The Great Feast Day is upon us. This year, since I’m working on the day, the feast is being orchestrated by Partner/Spouse and a friend. I know nothing of the plans and will know nothing of the plans until 4:30pm Thursday when I will arrive home to a chilled glass of wine and whatever sumptuous spread is placed before me. Dinner will be around six, plenty of time to have another glass of wine and nibble something delectable before the big meal.
The store I work at now is a higher end grocery store (for this area) and started being busy about two weeks ago. I get a kick out of talking with the customers about recipes and plans for their feast and sharing recipes that I’ve used in the past.
For instance, last night a lady and her son, about 13 or so, were buying a large package of sliced pepperoni. I asked what she was planning to do with it.
“It’s for him, he loves the stuff. He’ll probably just put it on crackers and chow down.”
I looked at her son who was bagging as fast as I was ringing through the items. “Have you ever tried pepperoni crisps?” I asked him.
He shook his head but looked expectant. I turned back to the mom and said, “Lay the pepperoni slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Heat your oven to 425 and bake them for fifteen minutes. When they cool down, they turn crispy and you can eat them just like that.”
Both of them said, “Ooooohh!” at the same time. It was like stereo. Kid says, “Mom, can we try that tonight?”
Her reply was, “We’ll heat the oven while we’re putting the groceries away.”
Sounds like I made a couple of fans.
A week or so ago, I was bagging for one customer and he brought up a full stalk of Brussels Sprouts. I haven’t seen them on the stalk in ages and said so. We started swapping simple recipes for them and he told me he was going to try one he’d read about on FB recently.
Clean the sprouts and cut them in half. Lay them face down on a lightly oiled baking sheet and roast them without moving them around until the outer leaves are brown and crispy. Let them cool, then spread a light layer of cream cheese on them and top with a variety of things like dill relish, bacon, prosciutto, parmesan, bleu cheese, etc. Then eat them.
We sell a lot of fresh herbs, some that are growing in tiny pots. We sell mostly fresh basil that way since it’s the one that most people know. One lady had two Asian pears and a pot of basil. She was going to slice the pear thin into cracker sized pieces. Then she was going to marinate them in a white balsamic vinegar. Just before serving, she was going to shake the vinegar off and lay them flat on a plate and place a single basil leaf on each one. The combination of flavors, she said, was exquisite and the dish itself was incredibly simple to make.
One couple came through recently and I noted they had a package of puffed pastry and a small round Brie. I said, “Someone’s going to bake a Brie, aren’t they?”
They both laughed and said yes. I told them about the restaurant her in home town that sells the best baked Brie and told them how it was done.
Just after I finished, watching their grins, I noticed the other ingredients for the exact dish coming down the belt at me. We all shared a laugh as the guy told me they were making that dish, but with raspberries instead of strawberries. They even had the drizzle of honey and balsamic right. So I told them to mash the berries slightly so they’d absorb more of the flavors.
Just last night, a lady overheard me talking about a recipe and asked my advice for something simple but impressive to take to an office gathering.
I asked if she like cucumbers and told her to slice an English cucumber thinly, spread the rounds with a light layer of cream cheese, then top with anything she like just as she would crackers. I told her to mix it up and to slice the cukes on a bias to get different shapes. She loved the idea and we talked about the things to put on top until I had to get to the next customer. She promised to come back and let me know how it goes.
Well, I hope you like the ideas and I hope you have a great holiday. I’ll be back on a regular basis soon!
When I was in 7th or 8th grade, two friends and I decided to spend the Christmas holiday by going camping for a few days before The Day. We had a few weeks off, nothing to fill it with except sitting home and sleeping late, anticipating the big day, and watching Christmas specials on television. It was T who came up with the idea. G, whose dad was a Marine like my dad, volunteered to get the tent through the base, so I volunteered to get some stuff as well. We started writing lists of things we would need and how we were going to transport it.
