Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mousy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Dear Boo,

I am oh so thankful this year for you, my sister, this, our blogtastic creation, our wonderful family who appreciates the subtle superiority of a brined turkey, an aunt who makes a kickass Thanksgiving spread set on a table that would knock Martha's Wellies right off, the optimism displayed by our country in these hard and sad times, the awesome boots I just got for a fraction of the price, my nice cozy apartment on a cold winter night, a city with infinite answers to the question "what do you feel like for dinner?", a reasonable amount of disposable income with which to explore said answers, our aunt's recipe for perfect and easy pumpkin bread, the book I just finished that made me sob before I even had a chance to realize how good it was, you, dear readers, and other things too numerous to mention.

To celebrate, the annual parade of floats gargantuan, elaborate, and colorful:

The turkey. Brined in cider, salt, pepper, herbs. Moist and crispy. Usually it's all about the sides for me, but this year the turkey was where it's at.


The spread. Stuffing. Brussels sprouts with pecans. Sweet potatoes. Sunchokes (jerusalem artichokes).Turkeyleaf Mise en place.

Plate o bird.

Pumpkin bread. Corn muffins.

So good it deserves it's own picture.

Pumpkin log stuffed with gingered mascarpone.

Best. Pie. Ever.
You gonna eat that?
You gonna eat that?
You gonna eat that?
I'll eat that.

--"Birch" by Karen Shepherd

With love and admiration for auntie and uncle for feeding us all so darn well.


The Mouse

Monday, November 24, 2008

Three Vegetarian Dinners

Dear Boo,

I know I promised a pie post, which is forthcoming, but before you have dessert don't you think you should eat your vegetables? I do.

A certain member of the Brown Theater Faculty used to like to say, "Twice is repetition. Three times is motif." Or something. Which, though not all that helpful as an undergraduate actor, does make some sense. Think of the banana/orange knock knock joke. Or Santa. Two Ho's just doesn't seem right. (get your head out of the gutter, you hussy.) The point is, threes are good. And thusly this post will be a trifecta of meals. All vegetarian. All delicious.

Dinner #1:

We begin with Election Night. I was in a STATE to end all states all day which culminated in me nearly driving the Boyfriend to leap out the window by obsessing over our dinner plans. SHOULD we ORDER IN??! Should I COOK SOMETHING?? SHOULD I WAIT until our GUESTS ARRIVE to get THEIR OPINION??!! Should I LIE on the FLOOR NOW and GUZZLE VODKA until I pass out and you can just wake me up when it's OVER FOR LORD'S SAKE??!!!

In the end I concluded I needed something to do to distract me so I decided to cook some comfort food. Specifically, grilled cheese made with cheddar and fontina (and a little slather of chutney for me), tomato soup with cilantro stems and lime from Orangette, and our Uncle Barry's salad, a fabulous alternative to caesar. The soup channeled my anxious energy, the grilled cheese soothed me and reminded me of a time when I didn't care about politics, and the salad gave me something to pick at nervously throughout the night. In the end--well, we all know how that turned out. :)

Uncle Barry's Top Secret Salad

Chop one large clove of garlic. Put in the bottom of the salad bowl you plan to serve in. add a good pinch of kosher salt. With the back of your spoon, smush the garlic and salt against the bowl until it becomes a paste. Add black pepper. Add one Tablespoon of worcestershire sauce and one Tablespoon of dijon mustard. Add 3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil, whisk until emulsified. Add chopped romaine, about the equivalent of 1 head. Toss with dressing. Squeeze one half a lemon, and sprinkle with parmesan. Tada.

Dinner #2:

One of the members of our household who shall remain nameless had a weekend that looked a little something like this: Friday night: bacon cheeseburger & beer. Saturday brunch: Turkey Burger, Saturday dinner: Short rib burger and beers, Saturday late night: Tacos. Pizza on the way home. Sunday breakfast: Leftover pizza. yyyeeeaaahh. I wanted to cook something on Sunday but was implored to make it vegetarian and on the light side. There went my fantasies of standing over a steaming pot of beef stew. Instead I concocted what will now be known as Prague Cous Cous Salad, after an item on the menu at the Globe Bookstore in Prague where I ate probably 2 meals a week at while studying abroad. My version, also influenced by this recipe from 101 Cookbooks, goes a little something like this:

Prague Cous Cous Salad

1 butternut squash, carefully peeled and cubed.
4-5 small red onions, peeled and quartered in wedges.
3 zucchinis, chopped.
Few big handfuls of cremini mushrooms, quartered.
1 orange or yellow pepper, chopped.

