Stuck to my Word

So I ate a mouse turd last week.

I didn’t mean to. For one thing, if I’d intended to eat a mouse turd I would have chosen a different wine.

But I ate a mouse turd last week.

Here’s what happened.

I love soup. I also love squash. Autumn is soup weather. Autumn is also squash weather. So guess what kind of soup I made?

Right. Tomato bisque.

I actually set out initially to make squash soup – Cream of Roast Butternut and Pear Soup to be exact – but when I went to the store they had a big wicker tub with a sign that read “10 Pounds Overripe Heirloom Tomatoes. Clearance: $3.99”. How could I resist? I’m only human. Ish.

I lugged the whole basket home and set to work. I’ll spare you the details of the recipe except for one thing. A tip I picked up in an old issue of “Cooks Illustrated” years ago has really proven its worth: coat tomatoes with a layer of tomato paste before you set them in the roasting pan. The higher sugar content in the paste helps them caramelize richly, and more evenly. The paste may turn black, but that’s actually a good thing. Give it a shot.

So I roasted off the tomatoes with a bulb of fennel then built that up into a soup. A blitz in the Vitamix, strain out solids, a shot of cream, adjust seasoning, done. Fresh torn basil on top.

God, it smelled good. I grabbed a spoon and tucked in.

As I lifted the spoon to my mouth I saw three small cylindrical flecks floating on top. ‘That’s odd‘ I thought. ‘Some fennel seeds must have gotten through the strainer.’ In went the spoon.

Immediately –

Waaaaaaaaait a second. I didn’t use fennel seeds. I used the bulb….oh no!

I quickly spat was was left in my mouth into my hand. Sure enough, two black speck floated to the top.

Just two.

I turned my hand over, dumping the liquid onto the table, and rooted around with my finger. Nope. Three specks went in. Only two came out.

I examined the cylinders.

J’Accuse! :

droppings

Shit.

Mouse shit.

Oh SHIT! I SWALLOWED A MOUSE TURD!!

How the hell…?

I got up and poured the soup through my finest strainer. Nothing. Just soup.

I knew the bowl was clean because I’d unloaded it from the dishwasher only an hour before, but I checked the cupboard anyway. Nope. Everything spotless. What was left?

I opened the silverware drawer.

Shit.

Mouse shit.

A trail of fennelly feces dotted my forks…my knives…my chopsticks..but not my soup spoons. In my haste to get at that bisque I grabbed the top one without looking. The one with all the goods.

Man, there were a lot of pellets in there. Was it a family gathering, or just one incontinent geezer mouse? Do they make Depends for rodents??

I dumped the entire contents of the drawer into the dishwasher, including the tray, and set it on “Pots and Pans, Heavy Incrustations”.

We live in the middle of a 30,000+ acre forest, so a certain amount of wildlife encroachment is to be expected. Up until recently however the native fauna never managed to gain much of a foothold on our property itself. Casey the Wonder Corgi was  an effective and enthusiastic bulwark against larger pests like bears, deer, foxes and even the mythical  Jersey Devil. Gloria the Boneless Cat handled the rest: bunnies, songbirds, chipmunks, the odd snake, and mice. She caught lots and lots of mice. I know she caught lots and lots of mice because she would triumphantly present them to us on an almost hourly basis. Usually sans head.

But as both have sadly passed, the castle gates are now left unguarded. All manner of 4, 2, and no-legged beasts now call my front yard “home”, with a few – mice and squirrels particularly – even establishing bases indoors. The squirrels mostly confine themselves to our attic, nesting in the warm sheets of insulation lining the rafters. They don’t bother me, I don’t bother them.

But the mice?

Leave shit in my silverware drawer.

They must die.

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve had a run-in with the little beasts. Once or twice in the past year I’ve had to set out traps after spotting telltale scat around the house. I even figured out where they’re coming in: through a hole in the wallboard where my stove’s power cord threads.

I have to say, the classic Tom-and-Jerry cartoon style mousetrap really lives up to its reputation. Even your basic entry level 79-cent balsa wood model dispatches the little buggers with startling efficiency. Yeah, you risk losing a finger or two every time you load one up. But once you get the hang of it, the payoff in dead mice more than makes up for any severed digits.

