Post #375 What’s On The Plate?

May 29, 2015 at 11:49 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #375 What’s On The Plate?

Okay, so dinner last night was going to be a late one.  Partner/Spouse was late coming home from work.  I needed something that was going to come together fast, and good.  Here’s what I had.

dinner 01

In case you can’t tell, that’s a package of chicken breasts and a chopped salad kit.  It’s a standby, safe, and reliable.  It’s always good, always quick, and always satisfying.  We cook the chicken, usually by grilling it, toss the salad in a bowl, and put the two together.

Have you ever used these salad kits?  I think they’re the best things to come down the pike.  One bag of salad greens, plus dressing and extras.  Toss all together in a bowl, takes about 4 minutes.  Just buy them fresh.  Look closely at the salad greens.  I’ve seen some pretty wilted lettuce, and very brown greens in some of these.  If they don’t look good, don’t buy them.  They have all kinds of variety.  There’s four or five different kinds of Caesar salad, one with bacon!  Another one is “lite” but I’ve never tried it.  There’s also spinach salad, Chef’s salad, as well as bags of chopped lettuce or shredded lettuce.  Then there’s the chopped salads.  A chopped salad uses cabbage as its base along with other veggies that are long lasting like carrots and radishes.  The one we like best is the Asian salad which uses a ginger soy dressing and has small packets of slivered almonds and fried wonton strips.  There are also other varieties we’ve tried and have never been disappointed.  We try to keep them on hand since we love fresh veggies.

So anyway, one of our favorite quick meals is grilled animal flesh of some kind, and a quick salad.  If we have tortillas, sometimes we’ll convert that into tacos.  But, alas, no tortillas (we aren’t in Arizona anymore) so I was looking at chicken and salad.

But what would you say if I added this?

dinner 02

That, my friends, is rice.  It’s only a half cup, but I actually used a full cup of rice so I could have some for the dogs.  They like rice, and it’s good for their digestion.  So now we’re looking at chicken and salad and rice, right?

Not so quick.  I made the rice like I always do.  One tablespoon of olive oil in the pan, and the cup of jasmine rice cooked in it until about 1/3 of the rice is toasted.  It takes about 10 minutes to get it to that point, but it’s well worth it.  It gives the rice a nutty flavor and since the oil cooks into the rice, it doesn’t stick together.  When the rice is ready, pour two cups of chicken broth into the rice, but be careful because the pan is hot and the broth will steam immediately.  Stir so the rice doesn’t clump, and once it starts to boil again, turn the heat down to very low (on my electric stove top, I set it to 1) cover and let simmer for 18 minutes.  Remove the rice from the heat leaving the lid on.  The rice will stay hot for several minutes after.

Now, originally, I was going to pan-grill the chicken.  We have a cast-iron stove top pan grill that we use for this kind of cooking.

dinner 03

It’s not the same as outdoor grilling, but it does give a nice sear and you get the flavor of chargrilling.  And ever since we got our new grill brush, cleaning is a piece of cake.

grill brush

It’s a small hand-held job that was recommended by America’s Test Kitchen.  We’ve never been disappointed by their recommendations for kitchen tools, and only once by their recipes.

However, I didn’t grill the chicken, though I could have.  I didn’t make chicken and salad and rice.  I didn’t make Arroz con Pollo, although I could have.

I made a chicken stir fry!  Didn’t see that coming, did you?  Yeah, all right.  I didn’t fool anyone.

I cut the chicken into large bite-sized pieces while I heated oil in a large skillet, as I now no longer have a wok.  Not to worry, I’ll have another one day.  I’m just being very slow about what goes into my kitchen these days.  I stir fried them until they were brown on all sides.  Then I added the dressing from the salad kit which was a Sesame Orange vinaigrette and coated all the chicken.  I emptied the salad greens into the skillet and stirred to combine the chicken and sauce.  I tossed in about a tablespoon of soy sauce and stirred to blend it.  Then I added a handful of cashews that I had, plus the almonds in the kit.  I heated everything through and turned off the heat, but left the pan on stove to stay hot.  Total cook time, less than ten minutes.

