Post #673 Staplers in the Kitchen

September 29, 2019 at 12:12 PM | Posted in Basics | Leave a comment

Today, we’re going back to basics and I’m going to talk about kitchen staples.

But first!  Last weekend, we were in a secondhand shop looking around for those hidden treasures.  We had a couple of things in mind that we wanted to add snap to the house décor.  We didn’t find them, but I did find Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook which was originally titled The Boston Cooking School Cook Book.  This is one of those iconic “must haves” the rival in popularity all the standards of our age.  I even have the 1896 edition on my Kindle.  But as busy as we both get, although I have the cookbook, today was the first time I’ve opened it up since we got it.  I found this on the first blank inside page.

It’s an inscription from Christmas in 1981.  It reads:

“Dear Kilty, I know you don’t really like to cook, but maybe this good “new” book will inspire you.  Merry Christmas to all of you – the whole family will benefit from this book.  Love, Laura.”

I found this endearing for so many reason.  First, I can’t imagine anyone not liking to cook.  You have to cook if you want to eat.  Even tossing a Lean Cuisine into the microwave and following the instructions is cooking, because that’s what cooking is all about.  But the gentle nudging of Laura to Kilty says so much about how roles were viewed even at that late date.  The woman was supposed to cook and provide meals for the family who were also going to benefit from the book, nudge nudge.  And the word “new” in quotes tells me that Laura knew exactly how old this cookbook is and knew its value.

So much fun.  I haven’t seen any hand written notes inside it, so I’m guessing it didn’t have the desired impact.  Poor family.

So, today’s basic topic is staples.  I’m not talking office supplies here.  Staples just refers to those items that you keep in your kitchen at all times.  Staples are different for each household.  If you’re a baker, like I am, the staples tend to focus more on flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla, etc.  If you’re a griller, your staples are going to focus more on things like meats, condiments, charcoal and the like.

I read a great description about staples one time from Shirley Jackson, the author of the short story “The Lottery” and the novel “The Haunting of Hill House” among others.  She wrote “The lowest common denominators in our house were bread and peanut butter.”  She also writes of buying culinary magazines for inspiration and found a recipe which looked enticing.  “However, it inevitably had ingredients unappealing to my little family.  After removing all the items we wouldn’t eat, I was left with a meatloaf studded with cashew nuts, undeniably a novelty.  When I served it that night, I watched as everyone picked out the nuts and my son complained why did we always have to have hamburger?”

Every cookbook I’ve ever read has one section on the important things every cook needs in the kitchen and the lists are extensive.  I prefer Alton Brown’s take on it:  If it has a single use, and you don’t use it once a week, get rid of it.  We once got into the extensive list and filling it out.  It was expensive, and we had a space issue for the things that were “required”.

I’ve always though of staples as the magic ingredients.  With the staples in the cupboards, you can always make dinner.  Here’s the things we keep in stock all the time:

  • eggs
  • butter (two types, one for me-one for him)
  • bacon
  • bread (various types)
  • pasta
  • rice
  • lemon juice
  • lime juice
  • tea
  • salad kits
  • seasonal vegetables and fruit
  • potatoes
  • onions
  • garlic
  • tortillas
  • cheese (various types)
  • beef, chicken, pork (whatever is on sale)
  • peanut butter
  • grape jam
  • raspberry jam
  • local honey
  • flour
  • yeast
  • sugar (caster, brown, powdered)
  • chocolate chips
  • cocoa
  • vanilla
  • salt
  • canned tomatoes
  • tomato sauce
  • tomato paste
  • pico de gallo
  • canned chiles and peppers
  • jarred salsa
  • stock (chicken, beef, and vegetable)
  • great norther white beans
  • lentils
  • spices and spice blends

And probably two dozen other things I’ve forgotten.  But you can see from this list that we can put together dozens of meals of various types.  If we’re thinking of something light but filling, it could be lemon pasta and chicken.  If it’s a cold day, it might be a hearty beef stew.  If the day is nice, if we want to barbecue, we got all the stuff for it.  If the day isn’t nice, but we still want to grill, we can do that because we have the cast iron grill pan.  And with fresh vegetables, a salad is usually ten minutes away to go with the grilled protein.

