The Riches of Culinary Peasantry and Subsequent Pleasantry

thomas-woodruff-the-four-temperaments-landscape-variation-sanguinic

As I sat in the sunroom blowing smoke rings against the frosted panes, the kitchen gods whispered to me. Today would indeed be a perfect Wintry day for a cassoulet.

And, yes, like all other such recipes and traditions, mine is borrowed, augmented, and made more appropriate for our odd lifestyle and taste-buds.

What was once a French country peasant staple is now a Marklewood delight, and further one that allows for great freedom of expression. I also find that such a creation allows me the opportunity to “gently” clean out the icebox a bit!

Cassoulets are, by tradition, crocked meals, at once combining meats, beans, herbs, and sauce, although I usually add rice. Rice is my current starch trend as I prefer its texture … and Henry, who adores “people food”, is awfully fond of the saffron variety! As with all well-intended and pragmatic one-pot meals, I begin with selection of the perfect vessel, in this case a ceramic and lidded cooker. Friends, I urge you to verify any such choice to ascertain whether it is indeed oven-worthy, as I have oft let an assumption lead me astray.

Today, I am using a teal hand-sculpted three-quart work of art that my friend Patricia (a dear and rather Bohemian pottress) created for me years ago. It had a domed cover with a peculiar and thus engaging finial. I begin the layering process (I adore creating levels of taste in such meals) by meticulously placing a vegetable along the bottom of the pot.

Although a cassoulet would by tradition call for white beans, I am using Brussels sprouts, as I have fresh ones on hand and, although Jon doesn’t quite understand them, he WILL tolerate them in certain preparations. I ready them by quartering them and sautéing them with butter and garlic, and then line them up like attentive soldiers (back to back or a similar formation).

I then spoon a melange of similarly sautéed onions and mushrooms and make every attempt to cleverly conceal the waiting sprouts. Upon this layer, I add about four cups of rice. I offer “about” as one perk to this concoction is that exactness of quantities is unimportant, as the flavors compliment in any sensible proportion. Henry prefers saffron rice, as it melds mild flavor, texture, and butter, which is intoxicating to an indoor puss.

The final layer is that of substance, or meat if you must. I prefer sausages as they contribute full flavor. Today I am taking Summer sausages, browning them in a skillet, and then slicing them for ease in placement. Sometimes it is ALL about such ease, lest I forget an unfortunate creation of last year. That incident will safely go unposted and unshared.

Once all of the layering is complete and I am certain that there is absolutely nothing else I can add, I place the cover … ultimately cooking the cassoulet for forty minutes at 375 degrees. Again, with such a preparation, there is no need to be exact so even a half hour longer will not overcook the dish … just allow you more time on Facebook before dinner.

What I adore about this hearty meal is that the flavors essentially trickle down: The mushrooms & onions position themselves between the sprouts, sharing in the garlic, and filling any gaps. The rice fills similar gaps thus created by the mushrooms/onions, absorbing butter. The juices and herbed flavors from the sausage similarly infuse the rice.

As I wait for the dish to complete and the timer to chime, I ponder two other reasons for my fondness. First, I can use the same sauté pan for the Brussels sprout, ‘shrooms, and meat, thereby creating only one such pan to wash. Second, the cook time allows me the opportunity to wash and quickly put away that very pan and any utensils or holding bowls. I so enjoy having only ONE cooker to clean after dinner! Je ne regret rien!

One final note, my friends: when spooning and “plating” your cassoulet use the largest spoon you can find. Gently ease it towards the bottom of the dish and simply scoop. Never try to mix the ingredients. Sometimes it is best to allow the flavors and aromas to gently transition on the plate and avoid offering instead just one big ole complex taste! There IS such an effort as “over-mixing” as I have been accused of this on many a night!

In closing, oh comrades in cookery, Jon and I anticipate a warm and hearty dinner, worthy of an Arctic Sunday evening. Someday, perhaps you will join us. Although there may not always be a cleared chair, there is indeed always plenty of food to nourish and savor.

As they say in the South of France, “Bon Appétit, y’all!” And such cassoulets have followed suit and beckoned to be called Cassie. She’s nowhere near as touchy about her casserole roots this days.

(Note: Such a dish goes well with almost any robust wine, although I prefer a Pinot Noir. More importantly, I would put a Karen Akers CD on the carousel and turn the volume a lttle higher than is customary.

