What’s for supper? Vol. 227: Notes from Slab City

As I mentioned, I was in quarantine for part of the week. My car was already in the shop and continues to be in the shop, and Damien has been doing absolutely everything, and as far as I know, he only took one nap, and did not kill anybody at all. I hope this isn’t one of those situations where your plant looks okay from the outside but then you accidentally bump it and it crumbles into dust. 

While in the hole, I finally broke down and started using Instacart. It’s fine. I hate exactly the parts I knew I would hate (not being able to see the meat and produce, not being able to browse the aisles and be inspired as I shopped), but the shopper communicated well and it was very fast. I’m sure my impoverished, exhausted past self would want to kick my current ass for whining about it, but, whatever. It’s fine. Everything is fine. 

ANYWAY, here’s what we ate this week. 

SATURDAY
Meatball subs

I can’t blame Instacart for this one. I was shopping in person at the store and deliberately picked out eleven pounds of ground beef. I guess I was hungry. I made about 110 large meatballs.

If you are thinking, “Goodness, imagine having to make that many meatballs!” think it no more, because I did not have to make that many meatballs. It was Too Many Meatballs. I just lost my head. 

My recipe is nothing special.

Jump to Recipe

The onliest thing is that I bake my meatballs on a broiler pan, which is fast, easy, tidy, and great. They’re not quite as good as fried meatballs, but they are pretty close. Then you can put them in a slow cooker or a covered dish in the oven with sauce, and keep them warm for hours.  

Or, you can do what I did and put them in a pot and forget about them until they were cold, then add some sauce and realize you don’t have enough, so your husband has to go to the inconvenience store, and you have to stand there turning them over and over with a spatula so they don’t burn.

 I also got it into my head to make a deep dish apple pie, seeing as we’re knee-deep in apples from the orchard. Nice, eh?

I guess this is technically a slab pie, which sounds so hardscrabble, like it must be filled with rocks and served with kerosene. But it wasn’t hardscrabble at all! It was the best pie I’ve ever made, and of course I have no idea what I did differently.

I used my trusty Fannie Farmer crust recipe.

Jump to Recipe

A double recipe, which was enough for a lattice top and full bottom crust for — I can’t find the dimensions, but it’s the middle-sized Anchor Hocking rectangular glass casserole dish. I did the trick of grating the butter and just very lightly incorporating it into the flour. I also brushed it with beaten egg white and sprinkled it with sugar before baking it, and that was very nice. I made the inside less sweet so the sugary crust wouldn’t be overpowering. I also like that it had all different kinds of apples in it.

It was just a damn good pie and I wish I had some right now. I did have some for breakfast on Sunday.

SUNDAY
Chinese chicken wings and spring rolls with peanut sauce

Quarantine, day 1. Lena made the spring rolls and Damien made the chicken wings. They were both so, so, insanely good. Sorry about the photo quality. Bedroom lighting is not ideal food lighting, and I’m not going to argue about plating when people deliver food to my door. 

Damien got the chicken wings recipe from a guy whose dad had a Chinese restaurant, and every morning would start with a mountain of chicken wings frying, to be fried again later in the day. I can’t tell you anything about the process, but it seemed to take a long time and it was the most fabulous chicken I’ve ever had. Way, way better than even our very favorite Chinese restaurant. 

I guess you fry it twice? Here is the first fry:

and here is another shot, not sure where in the process:

The texture and seasoning of the skin was absolutely scrumptious and the meat was so juicy, with perfectly balanced spices. Delightful. I was glad I was alone in my room because I was an absolute animal with those chicken wings.

For the spring rolls, I forwarded this recipe to Lena, and I have no idea how faithfully she followed it, but I did eat four spring rolls and only stopped out of shame. There is a recipe for peanut sauce attached, but I think they just bought a jar of sauce. SO GOOD. 

MONDAY
Antipasto, Spaghetti with Marcella Hazan’s sauce, sausage and meatballs, garlic bread

Quarantine, day 2. This would be a fine time for you to finally try this miraculous red sauce, which has a mere THREE ingredients, but somehow manages to taste savory and complex. 

