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The return of Dracula dip. October 29, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Gooood eeeevening. Silence Dogood here. With Hallowe’en almost upon us, and Prince Charles making headlines by revealing that he’s descended from the original Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, I thought I’d revive some recipes for Dracula Dip for your dining pleasure. Enjoy them… if you dare…

Here’s a quartet of promising dips that you vampire fans (or those trying to ward off vampire attacks) can try:

          Anti Dracula Garlic Cheese Dip

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1/4 cup real mayonnaise, as in Hellman’s

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon parsley, minced

7-8 big, fat fresh garlic cloves, minced, or more to taste

3 tablespoons fresh green onions (scallions), chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and chill for at least an hour or overnight to give the flavors time to intensify. Serve with veggies, crackers, bread, or your favorite. [Note from Silence: From www.grouprecipes.com.]

         Dracula’s Garlic Dip

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1/4 cup real mayonnaise, as in Hellman’s

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons dill weed

1/4 teaspoon each celery seed, paprika, and parsley

2-3 cloves fresh garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. [Note from Silence: This recipe is from Cooks.com.]

         Hypnotizing Squash Dip

This one’s from Canadian Living.com. I (Silence) like it because it’s creative and combines all the flavors of the harvest season, but mercy, it’s a lot of work for a dip. See what you think! As they say, “Keep Dracula at bay with this mesmerizing garlic-packed dip. Surround it with crispy ‘bat wings’ (blue corn tortilla chips).” Makes 3 cups.

1 small butternut squash (about 2 pounds)

5 cloves garlic (unpeeled)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Pinch ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon basil pesto  

Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or grease; set aside. Cut squash in half lengthwise; scrape out seeds and membranes. Brush cut sides and garlic with olive oil. Arrange squash, cut sides down, and garlic on prepared pan. Bake in 350-degree F. oven until tender, 45-55 minutes. Let cool slightly. Scrape squash pulp into a food processor; squeeze garlic pulp over the top, discarding skins. Add Parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons of the sour cream, and the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Puree until smooth. Spoon into a shallow serving bowl, smoothing the top. If making ahead, you can cover and refrigerate this for up to 2 days. When ready to serve: In a small bowl, blend remaining sour cream with pesto. Using a small piping bag fitted with a plain tip and starting at the center, pipe into a spiral on the dip. (You can use a small resealable plastic bag with a corner snipped off if you don’t have a piping bag.)

These three dips are all interesting, but the last one’s way too complicated for my taste and I can’t help but think I could improve on the first two. So here’s my attempt at Dracula Dip. You’ll note that mine includes shredded cheese because vampires are inherently cheesy, and hot sauce because, let’s face it, a good vampire is always hot!

            Dracula Dip (Silence Movie Version)

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened

1/2-2/3 cup sour cream

4-6 large cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 cup shredded sharp white Cheddar cheese

3 green onions (scallions), chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste (we like RealSalt, or try Trocamare)

generous splash hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa or Tabasco Chipotle)

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (for intrigue)

1/4 cup canned pure pumpkin puree (not pie pumpkin), optional

Stir or beat softened cream cheese until smooth. Add 1/2 cup sour cream, stirring in more if needed to reach your preferred dipping consistency. Stir in remaining ingredients (except pumpkin puree), mixing well to blend. The cheese, garlic, and green onions will give the dip body; it’s not supposed to be smooth (unlike Dracula). But it will definitely have a bite! Using a teaspoon, swirl in the pumpkin puree, if desired. Do not blend, let the orange of the pumpkin contrast with the pale yellow/green of the dip. Allow to rest for an hour before serving to give the flavors time to marry.

Serve with tortilla chips, pepper strips, carrot rounds, endive leaves, celery sticks, soft pretzels, breadsticks, Triscuits, or (especially fitting) the bat-shaped crackers I’ve seen recently in my grocery as a Hallowe’en special. Or  make the dip in a mini-Crock Pot, heat it on low, and use it as a fondue-type dip for Pizza Hut-style soft bread sticks. But if you order the bread sticks (and possibly accompanying pizza) delivered, watch your delivery person carefully for any signs of a cape, an unusual pallor, or fangs.

Do you have a favorite “Dracula Dip”? If so, please share!

         ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

The S word. October 28, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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S as in snow. We’re still in October, in case someone hasn’t noticed, and should be enjoying the golden days of autumn here in our part of scenic PA. It’s rare that we have snow before Thanksgiving, and usually we enjoy a slow, delicious harvest season and revel in the crisp air, blue skies, and brilliant colors.

