Post #589 Home Again!

September 18, 2018 at 8:13 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Well, the move was made rather painlessly, sort of.  We are home, unloaded, one quarter of the way unpacked, and starting to sort through everything that needs to be done.  The amount of work to do is staggering.

We packed up and drove up on Friday, but we’ve been packing stuff up for a couple of weeks.  The truck loading was done by two guys hired by the truck rental.  They were professional and efficient.  We were done by 11:30.  Then we cleaned the place up and did the walk through.  Then the two and a half hour drive north and arrived and signed the lease and into the hotel by 5.  We walked the dog, fed him, then took showers, and went to find dinner somewhere.  We ended up at a steak house at 6pm on a Friday night.  Took us a long time to get seated and by that time we were both very hungry.  We hadn’t eaten anything all day, so the last sustenance was from dinner the day before.  A full twenty four hours since we ate last.  Not good for guys dealing with diabetes.

We both ordered salad, fries, and a large medium-rare steak.  I had two glasses of wine, too.  And a glass of water.  It was only 8pm went we returned to the hotel, but we only lasted another 45 minutes before collapsing into unconsciousness.  The hotel had a continental breakfast, but we decided to ignore that and get started on unpacking.  We hadn’t even started on digesting all that beef yet so we were okay.  We stopped at a store and picked up supplies, and among those supplies were bacon, eggs, and frozen hash brown patties.  So we had those at some point during the morning.

The two guys who came to unload us arrived at 1pm and it really only took an hour and a half to unload.  However, since we’d used boxes a friend gave us from his move, we were never sure if the notes on the boxes were us or them.  So we’re opening boxes marked bedroom that are full of spices.  That night we heated up frozen dinners that were serviceable.  But Sunday morning, we went to a great diner called The Red Arrow.

This place has been around for decades and has the standard bill of fare for a diner, but it also has some local favorites like the Firecracker Omelet that has buffalo chicken, jalapenos, and is covered with Siracha sauce.  It has a build your own eggs benedict selection that has about a thousand different combos.  We both had a selection of two eggs, bacon or sausage, home fries, and toast.  The best part was the staff.  They engaged their customers like no others I’ve ever seen.  At the table across the aisle from us, a young family of four sat down and the waiter stooped to talk with the five year old boy.  We know his age because he was quite verbal about everyone’s age.  At one point, his mom squawked, “I am NOT 39!” which sent everyone in the diner to laughing.

We went to the store again in the afternoon, and got stuff to make our first home made meal in the new place.

As you can see, it was tacos.  We love tacos at our house.  We probably have them once or twice a week, and it’s never more than 10 days between one taco and another.  Of course, we were starving by dinner time, so I made four for me, those on the plate, and four for Partner/Spouse.  He prefers his crispy so I fried them up folded and crispy.  I prefer mine soft but well done, so I cook them flat for about 10 seconds on one side, and about seven seconds on the other side.  All of them get drained and allowed to stand for a minute or so before filling.  I fill mine the same way every time.  It goes back to childhood and is comfort food completely.  I start with the flat corn tortilla and put a thick line of cheddar cheese on it.  I top that with hot beef, whether hamburger or shredded roast.  Then a couple of spoonfuls of chopped tomatoes and a spoonful of salsa.  That’s topped with shredded lettuce.  Then you pick them up by folding up to encase the fillings, open your mouth as wide as you can, and don’t stop chewing until the taco is gone.  You don’t want to set it down cuz it’ll fall apart.

Man!  I love tacos!

The next day, we had taco salad for lunch.  So good.

Since then, the days have been “routine” with unpacking, figuring out what things are, where things are, and where they’re going.  The apartment is very low on storage space so we’re working on creative ideas for that.  I’ll post pictures as things move along.

Tonight was chicken bites fried in onion and garlic with lemon and lime juice added at the end.  All this was tossed with spaghetti with two tablespoons of butter added at the end, and topped with parmesan cheese.  Fresh sliced tomatoes on the side finished it all.  It was so good.