We got permission from our parents, although they were uniformly skeptic that we’d last the full four days we were planning. We started amassing the vast quantity of junk we thought it would take to survive. G’s dad volunteered to take us to our campsite in his truck. Hours long discussion finally yielded the “perfect” spot to camp. It was near where T and I lived, walking distance to either house if there was an emergency.
Alexander the Great’s plan to cross the Alps on elephants couldn’t compare the planning that went into our camping trip. We even decided what we were going to do each day. Most of that was categorized under “exploring” because that was the big thing then. We’d all just read Tom Sawyer and Journey to the Center of the Earth. We lived in middle of the Sonoran desert; our campsite was a tiny “mountain” range just the east of the city we lived in. It was all tailor-made for a few days of adventure. The fact that we didn’t know the first thing about what we were doing never entered into it. We had lists, we had plans, we had approval from our parents, we had all the gear.
One day just before vacation started, we were going over our lists and I looked up at the other two.
“What are we going to eat?”
That stopped us. Our moms, and occasionally our dads, took care of all that. We’d never considered it. We knew the basics. Three meals a day for four days equaled twelve meals. We knew we’d be cooking over a camp fire because that’s how you did it when you camped out. Eventually, we decided we’d each just take care of our own meals and let it go at that. What we really meant was we’d tell our moms and take whatever they packed.
Then T sneezed and rubbed his nose. No big deal.
On the day we were supposed to leave for the camp out, he showed up at my house with the sad news that his mom wouldn’t let him camp out after all since his sneezes turned into a cold.
We were all for calling the whole trip off, but T said he could go help us set up and stay a while, but he had to get back home before it got dark. So we did. G’s dad droves us the three miles to our camp site with me giving directions. I’d been there many times before. We unloaded and he said goodbye and we were on our own. T and I lived three miles from the spot we were standing on, but we could have been three planets away. We felt cut off from everything.
First challenge, the tent. We found just the right spot for it and started setting it up. None of us had ever set a tent up before this, but we’d watched our dads doing it. We had an eight person, canvas monstrosity which was standard military issue. We had it mostly put up but were completely flummoxed by the six short aluminum supports, and by the fact that the tent was up, but sagging, no matter how tight we pulled the guys. Then a gust of wind passed by, the tent inflated with a poof, and we instantly saw where they went. Finally, the tent was up, the gear was stowed, the sleeping bags were laid out, and the fire ring was laid out. Now we had to find fire wood and explore!
We ranged over hill and canyon grabbing every stray stick until there was a huge pile of wood, enough to keep a fire going for a week, we thought.
T had to leave just after that. We walked him back to the edges of civilization, the asphalt road we drove in on. Waving goodbye, G and I squared our shoulders and trooped back to the tent, picking up every stray stick we saw. We wanted to be prepared.
As the sun started going down, we lit the fire and watched the lights blink on across the valley. We were high enough that we could see unobstructed all the way to the horizon. We had hot dogs and beans that night and water. We stayed up telling ghost stories and jokes, bad mouthing teachers and students, discussing important topics like taking care of animals and the earth. Finally, at full dark, low fire, and utter exhaustion, we turned in at around 8pm. I went out like a light.
Only to be shaken awake at some point in the night by G who was yelling about wolves trying to get into the tent. I could hear snuffling and growling outside the tent but I knew my desert.
“There aren’t any wolves around here. Probably coyotes.”
“They’re gonna get inside and eat us!” he yelled.
“No they’re not. It’s tough canvas. It’s probably dogs from a house nearby.”
“Why are they trying to get in?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they followed our scent.” I was so tired I didn’t really care.
I put my hand down to brace myself and felt the snout of some animal through the canvas floor. It backed off and jerked away from it. But I was really very tired, so I crawled back into my sleeping bag and went to sleep.
The next morning, I woke up and G was already getting the fire ready.
“Hey,” I said sleepily. “I see we’re both still not eaten.”
He grinned. “Yeah, I had it all worked out. Since your feet were closest to the door, they’d go for them first, which would give me time to get my knife and kill them.”
“In the meantime, there I am with no feet. Why didn’t you get your knife ready while you were figuring this out?”
“I left it outside.”
