I’m a little busy at the moment, and haven’t done a food cartoon post for a while so here you go! Enjoy!
I enjoy being outside. I don’t get the allergy attacks so many other people get. And lots of time, I don’t feel the heat or humidity. Sometimes I do, but not often. I like to canoe, and I like to kayak. I like to walk along wooded trails, and hike up the side of mountains. I sometimes enjoy gardening, other times don’t. I like bicycling around town and on long bike trails. I like wearing a backpack, or a day pack. I like futzing around with the various and sundry equipment needed for all these activities.
I like to prepare foods for the outside. Picnics are great. My parents made certain that all us kids could make a picnic, but also appreciate a picnic, wherever it took place. It never mattered what we were eating as long as it was outdoors. I once had a picnic with a bunch of friends driving down a mountain in pouring rain sharing cheese, crackers, grapes, wine, water, and soda. Of course, the driver was not having wine and was aggravated by that. But we had a fun time enjoying the food and company, even the rain since it was in the desert where rain seldom falls.
I’ve pre-made many things for picnics, like beef jerky, or hot chocolate mix. But mostly I like to take fresh foods to make at the picnic site, if possible. One incident stands out. My ex-wife and I were visiting my family just before we got married so we were in Arizona. My brother and his first ex-wife and their two kids (I’ve talked about them plenty in this blog) all decided to go for a picnic bonfire. We took potato chips, hot dogs, hamburgers (raw), buns, sodas, etc. The full complement of food for a good picnic bonfire. We figured we’d find wood out there to use for the fire. Well, not so much. Where we ended up had no wood lying around, and only one tree of any note anywhere in sight. We had a little hand axe so I start chopping away at a branch. I know how to chop wood so it comes off pretty quickly and it was working well. Until the handle broke off and the metal head went flying off into the dirt and rocks. We tried to chop using just the head of the axe but it wasn’t happening. We had a good time, though, with cold hot dogs in buns. My ex-wife still laughs about the expression on my face as that axe head flew away from me.
Another time, in Virginia, I took my niece and her friend for a hike in a nearby park. I promised that after the hike we would stop for burgers and fries, then watch a movie at home. We were walking along and I found some berry bushes so I gave some to the kids. A little later I pointed out some wild garlic and some wild onion. A little later, we watched in silence as an owl flew away from us with a mouse in its talons. Still later, we watched almost breathlessly as a turtle laid eggs in the moist earth. While we were sitting eating, I asked if they wanted to do this again. My niece replied, “What for? We didn’t see anything good!” I couldn’t help chuckling at the attention span of a six year old, then reminded her of the owl, the turtle, the berries and she finally decided that we had seen good stuff, but still wasn’t sure she wanted to do it again. Her favorite part was the burgers and fries and the movie.
Way back, when I had just graduated from high school and still active in my church, I “adopted” one of the younger kids and became a surrogate big brother for him. He’d hang around with me; we’d do stuff together; I’d help with his homework. I was talking to another friend about a hike I’d taken about a month before, telling him about a fairly large rattlesnake that I’d nearly stepped on and how startled me and the snake both were. My “little brother” perked up and asked if we could go for a hike sometime. I was more than a little leery. He was excitable, scatterbrained, and tended to forget things pretty quickly. Hiking in the desert can be dangerous if you’re not paying attention, so I told him I’d think about it. I talked to his parents and they were okay with it as long as I was okay with it.
So I had a talk with him and tried to impress on him how serious it could be; that he had to listen to what I said; he had to follow my directions. He agreed with everything I said, so I told him I’d pick him about 9am on the next Saturday and we’d head out. I told him to bring a canteen of water and I’d bring everything else. When I showed up, he proudly showed me his new canteen that he’d bought at an Army Surplus store. It was the standard round canteen with cloth covered sides and a strap almost as long as he was tall. It held two quarts of water, way more than enough for our day hike. We drove to the area I’d selected and I pulled out my day pack.
“What’s in there?” he asked.
