Friday, November 14, 2014

Its time for the perinial Ordeal of the Dead Bird! Yay!

Ah yes.  It's that time of year again.  The Holiday Season.



Piffle and Balderdash and Rubbish!

If you can't tell from the above, this isn't exactly my favorite time of the year.  In fact, with the exception of Hallmark's favorite - Valentine's Day - I can't think of any holidays that I loath quite so much as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Now don't get me wrong.  As a small child, I loved Christmas.  The lights, the brightly wrapped presents, the tree, and all the decorations and trimmings - they were Important to me in a way that such superficial nonsense can only be Important to the very young, or the very ignorant.

Something to keep in mind though, is that when I was a small child, stores didn't start putting up Christmas decorations, or playing incessant Christmas music, until December 1st or later.  The family didn't even start pulling down the Christmas tree and decorations until at least a couple of days after Thanksgiving.

It certainly wasn't already on prominent display in the stores before Halloween was even finished, and the left over candy had gone on sale.  There were Turkeys everywhere for the entire month of November, to remind us that Thanksgiving was at the end of the month - but you didn't see a fat guy in a poorly tailored red suit, with ZZTop-esqe beard until after December had officially begun.

Now as an adult, I've had to admit that even as a child, I dreaded Thanksgiving.  My grandmother, The Bat, always made that particular holiday more of a trial by fire than a relaxing family get-together.  I've ranted about it at length in prior posts.

Thankfully, The Bat is not a concern this year, as she has rather conveniently absented herself from my life again since mid-March.  The peace of not having to deal with her has been truly blessed.

I can't say that I enjoy the holiday to any greater extent though.  Mostly because I've spent a lot of time over the past couple of years studying holiday origins for some of the more uniquely American holidays that I grew up celebrating as a matter of course.

Thanksgiving has its roots in the late 16th and early 17 century, while the upper North Eastern US was still budding colonies of northern European origin.  The colonials were almost exclusively Christians of some stripe (there weren't as many stripes to that particular zebra back then - only Catholic and Protestant, not 17 gazilllion protestant offshoots of various names.) 

I haven't been big on most of the Abrahamic holidays - or the various enforced, Commercialized, Abrahamic Christian versions fed up to Americans  - for a long time.   Frankly, I'm a huge proponent of the concept that Freedom Of Religion - also means (or at least implies) Freedom FROM Religion.

Thanksgiving is an inherently American Christian holiday.  While I'm very much an American by birth and blood, I'm not a Christian and haven't been since I was old enough and educated enough to actually make a conscious Choice rather than simply going with what I'd been told I should  believe, growing up. This being such an inherently Christian holiday, what incentive do I have to even Acknowledge it, much less Celebrate it? 

Oh wait - I Don't. 

I did my harvest celebrating at Samhain (that's Halloween for all you conventional Christian types) and Yule won't happen until the Winter Solstice - and bears little resemblance to Christmas.  As far as I'm concerned, Thanksgiving is simply another of those stupid days when I can't get anything done outside the house, because the rest of you lot wanted an excuse to take a couple extra days off.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Samhain's Feast

Every year at this time, we come together to celebrate the season - the Harvest point, the end of Summer and it's attendant approach into the sleeping time of Winter while the earth renews itself. 

Whether you call it Harvest Festival, Dia De Los Muertos, Halloween, or Samhain, the sense of remembering the Honored Dead who have gone on to the next life seems to be universal.

For myself, I celebrate Samhain (pronounced sow-win) which is the ancient Celtic harvest feast and rememberance of the dead.  Each year, I make a trek to an SCA event held near Lawton, OK, along with about 150 other people. 

There we choose the next year's champions in several areas of skill during the day, and that night, we light a bonfire - the Samhain Fire - and hold a sort of vigil where we speak of our Honored dead and let go of our grief at losing them.

This year, I chose to once again compete for the honor of being named the Title Bard (Champion Entertainer) for the Barony of Eldern Hills (Lawton, OK SCA branch) who hosts the Samhain event I usually attend.  I was not quite fortunate enough to win - the young lady who did is a very talented musician - vocalist, harpist, and composer of her own music.

This is the piece that I wrote in preparation for that competition.

 Samhain's Feast

Sunshine on red and gold, orange, pale tan, and deepest green.
Mother Nature - Life's Lady 
dressed in Autumn splendor to hold court for the Earth
before Winter's death like sleep.

Dusk approaches, and the table is set
Empty places waiting amongst those who 
sit in revelry at Life's Table.

Night, creeping ever so slowly upon us
It thins the veil, opening the doorway
for ancestral visitors:
those Honored dead
who have gone before us to Valhalla
to sit and drink mead with the Gods!