There is one downside though: blood. Everywhere. Almost without exception, whenever that spring loaded bar slams onto the hapless creature who tripped it, blood gushes forth. Sometimes it’s from decapitation, sometimes a severed limb, sometime the entire body is cleaved, and sometimes it’s even worse. Those are the times the mouse is compressed but not cut. When that happens, the entire contents of its body cavity is ejected forcibly out its ass. All over my walls. It’s incredible how much spatter an exploding 3 inch long rodent generates.

So this time when I decided to go mouse hunting I took a different tack. Rather than set out the usual bar-and-spring guillotine, then dealing with the ensuing mess of blood and entrails, I’d go for an option that kills the bastard but leaves his body intact. I decided to try glue traps. I’d purchased a few last year and they were still in my junk drawer.

Have you seen these things? They’re shallow trays filled with sticky goo that you set out near known mouse trails, and when a hapless mouse wanders onto it, it’s stuck fast. You just walk over, ignore the pleading look in its eyes, and administer a coup de grâce with a rolling pin or any other stereotypical mouse bashing implement. No muss, no fuss. 

Except for the fuss your wife gives you.

You can’t use glue traps!” NewWifey(tm) yelled at me when I informed her of my plans. “They’re cruel! I’ve read that mice sometimes dislocate shoulders trying to free themselves. That must be agony!

“Yeah but honey” I said, “I’m tired of cleaning up mini crime scenes every time one of those spring traps slices through flesh. This way I can just pick up the tray, drop it in an old Cheetos bag, slam it against a wall, and toss it in the trash. Much easier – and cleaner.”

I don’t care” she said. “I know we have to get rid of them, but I am dead set against torture. Which is what those glue traps are.”

“When did YOU become a signatory to the Geneva Convention?”

She glared at me. “Do NOT use glue traps.

“Ok, ok.”

That night I set out the glue traps.

When NewWifey(tm) went in for her shower I ran to my junk drawer and grabbed two unopened packs. I had to get them set before she toweled off.

I went out to the stove and pulled the drawer under the oven completely out, opening a gap I could just wriggle into. By sliding halfway in on my stomach I could place the traps at the back wall.

So, onto my stomach and wriggle wriggle wriggle. It was a tight fit given my post-surgery weight gain. A very tight fit. So tight that I had to buck my torso up and down to move forward, kind of like a walrus working its way along a beach.

It was slow going, but steady progress. A few more walrus pumps and my outstretched arms would be able to place their traps on either side of the power cord hole/mouse door. Just a few….more…inches…to…

OW!

With just about every torso hop the back of my head brushed the bottom of the stove. But on my very last hop when my head touched the stove…it stuck! I couldn’t move!

Frantic, I yanked my chin down as hard as I could. I heard a ripping sound, like Velcro, and suddenly I was free. But something felt wrong. I quickly laid my traps down and inched backwards out of the hole.

Fully emerged I stood up and felt the back of my head. There was a hard plastic tray stuck to it. A glue trap! How…? I tugged, but it was stuck fast. I could feel hairs ripping out of my scalp as I tried to work it free.

How’s that feel, huh?

I turned with a start. NewWifey(tm) was leaning against the kitchen door, arms folded.

I told you not to use glue traps” she said. “Hurts like hell having your hair yanked out like that, doesn’t it? Imagine how much those poor mice must suffer.

“What? How…?”

I figured you’d try something like this so I taped a trap upside down to the top of that slot while you were in the bathroom. Then I ran the water in the shower to make you think I was busy, and came back here to watch.”

“But how did you know I was gonna use a glue trap and not a wire one?”

She laughed. “Gimme a break. How long have we been married?”

Son of a bitch.

That stupid tray was welded fast to my skull. I managed to pull a few hairs free, but even more came off my head. Finally, in an act of desperation, I checked the packaging. “If you’re stupid enough to get stuck” it said (paraphrasing), “rub some vegetable oil around whatever’s stuck and gently tug until it’s free“.

I grabbed the first bottle I saw, a Terresacre “Olea” extra virgin olive oil, probably 30 dollars a bottle. I poured a little on my head, worked it onto the hairs in the tray, and slowly pulled. A few came out! I poured a little more…tugged…more oil…tugged….more oil…until finally I was completely free. And smelled like an Olive Garden salad bar.

Well, so much for that. I grabbed out two conventional spring-and-bar mousetraps, got back on my stomach, and swapped them with the glue traps I’d just set. Then in for a long, hot shower.

That was last night.

