Weapon of Choice
by SuSu, Rosie, Mace Vindaloo
Menu: Mara's Strategic Tips for Fast Meal Planning | Tactical Assault Pork Steaks or Chicken Breasts | Off With His Cole! Slaw | Surprise Attack Rice and Macaroni Pilaf | My Hot Apple Pastries Are Better Than You!
Many people simply assumed that the beautiful girl so often in the presence of the Emperor was simply one of his dalliances. She was, of course, Mara Jade, and was the "Emperor's Hand," -- a personally trained assassin and Force-sensitive operative whom Palpatine used to carry out missions on the sly. Whether the target was personal, political, or military, if it had to be done efficiently and quietly, Mara Jade was the Emperor's weapon of choice.
The other thing that was untrue was the gossip pertaining to the "relationship" between the fiery redhead and the Emperor. Yes, it was true that he often would visit her chambers and stay for many hours. But what was he actually doing? The real truth: he enjoyed eating meals with her. He didn't have anything catered, because he honestly enjoyed the simple meals Mara could conjure up from whatever was in her pantry any time he dropped in. She learned to keep a stock of materials and semi-prepped ingredients in either dry or frozen form that could be assembled and cooked quickly, while Palpatine was imbibing in an aperitif. She became an expert in the 20 minute meal!
One day, he showed up with his Apprentice, Darth Vader. Refusing to show her surprise, Mara nonetheless could not deny her ambivalence toward the dark lord of the Sith. Vader was very close to his master, and Mara was clearly jealous of the attention given to the half-man / half-machine. Knowing he did not ingest food, she realized she did not have to cook for the monster. But on this particular evening, she decided she would cook up a storm in a very short time -- if only to show Vader that though he was closest to the Emperor, she could do for the man what Vader never could! And she'd make him suffer -- she made sure to make foods with strong, fragrant aromas -- she knew he could see and smell in an enhanced, albeit mechanical manner. And she hoped to make him understand what he'd lost along with his humanity.
Let Vader think he was first to the Emperor ... Mara's weapon of choice was the way she quickly and fully fed the more basic hungers of their master.
Mara's Strategic Tips for Fast Meal Planning: Timing is Everything
Use music not only to relax your guests and set a mood, but to help time your cooking. Popular songs average 4 or 5 minutes each. At the start of the first song, take the pastry sheets out of the freezer and open the packets to let them thaw on the counter, and then start the longest-cooking item, in this case the pilaf. At the start of the second song, prepare anything that can sit and wait, like the slaw (though this can be prepared ahead and covered and refrigerated). Follow that by the steaks at about the middle of the third song; they should be cooked by the end of the fourth song. When they are done and resting, peel and slice the apples for the pastry and assemble before the end of the fifth song. (Alternatively, do the preparation while your guests are "digesting.")
As the diners are finishing, start brewing the coffee or tea and put the pastries in the oven. Both beverage and dessert should be ready at about the same time, while you clear the table and continue the conversation.
If you are cooking for people you want to impress, remember that the mouths will water at the delicious smells of what you are cooking. Even if the eaters are picky, the aromatic meals will break down their resolve, even if they don't eat the meal you prepared ... which leads to the final tip -- all of these dishes, except the dessert, will reheat just fine. If you have leftover apple pastry, enjoy it at room temperature with a nice dollop of vanilla ice cream.
Tactical Assault Pork Steaks or Chicken Breasts
Mara, like all "working women" cooks, knew the value of marinating a piece of meat. It would tenderize and flavor the meat before it was cooked, and would look like a lot of effort for really very little work -- as long as the cook was organized. She'd make up the fragrant, flavorful curry-spiced marinade and stick it into a freezer-safe bag or container with some frozen, thick-cut pork steaks, leave some space so the liquid could expand, then stick it all back into the freezer before the meat got a chance to thaw. On the day she wanted it or the night before, she would simply take it out of the freezer and toss it in her sink, and let it thaw. By the time she got home in the evening, the meat was thawed but still cold, and the marinade had penetrated the ready to cook meat perfectly. Mara had made up this especially fragrant brine/marinade which cooked the meat to a burnished mahogany color. She knew the smells would drive the dark lord wild; her unwanted guest visibly stiffened when she put the plate before him. (He didn't eat, it was true, though putting a delicious, aromatic meal in front of him only served to sharply demonstrate what he could no longer enjoy as a man.)
To Prepare for Freezing: Use a freezer safe container or zip-lock plastic bag. Half-fill with the brine marinade, and carefully place frozen pork chops or chicken breasts in the brine. Force out the air if possible, and close. Do not fill till it's actually full -- water expands as it freezes, and it will need space to move. If you don't allow enough space, it can burst the bag or container -- even thick-walled glass bottles or metal containers are known to shatter or rupture under the pressure of expanding ice! Place bag or container in the coldest part of the freezer. About 6 or so hours before you plan to cook them, take the container out of the freezer and leave in the sink to thaw. The marinade will enter the meat as it thaws and be perfectly seasoned by the time you get home from work to cook.
To Prepare with Unfrozen Meat: If you need it that day, drop frozen chops or breasts in the brine and allow to thaw in the brine for about an hour or two, though marinating for as little as 15 minutes for non-frozen meat will improve it's flavor and texture.
When ready to cook, drain the meat, but do not rinse or pat dry. Discard the marinade -- do not save or re-use, and wash your hands or anything it touches with hot, soapy water.