Jump to Recipe

I had been doing FaceTime with Benny and Corrie so we could read at night, but apparently Corrie fell apart at suppertime, so we FaceTimed supper, too.

And here’s my plate. 

You can see that I did a bunch of sketches while I was locked up. I have them on Instagram if you’re interested. Not my greatest work, but I didn’t go batty. 

TUESDAY
Meatloaf, chips

Quarantine, day 3. And very tasty meatloaf it was.

Jump to Recipe

I think he put some Worcestershire sauce in there, which is a good idea.

I was making a stab at recalibrating my attitude toward food while in the hole, so I requested salad and an apple with mine. 

WEDNESDAY
Pork ribs, rice, mashed butternut squash

Wednesday I was RELEASED, and planned to celebrate by making some stovetop risotto. Then I realized I was still getting winded by shuffling into the kitchen, so I decided Instant Pot risotto was good enough. Then I discovered the Instant Pot valve had gone missing. So I chucked some sabor de pollo into the water and made Light Brown Rice, which the kids actually adore.

I have a picture somewhere, but not here!

Damien seasoned the pork ribs with just kosher salt and pepper, I think, and I broiled them, and they were delicious as always. You really can’t beat salt and pepper and high, direct heat for pork ribs. 

The mashed squash was tasty, too. I cut it in half, roasted it for about an hour, then scooped out the flesh and mashed it. 

Yes, this is just a one-second video of squash, steaming. 

I used butter, honey, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. I, uh, ordered six pounds of cayenne pepper while in quarantine, for reasons.

THURSDAY
Hot dogs, homemade fries, veg and dip

Moe made the fries by slicing them thin, drizzling them with salt, pepper, and oil, and baking them. Pretty good! I made the hot dogs by making hot dogs. I also opened some bags of carrots, and then I went to lie down. 

FRIDAY
Domino’s

And that’s the end of that chapter! And not a moment too soon. 

 

Meatballs for a crowd

Make about 100 golf ball-sized meatballs. 

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground meat (I like to use mostly beef with some ground chicken or turkey or pork)
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 8 oz grated parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400.

  2. Mix all ingredients together with your hands until it's fully blended.

  3. Form meatballs and put them in a single layer on a pan with drainage. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or more until they're cooked all the way through.

  4. Add meatballs to sauce and keep warm until you're ready to serve. 

 

Basic pie crust

Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 sticks butter, FROZEN
  • 1/4 cup water, with an ice cube

Instructions

  1. Freeze the butter for at least 20 minutes, then shred it on a box grater. Set aside.

  2. Put the water in a cup and throw an ice cube in it. Set aside.

  3. In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Then add the shredded butter and combine with a butter knife or your fingers until there are no piles of loose, dry flour. Try not to work it too hard. It's fine if there are still visible nuggets of butter.

  4. Sprinkle the dough ball with a little iced water at a time until the dough starts to become pliable but not sticky. Use the water to incorporate any remaining dry flour.

  5. If you're ready to roll out the dough, flour a surface, place the dough in the middle, flour a rolling pin, and roll it out from the center.

  6. If you're going to use it later, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. You can keep it in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for several months, if you wrap it with enough layers. Let it return to room temperature before attempting to roll it out!

  7. If the crust is too crumbly, you can add extra water, but make sure it's at room temp. Sometimes perfect dough is crumbly just because it's too cold, so give it time to warm up.

  8. You can easily patch cracked dough by rolling out a patch and attaching it to the cracked part with a little water. Pinch it together.

Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce

We made a quadruple recipe of this for twelve people. 

Keyword Marcella Hazan, pasta, spaghetti, tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes, broken up
  • 1 onion peeled and cut in half
  • salt to taste
  • 5 Tbsp butter

Instructions

  1. Put all ingredients in a heavy pot.

  2. Simmer at least 90 minutes. 

  3. Take out the onions.

  4. I'm freaking serious, that's it!

 

Meatloaf (actually two giant meatloaves)

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground beef
  • 2 lbs ground turkey
  • 8 eggs
  • 4 cups breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 cup milk

salt, pepper, garlic powder or fresh garlic, onion powder or minced onions, fresh parsley, etc.

