Henry Lore and Legend

The True and Never Before Revealed Facts of Mr. Henry’s First Successes in the Kitchen

There came a day sometime around 1966 when young Mr. Henry excused himself from the dining table and declared voicelessly that he had eaten his last bite of Wish-Bone Italian Dressing. On that fateful day at that fateful hour was born a new, true foodie.

Marketing geniuses at Wish-Bone had recently convinced forward-thinking Americans that a packet of “secret herbs and spices” added to oil and vinegar and shaken in a specially designed 3-Mile Island shaped vessel might constitute “home-made salad dressing.” The Henry family took great pride in their reach into culinary sophistication. Feasting on palate-busting “herbs and spices,” an unholy trinity of oregano, garlic powder, and monosodium glutamate, they sat blissfully together on Sunday nights watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

But though still a boy Mr. Henry already harbored within his breast the fierce iconoclasm and resistance to authority that would lead him before the age of sixteen to denounce another unholy trinity – church, war, and tackle football – the core beliefs of the USA.

Apart from unwrapping a slice of American cheese, placing it on a piece of bread, and running the exotic ensemble under the toaster oven broiler, young Henry had never before performed anything like real cooking. The kitchen was not the domain of children or even the domain of Mom. It was the domain of Bertha, old Birdie, the cook, whose placid demeanor and enormous girth could not be stirred except by the entrance of children over the kitchen threshold. “Chile, get out my kitchen!” she sweetly yelled in a voice utterly devoid of menace. Bertha’s gravies were the stuff of legend. Her roast leg of lamb fell off the bone and into our mouths like ambrosia from Olympus. Great earth mother figure from whom all life flowed, she was our object of worship.

But Bertha did not do salad dressing.gwtw_mammy.JPG

In those simpler times salad was synonymous with iceberg lettuce, cold, crunchy and virtually flavorless. That bottle of Wish-Bone, therefore, was the salad’s only theme, an insistent nightly insult, a gelatinous sock in the jaw.

In the cupboard young Henry found red wine vinegar, cooking oil (NOT olive oil, and not even nearly close to almost being virgin), French’s yellow mustard (What made it so brightly yellow? Best not to ask.), and honey. Without recipe or guidepost, young Henry through bold experimentation visited upon unsuspecting younger brothers finally arrived at a reasonably tasty salad dressing which in its conception was not too dissimilar from the dressing his own little Henry whips up today, the little darling devotee of Top Chef and Food Network.

Yes, the torch has passed. Chez Henry a new obstinacy has emerged with regard to salad dressing, a new direction under the unfailing guide of Little Henry whose authority must not be brooked.

Granted, Little Henry’s vinegar is now from Jerez or Modena, oil from California or Tuscany, and mustard pure Dijon, but the impetus to establish one’s own flavor protocols remains pure vintage Mr. Henry, paterfamilias. Such pride.

Little Henry has already mastered fried eggs, almond cookies, carrot cupcakes, raspberry coulis as well as guacamole. Indeed there are no limits. The future is not so dim as we might imagine.

Mr. Henry and The Mangy Moose

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Floating amidst a new season’s hatch of ski bunnies and buckaroos, Mr. Henry found himself distinctly out of place. At the entrance to the Mangy Moose bar, they carded him, a courtesy and a compliment he accepted very graciously.

Seeing that no one among the beer-swilling mob had been born before the completion of Mr. Henry’s undergraduate education, however, he retreated to the mammoth pine log fireside to read Jane Austen’s Emma.
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He was surely the only person reading for a radius of many miles.

A hard day of falling down on slick, packed-powder moguls had left his body humming all over. He was thrilled that each of his knees still retained most of their function. He was thrilled that he had not perished on the slopes, flattened by a snowboarder on energy drink. Moose Drool.jpg He was sure the glass of Moose Drool Brown Ale was the finest he had ever tasted. The high-hipped, blond waitress of peach complexion, ready smile, muscular thigh and genuine unenhanced American bosom served him with such graceful enthusiasm that all of Mr. Henry’s resistance against empty-headed, slacker youth began to melt.