Toss the above with a good few glugs of olive oil, some kosher salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
Spread on a roasting pan that's been preheating in the oven at 400. Roast for 30 minutes or until nicely browned and soft. You might want to do the onions and squash first, then the rest.
Take two cans of organic chick peas and a couple big handfuls (sorry, I don't have the foresight to measure most of the time) of pepitas (pumpkin seeds), toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and maybe some other seasonings to shall we say, kick it up? Throw those on the roasting pan for a couple of minutes until toasted a bit.
Make some whole wheat (if you're feeling super virtuous, which I was) cous cous according to the package directions. I think this would also work well with wild or brown rice, or quinoa.
To serve, pile some arugula (or baby spinach) on a platter--a big one. I've inexplicably given you a recipe for about 10. Dress with olive oil, squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper.
Pile cous cous jauntily (what?) on top.
On top of this, layer the roasted veggies, chick peas and pumpkin seeds.
Garnish with chopped scallions and cilantro.

To make dressing: whisk a cup of greek yogurt (i like Fage 0%), juice of half a lemon, quarter cup olive oil (or thereabout), kosher salt, pepper, and a handful of finely chopped cilantro. Drizzle over top.
Eat for weeks.

Dinner #3:

So at physical therapy for my elbow, we do all sorts of exercises to re-buff my arms and then when that's all over, sweet Ashley puts me in a private room where I lie down with a special ergonomic pillow under my knees, two electrodes attached to my arm to give me slight tingly kisses, and an ice pack. And then she dims the lights and leaves me there for 15 minutes. During which, for the past couple of sessions, I've taken to sleeping. Like, full on dreaming. It's lovely. So the other night, I had just woken up from just such a nap, hungry, as I always am after napping, and was walking home to the above leftovers, when I passed a gorgeous bin of brussels sprouts at the farmers market. I couldn't resist.

We had enough roasted vegetables at home to last a month at least, so I fantasized about how else I could prepare my bounty as I headed across 17th Street. A gratin, I thought, would be just the thing. And I already had most of the ingredients at home. Consulting Ina Garten's recipe for zucchini gratin (because any recipe with butter and cheese will inevitably be insanely good when made by the Barefoot Contessa), I came up with this:

Deliciously Sleepy Brussels Sprout Gratin:

2 lbs brussels sprouts, sliced thinly--you can use a mandolin, but I kind of really enjoy the shook-shook-shooking of the knife through all the crispy layers of cabbage, so I do it by hand.
4-5 large shallots, sliced thin
1 cup of low-fat milk (I had low-fat, but I'm sure it would be even awesomer with whole)
2 T flour
1/2 C (I think that's about how much I used) grated parmesan
1/2 C shredded cheese (I had cheddar and fontina from the grilled cheese night, but I think gruyere is what this dish was really calling out for to give it a little sour stinkiness)
Few Tablespoons of bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste

Sautee the shallots in a few glugs of olive oil until soft but not brown. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add brussels sprouts and stir, sauteeing until bright green and tender (cover for a couple minutes if you need to). Reseason. Add milk and flour and mix. Sautee until it thickens a bit. Add half the parmesan and half the cheese. Mix. Pour into baking dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and cheese. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until brown on top and bubbling. mmmmmmmmm

Eat your veggies. Vegetables, that is. Not vegetarians. Too gamey.


The Mouse

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cheesequake, or, Rock Waits for No Meal

Dear Mouse,

OK so as you know last night I played a Very Fancy Theatre Event to benefit the Public Theatre's Shakespeare Lab at a Very Fancy Apartment on the Upper West (Fancy) Side. (Fellow Lab Alums Bari Robinson, Natalie Paul, and Lydia Gaston also performed, throwing down some sonnets.) Remember how I was all excited to go undercover for this post, grabbing surreptitious shots of celebrity hands reaching for hors d'oeuvres and whatnot?

Yeah that didn't happen. Between nerves about A) singing in front of glitterati and B) getting the hell out in time to drive the band to Asbury Park NJ!! for the second gig of the night - there was really no time (gasp!!) for food. This, then, was the theme of the night, and hence of this post.

Here's the only shot I managed.

Cool, though, right??

In sum: 1 glass white wine, 2 tiny (TINY) filet mignon-on-crostini with horseradish sauce, 2 tiny tiny seared tuna on rice crackers w/wasabi, 3 tiny mushroom thingys in puff pastry = Boo's dinner. Lovely hostess asks my band's name. ( Boo's Mental note: In future, lie about band name at fancy cocktail parties. Also, use more than one bite for crostini.)

OMG it's 8 by now and I have to be onstage in NJ at 10!!. Panic. Sing, flee, go pick up these guys -
- and we're on our way to here:
Travelers: there is NO FOOD in Asbury Park. The natives subsist only on beer and Springsteen.