  • ketchup for the top

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450

  2. Mix all meat, eggs, milk, breadcrumbs, and seasonings together with your hands until well blended.

  3. Form meat into two oblong loaves on pan with drainage

  4. Squirt ketchup all over the outside of the loaves and spread to cover with spatula. Don't pretend you're too good for this. It's delicious. 

  5. Bake for an hour or so, until meat is cooked all the way through. Slice and serve. 

 

Roasted butternut squash with honey and chili

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash
  • olive oil
  • honey
  • salt and pepper
  • chili powder

Instructions

  1. Preheat the broiler to high

  2. To peel the squash: Cut the ends off the squash and poke it several times with a fork. Microwave it for 3-4 minutes. When it's cool enough to handle, cut it into manageable pieces and peel with a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife. Scoop out the pulp and seeds.

  3. Cut the squash into cubes.

  4. In a bowl, toss the squash with honey and olive oil. You can use whatever proportions you like, depending on how sweet you want it.

  5. Spread the squash in a shallow pan and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chili powder.

  6. Broil for 15 minutes until the squash is slightly charred.

In defense of ignoring Amy Coney Barrett

This past week, I joined the vast, cranky ranks of the quarantined. I had some Covid-like boggy lung symptoms and spent four days holed up in my bedroom, waiting for my test results. Happily, they came back negative, and I was allowed to crawl out of my cave.

I felt like I passed another test, too: I resisted listening to the Amy Coney Barrett hearings. If you don’t know me, you don’t know how weird that is. I am an intensely political person (that was me at age 14, standing in the slush on a busy street corner, waving a homemade Jack Kemp sign). Even when I do not have a huge, open swath of quarantine time to devote to politics and the news, I love to gorge on current events.

If you knew me, you’d expect me to be all in with the hearings, in particular. How Amy Coney Barrett is received is especially relevant to me as a working, feminist, Catholic mother with a large family. Like Ms. Barrett, I have had “vagina clown car” insults thrown at me by people who profess to believe in reproductive choice. Strangers who know nothing about me have declared I must be either neglecting my kids or shorting my job because no one could possibly be both a good mother and a good worker. I have been informed that, because of my Catholic faith, I want all women to be the legal property of their husbands and the state. Like Ms. Barrett, I have been mercilessly dragged for my clothing choice, even when no sane person could find fault with it. The woman even gets dinged for her crazy eyes, and I, too, have crazy eyes.

But I am not unreservedly on team Amy Coney Barrett. I was dismayed when she and her maskless family starred in what turned out to be a superspreader event. I am someone whose life has been transformed by the Affordable Care Act and who desperately needs it not to be deemed unconstitutional. And I have become increasingly alarmed at the spectacle of white adoptive families using their Black children as a shield against accusations of racism. Ms. Barrett herself has not done this, as far as I know, but she does seem to speak freely in public about her Black children’s trauma. And there is that photo where her white family is front and center, and her Black children are arranged as bookends.

And there it is. There is one of the reasons I have not been following the hearings… Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image via Pxfuel

The perfect quarantine movie: DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME

Here I am in quarantine like a dummy. I have some symptoms that aren’t going away with reasonable treatment, so I’m getting tested for COVID tonight, and I’ll have the results in 48 hours. This is boring for me, but really hard on Damien, who has already been doing all of the driving because my dumb car is in the shop, and now he has to do everything else, too, and sleep on the couch. I sure hope I get a negative. I sure do. 