Mr. Henry chose his position between the fire and the door with care. The afternoon’s beany lunch of vegetarian chili and ‘everything’ quesadilla served mid-slope in the Casper restaurant was working away at his vitals. To best protect the Moose’s good patrons as well as to protect Mr. Henry’s personal honor, a windy corridor was needed. To its credit, the Moose is appropriately drafty.

The Mangy Moose at Teton Village in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is a paradise for skiers as well as for meat-eaters. Although the roast beef and pork chop are the toughest he has ever eaten, resistant enough for alpine outerwear, once your teeth manage to soften them Eskimo-style they taste quite good, especially the chop. The real treat comes with the salad course – a genuinely old-fashioned, crisply delicious, iceberg lettuce wedge topped with crumbled blue cheese dressing. Mr. Henry was so moved he tasted Mrs. H.’s ‘Ranch’ dressing, a surprisingly toothsome buttermilk mixture. Mangy.jpg

The Moose’s finest features, apart from the sunny and robustly beautiful waitresses, are the walls and rafters. All manner of frontier detritus hangs there: bathtubs, tractor seats, stuffed raccoons, bedpans, baseball bats, scythes, arrow points. The Moose is the most interesting museum in Wyoming, the only collection that captures the genuine spirit of the old West without a double slathering of hokum. After all, nothing is phonier than the Old West.

Feasting plain and simple

Planning a meal is at least as difficult as preparing one. The planner must imagine which flavors and which textures might survive a culinary marriage all the way through the gastro-intestinal tract of each fussbudget friend.

While Mr. Henry believes that each of us is responsible for his or her own colon, he is mindful that out-of-town guests are stuck eating whatever the Henrys prepare. Therefore, menus must err towards the safe and the familiar.

feasting.jpgSince over Thanksgiving the Henry household entertained eight (yes, eight) of Mrs. Henry’s relatives for eight days, the feasting never ceased. Mrs. Henry never left the kitchen and Mr. Henry never stopped ferrying food in and ferrying garbage out.

Eight different palettes with eight different dietary regimens did not intimidate the fearless Mrs. Henry. Undaunted by the closeness of respected elders and rivalrous siblings, she brazenly posted the entire week’s menu on the cabinet, declaring that whoever wanted dinner had better show up on time, devil take the hindmost. She is a courageous woman. Martin Luther was not more bold in list-posting.

Everyone came, everyone feasted, and everyone thanked Mr. Henry, though he had done no cooking apart from the cranberries and some prep work. (A moment, please……Were they happy he had NOT cooked?) Whatever the intention, they complimented him as well on his choices of wine, for which he takes full and deserved credit. Given the size of the party and Mr. Henry’s shrinking holiday budget, none of the wines cost more than $18 per bottle. But given the global wine glut, good table wine is among the cheapest of treats today.

For those less organized than Mrs. Henry, and Mr. Henry suspects such a list does not exclude the U.S. Army quartermaster general, here is the week’s complete menu:

Dinner 1:
Cuban stew: an aromatic slow-cooked concoction of Mrs. Henry’s device made with pork or chicken which includes onions, green olives, raisins, garbanzos, plum tomatoes (seeded), and a splash of liquid (either white wine or stock will do). Sprinkled with fresh cilantro, it is served over brown rice (basmati is tastiest) seasoned with turmeric for color.
Green salad.
Wine: Rioja

Dinner 2: guests all dining at differing times.
Pizza made by each guest upon arrival using Bruno’s bottled marinara sauce (made smoother by a few moments in the blender) and for toppings a choice of mozzarella, sliced Kalamata olives, sweet sausage sautéed and crumbled, sautéed mushrooms, anchovies, and fresh basil.
Green salad.
Wine: Barbera

Dinner 3: pre-Thanksgiving low-fat meal
Broiled farmed salmon (wild was unavailable), broccoli, baked whole fingerling potatoes, Israeli pickles in rice wine vinegar.
Dessert: mixed berries
Wine: Riesling