(Image: “The Four Temperaments: Sanguinic, Landscape Variation” by Thomas Woodruff, 2010.)

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Today’s Tomato Trivia, As if Tomatoes Could be Trivial!

060_1960_theredlistSupposedly (and we Southerners mostly agree), Chapel Hill’s Merritt Grill has the planet’s best BLTs and BLTAs. They need, however, both coat check and baggage claim procedures.

After all, One will certainly return. One prefers the Double BLT with avocado on artisan Rye bread. One is getting a stirring of “wee hour” munchies.

I have a local friend who cannot, for the life of her, determine what “T” represents. True, I exaggerate but her query has gone unanswered since 2005.

The best of both yellow and red tomatoes can and should be eaten as if it were a fruit. Take a meaty bite, as one might for a golden delicious apple.

Grandmother Dorothy used to say “to-mah-toes”, having convinced herself that she picked up the affectation while a schoolgirl in the Cotswolds.

She, in fact, was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1904. When she left home for studies at Oberlin, she didn’t look back. That is, not until the last moments of the cool and aloof Eisenhower years.

It is blasphemously and potentially dietarily incorrect to use a meat-free and, thus, vegetarian bacon substitute.

A veggie BLT should be eaten along side a lactose-free milkshake. My mouth is freakishly watering as I enjoy the tastiest of dreamy visions. But it becomes a small drip of colorless substitutions and lonely calories.

As for palette-pleasing and gastro-lubricating, mayonnaise is the only appropriate condiment. One might “stir in evenly” a diced jalapeño or favorite herbs. But the mixture blooms if chilled overnight in your icebox.

Oh how we love the homegrown summer tomato. We recall the years that our B and our L commingled with unusually superb Ts, yielding a king-worthy sandwich.

Here in the hinterlands, we may wait as many as 7 to 10 years for tomato perfection.

This season, we have been extremely lucky. My beloved and I each consume at least one tomato every day.

However, we first bow our heads in respect and gratitude to Saint Norma Jean, the patron saint of both safe harvest and ripe yield.

Vive les tomates beaux!

(Image: “Tomato, Something Unusual is Going on Here” by Milton Glaser, 1966.)

The Fresh Producers: That’s My Watermelon

imageToday was such a perfect August day, one of Lou Reed perfection. At least I think so. It’s been many years since such a Marklewood Sunday peeked at us from the East. And then, upon a positive evaluation, the day opened its eyes from the squint.

My sister Polly and I had a good, old-fashioned “Shelling for Jesus” day.  We shelled two pounds of field peas, cooked them, and took note. We sautéed onions, added a package of my most favorite spicy sausage, and slowly combined the field peas.

You have absolutely no idea, Oh Gentle Reader and Generous Chef. All but a cupful fied into a hand-crafted turquoise tureen. There is a-plenty.

For the rest of the afternoon, we organized and prepped all the produce that easily filled two shelves: squash, honeydews, canteloups, peaches, berries. Polly sliced two watermelons into manageable pieces on which a melon freak might get a little crazy.

For my part, I made a simple scored-cucumber salad with vidalias and balsamic vinegar. My sister cooked ten ears of corn and then sliced the kernels right into some storage piece.

I sliced fresh jalapeños and stirred the slices into two cups of my favorite mayonaise. For those of you who do not live in the US, let me forewarn you. Southerners, if not consumers from all of the continental sbouncerstates, enjoy a rite of passage into culinary adulthood. Most folks seem to have lifelong selections for their “favorite” non-boutique mayonaise, ketchup, mustard, cola. In my case, a nosy guest might find Hellman’s, Heinz, Guldens, and Pepsi.

While there are many, many soft drinks with both many variations and fields of fans, I’m afraid that such a summit would never be a calm, civil display via Roberts Rules or behemoth bouncers.

I swear on the memories of Boar & Castle Drive In, years of transgression therapies have been unproductive. The best kitchen controls are high, broil, and anarchy-fueled domestic dictatorships.

By 5:30 pm, all the produce was washed, sliced, and bagged. Wherever appropriate foods were cooked, we secured the perfect size storage tureens.

We chatted, planned another such afternoon, and just passed away these suggestive dog days. No time had passed in the five years since we had a healthy interrupted visit.