Then I called Partner/Spouse to the kitchen to prepare his plate.  I put two large spoonfuls of rice on my plate, then topped it with the chicken stir-fry.  And it was good!  It disappeared so fast, I didn’t get a picture of it.

So the chicken and salad stand-by turned into a chicken stir-fry with the same ingredients and a little imagination.


Post #374 The Chocolate Peanut Butter

May 27, 2015 at 11:05 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Years ago, I was traveling in Europe.  I can’t remember which country I was in, but the breakfast bar had small packages of a spread that was new to me.  It was made out of hazelnuts, cocoa, milk, and emulsifiers.  It was called Nutella.

Nutella 01

It had an interesting flavor of chocolate and hazelnuts, neither one overpowering the other.  Most of the locals spread it on bread or bagels.  I tried it; didn’t like it; ignored it from then on.  But I grabbed a couple to take home to my (now) ex-wife who liked it but wasn’t transported over the moon by it.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m the grocery store and there it was on the shelf!  I was tickled to see something from another part of the world showing up in my little corner of the world.  I pointed it out, and grabbed a small jar “just in case”.  Never opened it and tossed it years after its sell-by date had passed.

Nutella 02

I’ve been seeing a lot of this around recently.  When I would babysit the kids back in Arizona, when asked what they wanted for lunch, invariably the reply was “Chocolate peanut butter.”  I knew what they meant but I didn’t have any of it.

There’s one recipe that sounds intriguing.  It’s for breakfast, but I imagine it would work any time as long as you gave it time to “cook”.  Take an empty jar of Nutella that has the “scrapings” left on the sides and bottom and add 1/2 a cup of oats and 1/2 a cup of water or milk.  Seal tightly and leave in the fridge overnight.  The next morning, remove the lid and stir.  The Nutella is absorbed into the oats and gives it a chocolaty flavor.  You can add fruits and nuts for variety.  If you want it warm, microwave for sixty seconds before adding anything to it.

If you’re a crepe fan, Nutella makes a good spread.  When I was in Paris, there were street vendors selling crepes.  One of the most popular was a crepe spread with Nutella and wrapped around a banana.  One of my colleagues was so addicted to these, he once said he ate so many his teeth hurt.

One dessert that Nutella seems to be made for is the Crepe Cake, the Mille Crepe Cake.  Crepes are thin pancakes made from a very thin batter.  When done properly, they are almost see through.  They are much larger that regular pancakes, taking up the entire surface of the pan.  Several are needed per person.  They can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen.  For this recipe you’ll need 18-24 crepes, a jar of Nutella, a jar of raspberry jam, and some fresh raspberries.

On a large plate, place a crepe down and spread a thin layer of Nutella.  Place another crepe on top and spread a thin layer of raspberry jam.  Continue stacking and spreading until all the crepes are used.  On the final layer, spread a thin layer of Nutella and dot raspberry jam around.  Place a fresh raspberry in each dot.  Chill for a couple of hours, then serve with whipped cream.

chocolate mille crepe cake

It’s said that Nutella can be used in brownies, or in French Croissants making a version of Pain au Chocolat.  It can be used as a cupcake filling, or a swirl in a marble cake.  You can add butter and powdered sugar to it to make an icing for cakes.  You can make thumbprint cookies and fill them with Nutella instead of jam.  You use it as filling for sandwich cookies, or dipping for dipped cookies.

Since Nutella is sweet, it lends itself most likely for desserts.  But it can be drizzled over popcorn.  You can dip bacon in it.  You can add a small amount to your favorite chili rub and blend well, and use it on meats to be grilled or roasted.  You can even add it to hot milk and make a form of hot chocolate, to which you can add spirits and make a hot toddy.

As I said, I’m not a big fan of the stuff, but it’s popularity world wide cannot be denied.  So try it, if you haven’t, and have a good time with it!


Post #372 Memorial Day

May 25, 2015 at 3:55 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #372 Memorial Day

The weekend is starting to wind down.  We had a great time with some successes and some not so successes.  Mostly successes.

