'm sure have little chance of finding.

You have to eat them with a fork, they're too sticky and syrupy to go by hand (we tried and it just gets everywhere, which is fine for outside but not in the living room I just finished cleaning). Very citrusy and very sweet, they're delicious little sponge cakes. We enjoyed them with a bit of yogurt for me and clotted cream for Rob as the dairies just helped accentuate the flavors. The coconut was light and added a nice floral finish. Overall a playful cupcake perfect for spring dinners outside on the patio and for Turkish themed meals.

Revani Cupcakes
Makes 9-12 cupcakes / 350 degree oven

What You'll Need...
1/2 cup of semolina or Cream of Wheat
1/4 cup of flour
1/2 cup of sugar
6 eggs separated, room temperature
zest of one tangelo (or other orange)

What You'll Do...
1) Preheat the oven to 350. Sift the flour and semolina together in a large bowl. In another bowl, beat the yolks and the sugar together until light and creamy. Beat in the orange zest and then gradually beat in the semolina and flour mixture.

2) Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Remember to have them at room temperature and to start at a low whisking speed, then gradually get to higher speeds. You have to coax them into getting white and fluffy.

3) Fold the egg white mixture carefully into the semolina mixture. Spoon into paper cupcake papers (not foil!). Bake for 12-16 minute or until a toothpick comes out clean.

4) Spoon lemon syrup generously onto cupcake and bake for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool and absorb the syrup.

5) Transfer to a dish and serve at room temperature with clotted cream or yogurt and sprinkled coconut. Drizzle on any extra syrup you may have left over.

Lemon Syrup
What You'll Need...
juice and zest of 2 lemons
3/4 cup of sugar
1 1/4 cup of water

What You'll Do...
Put all the ingredients into a pan and bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce the heat and simmer for 8 minutes.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Edible Linguistics - Some Ideas to Chew On

Doing all my research for this paper about the idea of the meal as symbolic of greater cultural norms and ideas I wanted to find a clear definition of the word and its history. Where did we get the word meal?

Indeed, I could define the word in its modern use easily enough without reference. A meal was the act of sitting down to eat or the actual prepared food itself. Still, historically I couldn't find anything. No Latin root word. No adopted slang from some Celtic tribe or whatnot. It was an linguistic mystery to me, and while I'm sure someone else may have charted it out, I had yet to find that someone or the documentation.

I could find other words, no problem. Supper was easy: "The last meal of the day; (contextually) the hour at which this is taken, supper-time; also, such a meal made the occasion of a social or festive gathering. Often without article, demonstrative, possessive, or the like, esp. when governed by a prep. (to have supper; at, to, for, after supper)" (OED). Supper was the last meal of the day, often far late in the evening between seven to nine. This two hour time span was allowed only to the truly rich who didn't have to work the daily grind; with leisure came the ability to eat at one's own pace. Dinner was taken around five or six in order to entertain guests at the spur of the moment, a luxury of the fashionable and professional classes.

Lunch way back when was actually called dinner. The working classes usually were too busy to sit down to supper so dinner was pushed back until the work shift was over. The more popular and common use of the word dinner to refer to the last meal of the day, when actually it was a delayed midday meal, became the linguistic norm.

As for lunch? The original form of the word lunch was luncheon, which referred to any casual meal throughout the day. As the working class often had to find time in the middle of their shift to take a quick bite, usually around noon, this traditional meal became adopted into popular society and over time was slanged into the word lunch.

This history was all well and good, however meal kept escaping me. Indeed, the American Heritage Dictionary and Oxfrod English both seemed to skirt about the history. However, after plenty of research and some determined pluck I think I pinned down where we actually get the term meal from in our modern vocabulary.

You see the OED noun for meal in the ceommensalitory manner is, "The edible part of a grain or pulse (now usually one other than wheat) ground to powder or granules" (OED). Now the verb form of the word is "to eat a meal, to feed". Stay with me...

Now, E.N. Anderson in his book, Everyone Eats: Understanding Food and Culture, says "perhaps the best-known and longest running case study of change is provided by the case of bread" (171). He notes that bread is a signifier of culture, 40,000 years ago people started grinding cereals into powder, or meal, to bake into various types of breads. This milling was time consuming, requiring the work of many. As the cereals demanded intense labor, many people were brought into the process of creating the meal. Even as technology made processing meal easier it required the skills of many. Thus everyone had to gather for the meal.

