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October, 2006 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - October, 2006

A Henry Halloween

“Is Halloween a special time for your family?” asked Kim staring wide-eyed at giant spiders dangling in every corner, at remarkably life-like blackbirds perched atop paintings, fridge, and  window sills, and at assorted cobwebs everywhere. This weekend’s trip to Columbia County yielded an orange hoard. The Henry house now holds 21 pumpkins – 18 orange ones for the kids’ carving party, two fat ones for the Henrys’ personal carving, and one heirloom red for cooking – as well as two dozen gourds. pumpkin.jpg

The Halloween party dinner will feature a Thanksgiving-style turkey, baked ham, chili, and guacamole (don’t cavil – everybody loves it) For dessert there will be pumpkin cupcakes with butter cream icing, caramel apples, baked “shrunken head” apples with faces carved by each child, and, of course, cheeses. Mr. Henry’s contribution will be a baked stuffed pumpkin.

Take either an heirloom red, heirloom beige pumpkin, or Japanese kabocha (any pumpkin will do), cut the top as though carving a jack-o-lantern, spoon out the seeds and pith, stuff with a dry stuffing, and replace the top. Mr. Henry can’t decide between wild rice flavored with pomegranate syrup and pancetta (a recipe borrowed from Diana and Fred) or good old American bread stuffing slightly enhanced by nutmeg and sultanas.

In either case, the trick is to prepare the stuffing rather dry. The pumpkin’s moisture steams it in baking. An already moist stuffing will puddle and seep carrying away delicate juices. Also, oil the pumpkin’s surface to help it keep its shape. Bake at 350-400, whatever suits the other things you’ve got baking in the oven, until a fork pierces the flesh, about 40 minutes for a medium to large pumpkin.

The result makes a marvelous presentation, a storybook illustration from a medieval tale. Most remarkable of all, it is an orange vegetable dish the children will devour.

Dinosaur Extinction

Mr. Henry does not harbor a fondness for chicken. When they scratch around the barnyard hunting bugs, he does not find them adorable. When they lie headless, plucked, and baked on his dinner plate, he does not find them palatable.chicken.1.jpg

Chickens are boring, and Mr. Henry wants it known that boredom at the dinner table has consequences far beyond the complaints of middle school children.

Mr. Henry, as his more faithful readers can attest, is fond of careful, analytical thinking. He would never be contentious simply for the sake of contentiousness. When poised to take another contrarian position vis-à-vis a shibboleth such as “white meat,” the ultimate practical good sense dinner, he lets his imagination wander. He yearns to understand how such a creature could have become so important to our diet, a creature bland to the taste and revolting to the eye, a creature that lies on the dinner table awaiting only embalming fluid and make-up.

Is it normal for civilized persons to tear flesh from sinew, to separate cartilage from bone with the naked fingers? Is this acceptable in polite company?

Yes, yes, there have been positive chicken experiences in Mr. Henry’s lengthy past. He recalls a slender rooster, a mere adolescent, running in a Moroccan courtyard one bright morning whose delicious liquor so infused the evening vegetable tagine that the tiniest of meaty morsels satisfied each of the eight diners. Ester’s antique double boiler drew all the flavor from the youngster’s skinny bones. Since he had met the chop only moments before he met the boiler, not a trace of his roosterly odor marred the stew.

On his return to the aisles of American supermarkets, Mr. Henry was revolted by the odor of old chicken skin, an odor that once identified cannot ever be ignored. (Even those highly acclaimed “free range” birds share this problem.) To remove ithe smell requires the cook to rub the chicken in handfuls of salt or lemon, rinse it with cold water, and singe away any remaining little feathers over an open flame. Then you must carve away as much extra fat and skin as you can find. Removing all the skin, however, reduces the bird to a truly anodyne preparation likely to induce depression and dipsomania.

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Eaters Beware: a constant diet of chicken is no harmless habit. To explain the megafauna extinctions that ended the dinosaur age, for example, some very reputable scientists have pointed to an asteroid impact that triggered apocryphal climate change.

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After serious reflection Mr. Henry, however, has come to another,
more original conclusion. Since it is now well established that dinosaurs were the ancestors of birds, all the available meat tasted like…………chicken!

After millennia of the same old thing day after day, those poor
benighted carnivores just gave up and died from sheer boredom.

The fundamental answer to the problem of chicken, of course, is to marinate, a solution unavailable to the dinosaurs. Tandoori and teriyaki each succeed admirably by overpowering chicken with other flavors.

Lest his pouletophile readers rise up in furious anger, Mr. Henry provides a link to a quick and fun coq au vingt minutes. In place of lardons, try normal bacon trimmed of some fat. Be sure to remove most of the bacon fat from the pan before starting with the shallots. When Mr. Henry cooked it for Paul and Haesook, they showed up an hour late thereby permitting the dish to rest and the flavors to blend nicely. So, although the recipe may take only 20 minutes, an hour of repose is recommended.

Once in the hilly countryside near Geneva Mr. Henry ate a chicken that had been baked inside a sarcophagus of salt. With slow ceremony the aged waiter brought a stone mallet to the table and with one great whack stove in the crusted dome. Inside was a hugely flavorful, juicy, and aromatic bird easily separating from the bone. Watery local wines did not displease us. Other diners, however, did not seem to be so much in thrall to the experience. The overall tone of the event seemed smartly Calvinist – the worldly pleasures of poverty and hard work to be enjoyed joylessly.