That’s A Wrap

29 Jan

Cling film is out to get me.

Morning Light, Through My Window

Every time I open the drawer where the Saran wrap lives, I break out in a cold sweat. I know there’s going to be a fight, and I know who’s going to win. Hint: It’s never me.

I marvel, absolutely marvel, at the men and women on TV who can wrassle the stuff. I see them in commercials, on cooking shows and sometimes even in sitcoms and movies. They deftly grab the box, open the lid (without cutting themselves), pull the wrap from the roll with a sure hand, and cloak their leftovers in a layer of plasticky protection in one fell swoop. The wrap sticks to itself or to the bowl and never tears. I sit on the couch and seethe with jealousy.

It’s the dirty little secret of my kitchen. I can’t use plastic wrap.

Morning Rain

For a while I was very excited by that press & seal wrap (you know, the stuff that’s really just co-opted lab film). I remember it so fondly from 10th grade Advanced Biology. We’d use it to seal Erlenmeyer flasks full of fun experiments, and to protect Petri dishes from contamination. I embraced the press & seal and it hugged back. But, I can’t use it for everything.

My battle with cling film is decades old, but has recently become more heated. I suspect the plastic wrap has escalated because I won’t let it live in the “wrap & roll condo.” Some of you might have one of these, or remember them from your childhood.

Wrap & Roll Condo

They’re wall-mounted metal containers in which aluminum foil, wax paper and paper towels can live free, independent from their hateful boxes. You just pop the roll into the little cradle and use at will. No flimsy cardboard, no plastic ferrules popping out of place. They’re genius. Why no one makes them any longer is a great mystery to me (just like the song, I got mine on eBay).

I would love to forgo cling film entirely, but it does serve one purpose. It abets my pasta-making mania. On the rare occasion that I remember to pull a piece of the hateful stuff out of the drawer (before I get my hands all covered in flour), it is inevitably blown by a draft into an origami-inspired shape, the one and only time it ever sticks to itself. It forces me to stand at the counter, hands covered in sticky goo, in a desperate race to pull the layers apart before my dough forms a dry crust.

A more reliable scenario, however, is that I forget the wrap entirely. I will have just formed my perfect dough into a perfect little ball when I remember I’ve forgotten the stupid stuff and swear loudly. Not wanting to scatter flour all over the kitchen I try pulling the drawer open with my elbows. Fail. Try rinsing the dough off my hands. Fail. Capitulate, pull the drawer open with my now supremely gooey fingers, fight with the box, fight with the wrap, shower dough all over the cabinets, cut myself on the lid, swear a lot more, get the film off the roll, watch it all stick to itself, fight to pull the layers apart and then finally, wrap the film around the dough, at which point it choses to adhere to all of Murphy’s rules at once, but not to itself.

But, it is the struggle which makes the fruits of victory taste that much sweeter, don’t you think?

Seagulls, Tornado-Batterd Church Roof

Saturday was cold here. Bitterly cold. Stew weather. So we picked up some venison meat at the greenmarket and headed home. I didn’t want to go back out there and didn’t want to send Isaac either, so even though we were out of red cooking wine and had no fresh vegetables in the house, I decided to make do with what was inside, where it was warm. I thought adding some Cynar would add a nice flavor, and, thus inspired settled on a venison and artichoke stew.

Two things got in the way of this plan: 1. I was out of frozen artichokes and 2. I was unprepared for how much of the of the Cynar’s bitterness came through after a bit of cooking. So I improvised. I added sundried tomatoes and honey and jelly to mellow out the liqueur and tossed in whatever was green in the freezer; peas and garbanzos.

Venison Stew with Cynar and Csipetke

While the stew was burbling away in the oven, I made Hungarian dumplings.  The dough was easy enough, but once again,  I had to fight the wrap.  Despite all that, these are fabulous, toothsome, hearty little guys, like spätzle on steroids, and the perfect foil to this profound, mysterious and deeply flavored winter stew.

Mmmmm... Dumplings

While it’s true that the cling film waged a fierce and ruthless battle, I persevered and won the day. It was a personal victory, a victory for men and women everywhere, but most importantly it was a victory for my belly.

Those were some damn fine little dumplings.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Venison Stew with Cynar and Hungarian Dumplings.

