Moroccan Bisteeya (chicken in pastry with cinnamon).

Okay vegans, look away for this one. I promise I’ll make it up to you with a Moroccan recipe for beets that will knock your socks off.

bisteeya1

Bisteeya (alternatively pastilla, besṭila, bastilla, b’stilla or b’steeya) is a traditional Moroccan savory pie, usually served on special occasions as a first course. When I first started exploring Moroccan cooking, bisteeya was my Holy Grail. I fell in love with it in Morocco many moons ago; here in New York, the late, great Cafe Noir used to serve it up (and well).

This is the most delicious chicken dish I have ever tasted, bar none.

Continue reading

Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: the point, and how I am proving it.

[CONTENT NOTE: description of injury; no graphic images.]

williamssonoma

Williams-Sonoma: Like a crack house for cooks.

Williams-Sonoma is a fine purveyor of high-end kitchen porn for aspiring at-home chefs. And aspiring is really the key word here, because everything in the store is outrageously expensive. $350 for an “Elite 8-Cup Egg Poacher“? $400 for a corkscrew? $4,000 for an espresso machine? FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS?

FUCK. OFF.

Who even buys this stuff? People I’d probably hate, that’s who.

ccpiemoneez

To be fair, anything I’ve ever purchased at Williams-Sonoma (on sale of course) has been top notch, and yes, a case can be made that you get what you pay for and that it’s less expensive in the long run to invest in better quality and blah blah blah.

These prices are still comically absurd.

Well. After years of working with craptastic kitchen knives, I experienced an epiphany using My Amazing Lover™’s Wüsthof knife set, purchased years ago at Williams-Sonoma. I was wowed. I totally get it! They’re easier to keep sharp, more efficient for accomplishing whatever task is at hand and a pleasure to work with.

As it happens, one of my Many Tens of Loyal Readers™ (who is also family to me as well as someone I consider a friend—hi, R!) graciously bestowed upon me a Williams-Sonoma gift certificate for $75 (thanks, R!). So last weekend these Williams-Sonoma fuckers were having a big sale and running an additional 20% off promotion, and I decided to check it out. And I saw this knife OMG OMG OMG. Behold the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Pro Serrated 8” Chef’s Knife:

serratedchefsknife

This serrated chef’s knife is ideal for cutting tough-skinned produce as well as delicate items like tomatoes. The Zwilling Pro collection features an arched bolster designed by architect Matteo Thun that promotes a perfect thumb grip.

Matteo who? Anyway:

  • Precision forged using Zwilling’s Sigmaforge process, for an exceptionally hard yet flexible blade.

  • Zwilling’s Friodur ice-hardening technique results in a harder, sharper blade that is corrosion-resistant and highly elastic.

  • Precise lasers ensure each blade’s edge is at the optimal cutting angle for maximum sharpness.

I don’t know what any of that means, but doesn’t it sound fantastic?

The suggested retail price for this fantastic knife is $165 (#$@+&!?!), on sale for $99.95. Plus I got 20% off. Plus I happened to be in Delaware, where there is no sales tax. Plus I had a $75 gift certificate (thanks again, R!). I got this fantastic knife for $4.95. WIN. 

I took it home and lovingly washed and dried it, exactly as recommended by the manufacturer. And I could not wait to prepare dinner that evening: Moroccan b’steeya with spinach salad. And oh! How effortlessly it sliced right through day-old French bread (for the croutons), garlic cloves, hard boiled egg, yellow onion, phyllo dough and mushrooms! And the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Pro Serrated 8” Chef’s Knife was lovingly washed and dried, again and again, each time.

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I was gushing on and on about this amazing fucking knife as the lover and I cleaned up after dinner. Washing it with the soapy sponge for the umpteenth time that day, I discovered something else that it effortlessly slices through: the tip of my right index finger. You know what else I discovered? When you cut yourself fairly deeply just beneath your nail bed, you bleed, like, a lot. And for a disturbingly long time. Also FYI, when the wound on the tip of your finger is in the shape of an arc, the pressure necessary to stop the bleeding on one side increases the bleeding on the other, and vice versa. Therefore it takes multiple bandaids applied at various angles more or less simultaneously to even begin to stanch the bleeding. And you may have heard the adage that a cut from a sharp blade is a more, uh, desirable cut(?!) because it heals cleaner and quicker than a cut from a duller blade. While that may be true, I also discovered that given equivalent motion and force, a sharp blade will cut much deeper than a dull one. (See also: serrated.)

I am sure you will agree that at this point I deserve my own show on the Discovery Channel. (Definitely not Food Network, tho.)

It’s been about five days and I’m nowhere near being bandaid-free in the foreseeable future. Although it’s no longer bleeding, the cut has not completely closed up near the surface, and it’s still tender at the slightest touch. Typing with this finger is completely out of the question, so as you can imagine it’s been pretty slow-going around here, what with my hacking and tapping my way through this post (and this one).

finger

Iris haz a boo-boo.
:(

I BLAME THE PATRIARCHY.

And I discovered something else.

rusticmelamine

Williams-Sonoma Rustic Melamine Dinnerware Collection!

armoireI NEEEEED this Rustic Melamine Dinnerware Collection! (I do not need this “rustic melamine” dinnerware collection.) I neeeeed it for the outdoor dinner parties I throw on the fabulous Palace veranda! (I have neither a Palace nor a veranda, fabulous or otherwise, upon which I throw outdoor dinner parties.) And I neeeeed to store my Rustic Melamine Dinnerware Collection in a gorgeous armoire! (I do not even have the space to store all my own shoes, much less a Rustic Melamine Dinnerware Collection. Or, you know, an armoire.)

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rusticmelamine2

Rustic melamine. FFS, Williams-Sonoma. Why you gotta?

Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: classic coconut custard pie.

ccpie5…with fresh whipped cream and toasted coconut.

For Ultimate Pi Day (March 14, 2015) I set my sights on making a coconut custard pie—My Amazing Lover™’s favorite. TRUE FACT: I had never made a pie before. But the lover has. He is apparently able to whip up an apple pie on a whim without too much trouble, so I figured the whole pie thing can’t be terribly complicated, right?

Hahaha. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

Just to refresh everyone’s memory, there are only 2.5 rules in the Palace Kitchen: DELICIOUS, and SIMPLE.*
* Or, to whatever extent not simple, worth the extra trouble.

Very important stuff you should know before you decide to make this pie:

Delicious: YES.

Simple: All the nope. All of it.

Worth it: An entirely subjective call. While I am not 100% sure about the pie, I am 100% sure the lover is definitely worth it. YMMV.

Timesuck: EPIC. My best time from start to pie-is-cooling-on-a-rack is 5 hours—and at that point of course it’s still too hot to eat and hasn’t been garnished yet. The good news is that the pie is actually better after it sets for a day or two in the refrigerator.

Mess: Category 5. As in hurricane.

ccpiemoneezExpense: $$$. As with everything else, better quality ingredients cost more, and if I’m going to spend a day making a pie I will buy the best I can find. But really it’s all the tools and other stuff you need that can rack up the price, depending on what you already have on hand. For example, I had a standing mixer, but I had to go buy a “food processor.” ME! A food processor! Between that and everything else (don’t forget the rolling pin! and the pie plate!) this pie has already cost me like a thousand dollars.

Mortal danger: RED ALERT. Between the sharp blades, burn risks and the coconut shell shards you will be stepping on, this pie is a fucking menace. I really cannot stress this enough: do not forget for one second that this pie is constantly trying to kill you.

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If you’re still in, there’s just one more thing. This was quite an adventure, so I fully intend to blather on and on (and on) in this post documenting and musing and complaining about all of it. As a courtesy to my beloved Loyal Readers™ who just want to make the fucking pie, I will leave the essential recipe bits in black font, and color the font of my tl;dr rantings. In teal, dear.

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ccpie1Yum. Also: yikes.

THE CRUST

I know this d00d, a regular at one of my neighborhood watering holes, who is a food stylist (yes that’s a thing). Went to culinary school, supervised teams at Martha Stewart’s kitchen, blah blah blah—in other words his skill level is the complete opposite of mine. I mentioned my coconut custard aspirations, and told him I didn’t even know where to begin. “With a great crust,” he said without the slightest hesitation. “Use lard.” WHAT.

At first I could not even find lard in the West Village, and ended up ordering it online from Amazon. (I eventually found it here.) But I did find a pie crust recipe with lard in it at epicurious called Best-Ever Pie Crust. The rave reviews sold me: “PERFECTION!” “OUTSTANDING!” “AMAZING!” “NO FAIL!” “EXCELLENT!” “easy to work with, sublimely simple to roll out, and the most user-friendly crust I have ever made.”

