Champinones al Ajillo

Tapas Party spread, February 2015. Picture by Emily Blue.
Tapas Party spread, February 2015. Picture by Emily Blue.

A few months ago, one of my friends came up with the brilliant idea of Dinner Club, a group of local friends and foodies that regularly gets together to cook, eat, and socialize. It’s a collaborative and family-friendly gathering that is teeming with creativity and anticipation, as we plan and share our plans online leading up to the event.

Last month I hosted a tapas event. Tapas were my idea, but once I started looking into them I was immediately anxious about my choice. I am not comfortable cooking a lot of fish and seafoods, ingredients with which traditional tapas are heavy. Luckily other folks stepped up and made smelt, salmon ceviche, shrimp, and others. We had marinated chorizo, dates wrapped with bacon, manchego cheese with quince, melon con jamon, fresh bread and tomato caper salsa, and other fantastic and new flavors.

I made several items, but this was among my favorites, adapted from a smattering of recipes from Martha Stewart to Real Simple to others. I love mushrooms and this was easy and light, and got better and better as it sat around at room temperature marinating in its own juices. I took the leftovers and reheated them with a dose of heavy cream, reduced by half, and tossed with linguine, fresh chopped parsley, and parm. So good.

Continue reading Champinones al Ajillo

How to Identify Stanhope Jewelry

A Stanhope ring with close-up. Photo from Pinterest.
A Stanhope ring with close-up. Photo from Pinterest.

Several months ago, I lucked out and found a large stash of Stanhope novelty pieces at a garage sale. The collection I had to choose from was mostly religious icons, like tiny paintings of saints, the Lord’s Prayer, and other iconography hidden in keychains and cross pendants. The naughty Stanhopes, however are highly collectible — Victorian cheesecake nudes — so I snatched them all up.

A Stanhope is a tiny peep hole with a lens containing a micro-photograph inserted into a novelty souvenir. The photo inside is the size of a pinhead and has to be held up to a light and very close to ones eye to view the image. 

A Stanhope ring.
A Stanhope ring.

In the Victorian era especially, these novelties were extremely popular and cheap to make, and because they were so proliferous, people didn’t take great care of them which accounts for their rarity today.

Although the pieces I have are merely cheeky today — microphotographs of Victorian ladies in various states of undress — these would have been quite scandalous way back when.

You can identify Stanhope jewelry primarily by the small lens located somewhere on the piece, usually on a pendant, fob, keychain, or ring. Oftentimes Stanhopes will look like little lenses, like a telescope, a pair of binoculars, or another eye piece. If this is a religious piece, the lens will typically be in the center of the cross. The lens is usually about 3mm in diameter and will go all the way through the piece, and is curved like a dome on one side. You must hold it right up to your eye and look through the dome in the direction of light to discern the image inside.

NOTE: If you have and love a piece of Stanhope, you must be very careful not to expose the piece to moisture in any form. Water, lotion, steam, or any other moisture will dissolve the tiny picture on the lens, negating much of the value of the piece. I learned this one the hard way.

On Cabbage Steaks, Rage Cooking, and Roasting Vegetables

There is this recipe floating around social media that makes me want to rage-quit the internet every time I read it, for “Garlic Rubbed Roasted Cabbage Steaks.” Why does it make me want to light a kitchen on fire? It’s over-complicated and shows a basic misunderstanding of how to use ingredients for a desired culinary end. It’s a now-classic issue that crops up frequently on Pinterest-heavy lifestyle sites, sites that are more in tune with what a recipe or hobby says about the author — and the desires of the reader — than they are about conveying clear instruction on a topic of expertise .

[The original cabbage “steak” is credited to Martha Stewart, but at the link one can see Martha is impatient with silly flavor profiles and unnecessary steps. Martha calls hers “wedges” because Martha knows a real steak when she sees one.]

In the recipe in question, the instructions tell you to cut a head of cabbage into one inch thick “steaks,” then “rub both sides of cabbage with smashed garlic.” Later, you get out your basting brush and literally paint the cabbage with oil. Veggies, especially the humble cabbage, weren’t meant to be this fussy.

Continue reading On Cabbage Steaks, Rage Cooking, and Roasting Vegetables

Thanksgiving Menu

Since my family will be scattered over the holiday, I’m cooking this weekend.

