Post # 195 A Very Odd Holiday

November 27, 2013 at 11:17 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Okay, so here it is, it’s the day before one of the biggest feast days in America, and I have nothing to do.  How can that be? you ask.  You are thinking, But you’re the cook! the chef! the one who plans the meals!  Still, today, I have nothing to do.  It’s shaping up to be a very odd holiday for me for one reason alone.

I’m not cooking this year.

This is the first time since I was a teenager (and those of you who know me personally know how long that’s been) I am not preparing the feast, either in whole or in part.  My sister and her best friend are doing it all.  Every bit of it.  I’m in charge of the wine.  That’s not a bad thing.  I went to the large wine box store and got some great deals.  I went almost exclusively with Australian whites, some I enjoyed during my trips to the country, and others I’ve enjoyed here.  I also got one really big box.

Supposedly, the mimosas are starting around 9am.  Since I’m not cooking, I’ve decided to be grossly lazy all day long.  I’m not even turning my computer on.  Here’s about how I feel:

turkey

Like I said, for me, it’s a very odd holiday.  I won’t be in the kitchen.  I won’t be herding people to the table.  I won’t be watching to see that everyone is getting enough to eat.  I won’t even be setting the table.  I’ve never been a guest before.  I’ll be gracious, of course, but you know I’ll be keeping an eye on things to see how they’re doing it and seeing how it turns out and how it all tastes.

But, it’s also been an odd week, full of highs and lows.  I lost a dear friend to brain cancer; Partner/spouse had his dissertation accepted so he’s now a PhD; the weather is chilly but no longer rainy; the house is warm.  Emotions have run up and down.

There are things to be thankful for, lots of things.  There are things to reflect on, changes the past year has brought.  There are things to rejoice in, plenty of those.  There are things to laugh at, with five dogs in the house there are certainly that.

But it’s still an odd holiday.  I’m not cooking.  Tonight for dinner, I’m making a home-spun chili from a roast, salsa, and tomatoes.  No beans, but fresh tortillas to go with.  But tomorrow, on The Day, I’ll feel at loose ends, almost left out.

So I’m baking cookies!  And eating them all myself!  Maybe I’ll share them with the folks in the house, but maybe not.  I’m going to make butter cookies, or short bread maybe.  Something fun and easy.  There’s something almost unreal not having something cooking on a feast day.

In the meantime, now that my complaining is done:

turkey 2

I hope you all have a great day and whatever your plans are, I hope they’re the best!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0JVqR8KnF4

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Post # 194 Cookbookin’

November 25, 2013 at 12:37 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again many times before I pass through the veil, an old saying of my mom’s “Anyone who can read can cook.”  She bought me my first cookbook for Christmas one year, mostly because she didn’t want to give up hers.  She had one.  It was the ring notebook style, and was Better Homes and Gardens.  It had a section for everything.  I read every recipe in it, probably memorized them too.

Nowadays, I chuckle at that.  One cookbook.  Of course, she had a good memory and her mother’s memories.  Back in the day, recipes were handed down and usually never written.  Now, you can find cookbooks for any style, region, or ingredient.  There are cookbooks designed to help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol, get your heart into tip top shape, and improve your love life.  Every celebrity chef has at least one cookbook to their name, and most have half a dozen.

I collect cookbooks.  It’s like a sickness.  I don’t buy them willy nilly, although I used to.  I take a couple of minutes to browse through them and decide if I really need yet another cookbook to teach me Irish Pub cooking or how to treat Mexican ingredients.  The differences in most of them are in the titles of the recipes, not in the techniques, ingredients, or results.  I’ve seen some that use the same stock photos.  If you take a glance at the photo at the top of the blog, that’s just a very very small representation of the number of cookbooks I have.  Part of it is that I love books.  The other part is that I really love cookbooks.  Since we’ve moved back to Arizona, our house is so small I don’t have room for all our books.  During our first month here, I went through all our books and was brutal about what was kept and what was donated.  We got rid of about 50% of our books, donated them to Goodwill.  My cookbook collection was annihilated.  I culled an entire bookcase full down to one shelf.  Those I kept were either 100% utilitarian, or had rank sentimental value.  Everything else went away.