Okay! Glad I got that sorted!

It turns out that these people are all lying shitweasels. It took me six attempts to finally get some semblance of a fucking pie crust, and it sure as hell wasn’t pretty. (I also tried this one: easy! flaky! lying liars gonna lie.) Crust number 8 turned out pretty good though, so that’s the recipe you’ll find here. Later, I would come to find out that even expert bakers use Pillsbury ® Refrigerated Pie Crust all the time. (FWIW, it has lard in it.) Regardless of what you decide to do about a crust, the thing to keep in mind is that coconut custard has a much more delicate flavor than most other pie fillings, so you really don’t want a distinctly flavorful crust (e.g. graham cracker). Shoot for buttery, melt-in-your-mouth flaky, and not too sweet.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour, chilled
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and re-chilled
  • 1/4 cup chilled lard (or frozen nonhydrogenated solid vegetable shortening) cut into1/2-inch cubes…blobs? and re-chilled
  • 3 tablespoons (or more) ice water

YIELD: 1 pie crust. (Double this recipe for double crust pies—i.e. pies covered on top with crust—or for lattice-topped pies.)

Other stuff:

  • food processor with the chopping/mixing/dough blade
  • 1/4-cup measuring cup
  • cutting board
  • 1-tablespoon measuring spoon for adding ice water
  • flat-ish standard tablespoon
  • glass for ice water
  • sharp knife
  • containers to store butter cubes and lard blobs while re-chilling (I used ceramic coffee cups)
  • plastic wrap
  • 3 sheets of wax paper
  • rolling pin (chilled)

Highly recommended:

-approximately one million paper towels
-safety goggles
-well-stocked first aid kit
-tourniquet
-cell phone programmed to call 9-1-1 with one touch or voice command
-large tattoo of your blood type on your forearm

Preparation:

Start by chilling the flour and a rolling pin in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Cutting cold butter into cubes is easy. First cut the stick in half—you can even do it with the wrapper on it.

butter1Then make these cuts:

butter2Then make these:

butter3Or vice versa. Whatever. Just so you end up with half a stick of butter cut into cubes chilling in your refrigerator.

To get lard blobs, I removed the entire chunk of lard from its container with a flat-ish tablespoon, and plunked it on a cutting board. Then I pressed a metal 1/4 cup measuring cup down into it with the palm of my hand until it hit the cutting board, and pulled it out. With the flat-ish tablespoon I removed the 1/4 cup of lard from the measuring cup and “sliced” it—sort of—into 1/2-inch-ish blobs. The I put them back in the refrigerator to chill until just before use.

Yes, it is likely there is a much better way to obtain lard blobs—maybe even cubes!—but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what that is.

Combining:

Set up the food processor with the chopping/mixing/dough blade, preferably without drawing blood.

ccpiechopbladeGuess what? ^This blade is really fucking sharp!

Cold temperature is critical. Once you begin to combine your ingredients you will need to work quickly. Have your flour, butter cubes and lard blobs well chilled and your ice water ready in the glass with the measuring tablespoon in it.

Put on your safety goggles, and brace yourself. 

Put the cold flour, sugar and salt into the processor and blend it with one quick pulse.

Do you now have a face full of flour because you forgot to put the plunger in the tube to close off the processor BEFORE you pressed the pulse button? See? Safety goggles.

Open the processor and add in all of the butter cubes and lard blobs and close it back up; with a few short pulses, minimally process the mixture only until the butter is broken up into pea-sized bits and the texture resembles a coarse meal. Add 3 tablespoons of ice water one tablespoon at a time via the food processor tube, with a quick pulse of the mixture as you add each one. Check the consistency by gently pinching the mixture between your fingers to see if it clumps; add more water if necessary, checking the consistency again after each additional tablespoon (or teaspoon). DO NOT OVERPROCESS IT. Even though it looks kind of crumbly and doesn’t seem entirely well-mixed, as long as it clumps together when you gently pinch it you’re good to go. If you overwork it, it will not only be more difficult to roll out properly, it will have a hard texture after baking.

ccpiecrustdiskExtract the dough mixture from the processor WITHOUT slicing your fingers on the cutting blades, and gather it all together on a sheet of plastic wrap. Lightly form it into a disk and wrap it securely in the plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough disk for at least 1 hour before rolling it out.

The prepared dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, and you can also freeze it.

Rolling out (after your custard is prepared).

NOTE: I did not try this woman’s very simple pie crust recipe, because Pi Day was fast approaching and oh yeah I was out of flour from all the previous pie crust experiments. But I did steal one trick from her that worked wonders: wax paper. You won’t need more flour to work the dough, and it’s less mess to clean up. She just might be a pie crust genius! 

If necessary let the dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling it out, but in general you want to work with it chilled.

Place two sheets of wax paper, overlapping a bit, onto your rolling surface. Put the unwrapped disk of dough in the center of it, and cover the disk with another sheet of wax paper. With the chilled rolling pin, roll the dough out between the sheets of wax paper. Always work from the center outward, in every direction. You will know you have rolled it out far enough when you set your pie plate on top of it with the open side down, and see that it is surrounded by a good 2-inch border. The 2-inch border is important because after it’s in the pie pan, you should not stretch the dough further to reach places where it doesn’t quite make it over the rim of the pan: stretched dough will contract unevenly as it heats up. (What you can do if you come up short is cut a little dough off from places around the rim where there’s extra, and just press it right onto to the spots that are too short or too thin.)

ccpiecrustrolloutCarefully peel the dough from the wax paper (or the wax paper from the dough as the case may be), center it in your pie dish and gently press it into the shape of the dish. Don’t sweat it if it breaks into two (or three…) pieces as you peel it off. Just reassemble the pieces in the pie pan, and lightly press them together.

When you’ve got it more or less evenly distributed around the dish, roll the edges inward and fashion it into some kind of even-ish border. You can go around the edge pressing it between your fingers and thumb to make a wavy pattern. Or, you know, not.

ccpiecrustTa-da.

Carefully wash and dry all food processor parts and related accoutrement, because you will need all of it again to make the custard. DO NOT CUT YOURSELF HANDLING THOSE BLADES. But when you do, rinse the wound(s) under cold water, dry with clean paper towels, apply antibiotic ointment, and bandage immediately. Use tourniquet to staunch serious bleeding if necessary, and dial 9-1-1 for the EMTs BEFORE you pass out. You don’t want to have come all this way just to ruin everything with blood splatter. If you have survived your injuries, drink the remaining ice water, plus extra water to make up for any significant blood loss. You are just getting started, and you need to stay hydrated for the long haul!

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THE CUSTARD

As critical as the crust is—and it is—there is also the minor matter of the actual coconut custard. It didn’t help that once I started researching recipes and reviews, I discovered that there appears to be very little agreement about what does or does not make for a winning coconut custard pie. Two eggs, five eggs. 350°F, 400°F. Some call for a package of pre-shredded sweetened coconut, some require plain flaked coconut, maybe a can of coconut milk, and/or condensed milk. Eventually I discovered a recipe that started with an actual coconut. “Oooh,” I gushed, “That sounds like the one for me!” Christ, what an idiot. Exactly like it says right up there at the top of this page. And I had to order coconuts from Amazon, too.

ccpiecoconutWhat a weird fucking thing.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large, fresh coconut, about 1 1/2 poundsmadagascarvanilla
  • 2 cups whole milk (+ a splash more)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 large eggs
  • Tiny pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Other stuff:

  • 9 inch Pyrex pie pan
  • food processor, with both the medium shredding disk and the chopping/mixing blade
  • standing mixer with whisk attachment
  • ice pick
  • mixing bowl
  • water glass
  • linen or cotton dinner napkin
  • rubber band
  • dish towel
  • thick Ziploc or plastic bag, gallon size or larger
  • vegetable peeler
  • sharp knife
  • cutting board
  • saucepan
  • wooden spoon
  • strainer
  • 2-cup capacity measuring cup
  • standard measuring implements
  • containers for various coconut products
  • cooling rack
  • toothpick

Highly recommended:

-staff of cleaning personnel.
-corkscrew, wine glass and a nice bottle of red wine.
-manicure appointment for the following morning.

Prepare the coconut:

Set a rack at the middle level of the oven, and preheat to 350°F.

