Post # 167 Food Art

September 18, 2013 at 5:16 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Hi!  I forgot that I needed to take the FiL to the doctor today for a minor surgical procedure.  It’s nothing to worry about, but it did take a large chunk of my day away.  Left little time for writing.  So I’m offering some images of food art I’m collecting for an upcoming post.

Enjoy!

food art 01

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

food art 03

food art 04

food art 05

This last one isn’t really food art, but it’s funny and it’s the same attitude I get from my dogs all the time!

food art 06

Post # 166 When I Woke Up This Morning . . . .

September 16, 2013 at 5:28 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 166 When I Woke Up This Morning . . . .

When I woke up this morning, the kitchen was a mess.  I looked at the piles of dishes, the juiced halves of lemon wilting in the sink, other assorted detritus, and remembered my optimistic pledge from the night before.  “Oh, I’ll do this in the morning.  It’ll be all right.”  Now, at 5:30 a.m., dogs outside barking the sun into rising, partner/spouse in the shower, FiL still snoring, I thought, “Oh, man, no way should anyone have to be this sleepy and face this.”

But it was my own fault.  Partner/spouse and I had hosted a cookout at my sister’s house, two doors down.  We provided the main meal; she provided everything else.  It’s a good arrangement.  Earlier in the week, when I proposed the idea to partner/spouse, he said, “Sure!  But lets do something besides burger and dogs.”  Fish was out of the question because my sister won’t be in the same room as a fish, dead or alive, her or the fish.  We didn’t want to go to the huge expense of steak for all.

“What about meatballs in pita bread?” one of us suggested.  I honestly don’t know who.  We both liked the idea and immediately set about planning the menu which was going to be very simple since we were taking the food already cooked to her house.  I took some parts and partner/spouse took some parts.  On Saturday, we bought all the necessary ingredients for the Sunday afternoon cookout, which turned out to be not so much a cookout since only one thing got cooked outside, and that was an afterthought.

We bought two pounds of ground lamb from a really neat butcher.  He has all kinds of stuff.  In his butcher’s case, he has the standard things you’d see in any butcher’s case.  But in the freezer on the customer side, he has shelves and shelves of stuff.  He has bison, alligator, ostrich, python, rare and exotic game meats, things you’ve never heard of.  Nearly all of it, I’ve tried at one time or another during my travels.  He’s always surprised when he suggests something to me and I tell him I’ve had it.  This time, he tried to get me to buy some alligator tail or some ostrich steak.  I told I liked both, but not for the crowd I was feeding.

Once we had the lamb in hand, we went to the “regular” store to get the supplies for the rest of the feast.  Partner/spouse made the tzatziki sauce because you want its flavors to blend as long as possible.  Also, you have to let the cucumbers weep for quite a while to get all the water out of them.

Okay, I can tell you’re wondering what I’m talking about.  Tzatziki sauce is a wonderful greek yogurt sauce made with cucumbers.  It’s really delicious and can be used as a salad dressing, a dip for pita chips, or a spread in sandwiches.  First, drain your yogurt.  Use only plain yogurt, and greek yogurt if you can.  Let it drain for a minimum of 12 hours, but 24 would be better.  You can save the liquid, but I usually toss it.  To drain it, put the yogurt in a fine-mesh sieve line with cheesecloth and put it over a bowl to catch the liquid draining.  What’s left, after it’s drained, is a really good, semi thick yogurt “cheese” that can be used for a bunch of different things.  Letting the cucumber weep is simple.  Cut the ends off, then in half lengthways.  Take the seeds out with a spoon, then dice the cumber very fine.  You can leave the skin of or take it off, it’s entirely up to you.  Like the yogurt, place the cucumbers in a fine-mesh sieve and place over a bowl.  Sprinkle with salt to help draw out the water.  Leave it in the fridge for about 8-12 hours.  Remove the cucumber to a towel and wring them out gently.  Combine yogurt and cucumber with a table spoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of minced garlic, chopped mint, and chopped dill.  Let it chill for about four hours, longer if you can stand to, then eat it.  Good stuff.

On Sunday morning, I woke up and mixed together the ground lamb with herbs de Provence, garlic, minced shallot, and salt.  I mixed regular hamburger with dried onion soup mix, salt, pepper, and garlic.  I let those sit for a few hours while the flavors blended.  Since it was Sunday, we wanted to eat earlier than normal for our cookouts, so at noon I started forming the meatballs.  I got 3 dozen meatballs from the lamb with each meatball being 1 tablespoon in volume.  So I decided to make the same number of meatballs out of hamburger, figuring 6 dozen meatballs would be enough.  Then I made six large hamburger patties for anyone who wanted a hamburger instead of meatballs.  I cooked the lamb while I was forming the beef.  Oven set at 400, 25 minutes on a sheet tray line with foil.  Came out perfect.  Beef meatballs, the same, and the same result.