Apparently, this year it’s not to be. The front-page story in our local paper announced that tomorrow there’d be rain followed by between 1 and 6 inches of snow, depending on your elevation, followed by a low of 31 degrees F.

Grrrrrr!!! So much for a long, leisurely fall. Fortunately, most of our winterizing was done, but we still had a busy morning here at Hawk’s Haven. We took the last two plants into the greenhouse and turned the thermostat on for the first time (to 55, the lowest the plants can bear). (Many of our greenhouse plants spend the growing season on our deck, and trust me, hauling 50-odd plants across half an acre twice a year is no picnic.) We stored the garden hose and put the Styrofoam faucet protector over the faucet. We put the a/c cover over the outside of the one window air conditioner we possess; we’d already taped bubble wrap over the part of the a/c that’s inside.

Indoors, we stretched bubble-wrap “curtains” across the tops of  our draftier windows, and added extra bubble wrap behind the always-closed half-curtains in the bathroom window and the now-closed half-shutters over the window with the a/c. We have insulated curtains on the windows we don’t bubble-wrap, which also all happen to be double-glazed so cold is an issue but drafts aren’t.

We’d already hauled out our draft excluders and placed them against the bottoms of our outside doors, the mudroom door, and the door of an especially drafty closet. It always amazes us how much cold air those simple fabric draft excluders keep out! We’ve amassed quite an assortment over the years, but for those who would rather not shell out good money for the stuffed fabric versions, here’s a tip: A rolled cylinder of bubble wrap rubber-banded on each end works every bit as well.

Flannel sheets, a down comforter, bedspread, and heavy Pendleton wool blanket keep us toasty at night, even when the bedroom itself is frigid. (Our fleece-lined mocassins keep our feet from freezing when we get up.) And a tiny portable heater in the bathroom makes showers bearable without having to crank up our oil furnace. (We keep the thermostat dialed down to 55 through the cold months, given heating oil prices, so every bit of additional warmth we can squeeze out is well worth it.)

As for the snow itself, our friend Ben has huge Canadian snow boots, and Silence Dogood has her trusty Muck Boots fitted with Yaktrax Pros, steel coils that grip ice and prevent slipping, even when taking out our rambunctious black German shepherd, Shiloh.  One of our snow shovels broke last year, leaving us with a wide, shallow shovel but no deep-shoveled model, so getting a replacement is on our to-do list today.

And should the power go out, we can light our gas stove with matches and cook our meals by the light of Coleman battery-powered lanterns, fire up our woodstove for warmth, and call for repairs from our landline, which won’t go out in a power failure like cellphones. We can check the weather via our battery-powered weather radio, and we have another battery-powered radio for music, news, etc., plus several solar and wind-up radio/flashlights, a wind-up clock, and plenty of books, magazines, games, and the like to occupy us during daylight hours. Once it gets dark, sleeping works for us.

Stocking up is Silence’s byword for bad weather, and she’ll be out today getting a few more staples just in case. We make a point of having plenty of dry, covered wood for the stove, plus kindling and firestarters. We have a portable propane heater and lots of propane canisters to heat the greenhouse if the power fails. We have cases of bottled water for drinking and cooking, and plenty of filled gallon plastic water bottles for flushing and watering plants. (We’re on a well, so a power failure means no water for plumbing or drinking.) We stock up on food for all the critters—cats, dog, chickens, parrot, parakeets, and fish—plus litter for the cats and seed for the wild birds who visit our feeders. For our own use, Silence stocks up on onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and other produce that is best stored at room temperature and requires no special treatment.

Silence is a big believer in cooking up satisfying comfort foods for times like this: cornbread, lentil stew, black bean soup, spaghetti sauce, mac’n’cheese, chili, creamy pasta, roasted veggies, baked potatoes, baked beans, baked apples. All can be easily reheated for delicious, filling, warming meals. She has a whole larder of canned goods, boxed and bagged staples, herbs and spices, and the like, and replenishes them weekly to make sure everything she needs is close at hand. Should we be trapped for however long by snow, we’ll still eat great meals thanks to Silence’s foresight and ingenuity.

Here’s a last tip: Know your neighbors. How comforting to think that they’re there for you if you need a generator or to bunk down for the night or just a warm meal and good company. How relieving to think you could be there for them if they needed you. Community, connection, is what it’s all about, and never more than in an emergency.

Snow. Oh, no. But if it happens, are you ready?