A coconut has three “eyes,” only one of which can be punctured fairly easily with an ice pick. You’ll have to try each one until you find it.

ccpieohaiPuncture the hole and drain the coconut milk out over a strainer into a bowl (about 2/3 cup yield).

ccpiestrain1There will still be flecks of shell and stuff in it, so make a contraption with a water glass, a linen napkin and a rubber band like this:

ccpiestrainer …and strain the liquid again by slowly pouring it through the fabric: ccpiestrainRemove the napkin and set it aside (you will need it again). Cover the glass of coconut milk and set aside.

Place the drained coconut directly on the oven rack and bake it until it develops a crack, about 10 to 15 minutes. (If there is no crack after 18 minutes, take it out anyway.) Let it cool slightly. Wrap it in a dish towel, and put it in a gallon sized, freezer thickness Ziploc or other heavy plastic bag. Get a good grip on the towel and the bag at the top, and smash the fucker a few times, hard, against an unbreakable surface.

ccpieonoesccpiesmashccpiemess1You will be able to tell by feeling through the bag and towel when it’s broken into pieces. Remove the shell: it will come away pretty easily, but that ice pick or a knife might also come in handy. With a vegetable peeler, remove the brown, fibrous skin from the white coconut meat. Rinse the meat clean, and pat dry.

ccpiecoconutreadySet up the food processor with the medium shredding disk. Try not to shave off too much of your skin.

ccpieshreddiskProcess coconut through the shredding disk to obtain 1 cup coarsely shredded coconut for the filling, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish. (One packed tube yielded a little more than enough.) For the most consistent results, pack the tube with pieces of coconut that are all cut to roughly the same size.

ccpiecoarseWhen you’ve extracted 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of coarsely shredded coconut from the processor, set them aside in separate containers. Set the processor up with the chopping/mixing/dough blade, and process all of the remaining coconut until it is very fine.

ccpiefineIn a large saucepan over low heat, scald 2 cups of milk just until there are bubbles around the edges of the pan. Stir gently and frequently as it heats. Do not let it boil.

ccpiescaldI.e., Google “how to scald milk.” Click on some results. Find a good one (number 2 of 3). You’re welcome.

Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in all of the very finely processed coconut. Allow the mixture to cool completely, about 45 mins.

While it cools, you could start cleaning up the colossal mess of coconut shards all over your kitchen, and carefully wash, dry and put away all food processor parts and accoutrement. DO NOT CUT YOURSELF HANDLING THE BLADES. (Again.) When you do, try to remember the drill from the prior crust incident(s). Using your non-severed hand, open the bottle of red wine, pour yourself a stiff glass and take a couple big gulps. You have damn well earned it. Ahhh. Jeezus.

Once the milk mixture has cooled, pour it through a fine strainer into a bowl; press the coconut against the strainer mesh with a spoon (or your fist) to extract as much liquid from it as possible. Remember that linen napkin? Spread it out, and in 3 or 4 batches, place coconut from the strainer into the center of it, wrap it up and twist it closed, then squeeze it over the bowl to extract all remaining liquid. Throw the wrung-out coconut away: it will have very little flavor remaining.

ccpieextractionPour the coconut-flavored scalded milk into a 2-cup capacity measuring cup, and add a splash more milk if necessary to bring it to 2 cups. You can prepare this earlier in the day or the day before, and store it tightly covered in the refrigerator.

But for fuck’s sake! You’ve already come all this way and now you’re almost there! No point quitting now. Besides, your kitchen is a disaster zone: do you want to clean it all up now and then have to clean it again later? No! Pour yourself another glass of wine, and chug it down.

Now at this point, you astute pie-bakers will discern that your now have four separated coconut products (not counting the bark shards all over your kitchen floor—don’t worry, you’ll find them all later as you step on them).

  • ccpie4things2 cups of coconut-flavored scalded milk.
  • approx 2/3 cup of coconut milk you drained from the coconut approximately 127 hours ago.
  • 1 cup of coarse shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons coarse shredded coconut (for garnish).

And you will wonder how the fuck your life has brought you to this point.

Adjust your bandages and/or tourniquet if necessary, and refill your wine glass.

Preparing the custard:

Set up the standing mixer with the whisk attachment. Pour into the mixer bowl the 2 cups of coconut-flavored scalded milk, and whisk together with the sugar, eggs, vanilla, nutmeg and the coconut milk you extracted what seems like days ago. Blend well. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and stir in the reserved 1 cup of coarsely grated coconut.

Set a rack in the middle level of the oven, and preheat to 375°F. Roll out the dough for the bottom crust, and arrange it in the pie pan as discussed above.

Pour the custard filling into the pie crust, and bake about 45-55 minutes: check that the pie is wobbly-textured (like Jello) when the pan is gently shaken, and when it is remove it from the oven. With a toothpick, poke several holes into the pie to help moisture evaporate more evenly as it cools. Cool the pie on a rack, about 3 hours. Refrigerate at least overnight; a day or two is optimal. (Garnish just before serving.)

ccpiecoolingWhipped cream & toasted coconut garnish:

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of coarsely shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon confectioners powdered sugar

Other stuff:

  • standing mixer with the whisk attachment
  • small metal roasting pan
  • frosting bag with flower attachment (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour heavy cream into the standing mixer’s bowl and whisk in the confectioners powdered sugar. Whisk on high speed until stiff peaks are forming.

Sprinkle the coarsely shredded coconut into a small metal roasting pan. Bake until golden brown, shaking and stirring the pan occasionally, about 10-15 minutes. Check frequently and watch intensely toward the end as they burn easily.

Speaking of burning, try not to burn yourself when handling the pan.

You can prepare the toasted coconut in advance, and store covered at room temperature until ready to use.

ccpietoastedcoconutBefore…after.

Garnish the chilled pie. For taste test purposes on the first two pies I made, I spread the whipped cream in the middle and sprinkled the toasted coconut on it.

ccpie3It doesn’t look all that great as a pie, but the slices look good.

ccpie2For my third and final Pi Day pie, I piped the whipped cream through a frosting bag around the edge just inside the crust, then sprinkled the toasted coconut all over the pie.

palacepiday31415Palace Ultimate Pi Day Celebration
3.14.15
left: Coconut Custard from the Palace kitchen.
right: Salty Chocolate Chess from Petee’s Pie Company [h/t Mr. Born]

THE END.

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Here are links to some of the resources on which I based this recipe.

Caution: lying liars.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/best-ever-pie-crust-238816

http://www.laurainthekitchen.com/recipes/basic-pie-crust/

Perfect Pie Crust Recipe: Nana’s Secret Recipe and Tips! (youtube)

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/old-fashioned-coconut-custard-pie-recipe.html

http://www.healthfulpursuit.com/2011/07/opening-a-coconut/

http://www.wikihow.com/Scald-Milk

Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: Samantha Irby FTW.

Samantha Irby, proprietress of the gut-bustingly (literally) hilarious bitches gotta eat, is a chef after my own heart. Also: she is a much better person than I am, because she licenses her work under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-ND 3.0). This means I am perfectly free to steal her latest for the Palace and its Many Tens of Loyal Readers™ to enjoy. Thanks, Sam!

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easy human meals to make in your tiny joke kitchen.

samanthakitchenyesterday morning i had a lunchable for breakfast. don’t worry, it was the bologna and cheese kind so it was v v healthy. here’s the thing, though: I REALLY LIKE TO COOK. the problem is that 1 cooking for myself is kind of boring and 2 it kind of sucks when you threaten to knock mixing bowls and shit off the counters of your miniscule galley kitchen every time you turn a goddamned hip. i used to housesit all the time for wealthy people and their snooty purebred dogs and the best part of that life, hands down, was spending a week or two in a big ass top chef kitchen. i’m talking: gleaming pasta makers, towering walk-in pantries, every tool to be found in the sur la table catalog. it was like living in a tv show, but without a red-faced british dude yelling about what a donkey i am because i accidentally double-dipped my tasting spoon. (lol “accidentally.”) THIS IS MY WEALTH OF COUNTER SPACE, Y’ALL. well, half of it. the other half is across from it and has a dish drain and all my tax documents and shit i gotta return to zappos and boxes from nutrisystem piled on top of it. i don’t have room to make a goddamned thing. except for a mess.

