Cooked Eggnog

My first thought on Christmas morning was of the children who, like me, had just woken up to the shards of light coming through the blinds. They were throwing off the sheets, wishing they could have woken earlier. They were bolting downstairs to check that the Oreos they'd left out as Santa bait were eaten and to discover the treasures that were waiting for them under the tree.
In truth, by the time I was waking up, the children were probably tiring themselves out on their new toys while the adults, in matching pajamas and slipper-socks, were drinking gingerbread-flavored coffee, heaps of wrapping paper drifting by like tumbleweeds. Pulling the earplugs out of my ears, pushing the eyemask off my face, and regretting the last night's champagne, I had to scold myself for fantasizing about someone else's fantasy. Even in Palm Springs, where the landscape of swimming pools and Saguaro cacti should vaporize those visions of dancing sugarplums, a momentary longing for "Christmas" managed to sneak in. It seems ridiculous to spend so much time pondering what an experience is like in another person's skin, but I guess I'm curious why I can't feel like I love gingerbread men and candy canes without feeling like I'm faking something. Partaking in the spiced and snow-flocked--and posting here--feels kind of like being in drag to me.
Eggnog is also something I really love, though after I got sick on one unfortunate Thanksgiving circa 1996, I don't risk it. These days the closest I get is Kahlua & Soymilk (doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?), but my brother, armed with a steelier stomach, waits all year for eggnog. Apparently, he is not plagued by the same mixed feelings about Christmas treats. Turned off by all the junk in the supermarket kind of eggnog, I decided to do it homemade for him this year ( if you're going to do it, might as well do it right!). Not that eggnog is ever healthy for you, but at least this way, the boozy custard is additive-free. Most recipes out there are use raw eggs, but I went safe and did a cooked version I adapted from Alton Brown.

Cooked Eggnog

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 1 C heavy cream
  • 2C milk
  • 1/4 C bourbon, spiced rum, brandy, whatever (or leave it out, if you don't drink. You could add a little rum flavoring, if you like)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

With an electric mixer, beat yolks until they lighten. Slowly add in the sugar and beat until dissolved. Set aside.

Combine the milk and cream in a heavy pot and bring barely to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Slowly add a small amount of the hot liquid to the egg mixture, stirring briskly. Continue adding the hot liquid to the eggs in a slow stream, stirring constantly. Return it all to the pot and heat until the mixture reaches 160 °F. Remove from heat, stir in the nutmeg, vanilla and bourbon. Chill completely in the fridge. Top with whipped cream or meringue, if desired.

Nut-Crusted Goat with Pomegranate and Oranges

A Note on Goat:
In elementary school, they told us that cattle farming destroyed the rain forest. Naturally, since all children love the "rain forest" (babies of the 80s: remember this?), I developed a major distrust of beef. Reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivores Dilemma didn't help. Nor do any of the current scares about E. coli. Of course many of the things we eat are bad for the animals/the environment/us, but since I have been wary of beef for so long, I keep searching for an alternative. When I moved to Irvine in 2006, I was intrigued by the goat meat at the Middle-Eastern grocery store. The mysterious cuts were prepackaged and poorly labeled, but I started cooking it anyway. Goat meat has since become very trendy (please humor me in thinking I was avant-garde) and perhaps it is the meat of our times: lean, affordable, and maybe less of a criminal, environmentally. If you haven't tried goat, I'd tell you it tastes like lamb but not as cute ... Henry Alford of the NYT describes it better than I could in his article.

Our attempt and a warning:
Even though I've braised and stewed and tossed chunks of goat meat into lentil soup, this was my maiden voyage into cooking goat ribs. Luckily, my little brother, freshly done with college (where he had been cultivating a hairdo inspired by Samson and The Fraggles), played my first mate in this endeavor. All would have gone well except for two things. First, a discrepancy between two thermometers made it hard to tell if the meat was well-done or still bleating. (I'm developing a theory that any unhappiness occurring within a 500 ft. radius interferes with thermometer accuracy.) Second, the hunk of goat that I bought had some meat attached to it that made separating the cooked ribs incredibly difficult. After several futile attempts with a carving knife, we all ended up donning aprons and, as a team, prying apart the bones with our bare hands. The meat was delicious, the sweet-tangy-crunchy coating even better, but any pretense of this being an elegant meal was demolished.

Oh well. If I were to do it again (or if you were to do it), I'd:
a) keep the recipe and keep the cut, but have the butcher help me trim it into a standard rack.
b) keep the cut, but braise it till it fell off the bone on its own.
c) keep the recipe, but sub in another cut or a rack of lamb. (After all, we were inspired by a lamb recipe from Bon Appetit.)

Nonetheless, my notoriously picky brother asked for seconds.

Nut-Crusted Goat with Pomegranate and Oranges

  • 1/3 C pomegranate molasses
  • 2 T golden raisins
  • 2 small cloves of garlic
  • 3 T chilled butter, in chunks
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1 rack of goat (about 2- 2.5 lbs, TRIMMED)
  • 3 T chopped almonds
  • 3 T chopped pistachios
  • 1/4 C panko Japanese breadcrumbs
  • 1 orange, peeled and sliced

Preheat oven 400 ° F.
In a food processor, pulse garlic. Add in pomegranate molasses, raisins, and spices. Puree. Add in the butter and pulse until a coarse puree. Chill the mixture in the freezer for 10 min.