Venison Stew with Cynar

prep time: 15 minutes ~ cooking time: 2 hours

  • 2 Onions, chopped
  • 1/2 Hungarian hot pepper, minced
  • 4 cloves Garlic, chopped
  • Olive Oil
  • about 1 c. frozen Pearl Onions
  • 1 lb Venison stew meat in chunks
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 tsp or so Sweet Hungarian Paprika
  • 1/4 c Cynar
  • 2 tsps Aged Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 c Dry Vermouth
  • 1 26 oz. box of Pomi Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried Sage
  • 1 tsp dried Winter Savory
  • 1/4 Sundried Tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 tbsp Honey
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. Lingonberry Jelly or other red berry jelly like Currant or Cranberry
  • 1/2 c frozen Peas
  • 1/2 c Green Garbanzo Beans
  • Butter

Heat a glug of olive oil in an oven-proof dutch oven over a medium flame. Add the onions, peppers and garlic and cook until the onions take on a bit of color, about 5 minutes. Add the pearl onions and cook until the chopped onions have softened considerably and the pearl onions have begun to take on a bit of color. Push the aromatics to one side and add the venison. Season with salt, pepper and a bit of paprika. Brown lightly. Mix the venison into the aromatics and season with more salt and pepper and the rest of the paprika. Allow to cook a few minutes.

Turn the heat up to high, combine the Cynar, vinegar and vermouth. Carefully add to the pot. Bring to a boil and allow to cook down a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, sage and savory. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat just a bit and allow to cook 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes, honey and jelly. Turn the oven on to 350°F. Return to a boil and simmer gently for another 10 minutes stirring frequently so nothing burns. Carefully clamp the lid onto the dutch oven and place in the oven to braise for 1 hour.

After one hour, carefully remove the pot from the oven and add the frozen vegetables. Stir into the sauce and taste. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Put the lid back on and cook in the oven for an additional 10 minutes. Just before serving, turn off the oven, remove the pot from the oven, carefully remove the lid and add a big dollop of butter to the sauce. Stir to incorporate. Serve with dumplings, rice, gnocchi, potatoes, buttered egg noodles or cardboard. Enjoy!

Hungarian Dumplings or Csipetke

prep time: 20 minutes ~ cooking time: 5-7 minutes

  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1 Egg, lightly beaten
  • Salt
  • Water in a spritzer bottle

Combine the flour, a pinch of salt and the beaten egg into a dry, crumbly dough. Turn the dough out onto a clean, dry work surface and knead. If the dough is too stiff spritz it every now and then with a little water. Work the dough until it is smooth, elastic and springy. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for 15 minutes. Set a pot of heavily salted water to boil

Unwrap the dough, cut in half and then cut each half into thirds. Roll each third of dough into a 6 inch long “snake.” Once the water is boiling pick up the first “snake” and begin pinching off little dumplings with thumb and forefinger. Do this for all the dough. Once the dumplings rise to the top, allow them to boil for a few minutes and taste one. If they’re still dry and raw tasting inside, let them cook a little longer. Once they’re done drain and if you like, toss with butter or olive oil or cook in a skillet with olive oil and garlic or add to your favorite soup or stew. These dumplings are perfect for hearty winter fare like Venison Ste with Cynar or goulash or homemade chicken soup. Enjoy!


21 Responses to “That’s A Wrap”

  1. Ann January 29, 2008 at 9:58 am #

    See, I know I have used cling wrap that behaves (unless it was a dream) in the past. But I cannot for the life of me figure which brand it was. So I end up with one of two scenarios EVERY SINGLE TIME:

    1) the super-sitcky-won’t-come-off-the-effing-roll kind wrap that, once I DO wrestle it off the roll, undergoes some sort of molecular change causing it to be attracted to itself (damned narcissistic stuff) and crumples into a ball of mess, or 2) the seemingly-well-behaved wrap that comes off the roll beautifully and lies obediently on the kitchen counter waiting to receive whatever food item I want to wrap up, but which HATES itself and refuses to stick to itself and slowly unwraps itself when it thinks I am not looking.

    But wait. This was your rant, not mine. Oops. Your stew and dumplings look delicious. :-)

  2. Lydia January 29, 2008 at 10:17 am #

    The brand I’ve had the best luck with is Stretch Tite, which I buy at Costco. It comes in a yellow and blue box.

  3. deb January 29, 2008 at 12:32 pm #

    Alex considers cling wrap his nemesis; he actually gets furious with the box. I laugh, because I think it smells fear. Just remind it who is in control, and it shudders into submission. Swear!

  4. K January 29, 2008 at 4:56 pm #

    I’m just glad to hear that I’m not the only one who cuts herself *every damn time* I open up the box of Saran Wrap. I’ve given up on it entirely and have just started using the Press ‘n’ Seal, even though it’s really not that much better. At least it doesn’t physically injure me, though. :)

  5. mary January 29, 2008 at 6:01 pm #

    I only buy Reynold’s wrap – it’s the only one that likes me, all the other brands can go to hell. As for what to do with the dough that needs to be “wrapped in plastic wrap,” I modify that step to “take a used grocery store vegetable bag and put the ball of dough into it making sure it’s not a bag that held onions with their papery shreds still all stuck in the bottom.” Maybe this will help?