My entire life was done. October 26, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben encountered the following heartfelt, even desperate, comment on our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, yesterday:

“I would like to express thanks to the writer just for rescuing me from this particular dilemma. After researching through the world-wide-web and seeing things which are not powerful, I believed my entire life was done. Living devoid of the answers to the issues you have solved all through your good short post is a serious case, and ones that could have in a wrong way damaged my entire career if I hadn’t encountered your website. Your personal expertise and kindness in touching every part was vital. I am not sure what I would have done if I had not come upon such a solution like this. I can also at this point relish my future. Thanks a lot so much for this impressive and amazing guide. I will not be reluctant to recommend your web blog to anybody who should receive counselling on this subject matter.”

This comment, from someone identified only as “Student,” had been consigned by WordPress’s Akismet filter to spam. How could Akismet have been so callous, so heartless, when poor Student believed his or her “entire life was done,” living “devoid of the answers” as s/he was until arriving in the nick of time here at Poor Richard’s Almanac before the lack of this vital information “in a wrong way damaged my entire career,” so that now s/he can once again “relish my future”?

Well, here’s a subtle hint: Student’s comment was directed, not at some life-or-death post or, say, a post containing the always-relevant wisdom of our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. Oh, no. Instead, it was a comment on one of Silence Dogood’s recipe ramblings about Amish funeral potatoes. While our friend Ben supposes that anything served at a funeral is in a way connected to life and death, it would be unfortunate in the extreme if failing to discover the perfect potato recipe meant that’s one’s life was about to be terminated.

Fortunately, Student found us just in time! We trust that s/he will live to relish many a dish of Amish funeral potatoes in the future.

How do you find the time to get this stuff out? October 24, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben encountered this comment this morning on our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac. Unfortunately, WordPress’s Akismet filter had filed it as spam, doubtless due to an odd return address, so the following sentence, “I struggle to be productive these days but you’re going from strength to strength!” is probably some strange sort of form comment making the rounds in spam these days rather than legitimate praise. (We encountered the ultimate example of this type of form comment, also this morning, and are sure you’ll love it as much as we did when we post about it tomorrow.)

Spam or legitimate comment, our friend Ben thought that “How do you find the time to get this stuff out?” was a perfectly reasonable question. I suspect many of you must wonder the same thing. “How on earth do OFB, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders ever find the time to write all this ****?! Where do they come up with these post ideas?”

Well, it would be obvious to a stone that we—well, at least Silence and OFB—love to talk, and in our opinion, writing is simply talking in two dimensions. But writing as frequently as we do (this is our 1,527th post) requires a bit more than just the gift of gab. And, like all of you, we do have actual lives, so we can’t spend hours on end thinking up and composing blog posts, much as we love them. So here’s what we do:

Silence and I aren’t exactly what you’d call morning people. In fact, the aforementioned stone probably has more mental activity in the morning than we can muster. But between our black German shepherd, Shiloh, and our work schedules, there is truly no rest for the wicked, or even us, most mornings.

So we try to rise with the dawn (or a bit earlier, these days, since it’s dark here ’til almost 7). I take the dog out while Silence fires up the teakettle and coffeemaker, and then we go online, read the news, check our mail, and then head on over to Poor Richard’s Almanac. After viewing our stats and responding to any comments, whoever has chosen to write the day’s post gets going while the other prepares the tea and coffee, gets the paper, and etc. If it’s Richard’s turn to post, he’ll typically e-mail us a file the night before, so all we have to do that morning is cut, paste and publish.

If we’re not morning people, why don’t we just write the post the night before, save it to draft, and publish it in the morning? Well, sometimes we do. But generally, we find that beginning our day with a post is a soothing and pleasant way to ease into the rest of the day. It gives our brains a chance to warm up in a fun, low-stress way. By the time we’ve finished writing, we’re (comparatively) functional and alert, ready to tackle our chores and prepare ourselves for the day ahead. Okay, that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t really love to crawl back in bed. But at least we’re up, thinking, and communicating, and somehow we manage to resist the urge to collapse and instead keep on going. (Silence’s trick of making the bed the second we’re out of it really helps here.)

But why do we try to post at least once a day, and how do we manage to find enough things to talk about? Well. We try to post once a day (and more if more than one of us has something they really want to say, or something unexpected comes up after we’ve written the first post) because we find it good discipline.

We’re all writers, and writing a post is basically writing an essay every day. The discipline of writing an essay every morning that people will actually want to read—er, hopefully want to read—puts us in the mood to write on our own projects the rest of the day. Creating and polishing those little post-essays helps us hone our writing and thinking. Whatever we give to our readers, we get back a hundredfold by keeping our skills (and brains) sharp. 

