Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sun is My Drug



After four days under grim grey skies in the Great White North, I was anticipating coming home to some of that bone loosening New Mexico sunshine. No. Such. Luck. Six inches on the ground already, and counting. We're supposed to get a foot and a half by the time this is over and done with tomorrow afternoon.

So. Just a few things I learned over the past four days:

1. Grand Rapids is a rockin' ass city, despite the chill.
2. I should have grown up to be a librarian.
3. Frank Lloyd Wright was beyond genius.
4. It is possible to fly through a snowstorm without once begging the Southwest Airlines flight attendants for the entire bottle of vodka I know, just KNOW, they have squirreled away as their secret stash.

More to come. For now, I continue to exist in the land of Grim.

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Kinda Town


It was over four months ago that I first accepted an assignment that I knew would eventually send me flying up to the frigid northern regions of our country. But at the time, the trip was far enough off in the distance that the idea of flying to Chicago (albeit direct – God Bless Southwest Airlines) in the middle of winter simply seemed like a silly cocktail party joke. And, besides, the Shoe Fund is not just rapidly dwindling; it's run dry.

Now that my trip looms a day and a half away, I'm not so sure it's all that funny. I'm also not so sure if this client keeps offering me these assignments because my work is just that good, or because I'm like the Mikey of the freelance writing world. Everyone else turn up their noses? Ask Moi, then. She'll do anything.

So I'll be taking a little breaky from the blobbie, with the possible exception of Mute Monday, because that's a no-brainer: WHITE.

Not. Funny.

Oh, and does anyone by chance know if Southwest honors drink tickets at 7:30am?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's Easier to Ask Forgiveness Than Permission – Wait, What?

(Caption This Photo For a Chance to Win a Fabulous Prize!)

A grand jury is currently expending a tremendous amount of flatulence-fueled energy on the oh-so-important issue of whether or not media whores Tareq and Michaele Salahi committed some kind of crime by crashing the gates of a White House state dinner last November.

But if that's the case, why were the Salahis nonetheless being grilled by Homeland Security today? Is it just me, or is it totally whack on crack for us to be printing yet more fiat currency to deal with this bullshit?

Once again, I ask: THIS is the government we want to put in control of our health and well-being?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

For Boxer

Just because. She's also the only person I know who shares this particular one of my obsessions. If you do, too, raise your hand.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mute Monday: Chase

Dim Sum Sunday: Snow Days


Seems a lot of us are getting the ol' leather glove to the face from Mother Nature this winter. I know I am: Weekly snowstorms, sub freezing temps, a sun that's playing hide and seek, and a lot of snow, ice, sand, and salt.

No doubt, keeping warm is Numero Uno priority these days when it comes to what's on my body and what goes in it. Like soup. Lots and lots of soup. This one is a favorite. It comes from a cookbook my MIL gifted me one Christmas a few years back called Best of the Best From Louisiana II.

In the book, this particular soup is made with pumpkin, although I've always used sweet potatoes. I also increase the onions to a half cup, the brown sugar to one tablespoon, and add a tablespoon of red chile powder. Other than those alterations, the recipe is straight out of the book as follows:


SWEET POTATO SOUP
Serves six.

What:
2 tablespoons oleo (I use olive oil)
1/2 cup chopped yellow onions
1-1/4 teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon white flour
1 tablespoon red chile powder
1 16-ounce can sweet potatoes (or pumpkin), liquid included (or the equivalent of fresh sweet potatoes/pumpkin, cooked until soft)
1 tablespoon brown sugar (omit if you want a more savory soup)
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3-1/2 cups chicken broth (add an additional cup if using fresh pumpkin or sweet potatoes)
2 cups cream or half and half
Sour cream or plain yogurt (optional)
Chopped green chile (optional)

How:
Heat olive oil in large 4- to 5-quart dutch oven or stock pot. Saute onion until soft. Add curry powder, flour, and red chile powder and cook a couple minutes. Add sweet potatoes, sugar, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat and, using a hand held mixer, puree mixture until smooth (you can also transfer to a blender or Cuisinart). Stir in cream or half and half and bring back to a simmer for a few minutes, stirring, to reheat. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and bits of chopped green chile.