Well, I’ll close for now cuz weariness is creeping up.  I’ll post this weekend with a fun post of some kind.  Take care, be safe, and as always,

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Post #588 Guess What’s Happening Again?

September 8, 2018 at 2:33 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I’ve been writing this blog for six and a half years.  It doesn’t seem that long because I’ve had such a good time writing it.  I remember most of what I’ve written over the years, although it sometimes slips my mind how many times I’ve told the same story.  I mean, if you guys hear once more about the first cake I ever made, I’ll deserve whatever invective you throw my way.  But it is a funny story.  During those six and a half years, we’ve moved, I think four times.  Guess what’s happening again?  Yup, you’re so smart.  We’re moving again.  Partner/Spouse’s job it taking us about two hours north into New Hampshire.  It’s a big promotion for him.  He’s finally getting into the “Chief of” level, of whatever part of the hospital he’s going to  be dealing with.  Probably the Emergency Dept.  We moved next Friday, and until all our services are connected, blogging will be spotty, or maybe non-existent.  The move itself is going to be pretty easy.  We’re transferring our apartment from here to there within the same leasing company so it’s all set up.  It’s a nicer building and our bedroom has a river view.  The building also has a rooftop terrace.  It’s exciting to discover new places and new restaurant.  If the internet is correct, there’s a churrascaria (Brazilian barbecue) right around the corner.   We’re looking forward to it.

So apart from that news, I also found a pound cake recipe this week that made a very good pound cake and used a different technique for blending the batter.  I will make one comment to start:  Be certain all ingredients are at room temperature.

Butter Vanilla Pound Cake

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons milk or water
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup flour (they recommend cake flour but I used AP with no trouble)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 13 tablespoons butter, cut into 1 tablespoon chunks
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 and prepare a 9x5x3 loaf pan by spraying it with a vegetable spray then laying a piece of parchment paper on the bottom cut to size and spraying the parchment paper.

In a 2 cup glass measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, milk/water, and vanilla until completely blended.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, or the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, sift together the flour, salt, sugar, and nutmeg if using.  Make certain the dry ingredients are well sifted and combined.

Place all pieces of butter into the flour and blend at low speed until butter is thoroughly incorporated.  Add half the egg mixture and blend, stopping to scraped the sides of the bowl into the mixture.  Add the rest of the egg mixture in two additions with the machine at medium speed.  Make sure to mix completely with each addition, a minimum of 30 seconds but more if needed.

Using a rubber spatula scrape the entire batter mix into the prepare loaf pan and smooth the top.  Bake for 45 – 55 minutes, or until the cake is golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

I baked for 50 minutes and it didn’t seem quite done to me, so I added another six minutes and while the cake was fine, tasted good, etc., it had a thicker crust than I normally like and the crust was a little tougher than usual.  I also added the nutmeg and the flavor was amazing.

This cake didn’t last too long, but we had thick slices just plain; once with chocolate fudge sauce; once with ice cream; and once with raspberry preserves.  It had that signature crack down the middle exactly as a pound cake should.  This is one we’re going to have a lot of.  I’m going to play around with the flavorings and spices and I’ll probably end up adding fruit and nuts.  Right now, I’m thinking some coconut would be a good thing.

So, I thought I’d take a moment and let you know what’s upcoming in the blog over the next few months, once the internet is on in the apartment.   The new homesite is still in New England, thick in the middle of New England.  While there is loads of city life and entertainment available, particularly near the shore, there is also loads of the fairs and festivals.  So as many of those as we can get to, I’ll be writing about.  Our little town has a ton of small, independent diners which you all know we love, so you’ll be reading about those, as well as the regular style restaurants.  And there seems to be a lot of food truck activity so you’ll hear about those.  I’m still working with my bread fixation and trying new recipes (I made cloverleaf rolls last weekend) so I’ll be writing about my efforts there, including the mishaps and happy accidents.  I’m still working on getting my sugar levels under control so I’ll have something to say about those along the way.  And I’m still trying to find the best way to make a good old fashioned donut.  I now own two different donut cutters, as well as two donut pans for those recipes that call for baking rather than frying.  And as always, if ever you want me to explore something specific, let me know by sending an email, putting in a comment, or letting me know by FB.  If anyone ever thinks they want to write a guest post, just let me know.  I’m happy to hand over the reins for anyone who wants to write.  My writing in my other life is going well and I’m going to attempt NaNoWriMo again this year.  I tried once back in 2015, but didn’t make the word goal.  (For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month.  It’s in November of every year and the word count goal is 50000 words in 30 days.  The first time I attempted, I got to 32000 but life interfered.  This year, I’m going to make it.  There’s no prize, no entry fee, no penalty for not making the word count.  But if you do make the word count, you get the tremendous satisfaction of knowing you can do it.  And you may have a completed first draft of a sellable book.  That’s my goal.)

