Post #477 The Start of Summer!

May 30, 2016 at 9:52 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #477 The Start of Summer!

Here in the States, this weekend is Memorial Day weekend, and the unofficial start of the summer season.  Typically, the heat ramps up, the rain stays away, breezes are pleasant, schools are finished, and some businesses start winding down.  Neighborhood block parties are more prevalent; barbeques are brought out of moth balls and fired up; outdoor furniture is cleaned up and set in place.  Here in our small town, families are getting together to enjoy the great weather.  Historic downtown is open and inviting all comers.  We have boat races on the river.  Flags are planted everywhere to honor our fallen heroes.  The neighbors across the street are enjoying a new puppy.  The neighbors behind us are smoking a beef brisket in preparation for barbeque sauce.  The aroma is amazing.

Our weekend started on Friday evening.  Oddly enough, I got off early on Friday so I was home by 7.  Weekend Guest was here.  Partner/Spouse had assembled the fire pit/outdoor table we purchased last year.  I had brought home a plastic Adirondack chair for him.  The grill was set by the chair grouping in the side yard.  The sun was about to set.  We had a few options for the evening but all I wanted to do was sit outside, enjoy the weather, drink a glass of wine, and watch the sun set.  So we did.

Partner/Spouse got the grill going using the briquette chimney.  Ever seen one of these?  They work great and use no chemicals.

Chimney

You fill the top with charcoal, and place a wad of paper in the bottom.  The paper is set on fire and the chimney action pulls the heat upwards and lights the charcoal.  The chimney action continues to pull the heat up until eventually all the charcoal is alight.  It takes about twenty minutes and is a pleasant way to spend some time.  The live coals are spread out into the barbeque and more charcoal is added if necessary.

Partner/Spouse had the whole meal under control so all I had to do was sit, drink wine, and be my funny interesting usual self.  Then he put three different kinds of ribs on the grill.  He followed a technique we saw on America’s Test Kitchen and applied barbeque sauce in stages while cooking the ribs slowly.

I don’t even remember what else we had.  Roasted green beans?  Maybe.  Grilled focaccia bread?  Perhaps.  The meal was all about the ribs.  Good, tasty, tender ribs.

On Saturday, I had the day off.  We were all a little tired, so decided to just lounge around the house.  Partner/Spouse and I went to our local butcher and got a couple of ribeye steaks for dinner, and a peppermint plant, and some asparagus, and some fresh corn, some other things.  I decided to work around the yard a little.  We do container gardening for the most part and most of the pots were getting a little dry.  I saturated them, and gave the pansies a solid drink.  I moved the jasmine from the back to the front so they could enjoy the evening sun rather than the morning, noon, and afternoon sun.  I repotted the peppermint, and put together my electric trimmer which we bought months ago.  I intended to trim the bushes back, but after the trimmer was together, the search for the extension cords proved fruitless.  I have no idea where they are.  I know I boxed them up after the holiday season, but I don’t recall where I put that box.  I searched every box in the garage, then quit.  It was getting close to noon, and it was getting hot and muggy.  All the neighbors who had been out doing yard tasks had all gone inside.  So I mentally shrugged and said “To heck with it.”  Changed my sweaty shirt, took a shower, parked myself on the couch with my Kindle and read for the rest of the afternoon while the dogs and other people in the house alternately napped and watched television.

I wanted to try a new technique for cooking the steak and the corn so I started dinner about 6:30.  We soak our corn in salt water for a couple of hours before cooking it.  It keeps the corn tender and juicy.  I don’t eat corn, especially on the cob, so I take their word for it.  I turned the oven on 350 and wrapped the corn tightly in foil.  I put the corn in the oven for 30 minutes to roast.  For the steak, I wanted to try something different.  Normally, when cooking steak indoors, I use our cast iron grill pan and sear the steak on both sides, then finish in the oven.  This time, I wanted to reverse it because many experts have been saying recently that you have more control over the cooking process that way.

I turned the oven down to 215, set the steak on a cooling rack set into a rimmed baking sheet.  What I’d seen and read said to leave the steak for fifteen minutes, then turn it over.  Cook another fifteen minutes, then sear in a pan on the stove.    I must have misheard or misread because after fifteen minutes, the steak was still cold.  I flipped them, turned the heat up a bit, and left them for fifteen minutes.  They were starting to react to the heat by now, so I turned the heat up to 300, flipped the steak, and left them for another fifteen minutes.  They were finally at a point where I felt comfortable putting them in a pan on the stovetop.

