Monday, December 24, 2007

I made bear food

Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Better Half says it looks like bear poop.

Pemmican is easy, fun, and tasty.

(Click photo for more on the process.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007


A new restaurant just opened on Canyon, right in downtown Beaverton, called DJK Korean BBQ and Shabu Shabu. When I saw the sign about a month ago, I freaked out with joy. This is the one thing that I somehow never got around to in Hawaii, and I couldn't wait.

Well, I talked Better Half and Maternal Unit into going with me.


I think I've probably mentioned my quick method of assessing how good a restaurant is, but just in case: I like to be the only white person. That sounds unsavory when I read it now, but try not to think of it that way. I just mean that when I go and get "ethnic" food I like it to be authentic. Well, DJK did not disappoint. We were the only non-Korean people in the restaurant the whole time we were in there. Score one.

The service was good -- and the server spent some time showing us what to do. I didn't feel like a total oaf for not having been to a restaurant like that before. Score two.

The prices were really steep. Strike one. However, we could have (and probably should have) split an order of something, the portions were hunormous. Maybe we were ignorant white people, and you're supposed to split orders and the server was laughing into her sleeve the whole time. I don't know.

Every single thing was incredibly tasty. I loved all of the side dishes. As for meats, we got galbi (very good!), chadol gui (good), and... urr... I don't remember the third thing. But all of them were really, really good. There is something supremely delightful about piles of meat and piles of vegetables.

And no one got food poisoning! Hooray!

A+ would go back.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Merry Survivalist

Dinner tonight featured pemmican and dandelion buds (with an egg). Maybe I'll go have some hardtack!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sea biscuit

Hardtack is fairly easy to make. I made a miniature batch from:

1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
Just enough water to form a slightly sticky dough (about 1/2 a cup)

Knead well. Roll out 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into squares (3" on a side) or circles. Use a fork, toothpick, or chopstick to make some holes in each biscuit. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, then turn heat down to 250 for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Bake again (some say this works best if you do the second baking the next day) at 200 for 30 minutes.

There are many variants on the cooking times and temperatures. What's important is to cook them at least twice, and a low temperature is better than a high temperature.

As you can see from my expression, although these aren't as horrible as you have probably been led to believe, they aren't particularly good, either.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Homemade cranberry sauce is easy and delicious.


One bag of cranberries
Juice and zest of two oranges
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar (or more if you have a sweet tooth)
1 tablespoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger

Simmer all ingredients for approximately twenty minutes or until the cranberries have mostly burst and the sauce has gelled. Serve it forth!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Foodie Fainted

Surely you have all heard of the eggplant recipe called "The Imam Fainted." There are two explanations for the fainting of the Imam upon being presented with the dish. Version one, it was so delicious, fainting was the only logical response. Version two, someone told him how much olive oil was used...

I reference this for a reason. I have finally learned of the existence of a culinary journal called Petits Propos Cullinaires and I think that I too may faint. I remain unsure if I am overwhelmed by joy or horror.

I... I want to get every single back issue. And click that link on the right for Index/Prices/Ordering! There's a whole list of books, and reading through the descriptions caused me to have heart palpitations. An entire history of eggs. Food preservation. HISTORY OF SWEETS. I... I... oh, Lord.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Quince jam!

Quince jam!
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
I canned up some quince preserves which will probably end up as Christmas gifts.

I followed the same proceedure as for quince paste (chop up quinces, cover with water, boil until soft, puree with stick blender, add sugar, cook until solid) but didn't cook as long. I worry now that I didn't let it gel enough. Oh well, it will still be all right.

I love this color!

(The larger jar in the background is cranberry sauce that I made with the other members of my AmeriCorps team. So much fun!)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Pear and cheese pie. Tart. Whatever.

Pear and cheese pie
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
This was crazy delicious.

The cheese part of the filling is:

1/4 c sugar
lots of nutmeg
1 egg
1/2 cup ricotta
1/2 cup sour cream

Seriously this shit was insane. I ate it for first breakfast. For second breakfast (which also happened to be elevenses!) I had toast and hard boiled eggs. It was a hobbity day!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Moderately embarrassing pastries

I just read (and much enjoyed) The Gladiator's Honor by Michelle Styles. What am I becoming? Let's not worry about that for right now...

Well of course reading historical fiction makes me want to cook historically inspired food. So I started thinking about Rome and somehow the idea of little pastries came to me. I have no idea if anything like this was ever actually eaten in the Empire, but they tasted pretty good.