That’s what staples are all about.  It’s keeping the “lowest common denominators” in stock all the time.  For my mom, it was potatoes, meat, and canned veggies.  Plus onions.  For my sister, it’s tortillas, and whatever taco fillings they want.  For some people, it’s frozen dinners.  For some people, it’s a drawer full of menus from restaurants that deliver.  It doesn’t matter what the staples are.  What matters is that they are the things you use all the time.  But here’s another part of the magic of staples.  If it’s something you like and use, you’re going to keep them in stock and over time, they will become a part of your pantry.  And if something else wants to be included, it will be.

So the easiest way to figure out what your staples are is to look at your weekly menu and what it takes to make those things.  Write ’em down and take that list with you when you shop.  Keep them in the same place in your cupboard or pantry.  Over time you’ll be able to see at a glance what you have and what you need.  If you notice something is gathering dust because you haven’t used it in a while, donate it (if it’s not beyond it’s sell-by date) or toss it.  Or -gasp!- use it.

I’m going to close with a recipe for a Mexican soup I saw on television yesterday.  It sounded wonderful and I can’t wait to try it.

  • two onion chopped, hold back half a cup
  • four celery ribs chopped, hold back half a cup
  • two large carrots chopped, hold back half a cup
  • two medium or one large leek cleaned and chopped, hold back half a cup
  • 6 very ripe tomatoes, roasted in the oven and chopped
  • two chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 pound of either: cleaned shrimp, lean chicken breast chopped, lean pork loin chopped
  • cilantro and lime juice for garnish

In a large heavy pot, heat two tablespoons vegetable oil until shimmering but not smoking.  Add onions, celery, carrots, and leeks.  Stir to coat, reduce heat to medium low, and allow to cook until onion is transparent, stirring occasionally.  Add tomatoes and juice along with any charred bits, and stir until combined.  Add the chilies and sauce and stir again.  Cook until bubbling, then add the chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer and allow to cook for fifteen minutes.  Remove from heat and cool for 30 minutes.  Puree the soup in a blender or with a handheld stick blender to a smooth consistency.  Sieve the soup into the pot getting as much of the liquid as possible using a rubber spatula to press the mixture into the sieve.  Alternatively, if you like a chunkier soup, do not sieve.  Bring the soup back to a good simmer.  Add the shrimp/chicken/pork and cook until protein is cooked through.  Serve in bowls with chopped cilantro and lime juice on top.  (You can use precooked, shredded beef if you like.)

So, what are your staples in the kitchen?  Dish and let us all know!  Feel free to share this far and wide.

As always,

 

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Post #672 That Second Meal

September 22, 2019 at 11:12 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s often been said that to stay fit and healthy you should eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.  It means that most of the calories you take in for the day should come early so you have time to work them off.  Don’t glut yourself at the end of the day.  I’ve always found that if I eat small, frequent meals during the day, I very seldom ever wake up hungry.  Those few times I do wake up hungry, I generally feel behind the calorie curve and work to “catch up” all day.  I’ve written about breakfast a few times on the blog.  Lord knows, I’m constantly writing about the evening meal.  I don’t think I’ve ever written specifically about lunch, and the meals that are associated with it.

There are many associations I have with the meal time of Lunch.  Mostly, it’s sandwiches and chips.  It goes back to childhood and what my mom would feed us at noon, or pack in our lunch bags.  It was usually PBJ, but there was also baloney and mustard and sometimes cheese.  During the colder months, a bowl of soup would accompany the sandwich.  We bought school lunches quite a bit, too, and I always got some form of a sandwich along with chips and a drink.  So, even now, in my sixth decade, I’m a sandwich kind of guy.