i keep trying, though. ugh it’s still kind of the beginning of a new year, which means we all gotta pretend we care about ourselves until it’s warm enough to wear a bathing suit in public then realize it’s not worth it anyway and go back to eating cheetos for dinner because fuck it. and nothing goes with a brand new maybe this is the year i get skinny gym membership like trying to cook your own balanced meals. at the end of every december i start feeling bad about having spent the eleven months prior getting 99% of my calories from carbohydrates, and this guilt propels me into relatively-healthy eating for at least the first three months of the year. but 1 i’m kind of lazy 2 i hate grocery shopping and 3 i work all the goddamn time and just want to watch tv with my water-logged ankles propped up on a wedge pillow when i get home, not burn calories chopping vegetables for a wholesome dinner. but in case i drop dead i want whoever finds my body to know that sometimes i go to whole foods. i mean, they’ll have to kick a lot of dusty slim-fast boxes out of the way first, but once they do? EXEMPLAR OF HEALTH.

so every now and again some humorless drone is all WHY YOU AIN’T GOT NO FOOD ON A BLOG ABOUT BITCHES EATING and i’m like, uh well i sometimes do? but it’s more about the jokes and stuff? and then we stand around awkwardly shifting feet without making eye contact while trying to figure out a way to gracefully end this painful interaction, after which i go crawl into a guilty little hole to rethink my life choices. so this is a post about food. all made in my tiny-ass kitchen while i texted fools and kept leaving the room to watch tv.

nutritious, grownup ramen-type bowl.
cooking oriental foods is always terrifying to me because, other than a couple raggedy old packets of soy sauce left over from delicious takeout meals, i don’t keep a lot of asian spices and shit around the casa. occasionally i’ll buy calrose rice in case i throw together a ghetto stir fry or whatever, but i don’t regularly have turmeric or kaffir leaves just lying around in case i all of a sudden become inspired. i have a general idea of how much basil is too much basil or when to lay off the cumin, but i don’t really know shit about star anise. (wtf is that even.) this noodle pot is an easy way to feel learned and cultured without the danger of seriously fucking your tastebuds up if you measure incorrectly or fall asleep while the shit is cooking.

you need:
miso paste
tom yum paste
chili paste
solid chicken bouillon paste
soy sauce
sriracha
noodles of your choosing (i use medium-sized flat noodles)
assorted vegetables (i used pre-cut trader joe’s broccoli carrot slaw and pea shoots because i’m fucking careless and don’t want shaved-off bits of my fingertips in my broth. you could also use shelled edamame, napa cabbage, baby corn, spinach, or whatever you have the patience for.)
tiny frozen shrimp (or: cooked shredded chicken, cooked sliced sausage, fried tofu, whatevs)

here’s what to do with it:
bring some water to a boil in a both a saucepan and a kettle.
while you wait, scoop a teaspoon of each of the pastes+bouillon+soy sauce+sriracha into a little bowl, add a splash of hot water and mix it together with a little whisk.
the pot noodles i use cook in two minutes, so i drop them into the water once it’s boiling, hover impatiently while shifting anxiously from foot to foot, then dump them out under cold water and drain them. once they’re mostly dry i put the noodles in a mason jar BECAUSE I AM ADORABLE, add my defrosted shrimp (to defrost: rinse under cold water until rubbery then pat dry), pour over the paste/soy sauce mix, and top with vegetables. then i pour water from the kettle i set to boil at the beginning of this whole thing (remember that?) over all of it, stir a couple times, then let it sit for a few minutes with the lid on before maxing all the noodles and meat then getting mad at myself when all i have left is salty broth and bits of cabbage.

egg muffins.
i don’t always love eggs? but they’re cheap and they last for-fucking-ever and you can’t make cookie dough to eat straight from the mixing bowl without them, so i always have a couple hanging out in the back of my refrigerator. breakfast for me is always the hardest because i need to leave my crib at 645, IN THE FUCKING MORNING, and i can barely get a stretch and a shower in between the alarm clock and the train which means i definitely am not cooking shit before work. i envy you coffee and newspaper in the comfort of your own home people. the last time i ate breakfast in my own crib was never. when i still had the taurus i was that bitch trying to smash a bowl of milk and cereal at every red light, but now with no ride i have to, like, be prepared. or spend $17 every day at starbucks.

so these aren’t really muffins as much as they are portable egg clumps with cheese and shit in them, but they are easy and delicious and you make them in a muffin tin so whatever. i just throw in whatever old meats, cheeses, and vegetables i have dying a slow death in my produce drawer, then bake and freeze them. and since you make a bunch in advance you have ready to go breakfast options all week.

you need:
assorted chopped vegetables. i am partial to: spinach, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, zucchini, corn, green onions, and broccoli. but for real you can use whatever tastes good to you.
chopped tomatoes
grated or crumbled cheese, whatever you got
green chilies or jalapenos
fresh coriander, whatever herbal shit you’re into
you can add chicken or other lean meats or tofu
6 eggs beaten with 2 tbsp milk, black pepper to taste

here’s what to do with it:
preheat the oven to 400 and grease your goddamned muffin tin. (i use pam, the coconut oil kind) add vegetables of your choice along with cheese (if you choose, and why wouldn’t you?) to each cup, then pour the beaten egg mixture into each cup.

place the muffin pan on the center rack of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until muffins are light brown, puffy, and the eggs are set. let those bitches cool for a few minutes before removing from the pan. loosen gently with a butter knife if they seem to be sticking. eat immediately or let cool completely before storing them in plastic bag in refrigerator or freezer. they can be reheated in the oven or microwave and eaten in the shower while trying to catch another depressing weather report on the morning news. or so i’ve heard.

curried tofu.
i adapted this one from the homie martha stewart. i don’t like to cook a lot of meat at home because it’s messy and a ton of work, also because achieving the perfect sear on an expensive cut of grass-fed beef is not what i want to come home and do on a random fucking wednesday. there are basically fifty-eight minutes between the time i peel off my eight layers of winter outwear and the time empire starts, and i refuse to spend a single one of them tying up a fucking chicken.

you need:
1 container (14 ounces) firm or extra-firm tofu, drained
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon curry powder
coarse salt and ground pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup lite coconut milk
1 box (10 ounces) frozen green beans, defrosted
4 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces (3 cups)
cooked calrose rice, for serving (optional)

here’s what to do with it:
halve tofu horizontally; then crosswise. (GOD I HATE GEOMETRY; also, you should have 4 equal squares). cut each square diagonally into 2 triangles. arrange tofu in one layer on a baking sheet lined with 3 layers of paper towels; cover with three more layers. place another baking sheet and a bottle of wine or something heavy on top. let tofu drain until towels are soaked, about 20 minutes. so this part is kind of irritating on paper but it really isn’t as hard as it looks. you can slice your onions and mince your garlic while the tofu is draining to save time.

heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. add tofu and cook, turning once, until golden-brown, maybe 10 minutes. remove from pan to a plate then reduce heat to medium. add remaining tablespoon oil, onion, and curry powder. season generously with salt and pepper. cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. add garlic; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

reduce heat to medium-low. add coconut milk and 1/2 cup water; bring to a gentle simmer. return tofu to skillet. add green beans and tomatoes, cover, and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. serve over rice if desired. (true story: i always desire the rice.)

sausage and kale stew.
soup is kind of depressing to me. like if i order a cheeseburger at a restaurant and my companion across the table orders a bowl of soup for dinner it’s like, “bro…? are you sick or something? should we leave? why aren’t you getting any goddamned food!?” and then you gotta sit there and watch that motherfucker eat SOUP, one of the least appealing to foods to watch being consumed. insult to injury: pretending that that gross, wet slurping isn’t killing you a little bit on the inside. especially since most soups taste like the flu. but at home you can make stew, which is the perfect remedy to both bullshit ass weather and the gaping hole of starvation left in your gut when you try to pass off soup as a real goddamned meal.

you need:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 12-ounce package fully cooked chicken sausage links, sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 19-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 box of low-sodium chicken broth
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 bunch kale leaves, torn into 2-inch pieces
kosher salt and black pepper

here’s what you do with it:
heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. add the sausage and cook, stirring once, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. stir in the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. try not to eat handfuls of sausage directly from the pot.

add the beans, broth, and tomatoes (including the liquid) and bring to a boil. then lower the heat and add the kale and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. simmer, stirring occasionally, until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. THEN IT’S DONE. super quick, right? i like to eat mine in a bowl the size of a cauldron with a heap of shaved parmesan on top, but i am a human with minimal self-control. seriously, every time i make this i can barely get it all cooked before i start “tasting” the hell out of it. eat yours how you see fit. i wouldn’t judge you if you just got in bed with the pot.

