Post #612 Gone But Maybe Not Forgotten?

November 25, 2018 at 8:04 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Have you ever been driving somewhere and seen a corner that doesn’t look quite right?  Like there’s a ghost of something that used to be there?  Then you remember it used to be the home of one of your favorite restaurants, and you’re faintly regretful that it’s not there anymore even though you likely haven’t thought about it in ten years.  It happens to me quite a bit, and I usually try to remember my favorite order from the place and when I was last there.  I’ve read that a new restaurant is the riskiest business venture there is, and that 75% of all restaurants close within their first five years.

Then a few days ago, I read an article listing a bunch of restaurants that have disappeared over recent years.  I thought it would be fun to look through and see if I recognized any of them.  It was disturbing how many I knew.

Burger Chef – Okay, I haven’t seen this one since I was a kid, but I do remember their burgers and their signs.  They started out regionally but expanded by leaps and bounds.  At one point, just before they were bought out by Hardees, they were all over the country.  When we moved from New York state to Arizona, we stopped there fairly often.

Sambo’s – Okay, we had one of these in the little town I grew up in and we went there all the time.  Good food, plenty of it, and cheap.  However, it’s name did it in.  As the nation became more sensitive and aware of hidden prejudices, business dropped off.  As business dropped off, quality declined.  The last time I was there, I was with some friends, and one of them had ordered a burger.  The tomato slice looked about three years passed its sell-by date.  It was so horrid, he sliced it into pieces so they couldn’t recycle it.  They were bought out by Denny’s.  Probably a good thing.

Chi Chi’s – I first bumped into this restaurant when I moved to DC.  I was looking for a good Mexican restaurant and someone suggested this on.  I looked into it and thought it sounded good, and there was one near where I lived and worked.  I invited a friend to go with me.  She’d grown up in Corpus Christi and was Mexican herself.  I figured we’d pick it apart and have fun.  Her response was classic.  “Why would they call a restaurant that?”  The food was formulaic, and the flavor was not outstanding.  I described it to friends back home as tomato sauce with a jalapeno pepper.  They did make an outstanding salsa and fresh made tortilla chips.  So much so that when the restaurant closed, they continued to sell the jarred salsa in stores.  It’s still around.

Howard Johnson’s – Affectionately nicknamed HoJo’s, it was prolific during the 70s and 80s for it’s motel and restaurant combination and its distinctive orange roof.  It was a popular venue for manager meetings due to its large dining area.  I was involved in a few of those manager meeting myself back in the day.  I wasn’t too taken with the food or the atmosphere, but I guess its reliability and price was appealing to businesses.  Gone now as it fell out of fashion and other meeting places took their place.

Kenny Rogers Roasters – The only time I ever ran into this one, oddly enough, was in China.  It seems the Chinese like their fried chicken; the KFC always had a line starting at 7am.  Roasters never had the lines, but had really good food.  My first trip I walked passed one every day and stopped in several times for take out.  They treated me like a king every time.  Not sure why it never took off.  Too much competition, I guess.

Bob’s Big Boy – Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory loved the burger at Bob’s Big Boy.  I liked just about everything else.  There was one directly across the street from me and down one block when I first moved to DC.  Their portions were large, well cooked, and delicious.  But they couldn’t compete, for some reason.  Slowly, they closed restaurants all over.  They’re not technically defunct.  There are five still open in So. California.

Bennigan’s – This was one of the up scale family style restaurants that proliferated in the 80s and 90s.  They were a great date night place and the yuppies loved it.  Brunch was also a favorite time for the restaurant.  But it didn’t stand out from the pack and eventually was bought out by competitors.  I always enjoyed the place, but found wait staff to be rude on occasion.  Maybe that’s why they didn’t last, who knows?

Ponderosa/Bonanza Steakhouses – I LOVED these places.  The way it was set up, you stopped at the front and ordered your entrée.  They had everything!  I always ordered a steak, because, why not?  Once inside the restaurant, you sat down wherever with a little flag stand that held a number.  From that point, you had three or four different buffets that you were welcome to enjoy.  Soon, your entrée arrived and you just hoped you weren’t full from all the sides you had eaten.  There was even a dessert buffet.  Free refills on your drinks as long as it wasn’t alcohol.  So, so, good!  I think once I had the fried chicken.  Yum!