Just before going on, I inhale a bag of Sun Chips.

We made it in time!!! to play a 1030 set at the "Females Rising" night (oy) at this legendary, mighty Jersey club. I hit the weathered, proudly grungy stage still wearing my pink dress and heels from the cocktail party. Nevertheless, we had them at "Whipping Post". They danced!

Love and thanks to PhanPhest Entertainment for the show and to MC from The Rag, who interviewed us afterwards (for the December 4 issue, the same date we hit the Knitting Factory Main Stage in NYC!) . A sneak preview: "The music's so good the lyrics don't have to be... and then you realize they are." Sigh. Thanks.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Sexy Children:

Boys, please!!! There's enough of me to go around!!

That's better.

On the way home, we are starving enough to stop in Cheesequake -


-which is a real place, and eat Burger King, after a prolonged and noisy argument in the car.
(I believe I actually said, "I WILL turn this car around!!")

Beggars can't be choosers:

(I had Chicken Tenders, which are basically McNuggets shaped like chickens.)
Look closely: you can see Dan is actually eating a yogurt parfait from Sbarro. And sulking.)

We hit home in the wee hours of the AM, grunt goodbye to each other, go home.

In the morning I eat this for breakfast:
and I feel much better. (leftover baked apple. Yeah, I ate it lying on its side. What? you don't know.)


The Boo

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hacklebarney Cider Sunday

Dear Boo,

This weekend, Jeff and I took one of those old fashioned Sunday drives out into the country on what has become a nearly yearly field trip to this place:

You and I used to take drives to the Hacklebarney Farm Cider Mill with mom and dad back in the day when I would stand outside the open garage door on the side of the main building, peeking in at the gears and presses of the big cider mill that crushed crate after crate of apples into pulp and juice. Then a couple of years ago, a friend and I were talking about pumpkin picking and when researching where we could go, I came across this place again (where during September and October, they also open up a pick your own pumpkin field). We came for the pumpkins, but discovered the bakery store and lunch options and vowed we'd return.

When I was about 8, someone told me that hot dogs had pig hooves in them, and that was IT for me. I refused to eat any for years to come....Except on one visit to the cider mill where I tried one of their dogs boiled in cider and declared it to be a singular treasure--the ONLY hot dog I would eat. Now, an avowed hot dog lover, the cider dogs keep bringing me back to Hacklebarney.

Jeff and I pulled up to the cider mill on a cloudy, windy, very cold day around 2:30, ready for some lunch. The whole farm seems to be permeated by a fog of sweet baking smells which just adds to the beauty of the place. We headed past the main house with the bakery store, and straight to the little shack where lunch is served. A young guy came out of the smaller house which holds the bakery and asked what we wanted. Cider dogs with cider and apple sauerkraut, and cider baked beans, please. We stood, stamping our feet against the cold, savoring the hot tasty lunch. The beans are syrupy and thick with chunks of apple and the sauerkraut is crunchy and sweet and sour and plentiful. And the dog--well, let's just say I still think this place is onto something major by boiling them in cider. I love a charred grilled hot dog as much as the next guy, but that's for summer. For a crisp fall day, I'd take this ANY day.

The drive to the Cider Mill is beautiful. Once you're off the highway you'll find yourself on back country roads along a babbling creek with old stone homes tucked into the hills along the path. If you make it out earlier in the season you'll get a lovely sampling of the leaves turning. The Mill is on the edge of Hacklebarney State Park which is full of beautiful paths through the woods if you're feeling adventurous. We, however, were cold and lazy, it being a grey sunday, and stuck to the warm inside of the bakery store where they sell pies (600 to order for thanksgiving, to be precise), apple dumplings, puff pastries, hot cider, mulling spices, and gallons of cider to take home. Oh, and cider donuts--powdered, cinnamon powdered, and pumpkin (the place was pretty quiet while we visited, but don't be deceived--the pumpkin donuts had sold out around 11am):

The donuts are light and fluffy--the kind you can plow through a few of before realizing the damage you've done. The cider taste is mild and not overly sweet--the dusting of sugar is all it needs. I bought a dozen. The Boyfriend was very appreciative.

Before we headed out, I also bought some cold cider and a basket of apples, the Mill's "Pie blend" of winesap, idared, golden delicious and a few others, good for baking or eating.

If you're looking for a jaunt out of the city one sunny, cold afternoon, I can't recommend this enough. Going earlier in the season is probably your best bet if you want to walk around or get a pumpkin, but as you can see, any time is worth it for lunch and some goodies, and petting the farm golder retreiver or cat.

