Ma-ma-ma-my shawarma

One of the coolest gadgets to find its way into our household lately is the Cuisinart rotisserie. I know I’ve waxed poetic on my desire for said rotisserie, and it turns out someone was listening (my husband) because it showed up underneath our tree this Christmas.

I know for stone cold facts that he didn’t really understand the purchase. He’d never had a rotisserie chicken. Who the hell hasn’t had rotisserie chicken? I ask you! In college, it was like the be all end all of grocery purchases. I’d get it home from the store, then immediately commence the first stage of rotisserie chicken consumption: eating all of the skin off of the bird.

I know this isn’t always the most popular idea with people. For reasons that I can’t even marginally comprehend, my mother-in-law believes that the skin is where all of the chicken bacteria live. She thinks it’s somehow unsafe or unsanitary to eat the skin off of any poultry. So the skin in their house always got thrown away on Thanksgiving or other such roast-bird days. Who would do such a thing? Who would throw away the best, fattiest, most deliciously crisp-crunchety good part of a roasted bird? Ach.

But then I showed up. Now, any time there’s a roast bird, Chris’s dad covertly slips me all of the skin pieces while he’s carving, all the while good-naturedly grumbling about how he likes skin too, but isn’t allowed to have any. And my mother-in-law always reminds me several times about all the bacteria. And because I adore her, and I’m not interested in a debate, and also to prevent anyone from competing with me for the skin, I don’t explain to her why that’s criminally illogical.

The point of all of this, though, is that Chris never got to experience the joy of sitting down and eating a whole rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, without the benefit of utensils, side dishes, or sharing of any kind. The poor dear. And I don’t think he understood, nor does he currently understand, the full wonderment of having his own personal rotisserie on hand. Yet.

I actually didn’t even want the rotisserie for chickens. Don’t get me wrong–I’m quite looking forward to having rotisserie birds around the house. But what I really wanted the rotisserie for was gyros.

I fecking love me some gyros. My mom’s favorite mall food, to my knowledge, is a gyro from Renzio’s greek food. It’s a chain of not-very-authentic greek food that you’ll find in many of the Colorado shopping malls. It’s fast food, known for its surly employees, and I grew up thinking it was the bomb. They have the traditional vertical rotisseries, with the infrared back plate that browns the outside of the meat cone as it rotates. They slice off pieces with long knives to order, then stuff them into warm pita bread with lettuce, olives, and tomatoes. A side of tzatziki rounds out the plate. And their french fries? KILLER. Seriously, out of this world. I think it’s because I’ve never had a limp french fry there. It’s always all crispy and golden and they sprinkle them with a great blend of Greek spices and herbs (which they also sell in little shaker bottles at the register). I’ve never eaten their tzatziki sauce, because I don’t eat anything dairy from fast food restos…never have. I guess I always assumed it’d either be sour or made of bat semen or some other kind of culinary injustice that would scar me for life.

Anyway, that was the epitome of the word “gyro” when I was growing up. It’s the only place I’d had them. I believed that the giant cone of compressed, ground meat was authentically Greek. And I thought that the Greeks were the only people who ate gyros. Wrong. Turns out many of the Mediterranean countries have some version of the gyro. And it also turns out that the cone of compressed meat is about as authentically Greek as Taco Bell is authentically Mexican. Or as Fazolis is authentically Italian. But who gives a rat’s ass, honestly, since Fazolis gives you free unlimited breadsticks, soaked in some kind of garlic trans-fats, and that taste of absolute ambrosia when dipped in their Italian salad dressing. Gah. I really want Fazoli’s breadsticks right now.

A quick Google of the situation says that I’m almost 54 miles away from the nearest Fazoli’s, which is a complete travesty of the highest order of bullshit, and basically means…who’s up for a road trip?! This would be less insulting if the Google results for “Sonic Drive-In San Antonio” didn’t yield 253 results. Disgusting. And no Renzio’s either. So I’ll be responsible for furnishing my own gyros for the time being. Meanwhile, you should all write your senators and ask them to send us back to Colorado so that I can be the “less spiteful and possibly full of Fazoli’s breadsticks and humor and joy and laughter chef.”

What am I going on aboot?

The gyro, the shawarma, the doner kebab…they’re all versions of a similar idea. First, a tall skewer or cone shaped device is required. But rather than form ground meat substance around said cone, there are many, many layers of thinly sliced, soaked, and spiced meat skewered together.

Here’s how I made this vague representation of a shawarma (vague for a number of reasons, least of all because I used pork, and the shawarma is the middle-eastern version of this type of cookery, and pork and middle-eastern food don’t really comingle too much). I made it at school, with the chef’s permission, so I only have photos from my iPhone. Many apologies for their badness.

First, the marinade:

1 onion
1 t allspice
2 T salt
1 t oregano
2 cloves garlic
1/4 C white vinegar

Blend until liquified

Second, the dry rub

equal parts oregano, thyme, coriander, and salt

Third, the meat

1 (3-4#) pork butt, boned and sliced on the meat slicer into 1/8-1/4″ slices

Fourth, the soak

Soak the meat slices in the liquid marinade for at least an hour

Fifth, the assembly

Skewer the slices of meat, one after another, on a cone or upright “roasting rack” for a vertical rotisserie (shown)

Between each slice of meat, give a light dusting of the dry rub, then skewer on another piece. Try to rotate the meat as you go so that the end result is a sort of cylindrical shaped meat skewer. Add the fat cap last, skewered at the very top.

