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American Food | Manolo's Food Blog - Part 16
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Orange Cranberry Sauce

In response to A Henry Halloween, Joanie requested a recipe for pumpkin stuffing – a stuffing for a whole baked pumpkin, that is. Mr. Henry did not send her one. Instead, he admonished her to buck up, embrace the old pioneer spirit, and just make do with whatever dry ingredients happened to be on hand.

Is this fair? Is this kind? Mr. Henry is having a moment of remorse for his flip dismissal of the good Joanie who, after all, asked only that Mr. Henry come clean with his cooking secrets on his own food blog.

But does he want to share? Does he want everyone to know his recipes?

Does he want everyone to know his deepest kitchen secret of all, viz. that he loathes recipes and never fails to tinker with them and that as a consequence he is a perfectly lousy pastry chef?

Does he want the world to know that he resembles exactly every other testosterone-poisoned male and does not like to ask for directions? That he is a pig-headed old coot?

He argues that there are very good reasons for such stubbornness. Whenever he DOES follow directions, things go badly. When he shops open-mindedly, for example, permitting the freshest vegetable to determine the day’s culinary pathway, then nothing ever fails.

A Mr. Henry Dictum: the freshest ingredient determines the choice of the menu.

If you are cooking fish, you must first peruse the fish counter, next nose around in the vegetable bins, and then return to the fish counter. Ignore the annoyed looks of the fishmongers. They specialize in disdain. It is their birthright, an attitude they feel they can assume as recompense for having perpetually fishy fingers.
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Meats don’t vary much from day to day, so you may safely build a menu around a market oddity such as fresh baby okra secure in the knowledge that the lamb chops (rubbed with salt and rosemary, then broiled) will be perfect.

OK, but where are the recipes?

With regard to the question of sharing, Mr. Henry embraces the new spirit of the internet generation, namely, that all knowledge should be free, like books in libraries, and that everything of value should be shared without regard for copyright so long as it is not a Henry copyright.

In the selfless, altruistic ethos of Thanksgiving Mr. Henry here proffers his very own recipe for orange cranberry sauce, a recipe he himself invented and developed for over 30 Thanksgivings. Be forewarned, however. THIS SAUCE IS TART.

Mr. Henry foregoes all royalties now and forever, all hard-won remuneration, all possible legacies bequeathed to the Henry generations to come. Yes, he is giving it away.

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Buy a bag of cranberries and one navel orange. (Here Mr. Henry is not taking chances with imaginative cooks. Trust me, dear reader, follow this recipe, if indeed it IS a recipe.)

Rinse the berries, pick off any annoying little stems, and throw out the mushy ones. To a heavy pot add the berries, half the sugar and half the water recommended on the package, that is, half a cup of each. (For more orange oomph you may substitute orange juice for water.) Over a medium to low flame bring the berries to a boil and stir, stir, stir. Don’t be gentle. Each berry must pop to let its sour juice mingle with the sugar. Those few recalcitrant ones you can mash with your wooden spoon. Don’t cook it until the berries get leathery, for God’s sake. Do it just enough to get them popped.

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While your berries are cooking, grate all the orange skin off the navel. (Mr. Henry prefers the navel because it has thicker rind and more concentrated juice.) When all the berries have popped, take the pot off the fire and mix in the grated orange peel. Slice your navel in half and squeeze with your fingers all its juice into the pot, too. (A bit of orange pulp in the sauce is good.) Transfer it to a large glass bowl and place it on the terrace to cool. (Cover it with foil, by the way, so that the afternoon blue jay doesn’t get more curious than he already is.)

Chaw-bacon Chew

Mr. Henry is not one to call names, casually hurl insults or take cheap shots.
His friend Michael, also a Southerner, took issue with Mr. Henry’s writing style saying, “Why don’t you come clean with your reading public and stop pretending to be this urbane New York sophisticate ? Out yourself as a true chaw-bacon, cousin-humpin’ cracker!”

Mr. Henry takes no umbrage. He feels, however, a twinge of envy at Michael’s fluent command of invective. Also, he has every confidence that even if not in mid-season form he could best Michael at tennis, golf, or bridge.

When Mr. Henry recently visited Jacksonville, Florida, however, he began to sputter and spit at the truly disgusting fare offered up as cuisine.

To be fair, it was not as bad as what Frances at the 87th Street dog run, having just returned from Dallas-Ft.Worth, confronted at the Texas State Fair. Is it really possible that in Texas they serve deep-fried Coca-Cola balls with fake whipped cream topping? (Yes, the Henry research team uncovered just such a monstrous concoction. First soak dough balls in Coca-Cola. Next………….no, please! Make it stop!)

