Post # 149 Bob’s Pizza and Other Gems

July 31, 2013 at 7:36 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I have several internet friends (and don’t tell me that can’t happen) and yesterday one of them posted on FB about a pizza he’d created.  I don’t have the details but he listed the toppings.  Here we go:  Roasted Garlic, Chicken, Prosciutto, Caramelized Onions, Roasted Red Peppers, Kalamata Olives, and Goat Cheese.  Just thinking about this made my mouth water.  I got to imagining what that pizza would look like.

I’d make my own dough using honey rather than sugar.  Once it was ready to worked, I’d spread it out by fingers and make it only a roughly circular shape.  I’d spread it lightly with olive oil then put it on the grill briefly on both sides so it set up nicely.  Then I’d place all the ingredients on it and put it back on the grill on a piece of foil to keep it from burning too badly.  I’d leave on a closed-top grill until the cheese was completely melted and bubbling.  Once it was done, only a few minutes, out it comes, chop it into roughly equal pieces and eat.

Alternatively, I’d used naan bread and make individual pizzas.  I suppose a light tomato sauce would work well with this pizza.  I’d also consider a white garlic sauce to set off the colors of the toppings as well as the flavors.  Another thing that could be done would be to puree the roasted red peppers and use that as the sauce.  Something different to think about.

So while I was thinking all this (and getting my friend’s permission to use his pizza idea for the blog), I was making dinner for the family.  I had chicken thighs and not much else in mind.  After thinking about grilling pizza, I knew I didn’t have enough time to make pizza dough and nothing around for a good substitute.  But I had grilling in mind so I decided, okay, I’ll grill the chicken.  That problem solved but what else to have with it?

I suppose since I was thinking Italian, pasta salad came to mind.  So what I did was boil up some fettuccine that I broke in half.  I rough chopped some onions and minced some garlic.  I went to the garden and got some fresh basil leaves and some lemon balm leaves.  I then took some Brussels sprouts and cut them into quarters.  While the pasta was draining and cooling (I didn’t worry about sticking because of what I was going to do with it), I heated some oil in a large skillet on a low heat.  When the oil was hot but not sizzling hot, I added the onion, garlic and sautéed them slowly, just enough to release their flavor without really cooking them too much.  I nuked the Brussels sprouts while this was going on so they were tender to the bite, but still firm and set them aside.  When the onions and garlic were ready, I put the pasta into the skillet and tossed it around to get it well coated with the oil and garlic and onions.  I turned the heat off and added the basil and lemon balm which I’d cut in chiffonade style.  Then I added the sprouts and stirred the whole mess around to get everything well coated and seasoned.  Then I put all this in a bowl and chilled it for about an hour and a half.  When we were ready to eat, I grilled the chicken until it was done, then pulled it off the grill.  I took the salad out of the fridge and sprinkled it with parmesan cheese and sunflower seeds.  I wanted another crunch factor but dammit! didn’t have croutons.  I did have herb flavored stuffing mix, so guess what?  A handful of stuffing mix went on top, too.

Well, as always happens when I’m thinking along creative lines, while I was fixing the pasta salad, I got a sweet tooth.  I keep everything on hand most of the time for a quick cake, or cookies, those kinds of things.  So I thought, I’d love chocolate chip cookies.  Oh, man, I didn’t want to stand in the kitchen for an hour baking batch after batch of those things.  Ding!  Light went on!  I made the cookies straight, no additions, no substitutions, no a la Joe.  I took the stiff dough and spread it out evenly on a half-sized baking sheet that I’d sprayed with Pam (butter flavor, cuz, well, it’s butter flavored, you know?)  I used my hands to help the spreading and started from the center and worked my way to the edges.  I baked it at the normal temp but added several minutes to make certain that it got done.  When I pulled it out, I had a giant rectangular chocolate chip cookie.  I let it cook completely then “cut” it into bars with the edge of a metal spatula by pressing the spatula into the cookie without using a cutting motion.  I’ve noticed on these aluminum pans that cutting into something on them even with a dull knife will leave deep gouges and scratches from the knife, particularly when it’s hot or warm.

So!  Dinner last night was grilled chicken, pasta salad, and chocolate chip cookies.  All inspired by Bob’s Pizza!  I have no idea how my mind works.

Enjoy!

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Post # 148 Pub Fare

July 29, 2013 at 5:35 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 148 Pub Fare

Well, here it is, the promised post about Pub Fare.  Pubs, as you know, is short for Public House and is an evolution from misty yesteryears when stage coaches ran between towns.  It was exceedingly dangerous to travel at night so inns and public houses sprang up to give travelers a safer alternative to camping out.  As towns grew around the pubs, they were incorporated into the town structure.  As towns grew larger and more prosperous, more pubs opened, each to serve a specific sector of society.  You can see the same kinds of things happening now, as various restaurants open to cater to specific clientele.