We took stock of the campsite. It was obvious we’d been visited by something during the night. There were scratch marks on the dirt and stone around the tent and the campfire ashes had been rooted through. The tent sagged again and no amount of tugging on guy wires made it look as pristine as the day before.
I broke out a can of hash and heated it with a couple of eggs. I ate every last bite, feeling full and warm on the very chilly morning.
About noon, my dad showed up to check on us and asked if we were ready to head home. We were.
We just threw everything into the back of his truck to sort through once we got home. Once the campsite was cleaned up, we left without a backward glance.
I called T when we got home to forestall him from trying to visit the campsite.
“Did you have any trouble last night?”
That sounded suspicious. I’d known him a long time. “Not much, why?”
He started laughing. “My dad told me a trick to pull on you guys. I put chicken skins under the tent.”
He laughed loudly at the string of curse words erupting from my mouth. I don’t normally swear, but this was one instance that it was warranted.
It wasn’t the last time T and I went camping together. It always seemed to be T and I and one or two other friends who drifted in and out over the years. He never did the chicken skins under the tent trick ever again, though.
(me near the campsite decades later)
It’s been a while since I’ve thought about or written about hunger at the holidays. The Winter holidays are a particularly stressful time for a lot of reasons. If you’re less than 12 years old, you worry that you haven’t been good enough all year to deserve presents. If you’re a parent, you worry that your budget will extend to the type and quantity of gifts for your family so they’ll be happy. If you’re the family cook, you worry that you’ll be able to afford the food and make the meals that the holidays demand.
If you’re homeless or one of the functioning poor, you worry that you’ll have heat, or a roof over your head, or the ways and means to get to a job day after day, or enough to eat for yourself and any dependents. The celebrations of the holidays aren’t even considered in the worries of day to day living.
Holidays are stressful.
There’s not a lot a single person can do to alleviate all the stress and worry of the holidays, but there are things a single person can do to contribute to the larger good. Many grocery stores have coupons for purchase that will contribute to local or national food banks. Some grocery stores make up care packages you can buy that get donated to local food banks. Churches, banks, businesses, during the holidays there are many ways to contribute to a larger good.
My dad was a Marine, and during the holidays we always had younger Marines over for the celebratory meal. Many military bases have lists of soldiers who are unable to make it home for the holidays for whatever reason and many churches and civic organizations take them under their wing for the holiday.
There are other things we can do, one I’ve mentioned a couple of times before in relation to No Kid Hungry. We can buy products with pin icons on them. They have a code we can enter at a website and a meal is donated to the No Kids Hungry effort.
Quite by accident, I found another similar effort.
Raise your hand if you know I like to bake cookies. But I also like to buy cookies. Oreos are a big favorite. Dare Chocolate Sandwich Cookies are another must have, but are hard to find. The other day I bought some Fig Newtons. I love those cookies. When I was little, each cookie was two bites. Now, I just pop one into my mouth and chew. They are so good!
When I opened my current package, I noticed something on the bag. They have just made it easy to donate to another organization helping to feed the hungry. See it in the upper right corner?
You enter the code word and they donate 30 cents to Feeding America. I followed their links and ran into a little confusion. If you decide you want to buy any Fig Newton products and enter the code, follow the first link below. I did the searches so you don’t have to.
The second link below is about the organization and the work they do.
Now I’m not super naïve. I know that part of this is a marketing ploy (I majored in marketing in college) to find out what products are selling and which aren’t. But they are making donations until the end of the year. And I’m all for that.
Apart from time, it’s painless.
I’ve got the day off today, and I have time to do some blogging. I’m ahead of the game on the writing competition, it’s a drizzly day so no outside work, and cleaning isn’t interfering too terribly much. Partner/Spouse has stepped up and taken on the bulk of the cooking duties until my schedule relaxes a bit. Over the weekend, he did all the cooking. On Saturday, Halloween, apart from throwing candy at random kids, we also had guests and dinner was just appetizers, but oh, so good appetizers. They were yummy and plentiful and very filling. But Sunday’s dinner, that’s the one I’m posting about.