While the steaks weren’t cooking, I set a big pot of water on to boil so I could blanch the asparagus.  I left them whole, cutting off only the bottom inch.  To blanch veggies, put a pot of water to furious boil, drop the veggies in for no more than three minutes, then remove them to an ice bath.  The ice bath is important to stop the veggies from cooking any longer.  I had two large skillets on the stove heating on low, waiting for the veggies and the steak.

While the veggies were in the ice bath, I cut up two large tomatoes and dressed them with olive oil and raspberry balsamic vinegar.  I added sunflower seeds, chopped green onion, and a small sprinkle of parmesan cheese.  That went into the fridge to chill.  I chopped some fresh garlic for the asparagus.  (Side note:  The “fresh” garlic we’ve been getting from various stores recently, for about the past three months, has been terrible.  The heads look fine, but when we open them and pull out the cloves, they’re either very dry, or have sprouted.  We’ve thrown away a lot of fresh garlic.  However, the fresh garlic we got yesterday was the best.  And it makes all the difference in the world.)  Anyway, I melted some butter in a large skillet over very low heat.  I put the garlic and some sunflower seeds in the butter and simmered them for about a minute to release their flavors, then added the asparagus.  I tossed them around to coat them evenly.  I turned the heat off and covered the pan and left it alone.

I pulled the steak out of the oven and placed them in the blazing hot skillet to sear.  I left them for four minutes for each side.  I turned the heat off when I flipped them so they wouldn’t get overdone.  The table was already set, so I put the corn on a plate (still in the foil) and onto the table.  The tomato salad came out and in place.  I put the asparagus in an oblong small serving dish inherited from Partner/Spouse’s mother.  The leftover garlic, butter, and seeds in the pan went onto the top of the veggies.  The steaks were already on the cutting board, resting, so I cut them into 1/2 inch thick strips and onto the table it went.

Dinner was served, and we ate with gusto!  It’s impolite to brag about your own culinary efforts, but everyone else said it was delicious.  It was, too.

Sunday, we had leftover ribs and fried cabbage.  Good stuff, easy to do, and fills an empty tummy.

Today, who knows?  Maybe I’ll bring home frozen pizza from the store, although I did hear rumors about chicken cutlets.

Enjoy

Post #476 Breakfast, Mexican Style

May 26, 2016 at 12:43 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #476 Breakfast, Mexican Style

Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows my fondness for Mexican cooking.  I grew up on the Mexican border in Arizona.  Our house was an eclectic mix of Irish, Southern, Italian, and American cooking.  We couldn’t go longer than three days without something Mexican being on the menu.  Come to think of it, we’re still like that today.  My brother and sister, as well as Partner/Spouse, we all eat Mexican several times a week.  We all just love the flavors.

Years ago, I was working in Tijuana.  That’s in Mexico, for those who don’t know, just barely across the border below San Diego, CA.  Our hotel provided breakfast each morning, a nice blend of Mexican and American dishes.  Plenty of fresh fruit, bread and tortillas, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, chili con carne, fresh cheeses, and a large chafing dish of a chilaquiles variation.

I ate a LOT of that chilaquiles.  One of my coworkers, just before we left, said that if she never looked at refried beans and tortillas again it would still be too soon.  I didn’t get it.  I love the stuff.

You’ve may have read my posts about juevos rancheros and breakfast burritos.  Chilaquiles are another traditional Mexican dish usually served at breakfast, but can actually show up any time of the day.  There’s loads of variations but the basic dish is this:

Corn tortillas  are quartered and fried crispy.  Two tortillas per serving is a good guideline.  The fried tortillas are placed in a large, shallow frying pan and red or green salsa is poured over them.  This is simmered until the tortillas start softening, then it’s removed from the heat.  It’s garnished with crema and fresh cheese.  A serving of refried beans is placed on a plate or a wide bowl and the tortillas are served over the top.  Then you throw your face into the middle of it and eat till it’s gone.  Licking your plate is considered unseemly, but is regarded as compliment to the cook.  Burping is frowned upon.

There are hundreds of variations on the theme.  People add meats like shredded chicken or pork, and carne asada cut into small pieces.  Vegetables can be added to the salsa or served on the side.  Eggs can be simmered in the salsa and served whole with the tortillas.  Hard boiled eggs can be placed in the salsa just before serving.  Avocados, rice, sliced onion, sliced peppers, limes, warm tortillas can be served on the side.  Whole steaks can be added on the side if you like.

