This year, I’m doing my best to get into the holiday spirit — or at least to curb my inner Grinch. I have resolved to stay away from those end-of-the-year triggers that traditionally set me on edge: the malls, the peppermint lattes, and those supermarket-side bell-ringers whose infernal tintinnabulations plague my shopping*. And I’ve decided instead to embrace those customs that actually do inspire cheer.
So I’m making my list (and checking it twice). I’m baking desserty treats filled with warm winter spices. I’m listening to Jethro Tull’s “Ring Out, Solstice Bells” (beware, video!). And I’m mixing up experimental batches of eggnog.
Yes, I said eggnog.
I would appreciate it if you would all take the word ‘pumpkin’ in pumpkin mousse to be a metonym for a larger category, rather than a thing unto itself. I’m not trying to mislead you about the content of this dessert. You could, in fact, make it using a pumpkin. But this is a companion piece to my recent entry on winter squash purée. And as such, I feel it is my duty to inform you that in my version, there is nary a proper pumpkin to be found.
As I said in that post, the issue is not that I have any antipathy toward pumpkins. Far from it. But as I look out at the landscape of tough, warty, leather-skinned gourds at my culinary disposal, I find that there are lots of better ones — even to use in dessert.
Pumpkin pie, dear readers, is one of my favorite autumn treats. But suspect squash purée, excavated from a sealed tin can labelled with a happy turkey, or a beaming grandmotherly face, or some other graphic designed to distract from the disturbing vagueness and small print of the tin’s actual ingredient list is a thing I find somewhat less agreeable. I’ve mentioned here before that dairy — like sweetened condensed milk — that is designed to be stored at room temperature disturbs me. And pumpkin glop is another one of those things that fits into the same general category in my mind.
Luckily, there is a way to produce squash purée that does not involve a can opener. And while it admittedly takes more time, it is hardly an arduous task.
Always make more chocolate chip cookie dough than you can bake on any given day. Freeze the excess for cookie emergencies. And when you do, spoon it into an ice cube tray, one cookie’s worth at a time, so that when that inevitable cookie emergency arrives, you’re ready not just with pre-mixed dough, but pre-mixed dough that’s conveniently sized to be clattered onto a jellyroll pan straight from the freezer and baked — at 400F — for about four minutes longer than your cookies would ordinarily stay in.
I try to keep a bag of these little guys in the back of my freezer at all times. But then, I suffer from frequent cookie emergencies.
Tiny chocolate cups are for chumps.
All the best tourist guidebooks seem to agree that they’re entirely traditional and absolutely vital when it comes to imbibing ginjinha — that delicious Portuguese sour cherry liqueur — in Lisbon, or Porto, or anywhere else on its Iberian home terrain. But while I have nothing but respect for good old Rick Steves and his globetrotting colleagues who write these things, on this one small point, I must disagree.
It wasn’t my plan to start a new mead this past week. On Monday, I thought to myself that this summer might be a good time to test the waters of melomel, fruit mead, a style that I had never attempted before. But later in the summer would be better, I thought, when blackberries were ready, or even once pears had come into their bloom. Definitely, there should be melomel sometime this season. But definitely, that sometime was not now.
And then there were strawberries — buckets and buckets of the best strawberries in the greater Philadelphia area, ripe almost to bursting, at a price that was far too good to be refused.
Strawberries and rhubarb are a classic combination. They’re sweet and sour, bright and luxurious, irresistible as dessert, or as jam, or in just about any other context that I can rattle off. David Lebovitz recently extolled their virtue, cooked together with sweet wine and honey, as a compote.* And in the rhubarb entry of The Flavor Bible, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg place strawberries in bold caps with an asterisk, signifying that this is one of those “Holy Grail” pairings that are the most highly recommended by the greatest number of experts.
But then, you don’t need some fancy book to tell you that. One needs only look at the critical mass of strawberry-rhubarb pie recipes out there (a quick Google search yields more than four million results) to figure out that this is one of the most beloved flavor combinations in world cuisine.
You may consider this, dear readers, act two in the three-act May drama that I’ve come to think of as rhubarb-stravaganza. The tragedy, or perhaps the ecstasy, of being interested in seasonal cooking is that when the window opens for an ingredient — especially if it’s a relatively short window — one must take advantage.
The rhubarb window is open, folks. And here I am, milking it for all it’s worth.
Here are two things about rhubarb that you might not know, that you might find interesting, but that might put you off of using that red, tart, delicious celery lookalike:
Thing one is that the use of rhubarb as food is a relatively recent innovation, dating back in Europe only to the seventeenth century, according to the Wikipedia. Until then, rhubarb was used medicinally — as a laxative. Apparently, in Europe, in China, in the Middle East, and elsewhere, if you went to the doctor complaining of being stopped up, a strong dose of rhubarb was the cure.
It feels like it’s been forever since I made a post, here. Forever. And many, many miles. When I last put fingers to keyboard, the saurian hulks of gourmet food trucks dotted my neighborhood’s landscape. There was music in the air. And from underfoot, children and darting drunkards threatened to lurch and leap out into traffic.
Since then, I’ve had a birthday, a concert, a road trip, and a stay in a hotel. I’ve had a protracted bout of the flu (complete with fever, chills, and a full set of aches).