As the act of processing meal gave way to machines, the phrase of sitting down to a meal stayed. As such, I propose we get the term meal from this history of bread making.

Anyways, this is simply my own postulating. I haven't had enough time to really delve into this, but I think I might have this right. Any linguists out there are free to correct me. I plan to get more regular posts about cupcakes and stupid people when I can but right now academia has consumed me. At least I found ways to make it food related, maybe by the end of all this I can publish something and become the next Pollan.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cookbook Review - Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini

I think the most daunting task about getting a cookbook which singularly covers a specific type of cuisine you aren't used to cooking is its perceived exoticness. It can seem, at times, overwhelming. That's how I feel, or felt, about Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini.

I'm generally not a super fan of Western European styles of food preparation and flavors. They're nice enough, I admit, but I prefer the bold temerity of Asian and Middle Eastern styles of cooking. I learned to cook Chinese food from little old Chinese women in college. I picked up a penchant for Lebanese and Israeli food thanks to my parents traipsing me through so many parts of the world. I adore Costa Rican cooking, and their clever use of papaya seeds as a faux-pepper (as I see it with my American eyes). Indian style curries are a constant staple for lunches and a quick way for me to use leftover produce.

My kitchen is stocked with miso, dashi, ground mace, nutmeg extracts, black bean paste, sumac, and pomegranate molasses. My fridge filled with bok choi, eggplants, Chinese mustard greens, and purple long beans. Italian food is rare. I have tons of garlic and a few cans of tomatoes, but the only pasta I had I threw out as I'm pretty sure I bought it back in 2003 and the bag had torn open.

The sad fact is though, many friends I have are timid to coming over for dinner. They fret about what I may serve, and indeed, I am questioned all too often after offering an invitation, "Depends, what are you making?" I decided then and there that it was time to learn to make a few dishes that were more familiar using ingredients that didn't have so many x's, z's, hyphens, or other linguistic circus performances.

To avoid this I went out and purchased a copy of Urban Italian completely on the fly. There was no research that went into my decision making; rather Ruth Reichl suggested it, the cover was pretty, and the opening anecdotes were well written. These anecdotes, notes from Carmellini which colorfully demonstrate how he came to develop his cooking style without actually talking about cooking, was artful and engaging. A quick flip through the pages and the recipes convinced me that this was a book worth trying.

The recipes are split up into 6 main sections: antipasti, primi, secondi, contorni, dolci, and bases (read: appetizers, first course, second course, vegetable/side dish, desserts, and base recipes). Each one is carefully laid out and introduced with clarity and a bit of wit.

Throughout the book you'll find little sections about ingredients or techniques. Taggiasca olives are described with clear details: "Taggiascas are a little like Nicoise olives, only metier, and with a stronger olive taste, since Taggiascas are stored in olive oil instead of brine" (166). This same clarity is applied to cheeses, vinegars, and other Italian food stuffs. Some recipes cover in detail various techniques; the ravioli and gnocchi recipes are fine examples of this, each with step by step pictures and detailed instructions.

If you keep a kitchen with most of the Italian ingredients called for, or at least have a good source of where to find things such as sheep's milk ricotta then you're set. For me, I had to make a few trips. Still, the recipes were simple to execute and thoroughly tasty. The spaghetti pepe de vellis is amazing in flavor and texture; spaghetti with anchovies, Pernod, Nicoise olives, parm, and plenty of garlic "sliced Goodfellas thin." The almond granita is also a favorite, one I've now made plenty of times and always impresses company.

Furthermore, with the purchase of these ingredients, I'm set to make these Italian dishes again. In addition, after understanding the flavor pairings and techniques, I can put together Italian-esque dishes myself on the fly it seems. (My roommate is also a huge help in this arena as well.)

The pictures are engaging and well laid out. Even the most fervent photography inclined foodie will appreciate the rustic shots taken and the clarity of the step by step photos. Something any food blogger can attest to being a total pain in the ass. Still, I found that there could have been more shots of completed dishes and fewer shots of styled ingredients.

Simply enough, I find it's a good cookbook. Is it great? That may be a bit generous of an adjective, but again, I'm biased. Italian isn't my thing, and I honestly feel that I still need a comprehensive Italian cookbook someday to really ground me into the style and mindset of Italian cooking. This has definite flair and a bit of a cosmopolitan domesticity to it but it isn't the end all by a long shot. Still, if you're proficient in Italian already, this may be the next logical jump for you.

