Movin’ On Up…

… to a de-luxe apartment floaty thing in the sky.

With the help of some very patient friends, I have finally moved.

MichaelProcopio.wordpress.com is dead.

Long live FoodfortheThoughtless.com

I am forever bewildered by technology. There will be details to iron out; curtains and throw pillows to buy; paint chips to ponder.

So please pardon my mess. I’m bell-and-whistle shopping as we speak.

I hope to see you there.

Yours ever so truly,

Michael Procopio

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Croaked Madame

When my brother went off to the south of France for his year abroad, one of the first things he planned to do was take a little side trip to Monaco to visit Princess Grace.

He had no prior introduction to either Her Serene Highness nor her family, but I am almost certain he considered that, since he and she were half Irish and both of their fathers were from Philadelphia, he was a shoe-in for a dinner invite.

Sadly, the houses of Grimaldi and Procopio never got to mingle.

On the 13th of September, 1982, Princess Grace suffered a stroke while driving her youngest daughter home from their family retreat at Roc Agel. The car veered off the road, down a mountainside, and into a florist’s garden.

Princess Stephanie survived the crash, but my brother’s plan to meet her mother did not. When Princess Grace died on September 14, Douglas cancelled his plans.

He never went to Monaco.

Her death, however, became his hobby. He began collecting Princess Grace memorabilia and sending it home to us in boxes– magazine and news articles about the accident, postcards with her image on them, a record of her reciting the story of L’Oiseau Du Nord et L’Oiseau Du Soleil. He was, to put it mildly, obsessed.

One of those boxes included a memorable (to me) letter in which he took enough time out of his deep mourning to mention the cafe sandwich in which he took much solace: the croque madame. “It’s a ham and cheese sandwich, but with an egg on top that looks like a woman’s breast.” He thought it was genius.

Not being particularly interested in women’s breasts or egg sandwiches, I opted instead to try my had at making eggless croques messieurs (I am uncertain if this is the correct plural of croque monsieur but I’m going with it). They came out tasty, but uninspiring– a grilled-up ham and cheese sandwich, but made with something harder to find and more expensive than American cheese: Gruyère.

From thousands of miles away, I tried to share in both my brother’s love of ham-and-cheese sandwiches and his deep sense of loss over an Oscar-winning actress, but my interest eventually waned. I moved onto other, more important things like The Go Go’s and Sun In.

Not long after, my brother traded in his grief over Princess Grace for a much more attainable celebrity-stalking obsession: Pope John Paul II. He blew off the tiny Principality of Monaco for the even tinier sovereign state of The Vatican. I think he believed the less square acreage he had to cover in any country, the better the chance of meeting its head of state.

Like everything else in life, Monsieur Croque and his perky-breasted wife were abandoned and forgotten.

It had been years since I had given any thought to the croque madame, but when my friend Rebecca recently ordered a croque monsieur, I became amused by the fact that I was instantly reminded of Princess Grace. It was like some edible free-association game. She and the sandwich are inextricably linked in my mind. When I think “Grace Kelly”, I think of Hitchcock and High Society. When I think “Princess Grace of Monaco”, I think “ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top.” Same woman, different associations. It’s really rather maddening.

But I don’t think I would have it any other way.

Croque Madame

The key to a decent croque madame (or monsieur, for that matter) is the Mornay sauce. If you are not up on your sauces and think that, since this sauce carries a French name, it must be difficult to make, you are very wrong. And possibly a francophobe.

If I just said “the sauce you make for macaroni and cheese” it would still, essentially, be the same thing. Since Princess Grace straddled both the English and French-speaking worlds, you may call it what you like. As long as you make it at least once in your life, I do not care what you call it.

Makes one sandwich

Ingredients:

2 slices of bread (preferably pain de mie) I used brioche, which worked beautifully, by the way. If you have access to neither, use a good quality white loaf. And you must cut off the crusts. Must.
2 slices of ham, cut into the same exact shape as the bread slices. We are going for neatness since we are eating this in honor of a dead princess.
1 egg gently cooked in 2 tablespoons of butter until the white has set and the yolk is runny.
Enough grated Gruyère cheese to cover the ham.
2 tablespoons of butter in which to griddle and brown the bread.
As much Mornay sauce as you dare. At least enough to spread on both sides of the bread and top the egg.

For the Mornay Sauce:

2 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups of warm whole milk
1/4 teaspoon of salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste (The classic recipe calls for white pepper. I do not believe in white pepper.)
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg (Nutmeg is not optional. Really.)
2 to 3 ounces of grated Gruyère cheese

1. To make the Mornay sauce, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir constantly until the mixture (roux) is a pale yellow froth. DO NOT BROWN. Slowly add milk and continue whisking until the sauce thickens and comes to a boil (2 to 3 minutes). Reduce heat to low, add salt, nutmeg, and pepper to taste. Let simmer for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Congratulations, you now have a Béchamel sauce.