To Pan-Grill the Meat: You can cook these in a variety of ways. The simplest and quickest way is to heat up a frying pan or a griddle till very hot. Carefully place the steaks on the ungreased very hot pan -- there will be a lot of sizzle and smoke if you are doing this properly. How long to cook depends on the meat's thickness. If the steaks are about as thick as chicken breasts, cook for about 5 minutes on the first side -- you should see the meat puckering and a white cooked rim of meat creeping up the side -- then carefully flip over. Cover the meat with a lid from a pot and continue to cook another 5 minutes or so, or until it's done. (If you have a thinner pork steak or a smaller chicken breast, start checking the meat at about 2 minutes on each side. Note that if the pan is hot enough, the meat will not stick to it AS LONG as you let it sit there a few minutes to form a "rind" that will come off the pan in one piece when you scrape it up with a spatula.) When you press on the upper surface, it should feel firm but not rigid and be a bit springy. Remove to a warmed platter and cover. You must let the meat sit for at least 5 minutes before serving or slicing the meat.
If the meat pieces are very large, you can slice into serving sized pieces. Serves 4.
Off With His Cole! Slaw
Mara really didn't like Vader. Yes, it was partly out of jealousy, but more because she knew the dark lord did not consider her anywhere near his equal. It irked her because she knew her master valued them both for their differences, and really, the two should have been friends and worked together. However, she sensed the Emperor might be displeased with this idea, and so she never sought a truce with the man who would one day be her father-in-law. Instead, she allowed herself to seethe with anger that the Emperor had brought Vader into her home! She was so upset that she hardly realized that she'd shredded all the salad vegetables using a box grater in mere minutes. She allowed herself a giggle, as she saw the cole -- the cabbage head -- in pieces in the bowl, imagining it was Vader's head chopped and viciously shredded by her ... she spiced it so the vinegary aroma would be sure to penetrate Vader's ventilation systems.
Surprise Attack Rice and Macaroni Pilaf
Once short of both rice and pasta in her pantry, and thus unable to make a planned side-dish, Mara simply broke up the pasta she scrounged from the bottom of her pasta bin into pieces approximately the size of the rice grains, and replaced the missing rice with an equal volume of pasta and cooked as normal. Though pasta tends to cook faster than rice, the combination of al dente grains with slightly overcooked smashed up macaroni was delightful. By letting the rice steep and simmer in a flavored and seasoned liquid, it became a sort of pilaf. If she had them, she'd add frozen peas and/or corn, and frozen or canned tiny shrimp at the end for a side-dish that looks like it took a lot of skill and time to make. As long as she started this dish first thing, it would be done in all it's colorful, aromatic glory just as the meat was ready to serve. This was a great demonstration of the best sort of surprise, where you can make something from nothing! It made her feel clever -- and thus more confident -- that she could pull off such a trick, and she made sure Vader knew that not just anyone could do this with as much apparent grace as the Emperor's Hand.
Heat up the stock or water with salt, cardamom, lemon juice to a boil. Place the peas and shrimp in a colander or strainer set over the bowl. Carefully pour the boiling stock over the frozen items; this will thaw them quickly and impart their flavor lightly to the stock.
Add the stock to the rice and pasta and bring to a full boil over high heat. Cover the pot and drop the heat to low so the liquid barely simmers. Cook for about 15 minutes -- the grains should be chewy, but without a chalky dry center. Remove from the heat and fluff up with a fork and carefully stir in the shrimp (optional) and lemon zest. Let the pilaf sit while the rest of the meal is assembled, and stir in the peas (optional) and corn (optional) just before serving. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 4.
My Hot Apple Pastries Are Better Than You!
Mara had developed this recipe when she was much younger and less wise, and had let men worm their way into her heart so that she'd feel wretched when they left her. She learned that she must mourn the deaths of these relationships -- whether they dumped her or died -- and that if she fed herself a hot dish every day in the wake of such personal tragedy, she'd soon feel better. Toward this end, she devised this fancy-seeming but very simple-to-prepare hot apple pastry. It was sort of a tarte, but it was so easy to make that she didn't think she could call it that, and it took 5 minutes to prep and 10 minutes to cook in a very hot oven. The pastry would come out smelling fragrant and delectable -- Mara watched with satisfaction as Vader swiveled his metallic head toward her as she approached with the plates. She placed his portion before him -- right beneath his intake vents -- and saw him lean so close to the hot pastry that it fogged his visor -- and heard his mechanical breathing slow as he absorbed the aroma. Mara was satisfied as he slumped is shoulders in defeat. The Emperor took no notice of the interchange between his two familiars, though undoubtedly he heard her triumphant thought, "You may be closest to our master, but my hot apple pastries are better than YOU!" Like the men who'd left her, she hoped Vader would someday be well back in her past!
Flour a surface and a rolling pin and roll out the dough into a 6-inch square (15cm). (If the dough is still somewhat frozen, you may have to "pound" the dough a bit, rather than rolling it out.) Cut into quarters, then "dock" the surface by poking holes throughout the pastry squares. Place the squares with some space in between them on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper.
If you haven't heated up the jam or jelly, do so in the microwave till it's runny -- it doesn't have to be really hot. If it's too thick, stir in a spoonful of liqueur, water or lemon juice. Spoon or brush this jelly thinly onto each square, stopping about ¼-inch from the edges.
Arrange the apple slices in "fans" or overlapping rows on the pastry squares. Spoon or brush over a coat of jam over the apples. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, till the apples are tender (but still have substance to them, not all mushy). Serve plain, or garnish with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, or with cream or ice cream.
Makes 4 servings.
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