So that’s where things are and where things will be.  As always, if you try any of the recipes or techniques please let us all know about it.  And if you have anything to add, don’t hesitate.  We’d all love to hear from you!

 

Post #587 Dressing for Dinner

September 1, 2018 at 2:09 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’ve been reading comics books ever since I could read.  I’ve read all types, but my favorites have always been the superheroes.  Batman and Robin aren’t my favorite, but they’re close to the top.  So when I found this panel while visiting a superhero blog, I knew I had my next blog post.

I’ve written about salads a lot in this blog.  I like salad.  A big salad with a small piece of grilled animal flesh is the perfect meal for me.  And though I’ve included recipes for salad dressings, I’ve never really thought about them or considered them outside of just an adjunct for salad.

Dressings have a long history, as long as there’s been food.  Dressings are simply something on the side to enhance food, to dress it up, if you will.  Sometimes it’s a dipping sauce, sometimes it’s side dish of starchy bits cooked into a casserole, but most often it’s a sauce to drizzle over food.  Dressings come in either sweet or tangy, thick or thin.  Within those parameters, there are hundreds of variations.

I myself prefer the thinner dressings.  In that category, the most popular is the vinaigrette, although it doesn’t always have to use vinegar.  The basic vinaigrette is one part sour, two parts oil, and one part water if desired.  The oil and sour are emulsified and flavorings are added if desired.  The lighter the oil, the lighter the dressing.   The thicker dressings use milk or mayonnaise instead of the oil.  Milk or milk products like cream or yogurt etc. are used as a base for the added flavorings.  Right now, the most widely popular cream dressing in the U.S. is Ranch.  I loathe that stuff.  I don’t even like to have it in the house.

At this point, it’s good to consider how to dress a salad.  Typically, the current standard is to allow each individual to plate their own salad and dress it in whatever manner they choose.  However, some salads come with dressing already added, such as Cesar Salad.  However, there are other salads I make that I put the dressing on before serving because the flavor of the salad depends on the dressing blending over time with the salad.  In those cases, it’s never good to put too much dressing on the salad.  Overdressing a salad is as bad as using spoiled vegetables in a salad.  The way to tell if a salad is overdressed is to toss the dressing in the salad, then pick up a clump with a fork.  If the dressing drips off the fork in a good stream, it’s over dressed.  If you put that salad on a plate with other foods, the dressing will puddle on the plate and it will mix with other flavors, possibly not in a good way.

When choosing a dressing for a salad, it’s important to select flavors that will complement the other foods being served, but particularly the foods in the salad itself.  For instance, if you’re making a taco salad, you’ll want flavors that combine with a Mexican palate.  If the greens in the salad tend to the bitter side, the dressing should counterbalance that by being a little sweet.  If the salad has some very ripe tomatoes in it, a slightly more acid dressing could be used.

I was working at McDonalds as a teenager when I started considering dressings as a whole.  Up to then, the only dressings we had at home were Ranch (ugh!), Catalina, French, and Italian.  They were about all that was available in the grocery stores in the days before the supergiant stores we have now.  But after working at McDs for a while, I got to the point where burgers weren’t cutting it for me, so I’d pile some shredded lettuce in a burger box, add some pickles and tomatoes, and eat a “salad” during my break.  Again, this was in a time where fast food places only had salad fixings to put on burgers, not as a side dish.  One day, I was wondering how to get a dressing out of what was on hand, and I mixed ketchup and dill pickle juice.  It wasn’t too bad.  I found that by adjusting the amount of either component, I could make a sweet thick dressing or a sour think dressing.  Of course, I haven’t tried since then, but I’ve heard other people talk about doing the same thing so it must be okay.  We all lived.

