Sunday, May 25, 2014


Representationally Kosher Chocolate Chip Graham Cookies 

Greetings My Darlings from the heights of the Cosmic Ocean,

     I’m not going to say these are Kosher, but they are what I like to think of as “Representationally Kosher,” meaning they conform to a standard of purity which, when viewed from the outside, might not make all that much sense. Either that or it’s the part where I’m using cracker meal as a main ingredient, which always makes me think of matzo balls, which makes me think of your grandmother Rose, which always makes me think of Kosher. In case you are wondering, your Grandmother Rose was not Jewish and did not keep Kosher, per se. But she talked about it a lot. As in, “See how this cutting board has a crack in it? No Kosher cook would use this!” Then she would, of course, go ahead and use said cutting board, plate or pork.

     No, she wasn’t Jewish, didn’t attend church, never talked about religion. She was I suppose, a theoretical Lutheran who said, “Oy vey,” a lot.  She didn’t keep a Kosher kitchen, but she was mildly obsessed with it. She also had her own wacky dietary laws which, when viewed from the outside, (as in by her children) didn’t always seem to make all that much sense.  So let’s say your Grandma Rose, like these cookies, was Representationally Kosher. Odd? Yes. Tip of the iceberg there really, and trust me, we are hiding the other 90% below the surface where you will never find it. When it comes to passing on information about the older generation (e.g. Your grandmother) to the youngest generation, (e.g. you) it’s only polite for the middle generation (e.g. me) to lie like a rug and smile when you do it.  I fully expect you to do the same, and I thank you in advance.

     I know it seems like there isn’t much chocolate in these chocolate chip cookies, but go with the smaller amount, otherwise there is too much chocolate and not enough cookie. I’m half inclined to think they’d be better with cinnamon chips, also a scant amount. I haven’t made them this way so don’t quote me. 
These came about when I had an idea for a banana graham cracker muffins which I made and fed to one of your uncle’s classes when they went on a camping trip. I personally thought the muffins were vaguely disgusting and a bit dry. The class seemed to like them, as your uncle has mentioned it to me three times. I’ve made better muffins for other overnight trips though, and he hasn’t mentioned them at all upon his return. This makes me suspect that my banana graham cracker muffin experiment really was ghastly enough to be rejected by college students and he’s lying vehemently to cover up the sad truth (see a theme here?)

     I had all that leftover graham cracker meal and thought to use it this way, with I think, much greater success. These are convenient to make because you melt the butter and use the eggs cold. That means no pesky waiting around for ingredients to come to room temperature whilst stuffing your face with so much cinnamon toast you don’t even feel like eating cookies by the time they are done. I'm talking what you would do, not me me. 

You can use Chapati flour or regular whole wheat flour if you can’t get the graham flour.  I’d go with the “white whole wheat flour” from King Arthur Flour if you can. Call me crazy, but regular whole wheat flour just sucks, which is why, dear children, they invented white flour in the first place.  Remember, light on the chips kiddo.



Representationally Kosher Chocolate Chip Graham Cookies 

“Oy vey, what a cookie!”


INGREDIENTS

1/2 Cup all purpose flour
1/2 Cup graham flour
1 1/4 Cup graham cracker crumbs (from a box, I didn’t crush cookies which are already sweetened.
1/2 t Baking Soda
1/2 t Table salt
12-13 T Unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 Cup Coconut palm sugar (your secret low glycemic weapon! Tastes better than white sugar!)
1/2 Cup Brown light brown sugar, packed of course.
10-12 Drops of stevia sweetener (lets you use less sugar and preserves your insulin response.)
2 Eggs, large, cold
1 t Vanilla extract (imitation extract is not representationally Kosher and you will be damned for thinking it.)
1-1 1/4 Cup darkest chocolate chips you can find. Less is more, darlings, less is more.

MAKE IT

Set the oven to 325 F. 
Melt the butter over low heat on the stovetop while you measure the flours, cracker crumbs, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients to mix the flours and the leavening. 
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, measure the sugars, mixing them together with your fingertips to make sure there are no lumps in the brown sugar. Pour in the melted butter and mix on low until fairly well blended. Stop the mixer, add the eggs and resume mixing on low until the sugar and butter mixture comes together. Add the vanilla, and the stevia drops.
Add the flour mixture in two batches, mixing until just incorporated. Add the chips, mix until just blended. Because of the cracker crumbs the mixture will stiffen a little as it sits. See why I was babbling on about Matzo Balls back up there in paragraph one?