!!!BONUS!!!
i get rul tired of people talking to me about water. snoozapalooza. it’s boring and it tastes like crushed dreams, but bitches is always trying to tell me about their supple, luminous skin and hydrated muscles and healthy kidneys. YAWN. but i will drink it if there’s vegetables and fancy grass floating in the shit. bottle of evian? no thank you. glass of filthy tap water with a withered sprig of mint and half of a decrepit old lime? JESUS GOD MORE PLEASE. every time i take a sip of water my dry ass hair whispers “thank you” while praying for rain, yet i only drink it because michelle obama told me to. and even then there better be some dandelions floating in it.

here are some delicious flavor combinations you can try, according to people who get paid to think about that kind of thing:
strawberry, basil, and lemon.
blackberry and sage.
pineapple orange and mint.
grapefruit and rosemary.
pear and ginger.

i am on day three of the 96oz of water a day challenge. i cannot stop peeing. my skin looks the goddamned same.

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Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: Lemon Velvet Cupcakes with candied lemon zest.

lemonvelvetcupcakesThis here little blog project of mine never ceases to amaze and inspire, amirite? I refer of course to the comment left by some d00d named Kenny a couple weeks ago on a particularly and perpetually popular Palace post entitled Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: Cakeman Raven’s Red Velvet Cake:

Definitely the best red velvet cake. I also am planning to use the cake recipe as a base for a lemon cake. The cake itself is so moist and flavorful, I can stop thinking of the different variations of this cake I can make. Again using just the cake and omitting the cocoa and red coloring.

Naturally, I swooned and gushed in reply, “Ooooh, lemon velvet cake. Zest? How much? Do tell plz!” But alas, my new BFF Kenny, who is obviously some major motherfucking cake genius, had gone silent. Still, thoughts of magical lemon velvet cake haunted me in my dreams and drifted in and out of my consciousness to the point of distraction. Enough of this madness, I finally declared! I MUST HAVE THIS LEMON VELVET CAKE! I MUST HAVE THIS LEMON VELVET CAKE RIGHT NOW!

Instead of making the layer cake I practiced with cupcakes, so I could make half-batches and so my neighborhood friends could easily sample my experiments. My first attempt turned out well enough, but just did not quite have the citrus bite I was looking for. The second batch was damn near perfect, except I wasn’t really happy with the garnish. I tweaked it again, and I am very happy with this recipe. Ecstatic, even. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

Cake:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flourlemons&orange
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 4 organic* lemons
  • 1 organic* orange
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons (1 oz.) freshly squeezed lemon juice, approx. the juice of one small lemon

Frosting: (these quantities are for 24 cupcakes; double them for a layer cake.)

  • ½ pound (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • OPTIONAL: 3 tablespoons Limoncello (you may need to add more powdered sugar to stiffen the consistency)

Candied lemon zest:

  • 3-4 organic* lemons
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*Organic citrus is highly recommended: standard supermarket fare usually has a wax coating (and probably artificial coloring) rendering it less than ideal for zesting.

Yield: 24 cupcakes (or one three-layer cake).

zester<—This is a zester.

Use it to scrape the outer peel off of citrus, taking as little of the white pith underneath as possible.

IMPORTANT SAFETY REMINDER: the zester is not recommended for use in the Bedroom without advanced-level training.

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DIRECTIONS

Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with cupcake papers (for layer cake: lightly oil and flour three 9 by 1½ -inch round cake pans).

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. After sifting, whisk the mixture in the bowl so that the dry ingredients are well blended.

Zest the lemons and orange into another large bowl, and whisk together the zest, oil, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and fresh lemon juice. Use one of the  zested lemons for the juice.

papercupbatterUsing a standing mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed. Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake papers (or for layer cake among the prepared cake pans). Hack tip: pour batter from the mixing bowl into a creased paper coffee cup, and use that to fill them.

Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart. Bake until the edges are slightly golden brown or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Rotate the pans halfway through the baking time. (Note for layer cake: this batter does not rise very much; it is extremely moist and dense. If you want a taller layer cake, make a double batch and add more layers.)

donecupcakesRemove the cupcake pans from the oven, and allow to cool for ten minutes. Use a spoon to gently extract the cupcakes from the pans and transfer them to a cooling rack. (For layer cake: run a knife around the edges to loosen them from the sides of the pans. One at a time, invert the cakes onto a plate and then re-invert them onto a cooling rack, rounded-sides up.) Let cool completely before frosting.

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Frosting:

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held electric mixer in a large bowl, mix the softened cream cheese, sifted confectioners’ sugar and softened butter on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Turn the mixer back on to low. Add the vanilla (and optional Limoncello), raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy and well incorporated—you may need to scrape down the bowl again, or just stir it up by hand. Store frosting in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff before using; alternatively, if it is already thoroughly refrigerated let it sit out of the refrigerator for ten minutes or so. You want the consistency to be thick enough to stack up, yet creamy enough when stirred with a knife to spread smoothly. If tightly sealed (e.g. ziploc bag or in a bowl with plastic wrap directly in contact with few air bubbles), the frosting will stay fresh in the refrigerator for at least 3 days.

Yield: enough to frost 24 cupcakes (or a 3-layer, 9-inch round cake). And then some.

cupcakezestCandied lemon zest:

With a peeler, remove strips of peel from lemons, without the white pith. Cut the strips into thinner strips: they don’t have to be perfect, but you’re going for something like thin spaghetti.

candiedzestingPut the strips in a medium saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then let them cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the strips in a strainer, and set them aside.

Refill the empty saucepan with 1 ½ cups sugar, 1 ½ cups water and vanilla. Bring it to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until all of the sugar is dissolved. Put the lemon strips back in the pan and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is moderately thick, approx. 10 to 15 minutes.

zestcookingcoolingzestNow at this point recipes for candied zest typically say to transfer the strips from the pan onto wax paper or parchment to cool. This turned out to be a hopeless disaster: they became so stuck to the surface that the process of peeling them off rendered them dull (with trailing strings of candied glaze) instead of glossy. YMMV of course, but I found that using a dinner plate worked better. I used a fork to transfer them to the plate, and to transfer them from the plate to the cupcakes as well. Hack tip: when transferring the strips to the plate, use the fork to twist them into curls. They tend to keep that shape after they cool.

Frost the cupcakes, top with candied zest, take a bite… and thank Vishnu for Kenny.

cupcakeprojectNOTE: For optimal freshness and flavor, keep cupcakes (or layer cake) refrigerated, and sit out to bring up to near room temperature just before serving.

Various and sundry.

Hello Loyal Readers™, and Happy Sunday! I hope your day is infused with joyous blasphemy and peppered liberally with sins. If you’re feeling up to a challenge, why not try to tick off all seven of the deadlies today?

  • Avarice
  • Envy
  • Gluttony
  • Lust
  • Pride
  • Sloth
  • Wrath

My Amazing Lover™ and I once threw a Seven Deadly Sins party, at which guests had ample opportunities to engage in all seven of them. It was fucking epic.

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I have a new post up at TPJ Magazine; it’s about Democratic weasels infesting my inbox and becoming more and more unhinged in the lead up to the OMG Most Sooper Important Ever Midnight January 31 fundraising deadline, for an election that is almost two years away.

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I am also excited to be heading up the launch of a new series at Secular Woman in collaboration with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “The HerStory Project” will be home to an ongoing series of posts highlighting the contributions of secular women throughout history and into the present day. Lady badasses FTW.

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I have approximately umpteen gazillion tabs open in my browser to compile into a recent reading list for you lovely people, which I will get to at some point. Probably. Possibly. You see, I have been rather obsessed lately with perfecting a new recipe, which I am happy to say I think I have finally accomplished. A new post from Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen will be forthcoming.

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Now go, and sin some more.

palacehappyface

Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: Finger Sandwiches. From Hell.

fingersandwiches02Mothers Day brunch 2014.
Lovely and delicious and a HUGE fucking pain in the ass.

It has become family tradition on Mothers Day for Your Humble Monarch™ to make finger sandwiches for her mom, sister and nieces—and now, for her Amazing Lover™’s mom, too.

Don’t ask me how this shit got started. It’s not that I don’t know, it’s that I really don’t want to talk about it. Suffice it to say that rather than take everyone out to brunch one year on Mothers Day, I decided I’d try my hand at finger sandwiches this one time, and, well, everyone loooooved them and now it’s A Big Fucking Thing. Relatively speaking, though, I’ll take making finger sandwiches for the moms in my life once a year over, say, bearing and raising actual children. Jeezus.

