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Uncrushable Laser Monkeys! (or, what I had for dinner)
Group Cook Crepes
Friday, February 17, 2006, 06:12 PM - flatbread, dessert, high falutin'

Group Cooking


A bunch of us made group cook crepes last weekend (yeah, I've been remiss about updating lately, but these things happen). Group cooking is the bastard child of dinner parties and potlucks. Like dinner parties, you have a bunch of people and some menu of stuff selected to go together. Like a potluck, everyone chips in and cooks. It's a good fun way to get a bunch of people to have a low cost hoity toity dinner and entertainment for the evening.

Group cooks are pretty much a spontaneous, emergent phenomena that just happen with minimal effort and a bit of prodding. To have your own group cook, you should hang out on aim and accost a local friend when they show up and say, "hey, we should have a group cook." The two of you then decide what to make based on what you know other friends in your circle would enjoy. Then you contact these other friends and convince them that this is what they want to do with their evening. Although this time I somehow ended up on a telephone and aim at the same time talking with two people at once, the other party on aim was on the phone with a fourth party, and the party on my phone was in the room with a fifth party. This is what technology is for. If you can't have 5-way conversations involving 2 phones, 2 computers, a few net connections, you're missing out on one of the fine things in life.

In any case, once you've sorted out the details, everyone will show up at your house at roughly the same time(ish) with all the ingredients you don't have on hand in tow. Then labour gets distributed between people, with those who are relative experts in the chosen genre delegating tasks to other people. It's good to shake up your genre periodically so different people get the opportunity to boss people around. One of these days, we've got to do a mediteranean group cook, which I'm a complete dunce at; I think I'll learn something.

Crepes


Ingredients
3 cups flour (fluff up with a fork before measuring to pretend it's sifted)
1/4 tsp salt
6 eggs (or 5 eggs + 3 TBS H20 if you have fewer eggs on hand than you thought)
3 cups milk
4 TBS melted butter (melted)

Directions
Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Mix it up to distribute the salt. If you do this with a fork, lumps will come ouf of the flour if there are any. You might ought to sift it before measuring, but of course I don't own a sifter and I don't even have a good mesh strainer in this part of the country, so fluffing it with a fork makes sure you get the right volume if you don't have a sifter. You always need to fluff things with a fork before measuring if they say to sift because unsifted flower is packed together and sifted flour is full of air. Don't do this, however, if your recipe doesn't require sifting or you won't have enough flour because you'll have extra air. But I digress...

Dig a little hole in the flour. Break the eggs into the hole. Whisk the eggs together, gradually widening your whisking to include more flour in the liquid part. If it seems too stiff, add a glug of your milk into the liquid to thin it back out. When the flour is entirely incorporated into the egg, gradually stir in the milk. Add melted butter and stir until it's completely smooth. People say crepes will taste better if you sit the batter aside for an hour or so before cooking, but I've never met anyone organised enough to do that. But if you're that organised (weirdo), you can do that. We just set it aside for maybe 20 minutes while we waited for the stuffing to cook up.

When you're ready to cook, hand a nonstick pan, a spatula, a 1/4 inch measuring cup, some butter, and the crepe batter to the franco-american you were clever enough to invite to the bash. Crepes will magically appear. If you weren't clever, you'll need to make the crepes yourself. Heat the stove to medium. When it's warmed up, smear butter into the pan. Dollup a 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan and rotate the pan so that the batter runs out to the edges. When the top of the crepe is opaque instead of shiny, flip it. When you feel like it's done, remove it from the pan and put it on a plate. The first crepe will be bad, so expect to snack on it.

This makes enough crepes to give 2 dinner crepes and 2 desert crepes for 5 people and have a nice box of crepes leftover that will last quite a while in the refrigerator and make you a decent number of solo meals.

Tofu Mushroom Green-bean crepe stuffing


Ingredients
mushrooms
olive oil
black pepper
salt
white onion
firm tofu
green onions

Directions
Slice up a bunch of mushrooms. I'm not sure how many---maybe 4 cups? Who can say? Sautee them in a pan with olive oil and add a bunch of black pepper. Add a diced white onion. Slice up a block of firm tofu into striplets and throw it in the pan. Add salt to taste. Decide, after it's cooked down a bit, that it might not be enough for 5 people and raid your freezer for some frozen green beans: about 2 cups worth should do the trick, but I didn't measure, I am just guessing what was left in the bag. Put a lid on the frying pan and allow to ook.