Once I started working and career building, lunch was that intrusion in the middle of the day.  The places I worked mostly didn’t have lunch facilities so I was forced to go out to get something.  Fast food became the de facto lunch and burgers and fries the substitute for sandwich and chips.  Then I started bringing leftovers from dinner the previous night, and changed my thinking to include salads.

Now, I work in a hospital.  Don’t worry; I’m in admin not patient care, and the job I do, while important, does not impact lives.  And the hospital has a cafeteria where we can buy breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  They always have pre-made things available, as well as a salad bar, and hot foods, snacks, bars, coffees, etc.  The worst part is we can pay for things either with cash, card, or our employee badge.  If we use our badge, it’s automatically deducted from our paycheck.  Since we don’t see it, it can build up with alarming speed.  When I first started working there, I tried the hot meals a couple of times, then tried the sandwich bar where they will make subs in the same manner as a sub shop.  Now, I just bring my lunch.  It’s easier, cheaper, and I don’t have to think about it.

So guess what I bring a lot of?  If you guessed sandwiches, you’d be right.

Except I often bring leftovers from dinner.  And I bring salads.  And I make things specifically to bring for lunch.

For instance, today I am making a package soup that’s one of my favorites.  It’s from Bear Creek and this particular one is tough to find.  When I see it, I usually grab a few of them.

It’s Creamy Wild Rice, but it uses no cream that I’ve found.  It makes a half gallon of the most flavorful soup ever in only a half hour.  I like it just as it is, but I also doctor it up.  Today, I’m adding some chopped up fresh chicken breast to cook in the soup.  In the past, I’ve added sliced fresh mushrooms (the cafeteria also makes a wild rice and mushroom soup, but I haven’t tried it yet.)  Once it’s cooled, I’ll divide it into containers and freeze them.  This company also makes pasta packages, but I haven’t tried them yet.  There other soups are good, too, but I don’t recommend the single-serving instant packages.  They don’t have the same long-cooked flavor.

Sometimes, when we’re having BLT Grandes for dinner, we’ll make plenty of extra bacon so we can take it to work for lunch.  I’ve discovered that if I want another BLT for lunch I should NOT put the tomatoes in it until I’m ready to eat.  The bread will turn to slime if left with the tomatoes for too long.  Even toasting won’t help.  And since the tomato harvest was so good in this area, the ripe tomatoes were plentiful, and the soggy bread was too.

The salad packages in the grocery store are excellent for side dinner salads, but they are also excellent for lunch salads.  We make them up just before leaving for work, and they’re perfect at lunch time.  We usually add extra veggies, cheese, and some meat or boiled eggs.  Partner/Spouse likes the chop salads, too, and will add plenty of extra stuff to get them to his liking.

One things we’ve been exploring recently are the instant pasta side dishes.  You have to read ingredients carefully and find ones that will work well with your particular dietary needs.  We make them the night before and doctor them up as we like.  Once they’ve cooled, they go into a container and into the fridge.  The next day, he will use a microwave to heat it up, but I just eat it cold directly out of the bowl.  I’m strange like that.  So far, I’ve tried just one that was chicken gravy over pasta with some herbs and some chopped chicken I added.  It was good-ish.

I also like to do things like crackers and cheese.  But I want cheese with flavor, and I want high quality crackers.  And I like to have cherry tomatoes, celery, and grapes with it when possible.

So what are your go to lunch meals?

***********************

This is an aside, but I have to tell you about it.  We went for a drive yesterday with no real plan or destination in mind and ended up in Stowe.  They were having an art festival and it was crowded and parking was impossible so we just went through without stopping.  But we found a year-round “farmer’s market” that we stopped at.  It was really more of an organic grocery store with whatever fresh local vegetables were available.

