Friday, January 27, 2012

"is catherine newman and expet on marriage?"

Ah, Search Terms, how you beguile me. Some days it's all "best-ever cream cheese frosting" and "ben and birdy" and "yoni crack martini glass" and "nursing until your boobs fall off."

And then some days it's this. Let's see. Am I and my expet on marriage? Do you mean like *on* marriage--like, we're *on* it, marriage? Me and my expet. Expet, like exparrot in Mony Python? That might be our cat Tiny, I suppose. So are you wondering if I've been betrothed to the groomish ghost of my dead cat? All I can say is, if I were, it would only be for the health insurance.

But if you're asking if I'm an expert on marriage because you've been assigned a response paper to my essay, "I Do. Not."--well, all I can say, my poor Comp 101 friend, is: you'd better proof-read it.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Buffalo Shrimp

I had a kind of a flash situation occurring--but these still look good, right?

I was so close to throwing it all away. Frank’s Red Hot and I were on a bus for Vegas, his glassy red-hot self beside me, promising me the world (of tailgate-style food), but I couldn’t go through with it. The thought of Michael raising the kids blandly without me, while I frolicked with my spicy love? I knew it was wrong. So deliciously wrong. But we’re still friends! Friends with benefits even, the benefits being vinegar and heat and chicken wings and quesadillas and Corn Chex nachos, and fantastic, if slightly damp, popcorn. Oh Frank’s, I don't just "like" you on facebook. I love you. (Speaking of, did you read this? It’s really good.)

Frank's has moved on, I see.
I love all things buffalo. I am the person who orders the Buffalo Chicken Salad, and you’re like, “What the? That’s not a salad! That’s fried chicken with blue cheese dressing and some lettuce shreds that by accident got underneath it!” And I’m like, “I don’t care.” I order buffalo chicken pizza from Bruno’s; I order buffalo chicken wraps when I see them. I would do my bedroom in buffalo chicken wallpaper.

But I don’t make buffalo chicken wings. Because we live a half mile from a bar that serves them, and even though Ben and Birdy are always the youngest people there by six years, and Michael and I are always the oldest people there by twenty years (are you getting a sense of the demographic?) we eat there at least once a month. Once a week, if we are flush or feeling flush. Because they have the best buffalo chicken wings in the world. Also glasses of beer so huge that, to lift one, you need two hands and the core strength of a college student who does either varsity hockey or pilates. (I just kind of lean over and slurp until I can pick it up.) We get the wings extra-spicy and extra-crispy, with an extra side of celery—and they are the wings of your wingiest wing fantasies: crunchy and juicy and pulling kind of stringily-but-cleanly off their bones, and drenched in enough vinegary, buttery, lip-tingling sauce to fill your daydreams for days. Sigh. (Note: the children eat Boneless Honey-Barbeque Wings because they are only children and Can’t Be Expected to Know Better.)

But I don’t even want to try to make buffalo wings, because you need to deep fry for them to be good, and I don’t deep fry at home. That’s one of my own personal rules: for bar or diner food, we go to bars or diners. Happily. So. What to do with the buffalo craving? Buffalo shrimp! Granted, I’ve never actually eaten buffalo shrimp except these that I make. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to dredge each shrimp in flour, egg wash, and bread crumbs before frying, like all the online recipes recommend. So this is my alternate method: rub them with cornmeal, and pan-fry them before soaking them in the usual Frank’s/butter magic. They are very easy, truly, and nothing short of wildly delicious. I just wish shrimp were cheaper. Buffalo tofu! I’m on it.

Buffalo Shrimp
Serves 4, as long as one person eats bread and goat cheese instead
Active time: 10 minutes; total time: 25 minutes

The cornmeal keeps a certain crispness alive, even after the saucing. Be prepared to crave this constantly.

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (thaw frozen shrimp by running cold water over them in a colander for five or so minutes; I use frozen "Whole Catch" peeled, tail-on raw shrimp)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (this is optional, but I like the way the flavor cues me to the fact that I’m eating seafood, if you know what I mean)
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/4-1/3 cup vegetable oil (enough to coat the pan generously)
¼ cup Frank’s Original Red Hot
½ stick butter

Rub the shrimp with the salt and the Old Bay, then set it aside for 10 or 15 minutes. Drain it, then blot it well with paper towels. I always think about putting it in the salad spinner with a wad of paper towels, but then it seems like all our salad would be shrimpy forever after.

