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Archive for the tag “food and cooking”

Where I’ve Been

Working, mostly, and dealing with the usual late-winter hassles.

February is almost always a thin month around the household, budget-wise:  the winter electric bill (this being far northern New Hampshire) is enough to make strong women weep, the registration and auto inspection (and the associated necessary repairs) come due at this time, and no matter how careful I am to line up sources of income for midwinter, something always comes around to knock my plans into a cocked hat.  If the plans themselves don’t fizzle out like damp firecrackers, then some unexpected expense leaps out of the underbrush and shouts “Stand and deliver!” like an 18th-century highwayman.

Also, it’s been cold.

But here – in lieu of a half-formed rant on the decline of the past perfect tense, or another round of homonym peeves – have a recipe.

Spicy Stir-Fried Ground Beef

(My source for this recipe called it “Korean Beef,” but I suspect it’s approximately as Korean as my Great-Aunt Nellie.  What it is, though, is cheap and fast and good, and everybody in the house likes it.)


    1 pound lean ground beef
    1/4 cup brown sugar

    1/4 cup soy sauce
    1 Tablespoon sesame oil
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
    1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    salt and pepper
    1 bunch green onions, sliced


Heat a wok or a large skillet (but it works better with a wok) over medium heat. Brown the ground beef in the sesame oil. Add the garlic towards the end of browning and cook for a couple of minutes. Drain the fat.

Add the brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, salt and pepper and red pepper. Simmer for a few minutes to blend the flavors. Serve over steamed rice and top with green onions.

If you like things really spicy, as we do here, you can throw in some Szechuan chili paste, or Korean hot red bean paste, or sriracha to up the octane.

This feeds three people amply, and four people reasonably.  More than four people, and you probably want to up the amount of ground beef and adjust the other ingredients accordingly.

“Make New Friends, but Keep the Old….”

“One is silver, but the other’s gold.”

Anyone who’s ever been a Girl Scout knows that song.  I remember singing it once in a bar at a science fiction convention, in the company of another couple of writers and an editor, all of us former Girl Scouts.  (Though I suspect that, much as there are no former Marines, there are no former Girl Scouts.  Or very few, anyhow.)

This year the Girl Scouts are test-marketing a gluten-free cookie.
The list of councils where the Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Shortbread cookie is being sold is available

The main reason for buying Girl Scout cookies is, of course, that they are delicious, and I say this as someone who could easily consume a whole box of classic trefoils at one sitting if I didn’t stop myself.  But this year, buying Girl Scout cookies is also a way of frustrating these people, who in my opinion very much deserve frustration.

The Girl Scouts have always been a feminist organization – in some eras they’ve been more overt about it than in others, but what else do you expect from a group that has from its beginning striven to inculcate in young girls the virtues of self-knowledge, self-reliance, and sisterhood?

Obligatory writing reference!

More Thought for Food

After spending most of the morning hunched over my computer like a vulture, feeling out of sorts with the world, I wandered into the kitchen and asked myself, “Self, what do you want for lunch?”

And Self replied, upon consideration, “You know, what I would really like right now is some tomato soup.”

Normally, under such circumstances, I would inform myself, sternly, that we have no canned or otherwise packaged soup in the house, so that idea was right out. This time, however, Self was quick to add that we had canned diced tomatoes, an immersion blender, and a microwave right there, and the rest should follow easily from that point.

“Self,” I said, “you’ve got something.”

So I took a can of diced tomatoes, and a can of light coconut milk, and some dried minced garlic and some cumin and some Tabasco and a bit of salt and pepper, and I whirled them together with the blender until they were smooth. And then I added some tomato paste from the tube in the refrigerator, to make the end product a bit less pink and add a bit more tomato kick without having to add another whole can of tomatoes, and whirled it again.

Then I microwaved the final product until it was hot, and it was good.

Back Again

Returning from the land of holiday distraction….

I have a new pair of L. L. Bean fleece-lined slippers.  My feet are warm.

The various and assorted Christmas gifts for the various and assorted family members were all properly appreciated (which is always a relief — all it takes is having a gift-choice turn out wrong once to make you twitchy forever afterward.)

The Christmas dinner crown roast of pork turned out well, as did the five different pies, of which we still have about two slices each of apple and cherry left, and maybe four slices of blueberry.  The maple cream and the pumpkin are both gone, gone, gone.

And I need to get back to work.

A word to the wise: If you’ve got a pair of young twins, and they both, separately, tell you that they want a particular thing for Christmas . . . do not decide that it would be a good idea to get one of it for them to share. Just don’t.

A Recipe — and Some Thoughts on Theme and Incident

First, the recipe, which is a variation on your basic Alfredo sauce.

