Post # 338 Totally Random Stuff

January 30, 2015 at 9:22 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 338 Totally Random Stuff

A friend posted on her FB page recently that she’d learned a cooking truism.  Putting uncooked spaghetti in the back seat with the dog is a bad thing.  They ended up having chicken enchiladas that night.

My mom used to say “All the world’s troubles would be easier to solve if everyone had something to eat.”

Roy Biggens, a character from the sitcom Wings once said about party planning, “If it’s green it’s trouble; if it’s fried get double.”

Chef Anne Burrell is fond of saying, “Brown food tasted good!”

An unknown person once described a diet as, “The cardiologist’s diet: If it tastes good, spit it out.”

I do a lot of cooking research online.  One of my favorite food sites is KingArthurFlour.com.  I used to read their catalog cover to cover and several times in the week it arrived.  They have the latest in cookware, ingredients, and recipes.

food joke 15

A friend of mine used to say the best smelling cookout is the one you’re not invited to.

More than any other creature, dogs live in the moment.  That’s why, even though they’ve just eaten, they will look at you as you’re eating with the expression “That’s the last bit of food left in the world and I’m not getting any.”

True strength is breaking a bar of chocolate into four pieces, then eating just one piece.

When I was traveling, a coworker once said he was a vegetarian not so much because he liked animals as he hated plants.

Salt is good, and when I don’t have any, I crave it.  I sometimes eat too much butter to get enough salt.

I find that if a eat very small meals several times a day, and exercise a little more, I really do lose weight.  I wonder if anyone else has discovered this?

“Live!  Live!  Live!  Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”  Auntie Mame.

I think strawberries are over-rated.

Hunger makes the best spice.

champagne

There are moments when the picture above looks like the reason to wake up.

Linus once said, “I was going to make this hot chocolate mix but decided not to.  It was full of ingredients.”

“Anyone who can read can cook.”  My mom handing me her cookbook.

We used to eat a lot of popcorn as kids.  It’s good stuff and very tasty.  My mom once told us that when she was a kid, they would have popcorn for breakfast.  A bowl of popped corn with milk and sugar on top.  My brother tried it, once, but I never did.

“When cooking this bit of beef, cook it rare.  If you don’t want it rare, I suggest you cook something else.”  Jennifer Paterson, Two Fat Ladies.

Julia Child said, “You can never have too much butter.”  I said, “Yes, you can.”

I’ve never like nuts in my chocolate.  I think the nuts take up space that could better be utilized by more chocolate.  Except for rice krispies.  They make the chocolate fun.

When going to a buffet, my philosophy has always been if you take enough the first time, there’s no need to go back for seconds.

One of my favorite meals of all time is a good crisp green salad and seared animal flesh of some kind with a glass or two of wine.

spam 01

I sincerely believe there are ways to make food bad.

julia-child on set

Even the best cooks need a little help.

Enjoy

Post # 337 Pretzel Maker

January 28, 2015 at 12:05 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I love kitchen gadgets and get suckered regularly at Walmart and Target into spending another $20 on a machine that’s going to make donuts just like I can get at the bakery, or muffins, bagels, cupcakes, cookies, pizza, mini-loaves, etc.  I generally use them once and never again.  I’m always disappointed because they never result in a product that matches my memory or taste buds.  So when I saw The Pretzel Maker machine, I steered clear of it.  I didn’t buy it for two reasons.  First, having been burned (pun intended) by baking machines before, I didn’t want to be burned again.  Second, in learning the burn, I also learned there really aren’t short cuts to good cooking.

I really like pretzels.  I don’t eat the dried, hard version of pretzels anymore even though at one time in my life I practically lived on them.  No, once I “discovered” soft pretzels, I never looked back.

I read a long time ago that soft pretzels were the original pretzel and the hard ones were a happy accident of over cooking.  I don’t know if that’s true or not.  It’s one of those stories of the type that if it isn’t true, it should be.  Just a side note.

