Post # 46 Drizzly Day Food

September 14, 2012 at 1:58 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Here where I live we’re on our third day of rainy days and gray skies.  We have one more day of this before it clears up and the sun comes back.  The temps have dropped along with the color in the sky and they’re not supposed to perk up very much even when the sun comes back.  Autumn, I guess, is here and likely to stay for a while.  Of course, I could be wrong about this since I’ve never ever lived in this part of the country before so I really don’t know what to expect.

As much as we try to deny it, humans live by the seasons as much as the animals do.  We tend to slow down as the weather gets colder.  We subconsciously start thinking about indoor activities since outdoors will not be conducive to spending large amounts of time there.  We start sprucing up the inside of the house and make it as bright as we can against the days that are short on sunlight and warmth.

The quickest and easiest way that we as humans do that is through food.  In the summertime, and early fall, we grill and barbeque and cook outdoors as much as possible.  In late fall, winter, and early spring, we use the oven more.  It evokes a sense of inner warmth, patience, and good things to eat.

That’s where we get the term “comfort food”.  We surround ourselves with things that make us feel better.  Comfort foods usually take us back to our childhood and foods we loved then.  For me, it’s anything fried:  chicken, hamburgers, french fries, potato chips; or anything with cheese:  mac and cheese, pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches; plus PBJ.

French fries covered in cheese is almost heaven.

I guess my favorite would be mac and cheese.  Everyone has their own favorite way of making it.  My mom started by making the powder the mix in a box.  Then she moved on to the gooey sauce in the box.  Later on, I started making it from scratch.  Then between us, we started adding things so it morphed into a full-blown casserole.  The base was still boiled macaroni and a sharp cheese sauce.  When I was in a hurry, I’d boil macaroni and drain it, then sprinkle either parmesan cheese over it or grated cheddar.  The cheese melted just enough and the taste was really good.  But I still go back to the cheese sauce in a pouch once in a while.

One time, my mom decided to make Fettucine Alfredo from scratch.  She read the recipe a few times, then went to the store and bought high quality ingredients.  She stood in front of the stove, created the dish, served it up to my dad and I, and we all ate till there was none left.  It was the best I’d had up to then.  While we were complimenting her on it, she replied, “It’s basically just mac and cheese.”

So here it is, another gray drizzly day.  I’m making comfort food to the max tonight.  I’m making sausages, bacon, hash browns, eggs, and corn muffins.  It will be hot, tasty, satisfying, and filling.  It will take us all back to our childhoods, and drive away the gray for a little while.

Enjoy!

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Post # 45 Shawarma Buddy!

September 12, 2012 at 11:18 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 45 Shawarma Buddy!

Before I start today’s post, I’d like to observe a moment of silence for the deceased and injured in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya and in Cairo.

Okay, part of the reason I wanted to do that is I spent a great deal of time in that area of the world.  It’s been about five years since I was there, but I still remembrer vividly the experiences and the feelings and the foods.  One place I was at introduced me to a great street food called a shawarma.  It was in Tunisia, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

Shawarma refers to the meat used in the sandwich or wrap.  The meat can be pretty much anything.  It’s layered on a vertical spit which rotates.  A heat source is placed on one side of the spit.  This can be an open fire, but is most typically a vertical heating element powered by either gas or electricity.  As the meat cooks, the juices run down the stack, basting the meats below.  The fats and juices are collected in a small tray at the bottom.  As each sandwich is made, the meat is sliced thinly and dipped into the tray of juices for extra flavor.  The meat can be anything but is typically either a beef/lamb combo, or chicken.

Sometimes aromatics such as onion, peppers, and garlic are layered with the meats to add flavor to the final product.

