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Uncrushable Laser Monkeys! (or, what I had for dinner)
Deconstructed Bangers and Mash
Tuesday, December 6, 2005, 06:38 PM - flatbread, high falutin'

Why deconstructed bangers and mash?



Today I was overcome with that seasonal, irrational desire to make old family recipes. It turns out, all of my old family recipes are norwegian deserts. But I dutifully sat down and compiled a list of things I'd like to make, both old and new. Then I realized that everything on the list was completely sensible, except for hardangar lefse, which requires, among other things 11 cups of flour plus 2 more cups of flour for rolling. Yeah right. It also requires a specialized rolling pin and grill, both of which are currently 3000 miles from here. So I decided to make potato lefse, which is a more savory sort of thing that my family, apparently being sweettooths, didn't go for.

Lefse is a Norwegian flatbread. Hardangar lefse is a very flat, crispy flatbread-- more like chapati than naan or tortillas. It is sprayed with water to make it flexible, then buttered and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and finally folded together and cut into strips, which stay flexible because of the butter. (Sorry about that sentence; I got a little carried away.) Potato lefse, as I understand from my cultural tourism, is a more savory thing that gets rolled up and stuffed with... something. A google image search will return exactly one image (well, two; the same one shows up twice) of potato lefse as it's supposed to be served. It has something rolled up inside it. They never tell you what is rolled up inside it.

So we decided to just make something up. We settled on deconstructed bangers and mash. You get your mash in the form of a soft flatbread, and a plate with fake sausage patties and vegetables.

Lefse Recipe


I found this recipe on some web page or other, but I can't find the web page again. I modified it, anyway, because I didn't like the idea of letting it chill overnight. That just wouldn't meet my instant gratification needs.

Ingredients:
3 cups instant mashed potatoes. I used hungry jack instant mashed potatoes because everyone and their mom says that if you use instant mashed potatos in lefse, this is the only brand to use. It could be that all good norwegians own Hungry Jack stock and they want to see a profit. Or there could be something special with their potato flake process. In any case, I don't want to get beaten up by a bunch of old norwegian ladies, so I did what they told me to. Oddly, the recipe I followed the most didn't care, so maybe it doesn't matter. It could be that instant mashed potato technology has advanced since the recipes were carved in stone.

1/4 cup butter. I used unsalted, and I really used butter. Margarine is bad for you; you're better off eating lard than margarine. And butter is solid at higher temperatures, which might be relevant here, since the dough gets really crumbly if it isn't cold enough. Any experimentation is at your own risk.

1 cup evaporated milk. Any old milk would probably do, but we had evap in the cupboard and no milk in the refrigerator.

1 cup flour for the dough, and another cup for rolling.

1 cup water.

process:
Melt the butter. Add the water to the butter. Dump in potato flakes. Work them with a fork until it's smooth. It will take longer than you're used to, because typicall you'd be mixing the flakes with a lot more liquid. Add the milk and 1 cup of flour. Stir together until smooth. I threw it in the fridge for good measure, since everyone said it needed to be cooled overnight. I patted the dough around the edge of the bowl to maximize surface area per volume. I don't think it needed to be cooled; we just needed time to figure out what else we were doing for the meal.

Make 2" diameter balls from the dough. You can do this in advance, but you'll want to roll them and cook them as you go. I found that using a rolling pin was a fiasco. Granted, we have a psycho rolling pin here (It's not even cylindrical!), so maybe a proper rolling pin woud be ok. But I patted it out by hand. I did this by squashing the ball into a disk, flouring the counter, and patting the disc around with my hand, thinning it out. Then I flipped it and repeated the process until it was about 10-11" across. Each time I flipped it, I worked in a bit more flour. If I let it get too thin, it tore, but it wasn't a big deal to just squoosh it back together.

Cook in a frying pan on medium heat. It will get bubbles in it. When it gets bubbly, flip it and cook the other side. It will be brown wherever there were bubbles against the pan, and whiteish everywhere else. You should have worked enough flour into it that it's pretty dry; it shouldn't stick to the pan at all. If it does, for some bizarre reason, add more flour or chill it or something. You should be able to roll one while the previous one cooks.

You might, at some point, decide to break the glass flour container. This might be a good time to decide you've made enough lefse and put the rest of the balls back into the refrigerator for another meal. Avoid getting the glass-infested flour on them. Sweeping the floor would be clever.

