Post # 96 Garbage Can Salad

February 27, 2013 at 12:24 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 96 Garbage Can Salad

Way more years ago than I like to remember, I lived with my sister and her husband while I want to college.  Since I had the most spare time, and the inclination, part of the way that I pulled my weight was to be the chief cook and bottle washer.  Of course, I had to learn to cook the way they liked which wasn’t really a problem for me except they were trying their best to be vegetarians.  So we ate a lot of legumes, salads, soy products, etc.  Salads were a big deal for us, and following their guidelines became a lesson in studied chaos. They made what I came to call Garbage Can Salad which I continue to make today.

It was a salad that incorporated every fresh vegetable that could be found at whatever particular time of the year it was.  There was no thought as to what would taste good together, or textures, or even what looked nice.  It was throw as much of everything into the biggest bowl there was, fill that bowl to the rim, then everyone dive in and eat.

Up to that point in my life, salad was pretty much just iceberg lettuce, chopped tomato, chopped cucumbers, thinly slice onion, and bell pepper.  Top it off with Italian dressing, set it next to a steak or a piece of chicken and you had a meal, as long as you added a baked potato.  Simple salad, comfortable, familiar, and completely not awe inspiring.  Of course, that was back in the 1970s.  Salad has come a long way since then.

A few years ago, I was making a salad on the weekend for family dinner.  One of my closest friends was over and watching as I chopped veggies, placed things in bowls, tossed herbs, etc.  She was fascinated and commented on how much she was learning.  I was surprised because salad, for me, has nearly always been “throw veggies in a bowl and mix.”  She replied that there was more to it than that in the way I combined, the layers I created, etc.  I never thought about anyone having to be taught how to create a salad.  Then I remembered being taught to create my sister’s Garbage Can Salad.

Salads used to exist at the end of the meal.  Now, in many cases, they have replaced the meal.  My ex-wife has truly embraced the concept of “side salad” keeping her salad with her throughout the entire meal and enjoying its freshness and crunch from beginning to end.  Many restaurants and chefs have started making the salad very large, and adding strips of cooked meat to create an entrée salad.  Even fast food places are doing this.  I was once addicted to a seafood salad from Jack in the Box that was just shredded lettuce, a little grated cheese, a couple of wedges of tomato, a couple of slices of cucumber, and about a dozen small marinated shrimp.  Once the shrimp were gone, it was just the lettuce.  I ate one of those several times a week for over a year.

The Garbage Can Salad was called that because every piece of garbage went into it.  The base was sliced cabbage rather than lettuce.  We used cabbage because we liked the crunch and flavor better, but also because it didn’t wilt under the dressing the way lettuce greens did.  It’s also healthier for you.  Then I chopped bite-sized chunks of every vegetable I could find.  It didn’t matter if I’d never seen it in a salad before; it was going in now.  Vegetables I’d never eaten raw before were eaten raw then and ever since.  Sometimes, I’ll be walking along and see wild asparagus spears and grab one without thinking, enjoying the crunch and fresh flavor.  After all the veggies are chopped and in the bowl, about a half cup of grated cheddar cheese, is added, and about a quarter cup of various seeds, sunflower, sesame, poppy, etc.  The last ingredient that was always included was soy bacon bits.  Soy because they were vegetarians and bacon because, well, it’s bacon.  Everything is tossed together and the juice from half a lemon is sprinkled over all of it.  Chill it, and eat.

In the ensuing years, I’ve modified it to include different cheeses.  I’ve added fruit.  I’ve ditched the soy bacon and use the real thing.  I’ve replaced cabbage with hardier forms of lettuce, such as Romaine.  I’ve roasted some vegetables before adding to salad.  I’ve included small pasta shapes like ditalini or orzo.  I’ve included sprouts of various kinds as I’ve had them.  I’ve made bread bowls and served the salad in them.  I’ve changed the lemon for dressing on the side.  I’ve added chopped hard-boiled eggs.  Sometimes, I’ve omitted the lettuce and cabbage and had just rough chopped veggies.

See, the real secret or magic to this salad is that there really aren’t rules for it.  Simply put whatever you like or have in a bowl with a dressing and call it good.