A&W – Who doesn’t know A&W?  The best root beer in the world.  Defined the drive-in when I was a kid.  Specialty burgers and the best root beer floats going!  So far as I know, there’s just one left open and it’s in Rhode Island!  If you know of any others, let me know.

Steak and Ale – This was my favorite steakhouse of all times.  It was a lodge style ambience with a huge fireplace and lots of wood fixtures etc.  Thick steaks, thick fries, great salads, and home made dark bread made with honey.  Fresh salted butter to go with it.  A terrific wine selection and desserts to die for.  I have no idea why they went under, but they did file bankruptcy way back when.  My favorite meal was the herb crusted prime rib and Cesar salad.

So!

Test time!  Who remembers any of these restaurants?  Who has any to add?  A trip down memory lane is always fun.

As Always,

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Post #611 Happy Feast of the Bird!

November 22, 2018 at 8:57 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In our new place, we’ve already had snow a couple of times, but only once was it significant.  Everything is chilly, gray, and more than a little damp.  Inside, there’s a fire (fake) going, music in the background, the aroma of roasting turkey, and the sense of anticipation for the feast.  It’s all comfortable and secure and happy.  Even the dog is snoring contentedly.

For some reason, I remembered an incident from yesteryears, when we still lived in a small town in upstate New York.  Oddly, that town is only about five hours from where we are now.  I was in second or third grade.  Friday, after lunch, was a special time.

In this school, on Friday the first forty-five minutes after lunch were designated free time.  You could do whatever you liked as long as it wasn’t disruptive to other students.  So if you and a friend wanted to play a game, or if you wanted to read, heck, even if you wanted to take a nap, it was all okay.

If you had extra money, before lunch you gave it to the teacher and she would get you an extra snack.  For a nickel, you could get pretzel sticks.  I don’t remember what the other snacks were because I always wanted those pretzel sticks.

It didn’t always work out.  Sometimes I forgot my nickel.  Sometimes, I didn’t have a nickel.  So, I’d sit at my desk and look longingly at the kids at the back of the classroom eating their extra snacks.  If you were lucky, one of them would invite you to share their snack, and you got to be part of the group enjoying a few minutes of privilege with their snack.

I nearly always had a nickel for my pretzels.  And if I forgot it, sometime the teacher would spot me for it since I was so regular with it.  So for me, eating pretzel sticks after lunch was a regular thing.  You may remember these things.  Small red and blue packages wrapped in plastic that contained a couple of dozen small crispy pretzel sticks.  Perfect for eating after lunch.

The kids who sat at the back of the room enjoying their snacks changed each week.  It was a fluid group, and we had a good time, although we did keep it quiet like we were supposed to.  Or as quiet any small group of kids in the second grade can.  There was one kid, though, who never ever had a snack.

He was a larger kids, larger than any of us others.  I don’t know his age, and didn’t think to terribly much about it.  He intimidated me.  I was a small kid.  Short, painfully thin, not much strength at all.  But I had a big grin and could make people laugh.  This guy couldn’t seem to do anything.  He was awkward and lumbering (remember, we were little kids and things were pretty cut and dried.)  He was ostracized, didn’t seem to have many friends.  I’d see him on the bus, usually by himself, and was thankful he wasn’t picking on me.

I was talking to my mom one day about him.  And she said, “It sounds like he could use a friend.”

I didn’t say anything and let the idea settle outside my brain.  A few weeks later, I was sitting at the back with my little box of pretzels, which I dearly loved, and noticed him at his desk, not doing anything, and staring at the rest of us with a look of wanting to be sitting with us.

Without thinking about it, I silently held out my pretzels to him and lifted my eyebrows to invite him join me in eating my snack.  His face lit up in surprise and delight, he nodded excitedly, and hurried back to me.  I held out the box.  I was already regretting it because now I wasn’t going to have as many pretzels as I usually did.

