Life Gives You Lemons

Recipe: Saturday Evening with Old Friends
September 23, 2007, 1:57 am
Filed under: random beauty, recipes

This meal built around

  • truffled reggiano cheese

So you’ll want a very good cheese shop. You can substitute (or magnify the effect) by using black truffle oil when you “dress” the cooked pasta.

In a market you trust, buy:

  • fresh pasta (gnocchi, tortellini or other “small bits” shape works best)
  • sweet italian sausage
  • red peppers – sound, ripe
  • asparagus – look for finer, slender stalks and good green color
  • mushrooms – look for clean, tender ones. almost any variety is ok

Rinse the red peppers and asparagus, but NOT the mushrooms. Set the asparagus aside to drain and pat the red peppers dry.

Prepare the Asparagus. Hold your hands as if to play the piano and take each end of a spear of asparagus lightly between thumb and fingertips. Hold the whitish end near the base and the budding end 2/3 of the way along. Gently flex the stalk while rolling your right thumb up the back of your finger, twisting slightly. Allow the stalk to snap where it wants to. Don’t be anxious about how much “good” asparagus is wasted. It’s NOT that good. And, you can use it in stock or compost it.

Prepare the Mushrooms. With a very clean dishtowel, lightly whisk off any flecks of dirt. Do not wash. Slice. Sautee in a small amount of olive oil or butter, almost as if you were toasting them lightly. Cover and allow to weep. You can add minced shallots or a very small amount of finely chopped onions to the oil before the mushrooms, if desired. Fleck with black pepper. Set aside.

Boil Water. Fresh pasta won’t need to cook long, but have the water ready.

Light the Grill. Fire roast the red peppers until they’re charred on all sides. Remove from the grill, cool slightly, and place into a paper bag. Grill the sausages. Tag someone who’s drinking a beer and shooting pool to be your grill buddy and keep an eye on them for you. After the grill is off, set your crusty bread, wrapped in foil, on or near it to warm lightly.

Finish the Red Peppers. Once cool enough to handle, rub the charred skin off the red peppers. Work under cool running water, and peel/rinse away the stem and seeds also. Tear the peppers into slabs and slice the slabs into neat strips. Serve them cool or rewarm them in the steam or hot water from the pasta, later. Dust with mixed spices and good balsamic.

Now you’re cooking. Set the asparagus tips into a colander or steamer insert and steam them over the boiling water. Boil the pasta lightly, drain and toss with just enough oil or butter to coat (butter, good olive oil, truffle oil, etc.). While the pasta is still very hot, shave plenty of the truffled regiano over all the pasta, tossing gently to mix well.

You can add finely minced ribbons of fresh, young basil or mention the phrase “freshly ground black pepper” while standing near the serving dish. Then again, you can use velveeta. Truffles are subtle. If you tamper, you could miss the point entirely. If you need more flavor, the answer is more truffled regiano, not more stuff.

When the asparagus is done, transfer it immediately to the serving dish. Arrange mushrooms, pasta, asparagus, red peppers and sausages on a large platter. Serve with warmed crusty bread, more regiano and a grater, plenty of red wine and laughter. Linger long at the table — you all have tales to tell.

Recipe: White Russian Latte
September 20, 2007, 1:46 am
Filed under: recipes

Hmm, tall mug of hot, frothy milk, healthy shots of vodka and kahlua. Sit back and enjoy.

Dreamy Cajun Shrimp
September 14, 2007, 12:30 am
Filed under: odd random thoughts, random beauty, recipes

Have the engineer swing the barbeque davit outboard, hang the grill from it, and start a big bed of coals going with that nifty charcoal chimney. Oh right, nevermind, just use your little cast iron stovetop grill.

Peel the shrimp and set them in a small bowl, just larger than the number of shrimp. Hey cool, it’s shrimp for one, not for 40!

Mash or mince to a pulp about a clove of garlic for every 7-12 shrimp. Or so. Really, it’s on you how much you like garlic you like, and how much of the heat you want to come from garlic. Rub the garlic into the shrimp so they are well coated and let sit.