Pubs served as a gathering place for travelers and locals.  In most cases, pubs were family owned and operated.  They were fairly open, but had a homey atmosphere.  Some also offered larger rooms for meetings or councils.  The American Revolution started in a pub and most of the planning was done in pubs.  The old saying “George Washington Slept Here” has its roots in fact since the rebels tried not to meet too often at the same place.  The demeanor and atmosphere of each pub was different from each other depending on the needs of the patrons.  Some were quiet with just the sounds of the fireplace, others were rocking with music from the patrons, and other were raucous with the sounds of darts players, and other games of chance.

The two things that were common to all pubs were food and drink.  The typical drink was ale and beer, with the occasional bottle of wine.  See, way back in the day, water was always suspect.  Drinking it could actually kill you because of the diseases in it, etc.  Alcohol, on the other hand, was self-sterilized and could be drunk with impunity.  The alcohol content in those days was fairly low so intoxication took some doing or some dollars for the good stuff.  Tea and coffee were also safe since the water was boiled before being drunk.  The food, however, was as varied as the pubs.  Food really depended on the season, the area, and what was available.  Breakfast was nearly always bread and porridge.  Lunch was the main meal and would include meat if you were lucky.  Since meat was expensive, ways to stretch it were invented.  Also, a lot of meat was gamey, stringy, and tough.  So ways to cook it that would make it tasty had to be developed.  Long cooked roasts, simmering stews and soups loaded with vegetables, and pies were ubiquitous.  Some pub fare got so common that they became synonymous with pubs.

Bangers and Mash are simply fried or grilled sausages with mashed potatoes and gravy.  The flavor comes from the sausages.  Every butcher had his own recipe for sausages.  Some were mild, and some were so spicy they’d bring tears to your eyes.  The potatoes were usually roasted in the fire embers.  When they were done, the flesh was scooped out and mashed with either a little butter or a little cream.  They were fairly bland until the gravy was sloshed on.  The gravy was usually just a little meat dripping from a beef roast, some flour, some water, and some salt.  But cooked right and served hot, it was cheap, filling, and to a starving traveler, downright tasty.  To be honest, even our homemade bangers and mash are pretty decent.

Irish Stew is basically a simple mutton stew.  Nowadays, it is usually made with lamb which is really the “veal” of the sheep line.  The difference between lamb and mutton is age.  Lamb is less than a year old, mutton is normally older than three.  Mutton takes a longer cooking time to get tender, so stewing it was the only real way to consider cooking it.  Throw in potatoes, carrots, and onions and you’ve got a tasty stew to be proud of.

Another common dish was Potato and Leek Pie.  I only “discovered” leeks recently, like in the last four years.  Partner/Spouse couldn’t believe that I’d never tried them and once I did, I was all about eating leeks.  They’re from the onion family, but have such a mild flavor that they can be eaten either by themselves or incorporated into anything.  I’ve served them grilled and charred and man! are they good.  The Potato and Leek Pie is basically a simple pot pie.  You can make a bottom crust or not, as you choose.  Cut the leeks and potatoes into bite sized chunks and put in a baking dish.  Mix together milk, mustard, a small amount of flour, and some fresh ground pepper and pour over the vegetables.  Top with whatever crust you like: pie dough, bread crumbs, toasted bread slices, phyllo dough pieces.  Bake in a medium oven until the veggies are cooked through and the sauce has thickened.  You can speed it up by partially cooking the vegetable before putting them in the pot.  You can also spice up the dish by adding cooked chicken, fish, or shellfish.

Shepherd’s Pie is basically the same but the top crust is mashed potatoes and the filling is pretty much whatever leftovers you have lying around with a good gravy or milk sauce.  Fisherman’s Pie is the same but with, guess?  Fish!

Bread was usually in good supply, but was seldom the risen bread we’re used to.  It was mostly soda bread because it used ingredients at hand and it was made very quickly.  Sift together 3 2/3 cup flour, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp baking soda in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center and add 1 1/2 cups buttermilk.  Work the dough with a solid wooden spoon, the with your hands as it starts coming together.  The dough should be soft but not too wet.  If it’s too dry, add more buttermilk by tablespoons.  If it’s too wet, add more flour by tablespoons.  When the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface and gently knead it until it’s smooth and elastic.  Place the dough onto an oiled baking sheet and shape it into a round.  Use a sharp knife and cut a large X onto the surface about a half inch deep.  Bake at 425 for about 25-30 minutes.  It’s done when it sounds hollow when tapped.  Cool for about ten or fifteen minutes and serve warm with lots of butter.  Amazing stuff!