Once, when my ex-wife and I were still in the dating phase, we went out to dinner with her sister.  I only wanted a salad so I ordered a large garden salad and when it came time to select the dressing, I asked if they had any lemon wedges so I could squeeze lemon juice onto the salad.  Lemon juice with a light sprinkle of salt and pepper is a wonderful dressing.  My sister-in-law looked at me like I was crazy.  I told her that it was good, but she wouldn’t hear of it.  When it came time for her to order, she asked if she could have my dressing as well as hers.  She ordered two different dressings and now it was my turn to look are her like she was crazy.  She said she liked to mix them when she could.  My ex watched the two of us and busted up laughing.  My salad was good.

My favorite dressing as a kid was French dressing, that pale orange creamy mess that had a sweet and tangy flavor.  Barring that, I would use Catalina dressing which was red, and basically a tangier version of French.  The whole family loved Italian and we had to buy it in the jumbo bottles.  When I learned that you could make these dressings at home, I undertook to make French dressing, and it turned out to be a vinaigrette that I fell in love with.  So here’s the recipe for that and have fun dressing for dinner.

Classic French Dressing

1 medium shallot, minced finely

2 tablespoons of wine vinegar of any type, red white or rice

1/4 tsp sea salt, or to taste

1-2 tsp Dijon mustard

6 tablespoons light vegetable oil, recommend EVOO or Canola

Fresh grated black pepper to taste

In a medium glass bowl, whisk together the shallot, vinegar, and salt until well blended, about two minutes.  Let stand fifteen minutes for flavors to blend.  Whisk in the mustard, then add the oil in VERY small amounts, whisking all the while until oil is completely added and completely emulsified.  It will not thicken like a mayonnaise, but should stay combined.

Method 2:  in a glass jar with tight fitting lid large enough to hold all ingredients with some space left, add shallot, vinegar, and salt.  Close lid tightly and shake vigorously for a minute or so, then allow to stand for fifteen minutes.  Add remaining ingredients and shake vigorously for several minutes until emulsified.

Drizzle onto salad and toss gently until salad is well coated.  You won’t believe how good this fresh dressing tastes.

Optionally, you can add 1-2 tablespoons of ketchup to add sweetness and color.  You can also add fresh garlic if you like, but add only a very little so it doesn’t overpower other flavors.  That also is true for other herbs and spices you might like.

Post #586 The Popcorn on the Tree

August 25, 2018 at 4:24 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It seems to be time for a post about popcorn again.  I like the stuff.  It was the first thing my parents decided I was “old enough” to make on my own.  I was about seven, I think.  Maybe a little younger.  We had an electric popper that was basically an electric coil on a base with a metal pot that sat on the base.  The metal pot had a ceramic handle and a glass lid.  Dad showed me how to carefully measure out Crisco and wait till it had melted, then add the corn.  Then I had to keep the kernels moving to avoid scorching.  I had to keep that thing moving non-stop until all the kernels had popped.  All the while, I had to keep a hand on the glass lid to keep it from coming off and having popcorn all over the kitchen.  Once it was done, I had to melt a little butter and spread it over the corn and sprinkle with salt.  Hard to believe that’s the start of my brilliant cooking career.

My mom spent the first part of her life on the family farm during the Depression years.  She used to regale us with stories of the fun times she and her large collection of brothers and sisters had.  Riding on the backs of cows, jumping from the hay loft into piles of hay, sitting around the radio with a bowl of popcorn in the evening.  Many times, that bowl of popcorn would become breakfast the next morning with milk and sugar.  Sort of a puffed corn cereal.  They made candy and ice cream out of snow.  Most of the fun they had was home made.