Look for these in your spice cabinet:

  • chili powder
  • hot pepper flakes (or cayenne powder, just something for heat)
  • thyme
  • peppermill (black pepper)

Thyme’s really important. Since you don’t have it this one time, pinch hit with basil & oregano and regret that — WAIT — there’s a pot of it growing out back!

  • pick lots of the tiny little thyme leaves as many as you have the patience to

Spread the shrimp out in the bowl to something like a single layer. Sprinkle with chili powder until all are coated. Add the thyme, maybe 1/4-1/2 as much thyme as you just used chili powder. Be lavish with the black pepper. Now add heat (pepperflakes or cayenne powder) judiciously. You have to learn your limits here. Start with maybe a pinch and work up into it.

Add the tiniest bit of olive oil and stir well to make the spices a paste. Shrimp should be pretty well coated but not totally encrusted with spice. Add more thyme & chili powder to increase coverage if needed.

Grill on a wicked hot grill until shrimp are opaque & curled tight. Flip. Ok to blacken a little. If you’re going all-out, make some extra marinade that is runnier and hasn’t been in contact with the shrimp. Brush this over them while grilling.

Serve with rice, tropical fruit, Red Stripe, corona, rum punch, a margarita… Whatever it takes to bring on the memories!

Recipe: Make Mine a Margarita
August 1, 2007, 4:42 pm
Filed under: recipes

Easiest, iciest margaritas tip:

Pour margarita mix of choice into ice cube trays. (sour mix is fine, most “margarita” branded stuff is crap anyhow) Freeze. Keep a good supply of these cubes on hand all summer long.  Like, um, this many?

Instant margarita: *2 mixcubes + 1 oz tequila + 1/2 oz triple sec. Blend. Drink. Or, don’t blend and just deal with a drink that’s strong to start, sweet to end.

*Chances are your ice cubes are about 1 oz (1/8 c) each, so this combination is 2 parts mix: 1 part tequila: 1/2 part triple sec, or slightly less mix than the recommended 3 oz + 1 oz tequila to 1/2 oz triple sec. Read your own labels. Just use a little less mix than suggested since there is no water (ice) in going into the drink. Or add water. Which would be really lame. YMMV. Drink responsibly. If you don’t, please send us the pictures.

Nasty rotting food Postscript
July 24, 2007, 3:24 pm
Filed under: heroes, odd random thoughts, recipes

Wherein we learn to read our Twitter @s and realize we’ve neglected our esteemed readers. Sorry!

Shouts out to @FoulBastard for: “Ew, keep the foul rotting meat away from me. I’ve had enough back in the day.”

and to Jeff Nolan (!!! THE Jeff Nolan — of Venture Chronicles — reads LGYL? OMG. Reader braincrush. Thanks Jeff, you’re another of our heroes!)

definitely any fish that has been “preserved”. The Scandinavians have a particularly foul example called lutfisk.

Ew, good point, preserved fish that only TASTES rotten! And he adds…

corked wine, damn shame and makes me cry every time. Guess that’s neither food nor rotting, but I just had to get that off my chest.

We could not agree more, Jeff, and if you’re ever in Boston that’s an excellent, and not corked, bottle of wine on us!

Nasty rotting food Friday
July 21, 2007, 3:59 am
Filed under: odd random thoughts, recipes

So how can rotting potatoes be worse than, well, these things?

Potatoes are harmless. Fried, baked, boiled, mashed, sauteed, stewed, roasted. Plain white paper. Canvas. Backdrop. A little starchy for your girlish figure, but nightmare-inducing?

They shrivel and grow shoots. You’ve seen that.
But they can also melt. Turn soupy anaerobic decay brown. Go undead.

Happened again recently. Smelled too foul to describe or even properly remember. Digging them out I retched uncontrollably. Retched as in falling down on the floor, amazed I didn’t pee myself, full-on, retching. Abs sore the next day retching. Veins in my head popping out and things thudding in there, retching. Took a while to breathe normally again.

Kinda got me thinking, “I’ve seen a lot of things rot…”

Nasty rotting food Thursday
July 20, 2007, 4:46 am
Filed under: news of the weird, odd random thoughts, random beauty, recipes

Tonight the gig’s up. You’ll know which is the foulest of eggs, tomatoes, carrots, ground turkey and potatoes.