“How many can I have?” he asked before taking any.

I grinned. “All you want, just save me a couple.”

We both laughed, me the little kid, him the classroom giant and appetites to match.  He carefully split the pretzels between us and enjoyed the snack.

I made a friend that day, and he joined me for pretzels every Friday after that.  At least, every Friday that I remembered my nickel.  I didn’t think too much about it at the time, but he never had a nickel for pretzels.  After the end of that school year, we moved because of my dad’s job (he was a Marine so we moved a lot.)  I have no idea what happened to that kid; I don’t even remember what his name is.

It’s one of those incidents that has stuck with me throughout my life.  That big lumbering kid wanting those pretzels so much.  It didn’t occur to me until much later, decades later, that he was hungry.  I have no idea what his circumstances were, and I know that kids are always hungry.  All it cost me was some pretzels to help.

Kids today are hungry too.  Thousands of them don’t have anyone to give them pretzels; not even their parents.  We’re going to be feasting today, warm and comfortable and safe.  Let’s find a way to extend that feeling to those who are less fortunate.  When we’re shopping, let’s put food in the donation boxes.  Let’s buy those products that donate to No Kid Hungry.  Let’s load up the donation carts all year round.  Who’s with me?

As a followup, I was looking for the Mr. Salty pretzel snacks that I remembered, and I found the Mr. Salty pretzels, but it looks like the small, individual, snack boxes are a thing of the past.  So sad.  Unless it’s strictly a regional thing.  I still eat pretzels once in a while, but mostly ones that I’ve made myself.

Please feel free to share this, or any post you like.  As always,

Post #610 Heard at the Store

November 18, 2018 at 11:24 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

You all know that we moved recently to accept a promotion for Partner/Spouse.  We love being where we are, and I found a job almost immediately.  I’m back in retail sales, but at the kind of store that is the dream job for me.  I now work at a book store!  Yay me!  I’ve been there about three weeks and loving every minute.  Recently, for the upcoming holidays, they asked us to fill in a list tacked on the bulletin board delineating the areas you considered your “specialty”.  Yeah, guess what I wrote?

So yesterday, an older man comes in and wants “that book about turkeys, you know, cooking them and all.”  One of my co-workers led him to the cookbook section and found him the book he wanted.  He gleefully sat down and began browsing through it.

A few minutes later, he walks up to my colleague who directed him to me.

“Hi, sir, how can I help?”

“Well, now, son, you need to look at this book and tell me what’s wrong with it.”

I don’t play those kinds of games, so I said, “Why don’t you tell me what’s troubling you about it?”

“Well, look at this.”  He flipped through the front of the book and showed me the table of contents.   “Look here.  It says brines, page 37.”  He pointed aggressively at the page number.

He flipped through the book (which wasn’t really a huge volume, probably 120 pages total and heavy on the pictures) until he finally got to page 37.  It was the beginning of the brining section and showed a picture of a turkey in a large pot of water and vegetables.

“What’s the problem, sir?”

“How am I supposed to tell what to put in that brine?”  He was almost quivering, he was so insulted and angry.

Without saying a word, I reached out and flipped the page revealing a basic brining recipe and technique.  It happened to be a dry rub and he took exception to it.

“I don’t want no damn dry rub.  I want one to soak the bird!”

I flipped a few more pages and suddenly all his anger turned to delight.

“There it is!” he said happily.  “That’s the one I want.  Apple cider brine!”

His face split into a big grin and his eyes dances as he looked up at me.  He rapidly read through the recipe and started asking questions.

“Does it take water?”

“Yes sir.  Most brines combine some wet and dry ingredients to flavor the bird, but make up the bulk of the brine with water to cover the bird.  See here?”  I pointed to one instruction.  He nodded.

“Okay,” he said and glanced through it more.  “Could I use apple juice?”

“Sir, it’s your turkey and your feast.  You can use whatever liquid you like.  You might even try adding some apple bourbon to it to add flavor.”

“That’s a great idea!”  He wrote it down in the book.  The one he hadn’t bought yet.  I cringed but assumed he was going to buy it so didn’t say anything.