So, I don’t eat pretzels every day.  Usually, I only eat pretzels when I’m near an Auntie Ann’s Pretzels shop.  Sometimes, I want pretzels and I’m nowhere near a shop where I can easily buy the number of pretzels I want.  So then, I play with the idea of making homemade pretzels, but I have to make so damned many of them that I can’t eat all of them so usually half of them get thrown away.

Well the obvious answer is freezing them.  I read for a long time about freezing dough of any kind.  The general consensus was freeze after cooked.  There were exceptions.  Bread dough can be frozen after the first rise.  But for the most part, cook then freeze.  So that’s what I did.  Then I had to find a pretzel recipe that tasted like the pretzels I could get at the stores.

Well, this was the obvious answer, right?:

Pretzel Kit

It’s a good kit, makes great pretzels, but look how many.  10!  The weight on the box is two pounds!  I can’t eat two pounds of dough.  And I don’t particularly want to eat pretzel’s for days on end.  (Chocolate chip cookies is a different matter.)  But, it’s a good solution.  Here’s another:

Pretzel Kit 01

Slightly better volume, but not much.  And, to be honest, I don’t always have pretzel kits hanging around the house.  But I always have flour.  And I can always adjust amounts to make the number of pretzels I want.  So again, the search was on.

Alton Brown has the best recipe I’ve found.  It makes 8 large pretzels, but cut the amounts in half and you’ve got an afternoon snack.  And, although it seems complicated, it’s not really.  And it’s a great way to get kids involved in cooking at the end with shaping and stuff.  Use a stand mixer if you’ve got one.  If you don’t, go to the mall and buy pretzels.

  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt (I use kosher salt)

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Shaping the pretzels is where the kids can get involved, and the cook can get most creative.  Take a strip and wrap around a hot dog and you’ve got something good!

pretzel dog

Another really good pretzel shape is pretzel sticks.  So easy and just made for dipping in anything.

pretzel sticks

I’ve eaten so many of those I didn’t eat for another entire day.  Good stuff, indeed!  Then there’s another favorite:

pretzel bites

Pretzel bites.  They can be plain for filled.  Guess which is my favorite.  I like filling them with all kinds of things.  It’s limited only by your imagination.  I’ve had them filled with cheese and jalapeno.  Chocolate is good.  Bacon is good.  Jam is good.

Another way to make them good is to sprinkle them with something other than salt.  Try cinnamon and sugar.  Try candy sprinkles.  Try crushed rock candy.  Try powdered sugar.  Try garlic powder.  Try barbeque rub.  Try anything you like, just remember to put a little melted butter on them first so the coating sticks to the pretzel.

Enjoy

Post # 336 Pretzel Bread

January 26, 2015 at 11:56 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

I was riding in business class of some airline heading home from somewhere.  Dinner was being served.  I had my glass of white wine of some sort, and the flight attendant had just offered me the basket of warm bread.  I spied the telltale brown crust with large salt crystals of one of my favorite treats.  I asked for two of those and she grinned.  “Sure,” she said softly.  Expertly maneuvering the tongs, she tilted two fist sized rolls onto my plate, made sure my wine was filled and moved on.  I heard the person in front of me asked about those rolls and she gave me a quizzical look.

“Pretzel bread,” I said.  “Very good stuff.”

She relayed the information and I tore into one of the warm rolls.  Closing my eyes, I transported myself back to my first trip to Germany a few years before.  Frankfurt, summer, and in the country my grandmother was born in.

It’s no secret that I love Europe.  The things that are important to me are important to Europeans.  Quality of life, working to live not living to work, meals are an occasion not an afterthought, cities are for experiencing not just inhabiting.  Art is outside for people to enjoy.  Friends and family are always around.

I arrived in Germany on Saturday with the rest of my team, relishing in the fact that work didn’t start until Monday.  I threw my clothes into the closet and grabbed a map of the city.  I had several hours to wander around and get lost in a city I’d never been to an didn’t know anything about.  And we were only a few blocks from the river.  But, according to the map, city center was the opposite direction and I wanted to be there.