Memorial Day Flags

We started with an unexpected guest on Friday and my last trip to the orthopedist.  My arm is healing, albeit slowly.  He’s happy with the progress, so I am too.  I don’t have to worry about operations, shots into my spine, or anything drastic like.  At least for now.  It’s always a possibility for the future.  But right now, my arm is back to 90%, and only occasionally causes pain.  A far cry from just a month ago when I couldn’t even hold a fork in my right hand.

Dinner on Friday was sort of haphazard.  I don’t even recall what we had, but it was good.  Saturday started with a trip to our favorite farmer’s market and loading up on veggies and locally made ice cream.  Then, on a whim, we bought a couple of steaks from the local butchery.   The rest of the weekend is a jumble.  We had steak and salad on Saturday, cooked on a grill we just purchased that day.  We went to a casino where one of our guests hit the jackpot on a slot machine.  We had some amazing weather and opened the house up completely, which turned out to be a mistake since the flies wandered in from the freshly manured fields nearby.  One morning, I got up early to let the dogs out, and I could hear a couple of bullfrogs from a nearby pond.  We went to one of our favorite restaurants and got to eat outside on the balcony and watch the boats moving up and down the creek.  We tried a new restaurant for us and I got to have a blackberry mimosa, well two, and we all had a good time.  We bug bombed the house and garage to get rid of the flies.  It didn’t work.  We watched some movies, did some talking, went to a local wildlife reserve and got to watch a bald eagle diving for its dinner.  All in all, just had a very relaxing weekend.  Oh, and got a hair cut.  Mine is now so short, it actually sticks straight up.

Through all the good times, though, it was never very far from my mind that it was Memorial Day weekend so I kept the fallen close to my mind.

Just like this little guy.

red and rover

Hope you all had a great weekend and a great time!


Post #371 Memorial Day Memories

May 22, 2015 at 7:46 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #371 Memorial Day Memories

Let’s see.  Something’s going on this weekend.  It’s a holiday or something.  It’s the first long weekend of summer so it means it’s time to fire up the barbeque, right?  No, that doesn’t sound right.  It’s a beach weekend?  A time to play for three days?  Nope, not quite that.

Oh, right.  It’s Memorial Day.  It’s not National Barbeque Day.  And while I respect and honor all our military personnel, it’s not Veteran’s Day.  Memorial Day, or Day of Remembrance, is set aside to honor those who have fallen in the service of our country.  I have a couple of memories to share.

I was 8 and living in upstate New York, in a small town (I’m sensing a theme here) called Glens Falls.  My dad was a Marine at the time, and he was a recruiter during the Viet Nam conflict.  He got to wear colorful uniforms and be on TV a lot.  He epitomized the ideals of being a Marine.

I was in the cub scouts that year.  I loved being in the cub scouts.  Apart from school, it was the only other structured socialization I had.  It was fun; we learned things; we got snacks.  It was a bright spot on a Saturday that would otherwise be spent watching cartoons.  I seldom missed our meetings.  Then I found out about the parade!

Every year, our little town had a Memorial Day parade.  People stood along the street, waving flags, watching the bands march, the fire engines slowly pulling floats loaded with teenagers looking adult and regal.  I’d stood and watched them go by at least twice that I could remember.  And now, just because I was a cub scout, I would get to march in the parade.  I’d be wearing my black sneakers, blue jeans rolled up halfway to my knees, my blue cub scout shirt with the few merit badges I’d earned, my gold neckerchief rolled just right and held by the gold metal pull, and my blue cap.  I’d be marching along with my den mates, and cub scouts from all the other dens, in a big group, grinning and waving.  A Norman Rockwell moment.

I dreamed about that parade every night for the entire two weeks beforehand.  In my dreams, the music swelled so loud, the crowds were larger than anyone could imagine.  And I was right there in the middle of it.  The Saturday dawned, and everything was right.  The sun was shining, but it wasn’t too hot.  There was not a hint of rain.  My proudest moment of the parade was when I saw my mom and dad, my older sister, and my little brother all waving at me from the curb.  My face must have been split in two by my smile, in a way that only an 8 year old can smile.