Sprinkle the cornmeal over the shrimp and rub it all together with your hands so that the shrimp are more or less coated.

Heat the Frank’s and butter together, in a small pot or the microwave, until the butter is melted.

In a wide nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it is very hot but not smoking. Add all the shrimp to the pan in a single layer, and cook around three minutes, until the bottoms are golden and crusted. Flip the shrimp (I do each one individually, with tongs, and it is not as laborious as it sounds), then cook until golden, around 3 minutes more.

In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the sauce (or keep some plain for kids who might like to dip in the sauce but not be smothered), then serve with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing.

Die, it's so good.

Shrimp tossed with salt and Old Bay. Don't skip the salting, okay? It makes them so meaty and good.

Shrimp tossed with cornmeal.

Frying the first side.

And the second.


Served in the classic style. Except that, sadly, many are already eaten.

"pea shape lump in eye"

Oh dear. I can't imagine you found what you were searching for when Google sent you here. I hope it gets better soon, though!

Stay tuned for buffalo shrimp. (I salivated just from writing that.)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Not-as-cheap Thrills: 5 Recommendations for a Winter Weekend

This game. As long as you don't mind a vague haze of inappropriateness (e.g. the card "Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment") But be prepared to start adopting the game's language: "I'm eating cereal of great crunchiness," "Can you please take out the garbage of extraordinary grossness?"
This band. If you like dark, muscular, strangely beautiful folk music.
This novel for grown-ups. But it's sad.
This book for kids who love to draw. Birdy uses it constantly.
This book for families who like to sit and look at beautiful, funny, tender, melancholy images. We've already given it many times as a gift.

Have a lovely weekend.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

DIY English Muffins

I thought about calling these "crack muffins," just so they would go viral, like the broccoli. Nobody can resist the word "crack." Will you be surprised if I tell you that my kids thought the broccoli name had to do with butt crack? 

I know that Thomas’ kind of has the whole English muffin thing down—and that making them from scratch will sound as sensible to some of you as Homemade Marshmallow Fluff! Homemade Rainbow Sprinkles! Homemade Super-Plus Tampax! 

Spread peach jam on it, and Michael will eat a beach towel.
I understand. I’m like that about some things too. But we are kind of English muffin fanatics around here.

And the problem for me is that the more bread I bake from scratch, the more strange store-bought (or “boughten,” as we like to say on the prairie) bread and bread products start to taste to me. Sometimes they taste like laundry detergent, which I take to be a simple issue of mechanical proximity in the storeroom. And sometimes they taste like dust, which I take to be a complex issue with the age of the flour. These, however, are simply incredible: so deeply flavored and exquisite, and nooked-and-crannied with the best of them. And if you use all whole-grain flour, they’re also chock-full of nutrients.

 Plus—and don’t hate me for saying this—they are really pretty easy, and they don’t take very long. I think you should think of it as cake mix that you, you know, kind of assemble yourself. There’s yeast in it, and I know you're like "Yeast! Kill me!" and you've already got your hands over your ears, blah blah blah blah blah. But you don’t need to do anything about the yeast! Pretend it’s not even there. Besides, the batter is thick and gooey, and you don’t need to knead it or add just the right amount of anything. Just follow the directions! And give the batter a warm place to rise.
I should have left a magazine in there for it.
You might also wonder about the rings, which you do need.
It's like an English muffin ring--but one that comes with bonus preserved fish!
You can order some quite inexpensively. Or you can start saving your tuna cans: just remove both the top and the bottom, and you’ve got a perfect English muffin ring.
**Edited to add: I just saw on-line that somebody uses regular old wide-mouth canning rings! Please let me know if you try this.
Once you get your muffin rings, they will be so easy to find when you need them!

 DIY English Muffins
Makes 8
Active time: 30 minutes; total time: 1 hour

If you use all white flour, cut the baking soda down to ¼ or ½ teaspoon: on the one hand, your batter won’t need as much help rising, and on the other hand, they will be milder flavored, making the baking soda taste more pronounced. Not that anyone has mentioned the baking soda taste, by the way. I just not it can be an issue. I am wondering if cornmeal would work on the griddle, instead of oil, to keep them from sticking without giving them that slight oily inclination to burn. Let me know if you try it—I keep meaning to, but then forget.