I was surprised at some of the things I had.  I’m a big fan of regional cooking, as long as someone else is doing the cooking.  I like fried catfish, but I don’t want my house to smell like a fish fry.  A Polish hotdog with sauerkraut is wonderful, but who keeps all those ingredients on hand?  Still, I love to read about them, and learn the techniques and special ingredients that go into it.  Roux for Gumbo isn’t a mystery to me, although I’d be terrified to cook it so long that it takes on the very dark, almost burned color necessary for proper gumbo.  Sourdough starter is easy, but we don’t eat enough bread to warrant our own sourdough jar.  And while the idea of drinking mead is romantic and exotic, I’m not going to take the weeks necessary to make a good jug of mead.

On the other hand, in my Arizona Cookbook, I found three recipes for Indian Frybread, and one of them is starred.  I must have tried all three and starred the one I liked best.  In my Diabetes Cookbook, a page is folded back on the Chile con Carne recipe and I know I’ve made that one from memory many times.  My Best Cakes cookbook has a bookmark in the recipe for the World’s Best Yellow Cake.  It really is the best yellow cake I’ve ever tasted.  I vividly remember the first time I tried the recipe and my ex-wife and I stood there eating batter from the bowl with the biggest spoons we could find and shoving each other out of the way in an effort to get more.  It was that good.  The cake was wonderful too.

I kept a whole series of “cookbooks” from various state and national parks which memorialized the “old ways” for cooking.  Recipes were of the “dress out a buffalo, then stew the leg” variety.  However, I did get many very good ideas from them.  I once had a collection of half a dozen jars in the fridge of fruit juice concentrates that could be added to water, wine, or milk to make delicious drinks.  Also, making “natural” carbonated drinks with vinegar and baking soda combined with other highly flavored ingredients to mask the flavor of vinegar and baking soda.  I never tried that one, what with Pepsi being so available and all.

I kept the cookbooks for drying foods since I have a food dehydrator in the cupboard and the zombie apocalypse will soon be on us.  Years ago, when I was a volunteer big brother, my little brother and I made fruit leather in the dehydrator by mixing apple sauce with pureed berries and spreading it out on the sheets with nut crumbles on top.  He like them a lot.  Mostly, I make beef jerky, but occasionally I dry some vegetables to make soup flavoring.  I also dry out jalapenos or other peppers to flavor things.

I kept one cookbook called The Mediterranean Cookbook which give recipes by the region since the sea is very large.  It also has some of the most spectacular photography I’ve ever seen of the area.  It was a Christmas present from a good friend so for lots of reasons, I keep it around although I’ve never made a single recipe from it.

I have one regional cookbook that partner/spouse got for me the weekend we held our private commitment ceremony.  The B&B we were staying at on an island just off the east coast of the U.S. served a wonderful breakfast casserole made in muffin tins.  We asked the owner for the recipe, but he said that since he didn’t own it, he could only give it to us by selling us the Virginia B&B Cookbook.  So we bought it and the recipe was in it.  So we made it often and doctored it up because, well, that’s what we do.

Here it is and I hope you enjoy it!

  • 32 oz package frozen hash browns, thawed
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 5 tablespoons soft butter
  • 2-3 drop Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped green chili, canned or fresh
  • 6 strips bacon fried and crumbed OR 1/2 cup finely diced ham OR 1/2 cup cooked sausage OR all of them

Preheat your oven to 325.  Combine all ingredients and spread evenly in as many muffin tins as it takes.  Bake 45 minutes and serve warm.

 

Post # 193 Reminiscing

November 22, 2013 at 1:01 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 193 Reminiscing

Today is a tough day to blog.  Not only is it chilly and raining, it’s the 50th anniversary of the death of JFK.  I was 5 when it happened, and we lived in South Carolina at the time.  I don’t remember it at all.  People I’ve talked to throughout the years have told me in detail where they were and what they were doing.  The only thing I remember is what I’ve seen in the newsreels from the time in the years since.  But it does make me think back.

I remember being a little kid and having a small bag of M&Ms.  A bunch of other kids were grouped around me, hands out, begging for candy.  I remember one kid saying, “He’s not giving you guys any, only me, because I’m not begging.  Right?”  I shook my head and went indoors to eat my candy in peace.

I remember going on a camping trip once.  We slept in a pop-up tent trailer and I had to share a sleeping bag with my little brother who still wet the bed.  I liked to play whiffle ball, and float down the stream on the air mattress.  We at baloney sandwiches with dirt in them.  They tasted great.  We ate hot dogs burned over a fire right off the sticks, no buns needed.  The best thing was eating our breakfast cereal out of little boxes instead of bowls.  I was completely enchanted by those little boxes.  I could have Frosted Flaked while my sister could have Raisin Bran and my brother could have Fruit Loops!  And there was just enough in each little box for one person.  How could they do that?  I was severely disappointed that first morning when the cereal tasted the same as it did at home.  Something should have been different since everything else was so different.

