Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pumpkin tales

You've heard the old joke that the definition of eternity is two people and a ham.  But we're currently in an even longer age with two people and a pumpkin.

My friend bought a huge pale blue pumpkin several weeks ago and after a couple of big meals from it, decided it was going to be too much for the two of them.  She gave me about a quarter of it, which was a really big hunk.  I didn't think to take a picture of the original gift, but here's how it looked later -- beautiful pale bluish-greenish-gray on the outside, big thick bright orange meat on the inside.

I've served plenty of pumpkin in the past from cans, and not just in pie.  And I've made plenty of winter squash of other varieties, but never a big pumpkin like this.  It has been a challenge to come up with new ways to fix it.

Here is it in soup.  Very pretty against the red beans, and just enough taste of its own.

Here it is in pasta, along with cauliflower and black olives.  The combination was surprisingly good for a miscellaneous meal.

I had the oven on to heat up the crab cakes, so I put some pumpkin in too.

Here's another time when I stuck the pumpkin in the oven, but not long enough.  When it was time to serve, I had to turn on the broiler for a few minutes.

When I'm making rice I'll put some pumpkin slices in the steamer basket above the rice cooker.  If the slices are somewhere between a quarter- and half-inch thick, they are done in about 15 minutes, just as the cooker turns itself off.  (With brown rice, wait and put the pumpkin in a half hour after the cooker has started.)

A month after its arrival, one end of the pumpkin was getting a touch of mold so last night I carved off and threw out a big chunk.  But I figure we still have at least two meals left.  Eternity may be finally reaching its end.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Comfort food

High on my list of comfort foods is bread and gravy.  When we had it as a kid there was probably Wonder Bread underneath, but now that I am a grownup food sophisticate I have upgraded to Wonder-Bread-or-anything-else-on-hand.

My mother used to serve my sister and me plates of bread and gravy with the huge enthusiasm of Tom Sawyer inducing suckers to paint the fence.  "We're having such a treat tonight!" she would gush, and we believed it.

In truth, this was probably the cheapest meal she could think of to put on the table during some dark days when my dad was out of work.  I suppose there had to have been a little meat in the house at a previous point, else where would the gravy have come from, but it didn't appear on our plates, nor did we care.

Many decades after I figured it out, I still love bread and gravy.  Stuff from the bottom of the pot roast pan, like today, is great.  Leftover gravy from Thanksgiving dinner is even better.  If there's some meat on the plate too that's fine, but hardly necessary for me to feel comforted.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Say no to Papa

There's a Papa John's pizza store at the end of our street, and we've been patronizing it for years.  The last time was about three weeks ago -- and when I say the last time, I mean it.

Papa John himself, John Schnatter, hates the Affordable Care Act.  He said earlier this year that providing healthcare for workers would add as much as 14 cents to the cost of a pizza.  Many customers opined that they'd be happy to pay it.  This week, now that the election makes implemention of the law a certainty, Papa came back with a new argument: it's likely that fulltime employees will have their hours cut below 30 so they won't have to be covered.

Papa says it will cost as much as $8 million a year to comply with the new law.  To put that in context, the company had revenue of $1.2 billion last year, and net income of $55 million.  John Schnatter's total compensation last year was $2.7 million and his net worth is estimated at slightly under $300 million.  The company is giving away 2 million free pizzas this fall as part of a football promotion.

There's not much I can do to persuade a captain of industry to behave more like a mensch.  I could point out that healthy employees are an asset to a company, particularly one in the food service business (who wants sputum with their pepperoni?).  I could point out that the US has been the only major nation in the world without some kind of universal health care system.  But those arguments probably aren't going to make much of a dent in Papa John's cranium.

What I can do is buy pizza from somebody else.  Which I, and many of my friends, have resolved to do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dumb ideas in marketing

With much hoopla, our local grocery store has turned its cheese counter into an exclusive outlet for a branded dealer.  I'm pessimistic, having lived through a similar "upgrade" of our deli counter, in which suddenly we could only buy brand-name pastrami, at $2 a pound more than the old no-name store meat. But this morning I had my first up-close-and-personal contact with the new brand.

Last week my husband bought me some havarti cheese, one of my favorites, and this morning I decided to have some for breakfast.  But when I took the new package out of the fridge I was momentarily appalled.

"What -- you bought me cheese that's pervasive, stinky and lingering????" I shrieked.

But on closer examination I realized that some marketing genius had decided to festoon the labels with every conceivable adjective that could be applied to cheese.


It might be a good marketing ploy to label your cheese with an accurate description, especially if you're trying to tempt buyers into trying something new.  But it strikes me as dumb to label your cheese as everything.  I suspect a lot of buyers will -- just as I did -- spy one or two of the adjectives on the label and quickly decide it's not for them.

Meanwhile, the havarti wasn't even as good as the (cheaper) stuff we used to get at the same cheese counter.  I ate it anyway, but will not be returning to the fancy new cheese counter with much enthusiasm.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thinking out of the box

When I was a kid, making things out of boxes was a mainstay of our household cooking repertoire.  Don't think I ever baked a cake that didn't start in a box (I'd say that continues to this very day, except that I've given up either eating or baking cake).  Bisquick, of course.  Rice-A-Roni (I still cook that, or its virtual equivalent, except that I learned long ago to do it from scratch).

As I became a more sophisticated cook and a more suspicious and demanding consumer, I gave up practically everything in boxes.  Except for one, which I couldn't live without -- Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix. It's a small box; two of us usually eat a little more than half a batch, leaving just enough for somebody's breakfast.  It cooks up quickly, 20 minutes in the oven.

It is the perfect complement to chili or bean soup, which appear frequently on our menus.  And did I mention that it's delicious?

In the early postwar days, when cake mixes and similar "labor-saving" products first appeared, they were formulated so you just added water.  But then some marketing genius determined that women didn't want to just add water -- that made them feel useless and uncreative.  But if they had to add milk and an egg, they retained their feminine mystique of being good cooks.  (The next thing you knew, we had pudding cake!)

And so Jiffy still requires milk and an egg.  Which I am happy to supply.  I make it as corn bread rather than muffins -- easier to fix, easier to clean up.  In my nine-inch square pyrex pan, the bread is about five-eighths of an inch tall, just like a garment seam allowance.

I know I could make cornbread from scratch, and perhaps it would be one percent better than Jiffy.  But it would take five minutes longer.  So I continue with my obeisance to the 1950s.