In many European cities on Saturday afternoon, the city center is a walker’s dream.  For me, it’s a carnival.  Stores have stock out on the sidewalk trying to entice people inside.  Vendors have carts and wagons.  Musicians take advantage of the crowds to perform and collect coins.  If you look hard, you can find deals.  I was looking to soak up the atmosphere and find something to eat.  Something local.

I grabbed a bottle of water and wandered up and down and around.  Colors were bright, it was a warm day, people were everywhere.  Then I saw it.  A gentleman stood to the side with a box slung over his shoulders.  Four rods stood a foot and a half tall and they were loaded with pretzels the size of a skillet!

pretzels

Handmade, hand rolled, hand shaped.  I love soft pretzels!  Buttery or not, they must have salt.  I can eat them plain, with mustard, with cheese sauce.  One euro bought me two with mustard.  It was heaven.  I sat down on a patch of grass and devoured the first one in about three minutes.  I took my time with the second, and gave about half of it to the birds.  When I was done, I felt like my stomach was pushing about two feet in front of me.  But the flavor of that pretzel!

Of course, now that I was finished, I saw pretzel vendors everywhere, and all of them cheaper than the guy I’d bought from.  Didn’t matter, I was happy.  I stopped somewhere and had a glass of wine.  By sunset, I’d had three glasses of wine.  I decided to head back to the hotel, and had a farewell glass of wine.  Just before I got to the hotel, I found another German delicacy.  Brezel Brat.  At least, that’s what I was told it was called.  And every time I said that, I got a roll made of pretzel dough with a bratwurst sticking four inches out of either side and slathered with mustard.

SONY DSC

You can make a whole meal out this!  I’ve watched people walking along the street eating these things piled so high with extras, including french fries in the sandwich, that I’d swear they’d never get a single bite out of it.

The next morning, I went down to breakfast and discovered treasure!  They made rolls out of pretzel dough and cooked them just like pretzels.  For breakfast.  I could eat soft pretzels for breakfast!  With eggs and bacon!

pretzel rolls

Or just bacon.

So you might think that the whole five weeks I was there, I ate nothing but pretzels in one form or another.  I didn’t.  I ate loads of other things.  But I probably ate a pretzel something at least once a day.  I was really sad when I left and thought I’d never get pretzel rolls again.

Until I went to a gourmet grocery store and they had them.  And they had them on the plane.  And they started serving them in restaurants.

Suddenly, I got get premade frozen pretzel rolls in the low end grocery stores.  I could heat them up at home and enjoy the flavor of pretzel bread whenever I wanted!!

I’ve been eating pretzels my whole life.  I remember in second grade on Fridays, if you brought a dime to school, you could treat yourself to something after lunch.  I always chose pretzel sticks.  And shared them with the kids who didn’t have a dime cuz there were a lot of pretzels.

In my teens, I discovered soft pretzels at the local mall.  I’ve never eaten a hard pretzel since.  I make lunch out of a soft pretzel, cheese sauce, and a Pepsi.  I like soft pretzel bites, soft pretzel sticks, pretzel knots, pretzel rolls, pretzel bread.

On Wednesday, I’ll share my pretzel recipe with you.

Enjoy

Post # 335 Puppy Love

January 23, 2015 at 12:33 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 335 Puppy Love

Anyone who’s known me longer than ten minutes knows how I feel about my dogs.  If you’ve read this blog, even occasionally, you know how I feel about my dogs.

dusty chillaxing

jack relax

Jack and Buddy 04

The only time we can get pictures of them is when they sleep.  It’s the only time they ever slow down.  The top one is Dusty; the middle one is Jack; the bottom one is Buddy.  They’re all rescues and all essential to our daily happiness and entertainment.  Right now, all three are sitting on the floor at my feet waiting for the moment when I’ll stand up and holler “Who wants treats?”