Finally, how do we think up all that stuff to post about? Well, we try to keep a sharp eye and a sharp wit about us at all times. We’re lucky since our blog is an almanac, allowing us to post about anything that takes our fancy, be it Silence’s latest recipe or our neighbors’ bizarre lawn art misadventures or new research in the health field or, of course, anything about nature, pets, gardening, and history, especially if said history relates in any way to our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin.

Sometimes a conversation will yield a blog post topic, or an overheard remark, or an ad on a billboard, or a book or movie or song. Sometimes it’s a news item, sometimes an insight, sometimes simply a useful tip we’d like to pass along. Sometimes it’s just plain silly, but we can’t resist. If something appeals to us, it may or may not appeal to you. Sometimes our very favorite posts go virtually unread; sometimes our least-favorite posts get 10,000 views. But fortunately, because we post so often, you like enough of the posts we like to keep us going strong.

So, if you have your own blog and are trying to find the time to “get this stuff out,” not to mention come up with enough “stuff” to get out in the first place, we’d say this: A regular routine is a lifesaver. Like folks who write in their journals daily or record their dreams first thing every morning, getting in the mindset that you will write a post every day at a certain time will help you do it.

Second, keep your eyes open. Anything at all can turn into a great blog post. You just have to recognize it. A sense of perspective and a strong sense of humor, not to mention serendipity, often come to our rescue here.

Finally, if you’re going to do it, love it. Unless you’re trying to blog for your business or are hoping to strike it rich through blogging*, there’s no other reason to “find the time” in the first place. We love blogging because it’s interactive. We write, people tell us things—so often, things we don’t expect—and that gives us even more chances to think and interact. It’s stimulating and fun. And it’s always fascinating to us to see what people read and respond to. (Thank you, WordPress!)

Well, that’s what keeps us going. What keeps you blogging?

* If you’ve found the secret to this, please let us know. We’d really love to turn our thermostat up to 62 this winter!

5 reasons why it’s great to lose your job. October 22, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Back in July 2010, I wrote a post here at Poor Richard’s Almanac about how Hallmark Cards’ Shoebox division had come out with a line of cancer- and chemo-related cards. (Type “A different kind of card” in our search bar at upper right to find and read that post.) One of them was “5 reasons why it’s great to lose your hair,” thus the title of today’s post. My point was that Hallmark, a very successful, market-savvy company, would not have launched a line of cancer-themed cards if its research hadn’t convinced it that the market for them was huge.

Now Hallmark has apparently come out with a new line of  “reality” cards, this time, sure enough, on the “sorry you lost your job” theme. With so many of us being fired, laid off, phased out, forced into early retirement, being offered the choice of moving to Outer Horrifica or “voluntarily” giving up our jobs, being transitioned to part-time status, being offered the “option” of working longer hours for lower pay, taking on two (or more) jobs for the same pay, or leaving, not being renewed, and you name it, the market for these cards is certainly there.

Smart move, Hallmark! There’s just one little problem: Now none of us can afford to buy one of your cards to send to the latest casualty.

              ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

Eggplant around the world. October 21, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Last weekend, my friend Dolores asked if I had any good recipes that used eggplant. Do I ever! And since I was rounding up five of my favorites for her, I thought I’d share them with all of you, too.

If you’ve been avoiding eggplant because your memory of it was bitter, seedy, and spongy, I urge you to give it another try. With so many eggplant varieties on the market, it’s easy to make delicious eggplant dishes without the endless salting, pressing, oozing, and rinsing that characterized eggplant preparation in the past. I still encounter tough, bitter, off-flavored eggplants in restaurants now and then, but have never had one turn out like that at home.

Let’s begin with that classic French dish, ratatouille. Ratatouille is a sort of vegetable stew, sauce, or salsa that uses eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, onion, and garlic in a very savory, delicious way. It’s yummy hot, as a topping for pasta (add a little grated or shredded Parmesan in this case) or an accompaniment for rice. It’s delicious served at room temperature as a sort of tapenade with slices of crusty baguette. And it’s good cold as a salsa with tortilla chips.

The ratatouille I made was perhaps less chunky than a typical version. But I wasn’t looking for chunks, just a yummy topping for rice. Here’s what I did:

              Ratatouille a la Silence

3 small or 1 standard eggplant, roughly chopped (I prefer an assortment of long, thin oriental types)

2 small zucchini, sliced, then diced

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, Walla Walla, Candy, or 1015 type), diced

6 cloves of garlic, roasted and minced

1 large bunch fresh basil, chopped 

extra-virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

thyme, oregano, crushed red pepper, and rosemary to taste

Saute the minced roasted garlic, onion, tomatoes, and eggplant in the olive oil with the basil, herbs and spices. Add the zucchini. When everything has completely cooked down, add the balsamic vinegar. Serve and enjoy!