Yes, they are quite delicious and truly lovely. But beyond that, there is absolutely nothing to recommend finger sandwiches whatsoever. The process of making them is ridiculously time consuming, and that’s to say nothing of the work of gathering the ingredients in advance. They are also expensive, particularly if you’re an unrepentant food snob like I am and just have to use only the best quality ingredients one can find. They are neither vegan nor vegetarian, nor gluten free, nor dairy free, nor salt free—in fact, anyone eating them is practically begging for an instantaneous cardiac arrest. Furthermore, making these little fuckers unleashes an ungodly mess, transforming your once-tidy kitchen into what looks like the scene of several simultaneous biblical plagues (plagues, by the way, which you will have neither the time nor the energy left over to clean up). But in my opinion, the very worst sin of the finger sandwich, by far, is the enormous amount of food wasted: we are talking waaaay beyond mere decadence here, and into the realm of unforgivable evil.* So let’s get started, shall we?

First, one must decide on the sandwiches. There are plenty of books and online resources for amazing finger sandwich recipes, and I definitely don’t want to discourage you from exploring them. But I’m really more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-hey-I-wonder-if-pepperoni-and-cream-cheese-would-make-a-good-finger-sandwich-OMG-yum! kinda gal, so I’ll just take you through this year’s menu:

  • pepperoni & cream cheese on semolina, roasted red pepper garnish
  • cranberry almond chicken salad on raisin pecan bread, cranberry garnish
  • egg salad on potato bread, parsley garnish
  • ham & brie with apples on rye, parsley garnish
  • pickled tuna salad on whole wheat, parsley garnish
  • cucumber & cream cheese on white, parsley garnish

CHOOSING BREADS

In general: consider different colors and especially textures of breads, and pair sandwich ingredients accordingly. For example, chicken salad is chunky and heavy so only a hearty and dense bread can stand up to it, whereas potato bread is very soft and delicate and can just about hold a thin layer of egg salad without collapsing. Likewise, multiple ingredients add up, so a stack of ham and brie and apples needs a much sturdier bread than a couple of thin slices of cucumber.

Advance prep tip: if you intend to trek all over your entire county procuring various breads from particular bake shops (see: “unrepentant food snob” above; see also: “idiot”), or worse, make these breads yourself (?!!! What.), you can freeze the loaves when they’re fresh and defrost them right before you’re ready to start assembling sandwiches. Do yourself a favor and request the loaves be machine-sliced if possible: that kind of slice uniformity is pretty much unattainable by hand slicing, and it will save you time.

CHOOSING SANDWICH INGREDIENTS

In general: Make sure to choose spreads, salads and sandwich fillings that you like, since you’re going to be eating most of it anyway out of the towering piles of scraps you will generate. You will require a metric fuckton of butter (I prefer unsalted but YMMV). For sandwiches that do not contain cream cheese, estimate about one stick (4 oz.) of butter per loaf of bread. You may also/instead find you need an equally absurd quantity of cream cheese; estimate about one package (8 oz.) per loaf of bread. In any event you will need a small amount of cream cheese in order to affix garnishes to your sandwiches. (Until, that is, you inevitably say fuck it and start “garnishing” your sandwiches with colorful cocktail toothpicks or whatever else you can scrounge up around your house. Candy corn? Wine corks? Origami paper? Get creative! Practically anything beats carefully selecting, cutting, dipping in cream cheese and perfectly applying fresh little parsley leaves to dozens of sandwiches. ffs.)

The magic key to this whole finger sandwich thing really is the butter and cream cheese. The critical property these substances share is their ability to create an impermeable barrier between the bread and the sandwich filling, such that no soggy bread shall mar your Mothers Day. Thus, the butter (or cream cheese) must be properly applied to your bread slices thusly:

breadyep^Yep.

Nope:

breadnopeAdvance prep tip: If you do nothing else in advance, set out your metric fuckton of butter and/or cream cheese to soften overnight. Unfortunately, most of these sandwich fillings cannot be prepared very far in advance. Most do not survive freezing very well (except for the pepperoni and cream cheese sandwiches, which seem to do just fine). But what you can do the day before you assemble the sandwiches are things like buy fresh parsley, hard boil and peel eggs for egg salad, cook and dice up chicken for chicken salad, wash and drain fruits, vegetables and fresh parsley—anything you can think of, really. Tomorrow’s gonna suck.

ASSEMBLY & CUTTING

In general: This part will take all fucking day, so clear your calendar, make room in your refrigerator, and open a nice bottle of wine before proceeding. Pour a glass, and repeat as necessary throughout the day.

pepperoni & cream cheese on semolina, roasted red pepper garnish

pepperonicrcheese

  • 2 loaves semolina bread (about 12 slices each)—I like LaBrea
  • 2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese
  • 1/2 pound slicing pepperoni (available at most supermarket deli counters), thinly sliced
  • roasted red peppers, sliced into small strips (for garnish)

yield: about 24-30 finger sandwiches, depending on size and shape of bread slices.

Spread a layer of cream cheese evenly onto each slice of bread. Completely cover every slice of bread with one layer of pepperoni. On half the slices, spread a thin layer of cream cheese, then press them together with the remaining slices, lining up the crusts as much as possible (the cream cheese in the center will hold the two layers of pepperoni together). Slice off the crust and discard, then slice into shapes as desired. Thoroughly blot small strips of roasted red pepper on paper towels, and apply one to the center of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.

HOW TO CUT A WONKY-SHAPED LOAF INTO PERFECT TRIANGLES:

cuttingtrianglesscraps? nom nom nom…

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cranberry almond chicken salad on raisin pecan bread, cranberry garnish.

cranberryalmondchicken

  • 2 small loaves raisin pecan bread (about 10 slices each)
  • about 1 ½ sticks (6 oz.) butter, softened
  • 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked and diced
  • 3 cups (12 oz.) sliced almonds
  • 1 package (5 oz.) dried cranberries
  • mayonnaise (start with two heaping tablespoons, and gradually mix in more little by little as necessary until ingredients stick and hold together well)
  • salt to taste
  • tiny amount of cream cheese for attaching cranberry garnish

yield: about 18-20 finger sandwiches, depending on the size and shape of bread slices.

Set aside some dried cranberries for garnish; chop up the rest. In a large mixing bowl, combine chicken, almonds and chopped cranberries. Mix in mayo in small amounts until the mixture holds together well. Add salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate.

cranberryalmondchicken2Spread a thin layer of butter onto each slice of bread. Spread the chicken salad mixture evenly onto half the bread slices. (I find a fork to be helpful here.) Press the rest of the raisin bread slices onto the chicken salad, lining up the crusts as much as possible. With a sharp bread knife cut off the crusts and discard, then slice each remaining sandwich in half or thirds: I end up with diamond shapes, triangles and trapezoids. It doesn’t matter—they’re all pretty. Affix a cranberry to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese (NOTE: I use more cream cheese here than I normally would because I like the way the white sets off the color of the cranberry. I am weird.)

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egg salad on potato bread, fresh parsley garnish

eggsalad

  • one standard sized loaf of potato bread (about 14 slices)
  • one stick butter (4 oz.)
  • one dozen large eggs, hard boiled
  • mayonnaise (start with two tablespoons, and gradually add more little by little as necessary until texture is creamy)
  • salt to taste
  • parsley leaves (for garnish)
  • tiny amount of cream cheese to attach garnish

yield: about 14 finger sandwiches.

Chop the hard boiled eggs up into little pieces and put them in a mixing bowl. Add the mayo, and thoroughly mix it all up with a fork, adding more mayo gradually if necessary until the mixture is evenly creamy. Mix in salt to taste, cover and refrigerate.

Spread a thin layer of butter onto each slice of potato bread. Spread the egg salad evenly onto half the bread slices (I find a fork helpful here). Place the rest of the bread slices on top, and press gently. With a sharp bread knife cut off the crusts and discard, then slice the remaining square in half, either diagonally to make triangles or straight down the middle to make rectangles. Affix a leaf of parsley to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.

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ham & brie with apples on rye, parsley garnish

hamapplebrie

  • 2 loaves seedless rye bread (about 12 slices each)
  • about 1½ sticks (6 oz.) butter, softened
  • 3 packages (7 oz. each) thin-sliced deli ham—I like Applegate Naturals Uncured Slow Cooked
  • 3 wedges of brie
  • 3 green apples: golden delicious if you like sweet, granny smith for more tart
  • fresh parsley, for garnish
  • tiny amount of cream cheese to affix garnish

yield: about 24 finger sandwiches.