Will you feast with us now?
Or will you exact payment for past transgressions
and send us to the very Halls of Hel?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Double Dark Chocolate Maple Bacon Pecan Fudge

So along with all this Other stuff I've been busy cooking for my week long camp out, today I'm tackling Fudge.  Why?  Well, there's 2 reasons, really.  First: why not?  Second: competition, baby!  One of the smaller groups taking part in this rather extensive get together is hosting a Fudge Off!! competition for anyone who wants to participate.  There are only 2 requirements - bring your best fudge, and bring "documentation" (read "print your recipe so we can all get copies, damnit.")

The first thing to do in such a case, of course, is to figure out just what sort of Fudge to make.  There's a lot of really good recipes out there.  Coming up with my own that is both creative and tasty seemed like the way to go.  Especially since there is a common fudge ingredient that I personally try to avoid like the plague: corn syrup.  That stuff is apparently Everywhere these days.  I hate it.  I don't keep it in my kitchen at all.  And I either adapt or avoid recipes that call for it.  In the course of trying to figure out how to adapt Fudge back to methods that don't require corn syrup, I ran across the realization that it's practically impossible any longer to find a recipe for Caramel that doesn't call for the same dadgum thing.  Fortunately, if you look long enough and hard enough, you Can find caramel and fudge recipes that are "vintage" enough not to have corn syrup listed as an ingredient.  They take longer to make, they're much more finicky, and oh brother do they have to be babysat so they don't burn.  But if you're willing to put in the effort, it's well worth the trouble.

Over the years, I've learned several important things about making Fudge or Caramel - things that seem like "duh" moments when you remember them (or tell someone else to make sure they do it that way) but which - if forgotten - can rapidly become a major Problem.  The french term "Mise En Place" (pronounced "meese in plas") meaning 'putting in place' really becomes important when making candy of any sort.  You'll want to have everything set up before you start.  You'll especially want to have things like your heavily buttered pan to pour your fudge into for cooling/hardening ready, and your candy thermometer close by before you start.  Because once you put things on the heat, it becomes both time and temperature sensitive, and you don't have time to do things that you haven't prepped before hand!

While this recipe turned out fabulously and is sure to be a hit, it will also be difficult (if not impossible) to exactly duplicate unless you live in my area.  I used a specialty cocoa powder from my local high end specialty spice shop, and I used a specialty cocoa Sugar that only they carry that I'm aware of.  While you could substitute Hersey's Special Dark cocoa powder for the Mayan Cocoa powder that I used, I'm not sure what you would use to substitute for the Black Onyx Sugar that I'm fairly sure is created in store.

One (1) 12 oz can sweetened condensed milk (1 cup but I didn't scrape the can)
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons butter, half reserved, plus enough to seriously grease your pan
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup Black Onyx Sugar from Savory Spice Shop, Oklahoma City (sugar, black onyx cocoa powder, Ceylon cinnamon, Mexican vanilla beans, chocolate extract)
5 tablespoons Mayan Cocoa from Savory Spice Shop, Oklahoma City (Dutch cocoa, chile peppers, cinnamon, vanilla powder)
2 tablespoons Grade A Dark Maple Syrup
6 slices bacon, fried crispy, cooled, and chopped up fine
1 cup finely chopped Pecans
1 tablespoon Honey
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Mix Sugar, Cocoa Powder, Cream, Condensed Milk, Maple Syrup, Honey, and 2 tablespoons butter in pan, and Slowly raise the temperature, melting the butter and  making sure all of the sugar is completely dissolved into the liquid.  Once sugar is completely dissolved, slowly raise temperature of mixture to bring to a low rolling boil, stirring constantly and frequently scraping sides of pan.  Boil mixture for 10 to 12 minutes, until temperature is between 250f and 280f.  Remove from heat and allow to cool until temperature is below 130.  Add vanilla extract, pecans, and bacon bits, stirring until well mixed and it has begun to thicken.  Quickly pour mixture into heavily buttered baking dish and allow to cool completely, at least 4 to 6 hours, before cutting.  Store in air tight container.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Chai Latte Cookies - the recipe as requested

Here's the recipe for another of the various Baked Goodies that I'm taking to my medieval event that I leave for on Sunday, to camp out with 5000 other history geeks, ren-fair junkies, and anachronist nerds...