This morning my alarm went off at 3am as usual. I brushed my teeth and checked the traps. Nothing. Better get going to work.

I grabbed my bag and keys and headed for the door.

Then I stopped. I put my bag down and walked over to the junk drawer.

I took the remaining glue trap and verrrrry gently placed it on the back of the toilet seat.

Hurts like hell having your hair yanked out like that I bet.

I’m at work now so I don’t know if she fell for it. If you don’t hear from me ever again though, it’s a pretty good bet she did.

Ciao!

My Tender Loins

I’m getting pretty tired of worrying myself into an almost vegetal state over the presidential election.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m still cowering in a corner too paralyzed by fear to move.

I’m just tired of it.

Normally, of course, sex and alcohol would be an effective remedy, at least in the short term. And indeed, I’ve indulged in both extensively since Tuesday night in an attempt to pull out of this tailspin. However NewWifey(tm) is away ON ANOTHER STUPID STITCHING GIG, and it’s just not the same doing either without her. (This is hopefully her last trans-continental jaunt of the year though, so at least I can look forward to frantically making up for lost time when she returns next week.)

What’s left to provide succor then?

Food, of course!

And by “food”, I mean “MEAT”. And lots of it. Nothing assuages trembling flesh like more flesh.

One really fantastic food blogger I’ve begun following since setting up shop here at WP is Joe Black, a chef who plies his trade in London.* The guy has a passion for his craft that really comes through in his written descriptions as well as his art-book-worthy photos. He does exquisite plating too, something I really appreciate even if I don’t bother with it myself much any more.

I should also mention here my perhaps All Time Favorite Foodaholic: Sally BR at Bewitching Kitchen. Go. Drool. Research microbiologist, Brazilian living in America, foodie ne plus ultra with a particular genius for bread, and all around good egg (well, probably around 40 million eggs). I’ve made a number of her recipes over the years, and they’ve all been spot-on.

*Have I ever mentioned I’m a serious Anglophile? No doubt the result of my Lancaster City born paternal grandmother (go Dolly Blues!) who regaled me with stories of that green and pleasant land from the time I was old enough to decipher her funny accent. She was one of the best cooks I still have ever met, completely and singlehandedly dispelling for me that ugly stereotype of England as a nation of flavor-phobes. I’ve had a thing for English cooks/cooking ever since, from Keith Floyd’s fabulous-if-besotted “Floyd On…” series to the current crop of Ramsay, Heston, et al. And Joe now, too.

I hasten to add here that I’m not blind to some of the, ah, “peculiarities” of Ye Olde Cuisine. When I was fortunate enough to stay a month in Brentwood, just to the east of London, with a host family some years ago, a few things caught me off guard. Just a sample: finding out “toad in the hole” is NOT a euphemism for sex. How embarrassing to find I’d been using it wrong all those years! / Ordering a hamburger at the British Museum cafeteria and being served a burger made out of…ham. “Yes, I know the menu says ‘HAMburger’, but, see, the traditional animal of choice is actually….oh, never mind.” / Getting an actual hamburger at the Hard Rock Cafe London, but having every patron in the place turn and stare at me when I lifted it to my mouth with both hands, rather than sticking my fork through the top bun, then down through the lettuce…the pickle…the cheese….the burger….and finally the bottom bun, and carving out a small wedge with my knife. They eat their burgers with a knife and fork over there! The burgers that aren’t made of ham, anyway. / Spotting it on the menu, I asked my hosts “Wanna split a pizza?” They looked at me as if I’d just started speaking in tongues. “Er, no” the husband said. “But if you like pizza, go ahead and order it for yourself.” That seemed crazy to me. Pizzas in New Jersey are the size of manhole covers. Ordering one for yourself alone would be considered gluttonous even for an American. But I ordered it anyway, only to have a pizza set before me that resembled nothing so much as a large Cheerio. And of course, scornful looks when I didn’t eat it with a knife and fork. / Finally, being roundly chastised by my host for stirring my tea in a circular motion instead of back and forth. Why hadn’t my grandmother taught me that?!

One other non-food adventure I had out there in the hills of Essex worth relating: I was arrested for stealing a horse. My English friend took me to a pub my first night, and I went a bit overboard sampling the wares. God, but the Brits know how to brew. Anyway, staggering back to their house after Last Call, I spotted a horse asleep in one of the fields we were skirting. “Heyyyyyyyy, I know how to ride horses” I slurred. “Watch!” and I ran over and vaulted onto the beast’s back. The startled horse took off, letting out a prolonged and surprised yelp as it did so. I held on as long as I could – maybe a hundred feet – before losing my death grip on his mane and being unceremoniously dumped on my back. Which is where the Bobbies found me after the farmer called and complained someone was trying to steal his prize dray.

