Friday, February 22, 2013

Tidbits: Nothing to do with books OR movies.

News team assemble! 

For those of you who struggle to understand why those of us who work with teenagers actually enjoy what we do for a living, let me introduce you to my new high school hero, Leonard.  That's pretty much sums it up, guys.  

Give this lady a badge for cooking!  If there had been the promise of Thin Mint Popcorn when I was a Girl Scout, I probably wouldn't be a Girl Scout dropout now.  But I draw the line at Girl Scout Cookie Fish.  Never.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Recipe 12: Lazy Voodoo Gumbo

Lazy Voodoo Gumbo
Last week, I attended either the most awesome or most gluttonous feeding frenzy of my relatively young life.  Southern Fight Night is a cookoff between three local restaurants (Trina's Starlight Lounge, East Coast Grill, and Tupelo).  It was delicious; it was filling.  In fact, it was 9 courses of filling, with 8 different types of meat, two kinds of fried chicken, only one plating of grits, and yes, gator.  I also discovered red eye gravy (hello, trouble).  But one of the dishes was a crawfish etouffe, which lead to an in-depth conversation about Mardi Gras and King Cake, and then days later, a lasting desire to eat some gumbo.  I'll make a bold statement/disclaimer here: I am not a southerner, and I've got no business claiming to know gumbo.  And yet...I found myself wanting some.

I consulted the Best Recipe cookbook, the Soup Bible, Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, my good friend Loe's Shrimp Creole recipe, and then basically threw my hands up and some things in a pot.  I was a) up the creek without shrimps with shells on, and b) too lazy to make my own, so I just used store bought seafood stock.  Which is apparently a huge cheat, so whatever, I'm a dirty rotten cheater and made my recipe big easy.  (Badum ching?)

This roux is not nearly Cajun enough.
Additionally, I was apparently falsely under the impression that a roux involved only flour and some form of a fatty liquid that originally came from a cow.  Color me shocked to discover that all, yes all, of the many gumbo recipes I consulted began with a roux made with - horror of horrors - boiling hot vegetable oil.  Dudes.  Do you know how freaked out I am by hot oil?  It only took one time of spilling hot coffee grounds on my wrist and a month long burn to enforce the lesson Charlie taught his big brother.  I ruled out using a thermometer; seriously, Best Recipe cookbook?  In my vision of Creole cooking on the bayou, there are no thermometers involved.  But there may be gators! And overalls!  And also, I hope it's cleaner than Beasts of the Southern Wild!  It's too hot for that, anyways.

You'll do, Cajun roux.
But I digress.  I did it, didn't burn myself, and you can too.  Just be prepared to stick with it and stir gently for awhile, to prevent burning (so you don't rue your roux).  The resulting soup was pretty decent, and I was pleased.  You can up the meat or veggie content; there is room in the broth for more.  I'd also advocate for using a low sodium seafood broth if you can find it; some of the ingredients are naturally salty and it's always easier to add than take salt away.  Finally, spice.  It was not spicy enough for me.  I added mucho hot sauco, as my poptart would say.  Tailor it to your audience...but don't be shy!

Below is my own voodoo recipe.  You do what you do...(PS. Probably goes well with Out of the Easy...which maybe also explains why I found myself craving this in the first place!)

Lazy Voodoo Gumbo
Serves 6-8

Lazy Voodoo Gumbo

Friday, February 15, 2013


News team assemble! 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Out of the Easy, by Ruta Sepetys: Smith girls aren't easy...even in the Big Easy

Out of the Easy
Ruta Sepetys
New York: Philomel Books, 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-399-25692-9
ARC provided by NetGally

The world is not kind when you are the daughter of a prostitute.  It is 1950, and Josie Morraine is about to turn eighteen.  Working in both a bookstore and as a maid in the brothel that employs her mother, Josie has lived alone and supported herself since she was 12. She is eager to escape her mother’s shadow and the steamy underbelly of New Orleans to start a better life for herself.  Though Josie’s defacto guardian, the infamous, fierce madam Willie Wooley, has provided her both with employment and protection in the rough French Quarter, she doesn’t agree with Josie’s dream of leaving New Orleans for an elite New England college education.  When a wealthy, kind businessman suspiciously dies the same day he has visited bookstore, Josie can’t help but pay attention as it becomes more and more evident that her mother’s gangster boyfriend may be involved, and that Josie and her friends may be in danger as a consequence.  Caught between doing the easy thing, the right thing, and following her dreams and heart, escaping her past is not going to be easy for Josie.  This well written, coming of age story is best for older teens and adults due to mature themes, and is a strong recommendation for both public and school libraries, as well as summer reading lists.  

With an opener like “My mother's a prostitute. Not the filthy, streetwalking kind.”  I think we can safely start placing bets on both how soon after publication this will be banned, how many times it will be banned, etc.  But I hope there are librarians brave enough out there to put this whore book on their library shelves - it is well worth the headache of dealing with the pearl clutchers who won’t make it past page one.  Out of the Easy is well crafted, with solid, engaging writing, and a really sympathetic, admirable protagonist.  Josie has it tough, and we sympathize with her, but Sepetys is deft in making sure we never feel pity for her; she has a hard life, but she’s working harder, holding her head high, and trying to stay respectable to change it.  