1 1/3 cups very warm (but not hot) milk (I microwaved mine)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon shortening or vegetable oil
1 envelope dry yeast (2 ½ teaspoons)
2 cups whole-wheat flour (delicious), or a mix of whole-wheat and spelt flour (shown here), or some mix of whole-grain and white flour, or all white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Vegetable-oil spray

In a bowl combine the milk, sugar, salt, and shortening, and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved, then add the yeast and stir again. Add the flour and beat thoroughly with wooden spoon. Cover the bowl and let it rest in a warm spot for 30 minutes.

Spray the griddle with oil and heat over a low flame.

Add the baking soda to the mixture and beat thoroughly. Place metal rings onto the griddle and coat lightly with vegetable spray. Fill the rings half full (I use a third of a cup for each, and measure it in an oiled measuring cup), cover with an oiled baking sheet, cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet and flip rings using tongs. Cover with the sheet and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown. Place on a cooling rack, remove rings, and cool. (I only have 4 rings, so I bake these in 2 batches).

Split with a fork (just stick the fork in and out all the way around the edge, until the muffin comes apart into two halves) and toast before eating. Store leftovers air-tight at room temperature for a couple of days, or in the refrigerator for longer.

These make very good pizza toast.

Tip: if yours got to dark on the bottom, as mine often do, you can put your toaster oven on broil so that the bottoms won’t get any darker.

Your batter will be lighter if you use some or all white flour. Oh, but don't! I mean, some is fine. But you'll be so happy and healthy if you add some whole-grain!
I spray the rings on top of the upside-down baking sheet, which also needs to be sprayed. Smart, right?

The batter in the rings. These don't come out perfect, by the way. They are often misshapen.

Plus, even after spraying, the baking sheet sometimes pulls some of the batter off when you lift it up. No matter! Just try not to burn the bottoms: keep the heat low, and keep your nose awake to the possibility of burning.

Still, pretty nice, right? The uglier side is hidden from you.

Fork-split and ready to toast.

Google Translate: Update

Now we're just typing in sentences to hear them spoken aloud by the voice in English. The wrong emphasis is what's pushing it over the edge for us.

Excuse me. I seem to have dropped my wallet into *your* butt *crack*.

Your scrotum smells *like* a zoo.

Sigh. So happy.

New recipe coming later today.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Cheap Thrills: the free edition


How it started was with Ben telling me that you could actually listen to different languages being spoken on Google Translate. He’s working on a school report about Russian immigrants, which delights me no end, given that my grandmother was one.

First we simply listened to the voice on the site saying “borscht” (which sounds deliciously like “boordsht” in Russian and, in English, uptightly like “bo-arsht”). Then we listened to some other Russian basics: hello, good-bye, thank you, the pierogi are a little dry, that kind of thing.

Then Ben, recalling one of my gorier Youth Humiliation Stories, said, “Let’s type in What? Still no bosoms?” This is what my grandmother announced throughout my teenagerhood, upon my weekly arrival at her apartment. It was accompanied by the rubbing of her gnarled Russian hand over my miserable flat chest. We typed it in. “Oh,” I said, disappointed. “I can see the problem here. What I want is not the actual Russian, but for it to get translated into English with a heavy Russian accent. Vat? Steel no boozums?” But we settled for the actual Russian of that delightfully shaming line, along with her other: Did you move your bowels?

Then Ben showed me a game he and Ava had been playing, where you translate a line from English through a series of other languages and then back to English. It’s like linguistic telephone, and it’s hilarious. Especially if you share a fifth- or sixth-grade sense of humor with your children.

Your stinky pants are on fire became, via Russian, Vietnamese, Latin, and Portuguese Fire some smelly.

The goat drowned in a vat of cheese sauce became, via a different series, And she drowned goat cheese in the lake here.

I can smell your crack from here became Please log in your odor.