Ready for something completely different? How about that yummy Middle Eastern classic eggplant spread, baba ghannouj?

Baba ghannouj is sublime—far better than hummus, in my view—when there’s a smoky flavor to the eggplant, as though it’s been charred over the coals while it roasted. But, lacking that smoky flavor, what you end up with is a bland, oily, somewhat bitter dip that makes you wonder why on earth you bothered. And that’s a real shame.

I’ve always wanted to make my own baba ghannouj, so I could make sure it had that luscious smoky flavor. Not being prepared to char my eggplant over an open flame, I bought a bottle of Wright’s All Natural Hickory Seasoning Liquid Smoke and three eggplants. Time to get serious!

                 Silence’s Smokin’ Baba Ghannouj

First, I cut the tops and bottoms off the eggplants, split them down the center, and stabbed the skin of the tops numerous times to allow steam to escape. I rubbed the tops and bottoms with olive oil and laid them cut-side-down on aluminum-foil-lined baking trays, then baked them at 350 degrees F. for about an hour, until they were fork-tender. Then I turned off the heat and let the eggplant halves cool until they were easy to touch.

Next, I rubbed the skins off the eggplant halves. This was horrifying to me, since I’m texture-sensitive and touching the oily skins made my own skin crawl. I swore I’d never make baba ghannouj again, until my friend Susan suggested roasting the eggplants after skinning them. Oh. I could peel them, wrap them in aluminum foil, and cook them until they were tender. No slimy skins to work off. Thanks, Susan!

The next step was mashing the cooked, skinned eggplant with a fork, then adding tahini, ground cumin, Trocomare or RealSalt, lemon pepper, lemon juice, and plenty of minced crushed garlic, along with a generous dollop of liquid smoke. Mash, stir, mash, taste, adjust seasonings… aaaahhhh!!! Serve with hot multigrain pita or garlic naan wedges and raw veggies for dipping (we like broccoli and cauliflower florets, red, yellow and orange bell pepper strips, celery sticks, radish slices, grape tomatoes, and Romaine or other firm lettuce leaves). The best baba ghannouj!

Note: For a smoother texture, spoon the cooled baba ghannouj in a blender or food processor and process to your preferred degree of smoothness.

As we continue our world tour of eggplant cuisine, let’s stop in Italy, not for that classic Italian-American favorite, eggplant parm, but for its less calorific cousin, eggplant rollatini.

Do you know rollatini? It’s like the absolute ultimate eggplant parm, without the breading and deep frying. Each thin, delicious slice of eggplant is wrapped around a ricotta filling (thus the name “rollatini”) before the sauce and cheese are added. Yum! If I’m in a restaurant that offers this dish, I’m in heaven. Just give me a big, fresh salad and some garlic knots to eat with it and leave me in peace.

Rollatini is one of the dishes I’ve never tried to make at home, though—it just looks too complicated. So I was thrilled when my friend Denise said that she makes a version that you don’t have to roll up. You still get every bit of the goodness without nearly as much work. I persuaded her to share the recipe with all of us, so without more ado, here’s Denise’s UnRollatini:

                    Denise’s UnRollatini

To make this dish, you’ll need 2 large or 3 medium eggplants, garlic breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup milk, 3 eggs, olive oil, large container of ricotta cheese, jar tomato sauce or two pint jars of homemade sauce or equivalent fresh-made, fresh mozzarella, garlic salt, garlic powder, onion salt, onion powder, and a small bunch fresh parsley or to taste. [Note from Silence: If you want to make your own from-scratch sauce, see my earlier post, "What to do with all those ripe tomatoes, part three," via the search bar at upper right.]

Beat one of the eggs and milk together. Slice the eggplants into rounds about 1/2 inch thick. Dip the eggplant slices into the egg/milk mixture, then into the breadcrumbs so both sides are coated. Fry the eggplant slices in hot olive oil, then set them on paper towels to drain.

Mince the parsley. Mix the remaining eggs and seasonings, including parsley, into the ricotta cheese, using as much of the garlic and onion seasonings as you like.

In a baking dish, layer the sauce, eggplant slices, ricotta mix, mozzarella, and sauce, and repeat, continuing to add layers until all ingredients are used. Make sure the final layers are sauce and (on top) mozzarella. Put the dish in a 350-degree oven and bake for about half an hour, until it starts to bubble and the cheese is melted.

Eat and enjoy, or as Denise says, “Mangia!”

Now let’s head for China, or at least Chinatown. One of my favorite Chinese dishes is eggplant in garlic sauce. Mind you, I have no clue if this really is an authentic Chinese dish or is yet another example of Chinese-American cuisine, but whatever it is, it’s delicious. Certainly my version isn’t authentic to either cuisine, but it’s easy and so good!