All I did was make a pie crust and cut it into little squares. I then filled each square with this filling:

-leftover roast chicken
-farmer's cheese (the soft kind, like ricotta)
-dried apricots
-cippolini onions
-a little red wine
-salt, cinnamon, and pepper

I ground everything in a food processor. I tried to add pistachios, but that didn't work so well. Place some in the middle of each square and fold over, forming a triangle. Prick each. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350F. I thought these turned out quite tasty, and they reheat well.

Serve with honeyed spiced wine and olives while wearing a makeshift toga or chiton. I find a long tablecloth works much better than a bedsheet. Suggested music: Anything that makes you feel like vomiting, having sex with slaves, then vomiting some more. An aromatic bath before hand is also highly reccommended. But remember, for historical accuracy, no soap.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Where there's smoke, there's... me cooking.

When I cook tasty little birdies in my oven, I cook them as per the directions in How to Cook Everything: breast down, 500 degrees, 20 minutes. Remove, flip, baste, return to oven. Turn oven down to 350 and roast until thermometer in thigh registers 160-165. This results in a most succulent breast and OH SO CRISPY OM NOM NOM crispy skin.

It also, somewhat hillariously, results in my entire apartment filling with smoke. Am I a bad cook if I set off the fire alarm on a regular basis?

Maybe I just need to clean the oven.

Last night's dinner:
-One lovely fat little chicken with: lemon slices, thyme and garlic (inserted under the skin and also in the cavity), olive oil, salt and pepper (generously masaged into its skin)
-Tiny potatoes (I just put them around the chicken during the breast-up part of the cooking, brushing them with a little of the pan drippings)
-Gravy, to impress Better Half

Followed by:
-Ice cream sundaes! Maybe this is why I'm so fat!

Better Half, who is normally kind of opposed to whole animals, really enjoyed the chicken. Probably because I carved it for her.

After the chicken had cooled, I removed the "oysters" and ate them with my fingers. I can't wait to have kids so I can share treats like that with them, the way my mom shared them with me.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Breyer's makes lactose free ice cream. I got so excited in the grocery store I almost started crying.

There... there is a God! And She does love me!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tonight's Lesson: You Probably Shouldn't Drink and Cook

Several margaritas later I find myself remembering that I had intended to make coleslaw*. My go-to cookbook only has a "light and spicy" version which is totally unacceptable and incidentally out of character for this cookbook. The internet is far away. Better Half then gets to listen to me yell "FUCK IT! I'M A GREAT COOK! I AIN'T NEED NO RECIPE!" as I stomp around the kitchen.

Despite using sharp and scary tools and never having made slaw before, 1) there were no injuries and 2) it turned out great.

Approximately what I did: slapped some mayo in a bowl, added a dab of homemade mustard, a drizzle of apple cider vinegar, and a skosh of sugar, then whipped thoroughly. I tasted it and added more sugar and vinegar. Then I grated in carrots and tried and failed to grate in red cabbage. So I sliced the cabbage thinly and then chopped my slices and mixed it all together. It tasted pretty good. I'm going to let it sit in the refrigerator a while then taste it again -- I may add salt and pepper.

*I had a good sandwich today at a large chain establishment that rhymes with Icy Ickle that had coleslaw on it. I thought that was a smart idea and they were out of sprouts at the grocery which are my normal veg of choice for sandwiches so this week's sands shall have the slaw.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I am a big scary bear

We went to Sushi Ville last night (on 23rd and Quimby, I think) and it was oh so very good. I ate nothing but nigiri (just rice and delicious raw fishies) which is uncharacteristic for me. I EAT RAW FISH LIKE BEAR RARRRRRRRRRRRR Then for the grand finale I had a spider roll. The crab was still hot from the fryer and crunched satisfactorily.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Foodie on Vacation

I just got back from visiting my dad, which is more accurate than saying I just got back from a trip to Hawaii because I barely left the house, and I certainly didn't do any touristy crap.

But there were some high points of the trip:
-KOREAN BBQ OMG. With macaroni salad. Hell yes.
-Sushi. New favorite fish: hamachi.
-Waiola shave ice!!!!!!!!!! I got li hing mui and lychee with ice cream in the bottom and it was just as good, maybe better, than I remember it. AUGAHGAUGAHGALAGUGALGHA (drooling noise a la Homer Simpson)
-The ribs my dad made in his smoker. I made the marinade!
-Finding Dole Whip at the airport! I thought this stuff was gone forever!
-Daquiris made with fresh mangos from my dad's tree.