Hot and Spicy Alfredo Sauce

  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream (light cream is fine as well)
  • 1 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 tablespoon of salt
  • Pepper
  • A dash of cayenne pepper


Cook the butter, the pepper flakes and the garlic in a frying pan over low heat until the butter melts. Wait until the garlic turns transparent. Now add the cream and stir well, add 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese and blend. Remove from heat, add Tabasco, cayenne, salt and pepper and stir well.

Toss it over your pasta and add the remaining Parmesan cheese.

As you can see, this begins as a standard Alfredo sauce, but it has hot red pepper added to it in three different forms.  In much the same way, a standard plot may be made more complex and interesting by the addition of exciting ingredients — pirates, maybe, or political shenanigans, or the sudden discovery that one of the parties involved in a relationship is not necessarily what they seem to be.  What things should be added will depend on the base story, of course; a realistic narrative of suburban angst and adultery, for example, is unlikely to have a plausible reason for the inclusion of pirates (though if such a trick could be carried off, it would be awesome.)

Then we come to the next stage of the recipe, in which we make the hot and spicy pasta Alfredo into a more substantial entrée:

Hot and Spicy Chicken Alfredo

Take about a pound of chicken tenders, or a boneless chicken breast.  (I suppose you could use boneless thighs, if you like dark meat, but I tend to save the thighs for more slow-cooked dishes.)  Cut the meat up into 1-inch chunks.  Put a bit of oil in the pan you’re going to be using for the sauce, and saute the chicken chunks until they’re white clear through.  Remove them from the pan, and proceed with the recipe as above.  Add the cooked chicken chunks at the end, just before tossing the sauce with the pasta.

By adding the chicken, you’ve made your pasta dish heartier, and more full of protein.  (You’ve also stretched one pound or less of chicken to feed several people, if that’s your primary concern.)  In the same way, you can make your spiced-up standard plot more substantial by working in some meaty thematic material — the issues the story is thinking and talking about that aren’t the basic plot or the exciting details.  And like the cooked chicken, the thematic material needs to be there and waiting before you start messing around with the basic plot (aka the standard sauce) and the exciting details (aka the spices.)

Here, Have Some Pie

Pumpkin, this time.  All of ours is gone; and so is the cherry pie.  Some of the apple still remains, but not for long.

The weather here is unseasonably cold; the outside thermometer is reading 3 degrees Fahrenheit.  Normally we don’t get weather like that until mid-December or later.  Local opinion is that we’re going to have a cold winter; the question remaining is whether or not it’s going to be a snowy one.   Snowy is good, because snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are a big part of the local economy, such as it is, and a winter with substandard amounts of snow is the equivalent of  major crop failure.

But pie makes all things good.

Pumpkin Pie

  • 1 unbaked pastry shell
  • 1 can pie-pumpkin
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1 and 1/2 cups canned evaporated milk (One 12-oz can.  Not sweetened condensed milk; not evaporated skimmed milk.)

Place the pie shell in your pie plate.

Mix the spices well with the brown sugar.  This breaks up the lumps in the brown sugar and keeps the spices from clumping together when you add the liquid.

Combine the eggs with the sugar and spices; beat well.

Add the canned pumpkin.

Add the milk and beat well.

Pour into the pastry shell.  (Actually, the way we do it around here is to add the filling to the shell a ladle-full at a time.  Better control that way, especially if it turns out you’ve got more filling than shell.  We use our largest pie plate for this recipe.)

Cook at 350 Fahrenheit for 45-55 minutes.  (Test it after 45, and give it another 10 minutes if it isn’t done yet.)

When a knife inserted into the filling comes out clean, the pie is done.


The kind that says “Ingredients: pumpkin.” Anything else is pumpkin filling, and an abomination before the Lord.

Family Feasts and Rituals

We’re gearing up for Thanksgiving dinner already — tonight is pie production, because Thanksgiving dinner is nothing if not a pie delivery system.  This year we’re only doing three pies (cherry, apple, and pumpkin) because there are only going to be four of us at the table.  Come Christmas, when all three of the unmarried offspring will be temporarily in residence, we will be doing at least four pies (the current loadout, plus blueberry, and quite possibly some kind of chocolate cream pie as an extra.)

One of the things that a lot of science fiction and secondary-world fantasy often lacks, in my opinion, is this kind of tradition-laden family gathering.  Partly it’s because the protagonists of science-fictional and fantastic stories are so often loners, either by circumstance or by choice — they’re orphans, or they’re wanderers of one sort or another, or they’re estranged from whatever relatives they’ve got.  (Which is a pity, I think; nothing complicates life, or a plot, like family.)  But partly, I suspect, it’s because making up plausible and consistent holidays and family rituals that are convincingly alien but nevertheless feel like the real thing . . . is hard work.

