Post #580 Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?

July 14, 2018 at 10:38 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So, today was a really good day, and there’s lots of reasons for it.  So much has happened over the last week or so that this post is either going to be really long, or really sparse on details.  As my days do, today started early.  I got an extra hour of sleep in and was up at 6:30.  We had a full day ahead.  Partner/Spouse had a doctor appt at 10 and everything was fine.

One really big piece of news is I’ve gone back to college.  After years of fighting it, Partner/Spouse convinced me to start taking online courses for writing.  So I signed up last weekend, and this weekend I’m starting my coursework.  Whee.  But that’s for Sunday.  So I decided I needed (wanted) wireless headphones for my computer so I could listen to the lectures without disturbing anyone.  So after the doc, we headed to Le Target and got some bluetooth earbuds.

Then came the fun part.  We were heading out to a local winery!  But since there was plenty of time before the winery opened, we planned a stop at an antique store.  What a dangerous plan, antiques and wine.  The drive to the winery is easy through back roads traveling through wooded areas interspersed with lakes and rivers.  It was a little overcast, but the woods kept things cool and shadowed.

We were nearly to the antique store and we passed a small farmer’s market.  I was driving, so on a whim I turned into very quickly and found a very convenient place to park.  It was small so we walked through it all in about six minutes, but we found some wonderfully fresh veggies, tomatoes so ripe they felt almost too soft, hugely bulbous onions with the green stalks left on.  So good.

Then, five minutes after we got in the car, we were at the antique store.  We walked in and I immediately fell in love with the vintage juke box staring at me.  I didn’t even bother to look at the price.  It was stocked with 45s and looked so cool.

Side note:  Does anyone remember when I wrote a post about a cookie shaped like a cow?  It’s Post# 308 if anyone wants to read it.  The cookie jar looks like this:

The cookie jar was purchased by my dad for my mom back in the early sixties.  In the small town they grew up in there was a pottery factory and these cookie jars were a limited run.  Mom fell in love with the expression on the cat’s face.  We had that cookie jar the whole time I was growing up.  My little brother used to hide Oreos in the cow’s hollow head so he could have them later when the cookies were gone.  I used to fill it with chocolate chip cookies and when they were gone, my mom used to tip the jar over to get the chips that broke off the cookies.  It was one of those things that was an unnoticed fixture in our lives.  It was always there, usually had cookies in it, and had a happy expression.  When mom passed away, we all looked around for mementos and I searched for the cow cookie jar.  I didn’t find it, so I asked dad about it.  My nephew had asked for it and it was with him.

I looked around for a while, looking for another cookie jar unsuccessfully.  One time Partner/Spouse and I were house shopping and as we did a walk through, there was one of those cow cookie jars on a table.  It was like an omen, but we didn’t buy the house.  I started seeing them on eBay at extraordinarily high prices.  I even saw them at antique stores, more than I thought actually were made.  Turns out, they were recast and then the design was sold.  So I’ve seen them purple, black and white, and varying shades of brown.  But the originals, first cast and numbered, almost always have some sort of structural damage.  Horns get broken off; lids go missing; cow’s tongue is gone; various chips and nicks and cracks.

So, we ended up at this place:

And it’s the kind of antique store we love.  Multiple floors, hidden nooks and crannies, some prices dirt cheap, and others unreasonably high.  We wandered around like kids in a candy store.  Then Partner/Spouse stopped and pointed.

“Look at that,” he said.

It was the cow cookie jar.  I quickly slipped my glasses on to see the price.  $30.  And it was missing a horn.  And it was the right color.  I quickly latched onto it and took it to the front counter to have them hold it for us.  A few minutes later, we found a full set of china from Shropshire England that included 8 plates, 8 saucers, a gravy boat and saucer, a sugar bowl, a creamer, and a serving platter for $45.  And not long after that, we found a full carving set from the 1930s of 36 pieces that included steak knives, cheese knives, butter knives, etc. for $10.  And not long after that, we got the hell out of there cuz it was getting expensive.  I carried the cow on my lap to the winery, then to the store, and then home.  Then I carried it inside and set it on top of the Capehart radio we bought a few weeks ago.  It took years, but I finally had my own cow cookie jar.  I can’t wait to hide cookies in it.

We did end up at the winery, but I’m going to tell you about that next week.  It’s a fun place and we had a good time and a good lunch.

To end, I thought I would share a cinnamon chip cookie recipe I developed a few years ago.  If you like cinnamon, these are the cookies for you.