I was so ready. I was so hungry. Eating healthily is its own revenge, eh Emily?

May your dreams tonight be as sweet as fresh Candor peaches!

Shalom. Bon apetit.

(Image: by Kevin Sloan.)

Do Zombies Appreciate Taste and Options?

carte-zombie
Recently when I was in a well-appointed but lonely hospital room, there was entirely too much time spent alone. I could neither read New York Magazine nor the classic “Devil’s Dictionary”. My incisions and various apparati did, however, allow me to over-process my family’s dysfunctional legacy, and stare at the different digital readings, mesmerized by the most minute of changes in blood pressure, pulse, and measures of states and symptoms (I know not what!).

I blame my preoccupations on the morphine and the highly-monitored and late night smidgeons of Fentanyl.

One such wee hour, after two full days without so much as a catnap or doze, I started expressing gratitude to the Universe for anything that would remain in my life … post both respirator and cracked sternum. Take for example my favorite television programs. My beloved “Walking Dead” and the others would likely not premiere a new season until I was fully recuperated. Oh, how I miss those zany zombies.

Riveting visions of walkers, in hordes, popped in and out of my imagination. Would our cast ever get out of zombie-ridden Georgia? Is it possible that Newt Gingrich, Hulk Hogan, or Raven Symone might have a guest “turn” after falling victim to this most crazed of SciFi apocalypses.

What would Jon and I do if hordes of these non-creatures invade Marklewood? Would Jon and I lose the fight? Would we become some amusing luncheon? I stopped to ponder that question. Now that I have a pacemaker, LVad, cable, and stents stitched into my body cavity, would I then be “crunchy” to Sparky’s “creamy”? Thank the gods of AMC kindly allowed me a summer filled with jiffs and meditations. I am certain that my ponderances will build towards some bizarre twists and tales.

Dunno. Perhaps it was the morphine after all.

(Image: “The Map of Zombies” by Jason Thompson, 2013.)

Dalí’s Illustrated Tome of Witty Recipes and Tasty Prose

“Les Dîners de Gala”, the opulent cookbook that Salvador Dalí conceived and executed, pays homage to legendary Parisian traditions, chefs, and restaurants. His words hint to the yet-to-fully explode modernist approach to the art and fashion in food preparation and presentation. His illustrations at once pay tribute to classic French 19th c. “gastronomique stylistes extraordinaire” Urbain Dubois and Émile Bernard.

The 1971 gem consists of 136 eclectic, impractical, and sumptuous recipes within twelve equally as odd chapters/categories:
Les caprices pincés princiers
Les cannibalismes de l’automne
Les suprêmes de malaises lilliputiens
Les entre-plats sodomisés
Les spoutniks astiqués d’asticots statistiques
Les panaches panachés
Les chairs monarchiques
Les montres molles ½ sommeil
L’atavisme dés oxyribonucléique
Les “je mange GALA”
Les pios nonoches
Les délices petits martyrs

These titles ironically tie everything together as if Dalí were sharing an amusing intimacy.

Additionally, fifty-five of the individual recipes were illustrated in color, twenty-one of which were created and shared by much-ballyhooed chefs from Lasserre, La Tour d’Argent, Maxim’s, and Le Buffet de la Gare de Lyon, and other noteworthy and famed restaurants.

Naturally, as is true with most anything that involves Dalí and either his spoken or written word, it is always quotable, if not sometimes perversely:
“Do not forget that a woodcock, ‘flambée’ in strong alcohol, served in its own excrements, as is the custom in the best of Parisian restaurants, will always remain for me in that serious art that is gastronomy, the most delicate symbol of true civilization.”

Or that which is a Marklewood credo:
“I attribute capital esthetic and moral values to food in general, and to spinach in particular…”

I eagerly anticipate his “Wines of Gala” (1977) which, like the afore-mentioned, I can neither find nor afford. It is similarly outrageous and a connoisseur’s compendium of art, reference, and prose. Henry joins in my sigh, but knows not what that means.

(“Les Dîners de Gala” by Salvador Dalí, 1971.)

Exchanging Peasantries: A Recipe

Zamfir Dumitrescu (19)

As I sit in the sunroom pondering those worries that prevent a steady slumber, the kitchen gods often whisper to me. This would indeed be a perfect late summer’s eve for a cassoulet. It is unseasonably cool, damp, and we have survived yet another torrent. And, of course, Jon and I crave a familiar creation that at once comforts our cockles and restores our hearth’s dominion.