Low points include the NINE FRICKIN' DOLLARS I paid for the shittiest sandwich ever while in the airport. That's okay, I had some overpriced fruity cocktails to help me choke it down.

Monday, September 03, 2007

When foodies recreate

It is with no small measure of pride that I report a new personal best: lovingly carrying the most perfect and beautiful chanterelles TWO MILES over scorching sand dunes so that I might eat them. I cooked them in just the tiniest bit of butter with a little kosher salt, and OH they were divine!

Even though I had hiked five hours that day, in total, over said scorching dunes, and was insanely sunburned and so sore I could barely move, I found myself debating how hard it would be to make the trek back to get those I left behind. But I left them, for another, or for the chipmunks and the trees. Why be greedy? There will be more.

What serendipity, to find such beauties! Ah, mushrooms! Is there anything so fine? I think not. There's no thrill like finding mushrooms, especially when you aren't looking for them. Maybe eating them. But I think the finding is sometimes even better.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

How they turned out

Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
By the way, this is the lunch I made myself with the sausages -- also featuring braised red cabbage and those little dumplings that come in a box. I think they're called Spaetzle.

Final verdict: pretty good! I of course always have criticism of my work (they burst out from the ends of the casings, which caused them to lose flavor), but for a first effort I'm pretty proud of myself.

Fear me.

Now that I've made sausages and survived (it wasn't as difficult or traumatic as everyone always suggests it will be), I find myself with an unshakeable hankering to make... haggis. What better way to get my Scottish on?

Burns Night is January 25th. I think that's enough lead time to find someone who will sell me sheep guts, isn't it?

Monday, August 27, 2007


Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Arrange the links on a platter, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate a few hours (even overnight) to let the flavors get to know each other.

18. Snip apart

Snipped apart
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Snip the individual links apart and cut off the extra casing from each original end. I used kitchen shears, but apparently a sharp knife works as well / better.

17. Twist into links

Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
When you've finished stuffing, take each long piece and twist it off into individual links. As you can see, my first pass wasn't particularly even.


Guide the casing
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Turn on your Kitchen Aid. Feed the meat mixture into the grinder slowly.

Using those stubby yet still dextrous fingers and the fat, somewhat square hands at the ends of your massive Deutsch forearms, carefully guide the sausages as they fill.

This is the moment of glory.

When you get near the end of a casing piece, carefully pull it off and set the sausages aside.

Repeat loading up some casing and carefully stuffing it until you've used all of your meat.

15. Tie off the end

Tie off the end
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Tie off the end of the casing, and we're ready to stuff!

So much excitement! It all comes down to this! etc!

The filling is ready!

Stuffing ready to go
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Here's what the final product looks like after the second grind.

Casings after final soaking

You can see how plump and supple the casings get after the final soaking.

14. Load the casings onto the funnel

Ready the funnel
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
If you're doing this with a Kitchen Aid, you have to take apart and reassemble your attachment so that it's set up to stuff and not grind. Once you've got that all ready, you open one end of a piece of casing, slide it onto the little funnel thing, and then just keep sliding more and more casing on there. It may help to grease the funnel before hand, but I didn't feel like it was necessary.

13. Grind again

Grind again
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Grind the meat and seasonings together, again using the fine disk.

Now is a good time to fry a small patty to make sure you like the seasoning balance.

12. Wait again

Let the meat freeze and the casings soak for 30 minutes (again).

I figured we didn't need to show my clever picture a second time.

11. Soak the casings again

Soak the casings again, this time with one tablespoon of vinegar for every cup of water. You don't have to use fancy vinegar, your basic distilled white works quite well. I just don't happen to have any in the house, so I'm using my least fancy apple cider vinegar.

Fully rinsed

Fully rinsed
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
This is what the casings look like after they've been fully rinsed. As you can see, they are starting to look much nicer than they did at the beginning of this project.


Rinse the inside
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
This is what the casings look like full of water. See, they go from horrible worms, to beautiful sea creatures...

10. Rinsing the insides of the casings

Ready to rinse again
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
The idea here is to run cool water through the casings. I was a little freaked by the idea of putting intestines directly on my faucet, so I used the stuffing funnel. Put one end of the casing on the end of the funnel, put the dish of the funnel up to the faucet, and SLOWLY turn on the water.

9. Freeze Again

Freeze Again
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Put the seasoned meat back in the freezer.