Spread a thin layer of butter onto each slice of bread. Core and slice the apples into thin sections, and cover half the bread slices with a layer of apples. Remove the wax coating from the brie wedges, and slice/spread/press a layer of brie more or less evenly onto each apple layer. The goal here is to make sure the apple slices are sealed between the butter and brie (take that, American Heart Association!). Thoroughly blot the ham slices on paper towels, and layer them evenly onto the brie. Place the remaining bread slices onto the ham, and press gently. With a sharp bread knife cut off the crusts and discard, then slice the remaining square in half. Affix a leaf of parsley to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.

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pickled tuna salad on whole wheat, parsley garnish

tuna

  • 2 loaves of whole wheat bread (about 12 slices each)
  • 2 sticks (4 oz. each) butter, softened
  • 2 large cans (12 oz. each) and 2 small cans (5 oz. each) of tuna, well drained—I like solid white albacore in water.
  • 3 Tbsp. sweet relish
  • mayonnaise (start with two large tablespoons, and gradually add more little by little as necessary until tuna/relish mixture holds together)
  • salt to taste
  • fresh parsley, for garnish (alternative: slice of baby gherkin pickle, thoroughly blotted on paper towel)
  • tiny amount of cream cheese to affix garnish.

yield: about 24 finger sandwiches.

In a mixing bowl, combine tuna, sweet relish and mayo. Mix well with a fork, breaking up larger chunks of tuna and adding mayo if necessary until the mixture holds together. Add salt to taste, cover and refrigerate.

Spread a thin layer of butter onto each slice of wheat bread. Spread the tuna salad evenly onto half the bread slices. (I find a fork helpful for forming an even layer.) Place the rest of the bread slices on top, and press gently. With a sharp bread knife cut off the crusts and discard, then slice the remaining square in half, either diagonally to make triangles or straight down the middle to make rectangles. Affix a leaf of parsley (or slice of baby gherkin pickle) to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.

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cucumber & cream cheese on white, parsley garnish

cucumbercrcheese

  • 1 loaf white bread (about 12 slices)
  • 1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese—at least.
  • 1 large cucumber (or 2 small)
  • salt to taste
  • fresh parsley for garnish
  • tiny amount of cream cheese to affix garnish.

yield: about 12 finger sandwiches.

Peel and slice the cucumber: slices should be just thick enough that they hold their form and are not floppy when you pick them up. Spread them out on paper towels, and press another layer of paper towels on top of them to blot thoroughly. Remove the top layer of paper towels and sprinkle the cucumber slices with a dusting of salt. Set aside.

Spread an even layer of cream cheese on each slice of bread. Completely cover every slice with a layer of cucumber. On half the slices, spread a thin layer of cream cheese, then press them together with the remaining slices, lining up the crusts as much as possible (the cream cheese in the center will hold the two layers of cucumber together). Slice off the crust, then slice into shapes as desired. Affix a leaf of parsley to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.

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STORING

After you make each type of finger sandwich, cover them with plastic wrap, and store in sealed containers in the refrigerator until ready to plate and serve. I use plastic takeout food containers I’ve saved, and stack up the sturdier sandwiches in a cake storage container (with plastic wrap between layers). They will stay fresh for a few days.

PLATING

Place paper doilies on a serving platter—this helps keep the bottom layer of bread from getting soggy. Make a first layer in the center of the platter with your sturdiest finger sandwiches, and build a pyramid with the rest of the sandwiches from the center up and out from there. As much as possible, try to keep the most delicate ones out from under heavier sandwiches or multiple layers. Pick a pretty one for the very top. A few berries (strawberries or raspberries) add a nice splash of color.

BONUS TIP: I’ve picked up some really nice platters at my local thrift shop very inexpensively. They add to the presentation and make a nice Mothers Day gift. Along with the fucking sandwiches.

platters

Thrift shop platters: cheap, for realz.

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*One of the best ways I’ve found to mitigate the unconscionable wastefulness of this craptastic undertaking is to have friends, lovers or kids around to nosh on the mountains of crusty scraps and delicious fillings you will inevitably end up with. It’s best to plan such visits in shifts, because as I said this will take all fucking day. If anyone asks whether they can help or bring anything, say unhesitatingly “More wine.” Alternatively, you can just toss the leftover scraps into a big bowl rather than into the garbage, and keep them covered and refrigerated. They’ll be good for a few days, and kids apparently enjoy picking through your garbage and eating it.

Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: Frankie’s Mom’s Ricotta Cheesecake.

ricottacheesecakeFrankie’s Mom’s Ricotta Cheesecake.
Only at Gaetana’s…and the Palace Kitchen.

gaetanaslogoMy friend Frankie is the proprietor of Gaetana’s, a neighborhood bar and restaurant on Christopher Street. Frankie hails from Brooklyn, and is 100% Italian-American by heritage. Specifically, SicilianAmerican, with everything that implies. For example, at least in Frankie’s case, it implies an enormous brick wall festooned with Frank Sinatra memorabilia, the sounds of Sirius XM’s Sinatra station, a prominently displayed Italian flag and, at least occasionally, patrons who look and sound like they came right out of central casting. If youse know whud I mean.

None of this is intended to be the least bit ironic; nor am I dissing Frankie’s culture (it is, after all, very similar to my own Southern Italian heritage). Frankie is one of the most gregarious, generous, genuine people I know. He flirts shamelessly and charmingly with customers of all ages, genders, races, sexual orientations and whatever other demographic identities you might envision wandering in off of Christopher Street. (Well, with the exception of the panhandlers, who sometimes sneak in to hassle diners and drinkers; they get quickly and quietly escorted out.) On my first visit to the bar at his fine establishment, some fucking priest(!) ate my fucking pizza(!). Frankie gave me another one and two glasses of Chianti. For free.

gaetana&frankiejr

Frank Jr. (Frankie’s dad) & Gaetana.

Frankie’s mother—the late, great, beautiful, and by all accounts much loved Gaetana—was a wonderful cook, and Frankie was an eager and gifted student. Originally, he envisioned this restaurant venture of his as your basic neighborhood bar and pizza joint, but the menu quickly expanded to include dozens of dishes from the kitchen of his childhood:

  • pastas with marinara, clam sauce, pesto, garlic & oil, vodka sauce, a wicked hot fra diavolo or a sweet bolognese. Pumpkin ravioli in brown butter & sage. Lasagna to die for.
  • homemade meatballs, enormous pork chops piled with hot cherry peppers, shell steaks, several fresh fish dishes, jumbo shrimp scampi, chicken (Marsala, Milanese, Piccata, Pomodoro, Valdestano…).
  • traditional soups: Pasta Fagioli, Lentil, Stracciatella. Sometimes, Italian wedding.
  • cold antipasto, mussels in white wine with garlic and oil, fried calamari (ask for that with Frankie’s cocktail sauce instead of the marinara), amazing stuffed artichokes (fergawdsake people, save some of the homemade focaccia for dipping).
  • Pizza. Frankie’s pizza is my all time New York favorite—and that is saying something, my friends. (I am not alone in that assessment, either.)

All of it is made to order, with really fresh ingredients. In fact, if he has the ingredients, he’ll make you anything you want. Mangia.

There are countless upscale Italian restaurants in this city, places where the decor is opulent, there are sommeliers and Executive Chefs, the cuisine is trendy and inventive, the Barolo runs $350 a bottle and watching the wait staff perform is like watching dinner theatre. Frankie’s place is nothing like that. I mean that as the highest compliment. Gaetana’s is unpretentious, welcoming, casual, inexpensive (relatively speaking) and fun, with a quirky clientele. Frankie’s sister is a waitress there, he’s got old friends on staff, and no matter their ages all the bartenders are strictly old-school. In the parlance of the food critic/foodie/food snob, Gaetana’s is what’s called a “red sauce joint,” often derisively. Done this well? There ain’t no shame in that.

But then, Dear Lard, there is the ricotta cheesecake.

If you’ve never had it, there is nothing quite like it, which makes it kind of hard to explain. It’s not as sweet as typical (“New York style”) cheesecake, and it has the subtle-but-distinct flavor of fresh citrus. But it’s the texture that really sets it apart: it’s slightly more granular than creamy, with a lightly caramelized golden-brown “crust” on top. Let me put it this way: if you enjoy savory dishes made with Italian ricotta—lasagna, manicotti, cheese ravioli—and you like cheesecake, you will freaking love this. And it turns out many people who do not care for traditional cheesecake (myself included) really love it too. Like, a lot.