If you need more of a reason reason to devote an hour of your life to this pastime, beyond lying on the carpet laughing, there is surely a lesson here about translation and the power of language, a lesson about the importance of understanding what you’re trying to say and to whom. I’m thinking of that ad campaign, “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation," which became, in Taiwanese, "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead." Or that Parker Pen ad, where the slogan in English, about sparing yourself embarrassment, became, in Spanish, “It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.” Although, I’m pretty sure that stuff has leaked into my pocket and made me pregnant. I’m just saying.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Homemade Dip Cones (coneless version)

Is it hard to trust a person who, one weeks, talks about broccoli like it's the new sour cream-and-bacon Ruffles, and the next talks about dip-cone ice-cream topping like it's the new flaxseed-crusted spelt? Maybe. But I need to make a case for making your own dip-cone topping. Not because how else are you going to get your kids to eat their ice cream? But because you will be a hero for the night, recreating the melty, crunchy, delightful experience that the kids associate only with summertime and clam shacks. We had this for dessert last night, after a glorious dinner of bean bowls with mmm sauce. Perfect.

But you should also make it because--and here's where you need to stretch with me--it's sort of oddly healthy. Coconut oil is the new darling of nutrition folks because it turns out to be, as my jar boasts, full of MCTs. 62% MCTs, no less! Enough said.

No? Well, according to my 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, of which coconut oil is a proud member, MCTs are medium-chain triglycerides, which your body prefers to use for energy, rather than storing as fat. (This is unfortunate if, like me, you were hoping to store more fat on your way towards the Guinness-Book Trunk-Junk title.) Not only that, but the MCTs in coconut oil are half made up of lauric acid, which is a massive virus and bacteria KILLA. Also, MCTs fight STDs which is A.O.K. if you are a S-L-U-T!
I'm just dessert, and am in no way implicated in the discussion above. Or below.
Plus, my brand is called EfaGold, which sounds like "effing gold," which makes me laugh. Get the extra virgin kind, and store it in the fridge, and expect it to make things taste a bit coconutty when you use it. As I have mentioned before, we pop popcorn in it, and it is utterly fantastic.
Unrelated cat-in-a-bag shot.
The single other ingredient of homemade dip-cone topping is dark chocolate, and we do believe, because they tell us it's true, that dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and antidepressants and antiunhappinesses of all sorts.

I arranged the chocolate so that you can't see the big orange discount label on the coconut oil. Coconut oil is expensive, so I like to buy mine at the local Scratch-and-Dent. I do make sure that it's only there because of some labeling error (EffingGold!) or cosmetic situation, rather than because it is past is expiration date.
Ready? Here's what you do. Put 1/4 cup of coconut oil (I dig it out with a butter knife and estimate the amount) and 1/3 cup of dark chocolate chips in a heat-proof bowl or a mason jar. Microwave for a minute or two (you could, obviously, do this in a small pot on the stovetop), until the chocolate is almost melted, then stir until smooth. Drizzle over ice cream, where it will chill almost immediately into a delicious, crackable shell. Store the extras in the fridge and heat as needed.

I haven't tried flavoring it, but would like to: orange, I'm thinking, or peppermint. Yum!

I wish I'd taken pictures, last night, of Ben and Birdy's ecstatic faces.
Can you see that it makes a shell? I can't tell if the photos show the shell well. Hell.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The kindness of strangers

Were you wondering about my gorgeous new blog design? I figured you might be. My friend Mary Arteche sent it to me for no reason. Even though I don't actually know her. Do you see what I'm saying? The kindness of strangers. Who somehow aren't actually strangers. You might want to check out her lovely blog. Mary, thank you so much.

And do you see what this means? It means that the name-this-blog contest from June has an official winner: it's Jennifer LB, who wrote, "don't know why it can't still be Ben and Birdy" (azure suggested this too, just a bit later). I need to mention that Nikosha suggested "Catherine Newman," which I almost kept. And that sunygrrl suggested my all-time favorite, which I would have used if it hadn't made it sound like a high-blood-pressure recipe archive: "Half as Much Table Salt." Jennifer LB, Nikosha, and sunygrrl: write me with your address and the book you would like from amazon, and I'll get the prizes out in the mail!

