For many year HG disdained the traditional Thanksgiving feast of turkey with all the trimmings. However, BSK’s skills have made HG change his mind. First of all, BSK takes great care in selecting the holiday bird. This year, BSK bought an Amish-raised, totally natural bird from Kuane’s, a well regarded grocer in Santa Fe. Under BSK’s deft hands the bird came out of the oven with brown, crisp skin and a delectably juicy interior. (A BSK secret: To insure a flavorful breast, BSK laid anchovies and bacon on the breast, covered the mixture with foil and let it melt into the bird). Earlier in the day, BSK served butternut squash soup (with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a dusting of cayenne). This soup was based on a recipe from HG’s beloved, late sister, Beulah. All raised glasses to toast her memory. Dinner was festive. Nine persons squeezed around the dining table. Many bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau and Pinot Noir. Side dishes of caramelized pearl onions, roast brussels sprouts, creamy mashed potatoes, stuffing, haricot verts, cranberry sauce. Pear crisp with vanilla ice cream plus peanut butter pie for dessert. Lavish eating. HG has always insisted on lots of turkey gravy with the dinner and BSK complied. BSK roasted vegetables and added them to cooked turkey gizzards, mushroom broth, turkey neck meat and a bit of flour (for thickening). Best turkey gravy ever. Turkey sandwiches the next day. More turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy for next two nights. Followed by turkey soup a la New Mexico. BSK enhanced the soup by giving it a hit of Goya Adobo and adding Big Jim New Mexico roasted chili peppers. Yes, turkey is a bird who just keeps giving, and HG is now glad to receive.
Some folks seem surprised when they learn New Mexico gets reuglar snow. They may be mistaking the Land of Enchantment with superheated Arizona where swimming pools turn into pots of chicken soup in the summer. In fact, much of New Mexico is at high altitude and the NM mountains host a number of world-class ski resorts. In HG’s neighborhood, snow does not fall in a deluge (as it did in the former HG/BSK mountain-top ranch in Colorado) but rather in a gentle dusting which was precisely what HG/BSK were greeted by this morning: the meadows outside dusted in powdery white snow. Snow on the ground — Time for breakfast oatmeal. Yes, there’s nothing more comforting on a cold morning. While HG dawdled under the covers, thoughtful BSK cooked some McCann’s Quick Cooking Rolled Oats Irish Oatmeal. Yes, the regular McCann’s product is better but the cooking takes much longer (Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats represent a worthy compromise). BSK amped up the oatmeal by cooking it with a mix of dried fruit including raisins and cranberries. Topped it with brown sugar, walnuts and warmed milk. A big time bowl of comfort, health and nutrition.
Yes, HG’s birthday was marked by a gift of some great spices from Gifted (and thoughtful) Daughter Lesley R. and family. Four savory spices: Berbere mixture, Aleppo pepper, ground Sumac berries and Charmushka. Berbere is North African in style and is powerfully hot and spicy. HG sprinkled it on grilled chicken. Gave it a big lift. Aleppo (from Turkey) is good on everything. Nice mixed with oil, oregano and garlic. Slather it on your broiled chicken or pan broiled hamburgers. Sumac (also from Turkey) is a whiff of the Middle East and is an essential ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes and spice mixtures. HG likes its lemony flavor so plans to add it to Zaatar, add olive oil and coat gently warmed pita with the mix. Charnushka (from India) has many uses. In Eastern Europe, it tops rye and other breads. In India, it is carefully blended with other spices to create the complexities of great curries, vindaloos, etc.. The flavor is something between caraway and cumin. HG intends to sprinkle some on on Greek yogurt and also add it to broiled tomatoes. HG loves the sound of the spice’s name. Can hardly wait to say: “Hey, pass the charnushka.”
HG’s go-to lunch (when HG isn’t eating sumptuously at El Parasol, Sopaipilla Factory, Tune Up Cafe, Shokho Cafe, Shibumi Ramenya, The Talin Market or any of the other good noshing places in the Santa Fe area) is a big bowl of Spicy Flavor Saymyang Ramen, a hearty Korean, instant-noodle soup. HG orders it by the carton from H-Mart, the Korean online grocer. Some weeks ago, HG learned that Korean immigrants in Los Angeles often served their hungry kids packaged ramen topped with slices of American cheese. Sounds strange but HG gave it a try with some aged cheddar and gouda. Really good. (Purists like SJ and Exquisite Maiko might turn up their noses but HG finds the cheesy addition yummy). HG also likes another bit of culinary eccentricity. The oldster often accompanies the remains of dinner red wine with peanut butter and peach (or mirabelle) jam on a few crisp Keebler’s Club Crackers. Oenophiles would be shocked.
That was the headline of a brilliant and moving work of journalism by the Washington Post’s Eli Jaslow (read by HG a few weeks ago). Saslow details the impossible challenge of feeding a family of five on the standard government allotment of $1.50 per meal. Says Jaslow: “The cheap foods this affords tend to be among the least nutritious–heavy in preservatives, fats, salt and refined sugar.” This is a recipe for morbid obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and other ailments. There are millions of kids in the United States whose minds and bodies are being destroyed by a reliance on unhealthy food. But, what can an impoverished mother do, someone living on foods stamps, when her child cries that he’s hungry and must eat? Pour some cheese sauce directly into a bag of Cheetos. Costs a buck. It is part of a vicious circle. The Republican war on the poor is going to mean more illness and higher health costs. What happened to “Family Values”? And, for that matter, “Christian Values”? HG must stop. Fury is boiling.