Desserts were plentiful and usually incorporated natural sweetening found in fruits.  Thick crusted apple pies were common.  Small fruit tarts were featured when fruit had ripened.  Pudding from boiled milk and honey were also common.  Bread pudding was everywhere to use up stale bread.  Raisins and rum were added to give it a richness that belied its poor start.

My favorite it called a Syllabub.  A Syllabub is basically just a sweetened whipped cream that has either fruit juice added, or a wine or alcohol.  Use an extra thick and heavy whipping cream and add a little sugar and vanilla.  Whip it until it reaches the soft peak stage.  Add your flavoring by spoonfuls until it reaches a taste pleasant to your palate.  Chill and then serve.  It’s like eating a bowl of cool whip without the sugar high.

Hope you enjoyed this.  Let me know if you have any questions, and as always, if you try something, let me know how it turned out!

Enjoy!

Post # 147 Inspiration

July 28, 2013 at 10:55 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 147 Inspiration

I’m a writer.  I usually have several projects in the works at any given moment (this blog counts as one of them).  When people learn that’s what I do, they’re usually fascinated by it.  Somewhere among the first three questions that get asked is “Where do you get your ideas?”  (In case you’re wondering, the other two are “What kind of stories do you write?” and “Have I read any of your stuff?”)  I usually tell them I get my ideas all around me.

It works the same way with cooking.  When I tell people about things I make, I nearly always get asked “How’d you come up with that?”  Ideas are a dime a dozen (as I tell those people who want to work in partnership with my writing because they have a great idea for a book.)  They truly are.  Ideas, or inspiration, for a new recipe are found everywhere.  Sometimes, I’m inspired by the placement of the vegetables in the grocery store.

Here’s a great example.  I recently came across this picture on the ‘net.

Avacdo Caprese.jpg

 

There was no recipe or instructions, just the name of the dish.  It was called Avocado Caprese Salad on Toast.

Okay, I know what avocado is.  I know what caprese salad is.  Looking more closely at the picture, I was sure I saw egg yolk flowing down adding richness to the dish which led me to believe they put a sunnyside up fried egg on there.  Given that, I thought, what about a couple of pieces of Canadian bacon, or thin sliced ham?  Here’s the recipe that I developed from the picture.

Caprese Salad on Toast with Avocado

  • One ripe avocado mashed
  • One cup small tomatoes (grape or cherry) cut in halves
  • One half cup mozzarella cut into cubes or balls cut in halves
  • Several fresh basil leaves cut in chiffonade fashion
  • Two Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • One Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar (or other tasty vinegar)
  • Eight pieces of Canadian Bacon, seared
  • Four eggs fried sunnyside up with runny yolks
  • Four slices of thickish rustic bread toasted or grilled

An hour before assembling the sandwiches, make the caprese salad by putting the tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil, and vinegar in a bowl and stirring.  Chill for one hour, no more.

Toast or grill bread slices, and set one slice on each of four plates.

Mash avocado and divide equally over toast and spread.

Fry Canadian bacon and place two slices overlapping a bit to cover avocado, leaving some avocado showing.

Fry eggs and place on top of bacon.

Spoon caprese salad evenly over each sandwich.

Serve immediately.

They’re very very good, and very very easy.  And it all came from a random picture and title I stumbled across on the ‘net.

Enjoy!

Post # 146 Passing the Test

July 26, 2013 at 3:50 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 146 Passing the Test

Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time will know that one activity that partner/spouse and I purely enjoy is taking drives in no particular direction and with no particular destination in mind.  (My first novel actually starts this way.)  It gives us a chance to get out of the house together, discover new towns, see new shops (antique preferably) and try unknown diners and restaurants.  We like the little Hole in the Wall types because there are absolute gems amongst them.

We’ve eaten in places which featured live alligators and vintage coke products as part of their décor.  We’ve eaten in places where the amount of food served for the low price would have fed a family of six, much less the two of us.  We’ve eaten at places where the pie was so good it could bring tears to your eyes.  We’ve eaten at places where if you didn’t follow the waitress’s orders exactly, you never saw her again.  At nearly every place we’ve eaten, the staff knew their regulars by name, and knew what their orders were going to be.  We like it.  It’s fun.