Dinner 3: Thanksgiving.
Free range turkey, 8 lbs., cooked in convection oven for two hours at 400 degrees, mashed potatoes, sliced baked yams (NOT candied), green beans, Mr. Henry’s signature orange cranberry sauce, fresh applesauce.
Stuffing: sausage, chestnut, apple, fresh sage, and sourdough bread baked in two whole winter squashes.
Dessert: Pumpkin chiffon pie, apple pie, vanilla ice cream
Wine: Pinot Noir

Dinner 4: Post-Thanksgiving, pre-theater
Turkey soup, squash soup.
Ceasar salad.
Dessert: Tia’s dulce de leche soggy cake with peaches and whipped cream. (Hmmm. Thank you, Tia.)
Wine: whatever was open
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Dinner 5:
Leg of lamb, lentils with garlic and cumin, broiled asparagus (just toss with olive oil and salt, broil for 6-8 minutes), brown and wild rice, sliced drained cucumber & dill in yogurt, and iced mint tea.
Dessert: leftover pumpkin pie
Wine: Pinot Noir

Dinner 6:
Winter squash soup (made from the Thanksgiving leftovers), filet mignon, potatoes roasted en papillote, peas.
Dessert: mixed berry tart
Wine: Bordeaux

Dinner 7:
Broiled black cod in white miso, white rice, tsukemono (assorted Japanese pickles), umeboshi (salt plum), green beans
Dessert: mochi ice cream from Beard Papa’s
Wine: Riesling

Stuffing

Thanksgiving is the only holiday when what we do and what we eat are both described by the same word: stuffing.

How was your Thanksgiving? The answer largely depends on what you ate for stuffing, as well as how egregiously you stuffed yourself.

There is something tantalizing about a turkey and stuffing dinner. Each flavor follows inexorably to the next, the bland leading the bland. Why do we eat so much of it? Do we lose ourselves in the mesmerizing combination of enormous portions and early memories? Is it because stuffing takes up such a large area on the plate that in addressing the dinner and awaiting the ponderous toast or prayer we feel an Alice-in-Wonderland sensation of suddenly becoming very small? Staring at a heaped, steaming mound of comfort food, each portion elbowing out the other, do we imagine a family snuggling together against the oncoming winter cold? (Who will play the turkey? Who will be this year’s cranberry sauce – shockingly crimson and tart?)

The evidence is overwhelming. We overeat at Thanksgiving, with particular regard to carbohydrates. Which Founding Father decreed that we need to eat stuffing and mashed potatoes and candied yams and pumpkin pie with ice cream else we do an injustice to the memories of fallen patriots?The aftermath is all too familiar. This week we are all, Mr. Henry included, wandering around in carbo-psychosis fighting the deadly addiction hour by hour, skittering past the freezer still replete with that Olympian ambrosia, Haagen Dasz vanilla.

Despite its unappetizing name, however, stuffing can be marvelous.

The very best stuffing Mr. Henry ever ate was Nadia’s 1001 nights chestnut forcemeat cooked inside the bird – a woodsy, oriental, amber and frankincense delight that takes half the day to prepare. If you are in the mood for something subtle and heavenly, read on.
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Boil 3 lbs. of chestnuts (slice an X in each before), peel and roughly chop in food processor
Lightly toast 1/2 lb. of almonds, chop together with sugar and cinnamon to the consistency of bread crumbs
Chop a handful of dried apricots
Sauté the turkey liver in a bit of butter, a splash of olive oil, shallots and port wineTwolovers.jpg
Make a turkey stock from the giblets with an onion, celery, carrots, black pepper and saffron
Sauté chopped shallots or onion, then add chestnuts and sugared almonds, next add basic bread crumbs (not too many – this is a principally a chestnut preparation), chopped liver, apricots, orange zest, and enough stock to make a mixture that binds together but is not wet.

Stuff the turkey cavity and sew it closed.

Each guest will get a ladle-full of aromatic chestnut stuffing to accompany, not replace, the standard sage stuffing. The saffron, cinnamon and port lend the high notes. The liver and turkey stock gives bottom notes to the chestnut’s prevailing sweetness.

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.

Take note.cranberries.jpeg

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.

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