Thankfully, this happened back before the days where anyone who commits even a parking violation is suspected of being an international terrorist. I was placed in a (rather nicely appointed) cell to sleep it off, served a nice breakfast the next morning, then let out with just a stern warning to “please respect other’s property whilst you’re a guest in our country”. Oh, I also had to go and give obeisance in person to the farmer, who was still rather miffed but took my apology graciously nonetheless. Very sporting, the lot of them. I hope I can go back someday….

Ok, enough stupid side story. Back to the plot.

Yeah, so Chef Joe (remember him? The guy I mentioned, like, 4 hours ago before going off on an extended tangent?) recently posted a gorgeously composed plate consisting of beef tenderloin, mushrooms, and a puree of Jerusalem artichokes, all dotted with a classic sauce. What caught my eye initially was the Jerusalem artichoke mash, something I fully intend to try as soon as I can find a source for the little buggers (sadly, no luck so far). But everything else there looked terrific too, so when I hit on MEAT as the perfect prescription for my Post Election Blues, his Beef Fillet got the nod.

Now I’ve been cooking up beef fillet since before my restaurant days, courtesy of the aforementioned Lancashire granny. She taught me a lot of basic butchering skills, including how to break down a full tenderloin into constituent cuts. (Shameless self promotion: I once wrote a Diaryland entry about our little old lady friend who wanted to make filet mignon, but the butcher cadged her into buying an entire tenderloin instead. It’s right here if you’d like to see the mayhem that can ensue when you neglect to learn your bovine anatomy.)

Anyway, I got no beef with beef. Especially since NewWifey(tm)’s favorite dish in the observable universe is probably Châteaubriand – the roast center portion of the tenderloin. It’s way-hay-hay too expensive to purchase just that one cut though, so I only make it when full loins go on sale at our local grocery, which they do about twice a year.

This is one of those times. So as an homage to Joe, and because I really feel that dead cow in large enough quantities will sooth my blistered nerves, I’m going to make an entire beef tenderloin all for myself tonight. If NewWifey(tm) wants any, tough titties. I’ll send her pictures. There won’t even be sinew trimmings left by the time she gets back. That’ll teach her to desert me in my time of need(s).

I do make my tenderloin slightly different than Chef Joe does, although his is certainly an excellent way to go if you’re so inclined. But over the last few years I’ve come to more appreciate the “Reverse Sear” method: roasting on low heat, then a quick sear to crust the outside. It seems this makes for a much more even degree of doneness throughout the entire roast, without a grey ring of well done meat around the outside and pinker meat only in the center. Still, again, there’s nothing wrong with having variegated slices of beef if you enjoy that sort of thing.

A year of so ago I did a picture tutorial for a friend who wanted to make Châteaubriand, and also put it up on my (oft neglected) Pinterest page. Might as well cut-n-paste the thing here also, in case anyone else is still so depressed that only a 3 foot long tube of medium rare beef can offer any comfort at all.

Or you can try my first choice: sex and booze. Don’t get me wrong, a well made fillet of beef is a joy. But let’s be real here.

Alright, enough words. Watch and learn, kids.

1.Mise en place: whole tenderloin, salt, pepper, butter, twine. That’s all you need.Oh, and a knife. Unless you have very long, sharp, and possibly serrated teeth.

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2.This is how you break down a full tenderloin. There’s a small tube of meat that runs along one side, which you separate (that’s the thin tube of meat at the top). The remaining large muscle is trimmed of silverskin and sinews, then cut into 3 pieces. The middle piece is the Châteaubriand cut. Try to cut it so that it’s even diameter from end to end. The smaller diameter cut on the right (the “tail”) is used for filet mignon and/or Beef Stroganoff (Stroganoff is often made from the Châteaubriand/center cut as well, just because more volume is often needed). The larger diameter cut on the left (the “butt”) is used for steaks known as “tournedos”…but you can just say “freakin’ incredibly tender steaks”