This note just slid under the door:

*sigh*

Here in NH, school is closed for Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day, which is how you do it if you know you’re not going to change anybody’s mind and you don’t want no trouble. My friend posted this link where you can enter your zip code and it will tell you which native tribes or nations originally lived there. Normally on this day I’d be starting the suppli around now, but I think in the future we may make a stab at cooking some sort of Abenaki-based meal on this day and have our Italian Feast on some other day. Damien and I both spent time in Rome and both love food and cooking, so we have to have a big Italian meal at some point. We’ll see. My current thinking, subject to change because I am human, is that the “Columbus was just 1490’s-style Hitler” stuff is dumb, and I see how it made sense to choose Columbus to celebrate in the 1860’s, when the word on the street was that Italians are barely human, much less real Americans; but that message isn’t urgent in 2020, whereas “don’t you go killing people” is, so it doesn’t make much sense to have a Columbus Day right now. It’s okay to change. And if you’re going to have a day to remind the world that people are real and important, then you really can’t make an argument against Indigenous Peoples Day. But, suppli. 

Anyway, gosh, all I meant to say was: Hey, we watched a really great movie last night, and you should watch it, too. 

DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (2010)

[Where to watch]

I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a movie so thoroughly. Damien and I were both streaming it in different rooms, and we kept texting each other things like “meteor hammer!” and “magic deer!” and “spooky pandemonium!” and “WHAT!!!!” 

The story is a bit convoluted and I didn’t completely follow it, but that didn’t detract from the experience. A bunch of people are mysteriously burning up from the inside out, right before the new empress’ coronation, so she brings a celebrated detective out of exile to find out who’s doing it and how. You’re kept guessing the whole time about who’s on whose side, and why, and also, WHAT!!!!

Every single scene is completely gorgeous. The trailer makes it look a little depthless, but the actual movie draws you right in. There is tons of CGI, but it’s done in a style that makes you think fondly of those labor-of-love video games from the late 90’s, or of some completely bonkers amusement park ride where they went all in. 

I was trying to figure out what sets this movie apart from superhero movies that show you incredible worlds and heart-pounding action and insane special effects, and it’s just kinda dull and repellant after a while. Part of the difference is that, in Detective Dee, they also went all in with the stunts and costumes and sets and props, so you felt like you were being given something, rather than tricked into believing something. There’s something very generous about the way it was put together. Also, part of the plot involves sorting out what’s actually supernatural and what is trickery, so maybe that explicit awareness that there’s an important difference between real and fake factored into how the spectacle was presented. 

Anyway, it was witty, silly, exciting as heck, constantly surprising, scary, occasionally moving, and overall an immensely satisfying movie, with gripping characters. The empress is SO INTERESTING, and I’m now mulling over some of the themes of the story, because it wasn’t just all action and spectacle (although you could just sit back and enjoy the action and spectacle, and that’s plenty). One character is unwillingly plucked from a sort of underworld and keeps insisting that HE’S FINE, and doesn’t need to get involved. Another one keeps insisting “I HAVEN’T FAILED” even when… well, you’ll see. And the empress and Dee and the courtesan/assassin/shapeshifter Shangguan Wan’er have several conversations about what is and isn’t allowable or forgivable, when you have higher aims in mind and are trying to set the world right again. A lot of the movie is about the struggle between your personal desires and the greater good. Gosh, I loved Detective Dee. You love to see a hero who isn’t invincible or impenetrable, but who completely understands who he is and what he wants to accomplish in the world. 

As for the suitable audience: It does have subtitles (and a few of the translations are a little goofy, which adds to the charm). It’s violent, and some of the special effects are scary, so maybe ages 9 and up for that, depending on how sensitive they are; and there is a short “they almost had sex” scene, and then a discussion of that scene later. No naughty bits, and it turns out to be important to the plot. Overall less graphic and sleazy than Indiana Jones. There is also a character named “Donkey Wang,” and I was not entirely sure what they meant by that, but it was funny. 

If you are desperate to think about something other than current events, this movie will fix you right up. It truly felt like a gift. The story, or at least the characters, are apparently based loosely on actual history from the Tang dynasty, which just makes it better. AND, there are two others! Detective Dee and the Four Heavenly Kings(2018), and Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon(2013). I see a new fandom rising in our house.