On Friday, Partner/Spouse went to lunch with his boss to discuss upcoming projects, etc. I don’t recall what Partner/Spouse had because he waxed eloquent about what Boss had.
“I’m not telling you what is was, but I’m making it for you for dinner on Sunday.” It was something good, something simple, something original, and apparently something remarkable.
At the new job, I’m on my feet for hours at a time. I have done that since 2009 so I was coming home aching and sore. I have good shoes so my feet were okay, but since I’m hefting heavy things around, my shoulder (remember that from last Spring?) tends to act up a bit, and my legs get tired, and my back is sore. Saturday was my longest day at 7.5 hours. And it was non-stop all day. Luckily, I was off at 5 and home by 5:30. Guest and Partner/Spouse had a glass of chilled wine waiting for me, the appetizers, and we sat outside to throw candy at the kids.
Just before bed, Partner/Spouse made me take a muscle relaxant to make sure I slept. Which I did. A lot. Sunday dawns and I’m supposed to start the writing competition. I’ve got the whole day off and no cooking or cleaning on the schedule. Yay me!
Sometime around 5, I hear Partner/Spouse roaming around the kitchen, but since he was surprising me, I didn’t wander through. Eventually he called “It’s Ready!” and I went to see what was up.
He’d made a BLT salad, but with a twist. The bacon was prepared two ways. First it was fried up then crumbled and spread throughout the salad. Second, it was fried up and cut into large-ish pieces to be enjoyed in individual bites. The rest of the salad was a standard salad, chopped Romaine lettuce, scallions, cucumber, celery, cherry tomatoes, parmesan cheese, croutons, etc. For extra crunch, there were roasted sunflower seeds.
Placed on top were four thick slices of fried ripe tomatoes. Not fried green tomatoes which would have been good in and of itself. Fried ripe tomatoes. They were fork tender, juicy, and tasty as only a tomato can be. But they weren’t soggy. The batter was still crisp and crunchy.
To make the tomatoes, he heated oil in a pan while he prepped the tomatoes. He sliced them not quite a half inch thick and sprinkled them with a little salt. While they drained a bit, he beat two eggs in one bowl and set up dredging flour on a plate. He used the double dip method: dip in egg, then dip in flour, then dip in egg again. Instead of a second dip in flour, he dipped in Panko bread crumbs.
For those who aren’t familiar, Panko bread crumbs are a Japanese invention. The take standard bread crumbs, then they bake them at low temps until all the moisture is gone. You’re left with tiny, ultra crispy break crumbs that don’t break down in liquid very easily so they stay crunchy through the frying and sitting stages.
Once the tomatoes were dipped, they went immediately into the hot oil. Fried brown on both sides, then set on a paper towel to absorb the oil. Then onto the salad. YUM!!
I wish I had a picture for you. It was such a good salad. I’m already thinking of other ways to use fried ripe tomatoes. Like in a spinach salad. Or a Chef’s salad. Or a peanut butter sandwich (kidding.)
Okay, first day on the job went well. 3 hour orientation and them home. Easy peasy. So I have time to write the blog. Yesterday was my last day of being ungainfully employed so I decided to make as many things from scratch as possible. I also received my copy of Lidia Bastianich’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cooking the day before guess what kind of food was on the menu?
I’ve made pasta by hand for many years and have found it to be as tricky as making bread. Since you can’t eat pasta that doesn’t turn out right, like you can bread, I haven’t made it as often as I have bread. So I’m not skilled with homemade pasta. I’ve watched Lidia make it a dozen times and she makes it look so easy. Mary Ann Esposito makes it the same way and it looks so easy. Even ATK makes it the same way and it looks so easy. Well, there was a recipe in the cookbook that showed three different ways to make it so it was heavy, medium, or light. And it had two different processes, by hand or by food processor. I’ve been wanting to learn how to make it by machine and I’ve watched Lidia do this many times so I decided now was the time.