I remember going to gather pecans.  In South Carolina, we called them pee-cans.  Later in life, that switched up to puh-cawns, and that’s how I’ve pronounced it ever since, except when very tired, distracted or drunk.  To gather the nuts, we stood under the trees and Dad would throw a stick high into the branches and knock the nuts down.  We’d pick them up from the ground and put them in sacks.  I don’t recall that we got a lot of nuts that way, but it was fun throwing sticks.

I remember the first piece of roast beef I recall eating.  We’d been playing hide and seek and couldn’t find my brother.  Mom said dinner was on the table so we trooped in and sat down.  I saw some green beans which I liked, and some mashed potatoes which I didn’t like, and a chunk of roast beef.  It looked really good.  Mom asked where my brother was and we explained we couldn’t find him.  She made us go look for him but before we left the table, I snagged half of my roast and jammed it in my mouth.  I chewed it thoroughly as we searched around the yard and neighborhood.  We went back to dinner table to report our failure.  Now they were getting alarmed.  So we started to search again, but not before I snagged the other half of my chunk of roast and started chewing vigorously.  It took some time, the assistance of the MPs (we lived on base), and the galvanization of the entire neighborhood, but we finally found him asleep under the neighbor’s bed where he’d been hiding.  When we went back to dinner, I looked at my plate and asked for more roast.  Mom asked where my roast had gone so I told her I ate it.  She said I had to eat the rest of my dinner before I got more.  I did and as would happen, I was full and got no more roast.  But even today, roast beef is one of my favorite meals.

I remember one Easter, we’d had a great time dying eggs so on Easter morning we got up, excited to find eggs and have candy.  All three of us raced to the living room and I saw an Easter basket full of toys and candy and a large stuffed Duck.  It was love at first sight and I bounded towards it, claiming it as mine as only a four year old can.  I named it Ducky, cuz I wasn’t all that original at that age.  I kept that toy for YEARS!  We sorted through our loot like it was Christmas and had a great time hunting for eggs.  At that time, I never cared much for the yolks, so I ate the whites of the eggs and gave the yolks to the dog.  We had a great time the rest of the day eating jelly beans and chocolate eggs and playing with new toys.  It was so sad when all the candy was gone and all that was left was green plastic grass.  A couple of days later, I was in the fridge looking for something and saw bags of candy.  I thought, wow, that’s the same candy the Easter Bunny brought us!  Uh, oh.  Yeah, the death of a lot of childhood dreams.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my nostalgia.  Take care, and as always, enjoy!

Post # 192 Weekend Update Updated

November 20, 2013 at 2:12 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Well, back from the long weekend, and can you believe that a modern hotel in Las Vegas like Luxor does not have wifi in the rooms?  They had only the Cat-5 cable, and my Surface tablet doesn’t have a port for ethernet.  So, sorry, no updates during the weekend.  But that just makes this post that much more fun, if not longer.  Also, we were pretty busy.  And, during the trip I got to pondering something that I’ll bring up at the end of the post.  I almost laughed as the check-in clerk was explaining the reason for not having wifi in the rooms.  Never kid a kidder, as the saying goes.  They just wanted people in the casino throwing away their money.

We left on Friday morning, and in an effort to make sure we missed rush hour traffic through Phoenix, we didn’t stop for breakfast before leaving town as we usually do.  We had drinks and snacks along the way.  When we were halfway to Vegas, we stopped in a little Arizona town whose name I don’t remember, but where partner/spouse remembered there was a good little diner.  We stopped at The Country Kitchen, a small chain diner.  He had breakfast; I had a burger.  Everything was . . . unremarkable.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t outstanding.  Just okay.  We weren’t  complaining, just observing.  I did notice that it was part of a regional chain of restaurants.

We arrived and were in our hotel room by 2:30 and since the “Big Dinner” wasn’t until 7, we decided to walk around.  Partner/spouse was so excited to show me his favorite casinos and stores.  But we both got hungry suddenly, so in Excalibur we went to Tacos y Tequila.  Neither of us ordered tacos or tequila.  But I had the first glass of wine of many throughout that weekend.  I got halfway through the order of steak nachos that I ordered, and partner/spouse ate most of the guacamole and chips we ordered.  Then some video poker and wine later, we wandered up to the room to get ready for the Big Dinner.

