Velcome boys und GHOOULS to a wary special chapter of Kitchen CaTASTROPHE! (Insert Thunder Crack here.) Tonight, ve vill peel bachk ze narrow veil betveen this world und ze next! You vill see Horrors Unspeakable, Terrors UNIMAGINABLE, und I VILL SOON SHTOP DOING ZIS ZILLY ACCENT!
Like now. Let’s do it now. Hey everybody, and welcome back. Full confession, today’s post may seem like a bit of a cop-out to some people. I said I would make a “sweet and maybe spooky treat” and I put that ‘maybe’ there for a reason: I knew the odds were against me actually having a cogent and thought-out plan. That byline was written Thursday afternoon, and last week was a big grid-lock in terms of events: I had stuff Monday night, Tuesday Night, Wednesday Night, and then Thursday I had to leave town to conduct a not-at-all suspicious sale of some secondhand “musical instruments”. And I was invited to no less than 4 events Friday/Saturday, 2 of which were Halloween-based.
And here’s the thing. I…uh…don’t SUPER care about Halloween.
Props to Mr Granneman for nailing the "About to be murdered in a B Horror Movie" filter.
Yeah, yeah, I get it. Let me at least explain myself, ok?
On the Eve of Halloween, One Nerd Shall Vent His Spectral Spleen
Listen, it’s not that I have anything against people liking Halloween. My family has a long history of putting on and helping out with haunted houses. I worked in one last year! And It’s not that I, unlike, say some sort of soulless vampire of joy, don’t like candy. Candy’s great! Though even my desire to consume it has its limits: my household was eating Halloween candy we didn’t hand out until…I want to say last March.
Halloween, at its core, reminds me of nothing more than Cards against Humanity. Cards against Humanity is a perfectly fine game. I enjoy 10-15 minutes of Cards against Humanity. But, in my experience, every Cards against Humanity game ends roughly 10 minutes after it NEEDED TO, which was 10 minutes after it SHOULD HAVE. There’s just too much of it. (And yes, I realize that publicly outing myself as not being exactly pro-CAD isn’t helping my “hear me out” argument.)
BURN THE HALLOW-GRINCH. THE SORROW WITCH.
Look, we're workshoping the insults.
It’s frankly a little weird: I like most of the components of Halloween, but not the holiday itself. Candy? Sure. Elaborate costumes and make-up effects? I’m an actor, that’s literally the easiest part of my job. I like the season of Fall, where the weather slowly starts to get cooler, and the nights creep longer. Hell, I like all the classic monsters: demons, vampires, werewolves, undead monsters forged from Science’s hubris, all great. I own multiple books about varying Gothic horror monsters, I own complete SERIES about them. But taken all as one unit…it’s just kind of a drag. Like, suddenly EVERY channel is “Ghost THIS” and “Haunted THAT”. Regular programming gets suspended to have a Halloween special, and no one tells the TV Guide Channel, so it ends up lying to me. As I write this, two days before Halloween actually happens…I’m done with it.
And I didn’t even watch any scary movies for the season! Not that I’m a particular fan of scary movies. Again, don’t get me wrong, I like PLENTY of classic horror films, and some newer ones. I’ll recommend The Babadook to anyone who asks. I know more about multiple horror movie villains’ childhoods than I do most of my friends. But labeling a movie “horror” always knocks it down a peg. Unless it’s also noted with Comedy: I LOVE comedic horror movies. Tucker and Dale Vs Evil? Steve Jackson’s The Frighteners? Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon? Tremors? Someone should really cut me off here, because I will just keep listing examples until I pass out.
And that would be decidedly un-groovy.
So, my inane ramblings about Halloween served mainly to underscore my earlier point: I was fairly busy, with a lot of stuff related to a holiday I’m not the biggest fan of. So when I wrote “something sweet”, it was with NO plan at all, except maybe to make like, cookie ghosts out of meringue. Which I reserve the right to do later. Luckily, Fate intervened.
Honestly, you may call it cheesy, but it was one of my favorite lines of Young Justice Season 2. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, congratulations, you probably have a life.
The Creeping Claws of Scurvy-Slaying Citrus
On Thursday, I got my latest issue of Bon Appetit, a food magazine I have lauded time and again on the site. It’s just bougie enough to appeal to my upward-striving middle-class white American upbringing. And, honestly, it’s kind of fun: a not-insubstantial number of trends I read about in the magazine show up a year or two later in my day-to-day life. So people will be like “What’s gotcha-jung?” And I can say “Go-CHU-jang, it’s a spice paste from Korea.” And we all know that being in the know is my emotional cocaine.
ANywho, the issue arrived, and I was flipping through it, and it served me an out for my plan-less pending predicament: Candied Citrus Peels!