Josie has created a rich chosen family for herself. I particularly enjoyed her relationship with Patrick.  (Spoiler alert:) Though Josie is certainly not naive after working for years to clean up in the mornings at a brothel (a. gross, and b. por ejemplo, she doesn’t bat an eyelash when she finds one of the prostitutes napping with an ice pack on her ladybits), she’s naive about a lot of life, and doesn’t quite understand the whole being gay insinuation, pretty much until its beating her over her head.  I really kind of loved that angle; it’s such a human quality to know so much, and yet so little!  (Spoiler over!)  The other characters, though occasionally of a type (cruel gangster, loving chauffer, sweet-natured cook, slimey business man, prostitute with a heart of gold, progressive Smith girl from a good family), are all well crafted - and who wouldn’t have a crush on tight-jean, leather jacket, motorcycle mechanic with a heart of gold, Jesse?  Whatababe.  It is also a testament to Sepetys’ writing that she has written a book about a lot of prostitutes, usually easy fodder for ridicule or criticism.  Though the reader understands the societal prejudices, Sepetys’s writing never creates a feeling of disgust, pity or stigmatizes them, except perhaps in the case of the truly lost woman, Josie’s monstrous mother.  In short - it’s a pretty solid, enjoyable read with an aura of suspense that makes it hard to put down!  

PS. It took me until approximately today (I've had had this one for a month and a half or so) that there is not a bird, but a girl behind the birdcage on the cover. Self-low-five!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Recipe 13: Pad Thai Soup

A few weeks ago, a friend was telling me about how she'd had what basically tasted a lot like Pad Thai in the form of soup.  Which made me wonder: could pad thai soup actually happened?  I hit up the googles and found a really great looking recipe on Domestic Fits for just the thing: Pad Thai Soup.  It seemed great, but maybe not peanut-y enough for me; I think Pad Thai needs to have some solid peanut undertones, along with the crushed nuts on top.  It also didn't have shrimp, which think of as a requisite for my favorite versions of Pad Thai.  I wondered (lots of wondering going on here), could I add peanut butter to the broth (like the Spicy Peanut Soup I made, way back when), and shrimp, AND some veggies, and create the Pad Thai soup of my dreams?  

Spoiler alert: the answer is yes.  As the forecasters started going crazy with snowpocalypse predictions, I realized a snowy day would be the perfect accessory to this dish.  And then when Ms. XB, she of the new blog WeRouxTheDay called to ask if she could come up early and get snowed in to avoid traveling during the storm, I knew this had to happen.  Dudes.  This was the greatest.  Fresh, healthy (or maybe not, but I don't want to know), good flavor, good spice, a nice balance of nutty and tart, and really perfect for being snowed in.  

 I assure you, it goes well with that blizzard survival wine stash you and any of the other treats you've got hoarded up  to make it through the snowy blowy weekend (ahem, ahem, chocolate covered frozen bananas, salt and pepper pretzel chunks, infused bourbon, brick of cheddar).  As an added bonus, this recipe is one of the quickest, easiest soups I've made, and will adapt well to your personal preferences for what you like in your Pad Thai.  This is a wonderful choose your own adventure type of dish.  For me, it was winner, winner shrimp, chicken, peanut dinner!

Recipe below:
Pad Thai Soup + Friends + Major Blizzard = Majorly Tasty Fun

Friday, February 8, 2013

Recipe 14: Eggplant Tomato Souffle

Eggplant Tomato Souffle
For a very long time, I've wondered if it was possible to make souffle in a Le Creuset.  I mean, sure, maybe.  But all that food science of hot metal vs. hot ceramic or glass, cold fluffed liquids meeting hot things, etc. etc. had me doubting.  Doubting, that is, until I stumbled across this recipe for a flourless chocolate cake that sounded souffle-like (except upon reread...not at all), specifically for Le Creuset - so I decided to try.

Naturally, being insane, I decided not to take the simple route.  I wanted to use some roasted eggplant I'd saved up from my summer farm share, and had some whole canned tomatoes.  You know, logical heavy choices for a dish that is supposed to defy gravity.  However, I'm really glad I did have this moment of insanity and food science experimentation; it worked and it was delicious.

You will use all the dishes!
I adapted an Eggplant Souffle recipe from Kitchen Bitch to use what I had on hand; I suspect that you can do the same, using the same skeleton ingredients for a savory souffle.  Substitute cheeses, use different veggies, etc.  It will probably taste awesome!  I suspect the most important thing to not mess up is making sure to cook out a lot of the liquid in the vegetables - that'll be what goes wrong, if something does.  Everything else, while slightly complicated (aka, you will use all pots and pans and bowls in your kitchen, and whisk, whip, and chop), is pretty straight-forward.  It's a perfect dish for a snowy breakfast, brunch, or dinner...especially when it's the snowpocalypse part 34.

Recipe below

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Curious Case of Mr. Pamuk and the Superbowl...

Didn't you hear?  The Superbowl got Pamuked.  Evidence: this aired on CBS during the broadcast, right about the time Downton was fixing to air on PBS:

Suspect, PBS.

Incidentally, glad to see Mr. Pamuk is still in the game.  Even if the lights weren't. 
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