It has done its job of making Italian food less exotic to me, rather the style seems warming and familiar, something that isn't quite so strange anymore. For that, I must extend thanks to Carmellini.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Traveling Tajine Project Update #3

A quick post. Today was a day of working on recipes with Elise, all of which I am sure you will love. As such though, between work, school, cooking, and everything else I really don't have anything to post about right now. I will try to be doing a few book reviews soon so look forward to those. 

However, I would like to point out the next part of the Traveling Tajine Project. After a small break in shipping the tajine was replaced and sent off to Jackie over at Cherry Soup where she made a delicious cinnamon and lamb tajine. Be sure to check it out!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Meal as Indicative of Cultural Norms

So, I'm working on a paper for class right now, my current proposal (which was limited to 500 words goddamnit, as a normal proposal is usually 8 pages) is pretty much finished. Still, it's a work in progress with plenty more rounds of revision to go (and I wrote this post at 1 am) so be kind in your judgement.

Paul Fieldhouse notes that “patterns of meal-taking vary widely and are a part of cultural learning;” while he says this in regard to the practice of learning the signs and practices of a participants own culture it should be noted that observation by outsiders can understand culture by the meal (63). Indeed, plenty of anthropological research has been preformed connecting food to practices of social communication and as a function of psychological, emotional, and nutritional needs. There is a lack of research on how the event of eating itself is a sphere of protected and idealized interests and ideas of a community. While food ideology and culture takes into account the methods of eating, agriculture, preparation, class, and so on that determine biological and social stimuli this paper will focus solely on the act of consumption, the meal, and its use as a keyword within cultural studies. The meal structure itself is demonstrative of the cultural practices and ideas that a society has, both conscious and unconscious. E.N. Anderson states that food is “a way of showing the world many things about the eater,” and thus, “[takes] on a role second only to language as a form of communication” (124). The round social table setting, one of equality, versus a head of table arrangement. Manners utilized in order to create social classes. How the meal in its many forms communicates the values held by different socio-economic and racial groups. This paper will dissect the keyword “meal” in cultural studies and how it’s role as a communicator of social ideas, dogmas, and realities and related through the eating event and its importance as an approach to understanding various communities.

My breakdown of the meal will consist of analyzing five aspects: food (the actual food in place and it’s importance in cultural ideology), manners (the symbolic rules of order and civilization), placement (the arrangement of the participants and space the meal will take place in), group (the participants of the meal), and dialogue (what discussion takes place between the participants). I will then analyze these five aspects of the meal and how they relate to cultural studies, discussing how they are influenced by cultural standards to create various types of meals. The primary focus will be how the various concepts of what meal is (the communal meal, solitary meal, the absence of the meal for example) works as a communicator of heritage and cultural identity. Furthermore, I plan to ascertain how some types of meals have replaced others and in reaction have created a loss of cultural identity and the passing on of traditions in action and thought. Indeed, in some cases a descent into a negative cultural sphere encouraging the rejection of the meal as a societal norm. My research will consist of reading into cultural philosophy, theory of food ideology, and the anthropology and sociology of food, with particular focuses on the theories of Paul Fieldhouse, E.N. Anderson, and Carlo Petrini.

To say it differently, how does the meal convey ideas of culture, heritage and identity? Indeed, in America we seem to glorify the meal-on-the-go mentality. Eating in the car or in the office on your own as you pound out a report is praised! You are an example of the pull-up-your-bootstraps, economically driven, succeed at all costs, capitalist mentality: working hard to make it to the top! Or does the absence of a meal define our culture? Sure, Food Network has created a new wave of foodie culture, but Vogue is still kicking it's ass as a whole. Not eating; the absence of the meal? Is that a signifier of the dominating culture? Beauty versus Nutrition. Of course, this is assuming the absence of a meal isn't due to poverty in which the meal may be demonstrative of a shoddy welfare system, or a societal idea that the poor should be ignored, that they have only themselves to blame and if they would just get with the bootstrap program mentioned before then they could eat little (but still more) alone in an office and be rich, successful, and powerful. An then there is the family meal, the business meal, and so on.

I say each of these are made up the dissected parts: manners, placement/location, food, dialogue, and participants. This could be subdivided further I'm sure but let's stay basic as possible for the purpose of brevity and my personal sanity.

Anyways, I'm going to be using the blog as a space to jot down some additional thoughts for the next 20 months or so. I am also putting it out there for people to weigh in: Do you have other ideas? Resources I should look into? Books, articles, websites?