(If you really want to go all out over-the-top extravagant, you can grind or chop any or all of the remaining meat into the world’s best hamburgers, or meatloaf, or even meatballs. I often grind that top tube of trimmed meat, but sometimes I add the tail or butt also, for larger portions. It’s absolutely worth doing this at least once in your otherwise pathetic life.):

3.Ok, once you have the meat trimmed and portioned, take the center cut (the Châteaubriand) and just snugly tie some twine around it at intervals of about an inch and a half or so. This will help it feel loved, as if someone was hugging it and appreciating it as it gets sent into an oven where it will writhe and scream and rue the day it was born. It’s the least you can do. Once the meat is tied like that, lightly sprinkle salt all over it, lay it on a plate, and loosely cover it with plastic wrap. Let it sit out on the counter like that for one full hour. No less, but also not much more. There’s actual Science behind that, believe it or not. Do it:

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4.An hour later, wipe off any surface moisture from the meat, then sprinkle pepper all over and smear about 2 Tablespoons of butter over the entire thing. Helps if the butter is room temp, which I probably should have mentioned earlier. Sorry. Now lay the buttered meat on a rack over a sheet pan, and put it into a 300 degree oven. Um…I probably should have mentioned also you needed to start pre-heating your oven earlier. Sorry.

Set your timer for 23 minutes. When your timer goes “Ding!” (or whatever – do I really have to tell you this?) turn the meat over and rotate the pan 180 degrees. Just spin it around so the front is now in the back. I dunno, that’s just what all the cool cooks around here do. Set your timer for 23 minutes again. Go watch an episode of “Girls und Panzer” while you wait:

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5.When your timer goes “Ding!” (or other) again – in other words, after about 45 minutes total – check the meat’s internal temperature. Between 125 and 130(f) will give you rare-to-medium rare, which is traditional. If you thumb your nose at tradition and like chewing wallboard, put the meat back in the oven and never talk to me again.:

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6.At this point you have two options: cut the twine before you brown the meat, or after. I normally cut my twine before. But this time I didn’t. Thank you, Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest. I don’t miss those brain cells at all. Yeah, so, whether you’ve cut the twine or not, you now have to brown the outside of that meat tube you just baked. I mean, the meat is cooked. But at 300 degrees, it stayed a rather dingy shade of grayish brown. You need to put a good, rich, textural crust on the outside.

Here’s how to do it: 1. Gather every fan you own and set them up in the kitchen, facing out any and every window in the place. 2. Have your local burn unit on speed dial. 3. Take the batteries out of all smoke alarms in your house. Call your neighbors on either side of you and have them do the same.

Ok, it’s not that bad….sort of. But this will produce a good amount of smoke. So be warned. Now, heat a heavy pan over high heat with some neutral oil. When the oil just starts to smoke, lay the meat in and let it sear/crust on one side…then another…another…another…and finally the two ends. Use long tongs, or anything else you have that can rotate a cylinder at arm’s length. Just so long as it doesn’t pierce the meat. So, no forks:

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7. GAHH! The most important (to me) pic, and of course my camera’s flash battery died. Oh well.

When it’s browned all over – and you really want to use high heat so that it crusts fast, before the heat can transfer farther down and overcook the layers below – let the meat rest under a loose tent of aluminum foil for 10 – 15 minutes. I spread a compound butter over the top of mine (butter, fines herbs, Worcestershire, mashed garlic, salt and pepper) as it rested, but that’s optional.

It’s tough to tell from the lighting here, but the inner pink color is remarkably consistent right to the very edge. Only a very thin grey ring right under the outside crust:

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 If you have a sou vide setup, of course, that’ll also work. But if you’re like me and don’t have one, this is the next best thing. And not even “next” best. I’ve had sou vide steak prepared in this manner (at the CIA, in fact) and frankly, it was not discernibly better than the method I described here.

Well, that’s all. Hopefully I won’t have to repeat this recipe 4 years from now.

G’night, kids. If you’re like me and aren’t able to spend these trying times in the arms of a loved one, I hope you at least can enjoy their tenderloins.

Cioa!

The Best Bread Pudding You’ll Never Make

I hope.

Step 1: Buy two banana bunches at Price Chopper when they go on sale for 39-cents a pound. Make sure each bunch has at least 9 bananas. Bring home and place in back of crisper drawer, behind the bag of red peppers and clamshell containers of baby spinach so you’re sure to forget about them for at least 3 weeks.