And if you're Jeff, you might have the foresight to locate a Trader Joe's in Jersey on the way back so you can enjoy the other attraction of suburbia--normal sized supermarkets. Ahhhh. All you people who scorn Jersey--just give me an afternoon and I'll have you eating your words.

Also, give me a couple of days and I'll have an apple pie for you. Well, maybe not the pie itself, unless you're very lucky, but a forthcoming entry with the recipe and photos to drool over until you make your own. Til then...


The Mouse

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sounds Bad... Tastes Great... Leftovers!

Dear Mouse,
Is that not the WORST title for any food-related post? It's like saying "Eewwwwwwwwwwwwwwthis food."

Remember in high school a group of valiant parents banded together around an idea to raise money for the school theatre (excuse me, "performing arts program") and came up with the "Angels Cookbook"?

It was a cute little blue-and-yellow spiral-bound book full of recipes solicited from the kitchens of willing parents & faculty. I used to cook from the recipes with titles like "Aunt Ruthie's Ohio-Baked Brownies" and "Pretty Pound Cake". And this one mom, bless her, submitted a recipe titled

"Sounds Bad-Tastes Great-Chicken!"

Um, it starts with the word "bad". Why would anyone read any farther? "Sure", I remember thinking, "sure it tastes great." I think it involved rice krispies... ? that's all I remember.
"Lady", I thought, "if it sounds bad it probably is. No dice. I'm gonna make me some Snickerdoodles."

What an irony then, that in preparing to post the recipe I created this week, I found myself thinking, "well I can tell them that it might sound bad... but it tastes great!"
Even worse, it showcases a certain tiny furled green vegetable, and I can't think of anything worse than "Sounds Bad-Tastes Great-Brussels Sprouts!" Let's go with "Odds and Ends Salad", maybe. Or "Warm & Cold Brussels Sprouts Melange". Or "Things He Left In the Kitchen".

The GC just left town for a month-long gig, leaving me with only a frozen calzone for company. (He made a bunch of them last week and this one is supposed to compensate for distance. If I get lonely, I am allowed to defrost and eat it. That's romance, friends.)
The spectacular calzones (mozzarella/parmesan/turkeysausage/pepperoni) had been made for a dinner with friends (roasted broccoli and Ina Garten lemon cake by Boo) earlier this week.
This was the last in a pre-departure parade of Serious Carb Showstoppers ( homemade challah for a dinner in Williamsburg , homemade pizza for Election Night). I came home today from the Farmer's Market with a $3 box of brussels sprouts, determined to eat a vegetable and too tired to do an actual grocery shop. I cast about in the fridge and came up with:

The Sprouts He Left Behind, by Boo
In serving bowl:
Chopped up end of stick of hard salami or pepperoni (salami is better-the cracked pepper kind)
handful or two of leftover shredded mozzarella (or leftover grated parm)
Chopped apple (ideally granny smith) in large chunks

In a roasting pan:
brussels sprouts, halved, ends sliced off
leftover red sweet pepper, in chunks
small onion in chunks
a garlic clove, peeled
chopped fresh rosemary (or sage or really whatever herb lying around. keep it simple though.)
Pour olive oil over the items in the pan; toss to combine. Salt & pepper and toss again.
Roast in oven on 425, flipping/stirring veggies occasionally, til sprouts begin to blacken/get brown. I'd say 10 min. Mix hot ingredients with cold in bowl and vigorously toss. Cheese will melt and get all over. A good squeeze of lemon (apple cider vinegar would work too) over and toss more. Handful of breadcrumbs. Maybe some more salt & pepper. Taste.

Long live leftovers and the Angels cookbook.

The Boo

P.S. The
Mouse did something very similar this week, taking one item from the farmers market, and adding it to a slew of pantry ingredients to create a new and tasty (and questionable sounding) dish. The Boo thought twice about coming over when I described it as "some type of a bean and kale concoction." Note from Boo: Sounded bad, tasted GREAT.

Bean and Kale Pantry Concoction, by Mouse

Sautee one chopped
medium onion and two garlic cloves with some olive or vegetable oil in the bottom of a nice sized pot.
Add one minced
serrano pepper (or jalapeno) with or without seeds, and one chopped red bell pepper.
Sautee a few minutes over medium heat.
28-oz can of whole tomatoes and their juice, breaking up the tomatoes (sometimes i just fish them out and squeeze them in a fist until they're crushed. Good for anger management.)
Add 1
large can of kidney beans (or whatever beans you have on hand), with a bit of their juice.
Season with salt and pepper,
chili powder, and perhaps a bit of blackening seasoning or some of a leftover packet of chili seasoning or something else like that if you have it lying around and feel like a shortcut.
Chop one
large bunch of curly kale and add to pot. Stir a bit, salt and pepper, and put lid on pot until wilted a bit and more manageable. Add 1/2 Cup of chicken broth if you have it and a little bit of water.
Simmer uncovered until kale is cooked and liquid reduced a bit.
At this point I decided it needed a bit of a starch to round it out though you could serve it as is as a light chili/soup. I added 3/4 Cup of
white rice to the pot, stirred, and covered. Let simmer for 20 minutes over low heat until rice is cooked and some liquid has been absorbed.
Serve with chopped
scallions as garnish and a dollop of sour cream.