Cinnamon Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 – 1 cup Red Hots candy

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy and sugar is dissolved.  Mix in the egg and vanilla until well incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cinnamon until well blended.  Then mix into the butter/egg mixture.

At this point, decide how you want to incorporate the Red Hots.  If you want a real cinnamon chip cookie, mix the candy in whole.  Alternatively, you can put the candy into a food processor and grind to a powder and roll the finished dough to coat.

Chill the dough for one hour.  Shape the chilled dough into balls of about 1 tablespoon each.  If using the Red Hots as a powder, roll the dough balls in the powder and place on a chilled cookie sheet about two inches apart.  Use the bottom of a jar to press the cookies flat.  If using the Red Hots whole, shape the dough into balls of 1 tablespoon and press flat.

Bake at 400 for 8-10 minutes until the edges start turning golden brown.  Cool on sheets for 2-3 minutes then remove to a cooling rack.  Allow to cool completely, then eat.

Or fill your cow.

 

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Post #579 Late to the Party

July 8, 2018 at 3:14 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I know I came late to this party, but I use the broiler for the first time in my life yesterday to make dinner.  What an eye opener!  The meat cooked in about six minutes and was delicious!!  My mom used the broiler all the time.  Unfortunately, she didn’t use it well.  At least, not that I remember.  It seemed like everything was burnt.

The last time I saw a broiler being used, my ex-wife was using it.  It was our third or fourth date and she was making me dinner.  She was very nervous about the whole thing since I had already made her dinner several times.  She baked potatoes, steamed some broccoli, and broiled a couple of steaks.  I don’t recall the kind of steak, but since her favorite is ribeye, it was probably that.  Everything turned out very tasty, but since it was a gas oven and thereby a gas broiler, the steaks had a distinctly gassy chemical overtone to it.

That’s what I remember most about cooking with a broiler.  The food was either overdone and rubbery; it might have significant burning; or it had a chemical taste due to gas heat.  It was finicky, hard to control, and the results were hard to control.  So I never used it.  Until last night.

Broiling is cooking with direct heat, much like on a charcoal grill.  The heat source can come from either the top or the bottom.  Either way, whatever food your cooking needs to be watched closely.  Broilers use radiant heat at extremely high temps.  The line between nicely browned and burned can be seconds apart.

Nearly anything can be broiled.  Except pasta.  The natural fats and oils in meats allow the broiling process to tenderize and flavor the meat in the same way grilling does.  Veggies need to be lightly coated with oil to do the same thing and to keep from sticking.   Because of the fats that render, and the oils on veggies, the broiling pan must allow them to drip away from the food to keep it from stewing.  The usual broiler pan looks like this:

Note the slots.  This is the broiler pan I grew up with.  I remember mom making barbecue ribs on this thing.  I also remember trying to get the damn thing clean after that and not being able to shift the burnt on sauce.  It took flipping hours!  Once I took over cooking, I never used the broiler or that pan ever again.  And every time I made barbecued ribs, I lined whatever pan I used with foil, in double layers.  Now, there are broiler pans, broiler baskets, independent electric broiler machines, etc.

Here’s a helpful chart I found that I’ll be making use of:

Note the cooking times.  Pretty quick stuff.

Broilers way back in the day were located in the bottom of the oven and used a pull out drawer with small slots to adjust closeness to the heat.  These days, most broilers are in the oven itself, located at the top.  This allows the oven rack slots to control the closeness to the heat.  More flexibility and better cooking results.

So, yesterday we wanted to make a pasta dish.  We had a jar of high quality pesto that we had intended for something a few weeks ago but didn’t use.  So pasta al pesto was definitely on the menu.  We had been at the store and picked up some lemons, and some fresh parmesan, and some pine nuts, among other items.  I wanted some nicely grilled pork pieces so go with the pasta.  So I decided to try the broiler.  I cut the pork loin cutlets into bite sized pieces and squeezed lemon juice over them.  After an hour, I spread it out on baking sheet (lined with foil) and sprinkled onion powder over the lot.  I set the rack at the highest position, and broiled the meat for five minutes.  I pulled it out and drained the rendered fat, shook things around, and broiled for another four minutes.  By then, the meat was perfectly browned and done tender.  I pulled the meat off the sheet in one swoop with the foil and left it to cool.  I tried one piece and it was so good!