Sixth, the cooking

On a rotisserie at relatively high heat (I did 425 F), allow the meat to rotate and cook until the outer layer has browned spots and looks “cooked” like this:

Once the outer layer of the meat looks like that, take the cone out and lop off the outer layers. Keep them warm and return the cone to the rotisserie to cook again until the outside looks brown again. Slice again and repeat until the meat is all gone. Here’s a picture of what the side (left side) looks like after it’s been sliced and before it’s returned to the rotisserie:

Serve with warm pita bread. I made some in the deck oven at school, which seems so far superior to the oven I have at home, but takes a long-ass time to preheat and makes the entire kitchen warm.

Beauty.

I’d also recommend some kind of yogurt-based sauce to serve with it. The meat is incredibly juicy and flavorful, and you can absolutely drizzle the finished meat with the drippings from the bottom of the rotisserie (holy flavor, batman!), but a tzatziki-type of sauce really adds to it. Here’s my half-assed version that I throw together for anything from salad to gyros to dipping sauce for veggies:

Tzatziki (sorta)

2 C thick, plain, whole milk yogurt (preferably Greek, although you can get a less thick version and hang it overnight in cheesecloth to drain it if you wish)
1/2 cucumber, seeded, grated, and squeezed in a towel or cheesecloth to rid of excess juice
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 lemon
1 t fresh mint (or fresh dill or parsley or whatever you prefer)
1 t sea salt (or kosher if you don’t have sea)

Stir together yogurt, cucumber, and garlic. Squeeze juice from lemon, being careful to avoid seeds. Stir in fresh mint and salt. Taste and adjust as needed. Letting this sit for a half hour or so before eating makes it MUCH better.

This post was full of an unfortunate amount of learning, and also gives you a recipe that requires extremely specialized equipment to make. For this I apologize. But it was such a really cool and delicious experience that I felt like I had to share it with you. Also, I know you’re enterprising souls, and will probably find a way to jury-rig a system that you can use at home. Maybe a rotisserie on your grill or something.

If nothing else, I hope that you guys go out and eat the skin off a chicken in my honor. A dead, cooked one, obviously. God only knows what type of freaky, mutant bacteria live on the skins of live chickens.

It puts the dry rub on the skin, or else it gets the hose again.

Is crust a vegetable?

I’m about to enter a mild diabetic coma, so if you see a word start to trail off like thi…then maybe you should call the authorities. I’ve spent much of the morning pouring fondant over tiny petit fours, and had to eat a LOT of poured fondant to get the flavor right first. I had an appointment this morning, so I had to miss school anyway, so I’m now baking treats for the docs. I spent yesterday evening putting together about 50 lbs of lasagna (vegetarian and meat), and I still have to chop up a Caesar salad, make the dressing, pipe tiny flowers on top of the petit fours, and OHMOTHEROFASS *please hold*….

Okay, I’m back. Just realized that I also still have to make a couple dozen dinner rolls, and I hadn’t even started the dough, and I have to leave the house in an hour and a half. So I went with my superfast dinner roll recipe, and am hoping for the best. The dough is currently kneading.

Anywhore, I’ve been busy. And that’s why it’s acceptable that I told you a bald-faced lie the other day. I had promised that I’d post a recipe for meat pie, as well as a great story about eagle theft, and I failed to do so. Now I’m going to try and cram it in as quickly as I can, and it will likely be shoddy writing. But I really, really want you to have a meat pie to eat this weekend, so I’m taking one for the team.

This recipe is pretty white trash, honestly. And that makes sense, since my ex-boyfriend came from a fairly white trash family. He was a good person, ended up becoming a firefighter with a wife and kid, but his roots were questionable. It’s nice to see people rise beyond their circumstances to do something with their lives.

So I hadn’t spoken to him in God knows how long–at least five years–after we broke up. No animosity, it’s just that he was the high school boyfriend that I had taken with me to college, and on whom I’d wasted two additional years of good college time, which could have been better spent doing what the rest of my college classmates were doing; namely drinking, smoking, and attempting to contract minor STDs. When it was over, it was really time to move on.

There are two things I learned from this man-child. The first was how to write a final paper for the paramedic examinations. Because I wrote his when he was taking said exams. The thing about cute, muscle-bound, 19 year old boys who want to be firemen is that they’re usually semi-illiterate. Those of you who have been 19 year old girls at one point or another know that a lack of book-learnin’ is easily forgiven in a man who has more than six visible abdominal bricks. Obviously our priorities change as we get older, and we start demanding muscles AND brains. And many of us end up single well into our thirties.

The second thing I learned was how to make a meat pie. The meat pie is kind of like a simpler (arguably better) version of a meatloaf inside a double pie crust. There are only potatoes, onions, ground meat, and seasonings (and I add a single egg). The lack of things like breadcrumbs means that the fat and drippings from the meat are free to seep out to the crust and caramelize on and around it. The crust on a meat pie is probably the best crust you’ll ever eat, with its fatty chew and buttery flake. Mmmmmm.