2. Stir in Gruyère cheese and whisk until thoroughly melted and incorporated into the sauce. This, my good people, is Mornay sauce. Once you’ve finished congratulating yourself, put it aside and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming. Keep warm. There is enough sauce here for probably 10 sandwiches, by the way. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of uses for it, both culinary and other.

3. In a pan large enough to accommodate your two slices of bread in side-by-side fashion, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add bread slices and lightly brown their bottoms. Turn bread over and spread enough Mornay sauce to cover each slice. Add your two precision-cut ham slices neatly on one piece of bread, and cover that with a liberal amount of grated cheese. Place pan under the broiler long enough to melt the cheese over the ham. (I had to transfer my bread to a smaller pan in order for it to fit under my broiler, which is why the pan in my photos looks almost Princess clean.)

4. Remove pan from broiler. Place second bread slice over the one laden with ham and cheese to for a true sandwich. Gently place the egg on top of the sandwich, cover it with more Mornay sauce, and return sandwich to the broiler. When the sauce on top bubbles and browns, remove from the broiler.

5. Slide your croque madame onto a piece of your finest china, pop open a beer (but pour it into a glass, please), pop a copy of To Catch a Thief into your dvd player, and fast forward to that scene in which Grace Kelly takes Cary Grant on a wild ride over the same stretch of road where she died 27 years later.

6. Better open another beer.

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Happy New-ish Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, Gelukkig Nieuwjaar to all you people out there. I’m still under the New Year wire, am I not?

I rather enjoyed 2010, but I am comfortable letting it go. I met a lot of really interesting people, did innumerable fascinating things, and ate an incalculable number of calories.

And I will not list a single thing here, because everyone and their stepmother has already furnished you with end-of-year lists.

But I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of you nice people who deign to grace my site with your visits. Really. You make me not want to be a shut-in.

Here’s to a wonderful 2011. I have lots of stories to (over-) share with you this year.

In the meantime, however, I am going to walk about twenty paces and downstairs to the left, grab myself a margarita, and meditate myself into a stupor with the sounds of screaming monkeys and Twittering food bloggers.

In Cancún, Mexico.

 

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Ovaltine Ice Cream: Christmas without The Fluff

OvaltineCloris Leachman and Mel Brooks are almost entirely to blame for this week’s post. Or to thank, depending upon your point of view.

I was curled up in bed one evening, enjoying a scene from the film Young Frankenstein in which Frau Blucher (cue whinnying horses) offers the good eponymous doctor first brandy, then warm milk, and finally Ovaltine before he goes to bed, much to his increasing irritation.

Ovaltine. I hadn’t thought about it in decades. The next several scenes of the film played to a distracted audience because I was too busy (falsely) reminiscing about a malty, vitamin and mineral-infused powder and how delicious a hot, milky mug of the stuff would send me off to sleep at night.

So I went out and bought some then next morning.

When I returned home with my prize (secret decoder ring sadly not included), I heated up some milk and stirred in three heaping tablespoons, just as I was told to do in this commercial. I took a sip and remembered something important:

I didn’t like hot Ovaltine as a kid. Thirty years later, I still felt the same way. Rather than spend the morning being a Sulky Sue, I poured myself a cup of hot coffee instead and remembered the way I truly enjoyed the official beverage of Captain Midnight: cold.

Really, really cold. I’d save my heaping tablespoons for sprinkling over vanilla ice cream and stir them in– essentially making myself Ovaltine ice cream. More correctly, I was making myself an Ovaltine shake in a bowl because I’d stir it so much that it would soften and melt enough for me to ladle it into my mouth like cold soup.

Highly caffeinated and momentarily filled with energy, I decided to go ahead and make myself some Ovaltine ice cream then and there so that I could save precious time and energy later when I’d return home, brain-fried and exhausted from work, looking for something sweet and comforting when I no longer had the will to heap or stir.

And I thought it would make a lovely little Christmas treat to share with my readers. Something special that wasn’t another god damned Holiday Cookie (Insert apology for my last post here). I made the ice cream in no time, but I let it sit covered in my freezer between the half-finsished bottle of limoncello and 2-lb. bag of pecans to languish uneaten and un-photographed.

Why? It seemed too simple to share. It wasn’t enough. Almost reflexively, I felt that, since this was the Holiday Season, it needed a little extra oomph. I needed to deck this ice cream’s halls with boughs of something. But what?