But getting back to Tijuana, they made it the best way I’ve ever seen.

Since they were serving many people, they did quite differently.  They fried up the corn tortillas and simmered them in a red spicy salsa.  They heated refried beans and added the tortillas and more salsa, then topped it all with cheddar cheese.  They place hard boiled eggs cut in halves all over the top.  Guests could serve themselves as much or as little as they liked with whatever extra toppings they wanted which the hotel placed in bowls on the side.

Like I said earlier, I ate the heck out of that.  One morning, they added carne asada pieces to it.  I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  It was so good!  (I’m drooling right now thinking about it.)

As always,

Enjoy

Post #475 Healthy Snacking

May 17, 2016 at 9:06 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #475 Healthy Snacking

So recently I decided it was time to stop eating the fried foods and donuts that were so readily available at my store and start eating more of the healthier options available.  No particular reason for it except that I prefer to eat healthy when I can.  I don’t usually go in for food fads (as several blog posts attest), and generally eat to make myself feel good.  But a chocolate glazed donut or a tub of mac and cheese alongside a piece of fried chicken is a siren song for me and I’ve been eating far too much of that.  Too much.

Fried Chicken

My store is known far and wide for its good fried chicken.  I know one gentleman who drives 2 hours every Friday evening to get enough to hold him through the weekend.

It happens that our power bars are on sale this week and I used to eat those things like crazy.  Perhaps a little too much sugar, but overall healthier than a donut.  A yeast donut that’s been fried and glazed with chocolate.  One I can eat in about six bites.

Enough of that, the power bars!  I used to take boxes of these things with me when I was traveling in case I wasn’t able to catch a meal when I was supposed to.  There are tons of brands and tons of flavors.  It seems like most of them fall into two categories.  It’s either peanut butter or chocolate.  I don’t care a whole lot for peanut butter but you know how I feel about chocolate.

So on Sunday, for my lunch break I got a power bar billing itself as Chocolate Brownie.  It was really good.  Along with the bottle of water (which I’ve been drinking a lot more lately) it filled me up just right so I had plenty of energy to finish work and didn’t feel sleepy from eating too much.  (Feeling sleepy from overwork and stress are a different story.)  My mind started turning gears about power bars.  Then on Monday, I brought with me my snack for my break.  I brought crackers and cheese, something I love but haven’t thought of in a while.  I sat outside enjoying the sunshine and cool breeze and drank my water and ate crackers and white cheddar cheese.  It was good.

Then I came home and made brownies, cuz, well, brownies are good.

Brownies

When I was in college and living with my sister and her husband, I learned to make “healthy” brownies.  We all loved chocolate, though they were into carob at the time, and I wanted to make a power bar alternative.  So I started with the basic brownie recipe which I’ve included at the bottom of the post.  Then I added various seeds and grains until it was unrecognizable as a brownie, but still very good and very filling.

So I did that again today when I got home from work.

The weather has turned nice for a couple of days.  I got off work early, at 5.  I was home by six and relaxing.  We ate dinner and sat outside to enjoy the evening.  Once the sun was down enough to cool things off, we went inside and I started making brownies.

I added a quarter cup of wheat germ cuz that’s supposed to be healthy.  I added all the sunflower seeds that were left, about a quarter cup.  I added a spoonful of wheat bran cuz again, it’s supposed to be healthy.  I added a large helping of sesame seeds.  I added the last of the chocolate chips cuz that’s what you do.  And just because I had it in the freezer, I added some coconut, about a half cup.

All that went into the batter.  If I had them, I would have added Rice Krispies, but I forgot to get them before I left the store.  That would have added a crunch factor that would have sent these over the moon.  I set the baking time at the high end of the time spread.

It’s important that brownies don’t over cook.  The gold standard of brownies is chewy and gooey.  Over cooking will make dry brownies and maybe even burnt brownies.  But I had added so much stuff to the batter, I wanted to be certain the batter was done.

So what was the end result?  I haven’t eaten one yet, so I don’t know.  But the batter tasted primo.