Like any indulgent dad, I tend to overfeed them.  Buddy, the puppy (almost three years old, but hey) is one big ball of energy and is incredibly muscular.  He’ll never get fat.  Jack is one of those rare dogs who only eats as much as he wants, regularly leaving food in his bowl for the others to finish.  Dusty, who was once a stud in a puppy mill and kept on the edge of starvation eats everything in front of him and tries to push the other dogs away from their food bowls.  We have to watch him constantly or he’ll get very chunky.  Once, he made it to over 40 pounds!  We put all the dogs on diets then (us too) and we all shed some pounds.  Dusty is a healthy 30 pounds now, looks good for his size.  They all do.

Food management for them is something that’s constantly on my mind.  I don’t want to over feed them, but I don’t want them actively starving, either.  We tend not to give them treats from the table, unless we’re eating steak.  Then they each get a bite.  It’s something I talk to the vet about periodically.  I don’t want to hurt my dogs by giving them something bad for them.

Everyone knows that chocolate is bad for dogs.  Even a small amount can cause discomfort.  More can lead to a poisonous build up of toxins and fatality.  I have a friend whose dog once got into a bag of M&Ms and demolished nearly a half pound in just a few seconds.  The poor dog looked happy for the space of about two minutes, then raced for the doggy door and emptied his stomach all over the back yard.  When they called the vet, they were told the dog should be okay since the stomach was now empty, but to keep an eye on it.  Poor guy was miserable for a few hours, but never suffered any long range discomfort.  Very small amounts probably aren’t going to hurt, but there’s no sense in your dog developing a taste for the stuff.  It’s hard enough on humans, much less a dog.

But did you know that bones aren’t all that great for dog?  It sounds counterintuitive given that a dog’s ancestors have been chomping bones for centuries.  Dogs were bred from wolves who eat bones as part of their daily diet.  Dogs don’t, though.  It’s been bred out of them.  They don’t eat bones the same way.  Particularly not the bones that humans leave behind on their dinner plates, cooked and brittle.  The bones tend to shred and splinter causing choking hazards.  The small bits can also tear up their intestines causing all kinds of havoc.

Onions and garlic, we eat ’em by the pound in my house.  Our dogs don’t go near them.  There’s an enzyme in them that causes harm to their red blood cells.  There’s an old wives tale saying that feeding your dog garlic will keep fleas away.  It doesn’t work.  It just makes their breath smell bad and hurts their blood.  Another old wives tale says a raw egg mixed with their food will help their coats.  It might, but the risk of salmonella is too great.  There’s also an enzyme that inhibits the absorption of vitamin B.  Cooking the egg gets rid of all that so cooked eggs are fine.  Keep your dogs away from milk and dairy, too.  For the same reason humans tend to keep away from it.  Some dogs are lactose intolerant, and most dogs experience some kind of discomfort and flatulence from it.

One thing I learned today, though, floored me.  Never ever ever ever give your dog one of these:

macadamia-nuts

Those are macadamia nuts.  Very toxic to dogs.  As few as six can cause your pet incredible discomfort leading to a prolonged illness.  And I learned you shouldn’t give your dog most nuts.

That stopped me.  I give my dogs peanut butter every day.  It hides their meds.  Was I slowly poisoning me dogs?

Nope.  Turns out peanuts are legumes, not nuts.  And it turns out that peanuts are healthy for dogs.  Peanut butter is a flavor they love.  They can’t get enough of it.  That’s not to say we should give them tons of it, but it’s also not a restricted item at all.  You can buy toys that you can fill with peanut butter and freeze and your dog will be happy with it for hours and hours.  Helps with separation anxiety since their mind is on licking out the peanut butter rather than on the fact they’re alone.    And it can hide meds for them so they gulp them down.  It’s better to give them creamy than chunky since the chunks could pose a choking hazard or stimulate the gag reflex.  And it’s better to give them natural with no additives like salt or sugar, but that’s true for us, too.

So go pet your four legged kids and give them all the peanut butter you like.  And raw carrots.  And cook potatoes.  And apples, bananas, oranges, and watermelon.  They love them all.  Just remove the seeds, stems, etc.  But mostly give them peanut butter.

