Best Singles of 2008

This year my weekly radio show, Beef Jerky Time, really concentrated on ferreting out a certain kind of pop. I like lots of layers, strange noises and as much 80s synth nostalgia as possible. Here is a highly subjective list of the 15 Best Songs From My Show for 2008. Each comes from an album released in 2008. They're supposed to be in chronological order by release date, not order of preference.

Keep Your Eyes Ahead: Helio Sequence
Beat (Health, Life and Fire): Thao with the Get Down Stay Down
M79: Vampire Weekend
Time to Pretend: MGMT
On the Lam: Panther
Stop Being Perfect: The LK
Think I Wanna Die: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
So Haunted: Cut Copy
Little Bit: Lykke Li
L.E.S. Artistes (XXXChange remix): Santogold
Fugaz: The Pinker Tones
GfC: Albert Hammond Jr
My Alarm: New Faces
Shaded Forest: Deastro
Balloons: Foals

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Here's to a fabulous 2009. Cheers!

Butternut Cranberry bake

Here's a great winter side dish. I like how the sour cranberries cut the sweetness of the squash (and the sugar).

  • 1 small butternut squash, cubed
  • 2 T butter or olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, sliced into strips
  • 1/2 cup cranberries, sliced in half
  • 2 T brown sugar (or brown rice syrup)
  • thyme
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • 4 cloves
  • 1/2 cup water

  1. Heat oven to 350˚.
  2. Rinse the halved cranberries under cold water to wash away some of the tiny seeds. Drain.
  3. Heat the butter or oil in a skillet and add the onions and cranberries. Stir together until glassy and soft (about 5 minutes). Then, sprinkle with brown sugar, a generous dash of thyme, a small dash each of cinnamon and nutmeg, and the cloves. Mix all together and cook another minute or two. Turn off heat.
  4. Put squash chunks and water in a glass oven dish. Top with onion/cranberry mixture. Cover all with foil and place in oven.
  5. Check in about 20 minutes and stir everything together. If there seems to be a lot of water in the bottom, you can pour some off. Otherwise, keep baking for another 15-20 minutes. When the squash is fork-tender, you're done!
Serves 4 as a side dish. Good for vegetarians--or if you use olive oil and brown rice syrup, it can even be vegan/macrobiotic!

Lamb-stuffed Grape Leaves

I love this recipe because it involves meat. Many recipes I see for grape leaves are vegetarian, involving lots of rice and sometimes currants or tomatoes or pine nuts or something to make things interesting. But I like the substantial tang of a nice meaty bite when I sink my teeth into a fat little grape leaf roll. My recipe is largely based on the one from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines (William Morrow, 1989). I have scaled it down so it just requires 1 jar of grape leaves, and I have also changed it to use brown rice.

  • 1/2 cup brown rice
  • 1/2 lb ground lamb
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped fine
  • juice of 2 lemons, divided
  • dill
  • allspice
  • olive oil
  • chopped parsley (optional)
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 jar grape leaves (8 ounces—or some have 7.7 oz)
  • 1.5 cups chicken stock


First, parboil the rice for 20 minutes. It doesn't matter how much water you use since it will be drained--just be sure the rice is covered with water. I recommend using a heat disperser underneath, if you have one.

Drain the rice and let it cool.

When rice is cool, combine it in a large mixing bowl with lamb, a few generous shakes of dill and the same of allspice, the onion, garlic, parsley (if using), salt, pepper and juice of one lemon. Cover all with a generous pour of olive oil.

Roll up your sleeves, wash your hands and squish everything together thoroughly. Don't be shy.

Here is a very important step. SORT the grape leaves. They are probably all rolled up in your jar. Some are perfect, some are torn, some are huge, some are tiny. I recommend setting up 2 plates and putting all the most "normal" leaves on one plate. Put the freaks on another plate as your B list. This would include anything that is ripped or shredded, leaves that are really tiny and ones that are huge and veiny. You will use the strangest leaves for the layers under, between and over the rolled grape leaves. (This recipe makes 2 layers of grape leaves in my big Dutch oven.) You will probably also end up stuffing some leaves from your B list, but at least you'll get to use all the normal leaves first. Here are my 2 plates, with the A list in the foreground.