We went over to my sister’s at two and sat around talking, eating chips, etc.  Until it was time to get the food ready.  Partner/spouse and I came back and I made a gigantic salad.  Hearts of romaine torn to shreds.  Red onion sliced thin.  Ripe tomatoes cut into large chunks.  Green bell pepper, cored and seeded, sliced into thin strips.  Mint from the garden, oregano from the pantry.  A quarter cup of olive oil, juice from two lemons, a little salt, a little pepper, and toss that sucker till the dressing was blended.  Pita chips and whole black olives on top with a sprinkle of feta cheese, and the salad was done.  Partner/spouse gave his tzatziki sauce one last stir, and we started taking stuff over.  The burgers were already done on the grill, and the kitchen set up to handle the food and the crowd.

I had to instruct everyone about how to build the sandwich to get the best flavor.  I finally used the metaphor of a taco and everyone got it immediately.  It was good stuff.  The comment I heard most was, “This is so different and so good.  Thank you!”

Heck, I thought everyone had tried greek food before.  I got home late cuz my sister and I got to talking.  When I walked in, I looked at the kitchen and said to myself, “I’ll do this in the morning.  It’ll be all right.”

Then I woke up this morning and looked at that.  Wish I’d done it the night before.

Post # 165 Huevos Rancheros . . . British Style

September 13, 2013 at 2:47 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A long while ago, in answer to a question posed here, I wrote a post about who my favorite chefs are.  Of course, leading that pack was the Goddess herself, Julia Child.  She cracks me up.  A little further down the list, but still way high up there are Clarissa Dickson-Wright and Jennifer Patterson, The Two Fat Ladies.  They are from Great Britain; they ride a motorcycle and sidecar; they cook and jibber jabber for hours; they are both really fat.  And they’re endearing, funny, and informative.  They only made four seasons of their show before Jennifer passed away from lung cancer due to incessant smoking.  The chemistry between the ladies was unique and extraordinary, not to be repeated, and partner/spouse and I watch their DVDs several times a week.  Just cuz.

2 Fat Ladies

It’s hilarious to listen to these two proper British ladies talking about Mexican food with such authority.  They don’t do it right, at least, not by the standards I grew up with in the desert southwest.  They talk about steaming the Chili Rellenos which they mispronounce.  They use a “proper Mexican cheese” for their Chili Rellenos, Monterey Jack.  They don’t deep fry them at all, and when they come out of the bamboo basket steamer, they look slimy.

A good friend, whenever we mention British cooking, always says the same thing.  “How would you like your steak boiled tonight?”

The Two Fat Ladies never boiled a steak that I ever saw, and they made some intriguing recipes that we’ve made with good success.

They made Huevos Rancheros and it looked really good.  They were cooking breakfast for the workers at Black Sheep Brewery in North Yorkshire.  Amongst the other dishes they prepared, Clarissa made this.

Huevos Rancheros

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons oil

Brown the ground beef until no longer pink.  Add onion and garlic and sauté for two to three minutes until onion softens “a bit”.  Add tomatoes, salt, and pepper and one cup water.  Cook until water has evaporated, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.  In the meantime, heat oil in a shallow skillet, and cook the tortillas, one by one until they are firm but not crisp.  Keep them hot in a warm oven until ready for them.  When the beef mixture is done, take it off the fire.  Set out four plates.  Place two tortillas on each plate.  Fry the eggs, two at a time, and place a single egg atop each tortilla.  When all the eggs have been placed, evenly divide the beef mixture over the eggs and serve hot.

Okay, now The Two Fat Ladies are British.  They omitted what, to me, is one of the most important features of this recipe:  the spice!  Onion and garlic only go so far.  I would add either chopped green chili, or some sort of chili powder to kick it up several notches.  But that’s just me.

It’s an easy recipe to make, and it’s very filling.  Just the thing a bunch of hard working beer brewers need.  Or even me.

Take care, Enjoy! and as always, let me know how it turns out if you try this dish.