I’ve really avoided sitting down to write this. But, it’s time for the ground turkey story.

We’d buy ground turkey in frozen 5 pound white plastic wrapped torpedoes. Thawed, the pink, pulpy mush wasn’t too bad in recipes. The tubes needed to thaw a few days in the refrigerator, but were otherwise pretty easy to use.

I should mention, the cook & engineer on a ship are bound to butt heads. Electricity, fresh water, refrigeration & cooking fuel are scarce. The engineer gets PO’d if, say, the cook blows the power system with a coffeepot, starts a grease fire, clogs the drain or stresses the delicate heating and cooling systems at her disposal. The cook’s never thrilled when stuff breaks, especially should the engineer not believe her. If the engineer was a fussy eater to boot, look out.

So this one engineer and I did. not. play. well. together. Irish guy, mid-40s. Nothing worked right that trip, and I blamed him. No meal was quite to his taste, and he pestered me for extras. Always at the moment I was exhausted and hiding behind the counter, having just birthed yet another sitting’s (there were 6 a day) worth of food. For 40. I managed to make crepes (for 40!) one time? He wanted lemon wedges and powdered sugar. Yeeeeah.

For all our mutual animosity, there was one night in St. George’s Bermuda, after a lot of Dark & Stormys, when he wanted to dance to a roaring Irish waltz. Nobody was up for the ‘old fashioned’ dance or the rapid pace. He conceded to ask me largely due to a new dress and cutoff cowboy boots. The band was great, and I wasn’t about to miss the chance. Laughter at the unlikely pairing snuffed out fast as we got going. I floated. I flew. I thrilled. We danced too fast and wild to remain upright, but somehow didn’t fall. I had no clue what I was doing and I didn’t have to. He danced for me. If waltzing always feels like that I’m a damn fool not to have dedicated my life to it.

Shortly after, the ground turkey exploded.

The refer had run warm for days. I thought the system was failing but couldn’t convince anyone. The engineer was in twice a day rolling his eyes and blaming the temps on overcrowding, warmth from leftovers, too much opening the lid and everything else but the basic problem that it was no longer cooling down.

Predictably, a tube of ground turkey set in there just to thaw quickly rotted, swelled, and popped its white plastic skin. I slid from surprise to horror to fury when I saw what had happened. The smell left little doubt what that gunk was. Greenish pink tufts of wet mush clung to everything. There was smelly pulp on every food item and surface inside the refer, even clogging the drain at the far end. I called in the engineer, demanded to know if he believed me now, and then threw everyone out of the galley.

No clue what we ate next or how. It felt like it took hours to unload, wipe down, sanitize and dispose of all the rotting meat. That the bulk of it could go overboard was a small blessing, but I was traumatized, mean, and thoroughly pissed.

It was pretty bad.

But, it was not THE nastiest rotting food experience I ever had…

Nasty rotting food Wednesday
July 19, 2007, 3:56 am
Filed under: odd random thoughts, recipes

This week we’re playing “What’s the NASTIEST rotted food?Eggs on Monday, Tomatoes on Tuesday.

I’ve been putting the carrots off.

What could be heartier? Simpler? Stouter? Than the humble carrot? Underground, you can leave carrots in the garden and dig them throughout the winter. They dry well, they freeze well. There’s little reason for a carrot to ever “go away.”

But when they do…

You buy carrots in 2-5 pound sacks. Ours came by the hundredweight. The good news, they last pretty much to the end of the 6 week trip. The bad, they last pretty much to the end of the 6 week trip. Which means many don’t.

The finer sort of carrots wither, shrivel, turn black and retire humble and proud, unto themselves. Others are vengeful things that dissolve explosively. I recall. I still recoil.

These become slimy, clingy, almost oily mush. In your hundred pound sack, they will be maddeningly thrown in with dozens of healthy, sound carrots. You will pick through, rinsing and scouring the innocent bystanders. Of the bygones, there’s nothing to pick but orangegreenbrown slimeglue. A couple pounds of it. You will get some on your hands. At least. The smell will make you gag. And did I mention, it takes a long time to sort through 100 pounds of carrots. Plenty of time for the texture, stench, or both to get you to the lee rail.