Partner/Spouse heated the oven to make garlic toast and set a pan of water to boiling.  When it was ready, he boiled up some long twisted pasta, kind of like thick spaghetti twisted like a corkscrew.  When that was done, he used tongs to pull it out of the water into a large skillet and dumped the pesto sauce over it all.  He squeezed fresh lemon juice over all and some toasted pine nuts.  Once everything was thoroughly incorporated, he mixed in the broiled pork and covered everything with shaved parmesan.

Wish I’d taken a picture.  It was so good I was licking my plate.

The main thrust of all this is as a tool, technique, or method for quick mid-week meals, I’m seeing a ton of opportunity with this.  As I start using it more and learning and finessing it, I’ll be blogging about it so you can learn right along with me.

By the way, I made chocolate chip macadamia cookies today, and last Wednesday, I made banana bread with walnuts and pecans and mini chocolate chips.  That last one went into work the next day after we’d had some and was pronounced a big success.  One lady even said, “Bananas and chocolate chips!  Who knew?  I’m making it that way from now on!”

I knew.

 

Post #578 A Meal of the Slithery Kind

June 30, 2018 at 6:56 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Snakes, and their aquatic counterparts eels, have never figured as a major component in my life.  I’m not afraid of snakes, but I have a healthy respect for them.  It’s a “live and let live” relationship.  Even if I find one inside, I generally don’t kill it; I try to herd it outside.  Where I grew up, snakes (mostly the of the killer variety) were just a fact of life.  You got used to it.  My mom never got used to it.  In truth, there were only four kinds of snakes that ever bothered her:  big ones, little ones, dead ones, and live ones.

There was a time when I was in high school and my brother and I were walking home from the bus stop.  We walked into the house to find my mom a dithering basket case huddled on the couch.  Mom was the most fearless person I knew, so to see her like this stopped my in my tracks.  Turned out my little brother had kept a snake for a pet and it had gotten loose.  Mom found it, quite by accident, as she was walking down the hall to the laundry room and the snake was slithering up the hall to whatever it could find.  I put mom to bed, called dad at work (who replied in his deadliest tones) and started straightening the house up.

Dad arrived soon after with bags of fast food hamburgers and fries.  We all sat to eat and as my brother sat down, dad said, “No, not till you find that snake.”  A couple of hours later, after my school work was done, I started looking for it too, but dad nixed that idea quickly and succinctly.  “No you’re not.”  My brother did eventually find the snake around two in the morning and set it free, whereupon dad made him finish off the cold burgers and fries.  His lesson was learned, though.  He never brought another wild critter into the house again.  That I knew of.

One time, when Partner/Spouse and were hiking during the weekend of our commitment ceremony, he exhibited one of his superpowers: levitation.  We were in a national park along the seaside walking an asphalt path.  We were talking about nothing in particular.  I was a seasoned hiker and backpacker so while we were enjoying the path and nature, I was scanning the path behind and ahead.  I noticed a stick in the path that looked odd.  I put my hand on his shoulder to stop him.

“Wait a second,” I said.  I walked slowly and heavily toward the stick which lifted its head and slowly started to slither away.

Upon which Partner/Spouse levitated about 500 yards down the path.  We still talk about it today.

The aquatic variety of snake, the eel, I don’t have as much experience with.  I know that people eat them a lot.  I’ve read loads of different ways to prepare them.  But I’ve never had opportunity (or desire) to make them or eat them so I don’t know much about how they taste.

However, one time while I was in China, I was walking through a local market with a colleague.  We had already seen the textiles and electronics, and we were making out way to the fresh fruits and veggies.  To get there, we needed to walk through the fish market.  The thing about fish markets is people think they smell bad.  That’s not true.  As long as the fish is fresh, there is no rank odor.  At least not in my opinion.  It simply smells like fresh fish.  I find that butcheries smell worse, at least, to me.  So I was enjoying seeing what was available locally and trying to identify the various types of fish, largely unsuccessfully.

We saw vats of fish still swimming; we saw trays of whole fish gutted and scaled; we saw trays of gigantic fish cut into family sized portions.  We saw crabs by the bushels; we saw mounds of shellfish and bivalves.  And we saw aquariums full of eels.  It looked like there were more ells than the water could support.  And while we watched, people were snapping them up as quickly as the vendors could get them out of the water.  The Rule (see Post #3) dictates that if several thousand people are enjoying something, it’s not something I should be turning my nose up at.  But I didn’t have the opportunity to try any at the time, or since.  But my mind was sort of made up as I watched three or four eels swimming as hard and as desperately as they could in about two inches of water in a gutter in a misbegotten attempt for freedom.  I know I saw two escape.  Don’t know about the others.