Step 2: Have your wife come down with a urinary tract infection. Go to Price Chopper and buy her the largest bottle of cranberry juice cocktail you can carry.*

Step 3: Buy red peppers and clamshell containers of baby spinach from Price Chopper to replace the ones you used in that stir-fry last week. Spot the now jet black banana bunches you forgot about in the crisper drawer.

Step 4: Forget about the bananas for another week.

Step 5: Remember the bananas.

Step 6: Squeeze the semi-liquid bananas out of their skin and into a bowl. Keep a fan on.

Step 7: Add stuff like flour, baking powder + soda, a few eggs, melted butter, and anything else you can think of off the top of your head that goes into banana bread. Do NOT look up a recipe. The thrill of this dish is in the uncertainty.

Step 8: Note with alarm that you are out of milk products just as the banana dough starts setting like concrete. In desperation grab the half empty jar of cranberry juice cocktail. She can scratch for a day or two til you buy more. It won’t kill her. Add it all.

Step 9: Pull out the massive caterer-sized Pullman loaf pan you bought 15 years ago to make “Terrine de Canard” for 70 people at your wedding reception and haven’t had a reason to use since but can’t bring yourself to get rid of, and pour in the 9 pounds of banana bread batter.

Step 10: Bake until bread.

Step 11: For the next 3 days eat banana bread either with, or for, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When potassium poisoning becomes a real danger, wrap the remainder in foil and toss in the freezer.

Step 12: Go to Price Chopper and buy a half gallon tub of Butterscotch Swirl ice cream when your wife asks you to buy Caramel Swirl.

Step 13: Endure painful 25 minute long dissertation on the difference between “butterscotch” and “caramel”, and why one is dog shit and the other orgasmic.

Step 14: Go to Price Chopper and buy a half gallon tub of Caramel Swirl ice cream.

Step 15: Stare glumly at unloved, unwanted half gallon tub of Butterscotch Swirl ice cream in the freezer until inspiration strikes.

Step 16: Defrost frozen banana bread in microwave. Cut into cubes, spread on a half sheet, and pop it under the salamander (broiler) until they crisp up and lightly toast.

Step 17: Peel, core, and cube 2 or 3 Golden Delicious apples. Saute in butter over fairly high heat until just starting to caramelize, then flambe with Spanish solera brandy. Cook off alcohol and remove to cool.

Step 18: Put the unloved, unwanted Butterscotch Swirl ice cream in a saucepot and heat until melted. Remove from heat to cool.

Step 19: Whisk up, I dunno, 4? 6? 25? eggs. Enough that you think will thicken up a half gallon of melted Butterscotch Swirl ice cream.

Step 20: Whisk the half gallon of melted Butterscotch Swirl ice cream into the eggs. Add the bread cubes and apple chunks. Stir in a good pinch of salt and a glub of vanilla extract. And what the heck, might as well add the last of that bag of brown sugar that’s been taking up space on your shelf since last Thanksgiving. And some more white sugar too. This is America, after all.

Step 21: Drink some Spanish solera brandy. Accidentally drop a gill’s worth into the batter.

Step 22: Get out a Pyrex bowl that looks big enough to hold the batter. Smear a fistfull of butter around the inside, then fill ‘er up.

Step 23: When batter overflows the Pyrex bowl, curse your poor volume judging skills and get out the bigger Portuguese casserole dish. Butter that and pour in the batter from the Pyrex bowl, the remainder in the mixing bowl, and the overflow you’ve troweled off the counter.

Step 24: When batter overflows the bigger Portuguese casserole dish, curse your poor volume judging skills again and get out the double-loaf size Le Creuset stoneware loaf pan. You’re done fucking around. Butter that sucker up and start pouring. Any overflow eat raw.

Step 25: Remember that you forgot to pre-heat the oven.

Step 26: Pre-heat oven. 400(f)-ish should do it, right?

Step 28: Tap finger impatiently on counter to help oven pre-heat faster.

Step 29. Fuck it. Put loaf pan in the oven, ready or not. It’ll get up to temp eventually.

Step 30: Go watch an episode of “Jewel in the Palace”. Oh no, Jang Geum is in trouble with the head cooking lady!

Step 31: Stick a knife in the loaf. Stare in amazement when it comes out all sticky and wet. Is the oven on?? It is.

Step 32: Go watch an episode of “Jewel in the Palace”. Oh no, Jang Geum is in trouble with the Royal physician now!