Resize Assistant-1.jpgJacksonville may specialize in fried food, too, but this year Mr. Henry made a discovery that set him back on his big city heels – a brand new upscale eatery called “Chew” on an old block centrally located in the heart of Jacksonville’s languishing downtown. This is not Hooters. This is not Whitey’s Fish Camp, accessible only by motorboat, where every entrée is fried and served with a side of hush puppies. (At Whitey’s the specialty of the house is “cooter.” Opinions are divided on whether that is alligator tail or turtle).Resize Assistant-2.jpg

The staff at Chew do not speak with a southern accent. (The chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America.) The braised short ribs sandwich was a tender, rich and subtle creation that clearly took hours to prepare. Mr. Henry believes there is hope for America after all.

Semi-Homemade Horror

Last week’s Halloween Special on the Food Network featured the noted “popular lifestyle professional and author” Sandra LeeMake it Semi-Homemade! – preparing pizza with canned tomato sauce, pre-shredded cheddar cheese, and sour cream topping laced with ‘cheap’ caviar.

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Mr. Henry thinks Sandra should be working for Homeland Security in the terrorist interrogation unit. How did this wasp-waist Wisconsin University blonde get into a position of food authority? She is striking at the Heartland, that’s for sure, and from Sandra’s sinister recipes we shall all need fast, permanent relief.

At first blush Mr. Henry assumed that Sandra was some kind of Saturday Night Live character. But this show, like Rambo, is parody proof. Even Meryl Streep couldn’t portray a more plausible dunderhead than the genuine, all-American Sandra. When she scooped out the innards of a store-bought pumpkin pie, squished them around, mushed them into a big plastic baggie, cut off the bag’s tip, and squirted the abused result into petit four shells, well, Mr. Henry shook his head with deep regret at the astonishing nonsense that passes for sound advice on television.

When she put the caviar on the cheddar cheese and tomato pizza, however, the whole Henry family screamed in horror. It was a suitably Halloween total gross-out. Even now Mr. Henry nearly hurls at the thought of it.

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.

Mr. Henry takes a trip

A Mr. Henry Dictum:

When compelled to leave New York, Mr. Henry strongly cautions you to employ the Powell Doctrine now sadly languishing in a Foggy Bottom dustbin:

“Clear goals, an exit strategy, and overwhelming force.”

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Proper planning may help calm feelings of dread that overcome you as you ponder upcoming dietary and leisure options. Don’t be caught short of food or reading material. Mr. Henry took a sackful of homemade goodies and Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, an ideal travel book for the 21st century. (Hint: there is a lot of waiting and very little food. There are no paragraph breaks, however.)

In the Denver airport the chef at Wolfgang Puck Express gamely retrieved a cooked pizza that had fallen on the dirty counter and tossed it in our general direction without so much as a perfunctory nod. Although hygienically compromised, it was the only edible item served to the Henrys that fateful afternoon.

Out of concern for the sensibilities of his readers, Mr. Henry resists describing the salad dressing that remained on his stomach for another 10 hours and 1000 air miles. A Wolfgang Puck frittata with an inane faux-Latin name closely resembled in color and texture Mr.Puck.jpg Henry’s new natural, extra-firm, foam rubber mattress. After one bite he cast a wistful eye across the breezeway to McDonalds and other fast food purveyors of death. At least there you know what you are getting – a treacly, salty, highly caloric shock to the liver. Mr. Henry prefers the devil he knows.

The War on Tourism continues.

Amid a national Homeland Security Orange Alert, sunscreen in a stick caught the vigilant eye of a Denver Airport uniformed officer who escorted the offending young suspect aside and thoroughly patted her down with special attention paid to a middle school backpack. Remarkably, ham and avocado sandwiches made it past security check, as did corn chips, olives, grapes, pineapple and brownies. Water, however, did not. Mr. Henry was forced to drink Starbuck’s coffee which gratefully came for free.

Flying is no picnic, though you’ll have to pack your lunch all the same.

United Airlines now sells four distinct pre-packaged meals for six dollars each, one more ghastly than the next. When next preparing for flight, picture in your imagination Tom Joad and family in a flatbed Okie truck crossing the Arizona desert at night. Pack accordingly. Don’t buy the United in-flight meal. Whatever happens, keep the family together and know that a better life awaits.

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