Monday, December 28, 2009

Rot Poast

The Brave Astronaut clan is visiting with family today, possibly celebrating with a trip to NYC. We shared a lovely Christmas dinner with C in DC and her family last Friday, with roast beef and all the trimmings. We did not have Pot Roast. Growing up, Pot Roast made an occasional appearance on the table. On one occasion, my father christened it as Rot Poast. We didn't have it that often after that. I might even give this a try. The recipe comes from the Amateur Gourmet.

Lazy Sunday Pot Roast with Caraway and Green Apples
by John "Doc" Willoughby (& his grandmother)
from "How To Cook Meat"

  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 4 to 5 lb boneless cross-rib pot roast or other chuck roast
  • 2 medium onions thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbs Caraway seeds
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh marjoram (or 2 Tbs dried)
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups beef stock
  • 4 Granny Smith apples quartered, cored and peeled
1. Preheat oven to 300.

2. In a Dutch oven, heat oil on high heat until very hot. Pat meat dry and season with lots of salt and pepper. Brown well, 8 to 10 minutes a side. [Note: this is the MOST important step. This is where all the flavor comes from, so really let it get brown like this, ok? Promise?]

3. Remove meat to a plate. Pour off fat or add as needed so there are appx. 2 Tbs in the Dutch oven. Add onions and saute until translucent, 7 to 9 minutes:

4. Add vinegar, bring to boil, scrape up brown bits. Add the bay leaves, the Caraway seeds, the sugar, and the marjoram. Place the meat back in and add enough beef stock to come up the sides of the meat halfway. Bring to a simmer, skim off fat, cover and put in the oven for 2 hours and 15 minutes.

5. At this point, add the apples to the pot. 15 minutes later, the apples will be done. Remove them from the pot and start checking the meat for doneness. Continue cooking, with lid on, until fork tender--15 to 30 minutes more.

6. When finished, remove meat from the pot, cover with foil, and let it rest ten minutes. Skim fat from the liquid and taste: for more flavor, boil it until it coats a spoon. [I did this, and it makes the sauce taste great.]

7. Slice meat and serve with the apples, the liquid and the onions. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I Believe. And You Can't Make me Stop

It's Christmas Eve. Thanks to my president, I have half a day of leave coming to me. The Brave Astronaut clan will share the day with the rest of Mrs. Brave Astronaut's family, before returning to the launchpad to await the arrival of Santa. I have a chimney with a fireplace now (something I didn't have growing up, which led to many questions as to how Santa got in every year) and thanks to a new Christmas special this year, I have a new understanding about how much planning is involved in the yearly sleigh ride.

I am pretty sure that Santa will be by tonight. Because I believe in him. My mother, who loved Christmas, is sure to make sure that my house is on the nice list, despite the kind of year that I might of had, and whatever actions I may have taken that could have put my on that other list. I am sure that I will hear the bell tonight. I am sure that it will continue to ring for me for a long time. If you don't know what I am talking about, go read this book. But here's the quote, followed by one of my favorite Christmas stories and the reinforcement that Christmas will always be what you make of it, and not necessarily something that you buy in a store.

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Peace on Earth.
At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.
Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus
by Francis P. Church

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:
Dear Editor:
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O’Hanlon
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

About the Exchange
Francis P. Church’s editorial, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” was an immediate sensation, and went on to became one of the most famous editorials ever written. It first appeared in The New York Sun in 1897, almost a hundred years ago, and was reprinted annually until 1949 when the paper went out of business.

Thirty-six years after her letter was printed, Virginia O’Hanlon recalled the events that prompted her letter:
“Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus, for he had never disappointed me. But when less fortunate little boys and girls said there wasn’t any Santa Claus, I was filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a little evasive on the subject.

“It was a habit in our family that whenever any doubts came up as to how to pronounce a word or some question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote to the Question and Answer column in The Sun. Father would always say, ‘If you see it in The Sun, it’s so,’ and that settled the matter.

“ ‘Well, I’m just going to write The Sun and find out the real truth,’ I said to father.

“He said, ‘Go ahead, Virginia. I’m sure The Sun will give you the right answer, as it always does.’ ”
And so Virginia sat down and wrote her parents’ favorite newspaper.

Her letter found its way into the hands of a veteran editor, Francis P. Church. Son of a Baptist minister, Church had covered the Civil War for The New York Times and had worked on The New York Sun for 20 years, more recently as an anonymous editorial writer. Church, a sardonic man, had for his personal motto, “Endeavour to clear your mind of cant.” When controversial subjects had to be tackled on the editorial page, especially those dealing with theology, the assignments were usually given to Church.

Now, he had in his hands a little girl’s letter on a most controversial matter, and he was burdened with the responsibility of answering it.