“My water, for one, plus our lunch. I brought hot dogs and buns, mustard, ketchup, potato chips, homemade cookies, and a couple of apples. We’ll build a fire out there and cook up the dogs. But we’ve got a ways to go before then.”
“Can I carry something?” He was excited and wanted to contribute.
“You don’t have a pack, and you might need your hands for something.”
“I’ll be careful.”
I rooted around my car and found a brown paper sack from something and put the buns and the jar of mustard in it, and gave it to him. “Be careful with this. And careful with your water.”
We started off and immediately he started asking questions. What was that bush? Is this the way to the mine? Have I ever started a fire rubbing two sticks together? Was I ever bit by a snake? How dangerous are tarantulas? Boy, it was hot out. Did we bring enough water? During all this, he was swinging his new canteen, enjoying the heft and the weight. Just as I was about to warn him, the strap broke, the canteen hit a rock, and quicker than you would imagine, two quarts of water leaked out to be absorbed by the sand. We both stopped.
He was horrorstricken. Not only did he not have his new canteen, he had no water for the day. I mentally figure the amount of water I had, and what I’d likely need, and what I’d done in the past and knew that I had plenty for the both of us. I also had two small plastic bottles of water I’d frozen the night before that was slowly melting in my pack. I decided to use this as a lesson.
“What are you doing to do?”
He tossed away the canteen in disgust. It had split on the bottom so there was no water at all in it. “I don’t know.”
“Well, first, you’re going to pick that up and carry it out of here. It didn’t grow there and doesn’t belong there. You brought it in, you take it out. First rule.”
He grudgingly picked it up again. “Do you have enough water for the two of us?”
“When two people are hiking in the wilderness [we weren't far from home, but it was still pretty wild] and there’s an accident, they take care of each other. Second rule. So yes, I have enough water for the two of us as long as we use it wisely.”
“Should we head back?” We were barely thirty minutes into a two hour hike in, and two hour hike back.
“We don’t have to, if you don’t want to. But we should think about shortening our route.” I outlined where I had planned to take him. “Instead, here’s what we’ll do.” I explained the shortened route to him making sure he understood what we’d be missing.
“So, no way to see the mine?”
“If you’re up for it, we can. But we’ll be mighty thirsty when we get back to the car.” I always kept a bottle of water in it for emergencies. Even hot water is better than no water. “And, if there’s an accident or emergency, we’ll wish we’d shortened the route given the amount of water we have.”
We shortened the route. Just before lunch, after several more minor accidents which dwindled our lunch down, we were staring at a dry wash where I wanted to eat before heading back. It was at the bottom of a fifteen foot scree. A scree is a loose, sandy, rocky hillside. It’s difficult to get a purchase and you don’t want to go down it straight, but at an angle. I explained to the kid what I was going to do, and that he was to wait until I got to the bottom before he started so I could help him if he needed it.
I reached the bottom and noticed a fall of sand and rock to my right. Moments later, a small paper sack rolled down and smashed in a yellow explosion against a rock. I quickly turned and caught him before he landed amidst the broken glass. I guess I should have told him to count to ten when he saw me reach the bottom. We had a lunch of cold hot dogs, cold water, and homemade cookies.
It wasn’t bad, and the trip back and the plunge into the swimming pool in my back yard was even better.
Okay, so I like to read and watch TV and learn all about all kinds of different things. Recently, Partner/Spouse and I were watching an episode of America’s Test Kitchen and saw a new technique for battering stuff that was completely new to us. They were making Eggplant Parmesan. It looked amazing.
We’ve been looking for ways to eat healthier and more cost effectively. We’ve also been looking for ways to incorporate more vegetables into our diet. I’ve had eggplant only a few times in my life and both times it was grilled (one of those was on a pizza!) I like grilled eggplant so I knew I’d like eggplant other ways. Partner/Spouse has had eggplant many more ways than I have and has usually enjoyed it. But this technique was eye opening for us.