The veggie market was nice.

So what’s all this got to do with cooking?  My mind works strangely sometimes (okay, I’ll fess up, most of the times) and for some reason, recently, I was thinking about a class I took in high school.  You all know I grew up in the desert of the southwest, and I was interested in learning all I could about the desert and the animals and plants and survival.  So I took a course in desert biology.  I found it fascinating.  The teacher outfitted the classroom as a lab and there were examples of local flora and fauna all over the place.  There were even live rattlesnakes.  The once nearest my desk hated me for some reason.  It would be completely docile until I sat down.  Then it would spend the next 50 minutes buzzing its tail and glaring at me.  It was like that the whole semester I was in that class.

One day, towards the end of the semester, the teacher had a couple of older students come for a demonstration.  They had a couple of dead, skinned, and gutted rattlesnakes and an electric frying pan.  I watched entranced as they sectioned the beast, tossed it in flour and set them aside.  Then they heated oil in the frying pan and fried up the rattlers until they were golden brown.  Each person got a couple of pieces of rattler to try.

Tasted like chicken.  Seriously.

But what that showed me is that anywhere you are, there is good food to be had as long as you’re not afraid to try it.

After I was finished, I looked at that other snake buzzing and glaring at me and thought, “You just watch out, bub!”

Post #577 Bad Ideas That Only Got Worse

June 24, 2018 at 9:11 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I think I’ve mentioned once or twice or a dozen times that my mom was an uninspired cook.  What she liked to cook, she cooked very well.  But she didn’t enjoy cooking very much so she was constantly looking for ways to make it simpler, less expensive, and something her family would enjoy.  Some of her ideas were truly disastrous.  This picture reminded me of a phase she went through where everything was made with cream of something soup.

There are so many things wrong with this picture, it would take two posts to discuss it all.  So I won’t.  But suffice to say that toaster waffled covered in tuna, cream of mushroom soup, and green olives stuffed with pimentos while a “garnish” of what could be parsley is likely the worst thing ever.

Except maybe these ideas my mom came up with, or was told about.

The first truly terrible idea was a spam casserole.  Spam, in my humble opinion, should be wiped off the face of the planet.  It’s not even fit for sharks to eat.  But the premise was simple.  You sliced a can of spam into equal slices and laid them on the bottom of a baking dish.  Then you took a box of Au Gratin potato mix (remember freeze-dried potatoes?) and sprinkled half of it over the spam.  Then you put another layer of spam, and finished with a layer of potatoes.  Then, following the package directions on the box of potatoes, you mixed the sauce powder with milk and poured it on.  Things got a little dicey at this point because along with milk, you were supposed to blend in a can of cream of celery soup.  Or cream of chicken, or cream of mushroom, whatever you liked.  Then that mess got poured over the top.  Then you put a layer of grated cheddar cheese over the top and baked it following the package instructions for the potatoes.  Then you ate that mess.  We had it exactly twice before we rose up in revolt.  Our stomachs could only stand so much, after all.

Another idea she had wasn’t bad in theory, but execution sucked.  She was looking for a way to get everyone to eat more vegetables.  That always struck me as odd because we loved vegetables in our family.  We constantly had fresh salad on the table and there were seldom any leftovers on that, maybe due to some of her less successful attempts at culinary legend status.  But in this dish, she would drain a can of chicken then dump a can of cream of chicken soup into a small skillet.  She would boil noodles and frozen chopped broccoli and drain them.  Then she mixed them together and sprinkled parmesan cheese over the top and served it, with a salad come to think of it.  It wasn’t too terribly bad, but sometimes she would mix the soups and you’d have cream of chicken, mushroom, and celery fighting for dominance in your mouth, when all you really wanted was to eat the chicken and noodles.

Someone once gave her a new “easy” recipe for spaghetti sauce.  Mom’s spaghetti sauce was legendary.  One close friend gave my mom the highest compliment she could when she proclaimed it “As good as Ragu!”  So why she ever wanted to do mess with it was odd.  It was a meatless sauce.  All you did was mix together two cans of cream of tomato soup, two cans of cream of mushroom soup, one cream of something I don’t remember what, 2 cups of water, and one tablespoon of mixed Italian seasoning.  That got cooked and stirred until it was all blended and the water simmered off leaving a thick, gelatinous, very bland tasting mess that you put over pasta.  No amount of garlic or parmesan cheese could fix that.  She really tried to make that good because it was so easy to do.  But since she like her spaghetti sauce too, she finally decided not to mess with success and the cream soup spaghetti went away.