Post # 164 A Recipe for Peace

September 11, 2013 at 11:23 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 164 A Recipe for Peace

Twelve years ago, I was sitting in my office at work just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C.  It was fairly early in the morning, when my news alert on my computer announced that a plane had just hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  I rushed down the long hallway to the a friend’s office.  He had a small TV there, actually one that I’d given him as I didn’t want it any more.  We watched and listened to news reports about what happened.  A dread suspicion was growing in my stomach, and I prayed that it was “simple” pilot error.  I’ve worked my whole life with computers and have spent years on airplanes.  For such a large plane to make that kind of error, well, it just couldn’t happen.

I went back to my office to call my wife.  All pretense of work was suspended as everyone in the metropolitan area was glued to television, radio, and computer news.  We talked about it and she offered the explanation that it might have something to do with the protests of the World Monetary Fund meeting taking place in Seattle, or thereabouts, at the time.  That seemed a little too out of their range to me.  There was a name I’d been hearing more and more recently, during my travels for the State Dept. and my time at home.  Bin Laden.  He was supposed to be behind attacks on two American embassies in Africa, as well as the bombing of an aircraft carrier in the Middle East.

A few minutes after we hung up, our minds reeled at the news that the second tower had been hit.  I knew immediately we were under attack.  Again, we were glued to the five inch black and white screen watching over and over as the plane hit the building.  I ached for those in the buildings and in the planes.  I wanted to shout at the people on the ground to move, to get out of the way.

Then, a short time later, I felt our building shake a little.  “What the hell?” I thought.  Before I had a chance to even put my fingers to my keyboard, one of the senior managers was running down the hall alerting staff to the fact that a plane just hit the Pentagon, a quarter of a mile from our building.  The entire metro area was being evacuated.

I immediately got on the phone to my wife.  “Get home.” I told her.  “I don’t care what excuse you give them, quit if you have to.  Get away from the airport, and get home.  Call your parents and let them know what’s happening.”

I called my sister-in-law who worked in D.C.  I said, “Get out of the city.  I’m sorry I don’t know how to tell you how to do that, but you have to get out of the city.”

I made several other calls that morning to let friends and colleagues know what was happening.  I was a subcontractor working for another firm, and I had four other employees under me.  The primary contractor had not given the okay to leave the office for the day, but I told my people to go home.  The senior manager tried to tell me I didn’t have authority to do that, but I told her that I was going to make certain that my staff was safe; that she was free to act in any way she chose with her staff.

While we were having this discussion, word came from her company that we could evacuate so it became moot.  A couple of senior managers and myself stayed to make sure everyone was off our floor before we started to head out.  I suddenly realized that there were several maintenance workers in another part of the building doing remodeling who might not have heard.  I ran to their area and explained as best I could given our language barriers.  They got the point and started leaving, as well.

I took metro into work most days and I knew that train stations would be packed.  I was standing outside trying to decide how to get the thirty miles home done, when a coworker offered a ride.  My jeep was parked at one of the metro stations and he offered a lift to it.  What was normally a fifteen to twenty minute drive took us nearly three hours.  Despite the bumper to bumper traffic and slow speeds, courtesy prevailed over panic.  I didn’t hear about a single accident that day.  By the time I got home, Several hours had passed.  We had heard about the plane going down in Pennsylvania.  We had cried when we heard the towers had fallen.  Air traffic had been suspended and the skies were eerily quiet.  Telephone lines were choked with emergency calls.  Television stations, local and national, were trying to give out what little information they had in a coherent manner, trying to separate the truth from rumor.

The sense of unreality was palpable.  I kept thinking that I was going to wake up and it wouldn’t have happened.  My mind kept reeling at the sheer number of innocent people who had perished, both in the events and the aftermath.  I wondered where the madness came from.

This is the first time I’ve written about what happened that day.  It’s as fresh today as if it happened today.  I recall my anger, my feeling of inadequacy, my need to strike out in any way I could.  Mostly, I wanted something to make sense in a senseless day.

Over a decade has gone by.  Soon, there will be a whole generation alive who weren’t alive on that day.  It’s said that time heals all wounds.  I’m not sure about that anymore.

I’ve often been accused of being “Joebecca of Sunnybrook Farms”, the eternal optimist.  I’m the guy who can find the best in any situation, from missing a plane (well, now I can watch my favorite show on TV) to breaking my leg (well, I’ll get to be off my feet for a little while.)  It’s been over a decade and I’ve yet to find the best of this situation.  Except one.

I felt a lot of anger, aggression, turmoil in the days that followed.  I normally try not to get angry because it’s not a helpful emotion.  I didn’t like what I was feeling so I looked at it very closely and discovered a truth in all that emotion and in the events of that day.

A few years later, I was in a group discussion about 9/11 with some colleagues.  One of the ladies asked me what I thought about it.

