In Memoriam

December 26, 2015 Leave a comment

On this, the warmest Christmas Day I can remember, let us observe a moment of silence for the meals we’ll never have again.

The holidays are a wonderful time for me, but not without their bittersweetness. My mom died, eleven years ago, on the 23rd (as much a bummer as it sounds…)

My mom never really made Christmas dinner, but she was an amazing cook. Every now and then I get nostalgic about her dinners. You see, cooking was one of her love languages. Mom had a lot of problems, and our home did, too. She didn’t always cook through the worst of it, but she usually did. It was a way she could almost always care for us, even when things got really bad.

As I get older, I get more nostalgic, too (which is amazing for an already nostalgic guy like me). I wish my mom could have met my wife. I wish we could have her over for dinner, or go out for a beer with her. I mean, of course I wish those things. But I think I’d also be happy to have a few of her  recipes written down, so that I could reconnect with that so-important part  of my relationship with my mom.

I have a lot to celebrate and be thankful for this holiday, and I like to believe that my mom is celebrating, too.

Happy Holidays to all of you, whichever one or ones you happen to celebrate. To those of you for whom the holidays aren’t so happy, I hope the season will bring you some peace. Regardless, be thankful for the joys that you do have, and may they multiply.

Merry Christmas.

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Categories: drink, food

Just hit shuffle…

April 6, 2011 Leave a comment

 

I’ve started making dinner for my brother, sister-in-law, niece, and myself on Monday nights.  I’ve tried to vary the menu up from week to week, and last Monday my brother gave me an easy opportunity to continue to do so.  We were sitting, eating a fairly rockin’ pork roast I had made, even if I say so myself, and he said, “Next Sunday I’m going to give you four random ingredients, like they do on Chopped.”

I was thrilled, as this was what I’d been trying to get them to do all along.  It’s fun for me, because I’m an improviser, and it works out because I don’t do great with giving them ingredient lists far enough in advance for the shopping to be convenient for them.  Anyway, Sunday night I got my ingredients:

  • Tomatillos
  • Duck sauce
  • Rice pudding
  • Cinnamon pita chips

I crushed the pita chips, seasoned them with cumin, garlic powder, and black pepper, and used them to make a crusted chicken breast dish.  It came out pretty well, although if I make it again I’ll use a food processor to crush the chips rather than a meat mallet.  The large chunks didn’t stick extremely well. I’ll also use less cumin, and move the oven rack upward a notch halfway through the baking to get a crunchier crust.

I made some garlic mashed potatoes.  No magic there, other than simmering the garlic in the milk and butter before adding it to the taters.

I used the rice pudding to make some drop biscuits.  I found a basic drop biscuit recipe and used a combination of the pudding and milk to make the batter.  They were ok, but if I make them again I’ll add some sugar.  I left it out because the pudding itself was sweet, but the biscuits came out a little salty tasting.

I had been going to use the duck sauce and tomatillos to make a sort of tapenade for the mashed potatoes.  I chopped the tomatillos and simmered them in the duck sauce, and found it to be a little too tart.  Once I added brown sugar, though, it swung to the other end of the flavor spectrum and became too sweet for the potatoes.  Instead I used it as a glaze for some carrots I cooked in the microwave.

All in all, I’d say it came out pretty well.

The Most Important Meal of the Day

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

White eggs on a white plate?  You betcha.

Good morning, foodies.  Having the day off today, and still being up first thing in the morning, I decided to make myself a nice breakfast.

I recently discovered the secret to making the most delicious, knock-your-socks-off, amazing fried potatoes every time:  It’s onion and garlic, which I guess isn’t that surprising in the grand scheme of things, but anyway…  A couple of weeks ago I made breakfast for my brother, sister-in-law, and niece (who is, hands down, the smartest, most adorable child on the face of the earth) and decided (sort of on a whim) to sweat some onion and garlic in the pan before I cooked the potatoes.  The effect is striking.  It’s not just a matter of adding the flavor of onion and garlic to the flavor of the potato, they enhance the potato’s flavor as well.

This morning I added mushroom to the mix, and let me tell you, it was a good decision.  The other thing I’ve started doing is using a mixture of butter and vegetable oil in which to fry the potatoes.  Butter has a very low smoke point and burns easily, but by adding the vegetable oil (actually, I think we use corn oil) you raise the smoke point of the mixture.  This allows you to cook hotter, so that you get nice, crispy potatoes and also the flavor of delicious, delicious (non-burnt) butter.

In the photo they sort of blend in with the plate, but I also made myself a couple of over-easy eggs.  No magic here, except the aforementioned delicious, delicious butter.