It was a family specialty for them, and it was served on special occasions like Easter and Father’s Day. My yuppie “twist” on the recipe is that it takes about an hour and a half, and maybe $15 to make, so if I want to serve it on a Tuesday afternoon, I will. No special occasion required. The only stipulation that was made on handing me the recipe is that I had to agree to never share it, and also had to agree to always prick the letter “M” on the top of the pie crust to vent it. Their last name began with the letter “M.”

Naturally, I always pricked the letter “K” into the crust, because that’s MY first initial, and also because I’m spiteful. And now I’m sharing the recipe, only I added that egg, so if they ever find this it’s not totally illegal.

What IS illegal, though, is his father’s shenanigans. When I was searching the internets to see if this recipe had ever been posted, I found an article from a few months ago saying his shady-ass father had been arrested and convicted of stealing Indian artifacts from old Indian burial grounds. He was in possession of arrowheads, jewelry, a human skull, and was also convicted of “possessing and unlawful sale of a Golden Eagle.” Whatever that means. I wanted to think that he was just selling feathers that he had stolen from some ancient headdress, but then I saw an additional charge that said “unlawful sale of migratory birds.” The fuck? I mean, I know they had a terrier that could fetch his toys by name (“get your DUCK…Okay, now get your BEAR”) but I don’t picture him hauling around some scary crate of illegal birds. And also how the fuck did he catch them? And also, how the fuck did he SELL them? And to whom?

It was totally weird. And also completely proved my point that his dad was shady, and maybe I shouldn’t have gotten quite so yelled at every time I tried to point out that his dad was shady. It was a serious point of contention in our relationship. Possibly even more contentious than my insistence on putting the letter “K” ontop of a meat pie.

So here it is, enjoy it well. It’ll serve about 8 people if you make a side dish of some kind of green vegetable. Honestly, though, it’s pretty damned good if you just eat it as is, with warm ketchup on the side for dipping. After all, white trash is white trash, and they don’t take too kindly to green salads. So maybe it only serves 4-6. And it makes badass leftovers.

Meat Pie

2 lbs ground meat (I use grass-fed beef or buffalo or a mixture of both–don’t go too lean)
1 medium-sized russet potato, peeled and grated
1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and grated
1 large egg
1 t garlic powder
1.5 t black pepper
2 t kosher salt
2 pie crusts (go ahead and use the pre-made Pillsbury crusts)

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Mix together the meat, egg, seasonings, and grated potatoes and onions. Take a small patty of the mixture and heat in a frying pan to taste for salt. Add if needed.

Line a pie plate with one of the crusts, fill with the meat mixture, and cover with a second crust. Crimp the edges of the two crusts together to form a seal. Prick your initial into the top of the pie with a fork.

Place the pie plate ontop of a cookie sheet to catch any drips, and bake until the center of the pie reaches 180 F, and the juices are bubbling up and caramelizing on the top of the crust.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then slice into wedges and serve.

If you ARE serving this on a special occasion, maybe it would be nice to make a centerpiece of a beautiful Indian vase filled with the feathers of golden eagles and dodo birds. You know, because of tradition and all.

Filibuster

Our house doesn’t have any diplomas on the walls. Not a one. This is despite one of us having ever-advancing medical degrees, and the other one of us having spent her entire adult life doing one sort of schooling or another. Chris has some sort of high-ranking military commendation medal that looks like a pog, and is cemented to the bottom of one of his cupholders with what is probably ancient Diet Coke. His reasoning is, “If they want to reward me for doing something good, they should give me more money or more time off. A ribbon is in no way helpful.”

I used to think it was just him venting against his military obligation, but now I know that he’s just not so fond of random “objects of recognition.” And his medical license is in his wallet, crumpled behind a laminated membership card for the World Rock Paper Scissors Society.

But despite his devil-may-care approach to flaunting paperwork, I really want to have, in my possession, my culinary school certificate. So I have to finish the last three weeks of school, 9 months after everyone else finished.

It’s not my fault that I’m finishing them late. The school changed the dates a few months before I started school, then didn’t even tell me about it until I had moved to town and was ready to start attending. When I showed up to tour, a few days before school was scheduled to start, they were like, “oh…nobody called you?” Awesome. So I had to get married on school time, and make up my time the next time it was offered—now.

So I’m back in school, and back in my godforsaken, hideous chef pants. The ones that are somehow 4 inches too short, despite everybody else’s fitting normally. And I’m painfully jealous of my instructor’s awesome Euro-chef pants, which are slim-fitting, more than long enough, and don’t appear to be made from the same pounded cardboard material as mine. Also, the pen/thermometer holes on my chef’s jacket are too small. Everybody else can fit pens and thermometers in theirs with no problem. And they’re all by the same manufacturer. It’s like the whole outfit has been short-sheeted, and I just can’t figure out how to undo the prank and get the rest of the space back. I know I look ridiculous. I know I do. But what else can I do? Just show up in jeans and a tube top and be like, “just CHILLAX, school admin. Keep your shit together for a sec and I’ll make you a pie or something.”

Anyway, so while this post is in no way entertaining or food-related, it is a space-holder until tomorrow, at which point I’ll teach you about MEAT PIE. And how I stole the recipe from an ex-boyfriend, whose father has recently been convicted of stealing Indian grave artifacts and being in possession of a golden eagle. I know, right? I found all this out while I was internet-stalking to see if the recipe had been posted online yet. How the hell do you maintain possession of a golden eagle? And WHO ROBS INDIAN GRAVES? Has he never seen a horror movie, like, ever?