One of my favorite salads is called Fetoush.  I’m certain that I spelled it wrong, but it’s a Mediterranean bread salad.  Take several pita bread rounds and cut them into small wedges.  Separate them and place them on a baking sheet.  Place in a hot oven until they’re dried and toasted well.  Set aside to cool.  Slice a red onion very thin.  Peel a cucumber, then cut it down its length.  Remove the seeds with a spoon and discard.  Slice the cucumber along it length into three equal spears for each half.  Cut the spears into bite-sized chunks.  Slice and quarter the slices of six large plum tomatoes.  Cut one or two hearts of Romaine into bite-sized pieces.  Drain a can of ripe black olives.  Place everything except the pita bread into a large bowl.  Make a dressing by mixing together the juice from one half a lemon, a tablespoon of dried oregano, salt, pepper, and a half cup of olive oil.  Pour over veggies and toss to coat thoroughly.  Chill.  Just before serving, add the pita bread.

Hope this inspires you to play around with salads.  Let me know what you come up with!  Enjoy!

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Post # 95 Pizza Recipe for the Grill

February 25, 2013 at 2:07 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 95 Pizza Recipe for the Grill

Pizza traditionally is made on a pizza stone.  That’s simply a flat surface heated in the oven that the raw pizza is put on.  It cooks the pizza dough from the bottom while the ambient heat cooks the pizza from the top.  This ensures evenly cooked pizza with a crunchy crust, bubbly sauce, and melted cheese.  Most people tend to think oven, or pizza oven when thinking pizza.  I’m going to tell you about a way to grill pizza on a gas grill that will produce the same results and a great grilled flavor!

You need to used a very sturdy dough, preferably homemade.  Here’s my favorite:

  1. 1/2 cup water
  2. 1 Tbl olive oil
  3. 1 cup bread flour
  4. 1 tsp sugar
  5. 1/2 tsp salt
  6. 1/2 tsp rapid rise yeast

Using your favorite method for making dough (I prefer the bread machine), mix everything together (dry ingredients first) until a firm dough ball is formed.  Turn the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and turn the dough to coat all sides.  Cover tightly and leave in a warm spot to double in volume, 1 to 2 hours.  When the dough is doubled, punch down and turn out on to a floured surface.  Cut the dough into two equal pieces.  Form each piece into a smooth ball.  Press the dough rounds flat with your hands, cover with plastic, and let rest for about 15 minutes.  Starting in the center, gently stretch and press the dough to about 6 – 8 inches in diameter.  Using a floured rolling pin, roll them out to 10 inches in diameter on a piece of parchment paper.  *TIP:  If you trace a 10 inch circle on the underside of the parchment paper, it makes rolling out the dough easier.  Cover and set aside.

Get the grill ready by lighting it and setting it on HIGH.  After 10 minutes, scrape the grill, and using tongs and a tightly folded paper towel, lightly oil the grate.  Wait for the flare ups to subside, then reduce the heat on one half of the grill to MEDIUM.  Take both dough rounds to the grill.  Place ONE on the cooler side of the grill for about two minutes.  Bubbles will start to form on the surface.  Remove it and place the next one on the grill for two minutes.  Once the dough is seared, take them to your work surface.  Brush the top lightly with olive oil, a flavored one if you prefer.  Garlic olive oil works great!  Slice Plum Tomatoes into 1/4 inch rounds.  Place tomato slices over each pizza crust as thickly or thinly as you prefer.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.  Spread a half cup of your favorite shredded cheese over the tomatoes, then spread 1/4 cup of parmesan over that.

Place both pizzas on the cooler side of the grill and close the cover.  Cook until the cheese is melted checking often, about 3-4 minutes.  Remove the pizzas and turn off the grill.  Take pizzas to your work surface, sprinkle lightly with dried basil, cut into wedges and eat!

This can also be done with charcoal or wood burning grills by moving the burning coals to one side of the grill and using the cooler side.  Pay very close attention to avoid burning the crust.

Various toppings, cheeses, sauces, etc. can be used.  Experiment to find your favorite combination and cooking times.  Wonderful stuff!  Enjoy!