8. Blend

Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Knead together the ground meat/fat and all seasonings (fresh, spices, salt and pepper).

The meat was so cold it made my hands hurt.

Also note in the background of some of these photos is a cook's best friend, a book stand.

7. Grinding, Part One

Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Using the fine disk, grind your meat (and fat if applicable). Use the handy pusher to feed the meat into the grinder.

Otto sez:

"Whoa, just like Pink Floyd!"

6. Spices

Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Grind your spices and set aside.

Actually I got lazy and used my coffee grinder that is only used for spices, but the mortar and pestle looked too cool to not include.

5. Chopping

Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Chop the onion and sage (or whatever other fresh seasonings you're using) and set aside.

4. Wait

Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Let the casings soak and the meat freeze for 30 minutes.

3. Rinse the casings

Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Gently rinse the casings, smallish sections at a time (mine came conveniently pre-sectioned, I don't know if this is normal) under cool running water. Transfer them to a bowl, cover with more cool water, and let soak.


Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
This was the only part of this whole operation that I started to get squeamish. They looked like such gigantic horrible worms, and they were all covered with salt and this came from the inside of a pig and that's where the poo is made and... and...

I had to take a few deep breaths before going on. But once I was recovered I just took out about as much of the casing as I thought I would need (I ended up having too much, but I was hoping for that rather than too little) and got down to rinsing it.

2. Freeze

Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Put the cubed meat in the freezer.

1. Cube the meat (and fat if using)

Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Cut your meat into (approximately) 1-inch cubes. Ditto fat, if you're adding it.

Mise en place

Set up
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Part one: get all of your gear and ingredients ready.

For today, I used the following.


Kitchen Aid (artisan)
Meat grinder attachment for K.A.
Sausage stuffer attachment for K.A.
Mortar and pestle (which I eventually gave up on in favor of my coffee grinder that is only used for spices)
Measuring cups and spoons
One large ceramic bowl
One not quite as large stainless steel bowl
Two smallish glass bowls
Cutting board
Large, sharp knife
Kitchen shears
Sharp paring knife
Optional but helpful: kitchen scale

Natural piggy casings (I don't have a good sense of how much you need per amount of meat -- I bought enough for twenty pounds, so I used a little over a quarter of what I had)
6.5 lbs pork shoulder (it was quite fatty, so I opted not to add fat to my sausages)
1 walla walla sweet onion
1/2 oz fresh sage
1 T Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
1 T freshly ground black pepper
1 T mustard seed
1 t caraway seed

You will also need:
Some vinegar
Lots of water
Plenty of sanitizing hand soap

You may want:
Latex/neoprene/vinyl gloves

I found instructions in a book called "Home Sausage Making" that my wonderful mom gave to me.


Join us today as I will be posting frequent updates throughout the day on Operation: Sausage. That's right, folks, I've got pork shoulder, I've got casings, I've got a meat grinder, WHO COULD ASK FOR ANYTHING MORE???? I also have Hefeweizen and a proud German heritage.

Theoretically I'll be taking process pictures along the way, too.

It should be epic.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I must be shriven

I have sinned: many times have I lied, before the Gods and to my fellow man. Many times I have said that I was happy, and I was not.

Never until yesterday had I even known what it was to be truly happy. Now I know, because now I have a food grinder (and optional sausage stuffer!!!) attachment for my Kitchen Aid, and using it was so amazing that I cried a little.

Ah! The day when I buy casings shall be epic!

The world may never be safe again. Where is my oompah music? The only thing that could make this joy more complete would be if I owned a smoker. Of course, I'm already trying to come up with ways to suspend things in my fireplace. I'll let you know how that goes (most likely result: eviction; second: death).

Friday, July 13, 2007

And for a moment, I saw God.

Better Half recently accused me of doing nothing but read erotica and start messy art projects when she's not home. This is patently false. I hate erotica, and I save the messiest projects for when she's home so that I can better vex her. No, what I do when I'm alone is eat foods that I know horrify her. For example, today I bought a package of soft shell crab sushi at the (very very nice) Asian grocery store (that I love). I ate them in my car, knowing that the popping of the tobiko and the bug-like legs sticking out of my mouth would have resulted in an argument were I not alone.

But where I'm really going with this is that wasabi packets included with grocery store sushi (which I only buy at this one place, because grocery store sushi is horrible in general) are the devil's work. They are a pickle to open, and so I resorted as I always do to my teeth. This went pretty well, until I inadvertantly squeezed a bunch of wasabi into my mouth.