  • Roasted bone-in turkey breast, maybe with Herbes de Provence. Part of me wants to scrap this and just make honey lamb.
  • Sauteed Brussels sprouts w/ bacon — I can’t emphasize how good these are, halved and sauteed in bacon fat and caramelized with a shot of vinegar.
  • Creole cornbread and sausage stuffing.
  • Baked cheese grits — I don’t have a recipe for this one yet. The traditional one for my family is out of one of those ancient church cookbooks I love, but it’s similar to this, but with additional savory ingredients.
  • I wanted to make hasselback potatoes, but the kids overrode my opinion. Mashed potatoes it is. Boo.
  • Roasted, herbed honey carrots.
  • Deviled eggs.
  • All the pie.

I love a cooking holiday.

Chicken Dum Pukht

This chicken curry recipe is one of the better things I’ve found online, maybe ever. It’s spicy without being too hot, it makes the house smell delicious, and it provides an excellent lesson in making your own curry paste. I’ve also skipped the meat and made a good vegan version with hardier veggies (eggplant and okra were the stars), braising for less time.

Cilantro stems!

Southern Creole Sausage and Cornbread Dressing

I stole this picture from the internet. It looks something like this.
I stole this picture from the internet.

This is one of my favorite recipes of all time, a dish present on every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter table set at my mom’s house. The original recipe lives in a non-descript church cookbook from somewhere in the Middle South in the 1970s, and it’s in danger of being destroyed with time and use. Another iteration lives in an email from 2008, which is terribly inconvenient. I decided to record it here for posterity, with some of my own notes added.

This savory cornbread stuffing hits all the taste centers in your primitive lizard brain, with fats and carbs and meats galore. Sorry/not sorry about the sticks of butter.

For the cornbread, make any recipe you’d like as long as it’s a full unsweetened round. I make mine in a cast-iron skillet. And if you don’t feel like making your own Creole seasoning, get you a tin of Tony Chachere’s.

Continue reading Southern Creole Sausage and Cornbread Dressing

Mr. Mathers Goes To Washington

Slate is charmed that rap, the whole genre apparently, will be judged in the Supreme Court this December. The case, one in which a man who had been left by his wife proceeded to post increasingly darker fantasies about killing his wife on Facebook, until she received a protective order which he then violated by posting additional dumb, intimidating things online in the form of rap lyrics. Because of his use of lyrics, the case is turning into a referendum on whether the Court recognizes that rap is a legitimate art form. Since rap is often wrongly considered “confessional” by default and Elonis never actually dismembered or serial killed anyone (only graphically threatened to do so repeatedly, enough to concern the FBI, whom he then threatened), the concern is that the stodgy and old justices won’t understand the importance of self-proclaimed, amateur, Facebook rap lords to intimidate everyone in their friend circle with exponentially increasing expressions of instability.

The sticking point is that his threats were both “rap” (talent aside) and posted on social media, thereby an expression of his identity, arguably art, even, and for these reasons subject to free speech laws.

Is rap an art form? Fuck yes. Is it always confessional? Nope. Does Rap (capital-R) need Supreme Court recognition to have arrived? Nope. Personally this delight smacks of white nerds enjoying the transgression and irreverence of “low art” in the highest court of law in the nation, but that’s me and it’s snarky and adds more heat than fire. In all the excitement of dropping the f-word in an amicus brief, there seems to be forgotten that at its crux is a guy who was threatening to dismember and mutilate his ex to all of their friends and family, shoot up elementary schools, and threaten and harass his coworkers and FBI agents until he was fired and jailed. Scary dude, and he’s not even a real artist.

The thing is, as a country we’ve written it into our founding documents that we intend to tolerate and defend idiot speech, and will in fact wage literal and figurative wars over your right to embarrass yourself in public within reason. However, the addition of social media to our culture makes threatening speech that much easier to capture and prosecute, with the added complication of interstate laws that escalate sentencing. And indeed, our right to emotionally terrorize others online hangs in the balance. But the effect of putting the language of domestic violence above reproach unless we can verify what’s in the heart of the speaker is chilling for all the targets who don’t get thrills from their emotional abuse.