As with other such recipes and traditions, mine is borrowed, augmented, and made more appropriate for our odd lifestyle and tired taste-buds. What was once a French country peasant staple is now a Marklewood delight, and further one that allows for great freedom of expression. I also find that such a creation allows me the opportunity to “gently” clean the icebox of neglected ingredients!

Cassoulets are, by tradition, a crocked meal, at once combining meats, beans, herbs, and sauce, although I usually add rice. Rice is my current starch trend as I prefer its texture (and Henry, who adores “people food”, is awfully fond of the saffron variety!) As with all well-intended and pragmatic one-pot meals, I begin with selection of the perfect vessel, in this case a ceramic and lidded cooker. Friends, I urge you to verify any such choice to ascertain whether it is indeed oven-worthy, as I have oft let an assumption lead me astray. Of course, such a ducky preparation would be divine if the cats would hike down to the lake and rustle up some fowl.

Today, I am using a teal hand-sculpted three-quart work of art that my friend Patricia, a dear and rather Bohemian pottress, created for me years ago. It had a domed cover with a peculiar and thus engaging finial. I begin the layering process (I adore creating levels of taste in such meals) by meticulously placing a vegetable along the bottom of the pot.

Although a cassoulet would by tradition call for white beans, I am using Brussels sprouts, as I have fresh ones on hand and, although Jon doesn’t quite understand them, he will tolerate them in certain preparations. I ready them by quartering them and sautéing them with butter and garlic, and then line them up like attentive soldiers, back to back or a similar formation.

I then spoon a melange of similarly sautéed onions and mushrooms and make every attempt to cleverly conceal the waiting sprouts.

Upon this layer, I add about four cups of rice. I offer “about” as one perk to this concoction is that exactness of quantities is unimportant, as the flavors compliment in any sensible proportion. Henry prefers saffron rice, as it melds mild flavor, texture, and butter, which is intoxicating to an indoor puss.

The final layer is that of substance, or meat if you must. I prefer sausages as they contribute full flavor. Today I am taking the ever appropriate Summer sausages, browning them in a skillet, and then slicing them for ease in placement. Sometimes it is all about such ease, lest I forget an unfortunate creation of last year. That incident will safely go unposted and forever unshared.

Once all of the layering is complete and I am certain that there is absolutely nothing else I can add, I place the cover … ultimately cooking the cassoulet for forty minutes at 375 degrees. Again, with such a preparation, there is no need to be exact so even a half hour longer will not overcook the dish … just allow you more time on your favorite social networking site before dinner.

What I adore about this hearty meal is that the flavors essentially trickle down: The mushrooms and onions position themselves between the sprouts, sharing in the garlic, and filling any gaps. The rice fills similar gaps thus created by the mushrooms and onions, absorbing butter. And the juices and herbed flavors from the sausage similarly infuse the rice.

As I wait for the dish to complete and the timer to chime, I ponder two other reasons for my fondness.  First, I can use the same sauté pan for the Brussels sprouts, ‘shrooms, and meat, thereby creating only one such pan to wash. Secondly, the cook time allows me the opportunity to wash and quickly put away that very pan and any utensils or holding bowls. I so enjoy having only one cooker to clean after dinner!

One final note, my friends: when spooning and “plating” your cassoulet, use the largest spoon you can find. Gently ease it towards the bottom of the dish and simply scoop. Never try to mix the ingredients. Sometimes it is best to allow the flavors and aromas to gently transition while on the plate and, thus, avoid offering instead just one big ole complex taste! There is such an effort as “over-mixing” as I have been vehemently accused on many a night!

In closing, oh comrades in cookery,  Jon and I anticipate a warm and hearty dinner, worthy of an Arctic evening, or the weather of a storm. Someday, perhaps you will join us, although there may not always be a cleared chair. However, there is indeed always plenty of food to nourish and savor.  Usually.

As they say in the South of France: “Bon Appetit, Y’all!”

(Note: Such a dish goes well with almost any robust wine, although I prefer a pinot noir. More importantly, I would put a Karen Akers CD on the carousel and turn the volume a little higher than is customary.)

 

(Image: “Untitled” by Zamfir Dumitrescu.)