But it’s damned good pie. You’d be wise to check back tomorrow night.

Amusing the h3LL out of my bouche

I hate when I stash a recipe aside for a rainy day, thinking it’ll be a good, involved post somewhere down the road. Then when it’s finally time to write said post, I’m like “meh, it was a while ago and I can’t really be bothered.”

But this little amuse bouche, despite having been prepared and eaten almost a full month ago, can’t be left by the wayside with nothing but good intentions and regret. For one, it was too expensive. Possibly the most expensive food I’ve ever created. Fortunately, much of it was gifted to me, so I didn’t have to sell the dog into slavery or give handjobs to lonely politicians or anything unbecoming of a lady.

Second, it was too impressive. It was directly plagiarized from the Alinea cookbook, and when I had it at the restaurant itself, it was life-changing. Both times (I’m a lucky bitch).

Third, it turned out perfectly. Absolutely perfectly. Which means it was life-changing at my house, too. And at my house, instead of getting a single bite, we just stood around the counter in the kitchen and snacked on them until we were so overcome with culinary emotion that we had to take a break and watch How I Met Your Mother just to regain equilibrium.

Obviously I’m talking about the storied Black Truffle Explosion.

It’s a delicate, homemade raviolo that you eat in a single bite. Upon biting into the raviolo, liquid black truffle stock gushes into every nook and cranny of your mouth. You have to keep your mouth tightly sealed around the pasta, or it will shoot out from between your lips, wasting liquid gold. I’d never seen this happen until the second one Chris ate at our counter. He had gotten careless and bit down without sealing his lips. Squirted straight across the room, shocking him. Lesson learned. One doesn’t waste black truffle stock without a certain respect for loss.

With the exception of the contents being black truffle, this may all sound semi-mundane to some of you. I mean, yaaaay ravioli, right? Wrong.

First, think about the sheer mechanics of having a thin, stock-like liquid inside a raviolo. Have you ever seen it? No, because ravioli filling has to be solid enough to sit on a sheet of pasta while the second sheet is sealed around it. Ricotta makes a good consistency for ravioli filling. Chicken broth, for example, would be impossible to seal. It would run all over immediately.

But Chef Achatz has gotten around this by manipulating the viscosity of the liquid temporarily–just long enough to form the pasta. And it’s so laughably simple that it’ll shock you. Gelatin. That’s right, Bill Cosby. Good ol’ J-E-L-L-O. Except for not, you know, because cherry flavored truffle ravioli would be utterly vomitous.

Instead, a high-strength sheet gelatin is used. I’m not going to bore you with the properties of sheet versus powdered gelatin. They’re different in strength and procedure, to say the least. Just know that we used sheet for this trick. Actually, here’s a picture of all the stuff I used for the filling:

It’s butter, sea salt, black truffle, black truffle juice, sheet gelatin, black truffle oil, and a very cool sphere mold that had to be ordered online and cost so much that I’m ashamed to discuss it. I didn’t buy it for myself, though, I promise. I did buy the black truffle juice, after waffling on the purchase for 6 full months. It’s an incredibly cool ingredient. It’s somehow trufflier than truffle itself, and amazingly versatile. I may save up and buy another can for Thanksgiving this year. I also may buy a can and start dabbing it behind my ears like perfume. I’d attract a following, though it might only be chefs and pigs following me. The pied piper of…ham.

Those ingredients all got whisked together, almost like a buerre blanc, then poured into the mold and placed in the refrigerator for a few hours to set. They came out beautifully, with the butter and oil emulsion settling to the bottom, and the truffled out fluid settling to the top.

They looked eerily like fishing floats. Delicious fishing floats. The kind you’d use to catch that magic, wish-granting fish from The Fisherman and His Wife. And you’d have to use one of your wishes to get a new can of truffle stock so you could make some more fishing floats for your own damned self.

Now, I decided to eschew the pursuits of magic fish in favor of creating the raviolo. I’m selfish, what can I say.

The recipe in the book required things like shitloads of egg yolks and very specific kneading and resting times. I’ve made pasta plenty of times, and was pretty confident I could go with my tried and true pasta dough and still have a flexible, strong pasta that would be delicate to the tooth but keep a stronghold on the filling. So I went rogue. It’s a regular, 1/2 semolina, 1/2 AP flour pasta dough with whole eggs. I ran it through the KitchenAid pasta roller and placed the little fishing floats on top.

Another sheet of pasta went on top, then I cut and sealed the ravioli using a small, round biscuit cutter. This is the trixy part. When that fishing float turns back into a beautiful, hot liquid from its current state of rubbery ball, any tiny pinprick in the pasta dough will release the truffle emulsion into the pasta water. That’s a pretty effing expensive mistake. One that I couldn’t make, no matter what. So I spent extra time and attention making sure the seals were perfect and sturdy, and that there weren’t excessive air pockets in the ravioli that would expand and burst the dough. It was painstaking, but worth it.

When they were all sealed and ready to go, I slipped them into the boiling, salted water to cook. They only took a couple of minutes, since fresh pasta takes no time to cook. It’s a damned good thing, too, because I had to seriously focus on my pelvic floor to make sure I didn’t pee my pants in anxiety and anticipation. I stared at the water, searching for any sign of a burst raviolo. Nothing. They all stayed sealed. So great. And the insides became a hot, happy truffle stock awash in melted butter and sea salt.