Calabacitas is the vegetable dish BSK creates when that excellent home cook wants to give a Mexican flavor to a dinner of pork chops or grilled chicken. BSK heats olive oil and sautees zucchini, red peppers, corn, onions and garlic. This gets a dusting of the magical, secret ingredient of all good kitchens — Goya Adobo powder. If the mood hits her, BSK will add (for a bit of heat and savory smokiness) a jolt of Spanish smoked paprika. A tip: BSK always uses Trader Joe’s frozen roasted corn niblets in cooked dishes. Fresh corn, while delicious off the cob, is wasted when cooked as part of a larger dish. If you want to forgo the chops and enjoy Calabacitas as a solo meal, here’s HG’s suggestion (nice while watching football or basketball on the TV): After the calabacitas is cooked, top it with lots of shredded Monterey Jack (or sharp cheddar cheese) and lower the heat until the cheese melts. Open a can of chipotle peppers and a jar of picante salsa. Warm tortillas. Tuck some calabacitas in the tortilla. Ramp up the heat with chipotles or salsa (or both). Mix up some Micheladas (Clamato and Corona beer served on ice with slices of lime in a salt rimmed glass). Roll up your tortilla and have fun. Go Broncos!!!
HG is very fond of many things Japanese. Foremost, HG adores his Japanese daughter-in-law, Exquisite Maiko, and HG/BSK’s enchanting half-Japanese grandchildren Haru and Teru. And, being an obsessive food nut, HG revels in the standard bearers of Japanese cuisine: sushi, sashimi, sake, tempura and ramen; in addition HG has been lucky to fall in love with the more obscure home-cooking side of Japanese fare through the culinary expertise of Exquisite Maiko. HG’s delight in things Japanese extends to architecture, furniture, wood-prints, calligraphy and much more. Recently, HG/BSK had the privilege of seeing a show of pottery by Bonnie Lynch in a sublime setting: the Galisteo (a town just south of Santa Fe) home of Japanese/American architect and master woodworker, Sam Takeuchi. Takeuchi has been working on his home’s interiors and gardens for seven years. He has combined some regional details (a door from a Mexican jail, for example) with seamless Japanese cabinetry in the most subtle finishes. Stone, brick, slabs of wood (reminiscent of Nakashima) all play a role in the deceptively simple, ethereally quiet interiors created by Takeuchi’s skill and imagination. Lynch’s pottery, many of which are fired to a near-transparent whiteness, were breathtaking in Takeuchi’s setting. HG/BSK are hopeful that an architectural photographer, who is sensitive and able, will someday photograph the Takeuchi home in order that its wonders reach an appreciative audience.
HG does not fancy canned goods — too many meals of “mystery cans” in HG’s youth (see the post Mom And Depression Canned Goods). However, there are exceptions. Alwadi Al Akhbar brand Baba Ghannouge is canned in Lebanon and is delicious. HG adds crushed garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and smoked Spanish paprika to this eggplant dip. Serves it with a selection from the Whole Foods olive bar (kalamatas, artichoke hearts, giant lima beans) plus warm pita bread dusted with zaatar (a middle eastern spice mix). Nice mezze. In another geographic mode, HG likes the Mexican products of Juanita’s Foods: Chicken (or pork) Posole. Hot and Spicy Menudo (tripe stew). Mucho flavor. Of course, HG is a huge fan of most Goya products, but especially their canned beans (white, kidney, garbanzos, black). Black beans mixed with rice (topped with raw onions and a few canned chipotle peppers) is an HG/BSK household favorite. (Cubans call it Moros y Cristianos — Moors and Christians). For chipotle peppers (plus other pepper varieties) look for the Herdez brand.
Some hearty dishes, traditional in New York City diners and “coffee shops” of HG’s youth, seem to have disappeared or exist so far from the pubic’s imagination, that they might as well have been taken off the menu. These include: Liver and onions plus bacon (with a side of French fries or mashed potatoes). Pot roast with a pool of dark brown gravy. Corned beef and cabbage (plus boiled potatoes). Boiled knockwurst with sauerkraut. Hot turkey sandwich (sliced turkey on white bread slathered with lots of giblet gravy plus a scoop of cranberry sauce). Hot roast beef sandwich (like turkey but with brown gravy, a side of mashed potatoes and pallid string beans). These were all cheap, filling dishes. Young HG, not a fastidious fresser, found them delicious.
Is there any dish more soulfully Jewish than kasha varnishkes? Don’t think so. For the unenlightened, permit HG to do some deconstruction: Kasha is another name (derived from the Yiddish Kashi literally translated as porridge) for buckwheat groats and is available in most supermarkets (Wolff’s is the outstanding brand). Varnishkes derive from the Russian pasta-like dish, vareniki. The approximation is butterfly shaped Italian pasta called “farfalle.” Thus, kasha varnishkes is a dish of kasha mixed with farfalle. An aside: There is a Jewish pasta product called egg barley or “farvel.” The name was possibly derived from “farfalle.” “Little Farvel” was a violent Jewish gangster (in the 30′s/40′) from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. HG has always enjoyed that nickname. Back to kasha varnishkes. You will find an excellent recipe for KV on About.com. Top your KV with loads of fried onions and mushrooms. Stir in an abundance of chicken fat or butter. Eat with a big bowl of sour cream. Drink icy vodka with beer chasers. Play Mandy Patinkin’s wonderful CD, “Mamalushen” or, if unavailable, hum a few bars of “My Yiddishe Momma.”