When we kids were younger and moving around a lot because of dad’s military service, a lot of our fun was home made because we were always the new kids in the neighborhood.  So we played games, watched TV, read, told stories, listened to mom and dad reminisce, and ate snacks.  Bowls and bowls of popcorn went down our throats.  Then we hit our teen years and we all floated away like leaves in the wind.

Funny thing happens though.  Memories of fun times from childhood come back and tug at you.  Families expand, moms become grandmas, roles get reversed.  Suddenly new kids run around the house and you start remembering how to keep them entertained on the cheap.  With popcorn, usually.  At least in our house.

One day in winter, my nephew had just started school and came home with a paper chain in red and green.  It was about six feet long and was for their Christmas tree at home.  He was so proud of it!  He asked if we could make one for grandma, so we drove right out and got the supplies, all the way down to “the right glue stick” and scissors.  I was making stew for dinner so it didn’t really need any attention.  He showed me how to make the chains and we went to town.  By the time grandma came home, we had about ten feet of paper chain for her.

But during our conversation while making the chain,  I shared some stories from when we were his age, and when his grandma was his age.  I told him about the popcorn on the tree.  His eyes lit up and he asked if we could make popcorn strings for his Christmas tree.

So, a few days later, we did.  Every time he started to get bored, we’d take a break, but we kept at it almost all day and eventually had enough to drape over his tree and his grandma’s tree.  We strung popcorn, cranberries, and for added touches, we tied chocolate candy kisses in colored foil into random places.  Would have been more, but we ate a ton of them.

And I told him the story of his first Christmas, when I had made popcorn strings for the tree.  He was just learning to walk, had toddled over to the tree, found the end of the popcorn string and slowly ate his way up the string until he nearly pulled the tree onto himself.  His reply was classic.

“I guess that’s where I learned to like popcorn so much.”

Yeah, kid, it’s in the genes.

Post #585 A New Cookbook!!

August 19, 2018 at 5:10 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’ve had a bad couple of weeks, so Partner/Spouse brought me a present, a new cookbook!  I love reading cookbooks.  I get a sense of how the author thinks and a sign of the times from when the book was written.  I’ve read cookbooks that are hundreds of years old and learned history in the process.  I’ve read fad diet books, and scientifically sound books, and cookbooks that continue the heritage of food.

So, what’s the new cookbook?

I’ve read dozens of cookbooks about cooking outdoors on the trail.  I’ve used hundreds of recipes from these books, invented some of my own based on those recipes.  I’ve shared recipes with friends, and fed friends in the great outdoors using recipes I’ve learned.  I’ve also adapted recipes for home use.

This book is unique for many reasons.

The first is the cover.  It’s a tactile delight.  It’s not leather, but it has an aged leather feel to it.  It’s hard to tell from the picture, but it has a grooved texture to it, and feels slightly sticky in a pleasant way.  It’s a book that invites you to pick it up, and defies you to put it down.

Second, it’s a book for cooking outdoors whether it’s on the trail or in the backyard.  It makes no distinction.  However, the recipes can be made quite easily at home.  I’ve done that with two recipes I’ll share later.

Third, at it’s heart, it’s a fusion-styled cookbook.  The recipes fuse styles of cooking so that whether you’re eating at home, in the back yard, or in nature, you’re not going to be eating the standard bill of fare.  You’ll be eating Mexican, or Asian, or vegetarian.  The recipes are easy enough so that you can have it all when not at home.

But the fun doesn’t end there.  They have the first section where they tell you the “basics” for cooking outdoors.  They tell you how to set up a campfire, or a barbecue.  They talk about car camping and backpacking.  They even talk about bringing your furry friends along and how to cook for them.  They have a dog biscuit recipe!

The different sections are all chock full of tip and tricks, ghost stories, fun things to do around the campfire.  They have a section for camping’s traditional menus, but then they flip it on its ears.  For instance, they tell you have to make a S’More (which I hate), then give you a dozen more ways to make them that you probably never thought about.