Serving them is simple. A sliver of black truffle, a tiny bauble of parmaggiano reggiano, and a sliver of sauteed romaine lettuce rested on top of each raviolo. Ooh, and about three additional flakes of salt.

Insert into your mouth, close your lips, and maintain embouchure. Pop with your tongue and allow the deluge of truffle to wash down your throat. Easy peasy.

And guaranteed to be the best thing that has ever burst in your mouth. I am more than willing to swear on it. I’m full of fellatio jokes right now, but I’m also full of reverence for the Black Truffle Explosion, so I’m going to keep my puerility to myself. And my ravioli, unless you’re a magic, wish-granting fish. Then we maybe can talk.

It’s too damned hot for a penguin to be just walkin’ around here

Another three day weekend has passed in our house. Lately it seems like Chris spends more time at home on the weekdays than he does at work. I’m not complaining. It’s awesome that he has so many days off. Especially since he’s a government employee, so he’s paid for his time regardless. I’m just saying that when he’s home it’d be super awesome for all of us if he didn’t get mired down in neurosis and start making blanket statements like “I think it’s time we cracked down on the pets behavior” or “That’s it! Today we have to do the laundry.” I mean, threatening me with laundry seems unnecessarily harsh, and cracking down on the pets is about as likely to happen as, oh, cracking down on me. So then sometimes there are arguments, invariably ending in us NOT doing the laundry, but instead investigating laundry services that come to your house, get your dirty clothes, and then bring them back clean and folded. If that means an underpaid teenager is folding my skivvies, well, I’m just going to make peace with it.

Sadly, there are no good laundry services in San Antonio. Who does these peoples’ laundry? Who??

So we end up back upstairs, angrily sorting the laundry into piles of colors vs whites. Then Chris tries to sort the colors into piles of light blue, dark blue, red, pink, green, gray, etc. And then I get semi-irate because COME ON. Colors are colors and whites are whites, and I’m not trying to incite race riots, just to make a statement about laundry piles.

So the bedroom floor is littered with eight thousand piles of laundry, waiting to be washed, dried, and (hahahahahahaha) put away. At which point the pets start nesting in and on the piles of laundry, because they’re big and soft and smell like us, and because we haven’t really cracked down on them at all, and they still feel entitled to sleep wherever they please.

And the male cat (Mao) and the dog (Willie) have devised a clever system wherein Mao knocks things off of tables and counters, and then Willie eats them. This satisfies both of them immensely, because Mao loves nothing more than knocking things off of surfaces, and Willie loves nothing more than eating whatever gets dropped on the ground, even if it’s the packet of food for my Sea Monkeys or the mail key.

Chaos.

But none of this is the point of the story, you see. On Saturday, instead of doing any cracking down or laundry sorting, Chris and I dropped Willie at his daycare and drove up to Austin for the day. I love Austin, primarily because it is the polar opposite of San Antonio. Everything that San Antonio is (inactive, dirty, socially conservative, Palin-bumper-sticker-having, super-religious, homophobic, fast-food-eating, animal-rights-ignoring awfulness), Austin is the exact opposite (smart, clean, organic, socially liberal, dog-friendly, gourmet, open-minded, gay-embracing goodness). When I go to Austin, I can easily pretend I’m not in Texas. I have far more friends in Austin than I do in San Antonio, and it just seems so EASY to make friends there.

Also, the flagship WhoFo is in Austin, and it’s fucking glorious. Every time we go in, I get overcome by the bright colors and selection and freshness. I can spend 15 minutes staring at a perfectly organize shelf of fresh fruits, lined up symmetrically, by color. It’s just so soothing. I love organized food. My pantry is the only place in the house that Chris never suggests “cracking down” on, partially out of fear but also partially because it is always perfectly faced.

So WhoFo was great, and we bought a couple dozen tiny cupcakes to bring to the French Onion Soup party that we were attending that night. One of my friends who lives in Austin, Katina, hosts this party yearly. We were unable to make it last year, but this year I was really looking forward to it. Partially because I love French Onion Soup, but also partially because it gets really, really lonely down here, and it’s nice to remember that I have friends and am capable of getting along well with groups of people and am not completely feral after two years of isolation. The party was great fun, with lots of awesome people. All of whom were either engineers or the spouses of engineers or at least sleeping with engineers. If anything needed engineering, I felt we were in good hands.

Ooooh! And Austin has a bone-fide organic fast food chain called Terra Burger. Can I tell you how much this blew my mind?? I haven’t gotten to eat fast food in months upon months, since we gave up factory-farmed meat. This place offers only humanely-raised meats and organic veggies. I was in hog heaven. I love fast food from time to time. The greasy fries and terrible-for-you meats are sometimes just what the doctor ordered. It’s so nice to be able to indulge after such a crazy-long hiatus! I got the chicken nuggets, made from free-range chicken, and they were bar-none the best chicken nuggets I’ve ever had. Salty on the outside, crispy and fried, with succulent, juicy interiors. OMFG. And the fries were ugly–I thought they looked soggy and old–but it turns out they were crispy and super-flavorful. They still had some skin on, but that just added to the texture and naturality of them. Delicious. The place offered sweet potato fries as well, but I was having none of it. I gobbled my chicken nugget kids meal down with gusto, and drank my entire fructose-free root beer in no time. So good. So, so good.