                 General Tso’s Eggplant

I make this Chinese-inspired eggplant dish with thin-sliced oriental-style eggplants sauteed in olive oil with plenty of diced sweet onion, chopped green onion (scallions), minced garlic, minced fresh ginger, salt, a dash of hot sauce, and enough General Tso’s Sauce to coat the slices, then serve it over steamed rice. This dish is decadent and good, and it’s so fast and easy it’s hardly what you’d even call cooking.

Let’s end our world tour of eggplant with a delicious recipe from my Pakistani friend Huma. It’s a good, simple eggplant dish that can be made in advance and reheated just before serving.

          Huma’s Easy Eggplant

Heat oil in a heavy frying pan. When hot, add minced garlic (Huma uses an entire bulb, but suit your own tastes—that’s a lot of cloves!) and saute, without burning, until the garlic is evenly browned. Slice slender Asian eggplants into 1/4-inch rounds (basically the thickness of sliced cucumbers) and add them to the oil and garlic, putting in just one layer covering the bottom of the pan. Cook until the eggplant is golden on one side, then flip and cook until the other side is golden. If you’re cooking more eggplant slices, remove the browned eggplant with a spatula and set on a paper towel on a plate. Add a bit more oil to the pan, then put in the next layer of slices. When they’re done, return the original slices to the pan, add a minced fresh green chile pepper, ground cayenne pepper, ground turmeric, salt, and black pepper to taste, stirring to coat the eggplant. Now, add water, not to cover all the eggplant slices but to come up the sides of the top slices. Turn the heat on low and cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid.

While the eggplant is cooking, mince two or three more green chiles finely and put them in a small bowl so chile fans can add as much heat to the dish as they like. After about ten minutes, uncover the eggplant and mash them a bit with a wooden spoon or potato masher. You don’t want to turn them into a paste, just to release some of the liquid and, as Huma says, the fragrance of the cooking spices. Continue cooking until the eggplant is thoroughly soft and the water has been absorbed into a spice paste. Serve with rice, plain yogurt, and the bowl of green chiles.

There! A world of yummy eggplant dishes at your fingertips! I hope you (and Dolores) enjoy them as much as we do. And please, if you have your own favorites, share them here with us!

               ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

The joys of roasted asparagus. October 20, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I love roasted vegetables—sweet onion wedges, mushroom caps, bell pepper quarters, sliced sweet potatoes, quartered yellow or red-skinned new potatoes, halved Brussels sprouts, summer squash slices, garlic cloves (to add to other dishes). Drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt or Trocamare and fresh-ground black pepper, these veggies are beyond delicious.

But one vegetable you might not have tried roasting is asparagus. You steam or boil it, add butter and lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy, right? Wrong. We love green asparagus prepared this way, I have to admit. But I never had green asparagus growing up. My beloved Mama’s idea of asparagus, served only on festive occasions, was white asparagus in cream sauce on toast. It was such a luscious treat!

You can imagine my surprise when I first came up North and discovered that there was no white asparagus, nobody’d even heard of it, much less white asparagus in cream sauce on toast. They all ate green asparagus. Green asparagus?! Oh, my.

Fortunately, I quickly came to love green asparagus, too. And even more fortunately, now I can buy both green and white (blanched) asparagus at my local grocery. Thank you, grocery gods!

But the best was yet to come, as I was reminded last night when making supper. I put two plump baking potatoes (punctured with a fork numerous times to reduce steam and not explode) in the oven and turned it to 350 degrees F. Then I lined a tray with aluminum foil and topped it with mushroom caps and both green and white asparagus, trimmed and cut in thirds, then piled in rows across the tray. I drizzled my favorite sage and wild mushroom-infused olive oil on the green asparagus and mushroom caps, then sprinkled on Trocamare (hot seasoned salt) and fresh-ground black pepper. For the more delicately-flavored white asparagus, I simply added a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and sprinklings of RealSalt and Hungarian paprika. Then I put the tray in the oven with the potatoes.

I kept a close eye on the roasting veggies while I made a luscious salad and pecan pie (OFB’s favorite), and as soon as they were cooked and bubbling, I yanked the tray out of the oven and set it on top. After all, the potatoes would need longer to bake up soft and fluffy. I figured I could run the veggies back in the oven for five minutes before serving up supper to make sure they were hot.