    As for the stew, I love a thrown together meal like this and I do so love dumplings of any kind. I’m going to try these Hungarian ones. Thanks.

  6. White On Rice Couple January 30, 2008 at 12:46 am #

    Love your writing on this cling wrap. So glad we found your site that is both delicious to eat and fun to read. We second Lydia’s vote on Costco’s Stretch Tite. It is truly far superior than all the other brands we’ve tried ( and we’ve tried alot).

  7. Toni January 30, 2008 at 1:47 am #

    Oh God, but I love this post! I have the latest version of Glad’s Cling Wrap, which comes in one of those boxes with a sticky thingy in the middle, so that I can at least tear the stuff off without grating my fingers. But then it goes into it’s narcissistic dance, forcing me to drop the box quickly before too much of it sticks to itself. I usually wind up having to unglue only one corner.

    And now, for the stew and dumplings……This looks fabulous! Love the addition of sun dried tomatoes and honey to counteract the bitterness! I’ve never attempted dumplings, but you make them look so easy, I’m thinking it’s time to make the leap!

  8. shelley January 30, 2008 at 8:07 am #

    Sistah, I feel your pain! What a great, utterly fantastic post.

    And venison stew with hungarian dumplings sounds like the perfect way to combat a dreary, freezing day.

  9. ann January 30, 2008 at 8:51 am #

    Ann — You can rant here any time you want… Go for it! It’s cathartic :-) It’s amazing to me how both you and Toni called it narcissistic. I find that fascinating.

    Lydia — Ooooh good tip! Can you believe I’ve never been to a Costco? There’s one within walking distance here in Brooklyn and we’ve been toying with the idea of going, just to see what all the fuss is about, but now I have a reason! Yay! Thanks!

    Deb — Ha. That must be why we get on so well, that and the pickle obsession. I must remember to be fierce with my cling film. Good advice, thanks Deb!!

    K — Yep, every, damn, time. I have no clue what’s going on there. *sigh* I just don’t trust the press & seal next to my food. I know they say it’s similar to bubble gum, but, let’s be honest, I don’t really want bubble gum in my pasta.

    Mary — Oooooh! That’s a great idea! I never thought about the veggie bags. I usually try not to use those, but now you’ve at least assuaged some of my guilt at using them.

    You know, I’ve just realised I left out the best part about those dumplings. They’re from a book called The Cuisine Of Hungary by George Lang and he has this to say about them: *ahem*

    Joseph Wechsberg once said that the real experts can tell not only if the cook was left-handed, but can identify by the shape of the dumpling the person who pinched off the csipetke.

    Neat, huh?

    Hi White on Rice Couple — Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words. I just popped over to your sites (sites people!) and they’re wonderful! The feeling is mutual. I’m very glad to have discovered you guys too.

    Toni — YES! That’s the stuff! I have that too! And I still manage to fight with it. Siiiiiiiigh! Such vexing stuff. Go for the dumplings, they are sooooo easy, and delicious. I bet they’d be amazing with some dill in them.

    Shelley — Thanks! It really is a powerful antidote to a case of the Januarys.

  10. michelle January 31, 2008 at 11:21 am #

    You need the cling wrap with the little cutting tool attached to the box! Pull out the wrap, slide the cutter from one side to the other, and voila! I was a total cling-phobe until I found that stuff. Now I no longer issue a string of profanities every time I have to cover a bowl of leftovers. I don’t know what brand it is – one of the big ones – but it has changed my life.

    I have a crush on those dumplings.

    Us vs. Food

  11. izzy's mama January 31, 2008 at 11:36 am #

    Of late I manage to survive nicely without the dreaded cling wrap. I got tired of trying to unravel the bits from the roll and besides I was trying to rid my life of plastic. Instead I just use waxed paper with dough which seems to work fine.

  12. Julie January 31, 2008 at 11:14 pm #

    Heh! I too have had floury-fingered struggles with the plastic wrap while making pasta. I try to remember to get my piece of plastic out as I start making it but it doesn’t always happen.

    I’ve never made dumplings but I can tell just by looking at them that I’d love them!

  13. Christina February 1, 2008 at 12:42 am #

    Oh Ann, those dumplings are little winners. (Little winners, I wrote. Not, little weiners. Get your mind out of the gutter, woman!) These are going to find their way on to the table soon.