BAKE

Scoop 1/4 C mounds of dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Dampen you hands and lightly press the mounds flat. You’re giving the dough a head start here. Don’t make your hands sopping wet, that’s just bad cookie dough manners and you texture will be for crap.
Bake for abut 20 minutes in the lower third of your oven. If you are using two sheets, and you most certainly should if you have them, switch and rotate the sheets half way through the baking time. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 3-4 minutes and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely before tasting. (Hah. Just messing with you there. Just don’t burn yourself on the hot ones. Lip burns can be embarrassing to explain away…)
You can also make these regular sized, and yes, you should flatten them slightly as well. They bake for about 15 minutes at 325 F. Although you could try  them at 350 F for 10 minutes. The lower temp cooks the larger cookies through.

Well, I'm off to meet Kate Hepburn for a swim. Great thing about where I am now is that I don't have to wait 20 minutes after eating. You still do. (I hope!) I love and miss you,

Tante Li

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mexican Lasagna (that has never seen Mexico)


Greetings my dears from a place where they don't have any pudding, vegan or otherwise.  I miss you, it's the hardest part of being dead.

The other day your Uncle forced me to make Mexican Lasagne for eleven people. I know you are thinking that this could not possibly be true. You're telling yourselves, "He is/was too nice a guy to force Tante Li to do anything at all like that. Probably she volunteered and forgot."
Oh my dears, how wrong you are!
My side of the story: I'd just come back late that Friday night after a long, bumpy transatlantic flight. Not those rattling, jolting bumps that make you feel alive because, perversely, you are positive you are about to die. But five hours of slow, lolling bumps and sways. Not at all alarming, unless you are the type of person who gets airsick, which it turns out I am.
I hadn't ever thought about getting airsick before. Certainly I'd heard of it, but somehow relegated it to the very young, the very old, or the overly dramatic. What a trap! My thinking had been like that of a person with boundless energy who cannot understand the profound tiredness of someone so ill, taking medicine so strong, that sleep offers no refreshment.
The comparison is apt, because when you feel sick at 35,000 ft, there is no refreshment. Particularly when the flight attendants are operating under the misguided notion that you are a vegan and insist on feeding you snacks of strange pudding. You, desperate for relief, actually eat the pudding and do yourself no favors whatsoever.
So anyway, I was tired. Your uncle had invited eleven students over for a Monday night party. I knew about it before my trip and had devised a one word plan: Costco. I'd just go there, raid the freezer section and buy a couple of somethings or other to feed the students. They are students after all, a life category largely defined by a willingness to eat anything. On saturday, still bleary eyed, I mentioned this quite casually to your uncle. "I have a feeling this is going to be a Costco party," I said.
He said, "No it isn't."
Seems he'd been telling the students that they would get a home cooked meal, or some such nonsense. Actually, not just any meal. A Tex-Mex themed meal. (We'll get to that in a moment.) I was still a bit green around the gills, woozy from airsickness and lack of sleep. Percolating in the back of my mind was the notion that airline vegan mystery pudding sucks the minerals from your blood and bones, making you weak willed and crazy. Probably I was just dehydrated.
His timing was good, I'll give him that. I just blinked a couple of slow blinks and said, "Oh darn," and starting thinking about what kind of Tex-Mex food to make.
Confession time: I've only ever made two batches of chilli. The only other vaguely Mexican "food" I make, is tacos from a kit. You know where you buy the shells, months old, but still miraculously (and mysteriously) crunchy in the box? Then you "brown" a pound of ground beef, sprinkle it with a packet of low salt taco seasoning, add 3/4 of a cup of water, and, if you are feeling very creative, a glop or two of store bought jarred salsa? Open a bag of pre-shredded cheese, slice a tomato or two, tear up some iceberg lettuce and before you can say "Hee-Haw!" you've got yourself a kitschy, prefab dinner.
Your uncle loves a bad/good boxed taco, and in his defense, it's hard to argue with the ability of that much salt to make everything taste fabulous. It's probably what food tastes like when you are in a coma imagining what food tastes like. A box taco can be so persuasively magical that I fed them to our wonderful neighbor boy as a make-up for the dinner of home-made chicken pot pie and rice pudding cake that forced him to confess his meat allergy. He ate 'em like there was no tomorrow. Then I fed him chocolate cake.
There's a lesson here: salt and chocolate, those two pillars of the American culinary canon, are indispensable for mending faux pas'd fences. If I didn't adore him so much I would have risked stunting his growth and given him orange, processed American cheese food to top his tacos. But it was only rice pudding cake after all, not sweetened calf's liver mousse. Besides, now I've got a big gun in reserve in the event of another allergy episode.
So anyhow, there I was, on the spot, feeling barfy and bleary with your uncle's gorgeous blue eyes staring at me, asking what I would make for his dear students from scratch. He'd put flowers on the stairs where I'd see them when I came home. He'd done all the laundry. OK there was a shocking amount of dog hair on the kitchen counters, but the house was in pretty darn good shape, considering he'd secretly trooped forty or so students through it while I was gone. There were no dead animals in the freezer (or in the refrigerator stashed in bags that promise doughnuts within but instead reveal the dark side of the environmental 'reduce, reuse, recycle' mantra).
I had a vague memory of a recipe for a lasagna that used polenta instead of noodles. The thought of polenta seemed soothing. I opened my mouth and said, "Well, I guess I'll just make a Mexican Lasagna." He nodded once and moved on with his day.
As far as I am concerned your Uncle Al's greatest blind spot is that he seems to think I know what I'm talking about. He assumed that because I was going to make a Mexican lasagna, "you know, with the polenta?" that a recipe actually existed. I think this is because his mother kept a worn wooden box filled with 3X5 cards greased with the loving fingerprints of repeated use. I'm sure she winged plenty of meals, but I never saw it. Even her very good, solidly mid-western, Italian-American Lasagna began with opening the recipe box and pulling the card, even though she must have made it a million times.
My recipe box is my brain. There are plenty of dark corners within, but not much organization. Things move pretty fast in here actually, and there isn't time to take notes. It's only creating this for you, my darlings, that has made me start to write stuff down.
I know I pinched the idea and the process of making the polenta layers from the goddess Nigella Lawson.(Who probably pinched it from elsewhere and gave credit.) If you think I use the word "goddess" to rip on her for her book How To Be a Domestic Goddess, you are wrong, wrong, wrong. An amusing book title doesn't convince one of goddessness, it's the fact that she takes so much trouble to show you she isn't a goddess that seals the deal. In essence, methinks she doth protest too much. To whit: I once saw an episode of one of her cooking shows where she opened her packed freezer and pulled out a frozen pig's ear, explaining how she loves to fry them up.
Uhm, I think I'm allergic to meat.
Aside from that, the rest of this seems to be mine, although there are other versions out there usually using corn tortillas instead of the polenta. Tortillas, I think, are an inferior, soggy option. Stick with the polenta. This feeds 8-9 female students very well. If you've got more, or if there are equal numbers of men in the group, you'll need to double it and make two. No worries. You can always send the leftovers home whispering the magic word, "roommates."
You may look at this and think that it is complicated and difficult. It isn't. You just need to be a bit organized, which, I'll admit can be annoying at times.