Line a rimmed baking tray with foil. Place goat, bone side down, on the tray. Rub with salt and pepper, then spread the chilled pomegranate mixture over. Mix the nuts and panko in a small bowl and sprinkle over the meat, gently pressing to make it stick. Arrange orange slices under the meat. Roast until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 ° for medium rare to 160 ° for medium, about 30-60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest before transferring to a work surface and cutting. Serve with oranges and drizzled with pan juices.

Grocery Romance

I didn't think anything could fill the hole in my heart left by Wholesome Choice Grocery in Irvine. But then after 4 months apart, I'm getting butterflies again-- Mi Pueblo, mi amor!

The new Mi Pueblo just opened in East Palo Alto, right next to IKEA (and conveniently also right next to the building where I work). If you are in the Peninsula and haven't been yet, it's definitely worth a visit. Big, colorful, and clean, it has been bustling every time I've gone in. There's a candy-hued dining area and generous selection of hot food (that I've yet to try since there has always been a line.) Besides the standard grocery items, they have a sizable bakery with pan dulce, a deli with fresh salsas, cremas, cheeses, and sweets, and all sorts of things I'm fantasizing about experimenting with--banana leaves, cactus paddles, intoxicatingly fragrant guavas, bulk hibiscus, brown sugar cones, peppers, peppers, peppers--a very different palate/palette than Wholesome Choice's MidEast imports.

Then, there are the meat counters, where a totally distinct type of dreaming happens. If you ever need a reminder that meat comes from animals, this is the place to explore. Every bit of every beast is represented: feet, heads, guts, tongues, lips (what do you do with beef lips? Do you remove the prickly things? I'm dying of curiosity.) The pollo entero is like chicken in any other grocery store except that it still has its feet, legs outstretched and talons grasping towards the unknown. Among all these odds and ends, I finally found what I'd been looking for: carne de chivo,$1.99/lb (goat meat)! The young, flirtatious butcher dug through the pile of legs(?) to find something small enough to would fit in my dutch oven (or passenger seat). I'd been hoping to take home shanks or shoulder or even stew meat, but walked off with ribs. So now I have a rack of goat in the fridge that I have absolutely no clue what to do with....
(to be continued...)

Fudgy Bacon Pralines

Kay, 9, is sitting in my front seat telling me kid's dumb jokes from a book of kid's dumb jokes (i.e."why do nuns like Swiss cheese?") while we wait for DM to climb in the back. As soon as he hears that we are telling jokes, he bursts into a dimpled smile, waves the too-long sleeves of his mud-stained hoodie and announces that he has a good joke...but it's a little "unappropriate."
"That's fine. It's OK since we're in my car," I say, not expecting anything more inappropriate than a pun on the word "bare."
DM: Why did the squirrel always swim on his back?
Me: Why?
DM: To keep his nuts warm.
I like a dirty joke just about as much as I like a dumb one, and I like getting both together. I laughed myself to tears, mostly because I wasn't expecting any nuts, and then I felt required to say, " Let's not re-tell these jokes outside this car, OK?"
So many days at work feel hopeless; the lesson planning and "I-statements" prove futile. Then there are these occasional moments when the kids crack me up and remind me that they're just kids... and that I'm really not all that different. I've been finding it tough to stay light-hearted amidst the frustration. Lately, I've been trying to focus on these moments to stay afloat when the emptiness of being a disciplinarian starts to overwhelm me.

I had an analogous experience yesterday when making these pralines. Despite all the effort and listening to the candy thermometer exactly, the candy didn't set. I was left with a sugary puddle and soft-ball-stage rage bad enough that I had to restrain myself from hurling molten lumps of pecans across the kitchen. I don't know why they didn't set since I thought I did everything right. Perhaps the universe is playing a joke on me, or the moisture from the rainy day seeped in, or perhaps my already foul mood polluted the mix. Apparently, you can't get sugar to behave with bitterness. Anyway, after yelling at the thermometer, the syrup, the butter, and the dog, I managed to cool off and take a break from it. I had to remind myself that after all, it's just nuts. Came back a few hours later, poured the sweet ooze back into the pot and started over, with patience. This time they set fine.

So, these pralines continue with the sweet-salty-rich combo that I noted last post and also ride the bacon-in-everything trend. They use Shirley O. Corriher's trick of adding corn syrup, which makes them fool-proof (supposedly) in that they won't get gritty too fast. In fact, they don't get gritty at all. They are more creamy than the usual grainy, sugary pralines. The bacon flavor in the batch I made was a little too subtle, so I upped it in the following recipe.

Fudgy Bacon Pralines

  • Butter/spray for greasing foil
  • 1.5 C pecan pieces
  • 3/4 C bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 2 T + 2T butter (that's 4T total!)
  • 1 C packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/3 C light corn syrup
  • 1/2 C canned evaporated milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 °. Place some foil on a couple of baking trays and grease with butter and spray. Set aside.
2. Toast pecans on a baking sheet until gently browned, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in 2 T of butter while the nuts are still warm. Add bacon crumbles to the nuts. Set aside.
3. Combine the brown sugar, white sugar, syrup, milk, and 2 T butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until everything is dissolved. Add the nuts and bacon. Clip on the candy thermometer and low boil, stirring only if needed, until the mixture reaches high soft-ball stage (238 °-240°F).
4. Remove from heat and let stand, undisturbed for 4-5 minutes to cool a little. Then, add the vanilla. Beat with a flat wooden spatula until noticeably thicker. Don't skimp here. Your arm should get tired because it's thickened. It took me about 10 minutes but might take you less if the weather is drier. Then quickly spoon pralines onto the buttered foil to set. Store in an airtight container.

* Verano folks--thinking of you with this recipe....wish we were together, eating these with a cup of Maker's Mark! xoxoxo