Ah, academia. My only hope is I can parlay all of this into a book and become the next Paul Fieldhouse or Michael Pollan.

*And no, this is not my graduate thesis, this is for an 8 page paper I'm working on but plan to try and get published somewhere.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pink Beans - A Lesson in Legumes

I'll be honest, until recently what I knew about beans didn't amount to a hill of them.

After hearing about how organic heirloom beans were supposedly the next big food trend (which still sounds silly to me, heirloom beans, though I'm not sure why, probably because I've been trained through life that beans are routine and humdrum) I figured I would try cooking some for once. Now, I'm a big proponent of canned beans since I think they taste fine and they're ready at hand so I this was new territory for me. However, I foresaw few troubles in cooking a small batch of legumes over the stove.

I went to whole foods and picked up some pink beans. Pink beans because, well, they're pink. There isn't a lot of pink food. They seemed exotic yet still slightly mundane in their petit pink pile. I went home and talked to my roommate, Candace, about them as I went about measuring some of them out for the night's dinner.


"Yeah, why?" I asked passively, not really expecting a logical answer due to the fact that the beans were just beans.

"Yeeeeeah, you're going to want to soak those for about four hours at least," she said flatly. I could hear the dry smile turning upward from the living room.

"Zuh? Explain." I demanded.

"They have to soften up. Then you have to simmer them for at least two more hours," she walked into the kitchen, "after that you can eat them. Beans take a long time, but trust me they're way better fresh than from a can. They just take some planning ahead and some time."

I was crushed, I wanted to cook them right then and there. So no beans were had that night. I let them soak until the morning, and then cooked them for lunch the next day, simmering them slow and long as she had instructed. I was impatient, I wondered if it would be worth the work. If they turned out like canned beans, so be it. I would learn something anyways.

The result? The most delicious beans ever. They had simmered in salty water with a bay leaf and a few peppercorns. After draining them I mixed them with a tablespoon of bacon grease and a smatter of kosher salt and ground pepper. The bacon grease gave them a slick, slightly meaty flavor that really gave them some nice compliment with the earthy but light flavors of the beans. The flavor was full, resounding with the minty hint of bay and pepper at the back. Fantastic.

And I learned something I always knew: beans are so cheap! How could I have gone this long without discovering the frugal and tasty glory of freshly cooked beans!? Pink to save green. Indeed, I plan to go back to the store shortly to fill my pantry.

Pink Beans

1 cup of beans
bay leaf
kosher salt
ground pepper
tablespoon of bacon fat

Soak the beans in cold water for 4-8 hours. Drain. Cover in fresh cold water, two inches over the beans. Toss out any floaters. Add a good amount of salt (a couple tablespoons), a bay leaf, and some peppercorns. Bring to a boil then simmer, covered, for two hours or until soft. Drain and add the bacon fat and some salt and pepper. Stir and serve.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


My feet hit the ground with a hard thump, my body contracting and bending to take the force of impact after jumping out of the small tree. The local kumquat tree had become a regular staple for free citrus throughout late winter and early spring and since I often found myself researching in the Sacramento State library on my weekend regular picking sessions had become routine. I had begun wearing my most tattered clothes, strapping on my running shoes, and bringing an old burlap bag that once held jasmine rice but now had become repurposed as a tote. While the slogan on the top "From the foothills of the Himalayas to your table" no longer applied it had a certain charm to it and was able to carry a few good pounds of kumquats.

Straightening myself out I reached into the bag and pulled out one of the oblong fruits, its bright orange peel releasing bursts of perfumed oil at my touch. I popped it in my mouth and bit down - the skin's oil and sugar rushed and gave way to the overly tart fruit in the middle. The pucker inducing sweet and sour flavors were worth the trou-

"Did you just put that in your mouth?" a voice behind me questioned. Their tone was heavy with affront and reprimand, as if turning the corner they had seen their only child eating out of a trash can and they were too late to stop them from swallowing an old coffee filter.

"Yes." I replied with some difficulty as I had yet to swallow. I swallowed. "Is there a problem?"

The person who had questioned my snack was a small woman. She was petit, dressed in a manner that I would associate with an oppressed librarian who fantasizes about a man who always peruses the new non-fiction selections. The lenses in her glasses were thick enough where I assumed she could see into the future, but at the moment they made her wide eyes surprisingly large and far wider, the whites as big as bone china plates.