I confess, I couldn’t quite resist those roasted veggies when they’d cooled down enough to pick up without burning my fingers. Oh, yum!!! The mushrooms and green and white asparagus were so delicious, so perfect, it was all I could do not to eat them all then and there. (Poor Ben!) Fortunately, I also love perfectly baked potatoes and a great, crunchy salad, so I was able to keep most of them untouched.

If you’ve never tasted roasted asparagus, please give it a try! Green or white or green and white, I guarantee that it will be the best asparagus you’ve ever eaten, and so healthy, too! (Sorry, Mama, but white asparagus in cream sauce on toast doesn’t exactly cut it in the health competition.)

              ‘Til next time,

                              Silence

Try this: a chili burrito. October 18, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here, with a new twist on the classic burrito. (New to me, anyway, maybe you already do this.) Normally, if I go to a Mexican restaurant and order a burrito, it’s a big, soft flour tortilla stuffed with refried beans, shredded cheese, guacamole, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and sour cream, and topped with a pool of red or green sauce.

I enjoy these burritos, but being Silence Dogood, I just knew I could make a better burrito at home. After all, I make the best refried beans this side of Heaven, why not try them in a burrito? As it turned out, our friend Ben is why not. After OFB gets his hands on those refried beans on Fiesta Night, no matter how big a pot I make, there never seem to be any leftovers. Yikes.

But serendipitously, OFB is also a huge fan of chili, especially in cold weather, and I’d just made a big pot of chili this weekend. Wonder of wonders, even after two chili suppers, there were leftovers! My chili is super-thick. Suddenly, the lightbulb went on: Why not try a chili burrito instead of serving up yet another bowl of chili? Turns out, my instincts were right on target: My chili burritos were delicious. I had to drop the guacamole, which I couldn’t see with chili, and I added hot fresh salsa in place of the diced tomatoes, both for extra flavor and to sub for the red or green sauce.

Here’s what I did. Next time you make chili, try it and see what you think!

         Chili Burritos Silence Style

For each burrito, take a large flour tortilla (I used the Mission tortillas in the cheese case at my grocery) and put it on a foil-lined cookie sheet (aka baking sheet). Spread shredded Mexican cheese or sharp white Cheddar down the center of the tortilla, stopping about 2 inches from each end. (Adding cheese first makes sure the chili doesn’t leak through the tortilla.) Top the cheese with your chili. Top the chili with sour cream. Top the sour cream with diced tomatoes or fresh hot salsa. Top that with shredded lettuce. Add sliced jalapenos if you’d like. Finish with a little more shredded cheese.

Bring the sides of the tortilla together over the filling and then bend the ends of the tortilla in to cover the filling. (If, ahem, you’ve added a little too much filling, toothpicks can help hold the tortilla together.) Bake at 250 degrees F. until heated through. Top the hot burritos with any or all of the following: more sour cream, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced black olives, cilantro, salsa, red, yellow or orange diced bell peppers, minced sweet or red onion, chopped scallions (green onions), and/or your favorite hot sauce. Or serve them plain; there’s plenty of flavor inside already. And enjoy!

But wait, aren’t I forgetting something, like, say, the chili recipe? No worries. Here it is:

   Silence’s Quick Spicy Chili

1 40.5-ounce can kidney beans (dark red, light red, or plain red are all fine)

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 large fresh tomato, diced

1 large green (or red) bell pepper, diced

2 large sweet onions (Vidalia, WallaWalla or 1015 type), diced

6 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and chopped

extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chili powder

hot sauce (we like the smoky flavor of Tabasco Chipotle in this)

1 tablespoon each dried oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary

Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) to taste

cracked black pepper to taste

Pour a generous amount of olive oil in the bottom of a heavy Dutch oven or other capacious pot (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this). Saute the onion and garlic in the oil until the onion clarifies, then add the dried herbs, Trocomare or salt, pepper, chili powder, and a few generous splashes of hot sauce. Next, add the chopped fresh tomato and green or red pepper. When the pepper starts to soften and the tomato liquefies, add the canned diced tomatoes, stirring well, then the kidney beans, again stirring well to mix. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the chili is very hot. Serve in bowls, topped with shredded white Cheddar cheese or sour cream, if desired. This will serve four to six people, depending on how many insist on seconds or even (shriek) thirds.

This is such good chili your family will love it even without a burrito. But try it burrito-style once you’ve enjoyed it as chili, and let me know what you think! And please, serve it up with “The perfect margarita” (search for this recipe on our search bar at upper right) or just scroll down.

‘Til next time,

                      Silence

The perfect margarita. October 17, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben is addicted to margaritas, but I’ve never been as fond of them, because even though the flavor is good, the thick, syrupy, too-sweet margarita mix that makes up most of a typical margarita is just too much for me.