I found a basket of small tomatoes that were red and ripe so I got them.  You know, me and tomatoes, right?  They were much larger than cherry tomatoes, about the size of a golf ball and a half.  They are perfectly round and the flavor was so good!  I ate one in the car, and two more later in the afternoon.  So they’re going into lunches this week!-

Feel free to share far and wide, and as always,

Post #671 End of the Harvest

September 15, 2019 at 3:36 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

So middle of September.  In my family that always meant my little brother’s birthday was just a few days away.  But for agrarian type folks, it means the end of the harvest.  Around here, because the planting started late, and the summer was so fine, it means no one really knows exactly when the last harvest will be except soon.  The nights have gotten pretty chill, and we’ve stopped using a/c during the day.  One day last week, we considered putting the furnace on because we were both cold.  We didn’t, and when we got up the next day, the warmth had returned.  That’s the odd thing about weather; you just can’t predict it, or rely on it.  Even the harvest fairs are slowing down.  For a while, there were three or four every weekend and you either tried to go to all of them see very little of each, or you picked one and saw the whole thing in a day.  But now, if there’s one on a weekend, you’re surprised.

You recall all the plants and herbs and veggies we had growing in containers on the porch and around the porch?  Well, it’s time to start deciding their fate.  Last weekend, I got rid of the tomatillos.  Partly because they were only doing okay, not thriving; and partly because our inexperience did not tell us if what we were able to get off the plant was actually a usable product.  Ours did not look like what we got in the markets.  This weekend, I got rid of everything else.  I cut back my peppermint completely about mid-week, and by this weekend it was starting to grow back!  The cherry tomatoes started to die back despite the watering and sunshine, and the tomatoes themselves were small and split.  So those went away today.  The plum tomatoes gave up a ton of green tomatoes, but none of them ever ripened properly.  They turned orange, but never turned red.  So they went away today.  However, that took nearly a half hour!  The way I had planted that one, I put in a corner near the yellow/red rose bush.  That rose bush also had Morning Glories in the pot to grow up the porch railing.  The rose did well, the Morning Glories did okay although they never blossomed (they went away today, too), but the plum tomatoes never really thrived.  At first.  Then, suddenly out of nowhere, they turned into the vine-like plant they are touted to be and took over that entire corner of the porch.  The guy who cuts our grass only ever touched that area sparingly because he didn’t want to hurt anything growing there despite us telling him not to worry about it, so the grass and weeds were tall and rangy too.  Those tomatoes were everywhere!  There had to be four dozen on that one plant alone, and the tendrils of the vine were seven to eight feet long.  And still not a ripe tomato anywhere, even though the plant itself was going into hibernation mode.  Maybe if I’d left it alone for another couple of weeks it would have exploded with ripe fruit the same way the cherry tomatoes did, but by the time I thought that might be an option, it was too late since the clippers had already done their work.

If I was a farmer, all these plants would have been plowed under to provide nourishment for the soil.  Mine just went into the trash bin.  Soon we’re going to have to start composting.  State Law.  But that’s for another day.

We had also talked about which plants we wanted to winter over in the house.  We have a jasmine plant that’s started doing well so that’s being wintered inside.  We also have a gardenia that someone in Rhode Island gave us that’s been doing so well we want to keep it going so inside for that one.  Partner/Spouse bought a plumeria which started liking what was going on so we’re keeping that one going inside.  But I got rid of all the bachelor buttons, and sweet pea.  The buttons did great, but it was end of their life span.  They’ll be back on their own, but I can always get more seeds if I want.  The sweet pea is going to the back yard next year.  I’ve got plans for a veggie garden back there.  I also got rid of the unidentified plants next to the steps.  The herbs also went to the trash bin.  We had plans at the beginning of summer to harvest the herbs as they matured, but the bees kept feeding from the blossoms and since they needed it more than we did, we left the herbs to them.  But the bees are going to sleep, so the herbs went to the trash.

All this left the porch looking naked.  So we got some Autumn plants.  We got mums.

Fall colors and everything!  They were just replanted this afternoon, so they’ll start thriving and looking good soon.  And I salvaged one other plant that we’ve liked for a long time.  This is one that we were introduced to by my sister in Tucson.  It’s called Strawberry Fields.  It’s like a red thistle.  When there are a lot of them, they can be breathtaking.  The blossoms look a little like strawberries, so there’s the name.

