The Cauliflower Chronicles, Part 1

Despite the, um, burning, the cauliflower soup turned out well. Probably the goose fat leftover from Christmas helped. Here’s how it went down—we will forget the slight scorching incident ever, ever happened.

Here’s Part I of the Cauliflower Soup Chronicle:

That’s the beginning, outside of the cauliflower: goose fat and Prague ham. There’s a QUART of that goose fat, rendered from the goose I cooked over Christmas, five days before my wedding because I wanted to—what? impress my date with my cooking? give myself a nervous breakdown? Anyway, I discovered why goose is no longer as popular as it once was. It’s fabulously delicious, but it cost $65 to feed four people, with nothing except the fat and a couple of quarts of stock to speak of left over. Of course, that fat is reason enough, I suppose, so I shouldn’t complain. And the meat was great. And it took two days to prepare. And it was like one giant turkey thigh and some roast beef rolled into one. And I’ll probably do it again.

Okay, I gotta work on the mailing list for Fred’s art show in March, so I’ll have to finish this saga tomorrow.

My Food Network

Really, sometimes I wonder why I started this. Perhaps I imagine myself publishing a cookbook. (Cooking with the Crazy Cat Lady; Everyday Cooking with Goose Fat). Part of me imagines myself on a food show, delivering witty commentary while whipping up beautiful dishes.

Then this happens.

Plus I realize that my earlier “discovery” of calabasa, to someone who actually has training in cooking, probably makes that person feel like I did when my Yan–oops, sorry, Northern friends asked me if I’d ever heard of okra.

But I press on for the sake of the little people, like me, who want to cook from scratch every day and try new things. We may not know what calabasa is. We may be trained only by our grandmothers, who had to kill their own chickens with their bare hands, churn their own butter, and eat poke salad because they could get it for free. We may burn our cauliflower soup on occasion. But (music swells to crescendo) we are going to COOK our calabasa and our cauliflower soup and IT WILL BE GOOD!!!

Which it was. Here’s what the final product looked like:

Recipe to arrive later. I need a break.

Orzo Chicken, Featuring the Cuisinart

Orzo with Chicken (serves 2 if one of you is Fred, who had 3 large bowls)

2 roasted chicken breasts, skins removed while still crisp and eaten with bare fingers, grease licked directly off fingers before of course washing them as a truly good person does, at least most of the time, or at least when she is cooking for others not in her immediate family. Chop them (chicken breasts, not fingers) into bite sized-pieces.

2 medium onions, finely chopped but not utterly pureed in a food processor like some others you may have done in the past for certain salmon recipes, especially if you are lucky enough to have a beautiful, sleek, 11-cup Cuisinart that your mother bought you as perhaps the best wedding present EVER

Several baby carrots (7? 8?), also finely chopped in beloved Cuisinart

3-4 large sticks of celery, again, finely chopped in that most lovely and perfect of kitchen appliances

3-4 large cloves of minced garlic (guess what can also mince!)

Several pieces of pickled okra, not for the recipe but for you because the cook always needs sustenance. (Wine would be a good option if you did not have three glasses the night before because it was Valentine’s Day and now you are feeling a little icky. Probably the glass of Basil Hayden whisky on top of that didn’t help.)

Lots of olive oil (1/4 -1/2 c)

Sage, preferably fresh and (yay!) chopped, or fresh sage you dried yourself, or just plain old dried sage if that’s all you got

Salt n pepper, of course

Grated Parmesan cheese

A pound of orzo (or whatever the size of a normal package is)

Put salted water on to boil for the orzo. Saute onions in olive oil on medium heat for about 5 minutes or till translucent. Add celery and carrot and saute about 10 minutes until tender. Add garlic and stir. Add chicken, sage, salt, and pepper. Turn heat down to low and keep there until orzo is done cooking. Put orzo in big bowl, add chicken mix, and stir. Add more olive oil if needed. Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

The Sad Demise of the Trans Fat

Well, it’s happening here even in the South: At work we just received a MEMO informing us that as of February 5, 2007, there would be NO MORE trans fat served in our cafeteria. We had to sign it–probably so our loved ones won’t sue if we fall over dead into our fried chicken and barbecued pork skins in the next few months.