“Is there a Santa Claus?” the childish scrawl in the letter asked. At once, Church knew that there was no avoiding the question. He must answer, and he must answer truthfully. And so he turned to his desk, and he began his reply which was to become one of the most memorable editorials in newspaper history.

Church married shortly after the editorial appeared. He died in April, 1906, leaving no children.

Virginia O’Hanlon went on to graduate from Hunter College with a Bachelor of Arts degree at age 21. The following year she received her Master’s from Columbia, and in 1912 she began teaching in the New York City school system, later becoming a principal. After 47 years, she retired as an educator. Throughout her life she received a steady stream of mail about her Santa Claus letter, and to each reply she attached an attractive printed copy of the Church editorial. Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, N.Y.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Burgers of Ham

It was a Christmas Eve tradition in my house growing up that on Christmas Eve, we would have hamburgers and my father would make homemade potato chips. I have taken to making homemade potato chips and if I do say so myself, they're pretty darn good. It is however, one of the reasons I am not allowed to own a deep fat fryer.

Kottke pointed me to A Hamburger Today's Guide to Hamburger and Cheeseburger Styles listing all the various burgers you can sink your teeth into these days. Shortly thereafter, there was a discussion regarding the Shake Shack burger. Shake Shack is a serious burger joint in New York City. Here's the recipe.

The Fake Shack Burger (Shake Shack Burger at home)

  • 8 ounces beef sirloin, trimmed of gristle, and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 ounces well-marbled beef chuck, trimmed of gristle, and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 ounces well-marbled beef brisket, fat cap intact, trimmed of gristle, and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 4 Martin's Sandwich Rolls
  • 4 tablespoons Shack Sauce (recipe follows)
  • 4 leaves of green-leaf lettuce, clipped
  • 8 center-cut slices ripe plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper
  • 4 slices yellow American cheese
  1. Place feed shaft, blade, and 1/4-inch die of meat grinder in freezer until well-chilled. Meanwhile, place meat chunks on rimmed baking sheet, leaving space between each piece and place in freezer for 10 minutes until meat is firm, but not frozen.
  2. Combine meat in large bowl and toss to combine. Pass meat through grinder twice. Form into four disks, about 2-inches tall, and 2.5-inches wide. Refrigerate until ready for use.
  3. Open buns but do not split hinge. Brush lightly with butter, then place under broiler or in toaster oven until golden brown, about 1 minute. Spread 1 tablespoon Shack Sauce on top half of each bun (for true authenticity, squirt out of squeeze bottle into three lines, three passes on each line). Place 1 leaf lettuce and 2 slices tomato on top half of each bun.
  4. Using wadded-up paper towel, rub inside of heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet with vegetable oil, then place over medium-high heat until just beginning to smoke. Season beef pucks on top side with salt and pepper, then place, seasoned side down, in skillet. Using back of heavy, flat spatula, press down on beef pucks firmly to form 4-inch round patties, being careful not to let it stick to bottom of spatula. Season top side with salt and pepper. Cook until crisp brown crust has formed, about 2-minutes.
  5. Carefully scrape patties from skillet, and flip. Top each patty with 1 slice American cheese. Cook until cheese is melted, about 1 minute longer. Transfer patties to burger bun bottoms, close sandwiches, and serve.
Shack Sauce
(makes about 3/4 cup sauce)

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 4 slices kosher dill pickle
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • pinch cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients in blender until smooth, scraping down sides of blender with rubber spatula as necessary.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

So it would seem the Snowpocalypse is coming the DC metro area. It's been snowing here for about an hour and it's definitely sticking. I grew up in New York, specifically on Long Island, and had my fair share of snowstorms growing up. I would watch and sometimes accompany my mother to the grocery store for the requisite milk, bread, and cat food. Today I ventured out at lunchtime to buy some supplies so we could hunker down and be ready for the forecasted 10"-18" of snow that are being predicted for the area. There is also the possibility for "Thundersnow" for tomorrow's storm.

It never ceases to amaze me, the level of panic the residents of our nation's capital rise to when snow is predicted. This definitely is a Southern town. For me, on what was to be a weekend of getting Christmas shopping done and a birthday lunch date and a movie with Mrs. BA, looks like it will be a weekend making cookies, chili, and keeping warm.

Bring it on! I love the snow and this looks like it will be a record breaker!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

All I Want for Christmas . . .

is to not have to go to the dentist anymore for any of my teeth, let alone my two front ones. But seriously, folks.

I was the beneficiary of Stinkypaw's Secret Santa gift exchange. The first gift of Christmas arrived last week (all the way from Australia!). I took pictures of the package but could not get them uploaded from the camera. Trust me, it was great. I received a CD full of Australian music, which I am looking forward to adding to my iTunes library soon. I also got a hand made bookmark and card. Perhaps the best part of the package was the Tim Tam cookies. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I didn't share. Now, if I could just figure out who sent it to me. In the true spirit of Secret Santa, I don't know who it was. I need to do some investigating of the participants to see who it was.