First, let me tell you about America’s Test Kitchen, or ATK as it’s often referred to. It’s a show on PBS that’s been airing for nearly ten years. Their sole purpose is to investigate specific recipes and standardize them for taste and quality and repeatability. They accept no dollars for advertising or sponsorship so they are able to be as honest in their evaluation and testing as possible. They will take a single recipe and tweak it and fuss with it for months to get a consistent, tasty, reliable, and repeatable results. They use thousands of people across the globe to test their recipes before they print them or put them on the show. They test everything, from restaurant favorites, to old time standards that “everyone knows how to make.” I’ve seen them remake deviled eggs, crown roast, beer can chicken, and Boston Cream Pie. They do everything! They also test kitchen equipment, and taste test ingredients. My dream is to visit their studio so I can be one of their testers.
Now let me tell you about the technique. I’m sure it’s one you’re all familiar with. When you want to create a great crunchy coating for something you’re frying, you follow the same process. You dip it in beaten egg, then dredge it in flour, dip it in egg again, then dredge it in flour or a crunchy coating of some kind. Fry in oil at a medium-high temp for a few minutes on each side and you have a wonderful crispy coating on it ready to eat and enjoy. Super simple, super messy, and super delicious.
I’ve used this technique for cooking all kinds of things. It’s reliable. I don’t like messy things, and I don’t like waste, but this is totally worth it. Chicken nuggets, chicken fingers, fried fish, tempura anything, all of it enhanced with the double dip process. Add seasonings to the flour portion and it’s all good.
ATK took that double dip process and turned it on its ear.
Eggplant Parmesan is eggplant sliced into consistently thick slices, breaded and fried, covered in sauce and cheese and baked until hot and the cheese is melted and golden. ATK’s thoughts, and mine as well, is why work so hard to make a crunchy coating only to cover it in sauce and make it soggy? So they looked at main parts of the whole dish.
First, they looked at the crunch factor. The whole point of the dish is to make a good piece of eggplant crunchy and cheesy, then add sauce as a counterpoint.
Second, they looked at the cheesiness of the dish. It’s named Eggplant Parmesan so there should be a good cheesy taste to it and it should have a good flavor of parmesan cheese in there somewhere.
When they looked at the crunch factor, they noted that all the recipes called for the same double dip and dredge process. While that works, it creates a very heavy crust and sometimes doesn’t maintain the crunch, particularly if it sits around for very long. So they decided to reinvent that process. First, they knew that using panko bread crumbs would escalate the crunch factor since the process to make the bread crumbs creates smaller crumbs that are much more crunchy than regular bread crumbs. They also hold that crunch factor better. Then they looked at the double dip and dredge method. They realized it was mostly to get the flour coated with egg to make a batter that would fry up into a crunchy goodness. Knowing all this, they created this method.
They took two eggs and beat them into a bowl. Then they added two tablespoons of flour directly to the egg and mixed them into a fluffy batter. In another bowl, they poured out enough panko bread crumbs for the amount of eggplant they had. By dipping the eggplant into the batter and letting the excess run off, then dredging in the panko and frying, they accomplished in one step a much better product than had been achieved before.
This worked nicely until they added the sauce and cheese and baked. The coating became soggy and the cheese slid off the eggplant.
So they looked at the cheese and sauce. First, they made a standard Bolognese sauce but used as many fresh ingredients as they could to raise the brightness of the sauce. That being done, it was set aside to simmer until needed. Then they looked at the cheese on the dish. Usually it called for a clump of mozzarella placed on top of the eggplant to melt along with some parmesan for browning and strong flavor.
What they ended up with was parmesan mixed in the panko crumbs and fried onto the eggplant. Then, a clump of equal parts of grated mozzarella and fontina was put on top of the fried eggplant which was then broiled to melt and brown the cheese. Once that was done, the eggplant was placed on a plate and about a quarter cup of the sauce was put on top of it.
Wonderful cheesy flavor in all parts of the dish; crunchy coating where it was needed; sauce to cover but not create a soggy mess. It was wonderful.
But the best part was the battering part of the recipe. I’m probably going to use that over and over. I made this yesterday for the Thursday pot luck, and boiled up a pot of spaghetti to go with it. It was a hit. I’ll let you know next time I batter something and how it turns out. I’m thinking this will work great with mushrooms!