Henry’s Favorite Slaw, Option #17

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Like any good Carolinian, I appreciate a decent cole slaw, though not the runny, mushy, or oddly-green variety popular at barbecue stands or diners. Rather, I offer my take on an old standard with my customary embellishments. Yes, it is surely loaded with cholesterol, fat, and all things unhealthy. As a Southerner, that is both my charge and curse, my friends.
I call it “Henry’s Favorite (But Daddy Won’t Like It) Slaw Option #17“. Henry, one of the eclectic pusses here at Marklewood adores all of its ingredients separately, and purrs in nourished content after feasting on the blend. I, as a more inconsistent, less finicky, and more human-type, fancy many, many varieties on this easily-assembled side dish and therefore number them as well, humble archivist that I am often called.

As per usual, start with a festive, aesthetically-pleasing, and ample dish:

Take two bags of angel hair slaw, open, and empty into a large mixing bowl. The finer, more delicate “angel hair” somehow seems more genteel and precious than the bulkier, more customary shreds! I have tried broccoli slaw and enjoy its savory merits, but (with this concoction) it is, alas, too strong in flaw and fiber. When I was younger and more of a purist, I would shred my own cabbage but have since grown weary of arduous tasks of the chopper.

Prepare a pound of bacon bits. I “fry up” (remember I am in North Carolina) slab-style country bacon and chop, mince, and tear apart (by hand) the fried strips of forbidden fat. Deglaze the pan with a half cup of balsamic vinegar as that will later be used as the culinary “lubricant”. Surely, you anticipated at least a few attempts at sexual metaphors or innuendo! Set aside.

Take one pound of blue cheese and crumble with gusto. Never, ever be chintzy or reserved with cheese, as it is the attraction that most party-goers come to see and admire. I have used the exotic and delightfully pungent Castilian variety but, as it is now upwards of $20 a pound, I appreciate the merits and thrifty flavor of the noble Danish blue. Set aside.

Locate, purchase, and finely chop a cup of fresh chervil. Chervil is a rather sedate and subtle herb that seems to have divine powers in food enhancement. Flavors (such as those of greasy, decadent bacon and ripe blue cheese) blossom to full impact with its addition. Of course, the designer in me would add that the dark green leafy morsels add variety and interest to the slaw as well. The challenge here, my friends, is finding chervil. I find it is easier to keep the thought of this recipe in my foremind and resurrect it should I stumble upon the herb by chance at the grocer’s. Set aside.

Pour the balsamic vinegar & bacon dripping mixture over the slaw and mix and toss into a splendid frenzy. The slaw will reduce in bulk a bit from the energetic stir. Add all the various crumbles, bits, and florets. Continue blending. Complete the process by gently spooning the slaw into your designated presentation dish and cover.
    
I have experimented with other seasonings and flourishes, having also added different nuts, spices, as well as vidalia onions. But I have found, paws down, that I prefer this core preparation, as it allows the bacon and blue cheese full charge of the flavors.

Slaws can be prepared in advance, awaiting later consumption, even for a day if you are a compulsive and well-planning kitchen-tender. However, if made ahead of time, the slaw will keep more properly if the liquid isn’t added until an hour before serving. Otherwise, the cabbage will wilt and the final product will be limp and runny. I personally prefer my mine firm and well-bolstered to augment the rest of that meal’s menu items!

Yes, I know this recipe is surprisingly simple and requires little thought or measure at any stage of the process. That’s the beauty of it. Sometimes there is joy and splendor to be found on the shorter path!

Perhaps it is indeed time for another glass of Caymus Conundrum.

 

(Image: Illustration for “Thumbelina” by Shigeru Hatsuyama, 1925.)

The Perfect Day, the Perfect Guests, and a Bundle on the Stoop

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I always hated that my birthday so quickly follows the Fourth of July. Any attempt to celebrate both adequately leaves both fêtes trite, underdeveloped, and unfulfilling. As a result, most often, the two have always been combined in my household. But, pragmatist that I sometimes am, I realize that I pale when standing tall next to my homeland and its heritage. Besides, I reserve my most genuine revelry for that birthday when the weather is cool and breezy … such daytime temperatures I have rarely felt only in in the most peculiar of July festivities.