If you have any leftover meat, you could throw that in too--shredded chicken would make it a poor man's arroz con pollo, shrimp: a poor man's paella, sausage like a chili or gumbo. I think this dish would make a good catch-all for whatever veggies or meat you have lying around. And the nice thing is, unlike boiling or steaming kale, you don't lose any of the vitamins in the discarded liquid. Very healthy.
And cheap.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hamlet Prince of Pigs

Dear Boo,

Before we begin let me disclaim a bit...If you are a vegetarian, or someone who eats meat but would prefer to remain detached from the form that meat took while it was alive, or if you have a pig as a pet, you may want to not continue reading. (also, if you don't like long entries save yourself now.)

Personally, I feel that if I'm going to eat meat I better be willing to confront where it comes from. I'm someone who has struggled with being a meat-eater and even wandered into vegetarian territory for a few years. But I think, with responsible choices and some knowledge and perspective and a sense of proportion, I've come to terms with the fact that I, at times, consume other animals. And enjoy it tremendously.

All this is to say that a couple weekends ago, we cooked a pig. A WHOLE pig. In our apartment. Why, you might ask, did we do such a thing? Well, mostly I wanted to do this because I knew it would be tasty, but also because I thought, given the above, this experience of seeing an animal from slaughter (well, almost) to plate would bring me one educational step closer to taking full responsibility for what I put in my mouth. Of course feeling the little hooves paw at my chest as I slid across the cab seat after purchasing it, made me wonder if I could even look this pig in the snout, let alone eat it.

Here's where it all started. My old high school friend, Jake, has his own organic and local meat company called Dickson Farmstand Meats which is totally f-ing cool if you ask me. Recently I got an email from him about the fact that one of his pig farmers had a customer who had ordered about 70 pigs and then fell through at the 11th hour leaving them with quite a few little piggies to find homes for, so to speak. The Boyfriend also happens to love everything pig. And we missed our invitation about a year ago to a whole pig roast party which he has yet to forgive me for. So, when this pitch found its way into my inbox, I forwarded it to the Boyfriend and the resident Chef friend (Josh) and said, we have to do this.

I wasn't free to pick up my pig at the arranged time, so Jake told me to come to his apartment later that night and he'd take me down the block to his truck where the pigs were. Now, to be honest, I don't have a lot of experience buying drugs. But I can say with a lot of assurance that if drug dealers accepted checks, this whole situation taking place on a dark city corner would bear a striking resemblance to an illegal exchange of that kind. Of course, instead of a duffel bag full of coke (in my fantasy I'm big time), I left with a plastic bag-wrapped whole pig, and a purse full of two porterhouse steaks, lamb shanks and a package of breakfast sausages.

After bidding Jake adieu I lumbered awkwardly down the street carrying what probably looked like a small dead body. Since my arm is still technically injured and the pig was oh 20+ pounds, I had to carry it hugged to my chest like a baby bjorn. I was desperate for a cab to save my aching arms and the bizarre sense of shame I felt when anyone passed me looking suspiciously at my bundle. Well not ANYONE--down the block, a guy working at a warehouse (actually, a meat market, ironically enough) said "Hey, baby, you lookin good" and then "are you single?" Seriously. I WAS CARRYING A PIG, LADIES. pretty sexy. Note from the Boo: Well, he works at a meat market...

At home, I threw the pig in the fridge and shut the door quickly. I would wait until the Boyfriend was home before I attempted to unwrap the pig as I had been instructed. And by "I attempted", I mean of course, I would make the Boyfriend do it. Bravely, with only a few squeals and moments of reassurance about the pig's happy life (from both of us), we unwrapped the pig and laid it on the fridge shelf with a paper towel laid over its face. I wasn't ready yet to take in the whole thing at once. Are you? Okay, ready? Here it is:

One of these things is not like the other....

Now I've seen suckling pigs before and they all look kind of like they're sleeping, with a sort of sweet grin on their faces like they're dreaming of being 3 inches deep in warm soggy mud. Not ours. Ours looked kind of shocked and dare I say, a little accusatory. I resolved to keep the paper towel on until we were ready for the big day.