So why add all those extra items?  Particularly to a batter that just doesn’t need it?  There’s a couple of reasons.  One reason, and the most important for me is I wanted something to take to work that I would actually eat (it’s chocolate, right?) but would be healthy and sustaining.  The second reason, the more you add to the batter, the more lift the brownie has.  The appeal of brownies is that as they cool they sink into themselves and create a fudgy, gooey, chewy bar that’s exceptionally delicious.  (There are cake brownies, but I don’t really care for those.)  Adding various chips, seeds, nuts, fillers causes the brownie to be thicker but still gooey and decadent.  And it adds interesting flavor bites and texture.

Next time I’m going to try adding rice krispies.  I think that’ll be good.

Here’s my standard go-to recipe for brownies.  Have fun with it.  Make ’em healthy!

 

Melt a half cup of butter slowly in a heavy pan. When butter is completely melted, turn off the heat.   Add one to one and a half cups of sugar (depending on taste) and mix until most of the sugar is dissolved.  Add one teaspoon of vanilla (not more or it will take on a stronger vanilla taste than you’ll care for, trust me.)  Add two eggs and mix completely.  Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of cocoa depending on how chocolaty you want it.  If you’re adding other chocolate flavoring (like chips) stick to the lower end.  Stir that in carefully since cocoa tends to fluff about.  This will take a couple of minutes if you’re doing it carefully.  Once all the lumps are gone and the mixture is smooth, add a 1/2 cup of flour, a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder.  Stir in all at once, as slowly as you did the cocoa.  Once the batter is smooth and silky, add any chips, nuts, seeds, candy, etc.   Spread in a prepared 9×9 inch pan and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out relatively clean.  Alternatively, use an 8×8 pan and bake for 34-40 minutes for a higher, gooier brownie.  You can also frost the brownie once it has completely cooled.

Enjoy

 

Post #474 Okay, Where is He This Time?

May 14, 2016 at 11:08 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #474 Okay, Where is He This Time?

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It’s been a while since I posted but it hasn’t been from lack of desire.  It’s been from a lack of time.  And it’s primarily due to the job situation.  See, I was hired as part time.  When I started working, I got typically around 25-30 hours a week which left me plenty of time for writing and the household tasks that needed to be done with some spare time to read and listen to music and watch TV.  Even get out of the house once in a while.  But over the last three months, my hours have been steadily increasing.  I’m now routinely scheduled for 35-40 hours a week, but I get asked to cover other people’s shifts on top of mine, so I tend to work far more than 40 hours.  On Thursday, for instance, I got called in early, worked a 9.5 hour shift with no other person at my level to assist.  I got one ten minute break in that time, and assisted in training a new employee.  The next day, yesterday, I worked noon to 10 on a register, got my breaks, but was on my feet for the full ten hours.  Today, I was supposed to work 5-11, but I got called in and now have to report at two.  I have no idea what the staff situation will be once I get there.  It’s exhausting.  I had last Monday off, and won’t get another day off until next Friday.

On top of that, the timing of the shifts I work can be tough to work around.  I work either 12:30 – 9, or 5-11.  The mid-shift is hard to work around because I don’t want to get into something and have to stop mid-stream to go to work.  By the time I get home and relax, it’s time to go to bed.  The closing shift is easier to deal with since I have nearly the entire day to work, but having to go to work looms over the whole effort.  Getting home near midnight is rough, too.

The saving grace in all this is I love the job, despite the long hours and really bad wages.  Interacting with the customers is fun; talking about food is fun; my coworkers (for the most part) are great.  Even the drive to and from work is nice because it’s relaxing, I get to see deer and nature and water vistas.  So overall, it’s a good experience.

What it boils down to is in all this mixture, something has to give and most days, it’s the blog.  Partner/Spouse and I are about to celebrate the 8th anniversary of our commitment ceremony and I’m trying to get time off for that.  I need to reignite my writing career and get another book out on KDP.  I need to get my current book based on the blog out in print version.  It can be a whirlwind.  The next two weeks are going to be challenging, but I’m hopeful things may calm down a bit after that.

! fingers crossed

So, I’ll continue to update as I can, and share fun and funny cooking stories.  I was joking with a customer the other day and she was laughing hard.  “This is why I keep coming back to this store,” she said.  “It’s so much fun!”

“No charge for the floor show, ma’am.  I’m here all week except Thursdays.  Try the veal.”

She laughed again.  “That’s from Shrek, right?”

My boss saw the whole thing and gave me a $5 gift card.

And as always,

Enjoy

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