Anyone who’s known me longer than ten minutes knows that I like my daily comic strips. There are several that I follow faithfully, and quote from regularly. I was sitting in a high level managers’ meeting once and quoted a Peanuts cartoon. The guy next to me smiled and said, “You can find a cartoon quote for anything.” I agreed and said, “Yeah, you can.” He shook his head. “You misunderstood me. I meant YOU can find a cartoon quote for anything!” I had to laugh cuz it’s true. My brain is a garbage heap of many things, and I can usually find a comic strip or joke for anything happening around me.
One of my favorite comic strips is Zits written and drawn by the same team that does Baby Blues, another favorite, Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. The kid that features in Zits is the quintessential teenager and funny as hell. Periodically, he tries his hand at cooking, usually with mixed results. One of my favorites is when he made appetizers out of beef jerky and spray cheese. His dad loved them. But another time he asked his mom if he could cook dinner and went to the cookbook. He looked up at her and asked, “Do we have any fenugreek? How about asafetida?” She suggested that he look for recipes with ingredients from this hemisphere. One of the things that made it funnier for me was the fact that I had been ready about both those ingredients just the week before.
So, what exactly is asafetida? It sounds medicinal, or like something you’d use to bleach clothes or sanitize floors. Well, it’s not much better than that. Ever heard the word “fetid”? Guess where it got its roots? Asafetida is a tall plant with feathery leaves and yellow blossoms found in parts of Russia, China, and Afghanistan. The part that’s used is the sap which is dried then ground. It has a “rotten egg” smell, but when it’s cooked, it imparts a kind of oniony flavor. This is all hearsay. I’ve never tasted it, that I know of. But the next time someone mentions asafetida, you can say “Oh, that tastes a little like onions.” It does have some minor medicinal properties as most herbs and spices do. Not sure I’d want to go chasing after it, though.
Fenugreek, on the other hand, is a pungent, earthy spice made from the seeds of the plant, although all parts of the plant can be used for different things. It has a sweet and bitter flavor that some say is reminiscent of burnt sugar. Fenugreek is used a lot in Mediterranean cooking, as well as in India. It’s said that you take the dried seeds and just cover them with boiling water in a teapot to soak overnight. In the morning, add fresh boiling water, lemon and honey, and you have a breakfast drink that is flavorful and healthy. You first. Fenugreek is highly useful in medicines as it reduces blood cholesterol and blood sugars so it’s desirable for diabetes sufferers as well as those of us battling high cholesterol levels.
Ever heard of Galangal? It’s a root from the ginger family and is treated just like it. It’s also known as khaa. It’s primary use is in making curry, but many people think a tea made from the root dried then ground to a powder is not only tasty, but healthy. In some recipes, it can be substituted for ginger since their flavor profile are so similar.
Ajowan is not a very popular spice but has seen a rise in demand recently. It’s mostly found in ethnic markets specializing in Indian or Asian cuisine. It comes from the same family as parsley and cumin and has the same strong, earthy flavors. It tastes most like anise, a licorice flavor. It is used sparingly since it can easily overpower other flavors.
Saffron is so familiar from The Food Network that everyone thinks they know all about it. What most people don’t know is it’s one of the most expensive things on the planet. Saffron is the dried pistil of the crocus plant. Not just any crocus, but a particular crocus. It can only be harvested by hand. When it’s dried, it has a dark orange color. When it’s used in cooking, it gives food a brilliant yellow color. Saffron has a medicinal flavor to it and it’s very easy to use too much. My favorite way to use it is in rice. I make the rice with olive oil, good flavorful chicken stock, and a small pinch of saffron. The rice turns bright yellow and has a wonderful flavor that goes well with almost everything.