Deconstructed Bangers and Mash Recipe



Get someone else to julienne a bunch of carrots. They might add lemon juice, olive oil, onion flakes, salt, and pepper. Let that sit while you roll & cook the lefse. Realize that you're covered with flour and tell that someone else to finish cooking everything while you go outside to brush off. It doesn't matter if it's freezing outside and snow is all over the ground; you don't want that in your house. Besides, if you're brushing it off energetically enough, you won't actually feel cold. If your timing is appropriate, you can probably show up just in time to watch the rest of the work get done.

Someone else might also make patties out of fake sausage while you make the lefse. Lefse is pretty time consuming. When you're done with the lefse and are saving your household from being overwhelmed by flour dust, they can use the pan you made the lefse in to fry up the patties. Then they can fry up the carrots. They might make you slice some tomatos to go on the side, but that's no big deal.

Presentation


Whenever you deconstruct a dish, presentation is really important. We each had a plate with patties up one side, tomatoes up the other side, and carrot in the middle. The stack of lefse went on another plate in the middle of the table. We just ate the tomatoes straight-up; they were more of a garnish. To eat the rest of it, pick up a lefse, fill it with carrots and sausage pieces, and wrap it up and eat it like fajitas.

Soup
Tuesday, December 6, 2005, 12:51 PM - soups
We made soup from the capon carcass the other day. We actually made the stock the day after thanksgiving, froze it, then made soup with some of it later.

Stock


You'll need a big pot of some sort. You don't actually need a big pot; last year we didn't have a big pot so we broke the carcass up into a couple of absurdly small pots & it still turned out ok. But a big pot helps. This year, we had a big pot. We got a dutch oven after discovering that a good quality stock pot costs several hundered dollars more than a good quality dutch oven of the same capacity. The dutch oven could double as a roasting pan as well, which a stock pot wouldn't be able to do. Maybe if we made soup all the time, a stock pot would be worth it. But given that we make it only several times a year, it wasn't worth it. Don't get a crappy stock pot, either, because that would be silly. We could have gotten a crappy stock pot for much less than the dutch oven, but it wouldn't have worked properly. Good ones have an aluminum core that goes up the sides; crappy ones have an aluminum core just on the bottom, or nothing. We have a small pot that just has an aluminum core on the bottom and you can't just turn down the heat and let it simmer because the heat won't get to the top of the pot; it's a problem for 2 people's worth of soup. I can only imagine how bad it would be in a stock pot with 4-5 times it's volume.

Stick the carcass and giblets in the pot along with coarsley chopped celery, onions, carrots, and a handful of black peppercorns. I think we used 2 onions, 6-8 carrots, and a comprable amount of cellery. Fill the pot with water so that the carcass is under water. If the carcass sticks up, just break it up so it gets underneath. You can do this with your bare hands and feel very primal. Grunting helps, as does using telegraphic speech. Actually, it's just easier with your hands than to go pull out a cutting board and a cleaver. You're welcome to do that, though, since I recognize that cleavers have their own appeal.

Let it ook on low heat for 3-6 hours; if you have a crappy pot, you'll want to use a higher heat. It should be at the low end of simmering. Every 15-20ish minutes, go skim the foamy stuff off the top. When foamy stuff stops forming, you can ignore the pot for longer. But check on it periodically because it's bad to leave something completely unattended on the stove for hours. You never know when a badly aimed mind-control-laser might be directed at the pot, causing its entire contents to sublimate. Then you'd want to turn the stove off.

When you think it's ooked for long enough, take out the carcass and throw it in the trash. Then use a sieve or collander, remove the smaller chunks from the liquid and throw them out. Skim the fat off of the top and throw it out too. Since a dutch oven has a very high surface area, skimming the fat was hard because it didn't make a very thick layer. So I dipped a mug into the pot and let the top layer of stock fill the mug. I skimmed the fat from the mug (which was now a quite thick layer) and then repeated the process until the great majority of the fat was gone.

We had a much higher volume of stock than we had containers, so we condensed it to about 1/4 the volume by just letting it simmer without a lid for a while. Then we stuck it in a container in the refrigerator. When refrigerated, it had the consistency of jello. When it became apparent that we weren't making soup any time soon, we split it up into freezer boxes and froze it.

soup


Remove stock from the freezer. Stick it in a pot... you can even use your small crappy pot. Add some water if you condensed your stock. Add a bunch of brussel sprouts and perl onions. Ack!. I've been hanging out with too many programmers. You can use pearl onions if you don't like scripting languages. I'm more of a c person, myself. Add some salt (since we didn't add any to the stock) and other seasonings if you feel so inclined. I don't remember what I used because I was slightly irresponsible and didn't post about the soup in a timely fashion.

Let it ook for about half an hour. The important thing with brussel sprouts is to let them ook properly. People often think they don't like them because they haven't had them cooked properly. Remember, if you take the ook out of cook, all you have is c. Or something like that... um... nevermind. But ooking is important.

