Friday, December 18, 2009

Marinated Cheese

For years we’ve been after my first boss in SC (Jeffita) to share her recipe for a marinated cheese recipe. Tonight, as Christmas presents, she handed out copies to people as we left the departmental[1] Christmas gathering. Along with a double-sided color copy of the original Southern Living recipe (linked to the title of this post, but with a 1990 date and a Recipe-PakTM number 5305B-11, Appetizers & Beverages 7) were her hand-written changes. I'm going to attempt to make a single recipe out of the original and her notes together.

Chill for slicing:
  • 2 8 oz. pkgs. cheddar cheese (5.5 x 2 x 1")
  • 2 8 oz. pkgs. cream cheese (original recipe calls for 3, but I only ever use the two)
Combine in a jar, shake vigorously, and set aside:
  • 1 c. olive oil
  • 1 c. white wine vinegar
  • ½ c. minced green onions or chives
  • 6-8 cloves garlic
  • ½ c. chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ c. minced fresh basil
  • 8 oz. pimento from jar(s), drained
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1 ½ t. salt
  • 1 t. ground fresh pepper
When the cheese is well-chilled, cut the cheddar blocks in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4" thick slices. Set aside. Slice the cream cheese similarly (& into similarly-sized pieces). Arrange the cheese in alternating slices of cheddar and cream cheese standing on edge in a shallow baking dish. Pour marinade over cheese slices, cover, and let stand in refrigerator for at least eight hours.

Transfer cheese slices to a serving platter in the same alternating fashion, reserving marinade. Spoon marinade over cheese slices. Garnish with fresh parsley sprigs. Serve with crackers.

[1] I should mention that Jeffita is/was the head of my old department, the public school job I had when I first came to SC. They still ask me to join them for gatherings (surely a good sign, although I think they’re definitely disappointed when SWMBO can’t make it). How fortunate am I to have had two sets of co-workers whose company I enjoy and who aren’t completely put off by my anti-social tendencies?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Eco on the Loss of a Parent

“He thought he would become accustomed to [being orphaned], not yet understanding that it is useless to become accustomed to the loss of a father, for it will never happen a second time: might as well leave the wound open.”
--Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before, end of chapter 7

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Best Confession ever!

I have mentioned this classic SF tale before, saying there:
One way to discover whether a person has understood what they’ve read is via a diagnostic question. I was delighted to discover that Walker Percy held this same view, and that he had a diagnostic question for the readers of Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz, a book for which I, too, have a question. If you’ve read CfL, then perhaps you’ll recognize the value of these two questions.

Percy’s: Who or what is Rachel? (the second head on the woman at the end of the book)

Mine: Is this book fundamentally optimistic or fundamentally pessimistic?

Here, I just want to put down one of my favorite scenes. This is from the fifth chapter in the first section,
Fiat Homo.

. . . on Palm Sunday, with only six days of starvation remaining until the end of Lent, Prior Cheroki heard from Francis (or from the shriveled and sun-scorched residuum of Francis, wherein the soul remained somehow encysted) a few brief croaks which constituted what was probably the most succinct confession that Francis ever made or Cheroki ever heard:

“Bless me, Father; I ate a lizard.”

Prior Cheroki, having for many years been confessor to fasting penitents, found that. . . he replied with perfect equanimity and not even a blink:

“Was it an abstinence day, and was it artificially prepared?”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

6 oz Filet at the House of Chez Casa

We have not one, but two actual butcher shops in our new hood. This makes it a real shame that I can only eat red meat once or twice a week. But the good news there is that when the budget won’t be eaten up (har!) by quantity, you can go for quality. And in this neighborhood, quality comes cheap.

I am, even as I type, eating the most tender, juicy, melty, mouth watering 6 oz filet I have had anywhere in years. It’s even better than the filet I had some months back at Ruth’s Criss. And unlike the extremely good piece of cow flesh I had at Ruth’s, this one only cost me $6.