Shawarma can be served in many different ways.  It can be sliced onto a platter and served with a salad which is one of my favorite ways.  It can be served as slices on folded pita bread with tomatoes and onion and cucumbers and yogurt which is one of my favorite ways.  It can be served sliced onto thin flatbread with onions, tomatoes, hummus, tabbouleh, and cucumber yogurt which is one of my favorite ways.  Actually, pretty much anyway you serve it is one of my favorite ways.  It’s really good stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a very bad vegetarian.  My favorite type of shawarma is the beef/lamb combo.  It love the tender, juicy, and spicy flavor.  It’s also known at doner kebab and as the Greek gyro.  Actually, it was as a gyro that I first encountered this dish.  However it’s called, the process is still the same.  Meat stacked on a turning spit and flamed to cook.

I’ve never come across a good home version of this dish that didn’t require the typical vertical spit, but in experimenting I’ve found that a passable version can be made by slicing beef or chicken very thinly and marinating overnight in a combination of spices and yogurt.  The spices can include pretty much any that you like, but should include  things like garlic, onion, cayenne, mace, ginger, lemon juice, and pepper.  You can make it as aromatic or non as you like.  Then, once it’s marinated, grill it quickly so that it’s seared and completely cooked.  Serve with a salad or as a sandwich with chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumber, yogurt, and/or hummus.

When I was in  Tunisia, my coworker and I found the street food as a wrap and were so entranced by the flavors and simplicty, that we worked out a deal with the vendor and treated the entire office staff we were working with to a lunch of shawarmas.  It was great stuff!

Enjoy!

Post # 44 Mock Lasagna Casserole

September 10, 2012 at 2:36 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I got a lot of buzz on the new story, and one request for a good lasagna recipe.  I’m putting the lasagna recipe together, but for a quick lasagna-style dish, nothing beats this one.

You have to pick the right pasta for this.  I look for a pasta for which I do not know the name (anyone want to hazard a guess?)  It’s shaped exactly like mini lasagna noodles.  If I can’t find it, which I usually can’t, I use farfalle, more commonly called bowtie.  If I don’t have those, I go with any pasta I have available.

Next, you need to have a good sauce for this.  Ordinarily, I make my pasta sauce in a crock pot and let it cook over several hours to mellow the flavors.  However there are many times when I want a fast casserole.  I start with browning a pound of hamburger, and if I have it, I add bulk pork sausage to it.  Cook the meat thoroughly, then drain as much fat as possible.  Then, if I feel like it, I add chopped onion, mushrooms, peppers, etc.  Once that’s done, I add a jar of my favorite spaghetti sauce.  I won’t go into the relative merits of one over the other, just use what you like because we’re gonna dress it up.  Mix thoroughly and heat through over a medium to low heat.

Add one regular sized can of diced tomatoes.  I usually use unseasoned, but you can use whatever you like.  Then add a small can of tomato paste.  Stir slowly until all the ingredients are mixed and well blended.  Add 1 cup of water and stir.  Add two crushed garlic cloves, skin on or off as you like.  Add 1 1/2 tsp of Italian seasoning, and the same of oregano.  Alternatively, you can leave these out, and add 2 tsp dried basil, or a cup of fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped.  Let this simmer for about an hour so all the flavors blend well.

Remove sauce from heat and allow to come to room temperature.  Once the sauce has cooled, start water boiling for the pasta and cook the pasta for HALF the time called for on the directions.  If you’re using absolutely fresh made pasta, just parboil it.  Drain the pasta and put in a bowl.  Add enough sauce so all pasta is well coated, then add half a cup more.  The pasta will continue to cook in the oven absorbing extra liquid.  Add one to two cups grated cheeses.  I use an Italian mix that comes from the store.  Pour into a casserole dish that will hold all of it without spilling over.  Sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese, put in the oven at 325 and cook for 45 minutes until bubbly and cheese on top is brown.  Serve hot.  Freezes well.

Having walked you through this, there are always short cuts you can take.  You can pare this down to simply a jar of sauce, some cooked pasta, some cheese in a pan in the oven.  Your call.

However, when this is served, it has a taste like lasagna without the layers and without the work.  Good stuff.

Enjoy!

Post # 43 New Story!

September 9, 2012 at 2:33 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 43 New Story!

