Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fake Fake-Fancy Fake-French Fromage

I am kind of agnostic when it comes to cheese. Or maybe polytheistic. Overall, I love it. All the basics, like cheddar, blue cheese, Monterey Jack, parmesan, mozzarella, feta. And then some of those lovely, expensive cheeses that I seek out at parties or splurge on for holidays (Humboldt Fog, say, or a beautiful piece of aged gouda). But then there are some difficult, complicated cheeses that I wish I liked—given that I like pretty much everything—but I don’t. Maybe there’s a pee smell or a barn smell, or the rind tastes kind of like moldy oven cleaner, and I want to understand it, I do. But I am too busy choking on the ammonia fumes or glugging from my glass of wine to wash away the goat's-asscrack aftertaste. I even, I admit, would twitch my nose and bewitch the rind off of plain old brie if I could. But I eat it because I am too polite to scrape the good gooey middle out and leave behind the emptily sagging white outside, like some people do (cough *Dad* cough).

Cabot makes my favorite cheddar and Monterey Jack, but I don't actually love their yogurt. I can't remember how we ended up with it.
There are also some kinds of grody cheeses that I crave secretly, like Velveeta microwaved with salsa, which I will eat all of, down to the scraping up of the dregs of waxy cooling cheese with my thumbnail once all the chips are gone. Boursin, which is a garlicky, creamy cheese spread that is “French,” in quotes, even though it really is from France, is kind of in the middle. I tasted it for the first time as a teenager at a friend’s house, and died a little from my own sophistication. I’ve eaten it only occasionally as an adult, though, because it is actually insanely expensive ($7 for 5 ounces!). But I still love it, and the kids love it (we ate it in Quebec), and I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to recreate. And you know what? It’s not! I’m making it all the time right now. The only trick is to use garlic powder. That’s what gives it its special fake-fancy flavor. Seriously. And you’ll notice that it’s creamy but not, like the real kind is, simultaneously creamy and crumbly. But I can live with that.


Boursin-style Cheese Spread
It’s quite possible that you’re going to think to yourself, “Oooh, this would be so much better with…” fresh garlic say, or fresh herbs, or rosemary, and I say: Go for it. Because that means you don’t actually want it to taste like fake fake-fancy fake-French cheese, and that’s a perfectly reasonable way to feel.

4 ounces cream cheese or, ideally, Neufchatel (which is less gummy), softened
1 tablespoon butter, softened
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 teaspoon dried dill
½ teaspoon garlic powder
large pinch each dried marjoram and dried thyme (or one or the other)
Black pepper

Use a standing mixer fitted with the paddle (or else a food processor or a wooden spoon and strong biceps) to beat together the cream cheese and butter until completely whipped and amalgamated. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Taste and add more of anything you think it needs. Serve with bread or crackers.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I SWEAR this is probably the last gross thing I'll post. For right now.

We spent our snow day doing a little claymation (thanks again, Unbored!), and this movie was the result. It's like Davey and Goliath. But crossed with Jackass.

The children have been doing stop-motion animation for months, and their independent work is wholesome and lovely: lego gift-giving scenarios, paper circles cutting themselves into snowflakes, stuffed cats rolling over. But for some reason, as soon as I got involved. . .

Stay warm! Have a lovely weekend.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Emetic Hobos. . .

. . . is how, on facebook, the autocorrect of a friend of a friend kept revising "emetophobia." Good garage-band name? Bad Halloween costume?

Playmobil stylings courtesy of the fabulous KJ  Dell'Antonia. Who sent me an email, with the subject-heading "barf picture," that I avoided all day.
My little essay on that grave condition, and on barfing in general, is up at the Times here. If you're a long-timer with me, I'm so sorry to be talking about barf again. But at least, just this once, there's no weirdly-associated recipe! While the piece was in the pipeline over the weekend, both Ben and my editor got stomach bugs. We took to calling it "The Haunted Essay of Contagion."

Friday, January 11, 2013

Jicama with Spicy Lime Dipping Salt

I hesitate to say this because I saw, on pinterest, a comment about my Crack Broccoli that was like, "Really--kids ate this over cupcakes????? Please." But I am going to anyway: at a party, we ran out of jicama and spicy lime dipping salt before we ran out of chicken wings and grape-jelly meatballs and cheesecake bites. And, just to be clear, it was not a party we threw for, say, a spa manager or Kate Moss. This is just wildly, shockingly good. The jicama is sweet and supercrunchy and green-bean tasting, and the dipping salt is spicy and limey and perfect. Kids love this; grown-ups love this; you will love it too, I almost promise.

If you have never bought a jicama before, buy one now. It will be in the supermarket near the other root vegetables that you scuttle nervously past: the scary yucca and tarro and Jerusalem artichokes. It is brown and and leathery and, at this time of year, a little beat-up looking. But then it will be refreshingly crisp and pretty inside. If you can't find, or are too afraid of, the jicama, try the dipping salt with watermelon. Yum.

For some reason, I couldn't help imagining that my jicama had a bad personality. What? You don't look so great yourself, lady.  Or maybe I was feeling bad because, on top of all its other aesthetic problems, there was the fact that I dropped it in the driveway when I was getting out of the car.
Phbbbt! I'm not the only one with a whisker growing out of my mole!
But it's like a geode. A vegetal root geode. Inside, it is creamy white and gorgeous. Actually, quite deep inside. With this bad fellow, I had to pare away a great deal of skin and fibrous and oddly tan flesh before I got to the good part. This is more of a paring-knfie situation than a vegetable-peeler one.
Spicy Lime Dipping Salt
A few things. You're going to be like, "Why the sugar?" And why the sugar is that, otherwise, it is really too salty when you dip into it. But feel free to try it that way, if you want to. You can, of course, vary the amount of cayenne to suit your taste, or you can try something else spicy (I go back and forth on chipotle here, since I actually find the smokiness a little distracting). And the citric acid. I know. But it's the only dry way I know to add a little tartness to something. Mine came from a brewers' supply store, but you can order it online or, possibly, get it at the supermarket.

1 tablespoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon citric acid (optional)
The finely grated zest of 1 scrubbed lime

In a mortar and pestle (or another grinding device of your choosing), grind all the ingredients together until finely powdered.

Serve with peeled jicama cut into narrow strips or with watermelon or cantaloupe cubes.

I got my mortar and pestle at Marshall's for $10, and I am in love with it.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Dr. Pepper Caviar

After a sublime frozen-yogurt experience involving popping boba--picture passion-fruit-flavored fish eggs--Ben and I have become somewhat obsessed with the process of spherification, as they call it in the strange and foamy field of molecular gastronomy. So we gave him this kit for Christmas.

Which is weird, I know, since I am also, obviously, somewhat obsessed with natural and healthy eating.

Still, there was a half bottle of Dr. Pepper in the fridge that wasn't going to spherify itself. And so we spherified it.

We used actual Dr.-Pepper-brand Dr. Pepper! Not Dr. Pimper. Not Mr. Plipper. Not Popper-Pooper MD.  Although I think you could really use anything. Or anything that's not too acidic, apparently.
Soda spawn.
And we had as much fun as a family could possibly have with soda and meth-lab equipment. The directions that came with the kit were actually kind of crappy, so we followed these instead. Also, we needed to borrow a drug-dealer very precise scale from our friend Sam. All worth it. They won't tell you anywhere how to make gigantic Dr. Pepper boogers. Which is okay, because you'll surely figure it out yourself!

I never feel like a better mother than when my kids are doing mind-bogglingly disgusting things. Is that weird?

More soon, including (seriously) a good and wholesome vegetable recipe.