Turmeric is easily one of my favorite spices. I was first introduced to it back in college when I made Turmeric Chicken for some friends. It’s used mainly with Indian foods, but can show up almost anywhere since, like saffron, it gives food a bright yellow color. It has a strong flavor so should be used in moderation. It’s flavor is different from saffron so don’t use the two interchangeably. One of my favorite recipes with turmeric is Rice with Spinach. Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil to a medium hot pan and sauté one cup chopped onion and 1-2 tablespoons of cumin seed. Do not use cumin powder for this. Stir in one teaspoon of turmeric and stir to blend well. Add 1-2 tablespoons of butter and let melt while stirring to combine flavors. Add one cup cooked long grain rice (I use my favorite, basmati) and stir to coat the rice and keep it warm. Push all the rice to the side making a ring and add as much fresh spinach as you like. Remember, the spinach will cook down drastically, so use enough. When the spinach has wilted and warmed through, use a fork to push rice into spinach and combine. Turn off heat and serve immediately. Good stuff.
Going back to the Zits comic strip, when Jeremy finally found a recipe to make, he got creative since he didn’t have all the ingredients. He ended up with Thai meatloaf and spaghetti noodles. When mom and dad were discussing the meal, they found that Jeremy had cleaned everything up and put it all away. The dad says, “So the only downside to his cooking is the food?” The mom replies, “I can live with if you can.”
Sorry for missing Friday’s post. My day went nuts, then my novel went nuts. For those who don’t know, I’m an unpublished novelist and have a completed book I’m trying to sell. It’s taken a different turn and now I’m rewriting the flippin’ thing, but hope it’ll be better for it. So busy busy busy! Anyway, here’s the post I meant to do for Friday.
About a hundred years ago when I was in my mid teens, I was walking through the kitchen and noticed my younger brother sitting down to the table with a plate.
“Whatcha got there?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.
“Green eggs and ham.” he replied. I glanced over. Yup green eggs and some weird, discolored ham.
“How’d you do that?”
“I put food coloring in scrambled eggs and smeared more of it over the ham. I wanted to see what it was like.” He took a bite.
He shrugged. “It’s eggs.”
I’m sure he wasn’t the first person to try that, and I’m just as sure he won’t be the last. I wonder sometimes, but not often, how many people have been influenced by that book. What the good Dr. was trying to teach us was to think outside the box, outside our comfort zones, not just in foods, but in all areas of our lives.
A long while ago, Partner/Spouse and I were wandering around a store and came across this:
It’s full of kid-friendly recipes based on foods and meals scattered throughout the Dr. Seuss iconography. There’s even a recipe for Green Eggs and Ham where they use apple jelly, tomatillos, and cilantro to make the ham green.
It has Brown Bar-ba-loots’ Truffula Fruits which is basically strawberries dipped in strawberry yogurt.
There’s River of Nobsk Corn-off-the-Cobsk which is popcorn with parmesan cheese, chili powder, and paprika sprinkled over it.
There’s even Who-Roast-Beast which is really a chicken roasted with mushrooms.
My favorite is Valley of Vung’s Chocolate Rocks, a chocolate candy rolled in coconut and powdered sugar.
So, if you ever see the cookbook anywhere, I recommend picking it up. It’s fun and a surprise for anyone browsing your cookbooks. And it helps you think outside the box, sort of.
I was thinking outside the box when I was thinking about green eggs and ham several months ago. I wasn’t actively thinking about green eggs and ham specifically, but the phrase was wandering around my brain in a nudging, intrusive sort of way. All of a sudden, I was thinking about greens, eggs, and ham. That made me blink so I followed that train of thought.
My favorite greens is spinach. Once, a long time ago, I saw a recipe for shirred (baked) eggs on a bed of spinach mixed with cheddar cheese soup. It was awful, but it had a germ of goodness to it.
So I did this:
Frozen spinach that has been thawed and divided into ramekins. One egg placed on top and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Baked at 350 until the whites are solid. Keep them in a few minutes longer if you prefer solid yolks. You get this:
The best part is the spinach and egg whites mingle and cook together and give the eggs a really good flavor. Breaking the yolk creates a nice sauce. It’s really yummy. Serve it with toast and any fried pork product you like.
If anyone is out shopping and happens to see this shirt:
I take an XL (it’s the most comfortable size for me). Thanks! And Enjoy!