“We needed it.” I replied.

This woman was notorious for her acerbity and quick anger.  But she looked at me and said, “I’m going to let you explain that before I rip your face off.”

I explained.  “In my travels, one thing I learned is that America and Americans are very arrogant about our lifestyle.  Those who have not experienced other cultures and those cultures successes honestly believe that it’s America’s way or no way.  We live in one of the largest nations by landspace with little diversity and both borders protected by our neighbors.  We’ve been insulated for so many years, we believed we could not be attacked within our own borders.  So we didn’t prepare for that.  We couldn’t conceive of a way that we could be attacked.  But now we know that’s not true.  Our country is working to protect itself from within as well as from without.  We needed a wake up call, and we got one that could not be ignored.”

So how do you create peace out of war?  How do you protect one way of life from another?  How do you resolve the grievances one people feel for another?

Let’s talk to Aretha Franklin about that.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  Our nation was founded on freedom, on the concept of respecting our fellow humans.  The Golden Rule, the Eleventh Commandment, the Ethic of Reciprocity, it’s found in all cultures and all religions.  Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.  Father, forgive me as I forgive others.  Never impose on others what you do not choose for yourself.

It’s about learning.  It’s about accepting.  It’s about wanting to be fair.  That’s the recipe for peace, whether it’s two kids playing in a sandbox, or two countries fighting over a “line drawn in the sand.”  America and Americans cannot be arrogant.  The rest of the world cannot be unforgiving.

The recipe for peace is respect, pure and simple.

Post # 163 Let’s Talk Peanut Butter!

September 9, 2013 at 2:07 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

In an earlier post, I talked about comfort foods.  One of my favorite comfort foods is a good ole PBJ.  But, it has to be a very specific sandwich.  The bread has to be firm.  The peanut butter has to be smooth and just a little salty.   The jelly has to be ice box cold and can only be grape.  And it can’t be jelly, it must be jam.  Jam has less sugar, comparatively speaking.  If any of those elements is missing or lacking, I won’t eat it.  All that being said, I don’t like peanut butter.  I know people who will eat the stuff right out of the jar with a spoon.  My dogs will take any pill you give them if it has peanut butter on it.  Peanut Butter Cookies are the second most popular cookie, with only chocolate chip beating them.

But I love Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups.  And Butterfingers.  Go figure.

Peanut butter has figured prominently in my life.  As a kid, my mom’s philosophy was “as long as they’re playing in the sun and eating peanut butter, they’re going to be fine.”  And we were.  She gave us peanut butter nearly every day of our childhood.  Our dad ate peanut butter crackers.  My ex-wife bought about a million dollars worth of those orange cheese crackers with peanut butter in the middle.  And now, FiL, who eat some of the nastiest things I can imagine, eat peanut butter crackers, and puts a quarter cup of peanut butter on each cracker.  He’ll go through a big jar of peanut butter in a couple of days.

Peanut butter is defined as a food paste made from dry roasted peanuts.  Sounds yummy, don’t it?  It’s used primarily as a sandwich spread, but can be used for other things.  A lot of people think George Washington Carver invented peanut butter because of his work with peanuts, but the first patent on record is from Montreal in 1884 and was held by Marcellus G. Edson.

Peanut butter’s main drawback apart from its consistency and flavor is its allergens.  More and more people have documented peanut allergies in varying degrees.  Most of the time, the allergy is severe, inducing anaphylactic shock which could lead to death.  Some people, mostly in places where peanut butter is not a staple of their diet, find peanut butter to be an unpalatable disgrace and won’t go near it.  But, peanut butter is a very good source of protein and many vegetarians eat it, along with other nut butters to supplement their diets.  Some nut butters are better than others, but peanut butter is far and away the most popular.

As I noted above, peanut butter has a lot of uses, not just in cooking.  Peanut butter can be shoved into a dog toy and left to keep the dog occupied.  In my house, that’s a godsend.  You can take a pinecone and spread peanut butter on it, roll it in birdseed and make a simple birdfeeder.  Peanut butter oils have also been found to remove chewing gum from hair, for all you moms with small kids out there.  Peanut butter has also been used in one form of another to help feed refugees, armies, and populations with food shortages.

I’m going to close by offering my favorite peanut butter recipe:

Asian Peanut Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup mince green onion
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2-3 drops tabasco sauce (to taste)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 hot water

Add first seven ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth.  Add tabasco sauce, and enough hot water to bring it to the consistency for its use.

This sauce can be used as a marinade, a dipping sauce, a salad dressing, whatever sauce use you might have.

Enjoy!

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