Banded Armor, Plus Two Against Mush

Don’t get me wrong, I love Providence style fried calimari. You know, the battered rings fried with the peperoncini and served with marinara? Dress it up, dress it down, it serves equally well in a pub as it does as a starter on white linen al fresco.

But this is not exactly a dish I’m going to be attempting at home any time soon.

How then to enjoy the truly unique texture of squid at home?

I recommend finding out if your monger deals in calimari steaks as well as the hoods or rings. These should be a very unassuming white square, not entirely unlike a mouse pad, trivet or pot holder. As long as one remembers the golden rule for cooking shellfish (30 seconds or 30 minutes) this humble looking sheet meat can provide some nearly fat free protein, and with some careful additions, can also become a platform for epic flavor.

And then of course there’s the texture.

Don’t get me wrong. I love flakey, broiled or poached fish. I love a tender steak. Heck, I love lentil dip. But don’t you find yourself from time to time wishing for something with a bit more to latch onto, teeth wise, without having to turn to the world of crunchy or crisp? There has to be more to the world of texture than fresh apples or potato chips, doesn’t there? There does, and it is known as chewy. Chewy is usually a pejorative in the kitchen, and that’s a real shame because it has given us a cuisine landscape comprised mostly of soft foods, with some sideline crunchy and crisp foods off to the side.

But chewy can be a good thing. A very good thing.

If your monger is of the better sort, they will already have scored the surface of the squid steaks at roughly eighth inch intervals (much like what one sees on squid served nigiri style at a sushi bar) with long, shallow knife cuts. If they haven’t, ask if they can. If they can’t, I hope you’re better with a santoku than I am. Without this step, your calimari will curl up like a cannoli and flavor will find no purchase on the imperviously smooth outer surface.

Upon a sufficiently roomy expanse of iron or steel combine a small quantity of very high heat neutral flavor cooking oil, kafir leaves, garlic, lemongrass and fresh ginger. Stoke your inferno slowly so that the oil is infused with the flavors of the aromatics. Once up to full heat (I’m talking in danger of leading the neighbors to believe you are invoking unholy powers kind of hot, here), cook no more than two steak at a time for about 15 seconds on each side and then set aside. Either remove the aromatic chunks or strain off the oil. Combine (back on the heat) with a generous splash of lime juice and chili sauce (a sriracha will do nicely) and thicken.

Serve with saffron basmati rice (or gruel) and stir fried vegetables (or raw turnips), dressing the squid with the sauce (which will stick in all the scores which will have opened up like grooves on a vinyl record [1] during cooking) and either a cold lager or an Alsatian white wine. You’ll want a steak knife and plenty of time to savor and chew. And chew. And chew.

You’re welcome.

 

 

[1] Yeah? You come up with a fantasy game chronologically relevant metaphor for that. 😉

Kobold Slaw

Eh? Get it? Kobold? Cole, bold? Bold cole slaw? Kobold slaw? No? Sorry.

Anyway, food ideas have been thin on the ground here, lately. I went into a long post Lenten funk, and then I spent the whole month of June on a road trip eating other people’s largely uninspired cooking (with a few notable exceptions).

But yesterday’s festivities found me doing my eye of round roast with the zatar rub, sliced thin, and wrapped into pita with tabbouleh, which I served to friends. Alas, I do not yet make my own tabbouleh. But thus inspired to actually make real food, I did embark on a “one shot” quest. Our side dish was a fresh slaw.

One small head of cabbage, cored, quartered, and sliced thin.[1] One sweet onion [2], cored, halved, and sliced thin. One each of green, red and yellow bell peppers, cored and sliced thin.

I would say for an off the cuff batch, go with that, but use two each of the peppers. But I was trying to use up some of the last of the harvesting from my garden (the time has come to turn most of it over and plant black eyed peas and sweet potatoes), so instead I used four “blushing beauty” bell peppers (these are smaller than the usual variety, hence four instead of three), and a large cucumber which I removed the seeds from and sliced thin as well. I also de-seeded and sliced into ribbons three of my fresh habanero peppers which are only just barely turning orange these days. It is from this last that the dish is dubbed Kobold Slaw.

As a dressing I whisked together toasted sesame oil, olive oil, soy sauce, salt, black pepper, prepared horse radish paste, powdered ginger (if I had planned ahead, fresh would have been better), and a teensy bit of egg-free canola mayo [3]. The idea was something along the lines of a sesame ginger salad dressing, but thicker. Keeping in mind that the oil is going to draw the heat out of the ribboned hot pepper flesh, as well.

Again, if you plan ahead, you can make this dish hours prior to serving it, tossing the dressing around every 30 minutes or so. The longer it has to set up, the more profound and complex the flavors will get. I served this first within an hour of making it, and it was good. We served the rest much later for the fireworks party and it was so much better.