That was certainly the case in Washington, D.C., where the anti-Christ and I lived for more years than I prefer recall. We lived in a restored Civil War farmhouse, in a slightly rough and “transitional” area. Although we were considered by our peers to be urban pioneers and often were harassed by the teenagers that passed by, we loved the charm, trees, and the entertaining older residents who doted on us so frequently. We even learned not to wince when rocks were tossed at windows late at night.

It was once such birthday weekend and we had made few plans, opting simply to let them unfold. Woods, a former professor of George’s, was our houseguest for the week; he was a brilliant man of seventy given to shuffling as he walked and filling his morning coffee cup with gin. He actually believed we could never tell, although slurring conversation by 10AM is oft a giveaway in polite society.

On Saturday night on the 3rd, our friends Jim and Richard dropped by with a huge carton … so huge that it required four of us to carry it onto the porch. They handed me a card, which I opened, and read. I proceeded to discover what was secreted inside the behemoth of cardboard! I was at once thrilled and overwhelmed: they had presented me with a gas grill for my birthday. I had eyed one in particular for so long, but (being the late 80’s) they were not yet commonplace and still considered quite the luxury.As George and Jim completed whatever assembly the grill required, Richard and I played bartender and started to plan a gathering for the next day. What better way to inaugurate a grill but by hosting a birthday cookout, honoring both my country and me! By the time all cogs and screws were in place, Richard and I had invited a dozen folks over for the next afternoon … and there was still time to get to the Safeway that night to gather all the provisions for burgers, slaw, and a novel potato salad creation. (Such “off the cuff” creations are my forte and pleasure.)

Of course, with such a short notice, we’d have to limit alcohol options to beer and wine. Liquor stores would be closed the next day and we were out of most everything except Pimm’s and Chartreuse! An assortment of beers and ales would just have to suffice. George was a little pissed since he was assuredly a martini man, always and frequently.

I spent the rest of the evening obsessing over the party while George and Woods sat on the back porch enjoying a multitude of Pimm’s and sodas, pondering George’s college days … and his progression since.

The next morning was typical for a Sunday… except that Woods was already rather tipsy when I finally went downstairs at 8AM. Apparently, he couldn’t sleep and decided to greet the world at 5AM. He claimed to have attempted to make coffee, but I suspect he went straight to the liquor cabinet.

In any case, he was well into celebratory imbibing. “Bbbbbbbb-beh-beh, why dun’t you let me prepay-uh you sum pay-un-cakes?” he offered. I knew better.

I sent him upstairs and went out front to get the paper when I noticed a bundle in front of the glass doors. Suspicious, I summoned George. What looked a babe wrapped in swaddling appeared lifeless. Could it be a wretched prank by the marauding teenagers? In any case, it was certainly horrific and spelled disaster. Surely, we were targeted by someone with something for some reason.

At that point, Woods shuffled up from behind us and flung the door open: “Bbbbbbbb-beh-behs, allow me to get thee-us for you. Steh-ep aside!” He reached down, fumbled through the blanket, and showed us what was clearly a liquor bottle, a bottle of Stoli undoubtedly from their reserve. The dotty man clutched and cradled the “booty” and proceeded inside, unwrapped it fully, and said it MUST be for him.

“I DON’T THINK SO,” I countered as a note fell to the tile floor:

“Happy Birthday, Mark. You’ll need this today as you hate to serve only beer … for so many reasons. At some point, we are sure you will yearn for independence. Love, R & J!”

Those sweet guys. The cookout was great. The house echoed with the alluring music of Tanita Tikaram. Woods had fallen asleep long before the guests started to arrive, only to awaken right after dessert. And we had several rounds of various and sundry martinis. Though I have never understood how, in a gathering of a dozen gay men, NO two will ever prefer their martini in the same manner.

And the temperature remained in the refreshing low 70’s, as it will tomorrow I just know. I had a Sea Breeze, my soiree beverage of choice back then.

A tall, well-shaken iced coffee is my libation of choice these days.

(Image: “The Climb” by Gil Bruvel.)

A Variation to Nana’s ‘Nana Puddin’

panikanova-2

My Southern friends often chastise me for my banana pudding. It’s certainly not because they do not enjoy it, as they tend to devour it like starved and unrestrained 70’s stoners. Rather, they assert that I am quick to bastardize a regional classic and brand it with my touch. Often I hear echoes of “Can’t you leave well enough alone” or “Only you, Marky!”