“It says to use butter, but could I use apple jelly instead?”

Knowing this was supposed to be a brine, I said, “They put the recipe together to perform a specific task so I wouldn’t omit the butter.  But you can certainly add apple jelly in addition to the butter.  Remember that brining means introducing salt into the bird so you don’t want to make this too sweet.”

He nodded and continued reading.  And chortling.  I swear to gods, the man was chortling like he’d discovered a gold mine.

He asked a few more questions then asked, “Can I make a copy of this page?”

“Well, no, sir.  We don’t have a copy facility, and, to be perfectly frank, we’re a book store, not a library.  We’re in the business of selling the books.  And since you’ve written in that one, I have to sort of insist you but it.”

He laughed.  “I was just testing you.” acting as though it were a joke or something.

Sigh.  So ready to be done with him, but then I thought of something.

“Sir, can I make a suggestion?”

“Sure.”

If you’re going to stuff the bird, can I suggest that you cook the stuffing separately in a baking dish?  You can add the juices from the bird after it’s cooked to moisten the stuff as much as you want.  Then, I’d put quartered onions, chopped apples, and whole peppercorns into the cavity of the bird to cook with the bird.  It’ll help flavor the bird from the inside, and introduce a little more apple flavor while still remaining savory.”

His eyes widened and he wrote it all down quickly.

“Oh, thanks!  You’re going to make this holiday a big success.”

“You’re perfectly welcome, sir.”

He hurried off to the registers at the front of the store.  One of the other managers walked over to me.

“Way to turn that customer around!”

I grinned.  “I like cooking and talking about cooking so it was a piece of cake!  Mmmm, cake!”

A few seconds after that, we heard one of the cashiers in our ear pieces asking if we gave a military discount.  We busted up, knowing exactly why she was asking and who it was for.

So, the whole brine recipe was this:

  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 8 whole apples cut into pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil or softened butter
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp poultry seasoning

Mix apple cider and vinegar, salt, and sugar in a large container.  Add rinsed turkey with giblets removed to container and add water to cover turkey.  Add apples, and place container in the fridge with a weight to keep bird submerged.  Leave for 8 hours or overnight.  Remove bird from brine and discard brine.  Rinse bird and pat dry with paper towels.  In a small bowl mix olive oil or butter (or both!) with the seasonings and lightly spread over skin of bird.  Loosen the skin and work the rub under the skin against the meat.  Cook bird according to cooking instructions and weight.

I’ve never been questioned so closely about brining before but it was kind of fun, and certainly humorous.

Take care and feel free to share this, or any post.

As always,

Post #609 Cookies!!

November 14, 2018 at 12:19 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I had a weird weekend.  I twisted my knee badly on Friday and since it was swollen and in pain, I had to stay off it for a few days and keep it elevated.  I tried to get out and about but it wasn’t working.  Then on Sunday, I got the flu shot, so Monday was a bust.  Luckily, I had most of that time scheduled off from work and only had to call out for four hours.  But by Monday, I was going stir crazy.

I decided to make cookies, but not the standard chocolate chip cookies I usually make.  I didn’t even do one of my “other” cookies, like sugar cookies, or butter cookies, or oatmeal cookies, or even shortbread cookies.  I decided to make one specifically for Partner/Spouse that he’s been craving for years, but can’t find in the stores in the way he remembers.

We all have that one cookie we remember from our childhood that seems to be unattainable.  For me, it’s two.  Keebler used to make a chocolate sandwich cookie with a chocolate cream in the center.  I used to eat bags of them.  Then they disappeared.  Then someone must have found a bunch in a forgotten warehouse because they were suddenly on the shelves again, tasting exactly as I remembered.  I bought several bags and for a couple of months was very happy to see them every time I went to the store.  Then they were gone again, and haven’t been back.  I found an acceptable substitute from a company called Dare, but it’s not exactly the same, and I’ve gone off the whole concept.  The other cookie was a budget style, vanilla sandwich cookie that had a brown butter flavor to the cookie and the filling.  They were cheap and plentiful, and the taste was so unique and so good, I bought them all the way into my adulthood.  When I left Arizona, they stayed there.  I’ve never seen them anywhere else.