We’ve got just the one pot of them, but neighbors walking by keep commenting on how pretty they are.  They like sun and water and are self-seeding.  So next year, I’m going to mix them with the bachelor buttons and see what happens.

Before I got into the farmer zone, though, we both got into the harvest mode.  Partner/Spouse has been dabbling with canning and preserves.  He made some amazing cold-packed pickles about a month ago and has been itching to try something else.  Apples are in season right now and that gave him the idea to make his grandmother’s apple butter.  So we went to one of the local orchards and bought apple stuff.

We got apple cider.  We got apple donuts.  We got four varieties of apples.  We got a bagful of apples to make apple butter.  We got two pears!  We got a two quart jar of cherry pie filling (which I’m going to eat not in a pie!)  We even talked to an old gent for a couple of minutes who was the farm’s very first customer ever (11 years ago).  There were little kids trying to pick apples from a tree.  There were bigger kids getting “lost” in a corn maze.  There was a middle-aged woman running from a large house across the road (dirt, of course) with bags of freshly made apple donuts.  It was quite a scene, and just what we expected.  It was a bit of a drive from our place, but completely enjoyable throughout.  Then we stopped at a hardware store to get an apple peeler/corer.  He couldn’t get it to work right, so he did it by hand.

I also got an apple cookbook because, well, I’m me and we had apples!

We each ate an apple as we were driving away from the farm.  If you’ve never had an apple picked right off the tree and still chilled from the overnight air, you’re missing one of life’s pleasures.  It was delicious.

The cookbook reminded me of one flavor combination that I’d forgotten about – apples and onions.  Pork and apples is a match made in culinary paradise.  Who hasn’t liked pork chops and apple sauce?  But I used to make pork loin with fried apples and onions.  It’s so easy.

Bake a pork loin in your favorite manner but in an open pan.  When the pork is done and still juicy, set it aside covered, and put the pan on the stove top on medium-low heat.  Add a little water or stock to the pan to loosen the brown bits  in the pan.  While that is heating, core an apple and slice into wedges and set aside.  Next, peel and slice an onion thinly.  When the pan is ready and all brown bits are loosened, add the onion and stir.  Cook the onion until softened and brown.  Do not add any more liquid to the pan, but add the apples.  Toss and coat the apples with the onions and cook until the apples just start to get soft.  Do not allow them to get mushy.  Take off the heat, but do not cover (that will make the apples mushy.)  Slice the pork onto a serving plate and spoon the onion and apple mixture over the pork.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

I’ll let you know how the apple butter turns out and what we do with the rest of the apples.  I’m thinking of drying some of them into apple chips.

What would you do with a bunch of apples sitting around?  Feel free to share the post far and wide.

As always,

 

Post #670 The Mexican Grilled Cheese

September 11, 2019 at 8:29 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

When I was growing up in the Arizona desert, I did the “normal” stint in my teens of working at the local fast food places.  I started at the one with the arches, but after a year and a half I moved on to a regional place specializing in Mexican food.  I really liked working there, though I didn’t stay very long.  I learned to make a lot of Mexican foods in bulk from scratch.  I learned to make refried beans by the gallon and learned to use a pressure cooker in the process.  I learned to make corn tortillas from scratch, and to use those to make deep fried taco shells, which I still make today although in a modified technique.  I learned to make salsa in many formats, and I learned to make quesadillas.

Everyone who grew up in my town takes a moment to sigh a little when you say “quesadilla.”  Eye lids go to half mast as you recall the last one you ate.  Quesadillas are a comfort food beyond compare.  Utter simplicity in ingredients and execution.  But so good and so satisfying.  I’ve written about them before, but they bear repeating.

Quesadillas, in my mind, followed the same progression as nachos.  From my experience, nachos started as an innocuous snack that turned into an appetizer, but as they gained popularity turned into Supremes and Grandes and eventually an entire meal.  Quesadillas haven’t had quite the same popularity, but did follow that progression.  I first knew them as a vary simply snack at a Mexican restaurant, but then grew more complex and became an appetizer.  As the public demanded more from them, they “grew up” and turned into a main course as a meal unto themselves.