I had asked Chef Josh to help with the pig part of the dinner as I didn't know the first thing about what to do with our new addition. I'm sure I could have pulled something off, but it all just seemed too daunting to do alone. Also, what a gastronomic opportunity. I didn't want to blow it. Josh quickly agreed. Actually, what I think he said was, "We shall call him Hamlet." Done.

Josh and Kate arrived at 9am on Sunday, the Day of the Pig. Josh came pushing a granny cart with a standing mixer (in case we wanted to "take some of Hamlet's extra meat and make a sausage to stuff him with") and a fancy knife kit. Kate came bearing her laptop, the Times, and some breakfast goods to sustain us in our task.

First on order for the day was butchering the pig. Boo: Goodnight, Sweet Prince!!!!!!Still in my pjs, we began the arduous task of removing the head. Yes, a risky move right after breakfast but to be honest, I really wasn't disgusted as I had anticipated. Maybe it was from having grown accustomed to the pig in our fridge over the past few days (every time we'd open it in the morning we'd exclaim, "OH my god there's a pig in our fridge!!"), but it all seemed rather natural to me. I mean, I've dealt with raw meat thousands of time in my life, so why should this be any different? Kate, the resident vegetarian who was taking all this rather well, turned up the music to drown out the hacking noises.

Over the course of the next couple of hours, Josh (with an occasional flick of the wrist from me) removed the head which we decided not to use as it's a lot of work for not that much meat (also, um, gross), then removed the hind quarters which he split apart into the two legs, and the same for the front legs. Then, putting his knife skills to use, he deboned the center portion (I guess this would be the loin?) removing the ribcage. What you're left with is one large rectangle, which is perfect for stuffing the rest of the meat from the legs, shoulder, neck, cheeks, etc, in to create one nice neat pig package. The meat was seasoned with salt and pepper, some blackening seasoning and perhaps some garlic powder, then stuffed and rolled like so:

The various bones which had been scraped clean ended up in a stock pot for the gravy. To accompany the piece de la resistance, my plan was to make some macaroni and cheese with the honkin piece of cheddar our uncle had brought me from Vermont, and some sweet potatoes glazed with maple syrup also from the uncle, and some roasted brussels sprouts with shallots. I had made a couple of apple crisps from Ina Garten's recipe the night before so dessert was covered. Of course, this couldn't possibly be it. On Sunday Josh mentioned casually, "So maybe we should make some more greens in addition to the brussels sprouts. Like collard greens? And I was thinking we could make some red beans and rice. Is that cool?" IS THAT COOL?! why yes.

For the next 4 or so hours my kitchen and apartment smelled like heaven with the pig roasting, the cheese sauce melting for the macaroni, the stock pot simmering (I only freaked once when I stirred it and a tail curled out over the edge of the pot), and the red beans and rice with andouille thickening deliciously on the stove.

Somehow, miraculously, Josh managed to coordinate things so everything came out of my tiny, impossible kitchen at the right time. Oh, and did I mention it was enough to feed a small army? We had to buy those disposable aluminum trays to put everything out because literally nothing I had was large enough for the quantity of food we'd made. The place looked like a church potluck.
Note from Boo: It was awesome. And may I say that I timed my arrival for about this point... ie, after all unpleasant hacking and butchering. Good work there.

Before we ate, we all joined hands and the Boyfriend said a few words of thanks to Hamlet and everyone along the way who had contributed to his life and its celebration in the form of our feast. He could not have fed a more appreciative group of folks. Truly an amazing experience. I'll let the pictures Iracel took speak for themselves....

Boo: OMG the Mac and Chee:

Boo: Loaves by the GC ( hey my notes are rhyming):
Boo: Ahem. Lucky, lucky, lucky ME! (and you guys. but, the rhyme).

I think I speak for everyone including you, Boo, when I say it ROCKED. And also that I needed like a full 24 hours to recover. Josh, having worked late the night before and worked his ass off at our place all day, upon putting out all the food, had a glass of bourbon, laid down on the floor and managed to sleep through most of the rest of the party.

Rather than give you a recipe, since I can't decide which one, and let's be honest, this post is already wearing out its welcome, I give you instead, a list of everything I know I learned from cooking and eating Hamlet.