Gingerbread
Wednesday, November 30, 2005, 11:33 PM - flatbread, dessert
I made gingerbread and cranberry chutney again today. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful---processed foods and pizza. I don't think I've been eating properly. Tomorrow I'll eat something healthy.

Gingerbread Recipe


ingredients:
1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup butter
1 TBS lemon juice
~1 tsp baking soda
~1 tsp baking powder
~1 TBS powdered ginger
~1 TBS cinnamon
~1 tsp allspice
x tsp nutmeg, where 1/8 < x < 1/2
y tsp corriander, where 1/8 < y < 1/3

I payed more attention this time, aren't you proud of me?

procedure:
People who know what they are doing will mix up the wet ingredients first then add the dry ingredients. However, people who know what they are doing will have to plan ahead and be more organized than you need to be for this recipe; they might even use more dishes. Incidentally, brown sugar counts as a wet ingredient.

Make a pot of tea. Be sure to make more water than fills the teapot. Some of this water, naturally, you'll want to use to preheat the teapot. But measure off half a cup and dump the butter into it. (Um... that would be the measured off portion, not the bit that you're going to drink.) The butter will melt nicely and you won't have to worry about mucking around with a microwave, or worse, planning ahead enough to leave it out to soften ahead of time.

Pour the lemon juice into the dry ingredients. It's important to do this first because it's exciting... remember the vinegar/baking soda volcanos? Less impressive, but lemon juice still bubbles a little when it hooks up with the baking soda. Now add the water and butter and stir it up. You could do it all at once, but you'd miss some excitement. Don't wait too long, though, because you want the bubbles to be inside the dough, not used up while you were watching them fizz.

Mix the dough up and stick it on a floured baking sheet. Smoosh it out so it's pretty flat. It should be maybe 1/4" thick. It will rise a reasonable amount; I think mine doubled in thickness, maybe a little more.

Bake for ~10 minutes at ~350 degrees F. I started mine with the knob turned to 250, which was really 350. I thought I'd appropriately compensated at the time, but no. I didn't realize quite how psychotic this oven is because I don't use it enough. Did I mention that you shouldn't trust your oven and should get a supplemental oven-safe thermometer so you know what's really going on? When I checked on it after about 7 minutes, the gingerbread was mostly done, but the oven had decided that it should actually be 450. It wasn't quite done so I left it another 2 minutes with the oven turned off, so maybe it cooled down to the 350 range by the end, but who knows? In short, the cooking time/temperature is pretty flexible. In any case, you can tell if it's done by pushing down in the middle with your finger. If it's done, it will spring back up. If it's not done, it will make a dent.

Top with cranberry chutney.

thanksgiving dinner
Sunday, November 27, 2005, 10:09 AM - comfort food, flatbread, dessert, holiday
Since there is a terrible dearth of 8 lb. turkeys (we did find one once), we made a capon for thanksgiving dinner. 'What is a capon?", you might ask. Here's an explanation of capon by analogy:
capon:chicken::castrati:opera singer
capon:chicken::kobe beef:regular beef
A capon is a rooster that has been neutered at a young age so as to not develop any of the stringy muscles that roosters tend to get. then they're babied (probably no where near as much as kobe, but they live better than most chickens), get a special diet, and even get to live longer than their regular chicken counterparts. They taste more like chicken than chicken.

menu


breakfast:
pumpkin pie

lunch/dinner:
roast capon
green bean caserole
mashed potatoes
capon gravy
cranberry chutney

supper:
leftovers!

desert:
gingerbread
cranberry chutney

recipes


pumpkin pie


1. Go to the grocery store
2. buy a pumpkin pie
3. bring home & refrigerate until ready to eat

roast capon


1. Leave your frozen capon in the fridge for a few days. This is supposed to defrost it, but it won't.

2. Clean your sink & fill it with cool water; add capon.

3. Check on it every 15 minutes, or so, to see if it's defrosted yet. You might help it along by working at the neck & giblet sack. Once the big chunk of frozen giblets is out, the rest of the bird will defrost faster. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly every time you touch the raw bird & go off to do something else.

4. Put the neck & giblets in a freezer bag & throw them in the freezer.

5. When the bird has finally defrosted, drain the sink & clean the bird thoroughly, especially under the wings & inside the cavity. You need to do this even though you have magic powers that make your bird have already defrosted properly in the first place. This is to make sure there are fewer potentially nasty microbes floating around. On that note, once the bird is in the oven you'll want to clean the sink (and anything you might have splattered on) with bleach.