Okay, this may take some explanation: I really like citrus.
Huh. I was wrong.
Moving on, not only do I like citrus (Specifically, and somewhat strangely given my other preferences, grapefruit) but my father likes citrus as well. As I’ve noted many times on the site, he’s a big fan of lemon flavoring. So when I saw a 3-ingredient recipe that could be made from EITHER grapefruit or lemon, I was totally in. And it would only take like, 40 minutes. No, wait, I misread that, an hour. Wait. Then it needs to cool for…12 hours. Fuck, this was not a great idea for a last-minute effort. Whatever, I’m already committed.
And why did I decide I was committed, kids? To justify a $2 purchase I made months ago!
Most of my life is, in essence, a series of long-term callback jokes.
As the label says, that is citric acid. You can find it in the canning aisle of grocery stores, especially ones with a more ‘frontier’ bent. Like, check a Cabella’s or Sportsman’s Warehouse if the Wal-Mart doesn’t have it. The label also says it’s for canning tomatoes, but that’s basically a lie. Citric Acid is MOST commonly for making candies sour. (Though I have to interrupt myself and say, ACTUALLY, it’s mostly used to make DRINKS sour.)The powder on the outside of Sour Patch Kids? On sour gummy worms? In Kool-aid packets? All citric acid. Well, citric acid and other shit. The candies are citric acid and sugar, and the kool-aid is citric acid, flavoring, and coloring.
I bought it because I knew that it was used in a wide variety of things, including some basic molecular gastronomy stuff. If you’re unfamiliar with Molecular Gastronomy, it’s a school of food that uses weird science to make weird but cool foods. Things like tuna noodles, meaning noodles MADE of TUNA, for Ramen, or margarita balls, a way of ‘trapping’ margarita filling in a gel bubble that dissolves in the mouth.
Fun fact: this recipe doesn't use citric acid. So I apparently have no idea what I was planning.
I had intended to maybe try some real 101 level Gastronomy stuff, but never found the right chemicals, so the citric acid just kind of sat around. FINALLY, I would have a use for it! And this recipe only has 3 ingredients, and like, 2 steps! How hard can it be?
In Which An Important Lesson is taught
Kids, It’s important to always remember certain facts about the precision of various words. “Simple”, for instance, does not always mean “easy”. It’s very SIMPLE to lift a 500 pound dumbbell, for instance. But there’s a reason weightlifters struggle to do so. As such, it’s important to note that a recipe not being hard does not mean it won’t be tedious.
I should give a brief disclaimer: At the time I write this, 1:25 Monday morning because I put it off too long, and only finished the dish at roughly 6 PM Sunday, I should note that I have been in pain for…roughly 15 hours? I woke up in a myriad number of pains: my leg ached, because apparently it takes my body a DAY to notice when I fall through a deck.
I was going to have a picture here, but it was the last picture I was uploading, and the photo editor decided to lose its shit again, and I went "Fuck that, it's not worth it."
Suffice to say, there's a picture of a 2-foot-wide hole I put through a 10-foot-high deck.
My neck hurt, because I was sleeping on it weird, and my back hurt because since I came back from Leavenworth, my back has hurt EVERY morning. I…don’t know why. I joked in an earlier post that it might be because Joe’s couch is a better sleeping spot than my bed, and I’m starting to not laugh when I say that. I mean, the bed was built for me as a child. And I don’t know that we ever replaced the mattress. I ASSUME we did, but I have no proof of that. Anyway, I’ve spent all day stiff and in pain, because I don’t like taking pain-killers without really strong reasons. (MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: I’m feeling palpably better, and think I’ve found the culprit: I’m tossing and turning more than usual, which tweaked my back. This wasn’t a problem at Joe’s because, well, there’s no room to do so on a couch. ) But, yes, I may have not been in the best mood to start this quite repetitive and mildly messy excursion.
Anyway, the first step is: get them citrus peels. And we do mean the peels: we’re going to soften them and suffuse them with sugar, a process that does not need ANY of the actual fruit or juice. So we started the mission by tearing the meat out of 6 lemons.
Leaving their broken husks around like grim trophies
I don’t know that I’ve ever been called on to ream a lemon without damaging the peel, so I was unaware of how messy it all would be. EVENTUALLY I found a pattern, but at first, it was chaos. I sprayed lemon juice in my own face at least seven times. With the lemons, I found that cutting the stem ends allowed me to pull the meat up in one fell swoop. (I learned this is even EASIER if you cut the fruit into quarters, not halves, but did not learn this until the grapefruit.)