Once the parade was over, and I found my parents, there was something even better to come.  The Memorial Day Picnic!  We went to Crandall Park among the trees and the picnic was already set up.  I have no idea who was behind it, but I do remember that the Marines had a hand in everything.  There were hot dogs on the grill, but you could also put one on a stick and cook it yourself.  I must have had three just like that.  There potato chips, and Fritos, and potato salad and cakes and cookies and pies and every kind of drink imaginable.  There were games and contests, some for the kids and some for the adults.  There was a softball game where I shouted for my dad when he came to bat.  He hit the ball but it was a fly ball to center field.  Even as an 8 year old, I knew that was an easy out.  I got bored with that game and waded in the pond with some friends looking for polliwogs.

The picnic lasted all day, and at night all the kids had sparklers to play with and to try to burn down the forest.  Never happened but we tried.  There were bonfires all over and the best time ever for everyone.  I’d played and fought and ran and won ribbons and eaten till I couldn’t swallow another bite or drink another drop.  Then went home and slept like the dead until the next morning.

That was the best Memorial Day I can remember.  And though the Marines were there, and I knew several of them and played with their kids at school and in the scouts, not a mention was made of remembering the fallen or memorializing their sacrifice.  It was a day of fun and food and sun.

Then some days later, not very long, there was another gathering, a much more somber one.  We were in a cemetery.  I knew that because I could see the gravestones.  But at the time, I didn’t know why we were there.  Then I noticed a family friend, David B. with his mom and sister, all dressed in black, standing by the man who was leading the gathering.  I couldn’t hear what was being said, but David’s mom was crying silent tears, dabbing them away with a handkerchief, and David looked grim.  I started to ask my mom what was going on, but she shh-ed me so I fell silent.

I’ll never forget that 21 gun salute.  I knew what that meant.  You can’t grow up in a military family without knowing that.

David B faded from my life after that.  It happens with military families.  Either your dad gets transferred or your friend’s dad gets transferred.  I was 8 and the most important thing in my life was surviving a day at school so I could go play.  And candy.  Candy was pretty important, too.

But I did puzzle out what Memorial Day was supposed to be about.

Then I lost it over the years.  It became about the grill and burgers and friends and family and summer.

One year, when I was in my very late teens or early twenties, on Memorial weekend, I was driving around town on errands of one kind or another and I happened to pass the large cemetery in town.  And there was a small American flag on every single grave site.  I never knew they did this.  It made a stunning impact, particularly since it was unexpected, and understated.

I was on my way to a friend’s house, and I mentioned to him and his mom about seeing the flags.  They were both excited to see it, so we drove over.  I didn’t know until then that his father was buried there.  They weren’t interested in seeing grave at that moment, but to take in the big picture.  It was the desert and there’s almost always a breeze blowing and the flags were stirring and making quite a display.

I remembered what Memorial Day is about.  I haven’t forgotten since.  I saw an item on my FB timeline from my hometown newspaper that the flags will be up again this year, just as they have been every year.

So, have a good time this weekend, and celebrate summer, and sun, and eat and drink.  Lord knows, I’m gonna.  But also remember those who didn’t make it home.

Memorial Day

This picture reminded me of my friend David B.  We were just about that age.

As always,


Post #370 Memorial Day Menu

May 20, 2015 at 11:58 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

It’s the first big three day weekend of the summer coming up this weekend.  Memorial Day holds a lot of special memories for me that I’ll be going into in the next post, but for this post I wanted to talk about menus for the big day.

For many people, it means getting out of town, to the beach or the mountains or the hiking trails.  For just as many others, it means a family barbeque, whether that family is blood or chosen.  In most cases, it means a weekend long celebration of food, drink, and good times.  I’ve spent very happy Memorial weekends by myself, enjoying whatever I had on hand.  And I’ve spent very happy Memorial weekends with crowds of friends and family with more food and drink than an army could eat.