It was so hot I actually rolled my eyes back and gasped in pain. I felt it in my neck. Jesus. I thought I was going to die.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
I made a pie!

Made with raspberries that I picked myself. Some years back, Better Half requested that I make her a pie with a crumb top and then a lattice top over that. Now that's how I make all my pies! It is totally ridiculous and over the top but a great crowd pleaser.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Lemon Nutmeg Cookies

Cream together:
1 stick butter (softened)
1/2 cup sugar

Beat in:
3 egg yolks
Zest of one lemon
A little salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

Add slowly:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 t baking powder

Roll between two sheets of wax paper, chill, cut out. Bake at 300F for 10 minutes.

I iced them, too. And here's a nice indication of the kind of operation I run in my kitchen: (My internal monologue) Damn, I don't have any food coloring. I don't want white icing! Well, that's okay, I'll just grind up a little saffron using the smaller mortar. Yeah, that's how I roll.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hasty Quiche

one crust for a 9" pie

1 Trader Joe's package of baby spinach
1/2 of one large sweet onion
6 eggs
1/2 c half and half
lots of grated sharp English cheddar
black pepper
fresh rosemary

Chop the spinach small. Slice the onion. Chop the rosemary as finely as you can. Blend filling, pour into shell. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Monday, June 25, 2007


On a whim I bought a tiny bit of some goat milk cheddar at New Seasons.

It was incredible, remarkable, delicious, hyperbolic.


I will never have this treat again :-(

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A very tasty dinner

A very tasty dinner
Originally uploaded by laurelfactorial
Here we go, the first in what will no doubt become a popular feature: easy and delicious meals using ingredients from Trader Joe's.

You will need:
-Tomatoes (I went with the high lycopene on the vine little ones)
-Sour cream
-Beef (I went with a small amount of sirloin)
-Jasmine rice (1 cup uncooked)
-Chicken broth (1.5 - 2 cups)
-Olive oil
-Saffron (to taste)
-Garlic (proportional to the amount of meat you have)
-Onions (proportional to the amount of meat you have)
-Cumin (to taste)
-Pepper (to taste)
-Salt (to taste -- you don't need much at all!)
-Sumac (very little, it has quite a punch) (okay okay so you can't get this one at Trader Joe's)
-Some kind of bread -- you can make pita, or I bought this lavosh stuff.

Chop the tomatoes roughly and set aside. Chop your onions and garlic very finely. I used a little food processor. Slice the beef into fairly thin strips, and mix together the raw beef, onions and garlic, pepper, salt, cumin, and sumac. While this is getting acquainted, make your rice. In a very small saucepan, bring the rice and broth to a boil. (The more broth you use the softer the rice will be. This is a matter of personal taste, but be warned that it is very easy to end up with mushy and gross rice.) Turn down the heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand. Cook the beef in the olive oil on moderately high heat. This will work out better in a large pan where you can get the beef fully spread out (you want to sear it, not stew it). To serve, put a little pile of rice on your bread, and spread the beef and tomatoes over this. Top with sour cream. Roll up like a super trendy oh my Gods I can't believe I'm writing these words wrap, and stuff your face.

For maximum effect, serve with mint tea in a room decorated with Orientalism prints whilst wearing a Ghawazee coat and playing a bellydancing CD.

(If you live in Portland, you might recognize this for what it is: an attempt to recreate or at least echo my favorite dish at a certain very good Lebanese restaurant. You should also know that it's not as good as their version.)

Not to sound all Food Network, but this makes a really great weeknight dinner (definitely less than an hour start to finish), and the leftovers are easy to take to work for lunch. It's also pretty enough that I think you could serve it to company (certain company) -- try making a nice cucumber salad to go with, and maybe some hummus; buy some baklava for dessert.

Health has a flavor

I made myself a smoothie just now with frozen wild blueberries, low fat yogurt, pomegranate/blueberry juice, honey matcha powder, and golden flax meal.

It's a little weird, kind of a scary not-all-the-way purple color, with a very plant-y taste (from the matcha) and a little bit of texture from the flax meal.

I kept trying to think where I had seen this color and tasted this flavor before, and suddenly it hit me: this stuff looks and tastes exactly like sweetened acai pulp. Well, okay, not exactly: it's less oily. But when you consider that the health benefits are very similar (loads of antioxidants plus some omega fatty acids), it becomes even more eerie. Perhaps I've just blown the lid off of this conspiracy: there is no such thing as acai, there is is only a factory in Brazil where they mix blueberries and matcha and flax and flax oil and pomegranate juice. They gave it an exotic name to con the unsuspecting American public into buying products they already knew about, but hadn't thought of combining!