For the record the pound cake I am making Fred has Crisco in it because that’s the way my Aunt Willie made it and it is damn good.

Babel-ing

No cooking last night. We saw Babel last night in our effort to see all the Oscar nominees before the awards. We had two bags of movie popcorn (free refills on the large!!) for our dinner.

I also talked to my friend Rocco last night, who was just putting away the ingredients for the Valentine dinner he’s making for his sweetie. I’m afraid forty-one years of East Tennessee-trained cooking simply cannot compete with forty-five-ish years of New York Italian cooking. (Rocco got his first promotion from AARP and was feeling sensitive about his age.) He even knew what calabasa was.

Rocco’s sweetie is getting tapas that include beet and blood orange salad and some kind of hazelnut/orange vinaigrette. Rocco doesn’t use recipes either. I can’t remember the rest but it was all glamorous and yummy. Fred is getting a pound cake and some as-yet-undetermined meat.

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all.

Calabasa!!!

Well, the movie plan was ditched once again, this time because WFW forgot that he had agreed to meet a friend at 9:00 to play trivia at a local pub. So he got his calabasa soup at last.

The soup was both a success and a learning experience. First, the basic recipe, then the gory details.

Calabasa Soup

1 lb. hot Italian sausage (turkey or pork, but beware the turkey–see below)
Olive oil (or could use bacon fat if you’re using turkey) for sauteing
1 large chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 large calabasa, seeded, basted with olive oil, roasted at 350 for about an hour, then scooped out
Enough chicken or other poultry stock to cover ingredients
Spices (adjust amounts below as needed)
Cumin (1 – 2 tbsp)
Cayenne (1 tsp or more to taste)
Cloves (1/2 tsp)
Salt and pepper to taste
Brown sugar (1 – 2 tbsp, depending on the ripeness of the calabasa)
Red pepper flakes (1 tsp or more to taste)
Cardamon (probably optional–about 1/2 tsp)

Saute onion over medium heat in large stock pot until onion, not stock pot, is translucent. Add garlic. Add sausage and brown. Puree calabasa and chicken stock in food processor or blender. Add to pot. Add spices and cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes. I suspect this would be best served the next day.

That’s what you should do. Now for what I actually did.

The ingredients in all their glory are to the left: the calabasa, prepared two nights ago when poor WFW gave up his movie; the hot Italian turkey sausage, which was neither hot nor really sausage (more on that below); the ubiquitous onion and garlic.

To the right is the turkey sausage beginning to brown. A lot. Note the hamburger/potato smasher to the left, which belonged to my grandmother and which I burned recently by leaving the handle too close to the stove eye.

This is what happens when you try to brown turkey sausage from the Farmer’s Market. Apparently there is NO FAT in turkey sausage. I suspose this is one of those things that should be painfully obvious since turkey sausage is one of those healthy things and because I bought it in an effort to, well, stave off the plumpness that is descending, but STILL.

And to the right is the half-cooked turkey sausage, removed from the pot before it had completely burned and stuck to the bottom. I added the onion and olive oil to the pot and scraped the sausage bits off the bottom to avoid further disaster. There was a moment when I contemplated frying some bacon in the bottom to add more delicious flavor, but it felt like too much trouble. Next time: Pork.

A friend–the first person besides WFW who has been told about this blog–suggested we add a Fred-O-Meter (Fred = WFW) to gauge the effectiveness of a particular cooking effort. It would be based on how many helpings he had. Despite the turkey sausage incident, this was still a 3-bowl success.
The only problem with the Fred-O-Meter is that he likes EVERYTHING I cook. He even liked Sunday’s spice mix, which he said tasted exactly like barbecue potato chip salt.
I felt a surge of triumph. I gave myself a high-five.

Still No Calabasa Soup

The Great Calabasa Quest remains unfinished. Last night poor Fred agreed not to go to a movie, even though he really wanted to, because I said I wanted to stay home and cook. Here’s a chronicle of the evening’s events:

5:00 Chicken put in to roast

5:00 – 6:00 Chicken roasts. Cook plays around on the internet. Cook periodically gets up to turn/poke at chicken. Cook has a glass of wine. (Las Rocas Garnacha, which we LOVE.)