But my thinking underwent a sea change when OFB and I went to this year’s Bowers [PA] Chile Pepper Festival. The festival is always fun, anyway, but this year, one of the booths was serving (non-alcoholic) samples of margaritas spiked with their clear Frostbite hot sauce. One sip, and I was hooked. I’ll bet you will be, too. That touch of heat was the perfect antidote to the margarita’s sweetness, giving it a wonderful edge. We bought bottles for ourselves and our heat-loving friend and blog contributor, Richard Saunders, as well as our other chilihead friend, Rob.

Back at Hawk’s Haven, I decided to work on my standard margarita recipe to make it work even better with the Frostbite hot sauce. Here’s what I came up with. We love it! Now I often join OFB in a margarita when “it’s five o’clock somewhere,” and he insists that I add a splash of Frostbite to his martinis, too. Mind you, I’m an intuitive mixmaster as I’m an intuitive cook, so I eyeball the amounts I use. Adjust the recipe to suit your own tastes!

              Silence’s Perfect Margarita

per drink:

1 large goblet, preferably colorful Mexican glass

1/2 inch gold tequila in bottom of goblet (the better the tequila, the better the margarita, of course)

1/4 inch Triple Sec on top of that (Grand Marnier instead will boost the flavor but also the price)

generous splashes of Key lime and Key lemon juice (You can sub regular lemon juice, but please, look for Key lime juice in the fruit juice aisle of your grocery, or Key limes in the produce section. It’s worth it!)

4 drops Frostbite hot sauce, or to taste (start with 2 if you’re unsure, you can always work up)

2 pinches margarita salt (any salt will do in a pinch)

Swirl all this around in your goblet to blend and put some of the margarita salt into solution. You won’t get it all to dissolve! But more will dissolve as you drink the margarita, so keep swirling as you drink. Why do I put the salt in the margarita instead of on the rim of the glass, you ask? Well, it’s so much simpler and less messy. But if you want to dip the rim of each glass in lime juice or water and then in margarita salt, be my guest!

Now, here’s the key: Add one inch—no more!—of Jose Cuervo margarita mix to your goblet. More will make the margarita thick and syrupy and take away that delicious edge you’ve been trying to give it. In this case, less is definitely more! 

Swirl to blend, add 3 or 4 ice cubes, swirl again, and serve. Ole!!!!

These margaritas are just right alone, with tortilla chips and salsa, or refried beans and all the fixings, or with the chili burritos I’m going to tell you about tomorrow. Try them and let me know what you think!

Warning: These are addictive. You’ll probably want a second, so it’s best to drink them at home.

For the Frostbite sauce: I just found a place in New Hope, PA, Suzie’s Hot Shoppe (www.suzieshotshoppe.com), that carried Frostbite this past weekend, so check your favorite hot-sauce supplier. Or order online from CaJohns Fiery Foods (www.cajohns.com).

         ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

Is pizza James Madison’s favorite food? October 15, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Once again, a group of unwitting or unwary folks from across the web and across the world have stumbled onto our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, via wacky blog search phrases (aka “search engine terms”). Here are our favorites from this batch. As always, original phrase in bold, our response following. Enjoy!

is pizza james madison’s favorite food: No, he always went for the Big Mac. Dolley, who had a heartier appetite, was known to call for take-out every once in awhile, but unfortunately, by the time the Domino’s delivery horse reached the White House, the pizza was always cold.

what make is precious ramotswes van: We’re sure fans of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency would love to know, but Alexander McCall Smith has yet to reveal this vital piece of trivia. Mr. McCall Smith, we are waiting!

Pinched Richard’s: We beg your pardon!

scooping hyacinths: Er. This one has us stumped: two words we’d never have expected to see together. Readers, your thoughts?

orange peel under finger nail: In this case, we don’t think major surgery is required, unless it’s a brain transplant.

can yogurt grow: Well, yes, and quite colorfully, too! But unless you’re doing a lab experiment, we’d strongly advise against it.  

not responsible for typographical error: Tell your boss, not us.

when do stink bugs die: “When you step on them” would be a good bet.

how stinky citronella trees: That depends on how many stinkbugs live in them.

what is a peregrine parrot: We don’t know, but we’ll bet Baron Frankenstein had something to do with its creation.

is kleenex an invention or an innovation: We found this one intriguing. An invention is generally defined as a new creation, while an innovation is a change to or improvement on an existing creation. So we’d say that Kleenex is an innovation, a convenient disposable version of the cloth handkerchief.

That’s it for this batch! But no doubt we’ll soon be back with more…

         Your faithful bloggers,

                        Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders

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