TIP #1: If you make a pig, they will come. Expect a 100% rsvp rate.
TIP #2: Best to leave your pig uncovered, on a dry surface in the fridge. If left to stew in its own moisture it can go bad quickly. Also a good idea to turn him over every so often.
TIP #3: when hacking with a cleaver, position the meat near the leg of the table you're working on. If you whack in the middle of the table, the give will absorb most of the shock and make your cut less precise and forceful.
TIP #4: Stevie Ray Vaughn is good pork eating music.
TIP #5: When roasting brussels sprouts (or any such veggie) you'll get the max crispiness for your buck if you put the empty pans in your hot oven til they get scorching hot before tossing the veggies in.
TIP #6: Maple syrup and cayenne pepper make for a good flavor combo on sweet potatoes.
TIP #7: Homemade bread is the perfect contribution to a friend's dinner party. Thank you to the Boo's Gentleman Caller for his gorgeous loaves. that sounded dirty. tee hee.
TIP #8: Something tangy like a dash of hot sauce added to bechamel sauce (for the mac & cheese) really gives a great depth of flavor and cuts the creaminess a bit.
TIP #9: Say yes to your friends when they offer to make something. Thanks to Iracel for her kickass spinach salad (with bacon of course), and Jeremy and Abby for the black bottoms--mini chocolate cakes with a cream cheese center. mmm.
TIP #10: Get to know your meat supplier. It feels good to know the animal you're eating was treated with respesct, love, and care to keep it healthy.
TIP #12: Go to to read up about where you can get some delicious meat from this awesome company.
TIP #13: It's okay to use paper plates sometimes. At least you're saving water by not washing 87 dishes.
TIP #14: No matter your intentions, if you let a chef into your kitchen, he will end up doing most of the work (bless him). Just do your best, ask questions, and take notes. You'll learn a lot.

Oh, and you'll have amazing leftovers.

The Mouse

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Yes We Did.

Dear Boo,

I have a post about our pig roast waiting in the wings but first I feel it's necessary to acknowledge the amazing events of the past few days. I can't quite put into words how proud, excited, relieved, humbled, and in awe I feel, so instead I'll put it into food.

It's kind of like going from 8 years of eating bad cafeteria food feeling like you'll never have any options beyond the dried out mac and cheese and mystery meat, to having someone open a door you never noticed at the back of that cafeteria which leads to a room full of sushi, chile rellenos and a taco bar, steaming bowls of spaghetti with sausage ragu, roasted chickens with crispy skin and roasted potatoes, and heaps of cupcakes. And everyone is invited to the party and better yet, everyone wants to learn how to cook these succulent dishes to pitch in to keep the platters full.

Let's get cooking. We've got a lot of hungry people to feed.


The Mouse

P.S. Nothing makes me feel more patriotic than the Barefoot Contessa's Flag Cake. Yum.
PPS. From the Boo: From another food angle, please note this oddly hilarious opinion piece from the Times. ("Finally, A Thin President")

Monday, November 3, 2008

Brisket of Solace: Passion and Intrigue in the Dallas Airport

Dear Mouse,

Happy Election Day!

What a great weekend. I think our family has proved its ability to throw a good wedding. Congratulations to Mason & Katie! We thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful weather/setting/meals of our weekend in Arizona.

As you know, our cousin Mason is the producer behind the crazy-a%# hit movie Juno. Now I may be overstepping my bounds a little, but I've written a screenplay. It's based on our last 24 hours of the trip and I think I'm going to pitch it to him when he gets back. Just humor me while I practice on you here.

Ok.. so it's a James Bond-style action thriller with snacks. It takes place in the mysterious desert wilderness of the wild west... ok, the Tucson and Dallas airports. But that's its modern edge. It also combines the two beloved genres of spy thriller and food porn (what? That is SO a genre), kind of like Casino Royale meets Menupages. He'll love it.

The title? "Cousins". Wait, you'll see why.

Notes - rough draft of "Cousins", the screenplay

INT. Tigins Irish Pub , Dallas airport. The Mouse and Boo and Mouse Boyfriend have finished perfectly acceptable chicken sandwiches and soup before boarding flight to Tucson for Eating Festival, er, sorry, Cousin's Wedding.

INT. Boarding the plane to Tucson. Closeup INT shot: Boo's cell phone displaying a message from Gentleman Caller: "Remember to eat beef in the Dallas airport!" Closeup, Boo's teeth gnashing.

Time elapsed: two days, a wedding, sightings of big lizard and as-yet-unidentified gray snouted creature (Mouse), various margaritas and hairdos. Possible montage.

EXT. Sunday after the wedding. A pack of cousins including one Mouse and one Boo, plus various significant others, lounging on sunny deck of the Ventana Canyon resort hotel enjoying sumptuous farewell brunch. (Hereafter, whole crew will be referred to as "the cousins").

Farewell brunch includes: customized omelet bar with ingredients like maple sausage and green chiles, pastry cart, waffles and whipped cream, fruit, bagels and lox. Coffee, bloody marys, mimosas. Yes, some if not all of us sampled each of those things.

Time elapsed: 5 minutes.