However, sometimes it can be scary.  You walk into an unknown restaurant of any kind and it’s kind of a crap shoot getting something good.  Ever happen to you?  You order something that turns out to be inedible?  I was the best man at a friend’s wedding and the rehearsal dinner was at a steak house.  I ordered grilled salmon along with another lady sitting next to me.  The fish was okay, but it wasn’t to the standards the restaurant was known for.   Once the major celebration was over and guests were mingling, we were discussing it and she said, “Well, I’ve learned my lesson.  Never order something the restaurant is not famous for.”

Wise words.

So, over the years, I’ve developed a set of stock orders for different kinds of restaurants I’ve been to.  If it’s a diner and I feel like breakfast, my standard order is scrambled eggs, white toast, fried potatoes, bacon, and sausage (links or patties).  It’s a simple meal, easy to make.  It always comes out hot and tasty.  Any chef or staff that can mess up that order will mess up a complicated order.  If I don’t feel like breakfast, I order a cheeseburger and fries.  Again, simple, served hot, hard to break.  I don’t look at the “fancy” burgers with all kinds of different cheeses, sauces, mushrooms, etc. on them until I’ve tried the basic burger.  And the fries have to be done right, not ones that are sitting around waiting for someone to order them.

We go to “ethnic” food restaurants a lot, too.  By that, I simply mean, restaurants that specialize in food from another region.  For instance, one of our favorite restaurants here in town is My Big Fat Greek Restaurant which serves Greek food.  I like Greek food so the times we go to a new Greek restaurant, I get either a gyro salad/platter, or a gyro sandwich.  For those who are unfamiliar, that is not pronounced Jiro.  It’s pronounce yeero.  Sometimes, to make it simpler, I’ll say hero.  It’s a grilled lamb and beef mixture served with chopped onion, tomatoes, herbs, and a yogurt and cucumber sauce called Tzitziki.  All mixed together, it’s WONDERFUL!  It’s also a Greek staple and if they do it wrong, I look at the rest of the menu with suspicion.  MBFGR did it right, and everything else we’ve had there has been very good, too.

We like Asian food, and by far our favorite is Thai.  When we go to a new Thai restaurant, partner/spouse always orders the Thai Basil Rice, and I order Chicken Pad Thai.  If you can screw up rice, or chicken and noodles, go home.  In a Chinese restaurant, my standard order is Twice Cooked Pork, or Chicken/Beef Mushrooms.  If you can mess up barbequed pork or chicken or beef sautéed with mushrooms, you got no business in a kitchen.  In a Japanese restaurant, it’s always steak and vegetables.  If I can get away with asked for extra mushrooms, I will.  If they give them to me, I will always be back.

Italian food is another big like.  I’ll typically order one of two things.  I’ll have either a Pizza al Funghi (mushroom pizza) or Fettuccini Al Fredo.  If I’ve ordered the fettuccini, then I’ll switch it up a bit and order it with shrimp.  Fettuccini Al Fredo is basically mac and cheese with a different kind of mac.  It’s simplicity personified and should be the first thing any Italian chef masters.  I’ve had some that was so sublime it made me close my eyes.  The cream and parmesan cheese blended so perfectly in just the right amounts it would make you sing.  I’ve also had it in the major national chain whose name ends in DEN, where the sauce had separated, the pasta was sticky, and it was inedible.  For other reasons, we don’t go there, but that’s a story for a different blog.  On the pizza, my standards are simple.  Lots of mushrooms.  If there are lots of mushrooms, I’m a happy camper.

Irish or British Pub Food.  Okay, I’ve spent a great deal of time in Ireland and Great Britain.  Decades ago, UK food was laughed at for being so bland.  It really was bland.  Can you imagine taking a beautiful sirloin steak and boiling it?  You get the idea.  They are also known for boiled bacon.  Doesn’t bear talking about.  However, their tastes and cooking have changed over the last many years and some of their rustic cooking, or Pub Foods, has become world renowned.  A Pub, short for Public House, is a uniquely British invention.  It’s kind of like a bar, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s a gathering house, a place where people meet to enjoy the company and the beer.   The food that’s served is incidental to the atmosphere and is always plain and simple.  But with the right chef, it’s transported.  I’ll do a post soon on Pub foods, but for a short list, Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers and Mash, Fish and Chips, Burgers and Chips, Ham and Cheese, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Toad in the Hole, Spotted Dick, and Custard Tarts.  And it’s all superb, when done right.  In a pub I don’t know, it’s always fish and chips.  If you can’t batter cod and deep fry it so it tastes good, give up your day job.  You are not a cook.