Post # 94 Pizza Is Purely Personal

February 22, 2013 at 11:05 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

First, let me apologize for not posting on Wednesday.  I made a 550 mile round trip that took all day.  Once I got back home, we had several packages arrive at the same time, and with dinner, etc. suddenly there was just no time.  By the time things had calmed down enough for me to sit at the computer, it was after 9pm.  Okay, so on to the blog!

I’ve mentioned a time or two that pizza is some of my favorite food.  Cold pizza is my favorite breakfast.  Curry pizza in Sri Lanka, while funny, is not a good dinner.  On and on.  When I wrote the post about tacos a while ago, one of my followers commented that tacos were a purely personal type of food and everyone likes them differently.  Pizza takes that same concept and squares it.

Pizza starts with the base, the crust.  I’ve always found that if the crust doesn’t taste good, nothing can help that pizza.  The crust needs to be more than just dough.  It has to have flavor.  In Italy, the crust is made with olive oil and has salt.  It’s not too thick or thin, and is the perfect vehicle for conveying the sauce and toppings to the mouth.  I’ve tried a bunch of different recipes and other items as the crust and still haven’t found that perfect crust.

The sauce is made up of a lot of different things.  There’s the traditional red sauce.  Some chefs make a pizza sauce out of just plain tomato sauce.  They paint it onto the crust and add toppings and cheese.  Kind of boring.  Most chefs add herbs and spices and sometimes meat to the red sauce to give it character.  Then there’s the white sauce.  This is just a typical thin béchamel to make a white pizza.  Some chefs add garlic or parmesan to the sauce to give it flavor.  Then there’s the pizza with no sauce.  It’s just cheese and toppings on bread dough.  It’s kind of boring for my taste.  Finally, there’s the pizza with no sauce, but fresh tomato slices are placed on the crust.  Cheese and toppings are added and the tomatoes cook as the pizza cooks.  Creates quite a different flavor profile and can be wonderful.

The amount of sauce on the pizza is a matter of personal preference.  For me, putting too much sauce on the pizza is terrible for two reasons.   First, it burns the inside of your mouth if it’s too hot and with too much sauce the burns can be terrible.  Second, the cheese and toppings are floating on the sauce and usually land on your plate or your lap.  When I order pizza for delivery, I nearly always ask for light sauce, or half sauce.

The cheese on a pizza is important.  It  should be high quality.  Bad quality cheese turns into melted plastic with no taste.  Yum.  I normally put parmesan, cheddar, and mozzarella cheese on my homemade pizzas.  I’ve seen people who’ve put every kind of cheese on a pizza until the oils from the cheese pool in the center.  The most important thing to remember is use high quality cheese.

Toppings on a pizza.  Let’s start the firestorm!  My favorite pizza is a mushroom pizza.  Sometimes I’ll add pepperoni or sausage to it if I want some protein.  In Rome, I used to get Pizza Al Fungi (mushroom pizza) where they put the perfect sauce on the perfect crust with high quality mozzarella and they sliced the mushroom so thin that it covered the entire surface of the pizza and got crispy in the brick oven.  My second favorite pizza is plain cheese.  Nothing else.  You can really put anything on a pizza that you like.  Personal preference is the key.

Pizza sizes are all over the chart, but pretty standardized in restaurants.  There are twelve inch, sixteen inch, 20 inch, and 24 inch.  I just saw a commercial last night where a national pizza chain is offering a new size called pizza sliders.  Looked smaller than the “personal” pizza and looked like fun.

When we were kids, we tried making pizza on toast, on English muffins, on corn or flour tortillas, and multiple other things.  We were looking for non-frozen, convenient pizza that cooked up quick and was delicious.  We never found that right mix, but I gotta say, the English muffin pizza came really close.  Something about the nooks and crannies holding all that sauce with melted cheese on top.  Good stuff.

Finally, there’s a fun pizza that’s been turned inside out.  It’s called a Stromboli.  Roll out the crust, add the sauce, cheese and toppings, fold it over and seal it, bake it, and eat it!!  Omit the sauce and just put cheese and toppings in it and it’s a Calzone.  Something I never understood about Calzone is that it’s made and defined by the omission of the sauce.  Then everyone puts sauce on the side to dip it in.  Huh?  If you want the sauce, put it in!  If you don’t, take it away.