Naturally, self-monickered perfectionista, connoisseur-wannabe, and goofball blend that I am, I attempt to make the less elegant, more so … or the mundane, more meaningful. Simply put, however, I try to give the noble pudding the pedigree it needs to be dished proudly next to any Peach Melba, Cherries Jubilee, or that upstart cousin, Bananas Foster!
So for you, my Canadian comrade in sweetened comforts, this is my humble and brief attempt at a recipe. Mind you, I usually “wing it” as I embark on all such matters in a stream of free form expression:

Take your favorite and most appropriate casserole or dessert dish and make certain it is adequately washed, as mine are often dusty from casual storage. No matter how tasty a morsel is, a random cat hair or pillow feather tends to negate any cravings, except for the above mentioned 70’s stoner.

Prepare your pudding mixture. I suggest you use the recipe that brings you comfort, ease, and familiarity in preparation. I add to that quartered banana slices and a 1/3 cup of amaretto. If you should add any liqueur (as I often will) be certain to reduce the amount of milk, so as to avoid a running consistency upon serving.

Fill the sparkling and pristine dish with your pudding mixture, to about the 1/3 mark., allowing room for the rise when adding bananas and wafers.

Take Lorna Doone shortbread cookies (substitute the Walker variety, my UK buds) and place them artfully and geometrically in the designated dish. I opt for meticulous rows and columns, usually about ½ inch apart.

Once all the shortbread is in place and at attention, pour the remainder of the pudding mixture to just above the tops of the cookies.

Place the pudding in the icebox for twenty-four hours to allow ample time for it to congeal and “set up” (as it were, Scarlet). I find banana pudding primes better for the taste and the presentation if it is not rushed or quickly chilled.

Before serving, I generously fold crème fraiche over the top and sprinkle on that a mixture of crumbled shortbread and nutmeg. Yes, CoolWhip, RediWhip, or any other prepared dessert topping will suffice. But if you, my friends, were coming to Marklewood for dessert and coffee, I would most certainly use crème fraiche.

Spoon, dish, and serve the banana pudding, then, in the manner that best suits your style, the tempo of your get-together, and the appetite of your guests.
So create, enjoy, and entertain thus and remember my banana pudding. Please do not judge it harshly, for it was I who chose to exclude the revered Vanilla Wafers and embellish a classic.
Bon appétit.

(Image: “Untitled” by Ekatarina Panikanova, 2011.)

Wienies From ‘Round the World: May I Suggest a Wine?

Zeppelin

“Wienies from around the world,” that’s what we fondly christened the dish back in 1984. I was living in Kenmore Square in Boston; it was a balmy Sunday night; and I had a dozen rather eclectic friends coming over to comment, cheer, and make merry as we watched the Summer Games of the XXIII Olympiad. My apartment was rather tiny with a modest galley kitchen so my preparation had to be well thought-out and executed or else I would’ve met anarchy of sorts … long before we even gathered to eat dinner.

After contemplating countless possible menus, I opted for my own variation of an American classic, one that surely would be savored but would suggest high camp and my trademark whimsy. I took classic “beans & franks” and added twists, customizing it for the Olympics and my own eccentric brand of “flavor!”

As I marketed, I had an epiphany: why not assemble hot dogs and sausages from different countries to create an Olympic-worthy international meal. Little did I realize that, in doing so, I would ultimately add two hours to my shopping time as I had to go to three different grocery stores! Oh, how I adore making the simple more complicated!
However, by 5:00PM, I was ready to commence the prep work and assembly:

I sautéed Polish kielbasa, Italian Summer sausages, spicy Thai sausages, Bavarian Bratwurst, ever-so-kosher Hebrew National Franks, and a traditional & local favorite, Fenway Franks! Slicing & mixing them, I finally arranged them in the bottom of a huge lasagna pan, trying not to be too anal in my placement.