Chai Latte Shortbread Cookies

5 cups + a bit sifted all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (aprx 12 oz) plain greek yogurt
1/4 cup butter (1 stick) softened to room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground green cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground white cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground crystalized ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon ground star anise
1/8 teaspoon ground black peppercorn
1/8 teaspoon ground bay leaf
pinch of salt (this can be omitted if you use salted butter, but needs to be included if you use unsalted butter)
2 eggs

(The Individual spices listed can be substituted for your favorite Chai blend as long as it contains only spices.   In the OKC area, I get my Chai spice blend ready to grind from Savory Spice Shop on Western, 2 oz at a time.  I ground up the entire tube of Chai spices to use for this recipe, then added nutmeg and extra cardamom. You will probably want to adjust the amounts to taste, since these are approximate.)

Grind togther all spices except vanilla extract and salt (if using) - a small coffee grinder works great to get everything to the same consistency.

Mix Chai spices and sugar, then cream together with softened butter, vanilla, eggs, and yogurt until smooth. 

Add salt and baking powder, stirring until evenly distributed.

Begin mixing in flour a little at a time, until dough is no longer sticky, and has become somewhat stiff.  Refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours to allow dough to rest.
Roll out on lightly floured board to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into rounds (or use your favorite cookie cutter!)
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 325F on parchment lined cookie sheets - bottom edges should just begin to turn darker brown. 

Baked Scotch Eggs - delightful lil snackages they are

So as I've stated in the past on this blog, I play with a Medieval (ren-fair) type group and have for several  years.  One of the things that we do a lot of in this group is Cook.  We've got some really outstanding cooks, several of whom do things like redaction of recipes to adapt them for modern cooks and cooking methods.  Some of us also create our own recipes, we  have cooking competitions, we teach classes on Jam and Jelly making, preserving spiced fruits, pickling, breads, and pretty much anything else you can think of to do in a kitchen and then eat.  This week, I'm on a huge cooking spree getting ready to go to one of our yearly BIG events that will have people from all over the country (and possibly the Planet) in attendance.  Some of what I'm cooking is for snacking on during the trip, some of it for sharing, and some of it for a sort of impromptu competition (FUDGE!) that's being hosted by one of the smaller groups which will be in attendance.  My main thing in cooking for Gulf War 23 is two fold: ease of portability from home to Lumberton, Mississippi; and ease of portability/not requiring a full table spread to consume.

One of my favorite Easy Portable Hand held meals is Scotch Eggs.  I have NO idea whether they were actually Invented in Scotland - but Scotch Eggs is what I've always heard them called.

1 dozen eggs hard boiled, cooled, and peeled.
2 lbs uncooked seasoned ground meat of your choice  (breakfast sausage works great for convenience)
2 raw eggs (for egg wash)
1/2 tblspoon horseradish mustard
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tblspoon flour
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Preheat oven to 350F

Whip together raw eggs and mustard in a bowl until smooth and well blended

Mix bread crumbs, flour, garlic powder and onion powder in a bowl until well blended and spices are evenly distributed through the mixture

Divide uncooked ground meat into 12 equal portions, and wrap one portion around each hard boiled egg.

Roll each meat encased egg in your eggwash mixture until well coated.

Roll each eggwash dipped egg in the bread crumb mixture until covered, and place on baking sheet until all eggs have been eggwashed and coated in crumbs.

Bake for 30 minutes, turning once at the 15 minute point to ensure even browning.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Moroccan Inspired Lamb and Chickpea Stew

While I haven't done it very often, every now and then I'll post one of the various recipes that I've come up with - or altered to suit myself and my other halfs' tastes.  This time, it's like the Wild Blackberry and Sage Blossom Honey pie that I posted a couple of  years ago - completely my own creation.  Though this one is based on the rather extensive spice cabinet he and I maintain in the kitchen, combined with wanting to do something a bit "different" with some cubed up lamb I had sitting in the freezer and no idea what to do with it.

1 to 1 1/2 pounds lamb stew meat, cubed
2 medium carrots, peeled and thin sliced
2 medium celery stalks, thin sliced
1 large shallot (or 1 small white onion) finely minced
1 large turnip (or 2 small potatoes) 1/2 inch cubed
2/3 package dried chickpeas (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 can diced tomatoes (or 2 medium tomatoes, diced)
Zest and juice of 1/2 a large lemon (or Lime)
6 to 8 saffron stemens
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black (table) pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon ground corriander
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoon garlic (about 3 cloves) finely minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon lavender buds
1/2 teaspoon winter savory
4 to 5 cups water

Toss everything into the crockpot, cook on high for 3 to 4 hours, and then on low for 2 hours.  Serve with Saffron Rice or Couscous, fresh Pita bread, and Tziki sauce  (2 cups plain yogurt, 1 cup seeded and finely cubed cucumber, 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped mint, 1 teaspoon finely chopped curled parsley)