6:15 Chicken done. One breast given to neighbor for washing our car. Cook and Fred hover over chicken, peeling off brown, crispy, delicious skin and eating it, along with the wings and tasty bits from the thighs. Cook and Fred are no longer really very hungry.

6:15 – 7:30 Cook balances checkbook while having one more, much-needed glass of wine. Cook discovers she and new spouse cannot eat out again for the rest of the month if all bills are to be paid.

7:30 Cook gets up to make a weird combination of cumin, anchiote chili powder, Hungarian paprika, pepper, salt, cayenne pepper, onion powder (bought specifically for this experiment), garlic powder (again, bought for experiment), and sugar. Cook is trying to replicate powder that goes on barbecued potato chips. It is a shameful fact that the Cook loves sauces and spices and has been known to eat them ALL BY THEMSELVES, something about which she is so embarrassed that she cannot even write about it in the first person. Cook’s idea was to use it for dipping celery in, as Cook is beginning to plump out and has to be careful about snacks.

8ish Cook and Fred sit down to watch Good Night and Good Luck. Poor Fred is actually still hungry, has given up his plan for a movie and nevertheless still has no calabasa soup. He gets more roast chicken and some cheese while Cook munches on celery and spice dip, occasionally eating the spice dip all by itself.

9ish Movie stopped so Cook can get up and put chicken carcass in a pot with water to make stock. At some point tops of celery stalks are also thrown in.

10ish Movie finishes. Somehow it still ends up being 1:00 a.m. by the time Cook and Fred actually go to sleep but all they seem to accomplish is watching two more episodes of Bob Newhart. And straining the chicken stock. And the Cook eats the liver and neck without even sharing it with the sweet, kind husband who gave up a movie for all this.

So this is how our life really goes. Do professional chefs do these kinds of things, or do they just not tell their bad habits to the world?

I came across Michael Ruhlman’s blog today, where Anthony Bourdaine talks about the horrors of various celebrity chefs on the Food Network. Not having cable, I can’t really comment, but the blog was hilarious. Nevertheless, Bourdaine’s lambasting of Sandra Lee and her love of canned food leads me here (while the subject of bad eating habits is still fresh in my mind) to make a few confessions:

  1. I actually like some casseroles that contain cream of mushroom soup and sour cream mixed together, topped with Ritz crackers and butter. There. That feels better. On a side note, I once served such a dish to several foodie friends to settle an argument about whether or not something like that was actually edible, and they had to confess it was pretty good. One did so while scooping leftover sauce out of the casserole dish.
  2. Other things I like (child of the 70s, that’s all I can say): Hamburger Helper Lasagna. Spaghetti-Os. Macaroni and cheese made from a box. Campbell’s Tomato Soup. Spaghetti made from Campbell’s Tomato Soup and Cream of Mushroom. Pies made with evaporated milk and canned cherries on top. Krystal hamburgers.

In confessing these sins, I’m probably forfeiting whatever miniscule chance I might ever have had to gain the respect of someone like Anthony Bourdain or Marc Ruhlman. (Maybe I could regain that by learning exactly how to spell their names.) Not that an East Tennessee trained home cook is likely to have that happen to begin with–but maybe I can improve things by noting that I can make home-churned butter and grew up drinking raw cow’s milk.

There will be no cooking tonight, as we are going to see Babel, as I promised WFW. Most likely dinner will consist of movie popcorn.

Irony, Roast Chicken, and the Inevitable Cat Photos

Well–after my rant on never using a recipe: I just put a chicken in the oven to roast. And I make roast chicken by following the recipe in Cooks Illustrated book, The Best Recipe, TO THE LETTER.

Although this is total non sequitur (or however you spell it) it is time to post photos of our cats. Just because it is.


Thelma and Louise are on the top (in so many ways), Catalina and Cleocatra on the bottom. Appropriately, you can’t really see Cleo here. Fred calls her the Shadow Cat. It’s no wonder, since Louise tends to smack her when she gets uppity. But the last photo shows what she looks like.

I think I’ve done enough damage for one day and in the process exposed my inability to do a simple photo cut and paste.