It typically boils down to the same foods.  Burgers and dogs, potato salad, chips and dip, and whatever anyone is drinking.  Everywhere I’ve ever lived, it’s always been the same.

So this year, I’ve searched through the internet and found some unusual but familiar food items for the weekend.  Spoiler Alert!  I did not come up with these recipes in my own mind.  I do not own them.  They are the genius work of other chefs whose names I do not know.

First, the drink.  Watermelon Lemonade.


This is easy peasy.  Take a small ripe watermelon and cut out all the fruit, leaving the rind and pith (the white stuff) behind.  Cut into one inch cubes and remove as many seeds as possible.  Put the cubes in a blender or food processor, working in batches if necessary.  Pour the juice through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl, mashing the pulp to extract as much juice as possible.  Pour the juice into plastic ice cube trays (must be plastic, not metal or silicon) and freeze solid.  Make lemonade in any way you choose (I have a great recipe for homemade lemonade in post # 285.)  Chill the lemonade and just before serving put some frozen watermelon cubes in the lemonade.  If you’ve made enough cubes, you can also put them in the glasses you’re serving the lemonade in.

Next, for the chips and dip, we’re going to consider Blue Cheese and Pecan Dip with Toasted Pita Chips.

Blue Cheese Pecan Dip

Again, easy peasy.  First, make the pita chips.  Cut a round pita bread disk into quarters, then into eighths.  The pull the two pieces apart.  Cut as many chips as you think you’ll need.  Then add more, just cuz.  Melt some butter and brush over pita chips and place in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle the chips lightly with a coarse salt.  Toast in a hot oven, 375-425 degrees, until the chips are toasty brown and rigid.  Remove and allow to cool.  While the chips are cooling, using a food processor with the blade process 1/4 cup of shelled pecans for 10 seconds.  Add six ounces of cream cheese and two tablespoons of blue cheese.  Process until smooth, about a minute or so.  Unplug the food processor, and being very careful, remove the blade.  Use a rubber spatula to remove the mixture from the blade and from the processing bowl.  Put it into the serving bowl.  Stir about a quarter cup of blue cheese crumbles into the mixture.  Drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil over the top of the mixture and sprinkle with finely chopped pecans.  Allow to chill and serve with the pita chips.

For the main course, it’s going to be Beer Can Burgers!

beer can burgers 01

I saw a video a couple of days ago and thought, “Man!  I’ve gotta try these!”  I wish I could locate the video so I could give credit where it’s due.  If the guy who created these reads this, I hope you know how impressed I am!  You start by sautéing several different veggies separately.  The video showed onions, mushrooms, and various peppers being cooked.  Set those aside.  Then take 1/2 pound of ground beef and shape it into a ball.  Use a beer can (or other can of about the same size) and form a bowl shape.  While the can is still in place, wrap two slices of raw bacon around the burger.

beer can burgers

Remove the can and fill the “bowl” with the cooked vegetables.  Get creative with this part and use any veggies or other fillings you like.  Then top the bowl with chunks of cheese.  Grill the burgers over indirect heat until well done.  Remove from grill and allow to cool for a few minutes.  Now, at this point you can eat them directly or you can be adventurous and smash it between the two pieces of a bun.  But it takes a large mouth to get around it all.  I can’t wait to try this!

Finally, we get to dessert and wait till you see what I found!  Ever heard of a root beer float?  Ever heard of it in a pie?

Root Beer Float Pie

Here’s what you need:

  • 8 oz whipped topping
  • 3/4 cup root beer
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 package instant vanilla pudding
  • one graham cracker pie crust
  • maraschino cherries

Set aside and refrigerate 1/2 cup of the whipped topping.  In a medium bowl, whip together the milk, pudding, and root beer for three minutes.  Fold in half the remaining whipped topping then pour into pie shell.  Spread remaining whipped topping over the top and chill at least 8 hours but it’s better overnight.  When ready to serve, cut into slices, spoon a small dollop of whipped topping onto each slice, and place a cherry on top.

Totally different menu, but completely the same.


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