Take some of those B-listers and make a layer on the bottom of your cooking pot. You can place the rolled up leaves in here as you make them.

I'm sure most people know how to roll a grape leaf, but I can't resist a blow-by-blow. It's so "food blog"! So. Start with a leaf, smooth side down, on a flat surface. The top point should be pointing away from you.

Put down your filling right at the bottom "crook" of the leaf. How much you need will depend on the size of the leaf. I just try to visualize what the rolled up leaf will look like, and then put down that much filling. Make it a bit "tubular."

Fold up the bottom of the leaf over the filling.

Then, you guessed it, fold each side over the filling.

Roll everything away from you toward the top point. Here it is en route.

And here it is rolled up.

Tuck the rolls together in your pot. Here's my bottom layer.

When you have a full layer, cover it with B-list leaves and start another layer. Keep going until you've used up the filling. Then, one last layer of leaves on top.

Finally, pour the 1.5 cups of chicken broth and juice of 1 lemon over all. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 hour on low heat--use a heat disperser if you have one. After an hour, turn off the heat and let the leaves sit for up to an hour before serving.

My cookbook says to serve these with a traditional egg-lemon sauce, but I prefer just plain extra virgin olive oil. Even better is rich green nutty hempseed oil. Kala! (I think that means "good" in Greek.)

Happy solstice, 2008!

OK, the sun can start coming back now. That's what this evergreen Yule thing is about after all--the fading away of all this DARK and COLD. (Except first we have to get through winter. Happy winter!)

I am looking out on the same amount of snow that we had last March after a 3-month onslaught of winter. Except this time the snow accumulated within 5 days. Insane 6 foot drifts. Cars that won't start. Icy wind chill on the clear sunny day when it finally stops snowing. I have been supporting the various snow removal duties of my household by holding down the fort and eating cookies on the couch while watching Food Network. For some reason, that's all I can do when it gets too wintry. Did you know the Food Network turns off at 4AM?! The nerve!

Here is the playlist from last week's show, Christmas themed though I'm no Christian. Please note there won't be a show on 12/24 as I'll be busy eating cookies on someone else's couch.

Beef Jerky Time
  • Misteriou Joaius (Joyful Mysteries): Ensemble Choral Du Bout Du Mond
  • What Child is This: Vince Guaraldi Trio
  • Hark the Herald Angels Sing: "played superbly" by Felix Vance on organ
  • Here Comes Santa Claus: Elvis Presley
  • Silver Bells: Doris Day
  • Go Tell It On the Mountain: Harry Simeone Chorale
  • On Christmas Morning: Raffi
  • The 12 Days of Christmas: John Denver & the Muppets
  • Good Christian Men, Rejoice: The Robert Shaw Chorale
  • I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus/Here Comes Santa Claus: Al Hirt
  • Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer: Ferrante & Teicher
  • Jingle Bell Rock: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
  • The First Noel/Mary Mary: Sarah McLachlan
  • Santa & the Kids: Charley Pride
  • Sleighride: Liberace
  • Do They Know It's Christmas?: Band Aid
  • The Christmas Song: Nat "King" Cole
  • Good King Wenceslas: John Fahey
  • Nedeleg War Ar Mor (Christmas At Sea): Ensemble Choral Du Bout Du Monde
  • It's a Marshmallow World: Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin

Build Me Up Butternut

While contemplating what to do with 13 butternut squash, I found myself singing "Build Me Up, Buttercup." Thought I'd pass that along before going any further.

When a local farm stand closed for the season around Halloween, they had a bushel sale and we picked up a bushel of butternut squash for $18. Since then I have used exactly 1 squash: half cooked with aduki beans and half made into buckwheat soup. I know I can always make these again. But what ELSE can I do with so much butternut squash? It seems like a great opportunity to experiment, ask around and find some new recipes.