When partner/spouse and I were first dating, I took him to a local restaurant attached to a motel near the major interstate.  I hadn’t been there but people had told me about it, and it boasted live music and good food.  We arrived at 7:30, but the music didn’t start until after 9.  We decided to eat a leisurely meal, and then have a few drinks while the band played.  He ordered chicken wings, and I ordered a hot seafood and cheese dip.  We were near the Chesapeake Bay, so I assumed the seafood would be relatively fresh and the dip tasty.  I should have stuck to my standards, but I was trying to impress someone.  When it arrived, it had a nice cheesy crust, and several pita chips for dipping.  It.  Was.  Horrible.  It tasted like tuna fish in a jar of cheese whiz with some chopped onion thrown in.  I ate two pita chips worth, then asked the waitress to take it back.

“Yeah,” she said.  “Everyone sends it back.”

“Why did you let me order it?” I asked, surprised.  “Why is it even on the menu?”

We ate chicken wings and drank wine, listened to the band, and had a good time.  I wasn’t charge for the dip even though I said I’d pay for it.

The next time we went back, about four months later, the dip was not on the menu.

Good thing.

Post # 145 Bits and Pieces

July 24, 2013 at 2:54 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 145 Bits and Pieces

Hello! and how is everyone?  The blog has been chugging along for quite a while now, and I thought I’d take a moment to go over the reasons I stared it and some of my self-imposed rules.  I’ve noticed throughout my life that some of the more dramatic and funniest times have occurred in and around food.  Most of the stories I told while sitting around drinking with friends involved food in some form.  Someone finally suggested that I should be writing these stories down.  Instead of telling them out loud.  All the damn time.

So, there was born the germ of an idea that sat idle for a while until partner/spouse said that it would be a good idea to write the stories and add the recipes to the stories.  I latched onto that and started listing all the funny stories I could think of and it kept growing.  In the middle of all that, the blog was born.

Writing a blog is a labor of love.  Unless people actually respond, the blogger has no idea if anyone is really reading their work.  Most blog hosting sites have a way to see statistics, but that doesn’t really give a real world indication.  So it’s difficult to tell if what you’re writing is what people want to read, or just a giant exercise in self indulgence.

Apart from that, writing a blog, for me, is daily practice in writing.  I get to try different styles and different choices without a real penalty except a cost in time.

I started the blog with a commitment to write it three times a week, every Mon-Wed-Fri.  I also wanted to add a recipe on a separate page for each blog post.  Additionally, I wanted to add a story on a separate page at least once a month.  I wanted to make each post about 500 words long, and I wanted to try to select food subjects that would engage my readers and start discussion.  Some of that happened and some didn’t.  But through the months, I’ve gotten enough encouragement to keep plugging away.

So, I’m keeping it up, every M-W-F with additions on the weekend as the come.  I’m adding recipes in the posts rather than separately since it hasn’t been a big attraction to have them separately.  The posts have come in around 1000 words each time, for the most part, and I’ll struggle to keep at that.  I’ll also do my best to keep the posts engaging and funny.  But my sense of humor may be slightly different from anyone else’s.  I will also keep attaching my posts to my Facebook page, and any reader who wants to friend me there is welcome to.  I’ve also added an email address that I’m trying to figure out how to make public in the best way possible.  For any who want to contact me off the blog or off FB, I can be reached at BloggerJoeNow@gmail.com.  Caps not necessary.

On your part, please, comment often, ask questions, take part in the blog.  Make suggestions, volunteer to guest blog, help me make this more fun for you.  A like on FB for a blog post is great, but doesn’t show up on the blog itself.

Now on to the real work of the blog.

Who doesn’t like sandwiches?  On Food Network a couple of years ago, the guy who won the Food Network Star competition was known as the Sandwich King.  Loads of people like sandwiches.  The legend is that the Earl of Sandwich invented the beastie when he didn’t want to take time away from a card game to eat.  Partner/Spouse often says that for me a sandwich is simply a vehicle to transport cheese to my mouth.  But this recipe is one that I’ve like for a long time.

  1. 1 pound skirt steak or chopped steak cut into half inch strips
  2. 1 medium onion, sliced thinly
  3. 2 large sandwich rolls, cut in half lengthways
  4. 3-4 tablespoons of butter
  5. 1-2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium to large skillet and add onion.  When brown, remove onion to a bowl.  In same pan, sauté the steak until well browned.  Add onion and remaining butter.  Simmer over low heat until meat is tender, adding Worcestershire sauce if desired.  Tabasco can also be added if you want.   Turn heat to very low, brown the rolls on a hot griddle with butter until surfaces are toasted nicely.  Once the buns are ready, divide meat between the two rolls adding any extra sauce if desired.  The sandwiches are great as is, but can be dressed up with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, fresh salsa, melted cheese, whatever you like.

Enjoy!

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