For the record, our two shops are:
  1. Steak Mart (~4/10ths of a mile from home)
  2. Ole Timey Meat Market (~6/10ths of a mile from home)
and tonight’s filet is from the second shop.

So that I don’t forget my cooking times in all the insanity of unpacking and trying to start living in the new house, I want to record here what I did.

I tend to do a combination of broiling and roasting, and my tool of choice is a Cuisinart convection toaster oven. Consumer Reports rated the temperature accuracy very high on this unit, so when our old one was ruined by a little bit of an overcooking incident (a-hem), this is the one we got to replace it. We use it a lot, especially at times when heating up the whole kitchen seems like a bad idea.

So anyway, here’s the procedure:
  1. Go to the front yard and cut a little bit of rosemary, then strip the leaves.
  2. Select a small baking dish (I use a ceramic tart pan; it’s just the righ size for a small filet).
  3. Slice a few veggies, spritz with EVOO and coat with a dry rub. Put the veggies in the bottom of the small dish. (This is SO much better than using a broiler pan. The veggies soak up some of the tasty juices that would otherwise be lost. I had thought that I still had some baby carrots or string beans on hand, but alas! So tonight it was just some onion; not even any potato for absorbancy, and I realize now that what I really wanted tonight was some ’shrooms.)
  4. Do a dry-rub spicing of the filet. I normally favor something Italian, but tonight went with salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary.
  5. Put the filet on top of the veggies and broil for six minutes.
  6. Flip the filet and broil for six more minutes.
  7. Top with some blue cheese crumbles and convection bake at 350 for six more minutes.
  8. Cut the heat and let stand for a couple of minutes.
  9. Enjoy a perfectly medium filet.

I realize that with the cooking times, I run the risk of this being the cooking method of the antichrist, but I’m having a hard time bringing myself to care right now.

Heavens, this is good!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sewanee Mountain by Drew Bunting

I went down Sewanee Mountain just before the dawn
There I met a Methodist, the name of Baptist John
Carving his last testament into the gates of stone
It said, “The Lord is my sniper, son. You leave me alone!”

I turned back to ask him if he knew what he had said
Hoping it was something from a book he’d never read
And as he turned to look at me and didn’t make a sound
The first of many drops of rain was falling to the ground

Wind comes high
And it comes low
Speak to me in stone

Then the sky grew darker, and the animals grew still
And this is what he told me as the rain fell down the hills
“You are in the Garden at the moment of the Fall
Don’t go climbing over just because you see the wall.”

And in the pouring rain I told him I was goin’ home
And he spat in my face and said that I would go alone
Then without another word he walked into the woods
And disappeared as lightning struck the place where he had stood

There in the rain
Finally I knew
You were falling, too

I went down Sewanee Mountain in the morning rain
And I don’t say I’m different; I don’t worship any change
John may be happy man when he is on his knees
And I have walked away from things that he will never see


This odd little bit of apocalyptic acoustic folk was passed along to me in a mix CD by a friend who used to go to a summer camp where Drew was one of the counselors. So feel free to imagine this song being sung around a campfire.

There must be more of Drew’s music floating around in the wide world. Anyone know where to nab some other tracks?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lentil Hummus, revised

So here’s the revised recipe (cf. comboxes to the original post for back story).

1. Bring:
  • 1/2 lb. of lentils (~ 1 1/4 cups)
  • 2 qts of water and
  • 2 Tablespoons of kosher salt
to a boil.

2. Turn down heat and simmer about 15 minutes (until the lentils are al dente).

3. Drain & rinse the lentils in cold water. Drain them well and chill for 20 minutes. (I hang them in a sieve over a small saucepan in the fridge.)

4. Make a garlic paste by mincing & mashing 1/3 - 1/2 head of garlic with 1/4 tsp. kosher salt.

5. Put the garlic paste into a food processor.

6. Add
  • 1/2 c. tahini,
  • 1/2 c. fresh lemon juice (about 3 medium lemons’ worth)
  • the cooked lentils
7. Purée until consistent.