Enjoy

 

Post # 335 Cold Comfort

January 21, 2015 at 12:07 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

It’s deep winter now, and the cold has settled into the house and the carpets.  Nooks and crannies no longer hold warmth, or even the ghost of warmth.  Feet without socks are uncomfortable.  The dogs are curling up on themselves and each other.  It’s the days of wanting a fireplace if you have none, and wanting a fire if you have one.  The bright, colorful, and friendly holidays are behind us.  All that stretches before us are gray, misty days with Spring many weeks away.

Comfort food is the norm.  Cooking takes on a whole new element about now.  Fresh foods from the garden are gone.  Making something new and inventive seems too much effort.  One of my favorite books ever is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  There’s a wonderful passage where the author is describing a similar situation.  In the dark of winter, the lead character finds a time when nothing tastes good no matter how hungry she was.  It was “Big Pickle Time.”  She’d buy herself the biggest, fattest dill pickle and take it home and nibble and suck on it all day long.  She never came out and ate it, just had it.  It took all day, but finally it would be gone.  After that, everything tasted good again.  It’s the same with comfort foods in winter.

I’m always a little surprised how many of my comfort foods are about foods from my childhood.  My little brother and I loved “beengs and cornbread” growing up.  Mom never made them enough, as far as we were concerned.  Grilled cheese for lunch or dinner were red-letter days for us.  All three of us looked forward to Taco Night.  Now I’m way passed my half-century mark, and I still love all these things.

Tomorrow, it’s supposed to rain or snow.  Either way, not a day to get outside.  Tomorrow, I’m making “beengs and cornbread.”  Great white northern beans, about a cup, soaked over night.  Half an onion, roughly chopped and sweated in a pan.  Some kind of pork, but it can be almost anything.  Bacon, cubed ham, pork necks, ham hocks, salt pork, or Virginia ham.  Anything pork to impart some salty good flavor.  Trim the fat, or skim it off later.  Beans, onions, pork, and about 4-5 cups of water.  Slow simmer till the beans are done, 2-3 hours.  Add 1/2 cup to one full cup (depending on your taste) of rough chopped tomatoes (skin, seeds, pulp, and juice included) just before serving and it’s wonderful.  Been eating this stuff for nearly sixty years and never gotten tired of it.  And cornbread!  Half a stick of butter, softened, creamed with 1/2 cup of sugar.  Combine 3/4 cup milk or water to 1 egg.  Sift together 1 cup cornmeal (use a fine grit unless you want your teeth scraped) with 2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 cups flour.  Add the flour and water/egg mixture to the butter alternately finishing with the flour.  Pour into a prepared 8×8 baking pan and bake at 400 for about 20 minutes.  But what I do, learned at my mother’s knee and reinforced by others, is put an 8 inch cast iron skillet in the cold oven.  When the oven is preheated and batter is ready, put about a tablespoon of butter in the skillet and allow it to melt and coat the pan (use a wooden spoon to assist it.)  Then pour the batter into the skillet and cook as above.  Wonderful stuff!

skillet corn bread

Can’t hardly get better than this.

Another dish I haven’t tried, but I’m looking forward to is a new grilled cheese sandwich.  I love grilled cheese and for the longest time, over 40 years, it was simply two pieces of bread heavily slathered with butter and fried with a piece of American cheese between them.  Pure simplicity.

grilled cheese sandwich

Looks good, doesn’t it?  With a handful of potato chips and a dill pickle spear, it makes for some mighty good comfort.

But as I learned more about cooking and pushed my limits more, I discovered other cheeses and other breads for making this kind of sandwich.  Rye bread with provolone, a plain bagel spread with herbed cream cheese and stacked with various other cheeses, a baguette with mozzarella and tomatoes and basil leaves.  Then, just yesterday, Partner/Spouse shared this with me.

MI-Cam-Brie

Chef Stuart O’Kelly is a world-renowned chef from Ireland and created this amazing treat.  Caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms,  brie cheese on thickly sliced grilled rustic bread.

I can’t wait to try this.

Enjoy

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