There are the standard sections on things for breakfast, things for dinner, and things for snacking.  But they also have sections for Sides and Fortifications.  Sides is where the two recipes below come from and is what you’d expect.  Fortifications are of the liquid variety, very bracing.  Again, full of tips and tricks to keep things interesting, chilled, or hot, and tasty.  I mean, who wouldn’t love a chilled thermos cocktail after a long day hiking?  I used to take cleverly camouflaged bottles of wine with me when I hiked.

So, the first recipe is hiking variation of Hasselback Potatoes.  Hasselbacks are those potatoes that are slices not quite through, and baked until crispy so they fan out.  In this version, set your oven to 350.  Wash and dry two medium russet potatoes.  Slice a thin slice off the bottom so the potatoes don’t rock and provide a firm base to slice.  Place two wooden spoons or two chopsticks one on each side of the potato and use a sharp knife to slice through the potato until you hit the sticks.  This will keep you from slicing through the potato.  Cut the entire potato into quarter inch slices.  Spread vegetable oil over the top and into the slices of the potato making certain to coat the entire cut surface.  Sprinkle with coarse salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  Bake the potatoes for 30-45 minutes until not quite tender then take out of the oven to cool.  Once they’re cool enough to handle, carefully press crumbled blue cheese into the slices and wrap tightly with heavy duty foil.  To finish off, either 1: bake at 375 for 30 minutes or so until cheese is melted and potatoes are tender; or 2: place in campfire embers for 30 minutes, moving and turning every ten minutes to avoid charring.  Here’s a pic of the midpoint.  I didn’t take a pic of the finished product because we ate them too fast.

The next recipe is a salad.  I’ve taken salad on the trail many times, but I’ve always packed it carefully to avoid bruising the lettuce.  This salad avoids that pitfall by using veggies that don’t bruise.  The base is a cabbage slaw but it adds a ton of other flavors.

First, the vinaigrette is made with 4 tablespoons of lime juice, mixed with one tablespoon or so of zest, a tablespoon of honey, a teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 tsp of kosher salt, 2 tablespoons of canola oil and 2 tablespoons of high quality olive oil.  Put all ingredients into a very tight closing container and shake to emulsify.  Let stand either in the fridge or at room temperature for at least four hours.  If you let it chill, remove from fridge an hour before use to bring to room temperature.

Finely slice, or shred, a small red cabbage to get four cups.  Slice 10 radishes very thinly using a mandolin or food processor.  Roughly chop one bunch of cilantro.  Thinly slice on the bias one bunch of cleaned scallions.  Peel one small to medium sized jicama and cut into julienne strips to yield one to one and a half cups.  (Jicama is pronounced Hick-uh-muh and is a root vegetable resembling an oddly shaped round potato and tastes like a combo of apple and potato.  It’s very good.)  Remove the seeds and rib material from one large Anaheim chile then slice into strips and cut the strips into one inch pieces cutting diagonally.  Set aside about a quarter of the chiles and a quarter of the scallions greens for garnish.  Place all other ingredients into a large bowl and gently mix.  Sprinkle a handful of roasted and hulled sunflower seeds over the top, add the vinaigrette and gently mix.  Allow to stand for 30 minutes and gently mix again.  Sprinkle a few more sunflower seeds over the top and then sprinkle the reserved scallions and chiles.  Set aside until ready to serve.  Just before serving, completely drain a medium can of Mandarin oranges and arrange over the top.  Add one more tablespoon of lime juice over the top and serve.  It’s very good.

I love hiking and I love finding new recipes and new versions of old recipes that I can use outdoors.  I’ve made grilled mushroom burgers that rivaled the flavor of any hamburger.  I’ve made homemade hot chocolate in winter and drank with a friend on the side of a mountain while watching the Shenandoah River wind lazily by a mile away.  I’ve shared what I had in my pack during a day hike with someone who’d been on the trail for over a week (and smelled like it) and was hugely appreciative of the fact that one of my Bota bags was full of white wine.  I was really happy to read a cookbook that showed me how to get whole other palettes of flavors into the backcountry.

 

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