Sure, you could just skip the sorting and throw them out. Because your crew loves canned food oh. so. much. Yeah, I thought so. Slimed rotten carrots? yuck factor 7. Give me a spoiled egg, any day.

Eat your veggies fresh, kids!

Nasty rotting food Tuesday
July 18, 2007, 1:00 am
Filed under: news of the weird, odd random thoughts, recipes

This week, we’re playing “What’s the NASTIEST rotted food?

Today, tomatoes.

Here’s how to get by for a long time with your tomatoes:

Buy them as unripe as possible. Get rid of any with flaws. Wrap each in paper. Hope for the best. Edit regularly.

The paper trick (same as for the romaine yesterday, or the paper towel you should slip into any bag of greens, herbs, etc.)  absorbs surface moisture, condensation, etc. and prevents it from forming little pools of rot on the surface. It helps a lot, but some are going to go away on you. Some will go away quite quickly. Check the box frequently to get anything squishy out, and to rewrap squishy’s neighbors with fresh paper.

When they do go away, tomatoes become uber fragile water balloons with acidic, stinky centers. They  spatter foulness on impact. Too far gone and you can’t even pick them up. Often moldy too. Worst, you’re pretty likely to get some on your hands going through them.  It’s plenty gross, but I’ve seen worse. I’d give them a 4 too because while they’re less foul than a spoiled egg, they’re much more likely to make a mess.

So now what do you think the winner will be, ground turkey, carrots or potatoes?

Nasty rotting food week
July 17, 2007, 1:42 am
Filed under: news of the weird, odd random thoughts, recipes

Time to play “What’s the NASTIEST rotted food?”

My job once involved cooking for 40 with not so much of food storage. The game was: use everything *just* before it crossed from fresh to foul.

Don’t hurl, now. Understand, cooking anything before “its time” meant running into nasty canned food faster and enduring longer.

I had a relatively small, unreliable chest refrigerator. High priority items — fresh milk, romaine lettuce (that’s the heartiest, wrap it in paper to make it last longer), butter, maybe yogurt, leftovers, fragile fruits & veggies and whatever was thawing from the freezer went in here. The freezer was a cube in the wall just big enough to crawl into. (Barely. And I crawled in every turnaround to defrost and scrub.) I filled that to within millimeters of capacity – the only way to wrest weeks of good meals from such a modest cache.

Most of the fruit, vegetables and eggs sat out. Yeah, eggs. They do fine. (Flip them once a week so the yolk never sinks to the bottom. If it lays against the porous shell, oxygen goes to work. This is bad.) For whatever reason (less fat?) the albumin doesn’t have such a big issue with air.

Huge crates of produce were packed densely on a large, high platform and tarped, lashed down tightly, and left open to the salt air.

Riding herd on this much food stored in this way? Amusing.

Dealing with the cache when something crossed its line early? <<Shivers of horror>> I’ll assure you, I KNOW food rot.

So of carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, thawed ground turkey and eggs, which one’s the nastiest?

I’ll give you a new one each day. By Friday we’ll know. I’ll also read/post YOUR food rot war stories.

Today, eggs.

It’s not that rotten egg smell doesn’t suck. Nasty stuff. But not the nastiest.

They really *don’t* rot easily. Flip them weekly. After a few weeks, crack one at a time into a bowl first, but otherwise you’re good. Those that go round the bend are clear about it. Cracking the shell makes a sound that’s just wrong. The contents are watery, rank and the whole runny mess is yellowgrey. Throw that one away, scrub the testing bowl and move on with your life.

I swear it was more than 4 weeks before I’d start to see occasional bad eggs, and by week 6 there were still good ones to be had. Plus, the off ones were contained in tidy shells until opened.

I’d give rotten eggs maybe a 4 or 5 on the barf scale. Left in hot air they could get awful, but your ordinary egg decay is liveable. You can contain them, avoid them, and no foodmush on your hands.

*(Oh and if you can get eggs right from a chicken owner, DON’T wash or refrigerate them. Store them dirty, flip them until use, and scrub them right before use. If you wash off the poop right away tiny bits of that crud are pushed down into its pores to hang out with your beloved pre-omlette. Do Not Want.)

So go ahead, hit me with your nasty rotting food stories. And, bon appetit!