65 Hours in MS Paint for this handy infographic.
We tossed all the un-needed lemon guts into a bag, planning to eventually find a use for them. Last I heard, my mother was planning on generating a pint of pure lemon juice, so maybe that’ll be nice. Once your peels are pruned, you cut them into ¼ inch strips. Which leads to the question of WHY I WAS SO DELICATE WITH THE DAMN PEELS IN THE FIRST STEP. This process will take longer than you think reasonable the first time you do it: the best advice I have is, honestly, just grab the bit of peel and slice off strips. We tried a “Halve, then halve the halves, then halve THOSE halves” process, and while it produced slightly prettier results, I don’t think it was worth the extra little frustration of having to constantly flatten or ball a curved surface to cut it.
As happens all too often, my success in this venture looks remarkably like failure.
The next step is where we soften and purify the peels: you toss them in a pot with 4 cups of water, bring it to a boil, and let it go for 5 minutes! Then you throw the water out, refill it, and do it again. Whereupon you throw the water out, again, refill it, AGAIN, and cook it. AGAIN. It’s slightly maddening, which I held off by using the time to cut the grapefruit peels, and reminding myself that we needed to change the water, since each boil renders out some of the oils of the lemon peel, and the first batches contain the most bitter oils.
Then, having thrown 12 cups of water down the sink, you pour in 2 more, along with 2 cups of sugar. Throw in the peels and boil for 20-30 minutes. This is the real suffusion stage: you’re boiling the peels in a simple syrup, forcing chemical osmosis to take place: some of the essence of the lemon, as well as its bitterness, is drawn into the syrup, while the sugar is drawn into the peel.
This could be a picture of ANY of the four steps, and you'd never know. It's the second boil phase, but, again, visually indistinguishable.
After 30 minutes of an on-going chemical swinger’s party, you remove the peels to a rack, set over a baking sheet (I lined mine to avoid later dish-washing), and you let it cool. You can cool it quickly by putting it in a fridge for 15 minutes, but I didn’t have the time or fridge space for that, because we were starting to make dinner. So I just skipped it, and instead let the peels cool at room temp for an hour, then tossed them in a mixture of 2 cups of sugar, 2 tbsps citric acid. And let me tell you, be careful how you breathe while making that mix: even the particles of citric acid that float up will make your nostrils tingle like weird little fairy man when they get in there.
You can hear his twisted giggle now, haunting your very soul.
Once rolled, let the peels cool for 4-12 hours until dry, and store in an airtight container for up to a month. Me, I ate one like, 15 minutes later. And it was like a sour-patch kid of pure lemon! I liked it. My dad, trying one, proclaimed it “pretty good”. My brother, trying it, flailed wildly, having to grab the wall to steady himself, choking and gasping. “Yeah,” he wheezed “That’s definitely some goddamn lemon.”
So if you need a treat ready to render your guests weak at the knees this Halloween, and you can get your mitts on some acid in a jiff, try our sour Creeper Claws! Or don’t, just make like, muffins with cat faces, and call it a night. I know I’m going to. Though now I really want to watch Evil Dead…
THURSDAY: WEIRDLY, I HAVE A PLAN FOR NEXT MONDAY, BUT NOT THURSDAY. SO, UM...IT'S A HALLOWEEN SURPRISE? ACTUALLY, IT'S NOVEMBER 2ND, RIGHT? I GUESS WE'LL TALK ABOUT THE FOOD OF THE DEAD, FOR DIA DE LOS MUERTOS
NEXT MONDAY: JON ATTEMPTS TO ACTUALLY CREATE A NEW RECIPE, MOTIVATED BY A DREAM. WILL FREDDY KRUEGER TURN OUT TO BE BEHIND THIS? UM...PROBABLY NOT?
Sour Candied Citrus Peels
6 Lemons or Limes, 4 Oranges, or 3 Grapefruit.
3 cups sugar, divided
A lot of tap water
2 tbsp citric acid
1. Prepare the peels: Halve, or for easier processing, quarter the citrus, cutting through the stem ends. Remove the ‘meat’, and, if you think it necessary, scrape some of the pith down with a spoon. Once cleaned, slice the peels into ¼ inch strips.
2. POT TIME: Throw the peel strips into a pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and let boil 5 minutes, before draining the water. Refill and repeat twice. After the third boil, put 2 cups of water, and 2 cups of sugar into the pot, add the peels, and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil, and let cook 20-30 minutes (add 10 minutes for each step larger you went with your citrus: 30-40 for oranges, 40-50 for grapefruit) until shiny and bright.
3. Remove from the now-flavored syrup and set on a wire rack set on a rimmed and lined baking sheet. Let cool for one hour. While cooling, mix the remaining 1 cup of sugar with the citric acid. Once cooled, toss the peels in the sugar dust, and let sit 4-12 hours to dry. Eat…basically any time after dusting the peels.