MarshmallowsMarshmallows were the first things that came to mind. It stood to reason that, if one would drink hot cocoa or Ovaltine garnished with cute little marshmallows, why not ice cream? It would make for a nice little trimming.

I thought about swirling marshmallow fluff into the ice cream, but I wanted the option of not having every serving marshmallow-laced.

What about a dollop of marshmallow fluff on top? For no discernible reason, the idea left me as cold as the ice cream shoved in my freezer. Instead, I thought I would make a marshmallow fluff whipped cream. I thought I was being brilliant, but I just wound up giving myself an ice cream-induced headache.

Or, rather, an ice cream garnish-induced headache. I went through five batches, each one better than the next, but still not right. Too sticky, not flavorful enough to match the ice cream, too absolutely irritating. I couldn’t get my dessert spectacular enough. Or pretty enough. I was spending so much time, money, and energy on this whole marshmallow business that I was beginning to wish I’d never made the ice cream in the first place. I just wanted the whole thing to go away. I was stressing myself out over a dessert. I felt ridiculous. And I’ve never been a huge fan of marshmallows to begin with.

Then I made an important connection:

The way I was feeling about my Ovaltine ice cream was precisely the way I felt about Christmas– what was initially a simple, delightful, and comforting idea had transformed into something complicated, annoying, and stress-inducing. This little exercise in making a malted ice cream became, in it’s own way, an unexpected gift– I realized that it wasn’t Christmas (or my ice cream, for that matter) that I had grown to loathe, it was all the other stuff– the irritating marshmallowy fluff– that gets in the way:

The wish lists; the awful sweaters; the cheesy and inescapable Christmas music; the garish decorations; the wasted money; the expectations; the enforced Holiday cheer; the sappy, sticky, saccharine sweetness that has fixed itself to the holiday. What was once a season of good will has transformed itself over the years into an overblown marshmallow world in the winter.

And anyone with sufficient marshmallow experience can tell you that marshmallows are hard, tasteless things when they get cold.

And then I realized another important thing: I’m being terribly hard on the poor old marshmallow. I had burdened an essentially innocuous piece of gelatinous poof with all the evils of Christmas Present. And I’m okay with that because this whole exercise has made me understand what is and is not important about both Christmas and desserts:

a) They should both be sources of comfort and joy.

b) They should both be shared with those you love.

c) Neither of them need an excess of trimmings. They are both at their best when approached simply.

All the rest is just fluff.

In apology to the marshmallow and to show that I bear it no true ill will, I give you a little, fluffy bonus of holiday goo: Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra mincing about together singing “Marshmallow World.” If these to Italians don’t take it seriously, why on earth should I?

Oh, and Merry Christmas. Really.

Ovaltine Ice Cream

Ovaltine Ice Cream

Though I thought up this ice cream on my own, there are several other people in this world who thought of it before I did. However, the recipe is my own, with a special thanks to my go-to vanilla ice cream base, courtesy of Mr. David Lebovitz, who seems to know a little something about ice cream making. So I’ve heard. The method for making this recipe I got from him. And I like it very much, thank you.

And p.s. As noted, I do not recommend using mini marshmallows for garnish for reasons already mentioned. They are placed in the photo for purely contrary reasons.

Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients:

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cups light brown sugar
A heavy pinch of salt (think “big man fingers”)
2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks (think “big chicken [insert body part of choice here]”)
1/2 cup Ovaltine
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation:

1. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, and salt long enough to dissolve sugar. If the mixture looks a trifle curdled, do not panic, just blame the brown sugar and move on. There is straining involved later in this recipe and all will be fine.

2. Pour the cream into a medium-sized bowl and set a fine mesh strainer on top.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Gradually add some of the warm milk mixture to the eggs and whisk constantly. Pour the now-warm yolks into the sauce pan with the rest of the milk and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the sides and bottom of the pan with a spatula as you go. When the mixture looks like custard, it is precisely because that is what you have made. When it is thick enough to coat the back of your spatula, remove from heat and pour custard through the mesh strainer and into the awaiting cream. Stir in the Ovaltine and vanilla extract. Feel free to add or subtract the amount of Ovaltine recommended. It’s your ice cream, so make it as intense or feeble as you dare.