I went with the medium weight pasta. I set up my food processor and put 2 3/4 cups of flour in it and a pinch of salt. Then I put three large eggs and one large egg yolk in a two-cup measuring cup. I added one tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil to the eggs, and a teaspoon of water. I mix them all together. Then I turned on the food processor and let the flour aerate for a few seconds, then poured the eggs quickly into the mix. Eureka! It actually did what it was supposed to do! I had a ball of pasta in 40 seconds. I unplugged the machine and turned the dough onto my counter which was floured. My dough was a little sticky (it’s been very humid around here due to the hurricane remnants moving through. It rained all day today and it’s still going on.) So I floured my hands well and kneaded the dough until it was smooth and elastic, about a minute or so. Not long. I wasn’t going to make the pasta right away so I wrapped the dough in plastic film and set it aside. This is an important step because it allows the dough to absorb the liquids in the batch.
Then I started on the Roasted Garlic Focaccia. Focaccia is an Italian flat bread that’s sort of free form. It can be made in large sheets or small rounds, whatever you like. It can be made plain, or made to taste like a pretzel, or herbs can be added to the mix, or stuff can be piled on the top. Mine was an Italian herb flavored bread with roasted garlic on top.
So here’s what I made:
That little ball of dough is about a pound. A pound is a LOT of pasta. The bread is about 11×14. A lot of bread for one meal. What I made would have served six people.
Here’s the recipe for the bread:
- 2 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 1 (1/4 ounce) packet active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1⁄2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 dash ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese (grated)
- 1 1⁄2 cups mozzarella cheese (shredded)
- Mix the yeast and water in a small bowl. Let proof for 10 minutes (until bubbles begin to form).
- In large bowl, stir together flour, salt, sugar, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, basil, and black pepper.
- Add the yeast mix and vegetable oil to the dry ingredients and combine.
- When dough has pulled together, turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
- Lightly oil a large bowl, place dough in bowl, and turn to coat with oil.
- Cover with damp cloth and let rise in warm place 25 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Punch dough down, place on greased baking sheet.
- Pat dough into 1/2-inch thick rectangle (doesn’t have to be perfect).
- Using your knuckle, make indentations in the dough about 1/2-inch apart, then prick dough with fork.
- Brush top with olive oil, then sprinkle with Parmesan and mozzarella cheese.
- Bake for 13-15 minutes until golden brown.
So, while the bread was cooling, I made the pasta with my pasta machine:
I didn’t use the machine to cut my pasta though. I rolled it and cut it with a sharp knife. But I made a mistake. I should have cut the pasta as soon as I stretched it and rolled it. By the time I got to the fourth chunk of rolled pasta, it was sticking to itself. I hadn’t used enough flour to keep it separate. But, there was plenty for the two of us. So while the pasta dried, I put on a gigantic pot of water to boil. Once it was boiling, I made the pasta sauce.
I’ve written about this sauce before, but it bears repeating cuz it was GOOD!
I had two very ripe fresh tomatoes from my favorite veggie stand that if I didn’t use now, I would have to toss. So I used the technique of grating the tomatoes that I wrote about in a recent post. I put all the tomato into a bowl. Then I heated up a tablespoon of olive oil and cooked up some onion until they were sweating and clear. Then I added a half cup of pepperoni slices cut into quarters. I cook them up with the onions until they were dark and were releasing their juices. I added a couple of pinches of oregano and some garlic powder and stirred everything around. Then I added half a pinch of pepper flakes. Be very careful with these cut they are HOT! I added the tomato and cooked it down until it was thickened.
The water was boiling furiously by this time, so I added about a tablespoon of salt (salting the boiling water is a matter of taste. Some people like it very salty, and some don’t like any salt at all. The salt in the water transfer to the pasta so the saltier the water, the saltier the pasta.) I put my fresh pasta in two or three noodles at a time so they didn’t stick to each other. Fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried pasta so in just a few minutes it will be done. I fished the pasta out of the water with a net basket strainer and put it directly into the sauce. Stirred the pasta and sauce around and served with the bread and some parmesan cheese.
It was so good! And a few hours before, it had been flour.