Step 33: Stick a knife in the loaf. Stare in amazement when it comes out sticky and wet. Seriously, is this thing on? It’s been two fucking hours already!

Step 34: Go watch half an episode of “Jewel in the Palace”. Fucking Jang Geum. Is she gonna get in trouble with the goddam EMPEROR now? Geez. I can’t watch this. Go check the loaf.

Step 35: It’s done! IT’S DONE! Pull out of oven and let it cool on a rack.

Step 36: Go finish watching that “Jewel in the Palace” episode. Yep. Jang Geum’s in trouble with the Emperor alright. What’s wrong with that girl? Beyotch gonna get a bludgeoning of Korean historical proportions if she’s not careful.

Step 37: Explain to your wife that yes, sometimes bread pudding is cooked in a loaf pan. Weather her scorn.

Step 38. Cut a slice and serve it to her.

Step 39: Cut 8 more slices and serve them to her.

Step 40: Cut one for yourself. With sweetened sour cream on top. Because you’re out of heavy whipping cream, remember? Oh yeah, now I do.

Step 41: Blog about “Banana Bread/Butterscotch Ice Cream/Brandied Apple/Cranberry Juice Cocktail Bread Pudding“. With horrible picture of same.

Step 42: The end.

* Yes, I know cranberry juice has been shown to be an ineffective treatment for UTI’s. But YOU tell that to a woman who screams her head off every time she sits to pee.

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Expansionism, my ass.

And that’s no crack. My ass is expanding.

The elbow surgery rehab is not going well, frankly. Or rather, the rehab is going well but I’ve been experiencing some interesting side effects. And by “interesting”, I mean “oh FUCK no”.

Here’s the nutshell acccount: because I have to baby my left arm, I’ve been relying almost exclusively on my right arm for all my typing, cooking, driving, lifting, nose picking, wiping, yanking, and door-opening needs.

But I had the same surgery on my right elbow two years ago. Guess what several months of exlusively relying on THAT reconstructed elbow for typing, cooking, driving, lifting, nose picking, wiping, yanking, and door-opening, has done? I’ll tell you.

YEEEEOWWW!

That’s what it’s done.

Back to the doc.

Doc looks, squeezes, frowns, writes some stuff down, and says, “Stop. Doing. ANYTHING.”

Both arms?

“Both arms.”

How am I gonna drive home?

“Except that. But then, try not to drive. It twists your elbows when you steer.”

So yeah, I gotta stay pretty much inert from the belt up so my left arm can continue healing, and my right arm doesn’t blow out all the work it had done months ago. Typing – that thing I’m doing here in defiance of God and sense – is particularly verboten. The lifting and dropping of fingers on a keyboard contracts all those rubber band ligament things that connect digits to elbows. Ditto mouse use. So I’ve gotta wrap this up in a minute.

But here’s the thing(s):

I have to work. Where I have to type and use mice. Mouses?

My work is 50 miles from my house. That’s a hundred miles a day steering.

I don’t have any more days off after using them on surgery recovery.

NewWifey(tm) is still away on her cross country cross stitching adventure. I’m fending, pitiably, for myself. That means cooking.

All I can do is sit. I hate sitting. I get bored.

What do I do when I get bored? The same thing YOU do when you get bored. I eat.

I weighed myself this morning. I’d been putting it off because my clothes were getting tighter and I prefered to believe they were shrinking because I was just doing Man Laundry (washing machine AND dryer set to “Breaker Overload”). But when even my shoes started digging into my flesh, I knew I had to face the scale.

11 pounds. I gained 11 pounds in a month from sitting around and boredom chowing.

I was so depressed I went into the kitchen and made this:

orange-barley-pilaf-3-smaller

I scrounged around in the kitchen and just tossed some leftover bits together. So it’s kinda like paella, but with half a bag of barley instead of rice, clementines, thyme from my window box, the last dregs of stock, an old onion, and chicken thighs. I guess I should call it “Cebada con Pollo y Clementina“, since this is the internet and all food descriptions/pictures here seem duty bound to look and sound more impressive than they are. Plus, the foreign name adds to the impression that I’m impressive. I’m always on board with that.

Ok, gotta stop typing. Gotta start eating. I’ll be back when I’m up FIFTEEN pounds. So…tomorrow.