Want to see what other folks are Dim Summing this Sunday?
Head over to Shamu's Blog and find out.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Kiss Before Dying


"Distracting a politician from governing is like distracting a bear from eating your baby."David Harsanyi

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Neither a Cheap Nor an Easy Conquest

Yesterday, I'm sitting in my office pecking away on an assignment, when S.B. comes in and drops one of these on my desk:


I have a candy jones the size of a Humvee dealership, so my initial reaction was, "Heyyyyyyy, you've been holding out on Moi!"

"Nope, uh, uh. It came with this," S.B. replied, showing me the new holster he'd just bought for one of his pistols. Then he showed me the packing slip, at the bottom of which someone had handwritten a loopy "Thanks!" in black ink pen, followed by a quarter-sized smiley face, and a signature.

I like that.

Arming the revolution . . . one Smartie and Smiley Face at a time.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Beats the Leeks Outta Moi - Culinary Throw Down WINNER

Okay, bitches, when we gonna throw down some meat?

* * *

Several things struck me as remarkable about this particular Culinary Throw Down, in which last month’s winner, Allison, decided to once again set us all to scratching our heads in the vegetable aisle.

One: Not a single one of our ten intrepid participants (a Throw Down record number!) copped out with the ubiquitous leek and potato soup. How awesome is that!?! Instead, said participants looked up the meaning of intrepid up in the dictionary, rolled up their sleeves, and set about going the extra mile with gratins and pastas and vegetarian side dishes and sandwich spreads and even a leeked-out version of the British classic, Bubble and Squeak.

Two: Is there anything more difficult on this great green earth than cleaning these suckers? Maybe getting a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat to admit they were wrong about Obama? Oh come on now. You know I’d be saying the same thing about McCain if he were in office, so don’t get yer panties and briefs all in a twist.

Anyway, I think this was the toughest competition to judge so far. Everyone did a remarkable job. And I’ve got enough recipes to last a month. So, without further ado, here’s how the Leek Throw Down shook out:

Previous winner and host for this challenge, Miss Allison dug into the annals of Food and Wine magazine to craft a creamy dreamy Fuseli with Creamed Leek and Spinach main dish. As just about everyone involved has pointed out, how in the heck fire can you go wrong with anything that features a cream sauce? Okay, well, maybe if you’re Karl, who for some reason has a dislike for cream sauces, a puzzlement that surely demands further explanation, because isn’t that kind of like saying you don’t like chocolate or puppies or sunsets? Anyway, Karl aside, the answer is: Nope. You can’t go wrong with a cream sauce. Yay, Allison!

I think Aunty’s recent spa trip not only did her hair, skin, and nails a world of good, it also resulted in a brain so thoroughly rested, it was able to toss off this simply delicious looking, tres exotique, roasted veggie cous cous with leeks side dish to accompany a North African-spiced roasted lamb with hardly any effort at all. Aunty also points out in her post that the reason why French women don’t get fat (according to the book of the same name) is because when French women feel a bit of a pinch in their peg-legged pants, they simply resort to a three day semi-fast in which nothing is allowed in their stomach but a simple leek soup. Which, translated into terms we Americans can understand, means if we were to eat nothing but chicken broth for three whole days once a month, our asses would be tight as drums, too. But what fun is THAT?

It seems that nothing stops Boxer – not rain, snow, sleet, hail, IRS audits, long lines at Whole Foods, or simple lack of inspiration – from her duty as the all time greatest videographer of culinary tomfoolery working the blog circuit today. This video has it all: fratricide, cannibalism, and a soundtrack that makes me feel like I’m in one of those swell late 1950s comedies in which Doris Day spends the whole movie trading witty repartee with Cary Grant, with whom she is secretly in love but can’t admit it because she’s a proto feminist career gal, don’t cha know, and besides if she marries Cary, there goes her job and all those terrific outfits, not to mention the shoes.