4. Set your bowl of ice cream base into a larger, ice-filled bowl and stir until cool. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, then go ahead and freeze it in your ice cream maker (provided you have an ice cream maker. If you do not have an ice cream maker, return custard to your refrigerator until you have purchased one, then proceed) according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

5. If you insist upon garnishing, I suggest adding a light dusting of both cocoa powder and Ovaltine powder for the finish. I do not recommend adding the mini marshmallows as seen in the above photograph. They  are to be avoided for reasons twice mentioned or alluded to. If, however you still insist upon using marshmallows, I suggest placing your Ovaltine ice cream in a microwave for 90 seconds on high. When the ice cream is fairly bubbling, add marshmallows, then take a moment to seriously reconsider your priorities.

Posted in Rants and Helpful Suggestions, Recipe, Sweets and the Like | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

One Fierce Holiday Cookie.

Last weekend, I was invited to what some people might call a “cookie swap”. The guests were asked to bring three dozen home-baked cookies to share with the other guests in attendance. I didn’t go because I had other plans, but I was intrigued and baffled by the idea of it.

Cookie swap? I couldn’t help but think that it might be some sort of food blogger’s version of wife swapping, but instead of dropping one’s keys into a large fishbowl and leaving the party with someone else’s wife, one swaps recipes online, drops their creation on a side table, and winds up leaving with someone else’s cookies.

Tempting, perhaps, but I don’t need to get any fatter this winter– the Holidays are hectic enough. And I have neither the time nor the energy to bake off large quantities of cookies during the month of December. Hell, I barely have the time or energy to write blog posts.

I did, however, feel as though I were missing something by opting out of Holiday cookie parties and Twitter #cookieweek and all the other cookie-related hullabaloo that happens around this time of year, so I decided I’d do something about it.

I decided to bake one gingerbread cookie*. Just one. Or four, if you’re counting accessories. It’s all I had time for.

I’ve made gingerbread men, I’ve made gingerbread women. They’re delicious, but they don’t make much of a statement. I thought about making transgendered gingerbread persons, but they aren’t exactly exciting — in purely gingerbread terms, mind you– they look just like any other gingerbread men and women, except maybe with slightly larger hands and feet than ordinary. Or smaller, depending.

So I decided to make a gingerbread drag queen.

It makes perfect sense if you stop to think about it long enough. The Holidays are loud, fun, overly-decorated, and in-your-face. It’s a time of year that screams out for a cookie to match it. And gingerbread drag queens certainly fit the bill.

One of the best things about making gingerbread drag queens is that you only need to make one. You’ll spend so much time thinking about her (what she’ll wear, what her drag name should be, etc.) that you simply won’t have time to do anything else. Besides, there are so many accessories to bake along side of her. I limited myself to three: a wig, a cocktail, and a microphone**.

Ginger Full Drag

If you have the right amount of time on your hands, you could make different wigs to suit various occasions: A menorah tiara-ed french twist  for Hanukkah, a red sequined Santa hat over white-frosted bangs for Christmas, a beehive filled with apple pie filling and corn nuts for Kwanzaa. I haven’t even begun to think about what sort of wig one would wear for Boxing Day. A wig strewn with coins and leftover food? I’m not entirely sure, however, how one might go about creating that effect with royal icing, so let’s just pretend I didn’t mention it.

Perhaps the best thing about making a gingerbread drag queen is that you must name it. I’ve decided to name mine Ginger Breadman in honor of the very last day of Hanukkah. I would have posted her earlier in the holiday, but you know how drag queens are– they take forever to get ready, but once they do…

They are fierce.

And they don’t like to share the stage with anybody.

Which is what you should tell people when you show up to your next cookie swap with only one, gorgeous cookie.

*No recipe this week, because the recipe I used is not my own. It is Elise Bauer’s of Simply Recipes. I am rather fond of both her and her gingerbread recipe. I did, however, leave out the cracked black pepper, but only because I cared too much about the complexion of my drag queen.

** And special thanks to the eight year-old KVC who unwittingly donated the silver glitter sprinkles to give Ginger the right shade of eyeshadow and a glimmering microphone.

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Apple Brown Betty White

I have this “thing” for Betty White. I always have.

I  love this woman so much that I could just eat her with a spoon.

So that is precisely what I set out to do.

Figuratively, of course. She’s a lifelong animal rights activist, so going as far as trying to consume her in the literal sense just doesn’t feel right.

But how does one go about creating a dish to honor someone who plays it:

a) Sweet and (a little too) simple as Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls. b) Tart, over-sexed, and devastatingly cutting as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and… c) Smart as a whip on pretty much every game show that required celebrity participation in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

(Insert question mark here.)

The answer seemed easy: One makes a dessert that is simple and sweet, tart and smart.

The name was the first thing that came to me, like a Wheel of Fortune Before-and-After puzzle. Apple Brown Betty White. But before I could say, “I’d like to solve the puzzle, please, Mr. Sajak,” I realized that I may have had the name of the dish, I wasn’t sure what would go into it.