I may have a bit of a disability when it comes to butternut squash because I have the opposite of a sweet tooth--call it a "savory tooth." When it comes to entrees at least, I am not big on sweet stuff, like sweet potatoes, brown bread, cranberry sauce, sweet & sour pork, etc. I prefer my main dishes and sides to be salty, garlicky, cheesy, herbed or spicy. I searched at TasteSpotting for butternut squash (which seems pretty similar to Food Gawker, what's the difference?). I found a certain uniformity among the choices--several seem to go with bleu cheese or sage as main ingredients. I can see how these would offer a nice counterpoint to the squash sweetness, but my dining partner won't eat bleu cheese and it's not sage season around here. There are also several recipes for sweet muffins, pureed soups, risottos and pastas all heavily featuring BS (I will now use this as my acronym). These just seemed too "sweet squashy" to me. Out of all, I was intrigued by the use of brie, kale, onions, sausages and shallots in some recipes. Here are a few I might try to make or riff from:

Scraping the Skillet has a recipe for Rustic Butternut Squash Tart with poblano peppers and cilantro

A Series of Kitchen Experiments made Herbed Ravioli with Butternut Filling and Beurre Noisette

Dishing Up Delights posted about Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette in Rosemary Pie Crust

Miami's Bitchin Camero made Butternut Squash Tortilla Soup

Kumquat Connection wrote up a fascinating take on BS with pizzettas featuring pistachios & basil

Now that's what I'm talkin' about!

Ham & Swiss Palmiers: Perfect Appetizer

I got this hors d'ouevres recipe from a friend in catering and it's really fabulous. I can tell I'll be playing with it and modifying it for many app-friendly gatherings to come. But I want to share now--maybe you've already heard of Ham & Swiss Palmiers?

There are just 4 ingredients. Puff pastry, mustard, sliced Black Forest ham and Swiss cheese. In particular, I used Dijon mustard and Finnish Swiss (I know! but it was cheap). Thaw puff pastry as directed, slather with mustard, layer on grated cheese and ham slices, roll in from either side, slice onto a greased cookie sheet, bake at 400˚ for about 20 minutes.

These are like a ham-sandwich worth of warm savory mouthfeel: melty, crunchy, buttery, hammy. I feel strange saying "palmiers"... maybe I'll call these "hammies." Notes for next time: try gruyère, try honey mustard, try less ham and tighter rolls, try thinner slices. These are just tweaks though, the basic recipe is already top-notch and got many compliments!

Happy birthday, Frank

Francis Albert Sinatra was born in Hoboken, NJ, 93 years ago on December 12, 1915. He's one of my major idols. I know he maybe wasn't a great guy to everyone, but his voice is so fabulous that's all I care about. I'm also a big fan of his messed-up and gorgeous second wife, Ava Gardner. This week's Beef Jerky Time was my annual tribute to the life and work of the Chairman of the Board. I do tend to like the Swingin' Sinatra from the 60s--arranged by Nelson Riddle or on Reprise Records or both. GOOD STUFF. Here's the meagre playlist (aired 12*10*08), just a tiny slice from so many great options:
  • I've Got the World On a String
  • I'll Be Seeing You
  • It's Only A Paper Moon
  • You're Driving Me Crazy
  • Mistletoe & Holly
  • My Baby Just Cares for Me
  • Always
  • Nice 'n Easy
  • Makin' Whoopie
  • Our Love Affair
  • Pennies from Heaven
  • Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week
  • I Believe
  • I've Got You Under My Skin
  • Luck Be a Lady
  • I Won't Dance
  • The Continental
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Enchanted Elf

Ever noticed that the movie "Enchanted" (2007) is pretty much the exact same story line as the movie "Elf" (2003)?
  • Both start with our protagonist living in a fairy tale world that contains talking animals.
  • Then, circumstances propel our character to New York City where she or he gets a good dose of the "real world,"
  • including the sad fact that animals can't talk.
  • In each movie, we see a character experience the modern technical wonder that is a revolving door.
  • A love interest is skeptical about the protagonist's apparent insanity, but is charmed rather than scared or annoyed.
  • A young child is able to understand and connect with the protagonist more immediately than surrounding adults, presumably because children are still moist from immersion in the world of fairy tales.
  • Both protagonists are introduced to the alien concept of a "date" or "going out for food."
  • At the end of each movie, the fairy tale world enters the real world: either in the form of an angry female dragon climbing a building like Kong (Enchanted) or Santa crashing his sleigh in Central Park (Elf).
  • Both movies also show the main character appearing on live television and
  • have a fair amount of singing.
So which do I like better? Well, "Elf" has more slapstick, more sight gags and more jokes. In other words, it has more Will Ferrell. That means I like "Elf" better. "Enchanted" was cute and put me in a good mood, but I'm not running out to buy the DVD or anything. "Elf"? Already have that one in my WF library.