6. Stick the bird in the pan you're going to use. You ought to make sure it's not sitting straight in the pan. If you're high falutin' and/or into planning ahead, you probably have some sort of rack for this purpose. If you're a normal human being, you can just turn over a small stoneware plate (make sure it's oven safe) in the pan & balance your bird on top of it.

7. Spices! Rub the bird all over with spices. It helps to get an innocent victim to tip spices into your hands periodically while you handle the bird so you have both hands to maneuver with. You can use whatever you like. We used a greek seasoning blend. Then, for good measure, we put some rosemary & dried onion inside the cavity & rubbed them around. We didn't use very much, though, because we were almost out of both of them.

8. Truss the bird. I'm 99% sure I did it wrong because our bird was butchered differently than usual and there were flaps of skin with orientation different than I am used to; so really, it doesn't matter if you do it properly or not. Just do something--the point is to have it tied to be more like a single block than a largish blob with smallish chunks sticking out at various angles. This makes it cook better; otherwise the sticking-out bits (legs, wings) will get overcooked & dried out by the time the rest of the body is properly cooked. You can probably find diagrams on some other website. I'm not going to draw an ascii diagram because I'm meanspirited.

9. Stick the bird in a 325 degree oven and leave it for hours. Somewhere on the web, there is a table that will tell you how much time it will take per pound. Ours didn't take as long as it was supposed to (by about an hour) but our oven thermostat is psycho and there are good odds that we were cooking it at a higher temperature than we thought. Good thermostat or not, it will probably not take the time you're told it will take, so you have to rely on a meat thermometer.

Tha Man says you should leave it until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest bit of meat without touching the bone gets to 180 degrees. I actually meant to ignore Tha Man and pull it sooner, but those last few degrees went really fast & it actually went to 185ish. But that's ok because it's a capon, which is really fatty and juicy and the meat didn't dry out at all. This might have caused problems with a drier bird like a turkey. We started preparing the rest of the meal at about 160 degrees.

10. Let the bird sit 15-20 minutes before carving.

11. After the meal, get as much meat off the bones as you are willing to and declare it leftovers. Save the carcass for stock. If you're making stock soon, refrigerate it; otherwise freeze it.

green bean caserole


Buy french's fried onions & follow the recipe on the can. It involves canned beans, mushroom soup, salt, pepper, and (surprise, surprise) crazily processed onions. Now, you might think it's a good idea to just mix green beans & mushroom soup, but don't. You need the crazily processed onions or it just tastes nasty. I know people who make it this way. I always take a teensy bit to be polite, but yuck! This, on the otherhand, tastes heavenly. I suppose you could come up with something similarly good by adding a ton of onions to green beans and mushroom soup, but I'm afraid to risk it.

mashed potatoes


1. buy a box of instant mashed potatoes
2. follow the directions on the box.

You can pour everything out and stick the liquid ingredients on the stove and start it when the bird comes out. The bird needs to sit for 15-20 minutes before carving to let the juices properly distribute.

capon gravy


1. Transfer the bird to the carving plate and let it do it's sitting there

2. Since we did the bird in a really large dutch oven, it seemed an impractical place to make gravy. So we transfered the drippings to a smaller saucepan.

3. There was still some bits sticking to the dutch oven, so we deglazed that with something. It might have been whiskey; if it wasn't whiskey, it was vermouth. Then we added the results of the deglazing to the saucepan.

4. Scrape the fat off the top. You don't need to get all of it, but you should get most of it.

4. Put about a tablespoon of corn starch into a separate little bowl.

5. Spoon some drippings into the corn starch & stir it up until it's smooth. If it's too viscous, add more drippings.

6. Add mixture back into the saucepan & stir it in. If you don't do it this way, the corn starch won't disolve properly and you'll get unpleasant lumps.

7. Heat the drippings and stir them up until the corn starch cooks. You can tell it's cooked because the gravy is opaque when you start (because you've just added a tbs of white powder) and the corn starch will become translucent and the gravy will turn to the original dripping color when it's done. There's probably no need to season it because lots of the seasoning you put on the bird will have transferred itself to the drippings.

cranberry chutney


We used this cranberry chutney recipe. Make it in advance and chill it in the refrigerator or it won't have the right texture.

gingerbread


In a bowl, mix 1 1/2 cup flour, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and spices. I'm going to just make up some values; they probably are completely different from what I actually used, but they'd probably work: 1 tbs (3 tsp) cinnimon, 1 1/2 tsp ginger, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp corriander, 1 tsp all spice. Add maybe 1 tsp of baking soda. I eyeballed that too---at least one tsp; maybe two. Stir it up really well so that the brown sugar isn't lumpy. You ought to have something that looks beige. If it's not a pretty rich beige color, maybe you should add more cinnamon? Or just run with it.