The point of this story, and there’s really very little point, is that we also stopped at Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma in Austin for some shopping. I had some errant gift cards to use up, and we had free time. At Sur La Table I bought a couple of those cast iron skillets for cornbread sticks that are shaped like corn on the cob. Judge not, my friends. Cornbread falls apart like a little bitch every time I try to eat it, so thinking about a sturdy cornbread stick dipped in my chili made my heart go pitter-patter. At Williams-Sonoma, I bought the iSi soda siphon, because I’ve wanted to play with those for some time.

At home, the next day, I brought out my flavored syrups from the coffee shop and started making Italian sodas. Weak. Sauce. The iSi barely managed a soft fizz, much less a solid carbonation. After some heart-to-heart with Chris, we decided to return the iSi and purchase the Penguin soda fountain. It costs more than twice as much as the iSi, but if you’re going to have soda-making capabilities in your bar, you might as well be able to create something satisfying and exciting, right?

I won’t lie to you–a major selling point of the Penguin is that it looks like…a penguin. A penguin butler, to be precise. And it’s just an incredibly cool device. An incredibly cool, incredibly eco-friendly device. Because with it I can make hundreds of colas and tonic waters and italian sodas and seltzer with lime and wine spritzers, all without purchasing aluminum cans or plastic bottles or whatever. The reusable glass container has an indefinite life-cycle, and the CO2 cartridge is refillable.

So, here’s the recipe for a classic Italian soda. Is it a cop-out recipe? Yes. Can your three year old make it? Also yes, although I’d recommend helping them. But is it delicious and satisfying and non-alcoholic and pretty? Yes.

Ingredients:
6 oz fresh seltzer water (or club soda)
1 oz heavy cream
2 oz flavored syrup (Torani makes like 6000 different flavors)
ice

Pour flavored syrup and cream over ice. Stir vigorously. Add the seltzer. Admire. Stir. Imbibe.

With the fruitier syrups, especially if you violate the proscribed order of mixing, you may see something akin to curdling. You can’t taste it, but it’s not pretty. Be sure to mix the cream and syrup first to help avoid this. Also, using amaretto, vanilla, almond, root beer, or whatever non-fruity syrups you can find will prevent this.


This is the Penguin. He’s sexy, but dignified and efficient. He has no name yet, but I’m open to suggestions. Jeeves, maybe? I’m thinking of gluing felt wings on his sides and possibly draping a bar towel over one of them.


Here is a side view, showing us that possibly also I’ll need to add a bow tie. The little silver button is the gas-release button that gets pressed and sounds like the brakes on a semi after he’s charged.


The bowels open up and a heavy glass bottle, filled with cold, fresh tap water is inserted.


His beak is pressed in short, firm spurts, until three whistles are emitted. It’s the kind of noise I imagine a penguin emitting in the wild. A mating call, if you will.


After releasing the excess CO2, the bottle is removed and beautiful, highly-carbonated seltzer water bubbles cheerfully. This always reminds me of Roald Dahl’s BFG, and the frobscottle that induces whizpops. What a great book.


In a very cool move, the bottle dons a battle helmet to preserve the fizziness in the refrigerator. If you don’t drink it all in the first hour or so, that is. It holds its fizz remarkably well.


The final result: a delicious cherry Italian soda, with a touch of cream. I didn’t stir it, because I think it’s visually stunning before it’s stirred.

Now ask yourself this: can YOUR arctic pets make you delicious fizzy drinks? Hell no! Our arctic pet is remarkably productive, which is one of many reasons why I think it’s silly that Chris insists on cracking down on all of them. I’ll in no way be shocked if I find the Penguin nesting on one of our piles of laundry in the near future.

Wheatabix

I’m getting over some kind of bug (one that I never really got under, either, but just have kind of lingered feeling slightly less than 80% awesome), and have been eating more than my fair share of cold cereal. Don’t get me wrong, I love cold cereal with a flaming, burning passion. A country song kind of passion, all aches and tears and raw longing and pickup trucks. And I’ll eat almost any kind, though I prefer my Kashi and fiber cereals because they keep me full for longer. I can decimate a box of Fruity Pebbles in under an hour, then have room for a real meal shortly thereafter. Fruity Pebbles are the chinese food of cold cereals. But throw me a (repulsively large) bowl of Kashi GoLean, and I’m going to feel full and satisfied for at least 3 hours. So that’s why I eat whole grain cereals. What of it?

I feel like I have to defend my compulsive consumption of fiber, because people always think fiber=regularity. As a girl, I prefer to spend zero time thinking about/discussing/experiencing anything related to the “service entrance.”

Funny story: I have a girlfriend who we’ll call “Janet.” She was going through a slightly wilder phase of life, so I hooked her up with another friend of mine, “Jason,” who had just gotten out of federal prison for arson. He was terrifying. All long, crazy, completely wild hair and prison tattoos and rippling abdominal muscles. Really sweet guy if he was your friend, but probably would stab you in the eyeball with an ice pick if you were NOT his friend. He once saved my ass in a bar fight and I was like, “man, I’m glad I befriended THAT guy!” Anyway, Janet and Jason were hooking up in the living room, when all of a sudden Janet burst into the bedroom where I was sleeping and said “Oh my God. He just asked me if he could use the ‘service entrance.’ What do I say?” Turns out multiple years in a Federal prison can cause certain changes in sexual perspective.