Ok, here’s the thing: I have a somewhat frequent argument with a coworker about the proper cooking medium for eggs.  See, he’s something of a health buff, and he uses cooking spray.  When I tell him that I use real butter, he insists that I love it because it’s bad for me.  This is not the case.  To be fair, it’s not even entirely the (delicious, delicious) flavor.  It’s about depth.  If you’ve ever cooked eggs in cooking spray, you know what I’m talking about.  The white of the egg comes out paper thin, and lacking the fantastic texture of which eggs are ultimately capable.  If this is alright with you, then mazel tov, enjoy your cooking spray and absurdly thin eggs.

It’s not alright with me.  When you come right down to it, it doesn’t matter what fat you use, as long as you use a fair amount of it.  This is the part where I can hear Dave’s voice in the back of my head saying “See?!! Lot’s of fat!  You like it because it’s bad for you!”  No, Dave, that’s not why I like it.  There is a textural component here that you just don’t achieve with cooking spray.  I’m not talking about total immersion.  You could use butter, vegetable oil, peanut oil, it really doesn’t matter, but there has to be some depth to whatever you use.

On the subject of total immersion, though, you can achieve almost the same textural goodness (albeit lacking a bit of the flavor) if you poach the eggs.

Anyway, back to breakfast…  Top the thing off with some whole wheat toast (I admit I did use a buttery spread rather than real butter here) and a cup of coffee, and you end up with one very happy blogger.

Have a great day.

Friday Night: What’s in a Name?

January 16, 2011 1 comment

Last night some friends and I had our usual Friday night gathering (formerly Thursday.) Lately we’ve taken to doing themed dinner nights more and more (almost exclusively), and this week’s theme was dishes named after people.  The menu included:

  • Steak Diane
  • Fetuccini Alfredo
  • Sally Lunn bread
  • Creme Dubarry soup
  • Shrimp de Jonge
  • Caesar salad
  • Savory Napoleons with sun dried tomato pesto
  • Dolly Madison strawberry shortcake
  • A terribly creative dessert that I’ll go into in a moment
  • Valvioli (this is a ravioli recipe devised by my friend’s five year old, Valerie)
  • Eggs Chausseur

I got there early this week and helped out with the prep because that is a whole huge list of dishes (even for us.)  The Creme Dubarry soup was quite good, and a really simple and interesting dish.  You start by sauteeing some leeks in butter and oil (a teaspoon of each — yes, a teaspoon of butter), then adding cauliflower, potatoes, and chicken broth and boiling until the veggies are tender.  After that you puree the whole darn thing and season to taste.  It’s very good, but a little bland, and we ended up adding garlic, salt, a little lemon juice, and parsley.  The name comes from Madamme Dubarry, who was a mistress of Louis XV, and favored white, puffy hairdos (like cauliflower, get it?)

Steak Diane is basically filet mignon covered in a “sauce” of mushrooms, onions, garlic, and worcestershire sauce.  Hard to go wrong with a really delicious piece of meat covered in mushrooms, onion, and garlic.  I don’t even like worcestershire, and it was delicious.

The Fetuccini Alfredo was kind of an afterthought.  The Valvioli was served with an Alfredo sauce that I threw together, and there was leftover pasta dough from making the ravioli.  So we cut the leftover dough into some rough fetuccini noodles and threw the sauce on it.

That brings me to the aforementioned terribly creative desert.  One of our hosts, Tammy, is the most amazing culinary improviser I’ve ever known.  You know that Amish friendship bread starter that you get from a friend or coworker once a year?  Well, she ended up with an abundance of it one year, and managed to rework it into several different times of bread.  Also cookies, cheesecake, and pizza dough.  Yes, you read that correctly: Friendship pizza dough.  Just astounding in the kitchen.

So anyway, she and I were talking about dessert possibilities, and the surplus of Alfredo sauce came up.  I said that I thought someone could probably create a “dessert Alfredo sauce,” but I didn’t see how one could work a traditional Alfredo sauce into a dessert.  Tammy seemed to agree, especially because I use oregano instead of parsley.  So the evening goes on, I forget all about that conversation, and Tammy hands me a ramekin with some unidentified dessert product in it.  I, of course, taste it without even asking what it is (because Tammy made it, and she has a genetic condition that makes her completely unable to cook anything that isn’t delicious.)  The thing has a generally creamy texture, but with a nice bit of crispiness on top, and it’s got chocolate melted on top of it.  Chocolatey, and a little salty.  Really, really good.  As I was speaking the words “What’s in it?”, I got a very definite taste of Parmesan cheese.  That’s right.  Tammy reworked the Alfredo sauce into a delicious dessert.

Sally Lunn bread is interesting.  It’s basically a pancake batter that you bake instead of frying it.  Approximately the texture of corn bread, but it tastes like pancakes.  As a side note, different recipes use different leavening agents.  Our recipe used baking soda, but there are yeast recipes as well.