Anyway, enjoy your pizza, have a good time with it, and next week, I’ll have a good recipe for you for a great pizza that’s relatively easy.  Enjoy!

Post # 93 Story Time

February 18, 2013 at 12:34 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 93 Story Time

It’s been a hectic weekend for me.  Without going into details, the entire immediate family on my side, a few members of partner/spouse’s family were in town for the weekend.  Made for some late, wine-filled nights gathered around the fire pit.  Stories were swapped, friendships renewed, communication lines reopened.

I was struck again by how food always seems to play such a large role in my family’s gatherings.  For instance, last night my brother-in-law made part of the evening meal; another member of the family made part, and I made part.  It wasn’t a huge feast but there was lots of what was there and it all tasted wonderful.  It was seasoned by good humor and laughter.

As it always happens when my family gets together for any reason, we told stories designed to make everyone laugh.  It’s the Irish blood in us.  I started making note of how many of those stories involved food.  It seems like the constant in the equation.

One close friend/member of the family talked about how when he first met our family, he would walk home from work past our house.  After his bills were paid each month, he said he never had money left over for extraneous things like food.  He’d stop at our house and my dad would always have a cold beer for him, and mom always had something for him to eat.  He said one time he came in and sat down and the air conditioning felt so nice that he sighed and closed his eyes.  When he opened them again, mom had a plateful of grilled cheese sandwiches for him, and he wasn’t really very hungry.  But he ate them all.

We talked about my sister’s first Thanksgiving meal and the pumpkin that was supposed to be turned into a pie.  We talked about my mom’s first microwave and the loaf of bread she made that turned into a brick. One story that came up that made everyone laugh and groan at the same time involved chicken livers and fish bait.

Mom and Dad and my younger brother are avid fishermen.  At one point, it came close to an obsession.  Over time, they found that chicken livers made excellent fish bait.  So whenever they saw it on sale, they’d buy several cartons and put them in the freezer.  Then, when they decided to go fishing, they’d take a carton out and put it on the porch rail the night before.  By the time it was thawed out and ready to use as bait, they’d be ready to go fishing early in the morning. One late afternoon, I came home from work and noticed the container of frozen chicken livers on the porch rail.  I made a mental note that Mom and Dad wouldn’t be there when I woke up and likely not to be home till noon or later.  This was such a normal situation we didn’t even talk about during dinner or the rest of the evening.

The next morning, when I walked out to the living room, Mom was sitting on the couch drinking coffee.

“What’s up?” I asked.  “I thought you guys were going fishing.”

“We were,” she said.  “But the your dad needed something at the hardware store, and we decided not to go.”

I looked outside and saw Dad’s truck was gone.  I also noted the chicken livers still sitting on the porch rail.

“We’ll probably go tomorrow,” she continued.

Events transpired and the proposed fishing trip never happened.  The chicken livers, however, stayed on the porch rail.  Each day, when I arrived home, I glanced to see if anyone had taken care of the package.  Each day, it stayed where it was.  Then the livers started to rot.  In the Arizona sun, it didn’t take long.  The gases released from this purely natural process caused the package to swell and distend.  It was hermetically sealed for our safety, but I knew that it wouldn’t be long before there was  big smelly explosion.

Each day I hoped that someone would have taken care of it.  I didn’t feel any need to since I hadn’t put it there in the first place.  But each day my horror grew along with the size of the package.  I saw that not only was it hermetically sealed, but it was also wrapped in plastic.  I just prayed that the two would be strong enough to hold it together.

Finally, one day it was gone.  I breathed a sigh of relief assuming that Dad had taken it somewhere and buried it.  After I’d changed and took a swim in the pool and got dinner started, I was sitting on the couch greeting the dogs.  My mom’s little black dog smelled terrible, like she’d been rolling in cow patties.  Then, I notice that where she had licked my arm stank like crazy.

“What the hell?” I said out loud, sniffing my arm again.

Mom started laughing.  “Remember those chicken livers?  The dogs got to them.  Can you give them all a bath?”

It was weeks before the smell went away entirely.

I’ve never been able to look a chicken liver in the eye ever since.

Post # 92 Snackin’ Stuff

February 15, 2013 at 4:46 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 92 Snackin’ Stuff

Okay, so now it’s time to share some quick and easy snackin’ recipes.  These are things you can keep on hand, make in just a few minutes, and are great!

