Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving and Altruism

I was out to dinner with my family for my husband's birthday, when my mom and dad got to talking about what they were doing for Thanksgiving. I'm won't be there--I'm visiting the in-laws, including the sister in law with the new niece--and my sister is visiting her boyfriend. So, my parents were to be empty-nesters for the first holiday ever.

My dad suggested that they volunteer at a soup kitchen, and do something to help the less fortunate. My mom heartily agreed.

My parents rule.

This Thanksgiving, keep in mind that there are a ton of people less fortunate out there, even more so in years past due to the economic downturn. These people need care and support, but not just food. They need hope, and to know that others care.

Maybe your budget it also tight this year, but if you can't give money, you can always give time. Maybe it's going to a soup kitchen, maybe it's donating food, or maybe not.

I don't have time this year, what with two jobs and a house to take care of, but I do have some money. The Mister and I will be making some donations before the holidays, and also will start to put charity as a line item in our budget for 2009.

Not to get too didactic, but there's surely something you can do to bring a smile to someone else's face and lighten their load. It will lift your spirits as much as it will lift theirs.

Here's some links to get you started:

The Hunger Site et. al: All you do is click on a link and ad revenue goes to charities. Super easy

How to donate food to a soup kitchen: An EHow article that gives the basics.

Look into microcredit: Microcredit is basically giving a small, short-term loan to someone whose needs are so small or who is so poor that they can't get bank financing. It's sort of like lending your sister $50 to buy books for college until her student loans come through, or giving your son $40 to start up a lemonade stand. Much, but not all, microcredit is for international purposes, so if you want to help peopole in your community this might not be the way to go. But it will directly help people.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lovely lamb chops with cheesy bacon mashed potatoes

I just had this meal not one hour ago, and it was delicious. Prep time was minimal. If you are a lamb lover, this is the only marinade you will ever need. I heartily suggest you drink a robust red wine with this meal.

These recipes make enough for about two servings, but can easily be doubled. I've found that you don't want to over-marinate the lamb, so 30 minutes or less will do fine. Prep time on this is minimal, but it is delicious. Not the fanciest of meals, but it will satisfy any lamb lover, and the mashed potatoes taste almost like cheesy potato skins.

Lovely Lamb chops with cheesy bacon mashed potatoes

Bottled lemon juice is fine here, but fresh garlic and fresh herbs are a must.

8 lamb rib chops, French cut style
salt and pepper
1/4 cup oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
2 sprigs thyme, oregano, or your favorite herb

Trim the lamb of excess fat if needed. Place chops on baking sheet. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, add oil and lemon juice. Crush garlic cloves and add. Strip the leaves off the herb springs, and add to marinade. It's OK if a few small stems get in.

Pour marinade over chops, directly on baking sheet. Turn after 10-15 minutes. Make sure to spoon some of the herbs and garlic on the chops when you turn them.

Meanwhile, while the chops are marinating, make the potatoes.

1 cup instant mashed potatoes
1 Tablespoon butter or oil
2 Tablespoons Bacon Salt
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 an onion
1/4 cup cheese
1 cup water
1/4 cup milk
scallions and cheddar for garnish (optional)

Chop onion to medium dice. Add to medium-sized saucepan with oil and salt. Cook until onion is translucent and fairly soft, stirring occasionally, over medium heat, about 10 minutes.

While onions are cooking, start to broil the lamb chops. Broil about 2-3 inches away from the broiler. For rare chops, broil 3 minutes per side. 4 minutes per side for medium. Remove from the oven and let rest.

Add bacon salt and stir to combine. Add water, stir, turn heat to high until mixture begins to boil. Turn off heat, add milk and potatoes. Stir until the mixture begins to solidify, then add cheese.

Serve 4 chops per person with the potatoes on the side. Drink with a robust red wine. Feel like a cannibal as you gnaw the lamb bones.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A trio of garlic breads

I had a garlic bread so delicious last night that I had to share the recipe. As a bonus, I've got two other lovely garlic bread recipes, too.

Goat cheese garlic bread with roasted garlic

2 baguettes
4 oz plain goat cheese
1 head roasted garlic
1 small clove garlic, finely minced or crushed

Slice baguettes in half, lengthwise. Slice each half crosswise. Basically, One Baguette is now in four pieces. Put goat cheese, garlic and roasted garlic in a small bowl, use a fork to smash together until somewhat smooth. It's ok, in fact preferred, to have some texture from the roasted cloves. Add a little bit of salt and pepper to taste.

Place on broiler pan, and broil in the oven until tops just start to brown. Serve hot.

Tacky Italian Restaurant's sinfully delicious garlic bread

If you've been to this restaurant I'm clandestinely referencing, then you know what I'm talking about. If not, just know this is a crunchy, crusty bread with a powerfully potent, but not overpowering, garlic flavor. I swiped the basics for this recipe from Meemo's Kitchen, who has a great write-up on the recipe. I have modified it somewhat to clarify procedure and to add just a pat of butter, though the "authentic" recipe does not call for it.

The key to this is finding a good foccaccia to start with. Ideally, it should be a size that will fit into a 9-inch cake pan. You split it in half crosswise so you've got two round pieces half the thickness of the original. (You can always make your own foccaccia if you really want.)