Dinner Crepe Sauce


Ingredients
2 TBS butter
2 TBS flour
milk
swiss cheese
parmesean cheese
salt
pepper

Directions
Melt the butter in a pan on medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir it until it's bubbly and the sauce gets translucent. That means the flour's cooked. Slowly add milk and stir it until it's smooth. I have no clue how much milk I added; I just did it um... until it looked right. Helpful, aren't I? I added about a 1/4 cup of swiss cheese that I had lying around and let that melt into the sauce. Then I added maybe 1/4 cup of parmesean, but I didn't keep track of that either. I added salt and pepper to taste. If you're hoity toity, you'd use white pepper here so the pepper wouldn't show. I'm not organised enough to be hoity toity.

Dinner Crepe Assembly


Put a crepe on each plate. Spoon filling in a line down the middle of each crepe. Roll each crepe and push it to the side of the plate. Put another crepe on each plate and repeat. Center the two crepes. Pour the Sauce over the top and serve.

Chocolate Goo


Ganache is the hoity-toity word for chocolate goo. Chocolate goo is basically just chocolate melted with some other stuff to make it liquidy and yummy so you can pour it over something.

Put 1/4 cup of butter in a pan on low heat. Melt, then add 1/4 cup of butter. When that's melted, add 6 pieces of baking chocolate and stir it until it's smooth. Slowly add milk until you feel like it's just about right. Yeah, no measuring. Just stick your finger in periodically and taste it and to see if the texture is right. Add a glug or two of cognac.

Desert Crepes


Ingredients
Crepes
Sliced Strawberries
Blackberries
Frozen blueberries
chocolate goo
whipped cream

Directions
Put a crepe out on each plate. Put a heap of sliced strawberries down the center of each crepe. Roll closed and push to the side of the plate. Repeat, replacing strawberries with blackberries. Center the crepes on the plate. Spoon chocolate goo over the top of the crepes. Squirt whipped cream onto the top of the crepes. Sprinkle blueberries on top of the whipped cream. Yum.
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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.

oct 12 - oct 17 lots of eating out
Tuesday, October 18, 2005, 11:04 PM - high falutin'
The inlaws were in town last week, so there was lots of eating out. I don't find I enjoy updating the blog when there's eating out, so I haven't. I'll do my best to remember what was eaten, though, just for the record. I won't bother with recipes---the dinners will all be high falutin'. You'll have to excuse me if I spell everything wrong here.

Wednesday, Oct 12
breakfast: no idea
lunch: still no idea --- this might have been the day I was really sick and slept really late and didn't think it was worth doing more than snack before dinner.
dinner:
I don't remember the restaurant's name, but I know how to get there. It's called Nicole's or Nicky's or some woman's name starting with N's. It's on the east end of downtown albany & is in the oldest existing building in the area. Hopefully that's enough for me to figure out where to take the inlaws next time they're in town. Should you end up at a restaurant with the above description, don't trust the waiters about serving sizes. They'll tell you they are much smaller than they really are. If you order as much as they tell you to, you're in for a doggy bag.
bread & olive oil
split a pate appetizer
french onion soup
some variety of meat in some variety of sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, and carrots with maybe some other vegetable

Thursday, Oct 13
breakfast: reheated some variety of meat in some variety of sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, and carrots with maybe some other vegetable
lunch: we sort of skipped lunch due to a long roadtrip up north to look at fall colors. I am sure I got enough calories from cough drops during the drive to have that count as some sort of a meal.
dinner:
dinner was at the Friend's Lake Inn, about an hour and a half north of albany.
bread with garlic and tapenade
espresso encrusted ostrich carpachio appetizer
venison with rice and some variety of vegetable
cheese plate with vermont cheedar, piave, and triple cream with crackers, rasberries, and granny smith apple

Friday, Oct 14
breakfast: dunno
lunch: prosciutto sandwich from the deli by the laundromat
dinner:
dinner was at Provence, which is in stuyvesant plaza, right near our apartment
bread
pate apetizer
squash soup
trout with rice and asparagus
fudge cake with caramel ice cream

Saturday, Oct 15
I was sicker than usual; I slept until 4pm and skipped breakfast and lunch and just barely managed to get myself together for dinner. Dinner was at Ginger Man, which is in downtown Albany. I had french onion soup and duck with rice and mixed julienned vegetables. I didn't eat much.