1.  Greek Wrap Disks

Take a half cup of softened cream cheese of any style (regular, lo fat, no fat, etc.  Do NOT use flavored cream cheese.)  Add a couple of pinches of dried oregano, 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese of any kind, 1 2oz can of chopped black olives drained, and some chopped sun dried tomatoes.  Mix together thoroughly.  Heat two flour tortillas until soft and spread the mix evenly between the two tortillas.  Lay some very thin sliced turkey over the cheese mixture, and then add several leaves of baby spinach.  Roll the tortillas very tightly and wrap in plastic.  Chill for about fifteen minutes, then slice into six pieces.  Eat.  Yum.

2. Apple and Cheese

Chill three sweet apples.  Soften a half cup of cream cheese.  Add a quarter cup of shaved parmesan cheese and a quarter cup of white wine.  Blend thoroughly.  Core the apple down the center, creating a tube about a half inch across.  Fill the tube with cheese and chill for an hour.  Just before serving, slice the apples into wedges that contain apple and cheese.  Good stuff.

3. Taco Pockets

Warm a pita bread and cut in two, separating the pockets.  Place chopped lettuce in the bottom of the pocket, then add grated cheddar cheese, chopped cooked chicken, and top with salsa.  Eat.  Make more.  Eat more.

4. Baked Asparagus Spears

Heat oven to 425.  Clean one pound of asparagus and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil, a pinch of kosher salt, and fresh ground black pepper.  Spread into a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for ten to fifteen minutes.  Sprinkle with grated parmesan while hot and serve.

5. Kale Chips

(I got this recipe from a good friend, Rochelle D. then found it all over the web-verse.  It’s that good.)  Take one pound of kale leaves and clean them thoroughly.  Dry them well.  Toss in a bowl with olive oil and salt and pepper till well coated.  Spread the leaves on a baking sheet and place in a 425 degree oven.  Check after ten minute, and shake around.  Check every five minutes until the leaves are crispy.  Serve warm.

6. Banzo Bean Crunch

Drain one can of garbanzo beans and toss with olive oil.  Cook in a skillet over medium heat stirring frequently until beans are browned.  Stir in one tablespoon of soy sauce, and a small shake of tabasco sauce, coating the beans evenly.  Sprinkle with garlic powder and onion powder.  Transfer to a baking sheet and cook in the oven at 325 for about 20-25 minutes, stirring every ten minutes.  Cool and eat, lots of them.

7. Quesadillas

Place flour tortilla in heated skillet and spread grated cheese over the entire surface.  Add some chopped cooked chicken or steak or both, and a little bit of salsa spread throughout.  When the cheese begins to melt, fold the tortilla over onto itself and cook for another thirty seconds.  Flip the tortilla and cook for thirty seconds.  Remove and cut into wedges.  Eat immediately.

8. Mock Chocolate Mousse

Empty one large container of Cool Whip into a large bowl.  Add one box of instant chocolate pudding mix and 1/4 cup whole milk.  Blend, and continue adding whole milk until the mixture is light and frothy.  Spoon into bowls or dessert dishes.  Chill until set, about a half hour.  Get out of the way as everyone runs for the dessert.

9. Grilled Tomato and Cheese Sandwiches

Butter two slices of bread while a skillet is heating on medium heat.  Spread soft cream cheese of any type or flavor on the unbuttered side of one slice of bread.  Place tomato slices on the cream cheese, then add as many slices of other cheeses as you like.  I usually add American, Swiss, Cheddar, and Mozzarella.  Place the second slice of bread on top of the cheese with the butter side away from the cheese.  Place the sandwich in the skillet and brown the bread.  Flip the sandwich and brown the bread.  If the cheese is not completely melted, place on a baking sheet and continue cooking in the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

10. Berry Mimosa

Okay, so this one is not for kids.  Get a bag of your favorite frozen berry.  I use cherries and blueberries alone or combined.  Let them thaw halfway, then remove a handful to a bowl and roughly crush them.  Put a spoonful in the bottom of a champagne glass along with some juice.  Top the glass with either champagne or sparkling water.  Serve cold.

Enjoy your snacks!

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