Imagine the Energizer Bunny in cahoots with Travis Bickle, and that’s pretty much how I figure things must go down when Buzz starts flinging the pots and pans. Doesn’t matter the limitations of time, space, and individual tastes, he thoughtfully and fully completes each Throw Down challenge at hand and presents the resulting dish to his family for dinner. And if they don’t want to eat it? “You back talkin' to me? Well, here is a man who is not going to take it any more. Here is a man who is going to MAKE you eat your dinner!” Anyway, I LOVED his entry this week, a rustic tomato and leek tart that, in spite of a few things that needed tweaking, was easily one of my favorite dishes of the challenge.

From across the pond comes a vegan entry courtesy of Miss Cake’s multi-talented boyfriend, Ruf: steamed carrots with fried leeks all gussied up with a hint of lemon and ginger. So simple, yet so colorful and healthful, it sounds perfect all by itself or as the side side dish for just about anything. And is it just Moi, or do the rest of you get the feeling that Cake and Ruf regularly give the folks in the kitchen scene from 9-1/2 Weeks a run for their money?

We may not want to say the name of Chef Troll's entry more than once – BOXER REBELLION EAST-MEETS-WEST Uber-Healthy Vegan SOUP/SANDWICH and DESSERT – but I do believe most of us are going to scurry off at some point soon and make this for dinner. I know I will. Since I cook 24/7, there are quite naturally days when I’m about as desirous of turning on the stove as I am of poking my eyes with sharp sticks. In those instances, the ol’ soup/sandwich/salad combo reigns supreme at Moi’s table. And this one is about to get thrown into the rotation. Brilliant, simply BRILLIANT idea to substitute leeks for the garlic in the avocado spread for the tempeh sandwich. But am I missing something here? Was Troll cooking for a vegan DATE?

Here’s what I like best about Karl. Firstly, he’s a gentleman, starting off each and every blog commentary with a salutary good morning, afternoon, or evening, whichever the case may be. I like that. Manners, after all, count. So does the way in which he approaches these culinary challenges, cooking not only full dinners, but ones in which it seems he puts a great deal of thought into pairing complementary flavors and textures. This entry, lemon roasted chicken with leek and herb stuffing accompanied by a sauté of leeks and spinach, boasts the craftsmanship and harmony of flavors that make it Sunday dinner worthy. Even if it happens to be a Thursday.

Try saying this fast, four times, while sipping a chilled glass of chardonnay: Bubble and Squeak with Leeks. I know, huh! Once again, Kym, the Potato Queen of the Culinary Throw Downs, weighs in with another comfort coated dish that I bet makes us all wish we could just motor on over to the OKC for dinner at her house tonight. ‘Cause you know, just know, girlfriend would be way too polite to protest. Instead, she’d pop open the door and greet us in that sunny-side-up way all Oklahoma born ‘n’ bred gals have seared into their DNA, hand us a plate, and assign clean up to the boys.

Because she cooks for a living, La Diva naturally holds herself to some pretty high standards. Nonetheless, she doesn’t shy away from laying it all out on the counter when things do go wrong. This time around she freely admitted that her entry, a leek, fennel, and poppy seed tart, fell a wee bit short of the mark. But that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that she’s presented us with a creative and interesting dish, one that we can all take into our own kitchens and tweak in our own ways, thus completing the circle in that cozy, verklempt-making way that I love without getting all hippie about it.

Sandcastle Momma holds the distinction of having crafted what I think I’m safe in calling the greatest disaster thus far in this culinary challenge: her infamous yardtrash smoked chicken dish. But she’s redeemed herself since then. This time, oh Lord, talk about a comfort dish! I swear, I could smell its creamy cheesy goodness wafting over to me right through the computer screen, all the way from Florida. Another chill-banishing side dish that I bet would pair smashingly with a nice juicy steak or fragrant pork roast. Sandcastle reports that it was even yummier the next day, thus proving my contention that left over gratins are most definitely fodder for next-day-lunch, served with either soup or a salad.