So anyway, I’m really squeamish about discussing digestion. Ever. With anyone. I almost came to blows with my surgeon after my appendectomy when he started nosing around and asking questions that I would not have answered if they were the final questions on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and the surgeon had been holding a giant cardboard check with my name written on it. Eventually he got tired of squabbling with me and just let me go home, which pissed Chris off to no end because he was CERTAIN that this would be the time that somebody would crack my armor, and couldn’t believe a hospital would rather accept liability after a major abdominal surgery than coerce me into discussing gastrointestinal function. Win: Me.

Which brings me to my actual point, which is that I had to buy prunes at the grocery store for today’s recipe. I LOVE prunes. I think they’re delicious and healthy and like little amethyst gems full of sweetness and light. But every time I buy them in the grocery store, I feel like I have to explain myself to the cashier. Like, “yeah, I’m buying prunes, but it’s because they’re delicious, not because of pooping or anything like that.” I’d be more comfortable buying a handle of Jack Daniels, a pregnancy test, a giant cucumber, and an industrial sized vat of KY Warming Liquid than I am buying prunes. And I know that you think I’m crazy, and I don’t even at all care because this isn’t the first or the last time you’ll be thinking that.

Prunes in hand, aside from the five I had eaten on the way back from the grocery store, I went home to make a North African dish that is so colorful, bright, and full of flavor that it makes you completely forget that North Africa can be a pretty scary place, actually. And that a girl like me is much more likely to get stolen and traded for a large bag of golden couscous than to be served a colorful bowl of golden couscous.

I’m speaking of a beautiful beef tagine, redolent of garlic and saffron and dried fruits. I’ve written about the miracles of tagine cooking before. It’s a large, chimney shaped lid that rests on a braising vessel…sort of. I have two smaller ones that can’t be used on the stovetop, but my delightful brother got me the beautiful, blue Le Creuset model for Christmas. It’s very large, and can transition effortlessly between stovetop and oven use. So cool!

The recipe I used was an adaptation from a lamb tagine recipe that I found on Epicurious. The recipe is called Tagine Bil Kok, which sounds like it’d be Monica Lewinski’s favorite food, but is actually one of the most popular dishes in Morocco. It’s super simple to make, and can be easily done with a dutch oven if you aren’t in possession of a full-sized tagine.

Beef Tagine Bil Kok
-2 T olive oil or grapeseed oil
-1 t ground turmeric
-1 t ground ginger
-2 pounds lamb or beef roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 2-inch chunks
-2 sweet yellow onions
-1 c chicken broth
-8 threads saffron, or a pinch of saffron powder (which I love because it’s so quick)
-1 t fresh cilantro, minced
-1 cup pitted prunes, chopped
-1/2 c carrots, peeled and diced into 1/2″ chunks, then blanched for 2 minutes
-2 T honey
-1 t freshly ground cinnamon

Method
–Heat olive oil in bottom of the tagine or dutch oven, then saute ginger, turmeric, and lamb until the lamb is nicely browned and the ginger and turmeric are quite fragrant.
–Finely dice an onion, and add it to the pot with the saffron and chicken broth. Cover and braise for 1-1.5 hours, or until the meat is tender. Check periodically to ensure there’s enough liquid.
–Pull the meat out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Cover with foil to keep warm.
–Finely slice the other onion and add it to the liquid in the pot with the prunes, carrots, honey, cinnamon and salt and pepper to taste.
–Simmer the liquid until it’s reduced by about 2/3, into a slightly thicker consistency.
–Return the lamb to the pan and toss with the liquid.
–Serve over couscous and sprinkle with fresh cilantro.

See? Pretty easy, actually, and it makes your whole house smell insanely fragrant and exotic. Turmeric is so good for you, as a known anti-inflammatory agent, and braised meat is always a comfort and a treat.

The Moroccans know their delicious, spice-tradey foods, and this is no exception. I still don’t know what “bil kok” means, but if I find out it means “service entrance,” I’m going to be sorely pissed off.

Taco truck

The first few paragraphs of this blog make me sound like an insufferable braggart. Please bear with me, because there is a humblish point to it all, and a really great recipe for you. Mmmkay?

I wonder if I’ll soon reach the point where I don’t have want for any more kitchen gadgets. With the wedding and my birthdays and Christmases and general enthusiasm, I am starting to be in the incredibly confusing position of owning most everything I could dream to own. Sure, there are some missing players. A juicer, perhaps. A soda siphon, maybe. An ice cream maker that doesn’t require pre-freezing, sure enough. But I’m already in need of a butler’s pantry to hold all the things I have right now, and it’s highly unlikely I’ll have a butler’s pantry anytime soon.

This Christmas heralded the addition of several new, major kitchen players. A meat slicer, which threw me into a spontaneous song and dance number. A beautiful, blue Le Creuset tagine, which has already unloaded some pretty badass Moroccan food into my waiting maw (Maw as in “mouth”, not “mother”. Although she’d be welcome to come have some Moroccan food, too). The new Cuisinart rotisserie, which made a roasted bird that would bring tears to your eyes.