The other and perhaps weirder possibility is that this particular combination of nutrition has a distinct taste.

Or maybe it's just that I've heard a fair number of people compare the taste of acai to blueberries, and the first time I tasted I remarked how much it tasted like "eating tea". But who likes boring answers like that?

I really like acai, actually. It's fairly nasty in unsweetened pulp form, but once you add just a little sugar it's really good. If you ever manage to find this product, I HIGHLY recommend it. It's crazy delicious. I like it because it's non-dairy, and full of health, but still super fatty (NOM NOM NOM) and sweet and tasty. It's like... like sorbet you would eat for breakfast. It's extremely filling, and in a good way, not in an "I just ate lots of ice cream and am now sick" way.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Great and Powerful RR

I will admit it, here, on the internet, for all the world to see: I hate Rachael Ray. That's right, I'm just like every other asshole with a Kitchen Aid mixer and a Le Creuset. I can't stand that woman. Her alarming smile. All those horrible things she says (you know what I mean). Her recipes aren't really that impressive or creative. She comes across as pretty dumb. She'll promote a recipe as healthy, when it's obviously not (my favorite example of this is when she made a pasta dish and said it was "low carb" because she didn't use as much pasta as usual -- seriously what the hell). She's just... annoying. If I had known her in high school I would have hated her.

HOWEVER I can also admit something else, something the other assholes can't: mostly I hate her because I'm jealous. I wish I could have her job. I want a show on the Food Network! I want to sell eighty bazillion cookbooks!

And you know, I'll even take this one step further: I admire what she's done. She's been able to make people less afraid of cooking. Cooking doesn't have to be hard or scary or even glamorous. Her dumbness (like when she "eyeballs" an amount and gets it fantastically wrong) makes her accessable. Just because I don't like perky people doesn't mean I don't know that everybody else does. Her recipes don't appeal to me, and that's okay -- because they are the kind of food that a lot of people want to eat. Hell, if she can get people back in the kitchen, I'm all in favor. I'm not opposed to easy and tasty food. I cook a lot of food like she cooks, in fact.

But back to the hating!

Recently I was in a grocery store, and I wanted to buy some crackers. Little did I realize that this activity is now fraught with peril. Choose carefully, mortal, else Rachael Ray's goddamn smiling face end up in your goddamn cupboard! Cripes. That's what I hate about her, she's so... oversaturated. Good on her for building an empire and a fortune, but Jesus H Christ, do I really need knives with her name on them? I'm opposed to the whole celebrity chef promotion thing generally. Sure, I understand, it's like basketball players and shoes. You gotta make a living. But it's symptomatic of everything that I dislike about that whole Food Network culture in general -- it's all about celebrity, not about talent, or the quality of what you produce.

Okay, I'm stopping myself right there. Now I'm just flinging poo at the unstoppable machine. What are celebrity chefs for if not being celebrities?

I miss the Two Fat Ladies. They were my idea of what a cooking show should be.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why I failed at veganism

As I mentioned previously, I've been quite taken up with the book Gastronaut by Stefan Gates. There is a description in this book of ortolans. Ortolans are songbirds that are kept in the dark, which causes them to overeat. When they are ready for consumption, they are drowned in brandy. The are, apparently, illegal in France. If you have not already done so, you can read about them on Wikipedia.

Now, here is the thing: when I hear about any food that I am not allowed to have because of some goddamn government regulation (even if it's not my own government doing the regulating), I get worked up. I once got so worked up at my job about unpasteurized cider that my coworkers started to back away slowly. So I'm already suckered in on this one. Add to that the fact that this is a food that is outlandish, fanciful, evocative, and suggests not only a foreign place but time as well, and, well, I have to admit that I got a little pang inside of me. I have this weird competitive, show-offisish nature when it comes to food. I know in my little heart that someday I'm going to enter a cooking contest with a cockentrice -- "Oh, this?" I'll say, "Just a little something I whipped up!" Even though I'm scared of scary foods, I want to eat them.

I started to wonder: could I buy those on the internet? I... I'm almost afraid to look. I suspect anyway that the answer is "no" and "they wouldn't taste that good, fool". So then I started to wonder, is there some kind of similar songbird species that lives here that I could do the same thing with in the convenience of my own apartment?