My own gifts left these shores today, which unfortunately means it may not arrive at its destination before Christmas. My apologies to my giftee, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

So what does the Brave Astronaut want for Christmas? And let's remember that his birthday comes up on Sunday. Remember the rule - birthday gifts must be clearly marked and NOT wrapped in holiday paper. I have a few ideas of things I want. One thing for sure I would like to find under the tree is the new Stephen King book, Under the Dome, not the Dan Brown book (although my father has it and I can probably steal it from him when I visit him at the end of the month). There was an article in Time magazine back in September about the book. In the book, Brown ventures into National Treasure area, as Robert Langdon takes on the Freemasons, whose motto is evidently, wait for it, "Ordo ab Chao." Not up on your Latin? It means, Order out of Chaos. Think I'm in copyright trouble?

It was two years ago this month that I organized the mass movie outing to National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. We were teased in the movie that whatever was on page 47 would lead us to National Treasure 3. Given Nicolas Cage's recent financial difficulties, perhaps the movie will get made so he can pay his bills.

I suppose I should make use of the limited amount of time left to get some shopping done. Otherwise, I might have two very unhappy boys on Christmas morning.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cupcakes vs. Cookies. Discuss

With Christmas a little more than 10 days away, is your holiday baking done? Here's a cupcake recipe, although I still need to get some cookies made. Maybe next weekend will be Christmas Cookie cutout day with the boys.

This recipe comes from the Washington DC Daily Candy blog.

Chocolate Cupped Cakes with Coffee and Chicory
Serves six

  • 2 c. + 2 tbsp. sugar
  • ¼ c. light brown sugar
  • ½ c. Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp. room-temperature unsalted butter
  • 1¼ c. heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2½ c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. instant espresso powder
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 c. brewed New Orleans–style chicory coffee (available at Dean & Deluca)
1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Spray the insides of six large oven-safe coffee mugs or 6-oz. ramekins with nonstick cooking spray and place on a rimmed baking sheet.

3. For cocoa topping, whisk ¼ c. sugar, brown sugar, and 2 tbsp. cocoa powder in a small bowl until most of the brown sugar lumps are broken up. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl, blend the butter and remaining sugar with a stand or hand mixer on medium speed until the sugar looks like wet sand (about 2 minutes).

5. Reduce the speed to low, add cream and vanilla. Mix until well blended. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary.

6. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, remaining cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking powder, and salt together. Add to the butter mixture.

7. Mix on low speed until a stiff dough comes together then increase the speed to medium and beat for 15 seconds.

8. Divide the batter between the mugs or ramekins, filling each one about half full. Use the back of a spoon to press the batter into the cup.

9. Top each cup with 2 tbsp. of the reserved topping then pour 2½ tbsp. of coffee over the top.

10. Bake until the cakes puff up like a souffle and are dry and crusty with no visible wet spots (about 55-60 minutes). Cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Zucchini Olive Oil Cake

Sure, I know what you're thinking. I'm questioning it as well. But The Amateur Gourmet swears it's good.

Zucchini Olive-Oil Cake with Lemon Crunch Glaze
by Gina DePalma, from "Dolce Italiano"

For the cake:
  • 1 cup walnut pieces
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups grated zucchini (about 2 small zucchini)
  • Confectioner's sugar, for dusting (optional)
For the lemon crunch glaze:
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 and position a rack in the center. Grease a 10 cup Bundt pan [I just used a regular cake pan] using nonstick cooking spray or butter, then dust it with flour to coat it completely, tapping out the excess flour.

Place the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them until they are golden brown and aromatic, 12 to 14 minutes. Cool the walnuts completely, then finely chop them in the food processor and set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices into a medium bowl and set aside. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, and olive oil together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula after each addition. Beat in the dry ingredients all at once on low speed until they are thoroughly combined, then switch the mixer to medium speed and mix for 30 seconds. Beat in the zucchini and the walnuts on low speed until they are completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.

Bake the cake for 45 to 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when a tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan.

While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and granulated sugar, then whisk in the confectioners' sugar until the glaze is completely smooth.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a wire rack. [At this point, I flipped it on to ANOTHER wire rack so the top of the cake (which was nice and crusty) was the part that I glazed] Using a pastry brush [I used a metal spatula] immediately brush the glaze over the entire surface of the warm cake, using all of the glaze; it will adhere to the cake and set as the cake cools, Allow the cake to cool completely and the glaze to dry completely.

Transfer the cake to a stand or sering plate and, if desired, lightly dust it with confectioners' sugar. Any leftover cake may be wrapped in plastic and served the following day.