    Plastic wrap sucks.

  14. Terry B February 1, 2008 at 12:33 pm #

    Great story, great food, as usual, Ann! I know this won’t help for your pasta making, but have you seen those, well, essentially, shower caps for bowls? They’re stretchy and allow you to cover bowls of leftovers, ingredients or whatever without wrap wrasslin’. Oh, and we’ve got about a foot of snow on the ground now in Chicago—definitely stew weather.

  15. wandringa February 1, 2008 at 4:52 pm #

    I work in the cheese department at the food coop. They unfortunately have not found a better alternative to plastic wrap yet. So I have beat Cling Wrap® into submission. Check this out: I unroll the plastic sheet out of the box and lay it across a cutting board. I place the wedge of cheese in the center. I slice the plastic with a KNIFE across the cutting board. I wrap the cheese like a present. Presentation is everything. No stress, no struggle.

  16. lemontartlet February 1, 2008 at 9:21 pm #

    Living in Florida by the coast has added a new element of hate to dealing with cling wrap. The little bits of glue they use to hold the box together won’t stick to the damp cardboard, and the whole box falls apart while you’re trying to get the cling wrap out. The serated edge dissapears, only to return in time to try to carve your hand up as the roll falls to the floor. Hate isn’t a strong enough word. Dough balls in my kitchen get dropped into those giant gallon freezer bags instead.

    That stew looks so good!

  17. ann February 2, 2008 at 10:05 am #

    Michelle — That sounds like fun, the clingwrap that is. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it the next time I’m in a big grocery store. All the bodegas around here just sell the no-name cheap stuff. Perhaps that’s the problem.

    Izzy’s Mama — Oooooh, waxed paper. *smacks self on head* Now why didn’t I think of that. And the waxed paper lives in the wrap & roll condo, so it probably doesn’t hate me. Good advice! Thanks for sharing.

    Julie — Ah, good to know it’s a shared experience! And a worthwhile one if your artichoke pasta if I’m to judge by that artichoke pasta you made. It made me drool on my computer screen :-) You’d be a champ at making dumplings, it’s exactly the same process as making pasta.

    TerryB — Funny you should bring those up. For decades my mom has scavenged shower caps from hotels for the purpose of using them to cover bowls and pots and stuff. I remember seeing the commercial for the “branded” ones a few years back. I ran to the phone and called my mom, “Mom! Glad stole your idea for the shower caps!” to which she replied, “Uhm, it wasn’t my idea, I think I read about it in ‘Organic Gardening’ or something similar.” Regardless, I still think she’s the most brilliant woman in the world.

    Oh, and you’re foot of snow? We got it. But in the form of inches upon inches of torrential rain. Thanks ;-)

    Wandringa — Now that’s what I call a solution!! Thanks for sharing! I’ll have to keep that one tucked away in the back of my brain for the next time I decide, and then actually execute, making edible Christmas presents or something.

    Lemontartlet — Lol. I never thought of that! That atmosphere has a part to play in the hatefulness of plastic wrap. I think a wrap & roll condo is an excellent solution for you!

  18. Ellen February 2, 2008 at 10:42 am #

    Since there are several walkers in the audience, do you have recommendations of other walking accounts to read? I loved Ann’s but realize that she needs to sit down and eat sometimes and can’t supply my appetite for reading these. I love the immediacy, the living in the present, the attention to detail, and the serendipity of walking. Most of mine is in the country (live in Kansas this year, New Zealand last year, Montana next year) so I cherish the urban details as a counterpoint.

  19. Clumsy February 3, 2008 at 1:13 pm #

    I was just watching Nigella on foodtv and she said that the no-fault way of working with cling is place it vertically on the counter and rip it downwards. It looked too easy… I so don’t believe her!

  20. ann February 4, 2008 at 9:01 am #

    Hi Ellen — Try Walking Off The Big Apple – They’ve got some nice accounts. Anyone know of any other walking blogs out there? Is this a bloggy genre at all?

    Clumsy — Nigella… Love her, but yeah, I don’t always trust her. That said, I will for sure try this out. Thanks for the hint!

  21. Marielle October 28, 2008 at 2:16 pm #

    Cling wrap–it’s a battle. And, Reynolds no longer provides the handy little slider/cutter. After a period of mourning, I still like Reynolds best.

    However, just uncovered the fact that on the two small ends of the plastic wrap box [and foil, etc.] there are serrated thingies that you are supposed to punch in to hold the rolls in place. Who knew? They work! how long have they been there?

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