For Partner/Spouse, there are also two.  One is by Mother’s brand, and is a frosted animal cracker.  Don’t suggest the one by Keebler, or Archway, or any other you might see.  He’s tried them all, and they don’t pass muster.  It’s got to be Mother’s brand or none.  It’s the flavor and the texture.  And the memory.  Once in a while we find them, but not too often.  The other is a nut-filled shortbread round ball shaped cookie he calls a Wedding cookie.  It’s covered in powdered sugar and is distinct in its look and its flavor.  We typically only find them around the holidays, but he craves them all year round.

And I found a “similar” recipe in Taste of Home that I thought would work.  They’re called Pecan Meltaways, and this is what they look like:

And they aren’t very difficult to make.  Just meticulous in the way they’re made.  The recipe says it’ll make four dozen one inch spherical cookies, but I used a tablespoon and got two dozen.  I think a larger cookie is nicer than a smaller one, anyway.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 cup butter room temperature
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
  • Powdered sugar as needed for rolling cookies

Cream the butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and blend well.  Add flour and salt and beat until a dough ball is formed.  Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix the pecans thoroughly into the dough.  Cover and chill for one hour.

Preheat oven to 350.  Portion cookies by level tablespoon and roll gently between your hands to form a ball.  Roll the balls in powdered sugar until completely coated.  Place on baking sheet sprayed with vegetable oil.  Bake for 12-15 minutes until set.  Cool in the pan for five minutes then roll in powdered sugar to coat completely.  Set on wire rack to cool completely.  When cookie is cooled completely, roll in powdered sugar again to coat completely.  When all cookies are done, let set for thirty minutes, then roll in powdered sugar again and set back on wire rack.  Allow to air dry for two hours then store in air tight container.

Partner/Spouse loved them!  He also said that next time, we’re going to use cashews.  That’s the flavor of the cookies he remembers.  So perhaps this weekend?  Or maybe for Turkey Day!

One thing I noticed, though, is the nuts need to be chopped finely.  If they’re too large, the cookies won’t shape easily.  If they’re too small, they won’t have the crunch nuts are supposed to have.  Play it by ear, you’ll do just fine.

As always,

Ooops, sorry, meant to say,

Post #608 It’s A Mock Up

November 11, 2018 at 4:44 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Let’s face it.  Sometimes cooking is hard.  Sometimes, when time is short, cooking can be a spectacular hassle.  Sometimes, as a chef, you’re just not feeling it.  Sometimes, it would be nice to have a magic pill to put in the microwave that magically created whatever it was you’re craving (or creating) with minimal muss and fuss.  Sometimes, we just need to make something cheap and simple rather than go through the full steps.  So today’s post is about mocking up menu items that taste good but don’t take a huge amount of time or effort.