One last thing, because vanity trumps pain. Here’s a pic of a chicken dish I did a while back after a buddy gave me his crop of tomatillas and some really interesting Peruvian herbs that his Peruvian neighbor grew. It made a terrific sofrito – and look at that color! Same basic technique as the dish above, but wildly different flavors:

tomatillo-chicken-thighs-2

That’s it. I gotta go before I’m disarmed, literally. I value my arms. Almost as much as food.

Ciao!

 

 

No it’s NOT a cooking blog, #4

Somewhere around 2 years ago NewWifey(tm) made the wise decision to befriend a girl who’s family back in Spain owns a saffron farm. Within a week of befriendment, the girl gave us this:

saffron-2

I think I’ve posted that pic before, but who cares. Unless you own a saffron farm you’re probably never going to see 2 cups of saffron sitting on your kitchen counter, ever, ever. Ever. You’d be posting pics of it every chance you got too, if that ever happened.

Do you know how much saffron that is? It’s more saffron than I’ve ever used in my life, cumulative, by like a factor of HOLY FUCK. It’s so much saffron that I’ve even used it as garnish:

finished-saffron-chicken

Seriously, have YOU ever sprinkled a fistful of saffron over a platter of saffron braised chicken just for the visual effect? I hadn’t either, up until  little Miss Chiquita Bonita came into our lives. I’d have had to sell my car, my watch, and three nights with my wife to even afford it. ¡Viva España!

So it is with heavy heart that I announce that after two years I’ve finally reached the bottom of the saffron barrel. There was only maybe a quarter cup left (*gasp*) when I opened it yesterday morning to use some as cologne.

Oh well. All good stigma must come to an end, I guess. Rather than despair, I decided to blow it all out on one final extravagant dish.

I was first going to use it to make Camarones al Ajillo. But then I decided I didn’t want the garlic to overpower all that ridiculously expensive floral elixir, so….

I took all the remaining saffron, toasted it lightly, then steeped it all day yesterday in warm oil. Then today I slowly poached a pound of shrimp (which I brined first) in that oil, in a bain-marie, to really get the flavors infused. While that was going I used the shells to make a shrimp stock:

shrimp-cooking

The stock was then used to make a separate brown rice risotto, with shallots and baby spinach. I have a ton of thyme growing on my back porch, so I used that as the finishing accent. Then I just plated the two together, drizzling extra saffron oil around the perimeter:

saffron-shrimp-finished

WAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!! IT WAS SOOOOO GOOOOOOOOOD!!!

One note for anyone considering chiming in here with, “My god, this guy is an idiot. Doesn’t he know shrimp shouldn’t cook for more than a minute or two? Those things probably had the texture, and taste, of a Shell No-Pest Strip after simmering that long!”

Well, ok, that first sentence is correct. But the rest?

HA! Fool! Remember your basic Phood Physics? Heat and temperature are not the same, and oil contains less heat than water of the same temperature.* You can poach things in oil for a lot longer than you can in water before they become over cooked, shrimp included. It’s like sous vide a bit, but without the annoying millennial cache.

*Try this: heat a pot of water to 130-degrees (f), and a pot of oil to the same temp. Dunk one hand in each. See which hand starts writhing in agony first. Or better yet: boil a pot of water. That’s 212-degrees (f) give or take, depending on altitude. Now heat your oven up to 212 degrees. Stick your hand in the boiling water. You lasted, what, a quarter second before needing the local Burn Unit? Now open the oven door and stick your hand in. You could practically binge watch every episode of  “Car 54, Where Are You?” (with Fred Gwynne AND Al Lewis!) on Netflix before feeling even slightly tanned. The temperatures are exactly the same, but the amount of heat contained in water is more than the amount contained in air. By a lot.

Of course, with NewWifey(tm) still away it was sadly up to me to make sure there were no leftovers. But sometimes I wish I could develop an app I’d call “Eat Me!“, which would pair hungry people with people who are looking to share their meal. Eating that entire platter, redolent of floral joy and goodness, was fantastic. But it would have been nice to brag about how I made it to someone sitting across from me. I mean, I’m in the media, so I’m an egomaniac.

On the other hand: MORE FOR ME! Woo hoo!

(Er…sorry I haven’t been having more actual adventures to regale you with. Between the excruciatingly slow elbow recovery that’s limiting what I can do, and NewWifey(tm) not being here to instigate things, pretty much all I have in my life at the moment is foodstuffs. And Homestuck. But you probably don’t want to hear about that.)

Later. Gotta go make dessert.