Mexican Lasagna (that has never seen Mexico)


FOR THE POLENTA LAYERS

2 C polenta
6 C water (1.42l)
2-3 T olive oil
1/2 C (60g) shredded Monterrey Jack or Cheddar cheese.

You will need three 9x13 pans. You could also try spreading out the polenta on something else, like a sheet pan, and cutting it to size, but I've never tried it as removing it and setting it into place seems a bulky, troublesome option.

FOR THE FILLING

1 Lb (453g) ground chicken
My supermarket chicken comes with 'natural chicken flavors added.' Whatever that is it's tasted better than airline vegan mystery pudding. In any case no one died.
2 T olive oil
1/2C (75g or so) finely sliced onion
3 cloves of garlic, chopped or pressed, dealer's choice.
1 15oz (430g) can of low sodium (hah!) black beans, drained and rinsed. Don't rinse the can, you'll need the residue later.
1/4 C (37g) frozen corn. You think you'll need more but you don't.
1 Can Rotel with the juices This is the diced tomato chili combo often used in chili recipes. Twenty million Texans can't be wrong. I used the mild version. Know your crowd here.
1 chipotle chili from a can, sliced. More if you like it hot.
1 t of the adobo sauce from the chipotle chili can.
1 packet of low sodium (double hah!) taco seasoning. I'm not proud, but there it is. I actually opted for the organic version, which further highlights the jet lag theme. You will need 2T powder for the polenta water and 1t powder for the chicken.You can get two batches of Lasagna out of one packet.
1T chili powder
1T cumin
(1t of the taco seasoning packet)
1 1/2 t of corn starch to thicken.
1/2C(113ml) water, twice (1 C total)
1 lime
3 C (362g) shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese.
1 C (230g) good salsa. Try to buy it from the refrigerated section rather than the jarred variety. It is fresher and the rest will make good snacking while you cook. Not that you would do such a thing.