When I started making and eating them, they were very simple.  We took a large flour tortilla and put it on the low side of the grill.  I spread a very thin layer of green salsa for some kick, and added a thick layer of sharp cheddar cheese.  When the cheese had started to melt a little, the top half of the tortillas was folded over the bottom half creating a half-circle.  That sat on the grill for about a minute, then flipped with a spatula (or your fingers if you were very daring; I wasn’t) and cooked on the other side for a minute or so.  By the time it was done, you had a toasty flour shell filled with melted cheese and peppers.  This was cut into four wedges, put on a plate, served hot with a cup of salsa for dipping.

So you can see the similarity to a grilled cheese sandwich, can’t you?

It was a simple snack and people gobbled them up like crazy.  Including me and my family and our friends and nearly everybody we knew.  Even the northern tourists ate them up, although most never quite got the hang of the pronunciation.  Kay-Suh-Dee-Yuh.

Then, they grew up and became an appetizer.  I was in a TGIFriday’s back in the 90s and noticed a quesadilla on the menu.  I read through the description.  It was still my hometown favorite, but they added meat to it!  What a novel idea!!  Spicy grilled chicken or steak or pork!  Whoda thunk it?  Of course, I ordered it, and didn’t like it.  The cheese they used was waxy and tasteless although it melted pretty well.

That’s the key to anything you make that’s simple in concept and execution.  The ingredients have to be high quality.  Make a note of that kids, cuz it will serve your culinary efforts well the rest of your lives.

But I went home and started my own experiments and came up with a really tasty combo of salsa, chicken/steak, tomatoes, onion, and cheese.  It was large and lumpy, hard to cut into equal wedges, but delicious.

The next time I truly noticed my by-now-proprietary snack was here in Vermont, of all places.  We have a local pizza/sub shop nearby that delivers.  It’s about the only thing that delivers to us.  They have decent food; it arrives hot; and some of the time they get the order correct.  Most of the time they don’t.  So I try not to order anything too complicated.  Usually a sandwich or a cheese pizza.  The couple of times I’ve added fries to it, or a piece of cake, it never showed up.   Partner/Spouse can’t count the number of  pieces of carrot cake they owe him.  Probably a whole cake by now.  But they do have a quesadilla on the menu.  You can have it filled with various things, some of them local.  It took me a few months to be brave enough to try it, but it turned out to be very good.  Loads of cheese, a crispy-ish flour tortilla (not as crispy as I like but it had steamed in the wrap on the way to the house), and a half pound of shaved steak.  It was like a Philly cheese steak in a tortilla.  It even had mushrooms.

Which led me to another variation of the quesadilla.  It’s sort of like a fusion.  Take a cheese-filled dish of any kind and grill it between two flour tortillas.  I’ve seen or heard of shrimp scampi quesadilla.  The Philly cheese steak I just told you about.  I know of someone who likes hot dogs and cheese and toppings rolled in flour tortillas and grilled.

When I was a kid, quesadillas were folded.  Now, I use two large flour tortillas and place one on top of the cheese-covered one once the cheese has melted a little so they stick together.  They hold so much more that way.

The process is easy.  Heat a skillet large enough to hold whatever size flour tortilla you’re using.  It’s gotta be flour because they toast up better than corn tortillas.  Don’t get the skillet too hot, and don’t use any oil or sprays in it.  Partner/Spouse uses butter to toast his quesadillas, but I don’t.  While the skillet is heating, get your fillings ready.  Here’s where you can go to town.  Use whatever fillings you like, but make sure to bind it all together with cheese.  Use whatever is your favorite cheese, but make sure it’s a melty type of cheese.  Go nuts with it.  Try Brie, or Gruyere, or Povolone, or American.  Mix it up and and use more than one kind.  Use a cream cheese spread.  Just don’t use a cheese spread designed to be a dip.  It will turn to liquid and ruin your quesadilla.