You know what? If I were to play a hippie on T.V. I would bestow upon each and every one of you a big blue WINNER ribbon and go merrily skipping on my way. Alas, the Teutonic half of my genetics is demanding I grow a pair and pick a winner.

So I have. And that winner is, once again, Karl, who won me over with a complete meal featuring dishes that incorporated the Throw Down ingredient in ways that made good sense and good taste.

There you have it. Karl, you are up to host the next Throw Down, pick the theme, and the date.

And now, if you will excuse ay Moi, I have to go make dinner. And think about Shamu's Dim Sum Sunday.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Culinary THROW DOWN: Leeks

For the first Culinary Throw Down of 2010, intrepid participant, and last challenge’s winner, Allison, chose the theme: LEEKS.

It’s only been in the past decade or so that leeks have started to put in regular appearances in American grocery markets. Maybe it’s because we have the green onion? I don’t know, but I do know that when I was traveling in France, these babies were as ubiquitous as rude sales girls and grabby men. Well, that was in Paris at least. By the time I got to the easy-breezy, sun-soaked Cote d’Azur, I was all, Phew. Looks like I won’t have to write off the entire country after all. For if ever God created a place outside the U.S. of A. I could dig wholeheartedly, the South of France is IT, baybeeeee.

Juh tem the South of France.

Anyway, bottom line is that I ate a lot of stuff with leeks. But once I got back home, not so much. In fact, I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cooked with leeks in the past, oh, forever. So this was a fun challenge.

A soup would certainly have been a good place to start – and most welcome as far as S.B. is concerned. Man loves him a soup, sammy, and salad dinner on a cold winter’s night. But I decided I to do a pasta dish instead, using spaghetti carbonara as my inspiration.

So, here you go:

MOI'S LEEK PASTA

To serve four:

What:
2 leeks
12 ounces fresh mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup dry white wine, sherry, or chicken broth
8 ounces spaghetti or fettuccini (I think cream sauces adhere better to a slightly wider noodle)
½ cup hot cooking water from the spaghetti
½ cup chopped ham, bacon, or prosciutto
2 large eggs
½ cup cream
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
One good pinch of grated nutmeg
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup chopped parsley

How:
Fill a four-quart pot with water and set to boil. Trim leeks by cutting off a couple inches of their dark green tops (I like the taste of the green part of the leek - it's usually not tough and has a more delicate flavor than the white part), and the fuzzy rooty part of their bottoms. Rinse well under water. Then rinse and rinse some more. Dirt loves to hide in these suckers, so keep rinsing! Dry with paper towels, slice in half lengthwise, and chop into half inch pieces. Wash and slice mushrooms.

Heat oil and butter together in a large skillet (thus sayeth Julia Child: “Don’t crowd your mushrooms!”) Cook mushrooms and leeks until tender, but not mushy, about five or so minutes. Add wine, broth, or sherry, stirring to scrape up any browned bits, and continue cooking until liquid has evaporated. Add ham to the mixture, stir, cover, and keep warm.

As soon as water boils, add pasta and cook until al dente (to the tooth).

While spaghetti cooks, in a large serving bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cheese. Set aside.

A minute or so before pasta is done cooking, scoop out a half-cup of the cooking water and add drop by drop to the bowl with the egg and cream mixture, stirring vigorously with a wire whisk to prevent the eggs from curdling. If you curdle, start over. A curdled carbonara sucks butt.

When all the hot water has been incorporated, drain the pasta. Shake, but do not rinse, and add immediately to the sauce, followed by the leek/mushroom/ham mixture. Toss, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve immediately with more grated cheese.



Verdict: Yummy! Even S.B. ate it, as chock-a-block full as it was with green vegetable-looking things. Next time, though, I think I’ll omit the ham and leave it as just a simple veggie pasta. The ham is certainly the most assertive of the ingredients and can get in the way of the delicate flavor of the leek – although there is something to be said for this contrast, too.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Politics may continue to suck for 2010, but as long as Jack White remains this nimble, at least pop music won't.