MAKE IT

Start with the polenta

Follow the package directions to cook the polenta. I've given you a guide above in that I think to get the right thickness of polenta layers you're going to need about two cups dry to start. To the polenta water, add 2T of the taco seasoning from the packet. You could also throw in some of the leftover salsa, but the polenta is the pure, corny counterpart to the spicy, seasoned layers so you don't want to compromise that too much. Pour the polenta into the boiling water slowly, not in one big whoosh or you will get lumps. When the polenta is almost done, stir in the olive oil and cheese.
A word here. If you use "instant polenta" it cooks mighty fast. Set up your pans first and drink a cup of coffee to wake yourself up before you begin. I say this as a non coffee drinker.

While the polenta is cooking, get out your three pans. Nige, as I call her, recommends buying disposable tin 9x13 pans and it isn't a bad idea. You can always use them later for potting up plants or starting seeds.

You'll need your 9x13 inch baking pan and two others of the same size. Sprinkle some water in the bottoms so the polenta doesn't stick. (Is this a 23cm X 33cm pan? My best guess.)
When the polenta is done and the consistency is not too thick, divide the polenta between the three pans.Using a wet spatula, smear it into a smoothish layer that covers the entire bottom. It's best to scoop into one pan, smear it, and then move on to the next pan so you don't get a congealed blob in the last pan instead of a flat layer.

Put the layers aside to set while you make the filling.


Prepare the filling

Heat a large sauce pan (mine is 4 qts. (3.8 liters) I hope you've inherited it!) over medium heat. Add the olive oil and the onion, cook gently to soften the onion, not brown it. When the onion is soft, add the garlic. Stir and cook until fragrant. Add the chipotle chili and blend it in.
Add the spices and the cornstarch, stir to coat the onion.
Add the chicken and cook until done, about 8 minutes.
Add the beans, and the teaspoon of adobo sauce. Stir to distribute.
Add the frozen corn, stir it up.
Add the can of Rotel with the juices and a 1/2C water. Cook this all down until it is fairly thick, but not dry. When you are almost there, put about 1/2 C water in the unrinsed bean can and swirl it to lift the black bean goop from the bottom. Add this to the chicken mixture.
When it is cohesive, but still juicy it is done. Remove it from the heat and douse it with the juice from half the lime, or the whole lime if it's a dry old bird.
Let it cool before you assemble the Lasagna.


ASSEMBLY

In the baking pan on top of the polenta layer, spread one half of the chicken mixture. Top with 1 Cup of the shredded cheese.
Tip the next polenta layer out of the pan and place it on top of the chicken cheese layer. It will be weird and wobbly. It might even break. Relax chiquita. It's Mexican Lasagna. Italian-Mexicans are notoriously even tempered. No harm no foul. Just put it on as best you can.
Top the layer of polenta with the rest of the chicken mixture. Top this with another cup of shredded cheese.
Place the last layer of polenta on the chicken mixture and cover it with the cup of salsa. Put the last cup of cheese on this.
Bake at uncovered at 375F(190C) for 30 minutes or so. The cheese should be melted and there will be some bubbling around the edges. The internal temp should be at least 130 F (55C). After all darlings, you do want the cheese to melt.

NOTES

You can assemble the lasagna a day ahead and bake it the night of. Obviously you are going to wrap it and put it in the fridge in between. Cover it with plastic wrap or a wax paper and tin foil combo with the wax paper next to the top layer of salsa. No tomato/tin corrosion for you! Take it out of the fridge an hour or so before you want to bake it so that it comes to room temperature and takes less cooking time. Nothing is worse than eleven hungry students milling around waiting for dinner while you're fiddling at the stove praying for melted cheese miracles.

Serve this with a look of confidence and a green salad. If you've overcooked the chicken taco/chili filling and the lasagna looks dry, no worries. Soften up the crowd with the story of the refrigerated dead bird in the doughnut bag. Works like a charm. You might also try a gravy boat full of salsa on the side.

Don't wait for students to show up. This is a great offering to bring to a potluck dinner.


As always darlings, kisses from the great beyond..


XXX OOO
Tante Li