Another one she tried with some moderate success was a beef and mushroom stew.  She’d take stew meat and cut each piece into smaller bites so it would cook faster.  She’d brown the meat with some garlic and onion.  Then she’d pour two cans of cream of mushroom soup over it and two cans of water.  Then she’d cook it slowly, stirring every few minutes to keep it from burning to the pan and adding more water as needed.  After a couple of hours, the meat would be falling apart tender (what is usually referred to as “fork tender”).  Sometimes she would add a cup of sour cream at the end and sometimes she didn’t.  Then she’d serve it hot over noodles or rice or mashed potatoes.  I haven’t made this in decades, but we used to refer to it as a mock stroganoff.

Hands down, though, the worst thing she ever made with creamed soup was a mess she did just once with cheese soup.  She baked a chicken and sprinkled it with herbs and garlic powder.  When it was done, and while it was resting, she drained off the juices from the baking dish and got rid of as much fat as she could.  Then she put the juices into a pan and heat them and added a can of cheese soup, butter, worcestershire sauce, and a few drops of tabasco.  That would be a sauce to pour over anything on your plate.  It was thick and spicy and disgusting.  And when it cooled off, it got worse.  Even the dogs wouldn’t eat it.  (These are the same dogs that couldn’t get into her microwaved bread.)

I haven’t really looked seriously at canned soup in years since fresh is so much better and pretty easy to make.  Once in a while I’ll see someone in the stores grabbing cans of cream soup, and I wonder if they’re going to eat it as soup or as sauce.  Either way, I don’t want to know.

Post #576 The Hungry Time

June 17, 2018 at 8:48 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My father passed away a few years ago so I don’t get to wish him a Happy Fathers’ Day anymore.  But I remember his legacy several times a year, and today is one of those days.  And what was is legacy, you may ask?  Well, I’ll tell you.

Like mom, Dad could not stand to see anyone hungry.  He was a Marine for a full career, and non-commissioned officer for a large part of it.  Weekends and holidays were always given over to working around the house and yard, or fishing, and drinking beer, and grilling in the back yard.  They always made a festival out of it.  Even if it was just burgers or hot dogs, there was always plenty of lemonade or soda for the kids, and plenty of good side dishes like tossed salad, potato salad, potato chips, etc., and usually a cake.  When corn was in season, there were ears of roasted corn slathered in butter.  At some point in the afternoon, the pool saw a lot of service.

There were always  one or two friends about, sometimes as many as ten.  It never got too rowdy, but it was typically loud and boisterous.  Dad would reach out to the guys and girls working under him and if they had not plans, they were invited to our house to relax and have fun.  Like I said, he couldn’t  stand seeing someone left out, or hungry.  I’ve seen him give his sandwich to a dog he thought was hungry.

That’s the legacy he and mom left behind, instilled in their children and grand children.  None of us can stand seeing anyone hungry without doing something about it.  My brother has people at his house constantly.  My sister sets out bread, cheese, fruit, vegetables, and nuts in the midafternoon on Saturday and Sunday and feeds anyone who shows up at her house.  And we’re always inviting people over to eat, or taking food to work.

But, and this is a big but, summer has started.

That shouldn’t be anything but happy for every kid in America.  Except for millions of them, it’s the beginning of the hungry time.  One in every five child in America is going hungry.  Schools have stepped into the breach and have fed breakfast and lunch and sometimes a late afternoon meal to millions of kids nationwide.  But schools are now out for the summer, and these kids are hungry.  Something as simple as toast is out of their reach.  Some communities are helping, some churches, but the efforts are not wide spread, not funded well, and need our help.

This is something I’ve written about before, and the message is still the same.  Your spare dollars can assist in reaching hungry kids.  And it can be easy.  Each time you shop for groceries, pick up an extra jar of peanut butter to put in the food donation bin.  Find out where food banks in your community are and volunteer to assist.  You don’t need to single handedly feed every kid in America, but if you can help with the ones in your area, it alleviates part of the problem.  I watch for any time I can donate a dollar, or box of mac and cheese, or a can of tuna.  It doesn’t have to be big.  It’s the small efforts, if everyone does it, that count.

All you can do is what you can do, so it’s time.  The hungry time is here, but it doesn’t have to be.  Thanks in advance for everything you can do.

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