The Big Dinner was an opportunity to introduce me to the important people from his previous life.  I already knew one couple and their daughter from when they lived near VA.  They’d moved back to Vegas a few years ago.  There was also two other guys, each of them one half of a couple whose other half wasn’t there for different reasons.  And a lady who was new to many of the people at the table.  We ate at an Italian restaurant called Buca di Beppo where everything is served “family style” which translates to lots and lots of food to be shared all over the place.  I was still feeling the nachos so I was careful not to order too much.  I shared a little bit of fried calamari with someone, and had a big glass of wine.  Then I ordered a small order of chicken marsala which tasted mostly just sweet.  I had one piece of chicken and a big scoop of mushrooms and left the rest for the table.  The rest of the group got spaghetti and meatballs, chicken stuffed cannelloni, a bowl of salad, a couple of carafes of sangria, and something else that I don’t remember.  During the meal, partner/spouse leaned over and whispered to me “Your spaghetti tastes a whole lot better.”  I noted that throughout the meal.  We had a blast, a fun rollicking time, but the food was simply “meh”.

One aside:  the funniest thing I’ve ever seen happened.  One of the ladies at our table has a weird, quirky, bizarre sense of humor and in response to someone else’s comment started an odd head twitch.  A young girl around 8 noticed her as the young girl was heading to the bathroom and looked startled.  Well, that unleashed a challenge not to be ignored.  Every time the little girl came in view, the head twitch started.  The final time, the little girl was walking down the hallway from the bathroom smiling and giggling at something, took a glance at our table to see the woman twitching.  All smiles and giggling stopped and the little girl’s face froze in disbelief.  As soon as she rounded the corner, we exploded with laughter (we’d all had at least one glass by then).  Then we noticed more adults were coming by and looking directly at our table.  We never figured out if the little girl told on us, or if people were looking at the pope’s head sculpture on our table.  Poor kid!

The next day, we went to a breakfast buffet which was just standard fare.  The sausages were gummy; the watermelon was good; the croissants were passable.  Overall, a good effort, but still just “meh”.  We wandered up and down the strip for several hours until our leg muscles were screaming.  We were scheduled to go see a show starring one of the people at dinner the night before called the Phat Pack.  Very good show!  So we went back to the hotel with snacks, not sure what the plans were for after the show.  Partner/spouse crashed and slept for about an hour and a half while I read.  I should have worked on my rewrites and edits but figured, what the heck, I’m on vacay.  The show went off extremely well.  It was too short by about 45 minutes as far as I was concerned.  It was their last performance at the Plaza.  They announced at the end that they had been picked up by an independent producer and would start appearing at Bally’s on the strip starting Dec 11!

After the show, we wandered some more, went back to the hotel, ate at one of the hotel’s restaurants, and got an adequate meal.  I ordered filet mignon sliders which turned out not to be filet mignon and not medium well as I’d ordered.  But again, unremarkable.  We got up on Sunday, the day we returned and went to a diner in the hotel and finally got some food with quality and flavor and not expensive.  So we had a good time with friends, took in a good show, did a small amount of gambling, drank plenty of wine, and came home without losing our shirts.  A totally successful Las Vegas vacation.  It was fast, hectic, and fulfilling.

When we got back home, we decided to stop at our favorite fast taco stand and got Mexican food.  And finally felt like we got food that tasted good.  So here’s my observation and question to you all:

When a restaurant is a chain, they must follow their corporate standards in everything from décor to food prep.  It seems to me that unless you’re willing to spend large amounts of money, when you go to a chain you get the least common denominator when it comes to flavor.  There are some chains that have made their names by being different, or just different enough.  For instance, Five Guys Burgers makes its name by using only fresh burger, and making their fries fresh to order.  Nothing is frozen, pre-cooked, or standard.  Plus they have peanuts.  Much better than the standard fast food place, but significantly higher in price.  However, if you go to a locally owned restaurant, you find people who are committed to doing the very best they can to bring their customers back.  Or not.

So what do you think?  Is my assessment correct?  Do you find chains to be a better time, a better value, a better meal than independent places?

Enjoy!

Weekend Update

November 14, 2013 at 10:08 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Weekend Update

happy-face

Partner/spouse surprised me with a weekend trip to Vegas!  We leave Friday morning and return on Monday evening.  We’re driving since he hates airplanes.  The drugs it would take to get him there by flying would keep him asleep all weekend.  He’s promised loads of good food and wine, good company, and a couple of good shows where he knows the entertainers.  I’ll report bit by bit throughout the weekend so you can enjoy it along with us!  Take care and more soon!

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