"How can you eat that?" The reprimand had turned to total curisoity and disgust. I wondered if the arch of her eyebrows would meet her scalp.

"It's fruit off the tree. They're kumquats. Would you like to try one?" I said, reaching into the bag and pulling out what seemed to be the best example of kumquat. It was orange like a kumquat and had that perfect kumquat ovaloid shape. A prime example of kumquatiness.

"But it just came off the tree!" her magnified pupils flaring at the thought.

"Yes, well, it is fruit. That's where it comes from."

"But it hasn't been handled!"

"I'm quite aware of that. That's what makes it better. Would you prefer the irradiated, tasteless fruit from the store?" I queried, somewhat lost.

"No, I buy at the Farmer's Market, but the farmer's have raised it and picked it, I know where it came from."

I admit, I was a bit befuddled, the dots were laid out but I couldn't connect them into a recognizable picture. "The tree is here." I pointed to the tree. "I picked it." I pointed to myself.

"Yes, but you aren't the farmer."

"There isn't one. It just grows on the campus."

"But it's not sustainable and it hasn't been cleaned," her voice was a sure clear bell of the Slow Food Nation. She had read her Carlo Petrini, she was an advocate of the gourmande lifestyle. Clearly though this woman had missed the kumquat orchard for the trees.

I realized that the conversation, like my attempts and cooking rice successfully at home, was doomed from the start. She wouldn't have these kumquats, not unless I were labeled "farmer" and had them in a pile with a small sign at Farmer's Market on Sunday, 8am-Noon, the corner of 10th and W. These were not proper, Slow kumquats. They were ornamental to her, something else that was not in proper categorization.

"Well, I enjoy them," I said, slightly piqued. Her eyes stared back attempting to use their all seeing power to comprehend what she wasn't understanding, or maybe they were trying to communicate to me through some telepathic means that what I was doing was quite wrong.

Turning to leave I popped another kumquat in my mouth and bit down hard with frustration, sending a bit of juice squirting out the corner of my mouth and dribbling down my chin. I wiped it away with my sleeve and continued on my way back to the car, immediately regretting parking so far away as I would spend the next 12 minutes fuming to myself about the petit woman with humongous eyes.

"Handled..." I muttered.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Baked Banana Spice Wontons - A Pantry Scraper Recipe

This was a recipe of novelty and frugality. Arising from an empty place where, upon gazing at the mismatching staples and supplies and supposedly unrelated items you realize, in a flash of cosmic understanding, a pattern and potential of all things. While most people would argue that the bananas that had been placed in suspended animation in my freezer since time forgot to prevent them from being wasted might not be so good after such a long cryogenic sleep I begged to differ.

"No," I said, "these now black fruit have potential." In fact their flavor had intensified and their sugars had become sweeter. While their skins were pitch, inside they were a creamy, though slightly off-putting off-white color. A black mark or two streaked down their fibrous, but pliable sides, as if to attest that they, indeed, weren't getting any younger.  I opened them up and they lugubriously fell into the bowl with slothful disdain for me for having thawed them from their frozen stasis. 

We then got out some chopped walnuts that were leftover from a pilaf I made a few months back. They were on their last legs, and the smell was questionable, but not enough so to deter us from their use. Walnuts are expensive, after all. 

Lastly we broke out the leftover wonton wrappers that had wantonly held some delicious gingered pork that had been devoured the night before, leaving behind many of their brethren to wonder what their pouchy-fate would be. While those had been steamed these would be baked, something neither of us had tried but were confident enough that between two somewhat competent cooks we would yield an edible result that wouldn't set off the smoke detector. 

My roommate and I decided to mash the bananas up with some freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg. Adding some flour and the nuts to the mix as well we then began to fill and seal the wonton wrappers. After we gave them a fresh eggy coat and a sprinkling of brown sugar and cinnamon and into the oven they went.

They were delicious. Sweet, spicy, and the texture was intriguing; soft in the middle with enough give to make you wonder if the wrapper wanted to give up its fruity contents at all. The outer rim was crisp with a auditory-pleasing snap. The sugar and spice on top was just enough to counter the banana filling which we agreed was a bit heavy on the fresh nutmeg, but decided it was pleasing all the same. 

Banana Spice Wontons

Take out whatever old bananas you have, one banana will usually fill about 12 wonton wrappers. Mash up the bananas with a fork.