8. If the mixture is too thick, add up to 1/2 c. olive oil.

9. Season with salt & pepper. Be free with the pepper.

10. Serve at room temperature.


We have taken a liking to making this recipe with other legumes as well. Our current stand-by is black bean hummus. For the same amount of other ingredients, I start with 1/2 lb. of black beans. Presoak the dried beans, rinse a couple of times, cook, rinse, drain, & carry on with the recipe.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Quintessence of Gentlemanly Beverages. . .

My own guide to making mint juleps is Walker Percy’s 1975 essay on bourbon, with the addition of a more modern way of powdering the ice. The Better Half of the O’Cayce household has alerted me to another recipe / essay, this one up at the Kentucky Derby website (and linked to the title of this post). I’m going to copy it here as worthy of later reference, but I’m going to continue putting all my sugar in the bottom of my glasses. (I had briefly considered freezing sugar-infused pucks of ice for shaving, but abandoned the idea for two very good reasons. First, I don’t want to deal with cleaning up the sticky snow as it melts all over the kitchen counter. But second, and more importantly, I like pulling up grains of sugar in varying amounts as I sip my julep through a straw. Each sip has a slightly different flavor.)


The Quintessence of Gentlemanly Beverages. . .
-Lt. Gen. S.B. Buckner, Jr.

Major General Wm. D. Connor
West Point, N.Y.

My Dear General Connor:

Your letter requesting my formula for mixing mint juleps leaves me in the same position in which Capt. Barber found himself when asked how he was able to carve the image of an elephant from a block of wood. He replied that it was a simple process consisting merely of whittling off the part that didn't look like an elephant.

The preparation of the quintessence of gentlemanly beverages can only be described in like terms. A mint julep is not the product of a formula. It is a ceremony and must be performed by a gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic, a deep reverence for the ingredients and a proper appreciation of the occasion. It is a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician nor a Yankee. It is a heritage of the old South, an emblem of hospitality and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flower-strewn paths of a happy and congenial thought.

So far as the mere mechanics of the operation are concerned, the procedure, stripped of its ceremonial embellishments, can be described as follows:

Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream through its banks of green moss and wildflowers until it broadens and trickles through beds of a mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breeze.

Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home.

Go to the sideboard and select a decanter of Kentucky Bourbon, distilled by a master hand, mellowed with age yet still vigorous and inspiring. An ancestral sugar bowl, a row of silver goblets, some spoons and some ice and you are ready to start. In a canvas bag, pound twice as much ice as you think you will need. Make it fine as snow, keep it dry and do not allow to degenerate into slush.

In each goblet, put a slightly heaping teaspoonful of granulated sugar, barely cover this with spring water and slightly bruise one mint leaf into this, leaving the spoon in the goblet. Then pour elixir from decanter until the goblets are about one-fourth full. Fill the goblets with snowy ice, sprinkling in a small amount of sugar as you fill. Wipe the outside of the goblets dry and embellish copiously with mint.

Then comes the important and delicate operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoon, the ingredients are circulated and blended until Nature, wishing to take a further hand and add another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glistening coat of white frost. Thus harmoniously blended by the deft touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable men and beautiful women.

When all is ready, assemble your guests on the porch or in the garden where the aroma of the juleps will rise Heavenward and make the birds sing. Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblet to your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods.

Being overcome by thirst, I can write no further.

Lt. Gen. S.B. Buckner, Jr. *
V.M.I. Class of 1906

*Killed in Okinawa, 1945
Promoted Posthumously to full General, July 1954

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Baba Ghanouj (or Baba Ghanoush -- either way, it’s Daddy Spoiled Rotten)

I, personally, dislike eggplant. I haven’t had it in any form that I could stand. This is a shame; I know lots of people who love the stuff, and it makes me feel like an avenue of licit pleasure is cut off to me. One of the people I know who really has a thing for eggplant is SWMBO. The most excited I saw her get about a meal while we were in Rome was when we walked past a pizza-by-the-slice place near the Trevi Fountain. They had pizza with incredibly thinly shaved eggplant on it. That's where we ate that night, and she was happy.