  1. Mock Egg Sandwiches – typically people think of eggs for breakfast and that’s a great way to start the day.  I like egg sandwiches.  One of my favorites was from a diner back in Rhode Island called Messy’s and it was a bacon, egg, and cheese on a croissant.  Grilled in butter, it was so good!  But the standard has been (for decades) the Egg McMuffin.  Total breakfast held in one hand.  I worked at Mickey D’s back in my teen years, and go to the point where I could crack four eggs in each hand without spilling a drop.  Egg McMuffins and I were on a first name basis.  One English muffin toasted to perfection.  While that was toasting, an egg ring was placed on a low temp grill and butter was slathered in it with a brush.  An egg was cracked into it and the yolk was broken so it would cook completely.  A piece of Canadian bacon was slapped down on the grill next to the egg ring.  After two minutes, the egg was release and flipped and the bacon was flipped next to it.  Two more minutes, the muffin was toasted and place in a container.  The egg was placed on top, still dripping butter, and the bacon was placed on top of that.  A piece of cheese was laid over the top of that of that and the top of the muffin was put in place.  Four minutes, start to finish, and breakfast was ready.  But that was assuming you had a hot grill and all the ingredients ready at hand.  So I came up with a mock up.  Toast two slices of whatever bread you have on hand.  While the bread is toasting, heat a small skillet to low heat and melt some butter.  If you’re using real bacon, cook that to crispy in a microwave.  However, it’s faster and easier to use deli ham, or sandwich lunch meat ham.  Heat it in the skillet while melting the butter.  If you have a round biscuit cutter or cookie cutter, cut the toast when it’s done.  Then put the cutter in the skillet and crack an egg into it.  Cook the egg for a couple of minutes on one side, then release it from the cutter and flip while flipping the meat.  When the egg is fully cooked, assemble the sandwich and eat hearty.  If you don’t have a cutter or don’t want to dirty it up for whatever reason, just use the bread and the egg as is.  Also, if you don’t have any bacon or ham to hand, but you do have bacon bits for a salad, sprinkle those on the eggs.  Or use a different kind of meat.  I had a friend who would use hamburgers.
  2. Mock Apple Fritters – This one is easy, but you do have to have the ingredients.  Obviously, you have to have an apple.  If you don’t, but you have some applesauce, use that.   Then, you need some kind of bread.  It can be sandwich bread, rolls, bagels, whatever is at hand.  Toast it lightly.  Heat a small skillet and melt two tablespoons of butter, then add two to three tablespoons of sugar and one teaspoon of cinnamon.  When the mixture is bubbling, add the chopped apples, or the applesauce, and toss to coat.  Turn off the heat and let the apples and sugar cool just a bit.  Place the toasted bread on a plate and divide the apple mix over the bread.  Place one pat of butter on top of each piece of bread letting it melt slightly, then eat with gusto.  Or juice.
  3. Mock Potato Pancake – okay so this one requires a waffle maker.  Sorry about that, but it does.  About a half hour before you’re going to make this, take out some tater tots and let them reach room temperature.  Heat your waffle maker then spray with vegetable oil.  Place as many tater tots on the plate of the waffle maker as you can, close it, and cook as though making waffles.  However, allow them to cook a minutes or so longer.  You will end up with a crisp potato pancake with pockets and ridges just like a waffle that you can fill with anything you like.  I just salt them lightly and eat them, but I would image sausage gravy would be tremendous.
  4. Mock Fried Donuts – have you ever made fried donuts for breakfast?  You have to start the day before because the batter has to rest overnight in the fridge.  This one takes only the time to heat the oil.  So, heat vegetable oil over medium heat until it shimmers but NOT smoking.  If it’s smoking it’s too hot.  You need enough oil for the donuts to float.  So what are we making donuts out of?  A regular tube of refrigerator biscuits.  Pop the container open and separate the dough.  Gently pull the dough moving it in a circle until it rips and a hole appears.  Make a fairly large hole because it will start to close as soon as it hits the oil.  Let it fry for about two minutes then flip it and let if fry for two more minutes.  Now comes the fun part, dressing the donuts.  I like to shake them in sugar.  Or sugar with cinnamon.  Or sugar with cinnamon and nutmeg.  Other times, I let them cool almost completely, but with enough residual heat to melt frosting and used canned frosting of any kind.  Or make a sugar glaze, or a lemon glaze .  You can also make a sugar syrup and coat the donuts with that.  You’re only limited by your imagination.
  5. Finally, Mock Flavored Muffins – This one is so easy.   It’s muffins made with yogurt and is basic simplicity.  The basic recipe is 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, a quarter teaspoon each of salt, baking soda, and baking powder, 1 large egg, 1/2 cup of yogurt, 3 tablespoons of oil, and 2 tablespoons of milk or water.  Blend everything gently and spoon evenly into six prepared muffin cups.  You can spoon into four muffin cups if you prefer larger muffins.  Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into one comes out clean.  Cool for a few minutes then remove from the muffin tin.  Easy peasy.  However, use a flavored yogurt and that flavor becomes the flavor of the muffin.  Add fruit or spices that complement the flavor of the yogurt.  You can top the muffins with seeds or nuts or granola for extra crunch.

Hope all this helps out.  I love mocking things up once in a while.

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