For each banana add:
-1 tablespoon of flour
-pinch of nutmeg
-1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon

Beat an egg and set aside in a small bowl. Lay out the wonton wrapper. Dip your finger into the egg and wipe the rim of the wonton wrapper, this will seal the wrapper when you fold it. Add a teaspoon of the mashed banana mixture to the middle. Fold over into a triangle and press the edges together so the seal. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Give the top of each wonton a light egg-was with your finger or a brush and then sprinkle on some brown sugar and cinnamon. 

Bake for 10 minutes at 350. 

Store in a container without a lid as covering them will make the high amount of moisture from the bananas soften up the crispy wonton edges.
*I call this a pantry scraper because it's just made from whatever bits you can find left over in your kitchen to make something awesome. Furthermore, I just threw this together, which is reflected in the very laid back organization to the recipe. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tomato Soup Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

-Another wartime, budget recipe from the archives. A delicious spice cake that uses condensed tomato soup. Flavorful and intriguing!-

I know what most of you are thinking. You read the title and silently said to yourself, "The hell...?"
This reaction doesn't surprise me, but a few days ago it did. When I told people I was doing a tomato soup cupcake, everyone seemed shocked and taken aback. Apparently, few people outside of the south have heard of this.

Tomato soup cake is pretty common in southern cooking, and was a popular option in the 40's and 50's for low income families. The reason is that this recipe requires just the bare essentials you probably have in your pantry and very litte of them. The soup provides the right amount of sugar and salt, and creates a unique spice cake. No one will ever guess the secret ingredient, and after you tell them, the shock on their face and the joy of the next new, adventurous bite is worth all the 5 minutes it took to make these little cupcakes.

The cream cheese frosting isn't exactly war time 1940's, but it does give this a nice bit of flavor. Tomato soup cake was usually flavored with margarine (butter was hard to come by, though this recipe makes use of it, it was just head over heels better that way).

Tomato Soup Cupcakes
Makes about 12 cupcakes

What You'll Need...
1 (10.75) ounce can condensed tomato soup
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup of butter
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 teaspoon of ground cloves
1 1/2 cups of sifted self-rising flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
crushed walnuts (optional)

What You'll Do...
1) Set the butter and egg out and let them come to room temperature. Set the over to 325 degrees F (165 C).

2) Combine the tomato soup and baking soda in a bowl and let it stand. Use a deep bowl as the mixture will rise.

3) Cream the butter, sugar, and spices in bowl. Add the egg and mix for 30 seconds. Mix in the tomato soup and soda mixture. It will look funky, but don't worry.

4) Mix the flour and baking powder together, and then beat into the mixture until just combined.

5) Pour evenly into cupcake papers. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. The cupcakes will be soft. Let them cool then cover with icing. Let them sit overnight in the fridge so the flavors can meld, or just take one in each hand and start eating.

6) Optional: Walnuts can be folded into the batter, or crumbled on top after being iced. The bitter and sweetness of the walnuts, plus the soft resistent crunch really add a pop to these cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

What You'll Need...
4 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup of butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups of powdered sugar

What You'll Do...
1) Let the butter and cream cheese come to room temperature. Beat them together until well combined.

2) Add the poweder sugar and then the vanilla. Add more podered sugar if you want for desired thickness. Pipe or spread onto cupcakes.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I think my baking powder might be racist...

Really, I've been giving it some thought. It dawned on me one morning when I was putting some oatmeal together in a baggy so I could have something tasty and warm to eat at my computer. As I reached for the currants, the can of calumet caught my eye. In an instant a chain of nerves in my brain suddenly linked together instantly electricity formed recollection and from recollection thought. My thought being, this image, is it offensive.

Now, I've learned that people get defensive about this sort of thing. Some people hate hearing sports teams like the Red Skins called a racist stereotype. The argument between "honorific title," "state heritage," and "team history" come into play against "racist rolemodel," and "offensive figure." I think that the calumet container falls into this similar dilemma. It could be seen as harmless image of a native american or another staple image of red man in feathers.

Some might disagree, but if it had a picture of a mammy or a stereotypical chinaman we would be up in arms. So then, doesn't this fall into the same category?

The research on this particular topic is limited. Calumet specifically is the name for a Native American smoking pipe. As for the history of the baking powder company itself, wikipedia seems to sum it up pretty well and on this particular topic I find little reason to question the entry.

Anyways, I open it up to debate. Is the baking powder container racist?