Sunday, Oct 16
We did brunch at Peaches Cafe, which is also in stuyvesant plaza. I had a blueberry waffle and an egg over medium. It said in the menu that it was maine wild blueberries, but I think they lied and served the boring commercial variety of blueberries. It was still good. Dinner was half of the remaining duck with rice and mixed julienned vegetables.

Monday, Oct 17
Eating seemed like a bad idea; I snacked on goldfish crackers a bit throughout the morning. Dinner was leftover beans and rice.

Carrot Soup
Thursday, October 6, 2005, 07:23 PM - soups, flatbread, high falutin'
Menu

For breakfast I had cottage cheese; for lunch, apple-onion blintz; and for dinner, carrot soup.

Recipes

Cottage Cheese
Um... about like you'd expect. Open container, spoon some into a bowl, salt and pepper to taste.

Apple-Onion Blintz
This looks impressive, but it was just a leftover fest. For leftover pancakes, see yesterday. I also happened to have apple-onion something-something sitting in the fridge from a few days ago.

To make apple-onion whatever, you'll need a granny smith apple and either one normal-sized onion or two small onions. This recipe made enough for 2 people to have with dinner and one person to have lunch.

Cube a granny smith apple. You can use a different kind of apple if you like, but it will be way too sweet. The cubes should be about a centimeter on each side. I didn't bother to peel it, but you might if you have way too much time on your hands and are particularly anal retentive (even I wouldn't peel it). Cut the onion into slivers. Throw everything in a frying pan with a bit of salt and olive oil and cook it until you feel like it's done. I didn't use a very high heat; the onions didn't carmelize or anything. Things just sort of heated up and sweated a little. Don't let the apples get too mushy, but you want them to be tender.

To construct your blintz, wrap some apple-onion mixture in a pancake. Put a slice of swiss cheese on top. Microwave until it's a good eating temperature. If the cheese doesn't get mostly-melty, zap it a little longer, or cut thinner slices next time. Any semi-hard to semi-soft cheese would work here; you want some flavor but anything really sharp would probably be too overpowering.

Carrot Soup
We're both still sick, so today was scrounge-around-and-eat-whatever's-left day. We'll probably have to break down and go to the store tomorrow. There were 2 carrots, 3 parsnips, and ginger in the vegetable drawer.

Put some water in a pot. I dunno how much water... maybe 4 cups? I don't know, 2+ servings worth of water. Make something up. Put the pot on the stove and turn it to high. Once everything is in and it's boiling, you'll want to put a lid on the pot and turn it to low.

While the water is thinking about boiling, prepare the carrots and parsnips. You can treat them the same way. Clean them then cut them into wheels and dump them in the pot. I try to make them roughly the same size. This is easy if it's just carrots (which it could be) but parsnips sometimes get much wider on top and much narrower on the bottom, so you'll want to do something about that when you chop them to make the pieces consistent. You could just leave the pieces wildly different sizes, but they won't cook as evenly. I'd care less if i was going to let it ooook a really long time, but carrot takes a long time to cook anyway and I don't want hard chunks in my soup.

Then I added a finger of ginger; this particular finger was about 3 inches long. Be sure to peel it well, because the peel get's really bitter and you won't be able to fish it out. I suppose you could use powdered ginger here, but I wouldn't have any idea what amount. We also added some frozen onion. I don't know how much, maybe a cup? Half cup? An eyeball's worth? It's soup; it really doesn't matter as long as it's yummy. Just make something up!

For what it's worth, if I were making non-scrounging carrot soup, I'd use about twice as much carrot and a decent sized onion. To get more bulk, we added a bit less than a cup of pea/carrot frozen mixture and about a cup of frozen carrot. Yep, we definately have to think about buying groceries at some point.

Season with a bit of salt, nutmeg, and cinnimon. Then let it ooook for about half an hour. The carrots should be ready to fall apart. I blended it with my happy new immersion blender that I got for my birthday. If you don't have an immersion blender, you could transfer it to a normal blender to blend it, or you could probably even moosh it with a potato masher. Or you could even have it un-mooshed. At this point you're going to want to taste it. Just dip in a spoon and see if it's seasoned properly. I had to add more nutmeg and cinnimon to get what I wanted.

At this point, if we weren't sick i would have added about a cup of cream or milk. However, milk products usually disagree with head colds, so I left it out and it was still pretty good. Since we otherwise didn't have any protein, i served it with hardboiled egg. I don't know that it went together as well as it would have in a different soup, but the egg was yummy and the soup was yummy.