Ingredients came trotting along next to the new appliances. Gorgeous Lehua honey, a can of truffle juice (an ingredient I’ve long wanted to experiment with, but could not afford), a box of New Moon conversation hearts with pictures of Taylor Lautner on the front…riches, I tell you. Riches.

It’s baffling to me how blessed I am, given that I’ve done almost nothing to deserve any of it. I wonder if God has a special culinary plan for me. Maybe cross-breeding a truffle with slab bacon. Or inventing a way to make rotisserie chicken stretch for even more than the current four meals, like loaves and fishes. Or maybe providing you with a great recipe for tacos that will stampede onto your tongue, kick you in the sour region, cup the balls of your salty region, deal a reach around to your umami region, and then parade down your belly in a fanfare of glory and spice and maybe trumpets. Yes, that’s probably it.

Enter–the meat slicer. It’s not a crazy-heavy-duty model like you’d find in a deli or major meat-packing plant. It’s almost understated, with it’s lil’ 8 inch blade and dialy-knob. But it’s perfect for us, having never had a meat slicer.

Actually, I’m a little scared of it. You see, I have it under good authority that the human body is comprised of meat, and that the slicer is not programmed to discriminate between already dead meat of the animal variety and very-much-alive meat of my personal hand.

But it does its thing, and it does it well. The day I brought it home, I sliced up a Nieman Ranch ham chunk into lunch meat. I love lunch meat, but it’s difficult to find the good, natural stuff at a reasonable price. This particular 2 lb hunk of ham was FREE with purchase of a single bone prime rib from WhoFo, which was also on sale. But the ham would have cost $8 at full price, and that’s for the NR brand, which I adore. A single pound of mediocre, factory lunch meat can cost $8, and it’s nowhere near as fresh. WIN!

We had prime rib the other night, as a special treat, but only ate 1/3 of the meat. The rest was wrapped up for leftovers. Which came in very handy.

Yesterday I had a hankering for tacos from the taco stand by our house. We drove over after kickboxing, but it was closed. The indignity! The horror! After sulking home, an idea began percolating in my skull. Maaaaaybe we could make tacos at home. Maaaaaybe we could do it with leftover prime rib. Maaaaaybe I’ll be awarded the nobel prize for being a complete badass of leftovers. You know, just maybe.

I sliced an onion paper-thin with the meat slicer, then sliced the 1.5 lbs of prime rib into as thin of slices as I could manage. It sort of fell apart as it sliced, given the fat marbling and rareness of the meat, but worked out just fine in the end, because God loves tacos, too. and Now here’s an important point. If you have any level of sanity in your kitchen, and if you don’t have so many gadgets that you belong on an episode of Hoarders on TLC, then you probably don’t have a meat slicer. THIS IS FINE. Just use one of these options:

–Ask your butcher to bone the prime rib and slice it raw. If he’s going to charge you for the bones anyway, make sure he wraps them up for you to take home and turn into soup.

–Go to the deli and get the rare roast beef sliced paper thin instead of using prime rib at all.

–Bone your prime rib, wrap it in saran wrap tightly, stick it in the freezer until it is slightly frozen but not solid, then slice with a sharp knife as thinly as you can manage.

–Use a mandolin or a sharp knife to slice your onions as thin as possible.

–If you can’t afford prime rib, feel free to use these same methods for incredibly thinly sliced sirloin or round roast or whatever you want. Just make sure you slice thin enough for the slightly tougher cuts of meat.
See? You can do this at home with out pulling a hamstring. Ha! Get it? Ham??

Now that you have your piles of onion and meat–

Marinade

-1 poblano (or similar) pepper, roasted, peeled, and seeded
-1 chunk of onion (about 1″)
-1 T salt
-Juice from 1 lime
-2 t chipotle chile flakes (if you don’t have this, substitute 1/2 t smoked paprika and 1 t red chile flakes)
-3 T water
-1 t cumin
-1 t coriander
-1.5 T apple cider vinegar

Stick it in the blender and blend until smooth-ish. Taste for flavor/salt, then toss with meat and onions to coat.

The rest of this is so easy it’s laughable.

Assembly

–Heat a cast iron or similarly heavy skillet until very, very hot. Rub with a touch of oil if it’s not well-seasoned. I don’t recommend a teflon-type nonstick skillet for this.
–Toss your whole bowl of onions, meat, and marinade into the skillet. Make sure it’s not too overcrowded in the pan. This means using a large enough pan.

–Allow to sizzle for a moment before tossing with tongs. You want a touch of crust to develop, but not too much.
–Then toss fairly often, until the meat is all cooked but not rubbery. A touch of pink is still okay and better than all grayness.
–Place spoonfuls of meat into fresh tortillas with salsa (I used a super-simple homemade roasted tomato salsa).

–Wrap up and eat

You can do this, I swear on it. It’s not the most traditional of flavors, but it’s got such a nice tang from the vinegar, which I’ve been really into lately. And the slight smokiness of the chipotle (or paprika) with the brightness of the lime really wakes you up. And if you’re liberal with the salsa and stingy with things like cheese and/or sour cream, it’s a well-balanced, filling meal with few enough calories that you won’t wake up tomorrow with floppy back-titties like Glenn Beck. No promises on your personality, though. That’s in God’s hands.