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If you prefer a more traditional cole slaw, I did have a genuinely inspired variety during my travels that included whole caraway seeds in with the cabbage and carrots which was very, very tasty.

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[1] If you actually plan ahead, do this an hour or two before everything else. Salt the cabbage liberally, toss it every few minutes for at least half an hour, then rinse off all the salt. This will remove a lot of water from the cabbage which will otherwise end up in your dressing at the bottom of the serving bowl.

[2] Remember that “Vidalia” is a brand name from a specific county in… Georgia or one of the Carolinas. Get whatever sweet onions grow most locally to you, even if they’re just some uninterestingly labeled alphanumeric. Reducing your carbon foot print tastes better than terroir.

[3] Vegan without having to buy “veganaise” which is just gross, since the only way to get mayo made with ethical eggs, that I know of, is to make your own from scratch, which is tasty, but a hassle.

Draught of Fortitude (aka My Morning Shake)

When was the last time you saw an adventurer linger over breakfast?  It’s always a victory feast or some such.  Perhaps it’s because putting on all that armor takes so long, saddling the horse takes time, or perhaps they’re just focused on the loot.  Me…?  I’m usually bleary-eyed, uncoordinated, confused, trying to brush my teeth with my comb, and hoping my socks match.  So I really need to make sure my breakfast is nutritious, quick, and sticks with me.  So what better than a protein-like shake that I can just pour and quaff?  I could try not eating, but I fear I’d join the ranks of the Commuter Zombies.  Nrrg…

I started with a shake that would fill me up, and then moved on to a shake with extras which help contribute to my general well-being.  It’s kind of the same logic as “A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down”.

The ingredients all have a rationale.  The plain yogurt avoids adding too much sugar.  This shake does not suffer from lack of sweetness, and if something like Vanilla yogurt was used this would be too sweet.  The whey protein is one of the good proteins (note that flavored varieties have sugars added…), and protein sticks with a person longer; part of the goal here is to manage hunger and snacking.  The oatmeal is there for the fiber, but not too much because oatmeal is also a carbohydrate – which is bad sugar.  Turmeric is good for joints.  Cinnamon is good for the heart.  Ginger is good for many things.  Bananas taste good – oh, and they have potassium.  The frozen fruit mix is mostly for flavor, but if you choose wisely you can work in some anitoxidant properties.  Fairer weather (or climates) are great for this because it’s easier to work in readily available fresh fruit.  The milk is simply a thinner; calcium is good for a person and the yogurt already has plenty of that.  This could also be thinned with alternatives to milk such as rice or soy milk.

I also think I’ve finally found a process of blending this together so it does so cooperatively.  This is mixed half-batch at a time.  I don’t have a Blender of Holding… only a Blender of Might.  So half-at-a-time is necessary.

Draught of Fortitude (serves 6 humans, or one human six times, or one Giant)

  • 1 Blender of Might – using a whimpy blender for this may result in dodging a lid (roll save vs. blender lid…)
  • 32 oz plain yogurt
  • 2 oz whey protein
  • 1/2 c oatmeal
  • 10 dashes turmeric
  • 10 dashes cinnamon
  • 4 T chopped ginger
  • 4 large bananas
  • 24 oz mix frozen fruit (blackberries, strawberries, etc. – fresh is nice if you have it)
  • milk to thin

Add yogurt (16 oz), followed by (remember… half) whey protein, oatmeal, turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger.  The whey protein and oatmeal add body; protein will stick-with-ya longer.  The turmeric is for joint health, cinnamon is good for the heart, and ginger is good for many things.

I usually halve (as in break-in-half) the bananas and then stick them down into the yogurt.  They don’t have to be buried, just slightly submerged to help make room for the rest.  Add the fruit and then the milk.  Usually I will add the fruit, cap the blender, and pour the milk through the pour cap in the top – but I’ve seen a few blenders that don’t have a pour cap.

Start blending this slowly, perhaps on the second speed.  Your blender may go up to 11, but if you start there, you’re probably going to break something – especially if you fail to dodge an ejected blender lid.  Not that I’ve ever done that.

When you’re done, the blender may be too full to pour.  I usually use a ladle or a measuring cup to scoop some out into appropriate vessels.  If I am not serving 6 humans or a giant, I will put these into something I can keep in the refrigerator all week.  This is one of the reasons for the mixed fruit; they make the shake a pleasant rich-purple color instead of a strange brown due to the turmeric and banana (after a few days).

Since I don’t strictly measure the ingredients, I’ve had this last all week some times.  It keeps well over that time, and doesn’t adopt a funky flavor.  One reason for this is that I will separate it into multiple small containers.  The less contact it has with air, the longer it will take to spoil when kept in the fridge.

So this one is more mixing that strict “cooking”.  That’s why the rules are really more like guidelines!