(This is also where I like to give a nod to one of my favorite fictional Thanksgivings, the season four episode “Pangs” of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  It has everything, from the manic freakouts over getting the traditional recipes exactly right, to a look at some of the more problematic historical and cultural issues surrounding the holiday, culminating in a shared meal where everybody — even the captive vampire tied to a chair — is entitled to a seat at the table.)

A Culinary Follow-Up

Or, cooking outside the present era, this time with a recipe from the 1400s:

Armored Turnips

  • 1 pound turnips, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 pound (or thereabouts) provolone cheese, thin sliced
  • butter

Parboil the turnips. Drain.

Generously butter a baking dish.

Layer the turnips and the cheese in the baking dish, finishing up with a layer of cheese.

Cook at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the cheese is bubbly, and serve it forth.

This is the simplest version of this dish, the way that I learned to cook it decades ago in the Society for Creative Anachronism.  There are versions of it with sweet spices, and with savory ones, easily found on the internet (just Google “armored turnips”, and Bob’s your uncle), but this is the one that I know.  The original version I learned was meant to serve about thirty people, and used five pounds of turnips and one of cheese; it scales upward to a hundred or so if you’ve got the kitchen and the cooking crew for it, and that many mouths to feed.

An Offering of Pie

Last week was hectic and full of distractions, and this week is shaping up to be more of the same.  As an apology for erratic posting in days past and possible erratic posting in days to come, I bring a recipe for cherry pie.

(This also celebrates the reappearance of proper canned cherries in the local supermarket.  For most of last year they were hard to find up here; I eventually Googled “cherry shortage” and after some poking around learned that the late snowstorms back in 2012 had killed off a lot of that season’s cherry crop.)

Cherry Pie

  • 2 cans of tart cherries (we’re talking actual canned cherries here, and not “cherry pie filling”, which is a horrible sickly-sweet sticky glop and an abomination before the Lord.)
  • 6 T sugar
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 1/8 t salt
  • 1 T butter, cut up into little pieces
  • a scattering of fine tapioca
  • unbaked pie crust

Put the unbaked pie crust into a pie pan.  Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with fine tapioca; this will help keep the crust from getting soggy.

Drain cherries; reserve juice.  Place cherries in unbaked pie shell.

Mix sugar and cornstarch and salt.  Put on top of cherries. Pour in cherry juice.

Dot with butter.

Put on top crust.  Or streusel.

Bake in 475 oven for 12 minutes; reduce heat to 425 and bake for 45 minutes longer.


1/4 cup butter
2 T sugar
1 T cinnamon
1 cup flour

Cream butter; add sugar and cinnamon mixture alternately with flour.  Blend until crumbly. Sprinkle over top of pie.

Zucchini, Redux

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, here’s the zucchini bread recipe:

Zucchini Bread


  •         3 cups flour
  •         1 teaspoon cinnamon
  •         1 teaspoon salt
  •         1 teaspoon baking soda
  •         1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  •         3 eggs
  •         1 cup brown sugar
  •         1 cup white sugar
  •         1 cup vegetable oil
  •         1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  •         1/2 cup sour cream
  •         2 cups zucchini
    (This is one of those recipes that having a food processor with a shredding blade makes oh so much easier; otherwise, you and your grater are going to become very good friends.)
  •         1 cup raisins


  •     Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  •     Grease and flour 2 bread loaf pans.  (Or take the easy way out and spray them with Baker’s Joy cooking spray.  It’s what we do around here.)
  •     Sift together the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.
  •     In a separate bowl combine the eggs, brown sugar, white sugar, and oil.
  •     Add the dry ingredients slowly to the egg mixture.  It’s going to be fairly stiff by the time you’re done.
  •     When everything is thoroughly mixed, add the sour cream and the vanilla.
  •     Finally, mix in the shredded zucchini and the raisins.
  •     Pour the batter into the two loaf pans.  (They say, “pour” all the time in these recipes, but using a ladle and transferring the batter a ladle-full at a time makes the process easier to control, and helps you keep the amount of batter evenly distributed between the two pans.)
  •     Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
  •     Test with a toothpick or a skewer; if it comes out clean, the loaves are done.
  •     Let them cool on a wire rack in their pans for a few minutes, then turn them out onto the rack to finish cooling.
  •     Have a slice, warm, with butter, if you want to. (Just to check for quality control, you understand.)

So there you are — zucchini bread.  If you’re looking for story ideas, or for recipes for Zucchini Lasagna or Zucchini Pickles, you’re on your own.

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