I also wonder, as a post-script, what other movies use this Fantasy segues to real world segues to Big Mix-Up segues to LOVE format. Maybe not "Babe: Pig in the City." But I'm sure there's something obvious I'm not remembering at the moment. I may have to check out "My Stepmother is an Alien" or something.

Solid Gold Dancer wannabe

Every song a classic. Every dance sequence bizarre.

That's how Solid Gold seems to me now, 20 years after it ended. I was reminded of the show by song 5 in my playlist below. I used to watch Solid Gold every week, secretly, just before Star Search. (Secretly because I was not allowed to watch TV.) Then I would practice my Solid Gold Dancer moves. What I didn't pick up at the time is that it seems odd to have scantily-clad women on primetime TV doing provocative dance routines to random 80s hits, from James Taylor to Madness to Elton John to Asia. I think if I were just going to spontaneously whip off a novel about something, today it would be about a Solid-Gold-like dancer and her mixed-up life on and off stage. Dancing! Dating! Late nights with celebrities! Wholesome crafting hobbies! Sparkly legwarmers! (My imaginary novel topic varies on a daily basis.)

Watching a bunch of "best of" videos also makes me realize how many 80s songs I've plain forgotten. I'm going to have to start hitting the dollar bins again for more vinyl! (Also I totally totally loved Rick Dees.) I just wish Mel Slurp had hosted an episode.

This past week's Beef Jerky Time has little to do with the 80s. Here's the 12*3*08 playlist:

You just can't go wrong with 80s music

It was the day before Thanksgiving. I was feeling a bit excitable. So Beef Jerky Time, my weekly radio show, became an 80s party full of the vinyl hits that I love. There's the new wave stuff that we all remember--lots of synthesizer and handclaps. There's also the pickup truck music: I mean the "hockey hair" and acid-wash-jeans arena rock. And then there are the pure America's Top 40 confections and weirdnesses that Kasey Kasem would shuffle up for us each week. Can you tell which is which? Does it matter any more?! It's ALL good. Here's the playlist!
  • 1984: Van Halen
  • The Sun Always Shines on TV: a-ha
  • Mickey: Toni Basil
  • I Go Crazy: Flesh for Lulu
  • Word Up: Cameo
  • Jenny/867-5309: Tommy Tutone
  • Friend or Foe: Adam Ant
  • Please Please Tell Me Now: Duran Duran
  • Let's Go to Bed: The Cure
  • PYT: Michael Jackson
  • Tenderness: General Public
  • Automatic: Pointer Sisters
  • Heat of the Moment: Asia
  • Mexican Radio: Wall of Voodoo
  • Everything's Gone Green: New Order

Trying to Eat Cheap series

Here are links to the posts from my "Trying to Eat Cheap" series in one place for easy reference. I've decided to describe what the post is about rather than giving the titles, because the titles are like "Trying to Eat Cheap: Dinner, Day 26." Since I was doing a series this naming system made sense at the time, but maybe not so useful for archiving purposes. Here's what I wrote about/ate in chronological order--I also include prices because that was a main point of this series!

Dal with kale & brown rice under $10
Mac & cheese with broccoli $13
Aduki huevos rancheros under $10
Cheese melts with kale $9.50
Slow Cooker Barley Soup $12
Dining on hors d'oeuvres at an opening, fundraiser or other event FREE
Dinner down the pub $40.06
Pasta bake with ham $10.25
Butternut buckwheat soup with wakame $6.75
Salmon patties & salad $10.59
Garlic sliders with beans & waffle fries $11
Turkey tacos $8.85
Beef stroganoff with kale $9.69
Cheesecake for a potluck $8.50
Leg of lamb with scalloped potatoes & greens PRICELESS
Turkey chili $12 for 2 night's-worth
Pork chops with cabbage $10.95
Lentil soup with cheese melts $6.75
Homemade pizza $11.75
Jessica Seinfeld's meatball & bowtie soup $11.47
Brown rice casserole $5
Notes on how eating seasonal is part of eating cheap
Leftover casserole plus Indian flavors $5
Gilfeather turnip soup with crab $14
Spinach-bacon quiche $9.35
Slow cooker chuck roast stew $13