Liking eggplant as she does, SWMBO is naturally a big fan of Baba Ghanouj, a Mediterranean dish that is to roasted eggplant what hummus is to chick peas. The ingredients are simple enough: eggplant roasted until soft, tahini (sesame butter), olive oil, garlic, lemon, salt, and whatever other spices you want to add. Some people include parsley, too. The problem I have in making the stuff is that I can’t taste it to see if I have the proportions right. The times I have accidentally gotten some into my mouth, it has taken a couple of hours to get the flavor of the eggplant out.

So I cook and have SWMBO taste and tell me when I should add more of something. Last time, I apparently got the mix pretty close to perfect. So this time, I’m going to record the recipe so that I have a base line to work from. If you’re thinking of trying this, I should warn you that SWMBO likes it zingy -- lots of garlic & lots of lemon. She also likes an earthy, smoky taste, which I enhance by roasting the eggplant nearly to the point of burning and then adding some cumin at the end.

So here’s my procedure:
  1. Roast one medium eggplant at 400° for about an hour. (During the winter, it’s best to thoroughly prick the skin of the eggplant before roasting; the skin is thicker in the winter, and I’ve had an eggplant explode on me when the steam couldn’t escape. It made quite a mess of the toaster oven.)
  2. Let the eggplant stand until cool enough to handle; about two hours in the oven or one outside the oven. If you leave it in the oven, you’ll have time to take a nap, and how nifty is it to have a recipe that includes a nap?
  3. Make a paste of seven cloves of garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt or kosher salt. Sometimes the food processor will leave some garlic chunks, so a little pre-mashing will get it mixed in better. Not that SWMBO minds the occasional chunk of garlic. Come to that, neither do I; I just don’t want to have to fish it out of eggplant.
  4. Put the garlic paste you just made into a food processor along with:
    • 1/3 cup of tahini,
    • 1/3 cup olive oil,
    • the juice from three lemons
  5. Cut open the eggplant and scoop out the innards (they should come out very easily; sometimes you can just dump the innards out of the skin). Add those innards to the contents of the food processor.
  6. Process until smooth.
  7. Dust the top of the paste with cumin & process a bit more. Repeat. (That's right, two dustings.)
  8. Transfer to a serving dish for a party or a storage container for the fridge so you can enjoy a bit at a time over the next several days.
So that’s it. If anything needs adjusting, I’m sure it will appear in the combox so I can adjust the recipe next time I make it.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Kahlúa, pt 2.

The original Kahlúa post is linked to the title. This is just to simplify my actual working recipe.

This recipe makes approximately 2250 ml. of beverage. That’s 3 of those 750 ml. bottles, and if you do point-of-use recycling on that vodka bottle, you only need two more bottles. I prefer these bottles. Or these. (If you use these, you also get the pleasure of emptying the bottles first. ;^) )

  1. In a large saucepan, combine 32 oz. dark brown sugar (4 c.) and 3 c. water.
  2. Stirring, bring to a boil (Warning! this will boil up into a messy foam in no time flat. DO not turn your back on it!), then turn down the heat and
  3. let simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Set it aside covered to cool (the cover is to keep things off the syrup you’ve just made).
  5. In a 1 or 1 & 1/2 qt. pan, bring 1 c. water to a boil.
  6. Turn off the heat and add 2 oz. of instant espresso (1 small jar) and stir briskly. (Warning! this will boil up into a messy foam in no time flat. Keep stirring until it quits trying to foam up.)
  7. Add the condensed espresso to the syrup & stir. Recover & let stand & cool.
  8. When cool, add 2 Tbsp. vanilla and 1 750 ml. bottle of vodka. Stir and transfer to bottles.
  9. Let stand for three weeks before enjoying.
Plan your transfer well. This is very sugary, sticky stuff. You’re going to drip & dribble. Be sure the area you choose is very easy to wipe up. And be sure to wash the outside of the bottles before setting them aside for a sesquifortnight.

I have to say that I like this version more than the regular stuff. It’s a darker, richer flavor.