Add a glug of lemon juice, 3 tbs of butter (melted), and half a cup of hot water. The butter is melted because I didn't think ahead to let it sit out and had to soften it. If you're the planning ahead type, you don't need to melt it. If you actually own baking powder, you can use that instead of soda/lemon juice. I have no idea if soda works without the lemon juice, but I thought some acid would help; powder comes with it's own acid.

Stir well and spread out on a floured baking sheet. Cook for 12ish minutes. It's done when gently pushing down the top in the middle results in dough springing back up instead of making a finger-shaped dent. Unfortunately, if it's not done yet, you can't try this test too many times without having a rather pock-marked gingerbread. Fortunately, we didn't have that problem.

Cut into pieces and serve with cranberry chutney. Yum.

I did think it was a little chewy. I think I'm going to use more butter next time; 3 tbs was arbitrarily decided upon based on what was left on the stick after the mashed potatoes & whatever else it was used for. I might also be more generous with the baking soda and lemon juice, but I don't know what that means since I didn't measure anything in the first place.

Blintzes
Monday, November 21, 2005, 10:26 AM - flatbread, breakfast
It looks like I'm only going to update this when I make something cool. Then again, maybe that will change. I've traveled a lot lately, and there's only so many times that you want to hear about subsisting on nuts, pretzels, and airplane-shaped goldfish crackers. But I made something cool for breakfast a couple of days ago. It was my first attempt at making blintzes. Not really, I've made stuffed crepes of various sorts before, but never the typical blintz that's stuffed with cheese.

ingredients


1. pancake mix
2. water
3. goat cheese
4. blueberries
5. flavored liqueur

recipe


I made the crepes with pancake mix. It's a product of being in albany. We have the world's smallest kitchen... I'm exagerating; we had an even smaller kitchen in maine, but we still have a small kitchen. No storage space -> baking is impractical because you can't possibly have all the ingredients you want on hand. So I use pancake mix instead of making crepes the normal way, which I'd do in san diego. The pancake mix I use calls for 1 1/3 cup water with 2 cups of mix. I use about 2 cups water to 2 cups mix. This gives me a much runnier dough so I can make a thin crepe instead of a thick pancake. It's also good to let the dough sit a bit after you've mixed it. Pancake batter has much more levening in it than crepe batter. If you let it sit, a lot of air will escape and you'll end up with something more crepe-like. Otherwise the first several will be really fluffy and they won't roll properly.

Cook the dough by pouring a little bit into a pan and swirling the pan around so you get a thin layer over the bottom. Normally I use an 8 inch pan but for some reason the 8 inch pan decided to stick to everything so I used a much larger non-stick 12+ inch pan. It made bigger crepes, but the method was the same. With the 8-inch pan I use ~1/4 when making crepes; the 12 inch pan took about a third of a cup. But usually I just eyeball it.

Anyhoo... once the dough is in the pan, cook it until it shrinks and peels up off the edges a bit and the top looks dry. then flip it and cook the other side. With pancake dough, the shrinking is obvious, there will still be bubbles on the top and they'll pop & dry out when it's done. With crepe batter, you won't get bubbles.

When the crepes are cooked, add about a couple of tablespoons of goat cheese to each crepe. I used cranberry cinnamon goat cheese that came in a pack of different flavored goat cheeses. We'd used all the others up the normal way but the cranberry one scared us. It worked well in the blintz, though. If you don't have goat cheese, you could use qvark. I'm going to try this again with qvark when I get back to san diego; I don't know how to get qvark in Albany.

Roll the crepe like a burritto. If you were clever and got the cheese out of the 'fridge in advance, you probably don't need to do anything else to it. If, like me, you weren't clever, you'll have cold cheese. I put the blintzes back in the frying pan to warm them back up.

Make sauce by putting wild maine blueberries (any berry will do; frozen is fine) in the frying pan with some liqueur. We used irish creme liqueur, but usually when I do this I use some nut liqueur, like amaretto or frangelico, or coffee liqueur. Some people think that cooking with alcohol makes you a lush; the alcohol cooks off, but if you think that cooking with vanilla or almond extract makes you less of a lush, you're welcome to use that instead (mind you, it still has alcohol, but if you have the weird guilt thing going on, you don't have to feel bad about it). Cook it up until the alcohol is cooked away and you have a syrupy sauce with berries in it. With larger berries, I usually crush them up. Blueberries are small enough that we just left them whole.

Top the blintzes with the berry mixture & serve.




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