Just as I do, Frankie comes from an Italian-American cooking tradition where family recipes are not written down anywhere and consist mainly of a string of helpful directives like, “Then add the chopped garlic.” How much garlic? “You know, enough.” In all likelihood this is why I had to beg him for the recipe for more than a year. One night, after the usual good-natured teasing and terribly insincere pouting on my part, he finally slammed his fist down on the bar and said, “That’s it! I’m giving you the recipe right now!” He tore a page out of a datebook, went into the kitchen and shortly thereafter handed me this:

frankierecipe I was so happy I nearly wept with joy. Naturally, I failed to notice that there were certain key pieces of information missing, things one typically thinks of when one hears the word “recipe.” Things I noticed the next day, like how (and how long) do you mix these ingredients? How long do you bake it? What’s the best way to cool it? And what on Earth does the cryptic scrawl “IN WATER” mean? I suddenly had a vision of Frankie in his kitchen going through the motions of making a ricotta cheesecake from memory, checking how much ricotta cheese comes in a commercial container and furiously jotting down approximations of everything else (“about, I dunno, a cuppa parmesan? what, maybe six ounces of orange juice? a couple, say, six eggs?”)

But it didn’t matter. It was indeed a recipe, Italian-style, a form of art in which I am fluent. I knew I would figure it out. And here it is.

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Frankie’s Mom’s Ricotta Cheesecake

NON-FOOD ITEMS YOU WILL NEED

zester

  • an electric mixer (or a handheld whisk + something called “stamina”)
  • a zester* (or multi-function grater)
  • a loaf pan (for water)
  • a working oven
  • a refrigerator
  • a springform pan**

*<—This is a zester. Use it to scrape the brightly colored skin off of the orange and lemon, taking as little of the white pith underneath as possible.
IMPORTANT SAFETY WARNING: without advanced-level training the zester is not recommended for use in the Bedroom.

springformpan**This is a springform pan.
It’s a pretty nifty 2-part thingy that seals tightly
to enclose the filling. After baking, you release the latch
to remove the band around the sides. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 lbs ricotta cheese (whole milk)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons vanilla extract***
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 6 oz. orange juice
  • zest of 1 orange
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • dusting of powdered sugar
  • fruit garnish (optional)

madagascarvanilla***Frankie wrote “2 Tbs” but he might have mean teaspoons here. Then again, maybe not. I keep forgetting to ask him. So I use about 1½ tablespoons of Nielsen-Massey Vanilla’s Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract. TRUE FACT: you really can’t go wrong here.

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Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). Place a standard loaf pan filled halfway with water on the oven’s lower shelf. Lightly coat the inside of the springform pan with unsalted butter. If it’s not a non-stick pan give it a light coat of flour, too.

Zest the lemon and the orange, and combine the zest with all the other ingredients (except the powdered sugar and optional fruit) in a large mixing bowl. With an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix on medium-high until well-blended (about 2 mins).

ricottacheesecake1

BEFORE…

Pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan. Place the springform pan on the top shelf of the oven. (NOTE: it’s fairly heavy, almost full to the brim and highly liquid at this stage, so take your time and be careful. IOW, don’t be like me.)

coolingcheesecake

…AFTER.

Bake for about 1½ hours. Maybe more. Maybe less. I don’t know. What I’m saying is your mileage will vary because mine certainly does, depending on the temperature accuracy of the oven I’m using and how often I open the door to check it, the diameter of the springform pan (larger than 9″ means a shallower cheesecake that bakes in less time), the altitude of the kitchen, the liquid content of the particular ricotta brand (which also varies with the same brand), and probably a bunch of other stuff I don’t know anything about.

*sigh*

goldenbrownricottacheesecake

Mah done cake.

For me, the best way to determine when it is finished baking is to shake the oven rack a little bit and observe the consistency: it should appear firmer (and more golden brown) around the edges, and more jiggly in the center. Like jello. Mine bakes in a little more than an hour and a half, sometimes an hour and 45 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a cooling rack for twenty minutes. The cheesecake will flatten a little bit and begin to pull away from the sides. Carefully run a butter knife around the sides of the pan to keep it from sticking. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator to cool for 3 hours. Then cover the pan pan with a lid or foil and let it cool in the refrigerator overnight.

To serve: remove the springform band. Optional: transfer cheesecake to a cake stand or plate by first loosening the bottom with a knife or thin spatula and then sliding it carefully onto the desired surface. Good luck with that.

Slice into wedges, extract each wedge with a cake server and plate it.

Optional: add fruit garnish to the plate—berries and oranges work well, and provide a nice counterpoint. I would definitely try kiwi, peaches (raw or cooked), maybe pineapple.

Dust each plated slice with powdered sugar right before serving.

Taste Frankie’s Mom’s Ricotta Cheesecake.

Last—and this is important—try to remember that there is no god. Good luck with that too.

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Some notes from comparing other recipes.

Frankie’s recipe has no crust; other recipes I found have a crust, and I have tasted many delicious ricotta cheescakes that do. Frankie says that at least the traditional Sicilian recipe has no crust, and I have to say with this recipe I do not miss it. The texture of the top edge acts as a kind of crust, and of course without making crust the whole operation is simpler. One recipe I found said to coat the bottom of the pan with a mixture of sugar and breadcrumbs over the butter.

frankiewater

Spring Form Pan
IN
WATER
350°”
Wut.

 

Some recipes say to bake the springform pan in a larger pan filled with water to a level about halfway up the side of the springform pan. Maybe this is what Frankie may have meant by this.—> Maybe I’ll try it next time, but it really doesn’t seem to be necessary. (Some recipes don’t even mention water at all.)

There are recipes that call for half or less of the ricotta, and some that also add cream cheese. Some have less sugar. One recipe I found has rum in it (which seems more Caribbean than Italian, but is probably delicious regardless); another is made with honey.

Some require a food processor instead of a mixer; others require straining the ricotta beforehand.

I also came across one with a lower baking temperature (300 F/150 C).

Regarding bake time, one recipe suggested baking for one hour, and then turning the oven off but keeping the cheesecake in for another hour before removing it. This seems like a cool idea, but I’d have to test it.

I’ve seen directions to cool the cake in the refrigerator uncovered for one hour instead of three (and then keep it covered until it cools completely, “6-8 hours.”).

See the many recipes for yourself on the Google Machine.

And take look at these images for other variations and different serving suggestions.

My advice is to start with Frankie’s Mom’s recipe—it’s easy and delicious—and maybe then explore more challenging recipes. Lard knows I never will.

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Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: how to separate the egg yolk from the egg white.

This is SO IMPORTANT I could not possibly justify waiting a minute longer to bring it to your attention.  Never mind that my friend sent this to me yesterday at 7-something AM (EDT).  I watched the video and thought, you know, “Wow. Cool!”  Later (at some less undogly hour on a Saturday morning) I replied to my friend, “That is awesome—I cannot wait to try it!”  Then, I forwarded the video link to a small group of people which may (or may not) have included persons among my Many Tens of Loyal Readers™.  Then today at some bar I showed it to someone on my computer screen.  And that is when I had my epiphany:  I realized THIS IS SO IMPORTANT that I could not possibly justify waiting to show it to you.

(From the email forward:  “The language in the video at the link below is Chinese. Ignore the language and just watch the demonstration.”)

Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: Watermelon salad.

Oh, all right. Technically, this dish was not made in Iris the Idiot’s actual kitchen. Not yet. But I assure you it will be soon enough.

This weekend I had occasion to enjoy brunch at a favorite local haunt with my Amazing Lover™ (after suffering through a terrible movie called “Ted.” Do NOT even go there.)  The salad was a special, not on the regular menu.

The ingredients are simple.  It’s true that I do not know the exact proportions, but it is exceedingly difficult to conceive how anyone — including Iris the Idiot — could combine the following ingredients and actually fuck this up.  Roughly:

  • arugula
  • watermelon cubes (de-seeded)
  • cracked walnuts
  • goat cheese
  • sweet red onion
  • olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • black pepper

It seemed pretty light on the lemon juice, although the sweetness of the watermelon probably cuts the tartness of that ingredient considerably.  There was very little goat cheese—which is more than fine by me. (YMMV.)  Any soft, sweet cheese (e.g. brie) would likely work just as well, though I would hesitate to use anything more pungent than a mild cheddar.

Dry white wine.  Italian bread.

Holy Mother of Dog. I could eat this every day.

Mangia, fellow Idiots!