"Buca’s" bread

Makes two loaves

1 loaf focaccia bread (rosemary and red onion if you can find it)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
2 T butter
6 cloves garlic-minced (jarred is OK)
3 cloves garlic-sliced very thin
2 tsp oregano
¼ cup mozzarella (optional – variation)
3 Tablespoons Romano cheese

Advance Prep:

Cut loaf of bread crosswise so you end up with 2 circles, each about 1 inch thick. Let sit for an hour or two.

Slice garlic cloves thinly, set aside for an hour or two.

Make garlic oil. Combine minced garlic, butter and oils in a microwave safe dish or in a small saucepan. Heat in microwave for 30seconds to 1 minute until butter just melts. Do not let garlic burn.


To assemble:

Brush each round of bread--the entire thing--with garlic oil. Get the top, sides, and especially the bottom of the bread. Slice bread into 4-6 rounds using pizza cutter. Place bread in cake pans. Sprinkle oregano and Romano on top (and mozzarella if using). Top with garlic slices.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake for 10 minutes, until heated through. Remove from the oven, and turn on the broiler. Broil top of bread until garlic just starts to brown (if using cheese, when cheese is bubbly).

Remove from pans and add a little more oregano and Romano. Serve hot.

Slothful garlic bread

I think I've posted this before. It's the garlic bread I make when I don't have any butter at room temperature and I want garlic bread NOW.

1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, pressed in garlic press
1/4 cup pre-shredded cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, whatever you have on hand)
1 small sub sandwich roll (4-6 inches) or 2 slices of bread

Mix mayo, garlic and cheese. Spread thickly on bread. Broil until it puffs and just starts to brown. Eat quickly before you have time to ponder that you've just made garlic bread using mayonnaise.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day Libations

(Cross-posted on Manic Scribe.)

Whether you're a Republican or Democrat, a teetotaler or a lush, there's a libation for you on Election Day.

I did an informal Twitter poll, and most people are drinking hard liquor, of all things. Gin, scotch, Tequila (if "their man" loses), Goldschlager and bitters (aka "Conservative's Tears."

I'm having a small party, two political junkie friends are coming over later, but mostly I'm helping Mahalo make sure that the election returns are updated as fast and accurately as possible.

If you want to avoid the Internet traffic disaster that CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC will be, check out these fun and fast sites over at Mahalo:

Electoral Map
Exit Polls

But I digress. I wanted to offer some drinks of my own for this election cycle. Although I've tested these drinks, or versions close to them (ask me about the "flaming kitten" sometime), Imbibe at your own risk, don't drink and drive.

The Obama
1 to 2 oz peaty scotch, like LaPhroaig
1/2 oz Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
1/2 oz banana liqueur
splash of heavy cream
Combine, stir. Serve on the Barocks.

The McCain
2 oz whiskey
Juice of 1/2 lemon, fresh squeezed
1 Tablespoon of sugar
Shot of Tobasco sauce or other hot sauce (for that Maverick-y edge)
Shake, strain, serve.

The Palin
Essentially a Cosmo, but make sure you make it with Russian vodka.
2 oz Russian vodka
1 oz Cointreau, Triple Sec, or other citrus liqueur
1 lime, fresh squeezed (or 1 oz lime juice)
1 oz Cranberry juice

The Biden (called the Hrab in some circles)
Diet coke in a highball glass over ice.
Biden is a teetotaler, you see.

Other options

*Are you a Joe (or Jane) Six-pack? Celebrate being a demographic with a six pack of your favorite beer.

*Make a red-white and blue layered drink called a pousse-cafe. The trick is to use a narrow glass and pour each layer over the back of a spoon. You can use any liqueurs for this, but you'll want to experiment to make sure they have different enough densities to separate.

*Drink wine. There's a company doing "red" and "blue" wines, but any red, white, or blue wine will do.

And a few drink ideas for those who don't (or won't, or can't) drink. AAA is big on mocktails, to encourage people not to drink and drive. Check your local state AAA group, and/or the links below.

AAA Oklahoma "mocktail" contest winners

20 Mocktails from AAA Wisconsin

Red, white and blue layered drink (nonalcoholic)

One final note on non-alcoholics: Infusing herbs like mint, basil, or any herb you like is a great way to impart flavor, and a touch of bitterness, into a drink without adding the booze.

Remember, drink early, drink often!

I think that's how the saying goes...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Improv recipe: Leek and Squash soup with beans and greens

I roasted a butternut squash for this and cooked my own beans because that's what I had on hand. I've modified the recipe to take advantage of convenience foods. Canned beans and frozen squash puree should be just fine in this recipe and yield a similar quality of finished result.

The leeks just make this. Onions can be used if you can't get your hands on leeks. But do try to get leeks.

1 package frozen butternut squash
2 leeks, white and pale green parts only
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or other full-bodied, flavorful vinegar
1 can of pre-cooked white beans
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Handful of greens such as spinach or beet greens (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Microwave squash puree per package directions. Meanwhile, chop leeks and add to large saucepan with butter, and a teaspoon of salt. Sautee leeks on low heat for 5-10 minutes until soft and just starting to brown. Turn off heat and add the sherry vinegar. Stir briefly so the onions absorb the vinegar.

Add 2 cups stock to onions, stir. Drain can of beans, add to pot. Add thawed squash puree. Add greens if using. Stir to combine. Turn heat to medium and simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soup is combined and greens are tender. Taste and add more salt if needed. Turn off heat and stir in cream. Serve with crusty bread or croƻtons if desired. Serves 4.