Sorry, I missed posting on Friday due to scheduling conflicts.  To help make up for it, I’ve posted a new story called “Too Many Cooks”.  You can find the link to it in the Stories menu on the right.  Please read and let me know what you think!  Back to normal posting tomorrow!

Enjoy!

Post # 42 What’s For Dinner?

September 5, 2012 at 10:10 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 42 What’s For Dinner?

For most Americans, the main meal comes in the evening called dinner or supper.  It’s the one where the family gathers around the tv trays in the living room and watch tv while eating what is put in front of them.  It’s the same question that faces every cook every day.  It gets old.  Most cooks create a repertoire of menus they rely on.  My mom had about two dozen things she liked to cook, and those same things rotated through kitchen.  They were good things like tacos, spaghetti, pot roast, etc. but they were the same things over and over.  At some point, every cook faces that point where they want to break out of the routine and habitual meals.

My sister-in-law worked in a group home for adults with Downs Syndrome several years ago, and was responsible for feeding them.  It happened at this time that the city used the community service punishment to assist the group homes in yard work.  One of the men was a cook at a restaurant working off a DUI.  My sister-in-law was moaning to him that she needed to make dinner but didn’t know what to fix.  He offered to make dinner that night and she said, “Well, I don’t have much.  We’ve got eggs, milk, cheese, some flour.”  He said not to worry and made a huge cheese souffle that fed the entire group.

When fixing something for dinner, it really takes just knowing what you have and what you can do with it.  It takes being bold, even if all you’re cooking up is hamburger.  I used to make a hamburger stew that was killer.  Other times, I would whip up a batch of biscuit dough from a mix, spread the hamburger stew (cooled completely!) onto the dough then roll it up.  I’d bake it until the dough was completely cooked and everything was hot.  I once “created” a dish I called Mexican Train Wreck.  I had a pound of hamburger that I browned up, added a can of chile then put that in a casserole dish.  I put a layer of cheddar cheese over that, then made up a box of corn muffin mix and spread it over the whole thing.  Then, just because I had them, I added several hot dogs pressed light into the corn muffin mix.  I baked the whole thing until the corn muffin mix was totally baked and golden brown on top.  It was like a chile cheese corn dog.  My mother-in-law fell in love with it and made it for years.

I “created” another favorite dish once by taking two cans of creams of chicken soup and heating them per instructions with a teaspoon of italian herb seasoning.  While that was heating up, I cooked up some broccoli to a crisp but tender stage, and boiled up some linguine.  When everything was ready, I tossed the pasta in the chicken sauce, added some parmesan cheese, and put on plates with the broccoli.  Turned out very nice and very cheap!  I’ve actually served this to guests as a chicken spaghetti and they’ve loved it.

What’s for dinner can be a scary question, and lots of times I just don’t feel the answer until panic sets in.  Tonight, I have chicken thighs.  What the heck am I gonna do with chicken thighs.   The last time I made chicken thighs, I made a stir fry with sugar pea pods, and cashew nuts.  However, today, I think I’ll do a riff on chicken wings.  I’ll fry them up till they’re crispy skinned and done, and then toss them in barbecue sauce of some kind.  What goes well with chicken wings?  French fries and cole slaw!  I’ve got the stuff for that!  Now the question of what to make for dinner is solved.

One of the best tools for figuring out the answer to What’s For Dinner? is the internet!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to make something and turned to the computer for inspiration.  My donut search is still on, and I peruse the ‘net all the time.  All you need to do is start up your favorite search engine (that program that allows you to plug in a key phrase and shows you a bunch of websites; my favorite is Bing), plug in your ingredient, and see what happens.  If you’ve got lamb, look for lamb recipes.  You’d be amazed at what comes back.  Or, if you have a favorite cooking site, see if they have an ingredient to recipe function.  I love those!

The key is to not be afraid to leave the tried and true recipe list behind.  Once I took over the cooking in my family, my mom got more interested in cooking because I was doing different things than she was used to.  You’ll find that your recipe list increases as much as rising bread dough.  See what I did there?   A cooking metaphor for a food blog!

Enjoy!

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