The Boyfriend mentions brisket sandwiches that might be had in Dallas airport. Various murmurings of agreement from cousins. Someone looks up specific BBQ joint on blackberry. It is called - no joke - "Cousins BBQ". Location is scouted.

time elapsed: 30 min.

Boyfriend has continued mentioning brisket sandwiches with studied nonchalance and mounting, perceptible, panic. Murmurings grow noisier. The words "half hour layover" are mentioned. Boo scoffs. How can anyone think of eating anything right now.

EXT shot: Poolside at resort, post-heroic brunch. Enter cousins, looking to lounge while awaiting taxi. Stop short as the smell of charred meat and vinegar wafts past them. Strains of blues piano and ladies singing . Cousin 1: "How could they not tell us about this??" Camera pulls back to reveal the 'Blues and BBQ Backyard Brunch" just yards from the pool.

Closeup on The Boyfriend asking the Mouse, again, "can we just go look at it?" several times.

EXT. The Cousins make a slow, reverent processional past three microbrews on tap and cauldrons of simmering pulled pork, corn on the cob, BBQ'd everything, I can't even remember, my brain hurts.

Commitment to Airport Mission grows ever stronger.

EXT shot on 3 cousins zooming off in rented blue mustang. (It's just worth noting.)

INT shot: minivan taxi, taking Boo/Mouse/The B to Tucson airport.

Slow pan across their faces as we hear this V/O of cabdriver:

"Well, only two more days til we're a socialist country. (pause) I tell ya.. I've talked to a lotta blacks. And they say they're only votin' for Obama cos he's black. (pause) Well, I guess that's why I'm votin' for McCain, cause he's an old white man. (pause. pause.) I'm voting for McCain because he has the experience to be President."

Smash CUT to shot of all five Cousins, running toward security checkpoint with bags.

INT: Silent snacks in Tucson airport to quell the suspense: jalapeno potato chips, various kinds of jerky.

Cut to INT, Dallas airport. Cousins burst from plane and run in various directions with military precision according to plan worked out on plane. Will they make it? The flight to LGA leaves in 20 minutes, at a terminal far, far away from where they will begin their journey.

The Boo runs to bathroom, The Boyfriend waits with suitcases. The Mouse and three cousins run to Cousins to place sandwich orders. One member of the party goes rogue and heads elsewhere for (gasp!) a burger and fries. (Unexpected plot twist!) Boo emerges from bathroom and makes a beeline with the B to where they think the barbecue place is located. They cannot find it, and make several panicked phone calls to Mouse that go unanswered. Finally they spot her, pulling a wheelie suitcase and holding aloft the victorious sandwich bag!

All cousins reconvene at the escalators. 10 minutes to go. Wait -they're down one member, the rogue! She ordered her burger medium rare! It's being cooked. We can't wait for her; she'll meet us at the gate. Three terminals to go.Chase sequence, or, Monorail of Suspense:

Closeup: A text message reveals that Rogue is following close behind on second monorail.

EXT: The moon rises over Dallas.

INT shot: The gate!! No one waiting. A small line of folks, moving rapidly onto the plane.

Inexplicably, this is where our well-oiled machine breaks down. Mouse goes to bathroom. Boyfriend goes to buy a bottle of water. What???

Still no sign of Rogue! Final FINAL boarding call. No one else in line.

Closeup: Boo's face, contorted in panic and holding three suitcases.

Then - music swells!! Long EXT shot of Rogue, running toward us with fries and burger unscathed! The B and Mouse return. We are literally the last people on the plane.

INT: Seated. The third guy in E-F-G tires of passing napkins and pickles between Mouse and Boo (A) while on the runway and offers to switch seats. A shout-out to Switch Seats guy.

INT shot, from above: 7 dark heads bent over, attempting to unwrap sauce-filled white paper casually. The quiet sound of munching.

Time elapsed: 30 seconds.

Slow pan from "Cousins" bag to sauce-covered Cousins waiting in seats on runway as plane is delayed.

Closeup on The Boo who says (with apologies to everyone from, say, Kansas City, reading this, with the reminder that she is from New Jersey and was hungry)

"That was the best BBQ sandwich I have ever had."

The End (roll credits)

Seriously best BBW sandwich I have had ever. Brisket, not-sweet sauce, smoky charred flavor, don't care if it was fake, white soft bun, sliced fast food style high sodium pickles.

Yes, it was airport food, people. I still stand by it. That's how good it is out there. Don't mess with Texas. (Also Arizona: not too shabby. But we didn't eat barbecue there or engage in a high speed chase.)

God bless "Cousins", and cousins.

Alternate titles for this film: Her Majesty's Secret Sauce (The GC), A View to a 'Q, Quantum of Sandwich.


The Boo