The strawberry shortcake was made into a layered dessert.  From the bottom up: Cake doused in amaretto (sort of an adults only dessert), strawberry yogurt, strawberries, unsoaked cake, whipped cream, more strawberries, and a sprinkling of vanilla sugar.  Delicious.

All in all, a very good evening.

Hot Rocks

June 20, 2010 1 comment

This place is amazing.

My girlfriend took me out to dinner on Sunday night, and we went to a restaurant near her apartment that I’ve always been curious about but that we hadn’t gotten around to trying.  The restaurant is called Stonegrill Dining, and the sign outside advertises an “unforgettable dining experience.”

Let me tell you, this place delivers. 

While we were looking at the menu, a guy came out and said “I want to make you an appetizer.  Do you like bacon or peppercorn?”  This caught me off-guard.  I’ve had servers ask if I wanted to order an appetizer, or if they could “put in an appetizer” for me, but I’ve never heard it phrased quite this way.

Anyway, my girlfriend is a vegetarian, so we ordered the peppercorn.  The man, (we put together that he was the guy in charge), whose name was Michael, brought out a potato gratin with a homemade peppercorn dressing on top.  At this point I would really like to be able to tell you something useful that actually gives information about how it tasted, but I can’t.  The dish was incomprehensibly good.  I have no words to describe it.

I ordered a New York strip steak, and my girlfriend ordered the Wahoo fish.  I didn’t notice it at the time, but the waitress didn’t ask me how I wanted my steak done.  After a while the waitress came out with our food, and before I looked over at her I heard her say “This is the moment you’ve been waiting for.”

That caught me off-guard, too.  To be fair it was a moment we’d been waiting for, but phrasing it that way seemed a little over-dramatic.  Then I looked at the food.

Our meals were on large, rectangular, three-sectioned plates.  On the left were mashed potatoes, on the right were vegetables, and in the middle was a large black stone.  My stone had a raw steak on it.

It was at that moment that I became sort of dimly aware that places like this existed and that I had heard of them before.  All that said, neither my girlfriend or I had any idea of what we were in for when we got to the restaurant.

The meat and veggies were raw, and the stone was hot.  (750 degrees.)  The waitress told us that the stone would give us 25 minutes of cooking time and 25 minutes of warming time.  We were also given a little dish of morel butter.  Everything was delicious.

We were told that we should save room for dessert, because they had a truffle pie that would “knock our socks off.”  While we were deciding on dessert, Michael reappeared with an impromptu palet cleanser that he’d decided to make for us.  It was a sliced nectarine with leche sauce drizzled over the top.  And the truffle pie was amazing.

Once dessert was finished, Michael asked us if we’d ever had muscato.  When we said no, he said he was going to “bring us a treat,” and he came back with a glass of the sweet, sparkling wine.  So incredibly good.

In short, Stonegrill Dining is awesome.  The food is amazing, and the service is excellent.  In addition to all that, it’s a very comfortable place to eat.  Both my girlfriend and I were in shorts and short-sleeved shirts because we had no idea that it was actually a pretty fancy place.  It would have been very easy for us to feel underdressed or uncomfortable in a place like that, but the atmosphere was so informal that both of us felt right at home.

Breakfast Tacos with Pineapple Salsa

May 28, 2010 Leave a comment

image

I got out of work early today and so I had the opportunity to make myself a decent breakfast when I got home.

I started by scrambling two eggs with some cumin, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, and I reheated some of last night’s taco meat. Then I put the eggs and meat onto two flour tortillas, added sour cream, lettuce, cheese, and a little pineapple salsa I found in the fridge.

They were very good.

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He’s a Maniac, Maniac (That’s For Sure…)

May 27, 2010 1 comment

And I’ll be dicing like I’ve never diced before.

Happy summer, everyone!  Memorial Day is right around the corner and some of my friends are having their annual gathering.  This means two things.  One:  Monday is going to be delicious, and two:  It’s time to make salsa again.

When I think of summer and salsa together (and really, how can one not think of them together?) I always come back to a delicious mango salsa that the same friends who are hosting Memorial Day festivities introduced me to.  But since that one is almost certainly already going to be there I’m going to make something up.

I’m still in culinary experiment mode, but my rough list of ingredients is as follows:

     bell pepper – probably green, red, and possibly orange for color

     pineapple – yes, pineapple

     jicama – you really can’t beat that crunch

     cilantro – because cilantro makes me happy

And possibly some jalapeno and/or vidalia onion if I think it needs a little kick.  I’m going for a balance of sweet, tart, and bitter, but sweet, tart, bitter, and spicy could be interesting, too.

Results and photos to follow…

Friday night’s gathering is personal pizzas at my brother’s request, so that will be fun.  I haven’t decided what sort of toppings I’ll be bringing.  Pesto, white, and tomato sauces will be present, and there are rumors of some kind of guacamole pizza in the works.  It’s all very exciting.