At that point I realized that there's something deeply wrong with me. Not only is the idea of eating a bird whole pretty goddamn gross (although I suspect I know at least one person who as attempted it, but I cannot confirm this and so I won't elaborate), but, as I'm sure anyone with any kind of sentimentality at all has already noted, that's a pretty creepy thing to do to an animal.

I will never attempt those medieval recipes that call for roasting a goose alive. They make me cry to think about them. However, I don't have the same reaction to force-feeding. I had veal the other day, and it was great. I've never had foie gras (I'm kind of opposed to liver just biologically), but I don't find myself getting all worked up over it. I've eaten face bacon (MMMMMMM FACE BACON).

I was a vegan for like 9 months once. I totally failed at it. Not only because I thought about cheese every. single. day. but also because I never had that sharp, visceral reaction that some people have about animal cruelty. I don't like factory farming, and I try (but usually fail) to buy the most non-offensive animal products that I can. But the thing is, at the end of the day, I've never reacted to it the same way other people have. There are some animals that I won't eat (cephalopods because they are magnificent, rabbit because of a childhood incident, duck because I had pet duck, etc.) so I understand that sentimental/emotional reaction, I just don't have it in the way that I feel like I'm "supposed" to.

So... who wants to come over to my place for some force-fed starlings? Eh? Eh? (God, that would be disgusting.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

I wonder if they'd pay me

I should probably just change this to a blog featuring delicious things that you can prepare using only ingredients from Trader Joe's, since that seems to be all I make these days.

Monday, March 19, 2007

From the "Why Didn't I Do That?" File

The rest of you, perhaps, are familiar with the work of Stefan Gates. I was not familiar with him until my mother, being wise in all things, gave me a copy of Gastronaut.

This book is completely awesome, honestly one of the best books I've read.

As all two of you (if that many!) who read this blog are probably well aware, I read cookbooks for fun. There's nothing like a description of the proper way to skin frog legs to while away a rainy afternoon. Although I have prepared frog legs (the frogs came from a biology lab I was in, I am not ashamed to admit this), I will probably never do so again as I doubt my friends would actually consent to eat them. I say this so that you will understand that I do not read cookbooks for any kind of knowledge or skill acquisition, I read them for the little shiver of pleasure that slithers down my spine when I consider the glories of food.

So it will come as no surprise, perhaps, that I read Gastronaut in three sittings over two days. This is a cookbook, sort of, but more than that it is a treatise on the pleasures of the table and, most delightful for me personally, it is an invitation to experiment, sometimes dangerously and disastrously, with food and cooking.

I learned to cook through failure. I remember when my dad thought that a good early cooking lesson was to have me make these pancake things that he used to make from left over mashed potatoes. They were a real bitch of a food, made more so by his insistence that his miracle pans required no oil. The smell of the briquettes that I managed to produce haunts me still: there was crying, there was a thought that I would never learn to cook, there was probably some kind of bribery to make me feel better on my father's part. This is right up there with when my dad told me to put my marshmallow in a particular little tunnel within the embers of a fire. This tunnel, it turns out, had the approximate heat of a point about 6 inches above the surface of the sun. The marshmallow went from cold to incinerated in about four tenths of a second. Again, much crying.

But did that stop me from trying to toast the perfect marshmallow? No! Did that stop me from making potato pancakes? Well I never liked them much to begin with. The point is, you can't make an omlette without spending at least thirty dollars on eggs and ruining at least one good pan. I have a scientific mind: I approach cooking, like I approach nearly anything, with an open heart and the knowledge that, as those Mythbusters put it so well, "Failure is always an option." Every time I've made a batch of biscuits that turned out like hockey pucks, every time I've gone to carve a chicken only to find its thighs are still what I would call rare, every time I've put in "just one more tablespoon" of ginger, every time I've opened the oven only to set off a fire alarm, I've learned how to cook. You don't forget those lessons -- biscuits, I am now confident in saying, turn out much better when you remember to add leavening.

And this is why I'm so in love with Stefan Gates. His approach to food mirrors mine, so well that I'm a little jealous that he seems to have made a career out of loving food and cooking with reckless abandon. This is cooking without fear. This is not your mother's cookbook, unless your mother is like mine. The central tenet of the work, and indeed, it seems, of Gates' life, is


"Food will consume 16 percent of my life. That life is too precious to waste; therefore:

-I resolve, whenever possible, to transform food from fuel into love, power, adventure, poetry, sex, or drama.
-I will never turn down the opportunity to taste or cook something new.
-I will never forget: canap├ęs are evil.
-I will remember that culinary disaster does not necessarily equal failure.
-I will always keep a jar of pesto on hand in case of the latter."