I then took several large cans of Boston baked beans (“when in Rome …”) and added sautéed Vidalia onions, fresh chervil, and diced jalapenos, spooning the mixture on top of the meats to create a second layer.
Taking a pound of country slab bacon, I fried it, chopped it into bits, and sprinkled it over the beans. Remember, my friends, it WAS 1984 and bacon was yet to become the enemy!
I finished off my preparation by drizzling honey over the bacon, the dish now ready for “simple insertion” into my small oven for baking. 
(“Insertion” and “aperture” were my two favorite words that year! They were often in heavy rotation.)
Later that evening, my buddies came over; we tasted several merlots (several indeed); and cheered indeed as history was being made at the Los Angeles Summer games. At that very point at which we started to “become starch-depleted” (read: “buzzed!”), I announced to all that dinner was awaiting spooning and consumption: “In honor of the occasion, tonight we will be dining on the slightly elegant wienies from around the world!” 
Of course, everyone guffawed and chuckled. I was far too reserved and proper to ever serve such a creation! I smiled because I knew that I had branded the dish my very own (with my own styling) and they would soon discover I wasn’t joking.
Naturally, the meal was a huge hit. I say this not out of cockiness, but rather: if it hadn’t been, I would never have posted about it!
A quarter-century has passed and I have now made the dish a dozen times, usually for a campy, relatively low-brow fête of sorts. It never fails! People laugh and then enjoy it, rather satisfied, as it can be ever so comforting and laden with all-things-bad! There was one notable exception, however.
The anti-Christ was once appalled at the mere suggestion of this offering, requesting a cassoulet instead. His pretention amused and annoyed me for, in so many ways, it is basically the same thing. I might’ve responded to his insistence at the time by making ironic use of “aperture” … but I am certain I was thinking “a**hole”!
Little did I know that our personal apocalypse would start thus, and in the kitchen even. He was foolish this way: that was where, in so many ways, I kept all of my artillery and maintained the upper hand!

Not Nana’s ‘Nana Puddin’

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My Southern friends often chastise me for my take on the classic and oh-so-comforting banana pudding. It’s certainly not because they do not enjoy it, as they tend to devour it like starved and unrestrained 70’s stoners. Rather, they assert that I am quick to bastardize a regional preparation and brand it with my touch. Often I hear echoes of “Can’t you leave well enough alone” or “Only you, Marky!”
     Naturally, self-monickered perfectionista, connoisseur-wannabe, and goofball blend that I am, I attempt to make the less elegant, more so … or the mundane, more meaningful. Simply put, however, I try to give the noble pudding the pedigree it needs to be dished proudly next to any Peach Melba, Cherries Jubilee, or that upstart cousin, Bananas Foster!
So for you, my Canadian comrade in sweetened comforts, this is my humble and brief attempt at a recipe (mind you, I usually “wing it” as I embark on all such matters in a stream of free form expression):

Take your favorite and most appropriate casserole or dessert dish and make certain it is adequately washed, as mine are often dusty from casual storage. No matter how tasty a morsel is, a random cat hair or pillow feather tends to negate any cravings, except for the above mentioned 70’s stoner.

Prepare your pudding mixture. I suggest you use the recipe that brings you comfort, ease, and familiarity in preparation. I add to that quartered banana slices and a 1/3 cup of amaretto. If you should add any liqueur (as I often will) be certain to reduce the amount of milk, so as to avoid a running consistency upon serving.

Fill the sparkling and pristine dish with your pudding mixture, to about the 1/3 mark., allowing room for the rise when adding bananas and wafers.

Take Lorna Doone shortbread cookies (substitute the Walker variety, my UK buds) and place them artfully and geometrically in the designated dish. I opt for meticulous rows and columns, usually about ½ inch apart.

Once all the shortbread is in pace and at attention, pour the remainder of the pudding mixture to just above the tops of the cookies.

Place the pudding in the icebox for twenty-four hours to allow ample time for it to congeal and “set up” (as it were, Scarlet). I find banana pudding primes better for the taste AND the presentation if it is not rushed or quickly chilled.

Before serving, I generously fold crème fraiche over the top and sprinkle on that a mixture of crumbled shortbread and nutmeg. Yes, CoolWhip, RediWhip, or any other prepared dessert topping will suffice. But if YOU, my friends, were indeed coming to Marklewood for dessert and coffee, I would most certainly use crème fraiche.

Spoon, dish, and serve the banana pudding, then, in the manner that best suits your style, the tempo of your get-together, and the appetite of your guests.
So create, enjoy, and entertain thus and remember my banana pudding. Please do not judge it harshly, for it was I who chose to exclude the revered Vanilla Wafers and embellish a classic.
Bon appétit.

(Image by Urbain Dubois.)