Once the cheese(s) have been selected, prepare the veggies and meats if you’re going to use them.  Leftover meats are excellent for this, but you can use fresh cooked, too.  Grilled meats are excellent.  We tend to use spicy meats and veggies because that’s our favorite flavor pallette, but use whatever you like.

When everything is ready, put one tortilla in the pan and spread the cheese(s) and fillings as thickly over the top as you like.  Watch the cheese carefully and when it starts to melt into the filling, set the other tortilla on top and press lightly.  Judging carefully when the cheese is fully melted, use a large spatula to flip the quesadilla over.  The top quesadilla should be a deep brown and crispy toasty.  Let the bottom tortilla reach the same level of browness (is that a word?) which should take about a minute or two.  Set the quesadilla on a flat surface and use a large knife or a pizza cutter to cut into several equal wedges.  Serve hot with a dip if you like.

Quesadillas are pure comfort foods.  What are some of your favorite comfort foods and how do you shake them up to keep them new?

As always,

 

 

 

Post #669 The Big Adult Question

September 8, 2019 at 11:56 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I just recently had the “pleasure” of batching it one night.  Partner/Spouse was out of town on a business trip overnight.  I worked my normal shift, off at 5:30.  Throughout the day, that adult question languished in the back of my mind.  Everyone knows that question.

“What the heck do I make for dinner tonight?”

The possibilities were endless.  I had leftovers I could repurpose into something.  I could thaw something quickly, or I could cook something from its frozen state into a delectable dinner.  I could stop at the store on the way home and grab something.  I could even be a bad boy and stop for a pile of bad-for-me burgers and fries.

So, by the end of the day, I was tired and the thought of stopping at the grocery store was daunting.  So, X that option out.  What did I feel like eating?  I seriously considered PBJs and chips.  Add Kool-aid to that and I’d be 9 years old again.  I do that all the time.  But not tonight.  Didn’t feel like it.  Besides, there were other things I wanted to get done that evening.  I had a load of towels to go into the dryer, and I wanted to wash a load of t-shirts and get them dried before bed time.  And I wanted to get the kitchen straightened up so the health board wouldn’t fine us, and the neighbors wouldn’t look at us in disdain.  And I wanted at least a half hour of front porch sitting time with a glass of wine.

It’s the same old problem that faces everyone who cooks, and it faces us every single day.  Most of the time we have to take other people into account and try to guess what they might want.  It gets old.  I’m lucky because Partner/Spouse is an active participant in the decision process, and he likes to cook too, so many times when he suggests something, he cooks it.  And when either of us are tired, the other steps in and cooks.

Or we order delivery.  But even that gets old sometimes.

So, I’m driving home and I decided to take “the long way” home which really only adds about five minutes to a six minute drive.  But it goes passed all the shops and restaurants and some beautiful old houses.  It skirts a stream/river and some old wild undergrowth.  It’s a nice pleasant drive.  The weather was spectacular, the car was humming, the windows were all rolled down.  Even my hair was blowing in the wind.  The tired feeling from work was relaxing away from me.  The crisp fresh air blowing around me felt as clean as a shower.

When I got home, there were six ripe cherry tomatoes waiting for me!  I walked in and greeted Buddy.  What a character.

I put the towels in the dryer, then set up the washing machine for the load I was bringing down.  I set the oven to 350 because I suddenly realized what I was cooking for my dinner.

You know, I’ve noticed recently that a vast amount of money is spent by manufacturers trying to help us answer that adult question, and coincidentally, sell us their product.  “I feel like chicken tonight!” “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner!”  “Pork, the other white meat!”  “Mmm mmm good, that’s Cambell’s soup!”  “Starkist tuna is chicken of the sea!”  Even Spam is trying to convince us that it’s great for tacos these days.  One hint:  It’s not.

And those are just from a cursory, mild check of the memory banks, no real effort put into it.

I went upstairs with the dog following me slowly, begging for attention.  I changed clothes, made sure fans were on and windows open to bring the cool air into the house, and played with Buddy for a few moments before going downstairs with the shirts I wanted to wash.