I cannot honestly say that I'm keeping with the second tenet -- I'm kind of scared of organ meats and a lot of seafood. But I do think that I'm doing quite well with the general spirit of not being afraid of experimentation. Indeed, as you probably know from my other blog / my website, a huge part of my life is devoted to medieval cooking. You can't learn to cook medievally if you're afraid of screwing up or of eating something weird.

This is not so much a book review as a love note: I love you, Gastronaut! Some of the things you do gross me out (I had the skip the section on eating things your body makes, as reading far enough into it to figure out where you were going was enough to make me throw up), but mostly you inspire me. I would like everyone I know to read this book, whether or not you fancy yourself a chef. Even if you never cook adventurously, you can still eat adventurously.

So... who wants to come to my house for a proper orgiastic Roman feast? (By far my favorite chapter!)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Nancy's organic lowfat peach kefir + honey + peaches and strawberries I picked and froze last summer = DAAAAAAANG

So tasty!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Molded Cookies

(cross posted from my SCA blog)

Tonight I am attempting to make molded cookes. Molded cookies seem to have a long and dignified although somewhat debateable history, so I decided to try my hand at a period approximation. I read through a lot of Elizabethan cookie recipes, and they seem to me to be variants on the theme of:
-Rose water
-Possibly spices

So I made this recipe:

Cream together:
1 stick butter
4 tablespoons of sugar
Add, beating:
Spices to taste
1 egg
2 T rose water
Add slowly, beating:
1 3/4 c flour

Allow me a digression. Being of German extraction, Springerle were always a part of Christmas in my childhood. However, I myself have often remarked that Springerle is a German word meaning "How can we make cookies less fun?" They just don't taste that good, so unless you have really spectacular molds, there's not much point. Except, of course, tradition. The problem, though, is that this is simply the nature of molded cookies. The dough for molded cookies should be very, very stiff, with lots of flour, so that you can mold it. Well a stiff dough doesn't make a very enjoyable cookie. The cookies need to sit overnight before you bake them, so that the image doesn't "melt" during baking. This rules out modern leavening agents even if you aren't already omitting them for authenticity concerns. While springerle can be made with hartshorn as a leavener, I'm pretty sure (but don't quote me on this) that they turn out better when they are completely unleavened. So you end up with something a little... well, hard-tack-ish. If you read the last line of a lot of Elizabethan "cookie" recipes, the author makes a note about how long they will keep, often a truly appalling duration, like "A year or more." A year or more! This isn't a cookie, this is a Powerbar that you can stash in the dash of your car and discover six months later.

But don't let my rousing discouragement keep you from making them! There is after all something very satisfying about being able to say to someone "Would you like a cookie? They taste like rocks and they were ridiculously hard to make."

Let's say you make the above dough. Roll it out about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick between two sheets of wax paper and stash it in the 'fridge until it is quite cold (now don't ask me how they did this in period because I haven't come up with a good answer yet). When chilled, you take your sheet of dough (take off the wax paper), and brush it all over with flour. I know that sounds ridiculous, shouldn't you brush the mold? No. Brush the dough. Get out your pastry brush, all you need is the lightest dusting. Now grasp your mold and press it, firmly and evenly, into the dough. With the side with the design on it down, of course.

Allow me another digression. During the process of molding, I realized why this is a German tradition: you must be very fat to do it correctly. Only a large, sturdy woman with broad shoulders and a round face prone to both laughter and scolding can ever hope to exert enough force on a tiny block of wood (or in my case, resin) to compell it to leave an imprint on dough that is cold enough to hold said imprint. Holy cow, I might have even worked up a sweat while molded. I definitely grunted. If you are light, I have no advice for you. Maybe jump up and down on the mold a few times. For the heavy among us, I found I had better success with using a rolling pin or even my mortar to press down on the mold rather than just my hands.

Lay out your cookies on a baking rack and let them dry overnight. I well let you know what happens when I bake them.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Why are grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup so dang good? Pacific Foods tomato soup is awesome, and I hate tomatoes. Also pickles!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Look out world!

I got a book on cooking with FIRE for Christmas!!!! The world is no longer safe!