But I really do have to mention the runners up as well:

Catherine Newman and the Whirly Poppers
Just Catherine
These Boobs Are Really a Heart
Bringing Up Catherine Newman
Crazy Delicious
Feeding Ben and Birdy
Mmm Sauce
Twilight Testicles
Raw Chicken, *Shudder*
Umami, Umama
Cooking in Catherine's Socialist Kitchen
What the Focaccia?
Ben and Birdy, Only Bigger
catherine newman: this huge and heavy-hearted happiness
Salted Nutgate
the hairy martini glass
Kitchen Couch

Reading them was like seeing a little slideshow of my own weirdness and our long history together. I loved it. Thank you, as always.


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Crack Broccoli, part II

Crack Broccoli

Picture a lemon wedge off to the side. Right?

Only my friend Maddie could make a vegetable that would get nicknamed “Crack Broccoli”—and that would be the first thing to disappear at a party where it was placed among such delights as chips and dip, oozing triple-cream cheese, and ginger-prosecco cocktails. Children literally shoved aside bowls of candy to grab at the vanishing broccoli, and you know I don’t use the word “literally” figuratively. So I asked for the recipe.

And I am sharing it here, now, because I am not a juice-fast-January kind of person. But I am a vegetable-January kind of person. In the past two weeks, I have eaten chocolate-caramel walnuts, gravlax, and cider-glazed ham. I have eaten pickled shrimp, pork meatballs, and all the Good-and-Plenty roof tiles from my children’s gingerbread houses. And I am full in a bad way. I feel like the “before” photo for a spa or the "after" photo for some kind of human inflating device: creased and puffy and so tired that all I can say is, “I’m so tired.” And now I’m sitting here, with my tired pink face squashed into my hand, trying to think of something funny to add. I’m so tired?

I'm tired too! 
Probably I should just eat the whole head of broccoli raw. But that’s not really my style. This, however, is exactly my style: broccoli perfectly tender, perfectly browned, a little bit sweet and just this side of too salty, and utterly addictive. It’s the first recipe that has allowed me to make roasted broccoli that was neither burnt nor underdone nor simultaneously burnt and underdone. We’re going to eat it at room temperature with fresh whole-grain bread and a nice big piece of cheddar cheese, and we’re going to call it dinner.

Oven-Roasted Broccoli
Serves 4
Active time: 10 minutes; total time: 20 minutes

Maddie, who is very “Pish-posh, a baby could make it,” when you ask her for any of her recipes, directed me to America’s Test Kitchen for this, and sure enough I googled and found it. And I wouldn’t let a baby make it, but it is definitely easy. And there won’t be any left. As requested, here are links for all the kitchenware shown here. This incredibly awesome knife, this awesome rimmed baking sheet, and this love-of-my-life prep bowl.

1 large head broccoli
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Lemon wedges, for serving (I keep forgetting this, but I’m sure it would be good)

Peel the broccoli with a sharp paring knife as best as you’re able. The thick peel will keep the broccoli from going fully tender, so you really do want to remove it.

Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place a large rimmed baking sheet on the rack, and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Cut the stem off of the broccoli, and cut it into long, ½-inch thick pieces. Cut the rest of the broccoli into long, fairly narrow florets, then put it in a bowl, drizzle it with the oil and toss well until evenly coated. Sprinkle with the salt and sugar, and toss to combine. (The sugar helps it brown, so please don’t omit it.)

Working quickly, remove the baking sheet from the oven. Carefully transfer the broccoli to the baking sheet and spread it in an even layer, placing it flat sides down wherever possible.

Return the baking sheet to the oven and roast until the stalks are well browned and tender and the florets are lightly browned, 9 to 11 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately with lemon wedges (if you remember).

This was very wilty-seeming broccoli. Which I actually prefer to that dry, yellow broccoli--the kind where you put the parings in the compost bucket and then all day everybody wonders aloud who farted. 
Peeled, trimmed, and floretted.
We're not talking about a lot of ingredients here.
Did I mention that you really have to use your hands to coat it with the oil, salt, and sugar? You really do. You even have to kind of massage it a little so that it all looks oily.
The top side looks fine. But when you start looking underneath, you'll really understand how gorgeous it has become.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Magazine Give-Away

Cathy, the one who corrected my Red Hot Chili Peppers reference, is the winner of the magazine give-away! By random-number generator, although I do love to be lovingly corrected about pretty much anything. Seriously.

Thank you all so much for entering, and I hope you'll consider subscribing. Cathy, please do email me your address.

Happy New Year, my friends! I hope you are resolving to burst with love.

xoxo Catherine