I threw them in while the dog waited patiently to go out.  He hadn’t peed for several hours and was crossing his legs in desperation. I washed my hands, grinned at the dog who was looking at me with dire need and got his harness and leash on.

He raced to bottom of the porch steps into the grass and didn’t even lift his leg.  He squatted like a little girl dog and peed for about six minutes straight with the look of unbelievable relief plastered on his face.  Dogs can be so expressive.  Then we walked for several minutes around the wildflowers while he took care of other business and I enjoyed the sun beating on me, and the breeze blowing passed me, and neighborhood noises.  I could even hear the creek a block and a half away.

Back at the house, I put the dog’s dinner together and turned to what I needed to do.  Big mistake because he refused to eat because he thought I was getting something more interesting than the dog food in his bowl.  So I went to the living room and turned on the music channel and the computer, in that order.  By that time, he’d finished scarfing his food, cleaned his bowl and the floor around it (he’s a messy eater), and investigated the rest of the kitchen for anything dropped, then joined me with a large resounding burp.  He’s the soul of a trucker.

So now the question is answered.  What to make for dinner?   I took out a piece of chicken from the freezer and set it aside.  When we shop, we look for deals on large packages of meats and split them up into separate two-person sized portions.  It keeps costs down for us.  We found some large chicken breasts recently and when I split them up, there was one sitting by itself.  I wrapped it up thinking I’d use it to make soup, or add to rice, or something.  The something was a single meal for me.

I coated the chicken with a tablespoon of olive oil and my hands.  That sucker was cold!  Then I sprinkled coarse salt, ground black pepper, and garlic powder over it, and put it on a foil covered baking tray.  I figured and hour at 350 would get it done.  While that was cooking, I took time to clean the kitchen up, and put the dry towels away.  Then I took my Chromebook along with a glass of wine to the front porch.  The door was open so I could hear the music and anything else that was going on in the house.

While the chicken was cooking, I had to think about what other side dishes to go with the main protein.  And there were a ton of things I could have.  I tend to be old fashioned and think in terms of protein-starch-vegetable.  Well, vegetable was taken care of with the tomatoes I pulled from the plant when I got home.  A little salt on them and they’d be fine.  Just like candy!  So what starch would I be having?  I could have some pasta with butter and cheese.  Or I could have rice (and we all know how I feel about rice!)  Or I could have potatoes.  And I thought, ooooh, potatoes!  We have those mashed potato mixes that are as simple as boiling water.  We have frozen tater tots, but I didn’t really want to stand at the stove for the time it would take to fix them.  Then I remembered we have frozen potato hash brown patties.  That’s the one!

After an hour, the wine was done, the breeze had turned a little cooler than I liked, and it was time to dry the dishes and put them away.  I checked the internal temp on the chicken and it was spot on.  The skin was crispy and blackend with the seasonings, so it came out to cool off.  I set a small skillet to heating some oil, just enough for two potato patties.  While that was heating, I cut each tomato in half and sprinkled with a bare pinch of salt.  Then, to add a little more veggie, and make things interesting, I fished out some home made pickle chips and set with the tomatoes.  When the oil was ready, the potatoes were cooked.

Let me tell you, that all was so good!  I got dinner ready, and all the tasks I wanted to get done were completed.  Just as I sat down to eat, my phone went off.  Partner/Spouse was calling to tell me about his fun day.  I put him off so I could eat, but called him back within a half hour.  He’d had a great day, too.

All in all, it was a good bachelor evening, and I remembered when I had been a true bachelor after the divorce and it was just me and Sporty, my dog at the time.  I ate a lot of tacos, pork chops, and PBJs.  Oh, and grilled cheese, too.  This night was much better because there was something to look forward to.

So, how do solve the riddle of “What to make for dinner?”  Is it planned, or is it whatever is on hand, or is it making a phone call for delivery?  Let us all know!  Feel free to share the post far and wide if you want to.

As always,

 

 

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