Oh, I know. The dessert would be required to have bread and apples in it, otherwise it wouldn’t be an Apple Brown Betty, but I kept hearing Sue Ann Nivens exclaim after Mary Richards told her she might have Prince Charles on her show, “Oh, you and he would make a wonderful pair if only you weren’t so old, American, and common.”

Apple Brown Betty might very well be all three, but only the first two adjectives could describe Betty White– she is anything but common. So what to do? I had thought about making a cheesecake (constant companion of The Golden Girls) and adding an Apple Brown Betty topping to it but:

a) The idea disgusted me and b) It was entirely too complicated. It’s two desserts rolled into one. And not worth the effort. I wanted other people to make it and share in my loving cannibalization of Miss White.

I was stuck, so I filed away the idea until the right answer came along. Which is precisely what happened this weekend.

I had prescribed for myself a much-needed quiet evening at home. There was a brilliant thunderstorm happening outside, so I decided that, instead of my traditional martini, I would whip up a batch of glögg a favorite Holiday time, cold weather beverage. As I sat down with a hot mug of the stuff, I noticed the pile of apples minding their own business in the fruit bowl I keep strategically situated in my living room to trick guests into believing that I eat well. I took a sip of my drink and started to think again about the nebulous Apple Brown Betty White. After several more sips, the answer seemed obvious.

Sue Ann Nivens? She worked, insulted people, and chased men in Minneapolis. Rose Nylund? She told endless stories about her childhood in St. Olaf. Both of these women lived in Minnesota, a state built by Scandinavians. I could make this into a Swedish dessert. With the exception of bread and apples, I had all the ingredients warm in my hands. The answer had been right there in front of me for ages. I just needed a little liquid inspiration to see it.

“Mr. Sajak,” I thought,” I’d finally like to solve the puzzle.”

Though why on earth I thought in terms of one of the few game shows Betty White was never on (to my knowledge) I will never know.

Or why I was calling him Mr. Sajak when everyone else calls him Pat.

Apple Brown Betty White

This really is as sweet and simple as Rose, and tart and easy as Sue Ann. And it’s a perfect dessert to make during the Holiday season when one is either too traumatized from baking Thanksgiving pies or unable to so much as look at another damned Christmas cookie.

Now I know I’m not the boss of you, but the key to Apple Brown Betty White’s success is the finishing touch. The last word, if you will.  Instead of adding sweet whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, this dish screams out for crème fraîche tempered by a touch of bee excretion. It’s a tart little zinger of a finish delivered with a honeyed tone like only Sue Ann Nivens could pull off.

And it will make you one Happy Homemaker. I promise.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

3 apples suitable for baking, like Jonagold
4 slices of brown bread, cut into small cubes. Other types will work, but this is a brown betty so I’m sticking with it.
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
1/3 cup raisins soaked in brandy
2 tablespoons of said raisin-soaking brandy
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
A pinch of salt
As much honey-tinged crème fraîche as you dare

Preparation:

1. Place bread cubes in a food processor and pulse a few times until there are both small chunks and finer crumbs. Spread them onto a baking sheet and bake in a 350ºF oven until they are dry to the touch and lightly toasted. Remove, toss with melted butter, and set aside. Turn oven up to 375°F.

2. Peel, core, halve, and slice the apples into 1/4″ slices. In a large bowl, toss them with raisins and brandy, then add all the spices, brown sugar, almonds, and salt. Mix gently with clean hands, which is always much more satisfying that mixing such things with a spoon. Take a scant handful of the finer breadcrumbs and toss in (this will help absorb some of the liquid during baking, but said liquid is really nothing to be afraid of).

3. Rub the bottom and sides of a 1 1/2 quart baking dish with butter. Spread apple mixture more or less evenly along the bottom of the dish. Cover with remaining breadcrumbs and bake loosely covered with foil for 40 minutes. After this time, please remove the foil to let the bread crumbs brown. You will know your Apple Brown Betty White is done when the crumbs are sufficiently dark as Miss White’s humor and the apples start to bubble like her darling television personality.

4. Remove from oven, and serve as hot* as this 88 year-old woman’s career with a generous amount of honeyed crème fraîche.

*This dish can be warmed again but, if you are a diehard Sue Ann Nivens fan, feel free to tell your guests you’d rather flush it down the toilet than see it re-heated (See: Veal Prince Orloff).

Posted in Recipe, Sweets and the Like | Tagged , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

A Visual Nursery Rhyme

Pease Porridge.

Hot, cold, and nine days old.

Can often be seen served alongside faggots.



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